COLUMNS

Let the predictions begin

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

No more long, boring Sunday afternoons. The NFL is back.

The season kicks off this weekend with all 32 teams fueled by hope that they can bring home the Lombardi Trophy, but which teams are being realistic, and which teams are only a victim of wishful thinking?

In the AFC, the defending champion Broncos had a huge offseason--parting ways with some long-time players while adding a few big-name guys to the roster.

Their defense should be much-improved with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. They also have a healthy Von Miller at full strength after suffering a torn ACL late last season.

Offensively, they'll put up huge numbers again with Peyton Manning leading the charge at QB and a receiving corps that contains Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker.

However, Denver did lose the dependable Eric Decker, and I'm concerned about Welker. He has endured three concussions in the past 10 months.

Even with the big offseason moves, I still think the Broncos are too soft to win a Super Bowl. We all saw how their finesse style of play fared against a physical Seahawks bunch in the Super Bowl last year.

The Chiefs have a great defense and running game with Jamal Charles, but Alex Smith and the passing game are still questionable.

The Bengals have everything except a quarterback I can trust. I'm still not sold on Andy Dalton.

I have a feeling the Ravens will get back on track this year and be a serious AFC contender.

I think Joe Flacco will shake off a tough year and get back to 2012 form when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

He has plenty of weapons around him--especially with the offseason signing of Steve Smith, and I think the people of Baltimore will see the kind of defense they're accustomed to seeing.

I think young players like Courtney Upshaw and Matt Elam will emerge, and Ladarius Webb will bring back stability to the secondary. Alabama's rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has the talent to become Defensive Rookie of the Year.

But when it's all said and done, I'm going with the Patriots to win the AFC.

New England was riddled was injuries last year, and they still made it to the AFC Championship Game. They'll always be amongst the favorites as long as they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Rob Gronkowski should finally be healthy this year at tight end, and receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson stepped up last year as rookies.

Vince Wilfork will be back on the defensive line along with Chandler Jones, and Darrell Revis will sure up the secondary. I think he'll be much better this season now that he is two years removed from his ACL tear.

In the NFC, I love the Packers' offense with Eddie Lacy breathing new life into their rushing attack, but their defense is too big of a concern.

They added Julius Peppers to the defensive line, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year with a torn biceps, and their secondary is still very suspect.

The 49ers have all the pieces you need to win a title--a great defense, great offensive line, dependable back in Frank Gore and a receiving corps with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson, but I don't like what I've seen from Colin Kaepernick.

He was very inconsistent last year, and those struggles carried over to the preseason. Unless he steps his game up significantly, they have no chance to get over the hump against Seattle.

I really like the Saints' chances this year. Their schedule is manageable, they're going to have one of the best offenses in the league and many of their key pieces are coming back.

Their defense was one of the biggest surprises in the NFL last year, and I look for them to be even better this season with the acquisition of Jairus Byrd. Second-year player Kenny Vaccaro will be healthy--allowing he and Byrd to form one of the best safety combos in the league.

But for the Saints to make it to the Super Bowl, they would have to get past Seattle, and the only way they can do that is if they get homefield advantage in the playoffs. I don't see that happening.

Seattle is the team to beat, and I don't see them losing any more than three games.

Their defense will be the best in the league with the physicality they bring each game and with a secondary that contains Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Russell Wilson will probably progress even more at quarterback after winning a Super Bowl, and they have the hammer Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.

Their one concern is at wide receiver after losing Golden Tate, but Doug Baldwin is very underrated and if Percy Harvin can stay healthy, it should be enough to put them over the top.

Like last week with my college picks, I don't like to go against the defending champs if they bring back the nucleus of their team.

Therefore, I'm picking Seattle to top the Patriots in the Super Bowl and claim the NFL's first back-to-back title since New England in 2004.