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Five Fearless Predictions for the 2013 NFL Season

Posted on September 08, 2013 by Dean Hybl
After coming close a year ago, Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers will look to return to the Super Bowl.

After coming close a year ago, Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers will look to return to the Super Bowl.

The 2013 NFL season started with a bang as one of the all-time greats, Peyton Manning, matched an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

With that as a prelude, expect the rest of the 2013 season to be exciting and perhaps filled with more records and amazing performances.

Below are five “Fearless Predictions” of things I expect to see in 2013:

A Step Back For Rookie Quarterbacks
There was a time in NFL history when quarterbacks were expected to spend multiple years learning the league and the system of their specific team before being thrust into the starting lineup.

However, over the past decade that practice has given way to higher immediate expectations for rookie quarterbacks and the expectation that a quarterback should be ready to play right away.

In 2008 rookie quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan each led their teams to the playoffs and the following campaign Mark Sanchez took the New York Jets to the AFC Championship Game.

The last two seasons have been especially fertile for rookie quarterbacks. In 2011 Cam Newton set a new rookie record for passing yards and Andy Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs.

Geno Smith will have to play much better in the regular season than he did in the preseason.

Geno Smith will have to play much better in the regular season than he did in the preseason.

It got even better last year with three rookie quarterbacks taking their teams to the playoffs. Oliver Luck with the Colts, Russell Wilson with the Seahawks and Robert Griffin III in Washington stepped right into the lineup and led their teams to the playoffs.

Though the quarterback class of 2013 was not as heralded with only one quarterback taken in the first round, there are still going to be rookies given the reigns of NFL teams to start this season.

Both EJ Manuel in Buffalo and Geno Smith with the New York Jets endured injuries and spotty performance during the preseason, but they will be under center to start the 2013 season.

Unlike the 2012 quarterback crop, don’t expect either Manuel or Smith to lead their teams to post season play. Though Luck was able to quickly turn around a bad Indianapolis squad last season, he had a veteran receiver in Reggie Wayne and a team with some legitimate talent from a squad that appeared in the Super Bowl two years earlier.

The Bills haven’t had a winning season since 2004 and haven’t reached the playoffs since 1999. Regardless of how Manuel plays, it isn’t likely that the Bills will break either streak in 2013. A best-case scenario for them this season is that Manuel stays healthy and has enough quality performances that he gains some confidence and shows marked improvement throughout the season.

After making consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, the Jets have declined as a unit over the last two seasons. While Mark Sanchez had some inconsistent moments, he was not the reason the Jets went 6-10 a year ago. Even if Smith is better than Sanchez, which isn’t a given, the Jets will be fortunate to finish without double digit losses this season.

Bengals Ready for a Three-Peat
It is hard to believe that it was just two years ago that quarterback Carson Palmer refused to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and the team was generating far more headlines for off-the-field discretions than on-the-field performance.

Now, riding back-to-back playoff appearances for only the second time in team history, the Bengals are looking to make a third-straight playoff trip for the first time ever.

A.J. Green is quickly developing into one of the best receivers in the NFL.

A.J. Green is quickly developing into one of the best receivers in the NFL.

With their two primary division rivals the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers each a bit weaker than in recent years, the Bengals are in the unaccustomed role of being one of the favorites for a playoff spot and a legitimate contender for the AFC title.

Despite their recent success, the Bengals remain one of the youngest teams in the NFL with 23 players with three or fewer years of experience in the league.

Leading the offense are a pair of second year players in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.  Dalton tossed 27 touchdown passes (16 interceptions) a year ago and while I doubt he will ever post the statistics of a Payton Manning or Tom Brady, look for him to continue to increase his accuracy and decrease his mistakes as he gains more experience.

Entering his third season, A.J. Green is quickly becoming one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. He caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and look for those numbers to continue to increase.

Having lost to Houston in the opening round of the playoffs both seasons, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals are looking to take a step beyond simply making the playoffs. I think their time for that will come, but they will need to win the division and preferably get an opening round bye if they want to set up a favorable playoff matchup.

For the first time in two decades I think you can consider the Bengals as legitimate contenders to reach the Super Bowl, but I think they will fall just short of that goal in 2013.

It Will Be a Long Season for the Defending Champions
We have known for the last couple years that the Super Bowl window was closing for the Baltimore Ravens and they opportunistically took advantage at the last possible moment to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

It seems very unlikely that Joe Flacco will be picking up another Lombardi Trophy this season.

It seems very unlikely that Joe Flacco will be picking up another Lombardi Trophy this season.

Even if they had not ended last season with a championship, things were going to be different in 2013. Though Ray Lewis is an all-time great, he was for the most part merely a serviceable linebacker the last couple seasons, so replacing him on the field will not be all too difficult. Of course, his intangibles as a leader may take longer to replace.

You could likely say just about the same thing for future Hall of fame safety Ed Reed, who was not resigned and will be playing for the Houston Texans this season.

From an on-the-field standpoint there are several other losses that could be more significant. Leading tackler Bernard Pollard, top sacker Chad Kruger and linebacker Darnell Ellerbe are three additional defensive players that must be replaced.  In addition, the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers will put added pressure on Flacco and the other receivers on the squad.

