Predicting the outcome of an NFL season is one of the most difficult estimations a sports fan could possibly make. There is a large amount of turnover between good teams and bad, and the league is renowned for its general unpredictability. However, there are still indicators before any given season of which teams will excel and which will fall flat.
This year is no different, and there is much to be the decided about the trajectory of many teams in the league. While some are likely to continue their quality play, there are also many who are slated to improve and some ready to take a nose dive. The offseason acquisitions for each of these teams has a lot to do with the decided rankings. After all, they represent the most obvious changes on each roster. Some saw the team improve, while others left fans, analysts and pundits scratching their heads with the decisions. With the season fast approaching, this is a good time to take a look at the teams who will make a statement--whether or not it will be a winning one is yet to be seen.
Ranked below are 8 teams that will improve and 7 that have no chance in the 2016 season.
29 Baltimore Ravens - Improvement
The Ravens really suffered a stroke of bad luck last season, losing RB Justin Forsett, QB Joe Flacco and WR Steve Smith for an extended amount of time. Factor in the injury to standout veteran LB Terrell Suggs, and they never really had a shot in 2015. Assuming those pieces are relatively healthy, the team can also look to new additions like S Eric Weddle and TE Benjamin Watson to help fill some necessary problem-areas, and try to make a run in what predicts to be a competitive AFC North division. It's hard to say the Ravens have elite skill players, but the new additions of Watson and WR Mike Wallace, along with Smith and WR Kamar Aiken, should give a quality QB like Flacco enough to work with in the passing game to be effective. I see a pretty sizeable turnaround in Baltimore if all their key pieces are healthy. They should contend for a playoff birth, most likely in the Wild Card.
27 Indianapolis Colts - Nose Dive
Had this question been posed before the offseason, I would have said that the return of QB Andrew Luck would figure a return to the playoff for the Colts, but unfortunately for them, the AFC South as a whole got a lot better as well. It doesn't help that they lost TE Coby Fleener in the offseason, as well as LB Jerrell Freeman. With an aging RB Frank Gore as their best option in a mitigated run game, Indy is going to have to throw the ball, and hope that second-year WR Phillip Dorsett catches on in a hurry after a disappointing rookie campaign. Though they did add CB Patrick Robinson in free agency to a secondary that features standout CB Vontae Davis, but the defense as a whole is questionable. The return of Luck may mark the return of passing dominance for the team, but the rest of the roster has too many holes and questions to consider the Colts a lock for a successful season. Seven wins or so is a much safer figure.
25 Dallas Cowboys - Improvement
Of course, the elephant in the room when it comes to the Cowboys is the health of Tony Romo, but they also suffered major injuries to all of their key players last season. Dez Bryant, CB Orlando Scandrick, and LB Sean Lee all missed significant time in 2015. If they can see the field with more consistency this year, Dallas could be able to take advantage of a questionable NFC East. Rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is on the watch to be an instant, impact player, and combined with newly signed change-up RB Alfred Morris, TE Jason Witten and solid complimentary WRs Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley, the Cowboys can contend with their offense. The greatest asset to the defense is probably coordinator Rod Marinelli, who has succeeded at times bringing out the best in a clearly limited group. If he can do that on a regular basis, and the offense can stay healthy, Dallas could land a playoff birth after a four-win campaign last year.
23 Los Angeles Rams - Nose Dive
The Rams went all in on California QB product Jared Goff, trading up to number one for him in the draft. They're hoping that the potential future elite QB playing alongside with standout RB Todd Gurley will pose a threatening offense for years to come. The problem for this year? Four key losses on the defensive side of the ball, including DT Nick Fairley, DE Chris Long, S Rodney McLeod and CB Janoris Jenkins. That's simply too much firepower to lose, on what was a very successful overall unit last season. Granted, elite lineman Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn still remain, but they won't be able to overcome all the losses in the secondary. Skill players, sans Gurley, are also lacking on offense, leaving Goff with mostly mediocre options to throw to. Look for the Rams to hover around six wins this year in a tough division, replacing head coach Jeff Fisher next offseason.
