BEHIND THE PLATE: Niners will lift Super Bowl trophy

Another NFL season is finally here.

Since Seattle hoisted the Lombardi trophy in February, teams across the country have been busy drafting the most talented players and trying to figure out how to mimic the Seahawks’ success on defense. There haven’t been many surprises this offseason except for a couple of key injuries and PED bans, but we’ll find out this month if your favorite team looks like a contender.

Here’s how I see the NFL season playing out for 2014.

AFC East

This has always been the Patriots’ division and it doesn’t look like that will change. Rex Ryan’s barely hanging onto his job with the Jets while the Bills hope their former Florida State quarterback stays healthy all season. It’s hard to go against the Patriots.

Division winner: New England

AFC North

Arguably the most competitive division in the conference, each of the North’s four teams can win the division. From the Steelers hoping for a rebound to the Bengals optimistic they can duplicate last year’s success, picking a division winner is tough. Be careful with the Browns, though, but they could be a couple seasons away from making this the best division in football.

Division winner: Pittsburgh

Wild card: Baltimore

AFC South

Andrew Luck’s beyond his age and his football knowledge and skills make him one of the best, even as he enters his third season with the Colts. The South is Indy’s division to lose as the rest of the group is still pretty young. Jacksonville’s not good and Houston’s trying to rebuild from last year’s disaster after coming in as a Super Bowl favorite.

Division winner: Indianapolis

AFC West

Like the South, this division has Denver written all over it. Peyton Manning is dangerous and is making the case for the best old-timer in the history of the sport. The Broncos’ competition, though, could be better with San Diego miraculously slipping into the playoffs and the Chiefs having a great year with Andy Reid and Alex Smith. The Raiders? Well, they’re still the Raiders.

Division winner: Denver

Wild card: Kansas City

NFC East

Will Dallas finally make the playoffs? The Cowboys’ defense couldn’t stop some college teams but with the new season, who knows what to expect from America’s team. If Eli Manning put as much effort in his accuracy as he did in his two rap videos for DirectTV, the Giants could return. Don’t forget about the flying Eagles and RG3’s comeback year.

Division winner: Washington

NFC North

Like the AFC, this could be the most competitive division in the NFC. As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, it’s a no-brainer to count the Packers in the playoff mix but Chicago was one Rodgers’ Hail Mary away from winning the division. Detroit has more weapons for Matthew Stafford and Minnesota will probably have to call on Teddy Bridgewater to help save the team from getting next year’s top draft pick.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC South

The South has two playoff teams from last year and now that Atlanta appears healthy and Tampa Bay has Lovie Smith, this division has the potential of being the best in football. Three teams could make the playoffs but this group belongs to Drew Brees and the Saints. Carolina has the tools to take it away while Atlanta could surprise everyone.

Division winner: New Orleans

Wild card: Atlanta

NFC West

The Seahawks are obviously the team to beat, and so is San Francisco. Last year’s NFC title game was more entertaining and showcased the NFL’s top two teams before Seattle persevered. Of all the divisions in the NFL, the West has the best defenses and you can expect low-scoring offenses when these four teams battle one another. Will someone get to Seattle this season?

Division: San Francisco

Wild card: Seattle

AFC Wild Card: Baltimore over Indianapolis, New England over Kansas City

AFC Divisional: Denver over Baltimore, Pittsburgh over New England

AFC Championship: Denver over Pittsburgh

NFC Wild Card: Seattle over Washington, Green Bay over Atlanta

NFC Divisional: San Francisco over Atlanta, New Orleans over Seattle

NFC Championship: San Francisco over New Orleans

Super Bowl: San Francisco over Denver

The 49ers will finally justify all that money to Colin Kaepernick and give Jim Harbaugh a ring after his second trip to the Super Bowl, keeping the energetic coach in San Francisco for many years.

Thomas Ranson can be contacted at


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