NFL: Unique Predictions for All 32 Teams Heading into the Regular Season
As we are about to embark on the start of the 2012 NFL regular season, it seems like you're coming across the same messages or similar themes from one website to the next regarding the hot trending stories of the day.
For this presentation, we instead want to take a different tact, and look at some areas that are overlooked to a degree, but still worth discussing.
We are going to come up with a unique prediction for every NFL team. Since these are predictions, we have no idea how many of them will come true, but there is some rationale for why we came up with the prediction to begin with, which allows for some chance that these unique ideas are actually plausible.
How many of these will pan out is hard to say right now, since the season hasn't even started. But, it will be a fun exercise at the end of the season to come back and revisit these 32 predictions and find out how many turned out to be correct, and how many of these could be classified as "Rex Ryan guarantees".
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Unique Prediction for Arizona Cardinals: Neither starting quarterback John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb will start at least 10 games this season.
Based on the track record that these two quarterbacks established last season, and what they have continued to display through the 2012 season, neither quarterback is head-and-shoulders above the other one.
In 2011, Kolb started nine games and Skelton started seven. It could be flip-flopped this year, or an even split, but I would be surprised if either guy starts 10 games.
They are too even with each other for one to get the majority of starts. Then you take into account the offensive line injuries, and one quarterback is sure to get hurt during the year.
Through injuries, poor stretches of play and losing streaks, head coach Ken Whisenhunt will be forced to periodically juggle the two quarterbacks, trying to go with either the hotter hand, or who is the healthiest player.
This seemingly never-ending carousel will continue in Arizona until they draft their own franchise quarterback, which could happen as early as 2013.
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Unique Prediction for Atlanta Falcons: In 2012, it will be Julio Jones, instead of Roddy White, that finishes in the top 10 of all NFL wide receivers. Both receivers will top the 1,000-yard barrier in 2012.
In 2011, the Falcons almost had two wide receivers come up with a 1,000-yard season. Roddy White finished the season at No. 8, with 100 receptions for 1,296 yards. Julio Jones only had 54 catches, but had an impressive yardage total: 959.
With a full offseason of OTA's and a full training camp behind him, Jones is ready to take the next step up and will leapfrog over White and wind up in the top 10 of all NFL receivers.
It should be quite a test for any opponent facing the Falcons' passing game this year. Throw in tight end Tony Gonzalez, and you just know that Matt Ryan is going to have a very good year.
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Unique Prediction for Baltimore Ravens: Going back over the past 10 seasons, the Baltimore Ravens haven't been able to top the 400 points scored barrier in any season. In 2012, they will topple that mark.
There are a number of reasons why I believe this will happen. The main reason is the evolution of starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco continues to develop into an outstanding quarterback every season.
His play in the 2011 playoffs demonstrated how clutch he can be. He led his team to what should have been a victory against New England and made the throws he needed to make.
Baltimore is adopting a no-huddle look and an up-tempo philosophy on offense this year. That points to a more aggressive offense that is looking to score more points.
Also, consider the outcome of the 2011 playoffs. Why take your chances on field goals when you can score touchdowns? I expect them to have more of a killer attitude in the red zone this year.
Another factor is that Flacco is playing out his contract, so there is plenty of financial motivation for him to have a big year. When it is time to negotiate, they will be asking "What have you done for us lately"? and Flacco will be able to point to the resurgence of the offense as the reason he deserves a big payday.
Also, you have to give some credit to the continued excellence of Ray Rice and the development of wide receiver Torrey Smith, to compliment Anquan Boldin. It would not be a surprise if either tight end, Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta, took a step up this year in this development.
If the Ravens defense doesn't take too big of a dip due to the injury to Terrell Suggs and the ability of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to stay on top of their game, the Ravens could be a huge factor in the AFC playoffs this year.
Can Ryan Fitzpatrick lead Bills to playoffs in 2012?
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Unique Prediction for Buffalo Bills: The Bills will end their streak of missing the playoffs by gaining one of the AFC Wild Card berths.
