Now that both the draft is done, and the big parts of free agency have passed, it's time to try my hand at another round of early predictions for the season.
This time, I went through the entire NFL schedule and assigned wins and losses to each team for each game, which resulted in a few surprises. This allows me to go a bit more in depth for each team, and also allows me to give them a record based on their season, as decided by me. Like last time, we'll start with the NFC East and go from there.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) - When I said some surprises came up, yeah this was one of them. So now I suppose I have to justify it. If Sam Bradford stays healthy, this is certainly a real possibility. Throw in the fact that the Eagles have a strong backfield, and that passing game could really open up. If Bradford gets injured and Tim Tebow (or someone else) has to step in...well the Eagles won't be going 13-3.
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) - I don't think it's a question that the Cowboys will take a step back this year. The departure of DeMarco Murray is obviously a huge blow to the offense. Still, the offense wasn't the problem area for this team last year, the defense was. Drafting Byron Jones and Randy Gregory have the potential to pay off huge dividends for the Cowboys.
3. New York Giants (8-8) - My gut feeling is that the Giants should be better than this. The team has the talent, it all just depends on Eli Manning. The defense should be better this year, and they bolstered the offensive line in the draft. Still, the inconsistency the Giants show every year prompted me to put them on the losing end of a few 50/50 games on their schedule.
4. Washington Redskins (4-12) - What is there to like on this team? When you draft a QB at #2, you shouldn't still be wondering if you've found the answer by year four. And yet here the Redskins are. I thought taking Brandon Scherff was a great move in the draft. This all depends on if Robert Griffin can rediscover his rookie year (I don't think he will).
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) - The Packers don't necessarily have an easy schedule, but a lot of their difficult match-ups are against AFC and NFC West teams that have to come to Green Bay, which helps. The offense will be elite, as long as Aaron Rodgers remains healthy, and there's no question about that. The defense is always a question mark, but always proves to be good enough. Mike McCarthy giving up calling plays will only help. And yes, I do have them beating Seattle in Week 2.
2. Detroit Lions (9-7) - It's no question that the Lions will take a step back this year, especially on defense. That just happens when you lose the entire interior of your defensive line. And yes, I know they got Haloti Ngata, but that's not the same. This should be another year where the Lions remain close, but not quite there.
3. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) - Another team that is up and coming. A lot of their season hinges on if Adrian Peterson is playing or not. If he is, then the passing game for Teddy Bridgewater could really open up. If the Vikings decide to use Cordarrelle Patterson effectively, then the unit could really be explosive. I wouldn't worry about the defense, Mike Zimmer is building a quality unit up in Minnesota.
4. Chicago Bears (3-13) - For the longest time, I was on the Jay Cutler bandwagon, but no more. If you can't get it done with Brandon Marshal, Alshon Jeffrey, and Matt Forte, you're not gonna get it done ever. Marshal is gone, replaced by rookie Kevin White. Sure most of the Broncos coaching staff is here now, and that will help moving forward. Just not this year.
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5) - They looked terrible last year. As long as Drew Brees and Sean Payton are in town, though, it's tough for me to bet against the Saints in a very weak NFC South. Throw in the fact that I'm still not a huge believer in the Panthers, and this should be a runaway division. The defense is iffy, but they get to play against the NFC and AFC South, which I have the Saints winning 8 of their 11 games out of.
2. Carolina Panthers (9-7) - Like I said, I'm not a big believer in Carolina, but they will be improved this year. I think Cam Newton will continue to grow into an MVP caliber player. The problem is, he has no help on offense. Kelvin Benjamin could be a star in a few years, but he isn't there yet. After that, there isn't much. The Panthers are another team just on the cusp.
3. Atlanta Falcons (5-11) - Another team that I'm not a big believer in (see a trend in the NFC South?). Throw in the fact that their first three games (two on the road) are against NFC East opponents, and the start of the season doesn't bode well for Atlanta. If they could figure out how to run the ball, that would help Matt Ryan immensely! The defense will be improved due to the arrival of Dan Quinn, but you're crazy if you think it'll improve a lot.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) - I'm not a fan of Jameis Winston, and don't think he's the answer at quarterback. Like half of the media, I took Tampa as my dark horse team last year. That didn't work out. There isn't much to like about what the Bucs offer here, on offense or defense. Lovie Smith is a great coach, but he doesn't have any talent to work with in Tampa.
1. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) - Yes, I have the Seahawks back on top here. But as a disclaimer, they won't be as good this year. In fact, I have Seattle dropping their first two games. Fortunately for the defending NFC champs, they have a mostly favorable schedule, with a bulk of their challenging games coming at home. I still believe, though, that the way the Super Bowl ended is the beginning of the end for the Seahawks "dynasty." Once they fork over half of their cap (exaggeration I know) to Russell Wilson, it'll be completely over.
2. Arizona Cardinals (9-7) - Another surprise, I thought I would have Arizona on top of the West this year. They have a slightly more daunting schedule than I realized, though. Plus, a lot of this depends on the health of Carson Palmer and/or Drew Stanton. If either stays healthy (which one of them almost has to) the Cardinals could win a few more games and claim the division.
3. St. Louis Rams (9-7) - Here is your most improved team. The Rams have a fantastic defense, and an offense just lacking a quarterback. Nick Foles could be the guy the Rams have been waiting for since before they drafted Sam Bradford. Add in a (potentially) healthy Todd Gurley and the Rams could be a force this year.
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) - Probably my biggest change from the last set of predictions. More and more I'm wondering what I was thinking. Now that Frank Gore and Patrick Willis are gone, I don't see it at all. Maybe in a weaker division, the 49ers could compete for a division crown, but not in the talented NFC West. Also, Colin Kaepernick just isn't that good.
NFC Wild Card Teams
1. Dallas Cowboys - Obviously, the Cowboys come in as the top Wild Card team, or the 5th seed in the NFC playoffs. Their 10-6 record is the highest of all non-division winners in the NFC.
2. Detroit Lions - I think this is right. First of all, the Cardinals break the tie with the Rams via the fourth tie-breaker (win/loss record in common games) for second in the NFC West. Then I was left with Arizona, Detroit, and Carolina. Both Arizona and Detroit finished with better (but the same between those two) conference records than Carolina, and I had Detroit beating Arizona in the regular season. I'm fairly certain that means Detroit wins the tie-breaker. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
Now onto the AFC:
1. New England Patriots (12-4) - Somehow, someway the Patriots will find a way to win the division. And yes, I have them dropping the opener to Pittsburgh, and a Week 2 contest to Rex Ryan and the Bills. But we all know that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots will find a way to rebound. The Patriots do actually have a really tough schedule, but I see them somehow fighting through it to win the East yet again.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-5) - This is a dangerous pick because the Bills (like Tampa last year) is the trendy pick right now. Trendy picks never seem to do well. Yet, I'm enamored by the defense Buffalo has built. Throw in Rex Ryan as the coach, and suddenly it could be a great unit. The offense is the question. But I figure, if Ryan can coach a team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez to two AFC Title games, he can coach an offense with LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, and...Matt Cassel(?) just as far.
3. Miami Dolphins (10-6) - Another team that should be improved this year. All of last season the Dolphins looked like the team poised to take the next step, but couldn't quite do it. Could another year of experience and the addition of Ndamukong Suh be the difference? Quite possibly. Too bad they play in what will be the best division in football in 2015.
4. New York Jets (6-10) - The Jets will be much improved this year. The problem is (like the Bills) they don't have a QB, but don't have the same caliber defense. Plus, let's be honest, they're the Jets. If they find a quarterback, the Jets could really make some noise. Instead they'll be at the bottom of the division this year. I do have them splitting games with every division opponent, though.
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) - The Ravens take the division over Pittsburgh via tie-breaker. I had the Ravens splitting with Pittsburgh, but sweeping the rest of the division, which gives them the edge (I have Pittsburgh splitting with Cincinnati as well). John Harbaugh simply finds a way to keep the Ravens winning. No one would say they have an elite offense, and I wouldn't say they have an elite defense. Yet here they are, AFC North champs again.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) - The Steelers can't quite take the division like last year, and will have to settle for second this time around. A somewhat favorable schedule helps out Pittsburgh, who I don't think is as good as an 11-5 record would indicate. The defense is old, and will be without Dick LeBeau this year. That could spell trouble for the future. The draft pick of Bud Dupree, though, could begin to usher in a new era for the defense.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) - One of my good friends in a Bengals fan, and if he reads this, I'm sure he'll let me hear it about this. I have the Bengals taking a big step back this year. The only player on their offense that scares me is A.J. Green, and while the Bengals beefed up the O-Line in the draft, that won't help their woeful pass rush. If the Bengals finish with a losing record, don't be surprised if it spells the end of either the Marvin Lewis or Andy Dalton era.
4. Cleveland Browns (1-15) - Yes, they'll probably win two or three total games, but looking at their schedule, I just don't see it. There is no established receiving threat on offense. No running back that scares you. And is anyone dreading playing against Johnny Manziel? I have them beating Tennessee, but I honestly don't see another win on that schedule. Maybe Oakland? Maybe.
