We are now just weeks away from the 2016 NFL season kicking off. As you all know, the Denver Broncos will host the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 rematch in The Mile High City. We are only counting down the days, folks. Football will be here before you know it.
So as we prepare for the season, it’s a good time to talk about how we think each team will do. You know what you’ll get from elite teams like Carolina, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, and others. But how will teams like the Dallas Cowboys fare with Tony Romo back? Are the New England Patriots prepared for life without Tom Brady for a quarter of the season?
Also, will teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, and Oakland Raiders finally break through after years of rebuilding? Everything is speculation at this point, but we’ll try our best to predict how the 2016 season goes down for each team.
Here are our early predictions for all 32 NFL teams’ records in 2016.
Arizona Cardinals: 12-4
The Cardinals have registered a winning season over their last three years. They went 13-3 last season and are poised to once again challenge for the Lombardi Trophy. If Carson Palmer can avoid yet another ugly postseason performance, they should be considered the NFC favourites.
Their defense got even stronger with the addition of pass-rushing star Chandler Jones. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu will keep this elite secondary in tact. No team in the NFL is more balanced on both sides of the ball. The three-headed receiving monster of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd will help this offensive machine keep rolling.
Also, David and Chris Johnson (no relation) round out the ground game. Arizona doesn’t have any weaknesses on paper, and everything points to them once again winning the NFC West.
Atlanta Falcons: 9-7
The Falcons started out 6-1 and were poised for a playoff berth, but Matt Ryan’s second-half regression and this team’s 2-7 finish wasted what could have been a great year. But owner Arthur Blank gave GM Thomas Dimitroff the green light to spend money in order to get them back to the playoffs.
So he signed speedy receiver Mohamed Sanu to provide support for Julio Jones. One of the league’s elite centres, Alex Mack, was also brought in. Pass-rushing depth was added with the additions of Sean Weatherspoon, Courtney Upshaw, and Derrick Shelby. That addresses a weakness for the team who had the least amount of defensive sacks last season.
Ryan, Jones, Sanu, and Devonta Freeman will continue to score points. Atlanta has seven matches against teams who made the playoffs last year. But all of the big moves by Dimitroff will pay off. Atlanta will contend for a playoff spot as they register their first winning season since 2012.
Baltimore Ravens: 10-6
The Ravens missed the playoffs in 2015 with a putrid 5-11 record. Losing Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr., and Justin Forsett for the entire season, AKA their four best players, made everything difficult for them.
However, the health of their key players will already put them in playoff contention next year. But there are a couple of under-the-radar signings they made that will make them a bonafide Super Bowl contender. Speedy wideout Mike Wallace finally has an above-average quarterback in Flacco. Remember how he played with Ben Roethlisberger? So do we.
Meanwhile, they signed Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, fixing a secondary that’s been one of the worst over the last few seasons. John Harbaugh and Flacco have plenty of postseason experience and know what it takes to get there. Baltimore rebounds with a playoff run.
Buffalo Bills: 8-8
I really want to give the Bills more wins than this. They own arguably the NFL’s most ferocious defensive line, and their secondary is an underrated unit, led by promising cornerback Stephen Gilmore.
There’s a LOT to love in the offence: Tyrod Taylor should continue to improve, while Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy make this unit formidable. However, Taylor has to show he can take Buffalo to the next level. I’m a big believer in Rex Ryan helping them reach the playoffs, but the Bills have an extremely difficult schedule.
The AFC East, of course, features the New England Patriots, but the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have made more offseason moves to get better. Buffalo has to face their divisional foes in six games, while also facing the AFC North, NFC West, and the promising Oakland Raiders. Their defence will do a lot to get them to challenge for the playoffs, but Taylor doesn’t appear ready to take them there yet.
Carolina Panthers: 11-5
I stand by the belief if Cam Newton faced any other defence in the past 10 years besides the 2015 Denver Broncos, then the Panthers would have been Super Bowl 50 champions. We are talking about the man who dismantled the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom twice, as well as the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship.
