All NFL teams have cut their rosters down to 53 players, and with that the 2016 season is officially upon us. Carolina and Denver get us started Thursday night. Here is our annual preview, the 2016 edition, and it shows us how one injury can flip the whole NFL universe on its head. Let’s begin with the AFC.
1. New York Jets (10-6) – The Tom Brady suspension and the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick gives us something we rarely get to see- A season in which the Patriots don’t win the AFC East.
2 New England Patriots (10-6) – Tom Brady had his suspension put back into place this summer, and gave up the fight. Good, that man needed to be taught a lesson that he is not above the game.
3. Buffalo Bills (8-8) – Another Rex Ryan team, another 8-8 finish.
4. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – New head coach Adam Gase was brought in to help Ryan Tannehill get to the next level. That is going to take some time, and it won’t happen this season.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (14-2) – This is the best team in the National Football League going into 2016. Last season, this bunch was an Andy Dalton broken hand away from winning the Super Bowl. But can they be trusted this time come January?
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – The season long suspension of wide receiver Martavis Bryant is going to hurt, but this is still a loaded team.
3. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – There is no way the Ravens are as bad as their record tells us they were in 2015. Joe Flacco returns from injury, and that will be the difference.
4. Cleveland Browns (2-14) – Another season, another last place finish in Cleveland. Hopefully they have themselves going in the right direction. I also hope Paul DePodesta finally gets the NFL to embrace “moneyball” as well.
1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4) – I still believe in these Colts. All they need to do is keep Andrew Luck healthy. If they can do that, they can get right back on tract.
2. Houston Texans (10-6) – The Texans are a quarterback away from being a great team. But is Brock Osweiler the answer? Time will tell.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) – Slowly, but surely, the Jaguars are scratching, crawling, and climbing their way back into relevance.
4. Tennessee Titans (6-10) – I like these young Titans, but they have a long way to go.
1. Oakland Raiders (10-6) – Yes, you are reading this correctly. The Oakland Raiders are going to win the AFC West. They have a loaded young team, and Derek Carr is the NFL’s next big superstar quarterback, and I mean top five megastar. He has MVP’s in his future. Is one of those this season though?
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8) – The Chiefs have too many quarterbacks. There is no reason for Alex Smith to still be the starter. Still, this issue is going to cost them the division title.
3. San Diego Chargers (6-10) – There is ongoing friction in San Diego between Phillip Rivers and management. After you know what happened, and until you know what else happened, which I of course will talk about later, I thought Rivers was headed to Minnesota in the offseason,
4. Denver Broncos- (3-13) – 2015 was a dream for Denver. 2016 is going to be a nightmare.
1. Washington Redskins (11-5) – Now that the dust has settled, and Robert Griffin is gone, watch Kirk Cousins really settle in, and take another step forward in 2016.
2. New York Giants (9-7) – The Giants were a defense away from the Super Bowl in 2016. That’s a big blanket statement though. The Giants spent the offseason buying themselves a new defense via free agency and the draft. Can that defense come together fast though? I will say this, this is a DANGEROUS team lurking right here.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) – The Eagles are finally headed in the right direction. It’s going to take a while for them to get there though.
4. Dallas Cowboys- (3-13) – Skip Bayless and everyone else can shut up. No matter which way you spin it, these Cowboys stink, and Dak Prescott is not the answer long term. The Cowboys will go quarterback hunting in 2017.
Oh how different this divisional forecast looks from a week ago.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
– A week ago I was all set to predict the Minnesota Vikings to win this division at 11-5, winning the tiebreaker with the Packers, also at 11-5, due to out of conference record. Yes, it was that close. Now, the Teddy Bridgewater injury changes everything. The Packers pick up an extra win, and win this division at 12-4. This injury affects way more than just the division. You will see shortly. A lot of “experts” are saying 14-2 for these Packers. I respond to that with a no. There is no 14-2 team in the NFC this season.
2. Minnesota Vikings
(7-9) – Oh what a week it’s been for this franchise. First thing is the devastating injury to Teddy Bridgewater. Due to that injury I went back and recalculated the Vikings season. I dropped them down from 11-5 to 6-10 as a result. Then the Sam Bradford trade happened. Insane overpay, and I will go into that in a different post. For now though, to make a long story short, the Bradford trade gives them one extra pointless win.
3. Detroit Lions (6-10) – This will be the first season without Calvin Johnson for the Lions. As a result, Matthew Stafford will go one of two ways. Either he FINALLY becomes the great quarterback we all expected, or he goes backwards and the Lions may have to start thinking if he is the long term solution or do they need to join the list of teams quarterback hunting.
4. Chicago Bears (3-13) – The Bears are going to have a miserable year, and Jay Cutler will be unable to save his job at the end of the season. Chicago will be on the hunt for a new quarterback in the 2017 draft.
1. Carolina Panthers (12-4) – The Panthers are a still a great team, but 2015 for both the Panthers and Cameron Newton is one of those once in a lifetime experiences. Newton sill has a great season, but he won’t equal his historic 2015 production.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – The Falcons may have finally gotten Matt Ryan right this offseason. But it’s going to take a while to get back up there.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) – The Buccaneers made some puzzling decisions this offseason such as drafting a kicker in round two. However, the biggest decision was the firing of Lovie Smith, who had finally seemed to shape up Jameis Winston the man. Still, this is a good young team.
4. New Orleans Saints (5-11) – This is 2016’s old team. Drew Brees needs to call it a career and go home to Austin, Texas.
