I love this time of year. The dog days of Summer are ending, the NFL is ramping up and soon enough, the NHL and NBA will be as well. The great thing about the NFL offseason is that you can make outlandish predictions for just about everything. Talking heads around the league, fans, and yes, even sportswriters do it. Sometimes, it's just to get a rise out of people, and other times, it's just because we see something and believe it to be so. It can also raise some terrific conversations and points of debate – though, it can also lead to some epic mudslinging and insults. This is the internet after all and people are known to get a little nasty at times.
This offseason has been interesting to watch unfold. From players moving around, to franchises pulling off some amazing moves to better their squads, to other teams making mind numbing moves that only seem to undermine and set their clubs on a backward trajectory. There has been no shortage of storylines and points of debate this offseason. It has been one of the more interesting offseasons in a while, and it has been interesting, as well as a lot of fun to watch.
So what do we see when we look into our crystal ball at the upcoming NFL season? Which players will shine? Who will fall flat on their face? Which teams will make the playoffs? And which teams will be on the outside looking in? Everybody has their opinions and predictions, so why shouldn't we?
With that, we've read our own tea leaves and have come up with the following 15 predictions – some perhaps crazy, others perhaps outlandish – for the upcoming NFL season...
15 The Browns Will Miss the Playoffs... Again
Given all of their offseason acquisitions – yes, including a certain quarterback from Texas A&M – the hype level around the Browns has been tremendous. After adding players like Donte Whitner, Ben Tate, Andrew Hawkins, and others, the Browns are being seen as a legitimate playoff contender by many around the league. They've significantly upgraded their talent level and have had a terrific offseason, but the fact of the matter is that they're looking at a lengthy suspension for their best offensive weapon – Josh Gordon – as well as relying on either Brian Hoyer, or a rookie in Johnny Manziel, to lead the team to the postseason. Neither QB option at this point inspires a lot of confidence, quite frankly. Though some still continue to believe that the Browns are a dark horse playoff team, we're glad that at least Lebron James returned to Cleveland so the fans in the city have something to cheer for.
14 Khalil Mack Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year
Though he had all of the hype and hysteria – as well as being the number one overall pick in the draft – Jadeveon Clowney will not be as impactful for the Texans as a lot of people believe. In fact, he's likely going to be outshined by his teammates JJ Watt and Brian Cushing. It will be rookie LB Khalil Mack who will have the bigger impact for his Oakland Raiders. He's going to be an extraordinary player in the league, and his efforts will net him the Defensive Rookie of the Year award this season.
13 The Dallas Cowboys Will Also Miss the Playoffs... Again
Sorry, Cowboys fans, but this isn't going to be your year either. Yes, you have a big threat in Dez Bryant, but given Tony Romo's health situation over the last few seasons, it very well may be Brandon Wheeden slinging the ball to him. Or at least trying to. Demarco Murray is a solid running back, but he can't shoulder the load all on his own. Not to mention the fact that the defense was a mess before they lost Sean Lee for the season. Let's face it, a team relying on twice retired Rolando McClain to lead the defense is in very bad shape.
12 Seattle Seahawks Will Not Repeat as Champions
The Seahawks are a good team. A very good team. They were dominant on their Super Bowl run last season. But defending that title and repeating as champions is a tough business – we've only seen one repeat winner in the last decade, the New England Patriots – because you are going to get every team's best shot week in and week out. Perhaps the only sport that is more difficult to repeat in is hockey. Everybody wants to take down the reigning champion. Seattle has most of their core group back, but after getting played tight by the 49ers in last season's NFC Championship Game and being a Richard Sherman fingernail away from losing, they might not get so lucky this year. They'll make the playoffs, but won't be in the big dance.
11 Carolina Panthers Take a Big Step Back
They were a great story last season after going 12-4, winning the NFC South and making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. But this offseason has been brutal for Carolina as they jettisoned their entire receiving corps – including longtime face of the franchise Steve Smith – and brought in Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, and Jason Avant to replace them. Not exactly an upgrade. And let's not forget that QB Cam Newton is coming off ankle surgery that has limited him greatly this offseason. Not only will the Panthers fail to repeat as NFC South champs, they won't even qualify for the playoffs.
10 The Detroit Lions Will Have Another Sub .500 Season
The Lions teased everybody with a 2011 season that saw them go 10-6 and make it into the playoffs. It was also their first winning season since 2000 and their first 10-win season since 1995. The following two seasons saw them revert to the same losing ways long associated with the team, and get their coach fired in the process. But with Jim Caldwell now at the helm and a star studded offensive cast that includes Matthew Stafford, Megatron – Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Reggie Bush among others, the Lions believe themselves to be contenders this year and has their fan base excited beyond belief. Unfortunately for them, the club did nothing to address their glaring defensive needs – most notably, in the secondary. Their passing defense was terrible in 2013 and because of departures and injuries, it looks to be worse this season. The offense may light up the scoreboard for 50 points a game, but the defense will be bad enough to give up 51 a game and propel Detroit to yet another losing season.