Still, the Panthers will get through the loss of Josh Norman and continue to dominate the NFC. Newton may regress a little bit, because his 2015 season was way too special. But the return of Kelvin Benjamin gives him another reliable target. Carolina will once again win the NFC South, but their schedule’s going to be tough.
They open up in Week 1 in Denver, and we’ll wager they fall to the defending champions on the road in front of a crazy crowd. Their divisional opponents got a lot better, and I’m expecting a season-series split with New Orleans and Atlanta.
Losses at Oakland and San Diego will also take place, but they’ll still be capable of going on another deep playoff run. Carolina loses four more games than last year, but they’ll still be a team nobody enjoys facing.
Chicago Bears: 7-9
The Bears are on the right track towards rebuilding, as a now-departed offensive coordinator fixed Jay Cutler in 2015. With Alshon Jeffery and 2015 first-rounder Kevin White set to join them (he missed all of last season) Cutler will have a pair of legitimate receiving threats. Running back Jeremy Langford will also give them a powerful and balanced offence.
In an offensively-powered NFC North, the Bears signed veteran Akiem Hicks, Super Bowl standout Danny Trevathan, and linebacker Jerrell Freeman to boast a defense that made significant improvements last season.
John Fox was the right fit for this group, but the Bears need a couple of more strong drafts before they can be taken seriously as a playoff team. They’re still the worst team in their division. They do get favourable matchups against the NFC East and AFC South, however. I’m expecting seven wins from Fox’ crew. The Bears are close, but not quite there.
Cincinnati Bengals: 11-5
The Bengals were a little bit of discipline away from winning their first playoff game since 1991. But Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones misbehaved, allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to send Cincy home once again in the first-round of the playoffs.
Andy Dalton’s health could have been the difference-maker in that game, but the Bengals are stuck where they are. Dalton returns with two elite pass-catchers: Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, backed in the ground game by Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Their defence is an underrated group with Geno Atkins, Adam Jones, and Vontaze Burfict. However, their first six games are simply gruelling: Road games in New York and Pittsburgh, two home match-ups against Denver and Miami, then travels to Dallas and New England. Cincinnati should be happy if they crack three wins in their first six.
Their schedule gets easy after that, as they’ll have just three games left from 2015 playoff teams – including the not-so-great Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. I’m expecting the Bengals to fall 2-4, losing their first four road games. From there, they’ll lose at home to Pittsburgh and at Houston, but will finish 11-5 and win the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns: 4-12
The Browns continue to rebuild, and they aren’t even close to getting much better right now. However, bringing in Robert Griffin III to replace the released Johnny Manziel is surely an upgrade. However, RG3 doesn’t have many elite weapons aside from tight end Gary Barnidge, so it’s concerning to see how he will work with such little talent.
Cleveland is once again facing a losing season. Years of rebuilding and years of finding a new quarterback and coach every second year hasn’t really helped. Joe Haden remains a standout corner, but he doesn’t have a lot of help in the secondary. That doesn’t bode well for a division that also features Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco.
Playing in the toughest division in the NFL, Cleveland’s looking at one win against their AFC North foes, MAX. The NFC East is weak, but all four teams are much better than Cleveland. Four wins are on the board for the Browns this year: Vs. Baltimore, at Tennessee, vs. the Jets, and an upset at home against the Chargers.
Dallas Cowboys: 10-6
After a disastrous year with Tony Romo out for most of 2015, the Cowboys will be back in full business this season.
Romo is a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, and you haters have to accept that. Their underrated defense kept them in games last year, and now they just need their franchise player to stay healthy. Drafting Ezekiel Elliot may have given them the next DeMarco Murray. If he can flourish behind the NFL’s best offensive line, they’ll instantly be one of the NFC’s elite teams.
Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams remain a dangerous trio of pass-catchers. Dallas played in a lot of close games last year, even though the quarterback play from Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel was awful. They’re the best team in the NFC East when Romo is healthy. They would have won the division last year if he had played the whole season.
Denver Broncos: 11-5
The defending Super Bowl champions will take a slight step back, but not a significant one.
People (hello Colin Cowherd) want to write them off entirely because of their messy quarterback situation. Little do some people know that they got through the season with Peyton Manning having his worst statistical career, and Brock Osweiler being a completely average quarterback.
In fact, Mark Sanchez will probably do better than either of them. He’s not injured and 39 like Manning was, and he’s also not inexperienced like Osweiler. He’s been a starter for a few years now, and the Broncos should be able to help him cut down on the turnovers and work in Gary Kubiak’s conservative, rush-heavy offence.
People also forget how the Broncos defence won them virtually all of their games last year. Holding the Steelers to 16 points in the AFC Divisional, Tom Brady to 18 in the AFC Championship, and MVP Cam Newton to 10 in the Super Bowl shows that.
Sadly for all 31 other teams, nine of Denver’s 11 defensive starters are returning. That includes pass-rushing stars Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, plus an elite secondary that has Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, Darian Stewart, and T.J. Ward.
Detroit Lions: 6-10
The Lions appear to live by a motto the “great” Donald Trump likes to use to describe politicians (even though they’ll always be better in office than him). By that, I mean “all talk, no action.”
Detroit always finds a way to underachieve, and there’s no reason to think they’re going to be better in 2016. They lost the franchise’s top wide receiver ever in Calvin Johnson, who shockingly decided to retire early; kind of like another great Lions player nearly two decades ago. Barry Sanders, anyone?
Anywho, their defense, a top-10 unit in 2014, regressed significantly in 2015, and they didn’t make any big upgrades. Marvin Jones was signed to replace Johnson, and veteran Anquan Boldin was also brought in. That doesn’t mean the Lions will be able to replace what Megatron did.
Their rushing game is still as inconsistent as it comes, and Matthew Stafford has been above-average, but not the bonafide franchise quarterback to take them all the way. The Lions are a team that just lacks the “it” factor. Their Hail Mary loss to the Packers last year is evidence. They’ll once again underachieve with a disappointing six-win season.
Green Bay Packers: 13-3
The Packers managed to go 10-6 and were oh-so-close to visiting the Panthers for last year’s NFC Championship. This came in a season where Aaron Rodgers clearly wasn’t his regular self without Jordy Nelson, who missed all of 2015 after tearing his ACL in the preseason.
Rodgers attempted 52 more passes in 2015 than 2014, and saw his completion percentage dip by 4.9 percent. He had 560 less passing yards, seven less touchdowns and his quarterback rating fell from 77.4 to 64.9.
Eddie Lacy was also a laughingstock for being in horrible shape, but he has shed weight and appears to be ready for another big year. So Rodgers has his two most lethal weapons back, healthy and in shape. The Packers offence will be the best in the NFL next season; while their defence remains a solid unit.
They’ve got a very friendly schedule: Just five games against playoff teams from 2015, and three of those games take place at Lambeau Field. The Packers will have the top record in the NFC, losing road games to Minnesota, Philadelphia, and a pointless Week 17 game in Detroit.
Houston Texans: 9-7
The Texans have no excuse to miss the playoffs now.
After winning the AFC South with putrid quarterback play from Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and T.J. Yates, their problem was finally exposed when the Kansas City Chiefs whooped them 30-0 in the Wild-Card round.
Houston had the second best defence in the NFL last year, thanks to another MVP-like season from J.J. Watt. Their offence is loaded with star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and rising running back talent Lamar Miller. All they needed was a quarterback, so they paid Super Bowl 50 backup Brock Osweiler $72 million over four years.
They’re built to win now, and Osweiler was their best chance to go far. He can be a good weapon in their system, but he will need to be more consistent than he was in Denver.
