The Giants emerged as Super Bowl winners on Sunday, ending the 2011-2012 season. Pretty good considering that this season was close to not happening at all.
It is never too early to look towards the future, especially for the NFL. Now, instead of worrying about lockouts, we can start worrying about the draft and how our team will do next year.
This article is really going to be some crystal ball kind of guesses, because we never really know how teams will perform. Heck, I had the Bucs going to the second round of the playoffs!
We will start with the AFC and go down the line from there.
New York Jets: 11-5
New England Patriots: 10-6
Miami Dolphins: 6-10
Buffalo Bills: 5-11
Here we are with our first shock of the day! Picking the Jets may seem to be like a death wish, but don't ever count out Rex Ryan's big mouth. While they talk a lot, they do have skills that can win games.
Sanchez has about one year of tolerance left with the Jets organization, so he will make sure he can prove worthy. The Jets are set to draft a running back, which would certainly help out the offense.
The Patriots just came off a very disappointing loss in the Super Bowl, having been figured out by the Giants. Patriots fans are mad now that the Giants have ruined their season twice. There is change due for this club, but nobody is sure what it will be. They will probably draft a defensive player, but there is more in store for this team.
The Dolphins are still a year or two off from really competing in this division, but don't ignore them just yet. They are set to make some good draft picks ranging anywhere from a QB to a WR to even an O-linemen. Either of these three would be a good choice for the Dolphins, who I could totally see making a difference the season after next.
There really isn't anything to cheer about for Buffalo besides their draft pick, though that is a legitimate reason to celebrate. If the Bills can draft a good linebacker, they could be a force to reckon with on defense. Offensively, I think they are still a gimmick that, while they have good moments, cannot sustain long term success.
Baltimore Ravens: 12-4
Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
Cleveland Browns: 6-10
Cincinnati Bengals: 6-10
The Ravens are one of my picks to go far into the playoffs next season and for good reason. They still have the same horrifyingly good defense and still have a reliable offense. Ray Rice and Flacco showed that they can form a dangerous duo that can match up against good teams and can be reliable in the playoffs. On another note, the Ravens are set to draft Vontaze Burfict. Good lord, I would not want to be an offensive player facing that defense.
You know the Steelers fans are mad that the Ravens had their number this past year. Beating them in Pittsburgh and slamming them in Baltimore has the team foundation really wondering where they need to improve. The loss to the Broncos only further cemented this idea. The Steelers need an offensive lineman because Big Ben can only take so many hits. Don't expect a lot of change, but expect them to still be good.
My pick for the turnaround team of the year goes to the Cleveland Browns due to their huge room to improve. They have talent, but it needs to be fostered. Justin Blackmon could be a massive receiving target for Colt McCoy, who will improve immensely in the off-season. The Browns just need one more play maker on defense or offense, then they can start to compete for the division.
Sorry to any Bengals fans, but I have them being the disappointment of next season. Besides their passing game, what else do they really have? Their rushing game wasn't the best, and their defense didn't really excel in anything. They were not able to beat Baltimore or Pittsburgh at any point in the season, which should send some warning signs. They are looking to draft an offensive lineman, which will help, but it will not be enough.
Tennessee Titans: 10-6
Houston Texans: 9-7
Indianapolis Colts: 8-8
Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
The Titans are one of those teams that some years they look like Super Bowl contenders, and some years they look like a college team. I'm going to bet that next year they look really good. Chris Johnson won't slump as bad as he did this year and Jake Locker will probably be taking the reigns this next season. Even if he doesn't, they still have veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
All the Titans need is to draft either an offensive lineman or defensive lineman and they are set to win the south.
In their first playoff appearances, the Texans did impress a lot of people by smashing the Bengals and keeping close with the Ravens. The problem is that the Texans were exposed when their starting QB Matt Schaub went down with an injury. They barely snuck into the playoffs afterwards. While they are a very well rounded team, they lack explosiveness. They might get into the playoffs, but it would help if they could get an offensive weapon in the draft.
