On Pro Football
---- — For some strange reason, the National Football League has placed Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey. It’s inexplicable why the league would jeopardize such a glorious event in a northern city, but I now understand.
The stage is set for a home team to finally defend its own turf in the Big Game, and that team sure isn’t Rex Ryan’s New York Jets. Come February, it will be Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, and the New York Giants celebrating their championship at the hands of Eli’s older brother, Peyton, and the Denver Broncos.
For the New England Patriots, it is again, wait till next year. Tom Brady gets one year older and Pats fans get one more year of frustration.
Here’s how I rank all the teams in the league, from 1 to 32.
1. New York Giants (11-5)
Why they will win: I looked into Eli’s eyes Friday night and saw something special. He’s back with something to prove. Oh yeah, and the rest of the division stinks.
Why they won’t: Coughlin’s life on the edge finally runs out. And when this team is 5-5, ownership pulls the plug.
Players to watch: Jason Pierre-Paul is the linchpin on defense. He must stay healthy and get to quarterbacks. Also, is David Wilson the answer at running back?
2. Denver Broncos (11-5)
Why they will win: Peyton gets the security blanket of all security blankets in Wes Welker, who goes on to catch 130 balls and scores 15 TDs.
Why they won’t: This defense, without Von Miller early, loses its identity.
Players to watch: Welker, of course. Every eye in New England will be on him as the season breaks down.
3. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
Why they will win: Pat Willis and company still own the nastiest defense on the planet.
Why they won’t: Colin Kaepernick takes a step back on his road to greatness.
Players to watch: Frank Gore remains as explosive as ever and aren’t you excited to see what Anquan Boldin can do?
4. New England Patriots (11-5)
Why they will win: Tom Brady and Chandler Jones.
Why they won’t: Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker. No, seriously. Brady’s weapons arsenal is as depleted as it has ever been.
Players to watch: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount. This team has to run the football and get back to balance if they are to contend for the big prize.
5. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Why they will win: Love the work they’ve done to fill in around Aaron Rodgers.
Why they won’t: This defense, built on speed, can’t go on living without becoming more stout.
Players to watch: Definitely like the big additions up front in Datone Jones on defense and David Bakhtiari on offense.
6. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
Why they will win: Count the potential Hall of Famers on offense: Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Steven Jackson to name three.
Why they won’t: You get the feeling Matt Ryan just doesn’t have the stuff to join the aforementioned trio. If he did, they’d be the clear-cut choice to win it all.
Players to watch: Will Jacquizz Rodgers ever live up to the hype and tear this up like the PAC-10?
7. Houston Texans (10-6)
Why they will win: Please see Atlanta Falcons, only insert names Andre Johnson and Arian Foster.
Why they won’t: Matt Schaub is the AFC version of Matt Ryan.
Players to watch: Is there any chance at all that J.J. Watt continues his torrid play at defensive end?
8. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
Why they will win: Simply because I fell in love with them watching “Hard Knocks”.
Why they won’t: No team featured there has won it yet.
Players to watch: A.J. Green headlines the next class of dynamic, superstar receivers in the game.
9. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Why they will win: Joe Flacco’s 2012 season was no fluke. Even with a rebuilt cast around him, Flacco plays at top levels.
Why they won’t: No Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed means the defense has to take a step back.
Players to watch: The world expects Torrey Smith to turn it up a notch, but my eyes are on Jacoby Jones to wreak havoc outside.
10. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Why they will win: Pete Carroll but together a nasty physical in no time and guys like Richard Sherman are there for the long haul.
Why they won’t: As magnificent as he was, does anyone expect Russell Wilson to achieve a 100-passer rating again this year?
Players to watch: For the Seahawks to bump it up a level, Golden Tate has to join the game’s premier receivers.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
Why they will win: They’re the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger remains a franchise quarterback.
Why they won’t: A rugged division, rugged overall schedule and too many new, unproven faces on defense.
Players to watch: Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders would start at receiver in almost any NFL team.
12. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
Why they will win: Adrian Peterson deserves something special after all the tumult and adversity he’s endured.
Why they won’t: Christian Ponder has no excuses now with a revamped receiving core that’s bound to yield a quarterback controversy.
Players to watch: Cordarrelle Patterson enjoyed a monster preseason. A guy who many thought the Patriots should have gotten, he could be ready for a huge rookie season.
13. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
Why they will win: Cam Newton is focused on being more than just a fantasy owner’s dream. He wants to win, and he wants to win now.
Why they won’t: Is there any reason I should trust Ron Rivera as a head coach?
Players to watch: How old is Steve Smith anyway? And can a 34-year-old receiver still play at his high level?
14. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Why they will win: Wide receiver Kenny Britt is one of the game’s best kept secrets.
Why they won’t: Unfortunately, Jake Locker is the guy throwing to him.
Players to watch: Chris Johnson may be deep into the back nine of his career, but I don’t see Shonn Greene taking reps away from him.
15. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
Why they will win: Coach Chuck Pagano has put cancer behind him and he’s out to prove that last year was no fluke.
Why they won’t: Seriously, I realize Pagano had cancer, but are the Colts really using ColtsStrong as motto for this year?
Players to watch: I’m telling you right now, Andrew Luck is nowhere near as good as people around the game think he is.
16. Washington Redskins (9-7)
Why they will win: I’m totally off base and RGIII comes back better than ever.
