NFL 2012 Regular-Season Predictions
As a new season gets closer, it's time for my second installment of regular-season predictions. In my article regarding the 2011 season, most of my projections were off.
But hey, who really knew the 49ers would go 13-3? Did you really predict the Bengals to go 9-7? And even without Manning, nobody thought the Colts would go 2-14.
Projecting anything is very difficult not only with getting them right, but having to face the fact that you've upset an entire fanbase. As a fan, I understand the feelings. In the NFL, the unexpected occurs.
Here are the projections for every division in the NFL for 2012.
Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Last Season's Records: Ravens: 12-4, Steelers: 12-4, Bengals: 9-7, Browns: 4-12
The Cincinnati Bengals were the biggest surprise in the division last season. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green led the team to a playoff berth, creating a total of three division teams playing in January.
Both wild-card teams were from the AFC North.
Baltimore should be the favorite to win the division this year with Cincinnati not very far behind. Although the Bengals and Ravens are the teams to beat within the division, the Steelers aren't getting the respect they deserve. Don't underestimate their defense, their will to win and above all, their quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is still the best leader in that division.
For Cleveland, the rebuilding seasons start now. The Browns may have finally found their franchise quarterback in Brandon Weeden. Trent Richardson will be a 25-to-30-carry guy early in his rookie year. He'll become a workhorse in Cleveland. The Browns are rich in young talent and will have opportunities later on in the future, but for now, they need to focus on rebuilding.
This division has some of the hardest schedules in the league. The Browns have the third most difficult, the Ravens the fourth and the Bengals and Steelers have the 14th.
Projected Records: Ravens: 12-4, Steelers: 10-6, Bengals: 10-6, Browns: 2-14
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Last Season's Records: Packers: 15-1, Lions: 10-6, Bears: 8-8, Vikings: 3-13
Like their counterparts in the AFC North, the NFC North is also an extremely strong division. Each of the three teams, including the Packers, Bears and Lions, can all make the playoffs. It's difficult for every defense in the NFC North having to face either Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford or Jay Cutler twice a season. With the exception of Drew Brees, Rodgers, Stafford and Cutler could very well be the best quarterbacks in the NFC.
The weapons don't stop with quarterbacks. Megatron himself, Calvin Johnson, is a big reason for not only Stafford's success, but the entire team. The Packers are the clear favorite and team to beat in this division after having a 15-1 record in 2011, although their defense may need some help. Good news for Green Bay fans is that their team has the second easiest schedule this year.
Both the Lions and Bears will compete with the Packers for the division and for playoff berths come December. On the other hand, the Vikings are on the same boat as the Browns. Christian Ponder is their quarterback of the future, but with Adrian Peterson still recovering from an ACL injury, Minnesota will have a tough time in 2012.
Projected Records: Packers: 15-1, Lions: 13-3, Bears: 12-4, Vikings: 2-14
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: Patriots: 13-3, Jets: 8-8, Bills: 6-10, Dolphins: 6-10
The AFC East hasn't been a highly competitive division in recent years. That will change this season. Competition will not be for first place, but for second. New England, with the easiest schedule in the NFL, will win the division with absolutely no doubt.
Then there are three.
New York always seems to be in the hunt because of their defense. Their offense gets stagnant at times, which is why they finished 8-8 last year. Buffalo is a team that can surprise many in 2012. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are a great running back tandem, Fitzpatrick and Johnson have talent and their defense is underrated. Miami doesn't appeal to me this year. Reggie Bush had one good season, Tannehill isn't quite ready and without Brandon Marshall, who are their threats?
Projected Records: Patriots: 16-0, Jets: 8-8, Bills: 9-7, Dolphins: 4-12
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: Giants: 9-7, Eagles: 8-8, Cowboys: 8-8, Redskins: 5-11
The NFC East is the division of the reigning Super Bowl Champions New York Giants. The Giants won the division last season with one more win than both the Eagles and Cowboys. The "Dream Team" or, the Eagles, failed to live up to expectations set by themselves. Philadelphia didn't finish with a bad record, but it was nowhere near their predictions.
Dallas hasn't had the greatest preseason in 2012. Injuries surround the team, while Dez Bryant just can't stay out of trouble. However, hey still have the talent to make the playoffs and win the division.
Robert Griffin III has all the hype within the division. He has the potential to have an outstanding rookie season, yet his team still needs repair.
