Fearless Forecast For 2012 Season

With the Packers opener just days away, it's time to weigh in on who will reach the post-season and who will win the Lombardi Trophy at the Superdome in early February.

Consistently over the past decade or so, like clockwork, four or five playoff teams will fall off and be replaced by new blood. I have four new teams reaching the post-season in 2012. Let's start with the AFC:

North: I don't see three playoff teams like a year ago. My guess is Cincinnati takes a step back, as Andy Dalton fails to take the next step. A much more difficult schedule and the lack of the surprise factor puts them at 8 or 9 wins. I think Baltimore has one more good run in them. Expect a more up-tempo offense with Joe Flacco getting real comfortable with second year WR Torrey Smith. The defense will miss Terrell Suggs big time and will need to rely a bit more heavily on the offense. Pittsburgh makes the playoffs as a wildcard again, but they need to straighten out their backfield situation.

South: The Houston Texans are the class of the division and will win it easily. The defense is clearly elite and if Matt Schaub can stay healthy the offense should be the second most potent in the conference, behind the Patriots. The Titans could challenge if Jake Locker develops quickly. I think Chris Johnson has a bounce back year for them and they finish around 8-8. Indy and Jacksonville are a ways away and won't win 8 games between them again.

East: New England is still the elite team in this division and benefit from the easiest schedule in the league this year. Tom Brady has an embarrassment of weapons in the passing game and the defense has injected a bunch of youth and will see if they can slow teams down a bit. I like Buffalo to grab the final wildcard spot, on the strength of a strong defensive line and playmakers in the running and passing game. The Jets feel like a disaster waiting to happen and the Dolphins will be one of the worst teams in the league.

West: This division was tightly bunched last year, with the Tebow factor giving the Broncos the edge. I expect much of the same this season, but I see the Chiefs coming out on top. I really like their defense and feel like Matt Cassell will have a strong year--along with their potent two-headed backfield of Charles and Willis. Denver falls short of the playoffs with 9 or 10 wins. The Chargers and Raiders feel like .500 teams to me.

Now on to the NFC:

North: The Packers are the overwhelming favorites to win the North and represent the conference in the Super Bowl this season. The offense should be as potent as last year; it all comes down to the improvement by the defense. The loss of Bishop hurts and puts pressure on the inside linebackers to deliver. I see an improved pass rush and a ball-hawking secondary putting this unit closer to what it looked like in 2010. The Bears have done enough to improve that they figure to be the Pack's top competition. Adding offensive weapons like Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Alshon Jeffery will make them more potent. The defense is aging and faces the prospects of playing with a quickly declining Brian Urlacher. I put the Bears on 10-11 wins, the Pack 12-13. Both teams reach the playoffs. Not so for the Lions, who finish 10-6, but on the outside looking in. They didn't do enough to improve the back seven of their defense and they rely too much on Matthew Stafford who has already gotten dinged up a bit in the preseason. As for the Purple, 5-11 sounds about right (and maybe a bit charitable).

South: I've had a tough time deciding what I expect from the Saints. The bounty episode has them playing without their head coach and with an "us against the world" mantra. I'll never bet against Drew Brees: he has a multitude of weapons at receiver, tight end and in the backfield and I think the defense will be better. I put them at 10-6 and a wildcard team. The Falcons are poised to reclaim the division. Julio Jones will be a breakout star and joins Roddy White asa great 1-2 punch. The defense is much better too. The Falcons finish 11-5. Both the Panthers and Bucs are on their way up, making this division very intriguing. They're both a little short of contending, but will be tough outs at home.

East: I'm going with the Eagles, though Michael Vick's health will determine if they can unseat the Giants. They finished strong and appear to be on a mission to put the "Dream Team" nonsense behind them. The Giants have a tough schedule and will fail to defend their title by missing the playoffs by a game. The Cowboys and Redskins will both hover around the 8-8 mark.

West: The 49ers should reign again, but I don't expect them to wrap up the division by Thanksgiving like they did last year. The Seahawks look like they're stronger, particularly on defense, where Pete Carroll shines. If Russell Wilson plays like he did in the preseason they could challenge the Niners. The Rams will be improved, but won't win more than 5 or 6. Same hold true for the Cardinals, whose QB situation is ugly.

For the championship games, I've got the Texans over the Patriots and the Pack over San Francisco. Packers win the Super Bowl over Houston, 34-30. Now, let's enjoy the ride and see how funny this blog post looks in about four months.

Reminder: "Packer Preview" returns for a 17th season this Sunday morning at 8am CDT on KFAN and kfan.com. It will be available on iTunes shortly after 9am. Can't wait to get things started.

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