This was one crazy offseason. Thankfully, the lockout was resolved and teams did not wait too long to jump on the free agent wire. The Philadelphia Eagles were adding players as if it was a video game, seemingly as hungry as ever for a Super Bowl victory. The New England Patriots didn’t do too badly either, dealing some picks to add a few superstar veterans and obtaining a possible heir to Brady’s throne (in draft pick Ryan Mallett). The Saints made a splash to get big men in the middle and dealt away the hot mess known as Reggie Bush. The NFC West as a whole made a bunch of good moves as well, trying to earn some respect from the league after consistently being criticized for being the worst division (and having a 7-9 team represent them in the playoffs last year). But where does this leave everyone? Who’s going to come out on top and who will be left behind? Here are my picks:
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – Playing the Jets twice a year isn’t fun, but it doesn’t matter. Look for the MVP, Tom Brady, to have another fantastic year, especially with a renewed and exceptional deep threat in the form of Chad Ochocinco. With Albert Haynesworth and Sean Ellis causing disaster on the D-line look for their defense to become a much more formidable force to reckon with once again.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Yup, the Steelers. They always find a way to be successful year in and year out. With a consistent coaching staff, a stout defense and a young offense, they will continue to find ways to win.
3. Houston Texans (10-6) – This may be my most eye-opening prediction, but let’s take a look at some facts. Peyton’s neck injury has basically screwed over the Colts. Indy has looked decent at best with Curtis Painter at the helm and I don’t see their running game doing anything special (until Mr. Manning returns). Contrarily, the Texans’s improved defense with Wade Philips as the Defensive Coordinator and the additions of Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning to complement the explosive offense have this team looking poised for the playoffs.
4. San Diego Chargers (10-6) – Vincent Jackson is back for a full year this time, and no one is happier than Phillip Rivers to see his big time wide receiver ready to play. Re-signing Eric Weddle was important, and if they can make a few more plays on defense, look for the Bolts to take back the crown in the division.
5. New York Jets (11-5) – The Jets added two older players, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, to replace two younger players, Braylon Edwards and Jericho Cotchery. Even though they made a lot of noise, not much else has changed for this team so look for its defense to continue wreaking havoc, while Mark Sanchez may figure out how to be more than Mr. Game Manager.
6. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – The addition of veterans Bernard Pollard, Lee Evans, Rick Williams and Vonta Leach account for most of their losses to the free agent market. With that said, look for Baltimore to continue its consistency, and hopefully get some more big plays out of average-Joe Flacco.
*Notables: Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – Yeah, I know it’s boring to pick the Super Bowl Champs, but they have their starting RB and TE returning, consistency, depth and as long as Aaron Rodgers keeps his head safe from concussions, they should cruise their way to the bye week.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) – This team added so many players, that even the addition of Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t that big of a deal anymore. It is clear that they are hungrier than ever for at least one Super Bowl victory to catch up to the rest of the division. I think we’ll just have to see if this Dream Team can live up to expectations and if Michael Vick can stay healthy. Let’s see what the Miami Heat of the NFL can do with all their new weaponry.
3. New Orleans Saints (11-5) – They are in arguably the toughest division in football (rivaling the NFC East) but that won’t stop them. Drew Brees is ready and, with some help from Mark Ingram and a much bigger and badder D-line, they are ready to take back their division, and possibly the Lombardi Trophy. Random Fact: The Atlanta Falcons have never won a division two years in a row, so they have superstition on their side as well.
4. St. Louis Rams (9-7) – Look for the Rams to start a take over in their division with a great coach and the additions of Mike Sims-Walker, Quintin Mikell and Jerious Norwood. Sam Bradford had a very good year for a rookie with little talent to support him at wide receiver last year and was one game short of leading the Rams to the playoffs. Now in his second year, Bradford has a new weapon and continues to play in a division where pass defenses got even worse after the free agency period. Those defenses will give him many chances to improve and lead this team to the playoffs.
5. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) – This team is undoubtedly making the playoffs in my opinion as last year’s number one seed got even better. In fact, I think they can make a huge run in the playoffs, depending on how much momentum they get towards the end of the season. Julio Jones and Ray Edwards are big additions that fit into their system remarkably well and with an upgraded pass attack and pass rush, look out for this team to be the dark horse of the NFC playoffs.
6. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) – This spot is up for grabs, and the least predictable spot in the playoff outlook. Any decent team in the NFC could take this spot (check out the notables). So why did I pick the Cowboys? Jason Garrett as an interim coach missing his starting QB and RB, still managed to turn his team around and obtain a 5-3 record with him at the head. With the minimal losses of Roy Williams and Marion Barber to the Bears, I think the Cowboys are ready to live up to some of the expectations that they have failed to fulfill in the past.
*Notables: Chicago Bears, N.Y. Giants, Tampa Bay Bucs, Arizona Cardinals
SUPER BOWL XLVI: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (Pats, 24-20)
This is somewhat of a bold prediction. However, I can definitely see the Falcons getting over the hump this year, and make more than just some noise in the playoffs. I think they can beat out the favorites in the NFC (even with the new players they’ve added) not to mention that no NFC team has been a repeat representative in the Super Bowl throughout the past 10 years. On the flip side, we’ve seen the Patriots a little bit more than we’d like to in the playoffs and Super Bowl, but right now I have to put them in it. The competition in the AFC is a bit lacking and the Pats have an elite quarterback at the helm who is also one of the best ever. I think this would be a good Super Bowl, with the Patriots unfortunately coming out on top. It’s a little early, but we’ll see what happens. Don’t forget though, you heard it here first.