2012 NFL Predictions: Win-Loss Projections and Super Bowl Odds for All 32 Teams

Dan Van WieContributor IIISeptember 4, 2012

2012 NFL Predictions: Win-Loss Projections and Super Bowl Odds for All 32 Teams

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    The 2012 preseason has ended. While some teams continue to tinker with their final rosters, others welcome back their star holdout players or make the last decisions on who will be their Week 1 starters.

    The 2012 regular season will begin on Wednesday night; now is the time to go on record with our fearless projections for how every NFL team will fare this year.

    As part of the presentation, we will come up with a projection for the total wins and losses for every team, as well as coming up with the odds for every team's chances of winning the Super Bowl in 2012.

    No matter how well we think we know, no matter how good or how bad a specific team is, there are too many unpredictable things that can occur in the season that can ruin the best thought out predictions. A key injury to the best player on the team, a coach getting fired midseason, the football bouncing in a strange way, a blocked kick or a missed field goal are just a few of the factors that can shape a season.

    What about the replacement officials? They will probably have an impact as well, where a single bad call may be sufficient to change the outcome of one game. What if that one game is enough to bounce a team out of the playoffs?

    These articles aren't meant to offend anyone or the fanbase of a specific team. They are designed to reflect how I see things right now for every team as we enter the new season.

    If you want to take advantage of this opportunity to enter your own projections for posterity sake, we encourage you to leave your opinion in the comments section. Nobody takes these very seriously, do they? We all know better.

    Here are my 2012 NFL predictions. For what it is worth, I will also include my choices for which teams will play in Super Bowl XLVII on the final slide.

National Media Perspective on 2012 Season

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    Just to give our readers some insight into what some of the national media is projecting this year, there was a story that ESPN ran entitled "Our experts' NFL predictions for 2012". 

    The panel consisted of 16 ESPN representatives and nine wound up selecting the Green Bay Packers as Super Bowl champions. The only AFC team selected was the New England Patriots, four choices, followed by three other NFC teams that had one vote each: Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia. 

    I can already tell you that none of the 16 experts share the same Super Bowl prediction as I do, but that is part of the beauty of making predictions before the season starts.

    For another national perspective, here are the 2012 predictions for the regular season by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. Thanks to Chris Brown at Buffalo Bills.com for providing this information.

    On Monday, ESPN came out with another panel of seven NFL experts who shared their Super Bowl picks. I will tell you now that out of the total of 24 expert opinions referenced above, only one other person shares my view on the exact same two teams for Super Bowl XLVII.

Las Vegas Super Bowl Odds

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    This slide isn't intended to promote gambling on the NFL but serves as a reference for how one specific Las Vegas website is setting its odds for Super Bowl XLVII.

    Working our way from the favorite teams down to the least favorites for 2012.

    Top Four: New England 5-1, Green Bay 11-2, San Francisco 9-1, Houston 9-1.

    Next 11: Philadelphia 11-1, Pittsburgh 12-1, Denver 14-1, Baltimore 15-1, New Orleans 16-1, Chicago 17-1, New York Giants 20-1, Dallas 22-1, San Diego 22-1, Atlanta 23-1 and Detroit 24-1,

    Next 10: New York Jets 40-1, Seattle 45-1, Cincinnati 47-1, Kansas City 50-1, Buffalo 51-1, Carolina 51-1, Tennessee 60-1, Oakland 62-1, Washington 80-1 and Arizona 90-1. 

    Bottom Seven: Miami 110-1, St. Louis 120-1, Tampa Bay 130-1, Indianapolis 150-1, Minnesota 150-1, Cleveland 200-1 and Jacksonville 200-1.

    Your results may vary. My results certainly do.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals conducted a quarterback competition between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb and both performed mediocre at best during the presentation. Since neither guy was standing out, head coach Ken Whisenhunt was forced to hold off on the decision until the last possible week. Alas, neither guy made a big jump up in his play.

    This battle will be a preview of the Cardinals 2012 season: mediocre at best.

    The offensive line is a mess due to injuries to Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges, which translates into a bigger number of sacks allowed. Skelton and Kolb will be under constant pressure and taking big hits all year long. 

    Cardinals fans can still get excited about players like Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson, but there are just too many areas that are weak on this team to expect much more than a record of 5-11, give or take.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 5-11         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons want to open up their offense in 2012, and it looks like they have enough skilled personnel to do just that. The Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants to run an up-tempo type of attack, meaning the Falcons will be looking for quick strikes and dynamic drives on offense that probably won't be eating up a ton of time on the clock.

    Quarterback Matt Ryan can spread the ball around to Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and has a change-of-pace back in Jacquizz Rodgers, who promises to see more touches than he did in 2011. Plus, the Falcons still have Michael Turner to power through in short yardage situations when they need him to.

    The downside of all of this means that the Falcons defense will probably be spending more time on the field in 2012. That will require more depth to be able to keep bodies fresh each week and throughout the season.

