NFL Predictions 2012: 3 Bold Predictions for Every Team
With one week of preseason football down and the NFL season rapidly approaching, we're starting to get a glimpse of how the 2012 season might shape up.
We've seen that both Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez continue their struggles at being successful passing quarterbacks. We also got a brief taste of how injuries might affect the season, as Ryan Mathews, Desmond Bishop and Torrey Smith will all be sidelined for multiple weeks.
However, despite all of that we've seen so far, there is still plenty that is left unknown heading into the 2012 regular season. Today we'll attempt to predict some of the unknown as we make numerous bold predictions for every NFL team.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Larry Fitzgerald Fails to Reach 1,000 Receiving Yards
It's been five years since Fitzgerald has failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark. Considering the lack of quality quarterback play that Fitzgerald has played with, this is one of the most impressive streaks in the NFL.
However, this year's quarterback situation appears to be the worst in recent memory. Neither Kevin Kolb or John Skelton look like a legitimate NFL quarterback, and their poor play this year will affect Fitzgerald worse than ever.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Patrick Peterson Returns Multiple Interceptions for Touchdowns
Peterson proved as a rookie that he is one of the most dynamic players in the league once the ball hits his hand. While he has only shown that ability as a return specialist so far, he'll take a step forward in 2012 as a cornerback.
That step forward will result in Peterson making more plays in the backfield and proving just how dangerous of a player he can be to opposing offenses.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Arizona Finishes Last in the NFC West
While this may not seem like that bold of a prediction, the fact that the St. Louis Rams play in the same division as the Cardinals. However, Arizona's quarterback play will ultimately lose it more games than Sam Bradford will for the Rams.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Michael Turner Doesn't Receive 300 Carries
The only season that Turner failed to carry the ball 300 times was his injury-shortened season in 2009. However, at 30 years of age, Turner is no longer capable of that type of workload.
With Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling both proving to be capable role players for the Atlanta Falcons, look for Turner to get less of a workload this year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Julio Jones Gains More Receiving Yards Than Roddy White
Despite White being one of the most productive and consistent receivers in the league, he is now playing with a more physically talented receiver in Jones.
After an extremely productive, but injury-riddled rookie season, Jones looks poised for a huge sophomore campaign. He proved that by pulling down six receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in his first preseason game.
While Jones may not have more receptions than White, he will surpass him in receiving yards.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Atlanta Boasts the Best Passing Attack in the League
With Jones and White at receiver, the Falcons boast two of the best receivers in the league. Throw in Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez, and Atlanta has a load of options to rack up massive amounts of yards through the air.
The only thing potentially holding back the Falcons' aerial attack is quarterback Matt Ryan. However, I'm expecting Ryan to take a major step forward this year and have one of the best statistical seasons in recent memory.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Defense Takes a Major Step Back
This prediction is based on the fact that the core players of the Baltimore Ravens defense all have issues. It starts with Terrell Suggs' injury and continues with the growing age of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Despite Baltimore boasting an unbelievable amount of young talent, without the production of those three players that the Ravens are used to, this defense will take a major step back this year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Joe Flacco's Job is in Trouble By Season's End
Despite Flacco feeling like he is one of the best—if not the single best—quarterbacks in the league, his time in the NFL has yet to prove that as true. In fact, it has almost done the opposite, as people have begun to wonder whether there is any room for Flacco to get better.
If he has already reached his ceiling, the Ravens will be forced to begin searching for his replacement by the end of the season. They'll either stick with backup Tyrod Taylor of address quarterback early in the 2013 NFL draft.
This is a make-or-break season for Flacco, and unfortunately, it's likely that he'll break.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Ray Rice Finishes Third in MVP Voting
Since taking over full-time duties as running back in 2009, Rice has proved to be one of the best at his position and one of the top overall players in the league.
With the defense taking a step back and Flacco struggling, the Ravens will be forced to rely on Rice more than ever. This will result in a truly remarkable season for Rice, as he'll finish behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in MVP voting.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Buffalo Leads the NFL in Sacks
The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles led the NFL in team sacks last year with 50 each. While both those teams, and the San Francisco 49ers, will be in contention to lead the league this year, that honor will go to the Buffalo Bills.
With Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams all capable of putting pressure on the quarterback, it is possible that all four of those players could surpass double-digit sacks this year.
Throw in Nick Barnett, Chris Kelsay and Jairus Byrd, and you have the potential for an elite defense at getting after the quarterback in Buffalo.
Bold Prediction No. 2: C.J. Spiller Gains More Yards Than Fred Jackson
There is no disputing that Jackson is the No. 1 running back on the depth chart for the Bills, but after Spiller finished the 2011 season with 262 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in the final three games, Buffalo will be forced to split Jackson's carries with Spiller.
