2012 NFL Predictions: Win-Loss Records for All 32 NFL Teams

Marc LillibridgeContributor IAugust 14, 2012

2012 NFL Predictions: Win-Loss Records for All 32 NFL Teams

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    Early in the preseason, every fan of every NFL team feels like this is the year their team is winning the Super Bowl. Some fans are happy just to have a winning record. Some fans clamor for the playoffs. Others expect and demand a trip to the "Big Game."

    Only one team can hold up the Lombardi Trophy, and last year, that team came from the NFC. As a matter of fact, four out of the last five Super Bowl champions have been from the NFC. 

    The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts have represented the AFC in the last nine Super Bowls.

    Will this year be different? Is this the year the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens break through?

    Every year in the NFL, there is a surprise team or two that comes out of nowhere to make the playoffs.  Two seasons ago, the Green Bay Packers were the No. 6 seed in the NFC and did not even win the NFC North. Yet they went on a magical run and won the Super Bowl.

    Pundits and fans were calling for New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s head in 2011 after his team lost four straight to sit at 6-6. The Giants won three out of their last four games to win the NFC East and then got hot to win the Super Bowl.

    Here is the list of my predictions in terms of each team's regular-season record and if that record will be good enough to get it into the playoffs.

AFC East

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    New England Patriots: 13-3

    New York Jets: 8-8

    Miami Dolphins: 6-10

    Buffalo Bills: 6-10

Buffalo Bills

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    Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a solid quarterback, but he does not strike fear in other teams’ defensive coordinators. The best player on the Bills is running back Fred Jackson, but he is coming off a major injury in 2011, and his body has taken a lot of hits over the years. 

    Besides Fitzpatrick, Jackson and receiver Stevie Johnson, the Bills offense is a bunch of players that not many people outside of Buffalo have heard of. To win games this season in a tough AFC East, the Bills will have to adopt the “team” mantra.

    The defensive line is the strongest unit on the Bills with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson at the defensive end positions and Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus up the middle. These four will need to hound the quarterback and produce sacks and turnovers if the defense wants to be good.

    Safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd will have to use all their skills to make plays while the Bills' young cornerbacks get more experience.

    Punter Brian Moorman is one of the best bad-weather kickers in the game and helps the Bills in a major way with his ability to turn field position in Buffalo’s favor.

    2012 record prediction: 4-12

Miami Dolphins

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    Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be the starter for the Dolphins in 2012 and will lead the team to a better record than it had in 2011. Tannehill understands the offensive system and is a natural leader.

    Running back Reggie Bush gives head coach Joe Philbin an “X-factor” type of player who can line up all over the formation and create mismatches. Daniel Thomas makes for a good change-of-pace back from Bush.

    Tight end/H-back Charles Clay will benefit from having Tannehill at quarterback and will be used down the seam opposite Bush’s routes.

    The Dolphins do not have a dynamic receiver on the team right now, so the group needs to be steady. Davone Bess, out of the slot receiver position, should lead the team in catches.

    The offensive line has a stud at left tackle in Jake Long, but the rest of the guys are average. The zone-blocking scheme the Dolphins will incorporate should be able to mask some of these issues until the group gets more comfortable together.

    The defensive-line play is based around defensive end Cameron Wake. He will need to get double-digit sacks to help a linebacking unit and secondary that are still learning to play a 4-3 scheme.

    Punter Brandon Fields and kicker Dan Carpenter are two solid players and will keep the Dolphins in a lot of games.

    2012 record prediction: 7-9

New York Jets

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    The experiment with quarterback/athlete Tim Tebow will pay off for the Jets in 2012, and a revitalized defense will help as well. Quarterback Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, with the help of tight end Dustin Keller, will stabilize the passing attack for the Jets.

    By using Tebow like the Jets used current Bills quarterback Brad Smith when he was in New York, the change of pace will keep defenses honest.

    The offensive line is strong with left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, center Nick Mangold and guard Brandon Moore. They will open up holes for Shonn Greene, who should rush for over 1,000 yards in this new offense.

    The defensive backfield is one of the best in football. The onus will be on linebackers David Harris, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas to be able to handle underneath coverages as well as blitz the passer.

