2016 NFL season predictions

(No movie quote since I’ll have two posts today)

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos celebrate after winning Super Bowl 50 last season.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos celebrate after winning Super Bowl 50 last season.

Major awards predictions:

MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: OLB Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Offensive Rookie of the Year: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: S Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders
Comeback Player of the Year: WR Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

Division winners/conference wild cards:

AFC:

New England head coach Bill Belichick.
New England head coach Bill Belichick.

East – New England Patriots

2015 record: 12-4
2015 total offense rank: No. 6
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 3
2015 total defense rank: No. 9
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 10
Key additions: DE Chris Long, OLB Barkevious Mingo, TE Martellus Bennett, OLB Shea Mcclellan, OG Jonathan Cooper
Key departures: DT Akiem Hicks, DT Sealver Siliga, WR Brandon LaFell
Draft class: CB Cyrus Jones (Round 2: Pick 60), OG Joe Thuney (Round 3: Pick 78), QB Jacoby Brissett (Round 3: Pick 91), DT Vincent Valentine (Round 3: Pick 96), WR Malcolm Mitchell (Round 4: Pick 112), SS/OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (Round 6: 208), MLB Elandon Roberts (Round 6: Pick 124), OG Ted Karras (Round 6: Pick 221), WR Devin Lucien (Round 7: Pick 225).

Even with Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich serving four-game suspensions, I think that New England will be fine without them. There’s a lot of question marks surrounding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. I’m expecting him to perform well enough to keep the Patriots above water, especially since the first four games of the season are against Arizona, Miami, Houston, and Buffalo. Outside of Arizona, the other three games are at home and are very winnable. When Tom Brady comes back, we all know what he and this offense are capable of. However, I don’t think that New England addressed the offensive line enough in the offseason after getting exposed in the AFC championship against Denver. Defensively, I think that the Patriots will be hurting after trading pass rusher Chandler Jones, who has registered 36 sacks in the last four years. The Patriots should be fine once Ninkovich comes back from serving his suspension though.

The schedule is very manageable for New England this year. The Patriots play in a fairly weak division that they’ve won fourteen of the last fifteen seasons. The toughest road trips for New England this season will be Arizona (Super Bowl contender), Pittsburgh (AFC contender), Denver (the place Brady has struggled the most in his career), Buffalo (stingy defense and tough environment), and Miami (a place New England has lost each of the last three years). I’m not that high on the Patriots this season, but I don’t think anyone in the AFC East can compete with New England this season. The Patriots ought to have an easy path to the postseason and possibly a first-round bye.

2016 record: 11-5

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger.

North – Pittsburgh Steelers

2015 record: 10-6
2015 total offense rank: No. 3
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 4
2015 total defense rank: No. 21
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 11
Key additions: TE Ladarius Green, CB Justin Gilbert
Key departures: OT Kelvin Beachum, CB Antwon Blake, CB Brandon Boykin, TE Heath Miller
Draft class: CB Artie Burns (Round 1: Pick 25), S Sean Davis (Round 2: Pick 58), DT Javon Hargrave (Round 3: Pick 89), OT Jerald Hawkins (Round 4: Pick 123), OLB Travis Feeney (Round 6: Pick 220), ILB Tyler Matakevich (Round 7: Pick 246)

Pittsburgh should have one of the league’s top offenses once again with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. However, Pittsburgh will be missing some key pieces of the offense. The Steelers lost left tackle Kelvin Beachum in free agency, tight end Heath Miller retired in the offseason, wide receiver Martavis Bryant is suspended for the season, and running back Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first three games. Even with all those obstacles, the Steelers still have a pretty good offensive line, a two-time Super Bowl champion at quarterback, and arguably the best wide receiver in the league, so, they won’t be hurting too bad. Pittsburgh’s defense already had one of the best sack defenses in the league last year and added some much needed help in the secondary by trading for former first-round pick Justin Gilbert, and drafting cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis in the first two rounds.

