The most wonderful season of all is about to begin! What season is that, you say? Why, football season of course!
After an off season that seemed like an eternity and a half, the NFL season is about to begin this Thursday with Green Bay paying a visit to Seattle. Green Bay is hoping to win their rematch of the storied “Fail Mary” playoff game. It is worth noting that in said playoff game, the Seattle defense held ESPN’s favorite overrated player Aaron Rodgers and the vaunted Green Bay offense to a grand total of 12 points, whereas a GB defense at its peak held Seattle to 14 (counting the final TD). One team has an improved offense and defense, whereas one has a worse of both with the exception of an exceptional second year running back. Can you guess which is which? (Hint: The second year running back plays for the Packers).
Moving on from the opener, a revised prediction of the season seems to be in order as the off season, while incredibly long lasting, was relatively eventful.
Division Winners (And why)
AFC West: Denver Broncos
This seems to be a rather obvious choice, as Denver still has by far the best offense in the division and will have a defense nearly as good, if not on par with, Kansas City’s. Finishing up with a division record of 5-1 is quite likely, although 4-2 is more likely than 6-0.
AFC East: New England Patriots
Again, rather obvious choice, but this is more from a weakness of the division than a strong team. The only division that could switch division winners with the East and still have the Pats come out on top would likely be the AFC South. Any team coached by old Bill is dangerous, and he has a nice upgrade in Revis which he hopes to offset Brady’s steep decline. Expect 6-0 inner division, but we can always hope for an 0-6 to brighten everyone’s day.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
I know, I know, favoritism, blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Pittsburgh is still the most logical choice to win the division, facing most of their toughest games at home outside of division and the rest of the North is at the least competitive it has been in quite some time. Big Ben remains the best QB in the division by far, and the youth movement on the Pittsburgh D seems to be in a good place. 4-2 is probably the best bet, losing to Baltimore and Cincinnati away, but a 5-1 or even 6-0 wouldn’t be that hard to believe.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
Another obvious choice (seems a pattern in the AFC). Despite the relatively uneventful off season for the Colts and the predicted surge of the Texans, the Colts should remain firmly on top of the pile here, especially if they can control those unpredictable losses. 6-0 is very likely, 5-1 would account for a bad game, possibly Texans in Houston. (As an aside, I think the success of the Texans will rely on getting their secondary to not absolutely horrible and the health of Arian Foster. Having such a dominant front 7 does very little if the secondary gets burned constantly, and their offense minus Foster is negligible.)
NFC North: Detroit Lions
It’s been said before and it’s about to be said again (Ironically, I said it both times), but the Lions just have too much talent to ignore. With the addition of Golden Tate to complement Megatron and the addition of Eric Ebron in the draft, the Lions offense is looking better than ever. Defensively it seems to be a toss up depending on whom you talk to. Some say it’s going to have a few pro bowl quality players, others that it’ll be in shambles yet again. I believe that it will be decent, but amusingly just decent is all it will have to be to have the best D in the division. Expect 5-1, but here 4-2 is more likely than 6-0 with Chicago having an offense to rival their own and Green Bay still being pretty tough.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
Even if the cries of favoritism are thunderous, one would be more than hard pressed to find a non-Carolina native to predict the Saints to lose this division. Offensively better than ever, I am hoping for a career year from Brees and Graham and the hopeful emergence of Cooks as one of the premier deep threats in the league, although the latter might not happen until next year. With the nonexistent secondaries of Carolina and Atlanta (TB doesn’t even deserve mentioning), the Saints should have a field day, and that’s not even counting the most improved part of NO, the defense. Unfortunately, a 5-1 seems to be about what’s expected, taking into account that Thursday at Carolina again, but a 6-0 is extremely possible.
NFC East: Washington Redskins
Arguably the most wide open division in the league, the NFC East boasts three high powered offenses (and the Giants). Despite being injured and sitting out a few games, RG III still posted respectable stats last year, and with the acquisition of Jay Gruden (All you have to know is this: Gruden turned Andy Dalton into a top 5 fantasy quarterback last year. Andy. Dalton.) as head coach and deep threat receiver Desean Jackson, RG should get a plethora of opportunities to air it out. If not for the defensive woes, this season would be a lock for Washington. A 4-2 is likely what to expect.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
Destiny seems to have money on Seattle as the division winner. With the mass suspension of the 49ers, the season ending injury of NFL trendy pick Sam Bradford of the Rams, and the loss of two of Arizona’s best players, everything points to a repeat division for Seattle. In what is a twist of fate, Seattle’s two games against the 49ers come after the return of their players, meaning it might not be a guaranteed lock, but I think Arizona is still the best bet to beat the ‘hawks for the division. 5-1 is an absolute best for Seattle. They were 4-2 last year, and going 3-3 is significantly more likely than 6-0. I would have my money on 4-2.
Continuing with the trend of predictions before the season starts, lets take a look at significant awards.
