A look at this year’s contender, surprise teams and Super Bowl pick
These days, when you step outside, there’s a different feeling in the air.
Fall is nearing and it feels cooler, but, more importantly, it’s the anticipation of the NFL regular season.
There have been many coaching changes, and some big-name players have moved onto new homes via free agency. One thing for sure, it’s about winning in the NFL, and being mediocre for most franchises just won’t cut it.
So, who will be the top teams?
Who may surprise us and end up in the Super Bowl in New Jersey this February?
Did you see the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a big snowstorm that day?
Come on, meteorologists have trouble predicting tomorrow’s weather, let alone five months away!
There is no real clear-cut favourite in a wide-open AFC. All the top teams have big question marks.
New England – Tom Brady may be great, but when you lose all those catches from Wes Welker (Denver), Aaron Hernandez (jail) and Gronk (surgery), you just have to wonder how they will move the chains?
Baltimore – Say what you want, but you can’t replace the heart and leadership that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gave the Ravens. Also, Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco lost his two clutch receivers in Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin, who was also a big leader in the room.
Denver – Peyton has a slew of targets in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Welker, but his offensive line looked shaky in the pre-season and none of the running backs can hold the rock. Furthermore, Denver lost its two best pass rushers, Elvis Dumervil (free agency) and Von Miller (suspension), so who is going to pressure the quarterback?
Houston – The Texans will be in every game with a solid defence, but in those big games down the stretch, and playoffs, this team is just missing something. Perhaps quarterback Matt Schaub can’t make the big plays when they need them.
Indianapolis – The Colts won’t jump up and surprise anyone this season. Indy really didn’t improve its defence, so can they win these shootouts every game?
Cincinnati – Making the playoffs the last two seasons probably doesn’t make the Bengals a surprise team, but The Freak likes their solid defence. They have added more weapons at tight end and running back for quarterback Andy Dalton, which will lead to a division title.
KC – Don’t laugh as this team had eight Pro Bowlers last year. The problem was they didn’t have a quarterback or a coach. They addressed these issues, and have one of the best coaches in Andy Reid and Alex Smith, who was the top-rated quarterback in the league until he got concussed in Week 11. KC will make some noise in the weak AFC West.
There are a couple of dominant NFC teams, and a number knocking on the door.
San Fran – The 49ers bring intensity and physicality week. If teams can’t match this, they will not beat San Fran. The D is great, which puts them in every game, but can the offence find a replacement for Colin Kaepernick’s go-to guy, Mike Crabtree?
Seattle – Apologies to the 49ers, but the Seahawks might have the best D, including a great secondary, in all of football. With a big-time upgrade in pass rush with Cliff Avril and Mike Bennett, it will be hard to score on them. Russell Wilson is solid and although they don’t have any big-name receivers with the injury to Percy Harvin, they all play their system well.
Green Bay – As long as you have Aaron Rodgers throwing the football you have a chance, but the Packers didn’t address their O-Line needs to keep Mr. Rodgers upright. He took too many hits last season, and it might not be better this year.
Atlanta – Don’t know if Steve Jackson is an upgrade over Mike Turner, except he can catch the ball better. With all the weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal, Jackson doesn’t have to be the main guy like he was with the Rams. The Falcons are well balanced, but no team has repeated as NFC South champs.
New York – Usually the Giants have a good season after missing the playoffs. With that in mind, you have to think Big Blue will be in the mix. They have a solid offence and the defence can’t be any worse than last year. Hopefully, once again, it’s nervous times at The Freak residence in January.
Washington – The Redskins’ season hinges on whether RGIII is healthy after major knee surgery. One of the most electrifying players in years, and even though he plays on an arch-rival, The Freak respects and admires his courage and heart, which will take any team into the playoffs.
Tampa – The Bucs brought in Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and corner Darrelle Revis to strengthen the secondary, which they needed in the pass-happy NFC South. With the return of former Pro Bowl linemen Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, this should give quarterback Josh Freeman time to throw down field. With a solid running back in Doug Martin, Tampa could be a big surprise.
Philadelphia – New coach Chip Kelly brings an exciting, up-tempo offence to the Eagles, and it may take defensive co-ordinators time to adjust. Mike Vick looked comfortable running this offence in the pre-season, but can Mr. Fragile last a full season behind a poor offensive line?
Super Bowl pick
Crazy as this may sound, it will be a Seattle versus Cincy Super Bowl!
With no dominant team in the AFC, it’s wide open, so why not the Bengals?
Seattle looks great on both sides of the ball, and if they get Percy Harvin back in November, look out
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to email@example.com.