This is the continuation of a series I'm doing detailing the Steelers' future plans in the next year. If you'd like to review my 2012 Steelers roster predictions, you can find Part I of this series here. This installment, however, is more focused on the entire league. I've tirelessly gone through every regular season game of the 2012 season and picked my winners and losers. Remember, this is just one man's opinion and chances are I will get a lot wrong, but it was fun nonetheless.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Wins: vs Bengals, vs Patriots, vs Browns, vs Cowboys, at Browns, vs Raiders, at Chargers, vs Steelers, at Redskins, vs Giants
Losses: at Eagles, at Chiefs, at Texans, at Steelers, vs Broncos, at Bengals
Losing Terrell Suggs is going to seriously affect this defense, and I don't believe Joe Flacco can carry the team by himself for a full season. With questions along the offensive line and with the receiving core depth, the offense seems an injury away from being stagnant. However, this is still a playoff team until proven otherwise.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
Wins: vs Browns, at Jaguars, vs Dolphins, at Browns, vs Giants, vs Raiders, vs Cowboys, vs Ravens
Losses: at Ravens, at Redskins, vs Steelers, vs Broncos, at Chiefs, at Chargers, at Eagles, at Steelers
After surprising everyone in 2011, the Bengals are surely being studied by the league to make sure they don't sneak up on anyone again. The offense will be relying heavily on AJ Green and Benjarvus Green Ellis, so much so that an injury to either would cripple the entire offense. The defense looks promising, but their secondary is still suspect. The organization is hoping that even one of their aging corners will pan out, but if that doesn't happen they'll be in trouble.
Cleveland Browns (2-14)
Wins: vs Chargers, at Raiders
Losses: vs Eagles, at Bengals, vs Bills, at Ravens, at Giants, vs Bengals, at Colts, vs Ravens, at Cowboys, vs Steelers, vs Chiefs, vs Redskins, at Broncos, at Steelers
No one likes predicting a miserable season for a team, but the Browns's schedule does them no favors. I don't think they will be favored in any game this year, meaning it will be an uphill battle from Day 1. Sure they have a good defense, but the offense is counting on a ton of young players to lead this team. And yes, Brandon Weeden counts as a "young" player.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Wins: vs Jets, at Raiders, vs Eagles, at Bengals, vs Redskins, at Giants, vs Chiefs, vs Ravens, at Browns, vs Chargers, vs Bengals, vs Browns
Losses: at Broncos, at Titans, at Ravens, at Cowboys
The Steelers got exactly what they needed out of their draft class, and I think it will propel them to the top of the AFC. They have good depth at nearly every position which means they should be able to overcome most injuries. However, if Troy Polamalu or Lawrence Timmons gets hurt, the defense will be in serious trouble.
Denver Broncos (10-6)
Wins: vs Steelers, vs Texans, vs Raiders, vs Saints, at Bengals, vs Chargers, vs Buccaneers, at Ravens, vs Browns, vs Chiefs
Losses: at Falcons, at Patriots, at Chargers, at Panthers, at Chiefs, at Raiders
Denver will be a completely different team than the 8-8 squad that backed into the playoffs last year. With a legitimate QB in town, their offense will be turned on its head. I'm not sure how the defense will look, however. Age and some possible suspensions (looking at you, Elvis) could derail this unit, and Peyton Manning might not be able to carry the team like he once did. Plus, they'll have serious competition from Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Wins: vs Falcons, at Bills, vs Chargers, at Buccaneers, vs Raiders, vs Bengals, vs Broncos, vs Panthers, at Browns, at Raiders, vs Colts
Losses: at Saints, vs Ravens, at Chargers, at Steelers, at Broncos
This team went 7-9 without its star Runningback, its star Safety, and its #1 Tight End for the entire season. Not to mention their #1 QB went down in Week 10. Just getting those guys healthy should be enough for a division title. The young talent on this team is impressive, and with some development could make them dangerous in the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Wins: vs Chargers, vs Jaguars, vs Buccaneers, vs Broncos
Losses: at Dolphins, vs Steelers, at Broncos, at Falcons, at Chiefs, at Ravens, vs Saints, at Bengals, vs Browns, vs Chiefs, at Panthers, at Chargers
Oakland is going to experience some growing pains after purging their roster of Al Davis's mistakes. However, letting Michael Bush may have been the biggest mistake of all. Darren McFadden has proven one thing in his career: he is as fragile as he is explosive, so not having a viable replacement is going to hurt. Throw in the fact that they cut their best Cornerback on an already suspect secondary and this team is going to get worse before it gets better.
