In the NFL these days it is not so much who is the best as much as it is who is playing the best in December.
The last two Super Bowl teams, Green Bay and the New York Giants, were Super Bowl winners because they were healthy and playing exceptionally to close out the season.
Remember the Giants? They were 7-7 with two games to go, and went on to beat the Jets and Cowboys to make the playoffs. They went on a run of wins over Atlanta, Green Bay, San Francisco and finally the Patriots 21-17 in Indianapolis to win it all.
The two "best teams" in football last year were the two AFC and NFC losing teams, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
With that in mind, there are some teams that logic says will be there to some degree this season. Green Bay won 15 games last year - they may not win 15 again this year but if they just improve moderately, with the best quarterback in football, Aaron Rodgers
, a playoff opportunity awaits.
Baltimore in the AFC - even without Terrell Suggs
- will win at home and split on the road, and for them, an absence of playoff experience is not possible. And yes, I remember last year I picked them to finish third in the AFC North and not even make the playoffs.
I am picking Carolina as my surprise team of the season this year as Ron Rivera as a head coach is, I feel, quietly underrated. In the AFC I like Buffalo to surprise, not so much because of all the free agency money they spent on the defensive line. It's more that Cordy Glen is a good left tackle and Ryan Fitzpatrick
is an exceptionally bright quarterback.
So, here are my guesses - I mean, my well-studied educated picks, beginning with Division winners, Wild Card winners, Wild Card playoff, Divisional playoff, conference championship winners and finally, Super Bowl participants and winners. Division winners
NFC East: Philadelphia
NFC North: Green Bay
NFC South: Atlanta
NFC West: San Francisco
AFC East: New England
AFC North: Baltimore
AFC South: Houston
AFC West: Denver
NFL Wild Card: Chicago, Carolina
AFC Wild Card: Pittsburgh, Buffalo Top 6 in NFC
1. Green Bay
2. San Francisco
6. Carolina Top 6 in AFC
3. New England
6. Buffalo NFC Wild Card NFC
Carolina at Philadelphia, Philadelphia wins
Chicago at Atlanta, Chicago wins Wildcard AFC
Buffalo at New England, New England wins
Pittsburgh at Denver, Denver wins Divisional Playoffs
Chicago at Green Bay, Green Bay wins
Philadelphia at San Francisco, San Francisco wins AFC
Denver at Houston, Houston wins
New England at Baltimore, Baltimore wins NFC Championship
San Francisco at Green Bay, Green Bay wins AFC Championship
Baltimore at Houston, Houston wins Super Bowl in New Orleans
Houston vs. Green Bay, Houston wins!
Houston, Super Bowl Champion, 2012!