After many months of analyzing the NFL Draft, training camp stories, and what NFL players do for fun during the offseason, football season has finally arrived. Thursday night caps a great start, with the Panthers visiting the Broncos in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. Before we get to the exciting beginning, we will take a look at all things NFL for the 2016 season. Division records, MVP predictions, the amount of fines by Roger Goodell, it’s all here. So let’s kickoff the season the right way and dive into my own crystal ball.
Analysis: The Patriots won’t miss Brady too much in the first four weeks, and when he returns, there may be a little rust, but not enough to squander the division away. The Jets seem due for a regression after a career year from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The defense is still very good, but their first half of the schedule is too daunting to keep them afloat. The Bills have lost so much already on defense, and even if Tyrod Taylor continues to improve, this team still feels a year or two away. Adam Gase will make the offense better in Miami, but the division is too talented right now for them to make a move. With one of the best quarterbacks right now, the best tight end in football, and an above average defense, this division belongs to the Pats.
Analysis: Even with Martavis Bryant suspended for the whole year, the Steelers offense should pick up where it left off last season. Antonio Brown is in position for a ridiculous 2016 campaign, and elevated targets for Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates should help them come into their own. An improved front seven should help them mask the issues in the secondary. They are a guaranteed playoff team. The Bengals have one of the best rosters in the league and once again will make a playoff run. The success of the Bengals will be built around their strengths on the offensive and defensive line. The Ravens don’t have the roster they’ve had in years past, and the questions at wide receiver concern me. The fact that the core is aging isn’t a great sign either. The Browns are clearly in rebuilding mode, and they are still trying to find out who they are. Two high picks in next year’s draft should help the process out.
Analysis: There’s always a surprise team that no one expects, and I continually see Houston being crowned, even though their starting quarterback has started exactly seven games. The Jaguars provide a lot of intrigue, especially with their revamped defense. I expect Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Dante Fowler to provide an immediate spark. We know how good the offense is, and I only expect Bortles, ARob, and Hurns to get better. This team is as balanced as Houston is, and has a younger, more athletic core. Houston will contend for the division all year, but it will come down to the inexperience of Brock Osweiler and the offense faltering late in the season. The Colts just don’t have enough around Andrew Luck to win the crown. I expect Luck to bounce back, but they will have to win shootouts all year, and the offense can’t be on like that every game. Tennessee made improvements on offense, but their defense lacks playmaking in the secondary and at linebacker. Mariota will continue to develop and will be a very good quarterback down the road.
Analysis: The Chiefs bring the steadiest team back this season of the four. I expect them to lean heavily on the run game with three proven guys on their roster. Alex Smith has weapons in Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce to make plays. The defense is still up there with the best, and Marcus Peters should flourish in the number one role at corner. The Raiders are finally ready to take the next step. They grab the second wild card spot based on an improved offensive line, the AC/DC connection, and a better front seven. Watch out for the revamped secondary as well. The defending Super Bowl Champs do not have enough juice after their title run to contend for another. Siemian and Lynch will not be enough at quarterback, despite how well Denver did last season with poor quarterback play. Like it or not, the defense lost some key pieces. Oakland got better, and Denver got worse. The Chargers are improved on both sides of the ball, but they, like the Dolphins, suffer by being in a very tough division. I expect Rivers, Allen, and Gordon to have good seasons, but their roster as a whole just doesn’t measure up.
Analysis: The Giants have completely reloaded on the defensive side. They won’t gel right away, but by the end of the season, they’ll have the most talented group. I expect a monstrous year for Eli behind a solid offensive line and help from Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. With Romo being out, they get the nod for the division. The Cowboys, as mentioned, will be without Tony Romo for a significant part of time. During that time, rookie Dak Prescott will take the reigns. Look for rookie Ezekiel Elliott to have a good rookie season behind the best offensive line in football. The defense concerns me, and without Romo, they will lose games they could have won were he healthy. I don’t buy into the hype surrounding Kirk Cousins and the Redskins. The offense still looks good, but Matt Jones doesn’t seem to be the ideal starter for them. Josh Norman will help out the secondary, but we will see how he does in a new system. The Eagles intend to send rookie quarterback Carson Wentz out into the huddle week one, but they, like many other teams, are still in rebuilding mode and will contend in the future.
