Obviously I am a tad late on my NFL preview, which I apologize for – I was busy with film work so this site hasn’t had much content in the past two weeks. Anyway, on to how I expect the NFL to come together this season… I don’t claim to be an expert, and perhaps like my MLB preview earlier this year, I may be wrong about a few of the outcomes. I’m not even going to try to go into detail about the team records, but will have standings at the end of each division. Without further adieu:
For the past decade or so, this division has been pretty sporadic. Philadelphia had a decent run from 2001-2004, but with Eli Manning and Tom Brady seesawing back and forth around one-hit wonder teams from Philly and DC, the division has been up in the air every year now for a while. This season, Philadelphia once again looks to dominate, albeit with a much different group of stars. Rumors float that this should be Sam Bradford’s breakout year, and hopes are that he will lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl in 11 years. With DeMarco Murray defecting to that northern team, Dallas looks to falter a bit in the division. Perhaps they won’t win the division, but they should be a safe enough bet for a run at one of the wild card spots. Romo is still in top form, and having finally nipped the November bug, could stay healthy for one of the longest periods in his career. He also still has Dez Bryant to throw to, which never hurts. Look for big numbers from them. As for Washington and the Giants, it’s safe to say that the off-season wasn’t terribly kind. While the Redskins barely moved anything within their roster, they did finally bite the bullet last week and are having Kirk Cousins officially start at QB on Sunday. Will this turn out to be the right move? Will they need to fall back on Colt McCoy? Certainly the RG3 era is over in Washington, and will he ever find his place in the NFL? So many questions abound for the Redskins that it’s almost easy to forget that the Giants could certainly fare even worse this year. Not even going into the circus surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul or the contract negotiations over Eli Manning, several issues remain. With the return of Victor Cruz (will he be the same as he was before his body snapped?), the offense may have a decent weapon again alongside breakout star Odell Beckham Jr. After that, however, not much shines – Reuben Randle is due to surprise, but has disappointed so far, and veterans like Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings have a lot to shoulder here. Beyond this, the defense is spotty at best.
My guess: Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington and then NY Giants.
Editor’s Note: Current standings put Dallas at 2-0, Washington and the Giants at 1-2 and Philadelphia at 0-2. I’m off to a great start already!
I only got through the NFC East before the first two weeks of the season rolled out, and I personally expected Chicago to be a tad better than this. Unfortunately, it looks like a long year ahead for Da Bears, as they were pummeled to an 0-2 start. Detroit doesn’t look too much better, as Matt Stafford is leading the team towards another mediocre season. On the other hand, Minnesota looks to be on the rise behind firmly situated quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. They’ve played decently so far to a 1-1 start. Oddly enough, Bridgewater fell to the awful 49ers while they stuffed the Lions. That may say more about the Lions than the Vikings, but we’ll find out after tomorrow’s games. The Vikings host the already flailing Chargers, while the Lions are probably going to watch Peyton surge back to the elite level he deserves to be on for one more season, leading his Broncos to a 3-0 start. Meanwhile, arguably the best team in the NFC is once again the Packers as golden boy Aaron Rodgers has taken down reigning NFC champs Seattle and…well, Chicago. Perhaps this division will surprise us a bit when teams start taking their byes, but for now it looks like Wisconsin natives will have a lot to cheer about.
My guess: Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago
Perhaps an early surprise to the season is that Carolina has rushed to an early lead by taking down Jacksonville and Houston. Those teams aren’t spectacular, but neither is Carolina after losing Jerricho Cotchery and Jonathan Stewart. However, the backups are helping the team gain steam, proving critics a bit wrong. They’ll likely ease into a 3-0 start against the currently 0-2 New Orleans Saints, who are about to face a team without Drew Brees for the first time in six years due to injury (he sat out the finale of the 2009 season as a precaution). If they can’t take on the Saints now, we may have to write them off immediately. Given their opponents for the rest of the season, I actually have good faith in Carolina this year. As for the rest of the wilting South, it’s kind of a gamble. Atlanta has started 2-0 as well, though they were squeaked out against the Eagles and Giants. Tampa Bay proved they could eke out a win, albeit to the Saints. They were destroyed by Tennessee in week one during the rookie debuts of both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Winston has a lot to live up to, so we’ll see if he gets anywhere in year one. As for now, this is actually Carolina’s to mess up.
My guess: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
Going into the season, I would have easily said Seattle would take the division and run for its third straight year. Instead, Arizona and St. Louis have jumped on games they could easily take advantage of. In the Rams’ case, they took down the Seahawks in an admirable display in overtime before inexplicably losing to the Redskins in week 2. They have a difficult schedule ahead, as Pittsburgh visits and they head to Green Bay and Arizona. Meanwhile, Arizona has played inferior teams, blowing out New Orleans and Chicago, so it begs the question if they’ll live up to their 2-0 start. By the time they face Pittsburgh themselves, Arizona could be looking at a 5-0 start. Detroit and San Francisco are their other rivals, bookending St. Louis’ visit. San Francisco simply looks bad, and they’ll likely struggle down the road, while Seattle will hopefully right the ship before it’s too late. With Kam Chancellor back and hopefully figuring out how to use as versatile a tool as Jimmy Graham, Seattle will likely surge to the top of the division, perhaps with Arizona beside them.