In my opinion, I think Pittsburgh is the second-best team in the AFC but its schedule is difficult. The Steelers play in one of the toughest divisions in the league and have road games against Washington, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Buffalo. With all the suspensions and a tough schedule ahead, I think Pittsburgh’s record will suffer, but have what it takes to make a playoff push.

2016 record: 10-6

Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck.
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck.

South – Indianapolis Colts

2015 record: 8-8
2015 total offense rank: No. 28
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 24
2015 total defense rank: No. 26
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 25
Key additions: CB Antonio Cromartie, ILB Sio Moore, RB Robert Turbin
Key departures: TE Coby Fleener, ILB Jerrell Freeman, WR Andre Johnson
Draft class: C Ryan Kelly (Round 1: Pick 18), S T. J. Green (Round 2: Pick 57), OT Le’Raven Clark (Round 3: Pick 82), NT Hassan Ridgeway (Round 4: Pick 116), ILB Antonio Morrison (Round 4: Pick 125), OT Joe Haeg (Round 5: Pick 155), OLB Trevor Bates (Round 7: Pick 239), C Austin Blythe (Round 7: Pick 248)

As long as Indianapolis has Andrew Luck, the Colts have a chance to be one of the best teams in the AFC. The Colts’ front office finally addressed the offensive line through the draft and that should help keep Luck upright and healthy this season. Luck has a ton of weapons around him that include wide receivers T. Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, tight end Dwayne Allen, and running back Frank Gore. The strength of Indianapolis’ defense is in the secondary with Vontae Davis and Green. I don’t think that Indianapolis improved much in the front seven, but I think Ridgeway will become a quality player on the defensive line.

Indianapolis’s schedule is its biggest advantage. The Colts play in the weakest division in the league – the AFC South. The only team that will give the Colts problems is Houston, possibly Jacksonville if the new talent and young guys can gel together. Outside of those teams, the toughest road games for the Colts will be against Green Bay, Minnesota, and Oakland. Since the schedule is one of the easiest this year, I think Indianapolis manages to have the best record in the AFC and get home-field advantage.

2016 record: 12-4

Oakland OLB Khalil Mack.
Oakland OLB Khalil Mack.

West – Oakland Raiders

2015 record: 7-9
2015 total offense rank: No. 24
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 17
2015 total defense rank: No. 22
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 22
Key additions: OG Kelechi Osemele, CB Sean Smith, OLB Bruce Irvin, FS Reggie Nelson
Key departures: WR Rod Streater, DE Justin Tuck
Draft class: S Karl Joseph (Round 1: Pick 14), DE Jihad Ward (Round 2: Pick 44), DE Shilique Calhoun (Round 3: Pick 75), QB Connor Cook (Round 4: Pick 100), RB DeAndre Washington (Round 5: Pick 143), LB Cory James (Round 6: Pick 194), OG Vadal Alexander (Round 7: Pick 234)

Peyton Manning is now retired, which means the AFC West division is wide open. Denver has one of the worst quarterback situations in the league and I don’t think the Broncos will win the division for a sixth-consecutive season. Oakland’s front office has done a fantastic job of drafting and signing free agents in the last few years. Offensively, the Raiders finally have a quarterback (Derek Carr), a pretty good offensive line, and playmakers at wide receiver (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) and running back (Latavius Murray). Defensively, Oakland has one of the best players in the league – Khalil Mack – and added Irvin as a pass rusher to take the attention away from Mack. The secondary should be better with the additions of Smith, Nelson, and Joseph.

The AFC West isn’t the easiest division but also is far from the toughest. Oakland’s schedule is manageable which will have tough road games against Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay – not too difficult. Jack Del Rio helped lead the Raiders to improve its win total by four games last season. Oakland is a team on the rise and I imagine the Raiders will only improve this season.

2016 record: 10-6

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid.
Kansas City head coach Andy Reid.

