NFL: 50 Predictions for the 2013 Season
The NFL season is finally upon us, beginning with a Thursday night matchup that saw the Denver Broncos Peyton Manning toss an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in a 49-27 Denver win.
Robert Griffin III is back; Adrian Peterson has his sights set on an even bigger rushing mark, and J.J. Watt is making a case to be the greatest defensive player ever. Notable players that changed teams include Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Darrelle Revis and Elvis Dumervil. Andy Reid is now in Kansas City, Tim Tebow is already out of a new job, and there's a good chance of seeing another Harbaugh Bowl.
The following 50 predictions are one man's guess as to what will happen in 2013. Feel free to disagree and leave your thoughts below.
1. A Record 12 Quarterbacks Pass for 4,000 Yards
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The NFL is more of a passing league now than ever before, and passing records continue to fall. Drew Brees shattered the single-season record for passing yards by hitting 5,476 two years ago, and 4,000 is becoming almost expected of a good quarterback.
It's a far cry from your father's NFL when Joe Namath became the first QB in 1967 to reach the vaunted 4,000-yard mark.
This year, a record 12 quarterbacks will top the 4K mark: Brees, both Manning brothers, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, and Josh Freeman. Six others (Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Philip Rivers, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, and Robert Griffin III) will finish with at least 3,500 yards.
That's over half of the starting quarterbacks putting up a number that led the league as recently as 1978.
2. Rex Ryan Gets Fired After the Season
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Rex Ryan is as good as gone in New York if Geno Smith doesn't work out.
Ryan is a tremendous defensive mind, but he's been unable to develop a franchise quarterback. It's expected that Smith will struggle this season given that his supporting cast is limited. That should be enough for new general manager John Idzik to go in a different direction with his head coach.
3. C.J. Spiller Will Lead All Running Backs in Fantasy Points
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In his brief NFL career thus far, C.J. Spiller has averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He put up 1,244 rushing yards and six scores on 6.0 yards per rush a year ago, doing so with a quarterback situation that ranked 25th in passing offense.
Spiller has the ability to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. He is a tremendous threat in open space, and the Buffalo Bills would be wise to get him the ball over and over again.
A projection of Spiller's final numbers: 12 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns, 1,925 total yards and an impressive 5.4 yards per carry.
4. Morris Claiborne Will Lead All Defensive Backs in Interceptions
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In 2012, Morris Claiborne struggled as a rookie cornerback. He allowed completions on close to 70 percent of the passes that came his way, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He was burned for four touchdowns and a passer rating over 100, recording just one interception.
But that's often how it works with rookie cornerbacks, even those taken in the top half of the first round of the draft. Patrick Peterson has his growing pains in '11 before breaking out to the tune of a seven-interception season in 2012.
Claiborne should see a similar spike in his interceptions. He has the speed and athleticism to stick with the NFL's best receivers, and that will result in eight picks in 2013.
5. Tony Romo Does Not Parlay Huge Contract Extension into Playoff Berth
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The Dallas Cowboys gave Tony Romo a blockbuster six-year extension over the summer, one that caused a lot of controversy throughout the league.
The $55 million in guaranteed money seemed to be a lot for a quarterback with just one playoff win in seven seasons as a starter; then again, since 2007, Romo has averaged close to 4,000 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and a 95.7 passer rating per season.
Expect similar numbers from Romo in 2013. His receiving corps is loaded, and he's in the prime of his career. But don't expect a playoff berth. The offensive line is too subpar, and the running game has no proven depth behind the oft-injured DeMarco Murray.
6. The Miami Dolphins' Free-Agent Splurge Will Not Result in Playoff Berth
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Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland is entering the final year of his deal with the team, which may have led to a free-agent splurge.
The Dolphins signed receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, cornerback Brent Grimes, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. They also drafted playmaking defensive end Dion Jordan. All told, these additions have many people thinking the Dolphins may make the postseason. (ESPN The Magazine has the Dolphins winning the division)
Don't count on it. Ryan Tannehill is a developing young quarterback, and he's looking like a keeper. And he gets a great new receiver in Wallace (although the loss of Keller to a season-ending injury will hurt).
