There’s Easter, there’s Halloween, there’s Christmas, there’s Thanksgiving, and there’s, oh right, there’s the start of the NFL season. Well, that day is today! After what seems like an extremely long offseason, the 2016 NFL season kicks off tonight with a rematch of Super Bowl 50 as the defending champion Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers. With the season kicking off tonight, I figure this is a great time to post my predictions for this NFL season! I’ll be giving my projected standings for each division, followed by who I think will win the various awards, and then finally, I will predict how the playoffs will shake down this year. To foreshadow a little, I believe that a team right on the cusp of a title last year will be able to get the job done this year. Without further ado, here is my 2016 NFL Season Predictions!
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Are you willing to bet against Tom Brady? Because I’m not. The Pats will survive the first four games (I predict they’ll win 2 of the 4), and then Brady will return with a massive chip on his shoulder. The rest of the AFC is in trouble.
You could make an argument for any of the other three teams to finish 2nd, but I’ll go with the Jets. They have a very good defense, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league. The Jets will be solid, and might even steal a game from New England.
A lot of people like the Bills to improve this year, but I kind of think they’ll end up the same, hovering around .500. Tyrod Taylor got a huge contract this offseason, and he’ll lead what should be a slightly improved offense. I just don’t think they’re quite there yet as far as challenging for a playoff spot.
The Dolphins are a strange team to me. It will be Adam Gase’s second year at the helm, and a lot of people think he will continue to help Ryan Tannehill reach the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, but I’m just not sold. The addition of Arian Foster is a good one (at least it will be until he gets hurt at some point during the first half of the season), but the defense is still suspect, and this is a very challenging division. I could see the Dolphins slipping towards the bottom of the league this year.
Call it a hunch, but I like the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the always competitive AFC North this season. They will get Le’Veon Bell back in Week 4, and from there on out will have one of the best offenses in the league. Their defense still isn’t where they’d like it to be, but it will definitely be improved. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll still play their fair share of shootouts, but they have the perfect offense for that.
The Ravens and the Bengals are extremely close for me, and ultimately, I think the Ravens will be much improved and finish ahead of Cincinnati. It could come down to their Week 17 matchup in Cincy, which I predict will be won by Baltimore. Joe Flacco didn’t win a Super Bowl Championship by accident. They made improvements on both sides of the ball (specifically in the backfield and the secondary), which will help lead them to competing for the division title.
The Bengals will still be a very good team, but where I feel Pittsburgh and Baltimore both improved this offseason, I think Cincinnati slightly regressed. Losing 1st Round pick William Jackson III for the season certainly didn’t help, but playing in the AFC North is a grind, and I think this might finally be the year that the Bengals take a step backwards. Andy Dalton has overachieved to this point in his career, and I believe this could be a down year for him, and the Bengals will miss the playoffs.
It’s going to be hard for the Browns to be worse than they were last season, but they might be. The jury is out on Robert Griffin III, so 1st year head coach Hue Jackson has some work ahead of him. The eventual return of Josh Gordon will be a boost, but this team is still a work in progress, and that will result in a Top-3 pick in next year’s draft, where they could have their choice of quarterback for the future (Deshaun Watson? DeShone Kizer? Brad Kayaa?).
I really don’t know how good Brock Osweiler is going to be in Houston. What I do know is they have the best player in the league (J.J. Watt), a very talented running back (Lamar Miller), a rising star at wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) and without a doubt one of the best defenses in the league. I think this will be a much more competitive division this season, but I like the Texans to come out on top.
Now most people who have the Texans winning the division have the Colts at #2. Not me though. A popular breakout pick this year is the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I am sort of on board with that. I could see the bottom three teams in this division all being anywhere from 6-10 to 8-8. I think there is a real possibility that the Jags end up 8-8 or 9-7, thanks to a much improved defense and another year of development for Blake Bortles.
The Titans could end up as one of the most improved teams in the league this year. For that to happen, they will have to lean on the run game with Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray and potential rookie standout Derrick Henry. If Tennessee can wear teams down on the ground, that will just open up the passing game, and we could see Mariota evolve in his 2nd season in the NFL.
