Mark Schoeck's 2012 NFL predictions

Mark Schoeck
Mark Schoeck's 2012 NFL predictions

AFC East

1. New England — Who cares about this team's secondary issues when four pass catchers could tally 1,000-yard seasons?

2. Buffalo — A favorable schedule and defensive acquisitions gives them a wild-card shot if QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can prevent turnovers.

3. N.Y. Jets — A locker-room dynamic doesn’t improve without a culture change, which could be coming next offseason.

4. Miami — Can’t expect the Dolphins to build off a strong finish to ’11 with a brand new team on the field in ’12.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh — A model of stability in the NFL, they will win at least 10 games — enough for first place with a key injury for the rival Ravens.

2. Cincinnati — WR A.J. Green alone gives the Bengals more offensive firepower than Baltimore. The seventh-ranked “D” from ’11 gives them a shot to return to the postseason.

3. Baltimore — You can’t replace a player like injured All-Pro OLB Terrell Suggs, the NFL’s best defensive player a year ago. Opposing QBs will be much more comfortable against this team in ’12.

4. Cleveland — Misfortune with injuries and suspensions on “D” — not their youth — will keep them out of contention for another season.

AFC South

1. Houston — If injuries to QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson couldn’t knock them out of first in ’11, how good can a healthy Texans team be?

2. Tennessee — Titans might not have elite talent, but I can’t find any overwhelming deficiencies, either.

3. Indianapolis — Andrew Luck’s preseason success has been very encouraging. Trade for CB Vontae Davis shows they’re not giving the season away.

4. Jacksonville — Their defense will make stops, but what good are talented wide receivers without a confident QB?

AFC West

1. Denver — Division winners can pass and rush the passer. It’s not just Peyton Manning in Denver; it’s Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, too.

2. Kansas City — Matt Cassel doesn’t have to throw for 4,000 yards for K.C. to earn a wild-card berth. He will have to replicate his seven-interception season from ’10, though.

3. San Diego — Chargers “D” allowed the fifth most points in the AFC in ’11, and the 32-year-old Antonio Gates might be Philip Rivers’ best target.

4. Oakland: — Opposing QBs will have fun against the Raiders' secondary. RB Darren McFadden’s health is the only thing keeping him from winning the rushing title.

NFC East

1. N.Y. Giants — Boast three great defensive ends, not two. Two great WRs, not one. Two starter-caliber RBs, not one. Depth will return NYG to the playoffs.

2. Dallas — If OLB DeMarcus Ware is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL and the Cowboys have great pieces at QB, RB and WR, why all the pessimism?

3. Philadelphia — You can’t predict injuries unless you’re talking about Michael Vick. That's maybe the only thing keeping the Eagles from a playoff spot.

4. Washington — Predicting the ‘Skins to finish last is a statement about the talent in the NFC East, not about the Redskins themselves.

NFC North

1. Green Bay — I’d be crazy to predict another 15-win season in Green Bay, but there’s no reason for regression except for a challenging divisional slate.

2. Chicago — They were 7-3 before injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte in ’11, Bears should be the best wild-card team in ’12.

3. Detroit — It takes more than a brilliant QB-WR duo to remain in playoff contention.

4. Minnesota — Tough to rebuild in the NFC North, but looking forward to the Vikes spoiling one or two divisional matchups.

NFC South

1. Atlanta — Don’t see them making a leap to the Super Bowl, but tumult in New Orleans should move them into first place.

2. New Orleans — A dangerous QB who doesn’t make mistakes can’t possibly make up for the mistakes Sean Payton and Co. are paying for in 2012.

3. Carolina — Should lead the NFL in rushing this season. A healthy “D” could make them contenders quicker than most expect.

4. Tampa Bay — Bucs allowed 31 points per game in ’11. Where’s Wade Phillips when you need him?

NFC West

1. San Francisco — In a division without elite QBs, teams must run to score. Unfortunately for Niners' NFC West foes, that's easier said than done. San Fran allowed only three rushing scores in ’11.

2. Seattle — Could be tough to score on the Seahawks; we’ll see if QB Russell Wilson is as impressive to us as he has been to head coach Pete Carroll.

3. St. Louis — A high-risk, high-reward draft and Jekyll-and-Hyde QB allow for just about anything to happen in St. Louis.

4. Arizona — It’s easy to doubt a team solely because of a lack of QB talent but I doubt the Cards because of a lack of QB talent.

Offensive MVP — Patriots QB Tom Brady

Defensive MVP — Broncos OLB Von Miller

Super Bowl XLVII — Patriots over Packers