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NFL Season Predictions 3.0

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Ben Lamers looks into his crystal ball one last time to preview the NFL season. As we've learned in these predictions, and the NFL Draft, his crystal ball is fairly useless. Oh well.

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Alright gang, here we go again.

This is the final edition of my Season Predictions. Again, I went through each team's schedule handing out wins and losses as I went along. Obviously, this is all dependent on all keys players for teams staying healthy. That never happens, but you can't predict injuries.

As always, I ran into a few surprises, which I'll note below.

NFC East:

1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) - The fact that I had the Cowboys winning the division wasn't a surprise. But the fact that I had them dominating the division was. I do believe, though, that if Tony Romo, Ezekiel Elliot, and Dez Bryant stay healthy, that the Cowboys are a Super Bowl contender. The offensive line is still one of the best in the league, and the defense should be good enough to not let opponents go up and down the field. I will note that I have the Cowboys winning all of their home games. Losses coming at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and New York Giants.

2. New York Giants (6-10) - This is a stark drop from my last predictions. For some reason, back in May I apparently had a lot of faith in the Giants. Somewhere in the last few months that has gone away. This is one where if Eli Manning can put together a complete season of quality play, the Giants would be a playoff team. I still have a lot of questions about the defense too. Yes, the Giants spent a lot of money in free agency, but that doesn't always work. I do have them knocking off the Cowboys late in the season, but that's their only notable win.

3. Washington Redskins (6-10) - I had the Redskins also dropping steeply from last May, as I've begun to think more and more that Kirk Cousins won't lead this team to great heights. They finish third in the NFC East since I had them dropping a tiebreaker to the Giants. Still, this is a team that benefited from a weak schedule and weak division last year. And no, Josh Norman won't make that big of a difference. This year they face all teams in the AFC North, NFC North, plus the Panthers and Cardinals. Yikes.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11) - The Chip Kelly era won't be fixed in one year. The Eagles should be a better team this year, but the pieces just aren't in place. I'm not a big believer of Carson Wentz as a savior either. Throw in the fact that he isn't healthy at the moment, and you have some problems. I think the Eagles get back on their feet eventually, but it won't be this year.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) - This is the same as last time. If the Packers stay healthy they will win the division. Heck, a few years ago without Aaron Rodgers for some games they still won the division. As long as Rodgers is under center, the Packers will score. If Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb stay healthy, then the Packers have their top receivers in the mix. Expect Rodgers to vie for the league MVP again this year. I have Green Bay losing at Minnesota (when the Vikings open the new stadium), at Washington in a surprise loss, and a season ending loss in Detroit. For that last loss, I'm assuming the Packers have everything wrapped up and sit their key players.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5) - While the Packers will win the division, the Vikings will be right on their heels. Teddy Bridgewater will continue to improve, and the Vikings finally addressed the receiver position in the draft. With Adrian Peterson, expect the Vikings to still run the ball quite a bit, and not extend the field too much. The defense will continue to be the strength of this team, though, as the Vikings will win a lot of close games. I've got the Vikings losing to the Panthers, Texans, Redskins, Colts, and Packers.

3. Chicago Bears (4-12) - And there begins the drop-off in the North. I really think that John Fox has the team moving in the right direction, but the pieces aren't there at all. For the longest time I was a Jay Cutler supporter, but I can't get on that shrinking bandwagon anymore. Alshon Jeffrey is probably the best player on the team, but one receiver can't help that Bears offense. I do think letting Matt Forte walk was a huge mistake as well. The defense could be a bit better this year, but it won't save the Bears.

4. Detroit Lions (4-12) - Back in their familiar spot in the division. The Lions come in last due to being swept by the Bears. Again, I don't see it with this team. I like Matt Stafford, but he needs to get to a team with some talent around him. Without Calvin Johnson, the offense will be lost for the first couple of weeks. And it always seems to be a concern for the Lions, but I'm not sure about the defense.

NFC South:

1. Carolina Panthers (12-4) - Last time I did this, I had the Panthers going 7-9. What was I thinking? Cam Newton will vie for the MVP again, and this year he'll even have a healthy Kelvin Benjamin. What isn't to like? I actually have Carolina getting out to another 8-0 start before dropping a game to the Chiefs, and even that is a stretch pick. But really, go look at the Panthers schedule. If they beat Denver in Week 1 (I think they do...and do so easily) who would they lose to? Maybe Arizona, but not after a bye. The Panthers have a very favorable schedule to easily run away with the division. I do have them dropping the season finale at Tampa, because (much like the Packers) I think they have everything wrapped up here.