21 Arizona Cardinals - Improvement
The Cardinals had a great 2015 season, and they could be even better come this Fall. The Carson Palmer-led offense is at the peak of their powers, and features what is probably the best overall WR corps in the game today. The talent in that unit never ceases; Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Malcolm Floyd, J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown all combine to create an elite group of pass catchers, that is perfectly incorporated in the offensive gameplan. On top of that, RB David Johnson establishes himself as a three-down caliber player, and upgrades to the defense, such as edge rusher Chandler Jones, joining effective secondary players Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, make the Cardinals a potent Super Bowl threat this season. Look for them to win around 12 games, along with a deep playoff run.
19 New York Giants - Nose Dive
The Giants spent a lot of money in free agency during the offseason, mostly looking to bolster their defense. While they were able to accomplish that on paper, signing CB Janoris Jenkins, edge rusher Olivier Vernon and DT Damon Harrison, they spent a hefty amount of money, and only Vernon out of that group resembles a sure thing. Additionally, they lost CB Prince Amukamura, DT Cullen Jenkins, and LB Jon Beason. Their first round draft selection was questionable with CB Eli Apple at 10th overall, and they have a limited running game. Eli Manning is still at the helm, but he is getting older, and while he has seen a marginal resurgence the last two seasons, nothing is guaranteed now that he is in his mid-30s. Odell Beckham is one of the best receivers in the league, but his presence has only resulted in back-to-back six-win season. Overall, the Giants' spending spree looks like a reach, and they will find themselves in the cellar.
17 Philadelphia Eagles - Improvement
At the end of last season, Philadelphia looked to have an utter mess of a team. Chip Kelly was fired after a week 16 trouncing, and the team was hamstringed by several awful contracts, and question marks all over the depth chart. Much of that has been addressed in the offseason, and the Eagles were able to land some significant upgrades on many units. After adding S Rodney McLeod, G Brandon Brooks, WRs Chris Givens and Rueben Randle, and CB Leodis McKelvin, Philadelphia looks to be in much better shape heading into 2016. A mid-season falter to either the Cowboys or Redskins could set them up in prime position for a Wild Card birth, which would a quality start for first-year head coach Doug Pederson. Sam Bradford will likely be the starting QB, despite the presence of second overall pick Carson Wentz. Looks for the Eagles to finish with nine wins, on the brink of the playoffs.
15 Buffalo Bills - Nose Dive
Buffalo looks to be in all kinds of trouble, and just the next in line of failures for the over-exuberant personality of Rex Ryan. Top WR Sammy Watkins is still battling injury, and the concern for the rest of the offense cannot be ignored. Aging veteran RB LeSean McCoy is still effective, but missed notable time due to injury last season. If both Watkins and McCoy go down, the top two skill players on the team will be TE Charles Clay and WR Robert Woods; hardly two compelling options for QB Tyrod Taylor to throw to. The Bills do feature some nice young pieces in the secondary, but losing DE Mario Williams and CB Leodis McKelvin hurts what was an average defense under Ryan last season. Given that they play in the competitive AFC East, Buffalo predicts to suffer a last place finish, and then give Rex the axe next offseason. There just isn't much reason to think otherwise, despite a couple nice individual talents on the roster.
13 Jacksonville Jaguars - Improvement
The Jags used the offseason to full-effect, signing a ton of new talent, and picking up not one, but two blue chip prospects in the draft. The names just kept coming, and rarely ceased for any extended period of time; RB Chris Ivory, DT Malik Jackson, CB Prince Amukamura, S Tashaun Gipson and OT Kelvin Beachum were all added in free agency. After drafting Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey and UCLA LB Myles Jack, Jacksonville could potentially be looking at an elite roster in several years. But the turnaround will begin this season. They already have an elite WR in Allen Robinson, and quality RB in T.J. Yeldon who is still reaching his potential. Given the amount of weapons he has to work with, QB Blake Bortles will continue his breakout pace, leading the Jags to a Wild Card birth this season. A lot of money was spent, but it will pay off, and Jacksonville looks to be a threat for years to come.
11 San Francisco 49ers - Nose Dive
There was a clear distinction between the beginning of Chip Kelly's tenure in Philadelphia, and the end of it. If the mistakes he made during the latter half of the time he spent with the Eagles are not fixed, the 49ers are doomed to repeat the mediocrity. This is particularly true considering the fact that their roster is devoid of much, if any, talent on offense, which is necessary to effectively run Kelly's unique tempo style. RB Carlos Hyde has the potential to be effective, but beyond that there really isn't a single notable skill player on the team, which has to be a concern going forward. There just isn't much to talk about with this team; either they will employ Kelly's system effectively or they won't, but it all hinges on the head coach. In a tough division, I don't see any way they can win more than five games, and will be forced to make some significant upgrades in the 2017 offseason.
