The NFL is a very up and down kind of league. Remember when the Chargers were supposed to dominate with Ryan Leaf? Well, so don’t we—the pick after Peyton Manning broke a lot of Chargers fan’s hearts that year. Remember when the Cardinals were poised to do big things with Matt Leinart? Boy did that plan crash and burn. How about the Giants in 2007? They surprised the world by winning it all that year. In 1998, the St. Louis Rams finished the season 4 and 12. Not much was expected from them the following year. Then stepped in the AFL star Kurt Warner. The team went 13 and 3 and did the improbable by winning the Super Bowl. Overall, there is no telling who will dominate and who will fade out of relevance. Below you will find a list of 7 teams that will “break your heart” and 8 teams that will “win you over” in the 2016 NFL season.
This list was determined by three different criteria. First, how efficient was the team in the offseason? Did they sign any stars? Draft any potential leaders? Or did they lose some key components? Second, how good/bad is their division looking. Do they have a chance to overtake some of the division leaders from last year. Or are the other teams just looking too strong? Last, how young/old is the team looking. In some cases, time allows rookies to mature, in others instances, time does the opposite to over-matured players. If you find your team on the “break your heart” list, hold on tight. Contrarily, if you find your team on the “win you over” list, congratulations… you’re in for a fun season.
17 Break Your Heart
16 New England Patriots
As we all know by now, Brady admitted to using a deflated football in the 2015 playoffs. In response, the NFL decided to suspend him for the same amount of time PED perpetrators receive. Be it as it may, the NFL is insinuating that using an under-inflated football is comparable to using HgH, just throwing that one out there... So the Patriots will roll with Jimmy Garoppolo in place of Brady’s 4 game absence. This is where problems will start to accumulate. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots start the season at 1 and 3; their schedule isn’t that easy for a neophyte at QB. Then Brady comes back, and the Patriots will be able to breathe again, right? Well not really. Remember when Peyton Manning forgot how to throw a football 2 years ago? Well, the same will eventually happen to Brady, and that time might be upon us. It’s an age thing, right? We can’t always expect an elite QB to sustain an elite level of athleticism? There will always come a time, and Brady just turned 39. Yes, 39! Trying to dig your team out of a hole 4 games into the season is a tall order, even for Brady.
15 Denver Broncos
A Broncos team with Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl. A Broncos team with Mark Sanchez won’t even make the playoffs. Sure, the Broncos still have the same core—Von Miller makes any squad a top tier defense—but we can all agree, the QB position is the most important position in football. So the Broncos decided to part ways with the budding talent in Osweiler, and go with Marc Sanchez. A quarterback with marginal career numbers like a 74.3 QBR, or 86 TD’s to 84 INT’s. Might we be reminded that Sanchez is 29. He reached the apex of his career in 2011, where he was actually a pretty decent QB. Since then, he’s battle serious injuries, and didn’t even manage to summon a victory with the Eagles last year (in 3 starts). The Broncos also find themselves in one of the toughest defensive divisions as well. Good luck trying to generate any offensive momentum against the likes of a stellar Chiefs defense, or a relentless pass rush in Oakland. The Bronco’s QB decision is a head scratcher to say the least.
14 Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the poster child for hope this season in the NFL. A new city, a new QB, and even a new reality T.V. show. It is sparking a lot of excitement and optimism this season. But the reality of the situation is that the Rams haven’t had a winning season in 11 years! Unfortunately, one thing they can’t change is their division. Anytime you have have to play the Cardinals and Seahawks twice in the same year, you’re in for a real challenge. That isn’t to say the Rams will be bad. In fact, they have arguably the best RB in the NFL, and top 10 defense in the league. Undoubtedly, it will be fun to watch how a team transitions from one to city another, how the fans reacts, and how well the 1st pick in the 2016 draft plays. But don’t the let hype distract you from the fact the Cardinals and Seahawks stand in their way.
13 Washington Redskins
An exciting season is upon Redskin fans. They feel as if they can finally put the RGIII debacle to rest, and have a legitimate reason to cheer for. Kirk Cousins is the real deal, and that receiving core is legitimately good. But what do they say again? “Defense wins championships.” Be it as it may, the Broncos confirmed such a theory last year. So the Redskins went out and signed the best cornerback on the market, quite possibly the best CB in the NFL, Josh Norman. What is hard to understand about defenses in the NFL is that they are like an ant’s nest. Each and every ant serves and equally important role in keeping the continuity of the nest just as every player on a defensive squad serves an equally important role. The Redskins lack a pass rush, especially without their premier defender Junior Galette who will be hurt for the season. This will inevitably put an insurmountable amount of pressure on the CB’s and break the flow to the defense. Offense wins fans, not games.