Houston has a daunting schedule against the AFC West and NFC North, plus games against the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals. I’m having a tough time seeing them win the division over the Indianapolis Colts right now. They’ll repeat last year’s record, but perhaps nine wins could be enough to get them into the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts: 10-6
After three-straight 11-5 seasons that launched them into the playoffs under Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano’s first three years together, the Colts failed to give their star quarterback any protection. He missed half the year and the Colts fell to 8-8 and narrowly missed out on the playoffs.
Well, even though they didn’t do much to address a terrible defence, they did draft Ryan Kelly to centre a disastrous offensive line. When healthy, Luck is a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Armed with weapons T.Y. Hilton, Frank Gore, and Donte Moncrief, the Colts offence should be able to become the offensive machine we all know and love.
Indianapolis shouldn’t be considered a Super Bowl contender until they prove they’ve covered up their weaknesses. But they should be considered the front runners in a very weak AFC South. They’ll finish 10-6, with losses in Denver, vs. Kansas City, at Green Bay, vs Pittsburgh, at New York Jets, and at Minnesota.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11
Many are expecting the Jags to make a run at the division with Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, T.J. Yeldon, and Julius Thomas giving Blake Bortles one of the most lethal supporting casts on offence. Though I don’t doubt they’re going to be a tough team to beat for years to come, 2016 won’t be their year.
The defence is still a concern, and overpaying Malik Jackson will do some good, but he won’t change their unit the way they’re paying him (six years, $90 million). Jacksonville is still a work in progress, and they’re not going to compete with the Texans or Colts for the division.
They don’t have the easiest schedule either, facing six teams who made the playoffs last year, plus the bound-to-improve Colts (twice), and the Ravens. Jacksonville will repeat last year’s record. But hey, we have them sweeping the Tennessee Titans if that counts for anything.
Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5
The Chiefs will post their third 11-5 record in three years in 2016.
A team that started 1-5 ended up winning its last 10 games to reach the AFC Divisional Round, where they were a few lucky breaks away from facing the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
Alex Smith remains a Super Bowl-calibre quarterback. Jamaal Charles, and Charcandrick West round out the dangerous ground game. Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce FINALLY gave this team some threatening pass-catchers. Their defence could also be the best in 2016.
Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson rival the Broncos’ tandem of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. 2015 breakout corner Marcus Peters can shut down the top receivers he faces, and Eric Berry is still one of the NFL’s premier play-making safeties. The Chiefs are built like the Super Bowl winning Broncos, armed with dangerous running backs and an elite defence (on the line and in the secondary).
Los Angeles Rams: 5-11
The Rams managed to go 7-9 in an extremely difficult NFC West last season. That included a pair of wins against the Seattle Seahawks and a shocking road win against the Arizona Cardinals. Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald give them arguably the NFL’s scariest front-seven.
Todd Gurley also emerged as a star running back, rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games last season. Drafting Jared Goff gives the Rams the legitimate franchise quarterback they’ve lacked for over a decade. That being said, he doesn’t have any star receivers to work with right now, and is a couple of years away from establishing himself in the big boys league.
Like their divisional foes, the Rams have a very difficult schedule. Another season-series sweep of the Seahawks is asking for too much, and another road win in Arizona will be difficult. Visits to the Jets, Patriots, and Saints won’t be very easy, either. Los Angeles is in for another frustrating year of rebuilding in 2016.
Miami Dolphins: 8-8
The Dolphins have been expecting to breakout for what…three years now? Though I love the hiring of Adam Gase as their head coach, I’m just hesitant on picking them to be a playoff team. I did that in 2013 and 2015, and it blew up in my face.
Ryan Tannehill is inconsistent, but still one of the better quarterbacks in the AFC. Jarvis Landry is becoming a top-10 wide receiver, tight end Jordan Cameron was a nice pick up, while DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Rishard Matthews provide this team with some dangerous weapons.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ndamukong Suh had a strong second half and should have a solid full season. Miami also got rid of fading corner Brent Grimes and traded for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. Couple those moves with the signing of pass-rushing star Mario Williams, and you’ve got an elite defensive line.
