Every year I like to toss out 32 random predictions for the upcoming football season. Sometimes I am remarkably prescient, while I look like a complete moron with others. That’s why we play the games, people!
Note that some of these directly contradict what I wrote in some team season previews. It’s called covering your, uh, bases, plus my opinions on some things have changed since mid-June when I started most of those previews.
1. The New England Patriots cruise to the best record in the league, finishing 14-2 and sewing up the weak AFC East with a Week 13 win over the Dolphins. They will do so behind the highest-scoring offense in the league, as Tom Brady becomes the first quarterback to post consecutive 5,000 yard seasons. He’ll do that even though Wes Welker is the only wide receiver to catch more than 43 passes. Three predictions in one, if you’re scoring at home…
2. For the first time in seemingly eons, no coaches will be fired during the regular season. However, one head coach canned last year who is now serving as a coordinator will get the boot once again. That would be former Chiefs coach and new Steelers Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, who will not survive a coup from his players in part because the Steelers offense will rank near the bottom in efficiency and cannot keep Ben Roethlisberger on the field. Haley is easily one of the most reviled coaching figures in the league for his loud arrogance and iron-fisted treatment of players.
3. After last year’s unprecedented three 5,000 yard passers, this season has just two: Tom Brady and Matt Stafford. But 12 other QBs will throw for at least 4,000 yards as the league moves even more to a pass first, pass second style of play. The most unexpected 4,000 passer? Carson Palmer in his first full year in Oakland, a function of the Raiders often trailing by big margins early in games.
4. Peyton Manning will look very good early in his return, but a big hit will knock him to the sidelines for a couple games midseason and he will not be the same when he comes back in December. During his absence, rookie Brock Osweiler fails to win a game and throws more INTs than TDs. That keeps the Broncos from making the playoffs, and the injury also scares Manning enough that he announces his retirement after the season.
5. The Offensive Rookie of the Year will be Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin, who will rush for 1,128 yards and nine TDs in his inaugural season. Martin will also catch 47 passes and represent a higher percentage of his team’s offense than any other RB except Ray Rice. The entire rookie quarterback class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, etc. will cancel one another out at the ballot box.
6. Tim Tebow will take over for Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback for the Jets in Week 6, after the Jets begin the year to that point dead last in scoring, passing, and sacks allowed. Even though his numbers won’t be much (if any) of an improvement over Sanchez, Tebow leads the team to five wins in six games and saves everyone’s jobs…except The Sanchize.
7. The Green Bay Packers will do a fine imitation of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. You might recall those Steelers went 15-1 in 2004 but prematurely exited the playoffs, then followed it up with a less-inspiring 11-5 record. However, those Steelers wound up getting hot late and won the Super Bowl even though they weren’t as good in the regular season. These Packers have that same kind of feel and ability, though I think they finish with 12 or perhaps 13 wins in the regular season.
8. The Defensive Rookie of the Year will be Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, who will rank in the top five league-wide in solo tackles while leading all rookies in INTs with five and fumble recoveries with three. His presence will strongly solidify the Carolina defense and spring them to a playoff berth.
9. Maurice Jones-Drew will end his holdout the day after the Jaguars’ first regular season game, when backup Rashad Jennings runs for 118 yards and a touchdown and proves to MJD what little perceived leverage he had is completely evaporated. MJD will start slowly, not topping 100 yards until Week 5 against the Urlacher-less Bears, and wind up with his lowest yardage total since the ’08 season with just 882 yards and six TDs.
10. A year after throwing just five INTs, Niners QB Alex Smith triples that number to 15. Because he only throws five TDs to wide receivers all year (three to Randy Moss), San Francisco unexpectedly plummets from their surprise 2011 success and winds up missing the playoffs. Smith eventually gives way to 2nd year player Colin Kaepernick, who will be more notable for his tattoos than his success on the field this year.
11. This season’s leader in sacks will be Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants, who will ring up 20.5 sacks. He will also earn Defensive Player of the Year honors as he racks up five forced fumbles, two INTs, and sends two QBs to the locker room along the way to go with the sacks. Runner up to the sack title? Julius Peppers with 17.5.
