NFL 2016 Preview: Crazy Season Is Ahead

 

It’s that time of year again.   Training camp’s here, and the draft is in the books.  It’s time for this year’s NFL predictions.  Get ready for some big shockers, this year will be very different from recent ones.  Some of the NFL’s once horrible teams will rise from the bottom, and some of its top teams will finally slide.  A crazy NFL season is about to begin.

AFC East

  1. New_England_Patriots.jpg New England Patriots 12-4 (1)
  2. buf.jpg Buffalo Bills 10-6 (6)
  3. Jets-Logo.png New York Jets 6-10
  4. Dolphins-logo.jpg Miami Dolphins 4-12

Patriots

After a 2015 disappointment when they lost in Denver twice, 2016 is looking good for the Pats.  The first few games could be tough if Brady is out, but I’m sure he’ll find a way out of this nonsense for good.  Even if he does remain suspended, they’ll sign a veteran QB, and when Brady returns, him and his new weapons in Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan and Nate Washington plus his old targets like Gronk, Edelman and Amendola will bounce back and finish off well.  This team has an improved offensive line and front seven and if they can keep healthy, and Jimmy Garoppolo can lead a loaded receiving group to victory in the first four games, they will be dominant.

Bills

The Bills had a rough free agency season, but they didn’t need that much.  They knew they had many players on the rise that could work towards a rebuild.  It’s a lot more likely after the Bills just came out of their best draft in years in my opinion.  They have a dramatically improved pass rush, added to a blooming offense, and overall, improved. The Bills filled almost all their major holes.  After all that, this roster is outstanding on paper. As long as this young team meets its expectations, it will be good for real too, and the Bills could be headed for playoff town.

Jets

What a disappointment.  The one year they had a chance to return to playoff form, they blew it in Week 17.  Ryan Fitzpatrick did resign after a lot of melodrama, but the defense lost Antonio Cromartie and is a little out of shape. They have the right pieces, they just need to put them together, make up for the losses on defense, piece together a better offensive line, and they can thrive in the league.

Dolphins

What the heck is this team doing?!! They had an ugly draft, completely ignored their backfield woes, and have done nothing to bring themselves in an upward direction.  The offense is declining, the defense is declining, and keeping the team like this is not going to make it easy for a bounce back season.  Personally, I think the Dolphins will finish even lower this year.  This is getting pathetic.  Make some moves that actually will help your team next time.

 

AFC North

  1. pittsburgh-steelers.jpg Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 (4)
  2. Baltimore_Ravens_Logo.jpg Baltimore Ravens 9-7
  3. cincinnati-bengals.jpg Cincinnati Bengals 9-7
  4. cleveland-browns-brown.jpg Cleveland Browns 3-13

 

Steelers

The Steelers have been called Super Bowl LI Winner by many.  I still think the Steelers have what it takes to win the division (just barely), but the Steelers are not winning the Super Bowl, especially without Martavis Bryant, and Le’ Veon Bell for the first four games!  The defense just isn’t there yet and they a don’t have enough receiver depth to help out Big Ben.  Did I mention injuries?  How do you know that won’t interfere?  They do have a lot of amazing, league-best stars, but the holes they have are too big to call them a Super Bowl threat or contender.  Looking for a contender in the AFC besides the Patriots?  Call up the Texans, they have a better idea of what they’re doing than the Steelers.

Ravens
The Ravens had an ugly 2015 campaign, caused by some injuries and some roster holes. But the Ravens really stocked up this off season, and they probably won’t have that many health issues two years in a row. Between the draft and free agency, they filled most of their major roster holes, and they look like a division competitor. However, after all that last season, some of it had to be roster holes, and the holes they didn’t fill could cause this team to lose some games, and will keep them out of the playoffs this year. Sure, Eric Weddle, Ronnie Stanley and Mike Wallace are game changers, but they can’t address all the Ravens’ issues. That’s management’s job, and right now is a little too late.
Bengals

The Bengals are still relevant now, but little by little, they are on the decline and nobody has noticed.  Andy Dalton is on the decline and Tyler Eifert was already at his best last season. The loss of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu has also caused lack of wide receiver depth. They lost Reggie Nelson and have a hole at safety, and Vontaze Burfict´s 3 game suspension creates a hole at linebacker, despite signing Karlos Dansby. The Bengals are losing more and more pieces, and if they do not take action in the next few off-seasons, they could fall apart, they could eventually fall below the young Cleveland Browns even. They seem to have more and more holes every season, and it´s not leading them in the right direction.

Browns

The Bengals may be in a bad direction, but this team has already lost hope. If they make the playoffs, I will have no idea how. Unless they become the 2016 Orioles of football, you can rule out the Browns. They may have had a league best draft, but that will take a while to kick in. For now, they are an old washed up team that needs to keep going younger. The draft definitely helped, and Corey Coleman should definitely make a big impact, but is it enough to change a franchise completely, even with such an overpowered draft class?  Two words.  No.  way.   What they have done the past few off-seasons is not enough. They need to go full rebuild, or they are not going anywhere.