2. New Orleans Saints (8-8) - This feels about right, doesn't it? With Drew Brees the Saints offense will still be great. The defense? Well it can't be any worse can it? I also have the Saints gunning out to a 4-0 start before coming back to Earth in the later parts of the season. The Saints are a team that will win the games they should, and lose the games they should.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) - Improvement from the Bucs. I've said this countless times, but firing Lovie Smith was a huge mistake. Still, Jameis Winston is good enough to win Tampa Bay some games, and he'll have to, because the team really isn't very good. This reminds me a lot of the Tampa Bay team with a young Josh Freeman (before he became terrible): A team with limited talent, but one that you really don't want to play because they could beat you. I didn't really peg any upsets for the Bucs, but I think they will get one.

4. Atlanta Falcons (5-11) - Well, this is too bad. The Falcons face a ridiculous start to the season. After opening against the Bucs, their next five are against at Oakland, at New Orleans, home against Carolina, at Denver, and at Seattle. Holy smokes. And then two weeks after Seattle they get the Packers. Atlanta isn't a great team, and they play a difficult schedule, especially early. Matt Ryan is a good QB, but isn't good enough to carry this team.

NFC West:

1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) - And here we have the Seahawks bouncing back. I think it will actually benefit the team to not have Marshawn Lynch, as weird as that sounds. The Seahawks still run the ball effectively, and after last season, I think they turn Russell Wilson lose a little more on offense. The defense is still one of the best in the league. It may not be THE best anymore, but it's still more than good enough to win games. I have them losing in Arizona, in Green Bay, and in New England. I do have them winning a late season show-down with Carolina, but then losing a key game to Green Bay the next week.

2. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) - This finish is more a product of Seattle emerging as an elite team again as opposed to a drop-off from Arizona. The Cardinals will still be a top team this year, despite dropping some odd games in the schedule. I loved the Cardinals draft as well as the resigning of Tyrann Mathieu. The biggest question is if Carson Palmer rebounds after his meltdown in Carolina, or if he goes full Jake Delhomme this season.

3. Los Angeles Rams (5-11) - If the Rams do finish below .500 I think Jeff Fisher will be fired. I'm not sure about Jared Goff, or the rest of the offense for that matter (minus Todd Gurley). But really, the offense will revolve around Gurley, and teams will key in on this. The defense should still be top flight, but the offense will lag behind.

4. San Francisco 49ers (1-15) - Oh dear. Ever since getting rid of Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers ave been in free fall. Hiring Chip Kelly, for some reason, will only accelerate that. Throw in the fact that they have a QB battle between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, and you have issues. Neither is a starting caliber QB. We saw how quickly the Eagles fell off with Kelly, and the 49ers are worse, talent-wise, than the Eagles were. This will be a rough season for the 49ers. Oh, and I have their one win against Tampa.

Wild Card Teams: Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals - This was actually really self-explanatory. The Vikings are the 5 and the Cardinals are the 6, due to the Vikings beating Arizona head-to-head when I went through the season.

Time for the AFC.

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots (13-3) - Guys, it doesn't matter that Tom Brady will miss the first four games. The Patriots are still the best team in the division. I actually don't have New England losing a game until they head to Pittsburgh in Week 7. Other than the opener at Arizona, I couldn't even envision them losing one of those first four games, especially with three at home. As long as Rob Gronkowski stays healthy this team will win games. I have them losing in Pittsburgh, in New York to the Jets, and a season ending loss to the Dolphins, because everything is wrapped up.

2. Buffalo Bills (7-9) - If only the Bills had a legitimate QB. Tyrod Taylor isn't the answer, but then again neither is EJ Manuel. LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins are still dangerous playmakers, but in a quarterback driven league, they just don't have one. The defense should be good, which will win them some games, but this isn't a playoff team.

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10) - This is a stark improvement from my last set of predictions when I had the Dolphins only winning three games. What's helpful to this team is that they have games against the Browns, Titans, and 49ers, all of whom I think will be bottom-feeders this year. There are just too many problems in Miami for this team to succeed this year.

4. New York Jets (5-11) - Huge drop for the Jets this year. But Ryan Fitzpatrick won't be as good as he was last year. Remember the one season Derek Anderson went nuts for the Browns, they just missed the playoffs, and he never was that good again? Sound familiar to Fitzpatrick last year? The Jets defense is still a good unit, but as a whole the team won't be as good. I actually have the Jets dropping their first 8 games before going 5-3 down the stretch. And yes, that includes a loss to the Browns.

