Head-to-head: NFL preview

By David Bray

The 2013 National Football League season commences on Sept. 5. Gauntlet sports writers Marshal Wolff and David Bray got together to discuss the some key talking points coming into the year.

Which team is your dark horse for this year?

Marshal Wolff: For me, it’s the Kansas City Chiefs. I know they tied for the worst record last year, but during the off-season they’ve acquired former Eagles coach Andy Reid and former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. With six pro-bowl selections last year, including running back Jamaal Charles, there is a lot of talent on this team and they will be exciting to watch.

David Bray: I’m going with the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton is a great duel threat quarterback. Newton has been criticized for attitude issues, perhaps too much. Newton is young and he’s going to make mistakes, but I believe he can be a top-ten, if not top-five quarterback in the NFL. Steve Smith still has the ability to be a big play wide receiver, and with good running backs like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers offence looks good.

Which rookie intrigues you the most?

MW: I’ll go with free safety Eric Reid, drafted 18th overall in 2013 by the San Francisco 49ers. He’s a big kid who loves to hit, and he has played well enough to make a spot on the team this year. Most critics are saying he has the biggest chance of being a bust, and that he could struggle with pass coverage. The transition from the NCAA to the NFL could be tough, but I’m excited to see him progress.

DB: I’m really curious to see how RB Giovani Bernard does in Cincinnati. A second-round pick out of North Carolina, he will be splitting carries with incumbent RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard has a good chance to take the starting position and improve Cincinnati’s ground offence. Rookie running backs like Doug Martin and Alfred Morris had impressive rookie campaigns last year, and I believe Bernard has the best chance to have similar success out of the 2013 draft class. Cincinnati’s offence thrives on a balance of pass and rush, and defenders will be more keyed in on star WR A.J. Green. Considering these circumstances, Bernard will have a good chance to succeed in his rookie year.

Which player is going to have a breakout year in 2013?

MW: Last year, Andrew Luck was pinned as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. He had a great rookie season in 2012, so if you don’t consider that a breakout, this season should be. He will likely be a top-five quarterback in 2013, and I won’t be surprised if he leads the Indiana Colts deeper into the playoffs next year.

DB: I too am very excited to see what Andrew Luck will do with a year of experience under his belt. I can’t say enough about this guy’s ability. Considered to be one of the best quarterback prospects in the past 20 years, Luck is a humble, intelligent hard-worker who is known to spend hours in the film room learning the game. He made a lot of mistakes in his rookie season, but that is to be expected from a rookie quarterback who attempts over 600 passes (other standout rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson attempted just under 400 passes). Luck has been given the opportunity to make mistakes, and more importantly, to learn from those mistakes. With a year of experience now in tow, Luck is an intriguing player to watch.

Who are the most overrated teams?

MW: The Chicago Bears could struggle this year. Despite the addition of former Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman, I think the Bears will have a disappointing season. They can only go as far as QB Jay Cutler performs, and Cutler is one of the most overrated and least consistent quarterbacks in the league.

DB: I’m unsure about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have a lot of question marks, the biggest of which is QB Josh Freeman. After an impressive campaign in 2010, Freeman has had trouble in the years since. I’m not saying the Bucs are a bad team. They recently acquired Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback in the league, although his health is a question mark as he is coming off a season-ending injury. The Bucs could easily fall apart unless everything goes right for them.

What is the most exciting division to watch?

MW: I’ll go with the NFC East. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys will likely sit on top once again, but it will be interesting to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins battle it out for a wild-card spot. Washington’s competitiveness all depends on whether or not QB Robert Griffin III is healthy.

DB: I’m excited about the NFC South. There isn’t a single team in that division I would rule out of playoff contention. The Atlanta Falcons were stellar last year, making it to the National Football Conference championship. The New Orleans Saints have added some defensive pieces after their defence struggled last year. The Carolina Panthers struggled last year, but I’m a big believer in QB Cam Newton. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have some flaws and they are my most overrated team, but they still have some talent and potential for a good season if all goes right.

National/American Football Conference and Super Bowl Champion Predictions:

MW: The AFC champs will be the Houston Texans. They have an improved offensive line, a solid QB in Matt Schaub and Arian Foster, one of the best RBs in the game. Rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins will free up space for their all-star WR Andre Johnson, and their defence is as strong as ever. In the NFC, I really want to see the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers make a push, but in the end it will be the Atlanta Falcons who make it to the Super Bowl. They have a stellar offence now with the addition of RB Steven Jackson, so the only question will be whether or not their defence can hold up. In the Super Bowl, it will be QB Matt Ryan leading the Falcons over the Texans 24–21.

DB: I think the Denver Broncos will win the AFC. QB Peyton Manning isn’t getting any younger, but he is still playing at an elite level. They’ve added some talent to their offensive backfield to add more to their running game. Weapons in the wide receiver position like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker can still overwhelm many teams. In the Super Bowl they will face the Seattle Seahawks, a team whose front office has done an excellent job building a deep roster thanks to their smart drafting and free agency acquisitions. Russell Wilson is a dual-threat quarterback who is both smart and physically gifted. Wilson has the option to handoff to one of the league’s best running backs in Marshawn Lynch. Defensively the Seahawks are great, lead by former Calgary Stampeder Brandon Browner, who has proven to be a great NFL cornerback. Seattle has many more defensive and offensive stars. Seattle may have the most talent in the NFL, but I think Peyton Manning has one more Super Bowl in him. Manning has the ability to put a team on his back, and I believe he will lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory, by the score of 28–24.

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