NFL

NFL: Comprehensive Season Preview

Peyton Manning and the Broncos are the bookies favourites (©GettyImages)
Peyton Manning and the Broncos are the bookies favourites (©GettyImages).

With the NFL season kicking-off in just a few hours when the Denver Broncos take on defending champions the Baltimore Ravens, here’s a brief look at all the teams and their prospects for the new campaign…

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills…

Top Draft Pick: EJ Manuel (Quarterback) – 16th overall pick – will battle it out with fellow rookie Jeff Tuel in the battle to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback.

Top New Signing: Jeff Tuel (Undrafted Free Agent) – looks likely to be the starter for the Bills next week after impressing in pre-season.

Managerial Changes: Doug Marrone (replacing Chan Gailey) – His first head coach job in an NFL franchise, the former New Orleans offensive coordinator has a big job on his hands as he looks to end the Bills 13 year playoff drought.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Defeated the Colts (44-20) and the Vikings (20-16) before losing out to the Redskins (30-7) and the Lions (35-13).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – With Kevin Kolb placed on the injured reserve list the Bills are woefully short on quarterback experience, expect them to struggle once again.

Miami Dolphins…

Top Draft Pick: Dion Jordan (Defensive End) – 3rd overall pick – will provide additional protection for the Miami pass defence. The Dolphins traded their first and second round draft picks to the Raiders to capture a player they rate highly.

Top New Signing: Mike Wallace (from the Pittsburgh Steelers) – the talented wide receiver will offer quarterback Ryan Tannehill another outlet downfield, taking some of the pressure off star-man Brian Hartline.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering a second season under Head Coach Joe Philbin.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 3 – Were defeated by the Cowboys (24-20) in the Hall of Fame Game before responding with victory over the Jaguars (27-3); Lost to the Texans (24-17) and the Buccaneers (17-16) before finishing with a win against the Saints (24-21).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – I’d expect them to continue to improve on last year’s efforts after adding well to their roster in the off-season, but they’ll still be some way short of a playoff place.

New England Patriots…

Top Draft Pick: Jamie Collins (Linebacker) – 52nd overall pick – one for the future, the Patriots roster is already incredibly strong, shown by their willingness to give up their first round selection.

Top New Signing: Danny Amendola (from the St. Louis Rams) – a strong wide receiver who’ll add some strength in depth to Tom Brady’s list of pass targets.

Managerial Changes: None – Bill Belichick has been with the Patriots since 2000, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Beat the Eagles (31-22) and the Buccaneers (25-21), were shocked by the Lions (40-9), but responded to defeat the Giants (28-20).

Prediction: First Place in Division – The perennial AFC East winners have found it all too easy in recent seasons, and I can’t see any other outcome this year.

New York Jets…

Top Draft Pick: Dee Milliner (Cornerback) – 9th overall pick – one of two first-round picks that will hope to replace the departed Darelle Revis as the Jets premier pass protector.

Top New Signing: Geno Smith (draft pick) – the quarterback will provide much needed competition for Mark Sanchez and will be looking to force his way in to the team as soon as possible.

Managerial Changes: None – The Jets will keep faith with Rex Ryan for a fifth year.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Lost their first match to the Lions (26-17) but responded with wins over the Jaguars (37-13), the Giants (24-21) and the Eagles (27-20).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Still worries at quarterback and in genuine point’s scorers throughout the team, another season of struggles beckons.

AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens…

Top Draft Pick: Matt Elam (Safety) – 32nd overall pick – All change for the Ravens’ defensive backs this year, expect this first round pick to slot straight into the team.

Top New Signing: Arthur Brown (Draft Pick) – the Ravens traded three draft picks to get him, and Brown has the unenviable task of filling the void left by Ray Lewis.

Managerial Changes: None – Super Bowl winning coach John Harbaugh returns for another year.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Beat the Buccaneers (44-16) and the Falcons (27-23) before losses to the Panthers (34-27) and the Rams (24-21).

Prediction: First Place in Division – The roster has undergone a series of changes since last year, especially on defence, but I’d expect them to have enough to sneak a tight division once again.

