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Friday, August 30, 2013

NFL Preseason Preview 2013

After a seemingly endless summer, football season is finally here.  So, it's time for Wild Banshee to post her official 2013 NFL predictions.  Last season's predictions involved a bit of science, but they were all done in the span of one day.  In hopes of improving on last year's mark of only picking 7 out of 12 playoff teams, this year's projection project began way back in June.  I found a website that posted the NFL schedules in a grid format.  I then predicted the winner of each and every game.  After many revisions and  tweaks over the course of the summer, I had a projected record for each NFL team.  Those records are the basis for my 2013 NFL playoff predictions.  And lest anyone scoff too much at what you are about to see, it should be noted that every year since 1996, five teams make the playoffs that didn't qualify the year before.  Every year besides last year, that is.

So without further ado, I present the official Banshee Sports NFL predictions for 2013.

AFC East:  No use easing into things.  Might as well start off with a bold prediction.  The Miami Dolphins are going to break the Patriots' decade-long strangle-hold on the AFC East.  I don't think that the Dolphins are going to set the world on fire.  But, I think 9-7 will be good enough to win this division.  I know this is blasphemous, but I think the Patriots are going to hover right around the .500 mark.  Tom Brady is still an upper echelon quarterback, but between free agency, injuries and the criminal justice system, he is gonna run out of targets to throw to.  As for the rest of the division, the Jets and the Bills will be in the running for the top spot in the 2014 common draft.  Division Winner:  Miami Dolphins.


AFC North:  The Baltimore Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Cincinnati Bengals are the defending champions of this division.  And I see no reason to pick against them this year.  Andy Dalton has proven to be a competent quarterback, and the Bengals have continued to add potent weapons around him.  Meanwhile, the Ravens have made some curious off-season moves that left even the most ardent of Ravens' supporters scratching their heads.  The Steelers have done nothing to improve themselves after a lackluster 8-8 season in 2012.  Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns.  I know that the Browns are the punchline of almost every NFL joke, but I see them as a team on the rise.  They have new ownership and new leadership under GM Michael Lombardi.  Due in large part to the decline of the Ravens and the Steelers, I believe the Browns will finish the regular season at 9-7 and earn a wild card berth.  Division Winner:  Cincinnati Bengals.  Wild Card:  Cleveland Browns.

AFC South:  After two radical predictions, I'm going back to conventional wisdom in the AFC South.  The Texans were the class of the division for the last two years, and I believe they will be again.  In fact, I consider them the favorite to have the best record in the AFC.  As for everyone else ... well, the success of the Colts in 2012 defied explanation and logic.  And, since I can't explain it, I'm not going to predict that the Colts repeat that performance in 2013.  .500 is a reasonable expectation for the Colts this season.  The Jaguars will make significant strides forward this season, but the Jags and the Titans will both finish the season with losing records.  Division Winner:  Houston Texans.


AFC West:  Last season, I was a Peyton Manning doubter.  I did not predict that the Broncos would make the playoffs.  And, after the Broncos posted a 13-3 regular season record, I looked foolish.  I do not intend to make that mistake again. I think the Broncos will win the division by a comfortable margin and challenge the Texans for the best record in the AFC.  But, I am just too stubborn to completely turn my back on last year's AFC West predictions.  I think the Chiefs are going to have a big bounce back this season.  A new coach and a new quarterback are part of the solution.  But, the number of injuries they suffered last year just simply cannot happen for a second year in a row.  The return of Eric Berry might be the most significant reason that the Chiefs will capture a playoff spot in 2013.  Division Winner: Denver Broncos.  Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs.


NFC East: I don't really hide the fact that I am a Redskins fan.  But, my reasoning for picking them to win the NFC East is made more with my head than my heart.  I think the Redskins will be a little better this year, and I don't think any of the other teams in the division made significant improvements.  RG3 might not be full strength to start the season.  But Alfred Morris will be more experienced, and the rest of the offense will be more familiar with the unique style they adopted last season.  And, the return of Brian Orakpo on defense cannot be underestimated.  The rest of the division is kind of a mystery.  The Giants seem to over-achieve every year.  And the Cowboys always seem to go the opposite direction.  And with Chip Kelly taking the job that Bill O'Brien apparently did not want in Philly, the Eagles are likely to be in a messy transition phase.  So, for the second year in a row, I think the NFC East will only send one team to the post season.  Division Winner:  Washington Redskins.


NFC North:  Here comes another bold prediction.  The Chicago Bears will dethrone the Green Bay Packers as the champions of the Black and Blue Division.  The last time I made this prediction, I was a first year student in law school, and I was mocked by the people I was trying to win as friends, including a Chicago native.  But the Bears finished that season 13-3.  I am not predicting that sort of greatness for the Bears in 2013.  But, I do believe that the Bears are the best team in a bizarre and tumultuous division.  I believe that the Packers and the Vikings have taken significant strides backwards.  And while the Lions have moved forward, I do not believe they will be able to keep pace with the Bears over the course of a 16-game season.  Division Winner:  Chicago Bears.


NFC South:  Last year saw a changing of the guard in the NFC South.  The Atlanta Falcons dethroned the New Orleans Saints as the boss of the division.  Of course, the Saints were without their leader Sean Peyton since he was serving a suspension in the wake of the bounty scandal.  There is no doubt that the Saints missed Peyton.  But, the Falcons were also legitimately good.  And, they will be excellent again this year.  The addition of the aging but still effective Steven Jackson will bring more power rushing to an offense that already features the best receiving corps in football.  But, I do not see the Falcons duplicating their 13-3 mark from last season.  That's because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make some big strides forward in their second year under head coach Greg Schiano.  Doug Martin will emerge as one of the best running backs in the league and lead the Bucs to a playoff berth.  Division Winner: Atlanta Falcons.  Wild Card: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NFC West:  We wrap up this preview column with a look at the toughest division in the NFL.  Although the Falcons actually knocked of the Seahawks in last year's NFC divisional round of the playoffs, many people believed that by the end of the 2012 regular season Seattle had grown into the best team in the conference.  Of course, it's the San Francisco 49ers that won the division and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.  During the offseason, it looked like the Seahawks gained a bit of an advantage when they signed Percy Harvin away from the Vikings, but Harvin will apparently miss most, if not all, of the 2013 season with a hip injury.  But, the Niners have suffered their share of key injuries, too.  Best case scenario, wide receiver Michael Crabtree might return from achilles surgery in time for the last few games of the season. I believe that the Seahawks might be the best team in the NFC West.  However,  Seattle has to travel to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta while San Francisco gets all those foes at home on the West Coast.  Therefore, the 49ers have an edge to win the NFC West.  Division Winner:  San Francisco 49ers.  Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks.

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