Besides the regular season and the playoffs, this may actually be the most exciting time for the NFL. After the fate of every team has been decided from the year before, GM’s and Owners go into a mad scramble to fill the holes in their rosters, and to try to maintain the keys to their success.
Already this off-season we’ve seen some adrenaline inducing moves, with some major players changing teams, either through free agency or trade. There are also the teams that believe they have gotten stronger, or remained close enough to the top by standing pat.
With most of the difference makers already on their new teams, and only the draft between us and a fairly good idea of where each team stands. It seems a fitting time to start predicting the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
1. New England – We have grown accustomed to the Patriots being competitive every year, and so have they. Its gotten to the point that we expect to see them in the playoffs every year. They earned that respect, by drafting well, maintaining their roster properly, getting the most out of somewhat decent players, and having the greatest coach of all-time. However, it seems the clock is starting to wind down on this franchise. Age is finally catching up to them, they no longer have a slew of draft picks in their pockets, and they’ve lost more talent than even the Hoodie can replace in one draft. In a division that has added a ton of talent around them, I see the Patriots struggling to get to 10 or 11 wins, but still managing to win the division somehow.
2. Miami -Last year the Dolphins showed promise, beating the Super Bowl Champions, and maturing slowly but surely in the face of adversity. They seemed to underachieve for much of last season, and after bringing in a couple of big names, and resigning key players, I believe they will finally start to knock on the door of success. With Ndamukong Suh in place to shore up the defense, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings there to provide a couple of decent targets for Ryan Tannehill, and Mike Pouncey smiling about his extension, this team is finally in a position to give the Patriots a run for their money. However, they are at least a few years, away from true success.
3. Buffalo- This is probably the best team the Bills have assembled since their 4 year futile Super Bowl assault. They’ve added talent at each skilled offensive position, and have their fans on the edge of their seats months before the season even begins.Because if this, I hate to be the one to piss in your punch bowl, but the Bills won’t be getting any rings this year, and there is a slim to none chance they will even make the playoffs. Yes, they added LeSean McCoy, but they’ve have had great running back play in the past. Percy Harvin adds another big name, but his last few attempts at a comeback show that he is broken, and may even be a detriment to his new team. Depending on who is throwing him the ball, Charles Clay’s versatility, may make him the best addition, but with a struggling youngster, and a journeyman competing under center, it is hard to promise much but chaos for this team.
4. New York- The Jets have a respectable receiving core, and a few aging, but decent names on defense. It would be fun to say that this is the year that Geno Smith taps his potential and leads his team to respectability, but its hard to see them anywhere but in the cellar of this division.
1.Cincinatti- The Bengals started out the season looking unstoppable. Somewhere along the line the wheels fell off, and everyone in the league got to go back to their favorite past time, blaming Andy Dalton. This is the year that all changes. With an upstart running back, and one of the top receivers in the league (If A.J. Green can stay healthy), this should be one of the top offenses in the league. With what should be an even more improved defense, this team will finally have the last laugh against its critics.
2. Baltimore- The Ravens seemed to be aging like a fine wine, and catching some lucky breaks along the way. Even with talent that at times seem painfully mediocre, they manage to remain relevant every season. This year shouldn’t be any different, but with the other teams in their division getting stronger, this may be the start of them becoming exposed, and going into a serious decline.
3. Pittsburgh-The Steelers should be on their way to winning the division this year, but even with extreme talent on both sides of the ball, they have proven inconsistent. With off the field, and contract issues looming, they are on the brink of falling right over the edge. This team has one saving grace that will could keep them in the hunt. Their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feeds off of adversity.
4. Cleveland- Their record didn’t necessarily show it, but this is one of the worst franchises in the league. The Browns would do best to start this team over right from the beginning instead of trying to patch up a broken team on the run. Too many wasted draft picks has left this team severely wanting.