But the Dolphins aren't quite ready. The left tackle position could be a nightmare. The running game is really counting on Lamar Miller, and Daniel Thomas is an awful backup. And the schedule starts with some really tough games.
Expect a record around 8-8.
Contract Issues and Injuries to Hakeem Nicks Open the Door for Rueben Randle
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The New York Giants have a trifecta of extremely talented wide receivers.
Victor Cruz was signed to a long-term deal this offseason, one that will pay him an average of about $7-8 million per season for the next six years. Hakeem Nicks is the first-round pick from 2009 waiting for his new deal. Nicks, who never made a Pro Bowl or appeared in all 16 games, has battled injuries and inconsistency, and the Giants therefore were very careful with Nicks this preseason,.
And third receiver Rueben Randle is waiting to break out.
Nicks will likely struggle with injuries again, while Randle is poised to explode. Expect the second-year wideout to accumulate close to 1,200 yards, and the Giants will be fine with letting Nicks walk in free agency following the season.
8. Rob Ryan Does Wonders with the New Orleans Saints' New 3-4 Defense
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Rob Ryan has a pretty good track record for turning defenses around. He took over the 2010 Dallas Cowboys, which ranked 24th in total yards allowed. He got that unit to 14th in 2011. An injury to Sean Lee in '12 dropped the defense to just 19th in yards allowed.
But if anyone can turn around the New Orleans Saints, it's Ryan. This unit needs a lot of work. The Saints surrendered 7,042 yards a year ago, an all-time NFL record. Ryan is switching to a 3-4 defense, and he has some good young players to work with, notably defensive end Cameron Jordan and safety Kenny Vaccaro.
With Drew Brees on the offensive side of the ball, you'll see the Saints still playing in January.
9. Patrick Peterson Will Score Three Touchdowns on Offense and Three on Defense
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The Arizona Cardinals have themselves a top talent with Patrick Peterson, one of the top young defensive players in the league.
Last year, Peterson allowed completions on just 51.6 percent of the passes that came in his direction, picking off seven passes en route to a 64.8 passer rating against (per Pro Football Focus). He did get beat too many times, allowing six touchdowns, but that number will go down as he improves.
The Cardinals have just four receivers on their roster, and that's because they plan to use Peterson on offense. Head coach Bruce Arians has said he has as many as 15 plays for Peterson, and he believes Peterson can be a top-five receiver in the league.
That's pretty good, because the Cardinals have another guy who is a top-five receiver as well.
10. RGIII Doesn't Miss a Game and Makes MVP Push
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As a rookie in 2012, Robert Griffin III threw 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions, adding over 800 yards on the ground. He took the Washington Redskins to an unexpected playoff spot, overcoming a 3-6 start to the season.
RGIII spent the summer rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in the postseason, and he will start the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Griffin is an immensely talented quarterback, and the Redskins have their franchise guy.
There's no reason to expect anything less than an MVP-caliber season from RGIII. The trick will be doing so with fewer rushing attempts, but Mike Shanahan is a smart enough coach to alter the playbook.
11. Andrew Luck Starts for the AFC in the Pro Bowl
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Andrew Luck's rookie season was nothing short of incredible. He took every snap for the Indianapolis Colts and led a 2-14 team in 2011 to an 11-5 regular season record and the playoffs last year. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks, setting an NFL record for rookie QBs.
Luck completed just 54 percent of his passes, but he averaged more yards per throw than any other quarterback in the league. He threw 23 touchdowns and rushed for five more. His 18 interceptions weren't as a big an issue as the number might suggest, considering he threw the ball 627 times.