    If everything works according to plan and the Falcons qualify for the postseason, will they still employ the up-tempo offense in the playoffs? They have to do something different because their last two postseason trips could be classified as disastrous.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens are coming into the new season riding an eight-game unbeaten streak in the AFC North division. While I am not convinced they can make it 14-straight, I do believe that they will capture the AFC North division title again this year. 

    Quarterback Joe Flacco has two solid receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, plus he has some secondary receivers in tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Add in the running attack with Ray Rice and the Ravens will have as strong and balanced offensive attack as any team in the AFC, right up there with the Houston Texans.

    As we just covered with the Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens are also going to be making some changes to the way their offense operates in 2012. Baltimore is going to a no-huddle offense this year 100 percent of the time. That means the Ravens offense will get more snaps per game, but it also means their defense will, too.

    Three or four years ago that would have been a great thing for Baltimore. But in 2012, with an aging defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, I'm not as positive this is a great development. This might be the last year for Lewis in the NFL and asking him to perform for an extra 10-15 snaps per game might be enough to seal his decision to hang it up.

    There is also the Terrell Suggs Achilles' injury, which will keep him out of action for at least the first six weeks. The Ravens thought he would be replaced by rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw, but he has shoulder problems of his own that have caused his preseason performance to suffer.

    You recall that the Ravens lost some key depth on defense to Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts, in addition to losing Jarret Johnson to San Diego. The play of the remaining veterans will be the key, I believe, as to how far the Ravens will go this year.

    One final note: The two scapegoats from the Ravens playoff loss to New England—Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff—are no longer with the team. Call it coincidence if you want, but I believe that the Ravens were also sending a message by cleaning house of the prior bad memories.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills are expecting big things from their revamped defensive line in 2012. When they line up Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills front four will be capable of winning at the point of attack and caving-in the pocket due to the penetration from all four superior players.

    If they execute like it is believed they can that automatically elevates the secondary. With the passes leaving sooner, they have a chance to break up more throws and come up with more interceptions and won't have to worry as much about getting beat deep. The Bills back seven features a youthful and athletic secondary led by rookie Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, and safeties Jairus Byrd and George Wilson.

    They need to have more sacks and a bigger total of interceptions or all of this added pressure up front will have gone to waste. Will that translate into how things will play out on Sundays? That is one of the million-dollar questions surrounding the Bills in 2012.

    The offense has three major contributors, all of whom were drafted in the seventh round or not drafted at all; all three were signed to big contracts during the past calendar year. They are, of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson. The Bills also traded to acquire backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who gives the team a reliable option to Fitzpatrick should he get hurt this season.

    Many people have bought into the concept that the Bills are a sleeper playoff team for 2012 while others point to the team that lost eight of their its nine games and say "no way." I am officially on record as stating that the Bills will be one of the playoff teams coming out of the AFC this year.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers are excited about the prospects of seeing what Cam Newton can do in his second year in the NFL. Based on his tremendous rookie season, why wouldn't they be?

    The Panthers have added some more new talent to the mix by drafting linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is as close to a tackling machine as there is in football. Add guard Amini Silatolu to the offensive line and it appears that Carolina has improved on both sides of the ball.

    Steve Smith gave the team a scare with his foot infection, but the Panthers were relieved to learn that he didn't have a staph infection.

    The Panthers will need linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to remain healthy all year to have a chance at contending in the NFC South.

    I see the Panthers improving by at least two games this year. Even if they wind up at .500 it will be a step in the right direction, but it still won't be good enough to get them in the playoffs this year.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 8-8        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears defense took a jolt this past week when star linebacker Brian Urlacher admitted that he had some major knee issues. From a story by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

    But in an interview on Fox-32’s “The Final Word,” the 34-year-old middle linebacker acknowledged his knee “just isn’t the same anymore. It’s never going to be the same.”

    Urlacher sat down with Lou Canellis for the interview and said he will get in as good of shape as possible this week when he returns to practice at Halas Hall. The Pro Bowl performer has not practiced since July 31 and he underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Aug. 12. The Bears return to the practice field Monday and expectations are Urlacher will be on the field.

    That has to put a momentary pause in the jubilation that has been surrounding the Bears team all preseason and the excitement surrounding the revamped offense.

    While the offense on paper looks to be definitely stronger, there are still some issues here that need to be addressed. The reasons for the optimism include the additions of quarterback Jason Campbell, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush. The Bears still have an offensive line that gives up way too many hits to their quarterback, and those sacks kill drives.

    The defense has relied on Urlacher in the past to plug-up running lanes and fill gaps. How quickly he can still move around the field remains to be seen since he hasn't practiced in such a long time. There are still Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers to worry about, but Urlacher is the glue that holds it all together.

    Overall, I see the Bears as improving this year to 10-6 and having a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have a top-10 defense and continue to added talent to it by investing their first-round draft pick on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick never played in the preseason and has yet to master his ability to backpedal in coverage.

