The NFL playoffs are always an exciting time of the year when football fans get to watch the best teams play each other in pursuit of winning the Super Bowl. There is always a lot of drama that comes from these games whether it is poor clock management by a team or maybe a referee blows a call. These dramatic and almost theatrical moments always give the fans a lot to talk about, but then after a week more games are played and other moments become talked about topics for the next week. It is always an exciting time of the year when training camp and preseason games start to commence.
It is difficult to judge how every team is going to do in the upcoming season, but as fans it is fun to speculate. This speculation begins when team schedules come out. NFL fans and experts around the country look at their teams' schedules and predict what their teams' final record will be, and when this formula has been completed the fans debate whether their teams a playoff team, Super Bowl contender, or non-playoff team. Which teams coming into the 2016 season look primed to make the playoffs and make a run a title?
16 AFC Wild Card - Oakland Raiders: 10-6
The Oakland Raiders are one of the up and coming young teams in football, and Derek Carr has this team vying for their first playoff berth since they participated in the Super Bowl early in the 21st century. The offense has a lot of talented players like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at receiver, but the running game is going to have to be a little more consistent so the team does not have to rely so heavily on the passing game. This team is even better on defense led by linebacker Khalil Mack. The loss of Charles Woodson will be a tough void to fill, but the Raiders defense seems to be on the upswing. The Raiders play in one of the toughest divisions in football, but the Broncos may suffer from a Super Bowl hangover, which should open the door for the Raiders to steal a couple wins.
The Raiders are a dark horse to look out for, and they finally have the talent to be capable of making the playoffs.
15 AFC Wild Card - Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best offenses in all of football, and Ben Roethlisberger’s high level of play is the main reason for the Steelers offensive efficiency. It also does not hurt to have arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown on your team. Martavis Bryant has been suspended for the entire 2016 season, and the very talented running back Le’Veon Bell may be suspended for the first four games of the season. Despite these setbacks the Steelers offense should still run efficiently. The defense is average at best, but the Steelers have addressed their secondary by drafting a cornerback in the first and second round of the 2016 NFL draft. If the linebacker core can play above average the defense should be more than serviceable.
The AFC North will be a two horse race most likely, and even if the Steelers do not win the division it is difficult to envision them not making the playoffs.
14 AFC South Champion - Jacksonville Jaguars: 9-7
The Jacksonville Jaguars might finally have the fire power to be a threat to win their division and make it back to the playoffs. The Jaguars will be led by their dynamic passing attack, which will be headed by quarterback Blake Bortles and his two great receiving threats Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The Jaguars also boosted their backfield by acquiring Chris Ivory in the offseason to pair with their young talented back T.J. Yeldon. Gus Bradley is on the hot seat if this season turns sour fast. Bradley was heralded as a defensive mastermind, and the acquisitions made through free agency and through the draft should greatly improve the Jags defensive attack. Prince Amukamara and Malik Jackson bring Super Bowl pedigree to a team with not much experience. Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack were two of the best defensive players in the 2016 NFL draft, and Dante Fowler is now healthy and ready to begin a promising NFL career.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are probably not the favorites, but they may shock a lot of people by winning a wide open AFC South.
13 AFC West Champion - Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5
The Kansas City Chiefs last year were able to win a game in the playoffs, but due to some time management mistakes, could not get past a tough New England Patriots team. The Chiefs have a stout defense led by sack master Justin Houston and Dontari Poe up front, with Eric Berry and Marcus Peters disrupting receivers in the secondary. The Chiefs will need their offense to take another step in the right direction. Alex Smith can manage a game well at quarterback, but the team is hopeful that Jamal Charles can make it through the season with minimal health issues. Charles, when healthy, is one of the best backs in football. Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce are great targets for Alex Smith, and if another receiver can step up this season the offense could be a strength of this team.
The AFC West will be a tough division but Kansas City has the tools on offense and defense to win the division crown.
