Archive for September, 2013

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After missing last week, picks are back for Week 4 and are coming back on a high note. After a near .500 week 1, there was a triumphant turn in Week 2, going 13-3 with only losses coming from the Chiefs, Bills and Chargers.

Headed into this week, the game of the week may be the first game, with the Niners heading into St. Louis coming off two consecutive bad losses and facing a team in the Rams that was a torn in their side last year. Sunday could be owned by the visitor, with six road teams having favorable chances this week.

Get your info up, and let’s get back into it. Lines and over/under for Sunday Games to come when set.

SEASON RECORD (Minus Week 3): 22-10

THURSDAY

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (Line: SF -3.0, Over/Under: 42)

SUNDAY

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (BAL -3.0, Over/Under: 44.5)

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (CIN  3.5, Over/Under: 41.5)

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (DET -3.0, Over/Under: 48.0)

New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs: (KC -3.5, Over/Under: 43.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (MIN -2.5, Over/Under: 42)

Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -1.0, Over/Under: 40)

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (IND -8.0, Over/Under: 42.5)

Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans (SEA -2.0, Over/Under: 41.5)

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (TEN -3.5, Over/Under: 40.5)

Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos (DEN -10.5, Over/Under: 58)

Washington Redskins at Oakland Raiders (WSH -3.0, Over/Under: 45)

Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers (DAL -1.5, Over/Under: 47)

New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3.0, Over/Under: 49)

MONDAY

Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints (NO -7.0, Over/Under: 48)

The Cheat Sheet: NFL Week 2 Picks & Info

Posted: September 12, 2013 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL
Tags: , , , , ,

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Week one on the Cheat Sheet looked like I did not study quite enough, getting off to 9-7 start for the young NFL season. It was a very competitive week one, with only 3 games being decided by more than 10 points and the visiting club winning five games. But after getting to put eyes on a few more teams, as well as having a schedule with a bit more parity ahead, it’s time to let the second week fly.

The rules remain the same. The full schedule for the week is below. Winners made in bold.

THURSDAY

New York Jets at New England Patriots (Line: NE -12, Over/Under: 43)

SUNDAY

St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons (ATL -4.5, Over/Under: 47)

Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (CAR -3.5, Over/Under: 43)

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (CHI -6.0, Over/Under: 41.5)

Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers (GB -7.5, Over/Under: 49.5)

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (IND -2.5, Over/Under: 43.0)

Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -3.0, Over/Under: 45.5)

San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles (PHI -7.0, Over/Under: 53)

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (BAL -6.5, Over/Under: 44)

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (HOU -8.0, Over/Under: 41.5)

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (EVEN, Over/Under: 47.5)

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NO -3.0, Over/Under: 48.0)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders (OAK -4.0, Over/Under: 41.0)

Denver Broncos at New York Giants (DEN -4.0, Over/Under: 54.0)

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (SEA -3.0, Over/Under: 44.0)

MONDAY

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (CIN -6.5, Over/Under: 41.0)

 

The lines and over/under for each game will be updated by Sunday & Monday morning. For more on the week as it develops, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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What began on the morning of September 11th, 2001 just a few hours ago in New York City as never stopped resonating. The attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center was jolt into the daily lives of Americans that ushered in political actions that still have dominoes that are lined up to this day.

Yet how it changed the psyche of the nation was, and is, the most enduring impact of that morning’s events. Nobody knew what to make it; families stayed home, schools and places of employment remained closed and grocery stores were bombarded as supplies were hoarded for what seen as potentially only the first of what would be many attacks on the nation.

But fear being the mind-killer that it is was ultimately pushed back. The decision to stop cowering and reclaim the American way of life shortly became the way that the people of country, who were largely unequipped to do anything else, aided in the fight back. Terrorism had risen, but the people had stood up to meet it eye-to-eye. To regain the upperhand, the best possible thing that could be done, was to do what we always had. And baseball remained, as it always had, at the heart of the American course of life.

It was was in this light that Jack Buck took to the microphone at Busch Stadium on September 17, 2001, the first night that Major League Baseball reconvened after the attacks a week before. Despite being on the downside of his fight with lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, the Baseball Hall of Famer and long-time voice of American broadcasting went to one of his lesser known abilities to draw people together with the classic and comforting sound of his voice at a time when comforts were few and far between: poetry.

