Bold Prediction for Every Team Heading into the 2012 NFL Season
There will come a time within the next month or so where all of these NFL predictions are thrown out the window. Well, at least, a large majority of them. Some, including myself, will gloat if they are able to predict that a needle will fall by the nearest haystack.
Either way, predictions are good for one thing: to attempt to throw your two cents out there as the season inches closer and the majority of football fans get sick and tired of watching training camp fodder play during meaningless games.
This is one of those types of articles.
I am going to focus on one bold prediction for each NFL team in 2012.
No, no, no...I don't have the Cleveland Browns winning 14 games and battling the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. Of course, that would be bold, but it would also cost me my job.
Without further ado, let's take a wild gander.
New England Patriots
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Three 1,000-Yard Receivers
Last year represented a plethora of Madden numbers in New England.
There is every reason to believe that this will continue in 2012. Brady returns for another chance at a Super Bowl appearance, the Patriots have two Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends and they added Brandon Lloyd in free agency. A lot of people fail to realize that Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards in 2010.
The talent is definitely there for the Patriots to accomplish what would be an amazing feat. The only question is, who would be the third skill position player to accumulate 1,000 receiving yards: Aaron Hernandez or the aforementioned Lloyd?
New York Jets
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Tim Tebow to Start Multiple Games
The New York Jets brought Tebow in solely to be the backup to Mark Sanchez and run a few formations throughout the course of the season. In the grand scheme of things, this probably wasn't a bad idea.
Situations arise during a season that force a backup quarterback to start multiple games. This is only magnified when it comes to the Jets due to Sanchez's lackluster play.
Will the struggling quarterback make it through an entire season with Tebow breathing down his neck? Does Sanchez have what it takes to ride the proverbial storm and lead the Jets offense back from the struggles we saw in 2011?
Those are two questions that will go a long way in determining whether or not Tebow will see starting action this season.
Needless to say, confidence cannot be too high in either quarterback at this point.
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Buffalo Bills Will End 13-Year Postseason Drought
Through the first half of the 2011 season, it looked like the Bills would make a late-season playoff run. They started out the season 5-2 before fading down the stretch, with just one win in their final nine games.
The defense struggled a great deal, giving up 32.5 points per game over the second half of the year. Ryan Fitzpatrick fizzled down the stretch with Fred Jackson lost for the season.
In all, it was a disastrous finish to what was a promising season.
Enter into the equation the additions of Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore on the defensive side of the ball. All three are going to be instant-impact performers and should rebuild a much-maligned unit.
Jackson appears to be back at full health. He should be leading what will be a high-scoring offense in 2012.
Buffalo will contend for one of the final two playoffs spots in the AFC. While there are a myriad of different teams in position to contend, the Bills seem to have the talent level to break their long-term playoff drought.
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Miami Dolphins Will Finish 2012 Season in the Top Five in Rushing
Teams that have a questionable quarterback situation tend to rely a great deal on the running game. Miami is definitely going to be in that situation this season with David Garrard or Matt Moore as the team's starter.
The addition of Lamar Miller in the fourth round of April's draft to team up with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas is going to magnify this even more.
Bush and Thomas combined for over 2,000 total yards, with Thomas missing three games in the process and Bush missing one. The addition of Jonathan Martin, who is a solid run-blocking tackle, is going to help out a great deal.
In short, Miami has three capable running backs who could shoulder the load at any given time.
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Houston Texans Defense Will Lead the NFL in Points Against
It is important to remember that the Texans were without Mario Williams for all but five games in 2011 and were still able to finish fourth in points against.
J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed all have another year under their belts, and no matter your thoughts on rookie first-round pick Whitney Mercilus, it is nearly impossible to believe he won't be a pass-rush threat from the outside.
In short, Houston is absolutely stacked with young talent along its front seven.
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who made the Pro Bowl in his first season with Houston, is just starting to hit his prime.
This doesn't even take into account the presence of Brian Cushing or the coaching of Wade Phillips on defense.
The Texans defense is going to be special in 2012.
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Jake Locker Will Start All 16 Games
It really doesn't matter who starts the Tennessee Titans' preseason opener Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks. Both Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck have been given about the same number of first-team reps during training camp, with the young Locker looking a bit better.
