Peering into the Old Swami’s crystal ball at the 2013 NFL season, en route to a Houston-Seattle Super Bowl …
■ NFC East: The Giants and Cowboys are interchangeable; both have above-average quarterbacks and good-enough defenses. It will be a close race down to the final week. Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired right knee will have Redskins fans holding their breath all season. He may take a step back.
1. New York Giants; 2. Dallas; 3. Washington; 4. Philadelphia.
■ NFC North: Who will be the first coach fired this season? Las Vegas money is on Rex Ryan, although I think he’ll be left to suffer along with the Jets’ fans. The Lions, meanwhile, have their bye week at exactly the midway point. If they’re not at least 4-4 with the second half of the schedule opening at Chicago and at Pittsburgh, my money will be on Jim Schwartz.
1. Green Bay; 2. Detroit; 3. Chicago; 4. Minnesota.
■ NFC South: The top two teams are both pretty good. The bottom two teams are both pretty mediocre. Coin flips are sometimes useful.
1. Atlanta; 2. New Orleans; 3. Carolina; 4. Tampa Bay.
■ NFC West: Talk about must-see TV; two of the very best games of the regular season should be 49ers at Seahawks in Week 2 and Seahawks at 49ers in Week 14. A lot will be on the line in the late meeting, but with Percy Harvin healthy and back on the field, who’s going to stop Seattle? By the way, Jeff Fisher is building a nice team in St. Louis, but this is the wrong division in the wrong conference.
1. Seattle; 2. San Francisco; 3. St. Louis; 4. Arizona.
■ NFC Postseason: Wild cards — San Francisco and Dallas. Championship — Seattle d. Green Bay.
■ AFC East: The Dolphins have undergone a renovation and are interesting, but Tom Brady allows the Patriots, warts and all, to remain the class of this division. At the other end of the spectrum, circle Dec. 8 when the two worst teams in the NFL, the Raiders and Jets, meet in New York to decide the Jadeveon Clowney draft day drama. With Jets’ luck, they’ll win … and lose.
1. New England; 2. Miami; 3. Buffalo; 4. New York Jets.
■ AFC North: With all the talent around him, Andy Dalton simply needs to manage the game and deliver the ball. Bengals teammate Geno Atkins is our favorite for defensive player of the year. Ravens have too many holes to return to the Super Bowl, but are good enough for the playoffs. Big Ben and the Steelers are trending down; Browns trending up, but the offense has a mountain to climb.
1. Cincinnati; 2. Baltimore; 3. Pittsburgh; 4. Cleveland.
■ AFC South: Matt Schaub is good enough and the defense has NFL’s best 1-2 punch in J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, so nobody will derail the Texans. A lot of experts see Andrew Luck and the Colts taking a step back after being last season’s Cinderella, but another playoff run could be in their future.
1. Houston; 2. Indianapolis; 3. Tennessee; 4. Jacksonville.
■ AFC West: The Chiefs could improve to around .500 and Andy Reid could be coach of the year, but they’re still a year away from doing any damage. With Peyton Manning and a scary-good receiving corps, the Broncos won’t be challenged until the playoffs.
1. Denver; 2. Kansas City; 3. San Diego; 4. Oakland.
■ AFC Postseason: Wild cards — Baltimore and Indianapolis. Championship — Houston d. Cincinnati.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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