The 2013 NFL season is almost here, so here is a projection of the playoff field before Week 1 gets underway.
Every year there are surprising teams that make the playoffs, like the Indianapolis Colts from a season ago. Finding that surprise team is always tough to do before games are played.
Here is a look at the teams that will make the 2013 NFL playoffs.
The New England Patriots have won the division in nine of the past 10 seasons. They didn't win the AFC East in 2008 when Tom Brady missed the entire season, but they still finished 11-5 that year.
Let's be honest. The New York Jets will have a hard time winning games this season, and the Buffalo Bills are building for the future. EJ Manuel and Robert Woods will improve the offense, but they aren't ready to compete this season.
The Miami Dolphins lost Reggie Bush, but they signed Mike Wallace to improve the offense. Unfortunately, Wallace and Brian Hartline won't be enough to overcome the Patriots' stranglehold on the division.
New England has Brady leading the way. He makes the receivers around him better and gets to work with Danny Amendola and Gronkowski. He will find a way to make the rest of the offense better and lead his team to another division title.
Prediction: New England Patriots (12-4)
Everyone wants to write off the Baltimore Ravens, but that is a dangerous thing to do. They are still the champions and have quite a few key pieces in place.
However, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the rise. A.J. Green is the second-best receiver in football, and Jermaine Gresham is a Pro Bowl tight end. Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman in the league, and Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are quick defensive ends.
The Bengals improved their offense through the draft. They drafted tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. Eifert can line up at receiver or tight end, and Bernard gives the Bengals a quick versatile player out of the backfield.
This is the season that the Bengals need to prove that they can beat good teams. They have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but quarterback Andy Dalton has yet to show that he can beat the best teams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are undergoing changes all over the place on offense. They don't have their typical dominant running back and lost a speedster at receiver. The offensive line is being rebuilt, so the Steelers will take a year to develop them. That being said, they should still be in contention all season.
As for the Cleveland Browns, they have a promising defense, but Trent Richardson can't carry the offense. It'll be another losing season in Cleveland.
Cincinnati has the best player in the division (Green) and a strong defense. That will be enough to win the division.
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans each have talented running backs and a promising receiver, but neither will be able to compete until they find a quarterback.
That narrows the division race down to the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans.
Indianapolis has Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey at receiver. Andrew Luck had a great rookie season, but they have the makings of a disappointing season.
Nine of the Colts' 11 wins last season came by seven points or fewer, including six that came by no more than four points. They were able to squeak by the bad teams on their schedule, but they struggled against the top teams in the AFC. They were 1-3 against teams in their conference that made the playoffs.
Indianapolis will be in contention this season, but it will have a tough time winning the division.
The Houston Texans, on the other hand, have a strong offense and an explosive defense. The Texans have Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels to catch passes from Matt Schaub.
The defense is led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Johnathan Joseph. The defense had 44 sacks, which ranked fifth in the NFL, and 15 interceptions.
Prediction: Houston Texans (11-5)
This division won't even be close. Peyton Manning will take advantage of a weak division and coast into the playoffs.
The Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil in the offseason and won't have Von Miller for the first six games. It won't matter because the offense is good enough to overcome those losses.
Manning still has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but the Broncos continued to upgrade their offense. Wes Welker will come in and play the slot, and Montee Ball should have an impact at running back as a rookie.
Denver's schedule will be tough in the first half but get easier as the year goes on. After their bye in Week 9, the Broncos will have five divisional games and get to host the Titans.
Prediction: Denver Broncos (13-3)
AFC Wild Cards
The four division winners all made the playoffs last season, and it's unlikely that all six teams from last year will make the postseason again.
Indianapolis will stay in contention all season but will see its record drop closer to .500 this year. The Colts will miss the playoffs, which opens up a spot for a new team to sneak in.
That team would be the Miami Dolphins. The passing game should be much improved this season, and the defense is underrated. Cameron Wake has turned into a dominant force and will lead the defense into the postseason.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens (9-7), Miami Dolphins (9-7)
This will be one of the toughest divisions in football.
