The NFL has achieved the dream of every professional sports league – unbridled parity. If the NBA had it, the Sacramento Kings would not be looking up and down both coasts for a new home. Should Major League Baseball ever achieve parity, the Pittsburgh Pirates wouldn’t be pursuing their first playoff berth since Andrew McCutchen’s fifth birthday, and if the NHL had it, people would watch. I will leave college football alone.
In honor to the well-conceived dreams of Peter Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue, and Roger Goodell, my five-in, five-out predictions:
OUT: Pittsburgh Steelers. The rust is apparent on these Steelers. They lack a front 7 defensive player that is in his prime, and the offensive line has been in shambles for several years now. Big Ben’s biggest ally, a sturdy running game, appears to be in serious question with the lingering knee injury of Rashard Mendenhall. This team needs another draft or two to return to its position of glory. Northern Colorado graduate Aaron Smith is not walking through that door, and neither is Joey Porter, for that matter.
IN: Tennessee Titans. This choice is largely inspired by my primary football prognostication cardinal rule – never bet on Norv Turner, unless he is your offensive coordinator. I like Jake Locker, they have a sturdy offensive line and potentially potent running game, and the defense is stout.
OUT: Cincinnati Bengals. In spite of second year potential stars in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, I am consistently faithful to one guiding premise here – these are your father’s Cincinnati Bengals. Their last consecutive playoff seasons occurred during the Reagan administration.
IN: Buffalo Bills. Armed with young talent on both sides of the ball, and an aggressive, play-making front seven on the defense, the renaissance of the fighting Bison begins in 2012. There are a lot of ifs here – Ryan Fitzpatrick returning to 2011 Week 3 form, Fred Jackson’s health, and Stevie Johnson’s mental health – but I like the acquisition of Mario Williams as a fierce playmaker in the Buffalo front seven, and the defensive line could be the best in football. It’s time to party like it’s 1999 1989 in Buffalo.
OUT: New York Giants. The Super Bowl run of the New York Football Giants was the Cinderella story of this decade in the NFL. Narrowly scraping past the San Francisco 49ers in my five-out choices, the Giants lack impact players across the offensive line and back field and everywhere off the defensive line.
IN: Washington Redskins. I can’t quite explain my choice of the ‘Skins as the NFL East division champs. Several possible theories include: my distrust of Michael Vick’s medical record, my distaste for the Dallas Cowboys, my deep connection with my long-lost cousin RGIII, or some nostalgic belief that Mike Shanahan has one more good run in him. The ‘Skins have a slew of running backs, Shanahan’s insight on offensive line play, and a fierce defense to back up my favorite NFL quarterback prospect of the last thirty years.
OUT: New Orleans Saints. This just seems like a recipe for disaster. Major suspensions to BOTH players and coaches, couples with serious questions about the sustainability of their bend-and-break defense are key concerns with this team. Drew Brees sure is a dynamo, but his staple of skill position weapons is depleted every year. The lack of Sean Payton’s presence in the meeting rooms and on the sidelines is my number one underrated story of 2012.
IN: Seattle Seahawks. The play of Russell Wilson will be the key here. Color me a staunch supporter of Wilson. Seattle is strong on both lines, and has speed and diversity in their offensive backfield. While it is hard to believe that Pete Carroll has the gusto to pull this off, I simply like the talent and depth of Seattle on both sides of the ball.
OUT: Detroit Lions. Assuming that the Lions are in fact capable of overcoming off-field decision-making of their entire roster, and that Megatron is prepared to transcend the factual guarantee of the Madden curse, the Lions have too many holes in the offensive backfield, offensive line, and defensive back seven. Further, at some point, the lunacy that is the life of Jim Schwarz will crumble.
IN: Chicago Bears. This breaks my heart and spirit in every possible way. Predicting Jay Cutler as a playoff leading quarterback (and sleeper Super Bowl quarterback) is virtually too much to stomach. The addition of Brandon Marshall combined with the return of Matt Forte give me strong belief in the offensive unit. The firing of Mike Martz is a seven fold upgrade in offensive play calling, and the defense is still loaded with playmakers and game changers.
Here’s to Peyton Manning maintaining form, and a Denver Broncos Super Bowl run.