Of course, every NFL season is packed with memorable highlights and storylines and this year will be no exception. Here are a list of things to look forward to and expect this NFL season:
- The NFC South Will Be Competitive Once Again: Last season was a two team race for the NFC South between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. There will be more intense division rivalries and more drama from the NFC South this year. The Panthers are picked by many experts to be the 2012 version of the Detroit Lions; a team that could surprise everyone and make the playoffs. The Bucs acquired Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers this offseason and had one of the better drafts in 2012 as well. New Orleans was hit hard by the Bountygate scandal. The Saints lost both linebacker Jonathan Vilma and head coach Sean Payton to season-long suspensions along with losing defensive end Will Smith to a four-game suspension. And what did Atlanta do this offseason? They acquired cornerback and four-time pro bowler Asante Samuel from the Philadelphia Eagles. Overall, the NFC South looks like it could be one the NFL's tougher divisions.
- Baltimore Might Get Linebacker Terrell Suggs Before December: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his achilles tendon playing basketball this offseason. This injury will leave the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year out for the majority of the season, hurting Baltimore's linebacker core as well. Some medical experts even said that Baltimore's all-time sacks leader could miss the entire 2012 season. But here's some good news for Ravens fans: Terrell Suggs has claimed that he'll return to the Ravens by November 2012. If that happens, the Ravens will bolster their linebackers and will be harder to run the ball against. The Ravens also picked up a physical defensive end in Courtney Upshaw from Alabama in this year's draft, making Baltimore one of the scariest teams to have your quarterback play against (As if it wasn't hard enough to run the ball on Baltimore, let alone have your quarterback in one piece after facing them).
- The Buffalo Bills Could Make The Playoffs: The Buffalo Bills started 5-2 last season before injuries and a tougher schedule brought them back to earth. The Bills, who finished 6-10 in 2011, might take the next step this year. They have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, playing against teams like St. Louis, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Arizona and Indianapolis. Buffalo also signed linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract (with $50 million guaranteed). The former No. 1 draft pick boosts the Bills' anemic pass rush, which ranked 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed with 139 yards per game. Still, it ultimately depends on how quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick does this year. If Fitzpatrick can do better than his 79.1 passer rating last year by greatly utilizing his group of up-and-coming receivers, then Buffalo will make the playoffs for the first time in thirteen years. Fitzpatrick must also cut back on throwing so many interceptions as well.
- Chicago Has The Potential To Make It To New Orleans In February: Many analysts have penciled the Chicago Bears in as playoff contenders this season when they got wideout Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins. But the Bears might be destined for more than the playoffs in 2012. Before getting hurt last year, Jay Cutler was leading Chicago to what could've been a playoff berth. In ten games last season, Cutler had a passer rating of 85.7 while throwing for thirteen touchdowns and seven picks. But in those ten games, the Vanderbilt alum was sacked 23 times. Then Cutler got hurt (thumb) in week 11 against San Diego. Once he was out for the year, the Bears went on to lose their next five games and miss the playoffs. If Chicago's offensive line can do a good job of protecting their quarterback this season, Chicago fans will be yelling "DAAAAA BEARS!" all the way into early February.
- The Dallas Cowboys May Have Found A Cure For the December Blues: "America's Team" has been known for a few things these past few years. One of them being the annual epic collapse in the last month of the regular season. Some Cowboys fans blamed Tony Romo's poor performance in December while others blamed the defense. But during the offseason, owner/general manager Jerry Jones took the initiative to address one of those two issues. Dallas signed safety Brodney Pool from the New York Jets and cornerback Brandon Carr from the Kansas City Chiefs. They also traded up to the sixth pick in the 2012 NFL draft to pick corner Morris Claiborne from LSU. Now let's not forget that Tony Romo owns a record of 11-21 in games played during December. He might not have the best options to throw to, either. Other than Miles Austin, you have an undisciplined receiver in Dez Bryant and a injury-prone tight end in Jason Witten. But with DeMarcus Ware anchoring the new-look defense for the Cowboys, it'll be up to Romo to break through his December demons and propel the $2 billion team to the postseason.