Kevin O'Connor's 2013 NFL Season Predictions

Will Tom Brady win another Super Bowl? - Jared Wickerham

We're finally here! The 2013 NFL Season begins tonight as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos face off against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Before every season I go week-by-week and project every game on the NFL schedule. Then I predict the playoffs, Super Bowl, and award winners. Here are my predictions for the 2013 NFL season:

AFC

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (1)
14-2
2. Miami Dolphins
7-9
3. Buffalo Bills
4-12
4. New York Jets
2-14

The New England Patriots are obviously the crème of the crop in the AFC East. The New York Jets are laughable and I believe the Buffalo Bills could be too, since they have both a rookies at both quarterback and head coach. On the other hand, I think the Miami Dolphins are a all-around solid team, and Ryan Tannehill will take a few steps forward in his development. However, no one is good enough to slow down the Patriots in this division. Even if Tom Brady goes through growing pains with his new receiving core, the defense will be much stronger than it was last season. I believe that this roster will be one of the most balanced Patriots' teams in recent in history.

AFC North

1. Cleveland Browns (4)
9-7
2. Baltimore Ravens (6)
8-8
3. Cincinnati Bengals
8-8
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5-11

Led by rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski and second year running back Trent Richardson, I fully expect the Cleveland Browns to be the surprise team of the NFL. They have a lively defense, which will win them some games, and the addition of offensive coordinator Norv Turner should bring the offense to another level. Josh Gordon is an absolute beast at receiver and will have a huge year for them once he comes back from his two-game suspension. I expect the Baltimore Ravens to take a significant step back this season due to their losses on defense, the loss of Anquan Boldin, and just the fact that Joe Flacco isn't a very good quarterback. While I think the Bengals are a solid overall team, they have a tough stretch of games at the beginning of the season that will set them back. As for the Steelers, I feel bad for Ben Roethlisberger considering his lack of targets, his subpar offensive line, and not to mention, a regressing defense.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts (3)
11-5
2. Houston Texans (5)
11-5
3. Tennessee Titans
4-12
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
2-14

Both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are non-threats to make any noise in this division, but the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans should battle hard for the division crown. I give the Colts a minor edge due to the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker, but it could go either way. Much of Houston's success hinges on the health of Arian Foster and I'm not sold that he will hold up this season. On the other hand, Indy is young and upcoming team and should make drastic offensive improvements from last season. The only thing that could hold them back is their weak defense.

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos (2)
14-2
2. Kansas City Chiefs
7-9
3. San Diego Chargers
4-12
4. Oakland Raiders
2-14

Unless something terrible happens to Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos will easily win this division. I expect the Chiefs to be a competitive team and they could potentially grab a wild card spot, but I don't have enough faith in quarterback Alex Smith to take them that far. Even though I have the Oakland Raiders at 2-14, I think they will be quite a fun team to watch with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Unfortunately for Philip Rivers and the Chargers, they are a team destined to be average for quite awhile unless they bomb it this season, which I think they do.

NFC

NFC East

1. Washington Redskins (4)
10-6
2. Philadelphia Eagles
9-7
3. Dallas Cowboys
9-7
4. New York Giants
7-9

The NFC East is one of the harder divisions to project because of the amount of question marks surrounding each team. How will Chip Kelly and Michael Vick work in Philadelphia? Will Robert Griffin III return to form? Will the Dallas Cowboys perform the way they started or finished last season? Can the New York Giants bounce back from a disappointing season? I think RG3 will come back as a potentially superior player. With both Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis healthy, he has two top targets that he didn't have last season. There are also reports that running back Alfred Morris will catch the ball more this year, making for a much more dynamic offense.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers (1)
15-1
2. Detroit Lions
9-7
3. Chicago Bears
7-9
4. Minnesota Vikings
5-11

I have the Packers losing in week one and then winning the next 15. I predict that Aaron Rodgers will have one of the best seasons of his career, but it will be rookie running back Eddie Lacy that surprises people. I think he is the best running back the team has had since Ryan Grant in 2009. Having such a great rushing attack will create more balance, and thus a superior offense. The Detroit Lions should make strides this year with Reggie Bush now at running back, but the defense lacks the discipline required to send them to the playoffs. Both the Bears and Vikings will be competitive but are weaker at the quarterback position. For the record, I don't think Adrian Peterson comes close to matching his totals from last season.

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons (3)
11-5
2. New Orleans Saints (6)
10-6
3. Carolina Panthers
7-9
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5-11

Both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints could win this division due to their high-powered offenses, but the Falcons get the nod due to their superior defense. With Sean Payton back in New Orleans, I expect them to go through some growing pains at some points during the year, but will be competitive throughout. Carolina is a solid team but is unfortunately in an extremely difficult division and conference. Heading into the preseason I had higher expectations for Tampa Bay, but Josh Freeman looked terrible and while I'm in the minority here; I am not yet sold on Doug Martin being an elite running back.

