August is here, which means training camp and preseason football is here, which means that the NFL is on the verge of returning! Each NFL season comes with unpredictable twist and turns, such as Washington winning their division and the Cowboys winning four games following a year they nearly made the NFC championship game. Did anyone expect Doug Martin to finish 2nd in rushing? Or Peyton Manning finishing as the worst qualified quarterback by passer rating? The relatively short season (16 games compared to 82 in the NBA and 162 in MLB) allows for football to develop unique storylines that we talk about for years to come and this season is sure to produce just as many memorable moments.
If you need any further proof of how hard predicting the NFL can be, look no further than NFL.com and their panel of experts' Super Bowl picks last year. The panel included 13 writers and the results weren’t….great. Nine of the 13 picked the Colts, who would finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Six of the 13 also picked the Packers, who didn’t even end up winning their division. There was even Eagles hype! Marc Sessler, who picked the Eagles to win the title after beating the Colts, explained his reasoning: “Indy's less-than-stellar defense won't have the men to slow Chip Kelly's offense. This game won't be close.” The experts also never once predicted either of the two teams that would make the Super Bowl. Of the NFL’s final four; Arizona, Carolina, Denver, and New England, only New England was picked to be in the Super Bowl and only one person made that prediction!
I’m not trying to ridicule these writers. They are great football analysts who know more about the sport than I’ve forgotten. I’m just trying to highlight predicting the NFL is hard, even for experts. Regardless, people LOVE to act like they know what is going to happen. It’s human nature and I’m no different. So please, enjoy my 15 bold NFL predictions that I guarantee will be right and won’t be embarrassing to look back on in March
15 Eddie Lacy isn’t fat, rushes for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns
If anyone is tired of hearing about last season and potential weight problems, it’s Eddie Lacy. As I’m sure you remember, Feast Mode had a season worth forgetting. He set career-lows in rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns, and became one of the reviled fantasy football players of 2015. The Packers offense as a whole took a step back last season, plummeting from 6th in points per game with 29.2 in 2014 to 23rd with a paltry 23 points per game. A lot of factors went wrong around Aaron Rodger and co., such as losing their best wide receiver to a torn ACL before the season started.
These issues, compounded with Lacy’s weight problems, led to a very disappointing season. Jordy should be back this year and reports regarding Lacy’s weight are promising so far. Injury luck providing, Lacy should be back to the bruising back that won Rookie of the Year in 2013.
14 Jimmy Garoppolo and Patriots start season 3-1
With Deflategate and its seemingly never ending appeals finally done, we know for a fact now that that Patriots will play their first four games with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. For some reason, there seems to be this idea floating around there that the Patriots might be in trouble without their hall of fame quarterback. It’s a fair worry, but completely overblown. This is Bill “Matt Cassel won 11 games under me” Belichick for crying out loud. People that expect to see the Patriots flounder to start the season are going to be disappointed. They’ll lose one game, probably their opener against Arizona, and still end the season 12-4 and the no.2 seed. It doesn’t matter what we want. This is what is going to happen.
Also, why are people assuming that Garoppolo is going to stink up the joint? We know NOTHING about him. He has attempted 31 regular season passes in two years. When did an unknown quantity become something we assume is bad? Could he suck? Of course! Could he be okay? Why not! Could he be the greatest QB ever? Not likely but not impossible! He’s a fairly high drafted QB who has spent time seasoning on the bench. Don’t assume he (or the Patriots) are going to be bad.
13 Browns go full tank, trade Joe Thomas, draft 1st overall
Saying the Browns won’t be good isn’t exactly a bold prediction, I get it. But I want to take it one step further and say they trade their franchise cornerstone left tackle Joe Thomas and go all out tank for the no.1 pick. This offseason the Browns hired Paul DePodesta, a baseball savant, to help run their team. They’ve shown a desire to be more analytical and run like a baseball team, as they traded down multiple times to acquire more draft picks, which is an admirable strategy.
