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Dan Arkush's 2012 NFL predictions

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

Recent posts by Dan Arkush

Baylor WR Williams in first-round conversation

Posted Feb. 22, 2013 @ 2:26 p.m.

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Seahawks GM likes 'win-win' QB situation

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Packers RB Harris looks like a real keeper

Posted Jan. 11, 2013 @ 1:32 p.m.

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Posted Aug. 30, 2012 @ 9:59 a.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

AFC EAST

1. New England — Not only do they have the league’s third-best QB in Tom Brady (just a hair behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees in my book), the best head coach in Bill Belichick (year after year after year), the best owner in Robert Kraft and a dynamic offense featuring maybe the greatest TE corps ever assembled (Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Visanthe Shiancoe). The Pats also have the league’s easiest schedule, which is why I think they’re probably Super Bowl-bound.

2. Buffalo — I’m a believer! I love the big-time upgrades on the defense. Mario Williams will rekindle fond memories of Bruce Smith. I liked what I saw from the Bills last year before a barrage of injuries killed their season. Ryan Fitzpatrick could use some more receiving weapons, but I think a wild-card berth is a strong possibility.

3. N.Y. Jets — They certainly have enough talent to be a factor, especially on defense. But the distractions just seem to outweigh the attractions — particularly the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow QB headache that I suspect will be most responsible for this team’s ultimate undoing.

4. Miami — I like Joe Philbin a lot, but I’m afraid the “Hard Knocks” will just keep on coming in his first year as head coach. I’m afraid Ryan Tannehill’s growing pains could get tough to stomach in South Beach before too long.  

AFC NORTH

1. Baltimore — I look for a big season from Joe Flacco in his contract year and enough high-octane gas left in the tanks of graybeards like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to spearhead another playoff berth. Terrell Suggs will be missed, but the defense is still damn good.

2. Pittsburgh — I’m not nearly as sure a playoff berth is in the Steelers’ future. They seem extremely average up front on both sides of the ball (especially with rookie OG David DeCastro going down with a serious knee injury), and the sudden firing of special-teams coach Al Everest is a real head scratcher. In addition, unlike the Ravens, I think the defense’s increasing age could be a growing problem, although I continue to marvel at coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turns 75 on Sept. 9.

3. Cincinnati — I came oh so close to picking them ahead of Pittsburgh. Feisty QB Andy Dalton has a lot more going for him than a great nickname (“The Red Rifle”), and Cincy’s “D” is extremely underrated. The key will be whether the Bengals can beat the other good teams on their schedule after finishing 0-7 vs. playoff teams last season.

4. Cleveland — Could the new owner be having second thoughts? Early injuries (RB Trent Richardson, LB Chris Gocong, NT Phil Taylor) seem like a bad omen in advance of what could be another long season.

AFC SOUTH

1. Houston — I’ve gone full circle with the Texans. After initially thinking the departures of DE Mario Williams, ILB DeMeco Ryans and 40 percent of the starting line could be super-sized impediments, I now think a dramatically improved defense under Wade Phillips and injury-free seasons from “Texans Triplets” Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson probably make Houston the best bet to meet the Pats in the AFC title game. I’ll be stunned if they don’t totally dominate the AFC South. 

2. Tennessee — Going with Jake Locker under center is the right move, but the gap between the Titans and Texans is just too wide.

3. Jacksonville — It has been hard to ignore the impressive work of QB Blaine Gabbert this preseason. But the “MJD Mess" is the last thing new head coach Mike Mularkey needed. New owner Shahid Khan provides an intriguing subplot.

4. Indianapolis — I think Andrew Luck will do a lot better than Peyton Manning did as a rookie, but I’ll be stunned if the Colts win more than just a couple of games in the still-early stages of a major rebuilding plan in Indy. Over-under on average number of tweets per day during the season by owner Jim Irsay? Twelve sounds about right.

AFC WEST

1. Kansas City — In the toughest division to predict by a wide margin, I like the Chiefs to bounce back with better health. Romeo Crennel made a lasting impression on me in his first game as the head coach vs. Green Bay last year. Of course, Kyle Orton — and not Matt Cassel — was the QB in that game. No matter. I think K.C. can win 10 games with Cassel calling signals.

2. Denver — I’m going to give Peyton Manning the benefit of the doubt. But his four neck surgeries scare me to death, and I really wonder about the weapons he has at his disposal.

3. San Diego — Say goodbye to Norv Turner — this time for sure. I think Philip Rivers will be better than he was last year, but I also think the offense will really miss WR Vincent Jackson, and that RB Ryan Matthews might be a bit too injury-prone.  