Due to the dynamic playmaking ability of Spiller, it won't be long before he is gaining more yards than Jackson in nearly every game. Look for him to have a breakout year and finally live up to his billing as the ninth overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Bills Make the Playoffs
With the AFC South and West only likely to send the division winner to the playoffs, that leaves two potential playoff spots in the AFC. While it is possible that the AFC North could once again send three teams to the playoffs, I ultimately see the Bills taking one of those spots.
Bold Prediction No. 1: The Panthers Finish With a Winning Record
Unfortunately, their record won't be good enough to land them a spot in the playoffs, but it will show just how far this franchise has come since finished with a 1-15 record only two years ago.
Don't be surprised if Carolina is one of the most exciting teams to watch this year as it inches closer to becoming legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Cam Newton Rushes for 10 or More Touchdowns
Newton set an NFL record last year with 14 rushing touchdowns as a rookie quarterback, and while he won't reach that many this year, he won't miss by much.
While logic would state that the signing of Mike Tolbert in the offseason will take away from Newton's rushing touches near the goal line, Newton is simply too talented in the open field for him to not consistently find the end zone on the ground.
With the likelihood of Newton improving as a passer this year, he should establish himself as a premier player in the league by season's end.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Luke Kuechly Becomes Team's Best Defensive Player
Despite being a rookie and playing alongside Jon Beason, James Anderson and Charles Johnson, it won't take long for Kuechly to become the best defensive player on the Panthers' roster.
His instincts are simply too impressive for him to not make a huge impact in every game. This was evident in his first preseason game, where he recorded four tackles and forced a fumble in just over a quarter of playing time.
With Beason, Anderson and Kuechly, look for Carolina to have one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Cutler-to-Marshall Looks Impressive
The last time that Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall were on the same team, Cutler threw for over 4,500 yards and Marshall had 104 receptions and 1,265 yards. Despite being separated for the past three years, don't be surprised if it looks like these two have even missed a beat.
We should see plenty of production out of both Cutler and Marshall in their first year back together.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Brian Urlacher Struggles
There have been few players as consistent and productive over the past decade as Brian Urlacher. However, Urlacher is 34 years old, and 12 NFL seasons will finally catch up to Urlacher's production.
He'll still be the spoken leader of the defensive for the Chicago Bears, but he will no longer be the most productive player on the team. With that said, even with Urlacher struggling this year, the Bears still have multiple playmakers on their defense and should once again have a top unit in the league.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Chicago Wins a Playoff Game
With the Green Bay Packers the favorites to win the NFC North, the Bears will be forced to play on the road in their first playoff game. Despite being the lower seed in their first playoff game, the potency of their offense and overall talent on their defense should make them favorites to win their first matchup.
No matter who it ends up playing, Chicago will come out on top and advance to the second round.
Bold Prediction No. 1: A.J. Green Finishes Top-Five in Receiving Yards
It didn't take long for Green to establish himself as one of the best wide receivers in the entire NFL during his rookie season. He finished the season with over 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns with a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball.
However, now that Green and Andy Dalton have had a full season and offseason to work together, look for them to come out this year as one of the top quarterback-receiver duos in the NFL.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Dre Kirkpatrick Makes No Impact This Year
Despite being a top-20 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Kirkpatrick will struggle to make any impact at all this year. Yes, he'll miss up to six weeks with a fractured knee, but even when he returns, Kirkpatrick will have a long way to go to see quality playing time.
Before suffering his knee injury, Kirkpatrick struggled throughout OTAs and minicamp. Now that he'll miss the rest of training camp and the preseason, it might not be until the 2013 season that the Cincinnati Bengals get to enjoy Kirkpatrick's overall abilities.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Cincinnati Wins the AFC North
Throwing out the Cleveland Browns, the AFC North will be a three-team race for the division title. With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both getting older and the Bengals getting younger, Cincinnati will finish the year atop the division.
Yes, the Bengals went 0-4 against Baltimore and Pittsburgh this year, but they should at least split those games, giving them the final advantage and home-field advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Greg Little Records 80-plus Receptions
Despite struggling with drops during his rookie season, Little has all the tools to become a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Now that he has an actual quarterback throwing him the ball, he should take the next step towards becoming an extremely productive receiver.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Cleveland Wins Less Than Four Games
Last year, with Colt McCoy at the helm, the Cleveland Browns went 4-12. Now that they have an improved offense with rookies Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon, you'd expect that win total to go up.
However, there are simply too many holes across both sides of the ball for the Browns for them, and when you combine that with a very difficult schedule, you have a recipe for a disastrous season in Cleveland.
