2012 Football Forecast
Our sports expert makes bold predictions for the NFL season after an offseason of scandal and high-profile trades.
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4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Coach Greg Schiano (Rutgers) inherited a mess as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell from 10-6 to 4-12 last season and ended with a 10-game losing streak. QB Josh Freeman was plagued by a poor receiving corps that Schiano immediately addressed by signing ex-Charger Vincent Jackson, and the additions of all-pro guard Carl Nicks and No. 1 draft Boise State RB Doug Martin will upgrade a pedestrian ground attack. Just because 37-year-old Ronde Barber is back and CB Eric Wright was added doesn’t mean the secondary issue has been solved, although No. l pick S Mark Barron (Alabama) is a stud. If Schiano can’t immediately change the culture, dinner at Bern’s Steak House is certain to lift his spirits.
1. San Francisco 49ers
First-year Coach Jim Harbaugh, who inherited a losing culture with maligned quarterback Alex Smith, won the West with a 13-3 record and came within a punt return of reaching the Super Bowl. Smith had his best season, but that didn’t stop Harbaugh from wooing Peyton Manning. Behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, RB Frank Gore rumbled for 1,211 yards.
Harbaugh, needing deep threats to complement Michael Crabtree, added Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, who sat out last year and isn’t likely to impress Jerry Rice. Perhaps No. 1 pick WR A.J. Jenkins (Illinois) will. Speedy No. 2 pick RB LaMichael James (Oregon) adds a big-play dimension. The defense remains formidable.
2. Seattle Seahawks
For the second straight year, the Hawks went 7-9, but this time it wasn’t good enough to win the West. Tarvaris Jackson wasn’t the answer at quarterback with only 3,091 yards, which is why Pete Carroll was quick to sign ex-Packer QB Matt Flynn. RB Marshawn Lynch displayed beast mode form (1,204 yards, 12 TDs) even though No. 1 WR Sidney Rice missed almost half the season. Doug Baldwin was a pleasant surprise (51 catches, 788 yards). Carroll used the 15th pick of the draft on pass rushing DE Bruce Irvin (West Virgina), a high risk because of character concerns.
3. Arizona Cardinals
After failing to lure Peyton Manning to the desert, Coach Ken Whisenhunt needs to identify his starting quarterback. Kevin Kolb opened 2-6 last season before Fordham Flash John Skelton took over and finished 5-2. WR Larry Fitzgerald is the Lethal Weapon (1,411 yards) while RB Beanie Wells contributed 1,047 yards despite a weak offensive line that allowed 54 sacks, second worst in the NFL. Fitzgerald lobbied openly for Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd and was delighted when Whisenhunt made him his first-round draft pick. OT Bobby Massie (Mississippi), a fourth-round steal, will help.
4. St. Louis Rams
After winning 15 games in five years, the Rams received federal aid from the nation’s capitol when the Redskins traded them four draft picks. They’ll need more after the NFL suspended new coach Jeff Fisher’s designated defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for his role in Bountygate. Trash-talking CB Cortland Finnegan bolsters the secondary, and first-round-pick DT Michael Brockers (LSU) should improve the run defense. Steven Jackson did all he could while Sam Bradford suffered through an injury-marred season as the Lambs owned the NFL’s worst offense. Bradford has a new toy in rookie WR Brian Quick (Appalachian State). Fisher will have his boys Ram-tough and challenging for a Super Bowl within three years.
Super Bowl Prediction
One year later, Gisele’s prayers are answered. Tom Brady will join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana and Bill Belichick will join Chuck Noll in the exclusive club of four-time Super Bowl winners with a Big Easy shootout victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers—which won’t be easy at all.
Danny Sheridan is a sports analyst for U.S.A. Today, for which he provides the daily odds on all sporting events for its website.