NFL fans, the time of the season has finally come. The 2012 NFL regular season starts on Wednesday night, when the Dallas Cowboys meet the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. (8:30 PM ET, NBC).
That game, however, is only the first of 256 games that will be played this regular season. I have gone through all 17 weeks of the season, projecting the winner of each and every games, and have also projected throughout the playoffs as well.
What record will your team finish with this season? I’m certainly no prophet, but I’ve taken my best guess at how each team’s record will look when the season comes to a close.
All winners are bolded
Dallas at New York Giants
The New York Giants are the NFL’s defending champions, and should be expected to defend their title on a strong note, on a night they will be raising their Super Bowl XLVI championship banner. It would be surprising to see them lose this game.
Indianapolis at Chicago
Philadelphia at Cleveland
New England at Tennessee
Atlanta at Kansas City
Jacksonville at Minnesota
Washington at New Orleans
Buffalo at New York Jets
St. Louis at Detroit
Miami at Houston
San Francisco at Green Bay
This game is the best matchup of Week 1, as it features two major Super Bowl contenders going toe-to-toe on opening week. The Packers have home-field advantage, and will certainly be looking to start the season on a strong note after their disappointing elimination in the Divisional Round of last year’s NFC playoffs, but the 49ers, who made the NFC Championship Game last season, should be even stronger this year.
Seattle at Arizona
Carolina at Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh at Denver
There may be no matchup in Week 1 that receives more hype than this game, Peyton Manning’s first regular-season game as the Denver Broncos’ quarterback. Not only will it be his first start in Mile High, it will also be coming against one of the NFL’s best defenses, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is unknown how well Manning will perform once the lights comes on in the regular season after missing all of last year due to neck surgery, but I expect him to lead the Broncos to an opening-week victory.
Cincinnati at Baltimore
San Diego at Oakland
Chicago (1-1) at Green Bay (1-1)
Kansas City (1-1) at Buffalo (1-1)
Cleveland (0-2) at Cincinnati (1-1)
Minnesota (1-1) at Indianapolis (1-1)
New Orleans (1-1) at Carolina (2-0)
Expect the Saints to play highly inspired in Week 1, but come Week 2, not having their head coach could catch up with him. When it does, they will run into the NFL’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Cam Newton, who is trying to lead the Panthers back to glory in the NFC South. At least early in the season, Newton should be able to lead the Panthers to a hot start.
Houston (2-0) at Jacksonville (0-2)
Oakland (0-2) at Miami (1-1)
Arizona (0-2) at New England (2-0)
Tampa Bay (0-2) at New York Giants (2-0)
Baltimore (1-1) at Philadelphia (2-0)
The Philadelphia Eagles started off very poorly last season, and could not recover to make the playoffs, but if quarterback Michael Vick can stay healthy, expect this year to be different. The Eagles have too much talent on both sides of the ball not to contend, and if they can get an early win over Baltimore, that would be huge.
Washington (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)
Dallas (1-1) at Seattle (1-1)
NY Jets (0-2) at Pittsburgh (1-1)
Tennessee (0-2) at San Diego (2-0)
Detroit (1-1) at San Francisco (2-0)
Denver (2-0) at Atlanta (1-1)
New York Giants (3-0) at Carolina (2-1)
While Cam Newton should lead the Panthers to much greater success this year than in the past few seasons, expecting them to be a match early in the season against the defending Super Bowl champions would be a tall task, even with home-field advantage.
St. Louis (0-3) at Chicago (2-1)
Buffalo (1-2) at Cleveland (1-2)
Tampa Bay (1-2) at Dallas (1-2)
NY Jets (1-2) at Miami (1-2)
San Francisco (3-0) at Minnesota (1-2)
Kansas City (1-2) at New Orleans (2-1)
Cincinnati (2-1) at Washington (1-2)
Detroit (2-1) at Tennessee (0-3)
Jacksonville (0-3) at Indianapolis (2-1)
Philadelphia (3-0) at Arizona (0-3)
Atlanta (1-2) at San Diego (3-0)
Houston (3-0) at Denver (2-1)
Pittsburgh (2-1) at Oakland (0-3)
New England (2-1) at Baltimore (2-1)
After a devastating loss in last year’s AFC Championship Game that they should have won and choked away, the Baltimore Ravens will have revenge on their minds when they play the New England Patriots. With home-field advantage, the defending AFC runner-ups should be able to take one back from the Patriots should their defense limit the damage of the Patriots’ many offensive weapons.