The Titans would be well served to start Locker out of the gate in 2012. He isn't going to be any worse than what we saw from the veteran Hasselbeck last season, which was marginal starting quarterback play.
When you invest a top-10 pick on a quarterback, you better expect him to start before his third NFL season. This is the situation that the Titans are currently in.
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Chad Henne Will Finish the Season as the Jacksonville Jaguars' Starting Quarterback
By the end of the season, it is going to be readily apparent that Blaine Gabbert is not the long-term solution for the Jaguars. They'll be mired in offensive slumps on a consistent basis throughout the year, which will cause the organization to go in a different direction.
One season of horrendous quarterback play from a rookie isn't enough to draw a conclusion about his ability to play in the NFL. Nearly 30 starts is.
This is the situation that Mike Mularkey and the Jaguars are going to find themselves in with Gabbert.
Instead of playing out the string with someone it knows isn't the solution, Jacksonville will look at 27-year-old Chad Henne to see what he can do.
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Andrew Luck Will Have over 3,500 Passing Yards and 25 Touchdowns as a Rookie
This might not seem like a bold prediction, but Luck is going to have one of the better rookie seasons for a quarterback in recent NFL history. It might not be up to the level of what we saw in regards to Cam Newton in 2011, but Luck will exceed all previous expectations as a rookie.
Former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener is going to be a friendly force between the hashes, while fellow rookie Dwayne Allen will help out a great deal as well.
Luck also has that veteran presence in the form of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the outside.
2012 might not be friendly to the Indianapolis Colts in terms of total wins, but it will allow them to move forward as a franchise knowing they have a few nice pieces in place.
Torrey Smith Will Be the Baltimore Ravens' First 1,000-Yard Receiver Since Derrick Mason in 2009
Smith surprised a great deal of people, myself included, by going for over 800 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 starts as a rookie.
Needless to say, the next level of progression for the talented young receiver is that 1,000-yard plateau. While it isn't a bold prediction to indicate that Smith will hit that mark, it is bold to say that he will crush it.
The former Maryland Terp will end the season as the Ravens' No. 1 receiver and should reach double-digit touchdowns to go along with 1,200-plus yards.
Now that is bold.
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Pittsburgh Steelers Will Miss the Postseason for the First Time Since 2009
I might get a little flak for this prediction, but there definitely is a clear path towards the Steelers missing the playoffs in 2012 altogether.
If Ben Roethlisberger, God forbid, were to go down to injury, this team would be in a huge amount of trouble. It's going to be relying on two rookies, Mike Adams and David DeCastro, to start out of the gate along the offensive line.
Mike Wallace still hasn't signed his restricted free agent tender and could hold out until the 10th game of the season if the two sides cannot come together on a long-term extension.
Rashard Mendenhall is going to start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which means he is going to miss at least the first six games.
The AFC is also stacked with a bunch of contenders for the two wild-card spots.
In short, there really is a possibility that Pittsburgh isn't playing meaningful games in January.
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Cincinnati Bengals Will Win Double-Digit Games for Only the Third Time in a Quarter-Century
What Cincinnati did last season was nothing short of amazing. The Bengals were able to make the postseason with a rookie quarterback and a rookie No. 1 wide receiver. That is unheard of in the recent history of the NFL.
The Bengals then went out there and added a plethora of young talent and some grizzled veterans to the mix, all of whom are going to contribute in 2012.
In fixing its pass defense, something that was considered a relative weakness on defense, Cincinnati improved that unit a great deal. Jason Allen, Terence Newman and rookie Dre Kirkpatrick should add a lot of talent and depth to the secondary.
You can also expect both Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to improve on great rookie seasons. Expect Cincinnati to challenge for the division championship and make a second consecutive postseason appearance.
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Trent Richardson Will Finish the 2012 Season Among the Most Productive Running Backs in the AFC
Despite recent surgery on his knee, Richardson appears headed for a monster season with the Cleveland Browns. There are many different factors that lead me to this conclusion.
The Browns will rely a great deal on the run game with a rookie quarterback and two inexperienced receivers in the passing game.
Additionally, Cleveland has a solid run-blocking offensive line with Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.
