posted 2012-09-21 19:10:46

Welcome to the NFL

Where your guess is as good as mine    

Tom Wengler

Contributing Writer
The NFL is an unpredictable league. Over the past eleven seasons, eighteen teams have finished in last place one year and gone on to win their division the year after. Even more surprisingly, the AFC and NFC have combined to have an average turnover of 6.1 playoff teams between seasons. If that trend holds, get ready to eliminate half of last year’s playoff field. Go ahead and try to find three new playoff teams in each conference. I tried, and I can’t. Feel free to hold onto this column and laugh at me in February, but until then, enjoy the preview.

I’ll start off in the AFC East, which will continue to run through Foxboro and the New England Patriots. New England is so loaded on offense that they had the luxury of releasing two time Super Bowl champion and former Super Bowl MVP wide receiver Deion Branch during final roster cuts. They also released standout receiver Jabar Gaffney. These are two high- quality players, but who needs them when Tom Brady has freak-of-nature tight end Rob Gronkowski and the equally talented Aaron Hernandez at his disposal? And don’t forget about the speedy Brandon Lloyd, who caught nearly 1,500 yards worth of passes two seasons ago in Denver. This team went to the Super Bowl with a defense that ranked 30th in the league. If that improves even a little, the Patriots are going to be downright scary.

If you enjoy circus acts, be sure not to miss the New York Jets. Tim Tebow, the most decorated backup quarterback in NFL history, has dominated headlines throughout the summer. But while the Jets gave Tebow plenty of attention, they failed to address some glaring holes on offense. They downgraded at wide receiver, their running game is still a mystery, and their offensive line is an ongoing punchline around the league.
The AFC North will be a dogfight between the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. No offense (pun intended), Browns fans, but you don’t stand a chance. I really believe this is the year Cincinnati breaks through and wins the division. Pittsburgh isn’t getting any younger, especially on defense. The same goes for Baltimore. Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green are in for monster years, with Cincinnati’s ability to rush the passer on defense being the deciding factor.

I think the Houston Texans will run away with the AFC South. As long as Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson can stay healthy, this team is much better than Jacksonville, Tennessee and Indianapolis.

The big story in the AFC West is Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos aren’t perfect, but the rest of the division is mediocre at best. Carson Palmer throws too many interceptions, Philip Rivers’s only receiving weapon, Antonio Gates, is always hurt, and Matt Cassel severely limits what the talented Kansas City Chiefs can do on offense.
The NFC East is led by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Eli Manning has established himself as an elite quarterback and gets another year with breakout receiver Victor Cruz. The Giants boast the scariest defensive front in the league with Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. The Dallas Cowboys have always had the talent to compete for a Super Bowl title, but is this the year they finally break through? Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Tony Romo needs to stop making mistakes at critical points in the game.

The Philadelphia Eagles needed a heroic finish last year to finish a respectable 8-8, but expectations are once again high in Philly. Michael Vick has to stay healthy for them to have a chance. In the nation’s capital, Washington fans will be excited by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he will struggle through a learning curve, and there is just too much talent in the rest of the division for the Redskins to make much noise.

If it’s possible, the NFC North is arguably more talented than the NFC East. Green Bay, led by Aaron Rodgers, boasts an offense that looks unstoppable. Chicago and Detroit are playoff teams on paper,

but we know that isn’t where the games are played. Chicago added mercurial wide receiver Brandon Marshall, reuniting him with Jay Cutler. That may seem like a dangerous combination, but it pales in comparison to Matthew Stafford and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson in Detroit. Minnesota still has Adrian Peterson, but Christian Ponder just can’t hang with the other quarterbacks in this division.
In the NFC South, Atlanta is a perennial regular season contender who fizzles out come playoff time. Their new offensive scheme to maximize the potential of star receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones should signal a big year for quarterback Matt Ryan. New Orleans still has Drew Brees under center, even if the rest of the team and coaching staff is a mess following Bountygate. Carolina has Cam Newton, who will only get better in his second season. Tampa Bay made some nice offseason acquisitions, but there is just too much talent in this division for the Buccaneers to be competitive.

In the NFC West, San Francisco is coming off a thirteen-win season and owns one of the most dominant defensive units in all of football. Seattle is starting rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who showed flashes of promise through the preseason, but Wilson won’t have much to work with in the passing game ever since the Seahawks released Terrell Owens in training camp. Arizona’s quarterback situation is still in limbo, but something tells me we’ll see Kevin Kolb under center by season’s end. St. Louis is hoping for a bounce back year from Sam Bradford, who took a beating behind a porous offensive line last year. If he regains the form he showed as a rookie, this could be the surprise team in the division.