After a long seven month lull, we are finally ready to get back to football! There have been a lot of storylines piling up through the offseason, from Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games to Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem. Questions will surface regarding the upcoming season. Can the Broncos repeat as champions? Were the Panthers a one hit wonder? Is Ben McAdoo the answer in New York? What kind of an impact will the Ryan brothers have in Buffalo? Is RGIII the answer in Cleveland? Can Dak Prescott prove to be a competent fill-in for Tony Romo? Will the Rams bring the full glory of football back to Los Angeles? These are all questions rattled off the dome here as the season’s seal is about to be broken. As always, here are some predictions before it actually commences.
*The seeding is more important than the records may be*
1st: New England Patriots 13-3 (1)
The Patriots are the clear-cut favorites to win this division, despite Tom Brady’s four game suspension to start the season. New England should go at least 2-2 in his absence, but don’t be surprised if they emerge from it even better than that. Afterwards, the league will have to combat with an angry and motivated Tom Brady and his new weapon Martellus Bennett at tight end could prove to be a very underrated piece in this offense.
2nd: Buffalo Bills 10-6 (5)
Buffalo is an interesting team. They may stumble out of the gates, but eventually their defense should shore up and become the main pillars of this team under newly hired Rob Ryan. After locking quarterback Tyrod Taylor up for a long term deal, the offense should have some continuity from 2015 and thus should be able to grow in its second season under offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
3rd: New York Jets 9-7 (8)
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year last year, but he may find it difficult to duplicate. The team loses Chris Ivory to Jacksonville, but gains Matt Forte. That said, this aging back is certainly a step down from Ivory in the power run game and that was a big part of Gang Green’s offense last year. The Jets won’t be horrible, but because of the slight rise of Buffalo, their playoff chances may suffer.
4th: Miami Dolphins 6-10 (12)
The Dolphins lack a strong head coach, and the team is still insisting on labeling Ryan Tannehill as their franchise quarterback. He has shown flashes, but is far too inconsistent to deserve that full-fledged title. The team gains Arian Foster in the running game who is a stud… when healthy. The defense shouldn’t be all that bad this season, but it could be tough sledding for them with a difficult schedule and playing in a division with three projected winning teams.
1st: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 (2)
The Steelers are early Super Bowl favorites with their offense, even though Martavis Bryan is suspended for the year and Le’Veon Bell is slated to miss the first three games. The defense is young and fast and should get even better in defensive coordinator Kieth Butler’s second season. If Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy, Pittsburgh IS the most prolific offense in football and should be a lot of fun to watch.
2nd: Cincinnati Bengals 9-7 (6)
Marvin Lewis loses his offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to rival Cleveland, and a couple of solid wide receivers in Mohomad Sanu and Marvin Jones to Atlanta and Detroit. It is fair to say this team could take a step backwards. However, they still have a solid offensive line and an experienced defense. Andy Dalton can likely rely heavily on a run game this season that could prove to be one of the best in the league behind Geo Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
3rd: Baltimore Ravens 8-8 (9)
After an injury plagued 2015 season, the Ravens hope to bounce back behind Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs. It’s hard to imagine this team getting leaps and bounds better in 2016, and playing in a division with two front-runners like Pittsburgh and Cincy it is hard to see this team finishing any higher than third. This is a team that will cause a lot of headaches for others, however.
4th: Cleveland Browns 3-13 (16)
The Browns continue to be the bottomfeeders of the division. Sadly, that should not change this season as this roster lacks a lot of talent. They have Robert Griffin III under center and the return of Josh Gordon should make the offense a bit more exciting, however their offensive line is shaky at best and the run defense, which was awful a year ago, did not appear to get any better in the offseason.
1st: Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (4)
The Colts suffered mightily down the stretch last year after losing Andrew Luck to injury. Matt Hasselbeck was a reasonable fill-in, that is until he got hurt. There isn’t a lot that seems to point to a great season from Indy except for Mr. Luck himself. He should have a huge comeback year, and as long as the defense can hold its water the team should scrape its way into the playoffs behind a potential league MVP.