The entire division is better and the records this year will show that.
Projected Records: Giants: 11-5, Eagles: 9-7, Cowboys: 9-7, Redskins: 6-10
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: Texans: 10-6, Colts: 2-14, Jaguars: 6-10, Titans: 9-7
This division is a lot like the AFC East. Houston will win the division easily. Some are even picking them to win the Super Bowl. I'm not one of them. Yes, they have the best running back in the league, yes, they have one of the best wide receivers in the league and yes, they have a very talented young defensive. Matt Schaub gets the stats and makes the plays every game, but his injury issues are concerning. He's a lot like Jay Cutler.
Andrew Luck time.
Five years from today, we could be talking about the Colts being Super Bowl favorites because nobody can stop Andrew Luck. He's that good. Still, nobody expects him to join Indianapolis and lead them to seven wins immediately, and it's likely he won't.
The Titans will get second place. Even though the quarterback situation is complicated with Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson should be great this year. He's looked phenomenal in preseason, hoping to get back to his old form. However, Johnson's numbers alone will not carry the Titans to a winning record.
Jacksonville looks to have a very disappointing season in 2012. Maurice Jones-Drew will either be traded or hold out until at least Week 10; it's time for the Jags to find another running back.
Projected Records: Texans: 10-6, Colts: 4-12, Jaguars: 2-14, Titans: 6-10
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: Falcons: 10-6, Saints: 13-3, Buccaneers: 4-12, Panthers: 6-10
The NFC South is the most competitive division in the league. Recent years have pitted the Saints and Falcons battling for the division title with the Panthers and Bucs struggling to get wins. Cam Newton changes that for the Panthers and the free-agent additions give Tampa Bay more of an opportunity to be better.
Like every year as of late, the division title will come down between the Saints and Falcons. Both teams have too much talent to not contend during the season. New Orlean's advantage over Atlanta is usually Drew Brees. Matt Ryan just doesn't have the ability to have the best season of a quarterback within the NFC South. I'm not going to say he will this year, but his team will win the division. What happens in the playoffs is up to him.
Cam Newton will not go through a sophomore slump, but his unbelievable talent will not reflect on his team's record once again. Look for the Panthers to continue their ascent to NFL relevance.
Tampa Bay will be better this season as Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mark Barron will all benefit the team in big ways.
Projected Records: Falcons: 11-5, Saints: 10-6, Buccaneers: 7-9, Panthers: 6-10
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: Broncos: 8-8, Chargers: 8-8, Chiefs: 7-9, Raiders: 8-8
No division had closer records than the AFC West last season. It literally came down to the last game between the Chargers and Raiders to determine the division winner. The biggest news this offseason is that Peyton Manning is now a Denver Bronco.
I'm still not sure if that's worse than Tim Tebow.
Denver is already being picked to win the division. As a Featured Columnist for the San Diego Chargers, I'm not going to write an entire article on why I think the Bolts will win the AFC West here. In my mind, they are underdogs, but they still have the ability to win the division just like the Broncos and Chiefs.
Speaking of the Chiefs, it's very surprising that people aren't talking about them. They finished 7-9 last season without Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Peyton Hillis and Matt Cassel for the entire year. Kansas City should be the favorites in the AFC West.
Oakland is always a team that plays better than expected. Expectations are low for the Raiders every season, which creates motivation for the Silver and Black.
Projected Records: Broncos: 8-8, Chargers: 9-7, Chiefs: 9-7, Raiders: 5-11
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Last Season's Records: 49ers: 13-3, Seahawks: 7-9, Cardinals: 8-8, Rams: 2-14
The NFC West is the weakest division in the league. It used to be even weaker before the 49ers became a force in the NFL. It's San Francisco's division to lose and it should be easy to win it once again.
Seattle could shock the league in 2012. Their defense is well above average and they've added weapons to their offense led by Marhsawn Lynch. Unless Lynch plays for the entire season, the Seahawks will not unseat San Francisco.
Arizona simply needs to find a quarterback as Kolb and Skelton are not cutting it.
The Rams are an interesting team. Steven Jackson has injury concerns and they really have no big threats for Sam Bradford to throw to.
The 49ers will win the NFC West by a big margin in 2012.
Projected Records: 49ers: 10-6, Seahawks: 6-10, Cardinals: 2-14, Rams: 3-13