12 New Orleans Saints
The Saints have had the 2nd worst defense in the league for 2 years straight now, and Drew Brees is still the man (but he isn’t getting any younger)... Not much has changed in New Orleans. They weren’t the best last year, and this year is going to be even worse. Ultimately, the Saint’s kryptonite will be their division. The Falcons are looking good, the Bucs have Jameis Winston and the Panthers are well… the Panthers. It’s sad to admit it, but the NFL is going through a QB comb over: Peyton Manning leaves the game in style. Tom Brady is having to battle a 4 game suspension. And Drew Brees is working with one of the worst defenses in the league. There are just too many good young quarterbacks for the Veterans to handle. This will end up being the year the Saints realize they have to rebuild their organization.
11 Cleveland Browns
Remember when RGIII rushed for a 76 yard touchdown in 2012 against the Vikings? What happened since then? A lot has changed for RGIII, including his reputation, his prestige and his team. Regardless, Browns fans are excited they have someone other than Joe Thomas to cheer for. In fact, the Browns have Josh Gordon coming back from suspension, a monster TE, and a budding talent at RB. But let’s be realistic here. The Browns seem to draw attention for all of the wrong reasons. Somehow Trent Richardson went from being the next Brown’s AP to staring at his phone waiting for a team to sign him. Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Football became a walking talking reality T.V. show. And RGIII will undoubtedly fade into the abyss, again. Yes, the Browns are a fun team to follow, just like Jersey Shore was entertaining to watch. Sadly, the world can’t take the Brown seriously until they show that winning is a priority.
10 Detroit Lions
The Lions can’t seem to catch a break. Two years ago they went 11 and 5 and still finished 2nd in the division. Last year, they suffered a lot of injuries and had a down year. This year is going to be even worse. The Packers have Jordy Nelson coming back from the IR. Ouch… The Nelson-Rodgers combo is one of the best offensive duos in the NFL. The Bears aren’t much of a contender, but they will be getting a healthy Alshon Jeffery back. Then, Calvin Johnson decides to retire from the league. The best receiver of his generation leaving his team really hurts. The balance of power in the NFL North has shifted radically. Plus the Vikings look like a sound football team that isn’t going to be easy to beat. Watching the Lions in 2016 will be like watching a boat sink slowly but surely into the deep blue water.
9 Win You Over
8 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings went 11 and 5 last season. This year, they upgraded their offensive line, acquired a true number 1 receiver in the draft and have a new stadium to break in. They have Super Bowl aspiration written across their foreheads. Teddy Bridgewater is coming into his own, and it’s never a good idea to doubt Adrian Peterson (as he showed us in 2012). The Vikings defense is arguably one of the best in the league; Everson Griffen is emerging as a dominant pass rusher, and Harrison Smith just became the highest paid safety in the league. What's most intriguing about the Vikings is their division. The Bears have the potential to improve from last year’s dismal effort, but they won’t win the division. The Lions are hoping for a miracle (see above). And most importantly, the Packers are going through a PED scandal (which could result in 2 high name player suspensions). If this were to happen, expect the Vikings to walk casually into the playoffs.
7 Miami Dolphins
For the past 5+ years in the NFL, one last place team has made the jump to 1st place in their division the following year. This begs the question; who will be the team this year? 49ers? I think not. Buccaneers beating the Panthers, no way! Bears, Cowboys and Chargers have no chance. Titans and Browns, just not seeing it happen. This leaves the Dolphins in the AFC East. Last year they finished last in their division at 6 and 10. This year, they will face a handicapped Patriots team, a Jets team without a dependable offense, and an unpredictable Bills team. For the Dolphins, optimism is blooming for three reasons: they revamped their offensive line with a couple key injuries healed up. Their linebackers are some of the best in the league. And Ryan Tannehill is playing his ultimatum year. His contract is set to balloon next year, and if he doesn’t come through, don’t expect him to stick with the Dolphins. It’s a do or die year for the Dolphins, and they are set to soar.
