Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – If there is one division that is up for the taking it is the NFC South. It’s a bad division when a division winner is under .500, which is strange considering the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints are all good teams. Just a strange year but that’s football for ya. The Falcons have a good offense – minus a running back – but it remains to be seen if Tevin Coleman can carry the full load as a running back. Matt Ryan has been Mr. Consistent at doing well but not enough, much like his AFC counterpart Andy Dalton. Julio Jones is an absolute beast and it is time for him to step up his offensive prowess and become that top 3 receiver we expect him to be. Dan Quinn came to a fantastic situation. He has the offense, as long as Kyle Shanahan doesn’t screw it up, and he can run the defense and build it in the mold of the Seattle D. Vic Beasley will be a building block along with young players like Ra’Shede Hageman, Paul Worrilow, and Desmond Trufant. Although they don’t have stars on defense, watch out because some of these players will shine.
Carolina Panthers (9-7) – Another torn ACL takes away another year from a promising superstar. Poor Kelvin Benjamin. A rookie sensation with his season already cut short. Something needs to be done about these ACL tears but that is for another day. Cam Newton now needs to find another reliable target to go to and that man is … Greg Olsen. Olsen had a fantastic year last year and I expect him to be big for the Panthers (and fantasy). Cam’s other starting receiver is Ted “One Route” Ginn, SORRY. I am not the biggest fan of Devin Funchess but he might develop enough to play early in the season. The biggest X factor for this team is Jonathan Stewart. If he can do what he did in the post season last year, AND stay healthy, he could be in line for a big season. Luke Kuechly is back on defense and ready to rack up the stats. Through 3 seasons, he has accumulated a jaw dropping 473 tackles. What???... Oh yeah and 6 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, and 7 interceptions. Outside of JJ Watt, the Boston College prodigy might be the best defensive player in football. This Carolina defense will need big years from their high drafted players from the past few years like Kony Ealy and Star Lotulelei. I think this Panther team just misses out on the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints (10-6) – I am going to make a bold prediction and say that Drew Brees throws for over 5,000 yards and over 40 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions, thus putting himself in contention for the MVP and into the playoffs. Not that bold I know but too many people are trying to knock down Brees. He had a down year last year, due in large to a nagging oblique injury, but with a lot of fresh faces on that offense and a revamped defense this team will be on the upswing. The offensive line is better and Brandon Coleman could be in line for a breakout season. Brandon Browner is coming into an already good secondary with Kenny Vaccao, Jairus Byrd, and Keenan Lewis. The secondary will give Dannell Ellerbe and Cameron Jordan plenty of time to get to the quarterback in the backfield. Rob Ryan should be one happy man this year if he can dial up blitzes from all over the field. Watch the Saints win the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – Time to throw the rookie quarterback to the wolves again. We have seen this fail so many times now, yet it continues to happen although Jameis Winston might be a bit different. He comes into the league a more accomplished passer than most of the previous first round quarterbacks but only time will tell if starting him right away was the best move. He does have two fantastic receivers to throw to in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and a halfway decent offensive line so this could be a suitable recipe for early success. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are going to be leading the Lovie Smith defense again this year. They are going to have to find ways to create pressure if they hope to survive in this division though. Brees, Newton, and Ryan can all sling the ball with the best of them so it will be a tough division to win in without a stud pass rusher.
Chicago Bears (9-7) – Poor Chicago. For the past few years they have had quite a good team and plenty of offensive weapons in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte. Only Marshall is not there anymore but they did draft Kevin White out of West Virginia, we will see what he can do when he is healthy. But the one constant has been Jay Cutler. He has never lived up to expectations (despite still being in the league *cough Matt Leinart and Vince Young) but maybe he can still turn it around? Doubtful. Once a quitter, always a quitter. We will see what John Fox has up- his sleeves. There is quite a bit of talent still on this team that he might be able to make some magic happen.
Detroit Lions (7-9) – No more Ndumukong Suh, big problem. And then subtract Nick Fairley and this team just went from having a position of strength to one with a big hole and question marks. They did draft Gabe Wright out of Auburn and signed Haloti Ngata from the Ravens. Ngata will be key as he is coming back from an injury but he was a dominant player and leader for the Ravens, even when injured. Matthew Stafford will be looking to reestablish a connection with Calvin Johnson as Johnson has been bit by the injury bug. I look for both players to have huge bounce back years. Golden Tate enjoyed the double coverage shifting to Megatron as it left him open to gain huge chunks of yards all over the field. Then the Lions made a wise move in drafting Ameer Abdullah, a smaller but sturdy running back from Nebraska that can carry the load as a three down back. If the Lions can get Abdullah going early in the season it will force defenders to have to account for him and stack the box more, thus giving Calvin Johnson more one on one opportunities. The same goes for Tate and second year tight end Eric Ebron. The Detroit offense will have to carry the defense this year, but no way they can keep up with a Green Bay offense.
