25 Bold 2012 NFL Predictions, on the Eve of the Season
Any forecasts when it comes to the National Football League often prove to be futile, especially in this day and age of ever-rotating playoff teams and clubs like the Packers and Giants getting hot and winning Super Bowls when they appear on the brink of postseason elimination.
Still, we thought we’d take a crack at some predictions on the eve of the league’s latest season. And the beauty of the NFL is that anything can happen in the next 17 weeks.
So submitted for your approval are a few things to keep an eye on and perhaps expect to happen in 2012. Simply put, you can take these to the bank.
Then again, you may not want to make a deposit. Enjoy…
25. Tim Tebow Will Not Start a Game This Season…at Quarterback
I might as well get this out of the way because it’s been the subject of discussion since the former Heisman winner and Broncos’ comeback specialist arrived in New York this offseason.
But it was a rough preseason for the New York offense regardless of what we think it will look like when the regular season starts. And unless Sanchez completely falls on his face, it would be a surprise to see him supplanted by the resourceful backup.
The thinking here is that the only way Tebow gets the nod ahead of the Jets’ starting quarterback is injury. But don’t rule out the versatile one starting a game at another position in what’s sure to be an interesting season for the Green and White.
24. No One Will Criticize the Regular Officials Once They Return
You have to admit, this was an odd way to acknowledge the 25-year anniversary of the 1987 NFL season, when teams used replacement players for three games.
In all seriousness, it will be interesting to see how the regular officials are received once the dispute between the league and the NFLRA is settled, because as we all know those referees and their teams were never under scrutiny or ever made mistakes. And if they did, it was always greeted with constructive criticism.
Be it the replacements or the regulars, officiating is a somewhat thankless job that is usually only noticed when something goes wrong.
Let’s hope in the next few weeks, something gets done between the two parties to make things right.
23. Colts RB Donald Brown Will Lead the NFL in Rushing
If recent history is any indication, the former first-round pick is in line to become the first Colts player to win the rushing title since Edgerrin James in 2000.
But the recent history we’re speaking of is the AFC South featuring the league leader in rushing during the last three seasons with Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (2009), Houston’s Arian Foster (2010) and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (2011). And since the Colts are the last team in the AFC South, common sense says that Brown, who led the Colts on the ground a year ago, will take his rightful turn in the rotation.
Okay, so the prospects of Brown leading the league in rushing may not be strong, but you never know. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the previous three champions win the rushing title again, keeping it in house per se.
22. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson Gives Way to Matt Flynn, Who Gives Way To...
In 2010, new Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and the organization traded for Chargers backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst with veteran Matt Hasselbeck still in the fold. This offseason, Whitehurst re-signed with San Diego.
A year ago, with Hasselbeck headed to Tennessee, the team signed Tarvaris Jackson, who went 7-7 as a starter last season. The one-time Vikings quarterback was traded to Buffalo in late August.
That’s because not only did Carroll and company sign former Packers signal-caller Matt Flynn to a healthy three-year deal, they wound up drafting Wisconsin start Russell Wilson in the third round in April. And with most expecting Flynn as the starter and Wilson tutoring behind him, the latter will open the season as the starter this Sunday at Arizona.
The Seahawks could make things interesting this season in the NFC West if their defense lives up to billing. But more intriguing could be the potential week-to-week starting quarterback changes.
21. The Bills Will Enjoy a Winning Season, but Fall Short of the Playoffs
It’s hard to believe that the last time the Bills were circling the wagons in the postseason, they were hoping that Kevin Dyson’s kickoff return for a touchdown was not so miraculous in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Game loss to the Super Bowl-bound Titans.
This offseason, it was all about the defense in Orchard Park and the big bucks shelled out to former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, who will be one of the key components in the team’s revamped front four.
A year ago, the Bills got off to a 5-2 start, only to lose eight of their last nine games to finish in the AFC East basement once again. While the Patriots still appear to be the class of the division, the Jets and Dolphins may indeed be vulnerable. Still, look for the team to enjoy its first taste of success since finishing 9-7 in 2004, but somehow fall short of the postseason once again.
20. Falcons WR Julio Jones Will Lead the NFL in Receiving Yards
Late last season during his rookie campaign, the highly-coveted wideout suddenly became quarterback Matt Ryan’s favorite option.