Green Bay (2-1) at Seattle (1-2)
Cleveland (1-3) at Baltimore (3-1)
Carolina (3-1) at Atlanta (1-3)
New England (3-1) at Buffalo (1-3)
Minnesota (1-3) at Detroit (3-1)
San Diego (3-1) at Kansas City (2-2)
Seattle (1-3) at St. Louis (1-3)
San Francisco (4-0) at NY Jets (1-3)
Tennessee (1-3) at Houston (3-1)
Houston may be the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC South, but the Tennessee Titans are a solid team who will only go winless for so long. Jake Locker is capable of leading the Titans to some big victories, so even if they do not come with consistency this season, they are capable of a road victory over one of the AFC’s top teams in Week 4.
Miami (1-3) at Arizona (1-3)
With one team starting an unproven, raw rookie talent at quarterback, and the other settling for John Skelton after Kevin Kolb proved to be an enormous bust in Arizona, it could be a very ugly season for both the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. Someone, however, has to win this game. As the home team, Arizona should have a good shot in this game.
Cincinnati (3-1) at Jacksonville (0-4)
Oakland (0-4) at Denver (3-1)
New Orleans (2-2) at Green Bay (3-1)
Washington (1-3) at Tampa Bay (1-3)
NY Giants (4-0) at Philadelphia (3-1)
The NFC East should be in for a great battle this season with the New York Giants being defending Super Bowl champions, and the Philadelphia Eagles being a very talented team one year removed from the “Dream Team” debacle. The Eagles have home-field advantage in this Sunday night showdown, but the edge goes to the defending champions, who are projected to get the season off to an uncharacteristically hot start.
Chicago (2-2) at Dallas (2-2)
Arizona (1-4) at St. Louis (2-3)
Miami (1-4) at Cincinnati (4-1)
Green Bay (4-1) at Indianapolis (2-2)
As the prodigal young quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck is projected to lead them to a strong 2-1 start. The Colts, however, are no match for the Green Bay Packers. It would certainly be an enormous upset should the team with the worst regular-season record last year beat the team who had the best regular-season record in 2011.
Baltimore (4-1) at Kansas City (2-3)
Tennessee (2-3) at Minnesota (1-4)
Atlanta (2-3) at Washington (1-4)
Cleveland (1-4) at NY Giants (5-0)
Philadelphia (4-1) at Pittsburgh (2-2)
Seattle (2-3) at Carolina (3-2)
Chicago (3-2) at Jacksonville (0-5)
Denver (3-2) at New England (4-1)
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will reunite for what should be a fantastic battle in New England, but for the first time, the Indianapolis Colts will be no part of this matchup. Instead, Manning will attempt to lead the Broncos to a road victory over the Patriots. The Patriots, however, should have too much offensive firepower for the Broncos’ defense.
Buffalo (1-4) at San Francisco (5-0)
San Diego (3-2) at New Orleans (3-2)
Houston (4-1) at NY Jets (1-4)
Pittsburgh (3-2) at Tennessee (2-4)
Oakland (0-5) at Atlanta (3-3)
Cincinnati (4-2) at Cleveland (2-4)
St. Louis (3-3) at Miami (1-5)
Indianapolis (2-3) at NY Jets (2-4)
Detroit (4-1) at Philadelphia (4-2)
Dallas (3-2) at Baltimore (4-2)
Kansas City (2-4) at Tampa Bay (2-3)
New England (5-1) at Seattle (2-4)
Buffalo (2-4) at Arizona (1-5)
NY Giants (5-1) at San Francisco (6-0)
If the season plays out as projected, this will be the NFL’s game of the year to date. With the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers both entering this game with undefeated records, these teams will be playing to stand atop the NFC. The Giants will have reigned supreme as the defending Super Bowl champions up until this point, but the 49ers are the stronger overall team for 2012. With home-field advantage, the 49ers, led by an improved offense with the additions of wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and a very strong defense, should be able to hand the Giants their first loss of the season.
Minnesota (1-5) at Washington (2-4)
Green Bay (5-1) at Houston (4-2)
Another battle of powers in Week 6 comes on Sunday Night Football, between two one-loss teams to this point in the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans. The Texans, coming off of their first playoff appearance, are a team with star offensive weapons in running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson, coupled with a very strong defense. However, the Packers are the better team, and even on the road, they should be able to prevail in this early-season battle of top contenders.
