The long and dreaded wait is finally over!
Football season is officially here, at least in some form. Preseason is nothing more than being friend-zoned. The flirting is there. The attraction is there. It isn’t the real thing though. Ultimately, most of us will take it. We would rather live with it than without it. The major difference…you eventually get out of preseason.
There is nothing about the preseason that will tell me what I need to know about the upcoming season. Unless there is a major injury or several key injuries for one team, this is the story and we are sticking to it as Richard and I will give you our full predictions for the 2016-17 playoffs.
1- New England Patriots 12-4
I know that Tom Brady is out the first four weeks of the season, but the schedule is very favorable. They have Arizona on the road week one (loss). Then they have three games at home against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. They could easily go 3-1 before Brady returns. They will be in the hunt for the top seed come season’s end.
2- Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5
The Steelers have the most explosive offense in the NFL, period. They did lose starting left tackle Kevin Beachum in free agency and tight end Heath Miller to retirement, but they did address those needs in free agency. They also used their first three draft choices on defense as they are currently rebuilding that unit, however, it is by no means weak. They gave up less than 20 points per game last year. You’re going to need a hell of a lot more than 20 to beat that offense.
3- Kansas City Chiefs 11-5
The only red flag with the Chiefs is the loss of cornerback Sean Smith. Marcus Peters has one year under his belt and is expected to be the number one corner in KC. The nasty pass rush of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali along with Eric Berry patrolling the secondary should keep them solid on D. On offense, they still have Jamal Charles and Mr. Consistency himself Alex Smith at QB. This will be the Chief’s year to take hold of the AFC West.
4- Indianapolis Colts 9-7
The AFC South is a matter of trust for me at the QB situation. The Colts did draft and sign several offensive lineman in the offseason and rightfully so. The line is terrible. Andrew Luck was banged up last year, but I see him having a bounce back year to help the Colts back to the top of the division. They have one more year to really improve this team before the rest of the division catches up.
5- Baltimore Ravens – 10-6
Ravens will bounce back big time this year, bank on it. They were plagued with injuries last year. I love the Eric Weddle signing for a secondary needing help. Up front, they still have (T-Sizzle) Terrell Suggs along with Timmy Jernigan who is coming into his own. The Steelers aren’t the only team in the division with a nice group of receivers. Steve Smith returns. I know he is old, you probably said that the last two years and he still produced like a true number one. Smith along with Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman and new additions Mike Wallace and tight end Ben Watson, have fun defending that group. Flacco will certainly have some weapons at his disposal.
6- Oakland Raiders 10-6
The Raiders will make a huge leap this year. They have an amazing young core of talent with QB Derek Carr, running back Latavius Murray and receiver Amari Cooper on offense. Defensively, they snagged corner Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson in free agency to sure up the secondary and they added linebacker Bruce Irvin to go after opposing quarterbacks. Of course, they still have defensive end and leader Khalil Mack, who is right up there in the mix for best defensive player.
1- Cincinnati Bengals 12-4
I know they lost some secondary and some (replaceable, IMO) receivers, but this team is just flat out solid everywhere with no bad contracts. Teams that have great O-lines, D-lines, secondaries and good enough quarterbacks tend to do well. I’m of the belief that Marvin Lewis’s 0-5 playoff record is more of a statistical anomaly than a statement on not getting it done when it matters. I think Cinci and Pitt are the two best teams in the AFC, but because of stupid geography that means one will be home for the postseason and the other will be away from home for it. Maybe this is Cinci’s year, and maybe I just want to pick something different.
2- Kansas City Chiefs 11-5
AFC has potential to be a baron wasteland at the top this year, and I like Kansas City to be just good enough to fill the void and get a bye – thanks in large part to Tom Brady missing four games and a relatively easy schedule playing both South divisions. Like Cinci, just solid everywhere with no holes, and that might be good enough for byes in this year’s AFC.
3- New England Patriots 10-6
They’d be my No. 1 seed with 16 games of Tom Brady, but losing the NFL’s best QB for a fourth of the season has to cost them a game or two. Always trust in Belichick, but trading Chandler Jones (although from a cap standpoint it was 100% the right move) has to cut in to their pass rush some. An NFC North/AFC West schedule isn’t a great draw either.