Green Bay Packers (13-3) – This is Aaron Rodgers’s year to prove what a bad man he is. He has racked up the stats over the past couple years but he has to prove it when it counts, in the post season. I’m on record as saying that Aaron Rodgers is the best passer I have ever seen. He slings it just as well as Dan Marino and he already has one Lombardi Trophy, poor Dan. Despite Jordy Nelson being lost for the season, the next man up is Devante Adams. He made large strides last year as the third receiver on the team and now it’s time for him to create a connection with Rodgers and make us forget about Jordy. The Green Bay defense is another year older but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Clay Matthews is still under thirty and it seems as though he is healthy this year and ready to get after the quarterback. Julius Peppers may have lost a step but he is still one of the better edge rushers we have seen this generation. I think the Packers make it to the Super Bowl and finally beat the Seahawks to get there.
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) – With one of the best running backs in my generation coming back to a young up and coming team, big things could be in line for Team Purple. Adrian Peterson is back and is hungry to get on the playing field. Teddy Bridgewater looked the part of an above average quarterback in his rookie season as he threw for under 3,000 yards and kept the turnovers to a minimum, for a rookie. Insert Adrian Peterson and this offense could be a dynamic one with plenty of play action passes for Teddy B. This is where Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson come into play. Wallace will be open on those deep routes and Johnson, with an established relationship with Bridgewater, will be ready for those deep in and out routes and back shoulder fades. The defense is led by Harrison Smith, an IDP savior, and Anthony Barr who came on strong at the end of his rookie season. The Vikings just squeak into the playoffs and could very well make an impact in January.
Dallas Cowboys (10-6) – The Cowboys are a tough team to predict this year. I believe they royally screwed up by not drafting a running back in such a deep class for that position. That offensive line is phenomenal so it seems like Jason Garrett is content with running Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, no idea why, but it may work. I am trying to figure out what kind of injury Tony Romo will sustain this year. My guess is some kind of foot injury that will get him hobbling around and then he will have to stay in the pocket. Oh well, Dez can catch pretty much any kind of duck that Romo chucks his way. I love Sean Lee. I hate that he had such a catastrophic injury last year as he is likely to be hesitant for the first few games but the shift of him from middle linebacker to the weakside may prove to be the shift he needs. He will be free to make plenty of plays and be the difference maker he was the year before. Randy Gregory will have to be the pass rusher Dallas drafted him to be. He appears to have bulked up enough to survive life in the trenches and hopefully he can stop smoking pot for just a few months. Dallas makes it in as one of the wild card teams.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – Time to see what you’re made of Chip Kelly. You somehow got total control of the team and you now hold the fate of Philly in your hands. Kelly has an impressive record of 20 and 12 in his first two seasons and he can pretty much throw anybody he wants in on offense and make them successful. It’s still hard to believe he gave away one of the best running backs in the league for a very good player who shredded his knee last year but Philadelphia always does things in an unconventional way. It remains to be seen why he grabbed two running backs who can’t stay healthy in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews. Kelly will either fly high or will be run out of town by the pitchforks and torches of Eagles fans. Sam Bradford could have a fantastic year in an offense tailor-made to him, but he needs to stay healthy for the first time in his unsuccessful career. This whole team could be completely blown up next year if anything but a Super Bowl is brought back to Philadelphia.
New York Giants (8-8) – This is the Giants year, right? Every four years they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl but not this year. I don’t think they even make the playoffs this time around. While Odell Beckham Jr. looked like a freak of nature last year, I don’t expect him to be the savior (not this year at least). I base that primarily off of a few things: Eli Manning and injuries. Eli has looked god awful this preseason, especially after supposedly making huge strides in picking up the new playbook. He couldn’t connect with Beckham at all as they were on a different page with every drop back this preseason. Also, ODB had that nagging hamstring injury last year and with defensive backs targeting the player who made the most spectacular catch I have ever seen, injuries could lie ahead for him. Jason Pierre Paul was probably extremely shitfaced when he held onto a firework too long thus ending in a blown off finger and a fractured thumb. Attaboy. He won’t be ready for the start of the season and nobody knows when he will be or what kind of condition he is in. I think Tom Coughlin will be done after this year after his face turns too red to the point of no return, or he gets fed up with the stupidity of too many players.
