The season starts today and as always I am excited. This is a time of year when hope springs eternal and everyone can dream of the Super Bowl for their team. Here are my top five thoughts:
1. Super Bowl Predictions. First, I think a lot of teams have a chance, but if I had to pick a final game I would say San Francisco vs. Denver. Denver wins the championship. The Broncos offense will be very good this year. They have great wide receivers, good running backs, and a great QB. There is some question about the offensive line, but with their quick passing attack they should be fine. The question will be on defense and special teams. People remember Jacoby Jones getting behind the Bronco secondary, but they forget that there were two special teams TDs that also did in the Broncos. I think Denver will put it all together and win this year. Frisco is a tremendous defensive team that plays a very physical offensive game also. However, Kaepernik won't sneak up on anyone and I expect he will take a few shots on the field as he takes off to run.
2. Chicago Bears. Very unusual for a new coach to inherit a 10-6 team that has a very good defense and great offensive pieces. Everything will hinge on Jay Cutler this year. Sure Marshall and Forte have to deliver, but the question that has to be answered is whether Cutler is truly a franchise QB. He has to make plays that keep drives alive and he has to avoid the soul-crushing turnovers that he sometimes commits. The offensive line has 4 new starters and has shown some good signs in pre-season, but I expect that there will be some issues early, but I like Marc Trestman and believe he will call more innovative plays that take advantage of Cutler's abilities to move out of the pocket and throw. In the end, I expect the Bears to go 11-5 and compete with Green Bay for the division crown. I think the Lions and Vikings are solid teams, so it is going to be a tough race. As with most teams, the key will be who can stay healthy. With a little luck, I do think the Bears can compete for the Super Bowl.
3. Washington Redskins. Great offensive team when RGIII plays. Solid team when other guys are at QB. The defensive secondary is still too weak to compete for the NFC title. Too many teams have wide receivers that can torch the Redskin D. I think the Redskins will go 8-8 this year. I do think the NFC East is a weaker division so that helps. The Eagles should be improved, Dallas is OK, the Redskins are OK, and the Giants are better than average. My sense is that the Giants are the team to beat. I know there is a lot of love for the Redskins in the national media, but there are simmering issues with RGIII/Shanny and it is not clear how a change in play calling (away from the read option) will help/hurt the Redskins. People should not expect RGIII to electrify like he did last year, and if he doesn't and the Redskins lose a few because of their suspect secondary then there will be a weird dynamic on the team.
4. Dark Horse Teams. The three teams that I would say could surprise this year are Kansas City, Carolina, and Cincy. Cincy was a playoff team last year and I am not sure if they are much of a surprise, but Carolina should be improved and I expect Cam Newton to really take off. Carolina played a lot of close games and I also think their style of play will allow them to compete against Atlanta and New Orleans who should be at the top of the division. However, with a couple of breaks, Carolina could surprise folks. Kansas City has a QB and a coach with a history of success. I would not be surprised if they compete for a playoff spot. They seem hungry and they play in a weak division.
5. Weak Teams. Oakland is terrible. The organization is a mess and they will clean house after this year. The Jets are probably going to have to clean house also. I think San Diego will be considering a change at QB next year. Tennessee won't go anywhere with Jake Locker. There are a lot of mediocre teams, but the one surprise team I'll put on this list is Dallas. Romo got a huge contract but I am not sure he can overcome all of the issues on the team. The team lacks overall depth and there are questions about Garrett as a head coach. Romo is likely to still make a lot of bone-headed mistakes. The receiving corps is still suspect. Dez Bryant is a star, but Witten is getting older, and Austin always seems to be hurt. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball may not be able to be overcome. Somehow I think Dallas is ripe for a disaster this year.
Should be a fun season.