The former Alabama star caught 20 passes for 393 yards (19.7 average) and six touchdowns in his final four games last season. This summer, Jones played in the Falcons’ first three preseason contests, was targeted 20 times and totaled 13 receptions for 240 yards and a score.
With a reliable running game (Michael Turner) and a 100-catch wideout (Roddy White) playing opposite of him, the big-play opportunities that will be afforded Jones will be numerous.
And you could be seeing a different kind of Atlanta offense this season, one with more quick-strike ability and perhaps the ability to keep pace with the defending NFC South champion Saints in terms of scoring points.
19. 49ers QB Alex Smith Will Throw More Than 20 Touchdown Passes in 2012
Here’s a trivia question: Name the last Cardinals quarterback to throw for at least 20 scores in a season?
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out the answer is Kurt Warner in 2009 (26). But then it may dawn on you that no player in the entire division has managed that feat in either of the last two seasons.
Smith enjoyed an efficient 2011, throwing for 17 scores and just five interceptions. He enjoyed a memorable playoff performance in the thrilling win over the Saints, then couldn’t connect with his wide receivers in the NFC title game loss to the Giants.
Now those wideouts include Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham and well-rested veteran Randy Moss, who didn’t play a season ago. With Greg Roman running the offense for a second straight year, you could see Smith’s touchdown pass total rise a bit, but also see an upswing in his interception total.
18. Rams QB Sam Bradford Will Throw 6 Touchdown Passes in a Game
We’re not sure when this will happen (although it wouldn’t be shocking if it came the opening weekend at Detroit).
It was a forgettable season for the former first overall pick in 2011. Injuries limited him to 10 games in which he threw for six scores and just as many interceptions. This preseason, Bradford has looked more like the quarterback that got off to such a strong start as a rookie two years ago.
While the Rams aren’t overly deep at wide receiver, they are hoping that some of the young receivers have breakout seasons. Second-year tight end Lance Kendricks has a lot of potential, and veteran running back Steve Jackson can catch the ball as well.
Call it a hunch, but don’t be stunned if Bradford has a six-touchdown performance.
17. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers Will Throw 6 Interceptions in a Game
Okay. It may be a long shot but if Peyton Manning can throw a half-dozen picks in a game, anything is possible.
Want some bizarre reasoning? Last season at Buffalo, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw four interceptions in a loss to the Bills. That total equaled his performance for all of 2010, when he threw 36 touchdown passes.
A year ago, Rodgers capped off an amazing season where he threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. But it was an odd summer for the Packers’ quarterback, who committed three turnovers during the preseason as the Green Bay offense didn’t quite look in sync.
So is this forecast a bit of a stretch? Stay tuned.
16. Bears WR Brandon Marshall Will Lead the NFL in Receptions
Reunited and it…never mind.
It wasn’t long ago that the one-time Denver star was catching plenty of passes from Jay Cutler in the Mile High City. Then the strong-armed quarterback was dealt to the Bears in 2009 and a year later, Marshall was headed to Miami.
In two seasons with the Dolphins, Marshall put up very respectable numbers and was a Pro Bowler in 2011. But his two best seasons in terms of catches came with Cutler in 2007 and ’08 (although to be fair, Marshall did catch 101 passes in 2009).
Now, a deal with Miami this offseason put the talented receiver in the Windy City and back with Cutler, who will certainly take advantage of his presence. And while the Bears have quite the running back tandem in Matt Forte and Michael Bush, don’t be surprised if the former Broncos teammates enjoy their time together once again.
15. The NFL Will Set a Record for Players with 100-Plus Catches in a Season
In 1995, a total of nine players reached the century mark in terms of receptions (including Cardinals running back Larry Centers), easily the most in a season in the league’s proud history.
Since 2010, we’ve seen only four 100-plus catch performances and two of those by Falcons wideout Roddy White (New England’s Wes Welker and Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne are the others). But as recent as 2007, as well as in 2009, six players caught 100 or more passes.
While we can expect the ball to be in the air more than ever this season, it may not be for the amount of yards some are anticipating, as opposing defenses did their best to go to school on last season’s record-breaking campaign.
So don’t be shocked if 10 or 11 players catch 100 or more passes, including a back or tight end or two along the way.
14. Chiefs RBs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis Both Rush for 1,000-Plus Yards
Last season proved to be disastrous for the Chiefs and Hillis, this after each enjoyed their own success in 2010.
