The first game of the 2012 NFL regular season and a full slate kicks off this after, even though the Baltimore Ravens do not make their first appearance on the gridiron until Monday evening. Before too much has happened, let's make our picks for the division winners, playoff teams and crown the 2013 Super Bowl Champions.
AFC East: This continues to be a no-brainer, as the New England Patriots are once again the clear class of the division. The bigger question is who will finish second, and I like what the Buffalo Bills have done in the off-season and believe they may be in contention for a playoff berth, with mess that is the New York Jets and the continually re-building Miami Dolphins trailing behind.
Final Standings: 1. Patriots 2. Bills 3. Jets 4. Dolphins
AFC South: The balance of power has shifted to the Houston Texans, who should run away with this division. The Tennessee Titans have talent while the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts have a ways to go before competing.
Final Standings: 1. Texans 2. Titans 3. Jaguars 4. Colts
(Click on the 'Jump' to see where I put the Ravens and the rest of the league)
AFC North: The Ravens are the hungriest and most focused team in this black-and-blue division. They had the taste of the Super Bowl on the tips of their collective tongues and proved they were the best team in the North last year. The loss of Terrell Suggs will not deter them from their ultimate goal. The Pittsburgh Steelers will always be in the mix, but they have limited depth, injuries and will not be able to keep pace. Expect the Cincinnati Bengals to have a sophomore slump with QB Andy Dalton and there is absolutely nothing to say about how embarrassing the Cleveland Browns are to the NFL.
Final Standings: 1. Ravens 2. Steelers 3. Bengals 4. Browns
AFC West: This may be the toughest division to call in the league but the addition of QB Peyton Manning to the defending AFC West champion Denver Broncos makes them the clear favorite. The San Diego Chargers always seem to under-achieve and there is hope for the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Oakland looks like the choice for cellar-dweller here.
Final Standings: 1. Broncos 2. Chiefs 3. Chargers 4. Raiders
NFC East: Another tough division to find a clear favorite as we saw in the season opening win by the Dallas Cowboys over the New York Giants. The Philadelphia Eagles seem to have an all-star roster but we saw what happened to them last year. The Washington Redskins have an exciting QB, but he is still a rookie in a tough division.
Final Standings: 1. Giants 2. Eagles 3. Cowboys 4. Redskins
NFC South: Despite the effects of Bounty-Gate, QB Drew Brees still leads this team and he will continue to be tough to beat. The Atlanta Falcons look good in the regular season but fails miserably in the playoffs. QB Cam Newton lit a spark with the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added talent but will have a huge climb to compete.
Final Standings: 1. Saints 2. Falcons 3. Panthers 4. Bucs
NFC North: How can you pick anyone other than the Green Bay Packers to win this division. The Detroit Lions made the playoffs with a great offense but questionable defense. The Chicago Bears may be healthier and the Minnesota Vikings will easily bring up the rear once again.
Final Standings: 1. Packers 2. Bears 3. Lions 4. Vikings
NFC West: Once again, the San Francisco 49ers are worlds above the rest of the other three teams. The Seattle Seahawks are better than being given credit for, as are the Arizona Cardinals, but it doesn't appear their quarterbacks are even as good as the one in the basement of the division on the St. Louis Rams. We will see.
Final Standings: 1. 49ers 2. Seahawks 3. Cardinals 4. Rams
AFC Playoff Teams: Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Broncos, Steelers, Bills
NFC Playoff Teams: Giants, Saints, Packers, 49ers, Eagles, Bears
Super Bowl Teams: Ravens vs. Packers
Super Bowl Champs: Ravens (Yeah, I'm a "homer," so what?)