Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 NFL Awards & Standings Predictions

The 2012 NFL regular season officially kicks off tonight, and with that comes my annual predictions for the NFL standings, playoffs and individual awards. As always, I'm sure I'll be horribly off-base on much of this, but it's always a fun exercise.

You can check out my my 2011 predictions here, 2010 predictions here and 2009 predictions here, which I'm sure include its share of embarrassing prognostications.

2012 Final Standings
(playoff seeds in parentheses...just like this sentence)

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (1)
2. New York Jets
3. Buffalo Bills
4. Miami Dolphins

AFC North
1. Baltimore Ravens (2)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns

AFC South
1. Houston Texans (3)
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West
1. Denver Broncos (4)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6)
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders

  • The Patriots are the clear-cut favorites in the AFC East, with the Jets a mess, Buffalo still not ready and the Dolphins in total rebuilding mode. I'd be shocked if any of the other three teams even flirted with a wild card berth.
  • I think Joe Flacco is ready to take the next step in his progression (and earn that next big contract), leading the Ravens to the division title. As always, Pittsburgh will be in the mix as well, while Andy Dalton and his relatively low ceiling may struggle to make a repeat playoff berth. The Browns bring up the rear and don't look anything like contenders.
  • With Peyton Manning gone, the Texans are the only team in the AFC South with a proven quarterback. That should net them the division title, while the Titans and Colts battle it out for the No. 2 spot. I'm not sold on Blaine Gabbert and think the Jaguars will have a hard time being competitive this season.
  • I'm not quite as on-board with the Chiefs as everyone else, although they do get my final wild card spot. The division title goes to Denver thanks to more reliable passing game and a defense that proved very capable down the stretch last year. The underachieving Chargers will continue to do so, while I don't think the Raiders' offensive line or defense has them ready to contend.

NFC East
1. New York Giants (3)
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins

NFC North
1. Green Bay Packers (1)
2. Detroit Lions (5)
3. Chicago Bears
4. Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
1. New Orleans Saints (2)
2. Atlanta Falcons (6)
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
1. San Francisco 49ers (4)
2. St. Louis Rams
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Arizona Cardinals

  • The defending champion Giants get back into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, but I think the Eagles and Cowboys fail to clinch a playoff spot thanks to some better competition from other divisions. The Redskins should be improved with Robert Griffin III, but this division is too tough for a rookie right now.
  • There's so much to like about the Packers and having an elite quarterback goes a long way. The Lions should continue to be competitive due in large part to their young offensive talent, while the Bears may struggle to finish better than third. I'm not sold on Christian Ponder and I don't see him getting the Vikings about .500 this season.
  • I think the Saints continue to roll despite not having their head coach for the season, while the Falcons should push for a playoff spot too thanks to an elite passing attack. Cam Newton and the Panthers will have a tough time finishing in the top two here, while the Buccaneers just aren't ready and need a huge step from Josh Freeman to be relatively competitive.
  • The 49ers' defense and sound offense should get them to the playoffs in this fairly weak division. I don't like the Seahawks as much as others and I think the Rams can surpass them if Sam Bradford stays healthy and progresses. The Cardinals' quarterback situation is a mess and is a sure recipe for a last-place finish.

2011 NFL Playoffs

Wild Card Round
Texans (3) over Chiefs (6)
Steelers (5) over Broncos (4)
Falcons (6) over Giants (3)
Lions (5) over 49ers (4)

Divisional Round
Patriots (1) over Steelers (5)
Texans (3) over Ravens (2)
Packers (1) over Falcons (6)
Lions (5) over Saints (2)

Conference Championships
Texans (3) over Patriots (1)
Packers (1) over Lions (5)

Super Bowl XLVII
Green Bay Packers 34, Houston Texans 27 — The Packers return to the Super Bowl on the shoulders of the best quarterback in the league, while the Texans finally reach the big show thanks to a dominant defense and a well-rounded offense. In a fairly high-scoring battle,

Super Bowl XLVI MVP
QB Aaron Rodgers — Who else? The best quarterback in the NFL steps up with two touchdown passes and mistake-free football to win his second championship.

Regular Season Awards

QB Drew Brees, Saints — With Sean Payton gone for the entire season, Brees will put the team on his back and put up eye-popping numbers once again. It'll be even more impressive given all the Saints have gone through this year, earning Brees the MVP.

Offensive Player of the Year
QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers — I expect Rodgers to once again pose elite numbers, toying with 5,000 yards and at least 40 touchdowns with single-digit interceptions.

Defensive Player of the Year
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants — JPP is a total freak and is ready to take his game to a whole new level in his third season. I expect him to surpass his 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles from a season ago.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
QB Andrew Luck, Colts — Not a risky pick, but the most obvious one. Luck is NFL-ready and should post strong numbers as a rookie even if the Colts aren't ultra-competitive yet.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
LB Luke Kuechly, Panthers — A season after having the Offensive ROY, the Panthers earn the same award on defense with Kuechly. A smart, rangy linebacker, Kuechly should reach 100 tackles as a rookie and create enough big plays (sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions) to earn this award.

Coach of the Year
Gary Kubiak, Texans — The Texans are ready to take the next step as my AFC Champion pick, and that would make Kubiak well-deserving of this award. Kubiak has built a strong offense with a stellar offensive line and running game combined with a very capable passing attack. Factor in a tremendous defense led by coordinator Wade Phillips, and Kubiak is the man here.

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