Broncos, Pack to have ‘Super’ tussle

Since I did so great in the NFL prediction business last season (note the sarcasm but, hey, I picked the AFC champion right, at least), it’s now time to expose myself to more ridicule.
So as to avoid being criticized for cheating by waiting an extra week to reveal all my picks for the regular season, I give you the short and sweet version of what I expect to happen in each of the eight divisions.
I also expect to be reminded of how wrong most of these were at some point later on.
NFC East
1. Dallas (10-6)—No defence, no problem (Tony Romo and Co. will just outscore everyone)
2. Philadelphia (9-7)—Eagles won’t replace DeSean Jackson easily and still have the league’s worst pass defence
3. Washington (7-9)—QB controversy brewing in D.C., which never ends well
4. N.Y. Giants (5-11)—Eli Manning struggled last year, now had to learn a new offensive scheme (bad combination)
NFC Central
1. Green Bay (12-4)—A healthy Aaron Rodgers, a re-energized Julius Peppers make the Pack the pick
2. Minnesota (9-7)—Mike Zimmer’s coaching will make the Vikes the surprise of the league
3. Chicago (8-8)—Just a gut feeling based on Jay Cutler not getting through the year healthy
4. Detroit (6-10)—The good? Calvin Johnson. The bad and the ugly? An undisciplined and vulnerable defence
NFC West
1. Seattle (13-3)—The ’Hawks are too strong to suffer a Super Bowl champion hangover (at least, before the playoffs)
2. San Francisco (10-6)—Offensively loaded but a weakened front seven due to injuries and suspensions will hold the Niners back
3. Arizona (9-7)—The Cards looked revived last year but Darnell Dockett’s absence will hobble the defence
4. St. Louis (4-12)—A double-tough defensive line but Shaun Hill stepping in for an injured Sam Bradford at QB spells disaster.
NFC South
1. New Orleans (11-5)—Drew Brees provides the Saints the edge they need to take the division
2. Atlanta (9-7)—A bounce-back year for the Falcons (provided Matt Ryan rediscovers his form at the quarterback spot)
3. Tampa Bay (8-8)—Lovie Smith’s coaching will revitalize the Bucs but can they stop anyone on defence?
4. Carolina (5-11)—From first to worst, thanks to no receivers of any note and the storm of Greg Hardy’s legal troubles swirling around
AFC East
1. New England (12-4)—Tom Brady, Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill, E.J. Manuel—in the AFC East, which QB would you take? Enough said
2. Miami (9-7)—With last year’s bullying storm behind them, the Dolphins can get back to football (look for a big year from former CFL’er Cameron Wake along the D-line)
3. N.Y. Jets (6-10)—By the time they figure out Smith and Michael Vick are both not the answer, it will be too late
4. Buffalo Bills (3-13)—Jon Bon Jovi will be relieved he got out of the mix to buy the Bills when he sees how lousy Buffalo is this year
AFC Central
1. Pittsburgh (9-7)—Big Ben Roethlisberger can return the Steelers to prominence in a wide-open division
2. Cincinnati (8-8)—Something tells me Andy Dalton’s big contract extension is going to weigh very heavy on his shoulders before the year is out
3. Baltimore (6-10)—The Ravens will get to answer Ray Rice questions all year and that will not lead to focused football for Baltimore
4. Cleveland (2-14)—Johnny Manziel will get the starting nod eventually and then find out with Josh Gordon suspended, he has no receivers (welcome to the NFL, Mr. Manziel)
AFC West
1. Denver (15-1)—Demarcus Ware on D and a still-angry-from-the-Super-Bowl Peyton Manning make the Broncos everyone’s worst nightmare
2. San Diego (10-6)—Philip Rivers will continue his upswing and the Chargers’ defence could turn some heads this year
3. Kansas City (8-8)—The Chiefs surged last year but haven’t changed much on a defence that was last seen getting lit up by the Colts in the playoffs
4. Oakland (1-15)—With rookie quarterback (Derek Carr) beating out the team’s major free-agent pick-up (Matt Schaub), the trainwreck is rolling around the bend
AFC South
1. Indianapolis (11-5)—Andrew Luck gets all his offensive weapons back (the rest of the division has been warned)
2. Tennessee (8-8)—Jake Locker needs to be better or risk becoming a career back-up pivot (the guess is he will deliver)
3. Jacksonville (5-11)—Gus Bradley’s sideline leadership and Blake Bortles (eventually) at QB signals hope for the Jags
3. Houston (3-13)—No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney on defence helps but Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB and a disenchanted Andre Johnson at wide-out will mean another long year for the Texans
Super Bowl: Denver 24—Green Bay 21
To use the recent WWE Summerslam event as an analogy, the Broncos played John Cena to the Seahawks’ Brock Lesnar in the Super Bowl and still feels the wounds inflicted upon them by Seattle.
But since none of the last nine defending Super Bowl champs has even won a playoff game the following season, I don’t anticipate a return to the title game by Seattle.
Green Bay will be a formidable foe but Peyton wants payback.
He will get it come February in Glendale, Ariz. in the biggest game of the season.

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