AFC South

  1. hou-texans Houston Texans 10-6 (3)
  2. jacksonvile-jaguars Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7
  3. tennessee-titans. Tennessee Titans 6-10
  4. indianapolis-colts Indianapolis Colts 5-11

 

 

Texans

 

In recent years, the Texans have had one of the best defenses in the league.  Last year and likely this year, the ferocious front seven combined with a quality secondary has led to league best defense.  But good offense helps good defense, and that’s the one thing the Texans had lacked, until this off-season.  After star receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ breakout a season ago, the Texans added elite RB Lamar Miller and rising QB Brock Osweiler, who is finally out of Peyton Manning’s shadow.  They drafted a WR2 and WR3 to add to it, and now their offense looks much better, despite lacking tight end depth.  Good offense plus good defense equals good team, and that’s what the Texans appear to be.

 

Jaguars

 

The Jaguars were showing signs of a breakout last year, but they just didn’t have the defense.  This off-season, they have boosted a young team with veterans to support the defense and offense, and push towards a full breakthrough.  I especially like the moves they made on defense.  They upgraded a once weak defense with quality starters in the front seven and secondary.  In addition to the big defensive upgrade, the offense has a ton of rising talent.  Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns all just keep getting better.  Julius Thomas should be better too.  He wants to win after all those years on such a good Broncos team and a better Jaguars team will help him.  The Jags are a changed team, and they will be able to contend in 2016.

Titans

The Titans have a lot of developing talent that could lead to a better 2016.  Marcus Mariota is feeling more comfortable at the NFL level, especially with better protection in front of him.  The Titans added RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to additionally support him.  He now has some good offensive depth and plenty of weapons to throw to after this off-season.   Although they may see some improvement, I don’t expect them to contend for one reason.  Their defense still has many issues of its own.  Despite a defense centered draft, the Titans still have big problems at linebacker and the front seven in general.  They boosted their secondary big time with Rashad Johnson, but the draft just won’t do enough to fix all of the front seven’s problems.  Expect a jump in 2016 but I don’t think the Titans will be anything near playoff material.  

Colts

What did the Colts do to lead to improvement?  Not very much.  They did ink Dwayne Allen to a new contract.  But they are leaning too much on luck.  Speaking of which, one of the main things they’re leaning on is the comeback of quarterback Andrew Luck.  They also are relying on Frank Gore to stay in shape, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett taking the next step and the defense to carry on without Jerrell Freeman and Greg Toler.  I just don’t see how the Colts are going to do all that, especially after an 8-8 season.  If they don’t act fast, they won’t do better, but they’ll slide even further in 2016.  They need to either try and trade for game changers, dig through the bottom of the barrel of free agency, or find another way to make all these questionable aspects of the team work out.  The Colts need a miracle to make that happen.  The next time you want to say the Colts are going to be back to business next year, think before you speak.

 

AFC West

  1. kansas-city-chiefs-logo.jpg Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 (2)
  2. oakland-raiders.jpg Oakland Raiders 10-6 (5)
  3. denver-broncos-logo.jpg Denver Broncos 8-8
  4. San_Diego_Chargers.jpg San Diego Chargers 6-10

 

Chiefs

Please don’t criticize me for this prediction.  This is just my opinion.  I know how much grief the Chiefs have gotten in many people’s predictions, but I think this team will rise in 2016.  Alex Smith looked great last year and I think he could put up a strong performance again this year.  The now healthy Jamaal Charles rejoins a young backfield in good condition, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin plus star tight end Travis Kelce could bring in a lot of receptions.  The offensive line has two new tackles, and the Chiefs pass rush should be unstoppable, especially when Justin Houston comes back.  Despite a quiet off-season, the Chiefs even have rising young talent in corner Marcus Peters, linebacker Dee Ford, wide receiver Albert Wilson and running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.  I’m liking this new era of the Chiefs between unstoppable defense and better offensive depth.

 

Raiders

I love what the Raiders have done in their rebuild.  This off-season they added to young talent with some veterans to upgrade a defense that lost Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson to retirement.  Going for dirty players might be an issue, last off-season they signed Aldon Smith, who’s suspended yet again.  This off-season, they signed Bruce Irvin.  Yes, it’s Mr. I Started A Fight After The Game Was Practically Over In Super Bowl XLIX And Got Ejected himself.  They also signed deals with safer options to rebuild the secondary, Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith.  The offensive line is revamped as well.  The Raiders already had young stars  in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray.  Now, with a revamped defense and o-line to ad to it, they’re ready to break through this season.

 

Broncos

Four words.  What did Denver do?  They let Brock Osweiler, their five year development float in free agency after Peyton Manning retired.  Then they were down to their third string QB, and have since only put Paxton Lynch and Mark Sanchez ahead of him in the pecking order.  Due to free agency and other problems, they also had holes at third receiver, tight end and inside linebacker.  Their offensive line is highly questionable as well.  They did resign C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman and draft DeVontae Booker to fix the RB problem, but they only have Garrett Graham, Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman at tight end and desperately need a third receiver.  All they have is two elite ones, not three!  Shane Ray can move to inside linebacker, and the defense is still strong, but major holes across the offense will bring this team down to .500, especially the issue at quarterback.

