Prediction Central: The NFL

AP+Photo%2F+Gary+Weipert

AP Photo/ Gary Weipert

The NFL kicked off earlier this month, and already, football fans have been speculating about which two teams will go head to head in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, and which team will raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in triumph this season.

Let’s talk about my AFC division winners first. In the AFC East, the New England Patriots are headed down a path which should lead them to be top dogs for the 13th time in 15 years. Quarterback Tom Brady is already fired up after a long and deflating offseason, and I expect tight end Rob Gronkowski to continue on with another monster year. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers will claim their second straight AFC North title. Ben Roethlisberger has many different passing targets, like star receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller, and a strong ground game behind Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. Down in the South, the Indianapolis Colts should triumph for their third year in a row. Their defense may have a shaky game here and there, but Andrew Luck should lead his team to enough division wins to claim the title. Finally, the Denver Broncos will win the AFC West. Winning this division every season with the Broncos, Peyton Manning has yet to fail his team. With quality receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, I don’t expect anything to change.

Now, let’s move on to my NFC division winners. The NFC East race should be extremely close, but I think the Dallas Cowboys will prevail, despite injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, in the NFC North, I expect the Packers to dominate with Aaron Rodgers under center. Even though star receiver Jordy Nelson is out for the season, the trio of Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and James Jones will undoubtedly fill Nelson’s shoes. In the NFC South, be sure to keep an eye on the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan leads one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL, and with weapons like Julio Jones to target, opposing defenses will be back on their heels. Finally, in the NFC West, the Seahawks should repeat. Despite this season’s nightmarish 0-2 start, Russell Wilson and company will rebound once they return home for some games in front of the noisiest fans in the league. Marshawn Lynch (a.k.a. Beast Mode) should find his rhythm soon, and once star tight end Jimmy Graham adapts to his new offense, he will rack up the touchdowns. Although the Legion of Boom is currently missing key safety Kam Chancellor (who is in a contract dispute), the majority of the defense remains intact.

The four wildcard slots will be claimed by the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. Joe Flacco and the Ravens will be edged out for the division title, as they will be unable to overcome the major loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs to a torn achilles tendon in week one. The Chiefs will give the Broncos a good run for their money, but Peyton still has enough arm to get the deal done. The Panthers look good so far, but I question Cam Newton’s ability to sustain his play at a high level against the league’s top defenses. My final wild card pick is the Cardinals. Bruce Arians’ team looks extremely good in the early-going, but their defense is too blitz-reliant and will get burned for a few too many losses.

Now, let’s skip a few playoff rounds and fast forward to the conference championship games. In the AFC, I think we will see a Patriots-Broncos conference championship. Tom Brady and the Pats will prevail in a nail-biter with Gronk overpowering a tired Broncos defense. Manning is certain to put pressure on the young New England secondary, but Brady just knows how to beat Peyton in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. In the NFC, we should expect another Packers-Seahawks special at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have already beaten Seattle once at Lambeau this season, and the Seahawks are not built to win a postseason road game in frigid Green Bay. The Seattle defense, although still solid, simply is not the juggernaut we saw in 2013.

So, we should all look forward to an exciting Patriots vs Packers showdown in San Francisco for Super Bowl L. The Patriots will be gunning for back-to-back championships when the two teams take the field. Aaron Rodgers, however, should be able to pick apart the young and inexperienced Patriots’ secondary. Tom Brady and Gronk will keep the game close, but in the end, Aaron Rodgers will win this high-scoring shootout and punch his ticket to Disney World.