We are on the precipice of another NFL season. I am just coming out of Olympic mode and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for the NFL season to start but whether I’m ready or not it’s a-coming. While admittedly you do not win the Super Bowl in September moves made in the offseason by certain teams have moved them into playoff contention while others (Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers) have slipped. Predicting the best teams before a season begins is a tricky thing due to injuries, player under or over performing or rookie impact. Meaning sometimes a team looks better or worse on paper than it actually is. With all that in mind I am going to attempt to list the top 10 NFL teams entering the 2012-13 season.
1) Green Bay Packers: The Packers only lost two games last season, so it should be a surprise to no one that they are the number one favourites to win Super Bowl 47. Still not a perfect team as they have to make some significant improvements on defense and they have addressed that weakness through the draft…or so they hope. They hope that rookies like Nick Perry (linebacker) and Jerel Worthy (defensive end) make significant contributions. Losing players like Scott Wells and Chad Clifton on offense will have an effect. Bottom line is that the Packers are a threat as long as their quarterback Aaron Rodgers stays healthy.
2) New England Patriots: The Pats have added wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and they now have the deep threat they have been missing. Like the Packers, the Patriots will have to be greatly better on defense. It is not as big a problem for them as they are able to put more points on the board than most teams. Again, they are a team that will live and die with their all star quarterback. The Patriots will be the number one team in the AFC East as long as Tom Brady is their quarterback.
3) San Francisco 49ers: The NFC West should be the 49ers for the taking. They are definitely and by far the team to beat there. One year ago they made it to the NFC Championship game and since then they have made a bunch of upgrades at skill positions. On top of that they are returning eleven defensive starters from last year’s team.
4) Houston Texans: They are a team that won a playoff game last season with their third string quarterback. Starting quarterback Matt Schaub is back healthy to start the 2012-13 season so things should be even better for the underachieving Texans. During the offseason they did lose key players like Mario Williams and Eric Winston. However, if they are healthy they will be amongst the favourites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
5) Philadelphia Eagles: A team that grotesquely underachieved last season. During the offseason they made the needed improvements to be in the discussion of which team will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Addressed their issues at linebacker by trading for Demeco Ryans and drafting Mychal Kendricks. Another adjustment is that Asante Samuel is now playing with Atlanta so Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play in his more natural outside corner position. Their first round draft pick – Fletcher Cox – might give the Eagles the best 3rd down pass rush in the NFL. They do play in a tough division but they have the talent necessary to come out on top.
6) Buffalo Bills: The Bills feature the division’s best defensive line and a deep secondary to boot. What they do dearly need is quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to return to the form he showed at the beginning of the 2011 season. If he does, they could make a run at the AFC title. When you look at the team on paper they are loaded. What they do need to do is erase the reputation of mediocrity that has followed them around for over a decade now. They can do that by getting back into the playoffs for the first time in twelve years.
7) Cincinnati Bengals: They are my first of two dark horses. I believe that the Bengals are going to surprise a lot of people and win the AFC North this season. Their offense is solid and is only going to get better as quarterback Andy Dalton matures. Dalton will benefit from a full season with A.J. Green, who is going to be thought of as one of the best receivers in the league very soon. They picked up some strong players in the offseason through the drafts that will probably have an impact right away. The only real weakness is their running game and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a decent back who will not hurt the team. The Ravens have lost some key players and so the door is wide open for the Bengals to take over.
8) Detroit Lions: In all seriousness this team with a bit of luck could end up rivaling the Green Bay Packers in the NFL North. They have great weapons at the skill positions and Drew Stafford should have another great year at quarterback. They do have some holes in the secondary but are otherwise strong, young and talented. The only thing that worries me are the amount of off-field incidents that happened during the offseason.
9) Denver Broncos: A solid team that made the playoffs last year without a real quarterback. They now boast first round Hall of Famer Peyton Manning under center. As long as his neck holds out they now become contenders. It should be a tight race in the AFC West between them and the San Diego Chargers.
10) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: My second dark horse team. They are another team that will surprise many. In the offseason they made some improvements. While their defense has some holes it is an underrated unit. Management has made itself known as one that is clearly focused on playing solid, smart football. They have created an environment that will lead to long-term success.