Why they won’t: You saw that knee buckle last winter. I saw that knee buckle last winter. There’s no way he’s back at 100 percent.
Players to watch: Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman and Pat White. Take your pick, one of them will be in there at quarterback, certainly not RGIII for the bulk of the snaps.
17. Detroit Lions (8-8)
Why they will win: The long, arduous, five-year wait for Matthew Stafford to arrive is finally over.
Why they won’t: Along with being the most ferocious defense front in the game, they are also the dumbest.
Players to watch: All eyes are on “Megatron” but Reggie Bush just might be the second game breaker this offense is looking for.
18. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Why they will win: If I had to pick a quarterback to win me one game, the only guy other than Brady I might consider is Drew Brees.
Why they won’t: Sean Payton’s transition back from a year’s suspension just won’t go so smoothly.
Players to watch: Call me a traditionalist, but I love quality tight-end play and Jimmy Graham might be the best in the game while Rob Gronkowski sits.
19. San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Why they will win: Philip Rivers’ options are as good as any, but guys like Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd are getting along in years.
Why they won’t: Bringing Dwight Freeney in for season #12 isn’t the answer and neither is Manti Te’o.
Players to watch: Isn’t everybody going to be watching Te’o?
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Why they will win: Offensive balance like this, with Doug Martin running and Vincent Jackson stretching defenses will take you a long way in today’s NFL.
Why they won’t: Call me crazy, but Greg Schiano showed me nothing last year that makes me think he’ll be a successful pro coach.
Players to watch: The combination of Adrian Clayborn and Da’quan Bowers, if healthy, should be able to collapse any pocket.
21. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
Why they will win: Fantasy players listen here, you’re talking a top five defense in the game.
Why they won’t: At the end of the day, you need a serviceable quarterback to win. Carson Palmer isn’t the guy.
Players to watch: Two words: Honey Badger. A shoe-in for defensive rookie of the year, I told you people the Patriots should have drafted him.
22. Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
Why they will win: With RGIII’s injury and the sad state in Philly, the Cowboys have plenty to win this division.
Why they won’t: Tony Romo might be the most disappointing talent to ever play the game.
Players to watch: I could watch Dez Bryant highlights for hours at a time and never get bored.
23. Oakland Raiders (7-9)
Why they will win: Maybe this team knows something about its defense having let go stoppers inside, like Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour.
Why they won’t: The quarterback competition features Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn.
Players to watch: Darren McFadden equals a foundation for your fantasy football winner.
24. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Why they will win: They happen to play four games against the Jets and the Bills.
Why they won’t: If any quarterback is headed to a sophomore slump, it will be Ryan Tannehill.
Players to watch: If any Dolphin is worth the price of admission, it is receiver Brian Hartline. The kid is a serious professional and a craftsman at receiver.
25. New York Jets (6-10)
Why they will win: Rex Ryan knew what he was doing by getting Mark Sanchez banged up. He knows Matt Simms is the answer at quarterback.
Why they won’t: Sanchez, Simms, Geno Smith? Shouldn’t they all be selling insurance somewhere?
Players to watch: New York picked up a good one on defense with Sheldon Richardson.
26. Chicago Bears (6-10)
Why they will win: If they ever commit wholeheartedly to Matt Forte and the running game, they could take it all, old-school.
Why they won’t: Mark Trestman makes you long for the days Lovie Smith on the sidelines.
Players to watch: Let’s take a look at Lance Briggs and see what kind of linebacker he is, without big man Brian Urlacher in the middle.
27. St. Louis Rams (6-10)
Why they will win: Maybe it’s Cortland Finnegan’s presence, but this defense plays with an attitude, and it hasn’t in the past.
Why they won’t: The window seems to be closing fast on Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Sam Bradford.
Players to watch: The Rams are all in with rookie receiver Tavon Austin.
28. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Why they will win: The rugged nature of the AFC North has rubbed off and coach Rob Chudzinski has taken copious notes on how to win physical football games.
Why they won’t: I just can’t see Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell surviving in a division like this.
Players to watch: A first-team all-name team rookie Barkevious Mingo has to live up to the number 6 overall selection.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11)
Why they will win: Head coach Chip Kelly is a New Hampshire guy in an incredibly tough situation, so we hope for the best.
Why they won’t: I’m just not sure Kelly’s tactics translate to the pro game after so much success in college.
Players to watch: Michael Vick to Desean Jackson remains one of the most passing combinations in the game.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Why they will win: Somehow Denard Robinson ignites a spark in this offense, one that Blaine Gabbert can’t.
Why they won’t: Too many questions at the running back with Maurice Jones-Drew aging and Justin Forsett injured. I just can’t count on Jordan Todman to come through.
Players to watch: If they had someone to throw it, I’d throw it to Cecil Shorts III, he’s a game-breaker.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
Why they will win: Alex Smith plays like a guy who had his job stolen from him in San Francisco.
Why they won’t: Do they honestly believe Andy Reid has the answers? His team needs players.
Players to watch: Tamba Hali is better than the 9-sack season he had last year would indicate. Reid must turn him loose from the edge.
32. Buffalo Bills (2-14)
Why they will win: They won’t.
Why they won’t: Former Central Catholic quarterback Chris Lane, now living in Buffalo, might be the next guy to get a tryout with the Bills under center.
Players to watch: You have to feel bad for Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller to be lost in this horrifying mess.