Previewing the NFL season: A look at how the season might unfold

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Here's a look at how the upcoming NFL season might unfold:

Super Bowl champion: Green Bay Packers over Houston Texans, 31-17

Prolific Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers solves formidable Texans front seven with series of quick throws to Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, and is named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

NFC championship game: Green Bay Packers over San Francisco 49ers, 24-6

Packers devise sound blocking scheme to neutralize impact of 49ers pass-rushing outside linebacker Aldon Smith, coming up with a plan on defense with linebacker Clay Matthews leading charge against uncharacteristcally error-prone quarterback Alex Smith.

AFC championship game: Houston Texans over Baltimore Ravens, 17-10

Ravens'  season ends in rematch of last year's divisional round playoff game as quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice get bottled up by defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Lack of pass rush spells doom with quarterback Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson exploiting luxury of extra time to operate.

Projected AFC division winners

AFC East: New England Patriots

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick trying to collaborate on sixth trip to the Super Bowl

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

Ravens  edge Pittsburgh Steelers to defend division title as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed stay healthy, overcome loss of Terrell Suggs while Ray Rice, Joe Flacco deliver big statistical seasons.

AFC South: Houston Texans

Texans manage to stay on top following breakthrough season last year. Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson produce Texas-size offense.

AFC West: Denver Broncos

Perfect division for Peyton Manning to revive his career as he has plenty of time to throw, except against Kansas City Chiefs star outside linebacker Tamba Hali.

Projected NFC division winners

NFC East: New York Giants

Fierce pass rush led by Jason Pierre-Paul and quarterback Eli Manning keep G-Men on top of Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins.

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

Packers are eager to redeem themselves after stubbing toe at end of season following 13-0 start a year ago.

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones provide boost as Falcons assume control of division while New Orleans Saints deal with distracting aftereffects of Bountygate.

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh, aggressive defense keep Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch from duplicating Skittles glory, "Beast mode."

NFL Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady

In a year where Peyton Manning rejuvenates career, Patriots veteran passer offers reminder of what he can do with proper supporting cast.

Coach of the Year: Kansas City Chiefs' Romeo Crennel

Inspired locker room plays hard for Crennel.          

Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning

During first season in Denver, Manning puts questions about age, surgically repaired neck firmly in the past.

AFC  Offensive Player of the Year: Arian Foster

Houston Texans running back builds on last year's production of 1,224 yards, 10 touchdowns and 53 catches. One of the most dynamic players in the game.

AFC Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams

Buffalo  Bills defensive end, prize free agent catch energizes defense, harasses quarterbacks into miscues.

AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Trent Richardson

Cleveland Browns star running back even earns nod of respect from Hall of Famer Jim Brown, has slightly better year than Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Ingram

San Diego Chargers hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end emerges as the steal of the draft, even better than Bills rookie cornerback Stephen Gilmore.

NFC Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers

Look for another prolific year out of precise passer, former Super Bowl MVP who's in the prime of his career.

NFC  Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis

Willis' quick-striking style, leadership garner recognition for hard-hitting defense.

NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III

Griffin's electrifying style, dual-threat capabilities captivate football-mad nation's capital.

NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly

Carolina Panthers middle linebacker reprises Boston College success as instinctive, active tackling machine, enters NFL with thudding impact.

Three storylines to watch this season

1. Bountygate overwhelms Saints

Saints  can't overcome turbulent offseason despite leadership presence, strong arm of quarterback Drew Brees. Team will miss suspended Saints coach Sean Payton, who has 67-37 record, 5-3 in playoffs as interim coaches Aaron Kromer, Joe Vitt unable to hold together sinking ship.

2. Pressure cooker in Philadelphia

Put on notice by owner Jeffrey Lurie that he needs to get team over the top, Eagles coach Andy Reid has won 136 games, gone to playoffs nine times with five NFC championship game appearances. A trip to the Super Bowl doesn't look to be in the offing this year.

3. Jets' soap opera continues

Fingers get pointed as Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes relationship remains rocky. Fans clamor for Tim Tebow, and ultimately get what they want. Tebow inspires team for dramatic late-season push that falls short in division controlled by Patriots.

awilson@baltsun.com

 

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