WHOO-HOO!!! This is the time of salvation for men (and some women) everywhere. Simply put, football is good for the soul.
I’m going to approach things differently this season. I’m going to preview two divisions at a time: one from the AFC and the other from the NFC. I’m going to get things started with the two strongest divisions in football: the AFC and NFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6). My Steelers have been smarting on that playoff loss to the Denver Broncos and then QB Tim Tebow last season – and that’s a good thing. Last season Pittsburgh took themselves a bit too seriously and the Ravens lightly and it led to a sweep at the hands of the Ravens. I think Pittsburgh will not take the Ravens lightly, and will remind them who the kings of the AFC North are. It will be a lot tougher this time around, due to injuries on the offensive line, in the running game and linebackers (notably James Harrison). Looking at their schedule they should get 10 wins, but only if they stay healthy and focused. And it also depends on the Big Ben-Todd Haley dynamic. If their relationship goes south, it will be a long season in Pittsburgh. Here’s hoping it won’t be…
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6). The Bengals scare the hell out of me. No one – and I mean NO ONE – expected them to challenge for a playoff spot, let alone make the playoffs. If you don’t believe me, click here and see for yourself. The Bengals return most of their young squad from last season, including QB Andy Dalton and stud WR A.J. Green. I think the addition of the BenJarvis Green-Ellis aka “The Law Firm” will help the running game. With head coach Marvin Lewis at the helm and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer running the show on defense, this young Bengals team will contend again. Wow, a Mike Brown-run team being competitive again – imagine that…
Baltimore Ravens (9-7). The Ravens swept the entire division last season, and its fans will remind you of that in case you forget it. However, a few things will be different for Baltimore this season. For starters, their defense is getting long in the tooth fairly quickly. Ray Lewis, while still a stud, is 37 years old. Ed Reed is 34. Even worse, my man Terrell Suggs aka “T-Sizzle” will miss most of the season with a torn Achilles (I think he’ll miss the entire season). Without a pass-rush, the Ravens D will be just ordinary. Meanwhile, the offense may have to carry the squad this season. QB Joe Flacco is ready to ball, and Ray Rice is such a stud at RB. The Ravens should be contenders again, though their schedule is difficult. The Ravens will not sweep Cincy and Pittsburgh again. Plus with games against the Patriots, Broncos (Peyton Manning owns them) and Giants at home, as well as the Eagles, Texans and Chargers on the road, it’s hard to see Baltimore winning more than nine games against that schedule.
Cleveland Browns (4-12). Poor Cleveland. Browns fans everywhere should be in sackcloth and ashes this season. Though it has a QB in the future in Brandon Weeden, and a may have a stud RB in Trent Richardson if healthy, the Browns lack playmakers on offense. Sure they have Josh Cribs, but he is more effective as a special-teamer than a #1 wide receiver. Cleveland is heading in the right direction (could they get any worse?), but it will be ANOTHER long year in Cleveland. Poor little Brownies…
Green Bay Packers (11-5). The Packers will be looking to avenge an early playoff exit from last season – though there’s no shame in losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants. Green Bay’s much-maligned defense will look to atone from last year’s dismal performance (ranked dead last statistically). The NFC North is tough, but Green Bay’s offense will be the difference in this division. Led by stud QB Aaron Rodgers and with the new acquisition of RB Cedric Benson, I do not see anyone in the division stopping the Packers’ offense.
Chicago Bears (10-6). The Bears should be much improved on offense thanks to the acquisition of Brandon Marshall from Miami. Chicago – not to mention QB Jay Cutler – finally has the #1 receiver it was looking for in Marshall, and should open things up for RB Matt Forte. At least the Bears will have something they didn’t have last season: a capable backup QB in Jason Campbell. The Bears’ D will still be good, and that should be enough to carry them to a playoff spot.
Detroit Lions (9-7). The Lions were a good story last season, so good that they thought they could celebrate by being thugged out this past offseason. Seems like Detroit turned into the Bengals of old with cats getting arrested left and right. The Lions are talented and shit, but I question their focus. Coach Jim Schwartz needs to make sure his young squad gets its focus back so they could contend again. The only thing is the rest of the NFC will not take the Lions lightly. Having a stud at QB (Matthew Stafford) and WR (Calvin Johnson) would do that to a team. The Lions may be better on paper, but distractions and a tough division will make their record a little worse in 2012.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9). The Vikings should be improved this season. Stud RB Adrian Peterson is healthy and QB Christian Ponder will be in his second season at the helm. The only question mark will be on defense. Who other than DE Jared Allen will get the job done? Exactly. Not in this division. Maybe if the Vikings were in the AFC West, they’d have a shot.