I would not be shocked if Miami reached double-digit wins and won the AFC East, but I’m just a little hesitant on giving them the benefit of the doubt. 2016 will be better than 2015, but it’ll be another year of rebuilding.
Minnesota Vikings: 10-6
The Vikings came into 2016 as a potential sleeper team, but nobody thought they would win the NFC North over the Green Bay Packers, so that was a huge year. Forget Blair Walsh’s ugly miss in the first-round of the playoffs, this team will be a force to be reckoned with for years.
Adrian Peterson remains one of the NFL’s elite running backs, and he’ll continue to play at a high level. Rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell shall give plenty of support to other dangerous pass threats Kyle Rudolph and speedy Stefon Diggs. But the Vikings need Teddy Bridgewater to avoid making young mistakes to go the distance.
But it’s the Vikings defence that makes them such an up-and-coming team. Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, and Trae Waynes are a solid young core that makes this team look like the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom. Minnesota will see a tougher NFC in 2016 than they did in 2015, but they’ll still be in contention for a playoff spot.
New England Patriots: 10-6
Before you all freak out and lose your minds, understand that Jimmy Garoppolo really isn’t that great (even though everyone’s hyping him to be the next Tom Brady) yet and the Patriots are looking at 1-3 to start.
There’s no way they go into Arizona and defeat the Cardinals, while Tom Brady is suspended. They’ll beat Miami at home, but I’m expecting the elite defence of the Texans and Bills to completely frustrate and shut him down. New England falls to 1-3 with Brady returning.
Alright, then what? He still has tough contests against the entire AFC North, plus the Denver Broncos and improved AFC East will give him trouble. The Patriots also have to play the Seattle Seahawks when Brady returns, so that’s not an easy schedule to return too.
With Brady back, the Patriots will fall at Pittsburgh, at Denver, and at Miami. Plus, he’s 39-years-old. How did Peyton Manning do last year at that age? It was his worst season ever. Father time will catch up to Brady at some point, and being off of football from January-October won’t make him elite right away. Pats go 10-6 and make the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints: 9-7
The Saints have missed the playoffs in three out of their last four seasons, but you get the vibe things will be different as 37-year-old franchise icon Drew Brees begins to enter his twilight years.
We all know their offence will score a ton of points. After all, Brees did lead the NFL in passing yards last year and has hit 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns every year since 2006. Isn’t it scary how they added Coby Fleener, rookie Michael Thomas, and veteran Hakeem Nicks to help Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks?
Obviously, the Saints defence has been a mess for years, surrendering the most points last year and allowing the second most yards. So they drafted stud pass-rusher Sheldon Rankins, and added more support by signing veterans Nick Fairley and James Laurinaitis. A healthy Keenan Lewis and Jairus Byrd should boost that defence.
If the Saints can stop allowing 24-plus points a game, they could contend for the NFC South. You have to like the moves they made to address their defence, but it likely won’t be enough to get them to the playoffs. However, a winning season isn’t out of the question.
New York Giants: 7-9
The Giants would have made the playoffs last year if they didn’t squander so many fourth-quarter leads. Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and Victor Cruz give this team one of the NFL’s best offences, but they still need a ton of help on defence after allowing the most yards last year.
Signing star pass-rusher Olivier Vernon and veteran corner Janoris Jankins definitely give them some help there, but those guys won’t be enough to change that. The G-Men no longer have that strong pass-rushing identity that helped them win Super Bowls XLII and XLVI against the New England Patriots. As such, it’s hard for me to see much of a rebound from this team.
They’re playing the scary AFC North, and I expect the Cowboys to season-series sweep them, so there are at least four losses there. Furthermore, visits to Green Bay and Philadelphia (their Kryptonite) don’t make matters easier. The Giants will score a lot of points, but their defence will continue to let them down. They should be happy if they reach .500.