    Despite the loss of No. 2 wideout Jerome Simpson, the Bengals now enter the 2012 season with star A.J. Green and a number of other receiving options like rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, to go along with Ryan Whalen, Armon Binns, Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins and Taveon Rogers. Hopefully, somebody of this group will step up in 2012 because if I was playing the Bengals I would focus my defense on stopping Green and making somebody else beat me.

    We should also note that talented tight end Jermaine Gresham sprained his knee in the preseason; not sure how available he will be for the start of the season. He is also another weapon to deal with.

    I suspect that the league is better prepared to cope with Andy Dalton this year and that the Bengals will have a rough time making it back to the playoffs. I project them to fall back a little bit this year, and that will be enough to keep them out of the playoffs.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 7-9        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns enter the 2012 season with a bunch of rookies in starting roles on offense and hope that most of this group will realize its potential.

    It could be a long year. The learning curve will be steep and, hopefully, the kids aren't repeating the same mistakes over again.

    With quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson, tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Josh Gordon, the Browns hope these rookies play with confidence, poise and a willingness to compete every week.

    The playoffs are going to be years away. For now, it just doesn't seem like a very realistic concept.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 4-12         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys are hoping that what they saw from DeMarco Murray in 2011 is what they will get from him in 2012. Murray evolved as a rookie last year to become a dynamic rusher for Dallas, giving their offense a balanced attack that they weren't getting from veteran Felix Jones.

    Murray averaged 5.5 yards per carry and exploded for seven rushes of 20 yards or more last season. That kind of ability helps to open up the entire offense.

    In the season opener on Wednesday night against the New York Giants, the Cowboys might not have tight end Jason Witten available to play due to his lacerated spleen. That will take away one of Tony Romo's most reliable targets. The Giants have their own issues in the secondary, so this could prove to be a very interesting contest, especially when the Cowboys have the ball.

    As for the 2012 season, Dallas has improved its secondary with the additions of free agent Brandon Carr and first-round rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys needed a makeover to their secondary because they face Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick twice a year.

    I am projecting the Cowboys to finish at 9-7 and be on the playoff bubble for the 2012 postseason.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 9-7          2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos are trying their best to close the book on the Tim Tebow chapter and usher in the Peyton Manning era of Broncos football.

    While Manning works hard to try to regain his skills as part of his rehab from four neck surgeries, the rest of the Broncos' offense is exposed to what kind of work ethic, attention to detail and professionalism is required to satisfy Manning's need and desire to win.

    The wide receiving corps may not be what he had in Indianapolis, but there are enough pieces to make the 2012 season interesting. By the time the 2012 season has ended, John Elway, John Fox and Manning will have a better idea of what else is still needed to make the Broncos a Super Bowl contender in 2013.

    On the defensive side, the Broncos have a future star in Von Miller, but they have to be concerned with the linebackers in general. D.J. Williams is dealing with a six-game suspension and Nate Irving failed to convince Fox that he was worthy of becoming a starter. For depth, the Broncos will rely on aging Keith Brooking to fill in when needed.

    As for the 2012 season, I don't get any kind of overwhelming vibe that any one team is prepared to run away with the AFC West division. It will be probably be very bunched up like it was last year, with most teams hovering around .500. That is why my predictions for the AFC West teams will be of a similar nature.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 8-8         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Detroit Lions

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    After missing out on the playoffs for a decade, the Detroit Lions broke that streak by reaching the postseason in 2011. Maybe the success got to their heads a little, as Detroit players lost their perspective on how to act off the field. It seemed like Lions were appearing on police blotter reports every other week in the offseason.

    Now that we are on the verge of starting 2012, how do the Lions look this year? They still have the exciting duo of Matthew Stafford throwing the ball to Calvin Johnson, but they still have issues with the health and availability of their running backs. No real change there.

    As for the defense, the secondary was looking rather shaky, especially after Detroit released Aaron Berry following his second arrest. Things fell right for the Lions, however, when Drayton Florence was cut loose by Denver. The Lions were quick to react, signing Florence to a deal. Florence and Chris Houston will probably start at corner.

    The Lions will hope that their playoff appearance will keep the team wanting to ascend while still staying composed on the field. The Lions have some volatile personality types on the team and it is up to head coach Jim Schwartz to keep his players in check and focused.

     

    2013 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers learned some hard lessons last year: They went 15-1 in the regular season only to experience an early exit from the playoffs. For 2012, the overall schedule appears to be one of the easiest in the league, drawing the weaker AFC South and NFC West divisions this year.

    Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he easily distributes the football to his many targets, basically finding whoever is open. The Packers running attack and their overall defensive ranking were two areas of concern from last year, so they were both addressed in the offseason.

    Green Bay's defense was ranked dead last in the NFL in 2011. The Packers invested their first six draft picks in 2012 to infuse some new blood and competition for the unit. It didn't help when starting linebacker Desmond Bishop had surgery on his hamstring and was placed on injured reserve this preseason.