The Colts quarterback situation is really murky right now, so I am really hesitant to predict how they are going to do. If Manning stays in, they immediately contend for the conference. If Luck comes in, they don't do as well for the first year until they become comfortable with Luck. The Colts will select Luck because they need a young franchise QB. They won the Super Bowl with a mediocre defense and an amazing offense. I don't expect them to back down from that plan.
It is just not a good time to be a Jaguar fan. They actually don't need many corrections to be a good team, but those weak spots are so visible that they will never get better until they fix them. In order to make Gabbert a good QB they will need to give him a weapon. He needs a wide receiver to trust and prosper with. The Jaguars may be good at some point in the future, but next year is not it.
Kansas City Chiefs: 9-7
Denver Broncos: 8-8
Oakland Raiders: 7-9
San Diego Chargers: 5-11
In the mediocre division of the AFC West, the Chiefs are the ones I trust the most to consistently play good football. In the mostly pass heavy division, the Chiefs have the best pass defense. They stand to draft a defensive lineman or a linebacker, which could propel them to a scary good defense when you remember that Eric Berry is also returning. Once Matt Cassel is fully healed, I think that the Chiefs become the best in this disappointing division.
The Broncos had a good run this year due to their spotty defense and dominant run game. The problem is that their defense is aging, and I'm not sure if their current QB Tim Tebow is the long term answer. Inconsistency is the big problem with this team, and that is why I do not have them winning the division. The Broncos are looking to pick up a defensive back of some sort in the draft, which they sorely need to anchor the defense.
The story of the Raiders this year was how they could blow so many leads with so much talent. I think it was the defense that really did them in. Carson Palmer, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden were not the problem with this team. The defense was just plain bad versus pass and run. The Raiders will not have a first or second round draft pick, which could prove to be detrimental to this team. They need some defensive help now.
It was amazing how fast the talk went from playoffs to draft picks with the Chargers. This team was set to win the division with the combination of Phillip Rivers, Vincent Jackson and Ryan Mathews. That quickly fell apart when the defense was nothing special, and Rivers was seemingly trying to throw as many picks as touchdowns. The ideal thing for this Chargers team to do would be to draft either an offensive lineman to limit Rivers' mistakes or a defensive linebacker to help with the pass rush.
Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6
New York Giants: 9-7
Washington Redskins: 6-10
Dallas Cowboys: 5-11
I didn't expect the Eagles to be the Super Bowl contenders they were being labeled last season. Though I do expect it this year. They hadn't properly blended together to create the extremely solid team that they could be. If they can patch up their problems at linebacker, there is no reason they cannot contend. They are too deep on the offense and defense to not live up to expectations.
The reigning Super Bowl champions will once again be forced to fight for their spot in the big game. The reason I have the Giants finishing here is that they always do this in the regular season. Eli is still not elite in the regular season, and if they can't find some sort of regular season pattern, they will finish exactly like they did last year. Look for them to draft a tight end.
I will have to admit that this prediction for the Redskins is based on the assumption that they pick Robert Griffin III. If they can draft him, I can see their troubles turning away and can realistically see them winning this division in a year or two. Even if they don't draft Griffin, they will still probably have the same record. The Redskins are trying to rebuild right now. Don't expect them to make a splash just yet.
The only word I have for the Cowboys is: Really? I am putting Dallas in last place because they have shown that they are just not a motivated team. They blow leads, have no enthusiasm, have bad coaching and never live up to expectations. The only admirable players are probably Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. Talent is there, but they have no idea how to use it. Expect them to go for a cornerback in the draft. But don't expect them to make the playoffs next year.
Green Bay Packers: 12-4
Detroit Lions: 10-6
Chicago Bears: 7-9
Minnesota Viking: 5-11
Things look like more of the same for the NFC North as of now. The Packers are still the heavy favorites to win the division, which makes sense when you just say one name—Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have an explosive offense that can outscore every team they face. A position they should be looking to improve would be the outside linebacker. If they nab somebody like Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilus, expect them to be part of the Super Bowl talk once again.
I said it when they lost to the Saints, and I'll say it again: What a future this Lions team has.