    Kickers Nick Folk and Josh Brown are in a duel to claim the position for the Jets. The winner may be the goat or MVP for the team in 2012, as the Jets are sure to be in many close games.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

New England Patriots

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    Quarterback Tom Brady is a Hall of Fame player, and as long as he is under center in New England, the Patriots have a chance for the playoffs.

    New England will continue to be a running team by committee with Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. The Patriots simply need the threat of the running game with the pass-catching options at Brady’s disposal.

    Newly signed receiver Brandon Lloyd joins the All-Star cast of wideout Wes Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Visanthe Shiancoe.

    The offensive line will be better once guard Logan Mankins and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer get back to solid health.

    The defensive line, led by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, got some added juice with the drafting of rookie defensive end Chandler Jones. Jones will provide a solid pass-rusher off the edge.

    Linebackers Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower are all young but will thump the ball-carrier and are decent in coverage.

    Jones’ ability to rush the passer will also help the secondary, which was under fire in 2011 and must get better in 2012 if the Patriots want to make a return trip to the Super Bowl.

    2012 record prediction: 11-5

AFC North

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    Baltimore Ravens: 12-4

    Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4

    Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7

    Cleveland Browns: 4-12

Cleveland Browns

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    Quarterback Brandon Weeden is an older rookie, but he is entering a new offensive system with all-new surroundings. Without a strong running attack or a star receiver, Weeden will struggle in his freshman campaign.

    Trent Richardson will miss time after having knee surgery recently, and the Browns do not have a top-flight replacement for him.

    The receiving corps is young and very inexperienced. In a conference with three of the top defenses in the NFL, that unit will need to grow up quickly.

    Left tackle Joe Thomas is one of the best in the game, and center Alex Mack is rock-steady, but the right tackle position needs to be addressed or Weeden may be spending too much time on his back.

    The lack of depth in the linebacking unit will be an issue into the regular season. The loss of promising defensive tackle Phil Taylor to a pectoral injury in the offseason really hurts the defensive line. 

    Cornerback Joe Haden is a very good player, and opposite Sheldon Brown, he gives the Browns two quality edge players. The safeties are green and can be exposed deep.

    2012 record prediction: 2-14

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Head coach Mike Tomlin is a Super Bowl-winning coach, so he is rarely questioned on his decision-making ability. But the loss of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will have a bigger impact on the team than fans realize.

    Wide receiver Mike Wallace is holding out, running back Rashard Mendenhall is hurting, Hines Ward has retired and the offensive line is in shambles.

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stands in the pocket and delivers better than anyone in the NFL, but even he is upset at the loss of Arians and will struggle in 2012.

    The defense is not getting any younger, and stalwarts like James Harrison and Casey Hampton have been injuries all offseason. Safety Troy Polamalu has a history of concussions, and inside linebacker Larry Foote is going on year 11.

    2012 record prediction: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Quarterback Andy Dalton may end up being the best quarterback out of the 2011 draft class. With no disrespect to Cam Newton, Dalton stepped into a team without much offensive firepower and led his team to the playoffs.

    The Bengals have a solid rushing attack behind running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and if Bernard Scott can get healthy, Cincinnati will have a speedster to the outside.

    Wide receiver A.J. Green is working his way into the top 10 in the NFL, and a solid young group is behind him. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is an undervalued player who can catch and block.

    The offensive line is not dominant, but they are a steady group who find a way to get the job done.

    The defense for the Bengals was outstanding in 2011 and will need to be again in 2012.  Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows how to put his players in the best positions to be successful.

    Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is a future Pro Bowler and allows the Bengals linebackers to make a lot of tackles.

    The secondary is the key for the Bengals though. Cornerbacks Nate Clements and Leon Hall, along with safeties Taylor Mays and Reggie Nelson, all work amazingly well with each other. Their communication skills and ability to check in and out of the right coverage are exactly what Zimmer is looking for.

    The Bengals special teams are very good in coverage, and Brandon Tate is good as both a punt returner and kickoff return man.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

Baltimore Ravens

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    Quarterback Joe Flacco was a dropped pass away from leading his team to the Super Bowl last season.

    Running back Ray Rice is one of the best all-around players in the NFL. He is led by Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach.

    The offensive line is a veteran group that, when healthy, is as good as any in the NFL.

    The receiving corps is led by Anquan Boldin, but look for Torrey Smith and newly signed Jacoby Jones to be the lead receivers for Flacco in 2012. Tight end Ed Dickson will also have a breakout season by catching the intermediate routes inside as teams look to defend Smith and Jones deep.