The last time Buffalo was in the postseason was 1999. They own the longest streak of missing the playoffs in the league, and seem poised and ready to take that big step forward this year.
Between a revamped defense, an easier schedule in 2012 than normal, the improved depth on both sides of the ball and the hot start they had last season, I believe that the Buffalo Bills are finally positioned to return to the playoffs again.
Before you dismiss my prediction as some homer guilty of drinking too much Kool-Aid, note that I am not alone in my opinion. In the past week, both John Clayton of ESPN.com, and Peter King of Sports Illustrated are both on record as predicting the Bills will be a playoff team as well. Hat tip to Buffalo Bills.com for uncovering both of those stories.
The bottom line is that the Bills will only go as far as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick takes them. Fitzpatrick is very bright and has a QB coach in David Lee who will fix his footwork issues.
As long as Fitzpatrick learns his lessons, the Bills will prosper.
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Unique Prediction for Carolina Panthers: After the conclusion of the 2011 season, Cam Newton wound up ranked as No. 15 overall in the NFL for QB passer rating. My prediction is that in his second year, Newton will make the jump up into the top 10 of all quarterbacks.
In 2011, Newton had a rating of 84.5, thanks in no small part to throwing 17 interceptions compared to 21 touchdowns. I expect that this year, based on a full offseason of coaching, and a complete training camp, that Newton will demonstrate more growth and take his game up to a new level. He will use better judgement in his throws and that will help him cut down on all the interceptions.
He finished last year trailing the likes of Alex Smith and Matt Moore, but I don't see that happening this year. With a strong running game to back him up, Steve Smith leading the receivers, and Newton offering up his unique skills with his arm and his legs, the Panthers' offense should be able to pick up where they left off last year.
Due to the extra coaching he has received since last year, additional film study, and a better understanding of the pro game, I believe you will see Newton's TD/INT ratio wind up being much closer to 2:1 where it belongs.
Unique Prediction for Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler will set a career high in touchdown passes, which was 27 touchdowns in 2009, his first year in Chicago. I see Cutler as throwing more than 30 touchdowns, as he is able to spread the ball around the field to a much deeper receiving corps this year.
This prediction is predicated on the Bears' offensive line being able to keep Cutler upright for most of the year and allow him to survive the season. If he misses multiple games due to injuries, then all bets are off.
Between Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery the Bears have done a very good job of adding some major talent to the wide receivers unit, and it suddenly transforms them into a much more dangerous team.
One more Bears prediction: Matt Forte set a career-low with only three rushing touchdowns in 2011. Thanks to the addition of free agent Michael Bush, Forte won't top three rushing touchdowns this year either, as Bush will be scoring a number of touchdowns in the red zone.
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Unique Prediction for Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals will continue their frustrating habit of following up a playoff appearance by not making the playoffs the following season.
The Bengals were one of the feel-good stories of the 2011 season. capturing one of the AFC Wild Card spots. For whatever reason you want to attribute it to, the Bengals have a history of making the playoffs in one year, and then not qualifying the following season. I predict that this annoying trend will continue in 2012.
I watched several Bengals' preseason games this year, and I saw Andy Dalton have a few good moments and then I saw him getting roughed up by enemy defensive linemen. He missed on quite a few passes and it leaves me with the impression that he could be in for a slight regression this year.
Very few people saw him as being capable of taking his team to the playoffs as a rookie last year, but he managed to pull it off.
Cincinnati will realize too late that they miss the power running that Cedric Benson provided them. Not only that, but they will miss Jerome Simpson as well, who brought some amazing athletic skills to the Bengals offense. Hopefully Jermaine Gresham's sprained knee will allow him to return to action soon, as they need him to serve as a reliable target.
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There are so many rookies playing at key skill positions on offense (Weeden, Trent Richardson, Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon), that the Browns might find some of them being overwhelmed if things start going badly.
