Here it comes,the annual NFL Season Preview from me,T.J. the Sports Geek! Summaries for all 32 teams and even playoff and Super Bowl predictions. Here we go with the preview!
It’s been 14 years since the Raiders last made the postseason and I think this year is the one where that streak ends. This team did a lot in free agency to make this team better on paper and it’s up to Jack Del Rio and company to make those expectations of a playoff berth a reality. Derek Carr will lead the way at quarterback with Latavius Murray coming off a Pro Bowl season at tailback. Amari Cooper had a productive rookie season and should improve on that. Linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Reggie Nelson come over via free agency to give Khalil Mack and the defense a nice boost. Aldon Smith was re-signed but is serving a suspenion until Mid-November. The secondary will have a new look with Nelson coming over as well as Karl Joseph,the team’s first-round draft pick,should be a hard hitter for Oakland. I think this Raiders squad has enough here to win the division,will it be their last year in Oakland,though? Stay tuned!
Kansas City (9-7)
Last season the Chiefs won their final 10 games after starting 1-5 and did it without their star tailback Jamaal Charles who was injured during the season. With Charles back and the ever-steady Alex Smith behind center, Kansas City is hoping to build on that. They’ll do it with Smith and a healthy Charles as well as their productive tight end Travis Kelce. Jeremy Maclin brought production to a weak receiving core last season and will continue to be productive. As will safety Eric Berry who picked up where he left off last season following cancer treatment. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are recovering from knee injuries and need to prove they’re fully healed. Derrick Johnson should continue to be a productive linebacker,even at age 34. I do think the Chiefs will be good,but with a Raiders squad that’s revitalized and a Denver team that could very well surprise us,it will be tough for them to be back in a postseason berth.
The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 last season and did it with subpar play from their quarterback and the work of their defense. Peyton Manning is now retired and Brock Osweiler went to Houston,leaving a void at the position for Denver. The team did sign Mark Sanchez,but let’s be honest,he’s no starting quarterback. They did draft Paxton Lynch,who is their quarterback of the future as Trevor Siemian has been tapped to start the season. C.J. Anderson was retained to give the Broncos their best ball carrier back and Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will continue to catch passes from whoever the quarterback is this season. Von Miller finally got his money and should continue to be the best linebacker in football while Aqib Talib will continue to be the league’s dirtiest cornerback. Replacing Manning is not easy for any quarterback,ask Curtis Painter,which is why I have them finishing with an 8-8 record. You can’t rely on your defense and mediocre play from your quarterback forever.
San Diego (4-12)
The Chargers nearly left San Diego after last season,but are staying and hoping to stay long term. Not that fans in the area exactly care as detailed by the amount of opposing fans in attendance at Charger home games. If the Bolts are to get better this year,they will definitelty need Keenen Allen to stay healthy as he missed eight games due to a lacerated kidney. Melvin Gordon needs to record a 100-yard game and score a touchdown,both of which he has yet to do. Travis Benjamin comes over from the Browns and should be a dynamic part of the Chargers offense. The team lost their star defender in Eric Weddle to Baltimore in free agency. Manti Te’O should be a continued force at linebacker. Overall,though,this team has a lot on its plate to overcome and if they can,great,but I see them finishing like they did last year with four wins.
The Steelers are poised to have another quality season and some are even giving them significant consideration for the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger will lead on offense that will miss LeVeon Bell for three games due to suspension and Martavis Bryant for the year with his own suspension,but he does have the best receiver in football to throw to in Antonio Brown. Ladarius Green came over from San Diego to replace Heath Miller and I think he’ll do a fine job there. I think the defense needs to come around a little more if Pittsburgh is going to get back to the Super Bowl,especially from the secondary which yielded the third most passing yards in all of football. However,this team should continue to contend as always,as long as Big Ben is healthy and nobody else is hurt or suspended or hurt and suspended.
Had it not been for stupidity,the Bengals could’ve won their first postseason game in 25 years last year. Can they do it this year? Only time will tell. It’ll be up to Andy Dalton to feed the rock to the dynamic duo of A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert and the other dynamic duo of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard will carry the rock for Cincinnati,though Hill needs to work on his ball control. The defense should continue to be dominant with Geno Atkins manning the line. Karlos Dansby comes over to help the linebacking core and to hopefully keep Vontaze Burfict in line when he comes back from suspension. The secondary with Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones should be outstanding as well. I think the window of opportunity could be closing on the Bengals and I do expect them to compete for a playoff berth so long as their heads are right and don’t act like idiots on game day.