AFC North:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) - This was the only area on my predictions that I had to edit a bit. When I went through the schedule, I go in alphabetical order, and with Pittsburgh near the bottom, I had most of their games done. So when I got to Pittsburgh, they may or may not have been slated to go 16-0. Oops. That won't happen. I pegged Pittsburgh at 13-3 last time too, which means they probably won't be this good. Still, I love the Steelers offense, assuming not all of their playmakers get suspended.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) - The Bengals get the tie-breaker due to record within the division. I thought the Bengals would take a step back, and yet here they are in second. I will say, the Bengals, and the AFC North in general, do benefit from a mostly favorable schedule.

3. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) - I have the Ravens starting the season on an absolute tear. As in a 7-0 tear until running into the Steelers. Of course, that also means that the Ravens go 4-5 down the stretch, including back-to-back losses in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, which costs them second place in the division. If Joe Flacco is healthy, the Ravens will bounce back. They are a good team that was riddled with injuries last year.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) - And then there's the Browns. And again, even they benefit from a favorable schedule. Much like Tampa, I think the Browns are a team that could upset some better teams, assuming Robert Griffin III has some playmaking ability left. The Browns still aren't a good team, but at least they aren't the worst in the league anymore. And yes, I have one of their wins being at home against Pittsburgh.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) - I've got the Colts barely sneaking back to the top of the division. If Andrew Luck remains healthy, this team will, in no way, be worse than last year. There are definitely a few games, though, where I swung the Colts' way due to a bit of homerism. Then again, there are some losses I gave Indy that they could win. The Colts won't be great, but they'll be better, and that will be good enough to win the division this year. The offense will be mostly good, I think, the defense should be slightly improved.

2. Houston Texans (9-7) - Houston is a tough team to figure out. If Brock Osweiller turns out, they will likely win the division. If he doesn't, and I don't think he will, then Houston will be about the same as they were before. And really, that's the long as short of it. If Osweiller performs well, they will be a good team, if not, they'll be about the same.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) - I'm not drinking the Jaguars Kool-Aid just yet. They will be improved, but I believe that the team is still a year away. At least, I tell myself that. I do think that Jacksonville is the scariest team in the division, because they could be really, really good. I would expect the offense to take another step forward as Blake Bortles really took off last season. The defense is led by a bunch of young potential stars. If Dante Fowler, Myles Jack, and Jalen Ramsey all pan out, this could be an elite defense soon.

4. Tennessee Titans (1-15) - This is the only team that doesn't scare me. Marcus Mariots could end up being a quality QB, but he isn't there yet. I also think that the way this team is being set up doesn't benefit his abilities. It looks like the Titans are aiming for a power run offense behind DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Today's trade of Dorial Green-Beckham was an odd move as well. Also, I just can't be scared of a team coached by Mike Mularkey.

AFC West:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) - Before you laugh this one out of the park, hear me out. No, I didn't expect the Chiefs to end up this good in these predictions. But couldn't you see it? This is a team that rolled last year even without Jamaal Charles. With Charles back in the fold, one would think that the Chiefs should be better this season. They aren't the most fun to watch, but this team doesn't make many mistakes, and that wins you games.

2. Oakland Raiders (11-5) - I might not be drinking the Jaguars Kool-Aid, but I am buying in to the Raiders hype train. The Raiders are a team that always seem to disappoint, but it's hard to see that happening this year. The pieces seem to be in place for the Raiders to have their first winning season since...2002?I like Derek Carr at QB, and I love Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. This team is going places.

3. Denver Broncos (8-8) - This is also a trendy pick. But as we know, it's tough to win without a quality QB in this league. And who does Denver start in Week 1? Mark Sanchez? Trevor Siemian? Neither one of those names instils confidence. I actually have Denver starting out decently at 6-4, before falling apart with a tough second half schedule.

4. San Diego Chargers (7-9) - I was honestly surprised that the Chargers got up to seven wins in this. I always seem to overrate the Chargers more so than any other team. And I think even at 7-9 I'm doing so again. They have Philip Rivers and...who else? I think Rivers is a top notch QB, but he just doesn't have the supporting cast needed to have major success this year in San Diego.

Wild Card Teams: Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens - This time I did actually have to go to tie-breaker, but it was pretty simple. Since the Bengals already owned the tiebreaker over the Ravens, they are in. The question then turns to the Ravens or Raiders. As it would happen, these two play each other this year, and I gave the nod to the Ravens. So congratulations Baltimore, you sneak in as the 6 seed.

