As we kick off the 2015-16 football season, here is my team-by-team analysis and predicted order of finish in their respective divisions. This is followed by my fearless playoff and Super Bowl predictions. I would love to hear your predictions, so feel free to reply and send those to me!
The only question is: Why do the Indianapolis Colts play in the AFC South? There is no question, however, as to the reality that the Colts will win the division going away. Andrew Luck is a stud. They added U-Miami guys Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. Watch for these two to put up monster numbers. The Indy defense will have six games within the division in which they will dominate. This is a no brainer. The Colts will reach the AFC Championship game
Quick . . . who is the starting QB in Houston this year? Their running attack, usually in the very capable hands of noted atheist Arian Foster, but he is out for a while. although the team is optimistic that he will be back during the first month of the season. BTW, the starting QB is Houston is none other than Brian Hoyer. The fact that he couldn’t make it in Cleveland should tell us something. Their defense is led by the best player in the NFL, JJ Watt. If Jadeveon Clowney can finally get on the field, this defense will cause pain for the rest of the NFL.
This team is on the rise, but that is based on the fact that they are 7-25 the past two seasons. They can’t get any worse. I love QB Blake Bortles, and their receivers are gonna be pretty good, especially once TE Julius Thomas is ready to take the field. Watch for WR Allen Robinson to have a breakout year and rookie RB TJ Yeldon will push Denard Robinson for playing time. Their defense will continue to improve, and that bodes well for head coach Gus Bradley.
Marcus Mariota is the savior of the franchise, but, at this time, there is not much around him. Bishop Shankey is expected to carry the load at running back. Their defense was awful in 2014, so they brought in defensive coordinator extraordinaire Dick LeBeau, who even at age 77, will make this defense much better. After a 2-14 season, improvement will not happen overnight.
This is the year for Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins to put up or shut up. Tannehill has a very talented group of receivers around him this year and Lamar Miller is poised to have a big season running the football. The offensive line needs to step it up a notch and stay healthy. On defense, the defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, will make life difficult for the rest of the league, and make the Dolphins linebackers and defensive backs a lot better. This team is poised to return to the playoffs. If it doesn’t, say goodbye to head coach Joe Philbin and his staff.
New England Patriots
It is very hard for me to count the Patriots out, with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick leading the way. However, this could be the year they are dethroned in the AFC East. Brady is getting older, and the rest of their offensive skill players not named Gronkowski don’t strike fear into anyone. Their defense is no more than average, although Belichick always finds a way. I’m sticking to my theory that this is the year they fall from their perch atop the East.
I don’t care that Rex Ryan is their coach. They still have a gaping hole at QB and there is no stud running back to take the pressure off new starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Their defense, however, should be outstanding. The longest drought in playoff participation (15 years) will continue in upstate New York. New ownership bodes well for the future, however.
New York Jets
This team is in utter disarray after one of their linebackers, IK Enemkpali (since waived), broke QB Geno Smith’s jaw with one punch, reportedly over a $600 debt. New head coach Todd Bowles will make this team better, but it may take more than one year. Their defense will be good, although Sheldon Richardson will be sitting out the first four weeks of the season due to a substance abuse suspension.
The Bengals look like a division winner, but only if Andy Dalton continues to progress and their running backs, led by Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, keep opposing defenses busy. WR’s AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Brandon Tate are a nice group to have. They would love for Tyler Eifert to be a big part of that offense as well. Their defense, especially the secondary, is solid.
The Ravens’ story is pretty simple: Joe Flacco wins games. The Ravens defense wins games. Can Justin Forsett do it again in 2015? Methinks they can. Regardless of what people think of him, John Harbaugh is a very good game-day coach.
Not a typical Steelers team . . . a defense that can’t be trusted and a running game with questions, especially with injuries to the offensive line and the absence of suspended RB Le’Veon Bell. Ben Rothlisberger and Antonio Brown are going to have to single-handedly outscore their opponents.