1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - Another year, another 11-5 finish for Chuck Pagano's Colts. The offense should be no problem, assuming they stay healthy. Plenty of receiving targets for Andrew Luck, and the running game should be better with Frank Gore, Boom Herron, and (potentially) Vick Ballard. The defense, specifically the front seven, is the main concern here. The real issue is if the Colts can stop a Patriots-style running attack after still not adding a legitimate big guy on the D-Line. And in case you were wondering, I have the Colts losing in Buffalo, at home against New England (ugh), and then in Pittsburgh, in Jacksonville (this could actually happen), and in Miami.
2. Houston Texans (6-10) - J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Vince Wilfork anchor probably the best D-Line in the league. Houston's defense has the potential to be very, very good. The problem here is the offense. Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and Tom Savage are the quarterback options, and none of them are good ones. The top receivers are Cecil Shorts and DeAndre Hopkins. This isn't good. They will go as far as Watt and Arian Foster can carry them, which is about six games.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) - I thought about pegging Jacksonville as my surprise team this year, and it could certainly happen. Another fantastic draft sees the Jaguars inching closer to contention. The question is Blake Bortles. If he makes significant improvement over the off-season, the Jaguars could quickly turn into a dangerous, dangerous team.
4. Tennessee Titans (2-14) - Once I pegged them losing to the Browns, I knew this wouldn't be good. I don't think Marcus Mariota is the answer, and if I'm right, then the Titans are no better than they were coming into the Draft. The AFC South is (slowly) improving, with the exception of the Titans. There just isn't much talent on this roster that I can see.
1. San Diego Chargers (12-4) - This is a dangerous pick, since the Chargers always seem to disappoint. Still, the potential is here. The team appears to have mended fences with Phillip Rivers, and Melvin Gordon could potentially give San Diego its first legitimate runner since LaDainian Tomlinson. The problem with the Chargers is that every year they go into a weird slump in the middle of the season. If they can avoid that, they have a great opportunity to take the division this year. The distractions of the Los Angeles talk will pick up during the season, though.
2. Denver Broncos (11-5) - I think the Broncos, and Peyton Manning take a step back this year. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the end of last season wasn't an anomaly, it was the beginning of the end for Manning. This will be his last season in the league. Still, an aging less effective Manning is better than most quarterbacks, and the Broncos still have enough talent to make a playoff push. The team will slowly need to become more reliant on running the ball and playing defense, rather than simply outscoring other teams.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-10) - I don't see it happening on the schedule, but I know somehow the Chiefs will win more than six games. Andy Reid will make it happen, somehow. Certainly, if the Chiefs throw a touchdown to a wide receiver this year, it will help. The defense should remain good, but they never quite found a replacement for Eric Berry, which could be a problem. The Chiefs just don't have the tools to compete in an ultra-competitive AFC this year.
4. Oakland Raiders (5-11) - Slowly the Raiders are building back up. They have Dereck Carr who appears to finally be a legitimate QB. Now they've given him Amari Cooper, so he actually has a receiver. Anchored by Khalil Mack, the defense will continue to improve. In a few years the Raiders could be a force to be reckoned with. They aren't there yet, but could surprise some teams this year. And, for what it's worth (not much in this writer's opinion) they do have Trent Richardson.
AFC Wild Card Teams
1. Buffalo Bills - Again, I think I got the tie-breaking correct here. Both the Bills and Steelers had a better conference record than the Broncos, eliminating Denver. All else was the same between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, but I think (key word) the way I divvied out wins and losses, the Bills would have a better strength of victory than Pittsburgh.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers - I mean, the Steelers make the playoffs anyway, so there isn't too much fuss here.
Now we get to the fun part, the playoffs, and we'll start with the NFC:
NFC Wild Card
(5) Dallas Cowboys at (4) Seattle Seahawks - Seattle get the fourth seed, due to having a worse conference record than the Saints. This is the championship game I was hoping for last year, and instead we get it in the Wild Card round this season. As I mentioned, the Seahawks are on the decline. However, I don't think they are in decline enough to lose a home playoff game to a Cowboys team which also took a step back from last year. Seahawks win this one.
(6) Detroit Lions at (3) New Orleans Saints - Again, the Lions reach the playoffs and must go to the Superdome in the Wild Card round. This would be a shootout, but I don't envision a way that the Lions stop the Saints offense enough to come away with a win. Saints win this game.