After a unusual 5-11 season,the Ravens had a great offseason,acquiring safety Eric Weddle and receiver Mike Wallace to bring some veteran presence to the team in the hopes that they can reach the playoffs again. Benjamin Watson was also signed but is out for the season. Joe Flacco,Steve Smith,Sr.,Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs are coming back from injuries that ended their season. Forsett and Javorius Allen will share time at tailback while Wallace and Smith should be great targets for Flacco. Smith was to retire last season before injuries came about, he is back this year and barring injury should be his last season. The defense led by Suggs and elvis Dumervil should be better with youngsters Za’Darius Smith and Zachary Orr hoping to have an impact at linebacker. The secondary welcomes Weddle and welcomes back Shareece Wright and Ladarius Webb converts to safety. I think this team with John Harbaugh as coach is too good to not make the postseason again.
Will the Browns be a factory of sadness again this season? Yeah,probably. But that’s just how it is with this bunch nowadays. Robert Griffin III comes over from Washington and will more than likely be the team’s next starting quarterback. Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell will be the two backs the Browns will have carrying the ball. Josh Gordon is back from suspension and hopefully he stays out of trouble. Gary Barnidge had a great 2015 and was given a contract extension. Emmanuel Ogbah was drafted to shore up the defensive line and cornerback Joe Haden is back from an ankle injury. I know the Cavs just won the NBA title,but that mojo is going to have to travel a long way for the Browns to catch it. Just sayin…
Yes,I have the Jacksonville Jaguars winning the AFC South. I think that this team made some strides in the right direction last season and showed some flashes that they can be good in due time. It starts with Blake Bortles who is showing how good he is and can be. He also has two fine receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and T.J. Yeldon is showing some promise at tailback. Also in the mix is tight end Julius Thomas who should provide Bortles with a weapon who’s effective. The defense should be a lot better with the team having drafted Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack at safety and linebacker,respectively. Add in Dante Fowler Jr. who was drafted last season but missed 2015 due to injury should provide the defense new life.Prince Amakamura and Tashaun Gipson have been added to the secondary. Overall,the Jaguars should be a force in the AFC and I think with the players they have and the ones that have been acquired,a playoff berth will be in their sights.
The Colts did not have the 2015 they were hoping for. Many,including me,were thinking they would be a Super Bowl contender. They weren’t. Andrew Luck is back after missing nine games with a rib injury and should have better protection with the team drafting four offensive linemen for him. Frank Gore is still carrying the rock,but at age 32 it remains to be seen how much is left in the tank for him. The receiving core is pretty decent with T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief,who I think is becoming a star for Indianapolis. The defense is going to have to step up if the Colts are to make a postseason appearance. Trent Cole needs to continue to be productive at age 33. The brightest player on the roster is Vontae Davis,who I think is in his prime and playing the best football of his career. I think it’s going to be a bit tougher for the Colts to get to the playoffs,but they have players there who can get the job done.
The Texans won the NFC South with what seemed like 68 different quarterbacks playing for them last season. This time they hope it only takes one to get them a repeat division title. Brock Osweiler was signed in the offseason to be their signal caller. DeAndre Hopkins has been locked up long-term to be a catch-passing favorite for Osweiler and Will Fuller was drafted to give Houston a second receiver. Lamar Miller came over from Miami to give the running game a boost. They do,however,lack a top notch tight end. The defense should continue to be good and productive with the ever elusive J.J. Watt leading the way. Jadaveon Clowney is back from injury and is hoping to prove he was worth the top overall pick a couple of years ago. The linebackers Houston has are underrated and that group is led by Whitney Mercilus who had 12 sacks last season. The Texans are a team who will either be really good or really bad. I think they’ll be the latter to an extent.
It’s the second season for Marcus Mariota and he should do much better than his first year. He has a talented tailback in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry,the team’s second round draft pick,should be a servicable back on third downs. The wide receivers are a big question mark and are a big reason why I don’t have them faring better this season,their best one,Dorial Green-Beckham is now in Philadelphia via a recent trade. Their best pass catcher is tight end Delanie Walker who has become one of the league’s best tight ends. Jurrell Casey looks like he is the best Tennessee defender along with linebacker Brian Orakpo. I think it’s still a rebuilding season fr the Titans,but they’ll get better and maybe next season might be a playoff team.
New England (11-5)
The Patriots still have a great system in place and good players in it. While Tom Brady will be serving an unnecessary four-game suspension, Jimmy Garappolo will fill in and I think he will do well in Brady’s absence. Martellus Bennett comes over from Chicago to give the offense a one-two punch at tight end for the first time since Rob Gronkowski and He Who Shall Not Be Named helped the Pats get to Super Bowl XLVI. My biggest concern is the offensive line. Can they protect their 39-year-old signal caller adequately? I think the defense will be better under coordinator Matt Patricia. While they probablt won’t be 12-4 or 13-3, an 11-5 year is a good one and that’s where I think they will finish.