New York Jets: 10-6
Just hours before I wrote this entry, Ryan Fitzpatrick had signed a one-year deal worth $12 million to play a second season with the Jets. As such, I’m expecting another run at the playoffs for Gang Green.
With Brady suspended for four games, the Jets will have every opportunity to win the AFC East. Fitzpatrick formed phenomenal chemistry with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. No reason to think they can’t do it again. They also upgraded their ground game by signing veteran Matt Forte. He’ll bring in 1,000 rushing yards.
But it’s the defensive side of the ball that makes them scary. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams form one of the most lethal pass-rushing trios in the league. Aside from that, Darrelle Revis is still one of the NFL’s premier lockdown corners, and he’ll eliminate the opposition’s top player without a problem.
I have the Jets losing out on a tiebreaker with the Patriots for the division, but their talent on both sides of the ball will put them in the playoff race. Buckle up, Jets fans, it’ll be another exciting year.
Oakland Raiders: 7-9
Many are expecting the Raiders to improve steadily in 2016. After all, they did win seven games in 2015 in a division that featured two playoff teams; the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. However, their division is simply too difficult, and I’m having a hard time believing they’ll be able to get through the AFC West powers again. Throw in an improved San Diego Chargers squad, and Oakland looks like they’ll be in tough for 2016.
Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, and Michael Crabtree round out one of the best offences in the league, but there are concerns on defence. Khalil Mack is simply a beast and should be considered a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but aside from that, the Raiders need more talent before they make a push for the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles: 6-10
After registering consecutive double-digit win seasons with Chip Kelly, the third year was an absolute disaster. Sam Bradford failed to find consistency, DeMarco Murray was one of the worst signings in NFL history and the team turned on Kelly as he was fired before the 2015 season ended.
Though the team drafted Carson Wentz, and he should emerge as a future franchise quarterback, he doesn’t have a lot of talent around him to succeed immediately. It’s a fact, not an opinion.
Jordan Matthews led the team with 85 catches and 997 yards last season. Those are numbers for a legitimate number two receiver, and you can make a case that he won’t be able to repeat his success from 2015. Furthermore, their defence remains one of the most vulnerable units in the NFL, and playing in an offensively-powered NFC East won’t make matters better.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6
Though the Steelers may be the favourites to win the AFC this upcoming season, I’m not buying it.
Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant’s suspensions will ensure that defensive units have a much easier time facing Ben Roethlisberger and company. But the Steelers defence has been one of the NFL’s worst over the last couple of seasons, and they failed to make significant moves to improve that. Pittsburgh’s schedule is also one of the most difficult in 2016. They have to play the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, and the much-improved AFC East.
Pittsburgh will be in playoff contention, but it’s hard to see them overtaking the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North. The Steelers reach double-digit wins for the third-straight year, dropping games at home to Cincinnati, in Philadelphia, at Miami, at Baltimore, at Indianapolis, and at Buffalo.
San Diego Chargers: 6-10
The Chargers talent on paper may tell you that they could be a playoff team in 2016. But they’ve made the playoffs once since 2010, and they relied on plenty of lady luck to reach it (back in 2013).
Philip Rivers remains a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, no question about that. Adding Travis Benjamin to an arsenal that already has Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and Steve Johnson is scary, but their ground game needs to get going. If second-year running back Melvin Gordon can’t break out, and the offensive line remains one of the league’s worst, then Rivers won’t be able to carry them.
Jason Verrett has been a star cornerback on the defence, but the talent around him is very limited. San Diego is playing in a very difficult division, and they didn’t make enough moves to tell me they’re going to get over the top three in the AFC West from a season ago.
San Francisco 49ers: 3-13
The 49ers lost star players to free agency and/or trades over the years, and their Super Bowl championship window closed rather quickly. It’s on to the rebuild, with offensive guru Chip Kelly looking to work with Blaine Gabbert as the franchise launches into a brand-new era.