Denver (4-2) at San Diego (3-3)
Seattle (2-5) at San Francisco (7-0)
Tennessee (2-5) at Buffalo (3-4)
Cleveland (3-4) at Indianapolis (2-4)
Washington (2-5) at NY Giants (6-1)
New Orleans (3-3) at Tampa Bay (3-3)
This will be a crucial juncture for the New Orleans Saints, as it will be their final week before interim head coach Joe Vitt is allowed to return from suspension. At this point, however, the Saints may be struggling without their leader, while the Buccaneers will be looking for their first signature victory under new head coach Greg Schiano. The Buccaneers have added a lot of talent this offseason, and should be much better than last season, and are capable of pulling off this upset with home field on their side.
Dallas (3-3) at Carolina (4-2)
Baltimore (4-3) at Houston (5-2)
Green Bay (6-1) at St. Louis (3-4)
Arizona (1-6) at Minnesota (2-5)
NY Jets (2-5) at New England (6-1)
The Jets and Patriots have been a very hyped rivalry in recent seasons, but this year, the Jets will be looking to win this game just to stay relevant. The Jets look to be in some trouble heading into the 2012 season, with a quarterback controversy, a lack of playmakers on offense, and a defense with some holes. Upsetting the Patriots in Foxborough may simply be too tall of a task this year.
Jacksonville (0-6) at Oakland (1-5)
At this point, this game may be billed the “Barkley Bowl”, as both of these teams come in winless and both teams could be in the market for quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft. Once again, one team has to win; while Carson Palmer is likely to disappoint as Raiders’ quarterback this season, they do have talented offensive playmakers including running back Darren McFadden, and a shaky defense but still have talent on that side of the ball led by defensive tackle Richard Seymour. The Jaguars, in this scenario, become the NFL’s last winless team.
Pittsburgh (4-2) at Cincinnati (4-3)
Detroit (4-2) at Chicago (4-2)
Tampa Bay (3-4) at Minnesota (3-5)
Carolina (4-3) at Chicago (5-2)
This would project to be a very big win for the Chicago Bears. With the Carolina Panthers off to a hot start, the Bears would really put themselves in great position for the NFC playoffs if quarterback Jay Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher can win a game over one of the NFL’s quickly-rising franchises.
San Diego (4-3) at Cleveland (3-5)
Seattle (3-5) at Detroit (4-3)
Jacksonville (0-7) at Green Bay (7-1)
Indianapolis (2-5) at Tennessee (3-5)
New England (7-1) at St. Louis (3-5)
Miami (1-6) at NY Jets (3-5)
Atlanta (3-4) at Philadelphia (5-2)
Washington (3-5) at Pittsburgh (4-3)
The Redskins still have plenty of issues with their roster, especially their offensive line and secondary, but with rookie dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III leading the squad, they should manage some big victories. They could get their biggest of the season yet by upsetting the Steelers on the road, a team with a defense who will attack RG3, but could be vulnerable around midseason if injuries strike their aging players.
Oakland (1-6) at Kansas City (3-4)
NY Giants (6-2) at Dallas (4-3)
At this point in the season, the Dallas Cowboys will seriously need a big win to keep their playoff hopes alive, with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles taking command of the NFC East. If the Cowboys can turn the tables from the season opener and beat the Giants, they can get themselves right back in the playoff hunt.
New Orleans (3-4) at Denver (5-2)
San Francisco (8-0) at Arizona (1-7)
Kansas City (4-4) at San Diego (4-4)
Denver (5-3) at Cincinnati (5-3)
Baltimore (5-3) at Cleveland (3-6)
Arizona (1-8) at Green Bay (8-1)
Chicago (5-3) at Tennessee (4-5)
Miami (1-7) at Indianapolis (3-5)
Carolina (5-3) at Washington (3-6)
Detroit (5-3) at Jacksonville (0-8)
Buffalo (4-4) at Houston (5-3)
Many people are expecting the Buffalo Bills to finally get back into the playoffs this season, and winning over the Houston Texans in Week 9 could be a huge step in that direction. In this game, new Bills defensive end Mario Williams will be hoping to show the Texans that they should have brought him back this year, and he just may be able to do so, as the Bills have the talent on both sides of the ball to win games this year.
