A year ago, we couldnt wait for the NFL season to finally start, and it was pure anticipation. Peyton Manning with a new team, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III bursting into the league it was new and exciting.
Today, we cant wait for King Sport to kick off, and it is mostly for the relief. It is to get past the dark headlines of an offseason dominated by the shocking arrest of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge. The fresh start this time offers a sense of moving on from unfortunate real life to the diversion football is supposed to be.
New England has been the dubious hub of attention entering this season because of Hernandez.
The Patriots, of course, seem to always be the focal point when it comes to the Dolphins (and are once more), because so much of Miamis outlook every year is framed in the context of how dominant the Pats still are.
It is the handy excuse the Dolphins must outgrow.
It is the lamest crutch.
Bulletin: Two teams in the same division are allowed to be very good simultaneously. Nothing about the continuing relevance of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era should prevent the Dolphins from winning in double digits or making the playoffs or being the championship contender they havent been, really, since last reaching the Super Bowl almost 30 years ago, in the 1984 season.
What follows is my annual attempt to predict how good the Dolphins, Patriots and 30 other teams will be this season.
My division-by-division capsules, playoff forecast and Super Bowl pick will appear in the Sept. 6 Miami Herald on the first of our Friday NFL prediction pages. For now, here is my 2013 ranking of the 32 teams, and as always, these teams cooperation in helping to make this list as accurate as possible will be both hugely appreciated and thoroughly unexpected:
1. Houston Texans (12-4 last season): Not sure anybody else outside of Houston thinks the Texans are the best, but I do. Matt Schaub doesnt have to be elite with this team, just good. He has an improved offensive line, still has Arian Foster, and rookie DeAndre Hopkins will be a target that helps free up Andre Johnson. They also have the NFLs best defender in J.J. Watt and signed Ed Reed; plus, Brian Cushing is healthy.
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Last seasons Super Bowl loser has gifted Colin Kaepernick with Anquan Boldin on an already potent offense. Defensively, that big-time pass rush should continue to disguise concerns in the secondary. Also like that San Frans toughest nondivision games are at home.
3. Seattle Seahawks (11-5): A year ago, Hawks fans wondered if Matt Flynn was the answer. Then came Russell Wilson, who has a great O-line, a loaded receiving corps able to withstand Percy Harvins surgery and a top ground game to insulate him against a sophomore slump. Add a strong defense and big home-field edge.
4. Denver Broncos (13-3): Wes Welker and rookie runner Montee Ball were added, yet I see a few bumps ahead. Peyton Mannings center, J.D. Walton, will miss half the season injured. And a defense that struggled in the playoffs lost Elvis Dumervil and has Von Miller serving a six-game suspension.
5. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): They came within 10 yards of making the Super Bowl last season and seem better. Matt Ryan in his sixth season has made the leap to elite or close enough, and is joined by Steven Jackson, 30 but revitalized. Top-pick corner Desmond Trufant and pass rusher Osi Umenyiora join a retooled defense.