4- Indianapolis Colts 9-7
Bounce back year for Indy with 16 games of Andrew Luck, but the roster is still a fraud. Once again the winner of this division will come from the weakest one in football even though the other three teams shouldn’t be among the league’s worst this year.
5- Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
12-4 but going on the road in the playoffs. Great system, right? Pittsburgh is my second favorite team in the AFC this year, but suspensions give me pause. Also, I’m still not sold on this secondary being good enough for the Steelers to win at the highest levels. With that said, however, this offense is EXPLOSIVE – if it can stay healthy, another concern.
6- New York Jets 9-7
I don’t love anyone else in the AFC, but I gotta pick somebody. The Jets have the most solid roster and coach of the remaining teams, so that’s my last playoff pick. Regardless of what you think of their spending spree in free agency the last couple offseasons, this is a pretty stout roster. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t crash the car into a mountain (like he did in the fourth quarter of game No. 16 with the playoffs on the line last year), the Jets are my favorite to sneak in.
Just Missed the Cut
Denver Broncos 9-7 – Mike
With a shaky quarterback situation, I am not sold on the Broncos. I have no doubt that they defense will still be near the top of the league, but who drives them down the field in the last two minutes? The AFC West will be a tight race this year, but I think the defending champs will miss the dance party at the end of the year.
Oakland Raiders 9-7 – Richard
I see what everyone else sees in Oakland. Believe me, I do. Elite young pass rusher. Great offensive line. Promising QB-WR tandem, and a much-improved secondary. But when was the last time that a preseason darling that hasn’t been there before actually gotten there that season? When teams come out of nowhere to win many more games than the previous year, it’s usually teams that came out of nowhere – not teams that had sunshine pumped up their asses all offseason. I LOVE what Oakland is building long term. I’m just showing restraint this year.
Cincinnati Bengals 8-8 -Mike
Entirely too much is weighing on the Bengals. They lost Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson. They lost two really solid receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. They also lost safety Reggie Nelson who was a turnover machine for their secondary. Fortunately, they did have a solid draft addressing some of those needs so I think it’ll pay off long term, just not in 2016. Their schedule is going to be a nightmare especially not having Vontaze Burfict for the first three games. They have the Jets, Steelers, Cowboys and Patriots all on the road. They have Broncos and Dolphins at home. A potential 1-5 start in that division is going to be tough to rebound from.
Buffalo Bills 8-8 – Richard
I decided between Buffalo and Baltimore here, but because I feel like Baltimore’s roster is a bit lacking due to the cap hell they put themselves in, I’ll go with the Bills here. Buffalo has the biggest boom or bust potential in the AFC. If the defense lives up to its potential and Tyrod Taylor has another pretty good season, this team can absolutely win 11 games. If we see another Rex Ryan bravado tire fire of a season, however, the much-maligned coach could be in a TV booth before we know it.
1- Green Bay Packers 13-3
I do believe the Packers will take a massive step forward this year. Eddy Lacy was a non-factor last season and I do not expect that to happen again, especially with him in a contract year. Jordy Nelson is returning from injury. Did I mention they still have the best QB in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers? Who I do expect to win MVP this season. Clay Matthews is moving back to outside linebacker where he made a name for himself as one of the best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the young secondary has had their fair share of gel time.
2- Carolina Panthers 13-3
The Carolina Panthers were one win away from being crowned the champs. While Josh Norman did accept a deal with Washington, the front seven in Carolina is still top notch. They have the second best defensive player in the NFL behind JJ Watt. Maybe you have heard of him, Luke Kuechly. Thanks to Cam Newton, the offense was incredible last year and he will get his best receiver back in Kelvin Benjamin. Until someone makes significant improvements in the NFC South, this is their division to lose.
3- Seattle Seahawks 11-5
If you still aren’t buying that Russell Wilson is a top tier quarterback, go home you’re drunk. They lost Marshawn Lynch, but Thomas Rawls should fill that void. Not sure what to make of Jimmy Graham after a disappointing start to his career in Seattle. The defense still has Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. This year, no contract disputes with their top stars. The biggest worry is the offensive line, but that was a big question mark last year and they managed.
4- Dallas Cowboys 10-6
Tony Romo is back. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will still be the two biggest options in the receiving game. They still have the league’s best offensive line and now they have a running back who could very well be a top feature back with Ezekiel Elliot. Oh and the NFC East still fucking sucks. Kbye.
