The NFL Preseason is, thankfully, over; and now we await the games that really matter. Let’s look at my projections for all 32 teams, division by division, as well as the playoffs and end of season awards.
Green Bay (11-5): Jordy Nelson’s return will have wide-ranging positive impact on this Packer team. Minnesota’s D is better, but Pack should be able to score with anyone.
Minnesota (9-7): Best defense in the NFL and young QB with weapons should be a formula for success for the Vikings. That is until Teddy Bridgewater went down. Impossible to be the same team without him. The run game is great but can an aging Adrian Peterson put together yet another outstanding 1,500-yard season — and can he do it against defenses that will be 8 guys in the box?
Detroit (6-10): Anyone who tells you Calvin Johnson is a HOFer but then claims the Lions will be better this year without him is talking out of both sides of their mouth. Can’t be. Won’t be. Plus, they didn’t address their nonexistent run game.
Chicago (5-11): Alshon Jeffery should have big numbers for an offense that doesn’t have too many pieces that strike fear into defenses. Jay Cutler will need to have one of his absolute best seasons as a professional, if the Bears are to do anything.
NY Giants (9-7): No run game? No defense? No problem. High-octane passing attack will have Odell Beckham Jr. in the MVP discussion this year.
Washington (9-7): More complete team than the Giants. I have no good reason to not pick them to repeat in this division. I just can’t see the Redskins going back to back with a team that is merely mediocre — instead, another mediocre team will win it.
Dallas (5-11): Injuries will kill this team — Romo already out, Dez’s foot and ankle aren’t likely to last a full season, and Ezekiel Elliott will be given the ball until his legs fall off.
Philadelphia (5-11): Slow start in Philly, as everyone begins their season-long audition for new head coach Doug Pederson. Should figure things out towards the end and play better in December.
Atlanta (11-5): A 6-1 start in 2015 with virtually the same cast of characters returning in 2016. Run game should be formidable and Julio Jones is one the best in the NFL. Expect a defense that is much improved and should carry Atlanta to the playoffs.
Carolina (10-6): No 15-win season this year, but the Panthers still have all the pieces in place to be a very good team. But Cam has to prove that it wasn’t a flash in the pan last year and that they shake off any ill-effects from the Super Bowl letdown.
Tampa Bay (8-8): This offense could be very very good. Big pass catching threats and a couple solid RBs along with a mobile quarterback should allow head coach Dirk Koetter’s offense to hang with most teams. Bu the defense still needs to improve. They’re close, though.
New Orleans (4-12): The Saints have been trending backwards for a few years now. I think this is the year they just crash. I know the offense seems to have all the pieces in place — Drew Brees is healthy, Brandin Cooks is a stud, Mark Ingram is used nicely, addition of Coby Fleener. But they don’t play defense in New Orleans and that will hurt because their division has three very good offenses.
Arizona (12-4): A complete team and a hungry team. Head coach Bruce Arians will keep this team focused all year long. Not sure I can find any flaws with this group — multiple threats at receiver, multiple threats out of the backfield. Even if Carson Palmer were to go down, I think Drew Stanton could step right in. In short, this is a good team.
Seattle (9-7): An inefficient offense will put pressure on the defense causing neither to perform all that well. Question marks in the backfield will haunt this team, at least early on.
Los Angeles (5-11): This isn’t a bad team at all. But with a rookie QB and a new city and all those adjustments that come into play, it’s really hard to envision the Rams winning right off the bat in Los Angeles. Might be a year before they’re ready to challenge for the second spot in the division.
San Francisco (4-12): The Chip Kelly experiment will be looked at as a disaster in Philadelphia, but let’s not forget his back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and ’14. Maybe he mismanaged and misassembled the team, but he can coach. If he focuses solely on the coaching, there’s hope in the Bay Area. But there’s certainly potential for this to be ugly. First year might be his toughest in San Fran.
Pittsburgh (11-5): Hard to imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers not playing great defense — but it’s true. But the offense is as good as any in all of football.
Baltimore (8-8): John Harbaugh’s been the head coach of the Ravens for 9 years now and his worst season in Baltimore was last year. He’s proven to be a great coach so I expect a turnaround. But this is not the Baltimore defense of old and they don’t seems to have tremendous confidence in their running backs. The pressure will mostly be on Joe Flacco to throw the Ravens back into playoff contention.