    I do believe that the Packers defense will be better in 2012 because frankly the only place it can go is up. Will it improve enough to be a dominating defense like San Francisco, Houston or Pittsburgh has? I don't think so, and that is why the Packers won't be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, in my humble opinion.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 13-3         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 10-1

Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans offer up one of the best overall balanced teams by having a solid defense and a talented offense, with either unit capable of winning games if the other half is having a rough day.

    Houston appeared to be one of the elite teams in the AFC in 2011 until quarterback Matt Schaub went down with a Lisfranc injury that kept him sidelined for the rest of the year. 

    Now healthy, Schaub needs to give ample touches to Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Ben Tate. If he can, the Texans should have no trouble sailing into the playoffs as the AFC South division winners.

    The biggest question mark I have for the Texans is how will they respond to any major injuries along the offensive line since so much of their depth was depleted due to key personnel leaving in free agency.

    The Texans defense was ranked No. 2 in the league in 2011, as was their rushing attack. That doesn't necessarily translate to what is required to be a Super Bowl team—as we witnessed in Super Bowl XLVI—but more often than not that combination will help a team go far in the postseason.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 12-4         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 10-1

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts have been housecleaning all year. They got much younger in 2012 and all of the changes aren't done.

    The Colts brought in a whopping 55 rookies as part of their 90-man roster at training camp. New head coach Chuck Pagano must have thought it was best to get players who hadn't learned bad habits from other teams so he could teach the rookies his own philosophies and beliefs.

    Out of the 55, if you check out the Colts current roster you will see that eight rookies made the team, four others went on IR, while six made the practice squad. As for the eight rookies that made the team, they were all on offense and they were all skill position players. Sounds like the Browns' rookie class.

    The eight are:

    • QB Andrew Luck
    • QB Chandler Harnish
    • RB Vick Ballard
    • WR T.Y. Hilton
    • WR LaVon Brazil
    • TE Dwayne Allen
    • TE Dominique Jones
    • TE Coby Fleener

    Colts fans will enjoy watching Andrew Luck mature before their very eyes. He is everything that the team hoped that he would be. The 2012 season will be a little bit rougher on the defense, as it learns how to transition to a new scheme under Pagano and players like Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are asked to play different roles.

    It will be another long year in Indianapolis, but at least the team rolled up its sleeves and got to work on the big overhaul.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 4-12        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Jacksonvile Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars no longer have to worry about when Maurice Jones-Drew will end his holdout because he has re-joined the team. How long will it take for him to be ready to participate in a game and run with the effectiveness that he did in 2011? This is pure speculation, but I am guessing that it will probably be somewhere around Week 4 or 5 of the 2012 season.

    Besides Jones-Drew, the two other main stories involve quarterback Blaine Gabbert's growth (Gabbert looked great during preseason) and Justin Blackmon becoming a mature professional, which starts with keeping himself out of the headlines for the wrong reasons.

    Gabbert was being royally roasted around the NFL for having happy feet and seeing ghosts in the pocket. After this preseason, that tag looks like it was placed on him prematurely, but we will know more when we see him perform in the regular season.

    New head coach Mike Mularkey plans to start Rashad Jennings in Week 1 and use Jones-Drew as his third-down change of pace back. That plan rewards Jennings for being there in camp and penalizes Jones-Drew for not. I applaud the decision by Mularkey.

    The 2012 season will be another year of development for the Jaguars as they aren't ready to compete with Houston yet for the AFC South division title.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 3-13                2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs will finally feel like a whole team on opening day when they are able to line up Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki again. 

    Some people like the Chiefs to win the AFC West this year. Besides regaining the three injured stars, the Chiefs added tackle Eric Winston and running back Peyton Hillis for additional firepower on offense.

    While all of that is something that will keep the Chiefs competitive in the AFC West division, I have to admit that I am more than a little concerned about how weak the Chiefs passing game was clicking. Matt Cassel completed just 10 passes to his top wideouts, Jonathan Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe, for 80 yards in the entire preseason.

    That doesn't really give me that much confidence that the offense is clicking on all cylinders heading into the regular season. If Cassel struggles this year, then maybe it will be wise for the Chiefs to draft a young quarterback in 2013.

    As for the 2012 season, I am projecting another mad scramble at the end of the year, where the vast majority of AFC West teams will be in that 9-7, 8-8 or 7-9 range, needing a tie-breaking scenario in the last week to claim the division.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 8-8         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins' play in preseason games was an extension of what we watched them do in the Hard Knocks episodes that HBO filmed in training camp. Dolphins were dropping passes, missing blocking assignments and basically proving each week that they just aren't very good. It wouldn't surprise me after this season if some front office personnel who are in charge of evaluating NFL players were let go.

    As for the 2012 team, Miami looks to be very one-dimensional coming into the season. They will have a reasonably good running game but that is about that. Teams will look to neutralize the run and force Ryan Tannehill or David Garrard to throw the ball. But who are they going to have to throw the ball to?

    The current wide receivers in Miami have to represent the weakest unit in the NFL.