This year, Luck gets his entire supporting cast back plus deep-threat receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The offensive line was upgraded with Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus, which is good because Luck took more hits than any other quarterback in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In 2013, Luck won't throw for much more yardage than last year (4,374). New Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is primarily a run-first guy, but it isn't as if the Colts have Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
Luck will throw at least 550 times, and he should account for 30 touchdowns.
12. Five Quarterbacks Are in Their Last Year with Their Teams
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Five quarterbacks who will start in Week 1 won't return to the same team in 2014: Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Terrelle Pryor and Carson Palmer.
Locker, Ponder and Gabbert cap off a largely ineffective quarterback class from 2011 (save for Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick). Pryor is a desperation start for the Oakland Raiders, and Palmer's best years are clearly behind him. The Arizona Cardinals will likely pick a quarterback high in next year's draft and go with him in 2014, as is the growing trend.
Greg Hardy Falls Short of His 50-Sack Goal by 40
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Greg Hardy is a very good defensive end, the second-best defensive end on his own team. He picked up 11 sacks and forced two fumbles in 2012.
Hardy's goal for 2013 is a bit loftier. He wants to shatter the single-season sack record; in fact he's shooting for 50. That would be more than twice as many as the record 22.5 sacks Michael Strahan racked up in 2001.
A conservative guess for Hardy puts him at 10 sacks. That's 40 short of his goal but a productive year, nonetheless.
14. EJ Manuel Will Show Positive Results; Geno Smith Will Not
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The Buffalo Bills reached a bit when they grabbed quarterback EJ Manuel with the 16th overall pick in the first round. However, they are getting a top talent who has the physical tools to be the franchise's savior.
Manuel may not be ready to start in Week 1 because of a minor knee procedure that was performed on August 18. But Manuel shouldn't miss much time, and he's a solidly built quarterback who threatens defenses with his arm and his legs.
He has a good chance to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Geno Smith fell to the second round where the New York Jets snatched him up. Smith was competing to replace Mark Sanchez, and Rex Ryan finally announced Smith as his starter. Whether or not he retains the job after Week 1, Smith still should see extended action in his rookie season.
Smith faded badly in his final season at the University of West Virginia. He inherits an offense with unproven runner in Chris Ivory as his lead back. Top receiver Santonio Holmes is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, and may not play in the opener. And last year's starting tight end, Dustin Keller, has departed for Miami.
All that will lead to a rough 2013 for Smith.
15. Someone Throws Seven Touchdowns in a Game
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It's surprising that no one has reached seven touchdown passes in a game since 1969. In fact, it's happened five times in history but not at all since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
After all, the other passing records have fallen. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both set records for passing touchdowns in a season. Drew Brees set the mark for passing yards in a season and Aaron Rodgers holds the record for passer rating.
Someone will throw seven touchdown passes in 2013. It may be one of the big four. It may be Matthew Stafford, taking advantage of Calvin Johnson and a weak secondary. It could be Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, or Matt Ryan. But it's time for it to happen.
16. Darrelle Revis Has a Good, Not Great, Season
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Darrelle Revis has been a Hall of Fame-caliber cornerback since his arrival into the NFL, but the New York Jets were wise to let him go. Current New York corners Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner comprise one of the best cornerback trios in the league.
Revis was signed to a six-year, $96 million contract, one that includes no guaranteed money. That essentially means the Buccaneers can cut him at any time without any cap penalty. In the long run, Revis will probably reclaim his position as one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.
An ACL injury is devastating but it's no longer what it used to be. Players like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have shown the ability to come back at full strength less than a year after an ACL tear. Revis will play Week 1, according to all reports. And he will be facing his old teammates, which shouldn't be the biggest challenge, given the receivers on the roster.
This year, Revis won't be the shutdown corner that he's been in the past. He will still be a good cornerback. Expect him in 2013 to nab a couple of interceptions but allow more touchdowns than usual as he reacclimates himself to the speed of the NFL.
