I had to make up for last season, what with being two weeks late and everything. So given that my fantasy league’s draft was this past Saturday, I figured I’d gift you with my thoughts on the upcoming NFL season. Follow through below to see what I expect from the gridiron in 2016:
What a difference a year can make – Philly’s hopes landed squarely on a blossoming Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray – but now the team may turn to rookie pick Carson Wentz to shoulder the city of Brotherly Love’s hopes for the future. I honestly think this is a fine play, since it can’t be much worse than last year’s disaster. Murray defected to Tennessee, so good riddance – but the offense doesn’t offer much hope outside of hopes and dreams. As for Washington, finally shirking themselves from the duty of turning RG3 into a viable quarterback has left them with Kirk Cousins to throw to the same inferior receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and no run game. They remind me of this year’s Tampa Bay Rays – an admirably fit team to play some football, but not to win any. The Giants might be most improved, as they’ve added Sterling Shephard to help fans forget how quickly Victor Cruz is fading from vitality. They also have virtually the same team, who’ll hopefully gel quickly under the first new coach in thirteen years, Ben McAdoo. Meanwhile, Dallas is all about #KeepTonyHealthy as they hope Romo’s December woes with injury and inadequacy limit themselves. He’ll now have the hottest freshman to slip the ball over to on the run, Ezekiel Elliott. Maybe the Cowboys are most improved? The division is still a bit of a mess, though.
My guess: Dallas, New York, Washington, Philadelphia
Former 49er Anquan Boldin leapt from one sinking ship to another as he joins former rival Golden Tate in Detroit. They may be the only players the Lions have going for them, as Matthew Stafford continues to struggle for relevance and Calvin Johnson bounced to retirement. Green Bay has long been too dominant, with eventual Hall of Fame quarterback (and the new Bachelorette winner’s brother) Aaron Rodgers dominating fields in the Badger State. Not only will Rodgers continue to shine, but he’ll have Jordy Nelson back, and Eddie Lacy may keep his waistband intact. The only team that might challenge will be Minnesota, who has transformed back into the team of purple dreams under QB Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Mike Zimmer. They still have Adrian Peterson who should be able to bounce back after a media-plagued last few years, and there are even a few receivers to throw to finally – Stefon Diggs and rookie Laquon Treadwell. Detroit may not even be the worst part of this division, though, as Da Bears look even worse than last year somehow. Martellus Bennett is now Gronk’s backup in New England, which leaves…Zach Miller? Even if the tight end position is bunk, there’s nothing beyond Alshon Jeffrey to inspire confidence in Chicago.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As there always is when you draft your fantasy league early, sometimes you don’t expect someone to go down in the preseason. Of course, as many people now know, the
first second casualty of the NFL season is Teddy Bridgewater, who tore up his knee and ACL during last Tuesday morning’s practice. I do think this alters Minnesota’s chances for the postseason, but I don’t really think it changes the below order in the division. Other than this, I might only change in Atlanta for the playoffs and I would still have them lose to Green Bay there.
My guess: Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago
2015 breakout star Devonta Freeman won’t be alone in the fantasy talk this year, as Matt Ryan will also have Mohamed Sanu and rookie TE Austin Hooper to choose from in passing. The team looks much improved, yet they’ll still have to battle a much improved division with Super Bowl losers Carolina looking to make it back there (Cam Newton and co will have a heavy chip on their shoulder) and New Orleans still hoping to matter in the discussion. Tampa Bay got Vincent Jackson over from San Diego, but they’ll likely run with Doug Martin as much as Cam does himself. New Orleans actually has much of the same team, but they hopefully won’t have as many of the injuries. A tight division actually makes me think the chase won’t heat up until later in the season.
My guess: Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
Power has slowly been ceded from one team to another over the course of a decade out West. What once saw the domination of Colin Kaepernick led to the surge of power in the Pacific Northwest with the Seahawks and now looks to travel to the desert and the revival of Carson Palmer’s career. Not only that, but on the horizon is only good news for Los Angeles, as their first season with a team (the Rams, of course) since the Raiders and those same Rams left in 1994. Nick Foles was ditched to the other side of the Rams’ old state (Kansas City) and the Rams are putting their faith in the rookie Jared Goff and Foles’ old backup Case Keenum. While that doesn’t bode well now, in all likelihood Goff will blossom by 2017. Meanwhile, as Palmer leads the Cardinals to another West title with the deepest offense this season (David Johnson, Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd) – Seattle will attempt to maintain their quality with mainstays Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett mixing it up with TE Jimmy Graham (rehabilitating from an intense injury) and Marshawn Lynch’s heir Thomas Rawls. Nothing wrong with that, and nothing much to say about the disaster that is San Francisco.
My guess: Arizona, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco
Clearly the New England Patriots won’t even slow down…well besides that pesky albeit brief suspension Tom Brady will serve to start the season. If you overlook the first four weeks, during which Jimmy Garoppolo could potentially keep the ship afloat, I’m sure the Pats will dominate. Meanwhile, the Dolphins and the Bills attempt to find their way to the bottom of the pack. Tyrod Taylor will struggle with his inoffensive offensive core while rookie Cardale Jones breathes down his back for the starter’s role, and Ryan Tannehill will continue to falter in the same way Stafford does. Neither team looks much better than last year on paper, and they’ll also have to contend with the much improved New York Jets. The quarterback situation still isn’t 100% resolved, in my opinion, mostly because it was a situation in the first place. Ryan Fitzpatrick is underrated and has been misused so far, but the Jets offensive core will gel better. They also have a crazy-good defense and Matt Forte escaped Chicago to come to New Jersey. If anyone gives the Pats a run for their money, it’ll weirdly be their biggest rivals.
