The 2012 NFL regular season begins this Wednesday as the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants host division rival Dallas.
It is the first of 256 games that will decide which dozen teams make the playoffs and begin the chase for the Super Bowl Championship next January.
Here’s a brief division by division preview of how things may look after the 17 week regular season along with a postseason glance.
New England appears to be far and away the class and should have little difficulty in winning yet another division title. The schedule is such that the Patriots should be in position to secure a first or second seed in the playoffs, getting a much desired opening round bye.
Buffalo seems to have passed the New York Jets as the second best team although they have yet to prove the preseason hype will be justified. It’s hard to see either the Bills or Jets contending for double digit wins, which makes their chances for a Wild Card iffy at best. Expect Miami to be the clear cellar dweller as the combo of a new coach and quarterback endure a rough learning curve.
the combo of a new coach and quarterback endure a rough learning curve.
The division features a pair of long time playoff contenders and the consistency of both Baltimore and Pittsburgh suggests both will again be in contention for the playoffs. Both were 12-4 last season but by virtue of sweeping the season series the Ravens earned the division title. Both have concerns with Pittsburgh’s more related to the offense and the Ravens’ more to the defense.
Expect both teams to again post double digit wins and make the playoffs. Cincinnati should slide back after making the playoffs last season with a 9-7 mark. That’s been the pattern under Coach Marvin Lewis as his Bengals have been unable to build upon success. They should however finish comfortably ahead of Cleveland. The Browns are turning to a rookie QB and RB and are thin at receiver. Their defense, however, should keep them in many games but not able to overcome their deficiencies on offense.
Houston is arguably the most talented team in the division if not in all of the NFL in finally making the playoffs last season. Their ability to close remains a concern as the Texans lost their final three games to turn a 10-3 season into 10-6 and thus missed out on an opening round bye. It would not be a surprise if the Texans fall back a bit this season and are challenged by a team that quietly finished 9-7 last season with a first year coach, Tennessee.
This division could be won with a 9-7 record. Expect Indianapolis to make strides behind rookie QB Andrew Luck and a run at 8-8 would not surprise given the past class of the Colts. Forget most of what you saw last season. Even though RB Maurice Jones-Drew has ended his holdout, there are still too many questions on both sides of the football to expect Jacksonville to finish other than last.
The division featured a trio of teams at 8-8 last season with Kansas City last at 7-9. The Chiefs have the greatest upside potential as they played much of last season without QB Matt Cassel. Denver made the biggest news with the off season signing of future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning but whether he can improve upon last season’s 8-8 mark is debatable. The Broncos won a number of games in the waning minutes.
San Diego’s window of opportunity may be closing but there’s plenty of talent on the team. Without the pressure of being the favorites perhaps this is the season the Chargers will exceed expectations. Oakland has yet another head coach which often only serves to set things back a bit. Look for Kansas City to win the West with both Denver and San Diego to challenge for wild cards.
The division is loaded with talent and the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Dallas are each capable of double digit wins. Even Washington, with rookie QB Robert Griffin III, will be improved but wins may be hard to come by in the division. The ‘Skins did defeat the Giants in both meetings last season.
The Eagles are the best balanced of the three while the Giants know how to win, something the Cowboys have yet to show. The call is for Philadelphia to win the division but for both the Giants and Cowboys to contend for wild cards.
The division figures to have three teams capable of making the playoffs. Green Bay was 15-1 and while their record might decline a bit the Packers still are the team to beat. If both QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte can stay healthy the Bears could challenge for the top spot. Detroit might slip back a bit from last season’s 10-6 mark with questions about their running game and some defensive concerns still issues.
Of Minnesota’s 13 losses last season, nine were by a TD or less. The Vikings should be improved but not enough to contend. At best they might achieve 8-8 although perhaps all but one of those wins likely would come from outside the division.
Most intriguing with Atlanta’s consistency over the past four seasons and the continuity of their roster enough to suggest the Falcons are a playoff caliber team again. New Orleans has had six months to prepare for the coaching disruptions and with the leadership of Drew Brees. It’s hard to ignore their overall talent. The Saints should again win double digit games. Carolina could see a decline as opposing coaches have had an entire offseason to pick apart QB Cam Newton’s game.
Newton was much more effective in the first half of last season than down the stretch. Despite the general enthusiasm for the Panthers, a playoff appearance may be a season away. Tampa Bay has a new coach and needs a bounce back season from QB Josh Freeman to be a serious contender. Progress in terms of wins may be a season away.