There is a scenario in which Richardson gets nearly 400 touches on offense. If that happens, there is no reason to believe that he cannot surpass 2,000 total yards.
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Peyton Manning Will Throw for over 4,000 Yards and 35 Touchdowns While Starting All 16 Games
Two years ago, this would have been a bold prediction for Manning. After all, he has only accomplished this feat once in his NFL career.
Coming off multiple neck injuries and going to a new team makes this an absurdly bold prediction.
Can Manning hold up for an entire season at his advanced age? How will he handle the dynamics of a new organization? These are the questions that one must answer when coming to the conclusion that I have.
Since his first start with Tennessee in college 18 years ago, Manning hasn't given me a single reason to doubt him.
That doesn't change here.
San Diego Chargers
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Norv Turner Will Be Fired During the Season
If the San Diego Chargers start the season slow and are not in the playoff race towards the end of the regular year, Turner will be bused out of Southern California quicker than Mitt Romney's caravan.
Seriously, the Chargers need to start out strong and prove they can live up to expectations if Turner is going to keep his job throughout the duration of the season.
Couldn't have started out worse for Turner and the Chargers.
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Both Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey Will Compile 1,000 Receiving Yards
The Oakland Raiders are going to pass often in 2012. Two reasons for this: First, they have Carson Palmer airing it out in Northern California, and second, their defense is going to be poor at best.
Those are two indications that Raiders receivers are going to put up some huge numbers.
Another indication is that they have a tremendous amount of young talent at this position.
Heyward-Bey must have taken to a slump-buster or something last season, completely shedding his bust label by putting up 975 yards in 14 games. Moore was equally impressive as a major deep threat his rookie season.
These two are going to be dynamic in 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Dexter McCluster Will Compile 1,200 Total Yards on Offense
The Kansas City Chiefs have done a tremendous job utilizing Dexter McCluster in his first two NFL seasons. The former second-round pick out of Mississippi compiled over 800 total yards in 2011 playing both running back and wide receiver.
If the Chiefs are able to put the talented utility guy into more situations to succeed and feature him in their offense more, there is no reason to believe he cannot put up 1,200 total yards.
It's that simple!
New York Giants
Defending Champs Will Miss the Playoffs in 2012
The margin for error isn't going to be there for the New York Giants heading into the 2012 season. Not only do the defending champions have the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys to worry about in their division, but the NFC as a whole is absolutely loaded.
New York lost both Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. While both struggled to an extent last season, it is hard to believe that two rookies will match the 1,222 yards those two veterans combined for.
You also have to take into account the fact that New York won nine games during the 2011 regular season and needed a win against the Cowboys in the final week to make the playoffs.
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Philadelphia Eagles Will Win the NFC East
Definitely good news for the Eagles and coach Andy Reid.
Now that this little scare is over, it makes sense to take a look at what the Eagles have done this offseason to improve on a disastrous 2011 campaign.
They drafted four defenders in the form of Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin—all of whom are upgrades over what Philadelphia had at those positions last year.
Where chemistry might have been in an issue in 2011, the Eagles have had an entire offseason to work with one another and learn the nuances of a complex system. DeSean Jackson also took part in all activities throughout the offseason after signing a long-term contract extension in March.
The indicators are there for success. Philadelphia just needs to put it all together on the field and live up to the level of the talent it possesses.
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Dallas Cowboys Will Make Rare Postseason Appearance
It's hard to believe that the Cowboys have won a total of two postseason games since the end of the the 1995 season. "America's Team" has actually morphed into an embarrassment of sorts in Texas. How does this even happen?
Still, it is hard to question the talent that Dallas possesses heading into this season.
Tony Romo is quite literally coming off one of the best seasons in the heralded history of the franchise. He threw for nearly 4,200 yards and compiled 21 more touchdowns than interceptions in 2011.
DeMarco Murray seems to be fully healthy, and the Cowboys continue to have some dominating figures at skill positions on offense.
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne improve a cornerback position that struggled a great deal last season.
In short, the indicators of success are there for this football team. Much like the Philadelphia Eagles a slide before, Dallas just needs to put up on the football field.
