NFL is back and we’re set for a ripping season to come. In the first week of preseason while superstars nurse their hangovers, we’ve seen Andrew Luck throw a 63y touchdown with his first pass in professional football and Peyton Manning make a flawless return.
A league run by money hungry individuals and private franchise ownership, teams can very rarely sustain extensive periods at the top of the league due to free agency. After an upset in Superbowl XLVI which saw the New York Giants pull off an unlikely victory over the New England Patriots, can they both return to the Superbowl stage?
Here’s a look at the early Superbowl contenders (in no particular order) for the 2012/13 season.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers went missing in the playoffs last season, producing one of their worst performances of the season. They haven’t lost any key starters and gained C Jeff Saturday to assist QB Aaron Rogers with defensive reads. The addition of RB Cedric Benson would usually excite, but Rogers has proven he can run the entire offense through the air successfully. The NFC North is the most competitive division in the league but the Packers have no clear weakness stating why they should not win the division again.
The Texans won a playoff game with rookie QB T.J Yates who played out the end of the season and still bring the Texans to 10-6 and a division title. Expect them to again win the division and go further with the return of QB Matt Schaub and a healthy WR Andre Johnson. After going from the leagues worst defence to best in just one season, a healthy Houston team will go further than last seasons divisional playoff loss. The Texans play previous year playoff teams in five games.
The Eagles were the disappointment of the 2011/12 season and will need to bounce back to justify their overspending on free agents two seasons ago. Towards the end of the season, the much hyped defense started to gel but it was too late for a playoff run. With probably the most versatile offense, keeping WR Desean Jackson and RB LeSean McCoy with attractive contracts should keep them happy and ideally produce on the field. All eyes will be on the Eagle secondary come regular season and if CB Nmadi Asumogha and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can produce the same results they did at their old teams, sack tandem DE Jason Babin and DT Cullen Jenkins will deliver big numbers and send the Eagles to the playoffs comfortably.
New England Patriots
With the best coach in the league, the Patriots have been the most consistent team of the past decade courtesy of QB Tom Brady and it looks to continue in the upcoming season. The addition of WR Brandon Lloyd who led the league for receiving yards two seasons ago may see the Patriots even improve. WR Wes Welker’s contract situation remains a distraction with parties unable to agree on a deal which will see Welker play the season under the franchise tag. The Patriots are in an easy division and only have to play four teams who made the playoffs last year. They’ll be right up there again this season.
The Lions are my roughie team and they have the capabilities to go all the way. We finally saw QB Matthew Stafford play out an entire season free of injury and he flourished through his chemistry with WR Calvin Johnson. The Lions offense will be only improve on last year with the return of RB Jhavid Best. The Lions look just as good on the other side of the ball with a front four consisting of DE Cliff Avril, DT Ndumakong Suh, DT Nick Fairley and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. The biggest obstacle for the Lions will be their tough division. Three of the four teams in the NFC North are capable of making the playoffs and having to play the Packers and Bears twice looks like the only hurdle.
The Broncos have the best defense in the AFC West which carried them to the playoffs last season. Reigning defensive rookie of the year OLB Von Miller was one of the leagues best pass rushers and will only improve. With their greatest weakness lying in their offense, the Broncos went out and got the one guy who can turn any offense around. Bringing in Peyton Manning has shot the Broncos to the top of their division after critical free agents leaving division rival San Diego. Manning faces one of the toughest schedules with games against the Steelers, Falcons, Texans, Raiders, Patriots, Chargers and Saints all in the first seven games. Five of those teams made the playoffs last year and all seven teams finished .500 or better.
New York Giants
The Giants surprised us all with their Superbowl victory after going 9-7 in the regular season and limping into the playoffs. Opting not to re-sign WR Mario Manningham, the organisation showed faith in WR Victor Cruz to be able to reproduce his phenomenal season. There’s no clear weakness in either the Giants offense or defense but their struggles will come from the improvements of division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas who were both disappointing last season.
The Steelers are a good team but the division title is going to fall into their lap after Baltimore Ravens DE Terrell Suggs tore his achilles and was ruled out for the upcoming season. Question marks surround the health of RB Rashard Mendenhall who missed the majority of last season which led the Steelers to rely too much on their passing game. Although the Steelers defense is not what it was three years ago when they won the Superbowl, it is the best in the AFC East with Suggs out for the season. Besides playing the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals twice, the Steelers only play two other games against teams who made the playoffs last season, the Broncos and the Giants.
Superbowl XLVII prediction: Houston Texans vs Detroit Lions