NFL INSIDER: In year of many close races, Broncos-Saints could meet in February

2013-08-31T18:00:00Z 2013-09-07T19:30:14Z NFL INSIDER: In year of many close races, Broncos-Saints could meet in FebruaryMatt Erickson Times Correspondent
August 31, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

When your Chicago baseball teams stink equally by the All-Star Game, it's hard to not look forward to football season.

But that also means you have to look forward to enduring yet another year of Uncle MattE's picks. Maybe you'd prefer crappy baseball to what I have to offer some weeks.

But before the season starts next week, we'll have a look at who should be ruling the roost in the AFC and NFC, and if you're a Bears backer or cheer for the Colts, whether you'll be seeing your team playing into January.

There are only two divisions that look like they won't be very competitive this year. The rest have teams that should be neck and neck (and neck, in some cases) deep into December.

Here's what you can expect in 2013:

AFC East

It shouldn't take much for the Patriots to rise to the top of the East again this year. The other three are playing for second, and the Dolphins should be a significant step up from the Bills and Jets – just not that close to the Pats. PREDICTED FINISH: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets.

AFC North

It looks like a a solid three-team race again, with the Browns probably begging to change divisions. It may be third time as the charm for the Bengals, who want to play in January for the third straight year – but go farther. PREDICTED FINISH: Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Browns.

AFC South

It's not a super easy schedule for the Texans, but they can probably go 5-1 in the division, and 11 wins should be enough to outpace the Colts, who could be fine on offense, but struggle on defense. PREDICTED FINISH: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars.

AFC West

Peyton Manning has Wes Welker to throw to now in Denver, and that sounds just plain scary. They should waltz to a division title and very well could be playing in February. PREDICTED FINISH: Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders.

NFC East

Just like the AFC North, three teams should be right there in the hunt with the Eagles as cellar dwellers. The question is, can Tony Romo finally put something substantial together in Dallas? The guess is yes – with some help from the defense. PREDICTED FINISH: Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, Eagles.

NFC North

How will the Bears respond to Marc Trestman? That's the big question. If the O-line can protect Jay Cutler, they could give the Packers a run for their money. More likely, they're a wild-card team. PREDICTED FINISH: Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings.

NFC South

The Falcons and Saints should duke it out this year. With New Orleans having coach Sean Payton back and Rob Ryan leading the defense, the Saints should have a nice comeback season. PREDICTED FINISH: Saints, Falcons, Bucs, Panthers.

NFC West

It's close again, but the Seahawks might just have the slightest of edges over the 49ers. They're still right there 1-2, though. The Rams may not be horrible, but not close enough to contend. PREDICTED FINISH: Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals/

AFC Playoffs

Look for the Patriots, Bengals, Texans and Broncos as division winners with the Ravens and Colts getting in with wild-card berths.

NFC Playoffs

The Cowboys, Packers, Saints and Seahawks should win their divisions – with the Cowboys and Saints being mild surprises – and the Bears and Falcons will bum out the Giants and Niners as wild card winners.

Super Bowl XLVII

The AFC should come down to the Broncos and Patriots, and I think Peyton Manning gets it done. In the NFC, the Saints will march in after a great rebound season. Manning vs. Drew Brees in February? I think Manning gets a ring with his second team.

Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 11 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times and is assistant MMA editor for USA Today and

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