Tampa Bay (4-4) at Oakland (1-7)
Minnesota (3-6) at Seattle (4-5)
Pittsburgh (4-4) at NY Giants (7-2)
Dallas (4-4) at Atlanta (4-4)
Philadelphia (6-2) at New Orleans (3-5)
The New Orleans Saints still have one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees and a very talented team around him, but there are also many factors working against them. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles are a very talented team who should be well in the hunt near the top of the NFC at this point in the season, and a road win on Monday Night Football would be huge for keeping them in that hunt.
Indianapolis (3-6) at Jacksonville (1-8)
The Jacksonville Jaguars may be bad, but not bad enough to stay winless any longer, especially with a star running back like Maurice Jones-Drew and some quality talent on defense including defensive end Jeremy Mincey and cornerback Derek Cox. A good opportunity for them to finally break through for their first win comes against the Indianapolis Colts, who will be better this season with Andrew Luck at the helm, but still have many holes on their roster.
NY Giants (7-3) at Cincinnati (6-3)
After a shocking breakthrough season that I certainly did not see coming last season, the Cincinnati Bengals are right in the hunt with the favored Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North in 2012. Led by a tremendous sophomore passing combination of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and a defense quickly becoming one of the league’s best, the Bengals could really make their stamp on the 2012 season by defeating the defending champion New York Giants.
Tennessee (5-5) at Miami (1-8)
Detroit (6-3) at Minnesota (3-7)
Buffalo (5-4) at New England (7-2)
This upset would really get people excited about the Buffalo Bills’ chances of making the playoffs as one of two AFC wild cards. The New England Patriots should run away with the AFC East, but the Bills have often challenged their division rivals, even when on the road, and an upset could very well be in store for an improved Bills team this season.
Atlanta (4-5) at New Orleans (4-5)
San Diego (5-4) at Tampa Bay (4-5)
Denver (6-3) at Carolina (5-4)
Oakland (1-8) at Baltimore (6-3)
NY Jets (4-5) at Seattle (4-6)
Dallas (4-5) at Philadelphia (7-2)
St. Louis (3-6) at San Francisco (9-0)
Houston (6-3) at Chicago (5-4)
Kansas City (4-5) at Pittsburgh (5-4)
Miami (1-9) at Buffalo (6-4)
Arizona (1-9) at Atlanta (5-5)
Cleveland (3-7) at Dallas (5-5)
Green Bay (9-1) at Detroit (6-4)
Cincinnati (6-4) at Kansas City (5-5)
The Kansas City Chiefs can be legitimate playoff contenders in 2012. They had a rough year in 2011, but they were also without a number of their stars, including running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry, for most or all of the season. The play of quarterback Matt Cassel remains a concern, but the Chiefs have the talent on both sides of the ball to push the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. If they can pull off this upset victory over the Bengals, they will start to be taken more seriously.
NY Jets (5-5) at St. Louis (3-7)
Indianapolis (3-7) at New England (8-2)
Philadelphia (8-2) at Washington (3-7)
Tampa Bay (4-6) at Carolina (6-4)
Jacksonville (1-9) at Houston (7-3)
New Orleans (5-5) at Oakland (1-9)
San Diego (5-5) at Denver (7-3)
Baltimore (7-3) at Pittsburgh (5-5)
This game could almost be a must-win for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC playoff win. With a win, the Steelers and Ravens would both be even with 6-4 records, but with a loss, the Steelers fall to .500 with just six games to play. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Ravens are the stronger team, and are very capable of pulling off the road win and putting the Steelers into a tough spot going forward.
Chicago (5-5) at San Francisco (10-0)
Houston (8-3) at Detroit (6-5)
Washington (4-7) at Dallas (5-6)
What bigger stage for Robert Griffin III to have a big game than against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving? In a made-for-TV moment, I project the Washington Redskins quarterback will have a big day, and lead his team to a big road victory that could put the Cowboys’ playoff hopes in dire straits.
New England (9-2) at NY Jets (5-6)
Minnesota (3-8) at Chicago (6-5)
Oakland (1-10) at Cincinnati (7-4)
Pittsburgh (6-5) at Cleveland (3-8)
Buffalo (7-4) at Indianapolis (3-8)
Denver (8-3) at Kansas City (5-6)
Seattle (5-6) at Miami (1-10)
Atlanta (6-5) at Tampa Bay (4-7)
Tennessee (6-5) at Jacksonville (1-10)
Baltimore (7-4) at San Diego (6-5)
The San Diego Chargers have quality talent on both sides of the ball, but throughout the Norv Turner era, they have been unable to take the next step to playoff contention. While they are still back in the AFC playoff race, defending their home field with a win over the Baltimore Ravens would be huge for Philip Rivers and his team’s chances of getting to the postseason.