In one of his final public appearances, Buck delivered “For America”, and in a way that only a the combination that a veteran of the second World War, a narrator of history as it unfolded for over 50 years and personal class of the caliber he had could, Buck brought not only Busch Stadium, but the American people together. Here, 12 years to the day of the events that inspired his call to arms, here is Buck’s live rendition of his memorable words.

For more on the game, the culture and the life of sports (and maybe even a bit of what I had for lunch), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The Cheat Sheet: NFL Week One Picks

Posted: September 8, 2013 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL
Tags: , ,

 

It’s time to put it all on the line again, on the every week basis, and share these winners with the masses. The last two years, I’ve hosted this column on other sites, but I’m bringing it back home this time and looking to keep the 60% clip of the past two years up to where it should be: in a respectable 80-90% range.

I’ll keep a more in-depth listing as the year goes along, and may even throw a little college in there as well. But out the gate, lets keep it straight; here’s what you have for intro back to NFL season.

Thursday, I went with Denver over Baltimore, as the AFC West entry of “Fearless Predictions” shows, so I’ll stake to a 1-0 record coming into today.

 

As for the rest of the slate:

 

New England at Buffalo

Cincinnati at Chicago

Miami at Cleveland

Atlanta at New Orleans

Tampa Bay at New York Jets

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Minnesota at Detroit

Oakland at Indianapolis

Seattle at Carolina

Kansas City at Jacksonville

Arizona at St. Louis

Green Bay at San Francisco

New York Giants at Dallas

Philadelphia at Washington

Houston at San Diego

 

For more in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Over the last week, I’ve been working up division by division predictions across the NFL.  But today, on the verge of full-scale NFL action breaking out, it’s time to finish the job and put it all on the line. After all, what are 32 predictions if you don’t run them down to one? So here it is, who’s going to New York City for the Super Bowl, in the order they’d play out via the standings I arrived at. As a bonus, I’ll throw in a few awards for a few guys as well, for good measure.

But before we take it there, here a recap on how it all should shake out:

NFC East                                                           NFC North

  1. Redskins (10-6)                                 1. Packers (11-5)
  2. Cowboys (9-7)                                   2. Bears (10-6)*
  3. Giants (8-8)                                        3. Vikings (7-9)
  4. Eagles (4-12)                                      4. Lions (5-11)

NFC South                                                           NFC West

  1. Falcons (13-3)                                   1. Niners (12-4)
  2. Saints (8-8)                                         2. Seahawks (11-5)*
  3. Buccaneers (6-10)                            3. Rams (7-9)
  4. Panthers (5-11)                                 4. Cardinals (5-11)

AFC East                                                             AFC North

  1. Patriots (11-5)                                   1. Ravens (11-5)
  2. Dolphins (7-9)                                    2. Bengals (10-6)*
  3. Jets (5-11)                                            3. Steelers (10-6)*
  4. Bills (4-12)                                           4. Browns (7-9)

AFC South                                                        AFC West

  1. Houston (11-5)                                 1. Broncos (13-3)
  2. Colts (8-8)                                           2. Chiefs (7-9)
  3. Titans (6-10)                                       3. Chargers (5-11)
  4. Jaguars (2-14)                                    4. Raiders (3-13)

 

WILD CARD ROUND PLAYOFFS

Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears

Seattle Seahawks over Washington Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans over Pittsburgh Steelers

DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS

Seattle Seahawks over Atlanta Falcons

San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers

Denver Broncos over Cincinnati Bengals

Houston Texans over New England Patriots

NFC/AFC CHAMPIONSHIPS

San Francisco 49ers over Seattle Seahawks

Houston Texans over Denver Broncos

 

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

AWARD TOUR

Now before throwing it all on the line with the Super Bowl picks, let me back up and get some award picks for the season. It is impossibly difficult to select an MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive/Offensive Player of the Year before the season begins. So much goes into it, and it can change on a week to week basis. But, it’s Kickoff, so why not.

MVP—Aaron Rodgers: The Packers are leaning on him more than ever, and really, the team just behind him in the North via Chicago is the better overall team. But all things considered, the Pack will still take the North and it should come via a virtuoso performance from the league’s best QB.

Offensive Player of the Year—Peyton Manning: It is going to be a close call over Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Andrew Luck, but there’s a chance that Peyton pulls off one of the great offensive efforts in league history. He’s got the tools, the right division and a pretty decent head start to do it all. 50-45 touchdowns should be in his sights.

