It’s hard to believe that another NFL season is starting tomorrow, isn’t it? Maybe it’s the play of the Pirates all summer, or maybe the product is getting less and less desirable to watch on the field. Either way, I’m not the only one who has had enough of Deflategate or Tebowmania Part 2. I’m ready to watch some action on the field.
For the fourth straight year, I’ll take a shot at predicting the division winners, playoff matchups and Super Bowl winner, as well as the individual awards. Last year, I had the Patriots making the Super Bowl, but not winning, which is still a good call. But I also had Gus Bradley as the coach of the year.
OK, here goes nothing.
1. Dallas Cowboys — 11-5: It hurts me to write that, it really does. The defense overachieved in a major way last year, so expect regression there especially with cornerback Orlando Scandrick missing the entire season. The loss of DeMarco Murray obviously hurts, but it’s still the best offensive line in the game.
2. Philadelphia Eagles — 10-6: 10-6 for the third straight year under Chip Kelly? Seems likely to me. I’ve bought in to everything he’s done this year, and he has the best quarterback in his system so far in his stint in the league. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are a formidable 1-2 punch, and Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor provide solid options in the passing game. Look for the Eagles to compete for a wild card spot again.
3. New York Giants — 8-8: The skill positions are incredible, especially once you add in a healthy Victor Cruz. The defense, and more importantly, the offensive line, leave much to be desired.
4. The Washington football team — 3-13: It’s a mess there. At least Matt Jones will be fun to watch as a rookie.
1. Green Bay Packers — 10-6: The Packers are going to struggle with the loss of Jordy Nelson, but second-year receiver Davante Adams should step up to complement Randall Cobb. If not, well, it won’t be Go, Pack, Go. It’ll be No, Pack, No.
2. Detroit Lions — 9-7: It’ll be the Lions second year under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, which means the offense should only improve more. Rookie running back Ameer Abdullah and second-year tight end Eric Ebron will look to provide additional weapons to quarterback Matthew Stafford. The real question is, though, how will the defense do with no Ndamukong Suh up front?
3. Minnesota Vikings — 7-9: Teddy Bridgewater loves to throw it deep, so they brought in speedster Mike Wallace to take the top off of defenses. They have the offensive weapons with Wallace, Charles Johnson, Kyle Rudolph and some guy name Adrian Peterson, but they are going to get burnt on the defensive side of the ball, especially within the division.
4. Chicago Bears — 5-11: The Bears first-round pick is likely to miss the season before taking one snap with the team. Welcome to being a Bears fan, folks.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 7-9: Yeah, the record says it all. This division is going to be awful once again, but Jameis Winston (or Mike Glennon?) will lead the Bucs to a division title thanks to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Way to go, Lovie Smith.
2. Atlanta Falcons — 7-9: Kyle Shanahan brings his terrific offensive scheme to the Falcons, but no scheme is good enough to fix arguably the worst offensive line in football.
3. New Orleans Saints — 6-10: Drew Brees is going to miss Jimmy Graham… and Kenny Stills… and Pierre Thomas. Brandin Cooks will be fun to watch, but he can’t do it all himself. On defense, the loss of Keenan Lewis for a month will put the Saints in an early hole.
4. Carolina Panthers — 6-10: The defense will once again be stout, but expect a lot of 13-10 games in favor of the opponent. Cam Newton has next to no help on offense outside of tight end Greg Olsen and brittle running back Jonathan Stewart.
1. Seattle Seahawks — 12-4: It’s more of a contest here, but Seattle is still the favorite. The Seahawks only get more dangerous with the additions of Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett. Though, one has to wonder how the loss of Max Unger will hurt Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle offense.
2. Arizona Cardinals — 11-5: I’m on board once again, baby. The Cardinals defense is dangerous, and as long as Carson Palmer stays healthy, I expect Arizona to make a serious run.
3. St. Louis Rams — 8-8: It’s still Jeff Fisher, the most overrated coach in sports, so I don’t expect a playoff team yet. Todd Gurley will be a major asset to the Rams in the second half, though, and it’s undeniable how great the defense is, anchored by Aaron Donald.
4. San Francisco 49ers — 6-10: How quickly things change, eh? The Niners had a busier offseason than Tom Brady did, but at least Brady’s ended in a positive way.
1. New England Patriots — 13-3: Tom Brady and co. will be in full “eff you” mode this year. Personally, I’m glad he gets to play all 16 games. I prefer to watch the best players play all the time, but that’s just me. Their secondary has questions in it, and is Scott Chandler really going to be the deep threat for the Pats? It won’t matter. It’s the Patriot’s division again.