They will need a leader that can reach them and settle them down. Not sure how well Weeden can do that, if he is being overwhelmed at the same time.
This might be the reason why the Browns kept McCoy over Seneca Wallace. McCoy looked pretty solid in his preseason games, and that probably helped to convince Cleveland to keep him on the roster.
When the Browns start making mistakes, and the team finds itself going backwards on one drive after another, Cleveland will turn to McCoy to get things settled down and headed in the right direction.
I believe that the Browns start the year and end the year with Weeden, but McCoy will get some action in the middle of the season.
Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Unique Prediction for Dallas Cowboys: DeMarco Murray will finish in the top 10 in rushing yards in 2012.
Without the benefit of a full training camp or OTA's in 2011, Murray was able to overtake Felix Jones to become the starting running back in midseason. As it was, Murray only attempted 164 rushes for 897 yards. His average rush of 5.5 yards per attempt tied him with Fred Jackson for second-best in the NFL, trailing only Cam Newton's average of 5.6 yards per rush.
While many people will be paying attention to Dez Byrant and how he is coming along with the "Dez Bryant Rules," I prefer to focus on the talents of Murray who breathed some new life into the Dallas offense last year.
Now, if he can only stay healthy for the entire season, he could be in store for a very memorable year.
Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
Unique Prediction for Denver Broncos: Even though Broncos' head coach John Fox is known for wanting to run the football and control the clock, the reality is that the pair of third-year wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will flourish with Peyton Manning and each will set career-highs this season.
In 2011, Decker set a career-high across the board: 44 receptions for 612 yards, an average of 13.1 yards per catch and eight touchdown receptions.
For Thomas, new career-highs as well in catches (32), yards gained (551), average yards per catch (17.2) and touchdown receptions (four).
Not only will they be held accountable by Manning for the patterns they run, but they are both entering their third year, which is typically the breakout year for wide receivers.
I expect both of them to set new personal bests, and it wouldn't surprise if both wind up with double-digit touchdowns.
Calvin Johnson should have another monster season in 2012
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Unique Prediction for Detroit Lions: In 2012, Calvin Johnson will finally break the Detroit Lions' team record for the most receiving yards in one season.
The Lions all-time record for receiving yards in one season was set by Herman Moore, who made 123 receptions in 1995 for a total of 1,686 yards. Incredibly, Johnson last year came within five yards of tying Moore's team-record. Johnson caught 96 passes last year for 1,681 yards.
The Lions ground game is still shaky from everything that I have observed, so there is no reason not to be looking to connect with Johnson steadily throughout the year.
As long as Matthew Stafford remains healthy, there really isn't any reason for Johnson not to continue his personal growth. Nobody can stop him in the league based on his size, strength and jumping ability.
They don't call him Megatron for nothing.
Green Bay Packers
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Unique Prediction for Green Bay Packers: Cedric Benson will become the first Packers' running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season since Ryan Grant accomplished the feat in 2009.
Benson has a personal streak going of three straight years with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He will look to make it four straight in Green Bay.
With the high-voltage passing attack of the Packers, teams will be looking to focus on rushing Aaron Rodgers and trying to slow down the wide receivers. Benson will find the running lanes more accessible than normal, as the front seven are looking to get to the quarterback.
With no real other main competition in Green Bay, expect Benson to quickly be the workhorse that they turn to for 15-plus carries a game.
Being able to run the ball in the winter is always a good thing for creating a better balance for any offense. The Packers are no exception to that rule.
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Unique Prediction for Houston Texans: Founded in 2002, the Texans established a new team record in the 2011 season with 10 wins in the regular season. My prediction for 2012 is that the Texans are going to be setting a new record again, as they will win at least 12.
The Texans have one of the best combinations of talented players on both sides of the ball. Their defense were ranked No. 2 overall in 2011, and their offense has plenty of firepower with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
We saw injuries hit many of their stars on offense last year, and yet the Texans still managed to win the AFC South and collect their first playoff win.
