Maiocco's NFL predictions: Good season ahead for Bay Area

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Maiocco's NFL predictions: Good season ahead for Bay Area

In a move that's been telegraphed for several months now, my pick for the Super Bowl winner should not be a surprise.

Go ahead and call me a "homer." That's a lot better than what many of you were calling me after I made my prediction in January for the NFC Championship game. But, again, I call it as I see it.

Here are my NFL predictions for the 2012 season. And, please, hold your applause until the first Sunday in February:

AFC (playoff seed)
East
1) New England Patriots (2)
2) Buffalo Bills (5)
3) New York Jets
4) Miami Dolphins

North
1) Baltimore Ravens (4)
2) Cincinnati Bengals
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
4) Cleveland Browns

South
1) Houston Texans (1)
2) Indianapolis Colts
3) Tennessee Titans
4) Jacksonville Jaguars

West
1) Oakland Raiders (3)
2) San Diego Chargers (6)
3) Denver Broncos
4) Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Wildcard round
Raiders (3) over Bills (6), Ravens (4) over Chargers (5)

AFC Divisional round
Texans (1) over Ravens (4), Patriots (2) over Raiders (3)

AFC Championship Game
Texans (1) over Patriots (2)

NFC
East
1) Dallas Cowboys (3)
2) Philadelphia Eagles (5)
3) New York Giants
4) Washington

North
1) Detroit Lions (4)
2) Green Bay Packers (6)
3) Chicago Bears
4) Minnesota Vikings

South
1) Atlanta Falcons (2)
2) Carolina Panthers
3) New Orleans Saints
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

West
1) San Francisco 49ers (1)
2) Seattle Seahawks
3) St. Louis Rams
4) Arizona Cardinals

Wildcard round
Packers (6) over Cowboys (3), Lions (4) over Eagles (5)

Divisional round
Falcons (2) over Lions (4), 49ers (1) over Packers (6)

NFC Championship Game
49ers (1) over Falcons (2)

Super Bowl XLVII
49ers over Texans

MVP: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford
Stafford remained healthy for the first time in his career for a full 16 games, so it should come as no surprise he experienced his breakout season. With a very strong corps of receivers, led by Calvin Johnson, and the lack of a powerful run game, the Lions will pin all their hopes on Stafford. And he will deliver. His touchdowns will rise, his interceptions will fall, and the Lions will overtake the Packers to win the NFC North.

Offensive player of the year: Ravens running back Ray Rice
He is the do-everything Ravens offensive player who rarely comes off the field. The Ravens' defense will continue to do the heavy lifting, and the offense will not have to do too much. And Rice will be in the middle of just about everything on offense. Baltimore does not have a great offensive line, but Rice does not need much room. He will also be a favored target of quarterback Joe Flacco, who might not have much time to get the ball down the field.

Defensive player of the year: 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith
He should have won this award last year. He was the best defender in the league. It seems as if just now -- entering his 12th NFL season -- that he is beginning to get the kind of recognition he deserves. Smith is an absolute game-changer. He is stout against the run, and he is a selfless performer in the passing game, too. He probably will not exceed 10 sacks, but he'll enable outside pass-rusher Aldon Smith to excel, too.

Offensive rookie of the year: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck
Sorry. No points for originality here. Luck came to the Colts with the No. 1 overall pick, which is all the evidence you need to discover he does not have much of a supporting cast. But Luck is now a full-time football player. Instead of spending time attending classes at Stanford, he's spending that time in the film room. There will not be a better-prepared rookie. Yes, the Colts offensive line is bad, but Luck will know defenses so well that he will not take the hits you'd expect most rookies in his spot to absorb. That will keep him healthy. And that will keep the Colts' offense moving.

Defensive rookie of the year: Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus
Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans are gone. And Mercilus steps in to be one of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' key pieces of this 3-4 scheme. He had 16 sacks at Illinois last season, and that kind of pass-rush ability is something that can't be taught. Mercilus will step in and become a major reason the Texans are the best team in the AFC.