17. Damontre Moore Will Get 10 Sacks
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After the 2012 college football season ended, many NFL draft experts were projecting Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore to be taken with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft. Moore enjoyed a phenomenal collegiate campaign in 2012, registering 12.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
Concerns about his work ethic and a poor NFL Scouting Combine performance caused Moore to fall all the way to the third round of the draft. Moore was eventually selected by the New York Giants, a team that has won two Super Bowls since 2007, championships based in large part on a dynamic pass rush.
Moore will begin the season as a backup behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, but he will see plenty of time as a pass-rushing specialist. Moore is still a top talent, and he will register double-digit sacks in his first NFL season.
18. Tyrann Mathieu Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year
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The Arizona Cardinals took a gamble when they selected standout LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. Like Damontre Moore, Mathieu was once projected as a first-round pick, but he saw his stock drop due to character concerns.
New head coach Bruce Arians and Arizona's front office took a gamble on Mathieu. So far, it has paid off, with Arians referring to Mathieu as the best defensive player in camp this summer.
Mathieu is a ballhawk who possesses the talent to lead the NFL in interceptions. He's the kind of player the Cardinals need if they're going to face Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson four times per season.
Mathieu will pick off at least five passes as a rookie, scoring twice. That should win him Defensive Rookie of the Year.
19. Oakland Raiders Will Win the Jadeveon Clowney Sweepstakes
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Take a good look at the Oakland Raiders roster. This is a collection of 53 players that could easily go 1-15 or 2-14. Their best player, left tackle Jared Veldheer, has already suffered a triceps injury (although not as severe as initially thought).
When the 2014 draft rolls around, the Raiders will have edged out the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and San Diego Chargers for the first overall pick. That should put them in prime position to select pass-rushing phenom Jadeveon Clowney, the kind of player who comes around but once every 10 years.
Clowney would instantly upgrade the Raiders roster. He has ridiculous talent, and he's the kind of player a defensive coordinator can build an entire defense around.
20. The Baltimore Ravens Win a Playoff Game for the Sixth Straight Season
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There's a lot of talent on the Baltimore Ravens roster, even after all the notable losses to free agency and retirement.
Joe Flacco is back, coming off a four-game stretch that rivals that of Joe Montana's postseason heroics with the San Francisco 49ers. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce give the Ravens arguably the best 1-2 running back punch outside of Houston, and the offensive line is intact minus center Matt Birk, who retired not long after Baltimore's Super Bowl win last February.
The addition of pass-rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil gives the Ravens another player who can get to the quarterback. The defense still has Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata and gets back a healthy Lardarius Webb. New draft picks, such as safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown, could be called upon to contribute during their rookie seasons.
The Ravens will finish second in the AFC North, but they'll win a road postseason game to extend the team's and Flacco's streak of winning at least one playoff game to six straight years.
21. Andy Dalton Will Start His Playoff Career 0-3
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In two seasons, Andy Dalton has started all 32 games, leading the Cincinnati Bengals to consecutive playoff trips. He has thrown 47 touchdown passes to just 20 interceptions, and he's averaged over 3,500 passing yards per year.
Dalton is also 0-2 in the playoffs, and he's looked awful, throwing no touchdowns to four interceptions. His life won't get any easier next January, when he and Cincinnati meet the Baltimore Ravens, division rivals who will send Dalton home early once again.
22. Drew Brees Wins the NFL MVP
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Somewhere in the talk of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Drew Brees manages to get overlooked.
Brees is a seven-time Pro Bowler and onetime Super Bowl champion who has put up video-game numbers over the last five years. During that span, he's averaged 4,946 passing yards and 38 touchdowns per campaign with a 67.5 completion percentage and 100.3 passer rating. He has started 79 of 80 games, sitting just the final week of 2009 when the NFC playoff seeding was locked up.
Brees will play 2013 with a chip on his shoulder after the season-long suspension of his head coach a year ago. Brees is a safe bet for 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, numbers that will give him the regular season MVP award.
