Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012-2013 NFL Team Previews

(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Manning and the Giants took home their second Super Bowl in five years last season.
Are the Giants ready to repeat as champs, or will their be a new champion this season?

After a two month hiatus, we're back and better than ever. There's no better way to get back in the writing game than an NFL season preview, so here it is!

AFC East:

The Favorite- New England Patriots: The Pats are the reigning AFC champs and it will take a lot to stop them from repeating this season. They lost BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but gained Brandon Lloyd and upgraded their defense. What also helps New England is that they are playing in one of the weakest divisions in football, and also have an easy out-of-division schedule. Expect big things from Brady, Belichick, and Co.

The Sleeper- Buffalo Bills: Remember when the Bills got off to an extremely hot start in 2011? What you probably forgot is that almost half of their starters got injured by Week 8. In addition, the Bills picked up one of the best defensive players in football, Mario Williams. With Fred Jackson back and healthy, and a defense that is rearing to go, expect the Bills to surprise the league.

The In-Between- New York Jets: The Jets aren't expected to make the playoffs this season, but then again, they aren't expected to come in last either. This is why the Jets make a great "In-Between" team. In any other division the Jets would probably fall to last place, but their weak division and schedule gives them hope to win a few more games than they should. Even though they struggle to put points on the scoreboard, Gang Green has one of the best defenses in the league. We'll see if Tebow can work his magic this year.

The Hopeless- Miami Dolphins: Despite being on Hard Knocks, the Dolphins really have no hype going into the season. While they made a few moves this offseason, the Dolphins will be the same old Dolphins. With Ryan Tannehill under center, who knows what can happen. The Dolphins won't be a Bottom 5 team in the NFL this season, but they definitely have no shot at making the playoffs.

NFC East:

The Favorite- Philadelphia Eagles: Did I trick you with this one? This one hurts being a Giants fan, but as most Giants fans know, they usually fly under the radar to start the season. The Eagles on the other hand usually start off the season as the favorites. If Philly can stay healthy, there is no reason as to why they shouldn't make the playoffs. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and have a defense that is chomping at the bit. The key to their season lies in the hands of Michael Vick; if he starts over 12 games this season, they should make the playoffs, but if not they might have another disappointing season.

The Sleeper- New York Giants: The Blue Crew is back and ready to repeat in 2012. The Giants lost a few key players this offseason, but also gained some players back from injury. The Giants have one of the harder schedules in the league, so that might give them some trouble. What we've all learned over these years though, is that you can never count out Eli Manning. Sometimes he plays like a deer stuck in headlights, but other times he plays like a 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. It will be a tale of two Eli's for the Giants this season.

The In-Between- Dallas Cowboys: With the Giants and Eagles in their division, it makes it tough for the Cowboys. They have a great team but some rough competition. Injuries will play a key role in the Cowboys' season. If their injured players come back strong and stay healthy, the Cowboys may be able to make a run for the playoffs.

The Hopeless- Washington Redskins: Although the Redskins won't be making the playoffs this year, they have something to look forward to in Robert Griffin III. The Redskins still lack many problems, like a solid running game and wide receiver options for starters. They recently signed Anthony Armstrong to catch balls for them, but is that really the help they need. Pierre Garçon has never played as a No. 1 receiver, and usually doesn't have the top cornerbacks guarding him. It will be another painful season for Washington fans.

AFC North:

The Favorite- Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens might have lost Terrell Suggs for the season, but they are still favorites to win the AFC North. Even without Suggs, the Ravens still have one of the best defenses in football. Now add arguably the best running back in the league and you've got yourself a winning combination. If Joe Flacco can stay steady, the Ravens should be a lock to make the playoffs again.

The Sleeper- Pittsburgh Steelers: It sounds weird to call the Steelers "The Sleeper" but that is the role they fit this season. They return most of their defense from last year which is great news. In addition, Mike Wallace recently reported to camp and should be ready to go in Week 1.  They have running back problems to deal with, but that's about it. Look for the Steelers to take one of the Wild Card spots this year.

The In-Between- Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals surprisingly made the playoffs last season, but may not have the same results again. They lost practically no one, and gained BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but they still aren't strong enough to be favored to make the playoffs. Who knows if Andy Dalton and AJ Green will find the same success they had in their rookie seasons. They say sophomore slump is the worst year for players. Don't expect the Bengals to be terrible, but expect them to be floating around the .500 line all year long.

The Hopeless- Cleveland Browns: Just when you though the Browns might turn it around in the offseason, they unsurprisingly failed again. They added Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden to the offense this offseason, but who knows what good that will do. They have the worst receiving core in the league, and a subpar, 28-year old rookie quarterback throwing the ball. Another long, cold, hopeless, and dull season for Cleveland.

NFC North:

The Favorite- Green Bay Packers: The Packers are still shocked that they didn't win the Super Bowl last year. With revenge stirring up inside of them, it's gonna be tough to stop the Packers again this season. They lost nobody in the offseason, and even picked up Jeff Saturday. It's obvious they will be in the playoffs, the real question is, will they win the Super Bowl?

The Sleeper-Chicago Bears: Did I surprise anyone with this pick? Football fans have to remember that before Jay Cutler got hurt, the Bears were one of the hottest teams in football. That might have even helped the Lions make the playoffs. The Bears are an all-around great team. Their offense is finally complete after bringing in Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush in the offseason. Their defense is also above-par. Cutler is the key to their season; If he stays calm,cool, and healthy they are making a run for the playoffs, if not, another sorry season for Bears' fans.

The In-Between- Detroit Lions: The Lions are definitely on the upside, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sold on the fact that they are a guaranteed playoff team. They play in a tough division, have a tough schedule, and have no run game for now. If Stafford and Megatron can continue to put up prolific numbers though, the Lions will be in playoff discussions come December.