    The defense always seems to be good, and even though middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are getting up there in years, both still play young and with passion. 

    The loss of outside linebackers Terrell Suggs to injury and Jarret Johnson to free agency hurts the defense, but Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw have the talent to fill the voids.

    Cornerback Lardarius Webb is coming off an impressive season, and with big cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith both playing a bunch in nickel coverage, the Ravens have a solid secondary.

    Kicker Billy Cundiff missed a big field goal in the AFC championship game last year and is getting pushed by rookie Justin Tucker. Do not be surprised to see Tucker win the job.

    2012 record prediction: 13-3

AFC South

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    Houston Texans: 10-6

    Tennessee Titans: 9-7

    Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11

    Indianapolis Colts: 2-14

Indianapolis Colts

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    Head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson took over a roster that was depleted after the 2011 season. The team played hard, but many of the guys who finished the season on the roster are no longer on the team.

    Getting quarterback Andrew Luck is a great way to start to rebuild the franchise, and up to this point the rookie has been as advertised. However, the Colts still lack depth at almost all the positions. One positive for Colts fans is a lot of the young players will get to play, gain experience and understand how to prepare and compete in the NFL.

    The offensive line is a patchwork group, and the starting tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, are both rookies.

    Running back Donald Brown is a solid player, but backup Vick Ballard is a player to watch.  He should get plenty of playing time in his rookie season.

    The defense is switching to a 3-4 scheme without true fits at any of the positions. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, both former defensive ends, are being asked to drop into coverage.

    Inside linebacker Pat Angerer, per Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star, is out at least six weeks with a broken foot.

    The defensive backfield is starting cornerbacks Cassius Vaughn and Jerraud Powers. Neither player is considered a top-flight starter.

    2012 record prediction: 3-13

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Quarterback Blaine Gabbert can only get better coming off a poor season in 2011. But without their best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars will be in no position to compete in the AFC South.

    The addition of wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon gives Gabbert bigger targets to throw to. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has been a lost man in recent years in Jacksonville, and the team needs to get him more involved.

    The offensive line is average at best, and without MJD, who is still holding out, it will look worse in 2012.

    The defense was a bright spot for the Jaguars in 2011 and will need to be again this season to keep the team in games.

    Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is a force on the interior line and helps make linebackers Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny look good.

    When the drafting of a punter gets the fanbase excited, chances are the team has a ways to go. Bryan Anger is solid, but he is still a rookie.

    2012 record prediction: 3-13

Tennessee Titans

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    Quarterback Jake Locker will end up being the starter in 2012, but he better hope the Chris Johnson of 2010 shows up as opposed to the guy who played running back last year.

    Locker will also need a healthy wide receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook. Both can be down-the-field threats who can open up the run game.

    Michael Roos at left tackle is an underappreciated player, but the Titans will need the Steve Hutchinson of the Seahawks days to show up to solidify the offensive line.

    The defensive line is suspect with a lot of players who have not really produced at the NFL level. The linebackers are an undersized yet active group.

    The secondary, led by safeties Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux, is the unit that holds the defense together. But with a lack of a true pass rush, the secondary is asked to hold coverage too long, and this puts too much stress on the defense.

    Returner Marc Mariani is a Pro Bowler who has the ability to keep his team in the game.

    2012 record prediction: 5-11

Houston Texans

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    The Texans will win the AFC South by Week 10 and coast into the playoffs. The health of quarterback Matt Schaub is always a concern, but backup T.J. Yates proved last season that the Texans can still be a force without Schaub.

    Arian Foster is a top-three running back in the NFL, and behind one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, he will have his best season as a professional. 

    Wide receiver Andre Johnson is always good for 1,000 yards receiving, and tight end Owen Daniels understands how to find the open zones versus underneath coverage.

    Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been to Super Bowls before and may have the most talented defensive unit he has ever coached. J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed can be used in multiple fronts, blitzes and coverages.

    Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are vital in handling their positions in solid man coverage. This allows the front seven to rush the quarterback and gain the split second they need to gain the sack.

    If returner Trindon Holliday can stay healthy, with his speed, he will add another weapon to the Texans.