The young stars on the Texans' defense are just starting to get their feet wet in the schemes created by Wade Phillips, and I think they will be even better this year.
Assuming Schaub stays healthy, which is not necessarily a given, I think they will make a strong run at securing 12 wins.
Will Andrew Luck break Peyton Manning's rookie records?
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Unique Prediction for Indianapolis Colts: By the time the 2012 season draws to a close, Peyton Manning won't have any more rookie passing team records because Andrew Luck will have broken every one of them. Scratch that, Manning will still hold the Colts' rookie-record with 28 interceptions.
Andrew Luck is basically everything that he was advertised to be, and then some. He is poised, bright, athletic, throws an accurate pass and doesn't stare down his receivers. He will still need to learn how to adjust to the pro game, but every rookie goes through that learning curve.
The intangibles that Luck brings to the table are difficult to measure or describe, but you can't help feel confident for the Colts' chances of growing behind this kid.
Of all of the turnover on the Colts roster, the two areas that are of interest to me in the 2012 season are how well does the offensive line protect Luck this year, and how well does the running game support their rookie quarterback and keep defenses honest.
It helps that Luck has talented rookie tight ends to throw to, in addition to veteran Reggie Wayne. The Colts will probably be playing catch-up often this year, so that will give Luck plenty of reasons to be throwing the ball early and often this season. If he throws more than 25 interceptions, I would genuinely be surprised.
Will Maurice Jones-Drew fall out of Top 10 RB's in 2012?
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Unique Prediction for the Jacksonville Jaguars: For the past three seasons, you could pretty much count on the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew would be ranked somewhere in the top five of all running backs in the league. MJD finished first in 2011, No. 5 in 2010 and No. 4 in 2009.
But that is all about to change in 2012. Prediction here is that Jones-Drew won't finish in the top 10 of all running backs for the upcoming season.
As of now, there are rumblings that Jones-Drew is about to report to the Jaguars any day now. What exactly would that do for the Jaguars in 2012 and for Jones-Drew personally?
For one thing, Jones-Drew has put himself firmly in the dog house of new Jaguars' head coach Mike Mularkey, not to mention the new Jaguars' ownership.
What kind of a message does Mularkey send to the rest of his team, (who have been busting their butts all summer long) by ignoring that Jones-Drew held out and starting him in Week 1? There would be some angry players on his hands.
For one thing, MJD has to learn the new offense, as he hasn't even picked up the new playbook yet. He has to get into football shape. He also has to earn his touches again, which isn't exactly a slam dunk since the Jaguars have been impressed with the play of Rashad Jennings, who seems more than capable of stepping in for Jones-Drew with the starters.
Another factor is that the Jaguars look like they have more confidence in their passing attack in 2012. Blaine Gabbert has demonstrated some level of growth in the preseason, and he does have rookie Justin Blackmon to throw to.
Finally, we have the track record of backs, like Chris Johnson, who report late after a lengthy holdout, and there is a noticeable drop off. There are just too many things going against Jones-Drew for him to have a big season in 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Unique Prediction for Kansas City Chiefs: The Kansas City Chiefs are anxiously looking forward to the 2012 season, since they are getting all of their injured stars back that went on the I.R. for most of the 2011 season. The return of their key players has inspired many people to think the Chiefs will be able to win the AFC West this year.
While I can understand the optimism, I am still not sold on the end product. I have watched the Chiefs in the preseason, and the passing attack between Matt Cassel and his two best receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin, hasn't been very impressive at all. In fact, if anything, it has me concerned that the Chiefs will not even be in the running for a wild-card berth this year.
If you combined the efforts of Bowe and Baldwin for the entire preseason, we are talking about 10 receptions for a total of 80 yards. That's the entire preseason. I realize Bowe missed some time due to holding out, but that is part of the point.
The passing attack is far from operating at a high level, and it will be one of the reasons that the Chiefs get off to a slower start.
For the sake of Chiefs fans, I hope that I am wrong, but I will need to see something different out of Cassel and his top receivers to convince me.
Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Unique Prediction for Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins will wind up in the bottom-three of all NFL teams for passing offense in 2012.
Between starting a rookie quarterback, trading away Brandon Marshall, and not drafting any kind of a big-play wide receiver, the Miami Dolphins are basically coming into the 2012 NFL season with a gun that is only about half loaded.
They just simply don't have the weapons or the firepower to compete in the current NFL landscape where offenses are designed to rack up a ton of yards through the air and pile on the points.
As things stand now, I suspect that most defenses will try to turn the Dolphins into a third-and-long kind of offense by stacking the box and doing whatever they can to bottle up Reggie Bush on first and second down runs. That will force Ryan Tannehill to throw, and then the defense can pick their ears back and attack him at will.
It will be interesting to see how Tannehill fares in the first month. If it is clear that the Dolphins just don't have the talent to compete right now, they might opt to put David Garrard in to try to keep them more competitive, and then I would expect to see slightly better results. But until the quality of the wide receivers begins to improve, there is only so much that Garrard can do.
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Unique Prediction for Minnesota Vikings: Jared Allen led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2011. In 2012, Allen will once again hit or better the 20-sack mark, as he continues to terrorize quarterbacks around the NFL.
Allen is as close to a one-man wrecking crew as you can find. He combines his strength, ability and desire to create a pass-rush that most offensive linemen have a hard time stopping.
It seems like Allen has been around a long time, and to some degree that is true. He has already played eight seasons in the NFL, but he only turned 30 this year. He still has a number of productive years ahead of him.
So far Allen has been credited with 105 sacks in his career. With all of the pass-happy quarterbacks in the NFC North, Allen will have plenty of chances to pad his sack totals this year.
New England Patriots
Will Tom Brady be on the run more in 2012?
Unique Prediction for New England Patriots: From 2002-present, the most sacks that Tom Brady ever had to endure in any season was 32. That happened in both 2003 and in 2011. With the current problems of the offensive line, the prediction here is that Brady will experience a new personal high for being sacked in a single season.
The offensive line seems like it has taken a rather large hit in the past year. Matt Light retired, Logan Mankins had surgery on his knee, Dan Coppen was released, Brian Waters is missing in action and probably retiring, and free agent Robert Gallery decided to retire from football. Those are a lot of issues.
As the New York Giants demonstrated once again in Super Bowl XLVI, the best way to beat the Patriots is to apply constant pressure on Tom Brady. The Buffalo Bills got the message loud and clear and acted on bolstering their pass rush to bring as much heat as they possibly can muster on Brady this year.
We still don't know for sure how the new running backs will work out to help take some of the pressure off. From being able to pass protect, to serving as good receivers out of the backfield, to maintaining a reasonable ground attack to balance out the passing offense, there is pressure on both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to produce this year in place of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
We all know what happens when Brady is given all day to throw the football: he will pick you apart. If you make him uncomfortable and get him to start moving around more, you have a chance against him. We will see how the offensive line holds up and does their job.
New Orleans Saints
You won't see this duo on the sidelines in 2012
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Unique Prediction for New Orleans Saints: The Saints will prove that a team can play well and win without their head coach, as I predict that New Orleans will win the AFC South this year.
In an unprecedented move in the NFL, Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire season for his role in "Bounty-Gate". While the Saints are going to do their best to play hard every week without Payton around to oversee everything, they are lucky to have such a great leader as Drew Brees to keep the troops inspired and on the straight and narrow.
While New Orleans will go through their rotation of interim coaches due to the suspension of Joe Vitt on top of the suspension to Payton, the Saints will continue to operate like they never missed a beat. Part of that goes to the organizational skills of Payton, while kudos have to go to Brees for holding everything together.
If the Saints can pull this out and win without Payton, what kind of a precedent does that set for other NFL coaches for the future? Are they really necessary?