1. Houston-The Texans just keep adding to an already ridiculous defensive front. They will be hell on wheels for any quarterback or running back trying to establish any sort of momentum against them. Although their offense is lacking any certainty at the Quarterback position, they have decent players at the other skill positions, and should be able to produce enough points to stay in most games, and allow their Defense to win the Division.
2. Indianapolis- We all knew Andrew Luck was going to be good, but last season he strapped this otherwise porous team to his arm and threw them to a Division Title. In other words he pulled a playoff berth out of his shorts just to be brought back to earth in the AFC Championship game. As a reward for his efforts, his front office showered him with new recruits, a running back and receiver way past their respective primes. Most Quarterbacks don’t repeat a season that great, and even though he will try to carry the offense once again, the burden this time will be too heavy. Fortunately, the other two teams in this division don’t carry enough of a threat to keep them out of second place.
3. Jacksonville- Last year the Jaguars season started without much hope, but towards the end they started to put the pieces together on offense. With a shiny new toy in Julius Thomas, Blake Bortles should start to justify his early pick, and this team should start to find a bit of a rhythm. Don’t get too excited yet, they will have plenty more high draft picks, before they start to make any sort of real noise.
4. Tennessee-The Titans roster seems to be filled with almosts and what ifs. They may have their Quarterback of the future, their Running Back could turn into something special, and their Receivers may someday do more than just catch a ton of passes. Until then they will continue to scratch the bottom of the barrel.
1. Denver-The Broncos may just be the most talented team in the whole League. They have stars scattered throughout their entire roster, but that doesn’t mean they are the best team. If Peyton Manning can stay healthy, they will win this Division by default, because the other three teams have refused to get any better.
2. Kansas City-If Andy Reid ever gets this team healthy and clicking, the Chief could be a handful for a ton of teams. They showed promise again last year while their Running Backs were healthy. Now that Alex Smith has a legitimate weapon, he may have a chance to show off the skill we’ve been waiting to see for sometime. If this team fails to reach the playoffs this year, I think its time they start looking to replace their coach.
3. Oakland- The Raiders were awful on both sides of the ball last season, but they have quietly put together a pretty decent squad this off-season. They are way ahead of a lot of teams with the fact that they already found their franchise Quarterback. If the other pieces around Carr produce, and the Defense takes another step forward, this could be a fun team to watch.
4. San Diego-The Chargers were loaded with talent for a long time, and every season it seemed like they were one of the favorites. Now the talent they have left is getting old, and it doesn’t seem they have done much to replace it. With the other teams in the division getting better, this team could be at the bottom of the pile for a long time.
1. New York- If Eli gets even close to being back to his old form, this offense could be obnoxiously good. He could end up with the best two Wide Receivers in the league, one of the top Tight Ends, and a decent running game. If the defense steps up at all, this could be an impossible team to deal with. While the Cowboys and Eagles are busy having a manhood measuring contest, the Giants are preparing to unleash an unmatched aerial attack on the Division.
2. Philadelphia- None of us know exactly what to expect next from Chip Kelly, and his Eagles. What we do know is he is more sure of his plan that anyone else in the league, and has set out to make his team in his exact likeness. If he gets his way, this team will be dangerous.
3. Dallas-The Cowboys had a tiny taste of success, and suddenly it went screaming to their head. They seemed so sure that Murray would come back begging them to allow him to run behind their offensive line, that they let him slip away way too easily. Now they have no one to take advantage of the best asset on their team. Romo has been playing for so long with one foot on the field, and the other in the Emergency Room, that they need to have someone to take the pressure off of him. They took a huge risk by softening their Offense, but their Defense is still good enough that they should at least finish around .500.
4. Washington- The Redskins have all the potential, and talent to be great. They just can’t seem to put it all together at the same time. If they do they could be a headache to the other teams in their division. If not, they will at least have another great draft pick next year.