St. Louis (3-8) at Arizona (2-9)
San Francisco (10-1) at New Orleans (6-5)
The San Francisco 49ers are a tremendous team, but they aren’t 16-0 great. Eventually, some team will beat them this season, and a great candidate could be the New Orleans Saints, who will be in desperate need of a big win at this point. While the Saints are likely to have some tough times in the wake of the “Bountygate” scandal and with their head coach suspended for the whole season, they still have the team to win any game they play—even against an undefeated 49ers squad.
Green Bay (10-1) at NY Giants (7-4)
The 49ers’ potential loss would not be the only big fireworks in the NFC in Week 12, as two of the conference’s top contenders, the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, will square off on Sunday Night Football. Of course, this is the same matchup that ended what was supposed to be a Super Bowl season for the Packers last year, and eventually led to a Giants championship. The Packers will be looking for a big road victory to take one back from the Giants, and move all square with the 49ers at the top of the NFC race for home-field advantage.
Carolina (7-4) at Philadelphia (8-3)
This Monday Night Football matchup should also be very hyped, as it will be the NFL’s two most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, Carolina Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton and Philadelphia Eagles playmaker Michael Vick. Assuming both are healthy, this should be a great game, but for this matchup, the edge goes to the quarterback who is truly the more talented and better passer of the two: Newton. If Newton leads his Panthers to this win, they will truly have established themselves as an NFC contender going forward to the postseason.
New Orleans (6-6) at Atlanta (7-5)
The New Orleans Saints have a chance to right their ship if they can follow up their victory over the 49ers with a subsequent victory over one of their division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, the following week. However, the Falcons also really need to win this game to remain in the playoff hunt, and I expect them to continue to keep things interesting in the NFC South with a Thursday night win.
Jacksonville (2-10) at Buffalo (7-5)
Right as the Buffalo Bills moved up to 7-4, and appear to be in prime playoff position, it would not come as any surprise if the Bills ended up laying an egg and lose their momentum. The ultimate egg could come with a loss at home to arguably the conference’s worst team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, who would be looking for just its second victory of the year.
Seattle (5-7) at Chicago (7-5)
Indianapolis (3-9) at Detroit (7-5)
Minnesota (3-9) at Green Bay (11-1)
Houston (9-3) at Tennessee (6-6)
Carolina (8-4) at Kansas City (5-7)
San Francisco (11-1) at St. Louis (3-9)
New England (10-2) at Miami (1-11)
Arizona (2-10) at NY Jets (6-6)
Tampa Bay (4-8) at Denver (9-3)
Cincinnati (8-4) at San Diego (6-6)
Cleveland (3-9) at Oakland (2-10)
Pittsburgh (7-5) at Baltimore (7-5)
Two weeks after a crushing defeat at home to the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to come up with a road win of their own against their arch-nemesis to remain in the playoff hunt. Of course, as long as the Steelers have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading their offense, and safety Troy Polamalu quarterback their defense, the Steelers will always be fighters, and are likely to be contenders. The Steelers will keep things interesting, even in a very strong AFC North, this season.
Philadelphia (9-3) at Dallas (5-7)
NY Giants (8-4) at Washington (4-8)
Denver (9-4) at Oakland (3-10)
St. Louis (4-9) at Buffalo (7-6)
The St. Louis Rams have originally held one of the top two picks in the NFL draft in four of the past five years, which shows just how consistently bad the Rams have been in that span. The Rams, however, should have new life this year with the hiring of head coach Jeff Fisher, and if quarterback Sam Bradford can stay healthy, he has a chance to really elevate his entire team’s play. The Rams will not make turn things around in a massive way in just one year, but expect them to make progress, and a road win over Buffalo would be a very good win for them.