Bold Prediction No. 3: D'Qwell Jackson Makes the All-Pro Team
After an injured-riddled season in 2010, Jackson came back in a huge way in 2011 to the tune of 158 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Despite this stellar season, Jackson failed to even make the Pro Bowl for the AFC team.
With the Browns offense likely to struggle, it will put extra pressure on the defense. That means extra pressure on Jackson, which should result in better statistics and ultimately result in being voted to the All-Pro Team.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Dez Bryant Surpasses 1,000 Receiving Yards
Through his first two seasons, Dez Bryant has been quite an enigma. There is no doubting his elite level of talent, but off-field issues have affected his on-field play in a major way.
However, even with his recent run-in with the law, Bryant is poised to have a truly impressive season this year. With the departure of Laurent Robinson and the increasing age of Jason Witten, Bryant should see more targets, which will result in a career year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: DeMarcus Ware Records 23 Sacks
There is no doubt that Ware is one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL. He's recorded exactly 100 sacks in only seven seasons, an incredible average of 14 per season.
While Ware has gotten close to the NFL record of 22.5 sacks in a single season, this will be the year that he finally surpasses is. The Dallas Cowboys finally have quality cornerbacks in the secondary, which will allow Ware to be even more aggressive this year.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Dallas Wins the NFC East
The Cowboys were on track to winning the division last year before losing four of their last five games. A loss in Week 17 to the New York Giants was the final nail in the coffin and kept Dallas home during the postseason.
However, the Cowboys have improved where they've needed to improve and shouldn't suffer a late-season slide this year. They'll win the division and walk into the playoffs with home-field advantage in their first game.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas Both Gain 1,000 Receiving Yards
Last year, the Denver Broncos combined for only 2,908 passing yards, with Decker and Thomas gaining 1,163 of those yards. However, that was with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback.
Now that Peyton Manning is in Denver, both Decker and Thomas should be in for quite the year. No quarterback is as good as getting the most talent out of his receivers as Manning, and he should use that skill to bring Decker and Thomas' games to a whole new level.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Denver Wins 10 Games
The Broncos won eight games last year with Tebow as their quarterback. Just let that sink in for a second.
Yeah, I'd say that Manning is easily worth another two wins.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Peyton Doesn't Win Comeback Player of the Year
Despite missing the entire 2011 season because of a neck injury, Manning still won't win the award for Comeback Player of the Year.
Yes, he'll have a remarkable season, but he'll end up losing the award to divisional opponent Jamaal Charles.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Calvin Johnson Records 20 Touchdown Receptions
Through the first half of the 2011 season, Johnson was on pace to record 22 touchdown receptions. While that would have been one short of Randy Moss' NFL-record 23 from 2007, it still would have given Johnson one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.
With a full offseason to work with Matthew Stafford this year, combined with the improved play of Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew, Johnson should be in store for a historic season in 2012.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Detroit's Defense Will Be One of the Worst in the NFL
There are two issues that have yet to be resolved in Detroit that will cause the defense to once again struggle this year. Those issues are their lack of discipline and overall ultra-aggressiveness of their entire unit.
Both those issues cause the Lions to be out of position on too many plays and be the key factor in keeping Detroit's defense ranked as one of the worst in the league.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Lions Miss the Playoffs
There is no doubt that Detroit possesses one of the most lethal offenses in the league. However, with the defense taking a step back this year and the rest of the NFC North taking major steps forward, the Lions will fail to make the playoffs this year.
Green Bay Packers
Bold Prediction No. 1: Nick Perry Leads Team in Sacks
After failing to get any type of pressure on quarterbacks last year, the Green Bay Packers used their first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft on Perry to help improve their pass-rush.
While there is still quite the learning curve for Perry as he makes the transition to outside linebacker, early reports out of training camp all point to Perry becoming quite the player during his rookie season.
With Clay Mathews likely to see numerous double teams during the regular season, that should open up plenty of opportunities for Perry to get to after the quarterback.
Bold Prediction No. 2: The Packers Win Only 13 Games
While 13 games is certainly quite the accomplishment, following a 15-1 season, 13 games just doesn't seem very impressive.
However, with games against the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, New York Giants and their division opponents, the Packers have one of the hardest schedules in the NFL. Winning 13 games would be extremely impressive and will likely give them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Green Bay Wins the Super Bowl
With one of the best offenses in the league and an improved defense, the 2012 version of Green Bay will look awfully similar to the 2010 version that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.
They'll be one of the best teams throughout the season and will once again be Super Bowl champions.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Andre Johnson Plays All 16 Games
This may not seem like a bold prediction, but the fact that Johnson has only played 20 games over the past two seasons and that he was injured during training camp makes this extremely bold.