New York Giants
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Unique Prediction for New York Giants: My prediction for the New York Giants is that they are going to wind up repeating in 2012. But, the repeating they do will be that their regular season record will once again be 9-7, and this time it won't be good enough to get them into the playoffs.
Once again, the Giants are starting out the new NFL season hit hard with their share of injuries. Terrell Thomas once again is hurt and will be out of commission. Prince Amukamara will miss the season opener due to his high-ankle sprain. LB Michael Boley missed the preseason and Hakeem Nicks had surgery on his foot.
The Giants lost some key depth when veterans Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs left in free agency. They replaced them with rookies David Wilson and Reuben Randle. While the rookies have some upside, they will also be prone to making some mistakes this year, and those could be very costly.
New York will be targeted by every team they face this year, so there will be tremendous pressure on the Giants all year long. A record of 9-7 is nothing to be embarrassed about, but with improved teams in the NFC in Chicago and Philadelphia, I'm just not sure that nine wins will guarantee a playoff berth this time around.
New York Jets
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Unique Prediction for New York Jets: The Jets will wind up being ranked somewhere in the No. 30-32 range for points scored in the 2012 regular season.
The preseason wasn't very pretty for the New York Jets offense, and from all indications across the board, the regular season probably won't be much better. Rex Ryan will try to get up on his soap box and tell you that this is the best team he has ever coached, but the hot air went out of that balloon a long time ago.
The Jets have the distinction of going the first three games in the preseason without scoring a single touchdown, which hadn't been done in the last 35 years.
You have to imagine that the Jets will be open to adding additional weapons on offense as the season unfolds. The first test is to see what they have in store for the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, but if the Bills' defense turns out to be as good as advertised, then the Jets might find that the media blitz calling for change will be too much to endure.
It could be a long year in New York this year. What if neither team makes the playoffs?
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Unique Prediction for Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are going to try to take the lead of new head coach Dennis Allen, and will no longer be in the bottom-five in penalties in the NFL in 2012.
One thing under Al Davis you could almost always count on was that the Raiders would be fast, they would be colorful, and they would take a lot of stupid penalties.
Well, there are all sorts of new changes in Oakland this year, from the owner, to the general manager, to the head coach, and to the coordinators. One thing that might also change is the focus on being accountable and to stop taking silly penalties.
It might not seem like a big deal, but so many NFL games are decided by a touchdown or less, and if you can stop handing 50 free yards of real estate out to your opposition over dumb penalties, then you are giving your team a greater chance to win every week.
Will it happen? Guess we will all find out soon enough.
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Unique Prediction for Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles, who is looking like he has won the No. 2 quarterback job in Philadelphia, will see action in five games in the 2012 season.
There is no question that Michael Vick is the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. But due to the style of how Vick plays quarterback that will create the need for the backup Foles to enter five games this year in relief of Vick.
From a story on ESPN.com, it was interesting to learn that Vick is wearing a new flack jacket that the CEO of the company guarantees will not allow his ribs to suffer further injury. But it seems that Vick can't help but work himself into predicaments that result in taking big hits or banging his throwing hand off of helmets, or taking a hit rather than sliding after a scramble.
How well does Foles play in these contests? Hard to say how any rookie will respond, but so far from everything we have observed from Foles during the preseason, he appears to be composed and athletic and has a good knowledge of what the offense is trying to do.
Maybe he can teach a thing or two to Vick?
Vincent Pugliese- US PRESSWIRE
Unique Prediction for Pittsburgh Steelers: Based on a myriad of issues facing the Steelers this year, the prediction is that they will finish with a .500 record and not make the playoffs.
I realize this is not the kind of thing that Steelers fans wanted to read. But the amount of bad news just continues to pile on, and at some point it just gets to be too much to handle. Let's do a brief review.
Ben Roethlisberger is upset with the front office over their desire to change the offensive philosophy. The team brings in Todd Haley to shake things up as the new offensive coordinator. He will not be making many friends during the games as he will begin screaming at people worse than Bill Cowher ever did.
