Clearly, it's the day of predictions in the NFL, with Ryan Kalil taking out a full-page ad to announce that the Carolina Pantherswill win Super Bowl XLVII, and Chad Johnson forecasting "a monster year" with the Miami Dolphins at age 34. Let's get in on the act: What's one bold prediction you have for the 2012 season?
The Seattle Seahawks will win the NFC West. Their defense can be just as dangerous as the San Francisco 49ers' vaunted unit. The quarterback play can be better with Matt Flynn. San Francisco, meanwhile, must deal with a much tougher schedule and heightened expectations.
The Philadelphia Eagles will win the Super Bowl. It will be their first championship since 1960. I'm just not sure who will be the two-way player that'll emulate Chuck Bednarik's brilliant performance in the 1960 title game against Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.
Quarterback Michael Vick had his first full offseason to prepare while secure in the knowledge he'll be Philadelphia's starter. Consequently, he'll enjoy a career year. Receiver DeSean Jackson will once again emerge as the game's most dangerous deep threat. Bottom line: The Eagles will be more explosive than ever on offense.
I already predicted the Carolina Panthers would win the NFC South when we had receiver Steve Smith in Studio 66 for the Dave Dameshek Football Program. Compared to Ryan Kalil's ambitious prognostication, my prediction seems about as bold as saying "The Dark Knight Rises" is going make a lot of money. (Seriously, Ryan, if you had just shot for the NFC South, it would have been enough.)
My prediction for this Instant Debate is that the New York Giants will improve their record this season ... but fail to reach the playoffs. If you recall, the Giants won the NFC East with a 9-7 mark last year. (Funny, those who screamed bloody murder when the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals and 7-9 Seattle Seahawks were hosting playoff games became pretty darn silent when the Giants hosted the Atlanta Falcons last January.)
Quarterback Michael Vick might not start a dynasty in Philadelphia in 2012, but he'll stay healthy enough to lead the Eagles to a wild-card berth in the league's toughest division.
Add in middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans' ability to bolster the team's run defense and first-round pick Fletcher Cox's interior pass rush, and Andy Reid's team projects as the next non-division winner to make a Super Bowl appearance.
As this year's training camps get underway, three of the eight NFL divisional races are already considered won by the 2011 incumbents: the AFC East (New England Patriots), AFC South (Houston Texans) and NFC West (San Francisco 49ers). Don't believe it. I'm here to tell ya, only two of those teams will return to the top step on the medal stand -- because the Tennessee Titans are going to claim the AFC South.
The Texans were arguably the conference's best team last year, at least until quarterback Matt Schaub went down with another in a long line of injuries. Had that not happened, the road to Indy would've run through top-seeded Houston. But that was last year. Going into 2012, the Texans have to worry about replacing one of the best tackles in the game, Eric Winston, plus defensive standouts DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. And if the last few years are any indication, they must be ready to play at least a few games without the injury-prone battery of Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson.
The Titans, meanwhile, have a defense that is anonymous but on the rise, a running back who is apparently hungry to redeem himself in Chris Johnson and a talented group of pass catchers -- with or without ne'er-do-well Kenny Britt. The key, though, is the quarterback. Assuming head coach Mike Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer make the right call -- putting Matt Hasselbeck in a headset and Jake Locker under center -- Nashville fans will get to experience what their counterparts in Charlotte did one year ago: a big-armed, fleet-footed signal-caller who is ready to start a dynamic new era of winning.
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Ryan will become an elite QB for Falcons; Titans' Johnson will bounce back in a big way
Well, since Ryan Kalil and Chad Johnson (née Ochocinco) made their statements, I'll give you two bold predictions for the price of one. First, everyone's searching for this year's Matthew Stafford, the quarterback who's going to explode to the next level. That guy is Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons realize they have to throw the ball more than they have in the past to win. The days of running back Michael Turner logging 30 carries are gone. He's 30 years old and could hit the wall this year. But it doesn't matter. Ryan has the best wideout tandem in the game (with receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones) and will complete around 40 touchdowns and notch 5,000 yards passing.
Second, your leading rusher in the NFL this year will be the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson. I'm a big believer that he has one or two huge years left, and I'm throwing out last season, when he was out of shape due to the lockout and his holdout. He's motivated and will come back in a huge way in 2012, to the tune of at least 1,600 yards. Hey, you said "bold" ...