Post-NFL Draft Playoff Projections for 2012 Season
Now that we're in the post-2012 NFL draft world, we can look ahead to the upcoming season and beyond. As we saw with the New York Giants in 2011 and the Green Bay Packers in 2010, all that matters during the course of an NFL season is getting into the postseason.
The Giants were the NFC's No. 4 seed but had to win in Week 17 just to get into the playoffs. As for the Packers, they had to win in Week 17 of the 2010 season to qualify as well.
Clearly, making the dance is what counts because the NFL's second season presents an opportunity to bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There's no other reason to compete in pro football, because winning it all is the ultimate goal.
To that end, here's an early look at which franchises will get that opportunity in the 2012-13 playoffs.
No. 1 Seed: New England Patriots
The Patriots' offense still has Tom Brady under center and even more weapons than it did a year ago. New England will dice up defenses through the air to set up the run and try to win games in the first half.
Defensively, the Pats had some questions before the draft but made impressive additions in Round 1 to help their front seven. And despite New England's questionable selections of Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard, let's remember that this is a franchise that's been to five Super Bowls in the past 11 seasons.
No. 2 Seed: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are a team that's going to be a part of the postseason picture for a while. The offense is as balanced as any in the league and the defense has top three potential for 2012.
Arian Foster remains arguably the best and most complete every down back in the league and Owen Daniels is an underrated tight end. Include Andre Johnson out wide and a healthy Houston offense will thrash opponents this season.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars as the only real division competition, the Texans take the AFC South with ease.
No. 3 Seed: Denver Broncos
Provided that the Broncos can remain healthy on defense in 2012, Denver will come out of the AFC West and scratch its way to the No. 3 seed. Having Peyton Manning at the helm will prevent opponents from stacking the box, which will allow for rookie Ronnie Hillman to produce alongside Willis McGahee.
On defense, the Broncos still present a great pass rush led by Von Miller and the secondary has playmakers in Tracy Porter and rookie Omar Bolden. As long as rookie defensive tackle Derek Wolfe makes his mark in the trenches, Denver's front seven will crush offenses this season.
No. 4 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals
After having a strong draft, the Cincinnati Bengals emerge as the AFC North favorites. The offense is significantly boosted by getting Andy Dalton a No. 2 receiver to pair with A.J. Green in Mohamed Sanu, and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis a run-blocking specialist in Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler.
Switch to the Cincy defense and we see top five potential. The front seven upgraded with Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, while the secondary added some serious talent in Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka. It's going to be tough shutting down Cincinnati in 2012.
No. 5 Seed: Buffalo Bills
Upon making some great additions to the front seven before the draft (Mario Williams, anyone?), the Bills impressed by selecting Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks to shut down in the secondary. The pass rush will be getting all kinds of pressure and taking out the ground game, so expect more forced turnovers from Buffalo this season.
Offensively, Buffalo just needs to stay healthy. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are one of the NFL's best running back tandems and adding a lineman like Cordy Glenn will polish the running lanes. Look for the play-action pass to be Buffalo's bread-and-butter in 2012.
No. 6 Seed: Baltimore Ravens
Although the Ravens won the AFC North in 2011, Baltimore's offense was exposed during the postseason. Joe Flacco was heavily pressured and Ray Rice was held in check between the tackles.
We know that Baltimore will field a strong defense, as that has been the team's forte since its inception in 1996. The defense will continue to be stout, but the offense won't be explosive enough to win the division.
Expect opponents to load the box against Rice and blitz Flacco to limit their receivers' opportunities to make plays downfield. Throw in a tough schedule and the Ravens just barely get into the postseason.
No. 1 Seed: San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were a nearly complete team in 2011. The passing game needed improvements and San Francisco went out of their way in the offseason to find help for Alex Smith. Newcomers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will be his feature targets, adding to the already-potent weaponry of mainstays Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
With Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James in the backfield, the Niners possess an explosive and balanced attack. Their defense is the best in the game and added Virginia's Cam Johnson, a late-round steal in the draft.
2012 has awesome potential in the Bay Area and Super Bowl No. 6 has a high probability.
No. 2 Seed: Green Bay Packers
The Packers did themselves a great favor by selecting six defensive prospects in the draft. Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy are the two most notable as Green Bay lacked a pass rush and struggled against the run in 2011. Both provide pressure from all over and will complement Clay Matthews very well.
Elsewhere, the Pack added a playmaking corner in Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward to improve the NFL's worst pass defense. In a pass-happy division, the Cheeseheads repeat as champions courtesy of the defense finally assisting Aaron Rodgers and the offense.
No. 3 Seed: Philadelphia Eagles
The first 12 games of the 2011 season are best forgotten by Eagles fans. After its 4-8 start, however, Philadelphia closed on a four-game win streak and went 5-1 in the NFC East (best divisional record).
Philly already had tons of talent to begin with, but the few weaknesses that existed were addressed. DeMeco Ryans takes over at middle linebacker to help the front seven and rookie defensive lineman Fletcher Cox can get in the backfield from anywhere between the tackles.
With that, expect a big season from Trent Cole and Jason Babin because the secondary also got a boost with Brandon Boykin to contribute as a nickel or dime back. It's also worth mentioning that running back LeSean McCoy has a great complement with Chris Polk in the backfield to keep the offense multidimensional.
No. 4 Seed: Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have an opportunity to win the NFC South in 2012 as the Saints are in the midst of a brief rebuilding period. In addition, Tampa Bay and Carolina remain a year or two away from actually contending for the division as both defenses still need to improve against the run and the pass.
In addition, the Dirty Birds upgraded their own secondary and pass rush to slow down the NFC South's explosive offenses. Provided that Michael Turner and the offense keep balanced and limit turnovers, the Falcons are sneaky dangerous this season.
No. 5 Seed: Dallas Cowboys
With some impressive additions via free agency, the Cowboys only continued their improvements in the draft. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is a great complement to Brandon Carr and Tyrone Crawford helps the front seven with more quarterback pressure and stuffing the run.
Offensively, Dallas just has to stay durable and DeMarco Murray must develop as a true No. 1 ball-carrier. Tony Romo has proven he can put up great numbers despite limited pass protection and an inconsistent receiving corps, but all of that should improved for Big D in 2012.
Right now, the Cowboys remain one year away from really taking the NFL by storm, so consider the upcoming year a warm-up, while 2013 has even more potential.
No. 6 Seed: Detroit Lions
Detroit still has some concerns with its defense, but taking a corner like Dwight Bentley will help them force more turnovers. The two Oklahoma linebackers (Travis Lewis and Ronnell Lewis) improve the Lions' intermediate pass defense, so now they just need a proven rusher to complement Cliff Avril on the outside.
The offense has no major concerns, because as long as Calvin Johnson remains out wide the passing game will dominate and the running game won't face a stacked box. Riley Reiff was a solid addition to the team's pass protection, and his athleticism also bodes well for calling more screens to keep defenses honest.
Still, the Lions need to keep improving against the pass and establish their own ground game. Until then, Detroit will play second-fiddle to Green Bay in the NFC North.
John Rozum on Twitter.
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