23. Three Denver Broncos Receivers Reach 1,000 Yards
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The Denver Broncos of 2013 look a lot like the Indianapolis Colts of 2004. That year, Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley.
This year, the Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Like the '04 Colts, all three Broncos receivers will surpass 1,000 yards receiving. Thomas is the best of the bunch. Decker has the size to be a threat in the red zone. And Welker is a slot receiver who could catch 100 passes.
24. The Cincinnati Bengals Will Win 12 Games Thanks to the Trenches
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The Cincinnati Bengals are absolutely stacked on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Andrew Whitworth is arguably the best pass-blocking left tackle in the business. Andre Smith was re-signed, which gives the Bengals a tremendous tackle tandem. Kevin Zeitler is a future Pro Bowl guard.
Defensively, Geno Atkins is the best 4-3 tackle in the game. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are each double-digit sack threats. And there is a lot of depth with Margus Hunt, Brandon Thompson and Devon Still.
25. Adrian Peterson Rushes for 1,722 Yards
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It’s doubtful even Adrian Peterson can rush for 2,000 yards again, let alone 2,500. That’s just too difficult to do, especially on a team lacking solid quarterback play.
AP should be fully healthy after his ACL tear from late in 2011. And he’s supported by a terrific offensive line, notably Matt Kalil, John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. But the three-game suspension to fullback Jerome Felton will hurt. Facing the Chicago Bears’ defense twice will hurt. And the simple fact that Peterson needs to maintain a ridiculous pace will have him fall short.
But a conservative prediction has AP at 1,722 yards and 13 touchdowns.
26. Tony Gonzalez Catches 90 Passes and Then Retires
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When he hangs up his cleats after the season, Gonzalez will rank second on the NFL's all-time list in receptions. He will have 14 Pro Bowl selections, and he will be universally regarded as the greatest tight end of all time.
27. Cameron Wake Leads the NFL with 20 Sacks
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Cameron Wake may be the finest pass-rushing force in the NFL, aside from the beast they call J.J. Watt. Wake picked up 15 sacks in 2012, and he will be even better in 2013.
The Miami Dolphins have a top pair of defensive tackles in Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. The addition of Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan will give the Dolphins one of the league’s top defensive lines. Wake will finish with exactly 20 sacks, a figure that leads the NFL and earns him consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year.
28. Luke Kuechly Wins the Defensive Player of the Year Award
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As a rookie in 2012, Luke Kuechly was fabulous. He picked up a league-leading 165 total tackles (per Pro Football Reference) plus two interceptions, a sack, eight passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Kuechly will line up behind 2013 first-round pick, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, a player who has the size to occupy constant double teams. The Carolina Panthers also get back Jon Beason, giving the Panthers a quintet of players (Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy being the others) who could make the Pro Bowl.
Kuechly has the instincts to lead the NFL in tackles again. He's also aggressive enough that he will add a handful of interceptions and forced fumbles to go with 150-plus tackles.
29. The NFC South Will Be the NFL's Most Competitive Division
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The New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South, thanks to a vastly-improved 3-4 defense and the MVP play of Drew Brees. But they’ll be pushed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team on the rise that features a top-five running back (Doug Martin), two new defensive-back studs (Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson) and a quarterback playing for his job (Josh Freeman).
The Carolina Panthers should also be fighting for a playoff spot. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback, and it’s time that he will parlay his statistics into wins. The defense will be tough as well, headed by a pair of pass-rushing ends and Luke Kuechly.
And there’s the Atlanta Falcons, a team that could score 450 points but will still finish in last place because of some key losses. The Falcons will be missing right tackle Tyson Clabo, meaning that Atlant could be fielding a bottom-10 offensive line this season. They’ll also be without John Abraham and Brent Grimes.
30. Best Free-Agent Signing: Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots felt confident enough in Danny Amendola that they signed him before Wes Welker had even reached a deal with the Denver Broncos. Amendola has struggled to stay healthy, but he will put it all together in 2013.