12 AFC North Champion - Cincinnati Bengals: 13-3
The Cincinnati Bengals seem to be only an elite team in the regular season, but once they reach the playoffs they tend to fold. Last year the Bengals were playing well on both sides of the ball and Andy Dalton was looking like an MVP candidate. The Bengals suffered a blow late in the season when Dalton got hurt and A.J. McCarron could not deliver a playoff win for the Bengals. Defensively the Bengals should be dominant this season with great secondary play, and the front seven is among the best in football. Geno Atkins is constantly beating two blockers to wreak havoc on the quarterback and running back. Andy Dalton will be healthy once the season begins, and still has one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in A.J. Green to heave the ball up too. The two headed rushing attack of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard gives the offense variety in how they can use their half backs.
The Bengals once again are anxious to prove their worth in the playoffs.
11 AFC East Champion - New England Patriots: 13-3
The New England Patriots lost in last season’s AFC championship game, and are in a good position once again to make it back. Their legendary quarterback Tom Brady will be out the first four games of the 2016 season. All eyes will be on Jimmy Garoppolo, and whether he can lead this team to wins in his mentor’s absence. The Patriots should be able to win two or three of those four games to start the season. It helps that Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola should be healthy once the season starts. Dion Lewis is also coming back from injury and is looking to pick up where he left off before getting injured last season. The defense and offensive line are the only concerns this team has, and in the draft their first two picks addressed the defense and offensive line.
The Patriots seem to be in the AFC championship game every year so don’t be surprised if they end up playing in it to advance to the Super Bowl once again.
10 AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals will finally win a game in the playoffs, but they will have to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in order to advance to the big game. This should be an extremely tight game that comes down to a few plays towards the end of the game. The Bengals have a slightly better defense than the Patriots, but the Patriots have Tom Brady on their side. The Patriots can afford to go one dimensional on offense because they have done it before. The Bengals need to use the pass and running attack almost equally, and if Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard do not have a good game the Bengals could be in trouble.
When the game is on the line at the end of the game, the Patriots will score last. Tom Brady will lead his team down the field and in the finals minutes score the winning touchdown or set up a field goal attempt for the win.
AFC Champion: New England Patriots
8 NFC Wild Card - Minnesota Vikings: 11-5
The Vikings won the NFC North last year in surprising fashion, and were devastated when a short field goal attempt was botched by Blair Walsh in the final seconds of their playoff game against Seattle. The Vikings still have a formidable team coming into 2016. They are out to prove that last year was not a fluke, and their defense will give many NFL teams fits this upcoming season. Teddy Bridgewater is entering his third season as Vikings starting quarterback. Bridgewater has been very average to below average since entering the league, and will need to improve to help bring his team to an elite level. The Vikings will begin playing in U.S Bank stadium this season. U.S Bank stadium is an indoor stadium, and this should help Bridgewater play more efficiently without having to deal with all the elements he had to deal with at TCF Bank Stadium the last two years.
The Vikings will look to escape the wild card round of the playoffs this season.
7 NFC Wild Card - Seattle Seahawks: 12-4
The Seahawks are looking to get back to the big game, but know that the competition to get there has gotten better. The Seahawks also lost a key member of their team when Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement from football in the offseason. Thomas Rawls has some big shoes to fill at the running back position, but a leader as great as Russell Wilson should make the transition easy for Rawls. The receiving core has not changed much on this team. The defense is still one of the best in the NFL, and playmakers Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas give opposing receivers nightmares. Pete Carroll just signed an extension with the Seahawks, and the team is in great hands with Russell Wilson under center.
The one concern this team has is who is going to occupy the other cornerback position opposite of Richard Sherman. Cary Williams did not work out last year, and it will be interesting to see who can claim the starting spot out of training camp.
6 NFC East Champion - Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7
The Philadelpha Eagles were a mess last season with Chip Kelly at the helm, but despite an underwhelming season they still managed to finish second place in the division. In recent memory the Eagles seem to do their best when no expectations are put on them. Sam Bradford had a really good second half of the season last year, and got to go through a full offseason healthy. The skill positions are a weakness on this team. Bradford will lean heavily on Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews in the passing game, and coach Doug Pederson hopes that someone on the roster emerges as a reliable runner in the backfield. With the addition of Jim Schwartz as a defensive coordinator the defense should be much improved. Every position on defense other than cornerback seems to be a strength for this team, and a good pass rush could negate the lack of great corners.