My guess: New England, New York, Buffalo, Miami
The Browns are a mess, simply put. But isn’t that the annual case? RG3 is in Ohio to revive his career in the land LeBron saved, but all he has to help are leftover Bengal wideouts and Isaiah Crowell. The Ravens aren’t much better, with Joe Flacco doing his best to keep the Ravens alive while Steve Smith goes on a second consectutive retirement tour (hopefully this year he avoids injury). The Cincinnati Bengals could find their way back into the playoff discussion behind the Red Rocket, but they’ve replaced those former Bengals with former Patriots. So, that leaves us with the Pittsburgh Steelers – perennially stellar. Steel City has only deepened their receiver corps and even replaced retiring Heath Miller with last year’s San Diego backup, Ladarius Green. A great team somehow got even greater. Look for titans to clash this January.
My guess: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Cleveland
The funniest thing, to me at least, coming out of Denver’s win in Super Bowl L was that Brock Osweiler got sidelined for Peyton, so he felt squandered enough to look elsewhere in the offseason. That only helped Houston, who besides “losing” three of their quarterback committee (Brian Hoyer – backup Chicago; Ryan Mallett – backup Baltimore; TJ Yates – free agent) were struggling with everything other than their star defensive end JJ Watt. Well, Osweiler is a marked improvement, and this in a division that is leaning towards worst in the league. Other than Andrew Luck – who is no Peyton, but still a decent player, the Colts do have a semi-respectable receiver corps led by Donte Moncrief and TY Hilton. They also snagged Frank Gore from the San Fran Hindenburg, so they’ll likely win the title. After that, Houston may push their way to the top above the perennially ineffective Jaguars and slowly rebuilding Titans. Sure, DeMarco Murray is the big stud there now, but not enough to get Marcus Mariota into elite status.
My guess: Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville
Don’t look to see a repeat from Denver in Super Bowl LI. Behind veteran Mark Sanchez or rookie Paxton Lynch they likely won’t clone the performances of Osweiler or Peyton. Either way they kept intact some of the champion team, including Ronnie Hillman, Demariyus Thomas, CJ Anderson and Emmanuel Sanders. Perhaps that’s enough to keep them going, and Sanchez will restore his winning ways. Breathing down their necks will be the retooled Oakland Raiders, led by Derek Carr and Michael Crabtree, who moved across the Bay to help a better team. They may be the most balanced team across the board in the West, with Latavius Murray running and Seattle refugees Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin heading up the defense. San Diego didn’t do too much in the offseason to improve, other than grabbing Danny Woodhead to back up Melvin Gordon on the run plays, and Philip Rivers is only getting older. The time was two years ago to cash in on his peak period. Kansas City may be nearing the end of Alex Smith’s peak, as they decided to back him up with St. Louis reject Nick Foles. Perhaps he will resurface and the tandem will push the Chiefs ahead, much like their running duo of Jamaal Charles and Charcandrick West. Plus they nabbed Jeremy Maclin from the Eagles. So perhaps this division will be tighter than I thought.
My guess: Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, San Diego
NFC – The Minnesota Vikings slip into the playoffs with a tie-breaking better conference record over Atlanta, disappointing fans of Matt Ryan. They end up facing their division rival Green Bay Packers in a bitter rematch of their Christmas eve matchup from a few weeks prior. It doesn’t go well for Teddy Bridgewater as he folds in the first round for the second straight year. Down south the revitalized Dallas Cowboys host the Seattle Seahawks, where Tony Romo shocks everybody by actually playing well past December, and immediate star Ezekiel Elliott helps shatter expectations for the team. Seattle’s chance for a dynasty dwindles quickly.
After some week one surprises, Dallas heads to Carolina to face the best defense of the season, where Romo and co find their time in the postseason limited. Cam Newton shines again, and looks forward to a second straight NFC title game. They’ll be joined by Green Bay, who have some old tricks up their sleeves to take care of the Arizona Cardinals, who ousted them in overtime last season. This sets up a Green Bay-Carolina NFC Championship Game, where Aaron Rodgers once again proves he’s the heir apparent to Peyton Manning as greatest quarterback playing, shutting down Cam Newton’s taunts and the best defense in the league. The Packers move on to their sixth Super Bowl, and first appearance since they won over Pittsburgh in 2010.
AFC – The New York Jets get a surprisingly easy ride in their wild-card game in Indianapolis as the season’s wear and tear diminishes Andrew Luck and his new favorite receiver Donte Moncrief. The biggest surprise, however, comes when Andy Dalton finally achieves the impossible and gets the Cincinnati Bengals over that 26-year playoff hump by defeating the Oakland Raiders at home in the first round.
With all these surprises out of the way, Pittsburgh takes care of business handling the upstart Jets, trouncing them in the postseason’s largest margin of victory. Their division rival Bengals have a better team in week 2 of the playoffs, managing to eke out a victory against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. With the giant out of the way, the final test comes for the Bengals in the AFC Championship game, where they reach their first Super Bowl since 1988 (loss to San Francisco) by defeating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Super Bowl LI – Cincinnati at Green Bay (in Houston)
Andy Dalton’s magical postseason comes up to its biggest challenge yet after ousting two of the greatest quarterbacks the modern era has ever seen. Between Aaron Rodgers and his increasingly tight offense (headed by a much revitalized Eddie Lacy run game), the Bengals defense falters sharply in the first half. However, as with all great Super Bowls, the Red Rocket lifts his team from oblivion and squeaks by an insane Packers defense to throw AJ Green an incredible last-minute pass to seal a comeback victory for all time. This sets up the first Super Bowl in Cincinnati history, and gives Dalton the MVP.
So there you have it, folks. My pick for Super Bowl LI champion is the Cincinnati Bengals.