Washington Redskins (4-12) – I would love for Dan Snyder to read this one day. You are a horrible owner and “front man”. The perfect example why you hire people who know what they are doing to run your organization for you. You brought in Scot McCloughan as general manager to breathe some life into the drafting process for this sad franchise. Only time will tell if that pans out but Snyder has held onto Robert Griffin III for too long. You can’t coddle football players and expect them to be the superstar that you want them to be. Jay Gruden has his hands full as it is with a bare cupboard of offensive talent and a playbook that he would love to expand. Now that Kirk Cousins has been named the starter, he might actually be able to develop but if my predicted record follows through, expect this Redskins team to be wiped clean and coaching staff fired. If the Redskins can get something for RG3, they should do it but I can’t see any head coach wanting a player that feels entitled. Maybe Ryan Kerrigan will get 15 sacks this year, he will definitely be spending lots of time on the field if this offense cannot get things going.
Arizona Cardinals (9-7) – I can’t get a hold of the Cardinals. There aren’t any supremely talented players on this team, that aren’t aging, and yet they find ways to win games. Bruce Arians has to be one of my favorite coaches for that fact. He just wins games. Looking back to his days with the Colts, when he took over for Chuck Pagano for a year, and in his first few seasons with the Cardinals he has made the playoffs every year. Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy. We saw in the postseason that this team can win anywhere at any time by playing fantastic defense and a ball control offense but when Palmer went down, so did the team’s hopes and chances of winning anything. Calais Campbell is a mammoth in the trenches and there are some skilled players in the secondary with Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. But this Cardinals team is lacking an explosive offensive threat, NO Chris Johnson is NOT the answer, especially with Michael Floyd not developing into the receiver they hoped he would. They do have a shot at making the playoffs if Larry Fitzgerald can shake off father time and hope to get some more single coverages. The Cardinals just miss making the playoffs this year.
San Francisco 49ers (3-13) – The 49ers may have the biggest dropoff in wins this year. When Jim Harbaugh left, so did half the team. I am not sure what he told Chris Borland, Justin Smith, and Anthony Davis but they must have realized that something wasn’t right with their heads. Quite ironic of the timing for all that but the show goes on. Frank Gore is gone and now it’s Carlos Hyde’s chance to show what he can do. If Mike Iupati can come back healthy, Hyde will be one happy running back or else Colin Kaepernick might get destroyed. This once great defense has been decimated by injuries, retirees, and stupidity. Aldon Smith is one dumb player. The 49ers are hoping that Navarro Bowman can return to his pre injury form. In an already competitive division San Francisco may be looking at a very early draft pick next year, potentially number one overall.
Seattle Seahawks (12-4) – The one thing holding Seattle from two consecutive Lombardi Trophies is one bone-headed play call. I’m sure Darrell Bevell will never be able to live that one down. Now if the Seahawks only had a tall receiver to throw to, that play call may have been much better. Well now they do after they acquired Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints. Graham may not have the type of statistic impact that we are used to, but his on the field presence will be felt and known. I have to add my two cents about something before I talk defense. Kam Chancellor. Why? Two years away from your contract expiring and you are already bitching. This is either yours or your agents fault but I really hope you hold out the whole year and owe Seattle millions of dollars as you are clearly one dumb player. Whatever happened to team first? They already gave you plenty of money a few years ago and you are claiming they have no loyalty, you are an expendable player. I could go on for days about that stuff. Thankfully Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman weren’t seeing things that way and they are ready to take on any and every offense. These two players are putting up some incredible statistics at some key positions. Seattle wins the west with ease and makes a run against the Packers in the NFC Championship game.
St Louis Rams (9-7) – With the 49ers beginning to falter and the Cardinals beginning to show signs of aging, it’s time for the young guns of St Louis to take control of their destiny. After being one quarterback away for the past few years, they finally obtained a halfway adequate one in Nick Foles. While maybe not quite the upgrade from Sam Bradford, maybe Foles can stay healthy long enough to show what he can do. An upgrade at receiver will be necessary next year as Brian Quick is the only halfway decent one on the team but when you have Todd Gurley running the rock, you may have your cornerstone on offense for years to come. The running back out of Georgia is an athletic freak of nature. He has the rare combination of blazing speed and ox like strength. As long as he is brought along correctly from his torn ACL, he will be a fantastic player for years to come. And that defense. Oy. I am not quite sure where one can throw or run the ball. There are studs all over the field: Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Chris Long, Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, Janoris Jenkins, and more. This teams just needs the offense to put up some points and to dominate teams outside of Seattle and they will definitely be in the playoffs this year. But wait! I forgot they have Jeff Fisher as head coach. That automatically means they will lose games they shouldn’t and that would put them on the outside looking in for another year. Sorry Rams fans. Maybe better luck next year in Los Angeles.