What about the knee injury that limited what James Harrison could do at training camp? The Mike Wallace holdout and the impact of him not being ready. The devastating injuries to David DeCastro and to Sean Spence. The knee injury of Rashard Mendenhall is another factor.
Yes, the Steelers still have some stars and they will do their best to compete. But when it is all said and done, I think there are enough issues at work here that the team will suffer and take a step backwards this year.
I am thinking a record of 8-8 and on the outside looking in at playoff time.
San Diego Chargers
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Unique Prediction for San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates is going to have a bounce-back year, and will wind up with his third season of gaining at least 1,000 yards in receptions.
During his illustrious career, tight end Antonio Gates has enjoyed two previous 1,000-plus yard seasons. The first was in 2005 (1,101 yards) and the second time was in 2009 (1,157 yards).
During the last two years, Gates managed to come up with just 782 yards and 778 yards, respectively. Those totals were down due to Gates not being 100 percent as he has been dealing with a bad turf toe injury along with other issues.
But now in 2012, Gates appears to be as healthy as he has been in years. Not only that, but with Vincent Jackson now playing in Tampa Bay, Philip Rivers will be looking to identify a favorite target again on offense, and it is my belief that Gates will wind up jumping up to the front of the line in 2012.
Gates is a smart veteran, and he knows how to use his body to shield away the opposing secondary to come up with key catches. When Rivers needs to come up with a clutch throw, you will probably see him looking to Gates often in 2012, and watch the yardage start to pile up.
San Francisco 49ers
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Randy Moss has been flying under the radar lately thanks to the headlines made by other diva receivers like Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Dez Bryant, Santonio Holmes and Kenny Britt. While on the surface that might be a good thing for Moss, the season will be starting soon enough and then we will find out if it is the new Randy Moss playing in San Francisco, or the old one.
The 49ers will still rely on their ground game to control the clock and tempo of the game. They will pass the ball more than they did in 2011, but it will not be to the degree that Randy Moss was accustomed to in Minnesota or New England.
Part of the issue is that quarterback Alex Smith will have a number of targets to distribute the ball to. He has options ranging from Kendall Hunter, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham.
How many times will Smith be throwing per game, as opposed to handing it off to Gore and his other backs?
As long as the 49ers are winning games, why fix something that isn't broken? But for Moss, he wants to be involved, he wants to see a number of targets coming his way each week. If that doesn't happen, there are usually consequences: from taking plays off, to getting surly with the media, and to becoming a problem in the locker room.
So far, Moss has been a model citizen, and we need to give him the benefit of the doubt. But, once the real games begin, and if his stat line isn't very full, you only have to wait for a few weeks of limited production before that dynamite will blow.
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Unique Prediction for Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson will be in the thick of the race for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Bruce Irvin will be as well for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Maybe Seahawks' head coach Pete Carroll isn't so crazy after all. It looks like the Seahawks struck gold in the third round by drafting Russell Wilson. Wilson came on like gangbusters during the preseason and won the starting quarterback job by blowing away his main competitor, Matt Flynn. Last year's starter Tarvaris Jackson was sent shuffling off to Buffalo, so it is now Wilson's job to lose.
He has some tools on offense to work with in Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards and Golden Tate. Then again, he also has the wheels to make plays on his own, which makes him both dangerous and unpredictable, which are two excellent traits to have in a quarterback.
Out of all of the rookie quarterbacks in 2012, I will probably be pulling the hardest for Wilson, as I like to root for the underdog. His 5'11" frame makes me think of Doug Flutie, who was a tad shorter at 5'10", but both of them knew that they needed to be somewhat mobile in the pocket to get the ball through the trees on the defensive line.
As for Irvin, he has been impressing more in practice sessions than he has in the preseason games. The Seahawks believe he will be turning up the pressure once the games begin for real. With injuries to a number of key defensive rookies already in training camp, that helps to open up the Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration for Irvin, as long as he can produce a reasonably strong sack total.