    I am projecting a long year for the Dolphins and their fans.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 4-12         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings will be cautious with Adrian Peterson this year. After all, they really need to be, since it doesn't appear that they are ready to challenge for the playoffs in 2012. Why risk your best player when you don't need to?

    As per a story from 1500ESPN.com, the word is that head coach Leslie Frazier will only commit to using Peterson in a minimal role if he decides to make him active on game day. My reaction to that: Why risk further injury if you are only going to utilize him in a minimal role to start with? That just doesn't make sense to me.

    Perhaps there will be further clarification later this week as we approach Sunday.

    As for the 2012 season outlook, the Vikings want to see growth from Christian Ponder this year, now that he has a full training camp under his belt and nobody there to steal playing time away from him. Ponder will be looking to distribute the ball to wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson.

    On a personal note, I will be watching Brandon Fusco, who won a starting job on the offensive line. It's not every day that a fellow Slippery Rock University alumnus becomes an NFL starter.

    The defense has Jared Allen to apply sacks and quarterback pressure and rookie Harrison Smith to shore up the secondary along with Antoine Winfield.

    The 2012 season will be a good developmental growth year for some key Vikings as they look to take a step up in the NFC North division.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 4-12         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots had a very interesting 2012 offseason. The team brought in a slew of veteran free agents, ostensibly to raise the level of competition at training camp. But when it got down to determining who would make the final roster, the vast majority of those free-agent veterans were back out on the street looking for work.

    As for the players that remain on the team, one of the biggest concerns is the status of the offensive line. Guard Brian Waters hasn't reported to the team yet even though he is under contract. In addition, the Patriots lost Matt Light and Robert Gallery to retirement, released starting center Dan Koppen, and All-Pro Logan Mankins had surgery on his knee.

    When you examine all of these developments, you have to think that there is some real uncertainty as to how well the Patriots will be able to protect Tom Brady this year. The Patriots might have to eliminate some of the deeper drops for Brady as a way of keeping him around all season.

    The 2011 Patriots defense was ranked No. 31 in the NFL, and it made sense that the Patriots went so heavy on adding defensive talent at the draft. One thing that was rather curious is that the Patriots felt they needed to improve their pass rush, but coming into the new season, neither of their leading sack artists from last year, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, are still with the team.

    I suspect that the Patriots will once again capture the AFC East running away. But there are enough holes in this team that lead me to believe it will not go back to the Super Bowl this year.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 11-5          2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 10-1

New Orleans Saints

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    If you wanted to write an epic football movie, how wild would it be if the New Orleans Saints were able to win Super Bowl XLVII in their own home stadium after all of the crazy stuff that has ravaged the team during this past offseason. It would be a victory for the ages, but even if they lost, you would have to admit that it would make for a rather thrilling Super Bowl game.

    Getting back to the Saints team, this season will test the resolve of the players, coaching staff, ownership and the fanbase. The Saints could win the division, based on the level of talent on the team and the leadership of Drew Brees. Or they could go into a funk and feel sorry for themselves, as it seems like the rest of the world has been rallying against them all year long.

    Drew Brees will keep the team on an even keel for as long as he can. He will struggle at times since he doesn't have Sean Payton available to confide in. The defense will do its best to hold things together as it waits for Will Smith to return from his suspension.

    The offense should still be generating lots of yards and points, as Brees simply has too many weapons. Jimmy Graham continues to show growth and will be very difficult to control based on the additional experience and growth in his game.

    Now if the Saints can only make it to the Super Bowl, the home crowd can take over from there.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 11-5         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

New York Giants

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    The New York Giants fans hate it when then their team is not receiving the respect they deserve, but why are so many people down on the defending Super Bowl champions? 

    I think the Giants are good enough to repeat in 2012, but I am referring to their regular season record of 9-7. While that record was good enough to qualify for the playoffs last year, that same record will come up a little bit short in 2012.

    Part of my rationale for why I see 9-7 is due to injuries in the secondary and the lack of quality tackles on the offensive line. I am not a Giants hater, but I am trying to evaluate them from a practical sense. With Terrell Thomas out and Prince Amukamara already hurt again, the Giants are already off to an ominous start on the injury front.

    Star WR Hakeem Nicks is trying to recover from his broken foot and play through the pain. The Giants also have to cope with the departures of Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, and are hopeful that rookies David Wilson and Rueben Randle can help make up for the losses. But they are also going to be subject to making their own share of rookie mistakes.

    As for the tackles, Will Beatty has been hurt, so the Giants are going to go with a journeyman at left tackle in Sean Locklear. On the surface, that sounds rather scary for Eli Manning, but Locklear has held up so far in the preseason.

    But let's face it, the preseason and the regular season are two different things. The Giants moved David Diehl over to right tackle, so there are some question marks coming into the opening game against Dallas on Wednesday night.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 9-7           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

New York Jets

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    The New York Jets are either masters at disguising their best offense, since they didn't reveal any real offense to speak of in the preseason games, or they are a team that truly is in trouble for the 2012 regular season. I am of the opinion that the answer is the latter of those two.

