September 4, 2013

ZAKOUR | Time to Speculate: 2013 NFL Season Preview

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I’m going to preface this preview by saying these predictions are worthless. The only football we have to judge the season by so far is the preseason, which is a notoriously bad indicator. No one has any idea how the season will really unfold, and if they claim they do, they are lying. An injury or a kicker having a bad day can change the course of NFL history. If a safety plays a ball a little better, the Ravens lose in the divisional round. No rout of New England, no Super Bowl title. All because Rahim Moore took a poor route to a ball. And if anyone told you that was going to happen, they’re crazy. Still are.

I know you’re expecting that actual preview here, but I want to really hammer home this point about predictions. Imagine if someone told you before the season, “hey, I like the Ravens over the 49ers this year.” You’d probably say that’s reasonable, and when that happened you’d probably think this person was pretty smart. But what if your friend said:

“Hey, I think the Ravens are going to the Superbowl. And Joe Flacco will just go off in the postseason, throwing 11 TDs with no picks. But the Ravens only make it to AFC championship because Broncos safety Rahim Moore takes a bad route on a deep pass, forcing OT.”

“Oh, and Alex Smith will lose his starting job to unheralded-but-actually-dynamic Colin Kaepernick after he gets Wally Pipp’ed, but they still win 11 games.”

If your friend said all that, you’d probably think he’s insane. But he’d be right. So thats the nature of predictions. Be vague enough that you can be wrong and still not look like an idiot, but also not specific enough so you don’t come across like a crazy person.

So now, the worthless predictions. MVP is always a favorite of mine to predict. Five out of the last six MVPs have been quarterbacks. And most MVPs have a narrative attached as well, probably because the voters are writers. So I’m backing Tom Brady for MVP. After last season, I think people forget how good Brady is. Brady will get an even more disproportionate amount of credit if the Patriots can pull 11-5 again, especially if the offense ends up humming along minus Brady’s top targets from last year.

Speaking of the AFC East, I was going to pick the Dolphins in a mild upset, but then they changed their uniforms and worst of all scrapped the old dolphin logo — the same logo the Dolphins went undefeated with, won two super bowls with and Dan Marino threw 420 touchdowns wearing. So screw them, and I’ll stick with my MVP. Pats again.

In the AFC north, I’ll tab the Cincinnati Bengals, who are the youngest and most talented team top to bottom in their division. The only thing that gives me pause about the Bengals is that they have the third-best QB in their division, and if I believed in Andy Dalton any more, I’d say they have Super Bowl potential.

In the AFC South, I like the Texans. They figure to be about the same team they’ve been for the past two years, which is to say boringly good. I see the Colts missing out on the playoffs even though I love Andrew Luck’s future. The Colts survived several close calls last year and got thrashed in the postseason by the Ravens, so I think they’ll cool off.

The AFC West, I think Denver will repeat as champs. They will also come back to Earth as they deal with Von Miller and Champ Bailey’s absence for the first part of the year, but they should have an improved offense which could feature Peyton’s last truly great year. Last place Kansas City is interesting. They have quite a bit of talent, and what you think of their playoff chances is your own personal Rorschach test of Alex Smith.

Wild cards: Kansas City and Baltimore.

The NFC East might not be the beast anymore, but it will be a competitive division again. The Redskins still have RG III, the Eagles almost have to be better, and the Giants seem to win Super Bowls every time Tom Coughlin’s job is on the line. I don’t see the Cowboys being any different from last year, but Tony Romo takes a lot of flak for reasons of varying degrees of validity. So never count out Romo. Or do; he’s still only won one playoff game. I believe in RG III and his comeback, but I’ll just put on my homer cap and take the Giants, who I believe are the most complete team in the division.

Out West might be the two best teams in the NFC. The 49ers made the Super Bowl last year and now have a full offseason to utilize Kaepernick at QB. The Seattle Seahawks have a stifling secondary to go along with the best home field advantage in the NFL, going 8-0 at home last season which included a beat down of the 49ers. If the Seahawks can win their division and secure home field in the playoffs, they will be tough to beat.

In the NFC North, I could make a case for each team — yes, even the Lions (who were very unlucky last year) as they still feature a dominant defensive line and the best receiver in football. The Vikings had a universally lauded draft, and the 10-win Bears are installing a new offense to better utilize Cutler. As tempted I am to pick the Lions or Vikings, I’m not betting against the best QB in the NFL. I’ll stick with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

The historically topsy turvy NFC South figures to competitive as well. The Falcons were oh-so-close to the Super Bowl last year, and managed to coax Tony Gonzalez back for one more season (again). The Saints defense was a disaster last year, and very easily could be again, but they still have Drew Brees to keep them in every game. The Panthers let some late leads get away last year, so its easy to see them improving. And don’t we all want to see Cam Newton in the playoffs? Not to mention the Buccaneers added Darrelle Revis, the best cover corner in the league when healthy. I want to see the Panthers win the division, so I’m picking the Panthers.

Wildcards: 49ers, Falcons

Super Bowl: I like Seattle’s chances to get home field and ride that to an NFC Championship. And Denver will start rough, but if they get healthy will finish strong and pick up where they left off.

Original Author: John Zakour