Cincinnati (7-9): Hue Jackson will end up being a much bigger loss than many might have thought. A less efficient offense will negatively impact the Cincinnati defense, which has been very good in the last couple seasons.
Cleveland (5-11): Cleveland has some very flashy players who have high ceilings. I expect the Browns to be able to run the ball well, if they can spend time committing to it. But RG3 has to prove he can be a starting QB in this league.
New England (11-5): Pats should withstand the Brady suspension. These WRs and TEs are some of the best that Belichick has had in all his years in New England. The running backs are versatile and the defense might be top-5 good this season. What’s not to like?
Miami (9-7): Adam Gase brings a certain level of intrigue and optimism to Miami. The offense has a young core of players and the defensive line is one of the strongest in the NFL. If they can start quick and get out in front of New England while Brady sits, the Dolphins could be the surprise team in the AFC.
NY Jets (9-7): A tough schedule could spell doom for the Jets, especially early on. But if they survive the first month and a half, they have a very favorable November and December. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick repeat his 2015 season? And can Matt Forte stay healthy as he puts more miles on those 30-year old legs? Two questions that Jets fans might not want to hear the answers to.
Buffalo (5-11): Ummm, so Rex Ryan said they “won the offseason”. Is that kind of like going undefeated in the preseason? Because you know, Rex, the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason in ’08 on to go 0-16 when the real games began. Tyrod is good, Sammy is good, this defense should be better. But I don’t think there’s enough playmakers or threats in Buffalo to contend.
Indianapolis (10-6): With Andrew Luck back, and presumedly healthy, the Colts immediately move to the top of the division. If Frank Gore stays healthy and Indy manages to be able to run the ball, the division isn’t the only thing they will win this year. The defense has to be better than it’s been, though — even dating back 2 years ago to when Luck was healthy, the defense was not good enough.
Jacksonville (8-8): I want to say the Jags are talented enough to win 10 games and make the playoffs. In reality, head coach Gus Bradley has all the right pieces and the team is moving in the right direction; but it will take another year before they are serious contenders.
Houston (7-9): Additions of Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller should make Houston better. But Osweiler’s success in 2015 came with a Super Bowl team surrounding him. He will need to prove he can be just as good on a team with less talent and experience. The defense should be outstanding again, but the offense will have it’s hiccups.
Tennessee (4-12): Like Jacksonville, the Titans have the young talent on their roster. Led by Marcus Mariota, Tennessee has a bright future. The only problem? The future is at least a year or two away.
Oakland (10-6): The Raiders have all the offensive weapons to be very good this year. The defense may not be at the level of the ’15 Broncos or what Kansas City’s is expected to be (and has been), but head coach Jack Del Rio has assembled fast edge rushers, hard hitters, and ball hawks that will provide enough nastiness to cause fits for opposing offenses.
Kansas City (10-6): This defense could be one of the league’s best. But how much longer do the Chiefs keep going with Alex Smith, hoping that he’ll manage games well enough for them to win? He still has little help as far as receiving weapons, and the running game can be fragile if Jamaal Charles takes another hard hit to one of his knees. This is a good team — but exactly how high is their ceiling? Not high enough — even if that D is exceptional.
San Diego (6-10): No way SD should have lost 12 games last year. They weren’t that bad — and they won’t be that bad this year either. Phillip Rivers will light up the stat sheet on a weekly basis. If they can find a consistent run game, they’ll have a shot to be over .500. Of course, the Charger defense has to figure out a way to stop the run as well.
Denver (5-11): When was the last time a defending Super Bowl Champion entered the following season with a starting QB who never started an NFL game before? Never. The answer is never. Trevor Siemians is not the answer, Mark Sanchez was not the answer, and only time will tell if first round pick Paxton Lynch is the answer. The defense will be good and the running backs in Denver are solid. But everyone knows you need a QB to win in this league — look no further than the Colts and what happened when Andrew Luck went down.
NFC: Arizona, GB, Atlanta, NYG, Carolina, Seattle
AFC: Pittsburgh, NE, Indy, Oakland, KC, Miami
NFC: Green Bay over Arizona
AFC: New England over Pittsburgh
Super Bowl LI
New England over Green Bay
Odell Beckham, Jr.
Coach of the Year
Jack Del Rio
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.