Defensive Player of the Year—Richard Sherman: Doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that the Seahawks will have the best defense in the NFL. And Sherman is not only the ringleader on the microphone, but also the catalyst of the entire attack. QBs have no choice but to challenge him due to the depth of the team around him. And he will make the most of it in some pretty big games.

Offensive Rookie of the Year—Tavon Austin: The impact may not be immediate…but then again maybe it will be. With a home run threat like Austin, there is no telling when or where he may make an impact from for the Rams. And in a style similar to what Percy Harvin did a few years back, Austin could be on par for a huge debut.

Defensive Rookie of the Year—Kenny Vaccaro: The Saints defense will be challenged yet again, but this time they’ll be met by a legitimate threat to bring the ball right back at them. Vaccaro was the perfect addition to a team that needs to keep its pass happy QB schedule honest.

And finally…

SUPER BOWL XLVIII –HOUSTON TEXANS vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

The Texans have been on the verge for a few years, while the Niners have rapidly reinvented themselves underneath Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. With both teams touting strong defenses and rushing attacks, it could come down to who can find room to make the big play first. When it comes to that element, the Texans have the biggest threat in Andre Johnson, but the Niners have the most options to find room for one between Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and by that time, Michael Crabtree.

It will be tight and February in New York may not have the best conditions for a highwire act, and that’s where it favors the road options of the Niners with the ball in their hands, as well as the best linebacker group in football getting plenty of shots on Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This favors San Francisco, and it nets them their first Super Bowl since 1994.

Calling it down the middle, the AFC South has been a one-team buffet for years now. In the Manning days, it was the Colts to have their way with, but in recent years it has reverted to the Texans, who have won the last two division titles. The Colts had a resurrection last year under its newest star signal caller Andrew Luck, and made every game of the season count. But while this was happening, there were the Jaguars and Titans, who have been on a search for identity while both of these runs have been going.

Now with a new year on deck, there are new dynamics all around. Can the Texans hold off the rise of the Colts? Or were the upstarts in Indy moving ahead of their time, and on course for a return to the middle in year two. Meanwhile, will the Jaguars be able to avoid the path that nearly landed them atop the NFL Draft a year ago, and can Tennessee saddle up with its old horse with a few new adjustments to get him back to where he was?

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Andrew Luck RB: Arian Foster, Chris Johnson WR: Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Cecil Shorts TE: Owen Daniels OT: Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe OG: Andy Levitre, Wade Smith C: Chris Myers

DE: JJ Watt, Derrick Morgan DT/NT: Aubrayo Franklin, Jurrell Casey OLB: Brooks Reed, Robert Mathis MLB: Brian Cushing, Paul Posluszny CB: Jonathan Joseph, Jason McCourty FS: Ed Reed SS: Bernard Pollard

K: Rob Bironas P: Shane Lechler KR: Mark Mariani PR: TY Hilton

 

Watt broke through to rare air in his second season, leading the NFL in sacks and taking the Texans defense to elite status.

Watt broke through to rare air in his second season, leading the NFL in sacks, taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors and taking the Texans defense to elite status.

HOUSTON TEXANS (12-4 in 2012)

The Good: There are playmakers everywhere on this defense. In addition to Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt, who may have had the most complete defensive season in NFL history a year ago, Ed Reed has entered the picture as well. Age is catching up, but for the most instinctual player in game, that shouldn’t be much of a hindrance. Add in Brian Cushing, Jonathan Joseph and Brooks Reed, and they’ll be a problem once again.

The Bad: Which Arian Foster are they getting? The straw that stirs the drink on offense has be held back by HIS back for much of the offseason, and durability could become an issue. Ben Tate may be the best backup runner in the game, but for a team that’s so built around moving the ball on the ground being without its biggest weapon for a stretch is a tough scenario.

X-Factor—DeAndre Hopkins: Years back, the Texans could stretch the field, and it was not just Andre Johnson that could do it. But in recent years, that element has not been as prevalent. In an attempt to bring that back, the club added Hopkins with the 28th pick of the first round, who adds another vertical threat. On his 82 catches at Clemson last year, he averaged 17 yards per.

Schedule: @SD (W), TEN (W), @BAL (L), SEA (W), @SF (L), STL (W), @KC (W), IND (W), @ARI (W), OAK (W), JAX (W), NE (L), @JAX (W), @IND (L), DEN (W), @TEN (L)

Prediction: They have been the roosters in the hen house for years now down south, but the Colts put a charge into them by being able to beat them with the big play. They have addressed that on both sides of the ball, and still have the veteran core in addition to the developing young core that has kept them where they have been, and will stay. 11-5

 

Luck set seven records as a rookie passer, including the most wins for a #1 pick quarterback, which was a 10 game turnaround from 2011.