However, he'll be healthy to start the regular season and play in all 16 games for the first time since the 2009 season.
Bold Prediction No. 2: The Texans Boast the Best Defense in the NFL
In all reality, the honors for the best defense will likely come down to the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. Of those four teams, the Texans are poised to finish the season with the best.
For starters, Houston plays in the weakest division in terms of offense. With two games each against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, the Texans will use those games to boost their defensive statistics.
It will be a close finish for the No. 1 defense in the league, but with their three final games against the Colts (2) and Minnesota Vikings, the Texans will finish atop the rankings.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Houston Wins the AFC South by Three Games
The Texans will only win 10 games this year, but that will be plenty to run away with the AFC South. The closest team to them will be Tennessee, who will finish with a 7-9 record.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Andrew Luck Has Better Rookie Season Than Peyton Manning
There will be no shortage of Luck and Manning comparisons throughout the 2012 season. By the end of the year, Luck will have on up on Manning in terms of rookie statistics.
Manning's 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns were certainly impressive, but he also threw 28 interceptions. While Luck likely won't throw the ball 575 times like Manning did, he should still surpass his yards and touchdowns totals while keeping his interception total much lower.
Bold Prediction No. 2: The Colts Will Win Five Games
On paper, it doesn't seem like the Indianapolis Colts have improved their team much from the 2-14 team from last year.
However, the one area they did improve is at quarterback, the most important position on the field. After an extremely impressive debut in his first preseason game, Luck proved that he'll be worth a few wins all by himself.
There is no doubt that Indianapolis will struggle throughout the year, but with Luck on the roster, it's at least moving in the right direction.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Dwight Freeney Will Excel at Outside Linebacker
The Colts are moving to a 3-4 defense, and with that change, Freeney will be making the move to outside linebacker. Despite playing defensive end for the past 10 seasons, Freeney will make this transition much smoother than anyone could have expected.
He's simply too good of a player and an athlete to not make a huge impact this year.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Blaine Gabbert Starts All 16 Games
The Jacksonville Jaguars brought in Chad Henne in the offseason just in case Gabbert didn't work. While there are many doubts about Gabbert's game, it simply doesn't make sense for the Jaguars to switch away from Gabbert partway through the season.
Even if Jacksonville starts the season 0-8 with Gabbert at the helm, they still shouldn't switch to Henne. No one is expecting this team to make much noise in the AFC, and if Gabbert can play the second half of the season and show some improvement, the Jaguars can at least have some hope for the 2013 season.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Maurice Jones-Drew Doesn't Play in Week 1
The Jaguars and MJD are struggling to come to terms on a holdout that has kept Jones-Drew out of training camp and the preseason so far.
The bad news for Jacksonville is that this holdout won't be ending anytime soon. It will likely last until the end of the preseason, and possibly into the early weeks of the regular season. Either way, the Jaguars won't be having their best player on the field for the first week of the season.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Justin Blackmon Disappoints
While Blackmon may enjoy a decent season as a rookie, there is simply no way that he can live up to the expectations of being the fifth pick of this year's draft.
For one, he's already proven that he'll have difficulty dealing with pressure off the field. On top of that, he's playing with a less-than-spectacular quarterback on an offense that could be missing their best player for a good chunk of the season.
When it is all said and done, Blackmon will be considered one of the top disappointments in the rookie class.
Kansas City Chiefs
Bold Prediction No. 1: Eric Berry Finishes Second in Defensive Player of the Year Voting
After an impressive rookie season that saw him voted to the All-Pro Team, Berry missed all of last year with a torn ACL.
Now that Berry is back to full strength, he should get back to dominating football games. With defensive-minded Romeo Crennel in charge for the Kansas City Chiefs, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Berry make a huge leap forward in his overall play.
That leap will bring him close to winning Defensive Player of the Year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Matt Cassel Fails to Throw for 3,000 Yards
Last year, 20 quarterbacks threw for over 3,000 yards. None of the quarterbacks who failed to throw for 3,000 yards played all 16 games last year.
However, with the Chiefs looking to run the ball as much as possible, Cassel will struggle reaching 3,000 yards. This will lead to questions about his job security and will ultimately lead to the Chiefs drafting a quarterback early in next year's draft.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Jamaal Charles Leads NFL in Rushing Yards
In 2010, Charles averaged 6.38 yards per carry while gaining 1,467 yards on the ground. An ACL injury kept Charles from building on his 2010 success, but now that he is healthy, he'll have the opportunity to do so.
With one of the best offensive lines in all of football, look for Kansas City to run the ball at every opportunity and for Charles to lead the NFL in rushing yards.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Ryan Tannehill Starts Week 1
With David Garrard sidelined for an extended period of time because of knee surgery, either Tannehill or Matt Moore will be starting in Week 1 for the Miami Dolphins.