NFC West

1. San Francisco 49ers (2)
13-3
2. Seattle Seahawks (5)
11-5
3. St. Louis Rams
8-8
4. Arizona Cardinals
8-8

To think that only a few years ago fans would mock the NFC West by calling it the "NFC Weak." Oh, how times have changed. In my opinion, this division has two Super Bowl contenders in the 49ers and Seahawks, and another two that are only a few years and moves away from being in that conversation. However, the Rams and Cardinals lack great talent at quarterback, which will once again hold them back this season. I think Colin Kaepernick will be in the conversation for MVP and Russell Wilson will take another forward, gaining even more respect around the league.

2014 NFL Playoffs

Wild Card Round

Indianapolis Colts (3) over Baltimore Ravens (6)
Cleveland Browns (4) over Houston Texans (5)
Atlanta Falcons (3) over New Orleans Saints (6)
Seattle Seahawks (5) over Washington Redskins (4)

The Cleveland Browns will be this year's Cinderella team that every mutual fan will root for to win it all. Andrew Luck will continue to make strides towards being one of the league's best quarterbacks, taking down Joe Flacco and the Ravens. I give the Seahawks an edge over the Redskins due to their far superior defense, and the fact I think Russell Wilson is a better quarterback than Robert Griffin III. In my eyes, every single Atlanta versus New Orleans matchup is a toss-up, and this one is no different, but Atlanta gets the edge since they are at home.

Divisional Round

New England Patriots (1) over Cleveland Browns (4)
Denver Broncos (2) over Indianapolis Colts (3)
Seattle Seahawks (5) over Green Bay Packers (1)
San Francisco 49ers (2) over Atlanta Falcons (3)

I have both favorites winning in the AFC because I think both teams are on an elite level this season. As an aside, it would be fascinating to see an Andrew Luck versus Peyton Manning matchup in the playoffs. I think the Packers will fall victim to the classic case of rust after the playoff bye week and fall victim to the Seahawks. Plus, the Seahawks have a defense that is capable of stopping the Packers. The same can be said for the 49ers and the Falcons. San Francisco has an elite defense that can stifle Atlanta's attack.

Conference Championship

New England Patriots (1) over Denver Broncos (2)
San Francisco 49ers (2) over Seattle Seahawks (5)

Brady and Manning will once again have a battle for the ages, with Tom Brady winning once again. When I project each team's potential in January, I think the Patriots have more depth and the defense will continue to grow throughout the season. With players gaining experience throughout the year, I believe the Pats will be considered the team to beat by the time the playoffs begin. In the NFC, I give the 49ers a slight edge over the Seahawks. San Francisco has more weapons on offense and, in my opinion, a superior head coach. However, if Percy Harvin returns at some point during the season and proves to be in full health, he could be enough to give the Seahawks the edge.

Super Bowl XLVIII

New England Patriots (1) over San Francisco 49ers (2)

This will finally be the year that Tom Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl and his third Super Bowl MVP. With improvements on defense and a more balanced offense, the Patriots will be quite a hard team to stop this season. In my opinion, the 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFC that could stop them, but I think Bill Belichick would devise a plan that would contain Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers rushing attack.

Awards

Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Offensive Player of the Year
Trent Richardson, Browns
Defensive Player of the Year
Geno Atkins, Bengals
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Eddie Lacy, Packers
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals
Comeback Player of the Year
Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Coach of the Year
Rob Chudzinski, Browns

Like I said in my explanation above, I expect Aaron Rodgers to have one of the best regular seasons of his career, though the Packers will fall short in the playoffs. With Norv Turner as the Browns offensive coordinator, Trent Richardson could potentially touch the ball almost 400 times this season, thrusting himself into the elite running back discussion. Considering the Browns' surprise success, rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski will win coach of the year. Geno Atkins is a star for the Bengals and is quite an easy pick for me to make. Eddie Lacy could score over ten touchdowns this year, as well as rush for 1000 yards. Tyrann Mathieu will be one of the most exciting young playmakers in football, causing his fair share of turnovers this year. RG3 will win comeback player based on the fact he has the biggest name, though players like Brian Cushing and Darrelle Revis will be just as deserving.

Closing Thoughts

These predictions are obviously just for fun, but I always like to promote a discussion and am curious to know what your thoughts are on this upcoming season. Plus, it's always fun to go back and see where you were wrong, and where you hit the nail on the head. If there's only one prediction I want to be right about, it's my pick to be the Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots.

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