So basically, the 49ers are going to be one of the NFL’s worst teams next season. They didn’t make any big signings and Gabbert, though he showed promise, doesn’t have a lot of talent around him to succeed. Carlos Hyde is still an unknown commodity, and their receiving core is not as dangerous as it was three years ago.
Kelly is being asked to inherit a giant mess left by Jim Tomsula, and he just doesn’t have the stardom to do much in Year One. This team will need to nail a few draft selections before they get back into playoff contention. For the time being, expect the 49ers to win just three games next season.
Seattle Seahawks: 11-5
The Seahawks come into 2016 even better than 2015. We know that Russell Wilson finally has a bonafide star receiver in Doug Baldwin, who was awarded with a four-year extension recently. Tight end Jimmy Graham will be healthy this whole season (presumably) and will finally fit into the offence.
Thomas Rawls replaces Marshawn Lynch after an impressive short sample with the team. We know their defence will remain the NFL’s best after surrendering the least points in the last four seasons. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas remain in their primes. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett round out one of the NFL’s elite offensive lines.
Seattle’s schedule is daunting: They’re facing the much-better NFC South, the Arizona Cardinals twice, the AFC East, as well as the Green Bay Packers. But they are dangerous enough to make a run at their third NFC Championship in four years. Seattle will fall in Los Angeles, at New York Jets, at New England, at Green Bay, and at home against Arizona.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-10
The Buccaneers are a team on the rise. Jameis Winston showed a lot of promise during his first season, while receiver Mike Evans and running back Doug Martin are already among the top-10 in their respective positions.
Their defence shows plenty of talent, led by Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and new-coming cornerback Brent Grimes. He joins a secondary that already has Vernon Hargeaves and Alterraun Verner as standout corners. However, the Bucs remain the worst team by far in their division on paper. No way they’re matching up with Carolina this year, Atlanta or New Orleans, who made a ridiculous amount of moves to improve their respective rosters.
Dirk Koetter has plenty of nice pieces to work with here. The Bucs are absolutely loaded with game-changers on both sides of the ball. If they were in the NFC East or AFC South, I would pick them to go around 8-8 or 9-7. But again, they just aren’t ready to take down the other NFC South squads.
Tennessee Titans: 4-12
The Titans know they have Marcus Mariota to build around after a solid rookie season. Their ground game looks scary with the addition of DeMarco Murray and draft selection of Travis Henry. Delanie Walker is a top tight end in the NFL, and Dorial Green-Beckham could be a breakout candidate.
However, you can’t say any of those guys that surround Mariota are bonafide stars. He’s still adjusting to the NFL level, and I’m not banking on a breakout year in just his second season. The Titans were the NFL’s worst team for a reason last season: The front office and coaching staff have been disasters for years, and their roster is one of the worst.
I think the Titans are a legitimate contender to win the NFC South in 2017 or 2018, but in terms of making a run for it now, their fans are better off hoping for another top-three pick. Tennessee’s rebuild is in the right direction, but making the playoffs is out of the question right now.
Washington Redskins: 6-10
How dare I say that the team who won the NFC East with a 9-7 record last year take a big step back, especially after signing Josh Norman, arguably the NFL’s top cornerback from 2015?
Well, the Redskins would not have won the division if Tony Romo was healthy last year, so there’s a start. Their defence is going to have a tough time slowing down the NFL’s top offensive machines next season, and we all know that defence wins championships. Kirk Cousins will remain a potent passer with Pierre Garcon, Jordan, Reed and DeSean Jackson as his pass-catchers, but we all remember how the Redskins did in 2013, coming off of a division title.
The much-better Giants and Cowboys will be making the run for the division, so that should be three losses for Washington right there. Games against the Packers, Vikings, Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, Cowboys (twice), and Cardinals show that they’ll have their work cut out for them and take a step back. Remember, they didn’t beat one team with a winning record last year.
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