Dallas (5-8) at Cincinnati (9-4)
Kansas City (6-7) at Cleveland (3-10)
Philadelphia (10-3) at Tampa Bay (4-9)
Baltimore (8-5) at Washington (4-9)
Atlanta (7-6) at Carolina (9-4)
NY Jets (7-6) at Jacksonville (2-11)
Tennessee (6-7) at Indianapolis (4-9)
Chicago (8-5) at Minnesota (3-10)
San Diego (6-7) at Pittsburgh (8-5)
Miami (1-12) at San Francisco (12-1)
Arizona (2-11) at Seattle (6-7)
New Orleans (6-7) at NY Giants (9-4)
Detroit (8-5) at Green Bay (11-2)
The Detroit Lions made massive strides last season, making their first playoff appearance since 1999, but it would not be a surprise to see them take a step back this season. Even with some stars including wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the team still has some significant areas of concern, including their offensive line and secondary.
That said, the Lions are definitely capable of pulling off a big victory, and not much would be bigger than upsetting the Green Bay Packers late in the season at Lambeau Field.
Houston (9-4) at New England (11-2)
In a game that would have massive implications in the race for AFC home-field advantage, the New England Patriots should have the edge as the home team in the matchup.
Both teams have loaded offenses, but the Patriots have a greater variety of weapons, and the Texans will have to deal with the challenge of going to Foxborough in the winter for this game, being more used to warm-weather football.
Cincinnati (10-4) at Philadelphia (10-4)
NY Giants (10-4) at Atlanta (7-7)
Green Bay (11-3) at Chicago (9-5)
One week after the Detroit Lions upset the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears’ best chance of keeping their hold on second-place in the AFC North is to follow suit and get their own upset of the Packers.
The Bears are a talented team who should have an explosive offense paired with a strong defense, and are more than capable of getting this big win, especially on home field.
Washington (4-10) at Cleveland (4-10)
The Cleveland Browns are not as bad as some project them to be, but they have the unfortunate status of playing in what may be the NFL’s toughest division. Add in that the AFC North plays another strong division, the NFC East, this year, and there will not be many opportunities for the Browns to win games.
The Redskins, however, are one of those opportunities, and they should take advantage of it with home field on their side.
Minnesota (4-10) at St. Louis (4-10)
Jacksonville (2-12) at Miami (2-12)
In a battle not to be the worst team in the state of Florida in 2012, the Miami Dolphins should have the slight edge. Not only do they have home field, they have a stronger defense, led by star pass-rusher Cameron Wake. The Dolphins do not have the talent to win many games this year, but they should be able to handle the Jaguars.
Tampa Bay (4-10) at New Orleans (7-7)
Denver (9-5) at Baltimore (9-5)
Indianapolis (4-10) at Houston (10-4)
Detroit (9-5) at Arizona (2-12)
Carolina (10-4) at San Diego (6-8)
Seattle (7-7) at Buffalo (7-7)
The Seattle Seahawks have a solid all-around team, but with a rookie starting quarterback and in a very strong NFC this season, contending for a playoff spot may be unrealistic considering that the San Francisco 49ers should run away with the NFC West. A win over the Buffalo Bills here, however, would be a good victory for them late in the season.
Pittsburgh (9-5) at Dallas (5-9)
Kansas City (7-7) at Oakland (3-11)
San Francisco (13-1) at New England (11-3)
This game should have no shortage of hype. The San Francisco 49ers will likely have to prove their ability to win a game in cold weather, as they travel to play the New England Patriots on a Sunday night in December, and this game could end up being a Super Bowl preview.
If the 49ers win this game, they are going to prove themselves as the best team in the NFL heading into the postseason, and that is exactly what I think they will do, as they have a strong run-based and defensive team well-suited to play in cold weather.
NY Jets (8-6) at Tennessee (6-8)
Atlanta (8-7) at Detroit (9-6)
New Orleans (8-7) at Dallas (5-10)
Tennessee (7-8) at Green Bay (11-4)
Indianapolis (4-11) at Kansas City (8-7)
Buffalo (7-8) at Miami (3-12)
Washington (4-11) at Philadelphia (11-4)
Cincinnati (11-4) at Pittsburgh (9-6)
The Cincinnati Bengals are trying to truly shift the balance of power in the AFC North this season by winning the AFC North, even in a year where the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are both still playoff contenders. They will need this road victory over the Steelers to do so, but they truly can be the best team in the division this year.
St. Louis (4-11) at Tampa Bay (5-10)
Oakland (4-11) at Carolina (10-5)
With only two weeks remaining in the NFL season and a three-game lead in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers would have clinched their division, allowing them to rest some starters, including possibly quarterback Cam Newton to avoid injury, and coast into the postseason. If that is the case, that could open the window for the Oakland Raiders to steal a road victory.