The division might be as good overall as it’s been in a decade. At 18-22 in non-division games last season, the group posted its best such record since 2003 (21-19). San Francisco remains the best, but there is a lot to like about Seattle. Although the 49ers are likely to win the division do not be surprised if the Seahawks contend for a wild card.
Under new coach Jeff Fisher, St Louis should be improved especially if QB Sam Bradford can stay healthy. The QB situation in Arizona, combined with at best a pedestrian running game, suggests the Cardinals will finish fourth.
The AFC Division winners are forecast to be New England, Pittsburgh, Houston and Kansas City with Baltimore and San Diego earning wild cards.
In the NFC, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco are forecast to be division winners with Chicago and New Orleans earning the two wild cards.
In Super Bowl XLVII, look for San Francisco meeting Pittsburgh. The 49ers are a perfect 5-0 in The Big Game and no franchise can match Pittsburgh’s 6 Super Bowl titles (in 8 appearances). The call is for Jim Harbaugh to join the ranks of Super Bowl winning coaches as San Francisco wins 23-17 next February at the Superdome in New Orleans.
NFL Week 1
Wednesday, Sept. 5
Cowboys +4 at Giants (46): The Giants have had Dallas’ number in recent seasons, winning 5 of the last 6. The talent on the teams is fairly even and getting more than a field goal is attractive. COWBOYS.
Sunday, Sept. 9
Colts +9½ at Bears (42½): Andrew Luck should be a solid QB as the season develops, but might get a schooling from the aggressive Bears.Chicago may need some time for the offense to live up to the increased hype. UNDER.
Eagles -8½ at Browns (41½): It’s always dangerous to lay points on the road, but looking at the roster of both teams that the Browns have a chance to play the Eagles even over a full 60 minutes. EAGLES.
Bills +3) at Jets (40½): This line might be a head scratcher to many. And we may well see some late movement towards the Bills. It’s often folly to place too much emphasis on preseason. Jets have the better defense. JETS.
Redskins +9½ at Saints (49½): The Saints take the field with a chip on their collective shoulders and a point to prove. Few are better than Drew Brees and the high powered offense at proving and scoring points. SAINTS.
Patriots -6½ at Titans (48): The Pats have one of the NFL’s easiest schedules, but this may not be so easy. Titans have a balanced offense that can take advantage of the Patriots’ defensive vulnerabilities. TITANS.
Jaguars +4 at Vikings (38): RB Maurice Jones-Drew has ended his holdout, though his availability for this game remains questionable. The Jags are candidates for the worst record in the league. VIKINGS.
Dolphins +10½ at Texans (43): Has the look of a blowout as the Texans are one of the most complete teams in the league. Miami is lacking at so many positions. Texans’ defense was one of the best last season. TEXANS.
Rams +8½ at Lions (47): Detroit figures to be one of the NFL’s highest scoring teams. The Lions may be aggressive on defense and while it may result in some sacks of Rams QB Sam Bradford it may lead to big plays. OVER.
Falcons -2 at Chiefs (42): When playing well the Chiefs have had one of the strongest home field edges in the NFL. This spot is ideal for the Chiefs to pull off the minor upset. CHIEFS.
49ers +5½ at Packers (45): This game matches the top two NFC seeds from last season’s NFC Playoffs. The value is with the visitor and hopefully the public will push this line up close to a touchdown by kickoff. 49ERS.
Panthers -2½ at Bucs (46½): Tampa Bay begins a new era with Greg Schiano coming from the college ranks (Rutgers) to take over as coach. Few make the transition from the colleges to the pros. PANTHERS.
Seahawks – 2½ at Cards (41): Historically it’s been tough to back a rookie QB (Russell Wilson) as a road favorite in his first NFL start. Yet the alternative of relying on the Arizona offense is none too appealing. UNDER.
Steelers +1 at Broncos (45): Peyton Manning makes all his teammates better just by his presence and leadership. Pittsburgh should struggle early in the season in mastering new OC Todd Haley’s passing offense. BRONCOS.
Monday, Sept. 10
Bengals + 6 at Ravens (41): Baltimore should be more potent on offense. The defense is expected to show signs of age, but that may become more of an issue in November and December. RAVENS.
Chargers -1 at Raiders (48): In Dennis Allen, the Raiders have yet another head coach, their sixth new boss since 2005. The Chargers match up well in this game and worth backing at laying less than a FG. CHARGERS.
Contact Andy Iskoe at Andy[email protected].