Is the National Football League actually back? The NFL topic of discussion has not left the television, radio and social media airwaves the entire offseason. Let me clarify that, the New England Patriots and their cheating scandal involving deflated footballs referred to as “Deflategate” or my favorite “Ballghazi.” Media coverage of the topic was extremely strong. The cost of Ballghazi involving the Patriots, NFL lawyers, quarterback Tom Brady’s lawyers and NFLPA lawyers is in the upwards of 10 million dollars and counting. The NFL has not lost a sponsor in all the deflation of footballs and its revenue is roughly 13 billion, shrug. The real topic was Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch on the one-yard line with 26 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX. That discussion in the offseason emotionally made me miss the game. At the end of the day, the media and myself included are the cause of all the commotion. Our mouths are running but where are we going? What are we talking about? That’s not important. Back to the NFL game. Not the discussion, the game (Allen Iverson voice). One last thing to discuss, scouting of all 32 teams and my playoff predictions.
Key: P=Prediction MP=Make Playoffs
Baltimore Ravens (P: 11-5, MP)
The Ravens again are strong in two areas on both sides of the football. Offensive line and defensive line. They are both valuable to make a playoff push. They were not that bad of a team a year ago, but injuries took their toll. New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will only make the underappreciated Joe Flacco look even more elite. At the end of the day Flacco goes where the defense goes.
Pittsburgh Steelers (P:10-6, MP)
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense looks very good. This is not easy to type when they have always been known for their defense. Can their offense win games instead of relying on their defense to stop opposing teams? With Todd Haley running the offense and Ben Roethlisberger behind the driver’s seat, I say yes. Eleven starters return on offense, but center Maurkice Pouncey broke his left fibula in the preseason and will miss half of the season. They need to stay healthy for the tough schedule.
Cincinnati Bengals (P: 6-10)
If you are a Bengals fan this may not sit well with you. The Bengals have the talent on defense and a quarterback that has talent around him at every position, but they disappoint when it matters. Entering the season, there are questions regarding free agency; the team will have a different look next season. Are the Bengals motivated? They better be or heads will roll at season’s end.
Cleveland Browns (P: 5-11)
Looking at the Browns schedule, I see them starting the season 3-0, then going on a seven-game losing streak before their November 22nd bye. New OC John DeFilippo, a former Raiders QB coach and neophyte coordinator, worked with Derek Carr, but 36-year-old Josh McCown is no Carr. McCown does have talent around him and Pro Bowl Center Alex Mack is back. The defense ranked dead last against the run last season. There is always basketball season to look forward to.
New England Patriots (P: 13-3, MP)
The Patriots had their recent Super Bowl trophy thrown at them, literally. They are not the same as Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner all took their talents elsewhere. They have added motivation with Deflategate in the rearview mirror for now. Last time they entered the season with the Spygate controversy, they nearly ended the season with a perfect record. Tom will be Tom and Bill Belichick will work with who he has, but he sure did take risks defensively last season with Revis Island taking reservations.
Buffalo Bills (P: 9-7)
The Bills were 9-7 last season. Rex Ryan is the new coach, but they remain 9-7 at season’s end without a playoff ticket. Ryan has named Tyrod Taylor his starting quarterback in the opener versus the Colts, Taylor’s first career start. The Bills have not made the postseason since 1999. Ticket sales are up in upstate New York. Taylor at QB and Ryan’s 3-4 defensive scheme are a good test drive.
Miami Dolphins (P: 8-8)
Now is the time to not sink at season’s end when battling for a playoff spot. The Dolphins can beat any team any given Sunday, but lose to teams in the most unorthodox ways also. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh cost Miami a pretty penny (60 million guaranteed) this offseason, but the pass rush is stronger. The division is there for Miami for the taking. Pressure is at its highest for coach Joe Philbin. Ryan Tannehill has improved each year as a starter and his new deal makes him the man under center for a while. Heads will roll if they miss the playoffs again.
New York Jets (P: 4-12)
I looked at the Jets schedule and I was on the fence regarding a win at home versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. If your starting QB is missing time because of a locker room fight, new head coach Todd Bowles is allowed to call this season a rebuilding season. The Jets are carried by their defense especially with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie giving opposing quarterbacks headaches in the secondary. Again they are at the drawing board offensively starting at QB.
Indianapolis Colts (P: 12-4 MP)
Who needs Luck? Not the Colts. Wait, they need Andrew Luck. Side note I picked him over Aaron Rodgers in my fantasy team. Why not? He is on the real life fantasy team this year. The Colts in past seasons have not had the answer to the Patriots. General manager Ryan Grigson rolled the dice on his future and made this offense look like a Super Bowl contender. The offensive and defensive lines are weak, but the AFC is wide open this season.