New England (12-3) at Jacksonville (2-13)
NY Giants (11-4) at Baltimore (9-6)
Minnesota (4-11) at Houston (11-4)
Cleveland (4-11) at Denver (10-5)
San Francisco (14-1) at Seattle (7-8)
Chicago (10-5) at Arizona (2-13)
San Diego (7-8) at NY Jets (8-7)
Tampa Bay (5-11) at Atlanta (9-7)
NY Jets (8-8) at Buffalo (8-8)
The Buffalo Bills may fade down the stretch in their bid for the postseason, but a win over the Jets can give them second-place in the AFC East with tiebreakers, and a solid .500 record. The playoffs are still a stretch for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a team whose offense is still below-average, but an 8-8 season seems very reasonable.
Baltimore (10-6) at Cincinnati (11-5)
The Cincinnati Bengals would have already clinched the AFC North, but at this point, the Baltimore Ravens will need a win just to ensure making the postseason. While one should expect the Bengals would give their all in attempting to keeping their strong division rivals out of the postseason, the Ravens would have much more to play for, and would likely win this game on added motivation and necessity.
Chicago (11-5) at Detroit (9-7)
The Chicago Bears had a disappointing 2011 campaign, but in 2012, they are a more complete team than the Detroit Lions in the NFC North. While the Packers are projected to win the division, there is very likely to be a wild card team emerging from the division, and the Bears should be able to beat the Lions in the season’s final week to take that berth.
Jacksonville (3-13) at Tennessee (7-9)
Houston (11-5) at Indianapolis (5-11)
Having clinched the AFC South, the Houston Texans will likely rest players in the Week 17 season finale, allowing the Indianapolis Colts to finish Andrew Luck’s rookie season with a win for the young star quarterback.
Green Bay (12-4) at Minnesota (4-12)
Miami (3-13) at New England (13-3)
Carolina (10-6) at New Orleans (9-7)
The New Orleans Saints would need to win this game for any chance to make the playoffs, although in this scenario, it is too little, too late. Nonetheless, like the Ravens-Bengals game above, the Saints would have more to fight for, as the Carolina Panthers would have already won the NFC South title.
Philadelphia (11-5) at New York Giants (12-4)
This projects to be the biggest game of Week 17, as the NFL’s division often in the limelight, the NFC East, will come down to a final game between its two best teams to decide the division champion. Of course, in recent seasons including last year, the New York Giants have been famous for finishing strong, and I would expect nothing less in this matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles to win their division title and a higher seed in the postseason.
Cleveland (4-12) at Pittsburgh (10-6)
Dallas (6-10) at Washington (4-12)
Oakland (4-12) at San Diego (8-8)
Arizona (2-14) at San Francisco (15-1)
St. Louis (5-11) at Seattle (7-9)
Kansas City (8-8) at Denver (11-5)
New England Patriots 13-3
Buffalo Bills 8-8
New York Jets 8-8
Miami Dolphins 3-13
Cincinnati Bengals 11-5
Baltimore Ravens 10-6
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
Cleveland Browns 4-12
Houston Texans 11-5
Tennessee Titans 7-9
Indianapolis Colts 5-11
Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13
Denver Broncos 11-5
Kansas City Chiefs 8-8
San Diego Chargers 8-8
Oakland Raiders 4-12
New York Giants 12-4
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
Dallas Cowboys 6-10
Washington Redskins 4-12
Green Bay Packers 12-4
Chicago Bears 11-5
Detroit Lions 9-7
Minnesota Vikings 4-12
Carolina Panthers 10-6
New Orleans Saints 9-7
Atlanta Falcons 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11
San Francisco 49ers 15-1
Seattle Seahawks 7-9
St. Louis Rams 5-11
Arizona Cardinals 2-14
AFC Playoff Seedings
1. New England Patriots
2. Houston Texans
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Denver Broncos
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
NFC Playoff Seedings
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Green Bay Packers
3. New York Giants
4. Carolina Panthers
5. Chicago Bears
6. Philadelphia Eagles
Steelers at Bengals
This can finally be the year for the Cincinnati Bengals to become the class of the AFC North, and with an aging Pittsburgh Steelers team that will likely be ailing come the postseason, the Bengals’ run of success could continue at least one round into the playoffs, unlike their first-round exit in 2011.