They are the uplifting story of the year, rising out of the ashes that Detroit football has been in for years. I really do feel that the Lions are only one big play maker away from contending for the Super Bowl.With Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, the talk is about them drafting an offensive lineman. While this would be a decent choice, I really do feel that they need more help on the defense. If they can get a defensive steal late in the draft, they will go far into the playoffs.
If the Bears can stop the injuries, they could be a serious threat in this division. But the problem is that their defense, while good, is getting old and cannot stop the pass. You will not win if you can't stop the pass in the same division as Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and rising QB Christian Ponder. From what I hear, the Bears are looking for an offensive weapon like a WR or maybe an O-lineman. Once again, these are good decisions, but not necessarily the ones they should be looking at.
The Vikings have a good offense in rising star Ponder and already great Adrian Peterson. The problem is that they have no protection for Ponder. I expect them to draft an offensive lineman to fix this situation. If I was the Viking's manager, I would put the most dependence on my offense, which could totally be a force if healthy. The defense needs patching up, but that can be addressed later. They need to be looking at the future of their offense.
New Orleans Saints: 12-4
Atlanta Falcons: 10-6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-9
Carolina Panthers: 7-9
As long as the Saints have Drew Brees, they will be constant Super Bowl contenders. But as long as they have a poor defense, they will continue to fall short. I shouldn't even have to say that this division is the passing division of the NFL. If the Saints can't stop the pass, their Super Bowl dreams will always be cut short. I still have them winning the division because, let's all admit, their offense may be the most explosive out there.
To be honest, I really don't understand why the Falcons can't win playoff games. Their offense is great and Matt Ryan is a monster of a quarterback. The feelings in Atlanta are starting to get really sore because their franchise QB and team can't win, even though they have players like Julio Jones and Michael Turner. The Falcons need a defensive player, but they're set to trade their first round pick. I think they make the playoffs again, but I doubt they can go any further.
The Buccaneers were the disappointment of 2012, and this fan was included in the ones disappointed. There is talent on the Bucs, but it needs discipline and help. The offense doesn't need much tweaking, but the defense must be overhauled. Claiborne is the most likely pick for the Bucs, which is great choice. It won't fix everything, but next season will be a step in the right direction for the Buccaneers. Expect this team to win the division in a few years.
Picking Cam Newton last year was probably one of the smartest things the Panther organization ever did. The guy is a rising star with weapons around him that can succeed for a long time to come. The way I see it is the Panthers can either draft an offensive lineman or receiver and build the team around Newton and the offense, or can draft defensive picks to try and strengthen the defense. Either way, it is reasonable to see this team competing for this division in about two years.
San Francisco 49ers: 13-3
Arizona Cardinals: 7-9
St. Louis Rams: 5-11
Seattle Seahawks: 4-12
I will say it, and will keep saying it—The 49ers are my favorite to win the Super Bowl next year.
Their defense is one of the best I have seen and they can only get better. Alex Smith broke out of his bust status and was complimented by Frank Gore in a very tough offense that got the job done. Talk is that the 49ers draft a wide receiver, which is the only thing they need. This is the team I see raising the Lombardi Trophy in 2013.
Kevin Kolb was a big disappointment this year, but fear not Cardinal fans. You still have a lot of offensive talent returning and your QB situation has two mediocre, but passable quarterbacks. Both will improve next season with Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells returning. The best option for the Cardinals right now is to load up the offense because their defense will get them nowhere. I would suggest drafting an offensive lineman or another running back or wide receiver.
The Rams were very bad this year. There is no other way to say it. On the upside, they can only get better from here. It is not their offense that is the problem. Sam Bradford is a great QB who just needs more protection up front, which they should invest in with their draft pick. The defense is just too messed up to even try to be fixed in one season. If I were the organization, I would focus on my offense for now.
Here we are with the worst team in the NFL for next season. Looking at the Seahawks, it is hard to see anything to be excited for. Marshawn Lynch is probably the one thing they can be proud of. They need a QB, but by the time they pick, all the standout ones will be gone. The defense is decent, but nothing special. They have limited options for this draft and it will show next season.