1. Green Bay- The biggest mistake the Packers made was paying two guys, #1 Receiver contracts. Yes, Jordie Nelson, and Randall Cobb have put up big numbers, but is it them, or are they a product of Aaron Rodgers? With all the potential talent behind them on the depth chart, it would have been smarter for them to keep some of that money to pay someone on the defensive side of the ball. The Packers should win the Division again by default, but it seems like that is as far as they will this year.
2. Detroit- Over the last few seasons, the Lions have had big names on both sides of the ball, and yet, they struggle to be anything other than mediocre. Just like with Barry Sanders, they have one of the biggest play makers ( Calvin Johnson) on the field at any given time, but can’t seem to use him properly. Now that their Defensive Line has been decimated, they are going to struggle to even stay in games. If they can’t find a way to generate points soon, they are going to find it very difficult to win.
3. Minnesota -The Vikings are a huge question mark. If Peterson comes back, and he has the same tenacity he did after missing time with an injury, if Teddy Bridgewater is the play caller they think he can be, and if they can find one or two decent Receivers in a very crowded group, they may find themselves in contention. If not. They will be treading water once again.
4. Chicago- There is one thing separating the Bears from being one of the top teams in the league, or being down towards the bottom. When he is not inside his own head, Jay Cutler, is a very talented passer, but that doesn’t happen often enough for him to be a positive difference for his team. Until they improve the defense, and put someone else under center, they will continue to look good on paper, but struggle on the field.
1. Atlanta- Under new Head Coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons have committed to restructure their defense in the image of the Championship squad he had in Seattle. If they can accomplish this, they will take a tremendous amount of pressure off of Matt Ryan. The offense showed flashes of brilliance last year, until they were haunted by injury. Towards the end of the season, the offensive line was very porous, and their receivers struggled to stay healthy. If they can fix those issues, this could be a very competitive team.
2. New Orleans- To the untrained eye, it may have looked like the Saints were giving up when they traded the 2nd best Tight End in the league to the Seahawks. If you think that, you haven’t heard of Josh Hill, the guy who scored 5 TD’s on 14 receptions, while filling in for an injured Jimmy Graham. So not only do they have a decent replacement, but they received Center Max Unger, and a late first round pick. This team may be the best example of addition by subtraction.
3. Carolina-The Panthers won the Division last year, which was impressive. However, they did it with a losing record, which is not. So far they have signed a few big name players who are either at the end of their prime, or never actually really got there. This team has the illusion of talent, but even in one of the weakest divisions in the league, I think anything more than 8-8 is asking way too much.
4. Tampa Bay- Buccaneers fans will be quick to remind you of all the games they lost by less a touchdown. However, they probably won’t mention the games in which they were humiliated. Despite what most people want you to believe, this team is not close to contending.
1. Seattle- I have a feeling that the Seahawks are becoming less and less popular with each step they take forward. Adding Jimmy Graham, has to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and makes them the most hated team in the NFC. They were already dangerous, now they are ridiculous.
2. San Francisco- The 49ers will not be half as bad as people think. This team still has great players in key places, but most of all they have pride. They will remain competitive. If for no other reason than to disappoint those who cheer for them to fail.
3. St. Louis- On paper, the Rams have one of the better defenses in the league, and still they let people trample all over them last year. Regardless, they remain committed to that side of the ball, and sooner than later they will figure it out. When they do, this team will be highly competitive.
4. Arizona- The aging Cardinals had their best shot last year. Although the ride was exciting, they missed it. I would say this would be a prime time for them to start rebuilding, or they will soon find themselves back in the same place they just came from.
AFC Wild Card
Indianapolis @ New England
Baltimore @ Houston
NFC Wild Card
Philadephia @ Green Bay
Detroit @ Atlanta
AFC Divisional Round
Indianapolis @ Cincinnati
Houston @ Denver
NFC Divisional Round
Green Bay @ New York Giants
Atlanta @ Seattle
AFC Championship Round
Indianapolis @ Denver
NFC Championship Round
New York Giants @ Seattle
Indianapolis Vs New York Giants
Super Bowl Champion
New York Giants