We're getting close to my favorite time of the year, sports-wise. The pennant chases in baseball are heating up, and football season is upon us. Once again, for the fourth straight year, here are my 10 predictions for the upcoming NFL season....
1. The Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC East. Hear me out on this one. I know their last two seasons have been dismal, particularly their 2012 season. Andy Reid is gone, with University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly taking over. But here's the kicker stat that I keep thinking about: Since 2003, there has been at least one team every season who finished last place in its division to win the division the following year. That's not a fluky stat, and I think the Eagles stand the best chance at being this year's version of that team. Plus, every team in the NFC East beats each other up all year long, so 9 wins could be enough to win it and host a playoff game. The team has enough key pieces in Vick, McCoy, and Jackson on offense to put points on the board, and the defense can still play with the other offenses in the division.
2. The Miami Dolphins will make the playoffs somehow. I honestly think the Dolphins have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC East, but even if they don't they will snag at least a Wild Card spot. Ryan Tannehill looks like the real deal, and having Mike Wallace to throw to will give the Dolphins enough offensive boost to win a few key games (even though I think Wallace is overrated as a receiver). I expect them to give the Patriots the first true competition in the division in years.
3. Tom Brady will throw for his fewest touchdown passes since 2009. Speaking of the Patriots, I am way down on them this year, for obvious reasons that have affected their offense. With Wes Welker departed for Denver and Aaron Hernandez facing all kinds of legal trouble, the key receiver is Rob Gronkowski, and there's no telling when he'll be healthy for the season. Do the likes of Danny Amendola (an injury risk in his own right), Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, and/or Michael Jenkins really intimidate defensive backs across the league? The Patriots will still likely win at least 10 games this season since two of the three other teams in their division are bottomfeeders of the league, but I expect them to struggle by their standards and also rely on their running game more since their receivers are much weaker than they have been in years.
4. The Baltimore Ravens will break the 1984 Chicago Bears' single season team sacks record. One of the reasons why I've been looking forward to this season is for football talking heads to shut up about the turnover the Ravens had since January. They kept talking about the Ravens losing the likes of Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Ed Reed on their defense, saying those players can't be replaced (Mind you, they also loved to rant over the last few years how Lewis and Reed were also shells of their former selves, which I would say contradicts the previous statement). So the Ravens chose to revamp their front seven and added Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil, on top of drafting nose tackle Brandon Williams and linebacker Arthur Brown. Haloti Ngata will now move back to his native position of nose tackle and rotate with Williams, and Terrell Suggs will rush opposing quarterbacks opposite Dumervil on the other side. The 1984 Bears currently hold the record for most sacks in a single season with 74, and I think the Ravens will break that record with their revamped line this year.
5. The Oakland Raiders have a legitimate shot at going 0-16. I made a similar prediction back in 2010 about the Browns after looking over their schedule for that season, and I came away with a similar feeling about the Raiders this year. Their nondivisional opponents include the AFC South and NFC East, which means they'll face teams like the Texans, Colts, Titans, Eagles, Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys, and I wouldn't expect the Raiders to beat any of those teams. In fact, their game in Week 2 is home against the Jaguars, and if they don't win that game I don't think they have another winnable game on their schedule until Week 14 against the Jets. Even if they do manage to win a game or two this season, I expect them to wind up with the first overall pick in next year's draft.
6. The Indianapolis Colts will steal the AFC South away from the Houston Texans. The Texans have been on the cusp the last couple seasons, but they haven't managed to win more than a single game in the playoffs at all. They were in the driver's seat for the #1 seed in the playoffs with about three weeks to go in the regular season, and then they got sloppy by mid-December. I think something similar will happen this year, only this time it will cost them the division and a home playoff game in January. The Colts and Texans face off twice in the second half of the season, including a very important match up in Week 15 in Indianapolis.
7. Matt Ryan will be the league MVP. I think Matt Ryan is going to have a career year, even after getting his big contract this offseason. The NFC South is a pretty tough division, and while I don't think the Falcons win 13 games again like they did last year, they'll still come out on top. I actually thought Ryan was fairly overrated for most of his career to date, but I've come to think of him as a really good quarterback in the league, and he'll get a whole lot more exposure throughout the season.
8. Larry Fitzgerald will be the Comeback Player of the Year. This prediction sounds a bit weird since players on the comeback usually are recovering from injury, but Fitz hasn't had any significant injuries at any point during his career. His issue has been a lack of a decent quarterback on his team since Kurt Warner retired a few years ago. Now that he has (at the very least) a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer, he'll return to the kinds of numbers he was putting up during the hey days of his career, and be worth drafting in fantasy football again.
9. Adrian Peterson will be the first running back in history to rush for 2000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Until somebody figures out how to stop Adrian Peterson, I see no reason why he'd slow down or step backwards from where he left off at the end of last season. He's a special kind of running back and offensive threat, and the kind of player that almost any NFL fan would like to see win a championship before the end of his career.
10. The Baltimore Ravens will repeat as Super Bowl champs and defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 48. I know, I know. Such a stinking homer pick. There is a bit of logic to my thinking though, so roll with me for a moment before dismissing my prediction. I've already talked about how the Patriots are down. In addition to the Patriots, the Steelers are down as well, the Bengals need Andy Dalton to beat the likes of Tom Brady and/or Peyton Manning, and the Texans need Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to avoid getting hurt. That leaves the Broncos in the AFC as the only real rivals to the Ravens, and Ravens have already shown they can beat the Broncos on the road in the playoffs last year. I don't think the Ravens will steamroll through the regular season (I think they finish with 11 wins), but the team as a whole looks better than last year's Super Bowl champs.
Meanwhile over in the NFC, there are just as many contenders who look weaker than they were last year, namely the Packers and 49ers. Seattle has Percy Harvin recovering from surgery and will have him back by December to make their playoff push. I expect them to beat Atlanta in the NFC title game before traveling to New York to face the Ravens.
And there you have it. If history is any indicator, I probably will only have 3 or 4 of these predictions come true.