By John Boyle
In addition to the story we had on Seattle’s secondary in today’s Herald, I also made what is sure to end up being a terrible attempt at predicting the NFL postseason. So feel free to save this and mock me five months.
Wild cards—49ers, Saints
Wild cards—Steelers, Ravens
Wild-Card round—49ers (NFC 5 seed) over Giants (4), Packers (3) over Saints (6)
Second round—Seahawks (1) over 49ers; Falcons (2) over Packers
NFC Championship—Seahawks over Falcons
Wild-Card round—Bengals (AFC 4 seed) over Steelers (5), Texans (3) over Ravens (6)
Second round—Broncos (1) over Bengals, Patriots (2) over Texans
AFC Championship—Broncos over Patriots
Seahawks over Broncos
Also, here’s a brief rundown on the division
Projected record: 12-4
Why they’re the favorites: After taking some lumps early, rookie Russell Wilson was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL during the second half of the season, and there’s no reason to expect him to do anything but improve in Year 2. Add to that one of the NFL’s best running games, and the Seahawks have an offense that could carry them to quite a few victories. Yet that’s not the formula the Seahawks are counting on, not after allowing the fewest points in the NFL last season, then spending in free agency to try to upgrade what was already a top-flight defense. And that, in a nutshell, is why the Seahawks are a popular pick to win the NFC, if not the Super Bowl—few teams are as loaded in so many areas as Seattle. So while the Percy Harvin injury is a setback, and while the defensive line injuries are a cause for concern early in the season, this team is just too talented to not be as good if not better than it was when it won 11 games in 2010.
San Francisco 49ers
Projected record: 11-5
Why they’ll take a (very) small step back: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had the 49ers yards away from a Super Bowl title, is one of football’s most exciting young players, and like Wilson in Seattle, he should only get better. Kaepernick did, however, lose his favorite target from last season, receiver Michael Crabtree, to an Achilles injury, and other than veteran Anquan Boldin, the 49ers have few proven options at receiver. And in addition to concerns at receiver, the ‘Niners could have some issues in their secondary, especially after letting All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson walk in free agency. That being said, San Francisco still has one of the league’s best defenses, led by defensive end Justin Smith, middle linebacker Patrick Willis and outside linebacker Aldon Smith, all of whom are among the league’s best at their respective positions, so the 49ers are very much a threat to win the NFC for a second straight year.
St. Louis Rams
Projected record: 9-7
Why they’re playoff contenders: The Seahawks and 49ers, rightly so, got most of the attention last year while combining for 22 victories, but don’t sleep on the Rams, who were 4-1-1 against the division in 2012 with their lone loss coming in a tightly contested contest in Seattle. Sam Bradford has yet to quite live up to his No. 1 pick status, but signs point to him taking a step forward in 2013, especially after the Rams traded up to take speedy receiver Tavon Austin in the first round of this year’s draft and signed tight end Jared Cook and Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long in free agency. If the offense does indeed improve, that, along with a tough defense and a proven coach in Jeff Fisher should be enough for the Rams to contend for a Wild Card berth.
Projected record: 7-9
Why they’ll be significantly better: The Cardinals had a pretty legit defense last year, led by stud lineman Darnell Dockett and Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, and now they have, in Carson Palmer, something resembling a functional NFL quarterback. Palmer may be a bit past his prime, but he’s certainly an upgrade over what the Cardinals have been trotting out at the position since Kurt Warner retired, and his presence means one of the game’s best receivers, Larry Fitzgerald, can again put up numbers befitting one of the game’s best receivers. Add to that new head coach Bruce Arians, who has been known to work wonders with an offense, and the Cardinals could be a handful a year after being one of the NFC’s worst teams. In a weaker division, the Cardinals might be a playoff team, but a tough NFC West likely means another losing season.