The Brownies are getting better, but they are still a couple of years and a couple of star players away. Josh McCown is the starting QB, Johnny Manziel the backup. If that doesn’t scare the fans in the dog pound, nothing will. Their new wideouts, Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe don’t necessarily make either QB any better. Remember, Bowe was part of a KC group of wide receivers that combined for ZERO touchdown passes last year. The defense allowed 4.5 yards per carry last year. They have to do better than that.
As long as 39-year-old Payton Manning plays at his usual level, you cannot think that the Broncos will not win the AFC West. Their stout defense, stud receiving corps, and a very potent running attack will make sure of that. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak returns to Denver to take some of the pressure off Manning’s right arm, and keep him healthy as the season goes on.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers did the right thing in re-signing QB Philip Rivers, and added the NFL’s potential rookie of the year in RB Melvin Gordon. He could be a stud. They still don’t play defense like a playoff team should, so they probably will be a day late and a dollar short once again.
Kansas City Chiefs
Star running back Jamaal Charles is healthy once again, and that bodes well for the Chiefs. QB Alex Smith has to get the ball to his wide receivers. Last year, the Chiefs’ wideouts scored NO touchdowns. That sounds too ridiculous to be true, but it is. They added Jeremy Maclin to try and remedy that. My prediction is that Maclin will score a TD in the first game of the season. The Chiefs could challenge, but it probably won’t happen for them in 2015. Their schedule is brutal, with only three home games in the first 11 games of the season.
New coach (Jack del Rio), new attitude, same old Raiders. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not an oncoming train. QB Derek Carr is the real deal, and new WR Amari Cooper will benefit from that. Khalil Mack is a stud on the defensive side of the ball, and the Raider D will be much improved, although not enough to make a difference this year. Their streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons will continue.
New Orleans Saints
Another team whose window of opportunity may be closing. Drew Brees is 36, although he really hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He will miss TE Jimmy Graham, who is now in Seattle. The Saints had the second-worst defense in the NFL last year, under the “leadership” of freak-show coordinator, Rob Ryan. After a 7-9 season, in which they lost four games by 3 points or less, they could turn it around and take this division at 10-6.
The Birds need to keep QB Matt Ryan off his back. Too many sacks and pressures last year, and new starting RB Devonta Freeman has to produce and take some of the load off. Julio Jones and the receivers are top notch, and keep your eyes on former U-Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson as he builds rapport with Ryan. The defense is still a work in progress, but this team could surprise this year.
The Panthers have won this division two years in a row, but I don’t see a three-peat in the cards. Cam Newton can be very good at times, but the loss of Kelvin Benjamin will be huge, and they hope that rookie WR Devin Funchess can pick up the slack. TE Greg Olsen will still be the security blanket for Newton. They will need a big year from RB Jonathan Stewart. Their defense is led by LB Luke Kuechly, who has the most tackles in the NFL since 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First overall pick Jameis Winston is the key to how good the Bucs are in 2015. They need production from what could be a pretty good group of running backs, led by Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, and Mike James. Their wide receivers are studs: Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will catch it if it is in the neighborhood. Watch for the development of second-year TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Their defense is lead by all-pro DL Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David. Improvement, but they will probably still be in the cellar at the end of the season.
Chip Kelly’s team has won 10 games two years in a row, and they were the only 10-win team not to reach the post season last year. That won’t cut it this year. He needs to get this team to the conference championship game. If Sam Bradford stays healthy, this could be a special year. DeMarco Murray and the receiving corps will see to that. Their defense is still solid.
The window of opportunity is starting to close for Tony Romo and the Cowboys. The loss of DeMarco Murray hurts, but the best offensive line in the NFL will make average running backs look like studs. Dez Bryant must stay healthy and the defense must continue to improve.
New York Giants
Eli Manning and the Giants have missed the playoffs the last three seasons, and they are probably going to make it four in a row. The defense was horrible last year, and they have shown no signs of being much better. Their offense must lead the way and must Eli must keep the mistakes down to a minimum. Their wideouts, especially Odell Beckham, are fun to watch.
