I made predictions for the NFL season last year that, predictably, didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. That's usually the only prediction I get absolutely correct, that I won't get too many predictions correct. I figured I would go ahead and embarrass myself and try to make predictions again.
New England Patriots (12-4): It's fun to be creative and come up with some shocking prediction that will get me 10 pageviews instead of 5 pageviews, but I prefer to be right. I picked the Patriots to be 13-3 last year and I will pick them to win the AFC East until they prove they can not win the AFC East. When that time will be, I'm not sure, but I am sure that having Tom Brady for four more games (you may have heard something about this) really benefits their chances of having homefield advantage in the playoffs. I'm not as worried about their secondary as I probably should be, while I'm more worried about their running game than I should be.
Buffalo Bills (10-6): I wanted to be in on the Bills last year, but just couldn't do it. This year, I'm buying the t-shirt, the program, and probably going to get a hat as well. I'm in. I like their offensive line, I like Tyrod Taylor getting a chance to be a starter, I don't love Rex Ryan for my team but love him for someone else's team, and they have a great defensive line. This is the Jets team with Rex Ryan, with a really good defense instead of an outstanding defense, but an actual competent quarterback. I'm in. I want to make them go 12-4 or maybe just have them go undefeated. Ride or die...but I will temper myself.
Miami Dolphins (7-9): For the 5th straight year, I WANT to like the Dolphins. I do. Ryan Tannehill is pretty good, he has fantastic weapons in the passing game now, and I think Suh is shockingly overpaid but he will do nothing but help the defense. I think they will be decent, but are going to be hurt by a stretch of the season where they have to play New England, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Dallas, Baltimore, San Diego, Indianapolis, and New England over a 10 week span. I probably used this same reasoning last year, but I don't think the Dolphins have improved enough to merit a prediction that they can win more 10 games.
New York Jets (3-13): I missed hard on the Jets last year, so of course I'll double down and see if I can miss on them even more this year. They are only as good as their quarterbacks can be and I'm not a huge fan of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's a serviceable backup quarterback, but does he even have something to work with? Brandon Marshall had a down year last year and Eric Decker probably isn't more than a #2 receiver. I think the offensive line is declining and they seem to have cornered the market on plodding running backs with Zac Stacy and Christopher Ivory. It's hard not to love the defensive line and the defense will keep them in games. The problem is I think the offense is going to take them out of more games.
Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Was Justin Forsett just a one year wonder or is
he going to be able to carry the load for another year? Considering how
much the Ravens got out of Ray Rice and they are the Ravens I find it
hard to bet against him. I loved Maxx Williams coming out of the draft
and this is Steve Smith's last year, so he will be collecting all debts
and playing with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. I'm concerned
about another receiver stepping up across from Smith, but I think this
is a weaker division this year since I'm not high on the Steelers, so I
don't think it will stop the Ravens from winning the division. I think
the pass rush will be improved this year and the Ravens won't suffer
so many terrible injuries to members of their secondary. The defense was
8th in the NFL in yards allowed last year and I look for them to get
into the Top 5 this year.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): It's shocking to me how many first round picks the Bengals have spent on cornerbacks since 2006. From the 2006 NFL Draft on, the Bengals have spent four first round picks on cornerbacks. Maybe it's not, but that seems like a lot of first round picks on corners. Regardless, is this the year that Andy Dalton loses it and isn't able to lead the Bengals to the playoffs? I felt this way last year and was very wrong, but doesn't it feel like Dalton is trending downwards and any day now he will implode and turn into a younger Matt Schaub? This team seems so obviously a playoff team on paper that I find it hard to predict what kind of season they will have. The defense will be good, especially with Michael Johnson back from being on loan to the Buccaneers, and I think this will be Jeremy Hill's breakout season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9): A couple of things bother me about this prediction. First, Ben Roethlisberger is awesome and has great weapons around him. By putting the Steelers at 7-9, I'm essentially saying Roethlisberger can't win 7 games with Wheaton, Brown, Bryant and Coates as his receivers and a Top-5 running back in the backfield. That sounds crazy. Second, it's the Steelers. The last time they had a losing record was 2003. Before that it was 1999. Predicting the Steelers to go 8-8 or better is the way to be right. My issue lies a lot with the Steelers defense. I try not to take preseason into account, but the Steelers are adjusting to a new defensive coordinator and they are getting shredded in the preseason. Plus, they play nine games against teams from the playoffs and four of the last six games are on the road. I think the Steelers are going to struggle on defense and even Roethlisberger won't be able to pull them to .500. Book your Super Bowl tickets now, Steelers fans!
