Welp … close enough for me! Let’s face it: The confetti’s been swept, the parade is over, and Ray Lewis is playing a leisurely game of Mahjong (probably.)
Point is, the 2012 season is in the rearview mirror. Teams, players and prospective players have already turned their focus to next season. So while those guys set their draft board, practice Wonderlic tests, and prep their answers to questions about fake girlfriends, I say it’s high time we get to the business of doing what we do best: Recklessly speculating about the future. Specifically, it’s time to share the first installment of the 2013 NFL Playoff Projections — or Pro-SHEK-tions, if you please.
Be forewarned, Baltimore Ravens fans: No past achievement “they’re the champs ’til someone beats ‘em” jive here. The following is how I believe things will stack up in January of 2014, regardless of where they finished this past season. They say the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and — as of Monday morning — no one has done anything. (Well, except the New York Giants … who proved the veracity of the aforementioned cliché by cutting Ahmad Bradshaw, the guy who scored the Super Bowl-winning TD 53 Sundays ago.)
So here they are, the seedings for the 2013 NFL playoffs, the accuracy of which I absolutely, positively guarantee*.
*Unless I change my mind.
1. Houston Texans — They’ll be on a mission to finish stronger than they did in 2012; loads of talent on both sides of the ball and the AFC South isn’t exactly a juggernaut division.
2. Denver Broncos — Those “easiest strength of schedule” projections are based on last season’s records, but Andy Reid’s Chiefs and Mike McCoy’s Bolts will both be more competitive in ’13. Still, Peyton Manning is a regular-season winning machine, and will do enough to claim the West again.
3. Cincinnati Bengals — Ironically, the biggest question mark is Marvin Lewis; if 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick catches on, Mike Zimmer’s defense could be (even more) dominant; Andy Dalton is barely above average, but has a young and talented receiving corps, led by the sublime A.J. Green.
4. New England Patriots — Hey, Bill Belichick, that knocking you hear is the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. If that o-line can’t hold up, the Pats’ drop from the top will come sooner than later.
5. Kansas City Chiefs — The preseason QB battle here will be interesting, but KC fans shouldn’t wring their hands if Matt Cassel winds up with the gig. Remember, he won the division just two years ago. Otherwise, this collection of dynamic guys is gonna take off with Reid, who’ll be coaching with a chip on his shoulder.
6. Miami Dolphins — That’s right, I just typed it! While other rookie QBs (rightly) got more attention, Ryan Tannehill had a nice, little season while throwing the ball to one of the NFL’s lousiest groups of pass catchers. Mike Wallace and/or Greg Jennings and/or Dwayne Bowe will change that in 2013. And that defense is legit.
Close, but not cigar
Baltimore Ravens (the dreaded Super Bowl hangover plus a still-aging D equals a step back); Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck is great; the defense is not); Pittsburgh Steelers (the o-line has a chance to be fantastic, but lots of questions almost everywhere else); Buffalo Bills (love the coaching moves, but need an upgrade at QB to be a threat in the AFC East).
1. Green Bay Packers — Aaron Rodgers remains the best quarterback in the world and the defense has added some nice pieces to the puzzle. They play in a division in which the one-man Vikes and elderly Bears figure to fall back in 2013. The key to making a Super Bowl run will be fixing that dreadful offensive line.
2. San Francisco 49ers — It doesn’t matter if it’s Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith or Dameshek under center, the Niners’ o-line is dominant enough to keep this team relevant. The good news is that John Harbaugh’s younger brother has the most complete team in the league. The bad news is that this team is in one of the league’s toughest divisions. (Remember when the NFC West was a punchline?)
3. New Orleans Saints — Not thrilled with the hire of the overrated Rob Ryan as coordinator of a shaky defense, but is there any chance Sean Payton and Drew Brees don’t look at the 2013 season as the opportunity to reap their vengeance on all who dare get in their path?
4. Dallas Cowboys — In a league of trends and copycats, it feels like it might finally be Tony Romo’s turn to follow in the footsteps of Eli Manning and Joe Flacco and get over the hump. They’ve got plenty of dynamic players, but of course, that’s never been the issue. If they can just beef up Romo’s protection (easier said than done, I know … but I’m a glass half-full guy), Jerry’s ‘Boys will make their long-awaited return to relevance.
5. Seattle Seahawks — Much like the Niners, with whom they now have the NFL’s “next great rivalry” (sorry, Steelers and Ravens, you had a good run at the top), the ‘Hawks are loaded just about everywhere you look. Even if Russell Wilson suffers a sophomore slump, a great defense, o-line, and the highly underrated Marshawn Lynch are enough to steady any team.
6. St. Louis Rams — In 2011, when everyone was picking them to win the division, I told you they’d start 0-5 … and they did. In 2012, when everyone was picking them to stink, I told you Jeff Fisher would right the ship and get ‘em winning … and he did. In fact, Fisher’s team went 2-1-1 against the 49ers and Seahawks. Sam Bradford has slipped through the cracks, but he’s still a young, big-armed guy who’s main problem has been the lack of viable pass catchers to target. If/when Les Snead addresses that this offseason, Chris Long, Janoris Jenkins, and the rest of the Rams will be ready to step up in the brutal NFC West.
Close, but not cigar
Atlanta Falcons (2012′s No. 1 seed out of the playoffs? Those two WRs are tough to stop, but they’re mediocre elsewhere. Plus, the NFC South will be greatly improved, with Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers ready to bust out and Doug Martin’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to build on some legitimate glimmers of hope in the middle of 2012); Detroit Lions (they’ll finish second in the NFC North, but outside the playoffs); New York Giants (Hakeem Nicks would be one of the five best WRs in the NFL if he could ever stay healthy … but he can’t); Chicago Bears (Marc Trestman has a detailed plan in place, but how is he gonna replace Brian Urlacher and other aging pieces?).
So … how’d I do? Agree or disagree with my Pro-SHEK-tions? Speak now or … don’t. Either way.