 

Chargers

Alright, I have to give the Chargers credit for some things.  They filled some of their holes on defense.  Brandon Mebane and Casey Hayward help make up for the lack of veterans Eric Weddle left behind.  They still won’t be playoff material, but they will make some improvements.  Melvin Gordon definitely has room to do better and carry the team.  Hunter Henry can make up for Antonio Gates’ decline, and a full season from Keenan Allen will help the receiving corps, along with depth behind him in Travis Benjamin, recently signed James Jones and Stevie Johnson (depending on Johnson’s health).  However, the offensive line still has holes, and across the team there are still risks of injuries and bust seasons.  Guys like Brandon Flowers and Melvin Gordon have make or break seasons ahead of them.  I don’t feel comfortable saying that the Chargers will definitely go back to their form from a few years ago.  I do see small improvement happening, but nothing major.

 

NFC East

  1. dalcowboyslogonew.png Dallas Cowboys 11-5 (4)
  2. new-york-giants-logo.jpg New York Giants 10-6
  3. washingtonredskins2.png Washington Redskins 7-9
  4. philadelphia-eagles-logo.jpg Philadelphia Eagles 4-12

 

Cowboys

Last season was just unlucky.  That won’t happen again.  Especially with big name rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott entering the backfield, a 4-12 season won’t happen again if the Cowboys can stay healthy.  When healthy, this offense is just plain out ferocious.  Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott stand behind a league best offensive line.  The offense has depth, plenty of stars, and is very well protected.  The defense may be some of an issue, but after the first four games, what’s the big issue?   All they’ll be missing is Rolando McClain, and Dwight Freeney is still available. I think the secondary is extremely underrated and the front seven isn’t that bad when you throw in McClain, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence.  In such a weak, crazed division, an 11-5 or 10-6 season will make the cut for the playoffs, and I think that they are highly capable of that.

Giants

The Giants had a really strong off season, and it should pay off.  They made some major upgrades to the front seven, by hauling in Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison and resigning JPP, who will play a full season this year.  They also signed big name corner Janoris Jenkins, and drafted Eli Apple.  The Giants also added to an already powerful offense, especially in the draft.  They selected running back Paul Perkins and wide receiver Sterling Shepard.  They also have Larry Donnell coming back healthy this season in addition to Will Tye at tight end, and they signed Bobby Rainey at RB.  The only thing preventing the Giants from playoff contention is a weak offensive line.  There’s no point in having a growing offense if they have no protection.  If they don’t have protection, their weak spot at starting running back could also factor in.  If they do, that issue might not show up.

Redskins

I feel like Kirk Cousins’ breakthrough season will end up being a fluke.  The kind of sudden rise Cousins went through is not a permanent breakthrough.  Kirk Cousins will be known as a one year wonder.  It doesn’t help when you have an empty backfield to add to it.  The Redskins won’t be able to lean on Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Keith Marshall.  The defense may have made improvements, and the receiving corps may have grown stronger, but without a quarterback, running back and even a consistent offensive line to protect them, a season above .500 will not happen.  They did sign Josh Norman in the off season and upgraded the defense, but will it be enough?  I’m expecting the Redskins to fall a few wins this year.  They won’t be as bad as the 2013-14 version of themselves, but the Redskins won’t even come close to matching last year.

Eagles

The Eagles are looking so bad right now that they’ll miss Chip Kelly.  This team is rebuilding from a rebuild, there’s no way they’ll compete this year!  It’s bad enough what Kelly did.  What’s worse is how Howie Roseman attempted to fix it.  They were in a decent spot with Kelly; I could’ve seen them easily return to contention, but they’ve made the team look foolish.  Ryan Mathews is not an RB1 at this point in his career, and the Eagles are in desperate need of a wide receiver and are in such a bad situation with Sam Bradford that they traded up a total of 11 spots (between two trades) to draft Carson Wentz!  In the process, they gave up DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell.  I don’t know what the heck the Eagles are doing, but whatever their plan is, it isn’t helping, especially for the current team.

 

NFC North

  1.  Green Bay Packers 12-4 (2)
  2.  Detroit Lions 10-6 (6)
  3.  Minnesota Vikings 10-6
  4.  Chicago Bears 4-12

 

Packers

This dominant team won’t lose the division two years straight.  Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the league, and he along with wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed all of last season, are ready to strike back.  This offense just looks a lot better.  Eddie Lacy slimmed up a bit, Jordy Nelson has returned to health, even Aaron Rodgers took part in some serious off-season workouts.  Jared Cook joins Richard Rodgers at tight end, and this offense is suddenly looking dominant again.  The defense may have lost B.J. Raji and Casey Hayward, but still have plenty of key players to run the team, including Julius Peppers, Damarious Randall, Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields, Sam Barrington, Mike Daniels, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Clay Matthews, who’s back to his natural position, outside linebacker.  He was actually a lot better as an OLB than he was in a couple years at middle linebacker.