Wild Card – Kansas City Chiefs

2015 record: 11-5
2015 total offense rank: No. 27
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 9
2015 total defense rank: No. 7
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 3
Key additions: WR Rod Streater, OT Mitchell Schwartz, ILB Sam Barrington
Key departures: CB Sean Smith
Draft class: DT Chris Jones (Round 2: Pick 37), CB KeiVarae Russell (Round 3: Pick 74), OG Parker Ehinger (Round 4: Pick 105), CB Eric Murray (Round 4: Pick 106), WR Demarcus Robinson (Round 4: Pick 126), QB Kevin Hogan (Round 5: Pick 162), WR Tyreek Hill (Round 5: Pick 165), CB D. J. White (Round 6: Pick 178), LB Dadi Nicolas (Round 6: Pick 203)

Kansas City seems like the popular pick to usurp the Broncos as the division champion, but I don’t. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the league but the Chiefs still have a lot of question marks – particularly on the offensive line. Kansas City allowed Alex Smith to be sacked 45 times last season – third most in the league. Also, I don’t think that the Chiefs have enough playmakers on the perimeter to compete with the Raiders. The defense should once again be one of the league’s best, especially if Justin Houston can come back and play well after tearing his ACL in the offseason.

The Chiefs play in a division with plenty of great pass rushers like Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack and I don’t think they have what it takes on the offensive line to slow down those players. Also, I think Kansas City will need to take more shots down field with Alex Smith – something he doesn’t like to do – to win this division. The schedule will be difficult for Kansas City, but the Chiefs have a ton of talent and I like them to get the top wild card slot in the playoffs.

2016 record: 10-6

Cincinnati WR A. J. Green.
Cincinnati WR A. J. Green.

Wild Card – Cincinnati Bengals

2015 record: 12-4
2015 total offense rank: No. 15
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 7
2015 total defense rank: No. 11
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 2
Key additions: WR Brandon LaFell
Key departures: WR Marvin Jones, WR Mohamed Sanu
Draft class: CB William Jackson III (Round: 1 Pick: 24), WR Tyler Boyd (Round: 2 Pick: 55), MLB Nick Vigil (Round 3: Pick 87), DT Andrew Billings (Round: 4 Pick: 122), OG Christian Westerman (Round: 5 Pick: 161), WR Cody Core (Round: 6 Pick: 199), S Clayton Fejedelem (Round: 7 Pick: 245)

I went back and forth on this last Wild Card slot. At the end of the day, I can’t ignore Cincinnati. The Bengals have a talented offense led by Andy Dalton and A. J. Green. The Bengals did lose Jones and Sanu, but I think Boyd will prove to be a solid draft pick, LaFell is a capable receiver, and don’t forget about tight end Tyler Eifert. He proved to be one of the league’s best tight ends when he was healthy. Cincinnati has a solid, young offensive line and two quality running backs – Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. So, even if the passing game isn’t working, the Bengals can still be effective in the run game. Also, don’t forget that Cincinnati’s defense is one of the league’s best and was second in the league last year in scoring defense.

I think the Bengals will have a rough start to the season with four road games in their first six games. It’ll take time for Dalton and the new receivers to develop chemistry, but that should work out before season’s end. In my opinion, after week six is when NFL fans will see Cincinnati’s ascension into the postseason. The Bengals are in a tough division, but they arguably have the most talented roster in the division.

2016 record: 10-6

NFC:

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.

East – New York Giants

2015 record: 6-10
2015 total offense rank: No. 8
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 6
2015 total defense rank: No. 32
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 30
Key additions: DE Olivier Vernon, CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Damon Harrison
Key departures: CB Prince Amukamara, WR Hakeem Nicks
Draft class: CB Eli Apple (Round 1: Pick 10), WR Sterling Shepard (Round 2: Pick 40), S Darian Thompson (Round 3: Pick 71), LB B. J. Goodson (Round 4: Pick 109), RB Paul Perkins (Round 5: Pick 149), TE Jerrell Adams (Round 6: Pick 184)

The only reason I have the Giants as the NFC East division champion is because Tony Romo is out for about half the season in Dallas. Without Romo, Dallas doesn’t have much of a team and I think the Giants’ start to the season will be too much for the Cowboys to make a late run when Romo gets back. The Giants should have a top-10 total offense for a third-straight season with Ben McAdoo on the sidelines and Eli Manning at quarterback. Also, I really like the Giants’ decision to draft Shepard to take the attention away from Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, but I think it’ll be better after the additions of Vernon, Jenkins, Harrison, and Apple.