    2012 record prediction: 14-2

AFC West

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    Denver Broncos: 8-8

    San Diego Chargers: 8-8

    Oakland Raiders: 8-8

    Kansas City Chiefs: 7-9

Oakland Raiders

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    The Raiders are in a new era of Oakland football. Head coach Dennis Allen will get this team to be successful, but that will not happen in 2012.

    The old Al Davis regime has left too many players who do not fit the schemes Allen employs. General manager Reggie McKenzie knows talent, but the Raiders are a draft or two away from competing in the AFC West.

    There is too much youth at the receiver position for quarterback Carson Palmer. Running back Darren McFadden can be an elite back in the NFL, but injuries have kept him from playing an entire season.

    The interior of the offensive line is a solid group. Guards Cooper Carlisle and Mike Brisiel are wily veterans, while center Stefen Wisniewski will be competing for Pro Bowls in the years to come.

    The defensive front is consistently good, led by tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.  The linebackers are average at best, and the cornerbacks will be the weak spot for the Raiders in 2012.

    Oakland does have kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who has the strongest leg in the NFL, so it is never out of field-goal range. It is going to need his leg a lot this season.

    2012 record prediction: 5-11

Denver Broncos

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    Quarterback Peyton Manning may not play like a four-time NFL MVP, but he will not have to for the Broncos to have success in 2012. The only issue for Denver is that it is playing in the best division in the AFC.

    Manning has plenty of weapons on offense, and this talent may rival his best years in Indianapolis. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas complement each other very well. Thomas is a downfield threat, while Decker is a great route-runner. 

    Tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are extremely smart players and can grasp the way Manning checks in and out of routes.

    Left tackle Ryan Clady is as good as any in the NFL, and the rest of the offensive line is versatile. Thinking of last season, they started the season as a pass-pro team with Kyle Orton but finished as a smashmouth run team with Tim Tebow.

    Willis McGahee has found the fountain of youth in Denver, and backup Lance Ball rushed for 402 yards last year.

    The duo of outside rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller will rival any in the NFL, but the key to the Broncos defense will be the play of cornerback Champ Bailey. 

    Losing safety Brian Dawkins to retirement leaves Bailey as the unquestioned leader of the secondary. Going on year 14, Champ needs to show he still has the cover skills to lock down the opponent's best receiver.

    2012 record prediction: 9-7

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Quarterback Matt Cassel needs to stay healthy in 2012. If the former USC Trojan can do that behind a very good offensive line, Cassel will have the Chiefs competing for the AFC West crown.

    Running backs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis give the Chiefs an inside-outside rushing attack that no other team in the AFC has. The Chiefs need to get receiver Dwayne Bowe into camp and get him on the same page with Cassel, who missed seven games in 2011.

    Along with Bowe, wide receivers Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster give Cassel and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll tons of options in the passing game.

    Add tight end Tony Moeaki, who is a major threat in the red zone, into the mix and the Chiefs have offensive weapons galore.

    Head coach Romeo Crennel, who is also the defensive coordinator, mixes up coverages and blitzes as well as anyone in the NFL. Crennel has loads of talent on defense as well. 

    Safety Eric Berry is Pro Bowl-caliber, as is cornerback Brandon Flowers. Linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson have already been to Hawaii. Outside linebacker Justin Houston is a player on the rise.

    The key for the Chiefs defense will be the maturity of the defensive front. Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and Dontari Poe are all first-round picks who need to play with power and leverage every play.

    2012 record prediction: 12-4

San Diego Chargers

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    Quarterback Philip Rivers is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, and 2012 will be his year to shine. Tight end Antonio Gates has always been a favorite target of Rivers, and the combo has set records in San Diego. The duo will add to those statistics this season. 

    Even if the Chargers are without running back Ryan Mathews for an extended period of time due to his injury, the Chargers can rely enough on Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle to at least hold the fort down. Do not be surprised if the Chargers trade for a runner at some point before the deadline.

    Wide receiver Vince Brown will make Charger fans forget about Vincent Jackson, and while Malcom Floyd is the red-zone threat, speedster Robert Meachem gives Rivers someone he can try to out-throw.

    The offensive line is a nasty, tough group who battle to the whistle. They get that mentality from Rivers.

    The defense has solid pass-rushers in Antwan Barnes, Shaun Phillips, Larry English and rookie Melvin Ingram from the outside linebacker position. The inside linebackers, Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler, need to force the line of scrimmage and make the inside runs bounce outside.

