Four bold predictions for the NFL this year

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1. The New England Patriots will make a push for another 16-0 regular season

Despite posting a record of 13-3 and making a trip to Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots left their fans with an extremely bitter taste on their tongue. The big gripe with this team last year was their defense – which ranked second to last in yards allowed at 411 per game. 

But, like the team that finished last in the aforementioned category – the Green Bay Packers – yards allowed per game doesn’t mean a whole lot when you are putting up absurd offensive numbers. 

Even though the Pats came up short against the Giants in the Super Bowl, there is reason to be hopeful in 2012. 

If you haven’t taken a look at the Pats’ schedule, you will be shocked by how easy it is. They play teams with a combined 2011 record of 116-140, and only four of those teams made the playoffs last year – the Broncos, 49ers, Ravens and Texans. 

Perhaps what’s most encouraging about the Patriots’ schedule is the fact that they play their most challenging opponents at home – the only game of note they play on the road is Baltimore. 

Couple that with the fact that the AFC East will likely be one of the least competitive divisions in all of the NFL and you have to believe that the Patriots will have as good a chance as any to go 16-0 in the regular season. 

2. The NFC South, not the NFC North or NFC East, will be the most competitive division in all of football

New Orleans and Atlanta have been the class of this division for the last three years and have had epic in-division battles down the stretch. But with the emergence of Cam Newton last season, the Carolina Panthers have become relevant for the first time since they won a division title back in 2008. 

The Saints have a question mark after one of the most turbulent off-seasons – if not the most turbulent – in NFL history. 

You have to think that they will suffer – even if only slightly – due to hangover from all the controversy that the organization had to endure. 

If there is a time for the Falcons, Panthers or even the Buccaneers to make a move to the top of the South, now is that time. 

The Falcons have some serious issues of their own after suffering a downright embarrassing 24-2 playoff defeat at the hands of the Giants last season – a loss which dropped the Falcons’ playoff record during the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era to 0-3.

The Panthers were one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league last year, led by Cam Newton’s historic rookie season. 

The Panthers finished seventh in the league in total offense, and with plus ratings at nearly every position on offense, that ranking will improve. 

The defense simply has to get better, as they finished fifth worst in the NFL in yards allowed per game. In fact, as written about by si.com’s Kerry Byrne, the Panthers had one of the 10 worst pass defenses of all time last season. 

If the Panthers can make some improvements in this facet of the game, they should be in the thick of things in the NFC playoff hunt.

3. Peyton Manning will fail to deliver a division title to the Denver Broncos

While the Patriots will flourish due to the lack of strength in their schedule, the Broncos will do the very opposite for the strength present in theirs. 

Denver’s schedule includes games vs. Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, vs. Houston, at New England, vs. New Orleans, at Cincinnati and at Baltimore. 

Those teams all made the playoffs last season and had a combined record of 79-33. 

Even if Denver can win the games they have at home against these teams, they would have to post a 7-2 record against the rest of the teams on their schedule to post a 10-6 record and have a legitimate shot at an AFC West crown. 

A tall order for an aging Peyton Manning in a brand-new offensive system.

4. The Green Bay Packers will win Super Bowl XLVII

I’ve made dreadful attempts to predict Super Bowl champs in the past. Two years ago I picked Dallas and last year I picked the Jets. 

Both had disappointing seasons for ages and failed to make the playoffs. 

This year I am taking the safe way out and picking a team that has a quarterback that has led his team to a 25-7 record over the last two years, a Super Bowl title, has amassed 9,178 total yards of offense – 8,565 passing yards, 613 rushing yards – and has accounted for 80 touchdowns – 73 passing, seven rushing.

 Before you point to their defense that was ranked dead last in the NFL last season keep in mind this fact: Three of the four teams that made it to either the AFC or NFC championship game last season had a defense that ranked in the bottom six of the league. 

In the end, it’s all about offensive fire power. And more than any other team, the Packers have it.