Cleveland Browns (5-11): I was high on the Browns last year. I've learned my lesson. Even if I felt good about Josh McCown, which I don't, I would be worried about his receivers. For example, he doesn't have good receivers to throw to. In fact, that's the only example I want to use. I like the offensive line, but I don't like any of the running backs who can run behind the line. The Browns have two of the most popular "Holy shit, that guy is athletic, watch for him to breakout this year" tight ends in the NFL in Gary Barnidge (breaking out since 2008) and Rob Housler (breaking out since 2013). The Browns should absolutely start Johnny Manziel. It's not even a question for me. I still like their defense pretty well and with Danny Shelton in the middle they won't be run on like they were last year. Still, this offense is terrifyingly bad. Start Manziel. He probably isn't going to be "the answer" but at least he can do things that will keep the defense on their toes.
Indianapolis Colts (13-3): This is the year that Andrew Luck is the MVP. It's going to happen. I'm not going to lie that I generally hate how the Colts have been put together. There's no need to be as deep at wide receiver as they are when Luck needs more protection and a defense that was middle-of-the-pack last year (12th against the pass, 18th against the run, 11th overall) could use some improvement. They are building the team like it was built around Peyton Manning. Obviously, that worked to an extent. Still, is it necessary to spend a first round pick on Phillip Dorsett when there can be more marginal improvement elsewhere on the roster? The Colts were 10th in the NFL in takeaways, but it was helped by 14 fumbles they recovered. I'm nitpicking, but what is going to win Andrew Luck the MVP is also going to make me wonder if the Colts can win the Super Bowl when Ryan Grigson continues to give Luck weapons on offense rather than not be satisfied with just an average to above average defense.
Tennessee Titans (9-7): I know, I shouldn't like the Titans as much as I do. Let me share with you the two reasons I like the Titans. First, I like the choice of Marcus Mariota with the group of receivers the Titans have around him. Second, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Jacksonville (twice), Carolina, Oakland, and the Jets. Those are the teams they play this year. The Titans defense was awful last year, but I think they will be improved this year with the addition of Orakpo as a pass rusher and Zach Brown healthy all year. Mariota isn't going to be great this year, but he's smart with the football and he has players around him at skill positions with talent and a decent offensive line (minus the position Byron Bell ends up playing). The Titans will improve on defense and have improved at the quarterback position, so I think they could very well make the playoffs.
Houston Texans (8-8): J.J. Watt. That's the only player I should talk
about here since he doesn't like the spotlight, but hold on let him
appear in a few commercials and take a few selfies while criticizing
others for doing the same. He's a fantastic player and a front seven
with Watt, Clowney (healthy), Wilfork, and Benardick McKinney is a
really good front seven. So how far can the offense take them? That's
the question for me. According to the depth chart on ESPN.com, Ben Jones
will be playing center and left guard, so that should be interesting to
watch. Can Alfred Blue live up to be the starting running back until
Arian Foster comes back? We'll see, but DeAndre Hopkins is going to have
to continue his improvement to make up for the fact Cecil Shorts III is
probably best fit as a third receiver. Brian Hoyer has to show marked
improvement under Bill O'Brien or it's going to be a long year.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Stupidly and stubbornly, I don't believe in
Blake Bortles (now he will light up the Panthers in the first game of
the season). Credit to the Jags to put weapons around him to give him a
chance to succeed, but I wasn't a huge fan of his coming out of college
and I'm not buying the positive reviews coming out of the Jags training
camp. I could be wrong, quite easily in fact. It doesn't help him that
Julius Thomas is out for a month, but I like a lot of the offensive
skill players the Jaguars have. I just don't like Bortles that much.
