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Mike Wilkening's 2012 NFL predictions
Posted Aug. 29, 2012 @ 11:04 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening
1. New England — Tough to pick against in this division and a very logical contender for the AFC title.
2. N.Y. Jets — Not giving up on them, even after awful preseason. Can vie for a wild-card spot.
3. Buffalo — Surely a threat to the Jets for second place. Improving team. Can Bills make a leap forward?
4. Miami — Rebuilding around Ryan Tannehill. Will Joe Philbin get the time he needs to attempt to turn team around?
1. Baltimore — Ravens again look loaded, and if offense takes a step forward, look out.
2. Pittsburgh — Surely still one of the NFL's elite clubs, but OL play and secondary's ability to cope with strong passing games are potential red flags.
3. Cincinnati — On their best, Bengals can challenge the top two teams, but another year of seasoning and a few more additions to the roster may be needed to be a consistent threat in the North.
4. Cleveland — Defense will be short-handed early, and young offense might not click until late.
1. Houston — Could run away and hide in this division like a season ago. Big-time threat in the AFC.
2. Jacksonville — I think the Jaguars will be better than expected. The passing game will be better, and the defense again looks solid.
3. Indianapolis — Colts will be significantly more competitive this season.
4. Tennessee — I'm taking the view that the Jaguars and Colts have more upside.
1. San Diego — In a loaded division, I'll take a chance on the talented Chargers. If they recapture their best form from a season ago for an extended stretch, they have a big shot in the West.
2. Denver — Could power their way to the West title if Peyton Manning is sharp from the get-go and the defense improves. However, the schedule is tough, and I expect a few hiccups.
3. Kansas City — I like the Chiefs more as a 2013 division-title proposition than as a 2012 sleeper. Just not sure they have enough to win the West.
4. Oakland — I'm not discounting the Raiders' chances to be competitive, but I believe they have the slimmest margin for error in this rugged division.
1. N.Y. Giants — I'm looking for a repeat of 2008, where defending-champion Giants proved Super Bowl win was no fluke with a division title.
2. Philadelphia — Love the Eagles' talent, but just wonder about their consistency.
3. Dallas — Cowboys will have moments where they look like strong contenders, but I just think they're a cut below the top two. It's their rotten luck to be in the East.
4. Washington — Willl be better with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and in Mike Shanahan's third season at the helm, but it won't be enough.
1. Green Bay — The offense is a thing of beauty. The defense? That will tell the tale for the Packers.
2. Detroit — Lions have some flaws, but they are quite talented. Why can't they challenge for a playoff spot once again?
3. Chicago — There's a ton of sentiment that the Bears could be a force, and I don't disagree, but I just think the top two teams have just a little more upside.
4. Minnesota — The Vikings will be in a lot of fun-to-watch games, but I don't see a bushel of wins in their future.
1. Atlanta — The Falcons have a loaded offense and an improved defense, and they have been able to quietly go about their business preparing for the season. They're my pick in the South and in the NFC.
2. Carolina — Such an enjoyable team to watch. Panthers improved by leaps and bounds last season and still have upside.
3. New Orleans — If Saints win the division without Sean Payton and after a tough offseason, all power to them, but I see them taking a step backwards.
4. Tampa Bay — The Buccaneers surely are better than they were at the end of last season, but I don't see them threatening the top three teams in this division over the course of the campaign.
1. San Francisco — 49ers are strong favorites in this division. This is a deep, talented club that's excellent on defense and special teams, and the offense is solid, too.
2. Seattle — Seahawks' defense, running game are strengths, and rookie QB Russell Wilson's promising summer is a positive, too.
3. Arizona — The Cardinals finished strongly a season ago, and I believe their offense can be somewhat decent, but there's quite a bit of downside risk here, too.
4. St. Louis — Rams figure to show improvement, but rebuilding will take time.
Offensive MVP: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Defensive MVP: Ravens DT Naloti NgataSuper Bowl XLVII: Ravens over Falcons