4. Oakland — I’m not quite sure why, but I continue to see Carson Palmer having more outs than ins under center in his second season in Silver and Black. In due time, new front-office head Reggie McKenzie will get the Raiders’ act together. But not right away.

NFC EAST

1. N.Y. Giants — The defending champs deserve a great deal more respect than they seem to be getting. With QB Eli Manning becoming truly elite, and the Giants’ pass rush in a league of its own when healthy, the Giants join the 49ers, Packers and Saints in my mind as the best bets to prevail in the NFC.

2. Philadelphia — After looking very good running the table the last month of the 2011 season, the Eagles could be dangerous. But as long as Michael Vick remains an accident waiting to happen, their postseason shelf life seems limited.

3. Cowboys — What’s with all the injuries on offense (TE Jason Witten, WR Miles Austin, etc)? Sorry, I just don’t see them doing much. Head coach Jason Garrett has been a disappointment.

4. Washington — RG3 should be instantly fun to watch, but a relative lack of weapons figures to keep the Redskins in the NFC East cellar.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay — Forget 15 wins this year. Also forget another cakewalk to a division title, with the Bears likely to be breathing down the Packers’ necks right down to the wire. The defense will be better, even without Desmond Bishop, but there are still enough deficiencies in Dom Capers’ stop unit to likely close down the Pack in postseason crunch time.

2. Chicago — I smell a wild-card berth, Brian Urlacher’s shaky knee, the uncertainty at left tackle and the very lackluster overall effort in the third preseason game vs. the Giants notwithstanding. WR Brandon Marshall, RB Michael Bush and rookie WR Alshon Jeffery (remember this kid!) should really add some pop on offense. But the aging defense is cause for concern, especially if Urlacher is at less than full strength.

3. Detroit — Lions have too much baggage for my liking — and not nearly enough playoff-caliber ability at running back, the offensive line or in the secondary.

4. Minnesota — I admire Christian Ponder’s spunk under center. But just what exactly has a team coming off the worst season in its 51-year history done to improve itself? Aside from the first-round selection of Matt Kalil, who looks like a quality left tackle in the making, not much.

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans — Watch out, Roger Goodell. “Bountygate” has produced a major chip on the Saints’ shoulder that I think could make them more dangerous than ever — even without Sean Payton. Drew Brees, Jimmie Graham and Darren Sproles still give New Orleans an offense to die for.

2. Atlanta — After disappointing me last year (I picked them to go all the way), I have greatly lessened my expectations for the Falcons. I know we haven’t seen the best that QB Matt Ryan or WR Julio Jones have to offer yet, and I think Mike Smith is a really solid head coach. But weaknesses on the O-line and at linebacker could lead to postseason doom — again.

3. Carolina — The arrow is definitely pointing up for the Panthers, but I think they’re still a year away from becoming a bona fide playoff team. Mark down Luke Kuechly as the Defensive Rookie of the Year, with head coach Ron Rivera teaching him the tricks of the LB trade at the pro level.

4. Tampa Bay — Too much competition within the division keeps the Bucs in the basement. QB Josh Freeman needs a big bounce-back season for Tampa to be any kind of a factor, and he hasn’t looked real good this preseason. Losing Pro Bowl OG Davin Joseph really hurts.

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco — I see the Niners running away (literally) with the division title again and making amends for their stunning playoff loss to the Giants last season with a well-earned trip to the Super Bowl. They have the league’s best defense and special teams, and they could be an even smarter team than the Patriots, which is really saying something.  

2. Seattle — Russell Wilson is a great story, and the defense is terrific, especially the secondary. But a few too many question marks on offense (a likely unproven rookie starting at QB, a possible suspension for RB Marshawn Lynch and injury-prone WR Sidney Rice, among other concerns) make a .500 mark the most likely scenario. 

3. Arizona —  I don’t see them going far at all with either John Skelton or Kevin Kolb under center, although, like the Seahawks, the Cardinals could have a playoff-caliber defense. The heat on Ken Whisenhunt could be building in the desert.

4. St. Louis — New head coach Jeff Fisher has too big a hill to climb in his first season to get the Rams into contention for a playoff spot — or even close to .500, for that matter. But I suspect St. Louis will be instantly competitive, spring at least two major upsets and easily win at least twice as many games as they won last season (which would be two).

Offensive MVP: Saints QB Drew Brees

Defensive MVP: 49ers DE Justin Smith

Super Bowl XLVII prediction: 49ers over Patriots

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