Luck set seven records as a rookie passer, including the most wins for a #1 pick quarterback, which was a 10 game turnaround from 2011.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good: They have invested in giving Andrew Luck everything he could possibly need at every stop. With Reggie Wayne still the mainstay and TY Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener still developing, they added Darius Heyward-Bey to be a home run hitter down the field. If Ahmad Bradshaw can add a new dynamic out of the backfield catching passes as well, a top 5 offense could be in brewing.

The Bad: They won with smoke and mirrors on defense last year. If the offense didn’t go big, they were getting run off the field. Only one playoff bound team gave up more yards than Indy’s 5,988 and 24.2 points a game. It is tempting to fate to think that will work twice, especially with dates versus San Francisco, Denver, Cincinnati, Seattle and a double dip with Houston on deck.

X-Factor—Matt Hasselbeck: In a perfect world, he never sees the field. But what he could do for Andrew Luck’s development as a passer could do more for the club than anything else. Cutting down on the 18 interception/9 fumble season rookie effort he posted as a rookie is on his shoulders, but the benefit of a year with a three-time Pro Bowl, former Super Bowl QB could escalate his curve immediately.

Schedule: OAK (W), MIA (W), @SF (L), @JAX (W), SEA (L), @SD (L), DEN (L), @HOU (L), STL (W), @TEN (L), @ARI (L), TEN (W), @CIN (W), HOU (W), @KC (L), JAX (W)

Prediction: The team is going to go where the offense can take it. Luck will have to take better care of the ball, and they will have to get more from the ground, but it could see over 5,000 yards in the air by natural progression. But the defense is still similar to what took the field last year, and the likelihood of the same breaks that got them 10 wins a year ago are unlikely to come down again. 8-8

 

After spending last fall watching the back of a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, Joeckel is tasking with re-installing confidence in the Jags attack.

After spending last fall watching the back of a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, Joeckel is tasking with re-installing confidence in the Jags attack.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-14 in 2012)

The Good: They have a good set of playmakers on the outside in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Shorts had a breakout season across the board his second season, going over 100 yards four times and averaged over 19 yards a catch in five separate games. Blackmon came on strong late in the year, including a seven catch, 236 yard breakout versus the Texans in week 11.

The Bad: They did little to turn the corner for a defense that gave up 380 yards and 27 points per week. This was due to a unit that put the least pressure on opposing QBs in the game a year ago (JJ Watt in 20.5 sacks, Jaguars 20). And with the inconsistent play on offense, once they get behind and survive with offenses having that much comfort to work with.

X-Factor—Luke Joeckel: While grabbing someone that could create some pressure would have been a good call, getting a guy with a chance to be a premium pass protector was too good to pass on. Blaine Gabbert has been unsteady with his pocket presence early in his career and landing Joeckel could help provide some much needed security.

Schedule: KC (L), @OAK (L), @SEA (L), IND (L), @STL (L), @DEN (L), SD (L), SF (L), @TEN (L), ARI (L), @HOU (L), @CLE (L), HOU (L), BUF (W), TEN (W), @IND (L)

Prediction: A bad defense with maybe the most decisively bad situation at quarterback in the NFL, the Jaguars are not in a place to make an impact outside of boosting the win column for others. With Blackmon suspended for four games, and game scenarios that don’t lend towards getting their lone bright spot, Maurice Jones-Drew, the ball as much as they’d like, a run to top of the 2014 Draft looks likely. 2-14

 

Johnson has never finished a season under 1,000 yards on the ground, but his yardage per game has dropped three straight years behind questionable blocking.

Johnson has never finished a season under 1,000 yards on the ground, but his yardage per game has dropped three straight years behind questionable blocking.

TENNESSEE TITANS (6-10 in 2012)

The Good: There’s an offense that has some shake to it, and they have a line to help it grow now. In recent years, Chris Johnson hasn’t lost a step, but he hasn’t had much time to get them moving before somebody met him. With the addition of Andy Levitre and the selection of All-American guard Chance Warmack, the former 2000 yard runner could see the most open field he’s found in years.

The Bad: The Titans gave up the most points in the NFL a year ago, including over 30 points seven different times. It’s a unit that hasn’t played to its talent, but also has to tackle better at linebacker and get better and coverage as well. In a division with two aggressive offenses in Houston and Indianapolis, and one of the best runners in the league, there’s little leeway for a soft unit week to week.