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Wins: vs Titans, vs Falcons, at Saints, vs Broncos, vs Chiefs, vs Bengals, at Jets, vs Raiders
Losses: at Raiders, at Chiefs, at Browns, at Buccaneers, at Broncos, vs Ravens, at Steelers, vs Panthers
I really can't figure out Phillip Rivers. He can be as prolific as Aaron Rodgers when he wants to be, but he just cant translate that into wins. I think this team did get better, but their schedule got harder. Also, I just don't think Norv Turner is a good enough head coach to take this team where it wants to go.
Houston Texans (9-7)
Wins: vs Dolphins, at Jaguars, vs Titans, at Jets, vs Jaguars, at Lions, vs Colts, vs Vikings, at Colts
Losses: at Broncos, vs Packers, vs Ravens, vs Bills, at Bears, at Titans, at Patriots
I think the Texans will learn that trading Demeco Ryans to Philadelphia was a huge mistake, especially for the value they got in return. They also did very little to improve this offense, so I think that will lead to them taking a step back in the Win column. They are the favorites in the AFC South right now, but after years of being the hunters, they will have to adjust to being the hunted.
Indianapolis Colts (4-12)
Wins: vs Vikings, vs Jaguars, vs Browns, vs Dolphins,
Losses: at Bears, vs Packers, at Jets, at Titans, at Jaguars, at Patriots, vs Bills, at Lions, vs Titans, at Texans, at Chiefs, vs Texans
Yes, they got their franchise QB, but don't forget this is still a rebuilding team. I do not expect Andrew Luck to have the type of impact that Matt Ryan did as a rookie because the talent around him simply isn't there. Rookie Head Coach Chuck Pagano has a lot of work ahead of him.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
Wins: vs Colts, vs Jets
Losses: at Vikings, vs Texans, at Colts, vs Bengals, vs Bears, at Raiders, at Packers, vs Lions, at Texans, vs Titans, at Bills, at Dolphins, vs Patriots, at Titans
Jacksonville has to be one of the frontrunners for the #1 overall pick in 2013, because unless Blaine Gabbert makes a huge leap this year they will struggle to beat any team.
Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Wins: vs Lions, at Vikings, vs Steelers, vs Colts, vs Bears, at Dolphins, at Jaguars, vs Texans, at Colts, vs Jets, vs Jaguars
Losses: vs Patriots, at Chargers, at Texans, at Bills, at Packers
This might surprise some people, but Tennessee actually finished with a winning record last year, so a division title is not out of the question. I expect they will turn to Jake Locker at some point this season, and the year of maturation he's gone through is going to do wonders for him. They have some enticing weapons at his disposal if everyone can stay healthy, and even though the defense might take a step back I think they can pull a few upsets and take this division.
Buffalo Bills (9-7)
Wins: at Browns, vs Patriots, vs Titans, at Texans, vs Dolphins, at Colts, vs Jaguars, vs Rams, vs Jets
Losses: at Jets, vs Chiefs, at 49ers, at Cardinals, at Patriots, vs Seahawks, at Dolphins
Buffalo had one of the best offseasons in the league this year, so a jump in the Win column shouldn't come as a surprise. However, with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB and a serious lack of talent in the guys he's throwing to, I don't think this is a playoff team yet.