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Washington Redskins Will Win Fewer Games Than Last Season
Robert Griffin III will be a Pro Bowl quarterback in the not-so-distant future. This doesn't mean he will be able to duplicate what Cam Newton did for the Carolina Panthers as a rookie.
To believe that is to be blinded by fandom.
Outside of six games against talented teams in the NFC East, Washington has five games against teams that made the playoffs last season.
How many of those 11 games can you realistically expect them to win?
While Washington is going in the right direction, 2012 isn't going to be the year that the Redskins turn it around.
Green Bay Packers
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Aaron Rodgers Will Surpass 5,000 Passing Yards and Challenge 50 Touchdowns
No one could have predicted the record-setting season that Rodgers had in 2011 for the Green Bay Packers.
The Cal product might not have put up 5,000 yards last season, but he absolutely destroyed any competition in terms of every other statistical category.
We are talking about someone who completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, threw 45 touchdowns compared to six interceptions and accumulated a ridiculous quarterback rating of 122.5.
Green Bay has all the weapons from that dominating offense back in the fold entering this season. Not only that, but Randall Cobb seems like he is ready to break out after a surprising rookie campaign.
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Detroit Lions Will Miss the Playoffs
This has less to do with the Lions' offseason issues and more to do with the difficult conference and division they play in.
You also have to take into account that Detroit hasn't done much to improve the balance on offense or pass defense. I could care less if the Lions were decent through 14 weeks last year in coverage; they lack the necessary talent to stop some of the elite offenses in the league, some of whom exist in their own division.
Can Detroit really rely on Jahvid Best to perform? What about Mikel Leshoure? It is hard to actually go into the year depending on those two at running back.
The offense will be dynamic with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but that doesn't make a playoff team.
The Lions need to be balanced on both sides of the ball, and I just don't see that right now.
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Jay Cutler and Co. Will Be in NFC North Race into December
The additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in the passing game are going to help the Chicago Bears offense a great deal in 2011. For the first time since he was in Denver, Jay Cutler has a true No. 1 wide receiver. Interestingly enough, it is the same receiver he had with the Broncos.
There is no reason to believe that the Bears defense is going to take a step back this season either. While both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs might be past their prime, they're still among the best tandems in the NFL on this side of the ball.
Michael Bush joins Matt Forte in a backfield that promises to be dynamic.
I have a hard time believing this team is going to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. It all has to do with the health of their top players and the protection of Cutler up front.
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Christian Ponder Will Improve on an Inconsistent Rookie Season
I may be in the minority in concluding that Christian Ponder was impressive last season. While it didn't show up on the stat board, the former first-round pick looked poised in his first NFL season.
Ponder was able to understand when to check down, and he did a solid job with pocket presence when dropping back. He didn't throw the ball into tight coverage a great deal and showed all the physical ability that made him a surprise first-round pick.
The addition of Matt Kalil as the Minnesota Vikings' blindside protector should help Ponder out a great deal as well.
The 2012 season will not be defined by wins and losses for this Vikings franchise. Instead, the success that their young players have is going to go a long way in determining the future of the team.
The Vikings are in good hands when it comes to Ponder.
New Orleans Saints
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Drew Brees and Co. Will Miss the Playoffs for First Time Since 2008
Coaching is not overrated in the NFL, and anyone telling you that is just fooling themselves. Just take a look at what Jim Harbaugh did with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 after pretty much the same team couldn't break .500 under Mike Singletary.
Coaching is of utmost importance in this game.
On that note, Sean Payton is one of the best head coaches in the National Football League. He is definitely going to be missed. Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that interim head coach Joe Vitt is going to be gone a good chunk of the season due to suspension.
Listen, I understand that Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play—that fact isn't lost on me. Still, coaching matters, and the Saints really don't have that. You cannot win consistently in the NFL if you are out-coached every single game.
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Matt Ryan Will Surpass 4,500 Yards and 35 Touchdowns
With that in mind, the Atlanta Falcons plan on preserving Turner for late in the season and keeping him fresh throughout December and January.
Makes perfect sense to me.
It isn't like the Falcons are hard-pressed for talent in the passing game. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are as dynamic of a trio as any in the league.