After an impressive first preseason game, it appears that Tannehill has a slight lead over Moore heading into Week 2 of the preseason. If the Dolphins were smart, they'd ride the rookie into the regular season and only replace him with a veteran if he struggles mightily.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Reggie Bush Leads NFL in Total Offensive Yards
After struggling to stay healthy and make a consistent impact for the New Orleans Saints, Bush got a much-needed change of scenery when he signed with Miami last year.
After initially losing the starting job to rookie Daniel Thomas, Bush picked up his game in a major way during the second half of the season. He finished the year with four straight 100-yard rushing games, including a 203-yard performance in Week 15.
Bush has finally proved that he is a capable every-down back in the NFL, and his ability as a receiver will propel him to leading the league in total offensive yards this year.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Miami Finishes Second to Last in AFC East
Yes, the Dolphins will be a better team than the New York Jets this year. There is simply too much drama in New York for them to be focused on actual games.
It'll be close, but Miami will beat the Jets by one game to stay out of the cellar in the AFC East.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Adrian Peterson Starts Week 1
Nobody is supposed to be capable of making as quick of a recovery from a torn ACL and MCL as Peterson has. However, throughout his career, Peterson has shown us that he is far from a normal human being.
With news from CBS Sports that Peterson has been taken off the PUP list for the Minnesota Vikings, he is well on his way to starting in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Christian Ponder Makes Major Leaps
It wasn't an easy rookie season for Ponder, but he definitely proved that he has the tools to be a successful quarterback in this league.
Now that he is surrounded with weapons like Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, Ponder should make major leaps during his sophomore season.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Jared Allen Fails to Record 15 Sacks
While Allen was only half a sack away from tying Michael Strahan's NFL record for most sacks in a season, he'll struggle to perform at that level again in 2012. In fact, Allen only recorded 11 sacks in 2010 before doubling that total last season.
With teams becoming more aware of Allen and the lack of quality pass rushers beside him, look for Allen's numbers to take a major dip this year.
New England Patriots
Bold Prediction No. 1: Wes Welker Doesn't Record 100 Receptions
Welker has recorded 100 receptions in four of the last five seasons, so it would be rather shocking for him to fail to reach that total.
However, with so many options for Tom Brady to throw to, Welker will see a major drop in his overall production. He'll still be a valuable part of the New England Patriots offense, but he'll fail to reach the century mark in receptions.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Rob Gronkowski Comes Back to Earth
Gronkowski enjoyed one of the greatest statistical seasons by a tight end in the history of the NFL last year. He's easily the best all-around tight end in the league and has established himself as the premier red-zone threat in the NFL.
With that said, Gronkowski will suffer the same fate the Welker will in New England this year. There are simply too many mouths to feed for him for record another 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He'll still be one of the best tight ends in the league at the end of the season, but his statistics will come back to Earth.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Patriots Defense Propels Them Back to the Super Bowl
There is no arguing the fact that New England will have one of the best offenses in the entire NFL, but nobody will say that their defense is on par with their offense.
With that said, New England made some solid offseason moves to improve the unit that failed it late last year by drafting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. It should be much improved this year, and instead of its offense leading the way back to the Super Bowl, it will be its defense.
New Orleans Saints
Bold Prediction No. 1: Jimmy Graham Breaks Rob Gronkowski's Record
Gronkowski recorded an NFL-record 17 receiving touchdowns last year. In his first full season of action, Graham finished the year with 11 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards.
While the New England Patriots have added to their receiving corps in the offseason, the New Orleans Saints lost their No. 2 receiver in Robert Meachem. What that means is that Gronkowski's production will drop while Graham will see an increase in his production.
In fact, Graham will see so many looks that he'll break Gronkowski's record for most touchdowns in a season by a tight end this year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Akiem Hicks Eventually Starts
Despite being considered an extremely raw prospect by most NFL scouts, the Saints felt strongly enough about Hicks' talents to draft him in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Even with a relatively high draft pick, few expected Hicks to make much of an impact during his rookie season. However, through the beginning of training camp, Hicks is beginning to turn some heads in New Orleans.
Without an elite player in front of him on the depth chart at defensive tackle, look for Hicks to eventually win the starting position sometime during the regular season.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Curtis Lofton Makes Pro Bowl
When Jonathan Vilma got suspended for the entire year, everyone expected the Saints to have a huge void in the middle of their defense.
However, the Saints went out and signed Lofton away from the Atlanta Falcons, and he's proved that he is every bit capable of replacing Vilma's production and more. Look for him to establish himself as one of the best middle linebackers in the NFC over the course of the year.
