Calling the Second Half

Indianapolis in the playoffs, the Broncos in unbeatable sync and MJD in a new home. An SI expert peers into the NFL's near future
November 05, 2012

1 Tim Tebow will make his first start for the Jets in Week 11, at St. Louis. After a scary-bad 30--9 throttling by the Dolphins on Sunday, New York will give Mark Sanchez one last chance to keep his job, but following a bye week, it's a losing chance, in Seattle, at the league's loudest and most intimidating outdoor stadium. Expect Tebow to replace Sanchez after halftime, then start the following week against the Rams.

2 Those unbeaten 1972 Dolphins will pop bubbly again, this time in Week 12. That's when the Falcons, by then 10--0, will lose at Tampa Bay. Atlanta has some tough sledding before then, hosting the Cowboys and traveling to New Orleans. But the Falcons will be looking to make a statement against the Saints, who have won six of their last seven meetings. Atlanta won't be as focused against the suddenly explosive Bucs (Josh Freeman has three TDs in each of his last three games), having won six of the last seven in that series.

3 Denver won't lose again before the playoffs. Going into the season, many personnel people believed that teams had better beat the Broncos early because they would only improve as Peyton Manning got more comfortable with his teammates. That view was prescient: Denver is 4--3 and over its final nine games has one opponent, the Ravens, with a winning record.

4 The Colts will make the playoffs. Yes, we're talking about the same Colts who finished 2--14 last season. Many of their problems in 2011 could be traced to the QB trio of Collins, Orlovsky and Painter. But rookie Andrew Luck (left) has shown poise in victories over the Vikings, Packers and Titans. Factor in a soft schedule and a desire to win for coach Chuck Pagano, who's battling leukemia, and Indy is primed for an early return to the postseason.

5 You'll need two hands to count the coaching changes. There were seven new hires after last season, including Romeo Crennel, who had the interim label lifted from his title in Kansas City. The turnover will continue with at least six changes in the coming months. Count along with me, in order of likelihood: the Chargers, Chiefs, Bills, Panthers, Eagles and Browns—with the Jets, Titans and Vikings as teams to watch. You can also expect new G.M.'s in Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Diego.

6 Maurice Jones-Drew will wear out his welcome in Jacksonville. The Jaguars received multiple trade offers during his training camp holdout, but new owner Shahid Khan wanted to send the message that he wouldn't be bullied. In the off-season look for the team to move Jones-Drew. (My best guesses for landing spots: Arizona, Denver, Indy.) He'll be 28 in March; he's entering the final year of his contract; and he averaged a punishing 318 carries between '09 and '11.

7 And the first pick in the 2013 draft goes to ... the Chiefs. They're tied with Carolina and Jacksonville at the bottom of the NFL, but think about this: K.C. has yet to lead in regulation of a game, its lone win coming on an overtime field goal. The Panthers have the opposite problem: They again squandered a lead in losing at Chicago on Sunday. And the Jaguars have been hampered by injuries. But at least you can see room to grow. The Chiefs, not so much—they're a dying man wandering the desert in search of water. The draft order likely will be determined when Kansas City and Carolina collide in Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 2. I'll take the Chiefs to lose the game and win the pick.

PHOTOJIM BROWN/US PRESSWIRE
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)