The Hopeless- Minnesota Vikings: Good News is that Adrian Peterson has healed way ahead of schedule. The bad news is that they play in a division with three playoff worthy teams, and have many questions to answer this season. The first starting with Christian Ponder. Is Ponder a starter in the NFL, or will the Vikings need to rethink that draft pick from two years ago? The Vikings will be better than they were last season, but still won't be at the level they need to be.

AFC South:

The Favorite- Houston Texans: What else is there to be said about the Texans. They have one of the most complete offenses in the NFL, have a Top 10 defense, and also play in the current worst division in football. If the Texans don't make the playoffs this season, I guess the Mayans were right after all.

The Sleeper- Indianapolis Colts: No way are the Colts playoff-worth yet, but they made the most improvement this offseason in comparison with the other teams in the division. The Colts have Andrew Luck at quarterback for starters, in addition to filling in a few other depth chart holes. The Colts are not nearly as good as they were when they had Peyton, but they are absolutely making progress.

The In-Between- Tennessee Titans: The Titans have a huge question mark next to their name this year. Jake Locker can be a hit-or-miss guy for them this year. Chris Johnson is back, but can he regain his epic 2010 form? Kenny Britt was only suspended one game, but will he end up getting injured by Week 5? If everything goes the Titans' way, they will probably finish second in the division. If they can't figure out their issues though, expect them to be at the bottom with the Jags.

The Hopeless- Jacksonville Jaguars: Good news is that Maurice Jones-Drew is back and ready to go. The bad news is that the Jaguars have one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, in addition to a horrendous receiving core. It's gonna be another one of those years for the Jaguars, and by "one of those years" I mean 4-12 or worse.

NFC South:

The Favorite- Atlanta Falcons: After what New Orleans went through this offseason, it's tough to make them the favorites heading into the season. Plus, the Falcons haven't regressed at all since last year. The Falcons have the best potential on offense this season. This could be the year Matt Ryan finally makes the leap into the elite category of quarterbacks. This could also be the year Julio Jones makes the leap into the elite category of wide receivers. If their defense continues to play well, Atlanta might make a Super Bowl push in 2013.

The Sleeper- New Orleans Saints: Despite all the suspensions and punishments they were hit with this offseason, the Saints are still a great team. Their offense will be just as explosive as last year. Plus, Drew Brees has the brains of an NFL Head Coach anyways. The Saints will be good, the question is will they be good enough to make the playoffs in a very competitive conference?

The In-Between- Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are without a doubt on the rise, but they aren't quite at the top of their peak yet. Despite how great Cam Newton's rookie season was, he might catch a bad case of the sophomore slump. One spot where the Panthers greatly improved in is their defense. In addition to Jon Beason and Thomas Davis returning from injuries, the Panthers also drafted defensive stud Luke Kuechly this offseason. It should be an exciting and interesting year for the Panthers.

The Hopeless- Tampa Bay Bucs: They Bucs aren't necessarily hopeless, they just happen to be the worst team in their division. They replaced their head coach this offseason, and brought in a few big name players, but the Bucs aren't good enough to make the playoffs. They play in arguably the best division in football, and a very competitive conference. The Bucs will improve from last year, but won't make the playoffs.

AFC West:

The Favorite- San Diego Chargers: It's hard to predict the AFC West. All four teams could fall under all four categories by Week 8. For preseason predictions though, it's a safe bet to go with the Chargers as the favorites. Their offense will continue to put plenty of points on the scoreboard, so their concern is their defense. If Norv Turner can turn this defense around, the Chargers will be back in the playoff hunt. 

The Sleeper- Oakland Raiders: The Raiders have a ton of upside. They also have a ton of problems.  A lot of things have to go right if the Raiders want to make the playoffs. They need Carson Palmer to be a reliable starting quarterback, they need Darren McFadden to stay healthy, and they need their defense to step up. It's a large task, but very possible.

The In-Between- Denver Broncos: Yes, they got Peyton Manning under center, but Peyton himself is very "In-Between". He can go back to being a Top 5 quarterback in the league, or he can regress and never regain his throwing strength and velocity. They also have one of the toughest schedules. The Broncos have a great team on paper, but it will be interesting to see how they turn out. 

The Hopeless- Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs made great offseason moves and have greatly improved, but who knows how they'll pan out. The Charles/Hillis running back scheme is exciting, and their defense is impressive, but they have a tough schedule. They are not hopeless, but fans shouldn't be hopeful.

NFC West:

The Favorite- San Francisco 49ers: The Niners improved their offense over the offseason, and should give the Packers, Falcons, and Giants a run for their money in the playoffs. Although the wild, wild, NFC West is always hard to predict, the Niners are the safest bet to win the division.

The Sleeper- Seattle Seahawks: Just when Matt Flynn thought he was a starting quarterback, Russell Wilson came to town and stole it right out of his hands. Wilson is no loser at quarterback though. Expect the Seahawks to shock a few teams this year and float closely around the .500 line.

The In-Between- Arizona Cardinals: It's too bad this division can't have two hopeless teams. The Cardinals have one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. Right now they have John Skelton starting, but Kevin Kolb might get the chance by Week 3. Their running game also has a ton of issues. They made a late season push last season, but expect the Cardinals to be as miserable as they were last year at the beginning of the season.

The Hopeless- St. Louis Rams: Nothing ever goes right for the Rams. Their offense is about the opposite of explosive, and their defense is far from tough. Sam Bradford might turn out to be $78 million mistake. At least St. Louis has got the Cardinals and the Blues, because the Rams won't be good for a while.

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