    Safeties Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby have good range and are solid run-fill players.

    The key will be the play of cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. They must be able to lock down the physical receivers in the AFC West for the Chargers to win the division.

    Punter Mike Scifres is one of the best in the business, but kicker Nate Kaeding needs to bounce back from a missed year in 2011.

    2012 record prediction: 12-4

2012 AFC Playoff Teams

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    2012 AFC Regular Season Records

    Houston Texans: 14-2

    Baltimore Ravens: 13-3

    San Diego Chargers: 12-4

    New England Patriots: 11-5

     

    Wild Cards

    Kansas City Chiefs: 12-4

    New York Jets: 10-6

NFC East

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    New York Giants: 9-7

    Philadelphia Eagles: 8-8

    Dallas Cowboys: 8-8

    Washington Redskins: 5-11

Washington Redskins

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    Quarterback Robert Griffin III seems to be the prototypical player for head coach Mike Shanahan’s offense. However, expect some growing pains for Griffin in his rookie campaign. The addition of Pierre Garcon, the free-agent wideout from the Indianapolis Colts, will make the transition easier.

    The running game features a litany of backs. Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster all look to get carries in the stretch zone-blocking scheme.

    The offensive line is banged up heading into 2012 and will need tackles Jammal Brown and Trent Williams healthy to have any success via the pass or run.

    Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has many weapons to at his disposal on defense. Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan form one of the best young duos in the NFL and should help keep the Redskins competitive until the offense can get rolling.

    The secondary is the defense's weakness. Safety Brandon Meriweather is a liability in coverage, and cornerbacks Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are on the back side of their careers. The pass rush must get the quarterback early for the Redskins to have success on defense.

    The Redskins have an average-at-best special teams unit.

    2012 record prediction: 6-10

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Cowboys simply do not have a lot of talent around quarterback Tony Romo. The personnel department is scouring the country for a healthy center. The offensive line is a mess. The only tested weapon is tight end Jason Witten.

    The receiving corps is young and inexperienced, especially with Miles Austin out with an injury.  Dez Bryant has off-field issues and has yet to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver.

    Neither running back DeMarco Murray nor Felix Jones is considered a top-25 back in the NFL.

    The defense should be better than in 2011, especially cornerbacks Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne. If Mike Jenkins can get healthy and add value to that of cornerback Orlando Scandrick, what was a position of weakness for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can now be a strength. 

    Inside linebacker Sean Lee is one of the best young players in the NFL, and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has already established himself as one of the best overall.

    Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is a load to handle inside and one of the premier pass-rushing interior defensive linemen in the NFL. However, the Cowboys do not have a lot of depth at any of the front seven defensive positions, and this will be their downfall.

    2012 record prediction: 8-8

New York Giants

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    Quarterback Eli Manning is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and looks to repeat in 2012. The NFL hasn’t had back-to back champions since the New England Patriots won Super Bowls 38 and 39.

    Manning has two star receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Tight end Martellus Bennett gives Manning a vertical threat at that position he did not have in 2011.

    The offensive line needs to play better than it did during 2011. Manning made the line look better than it was, and if this unit wants a chance to repeat as champions, guard Chris Snee and tackle David Diehl need to step up their play.

    Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is a very good option in the backfield. Rookie David Wilson is a very good change-of-pace player when Bradshaw needs a blow.

    The secondary has been riddled by injuries early in this preseason. Last season’s first-round draft pick, cornerback Prince Amukamara, must prove he can hold down the edge for the Giants.

    Linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka are both solid versus both the run and pass, but the staple for any Giants defense is the pass-rush ability of the defensive ends. Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are two of the best in the league and will help protect the secondary until they can get healthy.

    Kicker Lawrence Tynes has made some huge kicks in his career and will always keep the Giants in games, especially in a tough NFC East division.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Quarterback Michael Vick is a Pro Bowl player, but running back LeSean McCoy is the engine that makes the Eagles go. Head coach Andy Reid needs them both to get back to a Super Bowl.

    Vick has plenty of weapons in receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Add tight end Brent Celek to the mix, and anyone can see why Philadelphia has one of the best offenses in the NFL.

    The loss of offensive tackle Jason Peters is tough, but not as tragic as if the Eagles lost right tackle Todd Herremans. The former guard blocks Vick’s blind side, so Herremans is more vital to the Eagles offense.