Defensively, it would be nice if a defensive-minded coach like Gus
Bradley didn't have the 26th ranked defense in the NFL after his second
season as a head coach. I don't see the improvement on the defensive
side of the ball that will catapult the Jaguars into a playoff spot.
San Diego Chargers (11-5): The Chargers are another team who I think will end up with a Top 5 defense this year. They were 9th in the NFL last year and have Melvin Ingram and the addition of Denzel Perryman will help them as well. Plus, Eric Weddle isn't going to be back next year and he's playing for a new contract. On offense, even getting Danny Woodhead back from injury is going to help the running game. They drafted Melvin Gordon and though I'm not entirely sure he's not a product of that Wisconsin running game, he at least is a warm body that can fall forward better than the guys the Chargers had last year. I think the Chargers are going to win the AFC West as long as Philip Rivers stays healthy. Plus, they have to prove Los Angeles that they are worthy of their affection, which is something I'm sure the Chargers players really care about.
Denver Broncos (10-6): I'm betting against Ben Roethlisberger AND Peyton Manning. Clearly, I'm the dumbest person on Earth. I laugh at the idea Peyton was dehydrated and that's why he didn't play up to his standards later in the season and in the playoffs. That's ridiculous. The Broncos have had some offensive line injuries and Peyton Manning isn't the most mobile quarterback on the planet. He has great awareness and I could be underestimating C.J. Anderson, but I'm afraid the offensive line will be an issue for Manning this year, plus he's dealing with a head coach in Gary Kubiak that has his own kind of offense he wants to run and it has to mesh with what Manning wants to do. Defensively, I think the Broncos are still going to be strong, but early suspensions in games against Kansas City, Baltimore and Detroit (two of those games on the road) could cause some gnashing of teeth early in the season. The Broncos are still a good team, but I'm not as convinced the line play on both sides of the ball is going to help them win more than 10 games.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-8): This could be new news to you, but the Chiefs have Jeremy Maclin now. Everything is saved. Now Alex Smith will throw at least 3 touchdown passes to a wide receiver this season. I'm still very concerned that Alex Smith is throwing the football to receivers who probably shouldn't be starting or are one injury away from starting in the NFL. Maclin helps, but there's not much behind him. Travis Kelce will have to step up big. For those keeping track, Jamaal Charles is 28 years old and had his total yardage fall from the 2013 season. It's a matter of time before he runs off the cliff of production. I don't mean to put the Chiefs defense on the backburner, but they will have a great pass rush again, but color me skeptical that Ron Parker magically figured out how to be an NFL starting safety at the age of 27. The Chiefs have a good defense that will be held back by an offense that is going to need to be creative in passing the football.
Oakland Raiders (5-11): Derek Carr (I still type "David Carr" instead) and Amari Cooper are the next great QB-WR combination of the future. I can perhaps buy that. My two biggest issues with the Raiders are their running game and their defense. The Raiders were 21st in yards allowed per game, 16th in passing yards allowed, 22nd in rushing yards allowed, but 32nd in points allowed. Maybe they are just unlucky. But hey, they drafted a defensive end from Florida State, so that should work out, right? I believe with all of the strengths this defense has (Mack, Woodson being an encyclopedia of knowledge, and the somewhat underrated Dan Williams), they aren't good enough in some spots and too old in others. The Raiders couldn't run the ball last year, so they didn't do much besides sign Roy Helu Jr. to improve on this. Granted, I like Helu and think he is going to have a good season, but I don't think he can carry the load the way the Raiders need him to if it turns out 82 carries for his career means Latavius Murray isn't a feature back.