Cincinnati Bengals…

Top Draft Pick: Tyler Eifert (Tight End) – 21st overall pick – will strengthen the offensive options of an improving franchise and hopefully take some of the pressure off of premier receiver A.J. Green and fellow tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Top New Signing: Giovani Bernard (Draft Pick) – will offer competition for BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back while he also provides the Bengals with a specialist punt returner.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering an eleventh season under head coach Marvin Lewis.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Began their pre-season campaign with victories over the Falcons (34-10) and the Titans (27-19) before losing out to the Cowboys (24-18). They recovered to beat the Colts (27-10) in their final match.

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Totally capable of springing a surprise but have the disadvantage of being in a strong division. Will be close to a playoff spot but I’d tip them to narrowly miss out.

Cleveland Browns…

Top Draft Pick: Barkevious Mingo (Defensive End) – 6th overall pick – One of four defensive draft additions from the Browns that will look to solidify an already respectable unit.

Top New Signing: Jason Campbell (from the Chicago Bears) – Jay Cutler’s understudy will provide competition for Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

Managerial Changes: Rob Chudzinski (replacing Pat Shurmur) – An uphill task waits for the man who was the Browns offensive coordinator between 2007 and 2008. He is in his first job as a head coach.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Defeated the Rams (27-17) and the Lions (24-6) before a loss at the Colts (27-6). They ended their pre-season with a win over the Bears (18-16).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – Will hope to continue their steady improvement of the last couple of years, but anything more than that will be a huge surprise.

Pittsburgh Steelers…

Top Draft Pick: Jarvis Jones (Linebacker) – 17th overall pick – will add some much needed fresh blood to an aging defensive unit.

Top New Signing: Le’Veon Bell (draft pick) – adds some strength in depth to their running back position.

Managerial Changes: None – Mike Tomlin takes charge for a seventh season with the franchise.

Pre-Season form: Won 0, Lost 4 – Lost all four matches at the hands of the Giants (18-13), the Redskins (24-13), the Chiefs (26-20) and the Panthers (25-10).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – Don’t let the poor pre-season fool you, the Steelers are still a strong outfit, and expect them to go toe to toe with the Ravens and the Bengals in the fight for a playoff place.

AFC South:

Houston Texans…

Top Draft Pick: DeAndre Hopkins (Wide Receiver) – 27th overall pick – the Texans will be hoping their first round draft pick will prove the long term replacement for Andre Johnson.

Top New Signing: Ed Reed (from the Baltimore Ravens) – the safety picked up a Super Bowl ring last season, while he was also selected for his ninth Pro Bowl. He may be nearing 35, but he still has plenty to offer.

Managerial Changes: None – The Texans are entering their eighth season under the leadership of Gary Kubiak.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Bettered the Vikings (27-13) and the Dolphins (24-17) before a defeat to the Saints (31-23); Responded with victory over the Cowboys (24-6).

Prediction: First Place in Division – Hard to look past the Texans in one of the NFL’s weaker divisions, I’d expect them to run away with the title once again. The question will be over how deep this team can go into the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts…

Top Draft Pick: Bjorn Werner (Defensive End) – 24th overall pick – will further strengthen an improving, young Colts team.

Top New Signing: Matt Hasselbeck (from the Tennessee Titans) – will provide an experienced quarterback to help oversee the development of Andrew Luck while providing a more than useful back-up.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering second season under head coach Chuck Pagano, who missed out on overseeing most of his first year in charge while undergoing treatment for leukaemia.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Opened with a defeat to the Bills (44-20) before recovering to beat the Giants (20-12) and the Browns (27-6). They finished with a defeat to the Bengals (27-10).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – They will hope to improve on last year’s surprise showing, which will be some ask. If they are in and around the playoff places again it will be viewed as an achievement.

Jacksonville Jaguars…

Top Draft Pick: Luke Joeckel (Offensive Tackle) – 2nd overall pick – an important selection for the Jaguars as they move to increase their quarterback protection.

Top New Signing: Roy Miller (from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – will add some much needed defensive strength to a team that conceded an astronomical number of points last season.

Managerial Changes: Gus Bradley (replacing Mike Mularkey) – Big ask of the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator to guide the Jaguars to their first playoff spot since 2007.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost three straight games to the Dolphins (27-3), the Jets (37-13), and the Eagles (31-24) before finishing with a victory over the Falcons (20-16).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – Any improvement on last year will be viewed as a success for a franchise virtually starting from scratch… I wouldn’t expect a big jump up the league though.