Houston Texans (P: 10-6)
This team was enjoyable to watch on HBO’s Hard Knocks this season. On defense this team is hands down top three in the NFL on paper. The offense does not make me a believer. Head coach Bill O’Brien said it best, “people think these quarterbacks grow on trees.” Brian Hoyer was named the starting signal caller and Ryan Mallett the backup. The next day Mallett was late to practice after he did not hear his alarm go off (I saw it all unfold on Hard Knocks). The defense will do its part and the offense will show positives signs. GM Rick Smith will have to make the QB position top priority in next year’s draft.
Tennessee Titans (P: 2-14)
Titans fans buckle up. This will be a bumpy ride. The offseason included the addition of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota on offense, and the hiring of former Steelers’ defensive mind Dick LeBeau. It is an improvement, but the talent is young offensively. Defense will be the name of the game for the Titans this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (P: 3-13)
The Jaguars lack of talent has been evident particularly when Black Bortles was placed in the starting role sooner than expected last season. The jury is still out on Bortles. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is back healthy, but third-overall pick Dante Fowler will not be available this season after tearing his left ACL on the first day of mini-camp. The future is bright for Jacksonville. The future.
Denver Broncos (P: 13-3, MP)
Peyton Manning is a 39-year-old quarterback playing in his 18th NFL season. The Broncos have a new head coach in Gary Kubiak, and they signed Pro Bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas to a long-term deal. When the smoke clears, the Broncos go as far as Manning takes them. Wade Phillips brings the 3-4 defense to the table. The division title is there for the taking.
Kansas City Chiefs (P: 9-7)
The Chiefs making the playoffs will be a challenge. A challenge they are up for. Alex Smith has a go-to receiver in Jeremy Maclin, which only improves the offense. The defense is very talented however the division is a challenge. Andy Reid is the perfect coach for this team, but he needs to find a way for his playmakers to be consistent.
San Diego Chargers (P: 9-7, MP)
The Chargers are my sleeper team this year. Philip Rivers has weapons in Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones. The Chargers picked up a wall of a man in guard Orlando Franklin. Franklin will be so huge (no pun intended) against a Broncos pass rush that gave Rivers problems in seasons past.
Oakland Raiders (P: 4-12)
Jack Del Rio is the coach who walked into a solid foundation of a job. All he has to do is push the right buttons to win weekly. Derek Carr started all 16 games as a rookie proving his arm is no joke. The defense was terrible last season allowing a league worst 28.2 points per game. Ken Norton Jr., now the coordinator of that defense, has a young talent in Khalil Mack. Health for veterans Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck will be key in a talented defense.
Green Bay Packers (P: 12-4, MP)
Packers fans R-E-L-A-X. Yes, they did screw up a 15-point lead in the NFC title game against the Seattle Seahawks last season. There is a solid chance it will be a rematch in this year’s title game. NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers has a division in the palm of his hand. The loss of Jordy Nelson is huge, but receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb will step up. Eddie Lacy will only have another 1,000-yard season barring injury. The defense must stay healthy to be a Super Bowl contender.
Minnesota Vikings (P: 9-7)
The Vikings have a passing game. They have the iron man of a running back in Adrian Peterson. This season we get to see them both on the field together. Mike Zimmer will have the defense playing at a high level. Only flaw is the offensive line.
Detroit Lions (P: 7-9)
The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh, but GM Martin Mayhew rolled up his sleeves adding Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata moreover safe draft picks. Last year the Lions ranked second in total defense so Suh along with Nick Fairley(who left to the Rams) will be missed a little. Offensively Matthew Stafford has duo receivers in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, but they still lack that punch.
Chicago Bears (P: 4-12)
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has one playoff win next to his name. That does not fascinate me. What is fascinating is how underused Matt Forte is for the Bears. Last season, Forte along with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were weapons in the offense, but 5-11 was their season record. Head coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace sent Marshall to the Jets with rumors circulating about shopping Cutler’s $33.5 million contract. Cutler remains with the addition of receiver Eddie Royal. Fox and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio consider the defense a work in progress.
Philadelphia Eagles (P: 11-5, MP)
Chip Kelly entertained the masses in the offseason moving players like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Trent Cole to say the least. Deflategate did overshadow some of the questionable moves, but when playoff time comes around Eagle fans will be reminded he has not won a playoff game yet. Sam Bradford will be the starter, but Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow are no longer options behind them. Yes, Bradford has dealt with injuries, but in 49 starts his record is 18-30-1. Have no fear that last year’s leading rusher Demarco Murray will be in an Eagles jersey.