Lions

You may think that the Lions are in some rough times without Calvin Johnson, but really, if they buff up on depth with guys like Anquan Boldin and Andre Roberts, who both worked out and signed with the Lions, they’ll be fine.  Golden Tate should breakthrough without Megatron limiting his targets.  Marvin Jones is a big sleeper ready to breakout.  Ameer Abdullah and Eric Ebron have plenty of room for improvement, and Matthew Stafford can still play at an average QB level.  You can’t discredit all that.  You may say the defense isn’t doing enough, but really, they’re not in too bad of shape.  The addition of A’Shawn Robinson should help.  They still have Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah too. I don’t think DeAndre Levy is too bad, and I don’t know why Stephen Tulloch was released.  The secondary has some breakout candidates too.  Darius Slay has been underrated all his career, and Glover Quin is still playing well.  I don’t see the problem with a few holes considering the stars they already have, especially if it’s just for a 6th seed.

Vikings

The Vikings 2015 season was no fluke, but it was a high point for them.  They’ll still be in contention, but they’re going down the mountain now.  They were going up until last year.  Why is that?  Well, for one, the Vikings don’t have depth behind Adrian Peterson!  Peterson is not at his peak anymore, and this may be his final elite season.  Laquon Treadwell may help, but the receiving game is still thin, with just him and Stefon Diggs worth throwing to frequently for wide receivers.  The Vikings may have fierce defense and some stars on offense, but they don’t have the depth at running back, wide receiver and offensive lineman to match last year’s performance.

Bears

I know a lot of people are predicting the Bears at higher records, I’m rating them a lot lower than I have in recent years.  The Bears may have some serious talent developing but they’re rebuilding, let them rebuild.  They aren’t ready to return to contention quite yet.  They don’t even have many other options besides the young guns.  In the past two off-seasons, they’ve let Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett go.  Kevin White, Zach Miller, Jordan Howard and Jeremy Langford should build up the skill to replace them eventually, but for now, they can’t run the team by themselves!  Besides Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal at receiver and Ka’ Deem Carey at running back, the Bears have no impactful backups for these players.  Don’t even get me started on the defense.  The defensive line has practically no significant players.  They do have some decent veterans at LB and on the secondary, but they don’t have any stars, and despite an underrated secondary and linebacker corps, the defense is in pretty bad overall shape.

 

NFC South

  1. carolina-panthers-logo.jpg Carolina Panthers 13-3 (1)
  2. tampabaybuccaneers.png Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
  3. nosaints.png New Orleans Saints 4-12
  4. atlfalcons.png Atlanta Falcons 3-13

 

Panthers

Especially with Kelvin Benjamin back, I think the Panthers can have another strong year, but it won’t be flawless.  The Panthers either just got lucky to be able to carry on with slim receiving depth in 2015, or Cam Newton was just an absolute monster.  Probably the Cam Newton thing.  There will be rough weeks for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense.  But still, the defense is monstrous, even though it lacks corner depth beyond Bene’ Benikwere.  The o-line has some weak spots, but is dominant in other ways, and the offensive players at the top of the depth chart are beastly, including Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen.  The Panthers will never match last year’s numbers, but they will be dominant, and they could come close.

Buccaneers

The Bucs have a lot of talent developing, and a defensive boost this off season helps.  One thing the Bucs never had before was a legitimate secondary.  They now have a pair of powerful corners in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III.  They also added to an already fierce pass rush.  The signings of Daryl Smith and Robert Ayers along with the draft selection of Noah Spence put some of the pressure off just Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.  They also have some serious stars developing, especially on offense.  Jameis Winston has the potential to be great, especially with rising receivers Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, possibly even Cameron Brate in his receiving scheme.  Although ASJ has looked lousy this off-season, he could be a TE2 for the Bucs, considering the fact that the Bucs only have two receivers worth noting (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson).  They even have a developing star on defense, Kwon Alexander.  He was in the race for the DPOY award Marcus Peters won.  It looks like the Bucs’ rebuild could finally pay off this season.

Saints

The Saints’ offense may be in shape, but the defense is just too broken down for this team to function.  They have serious problems in their pass rush, and lack depth at corner.  Drew Brees isn’t even in full condition anymore.  He’s only going to get older and weaker, and that could additionally hurt the Saints.  He may have a good receiving staff to throw to, but if he can’t complete passes as often, he’ll have to rely on a weak and overrated running game.  It doesn’t help that the offensive line has holes and is inconsistent and overrated.  So, the offense is in declining in condition and the pass rush is just pathetic.  The only pass rusher that the Saints really have contributing is Cameron Jordan.  Really, what backup do the Saints have to support a good season?   Until they find that out, they’ll have no chance of bouncing back.

Falcons

Everyone thinks this team will be the closest to dethroning Carolina, but really, this team has some serious problems.  First of all, Julio Jones is a great player, but do they have any quality pass catchers besides him?  The next best option is MOHAMED SANU.  He’s more of a WR3 than a WR2, which the Falcons desperately need.  The Falcons are also counting too much on Devonta Freeman.  He had one good season, and just like that he’s considered a star?  Not in my book.  He needs to earn back his job, especially with Tevin Coleman developing.  Speaking of which, they need to give that guy a chance.  I also think the secondary is very slim besides Desmond Trufaunt.  They need more quality corners and safeties.  Really, even with some all stars leading the offense, this team has no offensive depth.  Depth is a problem all over this team, and they won’t do anything without some insurance for their best players.  Even a mediocre defense has depth problems.  The pass rush is revamped, but the secondary has nothing.  How does lack of depth affect a team?  The Falcons will find out this season from a rough ride.

