By Joe Giglio
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After a strange weather related delay and seven Peyton Manning touchdown strikes, we can officially say that the 2013 NFL season is underway.
Before long, we’ll be diving into playoff tiebreaker scenarios, homefield advantage ramifications and trying to find the sleeper contender that will make a big run to the big game.
Of course, that game will be right here in our backyard. Weather issues or not, the NFL world will descend on New York in less than six months. From now until then, the week-to-week storylines around the league will continue to be unpredictable for even so called experts.
That doesn’t mean we can’t give it a crack, though.
1. Despite the record, press conference follies and trips to Clemson, Rex Ryan won’t be the first coach fired this season. In fact, he won’t be fired during the season, regardless of how bad things get for the 2013 Jets.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson, not Jason Pierre-Paul or Justin Tuck, will be the best defensive lineman in New York.
3. Rueben Randle will emerge, during an inevitable Hakeem Nicks injury, as a star, leading to speculation from media and fans on if re-signing Nicks is worth the financial risk in the offseason.
5. John Idzik’s mantra of competition will be prophetic when Mark Sanchez replaces Geno Smith as the Jets starting quarterback in Week 4 at Tennessee.
6. Smith, after struggling to complete more than 55 percent of his passes or avoid turnovers in the first three weeks of the season, will take back the job for good in November.
7. Jacquian Williams, although rarely listed as a starter on the Giants defense, will emerge as their most consistent playmaker and matchup problem for opposing offensive coordinators due to his ability to cover and rush the passer.
8. Eli Manning will rebound from a down year to post a completion percentage over 60 and throw for well over 4,000 yards.
9. David Wilson will prove to be an adequate pass blocker, bolstering his snap count on all three downs. By season’s end, Giants fans will compare his future impact to prime-aged Tiki Barber.
10. Through the emergence of Stephen Hill, consistent play from slotman Jeremy Kerley, healthy campaigns from Jeff Cumberland and Chris Ivory, solid running from Bilal Powell and re-emergence of Santonio Holmes, the Jets skill position players will surprise.
11. David Harris, weeks after looking a step slow in preseason against Jacksonville’s uptempo attack, will struggle mightily this season. By December, his status as an every down linebacker will be a major talking point on WFAN.
12. Giants-Redskins in Week 17 will serve as another de facto NFC East Title Game. Both teams will enter the night 9-6. Without the benefit of NFC tiebreakers, the winner will head to the postseason and the loser home at 9-7.
13. Despite losing Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, New England will cruise to the AFC East title on the back of a high-octane offense and Bill Belichick’s best defensive unit in years.
14. Denver will break the 2007 Patriots record for most points scored in a season. After putting up 49 in Week 1, the Broncos will amass 600 for the season.
15. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton will quiet the critics in January by outdueling future Hall of Fame gunslingers and leading the Bengals deep into the postseason.
16. Baltimore, after spending the month of September finding themselves, will prove to be a better defense without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Look for a big, physical defensive line, excellent corner play from Ladarius Webb, and rookie safety Matt Elam to lead Baltimore to January for a sixth consecutive year.
17. Andrew Luck will take a step forward, but Indianapolis won’t duplicate the magic of 2012. A 9-7 record will look disappointing to many, but it will set the stage for a big Colts run beginning in 2014.
18. Houston, led by the best defensive player in the sport, J.J. Watt, has ingredient necessary to win a Super Bowl. Except, of course, the right quarterback. After another lackluster effort in the postseason, Houston will look to replace Matt Schaub next spring.
19. Andy Reid will turn an underrated roster from a 2-14 disaster to a 9-7 contender in Kansas City. Free from the burden of front office responsibilities, Reid, much like his former coaching partner Mike Holmgren did in Seattle, will enjoy a very successful coaching second act.
20. EJ Manuel and C.J. Spiller will electrify Orchard Park, New York, make the Buffalo Bills a watchable outfit for the first time in years and set up head coach Doug Marrone to lure free agents to help compete for a postseason berth in 2014.
21. Spearheaded by a 1,500-yard season from Trent Richardson and a big, physical defensive line, Cleveland will enter December in the postseason picture.
22. Due to pass protection issues, Ben Roethlisberger will once again fail to play all 16 games in Pittsburgh. His absence, even for just a few weeks, will cause another under-10 win season for the Steelers, costing them a trip to the postseason.
23. Tennessee’s failure to addresses one of the league’s worst defenses will come back to haunt them in 2013. An offense built on the running game isn’t equipped to come from behind often. A roster overhaul could be in store after an ugly year for the Titans.
24. Miami will be the first contender facing must-win games early in 2013. If road games in Cleveland and Indianapolis go awry in Week 1 and 2, respectively, the Dolphins face this gauntlet before their Week 6 bye: Atlanta, at New Orleans, and Baltimore.
