For all the changes in modern football these days, things still seem rather predictable.
The 2012 Green Bay Packers season started with a whipping at the hands of San Francisco and everyone seemed tremendously surprised when it ended with a whipping at the hands of San Francisco.
Take it from the master, Lombardi: "Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist but football is only two things - blocking and tackling."
Thanks to the read-option, the Packers didn't even get close enough to Colin Kaepernick to fail to tackle him, and the blocking was rather suspect even before Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL on Packers Family Night.
Still, everyone's slotting the Packers into their usual slot among the NFC's elite.
I wouldn't know how things are going during the preseason, as I've been enjoying not watching it. That doesn't mean I haven't been researching for the games that count so I can provide you with my expert (Two-time Gridiron Smack Talk champion) forecast:
NFC North: 1. Green Bay (11-5), 2. Detroit (9-7), 3. Minnesota, 4. Chicago
NFC East: 1. NY Giants, 2. Philadelphia (WC), 3. Washington, 4. Dallas
NFC South: 1. Atlanta, 2. Carolina, 3. New Orleans, 4. Tampa Bay
NFC West: 1. Seattle, 2. San Francisco (WC), 3. St. Louis, 4. Arizona
AFC North: 1. Pittsburgh, 2. Cincinnati (WC), 3. Baltimore (WC), 4. Cleveland
AFC East: 1. New England, 2. Miami, 3. Buffalo, 4. NY Jets
AFC South: 1. Houston, 2. Indianapolis, 3. Tennessee, 4. Jacksonville
AFC West: 1. Denver, 2. Kansas City, 3. Oakland, 4. San Diego
Packers over Eagles, 49ers over Giants
Bengals over Steelers, Texans over Ravens
Seahawks over Packers, Falcons over 49ers
Broncos over Bengals, Texans over Patriots
Falcons over Seahawks
Broncos over Texans
Super Bowl XLVIII
Broncos over Falcons
I'm picking the Packers to win the NFC North not because I think they're great, but because the rest of the division is kind of unimpressive.
Adrian Peterson is a great running back and the move of Greg Jennings from the Packers to the Vikings will hurt, but what is the ceiling for a team quarterbacked by Christian Ponder?
The Lions had one of those years in 2012 where every coin flip went against them. They'll be better in 2013, but something must be done about the 27th-best defense in the league and some horrific special teams.
Meanwhile, the Bears went 10-6 with all six losses coming to playoff teams, lost the last playoff spot on a tiebreaker and then panicked and fired the coach. I think Lovie Smith's considerable coaching talent papered over a lot of problems on that squad and they'll rue the day they let him go.
I find the Philadelphia Eagles intriguing, as Chip Kelly, ex-University of Oregon coach, tries to plug in his 'Blur' offense in the pros. Their defense will keep them behind the Giants, a team on pace for a big bounceback after last year's Super hangover. I expect Washington to regress back to the pack, and the Cowboys' poor offensive line and meddling ownership (Jerry Jones stripped coach Jason Garrett of playcalling duties) to ensure they'll spend much more time on Sportscenter than the playoffs.
In the South, the Falcons won a playoff game and improved the running game to go with one of the best deep passing groups in the game. If they can get a pass rush, they're a Super Bowl contender. The rest of the division is mediocre at best with the Saints featuring the worst defense in the NFL (can't blame that on Goodell), the Panthers featuring Cam Newton and not nearly enough else and their opposites, the Bucs, who have strength in the secondary and at running back but a suspect quarterback in Josh Freeman.
Out west, the 49ers will suffer from the Super hangover, but have enough talent to at least earn a playoff spot. The Seahawks whipped the 49ers in Seattle and won seven of their last eight, while the Rams and Cardinals aren't getting the quarterback play to keep up.
In the AFC, Tom Brady and the Pats basically win the East by default. The defending champion Ravens, gutted by injury, slip behind the Bengals and Steelers in the North. The defense must improve for the Colts to keep the Texans from waltzing to a third straight AFC South crown, and the Broncos' competition in the West may include more bad teams than the entire NFC.
That'll keep Peyton Manning and company fresh for one more bite at the Big Apple in February.
My full picks are listed in the inset box at right. I'm still rather dubious on the Packers, but the last time I took my considerable weight off the Packer bandwagon, it rolled all the way to the Super Bowl.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.