It reeks of baseball strategy. Acquire as many young, cheap assets as you can and see what sticks. One of the other principle tenets of this plan is to trade away any valuable veterans that don’t match up with your timeline. That’s where Joe Thomas, the six-time All-Pro comes in. The 31-year-old is still one of the best football players in the NFL, but it’s unlikely that he is still at his peak when the Browns are ready to contend. He is still worth a fortune on the open market and should net DePodesta an amazing draft haul and young talent.
12 Colin Kaepernick rebounds and makes the Pro Bowl
It’s not often we see a coach transform from a genius that’s being heralded for disrupting the football status quo to a punchline who feeds his player too many protein shakes. If there is one current player that knows what it feels like to have the entire football community do a complete 180 on you, it’s Chip Kelly's potential starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. The embattled QB has seen his passer rating drop every year since his breakout in the end of 2012, when he posted a sparkling 98.3 in 10 starts. If he had qualified, he would have ranked 7th in the league. In 2015, Kaepernick posted a dismal 78.5 passer rating, good for 31st out of 35 qualified passers. Assuming that Kaepernick can best Blaine Gabbert in the least thrilling quarterback competition in the NFL, he will get to play for Kelly.
It’s easy to forget in all the laughing at the Eagles, that Kelly has proven capable of extracting the most out of his quarterbacks. He had Nick Foles throw 27 touchdowns to 2 interceptions! Mark Sanchez was even serviceable with Kelly calling the plays. Kaepernick is easily the most talented signal caller Kelly has ever worked with and is a good fit for the quick-read spread option offense that Kelly loves. The lack of wide receiver depth could be a huge problem, but if Kelly can work his magic on Kaepernick then he will be making the trip to the Pro Bowl.
11 Paxton Lynch starts 10+ games
This one about the lack of talent that the Broncos currently have behind center. Beyond the recently drafted Lynch, the Broncos quarterback depth chart is Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. It doesn’t take a lot of digging into those two's stats to realize that they aren’t exactly world beaters. Sanchez has thrown interceptions on nearly 5% of his passes in the last two seasons and Siemian is a 7th round pick who has yet to attempt a pass in the NFL. His only play is a QB kneel. The cupboard is empty when it comes to passers in Denver.
Lynch was one of this year’s draft enigmas. The Memphis quarterback was built like a QB but didn’t have the most natural throwing motion. His draft stock was all over the place. The Broncos decided to bite the bullet and trade with Seattle to grab Lynch. They sunk considerable resources into grabbing him, so Elway must see something in him. It’s only a matter of time until Sanchez implodes or Lynch plays his way into the starting role.
10 Brock Osweiler flops horribly, Texans win 6 games
Speaking of underwhelming Denver quarterbacks, let’s talk about the Brock Osweiler. The Texans threw a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million fully guaranteed in the first two years to lure the Bronco QB to Houston. While the sticker price is shocking, it actually seems fair because of just how hard it is to find a franchise quarterback. Osweiler sports a career passer rating of 86, which would’ve ranked 28th in the NFL this year, which isn’t exactly franchise cornerstone numbers. As The Ringer’s Danny Kelly pointed out, Osweiler was also the 2nd worst deep passer in the NFL last year. His defenders can point to the small sample size, which is fair, but the questions over Osweiler are just as fair.
Osweiler probably won’t be worse than the dreadful Brian Hoyer-Ryan Mallett combo last year, but the schedule should be. The Texans won the AFC South in 2015, meaning they’ll have to play the Bengals and at New England. Couple that with what many are assuming is going to be a better Colts team and the path to 6-10 becomes pretty clear. Oh, and J.J. Watt is hurt too.
