Resident NFL experts Ben Sathananthan and Matt Walsh give their final takes on the upcoming 2012 NFL season
Who wins the MVP?
Ben Sathananthan: Aaron Rodgers. He may have not thrown the best numbers but this man was clinical in the way he led the Green Bay Packers to 15-1 and the best record in the NFL last season. Rodgers is the most complete passer in the game with deadly receiving corps and combined with his ability to move around in the pocket and run, all signs point to him having a similar, if not better season in 2012.
Matt Walsh: Alex Smith. He is a man that, early on in his career, was low on confidence and was subject to many criticisms. He is now 28 and in the peak of his powers. The 49ers made the NFC Championship last season, and if they show the same form, Smith will play a prominent part in helping their Super Bowl campaign. With quality receivers around him- Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and TE Vernon Davis, he has the quality to lift his game and stats to another level.
Who wins the defensive player of the year?
BS: Jason Pierre-Paul. With Terrell Suggs out for the foreseeable future, the 3rd year defensive end out of the New York Giants will be unstoppable in his attempts to push the Giants back to the Superbowl. He exploded onto the scene last year and proved time and time again that he will be one of the best, if not the best pass rusher in the league. With 16.5 sacks in 2011, I would not be surprised to see Pierre-Paul go well past 25 sacks this season.
MW: I agree with Ben, JPP is a monster, and at only 23, can only improve on his form from last season. Although he has quality around him- Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are also at defensive end and will perhaps take some of the impact that JPP has. He will also draw the best tackle, and on occasion last year, that did not happen. But expect this 6’5″, 280lb monster to brush any offensive line aside and take it out.
Who wins the rookie of the year?
BS: Robert Griffin III. Much has been said about Andrew Luck and his ability to make the Indianapolis Colts a force in the AFC South, but Griffin has the ability to perform without the added pressure of being number one in the draft. Equipped with a better receiving team in Washington also gives Griffin a fantastic chance to outshoot Luck but he will need to cut down on costly turnovers in order to upstage Luck.
MW: Russell Wilson. I’m backing a smokey on this one, and the first year quarterback has already edged out Matt Flynn as Seattle’s starter. Expect this bloke to fly under the radar, and apart from being only 5’11”, he has abilities not dissimilar to Cam Newton. He threw for 33 TDs and only four picks in his last year of college, and ran for over 330 yards. Expect him to surprise.
BS: Carolina Panthers. This is one of the most exciting teams in the NFL and after a blistering rookie campaign from QB Cam Newton, The Panthers should be able to develop into a playoff team. Newton could be labelled as an elite quarterback after just one season and excluding any sophomore slump should be one of the league’s best by season end. The Panthers defence is suspect, but with a bit of injury luck, this team should be looking at a wildcard position in 2012.
MW: Indianapolis Colts. They can’t go anywhere but up. Finished last season at 2-14 and didn’t win one on the road. With young Andrew Luck at QB, I think they’ll give a good account of themselves. He was the first pick in the 2012 draft, and a Heisman Trophy runner up. Went 2-2 in the preseason.
BS + MW: It would be easy to go for the New York Jets given the hype around their failing offense but I believe we all are overestimating the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning is a massive throwing improvement on the wildcat offense Tebow ran whilst in town, but coming off multiple collarbone injuries and with a weakened arm, it is very hard to see the Broncos making it back to the playoffs on Manning’s back, against an underrated Chargers and Chiefs outfits in their division.
BS: Chicago Bears making a deep playoff run. This isn’t a bad team by any stretch of the imagination. Actually it’s a very good team after the addition of WR Brandan Marshall that got mauled by injury last season. Assuming QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte remain healthy all season long, the Bears have a very good chance at making the playoffs, and not just that, going far, perhaps as far as the NFC Championship game behind a well-rounded offense and a dominating defense lead by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers.
MW: New York Jets will shake off their preseason disappointment and make the playoffs at 9-7. They need to break their mental barriers, such as throwing a touchdown, and once they do that they will perform well. Rex Ryan is a great coach, and has a young team and coaching panel. Hoping they surprise and shake up the AFC East.
What do you want to see this season?
BS: Yes, there is a little bias here; I would like to see the Cowboys back in the playoffs. There is too much talent on this team not to be playing post-season football. But outside of that I would like to see the post-season overtime rules brought into the regular season. Nothing beats a game winning touchdown after being tied up after 60 minutes of gametime ala Broncos Steelers last season. (I got my wish)
MW: A cliche fairytale story… similar to the NY Giants scraping into the playoffs last year, and then taking out the Super Bowl. I can see Carolina giving it a shake, Kansas City could also take out the AFC West and give that a red hot go. I like an underdog.
Who will win the AFC?
BS: Pittsburgh Steelers. The battle between arguably the best offense in the league with the Pats and arguably the best defence in the league with the Steelers; what’s not to love! Big Ben Roethlisberger has too much to prove after playing injured for the second half of last season and the Steelers will find a way to cover the Patriots two tight end sets.
MW: I’ll stay in the AFC North with this one and say the Baltimore Ravens. They finished 12-4 last year, and I reckon they could have done better. The Ravens have a quality defence led by the ferocious Ray Lewis, a great QB in Joe Flacco and very solid receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Great support in the running game with Ray Rice. They have an easy division, and if they can beat the Steelers when they match up, then I expect them to take out the AFC.
Who will win the NFC?
BS + MW: Green Bay Packers. No one could believe that the Packers lost to the eventual champion Giants in the divisional round and I doubt that Mike McCarthy or Aaron Rodgers will take anything less than a trip to the Superbowl next February. With renewed vigour the Packers shall take the NFC championship game against the defensive minded San Francisco 49ers. Within their division, they should be able to cover the Lions and Bears, and take out the NFC North and the NFC.
Who wins the Super Bowl?
BS + MW: Green Bay Packers. They’ve done it once, they can do it again. And this time their offense has improved which is a scary prospect for the aging Steelers defence. Roethlisberger is still the big time player he always was but can his offense keep up with the high octane Packer offense run by Rodgers? If the Packers turn it into a shootout there is nothing that will stop them winning their second Superbowl in three years.
If they come up against Baltimore, it’s the same story. Ray Lewis is very old, and if they throw deep they could expose the Ravens in the secondary, and I don’t think Rodgers would have any reservations about doing that. The packers defence is also extremely solid. They have too much class, and they should win the Super Bowl.