5- Arizona Cardinals 11-5
I really don’t like how the season ended for Carson Palmer. He was abysmal in both playoff games. I wonder if the regular season fireworks we saw from the offense was a flash in the pan. Even if it was, all the offense needs is about 24 points to win games. The defense is absolutely disgusting as is and they managed to add Chandler Jones. Of course, they still have the honeybadger, Tyrann Mathieu. If he plays all 16 games, he is winning defensive player of the year.
6- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
I love that the team is rallying around second year quarterback Jameis Winston. Say all you want about him, that team loves him. I think he will have a huge second year. I also like several moves the Bucs made this offseason including getting Robert Ayers, a much needed pass rusher. They also got rid of Lovie Smith and promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to take the reins. Love (no pun intended) the move considering Smith has one playoff appearance in the last eight years.
1- Arizona Cardinals 14-2
Now with Chandler Jones and a consistent pass rush, clearly the best team in the NFL in my opinion.The offense stretches you vertical like no one else, and the defense does some really fun and innovative stuff (having the Honey Badger, a lock-down corner and a player successfully transitioning from safety to linebacker lets you do that). If the offensive line can keep Carson Palmer upright and off a stretcher (not an easy task considering how long he holds onto the ball in this offense), Arizona is my favorite to win it all.
2- Green Bay Packers 11-5
Bounce back year from Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. Going 9-7 last year (and they really should have been 8-8) will go down as an outlier and not the beginning of a downward trajectory. Getting Jordy Nelson back and the likelihood that the offensive line can’t possibly be as hurt again will re-open up the passing game, and the defense remains good enough. Plus no more Fat Eddie Lacy. Another smart and frugal offseason for Ted Thompson.
3- Carolina Panthers 10-6
The Panthers regress back to the mean and “only” win 10 games. As impressive as Carolina was kicking teams asses left and right last season, the schedule (and their kryptonite: opposing pass rushes) gets a lot harder this year. Carolina never played a top-5 pass rush until the Super Bowl all year last year. This year they face Von Miller, Kahlil Mack, Chandler Jones and what Kansas City can throw at them. It gets real this year.
4- Dallas Cowboys 10-6
For maybe the only time in this entire column, Mike and I are in complete agreement here. If Tony Romo plays 16 games, the Cowboys will win this division going away.
5- Minnesota Vikings 10-6
Solid, well-coached roster. Seven or eight starting-quality O-linemen and a really good defense. Low ceiling, high floor team. If Teddy Bridgewater takes a leap, the Super Bowl isn’t out of the question, but the external factor of Green Bay upping its win total so much will decrease their ceiling more than anything they do. I expect a first or second round exit, which isn’t bad for how young this roster is.
6- Seattle Seahawks 9-7
My shocking pick of this column is Seattle losing seven games, and quite frankly, I wanted to leave them out but couldn’t find anyone I liked more. After setting the NFL on fire, only some of their stars have been able to receive market value from the franchise. Pat Riley’s “Disease of Me” is in full effect. Add in Russell Wilson’s uncharacteristic public offseason and a road slate that includes three trips to the Eastern Time Zone and two to the Central, and I just have a feeling that Seattle is in for an underachieving season.
Just Missed the Cut
Minnesota Vikings 9-7 – Mike
I think the NFC battle for the 6th seed will be as close as you can get. I think the Vikings will fall just short of making their second straight post season. As long as they have Adrian Peterson toting the rock, they should be a solid football team. They can run the ball and play defense. My biggest worry is Teddy Bridgewater. It is not secret his arm isn’t the strongest. Throwing 14 touchdowns per year isn’t going to cut it.
Seven teams between 7-9 and 9-7 – Richard
I’m gonna take the easy way out here and just go with the mess of mediocrity in the NFC. New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and the Giants are probably all looking at being 7-9 to 9-7 and none have a realistic shot of making any noise if they happen to squeak into the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers over New England Patriots – Mike
Cincinnati Bengals over New England Patriots – Richard
Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks – Mike
Arizona Cardinals over Green Bay Packers – Richard
Super Bowl 51
Green Bay Packers over Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike
Arizona Cardinals over Cincinnati Bengals – Richard