New York Giants
Bold Prediction No. 1: Victor Cruz Has Sophomore Slump
Cruz took the entire nation by storm last year and was one of the greatest stories in the NFL throughout the entire season. His 1,536 receiving yards and eight touchdowns literally came out of nowhere.
While Cruz is certainly a talented player, especially in terms of route-running ability, he'll struggle to perform as well as he did last year during the upcoming season. Opposing defenses have had a full offseason to watch tape and figure out the best way to slow him down.
Don't be surprised if Cruz struggles during his second year for the New York Giants.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Jason Pierre-Paul Wins Defensive Player of the Year
It isn't easy for a defensive end to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. In fact, only two defensive linemen have won the award this decade: Jason Taylor in 2006 and Michael Strahan back in 2001.
With that said, Pierre-Paul burst onto the scene last year and firmly established himself as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. What makes him such a unique player is his versatility. Not only is he capable of recording a ridiculous amount of sacks, but he can also succeed against the run and the pass.
The 2012 season will be the season that JPP becomes the best defensive player in the league.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Giants Lose in First Round of the Playoffs
I've already predicted that the Dallas Cowboys are going to win the NFC East, so the Giants will be forced to travel on the road in their first playoff game. While they didn't have trouble on the road last year during the playoffs, they won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year.
Look for them to make an early exit from the playoffs as they fail to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
New York Jets
Bold Prediction No. 1: Tim Tebow Starts Only One Game
There simply isn't a way that the New York Jets will be able to keep Tebow from starting at least one game this year.
However, once they see just how awful of a quarterback that Tebow is, the Jets will have no choice but to switch back to Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Quinton Coples Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year
After questions about his determination of love of the game caused him to fall to the 16th pick of the 2012 NFL draft, Coples silenced all his critics in his first ever preseason game.
He finished his game against the Cincinnati Bengals with five tackles, two of which were for big losses, a sack, a forced fumble and he deflected a pass. If he can keep up that type of production during the regular season, he'll run away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Jets Finish Last in the AFC East
I briefly touched on this back when talking about the Miami Dolphins, but it deserves to be mentioned again. The Jets are going to finish the 2012 season as the worst team in the AFC East.
They missed the playoffs last year, and there are simply too many distractions this year for them to improve in any facet of the game. They'll struggle to win more than one game against their division rivals, and their poor season could cost Rex Ryan his job.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Darren McFadden Plays a Full Season
Since entering the league in 2008, McFadden has failed to play in all 16 games of a regular season. However, the 2012 season will be different, as McFadden finally plays a full season.
When healthy, McFadden is one of the best running backs in the league, and he'll finally get a chance to show that to everyone over the course of 16 games this year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Denarius Moore Finishes Top-10 in Receiving Yards
After an up-and-down rookie season, Moore is poised to experience a breakout season in his second year in the league. He's got all the talent in the world, and he'll quickly become Carson Palmer's favorite target.
What makes Moore such a dangerous receiver is his ability to stretch the field and react to the ball while it is still in the air. His 18.7 yards per reception was tied for the third-best in the league last year, and there is no reason that number should this year.
With more passes coming his way this year, look for Moore to put up some rather impressive numbers.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Carson Palmer Isn't the Starting Quarterback By Season's End
The Oakland Raiders thought they answered all their quarterback questions when they traded for Palmer last year. Unfortunately, Palmer struggled to grasp the offense and the Raiders struggled to win games.
This year isn't likely to be much different for the Raiders and Palmer. The problem is that Palmer is 32 years old and his skills have been diminishing for the past several seasons.
Oakland is going to have a difficult time winning games this year because of Palmer, and by the end of the season, it will be looking to move on at quarterback.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Vick Plays Less Than 10 Games
We all know Michael Vick is injury-prone, but he's only failed to play less than 10 games twice in his career. He usually misses a game here or a game there while playing 13 to 14 games a season.
With that said, Vick has already suffered an injury in the first week of the preseason, and while the injury isn't serious, it's the fact that he got injured that should raise the red flags. He simply can't be trusted to play a full season, and he'll constantly deal with injuries this year while struggling to play in even half his team's games.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Philadelphia's Defense Causes the Most Turnovers
Last year, the Green Bay Packers led the NFL with 43 takeaways while the Philadelphia Eagles only had 24. However, there is simply too much talent on Philadelphia's defense for them to not cause a massive amount of turnovers this year.
The Eagles have playmakers at every defensive position, and they'll excel at causing turnovers. Look for Nnamdi Asomugha to get back to form, the defensive line to cause loads of pressure and the entire unit give their offense plenty of short fields to work with.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Philadelphia Fails to Make the Playoffs
Despite their defense taking a major step forward this year, the reason that the Eagles will fail to make the playoffs again this year is because of Vick being so prone to injuries.