St. Louis Rams
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Unique Prediction for St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford is going to rebound from his dismal 2011 season and get his career headed in the right direction in 2012. The prediction is that Bradford will set a new career-high by throwing 25 touchdown passes this year.
Sam Bradford had a very rough 2011 season. In his second year in the NFL, he watched as the number of games he played dropped from 16 to 10, his touchdown passes dropped from 18 to six, his QB passer rating dropped from 76.5 to 70.5, his completion percentage dropped from 60 percent to 53.5 percent. The only thing that stayed consistent was the number of times he got sacked (36 compared to 34).
Bradford was sacked an average of 3.5 times per game last year. That helps to explain why he only played in 10 games. The Rams' offensive line will have to step up and do a better job of protecting him this year. The wide receivers had a slew of injuries as well, which didn't help things either.
So far, Bradford is basically healthy in 2012, but he still has some residual pain that carried over from last year. He still has Steven Jackson to hand the ball off to, and Isaiah Pead looked good in the preseason, and Bradford is locked in with Danny Amendola.
In the final preseason game, Bradford passed for three touchdowns which has to give him a momentum boost for the 2012 season. Can the Rams keep him protected?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Unique Prediction for Tampa Bay Buccaneers: In the NFC South division, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only averaged 17.9 points per game in 2011, while New Orleans averaged 34.2 points and Atlanta averaged 25.1 points per game.
Due to the wide disparity, the Bucs won't be able to make up all of that differential in 2012, but they will be getting closer by the time the year is done.
That is my way of saying that the Bucs won't have a winning record in 2012, because the team, in my opinion, has too many areas that still need improvement. Scoring only 17.9 points per game is one thing, but giving up an average of 30.9 points per game (worst in the NFL) is another major issue that just won't go away in one year.
Head coach Greg Schiano no doubt has his hands full in 2012. Schiano will turn the attitude and the discipline of the team around this year. He has to teach them how to win again. The Bucs did a great job of bringing in some key veterans that can lead by example such as Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson.
Rookie Doug Martin will be racking up yardage on the ground, thanks to an offense that promises to feature the running game. My prediction is that I think the Bucs will average closer to 20 points a game on offense, and trim that defensive points average down to 26 per game. It's not an overnight success story, but it is a good start in the right direction.
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Unique Prediction for Tennessee Titans: Even though Jake Locker has been named as the starting quarterback in Tennessee, his tenure won't last very long, as Matt Hasselbeck will be running the offense in October.
Due to a very unfortunate quirk in the schedule, the Tennessee Titans have kind of a murderer's row of opponents lined up to start out the season in September, and this would be the lineup that Jake Locker will be facing in his first four games; home vs. New England, on the road at San Diego, home against Detroit, and on the road at Houston.
Kenny Britt has been missing in action, so the Titans will have to rely on Chris Johnson, rookie receiver Kendall Wright and Locker to try to start out the new season on the right foot.
But based on who they are playing, it is not out of the question that the Titans could be staring at a record of 1-3, or worse yet, 0-4.
If it turns out that it is either of those scenarios, I don't think that head coach Mike Munchak will have any other choice than to turn to his veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to try to resurrect the season.
Depending on how the team responds, Locker could still see some starts towards the end of the year, but unless he can come out of September with at least a record of 2-2, his hold on the starting job could be a very short one.
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Unique Prediction for Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III will breathe new life into the Washington Redskins, but in the deep NFC East, they will still finish the year in the basement of the division.
I am anticipating a very strong year from Griffin. not as strong as what Cam Newton did last year, but still impressive. I am projecting passing for roughly 3,500 yards and throwing 24 touchdowns, and rushing for another five.
While those numbers might be a touch conservative, we have to remember that Griffin is still a rookie, albeit a very talented one. He will learn some valuable lessons along the way this year, which will ultimately make him that much more valuable down the road.
The Redskins' offense will be much improved this year, but the NFC East division is so stacked with good offenses that the gains made by Washington only help to narrow the gap between the firepower that the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys have at their disposal.
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