Patriots, Seahawks, Falcons Among Super Bowl Favorites in 2013 NFL Predictions

Tom BradyThe Broncos and Ravens kick off the NFL season Thursday night with a rematch of their epic divisional round playoff matchup from a season ago. But it’s an entirely new year, which, as always, means plenty of change in the NFL standings.

Last season, the playoff picture looked very different than it did just one year before. Four new teams made the playoffs — Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle and Washington — and there were two new division winners — Atlanta and Washington — in 2012, leading to plenty of excitement and heartbreak among NFL fanbases.

Among the list of teams to miss the playoffs were the then reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the 2011 runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2010 champion New Orleans Saints. So, there was plenty of turnover then, and there is likely to be more again this year, including the uncertainty around whether or not the Ravens will return to the playoffs.

Most experts seem to jumping on the Cincinnati Bengals bandwagon or latching themselves onto the Seattle Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites, so NESN.com’s NFL editors Luke Hughes and Doug Kyed decided to take a stab at some predictions of their own. Hughes and Kyed ran down all eight NFL divisions, predicting every teams final position and even offering up their own Super Bowl predictions, which included some Patriots love.

Check out the detailed breakdown below, starting with the AFC East and finishing with the Super Bowl. (* indicates wild card teams)

AFC East       

Kyed:

New England Patriots
Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New York Jets

The Dolphins got better through free agency, but not nearly good enough to pass the Patriots, who may see a decline in their offense but an uptick in their defense. The Bills should be much better on defense now that Dave Wannstedt is no longer bringing them down, but EJ Manuel will prove that not every rookie quarterback immediately has NFL success, despite what Russell WilsonAndrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill showed last season. The Jets will be awful.

Hughes:

New England Patriots
Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New York Jets

The Dolphins are overrated and will find that the big spenders aren’t always the big winners. They’ll still finish with eight or nine wins, but the Patriots will sweep them in the division on the way to another 12-4 season in New England. The Bills will struggle early but not because of rookie quarterback Manuel. Manuel will thrive in the Doug Marrone‘s offensive system, but the Bills’ secondary, which has been ravaged by injuries, will be their Achilles heel in their pursuit of a playoff return. Oh, and the Jets (Read: need not mention).

AFC North

Kyed:

Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals*
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns

The Ravens lost some valuable pieces, but I expect Joe Flacco to build on his playoff success. They replaced some old, slow players on defense with rookies, and the addition of Lardarius Webb should be valuable as the cornerback returns from a torn ACL. The Bengals look strong and without distractions, while the Steelers have hurt themselves with poor drafting. The Browns will be improved, but that team’s success will depend on Brandon Weeden.

Hughes:

Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals*
Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns

No disrespect to the Super Bowl champs, but they barely made the playoffs last year and lost too many key pieces on defense. I could still see a 9-7 finish for the Ravens this season, but playoffs just aren’t in the cards as Joe Flacco falls hard back to reality after his superhuman postseason. The Steelers will get a full season out of Troy Polamalu, and Ben Roethlisberger will be in competition for the MVP award, giving them enough to bypass the Bengals as kings of the North. Weeden will improve significantly in Norv Turner‘s offense, but he doesn’t have enough weapons around him to make a huge difference.

AFC South

Kyed:

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars

It seems pundits are down on the Colts this season, but I expect a huge jump from Andrew Luck in his second NFL season. Luck was good in 2012 — for a rookie. This year, I expect him to be great. Still, the Texans should take the crown in this division. Losing Connor Barwin may hurt, but getting Brian Cushing back will be valuable. Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert should be better in 2013, but not good enough.

Hughes:

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars

The Texans retain the South title for a third consecutive year, and this time they are legit Super Bowl contenders, finishing No. 2 in the AFC and earning a first-round bye. Andrew Luck won’t make the big splash he did as a rookie, becoming a more efficient passer but finding it more difficult to pull off the heroics late in games. A reinvigorated Chris Johnson will challenge for the rushing title, but Locker’s inconsistency holds the Titans back from a winning record or a playoff berth. The Jags will get more from Gabbert in year three, but you can still expect a top-10 pick in April.

AFC West

Kyed:

Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs*
San Diego Chargers
Oakland Raiders

I think it’s fair to say the Raiders have this one locked up, right? Just kidding, the Raiders are terrible. The Broncos and Chiefs will compete for the division this season. Kansas City had most of the pieces in place last season, they just didn’t have the head coach or quarterback. This season they do, so they’ll take the wild card. The Broncos may take a step back after a tumultuous offseason, while the Chargers are still a ways away despite losing Norv.

Hughes:

Denver Broncos
San Diego Chargers*
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders

Wes Welker will add even more pizzazz to the Broncos’ passing game, but, another year older, Peyton Manning won’t be the same MVP candidate he was in 2012. Denver still wins the division, but Von Miller‘s absence and some secondary struggles keep them from securing a first-round bye. The Chargers and Chiefs will get tangled in an epic battle for second place, but a rejuvenated Philip Rivers will outplay Alex Smith down the stretch and get the Super Chargers back to the postseason. As for Oakland, I hope they started their pre-draft scouting already, because they’ll probably have their pick of the lot.

