Here’s my predictions for the 2016 NFL Season. The biggest surprise, but not to me :), is that New England will not only fail to win their division, but they won’t even make the playoffs!
The AFC is especially tricky to pick a winner this year. The NFC has a little more separation. So here we go:
The AFC is wide-open, any of the 4 teams can win the division, with no team boasting a quality quarterback. Did I just say that? Yes. Nobody, I mean nobody is talking about Brady’s age and its impact on his ability to play. I have half a century of NFL history on my side. Only one QB in that long stretch played better than average at 39 (please post a comment if you want to take a guess who). Gronk is holding Brady up right now, with him out Brady was below average last year. But one year later and even Gronk won’t be able to stop father time from doing to Brady what it did to Manning last year and every hall-of-famer beforehand. I’m amazed how everyone assumes Brady will be fine. In his first pre-season game he throws a touchdown pass and the press reports how great Brady looks, failing to mention he went 3 for 9. In his final pre-season game against the Giants backups he was pedestrian at best. It’s over for the future hall-of-famer.
Adam Gase will make a difference in Miami, but will it be enough? I have to go with the Jets to win the division because of their defense, though they could tank if the small-frame Fitzpatrick goes down with an injury and they have to rely on likely backup Bryce Petty (no, he’s not a race car driver or country singer). I would be shocked if he doesn’t beat out the remarkably bad Gino Smith. Speaking of 2nd round busts, rookie hack Christian Hackenburg has looked just awful in the preseason; if he wasn’t a 2nd round pick he’d be cut for sure. I reluctantly put New England 2nd only because they still have great coaching.
Prediction: New York Jets, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins
The AFC North will come down to a tight battle between the Steelers, who boast the best offense in the AFC, and the Bengals, who are more well-rounded. Both lack depth at wide receiver, which hurts Cindy more than Pittsburgh because Big Ben is a better QB than playoff choke artist Andy Dalton. Pittsburgh also gets the edge in coaching but just barely as Marv Lewis has proven he can keep his teams competitive. He probably gets more criticism than he deserves given his Schottenheimer-esque playoff resume. The Ravens are well-coached and could be in the mix, but Flacco is overrated and the 3rd best QB in the division. Vonte Mac will be of no use to the Browns because he’s a fictional character, so the Browns will continue to suck.
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns
The Colts have the edge here, as Andrew Luck looks to bounce back after a tough year last year. But it will be a close battle with the Texans and their powerful defensive line. I think a lot of Broncos fans want to see Brock Osweiler fall on his keester, but I’m not one of them. He is a decent QB, clearly better than the Bryan Hoyer disaster, though he is likely not going to live up to the annual 18+ million price tag. If Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles continues to improve, they have enough talent to challenge for the division or a wildcard spot. But don’t get too enamored with their offseason acquisitions. Malik Jackson is good but not great, he was no better than 4th best player out of Denver’s front seven and seldom faced a double-team. Tennessee is still rebuilding and it would be a big surprise if they made any sort of splash this year.
Prediction: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
The AFC West may now be the best division in football. Denver still has the most talent across the board, except at the most important position in football, QB. If Trevor Siemien can play just average Denver likely wins the division, but if he doesn’t the prognosticators of doom will be proven right. Denver still has better-than-average talent on offense led by a top notch wide receiver tandum in Thomas and Sanders. They will also have an improved offensive line with capable running backs. All this to go with a historically good defense that did not lose a critical piece during the off-season.
The Chiefs finished very strong last year and are well-coached. They only have a few potential pitfalls, most notable is the status of Justin Houston who likely misses some early action. I predicted a breakout year last year for the Raiders, with one big qualifier – how will the coaching stack up? Jack Del Rio proved to me he’s not a great thinker and was clearly a below average defensive coordinator, given he had essentially the same unit that Wade Phillips turned into one of the best ever. The Raider have talent without question and could overcome an average at best head coach in Del Rio. If Carr has a breakout year the Raiders could easily win the division. San Diego will always have the potential to surprise given they now have the best QB in the division in Phillip Rivers. But they also have the same achilles heal as the Raiders, the head coach position.