    The offense doesn't appear to have any playmakers, and the whole circus act of Tim Tebow that is fueled by the New York City media blitz doesn't help out the situation at all. It only further complicates things.

    We should have a better handle on the Jets season right after they have concluded the Week 1 game with their AFC East division foe, the Buffalo Bills. Either the Bills will have exposed the problems at left tackle due to the pass rush of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, or the Jets will have come up with a game plan that allows them to look like geniuses.

    Rex Ryan looks great with all of the weight he lost and seems to have a nice start to his movie career. But when it comes to talking football and he says "this could be my best Jets team," you have to wonder if anything he says any more is even remotely believable.

    To my way of thinking, the circus will probably feel no need to leave town, and 2012 will be a year that the Jets take a big step backward.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 6-10           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders are going through their own sweeping changes as an organization, similar to what is going on with the Indianapolis Colts. The only difference is that the Colts had salary-cap room to make some new deals and had a full contingent of draft picks to work with. The Raiders, on the other hand, had their hands tied behind their back, as they were short on both counts.

    Based on the transactions made so far, it is clear that the Raiders are looking more for overall good football players and not placing an ultimate premium on speed, like owner Al Davis was so well known for.

    Case in point, the Raiders picked up a veteran defensive back in Joselio Hanson, releasing Demarcus Van Dyke to free up the spot for him. Van Dyke ran a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combines, but he is now on the street looking for work.

    Glancing at the new regime, the Raiders will look to run the ball with Darren McFadden and hope that he can stay healthy all year. Carson Palmer hasn't inspired tremendous confidence in the preseason by not throwing a single touchdown pass, but he did manage to throw four interceptions. That shouldn't be happening with a veteran quarterback like Palmer.

    Oakland was forced to let some talented veterans go due to salary-cap restraints, Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt come to mind as good examples. The 2012 Raiders will suffer as a result of the decisions, but some younger players will ultimately get a chance to gain some valuable experience as a result.

    The Raiders might have enough talent to challenge in a mediocre AFC West this year, but I really think they will be better positioned in 2013 to make a playoff run.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 6-10           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles came on strong in the second half of 2011, but fell just short of winning the NFC East. Now in 2012, with a full offseason and complete training camp to bring all of their talent together on the same page, the Eagles could be a dangerous team in 2012.

    If they needed any more reasons to be competitive, there have been the warnings from owner Jeffrey Lurie that head coach Andy Reid's job is on the line, and then of course there was the tragic passing of Reid's son Garrett at the Eagles training camp. Those are the kind of rallying points and intangibles that brings a team together and allows it to overcome obstacles later in the year. 

    From a pure football perspective, Michael Vick has to become smarter and better this year. He has to realize when to tuck the ball and take a sack without absorbing a big hit that could knock him out of the game, and he has to stay away from a big number of turnovers.

    If he can do that, there are enough talented players on offense and defense that the Eagles should be a playoff team in 2012. They just need Vick not to try to do too much, instead limiting turnovers and relying on the talent around him.

    Look for the Eagles to be a serious challenger to win the NFC East this year, and once they get into the playoffs, they could make a serious run.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 10-6         2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking like they are going to be one of the most challenging teams to get an accurate handle on in 2012.

    Let's start with the positive developments.

    Ziggy Hood has stepped up his game and looks like he is ready to become a dominating player on the defensive line. WR Mike Wallace ended his holdout and has finally reported to the team. RB Chris Rainey is the sleeper RB entering the season, and he is somebody that the Steelers will want to find to get touches in the open field where he can show off his explosive speed. Rainey will also look to make an impact as a special teams return man.

    I am not prepared to call the addition of offensive coordinator Todd Haley either a good thing or a bad thing. I want to see the Steelers play in two or three games and see how they react to him and how he reacts to the players. In addition, the Steelers are hoping that the duo of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman will allow them to not miss a beat due to the injury of Rashard Mendenhall.

    These two items can go in either direction, but for the time being, I don't want to pass judgment yet.

    As for the negative issues, they have to do with the injuries that keep piling up and the time that Wallace missed with the holdout.

    Losing David DeCastro and Sean Spence will not only hurt the team, but hurt their development as pros. Mike Adams came up with a whiff on his attempt to land a starting tackle job, so that has to be a concern for Pittsburgh.

    Wallace claims that he is surprised by how far along he is already with the playbook. That is all well and good, but he missed an awful lot of practice time about learning what reads to make in Todd Haley's offense and getting the chemistry down with Ben Roethlisberger again. Wallace might need to invest the month of September in mending some bridges and learning what he already needed to know. By October, he should be feeling more confident with his role in the offense.

    After weighing all of these factors, and looking at the good, bad and indifferent, I am projecting a record of 9-7, which would put them on the AFC playoff bubble. 

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 9-7        2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers were part of the wild finish in the AFC West in 2011 where the top three teams finished with identical 8-8 records. While some may look at that and say the division was mediocre, I prefer to say that it was highly competitive. I also say that it will be more of the same in 2012, as I just don't see any AFC West team that is that much better than the rest of the teams in the group.

