Perhaps the most popular aspect of ESPN.com's season preview is the predictions page, where 16 experts (well, 15 plus whatever you would label yours truly) forecast 2012 division winners, wild cards, individual award winners, conference champions and the Super Bowl titlist.
When it came to predicting the AFC North champion, the vote was split. Eight picked the defending division champion Ravens and eight chose the Steelers. Well, I guess we'll just have to settle this on the field.
Of the 16 panelists, 14 expect the AFC North to send at least two teams to the playoffs. The two who had the division winner being the lone postseason representative from the AFC North was myself (I had the Titans and Bills as the wild cards) and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson (his wild cards were the Broncos and Chargers). The reason I have one division team heading to the playoffs is the schedule. I can see a team taking down this division with 10 victories this year.
There was one expert, Andrew Brandt, who had the AFC North repeating its playoff trifecta from last year, sending the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals to the postseason. Brandt was the only one to predict a return to the postseason for the Bengals.
While I was the only one who didn't have the Ravens reaching the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season (I know I'm going to be parking five miles away from the stadium on game days because of this), I can pass along some optimistic predictions for John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and the gang. Baltimore was one of three AFC teams picked by the experts to reach the Super Bowl (sadly, none predicted a Super Bowl title). Brandt, Williamson, NFC East blogger Dan Graziano and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert all tabbed the Ravens as AFC champions. Only the New England Patriots received more votes.
The Browns weren't totally ignored from the predictions. Four panelists (including myself) went with running back Trent Richardson as the offensive rookie of the year. He finished a distant second to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck overall.
Making predictions is a fun part of the job. Fans just have to remember that these are educated guesses, not guarantees. I also don't like to go with the obvious choice in a lot of cases (like taking the Packers or Patriots to win the Super Bowl) because the NFL is so unpredictable from week to week, much less from season to season. How many people had the Giants winning the Super Bowl before the 2011 season began? If you look back at last year's prediction page, no one had the Giants even winning the division and only one had them making the playoffs.
Keeping that in mind, here are my take-it-to-the-bank picks for the 2012 season:
AFC North: Steelers
AFC East: Patriots
AFC South: Texans
AFC West: Broncos
Wild cards: Titans, Bills
NFC North: Packers
NFC East: Cowboys
NFC South: Falcons
NFC West: Cardinals
Wild cards: Eagles, Lions
Coach of the year: Jason Garrett, Cowboys
MVP: Tom Brady
Offensive rookie of the year: Trent Richardson
Defensive rookie of the year: Morris Claiborne
AFC champion: Texans
NFC champion: Cowboys
Super Bowl champion: Cowboys
Feel free to tell me how crazy and ridiculous I am by dropping me a line in the AFC North mailbag.