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens over Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers over Buffalo Bills
AFC Divisional Round: San Diego Chargers over New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens
AFC Championship Game: San Diego Chargers over Indianapolis Colts
Philadelphia Eagles (12-4): It's really not hard to get excited about the Eagles. As long as Sam Bradford doesn't get injured (repeat that 10 times and it may happen, but probably not), they have such great running back depth and talent at skill positions. For a racist, Chip Kelly has put together a pretty good team. The questions begin with the defense, which will be a knee-jerk reaction based on the fact there is less perceived talent there and the pace at which the Eagles play on offense will be blamed for defensive shortcomings. The secondary can't be much worse than it was last year, even if I'm not in love with Byron Maxwell when he's not on the Seahawks team. Assuming improvement on defense and better quarterback play, this is the team to beat in the NFC East. Of course, if Bradford gets injured and the defense doesn't improve, then I will be totally wrong.
Dallas Cowboys (10-6): Given all the injuries they suffered last year, I have no idea how the Cowboys were as good as they were. It still confuses me. They probably have the best offensive line in football and they will get Sean Lee back from injury. While I don't think they are a bad team, a lot of the success the Cowboys had last year was predicated on running the ball so well. I think they take a step back because McFadden will get injured, Christine Michael has been inconsistent in his career so far and Joseph Randle has tempted fate with his comments about how DeMarco Murray left some yards on the field. Take away the run game and Tony Romo (or any other quarterback usually) becomes less effective. Plus, in a division with the Eagles and the Giants wide receivers, the Cowboys secondary is bordering on a disaster. Of course, a great pass rush makes the secondary look good and the Cowboys have Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy, both of whom I can see getting 10 sacks on the season.
New York Giants (5-11): I think I said last year that it felt like Tom Coughlin's last season in New York. Maybe I will be wrong again, or just a year early. Eli Manning is playing for a new contract, while two of his best receivers (Randle and Cruz) are nicked up. It was smart for the Giants to draft an offensive lineman to protect Manning, but the real question I have is whether drafting to protect Manning will result in great 2014 Manning or 2013 Manning? Either way, the Giants are dying to try to find a quality safety somewhere, anywhere and they suffered some injuries at the linebacker spot. Give Jon Beason a new contract, watch him get injured. That's how it goes. My bottom line is the Giants have too many holes on defense for me to believe they will have a season where they make the playoffs.
Washington Redskins (2-14): I will be shocked if this isn't a disastrous season in Washington. It feels like things have started going downhill before the season even started. The head coach is over his head, the front office is the typical Redskins front office, they are starting the wrong quarterback, and have I mentioned the head coach is over his head? I can't see this team going anywhere with Kirk Cousins as the quarterback, even if I think the defensive front seven is probably going to be good enough to keep them in games. I can't measure intangibles (obviously), but this Redskins team has negative momentum and seemingly no intangibles. I can't see the season getting better with a head coach who doesn't seem a right fit for a meddling front office with a quarterback who is a turnover machine.
Minnesota Vikings (11-5): My love for Teddy Bridgewater colors all that I do and see. At least I'm upfront about it unlike others. I think he was the best QB in last year's class and is going to absolutely thrive with Adrian Peterson in the backfield with him. I'm not in love with the Vikings offensive line, but the Vikings have a deep threat in Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson was really good when he got more targets later in the 2014 season. Cordarrelle Patterson may never be a great receiver, but can set the offense up with good field position on kickoffs. The thing I like most about the Vikings is the young guys on defense. Floyd, Barr, Kendricks, Griffen, Smith, and Rhodes. I almost put them in the Super Bowl, but held back on the giddiness just a little bit. The Vikings will have a good pass rush and the offense is going to do more than their part. They are the team to beat in the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers (10-6): Picking the Vikings means my long time favorite Aaron Rodgers pays for my supporting Bridgewater. These things happen. It's all guessing anyway, but I don't think the Packers are going to be better on defense than they were last year. They led the NFL in turnover differential. Losing Jordy Nelson on offense is a huge blow and not being as strong at linebacker I think means the defense takes a step back. I still have the Packers in the playoffs, but I think they will take a two game step back in the win column.