The NFC East is a coin flip as to who is going to win it, but something tells me this could be the Eagles' year.
5 NFC South Champions - Carolina Panthers: 12-4
The Carolina Panthers were dominating last year on their way to 15 wins and only one loss in the regular season. Sadly they played their worst game of the year in the Super Bowl, and many questioned their leader Cam Newton’s actions after the humiliating loss. Cam Newton played out of his mind last year and it will be difficult for him to replicate the great numbers he put up. The team did lose All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, but the defense still should rank towards the top of the NFL at the end of 2016. Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are two of the best linebackers in the NFL and with their leadership the other men on defense should follow suit. Kelvin Benjamin coming back from a season long injury should give Cam Newton another much needed downfield target.
The Panthers should win a lot of games this regular season, but the big question is whether they can duplicate last year’s playoff run.
4 NFC North Champion - Green Bay Packers: 13-3
The Green Bay Packers had a bit of a down year last year, but they still managed to win a game in the playoffs and make it into the divisional round before being eliminated by the Arizona Cardinals. Aaron Rodgers' best weapon on offense Jordy Nelson was injured for the entire year, and having him back this season will make the Packers passing attack hard to defend. The defense on this team is not a strength or weakness. They have a few play makers on the team in Clay Mathews and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but the majority of the defensive players on this team are average at best. The offense possesses the ball for so long that the Packer defense does not hurt the team in most games.
The Packers are looking to retake the NFC North, and with all of their offense intact and Eddie Lacy looking a lot thinner, they should be the favorites in 2016.
3 NFC West Champions: Arizona Cardinals 14-2
The Arizona Cardinals have emerged as one of the most difficult teams to play against in recent years, and their aging quarterback Carson Palmer is playing the best football of his life. The wide receiver core of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and company give the Cardinals the ability to stretch the field and also possess the ball effectively when heavily relying on the pass game. Chris Johnson revived his NFL career last season, and David Johnson looks like one of the steals of the 2015 NFL draft. The offense isn’t even the strength of this team, and the Cardinals have arguably the best secondary in the NFL led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Head coach Bruce Arians commands his team to play old school, hard nosed football each and every game, and if his team lets him down, he can get quite animated in the locker room. The Cardinals will look to build off their NFC Championship appearance last year.
2 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' high flying offense will get over the hump this year and win the NFC. The Cardinals will go up against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game, and home field advantage will play a major role in this game. The Cardinals chances would be diminished greatly if they had to play at Lambeau Field. The Cardinals have a better all-around team than the Packers, and the Cardinals offense would be able to score points much easier than the Packers offense. Aaron Rodgers is the better quarterback, but he would have to face a much tougher pass defense, as the Cardinals secondary is great at defending the pass.
The pass rush for the Cardinals is equally daunting, and the Cardinals were able to defeat the Packers last season despite not playing the greatest of games in the playoffs. The Cardinals will win a nail biter to advance to this season’s Super Bowl.
NFC Champions: Arizona Cardinals
1 Super Bowl 51: Arizona Cardinals vs. New England Patriots
Super Bowl 51 in beautiful Houston, Texas will be one of the best match ups in recent memory. Carson Palmer is looking to win his first ring and Tom Brady is trying to build even more of a case that he is the greatest quarterback to ever step on a football field. Both of these offenses are equally good. The Patriots have more big names on offense, but the Cardinals offense collectively is just as good at putting up points. Super Bowl 51 will come down to which defense plays at a higher level throughout the course of the game. The Patriots are average when it comes to stopping the pass, but the Cardinals have great cornerback play and talented safeties who will give Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski a much more difficult time getting open.
The Cardinals will get more stops and Bruce Arians and company will lift the Lombardi trophy.
Super Bowl 51 Pick: Arizona Cardinals