While Kansas City was busy winning the AFC West, Hillis was preoccupied with pacing Cleveland in rushing yards (1,177) and total touchdowns (13).
One of the big issues for the Chiefs last season was the loss of former Pro Bowler Charles after two games.
But the big-play runner looked healthy this summer and if you look at an offensive line made better by the addition of right tackle Eric Winston, it’s easy to see what head coach Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have in mind.
And it’s the kind of formula that could lead Kansas City back to the top of the AFC West standings.
13. The Bengals Will Return to the Playoffs
Marvin Lewis has done quite a job in the Queen City and even more importantly, the Bengals look like a young team with a bright future thanks to some excellent drafts in recent years.
A year ago, the franchise rebounded from a 4-12 finish in 2010 and won nine games, enough to grab a wild-card berth in the ultra-competitive AFC North.
Now the team looks for a second straight trip to the playoffs for the first time since the 1981 and ’82 campaigns, with the former team losing in the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers.
This season, wins over the Ravens and Steelers (something they couldn’t do in 2011) could go a long way to ensuring a playoff berth.
12. The Colts Will Keep Their Double-Digit Streak Alive
It was a memorable year in Indianapolis that proved to be quite unforgettable as the short-handed Colts (or was it short-armed?), playing without quarterback Peyton Manning and others, plummeted to 2-14 and eventually drafted quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in April.
Now this new-look team, with a handful of familiar faces, looks to rebound from its first losing season since 2001. But it’s also worth noting that it’s been hit or miss for the franchise for quite some time.
We see the Colts winning no more than six games this season, which would mark the 16th straight year Indianapolis has either lost or won 10 or more games.
11. Raiders RB Darren McFadden Will Play All 16 Games in 2012
The words Darren McFadden and healthy are almost synonymous but only because the latter is often prefaced with “if he stays?”
Yes, remaining on the field has been an issue for the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft. When available, he’s one of the most explosive players in the league.
Last season, he rolled up 614 yards rushing and another 154 yards on 19 receptions and scored a total of five touchdowns in just seven contests. And in 20 games dating back to 2010, McFadden has totaled 2,432 yards from scrimmage and 15 scores.
But with all the talk of what he can’t do, here’s a thought that the talented back puts those injury woes behind him and comes up big for the Silver and Black, which has as good a chance as any team to win the AFC West. And a healthy McFadden could do wonders for teammate Carson Palmer.
10. The Panthers Will Win the NFC South
Let’s actually start with why, as in one of the most explosive offenses in the league in 2011 thanks to the addition of quarterback Cam Newton, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 scores in his rookie season. Plus, he added an NFL-record 14 on the ground, the most ever by a quarterback in a season.
And with a defense that is a lot healthier this year, who says that Ron Rivera’s team can’t grab the NFC South.
Of course, the defending division champion Saints, as well as the Falcons and Buccaneers, will all have a very large say in the matter.
But here’s a theory that all four clubs beat each other up a bit and the Panthers (who will manage to beat New Orleans and Atlanta at least once) will emerge as the survivor with a 9-7 mark.
9. Lions QB Matthew Stafford Throws 45 TD Passes, But...
Talk about a breakthrough season?
After missing 19 games over his first two seasons, the former Georgia standout emerged as a star in the NFL, throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns (16 interceptions) and helping lead the Men From Motown to their first playoff berth since 1999.
And while the yards may not necessarily come as easily this season, opposing secondaries had their hands full trying to cover All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson last season, the big-play target with 16 of those scoring grabs.
With plenty of targets at his disposal, we’ll say Stafford ups his touchdown total a bit, even though the Lions will fall short of the playoffs.
Looking for precedent? Keep in mind that Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino threw for 44 scores for the 1986 Dolphins, who finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
8. Eagles Will Break the Single-Season Record for Sacks
While the 1985 Chicago Bears shuffled their way to Super Bowl glory, it was the ’84 team that totaled an NFL-record 72 sacks.
Last season, the Birds tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks and all but four of those came from their defensive linemen. Now a 23-sack jump is pretty high for any team to make in a single season, but it’s also getting easier because opposing quarterbacks are dropping back more than ever.
And you can bet a very deep Philadelphia line, with Jason Babin and Trent Cole to name a few, will spread the wealth around.