2nd: Houston Texans 8-8 (10)
Houston has found a possible upgrade at quarterback in Brock Osweiler, and Lamar Miller coupled with Alfred Blue is one of the better one-two punches in the league. The defense should be good, but not spectacular as it is doubtful they will force as many turnovers this year as last. Is Brock Osweiler the guy for Houston? The 8-8 final record may suggest that he’s not, but the team will at the very least experience some growing pains in 2016.
3rd: Jacksonville Jaguars 7-9 (11)
Many people have the Jaguars making a playoff run this season behind a solid offense and respectable defense. This is a squad that should certainly make some noise, but Blake Bortles has to prove himself before this team can be sold. The offensive line could be helped out with Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon, but with the AFC looking as competitive as it has at any point in recent memory, it could prove to be a struggle for the Jags to break .500.
4th: Tennessee Titans 5-11 (14)
Mike Mularky wants to employ a ground and pound attack with DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry. The Titans will be involved in a lot of slug-fests and should have one of the better ground games in the entire league, but when all is said and done the defense will have to be holding many of its opponents to under 20 points for this to work, and with all of the offensive powerhouses Tennessee will be facing this season, it will be a tall task.
1st: Kansas City Chiefs 10-6 (3)
The Chiefs are the favorites to win the division behind the West’s best head coach in Andy Reid and the most balanced roster. Jamaal Charles will be back and the team has a couple of other rocks in the backfield. They may also have one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league this season and could wreak a gameplan with their front seven. Take care of the ball on offense and take the ball on defense; this team is one of the best at both.
2nd: Oakland Raiders 8-8 (7)
Oakland is one of the most talented teams in football behind third year quarterback Derek Carr, who is drawing comparisons to Aaron Rodgers. He has Amari Cooper to throw the ball to as well as the same unit he worked with last year. Defensively, Khalil Mack is a beast and the “D” is certainly on the upswing. As is the case with a lot of teams, the Raiders may miss the playoffs only because of the steady competition in the AFC.
3rd: Denver Broncos 6-10 (13)
Denver could struggle a bit after winning the Super Bowl a year ago. They have an unproven commodity at quarterback in Trevor Semien. The defense will likely take a small step back from a season ago, if for no other reason than the fact that it will be hard to repeat what they did in 2015. The Broncos cannot rely solely on the defense to win them games as they did last year, and they may have to if their offense doesn’t do much.
4th: San Diego Chargers 5-11 (15)
The Chargers have Philip Rivers, who is always solid, but the supporting cast isn’t a lot for him. Keenan Allen returning should help, but the offensive line is nothing special and the running game continues to be a weak point for the franchise. With a middling defense to go with this, San Diego doesn’t boast much potential heading into the season. The only thing that could disprove this is if Rivers can develop jaw-dropping chemistry with newcomer Travis Benjamin.
1st: New York Giants 9-7 (4)
This division shouldn’t be awful this season, but rather bunched up. All teams appear to be pretty evenly matched, but the one thing the Giants have that the others don’t is a potential top-five offense. If Eli Manning continues to get rid of the ball quickly to his talented group of wide-outs and the running game prospers, Big Blue’s offense could light up a lot of scoreboards. The defense should also be improved over a season ago.
2nd: Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 (6)
For the first time in a while, the Eagles will be a defensive team. The team allowed just 38 points in the entire preseason. Make with it what you will as it is the preaseason, but Jim Schwartz should prosper in Philly with the talented “D”. Much like the Chiefs, if the offense can take care of the ball and the defense can take the ball away, the birds can find themselves in the playoffs as the team itself could gel as a unit.
3rd: Dallas Cowboys 8-8 (7)
The Cowboys were favorites to win the division until Tony Romo exited the third preseason game with a back injury. Dak Prescott has been impressive over the summer, but he has yet to play a single snap in a real NFL game, so he is still unproven. The same thing goes for Ezekiel Elliot who has a very good shot a winning the rookie of the year award. That said, it is hard to completely get behind Dallas as they are a bit of an enigma with the amount of question marks on offense, due to the rookie starters.