Analysis: Rodgers and company got a boost when Teddy Bridgewater went down with injury, but in reality, the division would have been theirs either way. The defense was much better under Dom Capers last season, and the offense should be itself again with the return of Jordy Nelson and the addition of Jared Cook. Expect an MVP season from Rodgers again. As for Minnesota, they still have plenty of talent to be a playoff team. The defense is as good as anyone’s, and Adrian Peterson is still running like he’s 25. If Bradford can manage situations well and not turn the ball over, 10 wins should be no issue for the Vikes. The Bears have continued to get better on the defensive side, adding two solid middle linebackers in free agency and drafting outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The offense won’t look the same without Forte, but Cutler turned it around a little last season with Adam Gase. The Bears are getting there, but they need to move on from Cutler eventually. The Lions will miss Megatron. A lot. It will be a totally different offense, revolving around short and intermediate passes. Marvin Jones could provide a deep threat, but not in the way Calvin Johnson did. Defensively, they still have playmakers, but I see another down year in Detroit.
Analysis: The Panthers are still the class of this division. They boast the best roster, especially on defense. Their front seven gives every offensive line nightmares, and Kuechly and Davis are a great linebacker duo. I think the win total will come back to the pack this season, based on two major holes: a secondary trying to replace Norman and a weakness at offensive tackle. Those holes won’t affect them in the regular season, but the postseason is another animal. I almost had the Bucs making it as the second wild card, but Minnesota is still too talented. I fully expect Winston to keep growing as a passer, and Mike Evans will continue to be a great first option. The defense is getting better as well, adding Brent Grimes and Robert Ayers in free agency plus the drafting of corner Vernon Hargreaves. They are on their way. The Saints will again have a very good offense. Adding Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas give Brees multiple places to look in the passing game. The issue with the Saints lately has always been defense. Losing first round pick Sheldon Rankins for significant time hurt big time. The secondary also got thinner with the cutting of Keenan Lewis. The Saints, like Indy, will find themselves in shootouts all season long. Atlanta has tried to get better on defense under Dan Quinn, but their draft picks continue to flame out. Vic Beasley needs to take a big step as a pass rusher, and this year’s first rounder, Keanu Neal, needs to help shore up a mediocre secondary. On the bright side, Julio Jones should have a great fantasy season.
Analysis: Arizona has arguably the best roster in the game. Carson Palmer will again have a plethora of weapons around him. David Johnson should take the next step into elite running back status. The wide receivers are very good and very deep. The secondary, as long as it has Mathieu and Peterson, is as good as any. Adding Chandler Jones and drafting Robert Nkemdiche gives them strength on the line that they didn’t have last season. There really isn’t a weakness on this roster. Give them the division here, no matter if we see a second half surge by Seattle again. As far as Seattle goes, the defense is still dominant. Rookie Jarran Reed should help plug up the middle. The secondary still has three All-Pros in it. The only issue for Seattle is the offensive line, which could affect the run game. Wilson could feel pressure without a clean pocket. I imagine the Hawks will turn it around as they always do in the second half, and nearly take the division. The Rams had high expectations for first overall pick Jared Goff, but he will start the season third on the depth chart. Todd Gurley is as good as any running back right now, but his usage could be down this year based on the below average passing game. The Rams still have a good defense, but the people of Los Angeles should be realistic about how this year will go. The Niners are a mess on offense right now. Like the Rams, they would love nothing more than to get Carlos Hyde as many carries as possible. The issue is that they can stack the box with no fear of Blaine Gabbert beating them. Again, the defense is getting better, but the offense will continue to get them behind in games.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