    The defense has gained confidence and leadership with the addition of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Ryans has the other linebackers playing faster and lining up correctly. 

    Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole have the ability to rush the passer from the outside. Defensive tackles Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins provide push on the inside.

    The safeties are still fairly young, so the Eagles will need even better production out of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

    Rookie returner Damaris Johnson will win at least one game for the Eagles in 2012.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

NFC North

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    Green Bay Packers: 15-1

    Detroit Lions: 10-6

    Chicago Bears: 8-8

    Minnesota Vikings: 3-13

Minnesota Vikings

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    Quarterback Christian Ponder has a chance to be a solid NFL player, but playing behind an offensive line that is average, Ponder will need to be better than solid.

    Having running back Adrian Peterson lining up in the backfield is a sight for sore eyes in Minnesota. But how effective can the former NFL-leading rusher be coming off his ACL surgery?

    Tight end Kyle Rudolph has tons of talent and will be Ponder’s top target this season. Receivers Jerome Simpson and Percy Harvin both have issues away from the field and can be problematic at times.

    The defense has issues with the secondary and gives up too many big plays. With all the weapons at receiver in the NFC North, this will be the Achilles’ heel for the Vikings defense.

    Linebacker Chad Greenway and defensive end Jared Allen play to the whistle every snap, but they simply do not have the talent around them to compete in the division.

    2012 record prediction: 1-15

Chicago Bears

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    The Bears have an offensive line that is struggling right now. They have a hard time protecting the quarterback, and Jay Cutler is not afraid to force the ball when he is under pressure. This combination will have dire consequences for the Bears’ record in 2012.

    The addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall gives Cutler his favorite target back, but if Cutler does not have the time to get the ball to Marshall, the addition will not matter.

    Running back Matt Forte is a dual threat and is the Bears’ best player. If he is healthy, he will keep the Bears in games.

    The fact middle linebacker Brian Urlacher still is out of action should concern Bear fans. The front office can sugarcoat his injury all they want, but if Urlacher is out for an extended period of time, the defense will suffer mightily.

    Julius Peppers is still one of the best defensive ends in the game, but he is the only dominant player on the defensive line.

    The secondary has issues with safety play, and cornerback Charles Tillman is aging rapidly.

    Devin Hester is the best return man in the NFL, and the Bears need to find ways to get him the ball as much as possible.

    2012 record prediction: 8-8

Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers offense is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Even with the signing of Cedric Benson and returning starter James Starks, running backs in Green Bay simply need to know how to block. Anything they add in the running attack is gravy.

    The receiving corps could make a case as the strongest in the NFL, and Jordy Nelson continues to improve. The growth of Randall Cobb makes veteran Donald Driver expendable. The Packers are loaded at tight end, and the interior of the offensive line is one of the best groups in the NFL. 

    Replacing left tackle Chad Clifton has turned out to be harder than originally thought, and if this position is not fortified soon, it could be the demise of the Packers season.

    The defense is led by outside linebacker Clay Matthews, but sleeper inside linebacker Desmond Bishop is making a name for himself in the Great North.

    Charles Woodson moves over to safety, and his unique ball-hawking skills will come in handy. But this leaves questions at the cornerback position. Tramon Williams has one starting spot nailed down, but Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields and Davon House are in a heated battle for the other spot.

    Behind Woodson, the Packers are extremely short on experience at the safety position.

    Mason Crosby is a solid kicker, and Cobb is a dynamic returner who can score from anywhere on the field.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

Detroit Lions

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    Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson will compete for the MVP award and will give the Lions their first NFC North championship since its inception in 2002. The last time the Lions won their division was 1993.

    Though the Lions lack a true running game, the Packers and Patriots of recent history have proven this formula can work. When their injuries do heal, Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith and Mikel Leshoure will only add more firepower to the Lions offense.

    Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are huge targets in the red zone. They complement Johnson well. The Lions are deep at the receiver position.

    The offensive line is workmanlike, and while not flashy, they handle their business and keep Stafford upright.

    The defensive line can hold the point of attack versus the run with strength  Defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can press the pocket and will collect sacks.

    The linebackers are a solid group. The defensive backs took a blow when safety Louis Delmas was injured, but rookie cornerback Bill Bentley looks like a find for general manager Martin Mayhew. Look for the Lions to add another quality veteran defensive back before the season is over.