Dallas Cowboys (P: 12-4, MP)
The Cowboys start the season with their top cornerback Orlando Scandrick out for the season. Another void to fill will be one left behind by leading rusher DeMarco Murray. The offensive line is the best it has been in a while giving Tony Romo a chance to find the freak of a receiver in Dez Bryant. On defense, the Cowboys pass the eye test with the addition of Randy Gregory whom many consider the steal of the draft.
New York Giants (P: 5-11)
The Giants defense is finding its identity again. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo does not know the certainty of defensive star Jason Pierre-Paul who is still recovering from a fireworks accident that cost him to lose a finger. That is just part of some of the unknowns on defense. Eli Manning will have to score three or more touchdowns a week to stay alive in the division. Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz will have to be the best they have ever been or struggles will carry in a long season.
Washington Redskins (P: 2-14)
The Redskins need PR help from the top of management to under center at the quarterback position. 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III has lost his starting role to Kirk Cousins. The Redskins offensively have the tools at running back with Alfred Morris and receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The defense is a coin flip away from being good or bad since they have talent and injuries. It all comes back to RG3 with Washington fans hoping this film has a happy ending.
Carolina Panthers (P: 8-8)
The Panthers committed to Cam Newton with a new five-year contract. When training camp rolled around, Newton was under a pile of teammates during a fight. Kelvin Benjamin tore his left ACL in training camp and is now out for the season. Also, the addition of Michael Oher in the offseason looked like a bad idea, but coach Ron Rivera made lemonade out of lemons and Oher has settled into the offensive line. Oher will be valuable to protect the investment of Newton.
New Orleans Saints (P: 9-7, MP)
The Saints looked worse than 7-9 last season. They were part of the deal of the summer sending TE Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to the Seahawks in exchange for center Max Unger and a first-round pick. Linebacker Junior Galette was let go after a domestic violence incident and Curtis Lofton was released to cut back on money. Good news is the Saints play in the NFC South and I am picking them to take the playoff spot. (Stan Verrett would like this) Drew Brees at 36 years of age has a quarter of gas in the tank remaining.
Atlanta Falcons (P: 7-9)
The Falcons reeled in Seattle’s defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. In 2014, Atlanta finished last in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Quinn has his work cut out for him. The Falcons defense does not have to be the best in their division. Matt Ryan has Julio Jones as a target and new coordinator Kyle Shanahan will use his zone-blocking scheme to bolster the running game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (P: 6-10)
Last season, quarterbacks Josh McCown and Mike Glennon finished 30th in the league in totals yards so first-overall pick Jameis Winston is an upgrade. Winston has a second-year receiver in Mike Evans who racked up 1,051 receiving yards and was tied for the lead among rookie wide receivers with 12 touchdowns in 2014. Winston will get his lumps and bruises. The jury is still out for the offensive line and the defense’s pass rush is not scary.
Seattle Seahawks (P:12-4, MP)
It is Super Bowl win or bust to make up for the call of passing the ball instead of running it in Super Bowl XLIX. Russell Wilson has an added weapon in Jimmy Graham who would have been a threat on that one-yard play. Veteran Fred Jackson reunited with Marshawn Lynch to ease the workload. Seattle made Wilson its franchise QB this offseason with more commas on his check. Kam Chancellor’s holdout is the only wrinkle in the defense, but it is the best in the NFL.
St. Louis Rams (P: 10-6)
On offense, Nick Foles is the quarterback for the Rams now. On defense they picked up Nick Fairley. The offense upgraded and the defensive line only got better and is arguably the best in the NFL with five first-round picks. The defense has done its part in the past with no help from the offense. Foles and rookie Todd Gurley’s future can be the light the Rams see at the end of the tunnel.
San Francisco 49ers (P: 9-7)
Predicting 9-7 is stretching it considering the 49ers were 8-8 last year. Colin Kaepernick struggled and their defense is who bailed them out from falling under .500. The list of ex-49ers has taken a toll on the front office. The headliner Jim Harbaugh took his talents to the college ranks now in Ann Arbor, Michigan. New coach Jim Tomsula has optimism on his team moreover his offensive play scheme.
Arizona Cardinals (P: 11-5, MP)
This team will either be 11-5 or flip the record. Carson Palmer’s Week 10 left ACL tear ended their Super Bowl talks last season. Palmer healed and looks better in Bruce Arians’ balanced pass-and-run system. Defensively, the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu is back and his skills are needed in the secondary. The defense was average, but forced 25 turnovers last season and upgraded this season.
Super Bowl Prediction
Seattle Seahawks 26, Indianapolis Colts 24