12. Michael Vick will start 11 games for the Eagles, and in those games the team will go 9-2. But he will miss five games with various injuries, and the Eagles win just one of those five games behind Mike Kafka and, after he flops, rookie Nick Foles. With Foles getting a start, along with an unexpected desperation start for Ryan Lindley with the Cardinals, seven different rookie QBs will start a game this season.
13. The leader in receiving yardage will be Calvin Johnson, who pulls down 99 throws for a whopping 1872 yards and 17 TDs for Detroit. Despite that, Megatron will not finish in the top-5 in Offensive MVP voting. Fellow Lions receiver Titus Young will explode for 1180 yards, giving the Lions just the second WR duo to top 3000 yards in a season. Bonus points if you know the twosome that broke the ice without looking it up…Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce with the 2000 Rams.
14. Houston is going to miss the leadership of Demeco Ryans, Mario Williams, and Eric Winston a lot more than they realize. It will impact the Texans more early in the season as they unexpectedly sputter out of the gate. But the Bulls on Parade defensive front will carry the day, finishing with more than 45 sacks and leading Houston to the AFC South title. Arian Foster and Ben Tate will have something to do with it too.
15. The Comeback Player of the Year will be Peyton Manning. I know, bold choice. But Manning will throw for 3412 yards and 23 TDs in the 14 games he plays, good enough to distance himself from the pack and legitimately earn the award, which has probably been engraved with his name already. The top defensive comeback will belong to Chiefs safety Eric Berry.
16. The Coach of the Year will be Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, for leading Seattle to an unexpected (by most) 11-5 record and the NFC West title behind rookie QB Russell Wilson and a defense that leads the league in forced turnovers and 3rd down conversion percentage. Despite his lack of height, Wilson will have fewer passes batted down than Joe Flacco, who is a good seven inches taller.
17. Comparing Andrew Luck and RG3: Luck will throw for more yards (3677), a higher completion percentage (61.2) and touchdowns (23); RG3 will throw for more yards per attempt (7.7) and run for more yards (379) and touchdowns (6), plus lead his team to more wins (6).
18. For all the preseason venom towards the replacement officials, a brutal gaffe by the “professionals” will cost a team a playoff spot. Mike Pereira will defend the veteran crew even though they clearly botch a ball spot on 3rd down to extend a drive and then allow a touchdown reception to stand even though the ball never crosses the goal line once the receiver completes the process of the catch. My guess on the victimized team? The 49ers.
19. Four of the five lowest-ranked defenses in yardage allowed (New England, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans) will make the playoffs, with the outlier being the Colts. Four of the five highest-ranked defenses in yardage allowed (Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, San Francisco, New York Jets) will miss the playoffs, with the outlier being the Ravens. Get over the antiquated notion that teams cannot win without a strong defense, people; it’s not 1986 anymore.
20. Jon Gruden will take a break from heaping effusive praise on pedestrian players long enough on Monday Night Football to publicly announce he wants to get back into coaching in 2013 and will entertain offers from any team starting the minute after the final game ends. Look for Chuckie to go home to Cleveland for 2013 under new owner Jimmy Haslam, who fires everyone on New Year’s Day after a 5-11 finish.
21. Because the trade deadline still remains too early in the season, there will be only one trade of any consequence during the season. Injury-induced desperation causes the Giants to trade seldom-used WR Ramses Barden and a 5th round pick to the Bills for declining CB Leodis McKelvin. Two deals I would make today (Aug. 28): Detroit sends Lawrence Jackson to New Orleans for Chris Ivory, and San Francisco sends Parys Haralson, Ted Ginn, and a 2nd round pick to the Jets for Santonio Holmes. Neither of those have even a 0.5% chance of happening.
22. The San Diego Chargers continue to pave their way for a move up the coast to Los Angeles by stubbornly clinging to Norv Turner as coach and AJ Smith as GM even though the team slogs to a 7-9 record. Don’t blame Philip Rivers, who will have a nice bounce back season even without Vincent Jackson, or blame Antonio Gates, who will reestablish his place in the tight end pantheon. Ownership appears to want to deliberately have empty seats to prove the fan support just isn’t there in San Diego.
