By Sal Capaccio
Here are my picks for the 2013 NFL season. Division winners, wild card teams, and award winners………
East – Patriots
North – Bengals
South – Colts
West – Broncos
Wild Cards – Texans and Ravens
Conventional wisdom says the Ravens are rebuilding. But they still have a terrific GM picking players (Ozzie Newsome) and a terrific head coach coaching them (John Harbaugh). I say they get better as the season goes on and sneak into a wild card spot. They won't win the division because the Bengals are the most well-balanced team in the North and also have important experience to go along with it. The Browns should be improved but are still at least a year away from contending. The Steelers are caught between rebuilding and aging in too many places. With Arian Foster's health issues, Andre Johnson often banged-up, and Andrew Luck in his 2nd season, the Texans will take a bit of a step back and the Colts will take their spot. But Houston's still talented enough to win enough games to grab a wild card spot. As long as Tom Brady is the Patriots QB, and until EJ Manuel or Ryan Tannehill can show they're ready to be the next top QB in the East, New England is the team to beat in the division. I actually like the Bills and Dolphins other 52 players better than the Pats' 52, but the one QB is the difference……for now. The Chiefs will be better, but not good enough to beat the Broncos, whose defense won't be nearly as good as it has been, but they'll still be able to score plenty of points.
East – Giants
North – Packers
South – Falcons
West – Seahawks
Wild Cards – 49ers and Redskins
Very tough call between the Niners and Seahawks for the West title. But Seattle played San Fran extremely well last year (even beating them 42-13 late in the season), so I'll take them to win the division, and San Francisco gets a wild card. The North may be the toughest division in football this year. I like the Bears new head coach Marc Trestman, just not for the Bears. Seems like the wrong fit. The Lions will score a lot but lose important games, as usual. As long as Christian Ponder is the QB in Minnesota, they simply aren't good enough to overtake Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. In the East, if RG3 can stay healthy and play a full season, the Skins should win the division. I just don't think he can. But he should play enough to get them enough wins to get a wild card. The Cowboys have talent, but always something missing when it's all said and done. The Giants are steady and balanced. The Falcons are the NFC's version of the Texans. Tons of talent, but can't find a way to put it all together in the end. Luckily for them, the Saints defense has been decimated with injuries, the Bucs have inconsistent QB play, and the Panthers are on the move but not quite there yet.
AFC Championship – Bengals over Broncos
You know what finally convinced me about the Bengals? Watching HBO's Hard Knocks. NOT because of what I saw, but because of what I DIDN'T see. I didn't see a confused, undisciplined organization. Nope. It looks like the front office and Marvin Lewis finally have a handle on all that talent (there's a lot of it). They aren't making news every-other week with an arrest or crazy story. The Bengals may be the most well-balanced team in the conference. They are finally ready to collectively take that next step. I like Denver's offense a lot, but the defense lost key players and that will cost them at some point, and probably when it matters most against a good team. Just like it did last season.
NFC Championship – Seahawks over 49ers
At first I thought it was dumb to pick two teams from the same division to get to the NFC title game. But the fact is, if Seattle had beaten Atlanta in last year's playoffs, this matchup would have happened. So, it's very possible. And these are the two best teams in the conference. San Francisco is extremely talented and well-coached. But if there's one team that will have the depth and balance to beat them, it's Seattle. I'd say The 'Hawks have the most depth in the entire league up and down their roster. They're young, good, and hungry. They have the right recipe to beat the Niners in the end.
Super Bowl XLVIII – Seahawks over Bengals
Two teams who won't be bothered by playing in poor weather (Super Bowl in NY/NJ). So that won't matter. But the Seahawks defense - and the the difference at quarterback - will win them the Lombardi Trophy in the end.
Coach of the Year – Marvin Lewis
Comeback Player of the Year – Maurice Jones-Drew
Offensive Rookie of the Year – EJ Manuel
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Ziggy Ansah
Offensive Player of the Year – Calvin Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Keuchly
Most Valuable Player - Matt Ryan
Bills final record
8-8, but still with playoff life and hopes in December, which will be nice to enjoy and take us into 2014 on an optimistic, high note.
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