4th: Washington Redskins 6-10 (11)
The Redskins will be about as good as everybody else in the NFC East, but the reason they finish fourth on this list is simply because they may find themselves losing a lot of their divisional games. Kirk Cousins is a solid starter and he has Jordan Reed to throw the ball to who is quickly becoming one of the best tight ends in the game and the defense picked up Josh Norman at CB. However, the running game and pass rush are weaknesses and Washington may struggle in some games because of them.
1st: Carolina Panthers 11-5 (3)
The Panthers may be a better team this year than they were last year, but the record will not necessarily reflect it. Carolina can expect their opponent’s best shots on a weekly basis and they could fall victim to a couple of upsets. The defense will likely fall back just a bit after losing Josh Norman and Kurt Coleman as the secondary is not as good without them. But, the return of Kelvin Benjamin is going to make this offense harder to defend and more fun to watch. And let’s not forget they still have league MVP Cam Newton.
2nd: Atlanta Falcons 7-9 (8)
The Falcons have the potential to be a playoff team if they stay healthy and play up to their full potential. They turned the ball over too much in the red zone last year, and this sloppy play down the stretch helped erase a quick 5-0 start. Devonta Freeman will return as the go-to guy and Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the game. The Atlanta defense looks to be improved, but still lacks a top tier pass rusher.
3rd: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10 (14)
Jameis Winston played a lot better than many people gave him credit for last season. Doug Martin’s reemergence helped that quite a bit as he was the second leading rusher in the league. Mike Evans will continue to be the go-to receiver and the Bucs will probably pull a couple of stunners off this season. Even still, this team does not have the horses to run with Carolina or any of the other top teams in the conference.
4th: New Orleans Saints 6-10 (15)The Saints could make a run at a wild card spot, if it weren’t for their defense (or lack thereof). The “D” hasn’t made a lot of leaps to get better over the offseason, and that was its biggest weakspot last year by far. Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger and he is getting close to a potential falloff. It may not happen this year, but it is reasonable to expect a falloff if his offensive counterparts don’t perform.
1st: Green Bay Packers 13-3 (1)
The Packers may have the best team in football this year with Jordy Nelson healthy again. #12 under center is the best quarterback in the league. This is a team last year that gave Arizona, a 13-3 team, all they could handle in Glendale minus their top two receivers. Those guys will be back, with an improved defense and what looks to be a strong running game starting with Eddie Lacy this season. Good luck stopping the Pack.
2nd: Detroit Lions 7-9 (10)
This spot was originally reserved for the Vikings, but the Lions can overtake them. Oddly enough, Detroit still has a chance to be one of the better offenses in the league if they can take care of the ball. The defense isn’t awful and when coupled with their easy schedule, it is not unrealistic to expect the Lions to be a decent team this year. What they lost in Calvin Johnson, the team hopes to somewhat gain in Marvin Jones. Matthew Stafford has one last chance to prove he is a franchise quarterback this year, and he will certainly make his case.
3rd: Minnesota Vikings 6-10 (12)
The Vikings loss of Teddy Bridgewater obviously hurts a lot, but did he really bring the team from a middle talent to a top tier squad? We are going to find out. The offensive responsibility will obviously fall on Adrian Peterson’s shoulders as it normally does. Shaun Hill and Brad Sorensen will have a tough time bringing this team to the playoffs though as they just don’t have the talent required to do so.
4th: Chicago Bears 6-10 (13)
Chicago throws Jay Cutler out under center again. Many people really dislike this man, but he is still a good talent. He gets to test his arm this year with Kevin White, who could be a beast. We never got to know him last year as he was lost for the season due to injury. The defense is improved, but the lack of a potentially good running game could prove to be an impassible roadblock of da Bears.
1st: Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (2)
Obviously Marshawn Lynch is gone in Seattle due to retirement, but the Hawks still have good running backs in Thomas Rawls, Cristine Michael, and Company. Russell Wilson will compete for league MVP and we could see these guys become more of a passing team this season. The offensive line is not great, but they don’t have to be with Wilson’s legs being what they are. The defense should be solid as usual and the team has a chance to be one of the tops in the league because of it.