6 Houston Texans
Last year the Texans started Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden at QB. On paper, sounds like they had difficult year. It turns out, the Texans ended up winning their division and going to the playoffs. All combined, the carousel of QBs threw for 3,800 yards, 29 TDs and 12 INTs. Those are legitimate statistics. Fast forward to this year, they upgrade at QB with Brock Osweiler. This could end up being a great learning experience for the promising young QB. Plus he has DeAndre Hopkins at WR who will continue to catch every ball thrown his way. The Texans also signed Lamar Miller to solidify their RB position. On top of it all, they find themselves in a favorable division. Hopefully J.J. Watt doesn’t come back from injury too late, and Jadeveon Clowney shows the world why he was the 1st pick in the 2014 draft. The Texans will be fun to watch in 2016.
5 Arizona Cardinals
For far too long the Cardinals have been a fly on the wall kind of team. They shared a stadium at the state university, players would come and go as they wish and they struggled to manage any winning seasons. A couple fluke seasons here and there, and then… The cardinals organization found Bruce Arians. It’s incredible the difference a good coach can make, and Arians exemplifies that perfectly. The Cardinals became not only a respectable team, but they started to solidify a reputation as one of the prestigious teams of the NFL. Much like Arians’ career—a story of great resiliency and perseverance—the Cardinals players embody that same kind of mentality. Carson Palmer never gave up and revitalized his career in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald continues to be one of the most humble and dominant WRs in the game. Tyrann Mathieu went from being a college superstar, to the NFL’s blacklist, to comeback player of the century. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is—the Cardinals aren’t just fun to watch, they are fun to follow.
4 Jacksonville Jaguars
Nothing like hearing the engine of a Jaguar start up… the football team that is. Even though the Jaguars have been another one of those fly on the wall kind of teams, they were pretty exciting to watch last year. Aside from the defensive breakdowns, the Jaguars had a humming offense. In fact, they ranked 3rd in the league for plays 20+ yards, and 2nd overall for plays 40+ yards. Allen Robinson nearly broke a couple records at the WR position, and Blake Bortles finally rose to the challenge of being a decent QB in Jacksonville. For the coming 2016 season, things are projected to only get better. They filled a couple of key needs at defense, and they’re exceptionally young offense gained some valuable time to mature. It may be asking too much to expect a better season than the Texans or even the Colts, but that won’t take away from the fact that they’ll have one of the most electric offenses in the 2016 season.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s hard to predicate the value of one team through one player, but when we’re talking about Jameis Winston, eh.... not so much. Coming out of college, the soon to be 1st pick had some major question marks next to his name. Everything but his talent was to be determined. It turns out, Jameis Winston is a pretty serious guy. He played his guts out for the Buccaneers in his rookie season, and became the youngest player to pass for 4,000+ yards in a season. Recently, reports have surfaced that Winston is spending his days practicing and giving inspirational speeches to kids. Sounds like a mature thing to do. Well for the coming season, the Buccaneers will unveil a new Jameis Winston, one that surpasses the sensational rookie version. Expect the Buccaneers to look like a poor man’s version of the Panthers—good defense and a instrumental QB to lead the way.
2 New York Giants
The Giants arguably went through the biggest makeover in the 2016 offseason. They added the best 4-3 defensive pass rusher in Olivier Vernon. Another couple key additions solidified a shaky defense, and the re-signing of Jason Pierre-Paul gave the Giants the potential to become a premier pass rushing team once again. The organization also decided to part ways with Tom Coughlin and sign a new coach. But what will make the Giants one of the best teams to watch in the NFC is their conference. The Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles make for very weak adversaries, allowing the top seed of the eastern conference up for grabs. And of course, anytime you have Odell Beckham Jr on your team, you always stand a chance. Eli Manning seems to come to play every other year, and let’s just say she didn’t show up last year. Even though the Giants are a hate or love kind of team, make no mistake about it, 2016 will be their year.
1 Oakland Raiders
The Raiders will be the Cinderella story of the NFL in 2016. For far too long, the Raiders were one of those polarizing teams. If you wore a Raiders jersey, people either wanting to hug you or fight you. Unfortunately, the organization faded into the the abyss for a decade or so. Then behold… They draft David Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray and Khalil Mack and guess what, they are back in business! If David Carr can continue on his 1st half trajectory from last season, then he’ll undoubtedly be a top 5 QB. The offensive line in Oakland is considered to be one of the best in the NFL at the moment. The defense added some really good players. And the offense has infinite potential at almost every position. This is the year of the rising stars in Oakland. Soon enough, Raiders fans will finally be able to let the days of Rich Gannon behind them and look forward to a bright and exciting future of football in Oakland.