NFC Divisional Playoffs
(4) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Green Bay Packers - The Packers are the top seed based on a better conference record than the Eagles. And let's face it, this is the rematch we want to see. Seattle and Green Bay in the playoffs again. I had the Packers beating Seattle in Week 2, but this game will be tougher. Tougher yes, but doable for the Packers. Green Bay gets a small measure of revenge and eliminates the Seahawks from the playoffs.
(5) New Orleans Saints at (2) Philadelphia Eagles - This is a toss-up for me. A part of me can see the Eagles offense being an elite unit for the entire season, if everyone stays healthy. The other part of me remembers what happened last time they went to the playoffs and fell apart. That being said, I don't think the Saints have a good enough team to go on the road and win in Philly.
NFC Championship Game
(2) Philadelphia Eagles at (1) Green Bay Packers - I took the boring route and have the favorites winning all of these games. The Eagles making it this far would be huge for Chip Kelly, since most of the media seems to think he has gone off the deep end. However, in Green Bay the Eagles run into an offense that can match them point for point. The favorite Packers finish off the Eagles to advance to the Super Bowl.
AFC Wild Card
(5) Buffalo Bills at (4) Indianapolis Colts - The Colts draw the four seed, as they had a worse conference record than the Ravens. This brings the Bills to town. Remember, I had the Colts losing to Buffalo in Week 1, but a lot can change from that point. The Bills defense should be gelling at this point, but the Colts high powered offense should be as well. Much like when Rex Ryan brought the Jets defense to Indy (the first time) the Colts will find a way to out-score them. Provided we don't have a time management disaster (like the second time Ryan brought a playoff team to Indy). Still, give me the Colts in this one.
(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (3) Baltimore Ravens - Oh boy did this turn out well. Another match-up between the Ravens and the Steelers in the playoffs. Last season, the Ravens finally got over the hurdle of the Steelers in postseason play. Somehow, I'll give the nod to the Steelers here, without having any real rationale as to why. The unexpected always seems to happen when these teams play, and the Steelers would be the underdog in this game. Give me the Steelers to upset the Ravens.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) New England Patriots - The Patriots grab the one seed based off of strength of victory in part due to wins over the Bills, Colts, and Broncos. This has the potential to be a great game between two storied franchises. The Patriots have been to the Super Bowl eight times, and three of those times they went through the Steelers to get there. I would love to say that this time the Steelers would get the best of the Patriots, but I can't see it happening. Patriots win this one.
(4) Indianapolis Colts at (2) San Diego Chargers - If there was ever a scourge to the Colts in the playoffs in addition to the Patriots, it would be the Chargers. Both in the regular season and playoffs, the Colts have struggled with the Chargers plenty of times in recent years. In fact, Andrew Luck is already 0-1 against San Diego in his career. The only thing that scares me about San Diego is the potential of Melvin Gordon running all over the Colts. However, I don't think that the Chargers defense will be able to contain Luck and the Colts offense. For the second year in a row, the Colts take down an AFC West team in the Divisional Round.
AFC Championship Game
(4) Indianapolis Colts at (1) New England Patriots - And that brings us back to where we were a year ago. For the third straight year, the Colts head to New England in the playoffs. Again, the task at hand will be to stop the Patriots running attack. And frankly, I'm not sure Indy can do that. The difference this year, though, is that the Colts (on paper) have a more formidable offense which might be able to move the ball, unlike last year. Much like the 2006 playoff game was "the game" the Colts free-agent signing of Adam Vinatieri came through, this could be "the game" where the signing of Frank Gore comes through. My gut is telling me that the Colts won't get it done, but I'm going to go with the homer pick (like I did last year) and take the Colts.
(1) Green Bay Packers vs (4) Indianapolis Colts - Offense, offense, offense. The Packers offense is stacked, and the Colts offense is stacked. Points will be scored in this Super Bowl as possibly the two best QBs in the game square off in
San Francisco Santa Clara. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I've seen both the Packers and Colts play for years. In a close game, and pressure situation, give me Luck by a (VERY SLIGHT) edge over Rodgers. I might be a bit bias about that. In what should be a close game, the Colts have one of the most clutch QBs in the league, and the most clutch kicker in NFL history. I'll take that all day.
Give me the Colts as Super Bowl Champions!!
(As long as they decide to break out the white uniforms)
So there you have it! The Colts are still the super Bowl Champions in my way too early predictions, this time vanquishing the Packers. I'm sure I'll have another round of predictions at some point before the season starts, probably after the pre-season. Until that time, let's hope my crystal ball is working well enough to be right about the Super Bowl Champs.