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Early Season Predictions 3.0

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Ben Lamers takes one final look into his often faulty crystal ball to see what's in store for the NFL season this year.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts kick off the pre-season this Sunday (hooray!!!) and with that, football is officially back. It also means that it's about time for my final predictions for this upcoming season. Only about 1/3 (if I'm lucky) of these will be correct, but it's all about fun.

Again I went through each team's schedule, game by game, to come up with the win-loss records. I'll also note any major changes from the last time I did this. Oh and I expect most of you to disagree with at least some of this, so feel free to add your predictions, or your criticism of mine, in the comments. Without further ado, let's begin:

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (12-4) - This is unchanged from my last predictions, except that this time around I have the Eagles winning one less game. They have a fairly manageable schedule, and the offense looks great on paper. Chip Kelly's offense always puts up numbers, and it should be no different with DeMarco Murray. If Sam Bradford can remain healthy (a big if) don't be surprised if he at least has the numbers of an MVP candidate.

Dallas Cowboys (11-5) - The Cowboys again fall second in the division, but with one more win that last time. Now that they have Dez Bryant locked up, the team can focus on playing football. Yes, they lost Murray, but I'm a believer that the O-Line had a lot to do with his success this past year. I fully expect the Cowboys to continue to run first to take some of the physical and mental pressure off of Tony Romo. Also of note, in my game-by-game graph I have the Cowboys struggling out of the gate before catching fire in Week 9 against the Eagles.

New York Giants (9-7) - Another one game improvement over my last predictions, but the Giants still are on the outside looking in for the division. I'm starting to think that the offense will be up to snuff, and the receiving duo of Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. could be unstoppable, if they remain healthy. The defense is a question mark, especially with the questions surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul and his availability for the team.

Washington Redskins (2-14) - This is a steep drop (well two games) from the last round of predictions. I just don't see it with this team. Couple in improvements from others of their schedule, it could be a tough season in Washington. I do think, though, they will come up with a surprise win or two at some point. Yes, I only have them winning two games, but I have them inexplicably winning a home tilt against the Saints.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (13-3) - No change here as the Packers will control this division. No major losses on offense should mean an even scarier unit than last season. The defense could be suspect, but I think they have enough talent to keep teams from outscoring Aaron Rodgers and the offense. The schedule isn't easy, especially with Dallas coming back to Lambeau near the end of the season, but a weakening (in my opinion) division will help them out greatly.

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) - When I say weakening division, I'm not referring to Minnesota. The Vikings are a team on the rise, but I don't think they are ready to challenge the Packers quite yet. Depending on the progress of Teddy Bridgewater and how much gas Adrian Peterson has left, the Vikings could very well finish with around nine wins. Since I don't know the answer to either of those things, I'll slot them with seven wins, which I think is about right.

Detroit Lions (6-10) - This is a drop from the last time I did these predictions. The defense, as I said last time, will take a step back, and I'm not sure about the offense. Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback, but not a great one. The offense SHOULD be able to move the ball extremely well, but that could be a pro and con depending how much Stafford needs to throw the ball this year.

Chicago Bears (3-13) - I have no love for the Bears at this point. Jay Cutler is far from the answer at quarterback (despite me hinging my Fantasy Football hopes on him last year) and now he doesn't have Brandon Marshall to throw the ball too. The defense is in shambles, and while it might be improved under John Fox, it still won't quite be as good as this team needs. Throw in the fact that Matt Forte is nearing the end of his career, and you get a Bears team that is going nowhere this year.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (11-5) - Yes they lost Jimmy Graham, but as long as Drew Brees is the quarterback, this team will have a chance to win. Under Sean Payton, the Saints have been very good at bounce back seasons, and I don't foresee this being any different. I expect the Saints to win the division, which should be a bit more competitive than what we saw from it last season.

Atlanta Falcons (8-8) - This is a big leap from my last predictions and I don't have a great reason as to why. Maybe I'm just a bit more confident in the trio of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones than I was before. A team that looked like it had a bevy of talent under Mike Smith, but want down the tubes the last couple of year could be in for a resurgence with a new coach.

