2012 NFL Predictions: Picking Winners for Each Division
The Falcons aren't the only team ready to overtake a divisional rival this season, either, as four teams in total will defeat incumbents in 2012.
The margin between winning and losing is razor-thin. Oftentimes, teams that were successful one year don't even put together a winning season the next.
Follow me as I predict which teams will end up on top of each of the eight divisions in the NFL.
Divisional Winner: Buffalo Bills
Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't as bad as people think he is. He's going to prove to all his detractors that he's a legitimate winning quarterback in 2012.
He now has a talented trio of receivers to throw to in Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones and David Nelson, and the passing game will take off as the season progresses.
Fred Jackson is back and healthy, and the one-two punch he and C.J. Spiller provide in the backfield will make the Bills offense one to fear.
Then there's the obvious improvement on defense. Mario Williams and Mark Anderson were the big-ticket items this past offseason, but rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore will do at least as much towards making this defense better than either of them.
The New England Patriots are going to have trouble protecting Tom Brady all year long, and their defense is still young. 2012 will finally be the year that the Bills oust the Pats from winning the divisional crown.
Divisional Winner: Houston Texans
The Tennessee Titans will be competitive, but they aren't anywhere near ready to take over the division. The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars are heading in the right direction, but neither team will win more than five or six games this season.
Thus, the Texans win this division by default. That's not to say this team isn't talented, though. Far from it.
If Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster can stay healthy this year, there isn't any reason the Texans can't reach the Super Bowl.
The team's explosive, balanced offense is tough to stop, but the strength of the team is in its defense. The only team in the NFL that has a better overall unit is the San Francisco 49ers. The Texans are awesome in every department, and can shut down any offense on any given Sunday.
Divisional Winner: Baltimore Ravens
The strength of the Ravens will always be its defense, at least until Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis are no longer leading the charge.
Lardarius Webb is the most underrated stud at the cornerback position in the entire NFL, and he has talented mates besides Reed roaming the secondary.
Even without Terrell Suggs, the team won't have trouble getting heat on opposing quarterbacks. Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw will do more than enough to pick up the slack, and we all know Paul Kruger will get the job done on the other side.
Where the team has gotten even better this year is on offense—specifically the Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith combo. The offense will be explosive in the passing game, allowing Ray Rice to run rampant on opposing defenses.
Divisional Winner: San Diego Chargers
The only thing that will derail the Chargers in 2012 is injuries.
The defense has turned into a strength this season after struggling last year. Rookie pass-rusher Melvin Ingram looks like a bull in a china shop going up against NFL tackles, and he's going to have a monster year.
Atari Bigby will finally give Eric Weddle the help he needs to control the secondary, and I'm looking for this defense to put up top-10 numbers across the board in 2012.
The offensive line is solid when healthy, and Philip Rivers won't have the same kind of struggles he did last season if he has protection. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal are going to make up the difference for Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates is going to be dominant.
Divisional Winner: Washington Redskins
In one of the most competitive divisions in the league, the Redskins will prevail.
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is as electric as any quarterback we've seen in years. He has an incredible ability to make plays outside of the pocket, and he has a ton of tools at his disposal.
The offseason additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, combined with Fred Davis, Santana Moss, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu make this one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
The team is strong on defense, as well. The only area of weakness is in the secondary, but Josh Wilson has come on strong and could be one of the players that helps the team turn it around.
The Dallas Cowboys can't protect Tony Romo, can't stay healthy and will suffer through another disappointing season. The New York Giants are too thin on defense outside of their front four. This division is ripe for the taking, and the Redskins are ready to take over.
Divisional Winner: Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback Matt Ryan looks more confident this year than I've ever seen him, and Julio Jones is quickly turning into one of the premier wide receivers this league has to offer.
Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are both still as effective as ever, and I'm looking for this Falcons offense to explode in 2012.
The team also features one of the most well-balanced defensive units in the NFL. They are strong at all three levels, and teams will struggle to make them break.
The New Orleans Saints will struggle. The loss of Sean Payton is more devastating than most believe, as he was the engine behind the incredible success Drew Brees had in the passing game.
The Falcons are on the way up, and the Saints are on the way down. It's as simple as that.
Divisional Winner: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is easily the best quarterback in the NFL. All others are No. 2 or lower...
As long as he's behind center, the Packers are going to win at least 12 games and the division. Now the team has added a power-running back in Cedric Benson, and the offense will be even more difficult to stop in 2012 than it was last year.
Defensively, the team has improved. The Packers aren't going to be as good as the San Francisco 49ers, but they will be good enough to win games.
In truth, the gap between the Packers and their divisional rivals is so great that there's no chance this team loses the division unless Rodgers goes down with an injury.
Divisional Winner: San Francisco 49ers
With all due respect to Russell Wilson (who I love, by the way), there is no chance in hell the Seattle Seahawks are ready to dethrone the 49ers in 2012.
The 49ers returned all 11 starters on defense, and this unit will only get better in its second year under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
The running game will be even better with the additions of LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs, and the 49ers will be better in the red zone.
The 49ers have all the right tools to make another deep playoff run, and with a bit of luck, they'll get over the hump and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
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