NFC West

  1. seattle-seahawks Seattle Seahawks 12-4
  2. az-cards Arizona Cardinals 12-4
  3.  Los Angeles Rams 3-13
  4.  San Francisco 49ers 3-13

 

Seahawks

The Seahawks are back and better than ever.  The offense has gotten younger, as Thomas Rawls steps into Marshawn Lynch’s shoes.  Jimmy Graham should be back fresh, and Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin also look to be in great shape for this season.  The offense may have lacked depth, but the last two drafts have helped.  They now have Trevone Boykin at QB, Luke Willson at tight end, C.J. Prosise, Christine Michael and Alex Collins at running back, and Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse at receiver.  The defense is still powerful as well.  The secondary got boosted even further with the resigning of Brandon Browner, and the front seven may have some holes, but is still ferocious.  This team is ready to climb back to the top of the division and dominate, and a quiet but active off season has helped.

Cardinals

Alright, last year the Cardinals were at their absolute peak.  If they stay healthy, they can do well again, but they won’t match last year.  Last year, the Cardinals had a magical season.  Everything worked out.  The defense made a big jump, and the offense’s best players stayed healthy, and did well.  You can’t guarantee that things will work out again.  the defense is still very fierce, but it has some missing pieces, and if Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd gets hurt, the Cards could be in big trouble.  Still, I don’t expect them to slide too significantly, they have one of the best coaches in the league, they have a Top 10 defense in the league, and the offense has reformed in to a dominant force.  There are problems that could hold them back, but they’re looking good overall.

Rams

Recent news about Jared Goff being nowhere near ready to start in Week 1 makes things even worse for this team.  If he can’t step in and produce, how will this team be any better, let alone as good as they were last year?  Todd Gurley could step up big time, but that’s not good enough.  The Rams need a dependable QB to thrive.  They may have some ferocious pass rushing, but without a QB, and even an elite pass catcher, this team is going nowhere.  The Rams have a tough schedule.  They can’t count on running the ball every game, especially against other teams with a powerful pass rush, who they will face plenty of this year, including the Dolphins, Giants, Bucs, Panthers, Cardinals and Seahawks.  Unless Jared Goff and his receivers can make the leap, the Rams won’t be going anywhere.

49ers

Don’t even get me started here.  Look, I’ll tell you broad and clear.  The 49ers are terrible!  Their QB job is a battle between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick (remember him?), they have no backup if Carlos Hyde goes down again, and Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton (who’s he?) are their starting wide receivers.  The defense is in even worse shape!!  Their secondary depends on Kenneth Acker, Tramaine Brock and Antoine Bethea to perform, and the pass rush has some serious holes next to NaVorro Bowman, Arik Armstead, Glenn Dorsey and DeForest Buckner.  Look, this team won’t be a contender in a million years without some sort of unimaginable miracle!  They have nothing!!!!!!!!!

 

2016 NFL Playoffs

 

FullSizeRender (12).jpg

My playoff bracket may look crazy, and it’s full of upsets, surprises, blowouts and underdogs, but here I will breakdown every match up.

Wild Card Weekend

Bills @ Texans

Young, but powerful defense and a strong backfield despite a lack of weapons for Tyrod Taylor got the Bills into the playoffs, but against the Texans, it won’t pass for a even a chance at winning.  This team’s defense has been some of the best over the last few years, led by sack king and legendary edge rusher J.J. Watt.  With a healthy weapon in the backfield (Lamar Miller), and a better QB in Brock Osweiler, a much improved offense will be the deciding factor in the Texans winning this game.  I say the Texans offense may have some troubles with the Bills D, but they’ll edge them slightly, and the Texans pass rush will annihilate the Bills backfield full of depth.

Prediction: Texans win, 34-17

 

Raiders @ Steelers

The Steelers offensive force may be dominant and full of stars on the outside, but especially without Martavis Bryant, the Steelers don’t have too much depth.  The defense doesn’t seem to belong to a contender either, although it is mediocre.  The newly upgraded Raiders defense may be trampled, but young Derek Carr and his superior target Amari Cooper will be all over the defense, and the Raiders will shock the Steelers.  In a huge upset, Big Ben, Le’ Veon Bell and Antonio Brown get topped by a revamped Raiders team, simple as that.

Prediction: Raiders win, 24-16

 

Lions @ Seahawks

I said the Lions would make the playoffs, with some clear defensive holes and lack of a true star on offense.  They do have a lot of potential breakout players, especially on offense, but against the Seahawks and their mighty defense, do you expect this riddled team to win?  In the playoffs?!!  Not happening.  The Seahawks defense will win them this game, with a thin but powerful offense with plenty of star power edging out the Lions D.  I doubt the dark horse of the NFL will beat out the #1 defense in the league.  Barely anyone else expects the Lions to even be playoff contenders!  This one’s an easy pick.