Tennessee Titans…

Top Draft Pick: Chance Warmack (Guard) – 10th overall pick – will add to the protection for the Titans new quarterback.

Top New Signing: Ryan Fitzpatrick (from the Buffalo Bills) – the quarterback will likely step ahead of young Jake Locker in the pecking order and provide the Titans with some much needed experience.

Managerial Changes: None – Mike Munchak takes charge for a third year.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost their first two matches at the hands of the Redskins (22-21) and the Bengals (27-19) before beating the Falcons (27-16). They finished with another narrow defeat, this time against the Vikings (24-23).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Will hope to address a steady slide in form that has been going for a couple of years now. They will realistically hope just to pip the Colts into second place in the division.

AFC West:

Denver Broncos…

Top Draft Pick: Sylvester Williams (Defensive Tackle) – 28th overall pick – will strengthen the Broncos further in their defensive line. He’ll hope to slot straight into a winning team.

Top New Signing: Wes Welker (from the New England Patriots) – the idea of Welker linking-up with Peyton Manning will be an intimidating thought for the entire league.

Managerial Changes: None – John Fox takes charge for a third year with the hope of seeing his side continue to improve under his leadership.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Defeated the 49ers (10-6) and the Rams (27-26) either side of a defeat to the Seahawks (40-10) before finishing with a loss to the Cardinals (32-24). However, the pre-season favourite’s off-season has been dominated by several high-profile injuries and the six-match suspension handed to Von Miller.

Prediction: First Place in Division – Even with their issues the Broncos should be far too strong for their divisional opponents and should make the playoffs with ease.

Kansas City Chiefs…

Top Draft Pick: Eric Fisher (Offensive Tackle) – 1st overall pick – highly rated offensive lineman should help protect the Chiefs new quarterback.

Top New Signing: Alex Smith (from the San Francisco 49ers) – after losing his position to Colin Kaepernick with the Super Bowl runners-up, he’ll be eager to prove a point.

Managerial Changes: Andy Reid (replacing Romeo Crennel) – the long-time Eagles coach is one of the most respected managers in the league, and he’ll hope to start getting the Chiefs back on track after a difficult year.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Started with successive defeats against the Saints (17-13) and the 49ers (15-13) before ending with victories over the Steelers (26-20) and the Packers (30-8).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Should improve on last year but are likely to remain some way adrift of a playoff place.

Oakland Raiders…

Top Draft Pick: D.J. Hayden (Cornerback) – 12th overall pick – moved down the draft order and ended up with a promising cornerback who they will hope will improve their pass defence.

Top New Signing: Matt Flynn (from the Seattle Seahawks) – never really got a chance at the Seahawks after originally impressing as Aaron Rodgers’ deputy with the Packers. He replaces Carson Palmer at quarterback.

Managerial Changes: None – Dennis Allen takes charge for his second season and will need improvement quickly after last year’s poor showing.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Began promisingly with a win over the Cowboys (19-17), but followed that up with three consecutive defeats against the Saints (28-20), Bears (34-26) and the Seahawks (22-6).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – A building year for the Raiders who will simply want to improve on their efforts of 2012. That’s probably the best they can hope for anyway.

San Diego Chargers…

Top Draft Pick: D.J. Fluker (Offensive Tackle) – 11th overall pick – will provide some much needed protection for a talented quarterback in Philip Rivers.

Top New Signing: Dwight Freeney (from the Indianapolis Colts) – the seven time Pro Bowler and 11th overall pick of the 2002 draft may be into his thirties now, but the Colts all-time sacks leader still has plenty to offer.

Managerial Changes: Mike McCoy (replacing Norv Turner) – Worked wonders as the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator over the last three years, it will be interesting to see what he can do in his first Head Coach position. He’ll be under pressure to deliver at least a playoff spot.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost their first two matches against the Seahawks (31-10) and the Bears (33-28); Responded with a win over the Cardinals (24-7) but suffered a heavy defeat in their final game against the 49ers (41-6).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – May struggle to take the division title away from the Broncos but the Chargers are a decent bet for a wildcard spot after some smart off-season changes.

NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys…

Top Draft Pick: Travis Frederick (Center) – 31st overall pick – another option to help bolster the Cowboys offensive line, will Frederick be the man to help get the best out of quarterback Tony Romo?