2nd: Arizona Cardinals 9-7 (5)
The Cardinals will be an offensive juggernaut this year, but it is realistic to expect a slight fall-off from a year ago. They will be in the playoffs as there is too much talent on this team for them not to be, but it may be unrealistic for Carson Palmer to continue his torrid pace since he is getting a bit long in the tooth. Seattle may be better this year than they were last, which also will contribute to Arizona’s second place finish in the division.
3rd: Los Angeles Rams 7-9 (9)
Los Angeles finally has a football team, but unfortunately the Rams do not have a competent quarterback or a good wide receiver corps. The secondary could be a problem as well since they have lost Rodney McLeod and Janoris Jenkins. Todd Gurley, reigning rookie of the year, is the centerpiece to this offense and will provide plenty of sparks this year, but the rest of the offense lacks the firepower to make this a great team.
4th: San Francisco 49ers 5-11 (16)
Chip Kelly returns to the west coast to take control of the 49ers. However, the team is in serious need of a quarterback and is very deprived of talent. The defense could get harassed a bit if only because the offense is not good enough to stay on the field long enough. Carlos Hyde is a diamond in the rough for the San Fran attack, but like the Rams the team doesn’t have a good quarterback and that makes all the difference in this league.
Indianapolis over Buffalo
Kansas City over Cincinnati
Arizona over Philadelphia
Carolina over New York Giants
Pittsburgh over Indianapolis
New England over Kansas City
Seattle over Arizona
Green Bay over Carolina
New England over Pittsburgh
Green Bay over Carolina
Super Bowl 51
New England 29, Green Bay 24
The Patriots have such a solid roster and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder all year. Surviving the first four games without Brady should not be a problem for the Pats, and the team will have a lot of momentum rolling into the playoffs. They will be a tough out and will narrowly be able to defeat the Packers on the grand stage.
2016 Season Awards
MVP- Aaron Rodgers
It came down to him, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson. Brady will lose some of the voters due to his situation at the beginning of the year. It is going to be easier to pick Rodgers over Wilson as he, according to these predictions, will be taking his team to the Super Bowl. He should put up some very impressive numbers with a fully healthy and improved wide receiver corps.
Offensive Player of the Year- Rob Gronkowski
He will just barely edge out Antonio Brown for this spot as big Gronk could see himself hauling in more than 15 touchdown passes this season. He is uncoverable in the red zone and an outstanding runner after the catch. There will be no Madden curse for this big tight end.
Defensive Player of the Year- Khalil Mack
Not only is this monstrous product of Buffalo a fantastic pass rusher, but he is also an outstanding linebacker who can tackle with the best of them. He could find himself making a run at Michael Strahan’s sack record as well in 2016 and may single-handedly help the Raiders make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Comeback Player of the Year- Andrew Luck
This one was a no-brainer. After being injured for a lot of the 2016 season, Luck will be back and better than before. He can easily pass for around 5,000 yards, and that alone qualifies him for league MVP. That said, if he is competing for that title coming back from a bad and injury riddled season, it goes without saying that he should win this honor as well.
Coach of the Year- Mike McCarthy
It is easy to pick the coach of what should be the league’s best overall team for this award. The Packers are actually favored to win all 16 of their regular season games and that should produce a very high record. This alone can get McCarthy into the conversation for COTY. On top of that, he should get the most out of his players and really form one of the best overall teams that we have seen over the past couple of seasons.
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Ezekiel Elliott
It’s easy to pick big Zeke as the OROTY because the Dallas Cowboys will likely rely on him heavily this season, especially early on. That, coupled with the fact that they have on of the best offensive lines in the game should catapult the young former Buckeye into stardom in his initial year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Vernon Hargraves
The young cornerback for Tampa Bay was more than just impressive in the preseason and could be one of the league’s next shutdown cornerbacks. He can boost his stock for this award with a few picks and a lot of PBUs. Both are likely and this young product of Florida could be the man in Tampa Bay.