Ravens at Broncos
The Denver Broncos have certainly become a better team with the addition of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, but in fact, I project that they will not make as deep of a playoff run as they did the previous year with Tim Tebow leading the offense. This is because they would run into a very strong team in their postseason opener, the Baltimore Ravens, who should at least be capable of winning one playoff game if they are at full strength.
Eagles at Giants
The New York Giants can complete a full three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Eagles by defeating them in this game, and I expect they would do so. While the Eagles should make big strides in 2012 from 2011, the Giants are still among the NFL’s teams to beat as defending league champions, and I do not expect head coach Tom Coughlin to allow any sort of “Super Bowl hangover” to set in.
Bears at Panthers
If second-year NFL quarterback Andy Dalton is to win a playoff game in 2012, his fellow sophomore signal-caller Cam Newton should not be outdone. While Dalton has a more talented team around him, there are few NFL players with the talent to carry their team the way Newton can, and the Carolina Panthers are definitely a team on the rise. This would also be a huge win for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was formerly the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator from 2004-2006.
Ravens at Patriots
In a rematch of the 2011 AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are projected to meet again. After the Ravens turned the tables with a win at home in Week 3, expect the Patriots to be better prepared, and use the home-field advantage to their advantage this time around. The Patriots are unlikely to leave another playoff game versus the Ravens to chance, and therefore are projected to win this game by a more significant margin.
Bengals at Texans
Another rematch of the 2011 AFC playoffs comes between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans, and once again, the same result is expected. If the Texans could beat the Bengals by a dominating score of 31-10 one year earlier with T.J. Yates as their starting quarterback, imagine the possibilities with Matt Schaub leading the Texans’ offense.
Panthers at 49ers
If Cam Newton can lead the Carolina Panthers this far, it will be a great story, but great stories will not lead teams past the San Francisco 49ers this year. The 49ers are too loaded all across their roster, especially on what should be the NFL’s most punishing defense, and a loss in their first playoff game would come as a surprise.
Giants at Packers
The pivotal moment that turned the 2011 NFL playoffs in their ultimate direction came in that year’s Divisional Round, when the New York Giants upset the Green Bay Packers, who were the consensus favorite to win the Super Bowl. One year later, the teams are projected to meet in Green Bay, but this time, the Packers will get the task of winning accomplished, ending the chances of the Giants win back-to-back championships.
Texans at Patriots
The New England Patriots may be projected to beat the Houston Texans at home late in the regular season, but they can defend their home field against a very strong Texans team yet again? The Patriots are very capable of winning this year’s Super Bowl, but it is rare for teams to make it to consecutive Super Bowls, and this year is the right stage for the Texans to finally make the big game. With Matt Schaub leading their postseason efforts this season, the Texans can make it all the way to the championship game.
Packers at 49ers
The NFC is the stronger of the NFL’s two conferences this year, and has won four of the last five Super Bowls. Therefore, the winner of this game should become the Super Bowl favorite. The Super Bowl favorite heading into the season is the San Francisco 49ers, and while the Green Bay Packers are certainly as good as any team in the league, defense wins championships, and no defense can match what the 49ers have.
Texans vs 49ers
Matt Schaub and Alex Smith would be the least glamorous Super Bowl quarterback matchup since Trent Dilfer led the Baltimore Ravens to a championship over Kerry Collins and the New York Giants, but this projected matchup is all about defense—the NFL’s two best defenses.
The two best offensive players in this game would both be on the Texans’ side, running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson. However, if this game became a defensive battle, the better defense would prevail, and that edge definitely goes to the 49ers.
With a star-studded lineup led by defensive end Justin Smith, inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and cornerback Carlos Rogers, the 49ers’ defense will terrorize its opponents all year long, and could lead the 49ers to their first championship since Steve Young was under center.
1. Arizona Cardinals
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. Oakland Raiders
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Washington Redskins (pick traded to St. Louis Rams)
8. St. Louis Rams
9. Indianapolis Colts
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11. Dallas Cowboys
12. Seattle Seahawks
13. Tennessee Titans
14. Buffalo Bills
15. New York Jets
16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. San Diego Chargers
18. Detroit Lions
19. Atlanta Falcons
20. New Orleans Saints
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
22. Chicago Bears
23. Denver Broncos
24. Philadelphia Eagles
25. Carolina Panthers
26. Baltimore Ravens
27. Cincinnati Bengals
28. New York Giants
29. Green Bay Packers
30. New England Patriots
31. Houston Texans
32. San Francisco 49ers