Prediction: Seahawks win, 27-13

 

Cardinals @ Cowboys

Yes, at this point in the season (as long as Ezekiel Elliott isn’t suspended through the playoffs), the Cowboys should be at full strength.  But the Cardinals will be relentless and win hungry in this game.  This team’s offense is dominant with a strong QB/RB/WR combo, even with the lack of an offensive line and an true starter at tight end.  The defense also has plenty of talent scattered across the different positions.  There may be a slight lack of star power in the front seven especially, but this team has few defensive holes, and the ones they do have are small.  Even with a revamped pass rush and underrated secondary, I think the Cardinals offense will be all over the Cowboys, and Dallas’ superior offense won’t get a chance.  It will be a tough competition, but the Cards should win in the end.

Prediction: Cardinals win, 33-27

 

 

Divisional Round

 

Raiders @ Patriots

With Brady most likely back at full speed by this point, the Patriots will crush the Raiders.  Oakland does have revamped defense and rising offense, but this 10-6 wild card surprise will be no match for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.  Hey, the Pats had defensive upgrades too, and the offense is better than ever, with tight end Martellus Bennett playing across from Gronk.  The Patriots will rout the Raiders, I can guarantee you that.  Even against the Steelers they’d win.  At full power, the Patriots are by far the best AFC team.  The Steelers are overrated and dirty, and this game is only the start of the Patriots’ path to victory.

My Prediction: Patriots win, 37-23

 

Texans @ Chiefs

The Chiefs will go all this way, having an awesome regular season, Jamaal Charles completely bouncing back to revamp the offense, Justin Houston coming back better than ever, to lose to Houston.  Sounds like a terrible note to end on, but actually not.  Houston’s a strong team.  The Chiefs are pretty darn good, but in Houston, you have youth, new signings in Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, a star receiver, and the best defense in the league led by J.J. Watt, who should return from injury sometime around October.  The Chiefs don’t have anything close to a guy like Watt.  The Texans defense is even better than the mighty Chiefs D.  That plus the diverse, but strong offense will be the difference in this game as the Texans head to the AFC Championship Game, in hopes of dethroning the almighty Pats.

My Prediction: Texans win, 24-13

 

Cardinals @ Panthers

We saw this game in the NFC Championship last year, Carolina won.  We saw the same match-up in 2014’s Wild Card Weekend.  Carolina won both.  With the Seahawks winning the division, the Cardinals would fall to the 5th seed, making this a Divisional Round match-up.  I think the Panthers will take the cake again.  The Panthers may have lost a ton of key secondary guys, but the front seven is still going to be on to David Johnson.  They don’t have much to rely on besides Bene’ Benikwere and rookies James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez for receiver coverage.  However, Arizona’s stars are scattered.  I think things will be a little easier for the run game in Carolina.  That’s good for Cam Newton, who loves to run the football.  Personally, I think Carolina’s slightly better defense will make the difference in this game.  They have a superior defensive line, some star pass rushers behind them, and even some possible future big names at corner.  The Cardinals may have Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary, but have some holes and weak spots in the front seven, and even some playing across from Peterson and Honey Badger.

My Prediction: Panthers win, 33-28

Seahawks @ Packers

Seattle will be good again this season, especially if everyone’s healthy.  They have the offense now, Jimmy Graham will be back, Thomas Rawls and Doug Baldwin should help.  But Green Bay’s offense could be unstoppable.  With Jordy Nelson back, the Packers have yet another weapon for Aaron Rodgers.  The only reason they lost to the Vikings in the NFC North is because of Nelson’s absence!  The Packers offense will be a challenge for Seattle’s Big D.  This should be a high scoring back and forth game, but in the end, the Packers have the better roster, I like Mike McCarthy as head coach, and they will edge the Seahawks.

My Prediction: Packers win, 34-20

 

 

AFC Championship

Texans @ Patriots

This is an awesome match-up.  The Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller led Texans are extremely underrated, and a league best defense leads them to be a great team this year, even dark horse Super Bowl contenders, because if they make it there, they’re sure to win in their home stadium, but this is the New England Patriots we’re talking about.  Yes, the same New England Patriots with Tom Brady and Gronk who won 4 Super Bowls, their only Super Bowls since Brady joined the team.  Brady is easily the greatest to play the game, all time.  He truly has defined himself as the G.O.A.T.  If he gets a fifth ring, that would be true dominance.  Bill Belichick should be at his old tricks again and the powerful Patriots offense and underrated defense will work their way through the great wall of Houston, AKA: the Texans pass rush, and the defense should be able to hold the strong QB/RB/WR combo up while the offense does its thing.  This is a Patriots team hungry for revenge, and they will be motivated to rout the Texans, and they will go out there and do their job.

My Prediction: Patriots win, 34-27

 

NFC Championship

Packers @ Panthers

The Panthers will have another strong season.  At 13-3, they should earn the #1 seed.  But the Packers will have more challenges on the 2016 schedule, and they still will go 12-4 and get the 2nd seed.  The Packers are a dominant team, especially in these clutch playoff situations.  With Josh Norman, Charles Tillman and Roman Harper off the secondary’s depth charts, Carolina’s much less likely to reach the Super Bowl, especially in a tough, straight forward NFC.  Aaron Rodgers will take advantage of Carolina’s holes, and throw to underrated receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.  Eddie Lacy could also be successful against an aging defensive line, and the Packers offense will edge out Carolina’s D.  I think Cam Newton and Co. should be about evenly matched with the Packers defense, even lacking receiver depth, but the new holes in the secondary will be the sole deciding factor in the game.