7. No Quarterback Will Throw for at Least 5,000 Yards This Season
To say that the 2011 campaign was amazing from an offensive point of view may be an understatement. Last season, three teams (Packers, Saints and Patriots) scored 500 or more points, the first time that had ever happened in the league’s history.
But perhaps even more impressive were the numbers put up by Drew Brees (5,476), Tom Brady (5,235) and Matthew Stafford (5,038), all of whom topped the 5,000-yard mark in passing. Keep in mind that prior to 2011, there had been only a pair of such performances, Dolphins QB Dan Marino (5,084) in 1984 and Brees in ’08 (5,069).
So with many people expecting even bigger numbers this season, why predict otherwise in 2012? Let’s say perhaps a number of quarterbacks get close. But defenses have had an offseason to adjust, that is until there are perhaps some more rules changes.
6. Peyton Manning Comes Up Short
Obviously, that headline could mean anything. After starting 208 consecutive regular-season games and 19 more postseason contests with the Colts from 1998-2010, we saw nothing from the prolific passer in 2011 due to numerous neck surgeries.
Now he’s in Denver, where he gives his new team an excellent chance to repeat as AFC West champions and more. But the reference is to the Broncos franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (27), co-owned by John Elway (1997) and Jake Plummer (2004).
Manning has never thrown for fewer than 26 scores in a season and we say he hits that number exactly, keeping his streak alive but one short of the team mark.
5. Randy Moss, 2012 Comeback Player of the Year
We strategically placed this after the Peyton Manning slide because I’m sure there are those who have the Broncos’ newest quarterback in the forefront of their minds when it comes to the award.
And that’s a long way down the road. But here’s a vote for Moss, whose last season in the NFL in 2010 saw him play for three teams (Patriots, Vikings and Titans) and unfortunately he got less productive as the year wore on.
He didn’t play football in 2011, but the feeling here is that he returns with a vengeance, starting with a decent outing at Lambeau Field this Sunday.
4. Drew Brees Falls Short of Johnny Unitas’ Record
It’s often been mentioned as perhaps the league most unbreakable mark.
Former Colts legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games from 1956-60. We all know what Brees did last season, throwing for 46 scores and an NFL-record 5,476 yards, and his current streak with a touchdown pass stands at 43 straight contests.
The Saints’ first five opponents in order are the Redskins, Panthers, Chiefs, Packers and Chargers (ironically, the latter whom Brees’ NFL career began with in 2001 and Unitas’ ended with in 1973). I predict that the streak ends at home against Romeo Crennel’s team in Week 3.
3. No Super Bowl XLVII for Patriots, Steelers or Colts
Since 2003, there have been nine Super Bowls, and the AFC representatives in order of appearance are the Patriots, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Steelers and Patriots.
The last time one of these three franchises didn’t make the trip to the Big Game was 2002, when the Raiders lost to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
Yes, we know the Colts are in rebuilding mode but New England and Pittsburgh still figure to be in the mix. And maybe we’re just playing the odds that someone else will be in New Orleans come early February, although you know the Pats and Steelers won’t be going down without a fight.
2. The Team with the Best Win-Loss Record WILL Win Super Bowl XLVII
In recent seasons, we’ve seen the 10-6 Giants in 2007, the 10-6 Packers in 2010 and last season’s G-Men at 9-7 walk away with the Lombardi Trophy.
But you have to go back to 2003 when the 14-2 Patriots edged the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII to find the last team in the league to finish the regular season with the NFL’s best win-loss record and go on to win the Super Bowl.
Those shortcomings by teams include the 15-1 Steelers (2004) and 15-1 Packers (2011) as well as the 16-0 Patriots in 2007. But that coincidence of sorts ends this season.
1. The Giants Finish 10-6 and Miss the Playoffs
It would make for an interesting twist. In 2010, Tom Coughlin’s team won 10 games and was left out of the postseason party.
A year ago, the Giants became the first team to win the NFC East with less than 10 wins and had the worst record (9-7) of all six playoff teams in their conference. But Big Blue caught fire at the right time and you know the rest.
Repeating as Super Bowl champion is never easy, but winning the division for the second straight year may be even more challenging in a way.
It says here that the Giants finish with 10 victories for the second time in three seasons, but come up short of the postseason party once again.
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