This is a quarterback-driven league, and if your starting quarterback can't stay healthy, it's unlikely that your team will win many games.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Mike Wallace Gets Traded
While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been quite adamant in not wanting to trade Wallace, as the days continue to move by, the likelihood of Wallace getting traded increases.
While the return on Wallace is unknown, if the Steelers can get a first or second-round draft pick for him, there is no reason they shouldn't pull the trigger.
Bold Prediction No. 2: James Harrison Doesn't Get Fined
It is true that the majority of NFL players don't get fined during the regular season, but Harrison is not part of that majority. In fact, it is just as common to see Harrison get fined as it is to see the sun rise in the East.
This year will be different. This year, the NFL won't make any extra money off Harrison and Roger Goodell will have to settle eating at McDonald's instead of Red Lobster.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Pittsburgh Doesn't Make the Playoffs
I know, I'm going all crazy here, but the truth is, I don't see any improvement over a team that lost in the first round to the Denver Broncos in last year's playoffs. While the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have either improved or stayed steady, the Steelers look like they're moving in the wrong direction.
Their 2012 season is going to be hinged on the success of their offensive line, and after giving up seven sacks in their first preseason game, it appears as if that hinge is going to fail miserably.
San Diego Chargers
Bold Prediction No. 1: Antonio Gates Has a Career Year
Gates has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, but it would be hard to not consider him one of the most gifted tight ends in the league. He's going to enter the 2012 season at full strength and have a career year.
His best year so far was his 2005 campaign where he recorded 89 receptions, 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. Look for all those numbers to improve this year.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes Both Start
Entering the first preseason game of the year, both Ingram and Reyes didn't start at their respective positions. However, after both players had spectacular performances against the Green Bay Packers, they should have a legitimate chance to starting when Week 1 rolls around.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Philip Rivers Plays Well in All 16 Games
The biggest issue with Rivers over the course of his career has always been his consistency from the start of the season to the end of the season. He'll either start out hot and finish cold or start cold and finish hot.
He's failed to have a stretch of 16 solid games during his career. This year will be different, though, as Gates will be back healthy and the receiving trio of Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem and Vincent Brown looks extremely deadly.
Look for a career year out of Rivers and his first truly consistent season as a starter for the San Diego Chargers.
San Francisco 49ers
Bold Prediction No. 1: Frank Gore Doesn't Reach 1,000 Rushing Yards
Gore has only failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards twice in his career. The first time was as a rookie when he wasn't the starting running back, and the second was in 2010, when he only played in 11 games.
The reason that Gore will fail to reach 1,000 yards this year won't be because of injury, but because of all the talent behind him. In years past, the San Francisco 49ers simply didn't have anyone else to hand the ball to other than Gore.
Now that they have Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, there is simply no reason for Gore to get 20-25 carries a game. He'll still be a key member of the offense, but the days of Gore being an every-down back for San Francisco are simply over.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Aldon Smith Records 20 Sacks
As a rookie in limited playing time, Smith recorded an incredible 14 sacks. Now that he's had a full offseason and he will be starting at outside linebacker, there is no reason for that number to increase during the 2012 season.
He'll firmly establish himself as one of the best pure pass-rushers in the NFL as he records 20 sacks in just his second year in the league.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The 49ers Make It Back to the NFC Championship Game
Unfortunately, the outcome of that game will be the same as last time: a loss.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Russell Wilson Eventually Starts in 2012
Just when it looked like Matt Flynn had a leg up in the quarterback competition in Seattle, Russell Wilson came out and played exceptional in his first preseason game. He finished the game with a passing and rushing touchdown and showed off his excellent athleticism and arm strength.
While Flynn didn't play poorly, he certainly didn't possess the pizzazz that Wilson did while he was on the field. If Wilson continues to play like this throughout the preseason, it is only a matter of time before he is starting for the Seattle Seahawks.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Seattle Sends Three Players From Their Secondary to the Pro Bowl
Those three players will be Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. All three players are young, but they've all proven to already be some of the best at their positions.
If the Seahawks make another run towards the playoffs this year, it is going to be because of the exceptional defense and outstanding secondary.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Bruce Irvin Records Double-Digit Sacks
When the Seahawks drafted Irvin with the 15th pick of the 2012 NFL draft, there were many who felt that Seattle reached for a player it could have gotten much later in the draft. However, the Seahawks wanted a player who could put pressure on the quarterback, and Irvin can certainly do that.
They'll likely only use Irvin in pass-rushing situations much like the San Francisco 49ers did with Aldon Smith last year. While I don't believe Irvin will quite get to 14 sacks like Smith did, I do see him entering into double-digit sack territory as a rookie.