9 Fewer Than 8 Running Backs Will Eclipse the 1,000 Yard Mark
We all know – or at least, we've been told – that the NFL is devaluing the running back position. We've seen it in the last couple of drafts when teams waited until the later rounds to select a running back – if they took one at all. The league has been trending to a more aerial assault games and teams beefing up their passing attacks. Because of that, running backs will get fewer touches and fewer backs will hit that once coveted 1,000 yard mark – a mark that sadly, doesn't mean what it used to. This season, we predict that less than 8 running backs will hit that mark.
8 Kansas City Chiefs Will Not Make the Playoffs
The Kansas City Chiefs shocked the world last season, when under the guidance of new head coach Andy Reid, they stormed out to a 9-0 record. Granted, they weren't playing the elite teams in the league and were feasting on a lot of bottom feeders, but credit where credit is due. Of course, they then dropped off the table and lost 6 of their last 8 games – which included that epic playoff meltdown to Andrew Luck and the Colts. The offseason took its toll on the Chiefs with a mass defection of players – and an utterly bizarre draft in which they failed to address any of their needs. The team looks ragged and disjointed and the season hasn't even begun. They're looking like a team poised to hit their divisional cellar.
7 Andy Dalton and the Bengals Get a Playoff Win
The biggest knock on Dalton has been his inability to win when it counts – in the playoffs. He's been so bad in the postseason, you could say that he's been Romo-esque. But this season things will be different. New OC Hue Jackson will employ a more run heavy offensive scheme which will take some of the burden off of the Red Rifle, and take some of the pressure off as well. With that freedom of not having to be “the guy,” Dalton will be able to relax and sling the ball like he does so effectively in the regular season. This will be the year they get over that playoff hump and get a win.
6 The Oakland Raiders Will Make the Playoffs
This sounds absolutely crazed, doesn't it? After twelve years of losing, capped off by the two most recent 4-12 campaigns, predicting a playoff run for the Raiders borders on the absurd, doesn't it? Well, after one of the busiest and most successful offseasons the franchise has had in quite a long time, the Raiders are loaded with veteran talent – with championship pedigrees – as well as youthful playmakers. They have explosive players on both sides of the ball and a new attitude. This is a very different – and far superior – Raiders team than it's been in quite a long time. And that will translate into a playoff berth for the club and its long suffering fan base.
5 The San Francisco 49ers Will Make it to the Super Bowl
They were so close to winning it all two years ago, but couldn't clear that final hurdle. Then last season, a trip to the Super Bowl was less millimeters away from their fingertips, but then Richard Sherman got his paw on the ball and the dreams of the 49ers were dashed yet again. But they've renewed themselves this offseason, and they seem more focused than before. They've had some losses, but have also restocked their roster with some talent. And with HC Jim Harbaugh looking at earning a new – and potentially very lucrative – contract at the end of the season, he's going to rally his troops to make that final push that gets them into the Super Bowl.
4 Brandin Cooks Will Win Offensive Rookie of the Year
He was one of the lesser heralded players in the draft, but former Oregon State University wideout Brandin Cooks has elite NFL speed and amazing playmaking ability. He's a dangerous weapon and can beat you in a variety of ways. Cooks has impressed his teammates and coaches since he set foot in camp, and they are all salivating about the multitude of ways they can use him in their offensive scheme. Now that he's plugged into one of the NFL's most prolific offenses down in New Orleans, with one of the NFL's most prolific QB's throwing him the ball, he's going to get a lot of touches, so look for Cooks to have a major impact on the league – a big enough impact that he'll win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
3 RG III Will Have Yet Another Down Season
Robert Griffin III was an electric playmaker at Baylor. An effort that netted him a Heisman trophy. But thus far, his game hasn't translated very well to the NFL. He had a good rookie campaign and won some games with his athleticism, but a late season injury – brought about because of his running and gunning style – cost him dearly. His sophomore season was an absolute disaster as he led Washington to an abysmal 3-13 record and has strongly hinted that it was the Shanahan regime that has held him back from truly blossoming. Well, the Shanahans are now gone so Griffin has no more excuses and nowhere to hide – especially with a beefed up receiving corps that includes DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Our best guess is that Griffin does okay, but is nothing special in leading Washington to a 6-10 record.
2 The St. Louis Rams Will Have the League's Best Defense
Some might scoff at the notion, but the Rams have quietly gone about building upon a defense that was already very good last season. With elite talent in Robert Quinn and Chris Long on the ends, and drafting another dynamic defensive beast to the mix in Aaron Donald – their first round pick – the Rams will have a ferocious defensive line. With that group controlling the line of scrimmage and really getting after the quarterback, they are going to free up the linebackers and secondary to make some big plays – and they will. The Rams defense was good last season and it will be even better this season. Which is good since their offense is questionable. At best.
1 The Denver Broncos Will Win Super Bowl 50
After getting thrashed by the Seahawks in the big dance last season, John Elway and the Broncos got to work in bulking up their team for another run to the Super Bowl. Seattle owned Denver's defense in last year's Super Bowl, so the Broncos brought in players like DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aqib Talib to solidify that side of the ball. On offense, they added a potential superstar in Cody Lattimer to go along with Demaryius Thomas and star TE Julius Thomas. And of course, they still have Peyton Manning who looks like he can keep slinging TD's for another decade. Their offense will overpower people, their defense will smother people, and at the end of the season, the Broncos will hoist the Lombardi Trophy.