(Look, Mike just took the same opener from before – but it works all the same. The rest is different.)
Well folks, a new National Football League season is nearly upon us, which means fans of all 32 NFL teams – with a few glaring exceptions – have plenty of reasons to get excited. With so much movement during free agency, the entire composition of defensive and offensive units have changed, thus benefiting some long underachieving teams and really doing a lot of damage to some long overachieving postseason stalwarts. Add in the 2016 rookie class – plus the continual maturation of young stars, coinciding with the continual degradation of some formerly elite stars – and you have all the makings for one of the most unpredictable pro football seasons ever.
NFC West Preview
The Seattle Seahawks will cruise to the NFC West Championship as the Arizona Cardinals implode early
By now, we should all know better than to discount the Seattle Seahawks. Yeah, losing Beast Mode is a biggie, but the addition of C.J. Prosise, as the kids say, is a huge “get.” The receiving unit – led by Doug Baldwin – should be as solid as it was last year, and even after losing some big name defensive standouts like Bruce Irvin, they’ve still got a top 10 secondary – if not a top five, for that matter. More so than just about any other team in the League this season, the Seahawks’ success hinges on effective, efficient play from their very, very well-paid QB. Thankfully for the Seattle faithful, Russell Wilson will hold up his end of the deal, as he leads the ‘Hawks to a 10-6 record and another NFC West crown.
Every year, there’s that one team that just falls apart. The Arizona Cardinals will be that team in 2016. Yes, I know this is a team that has put up consistently high passing and rushing numbers. Yes, I know the team has a top five offensive line and quite possibly a top five defense (which, theoretically, can only improve with draft selections Robert Nkemdiche and Brandon Williams.) Still, even with bona fide fantasy football studs like Chris Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup, I can’t imagine Carson Palmer keeping up the same level of play he’s maintained over the last two seasons. Eventually, the injury-prone QB will get sidelined again, and unfortunately, a guy like Jake Coker or Drew Stanton isn’t going to be able to lead this team to the Promised Land. With Palmer declared “out for season” by October 1, expect this team to record a ho-hum 8-8 record and miss the playoffs.
I almost, ALMOST want to say the Los Angeles Rams are playoff-worthy, but realistically, they’re still at least a year away from having all the necessary pieces in place. Todd Gurley is a legit MVP candidate, for sure, and Tavon Austin is one of the most dangerous dual receiving-and-rushing threats in the game; however, I still don’t think the Rams have their QB situation figured out just yet – while Jared Goff won’t put up embarrassing rookie stats, I don’t see him really making an instant impact, either. Goff could mature into a postseason-caliber signal caller next season, however, which also gives the Rams time to bulk up their defensive gaps. The Rams will go 7-9 this year, but that’ll probably be their last season below .500 for a long time to come.
It’s not like Chip Kelly can do a worse job leading the San Francisco 49ers than his forerunner. Still, this team is an absolute disaster on both sides of the ball, featuring one of the League’s lamest defenses and most laughable offenses. The quarterback situation is going to produce a lot of headaches for the red and gold faithful, and frankly, neither Colin K. or Blaine Gabbert are long time fixes for the problems ailing the organization. And then, there’s the running back corps, which very well could be the weakest rushing attack in pro football. They’ll pick up a few fluky wins, but anything greater than another 5-11 season sounds downright absurd.
AFC East Preview
The New England Patriots will win another divisional title in a much more competitive AFC East
Even with Tom Brady sidelined for the first four games of the season, no one in their right mind believes the New England Patriots’ season is in jeopardy. Indeed, there’s a very good chance backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo will go 4-0 while Tom Terrific sits in time out, regardless. While the back end of the Pats’ season is sprinkled with potential trap games, the potent offense and stellar no-name defense should be enough to make New England competitive in every game they play, which means, for another year at least, they are destined to remain perched atop the AFC East. I’ve got them going 12-4, which ought to be enough to secure them the top conference seed come playoff time.
The New York Jets came this close to making the playoffs last year, but they royally hunched the pooch on the last game of the regular season. The defense is more or less the same in 2016 – that’s both a positive and a negative – while the offense has been bolstered considerably by the free agent addition of Matt Forte. Of course, the big question mark in the Big Apple is who will wind up being the Jets’ starting QB. With Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzgerald duking it out for snaps, expect the J-E-T-S to L-O-S-E a lot of early season trap games; although they should finish the season with a decent 9-7 record, those unfortunate L’s from back in September and early October will be enough to keep them off the field come playoff time.
With the trifecta of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills have the makings of a tremendous three-headed offensive juggernaut. That, said, their defense still has some pretty big holes to patch. The team should be able to stop the run better than they did last year, I’m still not feeling optimistic about their secondary’s ability to beat the deep pass, however, and when you are in a division with guys like Gronk on the other side of the line of scrimmage, that’s going to cost you dearly. Still, this is a team solid enough to amass a 7-9 record; give them another year or two, and they could be playoff material.
Like the Bills, the Miami Dolphins are one of those teams that are almost there. Heading into the 2016 season, the Fins’ big weakness is a lackluster offense, complete with one of the weakest rushing attacks in the League. Ryan Tannehill is definitely one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the NFL, but until he has some big time playmakers to throw to, this is a team that just doesn’t have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Pats and the Jets. And their defense definitely needs a lot of work – it’ll probably take two or three draft classes before they can really right the ships there. Regardless, they’ll win enough games to almost hit the .500 mark, ultimately wrapping up the season with a 7-9 record.
Tomorrow: MORE PREVIEW!