Posted by Mike Wendt on September 5, 2012 Jump To Comments
The NFL regular season kicks off tonight with Jerry’s Cowboys visiting the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, but before the pigskin starts flying I thought I’d take a look into my crystal ball and see what surprises might lie ahead in 2012. I’ll finish with my Super Bowl pick.
1) The 49ers will miss the playoffs
The 49ers had huge success in 2011, going 13-3 and winning the NFC West before falling in overtime to the Giants in the NFC Championship. The 49ers had one of the best defenses in the NFL, led by a daunting linebacker duo in Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. In the 1980′s defenses won championships, but in 2012 the league is all about the quarterback. When you take a look at the other quarterbacks in the conference, it’s tough to justify ranking Alex Smith in the top half. The NFC boasts Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Mike Vick, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Personally I think Robert Griffin III will be better than Alex Smith too, which means Smith is the 11th best quarterback in a 16-team conference. That doesn’t bode well for the 49ers, who will be sitting at home come January.
2) Three NFC North teams will make the playoffs
On paper, the NFC North looks like the best division in football, and I think the big three will be strong all season in 2012. The Packers improved their defense, and many believe this team is more talented than the one that won the Super Bowl in 2010. The Bears were on pace for the playoffs before Jay Cutler went down with an injury, but he’s back and the Bears added Cutler’s favorite target from his Denver days in Brandon Marshall. Detroit looks to improve upon their 10-win season from a year ago, and last year marked their first playoff appearance since 1995. If Stafford can stay healthy, the Lions should be able to score with the best of them. Look for the three teams to beat up on one another while they all use the Vikings as a doormat. The big three will all have double digits wins this year.
3) Tim Tebow, who led the Broncos to the playoffs in 2012, will not finish the season with the Jets
Love him or hate him, Tim Tebow was the talk of the 2011 NFL season. After taking over for Kyle Orton in Week 7, Tebow went 8-5, including six straight wins from Weeks 9-14. Tebow’s 2012 predicament is similar to 2011, and he will begin the season as a backup with a huge fan base. This season will unfold differently though. The Jets are the laughing stock of the NFL, and when both quarterbacks fail to produce something will need to change. The Jets will end up trading Tebow for a draft pick during the season, and they’ll begin to rebuild the franchise.
4) Adrian Peterson will lead the league in rushing
Peterson is a beast. The guy tore his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve last year, and yet he’ll be getting carries this Sunday. Purple Jesus failed to break 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last year, but he’ll look to prove the doubters wrong in 2012. With the rest off the NFC North airing the ball out, the Vikings will look to control the clock and limit their opponents’ possessions, and giving the rock to AP is the best way to do that. It may take him a few weeks to amp up his workload, but Peterson will top the rushing charts when the season draws to close.
5) Mike Vick will play in all 16 games
Vick has had a myriad of injuries since he entered the league, and many believe he brings it upon himself by his style of play. While some of that may be true, I think Vick realizes that he needs to be on the field if the Eagles are going to win. Many of his injuries, like his broken leg and broken ribs, were a result of him trying to get an extra yard or two. It’s probably not a stat, but if it were I’d put a lot of money on Vick leading the league in slides following a rush this season. Vick’s also been a bit unlucky with his injuries, and I think the stars align and he plays each game this year.
6) Russell Wilson will not finish the season as Seattle’s starting quarterback
Let me be clear, I have a huge man-crush on Wilson and I hope he leads Seattle to the playoffs, but I just think it’s more likely the pendulum swings in the other direction. Wilson has yet to face a first team defense for an entire game, and he doesn’t have a lot of offensive weapons to work with, which will hurt him in the beginning of the year. Looking at their schedule, the Seahawks likely won’t be favored in a game until Week 9 when they host the Vikings. Before they play the Queens, the Seahawks host the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots, and are on the road against Arizona, St. Louis, Carolina, Detroit and San Francisco. They could easily be 1-7 after their first eight games. If that’s the case, Seattle’s $20 million man Matt Flynn will likely get the call.
7) The Saints will clinch a playoff bye without Sean Payton
The talk of the NFL offseason this year was the Saints bounty scandal, which resulted in head coach Sean Payton receiving a season long suspension. For a team with a lesser quarterback, this would be a huge problem, but Drew Bress is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league, and he’ll ensure that the offense doesn’t miss a beat without Payton. With the NFL North and NFC East beating up on each other and San Fran’s return to mediocrity, the Saints should easily make the playoffs as long as they can stay ahead of the Falcons. The Saints will win 12 games and lock up a bye without their head coach.
8) No rookie quarterback will lead his team to the playoffs
Five rookie quarterbacks will start for NFL teams in Week 1, but none of them will be playing in January. Many people love Andrew Luck and RG3, but the Texans look like they have a stranglehold on the AFC South and Griffin plays in one of the tougher divisions in football. Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill are stuck on terrible teams, so five or six wins would be a step in the right direction for either franchise. A lot of people are predicting that Russell Wilson could push Seattle to the top of the division, but their schedule is brutal and they’ll be lucky to start 3-5. I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind having some of these guys on my fantasy team, I just don’t see any of them pulling an Andy Dalton and reaching the playoffs.
9) The replacement refs will do a fine job until the regular refs sign a new deal
Everyone and their mother was freaking out about some of the calls during the preseason, and rightfully so, but just like the players, the preseason is a time to make sure everything runs smoothly when the season begins. Will there be bad calls? Sure. But regular season referees make bad calls all the time. In 2008, everyone’s favorite ref Ed Hochuli screwed up a call in the Broncos-Chargers game that cost San Diego a win, and it was such a bad call that it led to expanded replay during the following season. I watched the Packers-Chiefs preseason game, and didn’t even notice the refs. That’s how it’s suppose to be. There will be some minor kinks, but no team will lose a game directly resulting from a replacement ref call.
10) The Packers will win the Super Bowl
This might be the least bold prediction of them all. I love what the Packers added on the defensive side of the ball, and Aaron Rodgers will continue to dominate opposing defenses. Every year I hope for a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl because I think the Packers are the team of the 2010′s, while the Pats dominated the last decade of football. I want to see Rodgers vs Brady on the biggest stage of them all, and I think we’ll be in for a real treat come February. Rodgers will lead the Packers past Touchdown Tommy by a score of 38-34.
Got a prediction for this season? Or want to send me your Super Bowl pick? Drop me a line at email@example.com or on Twitter @MikeWendt7 and I’ll post some of the reader predictions in this column or the next one.