X-Factor—Jack Locker: Of all of the teams in the NFL, the Titans probably have the biggest unknown quantity behind center. The issue with him has never been the talent, but how it apply it regularly. In his first year as a starter, it was interrupted by an injury halfway through and saw him throw multiple interceptions in four of his last six games. If he turns the corner, they have a chance to succeed.

Schedule: @PIT (L), @HOU (L), SD (W), NYJ (W), KC (W), @SEA (L), SF (L), @STL (L), JAX (W), IND (W), @OAK (W), @IND (L), @DEN (L), ARI (L), @JAX (L), HOU (L)

Prediction: With a defense that is up in the air and inconsistent quarterback play, it is tough to see the Titans being a candidate to jump too far forward, or at all. They will be able to move the ball better on the ground, but if they cannot keep opponents honest, it won’t mean much. Look for a holding pattern here. 6-10

The days of the West being the laughing stock of the NFC have been turned in for what it represents now; perhaps the most talented division in the NFL with two legit Super Bowl contenders. Yet outside of those two popular contenders in San Francisco and Seattle, there are two teams on the other half of the division that are growing as well.

The Rams beat the Niners and Seahawks last season, and have undergone an aggressive expansion to their offensive capabilities. In Arizona, they had added a signal caller with some experience for the first time since they last made their Super Bowl appearance, and the osmosis of that should change the ceiling of their capabilities.

Yet, it is tough to grow as team when the two most complete teams in football are scraping it out atop the league. With two of the most exciting young signal callers in the game, coupled by the two best defensive units in the game, the Niner-Seahawk showdown this season is one that will meet twice in the first 16 games of the year….and could ultimately meet a third time to see who heads to New York in February for the NFC.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Colin Kaepernick RB: Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate TE: Vernon Davis OT: Jake Long, Russell Okung OG: Mike Iupati, Paul McQuistan C: Max Unger

DE: Chris Clemons, Chris Long DT/NT: Justin Smith, Brandon Mebrane OLB: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks MLB: Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman CB: Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson FS: Earl Thomas, SS: Donte Whitner

K: Phil Dawson, P: Andy Lee, KR: Tavon Austin PR: Patrick Peterson

 

 

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play.

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play. A major bounce back could be in store with his new QB on hand.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11 in 2012)

The Good: There are some exciting elements to the defense. Between Calais Campbell, Dan Williams and Darnell Docket, there’s plenty of push up front and Darryl Washington proved to be one of the emerging young linebackers in the game a year ago. The secondary is headlined by one the best playmakers in the league in Patrick Peterson, and the addition of Tyrann Mathieu could provide one of the most unique sparks on any unit in the West.

The Bad: There still is no dependable option out the backfield. Ryan Williams’ health still is not clear, nor is how much he can offer. The reach to see what Rashard Mendenhall has left in the tank hasn’t been encouraging either, as he has been sidelined through much of the preseason with continuing knee issues. Add in the fact that first round pick, offensive guard, Jonathan Cooper is out for the the season already as well with a broken leg, and the offense as a whole is still missing crucial parts of the balance that is needed to compete.

X-Factor—Carson Palmer: Smartly, instead of prolonging the development of the offense via another leap for a backup or waiting for a rookie to develop, Palmer was brought in to be an instant fix. He’s steady, with the type of downfield arm that can find Larry Fitzgerald consistently, as well as help 2012 first round pick Michael Floyd round into form.

Record: @STL (L), DET (W), @NO (L), @TB (L), CAR (W), @SF (L), SEA (L), ATL (L), HOU (L), @JAX (W), IND (W), @PHI (L), STL (W), @TEN (W), @SEA (L), SF (L)

Prediction: Wrong place at the wrong time for the Cards. While they have a talented defense, as well as some producers on O, they are in the toughest division in the league, and they aren’t better on either side of the ball than any of their division mates. They won’t be an easy date on the schedule by any means, and are a prime pick to spring an upset victory that shakes up the standings. But until they get an answer in the backfield and some more experience for the defense, they’ll be relegated to the bottom of the West. Record: 6-10

 

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012...(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012…(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good: The most unpredictable offense in the league has had a full offseason to develop together, and it has no shortage of ways to get the job done. There’s the vertigo that Russell Wilson can put a defense into, while trying to see where he comes out of the pistol, whether its downfield 25 yards himself, or to Golden Tate or Sidney Rice, there’s no easy way to call it. Oh, and then there’s the issue of the league’s most brutal back as well, Marshawn Lynch. Pick your poison.