This is probably my boldest prediction as far as the standings go, but I believe the Indianapolis Colts will finish last in the AFC South in 2016-2017. Look, Andrew Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but hear me out. The offensive line is still horrendous and their defense did not improve this offseason. In fact, star corner Vontae Davis is dealing with a badly sprained ankle, and is unlikely to start the season. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Colts are really going to be in trouble. I admit that this is bold, but I truly believe that the Colts will finish last in the division this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
San Diego Chargers
The Silver and Black is back baby! Maybe I’m slightly biased, but it’s hard to ignore that the Raiders are just about back to relevancy. They have a great core of young offensive stars (Carr, Murray, Cooper), and they won the offseason by adding Kelechi Osemele, Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph. Their defense may go from a weakness to a strength, and that only serves to make their offense even more effective. I predict the Raiders will win the AFC West, and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Raiders won’t be the only team from this division going to the playoffs though. I think Kansas City got slightly worse this offseason, and it looks like they’ll be without Jamaal Charles at the start of the season, but Andy Reid still has a team talented enough to challenge for the division crown. They have one of the top defenses in the league, and enough playmakers on offense to get the job done. I expect them to return to the playoffs as a wild card.
I am completely comfortable saying that the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos will miss out on the playoffs this year. You can absolutely argue that the Broncos have the best defense in the NFL, but that defense is now without Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, and Trevor Siemian is their starting quarterback. Do you think Trevor Siemian can take a team to the playoffs? Me either.
The Chargers get back Keenan Allen, and they finally signed #3 overall pick Joey Bosa, but I still feel that they are one of the worst teams in the league. I fully expect them to select in the Top-3 again in next year’s draft, giving them a chance to either add a defensive playmaker (which they desperately need) or a QB for the future (since the days of Philip Rivers being a great quarterback are severely numbered).
New York Giants
The NFC East is going to be extremely tight this year (well, with three of the teams anyway), but I feel that the Redskins will come out on top and return to the playoffs. Kirk Cousins enters another contract year, and he’s got plenty of weapons to play with. They’ve also improved on the defensive side of the ball with the addition of Josh Norman. I think the Redskins are the best built team to take this division.
There might not be a team in the league that improved more this offseason than the New York Giants. I think they realize that their window to contend is closing, and they surrounded Eli Manning with some great pieces. The defense should be much improved, and they’ll contend for the division crown, but I think ultimately they’ll come up short.
Any hopes the Cowboys had of making the playoffs went to the wayside when Tony Romo went down in the preseason with the back injury. Dak Prescott has looked very good in the preseason, but it’s still the preseason. They have the weakest defense in the division, and against the Redskins and the Giants, that will hurt them.
Any hopes the Eagles had of making the playoffs went to the wayside when they traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings. Now, I think that was a terrific trade, but it does put them into total rebuild mode. They are going to start #2 overall pick Carson Wentz in Week 1, and I just don’t think he’s quite ready yet. Their defense will keep them in games, but I think 6 wins is the ceiling for this team.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers will return to form this season. Aaron Rodgers really struggled last year coming off of his MVP season in 2014, but we’re going to see the Rodgers we know and love this year. He gets his favorite target back in Jordy Nelson, and the addition of Jared Cook just gives him another great weapon. This will be the best offense in the league, and they’ll cruise to the playoffs.
The loss of Teddy Bridgewater will have an effect on the Vikes, but this is still a really good team. Trading for Sam Bradford makes sense, and if he can stay healthy, this team still has a great shot at the playoffs. Adrian Peterson is still at the top of his game, and Mike Zimmer knows how to coach up a defense. I’m not sure that they can compete for the division title anymore, but they’ll have a good chance at a wild card.
I LOVE the Lions’ offense this season. Matthew Stafford looked great at the end of last season, and he’s got a boatload of weapons (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah). What I don’t love this season is the Lions’ defense. They are going to struggle mightily again this season, and playing teams like the Packers and Bears, that’s going to put them in a lot of trouble.