Miami Dolphins (4-12)
Wins: vs Raiders, vs Jets, vs Jaguars, vs Bills
Losses: at Texans, at Cardinals, at Bengals, vs Rams, at Colts, vs Titans, at Bills, vs Seahawks, vs Patriots, at 49ers, at Patriots
With a bunch of average QBs and no one to throw the ball to, this offense is going to be dreadful. Once the team gets off to a bad start, the fans will start clamoring to see their shiny new rookie QB in action. However, this will do them no good as Tannehill is way too raw to start at QB in the next year. It's going to be a long season in Miami, at least they have basketball now...
New England Patriots (12-4)
Wins: at Titans, vs Cardinals, vs Broncos, vs Jets, at Rams, vs Bills, vs Colts, at Dolphins, vs Texans, vs 49ers, at Jaguars, vs Dolphins
Losses: at Ravens, at Bills, at Seahawks, at Jets
In this division, the Patriots can safely walk to the playoffs without breaking much of a sweat. No one can match Brady's level of play and no one can match Belichick's coaching. 12-4 is conservative for this team.
New York Jets (6-10)
Wins: vs Bills, vs 49ers, vs Colts, vs Dolphins, vs Patriots, vs Cardinals
Losses: at Steelers, at Dolphins, vs Texans, at Patriots, at Seahawks, at Rams, at Jaguars, at Titans, vs Chargers, at Bills
I'm throwing in the towel with the Jets. I've given up on Mark Sanchez, I've given up on Shonn Greene, and I've given up on Santonio Holmes. If teams can get even a little momentum going on this defense, it's a win. Tebow will have to pull a few more miracles out of his helmet for this team to finish above .500.
Chicago Bears (11-5)
Wins: vs Colts, vs Rams, at Cowboys, at Jaguars, vs Lions, vs Panthers, vs Texans, vs Vikings, vs Seahawks, at Vikings, at Cardinals
Losses: at Packers, at Titans, at 49ers, vs Packers, at Lions
I think you'll see this offense take off now that Matt Forte is happy with his contract and Brandon Marshall is keeping defenses honest. The defense might be getting a little old, but its time Jay Cutler made some noise in the playoffs. Don't be surprised if this team goes on a serious run.
Detroit Lions (8-8)
Wins: vs Rams, at 49ers, vs Vikings, vs Seahawks, at Jaguars, vs Colts, at Cardinals, vs Bears
Losses: at Titans, at Eagles, at Bears, at Vikings, vs Packers, vs Texans, at Packers, vs Falcons
The Lions are going to have some answering to do with Roger Goodell, and if he hits this team with suspensions they could be in a hole before they know it. This offense is talented enough to go to the playoffs, but the defense still has a long way to go. Not coincidentally, they finish 8-8.
Green Bay Packers (14-2)
Wins: vs 49ers, vs Bears, at Seahawks, vs Saints, at Colts, at Texans, at Rams, vs Jaguars, vs Cardinals, at Lions, vs Vikings, vs Lions, vs Titans, at Vikings
Losses: at Giants, at Bears
After they won the Superbowl 2 years ago, I didn't think this team would lose at all in 2011. I was almost right, but after choking in the playoffs Green Bay focused their entire draft on the defense. Aaron Rodgers is going to put up points regardless of who he's playing, so it made sense to bring in some young talent on the other side of the ball. This year, they are still the NFC favorites.
Minnesota Vikings (3-13)
Wins: vs Jaguars, vs Cardinals, vs Buccaneers
Losses: at Colts, vs 49ers, at Lions, vs Titans, at Redskins, at Seahawks, vs Lions, at Bears, at Packers, vs Bears, at Rams, at Texans, vs Packers
Adrian Peterson's injury is going to hurt more than people expect this year, and this offense will go nowhere because of it. Of the 4 QBs taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, I think 2 will Boom and 2 will Bust. Can you guess which group I'm putting Christian Ponder in?
Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Wins: vs Dolphins, vs Bills, vs Rams,
Losses: vs Seahawks, at Patriots, vs Eagles, at Rams, at Vikings, vs 49ers, at Packers, at Falcons, at Jets, at Seahawks, vs Lions, vs Bears, at 49ers
Arizona is going to learn the hard way what it looks like to have 2 great receivers and no one to throw them the ball. Its not that I think Kevin Kolb is that bad, he'll just be on the ground before he can ever think about throwing. This offensive line is dreadful, and if it weren't for their potentially great defensive line, I would have no faith in their defense either.
San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
Wins: at Vikings, vs Bills, vs Giants, at Cardinals, vs Rams, vs Bears, at Saints, vs Dolphins, vs Cardinals
Losses: at Packers, vs Lions, at Jets, vs Seahawks, at Rams, at Patriots, at Seahawks
Almost every year there is one team that puts together a great season because of surprisingly good defense and mistake-free offense. And almost every year after that the team comes down to Earth. The 49ers will be looking to air it out more this year with all their new receivers, but that would be unwise. Their incredible +28 turnover ratio from a year ago is going to drop and I wouldn't be surprised to see Colin Kaepernick get some starts under his belt before the end of the year.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Wins: at Cardinals, vs Cowboys, at Panthers, vs Patriots, vs Vikings, vs Jets, at Dolphins, vs Cardinals, at Bills, vs 49ers, vs Rams
Losses: vs Packers, at Rams, at 49ers, at Lions, at Bears
Seattle has become my sleeper team for 2012 because if they can get some above-average play from their QB, they can really do some damage. This is an underrated team almost top to bottom, and I think they'll take advantage of a favorable schedule to steal their division.
St. Louis Rams (6-10)
Wins: vs Seahawks, vs Cardinals, at Dolphins, vs Jets, vs 49ers, vs Vikings
Losses: at Lions, vs Redskins, at Bears, vs Packers, vs Patriots, at 49ers, at Cardinals, at Bills, at Buccaneers, at Seahawks
This team is definitely improved from a year ago, especially on defense. Jeff Fisher has done a great job this offseason, but the one thing he couldn't do was get an impact receiver for Sam Bradford. With Steven Jackson aging, its going to be hard to put up points, especially against the good defenses in their division.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Wins: vs Broncos, at Redskins, vs Raiders, vs Cowboys, at Saints, vs Cardinals, vs Saints, at Panthers, vs Giants, at Lions, vs Buccaneers
Losses: at Chiefs, at Chargers, vs Panthers, at Eagles, at Buccaneers,
This whole division is hard to predict, but Atlanta almost wins it by default because of the questions surrounding all the other teams. They have to find a pass rush and they have to get more explosive on offense, but the Falcons are solid all around and can compete with most teams in the league.
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
Wins: vs Saints, vs Giants, at Falcons, vs Broncos, at Chargers, vs Raiders,
Losses: at Buccaneers, vs Seahawks, vs Cowboys, at Bears, at Redskins, vs Buccaneers, at Eagles, at Chiefs, vs Falcons, at Saints
The team definitely got better on defense, but I expect somewhat of a sophomore slump from Cam Newton. He didn't have the phenomenal year passing that some would have you believe, and teams can gameplan against his running ability now that they have significant tape to study.
