6 (Ill-Advised?) Predictions for the (Rest of) the NFL Season
With the NFL season underway for most of the league, and my undefeated Chicago Bears having taken their first step to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII this February, I’m finally ready to boldly make my prognostications for the upcoming season. Of course, I am privy to the results of the majority of the week one slate of games, but I honestly doubt that we can glean much from the first week of football. The temptation to overreact to the early returns of the season is significant – I am starting to get a nagging feeling that my decision (made as soon as Marc Trestman notched his first win as a head coach) to book a hotel room for East Rutherford, New Jersey, for two nights in February may have been a bit premature.
So will the knowledge that the New York Jets are tied for first place in the AFC East aid me in my task below? You be the judge. We’ll revisit these picks in February, and laugh at my ineptitude:
- The Green Bay Packers will not win the NFC North. I’m hedging a bit here – my personal biases were coaxing me to make this a pick for the Bears to win the division, but I’ll leave the door open for the Vikings or the Lions (actually, forget that, just the Vikings, despite Sunday’s result) to claim the crown. In the eleven seasons since the division was organized as it is currently constructed, the Packers have won six titles, including the last two. While the presence of an elite quarterback on the Packers roster means that they can’t be counted out, it seems that this year might be one in which they take a step back. Brian Bulaga, who was supposed to line up at left tackle in a reshuffled offensive line, is done for at least the regular season, and Aaron Rodgers will be forced to make due with a revamped receiving corps. While I fully expect Green Bay to be generally competitive for the foreseeable future, this year won’t be one of their best, and another division foe will take advantage.
- The Washington Redskins will take a step back and miss the playoffs. Why is the NFL the most popular sports league in the country? A lot of reasons, to be sure, but one of the biggest is that a case can be made for almost every team to be in the playoffs or on the couch come January. Few saw the Redskins taking the jump into the playoffs last year, and I think they’ll regress in the sophomore campaigns of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. The defense is shaky, RG3’s health is still somewhat of an unknown, and I expect Morris to post fewer yards than the 1,613 he did last season. Even if Griffin is healthy, I can see him struggling if he can’t fully adapt to a pocket passing game because…
- In general, defenses will find ways to frustrate offenses that rely on the read option and pistol formations. This will be one of the main themes of the 2013 season. Will the different-look offenses that catapulted teams to the playoffs in (most notably) Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco prove to be a sustainable innovation at the NFL level? I believe that they will, but to much less of an extent than one might think based on last season’s results. These offensive systems were successful last season because they were new, and perhaps more importantly because Griffin, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are truly talented quarterbacks – not just competent signal callers running a gimmick offense. The read option will find its place in a wider number of playbooks around the league going forward, but it will be used to a lesser extent than it was by its early-adopters in 2012.
- We may have already seen the best that the Denver Broncos have to offer, but even so, they are Super Bowl bound. The AFC stinks. And with the exception of the Broncos, the AFC West is the conference’s pinnacle of bad. While the Raiders showed a pulse Sunday in Indianapolis, and Kansas City has emerged as a trendy pick to make the playoffs (I agree), I still don’t trust the any of the Broncos’ division rivals to provide a significant impediment to Denver’s journey to a division crown. While it’s hard to imagine that we will see a more dominant performance from an offense than what Peyton Manning and Co. provided on Thursday night, the path to the Super Bowl looks to be too easy for the Broncos to doubt them.
- Adrian Peterson will join the list of running backs who have struggled in their season after rushing for 2,000 yards. Peterson proved that the usual rules don’t apply to him with his performance last season fresh off of an ACL tear. But for Peterson to stay healthy enough gain even 1,500 yards the season after rushing for 2,000 would be historically unprecedented. Barry Sanders came closest, following up a 2,053 yard campaign with 1,491 yards in 1998, his last NFL season. Despite his incredible (I chose that word carefully) performance after a serious injury in 2012, I think we’ll see Peterson’s totals come back to relatively normal levels in 2013 – he’ll end up with fewer than 1,500 yards rushing.
- And, the team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in a snowstorm in New Jersey will be… The San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick will prove himself to be a complete quarterback throughout the season, even as he relies progressively less on his rushing ability. The 49ers under Jim Harbaugh have proven themselves to be a complete team – one that can be counted on to be around in late January at the very least. After a pair of heartbreaking ends to the season in the last two years, I see the 49ers breaking through and finishing the job this season.