The Redskins are in trouble. This will be a very long season for Washington. Their offense needs a new identity, and they gave the starting QB position to Kirk Cousins, sending the much-maligned RG3 to the bench. Alfred Morris is a serviceable and productive running back, but keep your eyes on Matt Jones, who may be the starter before the season is over. Their defense may be even worse than last year’s edition, who gave up a whopping 28 points per game.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy on offense. Clay Matthews leading the defense. This is a solid bet to advance to the NFC title game. The loss of Jordy Nelson hurts.
A team on the rise. QB Teddy Bridgewater arrived last year and developed quickly into a very good field general. If Adrian Peterson returns to his level of play, look out. Their defense is also much-improved.
Matthew Stafford completes a lot of passes, wide receivers MegaTron (Calvin Johnson) and Golden Tate catch a lot of passes, but they still don’t put it all together. A consistent running game would really help, and they are counting on rookie RB Ameer Abdullah to hit the ground running this year. Their defense will miss Ndamukong Suh.
The Bears will bring up the rear in the North. Jay Cutler is still one of the most puzzling and inconsistent QB’s in the league. Matt Forte cannot be expected to burden the entire weight of the offense on his shoulders. Defensively, they need to kick it up a couple of notches if they are going to make any noise in a division that has three extremely powerful offenses that you have to play a total of six times.
The Seahawks are looking to three-peat and win their third straight NFC title. I don’t think so. Their offensive line is a bit shaky, and complacency may be setting in. The holdout by standout safety Kam Chancellor is not a good sign.
The Cardinals were 9-1 last season, before injuries took them out of contention. This team has won 21 games over the last two seasons. If QB Carson Palmer, WR Larry Fitzgerald, and RB Andre Ellington can stay healthy this year, look out.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have gone 11 consecutive seasons without posting a winning record. They could do it this year, in Jeff Fisher’s fourth season with the Rams. New QB Nick Foles and rookie RB Todd Gurley have to make an impact this season, although Gurley is still recovering from major knee surgery.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers could threaten to earn the distinction of having the first pick in the 2016 draft. QB Colin Kaepernick has to find his way and return to the form he displayed his first couple of years in the league. The absence of former head coach Jim Harbaugh may help him in that endeavor. The loss of Frank Gore won’t help, and they're counting on RB Reggie Bush and newly-acquired WR Torrey Smith to add a lot of UMPPH to their offense. For me, the most interesting guy to watch out in San Francisco is gonna be former Australian Rugby player Jarryd Hayne.
HERE ARE MY FEARLESS PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2015-2016 SEASON:
AFC EAST CHAMPS Miami Dolphins
AFC SOUTH CHAMPS Indianapolis Colts
AFC NORTH CHAMPS Cincinnati Bengals
AFC WEST CHAMPS Denver Broncos
AFC WILD CARD New England Patriots
AFC WILD CARD Baltimore Ravens
NFC EAST CHAMPS Philadelphia Eagles
NFC SOUTH CHAMPS New Orleans Saints
NFC NORTH CHAMPS Green Bay Packers
NFC WEST CHAMPS Arizona Cardinals
NFC WILD CARD Seattle Seahawks
NFC WILD CARD Minnesota Vikings
NFC CHAMPS Green Bay Packers
AFC CHAMPS Indianapolis Colts
SUPER BOWL CHAMPS Indianapolis Colts
SUPER BOWL CHAMPS Indianapolis Colts
Let the games begin!
A PERSONAL SIDE NOTE FOR YOU TO CONSIDER:
If I was a betting man, which I am not, and if I was looking for a potential wild-ass, crazy, off the wall, money-making bet with huge odds, I would pick a Super Bowl matchup of the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals. Miami is 30-1 to win the Super Bowl, while the Cardinals are 40-1.