Amendola will capitalize on a receiving corps that doesn’t have a legit No. 1 threat. Amendola should catch over 100 passes for 1,100-1,200 yards and six touchdowns.
31. Worst Free-Agent Signing: Cary Williams, Philadelphia Eagles
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Cary Williams has been a nightmare signing for the Philadelphia Eagles thus far. First of all, he really wasn't that good for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. He allowed the fourth-most passing yards of any cornerback in the NFL in 2012, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
So far with the Eagles, he's skipped OTAs, fought with teammates, called his own defense soft and missed time due to a hamstring injury. He will be overmatched against No. 1 receivers, making 2013 a long season for Eagles fans.
That three-year, $18 million deal he signed will look like way too much money if Williams is benched by Week 6 for Brandon Boykin.
32. Peyton Manning Extends His QB Record of Pro Bowl Invitations to 13
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Peyton Manning has made 12 Pro Bowls, a record for quarterbacks. In a few months, he’ll have made his 13th.
The Denver Broncos added more receiving talent with the addition of Wes Welker, giving Manning another weapon to go with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. There's also rookie running back Montee Ball, who will catch passes out of the backfield and rush for close to 1,000 yards.
Manning should be good for his usual 65 percent completion rate, 4,500 yards, 30-35 touchdowns and a 100-plus passer rating. Thomas has said Manning’s arm looks stronger than ever, and Manning does get to play the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders four times in 2013.
33. Tavon Austin Will Score Three Times on Kick and Punt Returns
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Austin can line up all over the field, whether at wide receiver, slot receiver or even in the backfield. He will likely return both punts and kicks, and Austin has the skills to break one every time he touches the ball.
He will score three times on kicks and another six on receptions. Add one rushing score, and that’s 10 touchdowns for Austin as a rookie.
34. Adrian Peterson Becomes the First Player to Rush for 300 Yards in a Game
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Adrian Peterson has a pretty impressive resume. As a rookie in 2007, he set the single-game rushing record with 296 yards. As a sixth-year player in 2012, he came within nine yards of setting the single-season record for rushing yards, doing so 12 months removed from a torn ACL.
As I mentioned in an earlier slide, Peterson won’t follow up last season with another 2,000-yard campaign. He’ll finish with 1,722 yards, still good for first in the league. And he will become the first player in the history of the National Football League to rush for 300 yards in a game, putting up 303 on 32 carries in a Week 15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
35. Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree Will Make a Big Impact Down the Stretch
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Both the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers were dealt colossal blows to their passing game during the offseason. Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree both will miss the majority of the campaign due to injury, but they will be back by December to make big contributions to their respective clubs.
Harvin is a jack-of-all-trades receiver who can play everywhere on the field. Crabtree really broke out in 2012, and the Niners will greatly miss his route-running and run-after-the-catch abilities. Neither will play at 100 percent in December or January, but 80-90 percent of their talent is still productive.
36. J.J. Watt Posts a 15-17-15 Stat Line
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J.J. Watt is en route to becoming one of the greatest defensive players the league has ever seen. He's virtually unblockable, and he will finish second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2013 to Luke Kuechly.
Watt will put up 15 sacks, 17 passes defensed and 15 tackles for a loss, falling short of his 20-20-20 goal. He’s dominant enough that the entire AFC South upgraded their offensive lines. The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Luke Joeckel second overall and the Tennessee Titans drafted (Chance Warmack) and signed (Andy Levitre) a couple of big-name guards to bolster their front.
37. Tom Coughlin Retires After the Season
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With two Super Bowl wins in the last five seasons, Tom Coughlin can probably coach the New York Giants for as long as he wants.
But he's already 66 years old and his current contract runs through the 2014 season.
The Giants won't let Coughlin come back for his final year without extending him first, but the head coach may choose to walk away on his own. He's accomplished quite a lot in his career, including twice defeating the greatest head coach of this generation on the NFL's biggest stage.
After one more division title in 2013, Coughlin will hang it up for good.