23. Sam Bradford will get hurt once again, not making it past Week 9 behind what remains one of the worst offensive lines in the league. This will be the third significant shoulder injury in four years for Bradford, and that will force the Rams to use their #2 overall draft pick in 2013 on his replacement, Matt Barkley of USC. The Rams will finish in the bottom three in yards per attempt for the third year in a row, another reason for the changing of the guard.
24. Cincinnati, Detroit, and New England all finish the year with no rusher gaining more than 400 yards on his own. Between the running back by committee philosophy, an overwhelming reliance on the passing game, and injuries to various runners, none of those teams establish any real running threat. All three win at least eight games and finish in the top 12 in scoring, proving once again this is not the NFL of 1986.
25. Despite the top-notch security detail and repeated threats to his livelihood, Dez Bryant will find his way into trouble with an arrest before Thanksgiving. That will force Jerry Jones to cut ties with the highly talented but completely clueless Bryant. Coupled with the Demarco Murray injury coming before Week 6, this is a deathblow to both the Cowboys season and many a fantasy football season.
26. Adrian Peterson will play in the opener but the Vikings will use him more sparingly than fantasy owners, and Peterson himself, want them to. He will not get more than 85 touches in their first five games but will still wind up near the league leaders in rushing yards with 1167 and touchdowns with 11. Despite AD’s imposed slow start, the Vikings are the surprise darlings of the early season, taking a 6-2 record into Halloween before the defensive wheels come off and they lose their next six games. Seriously, they might have the easiest first eight games in the last decade!
27. With the #1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals draft Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas. It might take a trade to move up as I think the Cardinals defense and running game will be too good for them to finish with the worst record, but no team needs a quarterback more. There is also a lot of top-notch pass rushers and pass protectors at the top of next year’s draft, which will create a depth market that will allow a team like the 4-12 Cardinals (down from my 6-10 season preview) to finagle their way up to #1. Of course no team needs a left tackle more than Arizona either, but that’s for another conversation…
28. The Most Improved Player will be Lions DE Willie Young, who will surge to 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and a pick six on Thanksgiving Day that seals a win for Detroit. He is primed for more action as the team knows both Kyle VandenBosch and Cliff Avril won’t be back in 2013 and they want to make sure Young is ready. He is. Young edges out Saints DE Martez Wilson, another unexpected sack artist with 9.5 for a Saints defense that struggles once again in the red zone, their Achilles heel.
29. A disastrous 3-13 campaign by the Dolphins will lead to the demise of the wildly overhyped “Hard Knocks”. No coach wants that kind of negative spotlight and crushing pressure to be telegenic ever again, and even the most money-grubbing attention whore of an owner (Hi Jerry!) wants the headaches that come along with appearing on the show. Ryan Tannehill will get the brunt of the blame for Miami’s struggles, but he stands little chance with the worst collection of wide receivers assembled since…wait for it…last year’s Browns. Trading away Vontae Davis sapped the will to compete from the team, sending the message that the coaches and ownership don’t believe this team can win right now. With the #3 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Dolphins select LSU LB Barkevious Mingo.
30. Jay Cutler rides his two new receiving toys, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, to amazing numbers. Combined they will catch 190 passes for 2400 yards and 15 TDs. Alas, the other wideouts on the team account for just 41 total receptions, 13 of those in the one game Marshall misses due to an injury. Speaking of Chicago injuries, Brian Urlacher misses seven full games and parts of two others with various maladies and the defense cannot compete without his presence in the middle.
31. The playoff teams:
AFC--Division winners: New England, Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City. Wild Cards: Cincinnati, Tennessee.
NFC--Division winners: Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, Seattle. Wild Cards: New York, Carolina.
32. How the playoffs unfold:
AFC--HOU over CIN (again), KC over TEN in Wild Card round. Divisional round has NE over KC and HOU over BAL. Championship has NE over HOU 32-17.
NFC--CAR over ATL, NYG over SEA in Wild Card round. Divisional round has PHI over CAR, GB over NYG. Championship has GB over PHI 36-35.
Super Bowl--Green Bay over New England 34-20, with Jordy Nelson as MVP.
Got any bold predictions of your own? Discuss them in the General NFL message board or send them to me on Twitter.
Via Jeff Risdon/RealGM
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