By Dan Durkin
(CBS) With no clear cut favorite, the 2013 NFL season appears to be wide open.
The league strives for parity and lives by the “any given Sunday” mantra, but the numbers tell a different story. Yes, any given Sunday one team can beat another, but in terms of playoffs, the parity argument loses steam, particularly in the AFC.
In the AFC, the same five teams have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and only four teams – Baltimore, New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh – have represented the conference in the past 10 Super Bowls.
In the NFC, nine different teams have participated in the last 10 Super Bowls. The balance of power seems to have shifted to the NFC, and with so many (seemingly) playoff-worthy teams, the playoff run should create some intense competition.
Here’s my preseason prediction of how the 2013 NFL season will shake out.
x – Denotes Division Winner
w – Denotes Wild Card
Highly competitive division, with three evenly matched teams. The Redskins first-place schedule combined with RGIII’s first year post-surgery, brings them back down to earth. The Cowboys are talented, but can’t seem to put it together when it matters most. I like the Giants to win the East.
x -Giants 9-7
Just three seasons ago, the Seahawks won this division with a 7-9 record. My how things have changed. The Rams are on the rise, but I don’t believe in Sam Bradford. The Seahawks are a complete football team, but I’m curious to see how they respond to being the hunted, rather than the hunter. Giving a slight edge to the 49ers, who are well-coached, have the league’s best offensive line, and a stout defensive front seven.
x – 49ers 12-4
w – Seahawks 12-4
Not sure if the Packers improved enough on their front seven to overtake the 49ers or Seahawks in the playoffs, but they’re still the most talented team in the North. The Bears hope is they’ve caught lightning in a bottle with Trestman and can bleed another year out of their defense. The Vikings 2012 playoff run was an aberration (see Ponder, Christian). The Lions? Start updating your resume, Jim Schwartz.
x – Packers 11-5
w -Bears 9-7
The return of Sean Payton is the biggest story in the NFC South, and you know he’s got a chip on his shoulder this season. I love the Saints offense, but their defense is putrid, Rob Ryan or not. The Falcons remain the cream of the crop in the NFC South.
x – Falcons 12-4
Will Rex Ryan make it through the season? My magic 8-ball, says “Not bloody likely.” Despite all of their wheeling and dealing this offseason, the Dolphins have only improved by one win. Their flurry of activity was a last ditch, preservation effort by general manager Jeff Ireland, which won’t be enough to save his job. This division is easily the Patriots again, with the bottom feeders jockeying for draft position.
x – Patriots 12-4
Much like the AFC East, the AFC West will be dominated by the Broncos, who shouldn’t lose a game in the division. I like what the Chiefs are doing, but fear Andy Reid will try and turn Alex Smith into a high volume passer, when he’s proven to be a reliable game manager. The Raiders have a real shot at going 0-16, so their biggest story line will be: Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater?
x – Broncos 13-3
Every year people doubt the Ravens, yet every year they’re making noise in the playoffs. That Harbaugh-Flacco combination is a proven winner, yet, they’ll be able to play the underdog card all year long. The Bengals are good, but I think they’re more media darlings than anything. The Steelers have a lot of question marks, but I sense a rebound season. This division is packed with playoff contenders, and I think three end up going.
x – Ravens 10-6
w – Steelers 9-7
w – Bengals 9-7
Kudos to the Colts, for defying odds both on and off the field last season. I like the Colts future, but their present is iffy, primarily due to a soft defense. I expect the Texans to win this division, but again fall short in the playoffs.
x – Texans 10-6
AFC Champion: Denver Broncos
NFC Champion: Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl Champion: Denver Broncos
Questions about this playbook, or suggestions for a future playbook?Follow/Tweet me: @djdurkin