Detroit Lions (7-9): It's well-known that I'm not a huge Jim Caldwell fan. The Lions were good last year though and I could be wrong about him if the Lions are good again this year. They are certainly investing in Stafford by giving him Ameer Abdullah (who I think could be the Rookie of the Year) and Laken Tomlinson, which is always good news. But...they lost a lot of what made the team strong up front to free agency and that can't be good for a team that was 19th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. A lot of that came from the Lions being so good at the run. A great pass rush can make a team's secondary look better than it is, while an average pass rush can make a team's secondary look worse than it is. I think it will be the second option for the Lions this year. Offensively they will score points, but teams will also score against them.
Chicago Bears (6-10): Betting against John Fox is a bad idea in general. He's a pretty good coach. Betting against Jay Cutler is a not-so bad idea in general. His teams haven't tended to be successful. Fox is great at adapting to his personnel and then squeezing any originality and risk-taking out of that team's offense. Wait, that is the bitter me (and Broncos fans?) talking. It makes me feel good that Fox has a good staff around him, because he's going to have to turn Cutler into a more conservative quarterback in order to have success this year. Cut the turnovers and hope the defense can do their part. It's hard to bet against John Fox, but with the injuries to Cutler's receivers and the fact I think the NFC North will be improved, it's hard for me to be too optimistic about the Bears.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7): Someone has to win this division, right? I look for the NFC South to reignite the "Should division winners get a home playoff game if they have a shitty record?" discussion again. Atlanta was horrible on defense last year, so they brought in a defense-minded coach. I'm not sure Dan Quinn can singlehandedly make the Falcons better on defense, but drafting Vic Beasley Jr. and signing Brooks Reed could help. The Falcons are going to be better on offense as long as Matt Ryan is given time to throw and Tevin Coleman is given a running lane to go through (neither of which are a given). Regardless, Matt Ryan is smart with the football and probably knows how to adapt to the pressure at this point. The Falcons should do better on defense and that's enough to win this shitty division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Jameis Winston has come into a great situation. He has Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to throw the football to. It's hard for a rookie to come into a better situation, especially if Doug Martin rebounds from a tough season last year. Winston seemingly has the tools to succeed and now he just needs more experience. The defense is...going to be okay I guess running Lovie Smith's preferred style. I do wonder where the pass rush is coming from and I'm not finding a ton of answers right now. The safeties make shrug and the corners should be better than they look on paper. If Jameis Winston gets used to the NFL faster than expected and Lovie Smith makes progress on defense, then I can see the Buccaneers being this year's "worst to first" team. I won't predict it though.
Carolina Panthers (6-10): I like this year's Panthers team more than I have liked the past two teams. I don't think the talent is there to win the division, even a crappy division. I don't trust Michael Oher at left tackle and the fact Cam's best receivers are a tight end (albeit a good tight end), a rookie who isn't close to being as good as Kelvin Benjamin, a guy who can't catch the ball apparently, and Jerricho Cotchery does not bode well. Jonathan Stewart will get injured and the secondary is shaky until the team invests in the position, plus there's no telling if the team will find a second pass-rusher or not. Cam is talented, but he isn't great at making his receivers better (so he's not Peyton Manning, which we all knew anyway). As a fan, I like the direction of the team, but I'm not sure this is the year the direction leads to Ron Rivera's second winning season as a coach.