Carolina Panthers (6-10) - This is one of the bigger drops from the last set of predictions. I'm a huge believer in Cam Newton, especially after he essentially lifted them to the playoffs last year. However, I'm not a big believer in any of the other skill players around him on offense. Kelvin Benjamin has potential, but isn't a star at this point in time. A team will need a winning record to take the NFC South this year, and I don't think the Panthers have the horses to do it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) - I was surprised I slotted four wins to Tampa this time around. I'm still not a big Jameis Winston guy, but his ability will help Tampa Bay. If there was a team that I think could shock fans this year, it would be the Bucs. Last year we all thought Tampa was on the up-swing and they fell flat. Still, there is some talent on the team, and a quarterback with any ability could help greatly. Still, I'll keep them in the basement for now.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) - The way the Super Bowl ended, plus the mega-deal for Russell Wilson is the beginning of the end of the Seahawks reign over the NFC. However, if the team is healthy this season, the end isn't here quite yet. The offense should be a bit more dynamic with Graham in the mix, which will take some of the load off Marshawn Lynch. The defense is still the focal point on this team. If Earl Thomas is healthy, and Kam Chancellor decides to not hold out, it will still be very difficult to score on the Seahawks.

Arizona Cardinals (9-7) - The Cardinals (and Rams) are one of the few teams I have coming into this set of predictions the same as last time. A nine win season, plus a tiebreaker over the Rams, gives the Cardinals second place in the ultra competitive NFC West. The return of Carson Palmer should help immensely, and we'll see if Bruce Arians can continue to work his magic with under-talented and over-achieving teams. I think he will.

St. Louis Rams (9-7) - I'm less a believer in Nick Foles and more a believer in a team that, I think, will have the best defense in the league this year. Yes, you read that right. Jeff Fisher has been building a defensive machine, and this year I think it will finally be on full display. However, the Rams have next to nothing on offense to help back it up.

San Francisco 49ers (5-11) - Things just keep going wrong for the 49ers. They've now had almost all of their household names either retire, be released, or go to other teams. Yes, I think they will steal a couple games this year (I have them beating the Packers), but the 49ers won't be playing a home game in the Super Bowl this year. And yes, I am still slightly ashamed I picked them to roll through the NFC in my first set of predictions.

Wild Card Teams

Dallas Cowboys - The fifth seed in the NFC playoffs is a no-brainer. The Cowboys, in these predictions, are the only runner-up with double digit wins. Back to the playoffs go the Cowboys.

New York Giants - Now this was a surprise I didn't see coming. The Giants reach the playoffs in this scenario via tie-breaker over the Cardinals. I slotted the Giants with eight conference wins, while the Cardinals only had seven. The Giants, as a Wild Card, four years removed from winning the Super Bowl? Where have I seen that before...

Now for the AFC

AFC East

New England Patriots (11-5) - Let's get two things out of the way. I have the Patriots going 3-1 without Brady. I also have them losing to the Colts in Indianapolis on October 18. Still, the Patriots are the premier team in the AFC East, regardless of who is playing quarterback. The only thing that could derail New England is if the secondary isn't rebuilt after losing most of their impact players from a season ago.

Miami Dolphins (11-5) - So close, yet so far. I actually had the Dolphins finishing with the same record as the Patriots, but losing the tie-breaker. Miami could be in for a huge improvement this season, especially if Ryan Tannehill takes the next step. The window of opportunity is open for another team to snag the division, and don't be surprised if the Dolphins are able to capitalize on this.

Buffalo Bills (10-6) - I mentioned last time that the AFC East will be the best division in football this year. I stand by that statement. The Bills will need to get out of the gate hot in order to keep up with Miami and New England. The defense will certainly be up to the task. The question remains at the quarterback position. Does Buffalo have someone who can limit the mistakes and let the defense take over? I don't know, but it sounds like Matt Cassel will get first crack at it.

New York Jets (7-9) - When I was initially writing this, I had the Jets with a few more wins. Then the news came across my desk that Geno Smith was sucker punched in the locker room and would now miss 6-10 weeks. It's a classic Jets moment and one that shows there may be some serious fractures (pun intended) in this locker room. In this division, the Jets can't afford anything like this.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (12-4) - This is my first change at the top of a division from last time. I have the Ravens seizing the division is a close battle with the Steelers. The biggest difference, I think, is simply that the Ravens play an ever so slightly different schedule. Plus, give me Joe Flacco's supporting cast over anyone else's in the North.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) - It will be a crowded race for the playoffs in the AFC, and the Steelers will be right in the thick of it. Ben Roethlisberger will be able to carry this team, and will have to this year. The defense is getting older, and the Steelers are becoming more and more reliant on their offense. If Pittsburgh stays healthy they could be a dangerous team yet again.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) - Much like the Bills, the Bengals are unlucky as to be playing in the same division as two of the AFC's top teams. I think the Bengals are certainly a talented team, and that Andy Dalton is a bit better than some people think. Still, this is a team that can't quite get over the hump in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they won't be able to sneak into the playoffs in a tough AFC North this year.