    Returner Stefan Logan is reliable, and though not a burner, he runs hard and will battle for every yard.

    2012 record prediction: 12-4

NFC South

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    New Orleans Saints: 13-3

    Atlanta Falcons: 10-6

    Carolina Panthers: 6-10

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-12

Carolina Panthers

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    Quarterback Cam Newton is dynamic, but he must continue to get better at working through his pass reads and try to avoid running with pressure in his face.

    The Panthers have two of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but if the offensive line struggles, the backs will be deemed busts.

    Receiver Steve Smith had a resurgence in 2011, as did tight end Greg Olsen. But outside of those two stars, the Panthers lack true offensive talent among pass-catchers.

    Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly will only help a young defense get better, but his lateral play relies on the efforts of defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Ron Edwards. These two stalwarts must set the tone for the Panthers defense by allowing Kuechly, Jon Beason and James Anderson to shoot gaps and make clean tackles.

    The secondary is a decent group, but none of the players stand out as a difference-maker. They are better as a unit than as individuals.

    The Panthers' special teams unit is below average and will cost them a game or two in 2012.

    2012 record prediction: 5-11

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers were not a very good team in 2011 but will be improved in 2012.

    Quarterback Josh Freeman looks comfortable in the offense and has taken on a greater leadership role. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson gives him a vertical threat, and wily veteran tight end Dallas Clark gives him an outlet underneath.

    However, the Buccaneers offense is all about the running game. With LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin running behind powerful offensive guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, the Buccaneers will wear teams down.

    The defense is still very young along the defensive front and linebacker positions, but veteran Ronde Barber still is roaming the secondary. Barber’s move to safety allows cornerbacks Eric Wright and Aqib Talib to be physical on the outside.

    Rookie linebacker Lavonte David has been all over the field and looks to be a newer version of Derrick Brooks. Quincy Black and Mason Foster give the linebacking corps speed to the edges and in coverage.

    Punter Michael Koenen and kicker Connor Barth are two of the best at their positions in the NFL and will help the Buccaneers win games this season.

    2012 record prediction: 8-8

New Orleans Saints

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    The loss of head coach Sean Payton will have a greater negative impact on the Saints season than fans realize. Payton built this offense and as the play-caller knew what play worked and when. Interim head coach Joe Vitt will be out for the first six games and is a defensive coach by nature.

    As good as Drew Brees is, he can only do so much. The offense is loaded with talent. That will not be the issue. How that talent is utilized will be the issue. Tight end Jimmy Graham is a star in the making and will need his touches.

    The Saints have three starting quality running backs. Payton was a master of knowing when to play Pierre Thomas in one series and then Darren Sproles the next. Mark Ingram needs to be used as well.

    The offensive line is not as dominant as years past and could face problems keeping Brees upright. 

    On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of cornerback Jabari Greer stands out. Greer is the Saints' best cover cornerback, and without him the secondary has holes.

    The Saints have a lot of depth at linebacker, and the addition of Curtis Lofton strengthened a key position for them and weakened a divisional opponent as well.

    Defensive end Will Smith is still a force on the right side, but second-year player Cameron Jordan needs to step up his game in 2012.

    Sproles is fun to watch as a returner, and when he has the ball in his hands, he is a threat to score anytime. Sproles gives the Saints the edge on special teams in almost every game.

    2012 record prediction: 10-6

Atlanta Falcons

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    This will be the year when receiver Julio Jones became the No. 1 target for the Atlanta Falcons offense, and a division crown will be the outcome.

    Jones will unseat Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez as quarterback Matt Ryan’s go-to guy, and Ryan will have a career year.

    Running back Michael Turner has the speed to the outside but is at his best inside. As defenses stack the tackle box to stop Turner, Jones and White will get open deep.

    The offensive line is a very solid group but will need tackles Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo to be better in pass protection than they were at times in 2011.

    The play of cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson will be a huge factor in how the Falcons defense rates in 2012. They will need to produce turnovers and get the ball back for their potent offense.

    The loss of Curtis Lofton is big, but outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas are poised to take over the leadership role.

    Defensive end John Abraham still is a force as a pass-rusher, but the Falcons need more out of 2011 free-agent signing Ray Edwards.

