Two Cents: 2012 NFL preview

Tampa Bay Times
Published Sept. 8, 2012

Player I'm rooting for

There are plenty of folks who cannot stand Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, and I'm not sure why. Maybe you don't care for his fans. But how can you possibly question the authenticity of a good human being? Can he play a good quarterback? Maybe, maybe not. But I'd love to see him shut up all the haters, starting with ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.

Coach I'm rooting for

Early in training camp, Eagles coach Andy Reid lost his son, who had battled personal demons and drugs over recent years but appeared to be getting his life back on track. While nothing on the football field could ever fill the void, Reid deserves a good season, especially after owner Jeffrey Lurie threatened Reid by publicly saying an 8-8 season wouldn't be good enough. Here's hoping Reid goes 12-4, wins a Super Bowl and tells Lurie and all those Eagles fans who have been so hard on him to stick it. That would be awesome if it wasn't for the fact obnoxious Philly fans would get to enjoy a Super Bowl.

Coaches on the hot seat

Chicago's Lovie Smith, left, and San Diego's Norv Turner need quick starts to get everyone off their back. Turner has been living on the edge for years, it seems. Meantime, the Bears believe they can win the Super Bowl. If the Bears do little in the postseason or miss the playoffs entirely again, Smith is in trouble.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Good news: There's a Thursday night game almost every week (starting Week 2 and except for Week 16) on the NFL Network. Bad news: If you're a Bright House customer, you still won't get to see it.

2. Hey, if the Bucs have trouble selling out games, should we start talk about building a stadium somewhere in St. Pete?

3. The Saints will be good, but do we want them to be really good? After all, it wouldn't seem fair for them to reach the Super Bowl, which will be played in … yep, New Orleans.

Three teams that will be better than you think

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks went 7-9 last season, including victories against the Giants and Ravens. They also had a decent chance to win in five or six of their losses, four of which were by a field goal or less. Really, just a handful of plays kept this team from winning 10 or 11 games. The biggest issue was on offense as the Seahawks were 23rd in scoring. Replacing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson with either rookie Russell Wilson, above (for now), or Matt Flynn (likely later this season) gives the Seahawks an upgrade.

San Diego Chargers

We're going to use some reverse psychology here. Every year, everyone thinks the Chargers are going to be so great. Then they stumble for a stretch and end up being a huge disappointment. We're so accustomed to the Chargers falling short of expectations, there are no longer expectations. This team has lost some weapons (including receiver Vincent Jackson, who joined the Bucs), but it remains dangerous on offense starting with quarterback Philip Rivers, above. Maybe they're not a 13-win Super Bowl team, but the Chargers might crack the postseason for the first time since 2009.

New Orleans Saints

All offseason, I convinced myself the Saints wouldn't be the same team without coach Sean Payton, the offensive mastermind who is suspended for the year because of the bounty scandal. I was convinced Drew Brees' contentious contract negotiations would have lingering effects. I was convinced the Saints spent too much of the offseason feeling sorry for themselves to get ready for 2012. But now I'm convinced the Saints are playing with a chip on their shoulders and Brees, above, has put the contract stuff well behind him. I also reviewed their roster again and realized just how talented they are.

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Three teams that might not be as good as you think

Tampa Bay Bucs

There might not be anyone except the most diehard of blindly loyal fans who believe the Bucs are going to be more than a .500 team. But you do hear talk out there that the Bucs can win seven — possibly eight — games. I don't see it. Let's not forget this is a team that lost 10 in a row and finished 4-12 last year. The Bucs did add a lot on offense for quarterback Josh Freeman, above, to use as weapons. But there are still major questions about a defense that was the worst in franchise history last season. Plus, look at that brutal schedule. I just can't find more than six wins on it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Last year, NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp called the Steelers old. He wasn't wrong. Just a little premature. Now they feel old, especially on defense. Safety Troy Polamalu, above, is 31 with a body going on 51. Defensive lineman Casey Hampton turns 35 on Monday, and linebacker James Harrison is 34. On offense, the Steelers always seem to have issues on the offensive line. They used their first pick in the draft to take guard David DeCastro, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. The question is if this is the Steelers' last hurrah or will the inevitable slide begin in earnest this season. Either way, this is not a Super Bowl team anymore.

Detroit Lions

Know how many points the Lions gave up in their final two games last season? That would be 90! That's why we are not as high as others on a team that went 10-6 last season and made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. They can put up a slew of points with quarterback Matt Stafford, above, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But the offense is dependent on Stafford staying healthy, and that's not a given. Detroit will win a few shootouts, but its defense simply doesn't appear to be good enough to help it take that next step.