Top New Signing: Ryan Cook (from the Miami Dolphins) – originally a second round draft pick in 2006, the former Vikings player will offer the Cowboys a versatile option in the offensive line.

Managerial Changes: None – A third season under the leadership Jason Garrett… surely his last chance to reach the playoffs.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 3 – Won the Hall of Fame Game against the Dolphins (24-20) before suffering defeats to the Raiders (19-17) and the Cardinals (12-7). They defeated the Bengals (24-18) before losing their final match to the Texans (24-6).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – This is perhaps the most unpredictable division in the league, but I’d expect the Cowboys to narrowly miss out on a playoff spot yet again.

New York Giants…

Top Draft Pick: Justin Pugh (Offensive Tackle) – 19th overall pick – yet another franchise that have moved to strengthen their offensive line and increase protection for their quarterback with their first-round draft pick.

Top New Signing: Louis Murphy (from the Carolina Panthers) – gives Eli Manning another throwing option, he will provide back-up for Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering a tenth year under the coaching of Tom Coughlin, who has twice led them to the Super Bowl

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Started well with a victory over the Steelers (18-13), but then fell to defeat against the Colts (20-12), the Jets (24-21) and the Patriots (28-20).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Super Bowl winners two years ago, but even then the Giants were hardly prolific in the regular season, winning just nine matches to sneak into the playoffs. They could struggle as their division strengthens around them.

Philadelphia Eagles…

Top Draft Pick: Lane Johnson (Offensive Tackle) – 4th overall pick – a versatile offensive tackle who can play on either side of the center, Johnson is a smart choice by the Eagles, who struggled with their offensive line last year.

Top New Signing: Patrick Chung (from the New England Patriots) – will improve last season’s shaky defence massively, the former second round draft pick was a starter in the 2011 season Super Bowl.

Managerial Changes: Chip Kelly (replacing Andy Reid) – It feels like the end of an era at the Eagles with Andy Reid no longer at the helm. Fans will be demanding an instant impact from Kelly, who is in his first NFL job.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Began with a loss to the Patriots (31-22) but came back to beat the Panthers (14-9) and the Jaguars (31-24) before losing to the Jets (27-20).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – The squad were strongly fancied last year and failed, this year no one expects anything from them… so who knows, the rosters not changed that much! Not for me though.

Washington Redskins…

Top Draft Pick: David Amerson (Cornerback) – 51st overall pick – lost their first round selection to the Rams after moving up the draft order last year to capture quarterback Robert Griffin III, but have still picked themselves up a decent prospect in Amerson.

Top New Signing: Nick Barnett (from the Buffalo Bills) – a former first round draft pick and Super Bowl winner with the Packers, the linebacker could prove a smart addition.

Managerial Changes: None – Mike Shanahan will enjoy a fourth season in charge having improved the franchise steadily throughout his tenure.

Pre-Season form: Won 4, Lost 0 – Were in dominant form as they won all four of their fixtures, defeating the Titans (22-21), the Steelers (24-13), the Bills (30-7) and the Buccaneers (30-12).

Prediction: First Place in Division – Their hopes will hinge on whether they can keep RG3 fit and firing, but they’re coming off a strong pre-season and I expect good things from the Redskins.

NFC North:

Chicago Bears…

Top Draft Pick: Kyle Long (Offensive Tackle) – 20th overall pick – will bolster the Bears offensive line that crumbled towards the end of last season.

Top New Signing: D.J. Williams (from the Denver Broncos) – a former first round draft pick that still has plenty to offer, he was the AFC combined tackles leader in 2007.

Managerial Changes: Marc Trestman (replacing Lovie Smith) – Smith paid the price for the Bears collapse last year that ended in them missing out on the playoffs, something that look impossible mid-way through the year. The former Montreal Alouettes Head Coach will need immediate results.

Pre-Season form: Won 2, Lost 2 – Kicked off with a defeat against the Panthers (24-17), beat the Chargers (33-28) and the Raiders (34-26), but lost their final game against the Browns (18-16).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – Playing in one of the stronger divisions in the league, it won’t be an easy qualification for the playoffs, but they’ll hope for at least a wildcard spot.