New York (9-7)
After winning 10 games last season in Todd Bowles’ first as head coach, the Jets hope to improve on that and maybe overtake the Patriots for the AFC crown. Ryan Fitzpatrick returns as the team’s signal caller and Matt Forte comes over from Chicago to bolster their running game. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker lead the receiving core while the defense is led by veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis. I do see the Jets having as good,if not an even better season and they may even clinch a playoff berth. It’s going to be a tough road for them to do that if the Patriots stay their competitive selves.
The Bills have not done something that the other 31 teams in the league since the dawn of the 21st century,secure a playoff berth. Coach Rex Ryan is determined to end that streak this year and he has a decent offense to do it with. Tyrod Taylor is finally providing the Bills with consistency at the quarterback position and LeSean McCoy is back to energize the run game. Rex’s brother Rob Ryan will be the team’s new defensive coordinator with standout players such as nose tackle Marcel Dareus and cornerback Stephen Gilmore. One thing I’m interested in seeing is if Sammy Watkins stays healthy. If he can,I think he and the Bills will have a tremendous year. If not,it’ll likely be just like every 21st century season the Bills have played in.
The Dolphins had high expectations that were far from met last season and now Ryan Tannehill and the gang will try to do what they couldn’t last season,get to the postseason. Lamar Miller went to Houston and Arian Foster came over to replace him. Jarvis Landry hopes to have another stellar year while DeVante Parker is still developing in year two. Miami drafted Laremy Tunsil who fell on draft night after pictures of him on social media smoking marijuana through a gas mask were leaked causing his fall. Ndamakong Suh and Cameron Wake hope to have better years of the defensive line and Kiko Alonso joins the linebacking core. I don’t see the Dolphins doing much this season, but Tannehill and Landry will have a great connection again and great seasons.
The Cardinals were one game short of going to the Super Bowl and there shouldn’t be too much in their way to try and get there again. Leading the way on offense is Carson Palmer and I think he has to stay healthy for the Cardinals to compete in the NFC. He has the ever reliable Larry Fitzgerald to throw to and two talented tailbacks,Chris and David Johnson. The defense just got younger with Chandler Jones coming over from New England and Jones is someone who will go after quarterbacks. Add Tyronn Mathieu and Patrick Peterson to the mix and you’ve got a lot of great playmakers for that Arizona defense. They aren’t the most complete team in the NFC,but they are a group of guys who just might be ready to take the leap towards the Lombardi Trophy.
The Seahawks hope to make another run at the Super Bowl and will need Russell Wilson to keep balling like the always does. He’s steadily improved the last couple of seasons and I see him continuing to do so. Marshawn Lynch has retired and Thomas Rawls will try and fill the big void left behind. Jimmy Graham is back from an injury plagued and underproductive year and Seattle should find a way to use him now. The secondary will continue to be the spark plug for the Seattle defense. Brandon Browner returns to the Legion of Boom alongside Kam Chancellor,Earl Thomas,and Richard Sherman. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright should continue to be effective linebackers and are among football’s best. I think the Seahawks will have much competition with the Cardinals for the division crown,but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they won it.
Los Angeles (8-8)
Twenty two years have passed since the Rams last played a game in Los Angeles, they’re now back and ready to prove that there is a place for NFL football in this town. To make a splash,the Rams traded up to the top spot in the draft and selected Jared Goff out of Cal. Goff is could start the opening week of the season,but may be watching Case Keenum do the honors. Goff joins an offense with a stud at tailback in Todd Gurley II,who should have an even better season after a stellar rookie campaign. Their best playmaker at receiver is Tavon Austin who had 10 touchdowns a year ago,but someone will have to step up to make plays alongside him. The defense should be a force with Aaron Donald and Robert Quin on the line and Alec Ogletree in the middle at linebacker. I think there is something good brewing in L.A. for the Rams,but they’re a year away from a playoff berth,at best.
San Francisco (3-13)
The 49ers have a lot of work to do if they want to see a playoff berth in the near future. One thing they need to figure out is who their quarterback will be. Colin Kaepernick? Blaine Gabbert? Jeff Driskel? Christian Ponder? Jim Druckenmiller? We do know that Carlos Hyde will be the starting tailback and that Torrey Smith,Bruce Eillington,and Quinton Patton are the wideouts and the latter two are trying to make names for themselves. Navarro Bowman is one of the best linebackers in football and for some reason is staying put long term and Eric Reid should be the anchor for the secondary. Overall,this team has a tough road ahead of them,not just with the roster,but with their schedule. The 49ers have four trips to the East Coast this season and as of press time aren’t favored in one game they play this season. It makes you wonder who has it better than they do.