Comeback player of the year: Raiders running back Darren McFadden
Yeah, the comeback player will be from the AFC West, and it will not be the quarterback in Denver. McFadden will remain healthy. And that means he'll return to being his usual explosive, productive self -- for more than just seven games. McFadden will erase any doubt about how he fits into Greg Knapp's offense and the new blocking scheme to rank among the league leaders in rushing.

Coach of the year: Raiders coach Dennis Allen
There is not a whole lot of national buzz surrounding the Raiders, who have not experienced a winning season since 2002. Allen will make the biggest impact of any coach in the league because there's so much that needs fixing with this organization. The penalties will return to acceptable levels, the Raiders will win more than they lose, and the NFL Coach of the Year award will remain in the Bay Area after Jim Harbaugh was the clear winner a year ago. Allen, the youngest coach in the NFL at 39, will engineer the return of the Raiders.

Kyle Shanahan: 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon plays angry

Kyle Shanahan: 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon plays angry

Among the players the 49ers first targeted for their rebuilding project is a wide receiver who has nine years of NFL experience and turns 31 early in training camp.

Coach Kyle Shanahan pinpointed Pierre Garçon to be his top addition at wide receiver. Garçon is coming off the second 1,000-yard season of his career. His career-best output came was his 113-catch, 1,346-yard season in 2014 with Shanahan as Washington's offensive coordinator.

“I’ve always loved Pierre just because of how angry he plays,” Shanahan said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “He gives you his all. He plays extremely aggressive. The best leaders are the guys who lead by example. Pierre’s not going to say much, but you know he’s going to go out there and fight every single play no matter what the situation is, whether it’s run or pass. That elevates everyone around him.”

Within the first two days of free agency, the 49ers signed Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. The 49ers had earlier signed slot receiver Jeremy Kerley to an extension, while not pursuing Quinton Patton, who signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets.

“You go into free agency and you study all the free agents who are available and then you stack them and see who can help you team the most,” Shanahan said. “Pierre was at the top of that list. Also knowing him made me feel better about that because you know exactly what you’re getting.

“But it all starts with the tape. It was very encouraging to turn on the tape and watch the level Pierre is still playing at. When you see that on tape and you also know the type the guy. I was very excited to get him.”

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

PHOENIX – Coach Kyle Shanahan walked into a position with the 49ers in which he had no quarterbacks on the roster.

On the first two days of free agency, the 49ers added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He determined they were better fits for the offense he would be installing over Colin Kaepernick, who started 64 regular-season and postseason games for the 49ers over the past 4 ½ seasons.

Shanahan appeared to be looking for quarterbacks who are more proficient at going through progressions and making plays from the pocket. Kaepernick was not deemed as a good fit for Shanahan's offense.

“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Colin has a certain skillset that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in.

“When we first looked at it, you got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. General manager John Lynch has confirmed the 49ers would have released Kaepernick if he had not opted out of his deal.

“The type of offense I wanted to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers’ top target in free agency was Hoyer, who enters his ninth NFL season with his sixth different team. Shanahan was offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 in Hoyer’s second and final season with the club.

Hoyer started five games with Chicago in 2016 before getting sidelined with broken left arm. Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 200 attempts.

“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing.

“With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”

The 49ers also reached a contract agreement with Barkley, who started six games with the Bears due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Hoyer. Barkley saw the most extensive playing time of his career. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player, even coming out and playing at an early age at (USC),” Shanahan said. “He’s battle-tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure of college, the pressure of the draft, being in the NFL, being with some different teams. Even watching Matt in Chicago this year, I think he played better this year than he has throughout his career. That means the guy is continuing to work at it.”

The 49ers figure to go to training camp with four quarterbacks, so the team is not finished at the quarterback position.

“We’ll look to add anyone who can really help us,” Shanahan said. “I’m very happy with the two we got. You know we’re not only going to take two to camp. So we got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there.”