The Dallas Cowboys have a talented offense but have failed to come through with wins in big games the past few seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles could be the surprise team of the NFL. Chip Kelly is bringing his uptempo to the NFL and has Michael Vick to work with.
Griffin's knee will play a major role in the division race. Unfortunately for the fans, Griffin is probably not going to run as much as he did last season, which will take away from his game. He can beat teams with his arm, but the threat of running kept teams honest.
When healthy, the New York Giants are the team to beat. Eli Manning has come through in the clutch many times in his career. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are difficult to defend. Cruz is a speedster, and Nicks can catch any ball near him.
These teams are just going to beat up on each other, and it will be a fight to get into the playoffs.
Prediction: New York Giants (9-7)
It's the Green Bay Packers and everyone else.
Even though Greg Jennings went to Minnesota, Aaron Rodgers is good enough to move on. He still has James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The defense still has Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk, so they are capable of making plays.
The Chicago Bears went 10-6 and missed the playoffs last season. Brian Urlacher is gone, but the defense will be fine as the team had to play games without him last season. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall reunited last season and put on a show. If Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery have big years, the Bears are going to be in great position to make the playoffs.
Two teams that were one-dimensional last year made improvements.
The Detroit Lions have Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Adding Reggie Bush will help balance the offense, but he won't be enough to get his team a division title.
Jennings joined the Vikings, and the team drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to help Christian Ponder. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the game, but he won't be able to duplicate last year's outstanding performance. Ponder will have to step up in order for the Vikings to contend.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers (11-5)
The Atlanta Falcons owned the division last season and are in great position to do it again.
Matt Ryan finally won a playoff game, and the team is bringing back its key players. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are all back. Running back Steven Jackson adds another element to the team's offense.
Sean Payton is back for the New Orleans Saints, so it will be a big year for his team. Drew Brees is still a great quarterback, and the Saints will put up points. It's hard to imagine that their defense will be one of the league's worst again.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the worst secondary in the NFL last season, so they added two Pro Bowlers to improve the unit. Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson will instantly improve the secondary. Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin had huge years on offense, but quarterback Josh Freeman must prove that he can take the team to the next level.
Cam Newton won't be enough for the Carolina Panthers to contend.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
This division has gotten all of the hype in the offseason, so watch out when there are NFC West games on the schedule.
The San Francisco 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl last year, and they got better. They may have lost Michael Crabtree for part of the season, but Anquan Boldin was an absolute steal. Colin Kaepernick will again make plays with arm and his legs.
San Francisco's defense still has Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. Nnamdi Asomugha will help the secondary, and the 49ers will be the team to beat in the division.
Seattle is extremely deep. The Seahawks have Russell Wilson entering his second season, and Marshawn Lynch continues to be a dominant running back. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice need to continue to improve after Percy Harvin went down.
The defense is a dominant unit, and Richard Sherman has turned into one of the best corners in football.
One team to keep an eye on is Arizona. The Cardinals now have Carson Palmer at quarterback, so he and Larry Fitzgerald should get back to putting up big numbers in Bruce Arians' offense. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts are also quality wideouts.
Drafting Tyrann Mathieu was a risk, but he has the potential to be a game changer in the secondary. Patrick Peterson is quietly becoming an explosive playmaker, and the two could help lead Arizona into contention.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
NFC Wild Cards
As mentioned earlier, there are always surprise teams that make the playoffs. The Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles are both sleepers to watch, but they are still missing pieces. Both of those teams will be in competitive divisions, which puts them on the outside looking in.
The Chicago Bears will once again just miss the playoffs. They have weapons to work with on offense, but injuries have kept this team from reaching its potential. Matt Forte hasn't played in 16 games since 2010, Alshon Jeffery missed time last year and Brandon Marshall is dealing with a hip injury.
At the end of the season, Seattle and New Orleans will both be in the postseason.
Predictions: Seattle Seahawks (11-5), New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Projected Playoff Field
*All information is courtesy of NFL.com
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