    Philip Rivers had a miserable 2011 season, in which he went into a lengthy funk that we really hadn't witnessed from him before. He will no longer have one of his favorite targets in Vincent Jackson around, so he will have to find some chemistry with newcomers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. At least tight end Antonio Gates is healthy this year, which is a very positive development.

    Ryan Mathews fractured his collarbone on his first carry in the preseason, so he is waiting for medical clearance before he can play again. Another interesting health issue is the back spasms that are bothering left tackle Jared Gaither. In a story at ESPN.com by Bill Williamson, Gaither has no apparent interest in trying to play through any pain:

    Left tackle Jared Gaither continues to insist on being 100 percent recovered from back spasms before he returns. He hasn't practiced since July 28 and the Chargers don't know when to expect him back.

    Gaither refused to answer questions about his injury Monday and seemed to take offense when it was suggested that even if he's less than 100 percent, he'd be better than the Chargers' other option. The Chargers, coming off a second straight season of missing the playoffs, plan to start rookie free agent Mike Harris at left tackle to protect Philip Rivers' blind side.

    "If you ask Philip and the rest of my teammates, they want me at my best," Gaither said. "That's what I'm here to give everyone. Nothing but my best. The offense is at its best when I'm at my best. We're all a unit, and when everybody's at their best, that's when we're doing good."

    I have to admit that Gaither's attitude is pretty unusual in a sport in which players have played with fractured legs and had finger tips cut off so they could continue playing. Gaither's stance could wind up costing Norv Turner his job and extending the Chargers' absence in the playoffs to three years.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 8-8           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers are the most balanced team in the NFC in my opinion. By "balanced," I am referring to a dominating defense combined with an offense that can also be dominating in its own right.

    The 49ers had the No. 8 ranking in rushing offense last year, along with the No. 1 rushing defense in the league. The 49ers only allowed three rushing touchdowns for the entire regular season, and by returning their defensive starters from last year, the unit promises to be extremely difficult to run on again in 2012.

    The new additions to the 49ers offense are going to be very important to change the dynamics of the team. The additions allow the 49ers room to change the focus on different personnel from one game to the next, making them more diverse in their attack and more difficult for which to game plan.

    Alex Smith now can pick from Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis to target in the passing game, while the running game looks deep with a committee that includes Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James.

    While Houston is as complete a team as there is in the AFC, the 49ers take that honor for me in the NFC.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 12-4           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 10-1

Seattle Seahawks

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    I have to admit that I was considering Pete Carroll's draft picks in the past two NFL drafts as something akin to what would come out of the lab from The Nutty Professor of Walt Disney fame. But slowly but surely, the Seahawks are starting to win me over as a team that is on the rise and putting together some interesting talented athletes on both sides of the ball.

    The biggest win from my perspective was having the conviction to give a shorter quarterback like Russell Wilson the chance to compete for the starting-quarterback job as a rookie, when the team had invested millions in Matt Flynn—then, when Carroll saw that Wilson was playing at such a high level, to call the battle off and announce that Wilson would be the Week 1 starter.

    We don't know how Wilson will fare in the regular season, but we know he will bring an element of excitement to the Seahawks offense and keep the team competitive. Seattle already has a young and improving defense that finished the year at No. 9 overall. Add an explosive pass-rushing rookie in Bruce Irvin and another potential linebacker with upside in Bobby Wagner, and the defense might be even better.

    For the offense, Marshawn Lynch can share some of the workload with Robert Turbin, while Wilson looks to pass the ball to Doug Baldwin, Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. I don't believe that the Seahawks can win the NFC West this year, but I think they can leap over some NFC contenders to grab one of the wild-card berths. This is a team to watch in 2012. 

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 9-7               2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 25-1

St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams have had a difficult time giving ample protection to their young quarterback Sam Bradford. How do we know this is the case? Because Bradford has been sacked a shocking 70 times in his last 26 starts.

    Despite trading away their first-round draft pick to move down in the first round, and being the owners of six draft picks in the first four rounds of the 2012 NFL draft, the Rams failed to draft a single offensive lineman.

    Bradford must have been screaming at the television as each Rams selection was announced.

    The Rams did, however, make those trades to stockpile needed young talent, as new head coach Jeff Fisher felt that there were so many holes in the roster. You can't build Rome in a day, and Fisher knows that he will have to be patient to address other needs in the 2013 draft. 

    One area, however, that the Rams have improved is the defensive line, where the Rams landed Kendall Langford, drafted Michael Brockers and claimed Kellen Heard off of waivers.

    The Rams hope that the new wide receivers they drafted (Brian Quick and Chris Givens) will turn out to be reliable weapons for Bradford to target. Steven Jackson is still there to pound the ball, so at least the Rams have a good ground game to offer.

