With just 1 day left before the first game of the season begins, I will take a look at what I expect to see from teams this season. Last year, we had a few teams take the next step in their pursuit for the Superbowl. Ultimately, the New York Giants took home the trophy. This year, I expect a few different teams to shine, and a new team to take home the trophy.
AFC North – The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last year. This year it could be the same, however I do not believe the Bengals will continue into January. Last year the Bengals went 9-7, however they did not beat a single team over .500. They were a solid team who beat the teams they should beat, and lost to superior teams. They will be led by Andy Dalton and AJ Green on offense, but I do not believe they will make the playoffs. The Browns will continue to be in the cellar this year. Their promising rookie, RB Trent Richardson, should have a good year, but I don’t expect many wins from the Browns. The Ravens and Steelers will continue to dominate the division. I expect Flacco to have a great year, and the Ravens should take the division. The Steelers with their young WR’s, and good Defense, should take one of the wild card spots in the AFC.
AFC South – The AFC South has changed dramatically since the end of the 2010 season. The Colts, Titans, and Jags all have new young Quarterbacks who hope to lead their team to the Division title. However the team with the most expectations this year would be the Houston Texans. Last year they made it to the 2nd round in the playoffs, even with their starting QB, LB out for the year, as well as many injuries to starters during the year (Johnson, Manning, Foster). This team is very young, and capable and with the improvement of the 3rd year corner, Kareem Jackson, this defense should get stronger than it was last year (YES, even with the loss of Williams, and Ryans), and with a healthy lineup, they should take the division crown pretty easily. No one else from the division will represent the AFC South in the playoffs.
AFC East – The AFC East has pretty much been dominated by the Patriots the last 10 years, and I expect this year to be no different. Brady and his Tight Ends should dominate other defenses again this year, though their defense will still need to get better, if they hope to make it to the Superbowl. The Bills have improved their defense, and should be able to place 2nd in the division. I expect the Jets to finish under .500 this year, and likely be making a lot of news for no reason. The Dolphins should finish dead last in the division, and it will be interesting to see how rookie QB, Ryan Tannehill plays this season. The Pats will take the division title, and be the lone representative from the AFC East.
AFC West – The AFC West is a very solid division. All 4 teams can probably make a case to take the division crown. This year, I expect the Denver Broncos to take the crown. The addition of Manning, along with 2 good receivers, and a pretty good defense, should be enough to win the division. I believe the 2nd wild card spot in the AFC will be taken by the San Diego Chargers. Last year the Chargers struggled to do anything well. This year they should bounce back in a big way, and make the playoffs. The Raiders and Chiefs will likely be solid this year but not enough to be in the playoffs.
NFC North - The NFC North is home to arguably the best division in Football. The division favorite Green Bay Packers, should be able to take the division crown again this year. The two challengers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, should make things very interesting this year. I believe both the Lions AND Bears will make the playoffs this year. Those three teams will be very interesting to watch throughout the season, and should be in the tick of the wild card race in the last few weeks, and should both pull through. The Vikings will show some promise this year, but will fall short of making the playoffs.
NFC South - One can make the case that the NFC South will also have 3 representatives this year. However I believe the coach-less Saints will still be able to win the division. With one of the top offenses in the game, and a good enough defense, they should be able to hold back the Falcons this year. The Falcons, will have a good season, but fall short of the wild card this year, and will be home in January. The Panthers should have a good season this year, and I expect a .500 season from the surprising Panthers. The Bucs will also have a pretty good season and would not be shocked to see a close to .500 team.
NFC East - The NFC East is home to the Super Bowl Champion, New York Giants. This year, I expect some different things in this division. For one, the Giants will not make the playoffs. They have the hardest schedule in the league this year (based on last year’s winning % of their opponents) and there are better teams in the division. They Cowboys struggled last year to close games and should bounce back from that and take the division crown. The Eagles should improve this year, though I think they will just miss the playoffs and finish second in the division. The Redskins have improved this offseason, though they should still finish last in the division.
NFC West - The West is home to the worst division in the NFC. The 49′ers should pretty easily take this division with their strong defense, and chain moving offense. This year’s surprise team, might just be the Seahawks. The Seahawks should have a top 10 defense when the year is over, and have a promising rookie QB, Russell Wilson, leading them this year. The Seahawks also have a pretty easy schedule this year getting to play the Rams and Cardinals twice, as well as winnable games vs. the Vikings, Jets, Bills, Dolphins, and Panthers. They could be a surprise wild card contender, though I think they will fall short. The Cardinals have QB problems and should struggle to win more than 6 games. The Rams will continue to rebuild and likely be at the bottom of the division.
AFC 1st round byes – Pats, Texans
NFC 1st round byes – Packers, 49′ers
SuperBowl Champions – Texans
MVP – Drew Brees
Offensive Player of the Year – Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Players of the Year – De’Marcus Ware
Coach of the Year – Gary Kubiak
Comeback Player of the Year – Jon Beason
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Andrew Luck
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Luke Kuechly
Who do you think makes the Super Bowl this year in New Orleans? Let’s hear what you guys have to say in the comments, or tweet me @YoniPollak.