My guess: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco
This is very likely New England’s division to lose. However, this has suddenly become the best division in football. Prior to the season’s start, I would have pegged the Jets for a middling team, especially after Geno’s jaw knocked him out of the QB position. Ryan Fitzpatrick has led the Green to a 2-0 start instead, giving the team credibility along the way. The team’s former coach Rex Ryan has personally transformed the Bills into a contender, while the Dolphins are even holding their own. The Bills come to Miami this Sunday in order to determine which one of the two is a pretender and which one will actually compete in this division. After the Dolphins letting the lead slip away to Jacksonville, my money leads towards Buffalo. Their schedule eases up after Miami as well, so I expect a competitive division here. The Jets defense finds New York in the enviable position of leading alongside the Brady-led Patriots, who were not deflated by all the controversy in the offseason. I fully expect the wild cards to come out of this division as well.
My guess: New England, New York, Buffalo and Miami
I’m going to stick with the feeling I had from the beginning of the season, when I was ready to crown Pittsburgh the comeback champion of this division. I had a sneaky feeling that Steve Smith’s final season in Baltimore would not go as well as last, while Cincinnati’s defense would be enough to make the competitive but not more than Big Ben’s squad. Meanwhile, there’s always the conundrum of Cleveland. While they’ve finally got a decent tandem of quarterbacks (seldom works in hockey, never works in football) they still haven’t figured out how to string together consecutive wins in a long time. While I don’t think they’ll be at the bottom of the barrel (I predicted then and especially now a long fall for the Ravens), Cleveland will miss the playoffs yet again.
My guess: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore
Editor’s Note: Right after finishing up this article, Big Ben got hurt. Perhaps this is more Cincy’s division now.
Jacksonville is likely to finally improve someday. That may not be this year, but with the young core they’ve assembled there is a lot to love in northern Florida. Blake Bortles may even find himself skirting close to a wild-card spot. With Indianapolis slipping to 0-2 despite Andrew Luck and their soft schedule, it may be easier to slip up to the top of the division. Mariota won’t switch the quality on for the entire Titans team, and Houston is still struggling to find an identity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the worst division in the NFL again, even though the NFC South is trying to win that title again. Let’s see how far the Jags go!
My guess: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston
Kansas City is taking a step forward in their small rebuild thanks to Andy Reid’s system and Alex Smith’s resurgence as a top tier quarterback. Speaking of which, I mentioned that people were already writing off Peyton Manning before he was done, so the Broncos should compete fairly well with the Chiefs for the division title. San Diego looks better on paper than in person, much like their baseball counterparts, an Oakland is perennially terrible. They will be better, but I think it will be next year, when the schedule gets softer for the West.
My guess: Kansas City, Denver, Oakland, San Diego
New York at Jacksonville – I think the Jags get the lowest division title, where they get to face off against the dangerous defense of the New York Jets. After a tiring season, Bortles bobbles his chance and lets Fitzpatrick prove he’s finally found the team he was meant to lead.
Buffalo at Kansas City – Rex Ryan can only take this group of punks so far. Kansas City is a stronger team, and while this game will be high scoring, I think the Chiefs will come out on top.
Seattle at Atlanta – I’ve called the NFC South the worst division of the NFL, and I believe that while Atlanta is much improved, the won’t be able to handle Seattle in January. The Seahawks will have ironed out any early season problems and can take care of Matt Ryan.
Carolina at Arizona – I’ve mentioned that I think Carolina will be the surprise of the year, and this matchup would be the most surprising from what we expected prior to the season’s start. Arizona is strong, much stronger than we thought, and I full expect them to ride their way well into the postseason.
New York at New England – The Jets may not be a better overall team, but it takes one game to move on in the football postseason. New York will sneak their way to a third game when New England runs out of steam in January. Tom Brady has too much to prove, and while he won’t crack, his team will.
Kansas City at Pittsburgh – I think PIttsburgh is very much the real deal, and will take Kansas City’s defense and high scoring the distance. Another back and forth will wipe out the team and let Blount and Bell run all over the 4th quarter.
Seattle at Philadelphia – Philadelphia will iron out their issues much like Seattle, and win the division handily, and take out the defending NFC champs at home. Papal power will change the fortunes of this oft-failing franchise.
Arizona at Green Bay – This is my highlight of the postseason. I’ve been waiting for Carson Palmer to have a career year, and this will be his biggest test. I think they will stomp into Wisconsin and take down the best quarterback of the year.
New York at Pittsburgh – New York is surprising this year, but not too surprising to take down two straight juggernauts. If this lines up like I think, the Patriots will help the Steelers more than they will themselves. The Jets defense will be ragged after a tough schedule and postseason match-ups. Look for Pittsburgh to appear in their record ninth Super Bowl.
Arizona at Philadelphia – Many people I’ve talked to since Philadelphia have laughed at me picking them to win the division after an embarrassing 0-2 start. I think they’re up to the task and will step over the lifeless body of Brandon Weeden’s Cowboys and the awful Redskins and Giants. Perhaps they will indeed take down Seattle or another great contender, but if this is the path that actually occurs, I fully believe Carson Palmer to be capable enough to lead the Cardinals back to the Super Bowl.
Arizona vs. Pittsburgh in Super Bowl L
This is a huge rematch of teams that battled in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009. That game saw the denouement of Kurt Warner’s career, while this will likely be another feather in Ben Roethlisberger’s cap. I want to go with the tougher team, but I’m going to go for the one I simply like better: Arizona. Carson Palmer will lead the team to victory over the elite Steelers.
I’d like to think this is the most likely outcome, but as we all know anything can happen in the NFL. I’m going to claim Arizona all season, but we’ll see how this all plays out soon enough. What do you think will happen?