1. Arizona Cardinals (12-4) – The Cardinals are a great team, but they are an old team on their last legs. Can they all have the glorious season they all wanted and ride off into the sunset Super Bowl champions?
2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) – The Seahawks are not the feared team they were three years ago. Still, they are a good team, and a force to be reckoned with.
3. Los Angeles Rams (6-10) – The Rams first season back in Los Angeles won’t be a good one. Still, this is a young team with all the pieces to be a great team three years from now.
4. San Francisco 49ers (3-13) – Am I the only person who can see through Colin Kaepernick’s stunt to the real reason why he is doing this? This protest of his has nothing to do with race or social issues. He threw a two-year-old temper tantrum all offseason because he didn’t get his way, and now he is trying everything in his power to make the 49ers release him.
Coach of the Year: Jay Gruden/Washington Redskins- Gruden will continue to lead his young Redskins out of the wilderness and into relevance this season as Kirk Cousins takes the next step forward.
Executive of the year: Ted Thompson/Green Bay Packers- Another season, another Executive of the Year award for CIA Ted. Yawn. And still, some Packers fans want to hang this man by the nearest tree.
Defensive Rookie: Karl Joseph/S/Oakland Raiders- Joseph will get plugged in early and will become a force in a Raiders secondary by the end of the season that badly needs one.
Offensive Rookie: Will Fuller/WR/Houston Texans- That big young arm of Brock Osweiler mixed with the game breaking speed of Will Fuller= success.
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger/QB/Pittsburgh Steelers- Even without Martavis Bryant, Roethlisberger picks up his first MVP award.
Seeds: 1. Cincinnati Bengals 2. Indianapolis Colts 3. Oakland Raiders 4. New York Jets 5. Pittsburgh Steelers 6. Baltimore Ravens
Raiders 38, Ravens 21- This isn’t the fabled Ravens defense of past, and the Raiders young offense puts on a show, and moves on.
Steelers 34, Jets 17- The Steelers move on with relative ease.
Steelers 27, Bengals 20- Wow. The Bengals are the best team in the regular season, but until they prove us otherwise, they can’t be trusted in January.
Colts 30, Raiders 23- The Colts win a hard fought solid game on both sides of the ball with a team effort, and move on.
Steelers 31, Colts 24- The Steelers run the table in the AFC anchored by their MVP-winning quarterback, winning three road games to make the Super Bowl.
Seedings: 1. Green Bay Packers 2. Arizona Cardinals 3. Carolina Panthers 4. Washington Redskins 5. Seattle Seahawks 6. New York Giants
Originally I had a two-way tie at 12-4 between the Panthers and Cardinals. The Panthers won that tiebreaker and were the number one seed as a result. The Vikings were the three seed as well at 11-5 and I had the Vikings actually winning their Wild Card game this time against Seattle before losing to Arizona the next week. The Packers were the five and I had them losing the divisional playoff again, this time in Carolina. With that now-famous injury, the Packers bump up to 12-4, and make it a three-way tiebreaker at 12-4. Remember, I predict every single game before the season starts, which is how I come out with these specific records, and the Packers win this three-way tiebreaker based on conference record. This three-way tiebreaker drops Carolina down from one to three, bumps the Seahawks up to five, and brings the New York Giants in at six. Got all of that? Alright, here we go.
Wild Card Game
Giants 31, Panthers 23- Instead of being the one seed, and making it to another Super Bowl, this time winning it as I originally had them penned to do, these Panthers now find themselves the three seed due to the Teddy Bridgewater injury. This rowdy, smash mouth, fearless bunch from the Big Apple is the last team the Panthers wanted to see in this game. This is a bad matchup for Carolina without Josh Norman. Giants pull the upset.
Redskins 30, Seahawks 24- The Redskins win their first playoff game since the Clinton Administration and move on to round two.
Packers 30, Giants 17- Football is all about matchups, matchups, matchups, matchups, MATCHUPS. Did I mention matchups? What makes the Packers more prepared to deal with these Giants than the Panthers? They have a better secondary. They are one of the best in the business. The Giants feature their tight end in the passing game. The Packers have a safety named Micah Hyde who is a tight end/tailback coverage specialist.
Cardinals 34, Redskins 16- An easy smooth win for the Cardinals.
NFC Championship Game
Packers 31. Cardinals 27- These two teams in a head-to-head match up are almost impossible to separate. The home field makes the difference here. One of the better games in recent memory takes place a cold day in January at Lambeau Field as Eddie Lacy (The dump truck they thought there were drafting) plows his way through the Cardinals defense to the tune of 28 carries for 206 yards and two touchdowns. This is what the Packers drafted Lacy for, to be that runaway freight train in cold weather. Rodgers has a solid day, throwing for about 200 and a pair of touchdowns in the redzone.
Packers vs Steelers
The game: Super Bowl 51. The Prize? Not just the Super Bowl, but the two best quarterbacks of Generation Y, who both, are at this moment, 60 minutes from Canton, Ohio. Winner punches his ticket there.
Packers 38, Steelers 31- A rematch of Super Bowl 45 sees the two best of their generation go head to head in an epic battle. Rodgers, with a talented young receiving core that has finally matured and is showing us how good they can be, gets the best of Ben Roethlisberger as he finds Jared Cook back-left of the end zone with 35 seconds left on the clock to bring the Lombardi Trophy home. All of this has happened, because of one freak injury.