Why not give Ryan the green light to open up the offense and show the football world the Falcons can be more balanced on offense? After all, the Falcons' late-season strategy hasn't worked over the course of the last four seasons.
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Cam Newton Will Finish in the Top Five of NFL MVP Voting
This might not be a bold prediction if the Carolina Panthers earn a postseason spot in 2012. However, I don't have them making the second season.
That is what makes it a bold prediction.
Let's say the Panthers finish with nine wins this season, playing the string out as playoff contenders. It would be extremely hard to deny Newton some votes for that hallowed MVP award.
Without getting into too much detail, this is what I expect to happen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Doug Martin Will Win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award
Bias isn't a friend to someone who writes on a national level. I am a huge fan of Doug Martin and have been since I first saw him play at Boise State a few years back.
This running back is damn near perfect in every possible way. Even as someone who tends to root for the San Francisco 49ers due to my childhood allegiance, I was hoping he didn't go to a NFC West team.
In short, Martin can flat-out play.
He is one of the best pass-protecting running backs that I have seen come from the college ranks in quite some time. Moreover, Martin has the field vision, soft hands, strength and elusiveness to be a dominating starting running back in the NFL.
This is a bold prediction because of the existence of both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the 2012 rookie class.
San Francisco 49ers
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San Francisco 49ers Will Be the NFC Representative in the Super Bowl
This might not be that bold of a prediction. After all, the 49ers were an overtime loss in the NFC championship game away from going to the Super Bowl.
What is a bold prediction is saying that they're the absolute favorites to take home the conference championship.
San Francisco returns all 11 starters from one of the most dominating defenses not only in 2011, but over the course of the last decade.
Aldon Smith, who recorded 14 sacks as a rookie, takes over for Parys Haralson opposite Ahmad Brooks at linebacker. Chris Culliver is firmly entrenched as the nickel corner and will be a Pro Bowl player soon.
Oh, let's not even mention that San Francisco has Pro Bowl players along every tier of the defense, including three All-Pro performers.
Alex Smith gets some shiny new toys in the form of Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
This team is absolutely loaded and should be considered the favorite in the NFC. It might all depend on the continued progression of the aforementioned Smith at quarterback.
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Ken Whisenhunt Will Be Fired During the Season
The Arizona Cardinals did finish 2011 with seven wins in their final nine games. That would be impressive if only they were in the division race when that string started. Winning games when nothing is on the line matters little in the NFL.
It would have been even more impressive if Kevin Kolb, a player they gave up a bounty for, was actually their starting quarterback during that stretch.
While Arizona is going to be impressive on defense, it has way too many holes on the offensive side of the ball to contend.
Not only is it choosing between two marginal quarterbacks, but Arizona has a plethora of issues in regards to the offensive line.
These issues are not going to be solved by a pedestrian right guard and unproven rookie right tackle.
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Pete Carroll and Co. Will Be in Playoff Contention Throughout the Entire Season
Talk about a stacked defense. While the Arizona Cardinals might not be able to get away with having average quarterback play, the Seattle Seahawks can definitely make up for it due to their defense. They remind me a great deal of the Baltimore Ravens of the early 2000s and the San Francisco 49ers from last season.
Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas have to be considered one of the best secondaries in the league. We already know just how good the Seahawks defensive line is.
Barring an unforeseen suspension, Marshawn Lynch will be back at full health and ready to lay Skittles all over the Pacific Northwest.
While the Seahawks might be a step behind behind San Francisco, I can easily see them contending in what promises to be a stacked NFC. They might not make the playoffs, but it is hard to question the talent this team has across the board outside of quarterback.
In short, Seattle will contend for a postseason spot in 2012.
St. Louis Rams
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Brian Quick Will Be the St. Louis Rams' First 1,000-Yard Receiver Since 2007
Yet another draft crush of mine, Quick is going to be a true No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL in relatively quick order.
The Appalachian State product can dominate against press coverage on the outside, and he possesses both the speed and size to take on defenders down the field.
He is an elite talent.
Considering that the Rams don't have a reliable receiver on the outside, I am willing to go on the record to say that Quick will be that guy as a rookie.
Many trips to Hawaii, or wherever the Pro Bowl is held, for this talented wide receiver.