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2012 Football Forecast

Our sports expert makes bold predictions for the NFL season after an offseason of scandal and high-profile trades.
Danny Sheridan
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom, July/August 2012

(continued from page 2)

4. Cleveland Browns

Where have you gone, Jim Brown? The Mistakes by the Lake have gone 56-105 the last 20 years. They lost all six division games and 11 of their final 12 to finish 4-12. The offense sputtered behind QB Colt McCoy (57.2 completion percentage), who was victimized by a lack of play-makers. Team president Mike Holmgren earned widespread praise for drafting Alabama RB Trent Richardson to replace Peyton Hillis (Chiefs)—except from Brown, who called him “ordinary.” McCoy, who may or may not be able to throw with more velocity than owner Randy Lerner, barely had time to revel in his new toy before Holmgren pulled the rug out from beneath him by selecting 28-year-old QB Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) with the 22nd pick.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans

Coach Gary Kubiak was a magician in winning the franchise’s first division title with stars QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson and DE Mario Williams among a dozen players on injured reserve. Third-string rookie QB T.J. Yates closed out the 10-6 season, defeating Cincinnati in the wild-card playoff before being ousted 20-13 by Baltimore.

Johnson (hamstring) was limited to 33 catches as RB Arian Foster (1,224 rushing yards) couldn’t carry the offense all by himself. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips hopes that No. 1 draft DE Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) is not a one-year wonder (16 sacks, nine forced fumbles) because Williams (who went to the Bills) is gone. If Mercilus turns out to be merciless? “Houston, we no longer have a problem.”

2. Tennessee Titans

Sheridan's odds mvp graph.
The Titans were a surprising 9-7 under first-year coach Mike Munchak, missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker with Cincinnati. QB Matt Hasselbeck, who will have to fend off 2011 No. 1 pick Jake Locker, enjoyed one of his best seasons (3,571 passing yards), starting 16 games for the first time since 2007 even though he was handicapped by the league’s worst running attack. RB Chris Johnson had conditioning issues following his lengthy holdout and struggled to reach 1,000 yards. No. 1 draft WR Kendall Wright (Baylor) is insurance for the unreliable Kenny Britt, but owner Bud Adams is still searching for a pass rush and a cornerback to replace Cortland Finnegan (Rams).

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

The ineptitude of rookie QB Blaine Gabbert cost Coach Jack Del Rio his job, which is why the Jaguars brought in QB Chad Henne. Gabbert, who finished at the bottom of the AFC passer ratings, is new head coach Mike Mularkey’s biggest challenge. NFL rushing king Maurice Jones-Drew set career highs in rushing (1,606) and attempts (343).  Mularkey imported ex-Dallas wideout Laurent Robinson to help, and is hopeful that No. 1 draft Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon (232 receptions the past two seasons) will remind longtime Jag-watchers of Jimmy Smith. “I think we can be a playoff contender,” says GM Gene Smith. Drafting punter Bryan Anger in the third round leaves me shaking my head, but No. 2 pick DE Andre Branch (Clemson) could be a double-digit sacker.

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