    This will probably be another long season for Rams fans.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 4-12           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin the Greg Schiano era this year, looking to turn around a team that quit playing for Raheem Morris down the stretch in 2011.

    Schiano will bring a level of toughness to the team, demanding high effort and being disciplined in how the team plays week in and week out. He also wants his team to be physical and to have a solid running game, which is one of the reasons Tampa drafted Doug Martin.

    The Buccaneers had a highly successful run in free agency, landing players such as Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. They had a solid draft by grabbing Alabama safety Mark Barron, Martin and linebacker Lavonte David.

    Schiano got his message across loud and clear to the team when he traded disgruntled veteran tight end Kellen Winslow to Seattle. If you weren't on board with Schiano, you would be gone overnight. The message was quite direct and it was clear that there was one voice leading this team.

    For the 2012 season, the Bucs will be improved, but they still have some major holes that will prevent them from challenging for a playoff run this year. One example is on the defensive line, a unit that is in shambles right now.

    The Bucs are headed in the right direction, but their fans will have to be patient for a little while longer.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 6-10           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans decided that the time was right to give Jake Locker his opportunity to become the starting quarterback. We are convinced that head coach Mike Munchak already was aware of what the September schedule was when he made the decision to start Locker. Maybe he wanted to test the young quarterback to see what he was made of.

    Let's take a look at what Locker has to look forward to. The Titans open up at home against the New England Patriots. Then they travel to San Diego, go back home to face Detroit and then are back on the road at Houston. So, in four short weeks, Locker will be matched up against Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Matt Schaub. Welcome to the NFL, Jake.

    Not only will he face some tough offenses, but Locker will have to go against the schemes of Bill Belichick, the pressure of the Texans' outstanding defense and the Lions' tough pass rush.

    If Locker does falter, there is always Chris Johnson to hand the ball off to, and Matt Hasselbeck is still there, ready to play whenever he is called on.

    I suspect that the Titans will emerge from the year with a 9-7 record and an outside shot at the playoffs. They will discover that they have a talented young receiver on their hands in Kendall Wright from Baylor.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 9-7           2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 50-1

Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins are excited about the prospects of what Robert Griffin III can do for their offense.

    Griffin will pump new life into the team in general, but also will give the offense the feeling that it is going to be in every game, regardless of the opponent.

    Washington has a tough uphill battle due to how deep the NFC East division is in 2012. Those six games in the division are critical to the Redskins' chances of being contenders, and are probably going to be the main reason that the team falls short of reaching the postseason in 2012.

    The good news is that Griffin will be receiving some invaluable experience this year, and even if the Redskins don't contend, RG3 gain valuable experience for the future. The Washington organization is now in good hands, and it will continue to get closer to becoming a playoff team with each passing year. Just keep the level of expectations in check for 2012.

     

    2012-13 RECORD PREDICTION: 7-9          2012-13 SUPER BOWL ODDS: 250-1

Five in and Five out of the 2012 Playoffs

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    By this point, no doubt there are some readers that are highly irate with what I have predicted for their team's regular-season record and the odds that they'll win the Super Bowl.

    But, before you release all that venom in your comments, realize that there will always be surprises (both good and bad) in every NFL season. It is just part of the nature of a very competitive league.

    ESPN ran a series called 5 In and 5 Out. The series sought to identify the five new playoff entry teams for the 2012 playoffs, and the five 2011 playoff teams that would fail to return to the postseason. Their research revealed the following:

    As you might have noticed, NFL Live is running a feature called "5 In, 5 Out." It's built around the fact that for 16 consecutive years, five teams have missed the playoffs after making it the previous year. The project set out to name the five 2011 playoff teams who will miss the 2012 playoffs, along with the five teams that will take their place.

    Which were the new five teams that they projected to make it? Chicago, Buffalo, San Diego. Philadelphia and Dallas. The five teams that fail to repeat this year? Cincinnati, Detroit, New York Giants, Denver and Atlanta.

My Super Bowl Prediction

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    I have to admit that I really had a problem with the way that the 2011 season wound up, as the teams with the weakest pass defenses kept advancing in the playoffs. Watching each round of the playoffs unfold, it seemed like there was a constant message going on that warned "what is wrong with this picture?"

    Maybe it comes from watching pro football for too many years, but I always believed in strong overall defenses, and that balanced teams on both sides of the ball win championships.

    Perhaps 2011 was just a little bit of a Twilight Zone experience, and things will return more to normal in 2012. Then again, maybe not.

    Okay, sorry to drag this out. Without further ado, my choices for Super Bowl XLVII are the two teams that I believe will wind up being the best combination of a solid defense and good offense.

    Those teams are the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers.

    Both defenses were excellent in 2011, and I expect both of them to be near the top of the 2012 overall rankings. Houston has more offensive stars than the 49ers, but San Francisco might have found some gold with Randy Moss.

    Okay, I am now on record with my selection, and as I promised, only of the experts at ESPN had the same prediction. What about you? Who are you going to go on record as selecting for Super Bowl XLVII?

    Thanks for checking out the presentation.