2. Miami Dolphins — 11-5: The best defense in football? It’s not out of the question. They are scary good with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. Ryan Tannehill continues to grow as a quarterback, and has the best weapons that he’s had so far in his career. The offensive line is a concern, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the mess they had two years ago.
3. Buffalo Bills — 7-9: Rex Ryan will once again have a stout defense, but can Tyrod Taylor really lift the Bills to success? He’ll open up lanes for LeSean McCoy, but will it be enough?
4. New York Jets — 6-10: 6-10 seems like a bad record (SPOILER: It is), but if Geno Smith were the quarterback for the entire year instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick, I’d knock another one or two wins off the total. Again, worst quarterback in football not named Tim Tebow.
1. Cincinnati Bengals — 11-5: No love for the Bengals, eh? Last year was a weird year for them, with injuries to A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones on the offensive side of the ball. No one is saying that Andy Dalton is a great quarterback, but he’s an average one that relies on his surrounding cast. The receiving options and Jeremy Hill make the Bengals offense dangerous. On the defensive side of the ball, you can’t say enough about what a healthy Vontaze Burfict and Geno Atkins mean to this team.
2. Baltimore Ravens — 10-6: They find a way, every single year. It’ll be no different this year, as Marc Trestman’s offense is going to mean big things for Justin Forsett, Joe Flacco and Steve Smith. They do have one of the toughest schedules in the league, but the Ravens will find themselves in the playoffs again.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 9-7: Toughest schedule doesn’t mean too much on paper with the way things change each year. But, the Steelers may have the worst secondary in football, and the rest of the defense doesn’t do much for me outside of Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. Add to the fact they’ll be without Le’Veon Bell for two games, Martavis Bryant for four games and Maurkice Pouncey for up to 10 games, how can you have faith in them, especially with what seems to be a brutal schedule at the end of November?
4. Cleveland Browns — 5-11: The defense is legit, mostly. But Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel? Take your pick. Dwayne Bowe as your No. 1 receiver? Yikes. But perhaps the most Browns thing of all is that the team has just two running backs on their roster. Isaiah Crowell and the concussed Duke Johnson. It’s also just known as another year in Cleveland.
1. Indianapolis Colts — 12-4: I still don’t know why they are in the AFC South, but it doesn’t matter. The Colts only got better this year with the additions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. On the defensive side of the ball, though, the loss of Arthur Jones is going to hurt in a big way up front.
2. Houston Texans — 9-7: I liked Hard Knocks, so that’s enough of a reason to believe in them. Kidding, well, kind of.
3. Tennessee Titans — 6-10: Marcus Mariota will be under a microscope this year, as he’s out to prove that he isn’t a system quarterback from his time in Oregon. The help on the offensive and defensive side isn’t good, though, which will make for a long rookie campaign.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars — 4-12: Their No. 1 pick tore his ACL a week after being drafted, and their big free agent acquisition is out 4-6 weeks with surgery. Jags gonna Jag, y’all.
1. Denver Broncos — 12-4: Is Father Time finally catching up with Peyton Manning? This will be a telling year under new head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak is a run-first guy, but it’s Peyton Manning, so the latter obviously wins.
2. Kansas City Chiefs — 10-6: Bold prediction time. OK, ready? A Chiefs wide receiver will catch a touchdown this season. Shocking, I know. I like what Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce bring to the offense, as well as Jamaal Charles. The defense is still great, especially with the wonderful return of Eric Berry. It falls on Alex Smith and Andy Reid.
3. San Diego Chargers — 8-8: The Chargers usually start quick and then fade. I expect the reverse this season, as Antonio Gates is out the first four games and the Chargers early season schedule isn’t exactly easy.
4. Oakland Raiders — 6-10: I like what the Raiders are doing. I can’t believe I typed that.
NFC Playoff teams
Dallas Cowboys (D)
Green Bay Packers (D)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (D)
Seattle Seahawks (D)
Philadelphia Eagles (WC)
Arizona Cardinals (WC)
NFC Championship Game
Arizona Cardinals over Seattle Seahawks
AFC Playoff teams
New England Patriots (D)
Cincinnati Bengals (D)
Indianapolis Colts (D)
Denver Broncos (D)
Miami Dolphins (WC)
Baltimore Ravens (WC)
AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens
New England Patriots 35, Arizona Cardinals 20
Offensive Player of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Comeback Player of the Year
Coach of the Year