I actually don’t think Chicago is that bad a team this season, but they’re still the weakest team in this division. The addition of Kevin White to the offense will help Jay Cutler, and adding Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd to the defense makes that unit better, but ultimately, this team is still a couple years away from getting back to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
So 15-1 probably isn’t going to happen again, but the Panthers are still one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and they will win another division crown. Cam Newton is still Cam Newton, and he gets back Kelvin Benjamin, who is one of the toughest matchups in the league for a defender. They let Josh Norman go, but as long as they have Luke Kuechly, their defense will be fine.
I think one of the biggest jumps this year will be made by the Tampa Bay Bucs. I may not be a Jameis Winston fan, but I think he was very good last season, and will be even better this season. They drafted Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence in the first two rounds of the draft to bolster the defense, and I like the Bucs to compete for a playoff spot this year.
Drew Brees just got a nice contract from the Saints (that could cripple them down the line), but they needed to make one of the biggest stars in their franchise history happy. Brees has consistently been one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and he should captain another high-scoring offense this year. But their defense is still absolutely dreadful, especially with the loss of 1st Round pick Sheldon Rankins for the season. Brees’s window is closing, and this will be another year that he misses the playoffs.
Some like the Falcons to make the playoffs this year. Some like them to be among the worst teams in the league. I’m in the latter camp. I think Matt Ryan looked downright bad at times down the stretch last season, and I think that will spill over to this year. That, combined with a below average defense will result in a last place finish in what should be, overall, and improved NFC South.
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
This might be the last year for the Cardinals to have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl championship, but many believe that they are the favorites entering the season. Carson Palmer has looked very good in a Cardinal uniform, and David Johnson is a budding star at running back. Fitzgerald, Floyd and Brown make up one of the best receiver corps in the league, and with Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Robert Nkemdiche, Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, I believe Arizona has the best defense in the league. All of that leads me to believe that the Cardinals are the clear favorite to win the NFC West.
But don’t forget about the Seahawks. This is a very overachieving team, led by a very overachieving quarterback, but that doesn’t mean much to me. Russell Wilson is one of the league’s best, and along with a star-studded defense, the Seahawks will once again compete for the division crown, and be one of the top contenders to reach the Super Bowl.
The Rams have made the move back to Los Angeles, and the best thing they have going for them is the best running back in the league, 2nd year stud Todd Gurley. Gurley will continue his trek towards becoming the best player in the NFL, but the Rams don’t have much else around him, especially with Case Keenum at quarterback. The defense is still very good, but having to play 4 games against Arizona and Seattle won’t help favors.
Chip Kelly was somehow able to get another NFL head coaching job, but he inherits a brutal roster in San Francisco. I think he’ll get a lot out of Carlos Hyde, but I question the decision to start Blaine Gabbert over Colin Kaepernick. I think Kaepernick is perfect for what Chip Kelly wants to do offensively, but I guess he knows better than I do. If I have to pick a team to finish with the worst record in the league, I’m going with the Niners.
MVP: Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, DE/LB Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR Green Bay Packers
1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Houston Texans
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. New York Jets
1. Arizona Cardinals
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Washington Redskins
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wild Card Round
Raiders over Jets, Chiefs over Texans
Panthers over Buccaneers, Seahawks over Redskins
Patriots over Chiefs, Steelers over Raiders
Cardinals over Seahawks, Panthers over Packers
Steelers over Patriots
Panthers over Cardinals
Super Bowl LI
Panthers over Steelers
Those of you who think that the loss in last year’s Super Bowl will have a big negative effect on Cam Newton, newsflash, it won’t. If anything, I think it’ll probably motivate him even more to get back there and win the whole thing. The return of Kelvin Benjamin will be huge for Cam, and I think the loss of Josh Norman doesn’t hurt them that much. His swagger will be missed, but I think as a cornerback, he’s a little overrated. A lot of people think that Ben Roethlisberger will have a down year, but I think the opposite. I think Ben has one of the best years of his career, and he, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will lead that team to the Super Bowl, where the Panthers defense will just be too much for them to handle. Carolina will win Super Bowl LI. You heard it here.
That’s it for my 2o16 NFL predictions! Be sure to refer back to this in a few months so that you can laugh at how wrong I was. Besides that, I hope everyone enjoys the beginning of another NFL season!