The Bad: Like many quickly emergent teams, they are an injury away at a few positions from being in trouble. Russell Okung has to stay healthy, as does Lynch. The team’s biggest addition, Percy Harvin, is already out for the majority of the season and if Wilson goes down, the season could very well do the same thing, as Tavaris Jackson is his support. Chris Clemons rebound is also crucial to the balance and depth of the defense.

X-Factor—Bruce Irvin: Irvin never quite picked up the nuances of defenses outside of what he was drafted to do: bum rush the passer. If he can begin to be more of a factor in coverage and run support, he’ll be able to stay on the field more, which means the Hawks could have a 15 sack-potential player in waiting.

Record: @CAR (W), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @IND (W), TEN (W), @ARI (W), @STL (L), TB (W), @ATL (L), MIN (W), NO (L), @SF (L), @NYG (W), @ARI (W), STL (W)

Prediction: This is one of the most complete teams in football, if not the most complete. The experience of playing, and winning, together last season will do wonders for them. They have the best secondary in football in Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, as well as a brutal front line on both sides of the ball. They may not have an amazing record in the regular season, but this is a team to build to go a long way. 11-5

 

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1 in 2012)

The Good: There are finally both options and time to utilize them for Sam Bradford. The additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin put wrinkles into the St. Louis attack that have been gone for nearly a decade. The team went all in to land All-Pro tackle Jake Long and succeeded, which should provide Bradford with the breathing room to finally be able to stretch the field some.

The Bad: Will they be able to move the ball on the ground consistently enough? When Steven Jackson moved this winter, the club decided to stay young, with second year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. The addition of Zac Stacy will give them a third leg in the young backfield, but it remains to be seen if they add enough to both relieve pressure on Bradford or keep defenses honest.

X-Factor—Alec Ogletree: For a long time, the Rams have not had an athlete at outside linebacker that can both cover and be released on blitz as well, but Ogletree has shown the potential to do that and more thus far. With the PED-related release of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the rookie will be counted on to expand the defense in a similar fashion as the offense.

Record: ARI (W), @ATL (L), @DAL (L), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @CAR (W), SEA (W), TEN (W), @IND (L), CHI (L), @SF (L), @ARI (L), NO (L), TB (W), @SEA (L)

Prediction: Much has changed for the Rams in the year that Jeff Fisher has been in control, and the roster that comes into the season is much more talented one than they have fielded in some time. There is reasonable excitement for their potential, and they should show more than just flashes of their potential by hanging with the Seahawks and 49ers. But the young team will need to mold together some still, and they are likely a year away from a breakthrough. 7-9

 

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick's prime.

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick’s prime.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (11-4-1 in 2012)

The Good: The gang has gotten even deeper on defense. While the mainstays of Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are back to hold the fort down in their particular fashions, the team took a gamble on former Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha to tighten up the club’s slot coverage. Add in the presence of Eric Reid, who was an All-SEC safety a year ago and this year’s unit has the ability to be even better than than 2012’s, which finished third in fewest yards yielded.

The Bad: How will the receiving group rally without Michael Crabtree. After the emergence of Colin Kaerpernick, Crabtree played the best football of his career, averaging seven catches per game in route to his first 1,000 yard season. Kaepernick had a bad habit of locking on his first read a year ago, which often was Crab. How he progress both through his reads and in comfort with other options is important.

X-Factor—Anquan Boldin: After defeating the Niners in the Super Bowl, where he had 104 yards and a touchdown, he crossed over to join them this year. An offense that highlights quick reads and short passes could bring out the best in the physical first down machine.

Record: GB (W), @SEA (L), IND (W), @STL (L), HOU (W), ARI (W), @TEN (W), @JAX (W), CAR (W), @NO (W), @WSH (L), STL (W), SEA (W), @TB (W), ATL (L), @ARI (W)

Prediction: Kaerpernick has been one of the most visible players in the NFL during the offseason, and now gets a full season to prove why. The defense will be stout and they have the tools between Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Kaepernick to lead the NFL in rushing. They’ll have to emerge from a tough NFC West slate, as well as matchups with the three other division champions from 2012, but they as talent as it gets and are in line to return back to where their year ended last. 12-4

 

 

I am 100% sure there will be a Festivus-style air of grievances over this one (as there always is). All I ask is that you direct them to the comments section….or to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.