NFC East

Kyed:

Washington Redskins
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys

If you can’t tell, I’m banking on Robert Griffin III to stay healthy. If his knee holds up, the Redskins are in a good spot in 2013. Their offensive line should be better, and Brian Orakpo will not just be featured in Geico commercials this fall, he’ll also be on NFL fields. The rest of the division should even out. The Giants will push for the division but come up empty, and the Eagles may get off to a hot start with Chip Kelly at the reins, but that team is not talented enough to compete yet. The Cowboys will be wishing they didn’t give Tony Romo that big contract after another disappointing season.

Hughes:

New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys*
Washington Redskins
Philadelphia Eagles

RGIII will keep things interesting in the nation’s capital, but he can’t play both sides of the ball, and I don’t expect much out of the Redskins’ defense in ’13. The Giants will make a resurgence to the top of the division behind Eli Manning and a breakout season from explosive running back David Wilson. The Cowboys will give the G Men a run for the division crown, but in the end they’ll settle for a stellar season from Romo and a wild card spot. Expect Michael Vick to have a strong season, too, but Philly’s defense might be the worst in the NFL, making wins tough to come by.

NFC North

Kyed:

Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Detroit Lions
Chicago Bears

The NFC North may be a little overrated this year. The Packers will have no problem with the VIkings, Lions and Bears on their way to another division title. Minnesota may not get another 2,000-yard season out of Adrian Peterson, but they added three first-rounders, which will add some new blood to their offense and defense. Detroit doesn’t have the discipline under Jim Schwartz to compete, and Jay Cutler will finally move on from Chicago after putting together another losing season.

Hughes:

Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings

Aaron Rodgers will reallocate Greg Jennings‘ lost production to Randall Cobb and James Jones, putting the Packers’ offense near the top of the NFL once again and giving the Pack the top spot in the NFC. Marc Trestman will help Cutler and the Bears’ offense look like world beaters at times, but nine wins won’t get them back in the playoffs. I’m expecting a big turnaround from the Lions, who will lead the NFL in sacks, but 8-8 won’t be enough to save Schwartz’s job. Peterson hasn’t been forgotten, as he’ll have another 1,500-yard season, but an unsteady Christian Ponder drops them back to the bottom of the division.

NFC South

Kyed:

New Orleans Saints
Atlanta Falcons*
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints will be back at the top of the division in Sean Payton‘s return. Getting the head coach will help, and the defense added some decent pieces in Keenan Lewis and Kenny VacarroThe Falcons will make their way back into the playoffs under Matt Ryan, but this time as the wild-card team. Ron Rivera will likely be gone after another losing season, and Greg Schiano will likely be on the hot seat after another losing season. The Buccaneers could turn to Mike Glennon at quarterback if Josh Freeman starts out struggling.

Hughes:

New Orleans Saints
Atlanta Falcons*
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Here’s to hoping that the Falcons #RiseUp and Ryan gets as much national publicity as possible — sorry, my Boston College bias is showing — but a green secondary will likely keep them from repeating as division champs. The Saints got their MIP (Most Important Person) back with Payton returning from his season-long suspension, and he’ll make a huge difference for the 7-9 squad of a year ago. Cam Newton will continue to show promise, but the Panthers are still just a few pieces short of the postseason. In Tampa, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson will give the Buccaneers one of the best secondaries in football, but Freeman will still suck like a vacuum, keeping the Bucs in the cellar.

NFC West

Kyed:

Seattle Seahawks
San Francisco 49ers*
Arizona Cardinals
St. Louis Rams

The best division in football got better over the offseason, but the top two teams still stand. The Seahawks could get a late-season boost with Percy Harvin, but even if they don’t, Seattle only got better this offseason as its young players got another year older and wiser. The 49ers lack top-tier receivers, but Colin Kaepernick‘s running ability should trump that. San Francisco should still have a top-five defense, too. The Cardinals and Rams will be good, but not good enough. St. Louis could be looking for a new quarterback next season if Sam Bradford doesn’t make strides.

Hughes:

Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

The 49ers will need until midseason to work off their Super Bowl hangover, leaving an open opportunity for the Rams to vie for the West crown. Sam Bradford will make big strides forward with Tavon Austin and his new weapons, and the Rams’ defense will finish among the top 10 in the league, leading them to finish ahead of Jim Harbaugh and the Niners. The Cardinals will boast a more efficient offense under Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, but there’s just no room at the top in a crowded division. The Seahawks will make another push forward, winning the division and besting San Francisco both times in ’13, and Pete Carroll‘s team will be the only one to represent the division in the playoffs.

SUPER BOWL

Kyed: New England Patriots over Seattle Seahawks

Hughes: New England Patriots over Atlanta Falcons

Patriots on Twitter

Yardbarker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 185,378 other followers