9 Tyler Eifert solidifies himself as the best non-Gronk tight end in the NFL
Last season started off with Eifert catching 9 passes for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns. It turned out to be the start of a special season for the 2nd year player from Notre Dame, as he would finish the season with 13 touchdown catches. Even crazier, Eifert missed 3 games last year, so it’s not hard to see him having had an even better season. His nearly 15% touchdown catch rate is not sustainable, but assuming he is healthy this season he should really help Andy Dalton and a good Bengals offense.
Gronk isn’t human. Comparing other tight ends to him is like comparing other pitchers to Clayton Kershaw. It’s not fair and we shouldn’t do it. Eifert is in that tier below Gronk, with Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, and Delanie Walker. This is the year he will gain some separation from the other great non-Gronk tight ends.
8 Lamar Miller finally shines
Any avid fantasy football player knows the frustration of Lamar Miller's usage. He was clearly extremely talented, highlighted by his fantastic career average of 4.6 yards per carry. Yet for whatever reason, his coaches seemed to forget they had him. This was probably best exemplified in Week 14 last year when the Dolphins decided to only give Miller the ball once in the fourth quarter of a close game, even though he had been averaging 7 yards a carry that game.
Miller is now in a new system that should remember he is still there. The Texans ran the ball the fifth most times last season, with a total of 472 rushing attempts. Guess who was last in the league? Miller’s old team, with a total of 344 attempts. While those numbers are sure to fluctuate this year, Miller should still be in a position for more carries, especially with Arian Foster off the team.
7 Andy Dalton wins a playoff game
Did you know that Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis haven’t won a playoff game? It’s one of those fun facts that flies under the radar, by which I mean that every single NFL fan and expert brings it up whenever the Bengals play well. Marred by an ugly game against Pittsburgh to end the season, it’s very easy to forget that the Bengals were really good before Andy Dalton went down.
Dalton’s career year was sadly cut short by a broken thumb. He had a sparkling 106.2 passer rating and was intercepted on 1.8 percent of his passes, easily a career best. Dalton actually saw an uptick in his stats across the board. He was playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and the Bengals looked like one of the best teams in football. His injury isn’t expected to hamper him this season, so I’m hoping that the Dalton we saw most of the last year is the real one. Add a confident Dalton with a weak AFC field and we will see him finally get that monkey off his back and win a playoff game.
6 Rex Ryan is fired
Everyone remembers and wants to bring up that Rex Ryan was able to coach the Jets to the back-to-back AFC title games with Mark Sanchez. They even beat the Patriots in Foxborough! He was the talk of the town, a defensive wizard that came up with crazy blitz packages that could flummox Manning and Brady. There still seems to be a bit of that aura around Ryan for some reason. We saw it with all the hype regarding the Bills and their defense last year. In 2014, before Ryan, the Bills finished as the second rated defense by Football Outsiders. The next year, with Ryan, they cratered all the way to 24th.
People can talk about getting Mark Sanchez to the final four as much as they want. After Ryan’s first two seasons, the AFC championship seasons, he never posted a winning record again. He’s gone 34-46 with zero playoff appearances since. He also brought his brother, Rob, to help coach the defense after helping the Saints have one of the worst defensive seasons ever. Rex will be let go after (or during if it goes south) after the Bills miss the playoffs again. At least they have the Bills Mafia.
5 Ezekiel Elliott wins the rushing title
Was drafting a running back fourth overall stupid? Probably. Would the Cowboys have been better served with Jalen Ramsey and getting some decent free agent to lead the rushing attack? Yes. Whatever. The Cowboys drafted the best running back in the draft and are going to put him behind the best offensive line in football. The sky's the limit for this guy, especially because Jerry Jones is going to do everything he can to highlight him since they drafted a running back in the top five.
If you need any proof about what the Dallas offensive line can do, just look at Darren McFadden’s season. He finished fourth in rushing yards last year, despite only starting 10 games. The year before, DeMarco Murray opened the NFL season with eight 100-yard rushing games and won the rushing title by a mile. Elliott, who might be more talented than both of those two, is going to take the NFL by storm behind that line.