Green Bay (12-4)
The Packers had a down year last season where they actually were not division champions and did not reach the Super Bowl like I thought they would. They do,however,have one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Aaron Rodgers. Jordy Nelson returns after getting hurt in preseason last year and Randall Cobb should have a better year. Eddie Lacy is back and has trimmed down quite a bit,I expect him to have a monster season. On defense,Clay Matthews will move back to being an outside linebacker and the timeless Julius Peppers will play on the opposite side of Matthews and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix is emerging as one of the league’s best safeties. I think the Packers will take back the division crown from Minnesota,but it won’t be without a fight.
To the surprise of many,the Vikings won the division but fell in the playoffs in the worst way against Seattle with Blair Walsh missing a chip-shot field goal to win the game. This year the Vikings hope to build on that with Teddy Bridgewater in his third year as the team’s signal caller. Adrian Peterson is still balling hard after age 30 and should continue running the ball effectively. Stefon Diggs should improve on last season after leading Minnesota in receptions and Kyle Rudolph is a great pass catching tight end. Laquon Treadwell was drafted to give the passing game a boost. The defense improved immensely last season where points allowed went from 30th in 2014 to fifth. Harrison Smith is emerging as the Vikings’ best secondary player. Chad Greenway is back for 11th season after originally planning to retire after last season. Oh,and they open a new stadium this year,too!
The Bears should improve this season under coach John Fox,but a playoff berth may be way out of reach for them. Jay Cutler did have a better season last year with Adam Gase as his offensive coordinator,but Gase is in Miami now and it will remain to be seen if he improves or regresses. Matt Forte is gone and Jeremy Langford will be counted on to carry the load at tailback. James White should be ready to go after missing last year due to being injured in preseason. He joins Alshon Jeffery to give Cutler some great weapons to throw to downfield. Zach Miller has proven to be a good tight end for Chicago as well,making Martellus Bennett expendable. Eddie Goldman proved to be the best defensive lineman for Fox as a rookie and Akiem Hicks comes over from New England. Danny Trevathan also comes over from Denver to bolster the linebacking core. Like I said,they should be better,but playoffs may be a year away for them.
If the Lions are going to get back to the playoffs,it’s going to be with addition by subtraction. Calvin Johnson decided that nine years was enough for him,leaving a big void for not just the offense,but the entire franchise. This will leave Matthew Stafford shouldering more of the load for Detroit. They do have wideouts Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin,but Boldin is 35 and on the downslope of his career and Tate is not really a number one receiver by any means. Ameer Abdullah needs to step up and be the star back the Lions were hoping they drafted. Theo Riddick remains a great weapon for Stafford out of the backfield. The defense definitely needs Haloti Ngata to stay healthy to plug the hole left behind when Ndamakong Suh left before last season,though Ezekiel Ansah is coming into his own after having a Pro Bowl season. It’s going to be a rough year for the Lions and if they do make the playoffs,it’s going to make people wonder what’s wrong with the rest of the division.
The Panthers had an historic 15-1 season last year,working their way to Super Bowl 50 before being handed a Super Bowl L by the Broncos. Cam Newton and company have a lot to be excited for in terms of their top wideout,Kelvin Benjamin,returning from a season long injury that wiped out his 2015. It’ll be up to Benjamin to show if he is the same player he was his rookie season. Josh Norman is gone and the rest of the secondary will have to find a way to fill the void he has now left behind. The defense still has Luke Kuechly who is quite possible the best linebacker in the game. I think the Panthers will win this division again, they’re far and away the best team in it and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone not picking them to win it this year once again.
Tampa Bay (8-8)
Jameis Winston had a great rookie season and for a minute the Bucs looked like they might sneak into the playoffs,but a bad stretch towards the end of the year saw them miss the playoffs and Lovie Smith questionably lost his job. This season the Bucs are hoping things will be different with Winston,Doug Martin,and Mike Evans heading the offense. Gerald McCoy will anchor the defensive line and newcomer Vernon Hargreaves III should be a nice addition to the Tampa Bay secondary. I think the Bucs will have a better season and may even contend for a playoff berth.