Wild Card playoffs:

(5) Minnesota Vikings at (4) Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys draw the four seed, as they lose the tiebreaker with the Panthers to snatch the third spot. And this is quite the game. Both teams play good defense (the Vikings a bit better) and both, possibly, with a top flight running game. So then the difference comes down to quarterback play. And I'm taking Romo over Bridgewater any day. So give me the Cowboys to win at home. Winner Cowboys.

(6) Arizona Cardinals at (3) Carolina Panthers - A rematch of the NFC Championship Game was not something I expected in the Wild Card round. But here we are. I don't think Palmer plays as poor as he did this past January. However, I also don't think that the Cardinals will go into Carolina and win this playoff game. For the third year in a row, the Cardinals are eliminated in Carolina. Winner: Panthers

(5) Cincinnati Bengals at (4) Indianapolis Colts - Didn't we just do this a couple of years ago? The Colts reach the playoffs with the worst record out of all qualifying teams, but draw a home game against the Bengals. As we all know, the Bengals haven't won a playoff game in forever. I don't see that changing on the road in Indianapolis. Winner: Colts

(6) Baltimore Ravens at (3) Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs did all that work in the AFC West only to draw the Ravens in the playoffs. The last time the Chiefs won the West, who did they play? Yup, the Ravens. What's with all these rematches? Anyway. I think the Chiefs have a good team, but I think, despite having them in a late season slide, the Ravens do what they do and pull out a win. Winner: Ravens

Divisional Round:

(4) Dallas Cowboys at (1) Green Bay Packers - And here we go again. For the second time in two years, the Cowboys will head to Lambeau for a Divisional game. I don't think it will be as close this time around. I think the Packers have a juggernaut offense this year, and get by the Cowboys in the playoffs. Winner: Packers

(3) Carolina Panthers at (2) Seattle Seahawks - Another Divisional Round rematch. Although this one at least has a location change. The Seahawks and Panthers play each other late in the season and I picked Seattle to win that game. I wish I had a statistic on it, but it seems like if teams meet late in the season, the playoff rematch almost always goes the other way. So I'll take the defending NFC Champs here. Winner: Panthers

(6) Baltimore Ravens at (1) Pittsburgh Steelers - This really is the dream playoff game for neutral fans everywhere. Every time the Ravens and Steelers play in the playoffs we always get an entertaining game. I don't see this as being any different. This time, I expect the Ravens to keep on their roll and take down their division rivals after getting swept by them in the regular season. Winner: Ravens

(4) Indianapolis Colts at (2) New England Patriots - Yuck. One of the last things I want to see is the Colts going into New England in the playoffs. This time, though, things might be different. That's what I'm telling myself. My brain says to pick the Patriots here, but I just can't do that. So I'll go with the homer pick here. Winner: Colts

Championship Games:

(3) Carolina Panthers at (1) Green Bay Packers - This would be a fun one. The two best QBs in the NFC (in my opinion) face off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. What more could you want? Long story short, I think the Panthers defense gives them the edge in this game. Plus a slightly better running game could play a role in potential cold weather. Winner: Panthers

(6) Baltimore Ravens at (4) Indianapolis Colts - The Colts return to Indianapolis to host the AFC Title Game for the first time since the 2009 season. After pulling upsets in the last round, both teams have another game up next before the Super Bowl. The first thing I thought was that the mental aspect of finally beating New England would hurt the Colts, since they might use up everything to win that game. But then I remembered that Baltimore would do the same to beat Pittsburgh. So no advantage there. Give me the home team. Winner: Colts

Super Bowl:

Indianapolis Colts vs Carolina Panthers - This would likely be a very fun game for the neutral fan. But a very stressful one for us here at Stampede Blue. This match-up would see two of the league's young stars battling it out for a chance at their first Super Bowl. As much as it kills me, I think the Panthers win this one. After losing last year, the team is one year older, one year wiser, and that plays a huge role in this game. Winner: Panthers

Well that would lead to an entire off-season of heartbreak. I'm definitely factoring in my homerism here for the Colts, but who cares? I think if Andrew Luck stays healthy, the Colts are legitimate contenders. I guess we'll see. Which of these predictions do you think could come true (Hint: It probably won't be many)? Which ones am I completely wrong about? Who do you think wins the Super Bowl?

And of course, I'll revisit these once February rolls around.