Predicting Every NFL Division Winner, Pre-Training Camp Edition
By taking a look at your calender, you might think that the 2012 NFL season is an eternity away and that the recent buzz from OTAs and minicamp was just a tease of football.
But look again—training camp is roughly four weeks away, which means preseason is right around the corner. And then after that, it's time for some football.
As we sit in a rather calm period of the NFL offseason, we can start to talk about predictions.
In that spirit, let's take a look at my predicted winners for every NFL division, pre-training camp edition.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
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This is as bold as it's going to get—but hear me out. I certainly make a valid argument.
For starters, take a look at the AFC North. You have two of the most dominant teams in the NFL over the years in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. But they have two major weaknesses: One, they're both dealing with their share of injuries, and two, their defenses are aging.
With that being said, the Cincinnati Bengals don't have those problems. They're young and filled with talent—it's just a matter of if they can pull together and learn from their experience from a year ago.
The Bengals, led by Andy Dalton, shocked the NFL a year ago, posting a 9-7 record that was good enough for the final Wild Card spot. Granted, the team fell short against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round, but still making the playoffs in a year where the roster saw a huge turnover was quite impressive.
Cincinnati is going to continue getting better in 2012 and will take advantage of Pittsburgh's and Baltimore's holes as they look to achieve their first divisional crown since 2009.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
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No matter how young and talented the Detroit Lions might be, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are just too unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball and will simply out-power anyone that stands in their way.
Green Bay had one of the worst defenses that I have ever seen this past season but still managed to go 15-1.
With that being said, Rodgers and the offense don't have to be perfect. They can still manage to go 12-4 or 11-5. In fact, if the defense improves, which it's expected to with additions like Nick Perry, then the Packers will be able to continue their dominance and win the NFC North.
AFC South: Houston Texans
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For the first time in their existence, the Houston Texans are going to win back-to-back divisional titles.
With the Indianapolis Colts out of the picture again (as they'll be rebuilding with Andrew Luck), the Tennessee Titans still young and up in the air with who's going to be their quarterback and the Jacksonville Jaguars continuing to be the laughing stock of the NFL, the Houston Texans will prevail and clinch the AFC South.
Despite losing Mario Williams and talent on both sides of the ball this past offseason, the Texans still have a very dominant defense with the likes of J.J. Watt. In addition, they still boast an explosive offense due to the stellar duo of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson as well as the monstrous tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
The Texans will win back-to-back AFC South titles in 2012.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
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I'm not saying that the Atlanta Falcons will make any noise in the playoffs, as the regime of Matt Ryan and Mike Smith have notoriously struggled in the postseason, but they will win the NFC South in 2012.
With the New Orleans Saints losing their head coach, Sean Payton, for the season due to "Bountygate" and all of the negative media attention that the team is getting this offseason, I just see them imploding and failing miserably in 2012.
The NFC South is there for the winning if you're the Atlanta Falcons.
AFC East: New England Patriots
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The AFC East should not be a challenge for the New England Patriots in 2012—in fact, the AFC is the Pats' to lose.
New England has been such a dominant force this past decade and appears to have what it takes to make yet another Super Bowl run in 2012.
On offense, Tom Brady proves to get better with age and has new weapons to play with, such as Brandon Lloyd. Not to mention, the team has welcomed back offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels—the same coordinator that called the plays back in 2007 when New England posted a perfect 16-0 record.
In 2012, the table is set for New England to win not only a divisional crown but also a conference title.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
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The 2012 season is going to be a year of redemption for Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, as the self-proclaimed "Dream Team" failed to meet expectations in 2011, posting an 8-8 record.
Philly could very well be the most talented team at every single position, having addressed every single need that it had entering the offseason. The Eagles brought in DeMeco Ryans to fortify the middle linebacker position, they found a slot cornerback in Brandon Boykin and had one of the most impressive draft classes with the likes of Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Nick Foles.
The New York Giants might be the reigning Super Bowl champions and should make the playoffs as a Wild Card team, but the Eagles have all the talent in the world, and on paper, they should easily dominate the NFC in 2012.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
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It's going to be one of those years for the AFC West in 2012—much like a year ago—when we see very inconsistent teams battle it out, with the team that becomes hot later in the season ultimately prevailing.
So, whom do I see prevailing? Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Assuming that Manning is 100 percent healthy come the start of the regular season, the Broncos should be a competitive team in 2012. And the addition of the four-time MVP quarterback should be enough to put this team over the top and win the AFC West.
Don't get me wrong, the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will all be competitive at times this season, with likely some of them occupying the divisional lead at some point. But Manning and the Broncos will surge in the later weeks of the season to win the AFC West.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
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I hate to say that the NFC West is going to be a cakewalk for the San Francisco 49ers, but for the National Football League, this division is going to be as easy as it gets.
The 49ers are by far the superior team in the NFC West, as they possess one of the NFL's elite defenses and have improved greatly this offseason. The team has added wide receivers Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins, who all could be huge contributors in 2012. They also added running backs Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James.
There's no doubt that San Fran's defense is going to be elite with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman leading the way, and the team's offensive unit could surprise a few people with the talent that has been added this offseason.
San Francisco will easily capture the NFC West title this season.