Prediction: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
The AFC is extremely tough to pick this year because every team has an Achilles heal. Of the predicted division winners, Denver is a big fat question mark at QB. The same goes for the Jets (Fitzpatrick deep into the playoffs, really?), Bengals (can Dalton stay healthy?), and Texans (Ossweiller’s QB rating last year was worse than Mark Sanchez). The likely wildcard teams are the Steelers and Chiefs, again, with the Raiders in contention. Of these possible wildcard teams, the Steeler’s achilles heal is their defense, especially the secondary. The Chiefs are too thin in too many spots on offense that they could be boom or bust. The Raiders will have to see further improvement in Carr, and overcome their head coach.
So the predicted AFC Champion is…. The Cincinnati Bengals
The NFC East is hard to project because any of the teams could win the division or finish last. The most likely team to take the division is the Redskin,s who are improved across the board and have a decent Kirk Cousins at QB. The Giants have enough talent to compete provided the future no-way hall of fame Eli Manning can put together a better-than-average season. The Cowboys just have too many question marks at QB to predict higher than 3rd in the division. They are also only two years removed from a pathetic defense and they could easily regress. Can anyone see the Eagles being better than the 7-9 they posted last year? Whose their QB? Oh yea, Samuel T Bradford. I think #1 pick Carson Wentz looks like the real deal, but he’s at least a year away from rescuing the Eagles from Bad-ford.
Prediction: Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Philedelphia Eagles.
With the injury to Bridgewater the NFC North goes to Green Bay (unless of course the best QB in football, Aaron Rogers, goes down). The Vikings are still super talented and have a strong defense. But now that the phrase “Mark Sanchez” is circulating around Vikings land, you know things are not looking up for arguably the most jinxed team in NFL history. The Lions and Bears are both still bad and will fight it out for the cellar. Perhaps the most interesting story-line here is how long John Fox will last in Chicago.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears
This division should easily go to the Panthers, who are still loaded on both ends of the ball and are a legit Super Bowl contender. The Bucs should be improved, especially with the promising development of Jameis Winston. Don’t be surprised if they land a wildcard spot, especially with the Vikings taking a big blow at QB. Atlanta always seems like they will contend but there is something about Matt Ryan that just doesn’t inspire. Drew Breis is already showing his age. Most of the great QBs start to really stink things up at age 37, with only a handful playing well at 38 and virtually no QB playing well beyond that. Brees is not a big man and I predict he will be one of the worst QBs in the NFL this season, right there with Brady near the bottom. The Saints are weak across the board and could even contend for the first pick in next year’s draft.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints
The NFC West would be the best division in football if not for the 49ers, who will be one of the favorites to win the 1st draft pick in next year’s draft in Philadelphia. Seattle still boasts a top defense, especially their secondary. Russell Wilson finished strong last year and given Carson Palmer’s age he’s the best QB in the division (he probably would be even with a younger Palmer). Speaking of Palmer, he’s also nearing the cliff of father time, but at 36 he might just be able to muster one last decent year. If he can, they could win the division because of their talent across the board. The Seahawks / Cardinals battle for the division should be one of the most compelling epics for the 2016 season, with the division winner a strong candidate to try to get past Carolina on the road for the NFC Championship.
The Rams have a great front seven on defense, but with an average QB and a super tough division they have little chance of breaking through. The 49ers are going to be outright pathetic and should be the favorite to earn the 1st pick of the draft.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers
The NFC champion is going to boil down to either Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle, or Arizona. I’m not convinced Palmer is going to be effective enough to take Arizona to the promised land. Seattle still has a really bad offensive line. Green Bay is mildly weak here and there, and at wide receiver. Plus if you talk to most any Packers fan they lack confidence in the head coaching up in cheese land. The Panthers are still loaded and they get the talented WR Kelvin Benjamin back. Losing Josh Norman is not a big deal, he’s good but also overrated.
So the predicted AFC Champion is…. The Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers will bounce back and win Super Bowl 51 over the Cincinnati Bengals.