St. Louis Rams
Bold Prediction No. 1: Sam Bradford Recovers From Last Year's Poor Play
After a promising rookie season, Bradford fell prey to the fabled "sophomore slump" last year. He struggled with injuries, but even when he was on the field, he just didn't look like the same player.
Now that the St. Louis Rams have surrounded him with new weapons like Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead, look for Bradford to look more like his rookie self during the 2012 season.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Janoris Jenkins Prove To Be the Steal of the Draft
When you strip away all the character concerns that Jenkins had leading up to the draft this year, all you're left with is an ultra-talented player who has the potential to be a true shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
The fact that he gets to learn from one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Cortland Finnegan will only help him become a better overall player. Look for Jenkins to play at an extremely high level from day one, as the Rams boast one of the better cornerback duos in the league.
Bold Prediction No. 3: St. Louis Only Wins Four Games
Despite the overall improvement on both sides of the ball for the Rams, there are still major questions surrounding the overall talent in St. Louis. While this team is certainly moving in the right direction, it may be another year or two before it is truly a contender.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bold Prediction No. 1: Vincent Jackson Makes the Pro Bowl
Jackson certainly wore out his welcome with the San Diego Chargers, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers desperately needed a No. 1 receiver for Josh Freeman, and Jackson can be that for them. When he's been motivated he's easily been one of the better receivers in the league.
Now that he is in a new place with a contract he finally feels he deserves, all his focus will be on performing at the top level. This will lead to Jackson having a fantastic first season in Tampa Bay and making the Pro Bowl.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Doug Martin Wins Offensive Rookie of the Year
It will be Martin and not Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck or Trent Richardson that is the most productive rookie this year. He plays in the ideal offense with new head coach Greg Schiano, and he'll get plenty of touches in both the ground and passing game.
Martin will be a bring reason that the Buccaneers get back to looking like the team that surprised everyone by nearly making the playoffs in 2010.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Tampa Bay Narrowly Misses the Playoffs
It isn't often that a team goes from 4-12 to being playoff contenders, but no one really thought that the Buccaneers were a 4-12 team talent wise last year.
With a huge offseason of signing big-name free agents, plus a productive draft, Tampa Bay is poised to rebound in a major way in 2012. Unfortunately, it'll narrowly miss the playoffs due to a Week 17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Jake Locker is Opening Day Starter
There is nothing wrong with Matt Hasselbeck. In fact, he exceeded everyone's expectations last year and showed that he is still a capable starting quarterback in this league.
The problem with the Tennessee Titans is that it simply doesn't make sense to leave Locker on the bench for another full year. This is assuming, of course, that Locker is ready to be a starting quarterback, but all signs point to that being the case.
Look for Locker to win the starting job late in the preseason and open the 2012 season as starting quarterback for the Titans.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Chris Johnson Struggles to Gain 1,000 Yards
I'm not saying that he won't gain 1,000 rushing yards, I'm just saying that it won't be easy for him. He barely reached 1,000 yards last year and averaged a career low of only four yards per carry.
The big reason that Johnson will struggle to reach the century mark this year is because of his backups, Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper. Both are talented players, and if Johnson starts out slowly again this year like he did last year, the Titans will likely begin shuffling carries off to Ringer and Harper.
If that happens, it will be nearly impossible for Johnson to live up to his new nickname, CJ1K.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Derrick Morgan Makes the Pro Bowl
Few defensive players are as physically and athletically gifted as Morgan is for the Titans. He is an absolute freak of nature at defensive end.
However, injuries have gotten the best of him in his first two years in the league, and he is now entering a make-or-break year for the Titans. He simply has too much potential to not make a big impact this year with the end result being a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Robert Griffin III Outperforms Andrew Luck
What makes this prediction really bold is that he'll do it in every aspect of the game during his rookie season. Griffin will have better statistics than Luck this year, but he'll also win more games.
This has more to do with the talent surrounding Griffin than it does him being a better player, but look for RG3 to have a better rookie season than Luck.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Washington's Defense is One of the Better Units in the League
While there are some major question marks concerning the Redskins defense, they field too many talented playmakers to not be one of the better overall units.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are two of the better outside linebackers in the league. London Fletcher is one of the most underrated defensive players to ever play the game. Even DeAngelo Hall figures out how to make an impact in most games.
When all is said and done, there is too much talent on this defense for it to not be stellar this year.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Redskins Win More Than Six Games
Yes, it'll only be seven games, but it will be a major improvement from last year. Griffin will prove he is a franchise quarterback and Pierre Garcon will prove he is a legit No. 1 receiver in the league.
They'll fight every single week for a victory, but the overall talent is still a year away from being true playoff contenders.