Detroit Lions…

Top Draft Pick: Ezekiel Ansah (Defensive End) – 5th overall pick – the Lions simply conceded too many points and threw away too many games last year, Ansah will go some way to resolving that issue.

Top New Signing: Reggie Bush (from the Miami Dolphins) – a talented running back at long last for the Lions, finally taking some of the pressure away from the Matt Stafford – Calvin Johnson combo, which has become fairly predictable.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering a fifth season under head coach Jim Schwartz, who will be under pressure to guide the Lions back in the right direction after struggling last year.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Started with a win over the Jets (26-17) before losing to the Browns (24-6). They stunned the Patriots (40-9) and finished with a win against the Bills (35-13).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – This is a tough but open division, the Lions seem the least likely to make the playoffs out of the four franchises, but they are more than capable of springing a surprise.

Green Bay Packers…

Top Draft Pick: Datone Jones (Defensive End) – 26th overall pick – a useful addition that will sure up the Packers defensive line.

Top New Signing: Eddie Lacy (draft pick) – the second-round draft pick provides the Packers with another running option, something they struggles with last year, and takes some of the pressure away from Aaron Rodgers.

Managerial Changes: None – Mike McCarthy takes charge for an eighth year.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Beat the Rams (19-7) after an opening match loss to the Cardinals (17-0), but went onto lose their final two fixtures against the Seahawks (17-10) and the Chiefs (30-8).

Prediction: First Place in Division – Are perhaps not quite the force they were a couple of years ago, but you can still reply on any team with Aaron Rodgers being there or thereabouts come the end of the campaign.

Minnesota Vikings…

Top Draft Pick: Sharrif Floyd (Defensive Tackle) – 23rd overall pick – one of two first-round picks as the Vikings look too sure up their defence.

Top New Signing: Greg Jennings (from the Green Bay Packers) – it will be interesting to see whether the talented wide receiver and two time Pro Bowler will come back to haunt his former employees.

Managerial Changes: None – A third full season awaits under Head Coach Leslie Frazier.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost their first three matches at the hands of the Texans (27-13), the Bills (20-16) and the 49ers (34-14) but ended with a morale boosting victory over the Titans (24-23).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Surprised everyone last year by making the playoffs. They’ll need another big year from Adrian Peterson if they’re going to do so again.

NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons…

Top Draft Pick: Desmond Trufant (Cornerback) – 22nd overall pick – the Falcons have elected for some additional pass protection as they look to push on from an excellent 2012 season.

Top New Signing: Steven Jackson (from the St. Louis Rams) – the three time Pro Bowler and the NFC rushing leader in 2009, he may have hit 30 now, but he looks a solid short-term addition.

Managerial Changes: None – Mike Smith enters his sixth season in charge of the Falcons.

Pre-Season form: Won 0, Lost 4 – Lost all four games to the Bengals (34-10), the Ravens (27-23), the Titans (27-16) and the Jaguars (20-16).

Prediction: First Place in Division – For the second year running the Falcons have endured a horrid pre-season, but don’t let that fool you, they’re a strong outfit and should be in the playoffs again.

Carolina Panthers…

Top Draft Pick: Star Lotulelei (Defensive Tackle) – 14th overall pick – the Panthers drafted defensive tackles in both the first and second rounds of the draft, expect at least Lotulelei to slot straight into the team.

Top New Signing: Chase Blackburn (from the New York Giants) – the two time Super Bowl winning linebacker and special teams player could prove a good addition for the Panthers.

Managerial Changes: None – The Panthers will be looking to continue their steady improvement under Ron Rivera, who is entering his third season in charge.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Defeated the Bears (24-17) before losing out to the Eagles (14-9), but returned to form with wins over the Ravens (34-27) and the Steelers (25-10).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – I’d expect them to continue their steady improvement of recent years, and if Cam Newton is firing they could even sneak a playoff spot.

New Orleans Saints…

Top Draft Pick: Kenny Vaccaro (Safety) – 15th overall pick – the Saints struggles massively on defence last year and they’ll hope that Vaccaro can help make a difference in that department.

Top New Signing: John Jenkins (draft pick) – the Saints will be hoping that their third-round draft pick can surprise a few people and help improve their struggling defensive line.

