My NFL predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. The Patriots will beat the Packers in the Super Bowl. This was my preseason prediction for Super Bowl XLVII, and I'll be darned if I bail on it while it's still possible. Both teams have their flaws -- the Patriots watched San Francisco hang a 41-spot on 'em in Week 15, while Green Bay continues to deal with injuries and a shaky offensive line. You can't count out either offense, though, and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers know how to win come January.
My pick if I was starting from scratch? Denver over San Francisco. That selection skips over NFC No. 1 seed Atlanta and possible AFC No. 1 Houston, but the Broncos and 49ers are the most complete teams in the league right now (assuming San Francisco gets Justin Smith Back and shakes off last week's collapse in Seattle). This would be a spectacular matchup.
2. A defensive player will be the No. 1 pick at the 2013 draft. The two teams duking it out for the No. 1 selection, Kansas City and Jacksonville, both seem to need a do-over at the QB spot -- Matt Cassel bombed in K.C., and the Blaine Gabbert experiment has done likewise in Jacksonville.
The problem is that, unlike last year, the 2013 quarterback draft class is pretty average. Geno Smith is the No. 1 choice for a lot of mock drafters, especially if the Chiefs wind up in the top spot. I'm not sure I see it. The value up top is on the other side of the ball, particularly with players like Star Lotulelei and Jarvis Jones on the board.
Considering the high number of quarterbacks that might be available this offseason, I believe Smith will slide a little come April.
3. Guessing where a few of those quarterbacks will play ...
• Michael Vick -- Buffalo: Chan Gailey has a history of success with mobile quarterbacks, so that's positive sign No. 1 for this setup. The other big selling point? Buffalo, despite its record, is not in a rebuilding mode -- this team wants to win and win soon. Vick has his warts, but he may be the best option for that goal.
• Alex Smith -- Philadelphia: What the Eagles do at QB next season will depend plenty on who is the head coach. A Chip Kelly-type might need a more mobile guy than Smith. But in a pro-style system, with Philadelphia's talented corps of offensive weapons, Smith could be solid for a season or two while Nick Foles gets more time to develop.
• Mark Sanchez -- New York Jets: Sorry, Jets fans. But after mulling it over, my guess is that the money Sanchez is owed makes it too hard to cut him. So, instead, the Jets will keep him around for 2013 and try to add a legitimate No. 2 option to compete for the job.
• Tim Tebow -- Jacksonville: The door can only open on this possibility so many times before it happens. Tebow might be intriguing as a backup for a team with some read-option concepts (Carolina, San Francisco, etc.), but he could legitimately challenge for a job in Jacksonville. And that's even if the Jaguars use a 2013 draft pick on a QB.
• Kirk Cousins -- Washington: Cousins will be a hot trade-market name come the offseason. Considering his cheap contract, though, the Redskins ought to keep him around as backup. And here's a bonus prediction: He starts at least once in 2013, because RGIII does not make it through the season injury-free.
4. Jon Gruden will not coach in the NFL in 2013. Call this a hunch more than anything. Gruden's name always pops up when there's a coaching vacancy around the league, and there will no doubt be a few teams interested this offseason. He has a great thing going with his current gig, however, and it's hard to find a potential landing spot that would be all that appealing.
5. But Chip Kelly will. Shy of winning a national title, Kelly does not have much left to accomplish at Oregon. There also is no reason to believe that his up-tempo offense would not work in the NFL. He might have his pick of job openings this offseason.
6. Next season's surprise team: Carolina. The second year in a row that the Panthers earn my nod as a sleeper -- one of these seasons, that pick will be right. Once again, Carolina is closing strong, and doing so with Cam Newton shaking off his early-season doldrums. If Newton can carry over this momentum into 2013, and the Panthers don't botch this offseason, anything shy of 9-7 next season would stand as a huge disappointment.
7. Next season's disappointing team: Minnesota. This team is 9-6 almost entirely because of Adrian Peterson. The quarterback play from Christian Ponder has been mediocre, the defense is a middle-of-the-road unit and, with Percy Harvin on IR, there are no playmakers besides Peterson. Without making some upgrades this success may not be sustainable. You cannot rely on your running back to hit 2,000 yards every year.
8. Tony Gonzalez will play one more season: Gonzalez has said he's "95 percent" sure he'll hang up his cleats after this season. But why? He remains one of the most dominant tight ends in football, and is a centerpiece on a terrific Atlanta offense. If the Falcons win the Super Bowl, sure, go ahead and call it a career, Tony. If not, you're still too good to walk away.
9. Von Miller will break the single-season sack record. This prediction stands whether the record holds at 22.5 (Michael Strahan's current mark) or Aldon Smith and/or J.J. Watt top that number this season. Miller had 11 sacks last season, sits on 17.5 this year and just continues to get better. As the talent around him keeps improving, his numbers will climb.
10. Awards predictions for next season:
• MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos. This is working, in part, off the assumption that Manning will not win the MVP award this season (my money's on Adrian Peterson). If that's the case, and Manning can repeat or improve on his 2012 showing next year, expect him to get the 2013 nod -- eventually, playing at this high a level has to be rewarded. And the thought of Manning improving, after a full season of being back in his normal flow, should keep defensive coordinators up at night.
• Offensive Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins. While the sophomore slump is always a concern, and Griffin's haphazard playing style adds to the dread, it is hard to envision any massive falloff from Washington's superstar QB. Give him a full offseason to hone his game at the NFL level, and there may be no stopping RGIII in 2013.
• Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, LB, Broncos. See prediction No. 9.
• Offensive Rookie of the Year: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. Rolling the dice here. The 2013 draft does not have a ton of obvious game-changers for next season, but Austin could be one. Though he is undersized at 5-foot-9 and may not be a polished receiver of, say, Wes Welker's caliber, he still caught 110 passes this season and rushed for 598 yards. He's also a dynamic return man and could live on highlight reels, if he lands in the right situation. Think of a Randall Cobb-esque role.
• Defensive Rookie of the Year: Manti T'eo, LB, Notre Dame. He may not be the perfect defensive specimen that some people believe he is -- and it's worth pointing out that he's playing behind a sensational defensive line. But T'eo has a knack for getting to the ball and making plays. Add in his football smarts, and he'll make an immediate impact next season.
• Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, Saints. Another bonus pick tucked in there, and that's that Payton returns to New Orleans for 2013. And when the Saints bounce back from their seven- or eight-win 2012 to reach the playoffs again, Payton will earn a pat on the back.
• Comeback Player of the Year: Brett Favre.
• Comeback Player of the Year (for real): Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: A QB has won this award four straight seasons (and Manning may make it five). A healthy Jones-Drew, however, might run away with this award. He has all of 414 yards this season, after holding out through most of Jacksonville's offseason workouts and then suffering an injury. Expect him to return to form next year, to the tune of about 1,400 yards rushing.