Much has been made of the new contract received by Joe Flacco. He played great in the 2012 post season (11 touchdowns, no interceptions), but his five-year totals of 102 touchdowns and 56 interceptions hardly seem to justify such a large contract.

Already short significant weapons from a year ago, the Ravens could be without starting receiver Jacoby Jones for a while. Flacco may shortly wish he had let the Ravens keep a few million dollars to pay Boldin and some other quality receivers.

Look for the Ravens to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and struggle to avoid a losing record.

Andy Reid and Alex Smith Will Be a Winning Combination
I think you could argue that few have more reasons to want to show their ability than new Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and his new head coach Andy Reid.

Smith suffered the indignity in 2012 of losing his job as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers despite having led them to a 13-3 record in 2011 and 6-2-1 mark through the first nine games in 2012.

Of course the 49ers ended up playing in the Super Bowl under the direction of new starter Colin Kaepernick, but there are some who believe they would have made the game even if Smith had stayed in the lineup.

Reid was mercifully relieved of his duties as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles after enduring consecutive losing seasons that tainted an otherwise stellar 14-year run.

Though some suggested Reid might be best served by taking a year away to deal with off-the-field family issues, he instead quickly accepted the opportunity in Kansas City.

He also didn’t take long to secure Smith and tap him as the starting quarterback.

Though it will be tough for the Chiefs to overcome Denver in the AFC West, look for them to be significantly improved and contend for a wild card spot.

Tim Tebow Will Become a Starting Quarterback (in the CFL)
Of course I couldn’t go an entire NFL preview article without mentioning Tim Tebow.

If Tim Tebow wants to regain the form he showed at Florida, he might be best served to spend a season in the CFL.

If Tim Tebow wants to regain the form he showed at Florida, he might be best served to spend a season in the CFL.

After being cut by the New England Patriots following a shaky preseason performance, some have written the NFL obituary for Tebow.

However, Tebow continues to believe he can be a successful NFL quarterback and seems reluctant to hear anything else.

Reports this week indicated that at least one NFL team had contacted Tebow about playing a position other than quarterback. He also has been contacted by the Canadian Football League.

Tebow reportedly rebuked both options.

While I don’t disagree with his decision not to move to another position, I wish Tebow would consider the possibility of heading to Canada.

He would be following in the footsteps of several NFL greats, including Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia, who all parlayed grooming in the CFL into solid NFL success (and in the case of Moon into the Hall of Fame).

Among the attributes that have made Tebow successful are persistence and determination. While they helped him achieve great success at Florida and become an NFL player, I think in this case he needs to rely on another attribute, his intelligence, and realize that spending some time facing live competition in Canada might be a better avenue to help him reach his NFL goals than sitting outside of football working out and hoping a team gives him another chance.

I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that eventually Tebow will see that his current NFL options are non-existent and that playing in Canada could actually work out in his favor.

Bonus Prediction: Who Will Win Super Bowl XLVIII?
In three of the last four years I have predicted the Green Bay Packers to play the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. Though they have never played each other during that stretch, each team does have a Super Bowl championship.

Even in the one year I didn’t predict those two to meet, I picked the Packers to play the Chargers.

As I indicated earlier, I do not expect the Ravens to be very good this season, so that pick is obviously off the boards.

I do think Green Bay is a viable contender in the NFC, I just am not sure they are strong enough defensively or on the offensive line to make it all the way.

In the NFC, I think the Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Washington Redskins are all solid teams that will make a run at the playoffs. However, I think the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons are all just a bit better and are the real elite of the NFC.

I could comfortably pick any of those teams to reach the Super Bowl, but after much contemplation believe the 49ers have unfinished business that head coach Jim Harbaugh will make sure is taken care of this year.

In the AFC the number of teams capable of making it to the Super Bowl seems to be fewer. The Denver Broncos played like a Super Bowl team in the second half of their opener and will definitely be a title contender.

The other teams that seem to be capable of making it to the Super Bowl include the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals and potentially the Indianapolis Colts.

I know most people have the New England Patriots in that category as well. I believe they will win their division, but with so many new offensive weapons (most of whom seem to be a down-grade from the previous player), I am just not convinced that they can score as many points as in recent years.

Combine that with a defense that is at-best average, then the Patriots seem destined to be a team that wins 11 or 12 games in a weak division, but struggles when it comes time for the playoffs.

Ultimately, I am playing it safe and picking the Broncos to win the AFC. I think my pick is as much about the lack of any other “Super Bowl caliber team” in the AFC than it is a result of a belief that Denver is a great team. I think they are very good, but with Von Miller out for the first six games, the defense is questionable and will give up some points.

In the Super Bowl, I think Harbaugh and the 49ers will benefit from having been there last year. Though Manning has been to the Super Bowl twice, it will be a new experience for many of his teammates.

Plus, with the game being played in New York and the likelihood that it will be a cold weather game, that seems to possibly hurt Manning, who even though he now plays in Denver has spent most of his career playing in a controlled environment and doesn’t have a great history of playing great in winter cold.

I expect Kaepernick and the 49ers to run out to a quick early lead and post a 35-27 victory to claim the sixth title in 49ers history.

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