Managerial Changes: Returning Head Coach – Sean Payton returns after a one year ban for his involvement in the ‘Bounty Scandal’. This will be his seventh season in charge.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost – Bettered the Chiefs (17-13), the Raiders (28-20) and the Texans (31-23) before falling to defeat against the Dolphins (24-21).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – The Saints are still incredibly reliant on Drew Brees and the fallout from the bounty scandal his hardly helping them build a strong team with all the restrictions placed upon them. Playoffs look unlikely.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers…

Top Draft Pick: Jonathan Banks (Cornerback) – 43rd overall pick – the biggest profile name from the Buccaneers draft, he’ll be looking to learn all he can from Darrelle Revis.

Top New Signing: Darrelle Revis (from the New York Jets) – the Buccaneers gave up their first round draft pick in order to capture the four time Pro Bowler. If they can get him fit then they’ll have a fantastic player on their hands.

Managerial Changes: None – Greg Schiano will be hoping to improve in his second year in the job.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost games to the Ravens (44-16), the Patriots (25-21) and the Redskins (30-12), but did manage a win over the Dolphins (17-16) in their third game.

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – Will go into the year as outsiders, but are more than capable of springing a surprise of two.

NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals…

Top Draft Pick: Jonathan Cooper (Guard) – 7th overall pick – the Cardinals had a lot of problems at quarterback last year, but much of that problem was caused by a lack of protection, a problem which Cooper will go some way to solving.

Top New Signing: Carson Palmer (from the Oakland Raiders) – Palmer may have flattered to deceive to a degree over the years, but an experienced, wise head at quarterback is just what the Cardinals needed.

Managerial Changes: Bruce Arians (replacing Ken Whisenhunt) – Deserved a head job after doing well as the Colts interim boss last year, but has picked a hard task in improving the struggling Cardinals.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Encouraging early form saw them beat the Packers (17-0) and the Cowboys (12-7) before a defeat to the Chargers (24-7). Ended pre-season with a surprise win over the Broncos (32-24).

Prediction: Fourth Place in Division – Still the rank outsiders for a strong division, if they can get themselves above the Rams they’ll have done well.

St. Louis Rams…

Top Draft Pick: Tavon Austin (Wide Receiver) – 8th overall pick – the Rams elected to increase their receiving options with the signing of this talented wide-man.

Top New Signing: Jared Cook (from the Tennessee Titans) – the tight end will provide both protection and an additional receiving outlet for quarterback Sam Bradford.

Managerial Changes: None – Entering a second season under head coach Jeff Fisher.

Pre-Season form: Won 1, Lost 3 – Lost their first three matches against the Browns (27-19), the Packers (19-7), and the Broncos (27-26) before finishing with a win over the Ravens (24-21).

Prediction: Third Place in Division – Improved last year, and they’ll hope to continue that trend in 2013, but I’d expect them to still be some way off the 49ers and the Seahawks.

San Francisco 49ers…

Top Draft Pick: Eric Reid (Safety) – 18th overall pick – moved up the draft order to pick the highly rated defensive back, who should be a regular starter this year.

Top New Signing: Anquan Boldin (from the Baltimore Ravens) – the wide receiver who played an important role in preventing the 49ers winning the Super Bowl in February is now a San Francisco player… funny how things work out sometimes.

Managerial Changes: None – Jim Harbaugh takes charge of this third year with the 49ers.

Pre-Season form: Won 3, Lost 1 – Lost their opening game to the Broncos (10-6), but came back to win their next three matches against the Chiefs (15-13), the Vikings (34-14) and the Chargers (41-6).

Prediction: First Place in Division – Will go toe to toe with the Seahawks for the division title, but should win enough games to make the playoffs either way.

Seattle Seahawks…

Top Draft Pick: Christine Michael (Running Back) – 62nd overall pick – will provide back-up for Marshawn Lynch at running back.

Top New Signing: Percy Harvin (from the Minnesota Vikings) – a great little addition for the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson, who already has Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to throw at.

Managerial Changes: None – Pete Carroll takes charge for a fourth year.

Pre-Season form: Won 4, Lost 0 – Won all four pre-season matches, beating the Chargers (31-10), the Broncos (40-10), the Packers (17-10) and the Raiders (22-6).

Prediction: Second Place in Division – An exciting young team, I really fancy the Seahawks for an extended run in this year’s NFL – playoffs minimum.

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