Cleveland Browns (1-15) - I didn't look back at my old draft of the game-by-game schedules when I did this, so I was a bit concerned when I slotted the Browns to only one win. Then I looked back, and saw that I did the exact same thing last time. I really don't see it for the Browns. Sure the defense is pretty decent, but the offense is atrocious. Who is going to run or catch the ball? Heck, who is going to throw it? Too many questions with no answers.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (12-4) - Why yes, I finally have the Colts eclipsing the 11 win mark, and pegging them with 12 this year. If healthy, the offense should be absolutely unstoppable. If the team has a 1,000 yard rusher as Chuck Pagano says, could you imagine the numbers this unit would put up?? The secondary will still be a strength, but it's foolish to believe Vontae Davis will be as good this year as he was last year. He'll be close, but not better. The run defense is still a question, and it's a question I believe we won't find out the answer to until the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans (5-11) - Well, well, well look what we have here. The rumblings out of Tennessee about Marcus Mariota have been overwhelmingly positive and that definitely factored into this. Yes, this is training camp, but we've seen quarterbacks carry poor teams in recent years. The Titans have a lot of holes, but Mariota will help with that. Look for an improved Titans team this year.

Houston Texans (5-11) - Yes, I have them losing the tie-breaker to Tennessee. The news about Jadeveon Clowney starting the season on the PUP list is certainly disappointing (although probably not for the team's facing Houston) and hurts the Texans. The offense, though is an even bigger question. Who will be quarterback? Who will be receiver? Who will run when Arian Foster is hurt? Questions.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) - I was a little disappointed that I had Jacksonville taking a step back like this. A large part of that was due to the improvement that I slated in for the Titans. I really think that Jacksonville is an improving team, but I can't quite see where the wins are going to come from. I know that there are only so many years you can say a team is "improving" before they actually have to improve, but Jacksonville isn't to that point...yet.

AFC West

San Diego Charger (12-4) - I said it last time and I'll say it again, I really hesitate with this pick. The Chargers never, ever live up to expectations, and yet here I am giving them expectations. Philip Rivers should be playing with a chip on his shoulder after rumors of trade talk this off-season. Throw in the potential of Melvin Gordon and the Chargers could be going places in 2015.

Denver Broncos (9-7) - I love me some Peyton Manning, but what we saw at the end of last season wasn't a fluke. Manning is on the decline, and we'll really see it this year. The offense has a few less weapons, and the indications out of Denver is that the team will try to lean on the run game more than Manning. The built up defense wasn't as good as advertised last year, and I can't imagine it will be any better this season. This could be the end of the reign of the Broncos and of the Manning era.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-10) - I thought I would have given the Chiefs more wins than this, but here we are. I really think the Chiefs are better than a six win team, I just don't see where the wins will come from on the schedule. I've said for a while that Alex Smith is the answer at quarterback, and I still believe that to be the case. However, other than Jamaal Charles, there isn't too much firepower on offense.

Oakland Raiders (5-11) - With the addition of Trent Richardson, the Raiders should see some improvement in their offense this year. Kidding. But in all seriousness, the Raiders should see an improved product on the field, but that is mainly due to Derek Carr. With Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper this team has the core players to head in the right direction.

Wild Card Teams

Miami Dolphins - I gave the Dolphins the nod for the fifth seed because I perceive them to have a better strength of victory (since that's the tiebreaker I had to go down to).

Pittsburgh Steelers - In the opposite end of the spectrum, the Steelers get the sixth spot by losing the tiebreaker.

Like last time, I'll start by going through the NFC playoffs, followed by the AFC.