My Prediction: Packers win, 37-31 in OT

 

Super Bowl 51

Patriots (AFC) vs. Packers (NFC)

This may be one of the toughest Super Bowl matches ever.  the 2016 Patriots and Packers are two of the most well crafted teams of their era.  Part of this will be based on the performance of the two star QBs, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  Both these offenses are also very strong.  The Packers may have more dependable wide receivers but Gronk and Bennett act like receivers, so the Pats have a lot of edge at tight end.  the defenses are very similar as well.  There are holes in each pass rush, but also stars.  Green Bay may have more big names, but this young Patriots group was led and mentored by veteran Jerod Mayo.  Mayo retired, but now in comes Terrance Knighton.  Malcolm Butler and crew should cover the Packers receivers better, where as the young, still developing Packers secondary may struggle to keep up with the best Pats receivers, especially Gronk.  Tom Brady and his bunch plus excellent coaching from Bill Belichick that I think is slightly better than Mike McCarthy’s should boost the Patriots to edge out the Packers.

My Prediction: Patriots win, 34-30

 

Awards:

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB

Offensive Player of The Year: Le’Veon Bell, RB, PIT

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, HOU

Offensive Rookie of The Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, TB

Comeback Player Of The Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, GB

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady

 

Between the shocks, blowouts, amazing plays and more, the NFL 2016 season is going to be great, and I can’t wait for it to come back.  For now, I’m following training camp and you guys can look at my season previews by team.  I have a couple up and more are coming soon.

 

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Scouting Report: San Francisco 49ers

Welcome to my preseason team by team scouting report series.  Each day in August and September 1, I will be previewing one team’s season, making bold predictions, answering team questions and telling you what sleepers and rising players to focus on.  I will also give my input on the team’s schedule and remind you of my season prediction for that team.

 

The 49ers may be one of the most stuck teams in the NFL.  Even the Browns have a better shot of bouncing back from these tough times.  The Niners have minimal defense, declining offense, and overall aren’t looking great. Chip Kelly doesn’t look to be the answer.  But could there be some positives hidden between all the misery?  How do I know?  That’s one of many things I will show you today.

 

3 Players to Watch For

1. Aaron Lynch, OLB

I could say the entire linebacker corps should be monitored.  They may not have stellar defense, or many stars, or enough to win more than 4 or 5 games, but they have some decent pass rushers all around.  They actually ranked 18th in total defense last season. DeForest Buckner could make an impact as a rookie, veteran Ahmad Brooks and Michael Wilhoite could also step it up beside NaVorro Bowman, even guys like Glenn Dorsey or Arik Armstead.  But I chose Lynch because of all these linebackers, Lynch has the most breakout potential.  Lynch put up decent numbers in his first two seasons, and 2016 could finally be the year for him to pile up some sacks.  Still, this defense isn’t great otherwise.

2. Bruce Ellington, WR

Although he is more established as a special teamer, and he’s playing behind Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, Ellington could be a deep sleeper.  The 49ers could use another weapon for whoever starts at QB.  It will make up for the problems at quarterback.  Torrey Smith can’t do what he used to do anymore, and Quinton Patton never really established himself as a quality starter.  Sure, he had 394 yards and 30 receptions in 2015, but that’s nothing for an NFL starter.  If Ellington could do what he does on special teams on offense, that would be helpful.

3. Colin Kaepernick, QB

I know, Kaepernick has done nothing to prove himself in the last two seasons, and Blaine Gabbert looks to be the favorite to start unless training camp position battles change things, but if Kaep can get it done in training camp, he could win his job back.  Then comes the big question.  Will he ever return to his 2013, even his 2014 state?  I think if he works hard enough in the preseason and regular season in the next year or two, that could eventually happen.  Honestly, I think Kaep’s the starter around here.  He’s the fan favorite, Chip Kelly’s favorite, and in the few scenarios where he does bounce back to his 2013 or 2014 form, it pays off.

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Who will win the battle at quarterback?

Personally,  I think that this is Colin Kaepernick’s job to win.  If he can have a strong preseason and stay in shape, I think he will win the job.  It doesn’t matter how well Blaine Gabbert does, he’s not fit for a starting job.  Kaepernick was once a quality starter, he just needs to prove he still has any willpower at all.  A few years ago this wouldn’t have even been a discussion!  I think Kaepernick will have a strong preseason, and things will come close, but in the end, Kaepernick will pull ahead and prove he’s still in starting condition.

2. Will we see major defensive improvements, finally?

I think we will see some guys step it up this season.  When they were good, the Niners had a powerful offense, and not the greatest defense, but they have a decent group of pass rushers, some veterans like NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea, and an overall acceptable defense.  They haven’t lost much since then, except quality plays from the same group of guys.  I could see DeForest Buckner having an awesome rookie season, maybe Aaron Lynch or Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman will each give you a half dozen sacks, but nothing major.  The 49ers are already in hot water on offense, it would sure be helpful to have an above average defense again.

