With the NFL set to begin in a little over 24 hours on Wednesday night, I felt compelled to bring out my predictions for the 2012 season. Predicting the NFL is one of the more difficult of any of the major sports due to the incredible parity; between 5-7 new teams typically make the playoffs each and every year.
There is also the injury factor, which changes the outlook of the entire season each year. The 2011 Buffalo Bulls appeared primed to make a run at the playoffs after a 5-2 start, but injuries completely derailed their season and they lost eight of their last nine games.
Things like this happen every year, so you never know what might happen. With that in mind, here are my predictions, with a small dose of analysis.
AFC Playoff Picture
1. New England Patriots – The Patriots are in an easy division and always get through the regular season with a good to great record. That shouldn’t change this year.
2. Houston Texans – It is hard for me not to think the Texans will secure a bye in the playoffs, but it comes with two caveats. They have to stay healthy, and the division has to be as bad as advertised, which I think it will be. I do not think the Jacksonville Jaguars or Indianapolis Colts will win a game against Houston, and the Texans should at worst split with the Tennessee Titans.
3. Denver Broncos – The AFC West does not look very difficult this year, and as long as Peyton Manning stays healthy, the Broncos should win the division.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – I get the feeling the AFC North is going to beat up on each other, but the Steelers should come away with the division.
5. Baltimore Ravens – I still like the Ravens, but I think losing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt a bit. He may be back later in the year, but I wouldn’t count on him being the same until playoff time. It could cost them a couple W’s.
6. Buffalo Bills – The Bills should bounce back from their terrible finish to last year. Losing Fred Jackson and a host of defensive players killed their chances of making the playoffs. As long as they stay healthy, adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should drastically improve their defense.
(3) Broncos over (6) Bills
(5) Ravens over (4) Steelers
(5) Ravens over (1) Patriots
(2) Texans over (3) Broncos
(2) Texans over (5) Ravens
The Texans finally get over the hump and make it to the Super Bowl by getting revenge over the Ravens. Even with a third string QB the Texans nearly upset the Ravens on the road in the playoffs last season. As long as everyone stays healthy on the Texans, they are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. Despite the Ravens finishing fifth in the conference, they could get Suggs back late in the year and make a run. I like what they added offensively last year with Torrey Smith and to the return game with Jacoby Jones
NFC Playoff Picture
1. San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers were one of the most complete teams in the NFL under Jim Harbaugh, and were seemingly two muffed punts away from making the Super Bowl. They added Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss to their offense, which should finally open things up for Alex Smith. The down field option will completely transform this offense into a juggernaut. Add that to their dominant defense, and you’re likely looking at the best team in the NFL.
2. Green Bay Packers – I doubt the Packers have a crazy regular season like they did a year ago. I’m not sure the Packers can repeat their explosiveness offensively from last year, but they’ll still be the best offensive team in the NFL. They just have to get the defense back on track, which could very well happen.
3. Carolina Panthers – Despite the Atlanta Falcons seemingly having a hold on this division, something tells me the Panthers will win this division easily. The New Orleans Saints are in disarray and Cam Newton is a great leader that has this team going in the right direction. Ron Rivera will make the defense better and this team will start to win those close games they struggled with last year.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – The NFC East will beat up on each other and likely have their winner be the bottom of the four division winners. The Eagles improved a bunch on paper, they just have to keep Vick healthy so they can make a run.
5. Chicago Bears – The Bears were in line to contend for the division with the Packers before Jay Cutler and Matt Forte each went down with injuries. There are not many teams who could recover from losing their top QB and RB midway through the season. Adding Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery will give Cutler trustworthy weapons other than Earl Bennett, and this offense should really take off. The only question mark is protecting Cutler, which new offensive coordinator Mike Tice should be able to handle.
6. New York Giants – I originally thought the Giants would be a 12-13 win team, but injuries are still an issue. Plus, Tom Coughlin‘s Giants have a tendency to drop bad games in the regular season. They’ll still be playoff contenders, and make it on the heels of their improved defense, dominant pass rush and Eli Manning.
(6) Giants over (3) Panthers
(4) Eagles over (5) Bears
(1) 49ers over (6) Giants
(2) Packers over (4) Eagles
(1) 49ers over (2) Packers
The 49ers will get their revenge over the Giants and set up an epic showdown of classic franchises. The Packers and 49ers NFC Championship match-up would be one of the best match-ups ever, and come down to the 49ers having a better defense that could shut down Rogers. This will be a repeat of a regular season matchup, so we will get a taste of what this could be like.
Super Bowl Prediction
(1) 49ers over (2) Texans
I feel like the 49ers and Texans are easily the most complete teams in the NFL on paper, and it’s not hard to see them making the Super Bowl. This isn’t exactly going against the grain, but I believe in both teams.
Jeff is an NFL Featured Columnist for RantSports.com. He contributes mainly to the New York Giants and NFL Rumors pages. He also will occasionally touch on the NBA and humorous videos involving all sports. This is his first general NFL predictions article for Rant Sports, so don’t run to the sports book after reading this article.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_Shull