The NFL schedule is out, and the draft is over. That means that it’s time to unveil my second round of way too early season projections. Much like I did last year, I went through each team’s schedule picking wins and losses for each game. Also much like last year, I came away with some surprises.
Of course, I didn’t do too great with these picks last time around. Maybe like my Mock Draft, I’ll improve for the 2016 version.
As always, let’s begin with the NFC.
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) – Let’s be clear. This is entirely predicated on Tony Romo staying healthy for the entire season. If he does, this Cowboys team could be a force to be reckoned with. The NFC East might reclaim its title of "Best Division" (at least in the NFC) this year. Adding a legitimate rushing threat in Ezekiel Elliott will help leaps and bounds. Look out for Dallas this year. An interesting note, I do have the Cowboys coming out of the gates 0-2 with opening games against the Giants and Redskins.
2. Washington Redskins (10-6) – I’m a big believer in the Redskins this year. I don’t think winning the division with Kirk Cousins was blind luck, and this team has improved. Adding Josh Doctson and Josh Norman will be huge boosts of talent to this team. Oddly, I pegged all of the Redskins losses coming on the road.
3. New York Giants (9-7) – When I was firing through the schedule it seemed like I had the Giants beating everyone. Apparently everyone was only nine teams. Eli Manning still has some years left, and the offense should still have enough firepower to stick with some of the better teams in the NFL. The defense is the big question here, and the Giants spent big on that unit and we’ll see how that works out. I had the Giants coming out of the gates hot, but dropping 5 of their last 6 to end the season.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – (7-9) – The Eagles will be better this year, but not great. There is talent on this roster, but I have a feeling it will take a little time to gel. Let it be known here: I don’t think Carson Wentz is the answer at quarterback. I just don’t. This is one case where I think the Eagles could finish worse than this prediction. But it can’t be worse than last year, can it? Oh and yes, I do have the Eagles losing the opener to Cleveland.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – I don’t care what happened last year, this is the Packers’ division to lose. Green Bay also has an extremely favorable schedule in that most of their toughest non-division opponents all have to come to Lambeau. In fact, the toughest road game (again outside the division) is probably when Green Bay goes to Washington. The Packers may have lost the North last year, but they won’t in 2016.
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) – The last time we saw the Vikings, Blair Walsh was missing a chip shot field goal, ending the team’s season. Sorry for that memory, Vikings fans. Still, this is a team on the rise. Mike Zimmer has the defense rapidly improving, and the offense continues to evolve with Teddy Bridgewater running the show. Oh and who isn’t excited for that new stadium? I’ll be up there when the Colts head up to play the Vikings this December.
3. Chicago Bears (4-12) – And we now go in to a steep drop from the top two teams. I’ve said to many people that I think the Bears are improving with John Fox, and yet here they are. Worse than before. Unlike the Packers, the Bears do have that much of a favorable schedule, plus they aren’t that good. This team will only go as far as Jay Cutler can take them, which might not be very far.
4. Detroit Lions (3-13) – Remember all of those rumors about Jim Caldwell getting fired this past off-season? Well, I think he will be this time. And I’ll the first to admit that this projection has tons to do with the retirement of Calvin Johnson. The affect he has on opposing defenses is something that the Lions may have taken for granted. I don’t think the post-Johnson adjustment period will go very well.
1. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – And now we get into surprises that I didn’t realize were happening when I did this project. I knew I had the Panthers dropping a few games. But 7-9? And still winning the division via tiebreaker? Yikes. Now, the Panthers won’t come close to running the table this year, and won’t be quite as good. The defense takes a hit without Norman, and the offense won’t be quite as good. If nothing else, the Broncos outlined how to stop the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Granted, not every team has a defense like that.
2. New Orleans Saints (7-9) – Like I said: surprises. I thought for sure I had the Saints winning the division. Nope. I think the team will be vastly improved this year, but the defense is still questionable. I actually had the Saints sitting at 7-5, but losing out to end the season.
3. Atlanta Falcons (6-10) – At this point, what really stands out about the Falcons? Matt Ryan is a good quarterback, but really lacks a supporting cast to be great, and he isn’t good enough to carry the team. The defense hasn’t made a believer out of me just yet either. If I could describe the Falcons in one word, it would be "blah."
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) – I had the Bucs improving this year, mainly because of Jameis Winston. I think firing Lovie Smith was a titanic mistake for Tampa Bay, so I guess I’m surprised I had them improve as much as I did. Tampa is a team that might be on the cusp, but I’m not sold on this team just yet.
1. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) – The top end (every team except San Francisco) of this division is very, very good. I think the window is closing on the Seahawks, but it hasn’t closed just yet. The departure of Marshawn Lynch will hurt, but he was out almost all of last year anyway. The most dangerous part of this team is that they know how to win.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – Is Jared Goff the answer? Well, I’m not sure. But I think he’ll be better than anything the Rams have had in the past few years. Plus Todd Gurley will only improve, so Goff doesn’t have to be great. He just has to not screw up. The defense has kept the team competitive the past few years, and with a half-way decent offense, this team could be tough this year.
3. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) – The biggest question on this team is Carson Palmer. How will he rebound after absolutely imploding in the playoffs? If Palmer returns to his regular season self, the Cardinals will be in contention for the division crown. If not, they won’t hit 10 wins. The defense should be a solid unit again. It all comes down to the offense.
4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14) – I thought about just putting a picture of an explosion as my explanation here. I think that would be appropriate. First of all, we saw the Eagles under the control of Chip Kelly. Now he has a worse roster to deal with. This won’t end well. And who will be quarterback? Colin Kaepernick? Blaine Gabbert? Someone else?
Wild Card Teams: Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins – I hate when I apply tiebreakers, because I’m never sure if I’m doing it right. But I think this is correct. The Cardinals are eliminated because they lose the tie-breaker within the West. The Vikings are then eliminated as they had a worse record within the NFC than the Rams and Redskins.
Now, we get to move onto the AFC.
1. New England Patriots (12-4) – Is this even a surprise? I have New England going 3-1 without Tom Brady, assuming he remains suspended. Picking the Patriots, though, is the same rinse, was, repeat every year. And until they show a chink in the armor, there is no reason not to.
2. Buffalo Bills (8-8) – Who is going to play quarterback for the Bills? I’m not entirely convinced that Tyrod Taylor is the answer, but I don’t think Cardale Jones is either. The defense will be your typical Rex Ryan defense, and they’ll give other teams some problems. I just don’t think this team is great. I think 8-8 seems just about right.
3. New York Jets (7-9) – Who is going to play quarterback for the Jets? This is maybe an even bigger question for the Jets than it is the Bills. Last year, Ryan Fitzpatrick played out of his mind, and even if he returns, the Jets won’t have that kind of production from him. Also, have you looked at the Jets schedule? Holy smokes. I have them going 0-6 out of the gate. If the QB is still a question, show me a game they can win in the first six.
4. Miami Dolphins (3-13) – This team is a mess. They were a mess last year, and I don’t think they did much to improve that. I don’t see it with this team at all. No love for the Dolphins from me.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) – While I didn’t see it with the Dolphins, I do see it with the Steelers. I like what’s going on with Pittsburgh, as the offense is really becoming quite the juggernaut. Antonio Brown is simply a machine who no one has figured out how to stop. Until a team stops him, the Steelers will continue to roll.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) – I think the way the playoffs ended for the Bengals might have some lasting effects on the team. The defense is capable of getting exposed, and Andy Dalton just doesn’t have enough weapons on offense outside of A.J. Green. This might be the year that the Bengals take a step back. It could be the end of the line for Marvin Lewis. It shouldn’t be. At all. But it could be.
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8) – The Ravens are a tough team for me to figure out. After being dominant for so many years, they were painfully awful last year. Yes, they got hit with the injury bug, but they weren’t doing great anyway. Was that a fluke, or a sign of things to come? Slotting them at 8-8 is just about right.
4. Cleveland Browns (5-11) – The Browns could be improved. Could be. In a few years, as long as they don’t screw up their multiple high picks, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. For now, this is still a roster searching for direction and talent. Hue Jackson coaching will help, and a capable QB will help too. And yes, for the sake of talking about the Browns, Robert Griffin III is considered a capable QB.
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – Sure, this may be some slight homerism when I was going through the team’s schedule. But a healthy Andrew Luck will help the Colts exponentially. The question, again, will be about the defense. Can they get some pressure on the opposing quarterback? Can they stop a team from throwing the football around at ease? I think we say this every year, but the Colts will score, but we’ll see if they can stop the other teams from scoring more. And for your curiosity, I have the Colts losing at Jacksonville, at Houston, at Tennessee, against Kansas City, at Green Bay, and at Minnesota.
2. Houston Texans (7-9) – This is entirely based on the fact that I don’t think Brock Osweiler will be very good. We saw last year that once teams got tape on him, he was far less effective. It should be the same this year, as I have Houston getting off to a fast start, but fading down the stretch. It’s possible I just don’t want to believe Houston will be quite that good. But I really don’t think Osweiler is a franchise guy.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) – The Jaguars are getting very, very scary. Very. The core of the offense is in place, and Blake Bortles continues to grow into a very good NFL quarterback. The defense is the question. But if Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey, and Myles Jack all stay healthy and are even close to their expectations, look out. This could be the year we see flashes of what the Jaguars could become.
4. Tennessee Titans (3-13) – Again, the Titans are a team I don’t see a lot of hope for. I think Marcus Mariota regresses this year, plus he doesn’t have loads of talent around him on offense. I’m fairly certain that last year I said the Titans had one of the worst overall rosters in the league, and they did. I don’t think they did much to change that.