38. Believe the Hype About Dez Bryant
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Dez Bryant is going to be amazing in 2013. He's a physical specimen, and he has the talent to put up at least 1,600 receiving yards this year.
Down the stretch in 2012, Bryant averaged close to 100 yards per game. He caught 10 touchdowns in his final nine games, and he's poised to be even better this season. He gets to play the NFC East six times, and none of the non-division teams on the Cowboys schedule have particularly strong secondaries.
And he does play with a top quarterback in Tony Romo who will throw for at least 4,500 yards.
39. 2012 Playoff Teams That Miss in 2013: Washington, Minnesota and Atlanta
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Nine of the 12 teams to make the playoffs in 2012 will return to the postseason in '13. The three that will miss are the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons.
The Redskins won seven in a row after a 3-6 start, and they should have Robert Griffin III for all 16 games even after his injury (assuming he doesn't suffer a new injury). But the New York Giants will be a little tougher, and Washington's secondary will be exposed.
The Vikings capitalized on a historic stretch from Adrian Peterson. It's asking too much for them to make the playoffs again with Christian Ponder at quarterback.
The Falcons are a surprise pick to fall short. They've done well every year under Matt Ryan and Mike Smith, but the Falcons have some weak spots, notably their interior offensive line. The division is also the NFL's toughest, which will put Atlanta on the outside looking in at 8-8.
40. Jonathan Baldwin Will Be a Steal for the San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers stole Jonathan Baldwin from the Kansas City Chiefs, which is good because A.J. Jenkins flat out can't play.
At least Baldwin has size, and Jim Harbaugh will bring out the best in him. The Niners will be without Michael Crabtree for most of the season, so there is a big opportunity for Baldwin to emerge as the team's No. 2 receiver behind Anquan Boldin.
A statline of 600-700 yards and four touchdowns would have to be considered a success for Baldwin in 2013, and that's about what the Niners will get.
41. Rob Gronkowski Will Catch 12 Touchdown Passes in 12 Games
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Injuries have been Rob Gronkowski's worst enemy in his brief career, but when he's on the field, he just catches touchdowns. Gronkowski has 38 touchdowns in 43 career games, an average of close to one per game.
He's officially listed as doubtful for the Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, and the New England Patriots would be wise to hold him out for a couple of games to ensure he is fully healthy. When he does play, though, Tom Brady will have the NFL's best tight end at his disposal, and they will connect on 12 scores in 12 games.
42. Chris Johnson Will Rush for 1,500 Yards
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Despite the criticism that has surrounded Chris Johnson over the last several years, he's still been productive. It's looking like he will never approach 2,000 yards again, but Johnson has managed to put up 1,364, 1,047 and 1,243 yards in the three seasons since.
Johnson will be playing behind a top-three offensive line in 2013, as the Tennessee Titans drafted Chance Warmack 10th overall and signed free-agent guard Andy Levitre from the Buffalo Bills. The line is flanked by a pair of bookend tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart.
Johnson will be his typical inconsistently consistent self this year, rushing for 150 yards one week and 25 the next. But he'll finish with just over 1,500 yards, his best output since 2009.
43. Tim Tebow Does Not Play Football in 2013
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New England seemed like the perfect place for Tim Tebow. There he could learn from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick could assuredly utilize Tebow in a variety of packages that would feature him throwing and running the football.
And then the Patriots released Tebow, putting the former first-round pick's career very much in doubt.
It's unlikely another team will pick up Tebow. The media circus that surrounds him isn't worth it for a quarterback who completes fewer than 50 percent of his passes. Tebow will spend 2013 watching football and 2014 as an analyst for college football games.
44. Jay Cutler Picks a Fine Time to Have a Career Year
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Like Joe Flacco last year, Jay Cutler will make the most of his contract season. He gets a new head coach in Marc Trestman, a tactical mastermind who will make the most of the Chicago Bears offense.