25. Philip Rivers will struggles behind an awful offensive line, coaching change and poor roster construction. By season’s end, he’ll be shown the door and enter free agency for the first time as a beat-up commodity.
26. Gus Bradley will make Jacksonville’s defense watchable for the first time since the Jack Del Rio era in north Florida. When Justin Blackmon returns from suspension, he and Cecil Shorts will give Blaine Gabbert a chance to succeed in an up-tempo offense.
27. Oakland will prove to be the least talented NFL team since the 0-16 Detroit Lions. They’ll luck into a win or two, but the decision making process between Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater should start now.
28. Concerns about Colin Kaepernick’s effectiveness over a full season will be squashed by the visionary play-calling of Greg Roman and preparation of Jim Harbaugh. The NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through San Francisco.
29. Seattle, a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, will struggle out of the gate on defense. Without defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and minus a consistent pass rush due to Bruce Irvin’s suspension and Chris Clemons’ uncertain knee, the Seahawks will drop three of their first four games. It will take a Week 17 win over a scrappy Rams team to secure a playoff berth in 2013.
30. Osi Umenyiora and Stephen Jackson will pace themselves during the regular season to ensure the former stars have enough left in the tank to help Atlanta get over the hump in the postseason.
31. Green Bay’s defense and offensive line will continue to deliver uninspiring performances. No quarterback in the NFL will be asked to carry a team the way the Pack will demand perfection from Aaron Rodgers. Luckily for their postseason hopes, Rodgers can handle it.
32. Sean Payton’s return to the sidelines in New Orleans will be a feel good story, but it won’t change this fact: The Saints can’t play defense. Rob Ryan doesn’t have the personnel or the track record of success to help this unit thrive. The Superdome will be dark again this postseason after a 7-9 finish.
33. The health of Robert Griffin III will dictate the fate of the NFC East, and, possibly, the entire league. If RG3 is healthy and effective for 16 games, the Skins are a Super Bowl contender.
34. Christian Ponder’s deficiencies will cast a cloud over the 2013 Vikings. By mid-season, fans will call for Matt Cassel to replace him as the team’s starting quarterback.
35. Jay Cutler will thrive in new head coach Marc Trestman’s system, but Chicago’s defense will lack an edge without Lovie Smith on the sidelines. For the first time in forever, defense will cost Chicago a trip to the postseason.
36. Philadelphia, in Chip Kelly’s first season on the sidelines, will be fascinating to watch. Led by the NFL’s best offensive line and dynamic running game, the Eagles will thrive between the 20s. Poor decision making from Michael Vick and a lack of red zone options will cost Philadelphia valuable points, though. That, along with a porous defense, will conspire to produce a 6-10 ledger for Kelly.
37. Jeff Fisher’s Rams will be the rising team that contenders fear in December. If Sam Bradford can live up to his No. 1 billing by putting the ball in the hands of Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, St. Louis will be a surprise contender and arrive in Seattle in Week 17 with a postseason spot on the line.
38. Tampa Bay will start hot, winning four of their first five games. Due to a brutal December schedule (at CAR, BUF, SF, at STL, at NO) and stories of Greg Schiano working the players too hard during the season, the Bucs will fall apart.
39. Two of the most talked about subjects in the NFL, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, will be only members of the roster to overachieve in 2013. An All-Pro QB and WR can get the Boys to 7-9, but defensive and offensive line issues will cave the season and Jason Garrett’s tenure on the sidelines.
40. The Bruce Arians experiment won’t work out well in Arizona. Behind an awful offensive line, Carson Palmer will be lucky to make it through the NFC gauntlet of Seattle, San Fran and St. Louis. After another last place finish, Larry Fitzgerald’s prime and patience will come under the microscope next offseason.
41. If, and it’s a big if, Detroit is properly disciplined and coached, they can rebound to make the postseason and even snatch the NFC North away from the Green Bay Packers. By December, the names Suh, Fairley and Ansah will be talked about with reverence as the best defensive line in the sport.
42. While RGIII, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were featured on the SI NFL preview covers, the football world seems to have forgotten about the immense talent of Cam Newton in Carolina. With an improved attitude, backed by a Top 10 defense and through some better luck in close games, Carolina will vault themselves into second place in the NFC South.
43. AFC Postseason: New England, Cincinnati, Houston, Denver, Baltimore, Kansas City
44. NFC Postseason: New York, Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, Seattle
45. Awards: MVP: Peyton Manning, OPOY: C.J. Spiller, DPOY: J.J. Watt, Coach of the Year: Andy Reid
46. Jets record: 4-12
47: Giants record: 10-6
48. Super Bowl XLVIII Prediction: Denver 31, Atlanta 27
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