The kickoff of the 2013 NFL season, with the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens taking on the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium, looms ever closer, and, with it, the start of another fantasy football season will be here. Here are a handful of predictions- both fantasy and reality - that I believe will be true in 2013 as we get ready for some football.
1. Trent Richardson will finish as the top scoring running back in fantasy football, like Norv Turner products Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson before him as the Cleveland Browns go from fantasy wasteland to powerhouse and doormats to playoff contenders (although still .500) in a very competitive AFC North. In addition to T-Rich, who should flirt with 1,800 all purpose yards running and receiving and about 12 to 15 total touchdowns, the Browns will see a top-20 wide receiver emerge in Josh Gordon (he'd crack top 15 if not for his two-game suspension), a top-10 tight end in Jordan Cameron, and even much-maligned quarterback Brandon Weeden will be worth owning in certain leagues.
2. EJ Manuel becomes the lastest strong-armed, fleet-footed quarterback to turn around his franchise, winning Rookie of the Year honors and proving the Buffalo Bills brass right for making him the first quarterback taken in the 2013 Draft at No. 11 overall. The dynamic duo of EJ and CJ (Spiller, the Bills' electric third-year running back), Buffalo finishes second behind the Patriots in the AFC East and contends for a wild card playoff spot in a wide open AFC. Right on Manuel's tail for top rookie are running back Eddie Lacy, who gives Green Bay some-much needed balance on offense; wide receiver De'Andre Hopkins, who emerges as the legit No. 2 the Texans have been seeking opposite Andre Johnson; and quarterback Mike Glennon who replaces a struggling Josh Freeman before midseason and rights the pirate ship in Tampa Bay.
3. This is the year 4,000 becomes the new 3,000, as the 2012 record of 11 quarterbacks throwing for more than 4,000 yards isn't just broken, it's shattered. No fewer than 14 quarterbacks - nearly half of the starters in the league - will reach the 4,000 yard mark this year. Meanwhile, Drew Brees will pass for his fourth 5,000-yard season, and it's very likely that Peyton Manning - the NFL record-holder with a remarkable 12 4,000-yard seasons - reaches the 5,000-yard plateau for the first time in his career with an elite trio of pass-catchers in Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Despite this aerial assault on the NFL, the two quarterbacks who played in last year's Super Bowl - Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick - will both fail to reach the 4,000-yard mark.
4. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster becomes fantasy football's 2013 version of Michael Turner. Battling through nagging injuries the entire season, Foster only misses a couple starts, but struggles to reach 1,000 yards rushing and double-digit touchdowns to justify his high-price tag in fantasy football. His handcuff, Ben Tate, who can be had 7-8 rounds later, puts up better numbers in a contract year and becomes Michael Turner circa 2008 next season, signing a fat deal to be the featured back with a new team. The Texans once again are the class of the AFC South as the Colts take a few steps back even though Andrew Luck gets better, but the Super Bowl window officially closes on this team when they are bounced in the divisional round of the playoffs.
5. Even though they lost emotional leader Ray Lewis and ballhawk Ed Reed, the Baltimore Ravens defense manages to be better in 2013, thanks to the addition of Elvis Dumervil opposite sackmaster Terrell Suggs, and the two ring up the most quarterback sacks of any duo in the league. On offense, Torrey Smith comes into his own as a No. 1 receiver for the team, and a borderline top-12 fantasy player at his position. However, the team regresses in its overall record, mainly due to the lack of weapons around Flacco who struggles to complete 60 percent of his passes without Anquan Boldin and safety valve Dennis Pitta. The team still edges Cincinnati to make the playoffs as a wildcard, but lose to an overachieving Pittsburgh Steeelers squad that is bolstered by an injection of youth to a defense that creates more splash plays in 2013.
6. Making the leap from very good to elite, MVP candidate Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they defeat Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in a shootout for the ages. Ryan and Jones start being discussed in fantasy circles in the same rare air as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Detroit's Calvin Johnson respectively. Meanwhile, tight end Tony Gonzales and running back Steven Jackson retire on top with Super Bowl rings in tow to cap their Hall of Fame careers, leaving holes in the ATL starting lineup and the fantasy football rankings and their respective positions.