NFC Wild Card

(6) New York Giants at (3) Seattle Seahawks - While I would be worried playing against the Giants in the playoffs, with their uncanny ability to catch fire, I can't see Seattle losing this game. The Seahawks are almost unbeatable at home, and throw in the playoff magnitude, and I doubt they losing. Give me Seattle winning this one.

(5) Dallas Cowboys at (4) New Orleans Saints - This would be a fantastic game. Romo versus Brees has all the makes of a top-notch playoff shootout. I feel like Dallas would have the ability to win this game. However, much like I mentioned with Seattle, the Saints at home in the playoffs is a tough obstacle to tackle. I'll take the Saints to win.

NFC Division Playoffs

(4) New Orleans Saints at (1) Green Bay Packers - Another game that could have the makings of a shootout. The Saints always struggle to win outdoor games in the cold, but the Packers aren't always lights out in the cold either. This might come down to whichever team can run the ball better, and in that case I'll take Eddie Lacy any time. Packers win.

(3) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Philadelphia Eagles - This also has the makings of a great game. Offense against defense is at it's finest here. It seems like every time the Seahawks play a top-notch offense, the defense is incredible. I expect that to happen here as well. I think the Eagles could have a dynamic team, but I'll take the playoff experience here. Seahawks win.

NFC Championship Game

(3) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Green Bay Packers - You know this is what we all want to see in the NFC Title Game. A rematch of the epic game was saw last year, this time in Green Bay. In their Week 2 meeting, I had Green Bay winning the game against the Seahawks mostly because of the revenge factor. In this game though? I'm not so sure. All of my friends in Wisconsin will hate this, but I think if Seattle is healthy, they are still top dog in the NFC. Seahawks advance to their third straight Super Bowl.

AFC Wild Card

(5) Miami Dolphins at (4) New England Patriots - Of course it happens that these two would play each other. In this scenario, the Dolphins came oh-so-close to dethroning the Pats. Come the playoffs in Foxboro, though, the Dolphins won't win. And yes, it's really that simple. Patriots win.

(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (3) Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens are stuck with the third seed since in my game-by-game picks they have four losses to AFC teams (the Colts and Chargers each have three). This makes for another playoff epic between these two teams. This actually happened last time I did these picks as well. Last time I took the Steelers, and I'll take them again here.

AFC Divisional Playoffs

(4) New England Patriots at (2) Indianapolis Colts - Oh boy. The Colts get the second seed due to a worse record in common opponents with the Chargers (I had the Colts losing to Pittsburgh...that was the only difference). As a result, the Colts will be hosting the Patriots in the playoffs. Let's be honest, this is what the national media wants anyway. I pegged the Colts to beat the Patriots in the regular season, and you know what, my homerism is getting the best of me here too. I'll take the Colts.

(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) San Diego Chargers - What a great slate of games for the AFC. I think the Chargers have the better team in this game. However, the better team doesn't always win in the playoffs. The Steelers have vastly more playoff experience, and I think that helps them here. I'm taking the Steelers.

AFC Championship Game

(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Indianapolis Colts - For only the third time ever, the Colts will be hosting the AFC Title Game. Historically (and statistically) the Steelers have been the biggest problem for the Colts in the playoffs. The Colts franchise has never beaten the Steelers in the post-season. I picked the Colts to lose to Pittsburgh in the regular season, and we all remember the thumping the Colts took in Pittsburgh last year. However, Andrew Luck is incredibly good when facing teams for the second time in a season (other than the Patriots). Homerism triumphs again. Colts to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl

Seattle Seahawks vs Indianapolis Colts - And here we go. The storylines for this one could be very much the same as when the Broncos and Seahawks played two years ago. Offense versus defense. However, the Colts are one of the only teams in recent memory to really tear the Seahawks defense up. It's tough for me to take the Colts, though, after trying to explain why the Packers wouldn't beat Seattle. Still, I think the Colts have too many weapons on offense. The question is, can they stop Lynch? I hope so. Oh and hopefully the Colts come out in the white jerseys for this one.

I'll take the Colts to win!

Yet again my crystal ball takes the Colts to win the Super Bowl. This time, taking a bit of a different route than the past two times. Still, a win is a win. I mentioned that I'll only get about 1/3 of these correct, if I'm lucky, but if the Colts prediction is all that goes right, I'll be a happy camper.

Feel free to tell me how much you loved these predictions (or how wrong and crazy I am) in the comments.