The Green Bay Packers entered the 2011 NFL season with hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champs. They headed into the playoffs with the best record in the league (15-1) but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who were just 9-7 at the conclusion of the regular season. It was their second Lombardi Trophy in five years.
Below, I have laid out how I see the 2012 season shaking out. Without any further ado, here are my 2012 NFL predictions.
NFC East Champion: Philadelphia Eagles – Behind a star-studded roster, the Eagles were supposed to cruise to a Super Bowl title in 2011. That never happened as they got off to a 1-4 start and never recovered. Last season’s disappointment should drive a team that underachieved. Philadelphia ranked in the top eight in both total offense and total defense last season and should be among the best in both categories again.
NFC North Champion: Green Bay Packers – I don’t expect the Packers to be as dominant as they were in the 2011 regular season, but I still expect them to sit atop the NFC North. Detroit and Chicago will contend, but Aaron Rodgers will ultimately be the difference. Rodgers completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,643 yards with 45 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. If Green Bay improves on the defensive side of the football, it will have an opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl.
NFC South Champion: Atlanta Falcons – Carolina should emerge as a contender and New Orleans will still be in the mix, but I like Atlanta two capture its second division title in three seasons. With the Saints’ top-notch coaching staff being wiped out, I expect them to take a step back. The Falcons have some of the best skill players in the league in Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White. Those guys will be instrumental in getting Atlanta in the postseason for a fourth time in five years.
NFC West Champion: San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers won the West by five games last season, and I expect them to dominate it again. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and quarterback Alex Smith should continue to get better under QB guru Jim Harbaugh. The Niners, who nearly made the Super Bowl last season, will be even more talented this year with the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs.
AFC East Champion: New England Patriots – It’s not wise to bet against the Patriots winning the AFC East. They have won the division seven of the past eight years and have won 10 games or more each of the last 10 seasons. The defense isn’t without holes, but Tom Brady will pick up the slack, just as he did last season when the Pats finished second in the league with 428.0 yards per game.
AFC North Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers finished 12-4 in the 2011 regular season. What makes that mark even more impressive is the fact it finished with a minus-13 turnover differential and was hit hard by the injury bug. The stop unit led the NFL in both total and scoring defense last season, and it will be top-notch again. Baltimore won the AFC North last year, but the Steelers have bounced back to win the division following each of the last two times it didn’t.
AFC South Champion: Houston Texans – The Texans won the AFC South last season, earning their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history. This team won’t be one-and-done as it boasts an elite defense that finished second in the NFL with only 285.7 yards allowed per game last season. The offense wasn’t quite as explosive last year as Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster all miss multiple games due to injury. If this nucleus can stay healthy, the Texans have a serious shot to win the Super Bowl.
AFC West Champion: Denver Broncos – Plain and simple, Peyton Manning is a winner. He won big in Indy, and I expect him to make the Broncos a winner too. He will be out to prove he’s still the best quarterback in the game, and I expect him to have a very strong season. Denver has a running game to keep teams honest. That will give Manning plenty of play-action opportunities. The Broncos also have two of the better pass rushers in the game in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
NFC Championship – Eagles over 49ers
AFC Championship – Texans over Patriots
Super Bowl – Texans over Eagles