Gutierrez's NFL predictions: Doesn't look good for Raiders


With the regular season already one game old, it's time to make predictions for the 2012 season. Without further ado...


1) New England Patriots
2) Buffalo Bills
3) New York Jets
4) Miami Dolphins

1) Baltimore Ravens
2) Cincinnati Bengals (Wild Card)
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
4) Cleveland Browns

1) Houston Texans
2) Tennessee Titans
3) Indianapolis Colts
4) Jacksonville Jaguars

1) Kansas City Chiefs
2) Denver Broncos (Wild Card)
3) San Diego Chargers
4) Raiders

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Playoff teams: Patriots, Texans, Chiefs, Ravens, Broncos, Bengals

AFC Wildcard round
Broncos over Ravens, Chiefs over Bengals

AFC Divisional round
Patriots over Broncos, Texans over Chiefs

AFC Championship Game
Texans over Patriots


1) Philadelphia Eagles
2) Dallas Cowboys (Wild Card)
3) New York Giants
4) Washington

1) Green Bay Packers
2) Detroit Lions (Wild Card)
3) Chicago Bears
4) Minnesota Vikings

1) Atlanta Falcons
2) Carolina Panthers
3) New Orleans Saints
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1) 49ers
2) Seattle Seahawks
3) Arizona Cardinals
4) St. Louis Rams

Playoff teams: Packers, Eagles, 49ers, Falcons, Cowboys, Lions

Wildcard round
49ers over Lions, Cowboys over Falcons

Divisional round
Packers over Cowboys, Eagles over 49ers

NFC Championship Game
Packers over Eagles

Packers over Texans

MVP: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Yeah it was probably typical pure Jim Harbaugh bluster, but Rodgers actually might be playing quarterback "at the highest level in the history of the game." Even if Rodgers' 4,643 passing yards last season were "only" the 19th-most in league history. Think he's not motivated by Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning throwing for more yards than him last year? Sure, he could get complacent as the reigning MVP, but folding in the divisional round of the playoffs -- at home -- to the New York Giants will only serve as more motivation.

Offensive player of the year: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster
The former undrafted free agent is already considered the most interesting man in the NFL -- cue the Dos Equis guitar -- now he becomes the most feared offensive force in the NFL. All it takes is good health, not only from Foster, who rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 617 yards and two more scores despite missing three games to injury, but from his quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed the Texans' last six games. Schaub being right allows a healthy Foster to dominate out of the backfield.

Defensive player of the year: 49ers defensive end Justin Smith
He doesn't have flashy stats -- his 7 12 sacks last year were only tied for 33rd most in the NFL -- and his 58 tackles were the third-fewest of his 11-year career. Yet, as a defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme, few, if any D-lineman dominate a game the way Smith can. He won't be able to sneak up on anyone this season. Then again, he won't need to. It's taken a decade for Smith to emerge as a modern-day Howie Long, of sorts, but Smith just goes about his job. Just watch tape of him chasing down Jeremy Maclin to force a fumble. He gits-er-done.

Offensive rookie of the year: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III
There will be a big push for Indianapolis QB, and Stanford product, Andrew Luck here, as there should be. But while Luck will take his lickings on a very bad and rebuilding Colts team, RGIII is simply surrounded by better talent all around. Luck may have a more "impressive" campaign, but Griffin, in a more friendly system, will put up better stats in a supremely better division. It will be a battle reminiscent of last year's between Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

Defensive rookie of the year: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin
Who? You'll find out soon enough. True, at No. 15 overall, he was only the eighth defensive player drafted. But my does he fly to the ball. His speed was on full display in the Seahawks' final exhibition game against the Raiders and, while he was going against Oakland's backups, Irvin made them look like they were going in slow motion. An outside linebacker at West Virginia, Irvin is down on the line now and will flirt with leading not only the AFC, but the entire league in sacks.

Comeback player of the year: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Just give the man the trophy now, what with his missing all of last year after not missing a single game the previous 13 seasons. Still, I do wonder how his surgically-repaired neck will react after his first full-speed blind-side hit. And how, after years of playing home games indoors his now 36-year-old body adjusts to playing in the elements of Denver in December. And how he'll like that leaky Broncos' offensive line that will get him hit with regularity. On second thought, nah, just give the man the trophy now.

Coach of the year: Kansas City Chiefs' Romeo Crennel
Wait, didn't this guy flame out in Cleveland after his star burned bright in the halcyon days of New England's early-century dynasty? True. But after taking over last year on an interim basis in Kansas City, the defensive-minded players coach, who was a welcome relief after the intense Todd Haley was shown the door, had the Chiefs a Richard Seymour-blocked field goal away from winning the division. The Chiefs have improved themselves the most in the AFC West and Crennel's feel-good ways should lead the way.

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