MVP: Drew Brees
I know, favoritism again (It’s my blog. Go away. Actually, don’t go away. Invite your friends). With a weakened division and a slightly easier schedule to go along with the hopeful emergence of Kenny Stills (He’s in his second year, seems to be the go-to year for breakouts lately), addition of Brandin Cooks, and the recovery of Coulston and Graham, everything points to another 5k yard season for Brees. However, a solid defense points towards easy field position and lots of easy TDs.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
While it is a relatively safe choice, Watt has an opportunity to lead the Texans defense back to its prime. The addition of Louis Nix and number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney could provide the rest of the supporting cast Watt needs to make a second run at Defensive player of the year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Brandin Cooks
Without playing a single regular season game Cooks has already differentiated himself among the rest of the league’s rookies. With Sammy Watkins already sitting out of a few preseason games with minor injuries and Cooks’ explosiveness in his preseason games, this might be Cooks’ award to lose. Other noticeable contenders for this include Kelvin Benjamin on the Panthers and Derek Carr of the Raiders
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney
Touted as the best defensive prospect in ages, the Texans trusted Clowney enough to draft him number one overall, so the bar is already incredibly high. Another contender to note is Ryan Shazier on the Pittsburgh Steelers who also had a big preseason.
Coach of the Year: Jay Gruden
Much like Andy Reid did in Kansas City, Gruden will take the one of the bottom teams to the playoffs this year.
1st Seed: New Orleans Saints
Whereas best team in the NFC is up for debate, there is a borderline consensus that first seed is New Orleans’ to lose this year with the regression of their division and a schedule that doesn’t feature Seattle in Seattle. Their toughest match ups coming at home, only away at Pittsburgh and Carolina should be chocked up to likely to lose. Allowing for one more hiccup game like they have been and this puts them at 13-3, although 14-2 is more likely than 12-2 I should think.
2nd Seed: Detroit Lions
Similar situation with New Orleans in that the regression of the rest of the NFC North has certainly helped buoy the Lions’ case for a high seed. Stafford has weapons like never before and if Caldwell give the Lions discipline they will truly be a force to be reckoned with. Potentially the best defense in the North combined with a high powered offense to match the other three, 12-4 is a distinct possibility, with losses likely coming to New Orleans, at Arizona, at Chicago, and possibly at Green Bay.
3rd Seed: Seattle Seahawks
Powered by a stout defense and a capable offense, the defending Superbowl champions look to start a dynasty. But can they do that away from home? Not even the Saints took a bigger hit than Seattle when away from home, and that’s saying something. Seattle had more than 15 points per game difference between playing away and at home. Regardless, the Seahawks have a much more difficult schedule this year, facing the high powered offenses of Denver and the AFC West alongside the nearly as dangerous offenses of the NFC East. Working for Seattle is the significant regression of their rivals this year, but unfortunately for them most of San Francisco’s players will be back just in time for their first game against Seattle. I’m actually going to have to go with 11-5 for the champions. Losses to Denver in a revenge game early on and a tough schedule late in the year with losses to Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Philly, and at Arizona.
4th Seed: Washington Redskins
Well, this is my riskiest pick yet. Nearly everyone concedes that this division is Philadelphia’s to lose, and admittedly they are probably right. I just can’t help but think Gruden is going to work some magic here. Healthy RG III, DeSean Jackson, healthy Morris. Washington is going to have an offense that rivals, and very well might surpass, Philadelphia’s this year. I think they could pull off an 11-5, but I think 10-6 is more likely. Losses to Seattle, At Indianapolis, at Arizona, at San Francisco, and a division loss or two.
1st Seed: Denver Broncos
In addition to boasting the offense that broke just about all the records last year, Denver made several nice additions to their defense, not least of which is former Dallas standout DeMarcus Ware to pair with Von Miller to form a now elite pass rush with an Aquib Talib led backfield. The Broncos are now more dangerous than ever to play. Honestly, with the revenge motivation vs Seattle and playing a weakened Arizona and San Francisco, their only losses might be divisional. 14-2 is not outside the realm of possibility.
2nd Seed:Pittsburgh Steelers
Last season Pittsburgh was quite a bit under expectations, but the youth movement in the defense combined with the offense hitting its stride in the latter half of the season. If the defense can do as well, or even nearly as well, the Steelers should be able to secure a 10-6 just from the “easy wins”. 12-4 is my official prediction, all the losses coming away from home at Baltimore, at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, and at Carolina.
3rd Seed:Indianapolis Colts
Last season, the Colts were more than unpredictable. On paper, the Colts are not that terrific of a team on either side of the ball. They are outside the top 15 offensively in nearly all categories and aren’t much better than that defensively, but the Colts keep managing to beat all the teams they shouldn’t, like Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco last season. The Colts have an easier schedule this time around, replacing the NFC West with the AFC North, which gives them a chance to get revenge for that embarrassing lost to the Bengals last year. Easy schedule combined with an easy season could be just the push needed for 12-4 this year, losses coming to Denver, New England, at Houston, and at Pittsburgh.
4th Seed: New England Patriots
The Patriots have been playoff contestants for more than their share over the past decade, but how much of this is due to their ability and not the weakness of the team? Despite Brady playing as if returning to game manager form, the Patriots managed to defeat both the Broncos and the Saints last season, granted this was in the confines of New England, and this was before the emergence of Blount. The past few years seem to be a testament to Belichick’s ability yet again as they emerge as one of the top teams in the AFC coming in as 12-4 last year. I predict an 11-5 season, losses at Kansas City, to Cincinnati, to Chicago, to Denver, and at Detroit.
A tad early to pick the Superbowl winners, but I’ll do it anyway. The Saints take on the Broncos in what will be predicted as a shootout, but will be closer to the Seahawks-Broncos game with the Saints stout secondary putting the pressure on Manning. Saints win 49-13