    2012 record prediction: 11-5

NFC West

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    2011 Regular Season Records

    San Francisco 49ers: 13-3

    Arizona Cardinals: 8-8

    Seattle Seahawks: 7-9

    St. Louis Rams: 2-14

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals are in a division with one of the best teams in football, the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals have shaky quarterback play, and as of right now, neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb is the answer.

    Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best in the game, and rookie Michael Floyd shows promise. The running attack was average in 2011, however, and does not look to get better with injuries slowing down Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.

    The defense is a solid group that will be counted on to help this team win games while the offense works to try to find its footing.

    Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are solid players that give the Cardinals linebackers gaps to make tackles.

    Linebacker Daryl Washington should have a very good year and should lead the team in tackles.

    Safety Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are a formidable duo and play off each other’s strengths well.

    Patrick Peterson and LaRod Stephens-Howling are two of the top returners in the game and have been a spark for the Cardinals. Both will have to come up big in the return game again in 2012 if the Cardinals even want to sniff a winning record.

    2012 record prediction: 2-14

St. Louis Rams

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    Quarterback Sam Bradford is coming off a horrible showing in 2011, and with another new offensive coordinator, Bradford will need more time in the offense.

    The Rams do not have a front-line wide receiver, and though Lance Kendricks has had a solid training camp, the second-year tight end started out strong in 2011 as well only to fade.

    The offensive line is patchwork, which makes running back Steven Jackson’s job all the more difficult. Jackson should rush for over 1,000 yards, but only if he can keep from taking hits in the backfield.

    The defensive line is young and should produce sacks. Besides middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the linebacking corps is average at best.

    The defensive backfield should be much improved over the injury-riddled unit of 2011. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins should be an impact player.

    The Rams were not a good coverage unit on special teams in 2011. They will be younger in 2012 and are starting a rookie kicker, Greg Zuerlein. 

    2012 record prediction: 5-11

Seattle Seahawks

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    Quarterback Matt Flynn will be the starter in Seattle and will improve the Seahawks record from 2011, but the former LSU Tiger will need tons of help from his backfield mate, Marshawn Lynch.

    The running game, with Lynch and Leon Washington, will need to carry the Seahawks early while Flynn grows accustomed to his new teammates. Tight ends Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow will be a major focus in the passing game early in the season.

    Look for receiver Sidney Rice to break out in the second half of the 2012 season and put up big numbers as he and Flynn become more comfortable with each other.

    Defensive lineman Red Bryant will benefit from having defensive tackle Jason Jones next to him. While these two eat up blockers, defensive end Chris Clemons can come off the edge for the sacks.

    The linebacking corps is the weak link for the Seahawks. Look for the front office to address this position via trades or waiver-wire pickups as the season progresses.

    Seattle has one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL, which covers up the lack of linebacking talent. Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are two of the best in the business. Safety Earl Thomas will have a Pro Bowl season.

    Jon Ryan is a good punter, and he kicks very well in some poor conditions. With Leon Washington as the returner for both punts and kickoffs, the Seahawks have a chance to break one for a score at any time.

    2012 record prediction: 8-8

San Francisco 49ers

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    Coming off a 13-3 year, the 49ers are looking to get even better. Quarterback Alex Smith continues to improve under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Running back Frank Gore continues to get better every year. The addition of the bruising running style of Brandon Jacobs gives the 49ers another option behind Smith.

    Wide receiver Mario Manningham will have the biggest impact of any free-agent signing in the NFC West and will help keep Alex Smith near the top of NFL passing statistics. If Randy Moss can even have a fraction of an impact, the 49ers will be better at receiver than in 2011.

    Tight end Vernon Davis is a Pro Bowl tight end who is peaking in his career. The offensive line is solid across the board and does not seem to have a weakness.

    The defensive line is very good, starting with defensive end Justin Smith, who plays as if he is ageless. Inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman may be the best pair in the NFL. 

    The play of cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown will need to stay strong. The front seven will get to the quarterback. The back half must hold up in coverage in 2012.

    Returner Ted Ginn has never proven he can be a starting-caliber receiver, but he is a dynamic returner who is good for two or three return touchdowns in 2012.

    2012 record prediction: 14-2

2012 NFC Playoff Teams

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    2012 NFC Regular Season Records

    San Francisco 49ers: 14-2

    Detroit Lions: 12-4

    Atlanta Falcons: 11-5

    Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6

     

    Wild Cards

    Green Bay Packers: 10-6

    New York Giants: 10-6