NFL Preview: 5 Bold Predictions

1. The Houston Texans will unseat Indianapolis in the AFC South

            The Colts have won six of the last seven AFC South divisional titles and have consistently been an elite AFC team for the last decade. As consistent — in the opposite way from the Colts — are the Texans who have never finished better than 8-8 since joining the NFL as an expansion team in 2002. But perhaps this is the year when the fortunes of both teams are reversed.

            It seems as if every year experts predict a break out season from Houston. While that type of year has failed to transpire thus far, Houston is once again a team that is poised for the very type of break out season that fans in Houston have been waiting for.

            With the week one health of Peyton Manning very much in question, Houston has never had a better chance to sneak out to a division lead and gain much needed confidence for long haul. The Texans have the best wide receiver in football in Andre Johnson and an elite running back in Arian Foster who broke out for 1,616 yards rushing last season. Matt Schaub is an underrated quarterback who threw for over 4,300 yards last season and the depth at running back is excellent — Steve Slaton and Derrick Ward back up Foster.

            The Colts looked like they lost a step at the end of last year and as another year of aging takes its toll, the Colts strangle hold on this division will end at the hands of Houston.

 

2. The Jets-Patriots rivalry will continue to be the best in any sport

            Obviously the argument can be made for the Red Sox-Yankees, Duke-North Carolina and Ohio State-Michigan, but none of those rivalries capture the bitter ferocity that is the Jets-Pats rivalry. In the last two years these two teams — and fan bases — have been at absolute war with each other on and off the field. Both teams mirror the personality and style of their head-coaches. The Pats are smart, meticulous, disciplined and quietly confident just like Bill Belichick. The Jets are loud, arrogant, smug and tough like Rex Ryan. The teams have shared only one similarity in the two years since the rivalry was re-ignited: success.

            The Jets have made two consecutive trips to the AFC championship game despite being second in the AFC East standings behind the Patriots. Mark Sanchez has already tied the record for playoff wins on the road for a quarterback with four and has shown flashes of brilliance in just two years in the league.

            Last season the Jets beat the Pats 28-14 week two while the Patriots embarrassed the Jets on Monday Night Football 45-3 week 13. Both teams made the playoffs and after an incredible road win at Indianapolis in the wild-card round the Jets and Patriots met in the Divisional round.

            The importance of this game was undeniable as the Jets preached redemption while the Pats let their undefeated postseason record at home do the talking in the week leading up to the game. The Jets shocked the world, went into New England and knocked around Tom Brady and the Pats for a historic win.

            This season the two teams will battle not only for the division but also for the AFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl. The bold prediction: The Jets will continue to gain the upper hand in this rivalry and win the division.

 

3. The Eagles aren’t the best team… in their own division

            Philadelphia is absolutely loaded with talent. Is it entirely possible that they are the best team in football? Yes. Is it entirely possible that they win the Super Bowl? Certainly. That being said, I think Philadelphia will fail to win the NFC East. The talent on both sides of the ball is overwhelming. Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, Trent Cole, Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and the list goes on. This all looks great on paper but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Mike Vick had a disappointing year — whether due to injury or poor play.

            If Vick isn’t the $100 million quarterback the Eagles think he is, Philadelphia’s offense, at times, could lack critical continuity. The defense finished outside the top 10 in both points per game and yards per game — finishing 21st and 12th respectively. The Eagles will put on an offensive show in most weeks but as we all know, it begins and ends with defense.

            I think the Eagles will definitely make the playoffs as a wild card but I think the Dallas Cowboys will win the division. Last year’s most disappointing team will bounce back and surprise the league by winning a pretty difficult division. The Cowboys are going to look like an entirely different team this season with a healthy Tony Romo at quarterback and a wealth of young talent at the offensive skill positions. Running back Felix Jones and wide receiver Dez Bryant could become stars this season, and if they do Dallas will have explosive firepower on the ground and in the air. Jason Witten has proven he is an elite tight end year in and year out and rookie running back Demarco Murray will provide great depth behind Jones.

            Defensively the Cowboys have the best pass-rusher in football, DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys, however, ranked 26th in team defense last year and need to return to being a smash-mouth defense that ranks in the top 10 of all defensive categories.

            I truly believe the Cowboys are going to be the surprise team of the NFL, win the division and make it to the NFC championship game.

 

4. The NFC South will be the most competitive division in all of football

            The battles in the AFC East and the AFC North are examples of two elite teams fighting for a division crown. But the NFC South has three teams that could take the division title. The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all expected to have a shot at the division.

            Last season the Falcons won the division with a record of 13-3, the Saints earned a wild-card birth with a record of 11-5 and the Bucs had a surprisingly successful season at 10-6. This season we should expect another dogfight between these three teams. The Saints are trying to bounce back after a mystifying first-round exit in last year’s playoffs to Seattle. The Falcons are on the cusp of taking the next step and becoming an elite NFL team. And the Buccaneers are out to prove that last year was not a fluke and continue to progress their young stars.

            I think the Falcons are going to come out on top this year and really make a move towards being a perennial contender in the NFC. With an offense highlighted by Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Julio Jones — my pick for offensive rookie of the year — the Falcons could have offensive numbers that mirror the Green Bay Packers. If the defense can improve from being the 16th ranked defense in the league into one that ranks in the top 10, a trip to the Super Bowl isn’t out of the question.

 

5. The New York Jets will win the Super Bowl

            This year the NFL feels like it is wide open. Conventional wisdom points to an Eagles vs. Patriots matchup in February, but there are a number of teams that could end up in the championship game. In the NFC the Eagles, Packers, Saints, Falcons and Cowboys all have a legitimate shot and, in the AFC, the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens and Chargers could feasibly represent their conference.

            If a team has a dominant defense with an equally as formidable running game, they are built for the playoffs. A perfect example of this is the Jets, who surprised the league with four playoff wins in the last two seasons. The reason the Jets have won four playoff games on the road is because they are a tough team that rattles opponent’s offenses and pound the football on the ground. In their first round win over the Colts last year, the Jets kept the ball away from Peyton Manning and rushed for 169 yards. The next week against the Pats they ran for 120 yards in New England and the defense played well enough to earn New York a statement win.

            The Jets have the formula for a Super Bowl winning team. In the passing game Mark Sanchez is surrounded with the most weapons he’s had since being drafted by New York. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress are matchup nightmares even for the best defenses in the game. Add Dustin Keller who is a versatile tight end and veteran Derrick Mason and the passing game may be as prolific as the running game. With an excellent offensive line and a thunder-lightning type combination at running back — Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson — the Jets will be able to control games at home and on the road.

            The defense is arguably the best in all of football and most certainly has the bestplayer in the entire NFL: Darrelle Revis.  David Harris and Bart Scott anchor a vicious front seven that will make a conscious effort to produce more sacks this season.

             The league is wide open this year. Any team could get hot and did what Green Bay did last year. For three years Rex Ryan has predicted a Super Bowl Championship in New York. And in 2011, he will be right.