New Orleans Saints (6-10)
Wins: vs Redskins, vs Chiefs, at Raiders, vs 49ers, vs Buccaneers, vs Panthers,
Losses: at Panthers, at Packers, vs Chargers, at Buccaneers, at Broncos, vs Eagles, vs Falcons, at Falcons, at Giants, at Cowboys,
The Saints could experience a season similar to 2008, when Drew Brees first passed for 5,000 yards but the team still finished 8-8. This defense has lost its bite after being exposed for its illegal activities, and the harsh suspensions don't help either. Also, having to switch off between head coaches is going to throw this team off more than people might think.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Wins: vs Panthers, vs Redskins, vs Saints, vs Chargers, vs Panthers, vs Falcons, vs Rams
Losses: at Giants, at Cowboys, vs Chiefs, at Vikings, at Raiders, at Broncos, vs Eagles, at Saints, at Falcons
Tampa Bay quietly had a great offseason, bringing in big names like Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks before hitting home runs in the draft with Mark Barron and Doug Martin. If Josh Freeman can regain his 2010 form, this team could make a run at the playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Wins: vs Buccaneers, at Panthers, vs Giants, at Eagles, vs Browns, vs Redskins, vs Steelers, vs Saints,
Losses: at Giants, at Seahawks, vs Bears, at Ravens, at Falcons, vs Eagles, at Bengals, at Redskins
Dallas definitely improved its biggest weakness by upgrading its Cornerback position, but I'm worried about the offensive line and the running game. If injuries hit the offense (Dez Bryant hasn't exactly been a moniker of health) they could struggle to move the ball.
New York Giants (7-9)
Wins: vs Cowboys, vs Buccaneers, at Eagles, vs Browns, vs Redskins, vs Packers, vs Saints
Losses: at Panthers, at 49ers, at Cowboys, vs Steelers, at Bengals, at Redskins, at Falcons, at Ravens, vs Eagles
Before you go nuts and try to have me put in a mental hospital for having the Superbowl Champions finish with a losing record, remember that this team barely made the playoffs at 9-7 and couldn't beat the Redskins last year. A two game dropoff should not be as astounding as people would have you think. Questions on the offensive line and in the secondary could derail this team, and tougher division opponents will make it hard for this team to repeat.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Wins: at Browns, vs Ravens, at Cardinals, vs Giants, vs Lions, vs Falcons, at Saints, at Redskins, vs Panthers, at Cowboys, at Buccaneers, vs Bengals, vs Redskins
Losses: at Steelers, vs Cowboys, at Giants
As I mentioned above, perhaps no transaction had as little fanfare as the Demeco Ryans trade, but perhaps no transaction will be more impactful. He and rookie Fletcher Cox immediately toughen up the inside of this defense, which was their Achilles' heal last year. Bottom line: if Mike Vick stays healthy, this team finishes with a first round bye.
Washington Redskins (7-9)
Wins: at Rams, vs Bengals, vs Vikings, vs Panthers, vs Giants, at Browns, vs Cowboys
Losses: at Saints, at Buccaneers, vs Falcons, at Giants, at Steelers, vs Eagles, at Cowboys, vs Ravens, at Eagles
Yes, I'm drinking the RG3 Kool-Aid and no I'm not apologizing for it. He is the absolute prototype for what Mike Shannahan wants in a QB and should flourish in this system. However, their offensive line and secondary might both be among the worst in the league, and its going to hold them back from the playoffs. This year anyway...
So, your AFC Playoff picture is as follows:
1. New England Patriots (common games tiebreaker over Steelers)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Kansas City Chiefs (common games tiebreaker over Titans)
4. Tennessee Titans
5. Denver Broncos (head to head tiebreaker over Ravens)
6. Baltimore Ravens
And your NFC Playoff teams:
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Chicago Bears
6. San Francisco 49ers
Unfortunately, I will not predict the playoffs game by game as I did for the regular season. Years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that has turned my blood Black and Gold and it prevents me from writing a piece like this where the Steelers lose in the playoffs. However, for the sake of writer's integrity I do not want to be overly biased in my predictions so writing a piece which predicts a Steelers #7 victory seems too self serving. As I said in my last post, I expect the Steelers to make a serious playoff run. And I can say with 100% certainty that if you asked anyone involved with the organization, anything less than a Superbowl victory will be considered a failure.
Stay tuned for the continuation of this series. I'll be turning my attention back toward Pittsburgh for the 2013 offseason to see who will be staying with the team and who will be leaving.