To those who know me, this seems like a homer pick, but let’s think this through. Jordy Nelson returns this season. His absence directly affected how well the other receivers in Green Bay got open. His return, plus the addition of Jared Cook, will open up the field a lot more for Randall Cobb and the others. Plus, I think Rodgers, who has always had a chip on his shoulder, is ready to prove last season wasn’t a sign of things to come. I fully expect his best season this year. (Others considered: Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer)
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown
I briefly mentioned how Brown should have as good of a season as last with the absence of Martavis Bryant, and that with no clear cut second, Brown’s targets should significantly rise. Well, with Markus Wheaton not clearly emerging to play outside, and concerns about tight end Ladarius Green, Brown is in position for his best season yet. Calvin Johnson’s record could be in serious jeopardy by the final week of the season. (Others: Roethlisberger, Odell Beckham)
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald
I’m trying to be a little out there with this one. Aaron Donald is clearly one of the best defensive players in football, but this award of late has been dominated by pass rushers. Watt, Von Miller, and Khalil Mack were considered, but Donald’s impact for the Rams cannot be overlooked. He had 11 sacks last season from an interior line spot, and I think he can do it again. Why? He is that good. It’s about time he get recognized for his play. (Others considered: Tyrann Mathieu, Khalil Mack)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott
I’ve been telling myself not to overlook this, not to be cute with this pick, so I won’t. Elliott is in the best position to succeed in his rookie season. Even though Romo went down with a back injury, the offensive line is still healthy. Dak Prescott should be serviceable enough until Romo returns, so Elliott should get plenty of touches. He will be top five in rushing this season. (Others considered: None. Come on now. Easy pick.)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack
Back and forth I kept going between Jack and Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves should have a good season, and with Brent Grimes locking up one side, he should get Marcus-Peters-like opportunities on the other side. But, I’m going with the guy that every team overlooked on day one of the draft. Many were concerned about Jack’s knee, but the Jags pounced on him in round two. He should get plenty of time, especially on third down. His play will earn him more opportunities as the year goes on, and his playmaking ability won’t be overlooked again. (Others considered: Vernon Hargreaves, Robert Nkemdiche)
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson
With my banking on Rodgers putting up MVP numbers, that should mean Nelson puts up numbers that many are familiar to seeing him put up. His return will ignite the Packer offense and return it to its former glory.
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio
The Raiders are back in the fold. This is their year to step back into the scene as playoff contenders, and Del Rio will make a name here as the coach.
Wild Card Weekend
Panthers over Vikings
Seahawks over Giants
Bengals over Jaguars
Steelers over Raiders
Packers over Panthers
Cardinals over Seahawks
Steelers over Chiefs
Patriots over Bengals
Cardinals over Packers
Steelers over Patriots
Super Bowl 51
Cardinals over Steelers
Analysis: The NFC is a tough gauntlet to get through. Bradford’s inexperience shows against the Panthers, and Eli and company can’t get past the Legion of Boom. Carolina doesn’t have the secondary to beat the Packers’ elite offense and the MVP, and Seattle loses a physical battle with Arizona. A tough back and forth battle ensues in the desert between Rodgers and company and the bird gang, but the Cardinals come out on top. In the AFC, the cinderella Jags are outplayed by the Bengals for Marvin Lewis’ first playoff win, while the Steelers make quick work of the inexperienced Raiders. The Steelers take care of the Chiefs, and the Pats end the Bengals run, setting up a heavyweight bout to get to Houston. The front seven of Pittsburgh give Brady fits, and the Ben/Bell/Brown trio is too much for the Pats defense. The Steelers battle the Cards in a rematch of Super Bowl 43, but this time, a different result is in the cards. Ben doesn’t complete the final drive, and the Cardinals win their first Super Bowl title, 28-24.
Enjoy the season everybody!!!!! Football is finally back!!!!