1. Oakland Raiders (12-4) – Here. We. Go. I’m jumping onto the Raiders hype bandwagon for this season. I really like what I’m seeing from this team, and I think after years (or has it been decades now?) of saying the Raiders are on the cusp they have arrived. The Broncos will be weaker this year, and the Raiders will have an opening to pounce and get back to the playoffs in the first time in a long while.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) – Remember that run the Chiefs got on last year? That should continue, especially with Jamaal Charles back in the mix. The Chiefs continue to make the Eagles look silly for firing Andy Reid, and the 49ers even worse for picking Kaepernick over Alex Smith. The Chiefs aren’t flashy, but they really get the job done.
3. San Diego Chargers (8-8) – I just saw the update on my phone that Melvin Gordon underwent microfracture surgery, which isn’t a good thing. So this projection could be a little off because of that. Still, Philip Rivers is one of the best QBs in the league, and even with a halfway decent supporting cast, he can get the Chargers up to 8-8. Probably.
4. Denver Broncos (7-9) – From the top of the mountain to the bottom. This team has talent, but who is going to play quarterback? Paxton Lynch? Mark Sanchez? Those are really the Broncos’ only options right now, and neither is appealing. You can have a great defense, but you still need a quarterback who can make plays. I don’t think Lynch or Sanchez can make enough plays for the Broncos to conquer an increasingly improving AFC West.
Wild Cards Teams: Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals – This one was very straightforward. The next two best teams.
Now we get on to probably my favorite part, which is picking the playoffs. We’ll start with the Wild Card round.
(5) Los Angeles Rams at (4) Carolina Panthers – After going on and on about how the Rams will be improved, and the Panthers will fade, I have them meeting in the playoffs. The Rams are a good team, but in the playoffs, experience reigns supreme. And the Panthers have experience. Winner: Panthers
(6) Washington Redskins at (3) Dallas Cowboys – The strength of schedule tie-breaker comes in to play here. And it gives us an amazing match-up between two hated rivals in the first round of the playoffs. In the regular season, I had Dallas and Washington each winning at home. I won’t deviate from that here. Winner: Cowboys
(5) Kansas City Chiefs at (4) Indianapolis Colts – So we get to do this again. I foresee this as a shootout much like it was a few years ago. I did pick the Chiefs to beat the Colts in Indianapolis earlier in the regular season. I don’t think they’ll repeat that in the playoffs. Winner: Colts
(6) Cincinnati Bengals at (3) New England Patriots – The Patriots lose the tie-breaker here based on wins-losses within the AFC. This puts New England on Wild Card weekend for the first time since 2009 (I think?) They should have no problem dispatching the Bengals, though. Winner: Patriots
(4) Carolina Panthers at (1) Green Bay Packers – This is another intriguing match-up. Maybe that’s because, growing up in Wisconsin, I always have the memory of the 1996 Title Game engrained in my memory. Anyway, the Panthers won’t be able to keep up with the Packers in this one. Winner: Packers
(3) Dallas Cowboys at (2) Seattle Seahawks – The match-up we were all hoping for two years ago. I’m a big believer in the Cowboys, as I’ve stated already. However, I simply can’t see Seattle losing at home in the playoffs. Seattle is one of the toughest places to play in general. In the playoffs? Forget about it. Winner: Seahawks
(4) Indianapolis Colts at (1) Pittsburgh Steelers – Well. At least the Colts don’t have to go to New England? Pittsburgh isn’t much better. I’ve documented in many a Throwback Thursday article that the Colts struggle immensely against the Steelers. Traveling to Pittsburgh in the playoffs is extremely difficult. Not gonna happen for the boys in blue. Winner: Steelers
(3) New England Patriots at (2) Oakland Raiders – The Raiders are improved, but I don’t see any feasible way the Raiders win this game. As I said before, in the playoffs, experience matters, and the Patriots have it. Winner: Patriots
(2) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Green Bay Packers – This is the game that all Packer fans have been dreaming about since getting bounced in Seattle two years ago. If this game happens, in Green Bay no less, there is absolutely zero chance the Packers lose this game. Winner: Packers
(3) New England Patriots at (1) Pittsburgh Steelers – This one is a toss-up. The Patriots have reached the AFC Championship Game for what, six years in a row if this holds true? That’s absolutely incredible. This also continues the ridiculous stat that Brady, Roethlisberger, or Manning will be quarterbacking a Super Bowl every year since the 2003 season (except for that one year Flacco was in there). I really don’t know. Give me the home team. Winner: Steelers
(1) Pittsburgh Steelers vs (1) Green Bay Packers – This would be a fun one to watch. The last time these two met in the Super Bowl it was in Dallas, and this time it would be in Houston. Close enough. Since Aaron Rodgers became the starter, the lowest scoring game between the Packers and Steelers was in the Super Bowl; a 31-25 affair. So there will be points. And points. And points. However, I think the Packers won’t win simply because of their blowout of the Seahawks in the Championship Game. Winner: Steelers
So there you have it. The Steelers (ugh) will be in NFL Champions this season. Well, maybe. Actually, I’ll end up being wrong about half of this, but it’s still fun. What do you think of these picks? Where do you think I am totally wrong? Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?