The following is not for the faint of heart.
These are truly bold NFL predictions, the kind that will make you angry, the kind that will cause you to call the cops, the kind that will return you to drinking.
I'm not saying the following five predictions are going to happen. Heck, it would be insane to bet on them occurring. All I'm saying is that I've got a feeling. And if they do occur, you heard it here first.
WARNING: If these predictions give you shortness of breath, heart palpitations or an erection that lasts more than eight hours, please consult a physician.
#5: CINCINNATI WINS THE AFC
Cincinnati to the Super Bowl is becoming a popular pick, but I boldly predicted this outcome prior to watching them on "Hard Knocks". The Bengals feature the best and deepest front seven in football. They also have an elite playmaker in A.J. Green, an improving quarterback, and an underrated offense.
And come on, it's not like this prediction is coming out of left field. The Bengals have qualified for the playoffs each of the last two seasons and three of the last four.
Of course, every time Cincinnati reaches the Super Bowl, it's a little known league rule that they must play the San Francisco 49ers. So, there you have it. 49ers over the Bengals in the Super Bowl. And I'm just getting started.
#4: PANTHERS MAKE PLAYOFFS
My pick for the 2013 NFL MVP is Denver's Peyton Manning. My pick for the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is Houston's J.J. Watt. However, my bold prediction is that the one team that will feature a top-five finisher in both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting, and that team will be the Carolina Panthers.
Quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly are both going to break out onto the national stage this year. A more mature Newton will rank among the league leaders in passing while leading his team in rushing. Kuechly is an absolute beast who will shine in the role of "cleaner" behind an improving Carolina defensive line.
The Panthers won't win their division. That distinction belongs to Atlanta. But Carolina will be a playoff team.
#3: SHANAHAN AND RGIII DIVORCE
No sports fan in America is more frustrated over how ESPN consistently makes mountains out of molehills than me. However, I do get the strange feeling, now that the honeymoon is over, than Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III aren't on the same page with the offense, Griffin's "bigger than the franchise" status and the quarterback's frankness with the media.
Shanahan has gone 45-51 over his last six seasons as an NFL head coach, and the credit for his lone playoff appearance during that time is primarily given to Griffin. After all, Shanahan declared the season over before RGIII rattled off a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season. I could be wrong, but I sense some resentment here. And now that Papa Griffin is talking publicly about coach, that's never a good sign.
If the Redskins struggle this season, look for the finger pointing to begin, and Shanahan will not survive a power struggle against the most popular player in franchise history.
#2: LEAGUE EXPANDS TO 18 AND TO 34
Recently, the NFL reached a $756 million settlement with former players suing for damages from brain injuries suffered playing football. On the surface, that sounds like a huge figure. It isn't. The players were seeking three times that amount. Nevertheless, $23 mill per owner is still $23 mill per owner. And these tycoons are going to try and recuperate their losses. Now that the concussion settlement is out of the way, and the league didn't have to admit guilt, Roger Goodell and the owners are going to push hard for an 18-game schedule. And don't be surprised if the owners don't push for two Los Angeles expansion teams to pay the league's steep entry fee. The owners will end up filling their pockets over this $750 million settlement.
AND #1: BELICHICK RESIGNS, TAKES JOB WITH 'SKINS.
Sooner or later, an NFL head coach moves on, no matter how entrenched they appear to be with the city and the organization they've pledged their allegiance to. The reasons are many: boredom, family, health, "my message isn't getting across any longer", or simply "I need a new challenge."
The Aaron Hernandez saga has been a drain on the organization, and it's not over by a long shot. And although the Patriots have been great for a decade, even they are susceptible to injuries to key players. Gronk better get healthy and stay healthy. Meanwhile, the lowly, rookie-led Buffalo Bills were the fastest team I watched play this preseason. You want to shock your buddies? Take the Bills to go 9-7 and win the AFC East over the 8-8 Patriots. Belichick then resigns at an emotional press conference, pretends to need a break from the game, and two weeks later signs with the Redskins for the largest contract given to a head coach in American sports history.