By Gary Dillabough – The Brock Press
The leaves are changing, the days are getting shorter and Isaacs is restocking its bar. Yes, it’s back to school time at Brock University, and with back to school comes the return of the highflying, hard hitting and the always dramatic, National Football League (NFL).
Over the past seven months people all over North America have been gearing up for the return of American Football, after Baltimore and San Francisco literally turned the lights out on the 2012 season in Super Bowl XLVII.
Each NFL season proves to be either unpredictable with several teams disappointing or charging to the playoffs out of nowhere, making it impossible to predict the outcomes, but let’s try anyways.
The team with the closest proximity to Brock University would be those feisty Buffalo Bills playing in the AFC conference. After another disappointing season last year the team expects to show much improvement under new head coach Doug Marone, especially on the defensive end of the ball.
However the Bills are sure to struggle at the quarterback position where they will be forced to go with undrafted rookie, Jeff Tuel to start Week 1. This would be a laughable quarterback controversy, that is if everyone wasn’t already laughing at the Jets.
The New York Jets circus act involving head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez have made the team look more like a bad episode of Days of Our Lives rather then a pro franchise.
The power-house in their division would appear for another year to be the New England Patriots, assuming the rest of Tom Brady’s offence can stay out of jail. The Denver Broncos are another team to watch at the top of the AFC however with a depleted defence through Free Agency and suspensions their fate rests on the health of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Baltimore Ravens will have a tough time to repeat their Super Bowl victory as they lost much of their veteran leadership and top end production this off-season. The Pittsburgh Steelers are another perennial playoff contender who may be on the outside looking in as they are often injured and continue to age making them more and more dependent on big Ben Rothlesberger.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the big bad Houston Texans have been to the playoffs back to back seasons now and look to be on the verge of making that next big step. The Indianapolis Colts are also never to be counted out of a playoff race as their second year quarterback always seems to have the Luck on his side.
While it’s difficult to make a jump from the bottom of the conference to the playoffs watch for the Kansas City Chiefs to be the biggest improvement this year over the likes of the Raiders, Dolphins, Chargers, Titans and Browns with the Jacksonville Jaguars likely to find themselves floating at the bottom of the well once again this season.
The AFC will be a wide-open sprint for the playoffs and beyond with injuries and off-field issues playing a huge role in the standings. I feel that with their strong running game and rock solid defence the Houston Texans will be the team to outlast the rest of the conference and make their presence known by capturing the AFC title.
In the NFC, the landscape is as close as it gets, with almost every team in the conference believing they have a realistic chance at making the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers will be a team to watch as they look to get back to the big game this season, losing last years Super Bowl by inches on a last second incompletion from quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Their division—NFC West—will be no cakewalk though as Seattle looks to keep the momentum from last year rolling into this season. The Seahawks were able to catch everyone by surprise with their electric young quarterback Russell Wilson and hard-hitting defence. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are also not easy teams to play as both of their young squads would love to make the jump this year into the playoffs.
In the NFC North the Minnesota Vikings will continue their strategy that led them to the playoffs last year: give the ball to Adrian Peterson and let him go to work. The Detroit Lions had a similar strategy where they would throw the ball anywhere on the field and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson would go up and get it. Defences in the division need to beware of these two beasts.
The Green Bay Packers led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers will once again be the division favourite with their high flying offence, but will have to get past the Chicago Bears and their new head coach, Canadian Football League veteran and offensive guru Marc Trestman.
The Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has declared this season to be “Super Bowl or Bust”, but due to the uneasy health of his star quarterback, Robert Griffin III it may turn out more like “Super Bowl or Busted Knee”.
The rest of the division seems to be flying under the radar behind the superstar that is RG3, but the New York Giants are always a team to watch out for and under new head coach Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Vick will be looking to reach the playoffs again. In the biggest house in the NFL the Dallas Cowboys seem to be somehow flying under the radar for once. Is this the season Tony Romo can put it all together for a Super Bowl? Probably not.
Finally in the NFC South division the Atlanta Falcons look to repeat last year’s success, but in their way stands the New Orleans Saints and the return of head coach Sean Payton. The Carolina Panthers charge their offence into the division led by quarterback Cam Newton and ageless receiver Steve Smith. Lastly the theme with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season will certainly be interceptions, new cornerback Darelle Revis likes to catch interceptions and Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman seems to like to throw them.
In the mad fight that will be the NFC playoff race this season, I feel the best course of action will be to go with the old and trust in last year’s NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers. Their defence is rock solid and the offence has flashes of brilliance not rivalled in the league making them seem like a sure fire bet to return to the Super Bowl. With that being said, as is every season, we never know what can happen until the opening kick.