3. Will the offensive line make things even tougher under center?

The quarterback holes are already an issue.  If the offensive line continues to have problems too, it wouldn’t be any help.  They do now have Joshua Garnett at guard where Alex Boone was.  Joe Staley is still in the mix at tackle.  But there are still some problems on the right side, even though Kaep’s blind side is taken care of.  Anthony Davis was reinstated after coming out of retirement, but is he still elite, and will he be in football shape?  Who do they have behind him, Trenton Brown?   Zane Beadles will be a help, but the issues surrounding him at right tackle and center will definitely make things tougher under center if they don’t take the next step.

 

3 Bold Predictions For The Season

1. Not one, but two running backs will rush for 500+ yards

When someone asks me about Shaun Draughn, I would say, big sleeper.  Carlos Hyde is already a workhorse RB when he’s healthy.  He was the next man up when Frank Gore was still here.  He’s healthy, now it’s time to shine.  You can’t expect too much from Carlos Hyde in his first full season as a starter, no more Reggie Bush, and hopefully no more injuries.  But 500 yards isn’t too much to ask from a 2014 2nd round pick.  Shaun Draughn may also get some time in the backfield, especially if Hyde is still developing or getting hurt.  This guy has been bouncing from team to team, being cut numerous times, maybe he’ll finally have a nice stay with the 49ers and work some yardage as a handcuff to who was once one of the top breakout candidates in the NFL.

2. Three of the four 49ers starting linebackers will rack up at least 8 sacks

I know I only said minor improvements but come on!  Eight sacks is nothing, at least for two of them, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.  The wild card here, Aaron Lynch.  I mentioned his name yet again.  This guy got 6 and 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons, it’s time for him to make the leap.  I could see 9 or 10 sacks out of him.  Bowman and Brooks could even rack up 11, 12 even 13 or 14 for Bowman.  I think the defense, especially the pass rush, could be the reason the 49ers win these games, at least the three I think they will manage to win.

3. Vance McDonald or Garrett Celek will lead the Niners in receptions

Half of you may have never even heard of one or both of these guys.  Neither of them are elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski or Greg Olsen.  The 49ers just lack a wide receiver so badly that a low end tight end has a better shot at 750 yards than their #1 wide receiver.  I actually think the tight end two are a pair of sleepers, that could easily beat out Torrey Smith for the most receptions on the Niners.  I think which one of the guys leads in receptions has to do with who starts at QB.  It seems like Kaepernick prefers McDonald, but Blaine Gabbert threw to Celek more.  Will this happen?  I’m pretty convinced.

 

Schedule Breakdown

Any team at the Niners’ level’s schedule could be considered tough, but the 49ers do have a few winnable match-ups.  The Niners open up the season hosting the Los Angeles Rams.  The Rams have a strong pass rush but have holes scattered around the defense, especially in the puzzled secondary.  Todd Gurley leads an offense that lacks receiving weapons for rookie quarterback Jared Goff.  Tavon Austin had a decent 2015 season, but hasn’t fully proven himself yet.  With the home field advantage, the 49ers should be able to use their own pass rush and rushing game to get past the Rams.  I don’t actually see much the Rams have that the 49ers don’t, but both teams will have a tough time in 2016.

After that comes a 4-game stretch against some of the NFC’s best, Carolina, Seattle, Dallas and Arizona. They have decent match-ups against Buffalo and Tampa Bay after that, but they won’t get the W on the road, and the underrated Bucs should edge them.

Then comes another NFC South team, the Saints.  The Panthers and Bucs are out of the way, and personally, I think those two teams are the division’s only contenders.  They have both acceptable offense AND defense, so they will thrive.  Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde should be all over the Saints D, and again they have home field, they’ll pick up the win.

After two more tough match-ups comes two road games, against the Dolphins and Bears.  Neither team is dominant, but both have the weapons to pick up a few wins themselves, and San Francisco will fall to them without home field advantage on their side.  The easy end of their schedule continues, but they might actually have a chance in the second part because in between two pairs of road games is a home game hosting the Jets.  Resigning Ryan Fitzpatrick will help the Jets, but the few 49ers sleepers should edge out the Jets D and win.

The Falcons and Rams are up next after that, on the road.  Neither of those teams are very good, but they should edge out the 49ers, considering they have home field advantage, and personally, I think the 49ers are the worst team in the league, despite having the ability to pick up a few wins.  In Week 17, even though the Seahawks may not need the game to make the playoffs, they’ll go for it and take down San Francisco to get past the Cardinals for the division win.

My Season Prediction

The 49ers won’t do much without a reliable QB or receiver, plus poor defense, but with a reasonable schedule, I think they pick up 3 or 4 games and make sure the worst team in the league has at least one win.  The 49ers should be able to pick up a few wins with a reasonable schedule, but you never know with this bad a team.

Projected Finish: 3-13, 4th In NFC West

 

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The 49ers are still an NFL team, but they won’t replicate one very well, and may have regressive offensive struggles throughout the season despite slight improvements on the defense, which was already close to average.