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Five Bold Predictions For The 2013 NFL Season

As the 2013 NFL season is upon us, and pre-season has kicked off the time has never been more perfect than now to make some bold predictions. Predictions are in a sense, a writer’s version of fantasy football, you view the league, you take notes, and you simply make guesses, or predictions as to what will happen in the regular season. Who will become league stars, what teams will disappoint, which teams will surprise? All that and more, in this version of Five Bold Predictions.

1) Dez Bryant will be league’s top receiver

Last year Dez Bryant had 92 catches on 138 targets for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Calvin Johnson was taking the league by storm. With a healthy off-season and what seems to have been a focused off-season in which Bryant didn’t find his name in the news, this may be the year of “Weapon X”. The Cowboys added Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar through the draft which gives quarterback Tony Romo more weapons, and will force defenses to have to cover everywhere. If this offensive line can hold up and allow this offense to flow, Dez Bryant has the potential to become the league’s best wide receiver, and he will turn 25 on November 4th.

Projected stats: 110 catches, 1,640 yards, and 11 touchdowns

2) Cincinnati Bengals will win the AFC North

The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens got older on offense and lost their primary receiver in Anquan Boldin, while the Bengals added more weapons on both sides of the ball. Both teams tied at 10-6 last season but while the Ravens just recently added Brandon Stokley, Dallas Clark, and Visanthe Shiancoe the Bengals used the draft to go young and added Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. The changing of guard will fall on the hands of quarterback Andy Dalton but with another year of work with stud-receiver AJ Green as well as the rise of Mohamed Sanu, not to mention the tight end duo of Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, and Dalton has the weapons around him.

The defense has gotten stronger as well as last year’s first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick is healthy, James Harrison was signed in free agency, and Geno Atkins has cemented himself as the best defensive tackle in the league. Mike Zimmer’s defense is only getting scarier, and if the offense is running smoothly, the Ravens will have trouble taking this division away from Cincinnati. They’ll face the Bears, Steelers, and Packers their first three weeks, but not many challenges arise after that.

Projected record: 11-5

3) EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, and Michael Vick will start the regular season 

Kevin Kolb, Mark Sanchez, and Nick Foles will be holding clipboards when the regular season kicks off in week one. Manuel looked very impressive during the first half of the pre-season as did Vick but none of the three have been named starters yet.

With three more pre-season games left to go, it should come clear that Manuel will be the best fit for rookie head coach Doug Marrone over newcomer veteran Kevin Kolb as both have to learn the offense Marrone has installed, it’s been Manuel playing and Kolb injured, which is surely helping the cause. A rookie who can be built through the system is much easier to control than a veteran newcomer in Kolb.

The opposite can be said for Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles with rookie head coach Chip Kelly. Vick has been around the league as a prolific playmaking quarterback and if Kelly is to have an uptempo offense, Vick seems best fit. It only makes sense to start Vick who the team re-signed to a one-year deal in the off-season, see what he can bring to Kelly’s offense. He should fit the role until mistakes and losses start to rise.

For Geno Smith vs Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets, it’s time to give up the Sanchez project. His first pass was a pick-six by rookie Ziggy Ansah of the Detroit Lions and while Smith did leave the game with an injury he returned to practice the next day. Smith is showing more character in terms of leadership and will to gut out an injury and work through it as he fights for the starting job. Neither quarterback is perfect nor elite, but it won’t take long in the pre-season for the Sanchez mistakes to pile up, leading Smith to be named the starter.

4) Adrian Peterson WILL run for 2,000 yards again

While Adrian Peterson came “close but no cigar” to breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record last season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get it this year. While no running back has rushed for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, no player has come back from an ACL injury, as Peterson did. Bigger, stronger, faster, scarier than ever Peterson seemed unstoppable throughout the 2012 season but it started off slow. If he hits the ground running (literally), Peterson should be able to top 2,000 yards and break Dickerson’s record of 2,105 rushing yards in a single season.

5) Arizona Cardinals will make the playoffs

This will easily be the boldest of the five predictions, but there’s a case to be made. The Cardinals went 4-0 to begin the 2012 season, but fell victim to a 9 straight losses after that and finished with a 5-11 record. The record could have been a blessing in disguise as it landed them the opportunity to draft Jonathan Cooper in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and trade for quarterback Carson Palmer who is a big upgrade from Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Lindley all of whom played quarterback for Arizona last season. A new head coach in Bruce Arians also brought in running back Rashard Mendenhall who is familiar with Arians’ offense, but there’s a bigger reason why they will make the playoffs.

Defense. In a division where defense reigns supreme, the Cardinals improved with depth and talent in their secondary and their defensive line is among one of the league’s best. Linebacker Daryl Washington is currently suspended and is looking for a reduction but the Cardinals have the void filled. Jasper Brinkley, Karlos Dansby, Sam Acho, and Lorenzo Alexander all are slated to start in the 3-4 defense at the linebacker positions and the team drafted Kevin Minter out of LSU in the second round to provide even more depth.

“Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu looked very impressive in his debut pre-season game against the Packers and the duo of Patrick Peterson and Mathieu in both the secondary and return game will provide as legitimate threats for the Cardinals this season. While the Cardinals will make the playoffs, one team in that division will not, and that team?  The Seattle Seahawks.

Oops, that may have been six bold predictions but think of it as a pre-season gift.

Follow Mike Pendleton on Twitter @MP2310

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