New Orleans Saints (5-11): I picked the Saints to win the division last year, but I'm not making that mistake again. Now watch them win the division this year. It feels to me like this is a team that has talent, but is running on fumes at a few spots on the roster. C.J. Spiller is going to fit in well, especially when he's on the field the same time as Brandin Cooks. New Orleans had the best offense in the NFL last year, so they can score gain yardage, but they were 9th in the NFL in points scored. I don't know how improved the defense is going to be this year, and while I know Sean Payton is a good offensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see how the offense functions without Jimmy Graham. They were 21st in sacks last year, and while sacks aren't the end-all to determine how a team disrupts the opposing quarterback, releasing Junior Galette with no obvious replacement ready isn't going to help that number increase. I don't see Saints doing better than 8 wins this year.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5): Bet against Russell Wilson at your own peril. He has God AND Recovery Water on his side. Seattle is the beneficiary of the Saints having salary cap problems and trading Jimmy Graham as a result. Tyler Lockett and Graham give Wilson two great options in the passing game he did not have last year. I still wonder what happens if Marshawn Lynch suddenly gets old, as running backs tend to do. Maybe Fred Jackson can step in and provide production, but he's not exactly young. So much of what the Seahawks do depends on Lynch's running ability. The defense is still deep along the front seven and talented. The only thing that can stop the Seahawks from being one of the best defensive teams in the NFL is things like players holding out and not playing regular season games. I feel the Seahawks will barely beat out the Cardinals to win the division again and I'm not betting against God's favored vessel.
Arizona Cardinals (11-5): If Carson Palmer is healthy, the Cardinals are going to be in the playoffs. I say this despite the fact I have no idea what kind of running game they will get from Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Chris Johnson or any of the other guys on the roster. If the Cardinals get a running game, then watch out. They have improved their offensive line with Jonathan Cooper getting another year under his belt and the signing of Mike Iupati. Defensively, there will be a drop-off from losing Todd Bowles, but I think it will be manageable given the continued development of Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Buccanon at the safety spots. Sean Witherspoon could have an excellent year if he can adjust to the 3-4 defense and stay healthy. Bruce Arians has done a great job and I think the Cardinals make back-to-back playoff appearances.
Los Angeles Rams (7-9): I should have put them at 8-8 in honor of Jeff "8-8" Fisher, but decided against it. Credit where it's deserved, the team got rid of Sam Bradford and will no longer rely on him to be healthy. Now to take credit away, they are relying on Nick Foles to be the 2013 version of himself and not the 2014 version. The Rams have a defense full of high draft picks and talented players. It's a defense that can win games, but despite choosing the guy who is easily the best running back in the 2015 draft (Todd Gurley), I don't believe they can make the playoffs. As well as they have drafted on defense, they have drafted that poorly on offense. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Rams have a great year in St. Louis before scampering off to Los Angeles while wondering why St. Louis fans didn't love them enough this year.
San Francisco 49ers (4-12): I don't see how the 49ers can lose Jim Harbaugh, most of their linebackers, their right tackle and the various other players they lost this year and still compete. If the 49ers make the playoffs then Trent Baalke should be Executive of the Year. The left to middle side of the offensive line is still quality, but Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick have to bounce back from relatively sub-par years for them. Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush make for a good combination on paper, but my worries begin and end with the defense. It's a very unproven group and a lot of the talent (Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland) is no longer around and that has to take a toll on them. NaVorro Bowman will do his best to provide leadership, but on a team where the struggled scoring points and passing the ball last year, I'm afraid the defense will have to do more than it is capable at this moment. I don't even have time to comment on Jim Tomsula, the guy who has replaced Jim Harbaugh, which is an impossible job in the first place.
NFC Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks over Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals over Green Bay Packers
NFC Divisional Round: Philadelphia Eagles over Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings over Seattle Seahawks
NFC Championship Game: Philadelphia Eagles over Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl: Philadelphia Eagles over San Diego Chargers
I'm not sure I'm happy with that result...