9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Improvement
The Bucs have quietly been a team on the rise, and didn't do anything in the offseason to hurt that trajectory. They were able to add DE Robert Ayers, and CBs Josh Robinson and Brent Grimes during free agency, and signed G J.R. Sweezy to replace the retired Logan Mankins at the position. It's hardly the fireworks of pickups that other teams had, but it's a group that should add just enough onto a solid core, and will be successful in the 2016 season. Jameis Winston really came into his own last year, and the WR corps still features burgeoning elite WR Mike Evans, and veteran Vincent Jackson. Doug Martin will be able to stand out in the running game, and the Bucs should make a push for the division in the vastly improving AFC South. While not a surefire bet, this is a team that features enough upside for a playoff birth in 2016. The biggest question is actually whether new head coach Dirk Koetter is able to man the ship effectively.
7 Cleveland Browns - Nose Dive
There's been a lot of talk about new head coach Hue Jackson is going to turn this dumpster fire of a team around, but it would be almost impossible to do so with their current roster. The Browns were absolutely decimated in free agency, losing most of the dependable players they had. On this list includes WR Travis Benjamin, C Alex Mack, S Tashaun Gipson, DT Randy Starks and LB Karlos Dansby. What's more is that none of them have been given suitable replacements, and the Browns are really relying on a new QB question mark in RGIII, and rookie Baylor product Corey Coleman to carry the offense. Second-year RB Duke Johnson has showed flashes of brilliance as a pass-catcher in the backfield, but is hardly a game changer. If Cleveland won more than four games this year, it would be shocking. Easily one of the worst rosters in the league on paper.
5 Chicago Bears - Improvement
The Bears are ready to have a breakout year under John Fox, after a stellar free agency period that saw them address key positions, and keep all of their top young talent. RB Matt Forte and TE Martellus Bennett may have left, but the team was able to hang onto TE Zach Miller, WR Alshon Jeffrey and CB Tracy Porter, limiting the damage. Jeremy Langford will step in as a key figure in the backfield, effectively replacing Forte. A pair of LB signings in Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman were excellent pickups and will add nicely to an up-and-coming Bears defense that already features the likes of OLB Pernell McPhee and CB Kyle Fuller. If Jay Cutler plays well enough at QB, the Bears could be a real dark horse playoff team in the NFC. Fox has a history of turning around sub-par teams, and now in his second season in Chicago, he has a realistic chance to do that this year.
3 San Diego Chargers - Nose Dive
The Chargers will likely be on the downturn even further, as they lost three starters on a roster that had notable questions the previous year. TE Ladarius Green, S Eric Weddle and CB Patrick Robinson all split in free agency, and replaced the latter two with CB Casey Hayward and S Dwight Lowry, which can hardly be considered upgrades. RB Melvin Gordon is on track to be a huge bust, leaving San Diego without a consistent three-down option in the backfield, running behind a so-so offensive line. They did sign WR Travis Benjamin to a healthy contract, but an elite QB in Phillip Rivers could make any number of receivers look good. The passing game has never been the issue for the Chargers. They play in a tough division, and it's difficult to really give them much of a chance this year. Third overall pick, DE Joey Bosa could help their pass rush, but relying on a rookie to carry a defense likely isn't the best case scenario.
1 Oakland Raiders - Improvement
The Raiders are looking to wrestle the lion's share of the power in the AFC West, and they have a pretty compelling argument as to why that would happen. Derek Carr has established himself as the franchise QB; a crafty young passer with a strong arm, not afraid to throw deep. WR Michael Crabtree supplements burgeoning star Amari Cooper in the receiving corps, and RB Latavious Murray is set to get the bulk of the carries in the backfield. The defense lost S Charles Woodson to retirement, but added a quality CB Sean Smith and LB Bruce Irvin from Seattle in free agency. They join Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack, looking to continue his dominance. This is now a well rounded roster that will see the playoff this year, by either the AFC West division crown, or a Wild Card birth. It seems for real this time, that the Raiders will re-instill their winning ways, when the 2016 season is all said and done.