4 Minnesota misses the playoffs
There is a lot to like about the Minnesota team, a young quarterback, a promising head coach, the 14th ranked defense by Football Outsiders littered with talented players. But still, it feels like this team isn’t one of the six best teams in the NFC, especially if the Packers rebound like many are expecting. The team is also going to be facing a pretty brutal schedule after winning the NFC North last year, as they’ll have to play Arizona and travel to Carolina this year. Compare that with Green Bay, who gets a home game against Seattle and travels to Atlanta and you can see how a narrow race for the division swings for the Packers.
Beyond that, Teddy Bridgewater still has questions to answer in his third season. He finished tied with Ryan Tannehill with an 88.7 passer rating, good for 21st out of 35 qualified passers. Adrian Peterson is another year older, with another season of carries on his body. I’m 70% sure he is human, so eventually he’ll have to slow down. This isn’t to say that the Vikings won’t be a good competitive team, they’ll fight until the end of the season but end up on the outside looking in at a crowded NFC playoff field.
3 Russell Wilson builds on his historic eight-game streak, finishes top three in MVP voting
After Week 8 last year, thanks in large part to a terrible game by Wilson against Arizona, Seattle's record sat at 4-5 and many people wondered if they would be able to rally to make the playoffs. Seattle would finish the season winning 6 of 7 and roaring into the playoffs at 10-6. That streak also coincided with a monster five-game stretch where Wilson threw at least three touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to leading the league in passer rating at 110. The streak was amazing and historic. No QB has ever had a five-game streak that Wilson had. All doing this with what many considered one of the worst offensive lines in football.
It felt like something clicked with that offense and Wilson during that run and it can easily carry over into this year. This is Wilson’s best set of weapons. Tyler Lockett finished tied with first round pick Amari Cooper for receiving touchdowns among rookies and no one caught more touchdowns in the NFL than Doug Baldwin. Jimmy Graham just came off the PUP list. The team was the best offensive team in football according to Football Outsiders, even with an injured Marshawn Lynch. Wilson has always been really good, but this is the year that he confirms to everyone he is one of the five best QBs in the league.
2 The NFL’s final four will be division rivals
Only two divisions will be left when the field is winnowed down to four in late January. They will be the NFC West, represented by the wildcard Cardinals and the NFC West champion Seahawks and the AFC North, represented by the AFC North champion Steelers and the wildcard Bengals. These are consistently the two best divisions in football, so it’s time for them to finally breakthrough. Each has a high-powered offense and sturdy defense. Each has a QB that is coming off a very impressive season. These will be the four best teams in football.
The AFC East champions Patriots, the NFC North champions Packers, and NFC South champion Panthers will be right on their heels, but will fall just short. The Cowboys and revamped offense will win the NFC East before their defense fails them in the playoffs. The AFC west champion Chiefs are going to be a nice story with a three-headed monster at running back but will fall short. The Colts will get smashed in the first round after winning an extremely weak AFC South. The final two wildcards will be Denver and Tampa Bay. The champion of Super Bowl LI will be…
1 The Seahawks Beat The Steelers 27-24 in the Super Bowl
It’s futile to compare teams from different years, but there is a good argument that this Seahawks team will be better than the one that won the Super Bowl in 2013. Offensively, it shouldn’t be close. The offensive line will be a question, but should hopefully gel together and be serviceable. Rawls and the rest of the running back corps have every chance to carry the mantle from Lynch. No Kam Chancellor holdout and Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Jeremy Lane are all healthy to start the season should lead to more dominance on the defensive end.
On the Steelers end, they very well might have the best offense in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger has proven that he is one of the game's elites. Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are the best at their positions when healthy. Bell’s suspension might actually be a blessing in disguise, giving him even more time to heal from his knee injury. The defense should take a step forward in Keith Butler’s second year.
These are two the best teams in the NFL. Write that down and take it to Vegas. I’m sure that I won’t regret these predictions in four months.
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