Last season the Falcons started off hot with a 5-0 record,and then only won 3 of their final 11 games. This year,Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons hope to have a better year. DeVonta Freeman was a pleasant surprise last season getting over 1,000 yards and Julio Jones was very productive in 2015 and hopes to duplicate that success. The defense needs to improve for Atlanta, the team finished dead last with only 19 sacks,but the team is hoping last year’s first round pick Vic Beasley can bounce back from an injury-plagued season last year and show his versatility. Desmond Trufant is looking like one of the best,most underrated cornerbacks in the league. Look for Atlanta to have a so-so season,though.
New Orleans (7-9)
The Saints have not had a great last couple of seasons,but they still have Sean Payton as their coach and Drew Brees is still getting it done at age 37 and is coming off of one of his best seasons and nothing suggests that he’s slowing down anytime soon. Marques Colston is gone,but Brandin Cooks is there and is their de facto top receiver. Coby Fleener comes over from Indianapolis to try and fill a void left by Jimmy Graham who was traded last offseason. The backfield will consist of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller. The defense needs a lot of help and Dennis Allen is now charged to help improve it. Cameron Jordan will need someone to emerge alongside him as a quality pass rusher. James Laurinaitis comes over and should help the linebacking core. I think if the Saints do get back to the postseason, they’ll need to improve on defense.
New York (9-7)
Yes,you read that correctly. I,T.J. the Sports Geek,devoted Pats fan and hater of Eli Manning,have picked the New York Football Giants to win the lowly NFC East. The Giants still have Manning who has wide receivers to throw to in Odell Beckham Jr. who is one the biggest deep ball threats in the league and they drafted Sterling Shepard who should be the second receiver in New York’s offense. Rashad Jennings looks like he’ll be toting the rock along with Shane Vereen. Will Victor Cruz fit into the team’s plans? The defense got a makeover with Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison coming over to bolster the line. The secondary was given a makeover with Janoris Jenkins signing via free agency and the drafting of Eli Apple. I think the Giants will be improved and do have enough to win the division.
Dallas had a down year after losing Dez Bryant,Tony Romo,and Orlando Scandrick in 2015. They do have new life on the offensive side of the ball with the drafting of Ezekiel Elliott who should be their new starting tailback,Alfred Morris also comes over to share the load with Elliott. Romo is again out with injury and should miss half the season and it will now be up to Dak Prescott,who the team drafted in the fourth round,to be the team’s signal caller in the interim,if not the long run. Defensively,this team has trouble getting to the quarterback and it won’t get any better as Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence will both serve four game suspensions for failing drug tests. Sean Lee needs to remain healthy to be a factor in Dallas’ defense. I think the ingredients are there where the Cowboys can make another playoff run,but the growing pains are going to be there in my view.
The Redskins had a fairly easy schedule in 2015 on their way to the division title. Fans in D.C. are hoping they can keep it going this year,and that’ll be on Kirk Cousins and company to try and do. They do have 18 of 22 starters from the Wild Card game. They do have a rising star at tight end in Jordan Reed and the talented DeSean Jackson and the serviceable Pierre Garcon at wideout. Matt Jones replaces Alfred Morris as the top tailback in Washington’s backfield and is a bit of a question mark. Ken Norman was signed via free agency and joins DeAngelo Hall for what should make a solid secondary so long as his opponents don’t torch him like hs teammates have in practice. Sack specialist Junior Galette should continue to be a force in the defensive scheme following his missing 2015 with an Achilles injury. Like the Cowboys, the Redskins have the ingredients to put a playoff run together,but it may be tougher because of their schedule.
I think with the Eagles it’s going to be a long season. The team has a new coach and has a lot of new faces,one of which is Carson Wentz,the team’s top draft pick. Wentz will probably sit and watch while Sam Bradford tries to salvage what’s left of his career. Ryan Mathews is now the feature back after the experiment of him sharing time with DeMarco Murray failed. Jordan Matthews is,however,a great weapon in the Eagles offense and should continue being productive. The defense was near the bottom last season in total defense,but they do have a standout tackle Fletcher Cox who signed an extension in the offseason. Overall,though,it’s going to be a rebuilding season and patience will be key for Eagles’ fans.
AFC Wild Card Weekend
Baltimore over Oakland
Jacksonville over Cincinnati
NFC Wild Card Weekend
Minnesota over Carolina
Seattle over N.Y. Giants
AFC Divisional Playoff
Pittsburgh over Baltimore
New England over Jacksonville
NFC Divisional Playoff
Arizona over Minnesota
Green Bay over Seattle
AFC Championship Game
Pittsburgh over New England
NFC Championship Game
Arizona over Green Bay
Arizona over Pittsburgh
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