The Bears upgraded their offensive line, signing free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod and drafting guard Kyle Long. Brandon Marshall is still a top receiver and running back Matt Forte is a dual threat as a runner and receiver. And Cutler now has a terrific red-zone at the tight end spot in newly acquired Martellus Bennett, a huge upgrade from Kyle Adams and Kellen Davis.
Cutler will throw for 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns and lower his interceptions to 12. With the Bears defense, that kind of production from the QB position will be enough to secure Chicago a playoff berth, which will earn Cutler a long-term deal with the Bears.
45. Peyton Manning Beats Andrew Luck in the Playoffs
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
When the playoffs do roll around, the sixth-seeded Indianapolis Colts will head to Denver to take on Peyton Manning in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
This will be a shootout, with Manning trying to outduel his replacement in Indianapolis. Manning and the Broncos will win by virtue of their stronger defense, but Manning will also throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-28 win.
46. And Then Tom Brady Beats Peyton Manning
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
That will send the Denver Broncos into Foxborough, where Peyton Manning will play his rival Tom Brady in the AFC Divisional Round.
In addition to being the fourth such Peyton Manning-Brady matchup in the playoffs (Brady is 2-1), this will put Wes Welker against his old coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have quietly done a terrific job in rebuilding their defense, adding players such as Chandler Jones in recent drafts.
The Patriots' defense will slow down Manning, and Rob Gronkowski will catch three touchdown passes from Brady in a 41-31 win.
48. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson Meet in the NFC Championship Game
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
What fun this will be. The rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks has the potential to shape up as the best in the NFL.
Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh against Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll two to three times per year makes for great TV and even better football. The 49ers have a ridiculous amount of talent on their roster, and it's difficult to see them losing this game.
The front seven highlighted by Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith will be a lot of trouble for Wilson. Then again, Richard Sherman and Co. are no easy matchup for Kaepernick.
The 49ers will win this one and advance to their second straight Super Bowl in an overtime thriller, 20-17.
49. NFL Awards
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
NFL MVP: Drew Brees
Offensive Player of Year: Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of Year: Luke Kuechly
Coach of Year: Marc Trestman
Offensive Rookie of Year: E.J. Manuel
Defensive Rookie of Year: Tyrann Mathieu
Super Bowl MVP: Colin Kaepernick
Comeback Player of Year: Robert Griffin III
50. Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers over New England Patriots
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
For the second straight year, a Harbaugh will win the Super Bowl. This time, it will be Jim and the San Francisco 49ers knocking off Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
This puts the two deepest rosters in the league head to head with a lot at stake. The 49ers would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers by winning their sixth Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Brady's sixth Super Bowl appearance would set a record for quarterbacks, and if he wins, it would tie him with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana most Super Bowl wins (four).
Kaepernick and the 49ers will win a close one, prevailing by a 31-28 score. Like all the recent quarterbacks, it will come down to the final drive, this time with Kaepernick connecting with Vernon Davis on a game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds to play.
Full NFL Team-by-Team Predictions
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
1. New England Patriots (11-5)
2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
3. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
4. New York Jets (4-12)
1. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)*
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (7-9)
1. Houston Texans (9-7)
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)*
3. Tennessee Titans (5-11)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
1. Denver Broncos (11-5)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
3. San Diego Chargers (4-12)
4. Oakland Raiders (2-14)
Denver Broncos over Indianapolis Colts
Baltimore Ravens over Houston Texans
Baltimore Ravens over Cincinnati Bengals
New England Patriots over Denver Broncos
New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens
1. New York Giants (9-7)
2. Washington Redskins (9-7)
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)
1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
2. Chicago Bears (10-6)*
3. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
4. Detroit Lions (5-11)
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
3. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
4. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
1. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)*
3. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
4. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers
Seattle Seahawks over New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers over Chicago Bears
Seattle Seahawks over New Orleans Saints
San Francisco 49ers over Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers over New England Patriots (31-28)