The Giants aren’t one of the most talented teams in the NFC, but they play in a weak division that has a track record that winning just 10 games will win the division. The Giants might get off to a rough start with four road games in their first seven games. I think the Giants will make their playoff push after their bye week when they have five home games in their final nine games, and will face three teams during that stretch that had losing records last year.

2016 record: 10-6

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.

North – Green Bay Packers

2015 record: 10-6
2015 total offense rank: No. 23
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 15
2015 total defense rank: No. 15
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 12
Key additions: TE Jared Cook
Key departures: OG Josh Sitton, CB Casey Hayward, ILB Sam Barrington
Draft class: NT Kenny Clark (Round 1: Pick 27), OT Jason Spriggs (Round 2: Pick 48), OLB Kyler Fackrell (Round 3: Pick 88), ILB Blake Martinez (Round 4: Pick 131), DL Dean Lowry (Round 4: Pick 137), WR Trevor Davis (Round 5: Pick 163), OT Kyle Murphy (Round 6: Pick 200)

Green Bay had a very disappointing season last year that began when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason – and the injury bug never left Green Bay’s locker room after that. This season, the Packers get Nelson back healthy, Eddie Lacy has slimmed down, the offensive line is healthy, and don’t forget that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. Green Bay also added athletic tight end Jared Cook who ought to make a ton of plays down the seam. The problem with the Packers in recent years has been the defense, which should be improved with Clay Matthews moving back to pass rusher. The strength is in the secondary, but the run defense should better after this draft class with the additions of Clark and Martinez.

Green Bay has the easiest schedule of any team in the NFL this season. The Packers will play just three teams who had winning records last season. With that, some offensive pieces back healthy, and what should be a better defense, I think the Packers have the easiest road to getting home-field advantage for the playoffs.

2016 record: 13-3

Carolina QB Cam Newton.
Carolina QB Cam Newton.

South – Carolina Panthers

2015 record: 15-1
2015 total offense rank: No. 11
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 1
2015 total defense rank: No. 6
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 6
Key additions: None
Key departures: CB Josh Norman, DE Jared Allen
Draft class: DT Vernon Butler (Round 1: Pick 30), CB James Bradberry (Round 2: Pick 62), CB Daryl Worley (Round 3: Pick 77), CB Zack Sanchez (Round 5: Pick 141), TE Beau Sandland (Round 7: Pick 252)

Carolina was the NFC representative in the Super Bowl last season but – and I’m not taking anything away from them – the Panthers benefited from Green Bay and Seattle having down years, which is why they finished 15-1. Carolina will still be a Super Bowl contender and will most likely win the NFC South. Cam Newton is the reigning MVP and I expect him to have just as good of a season with Kelvin Benjamin back healthy this season. However, I don’t think Carolina made enough improvements on the offensive line to be the top team in the NFC. Defensively, the Panthers should still have one of the best defensive fronts but the Panthers lack a pass rushing presence, and the secondary is subpar.

One of the biggest advantages for the Panthers this season is that the NFC South is a very easy division to win for a team as talented as Carolina. I don’t see a team in the NFC South that could challenge Carolina for the division title. Like Green Bay, the Panthers have a very manageable road to the postseason and a first-round bye.

2016 record: 12-4

Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson.

West – Seattle Seahawks

2015 record: 10-6
2015 total offense rank: No. 1
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 2
2015 total defense rank: No. 5
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 7
Key additions: DT Sealver Siliga
Key departures: RB Marshawn Lynch, OT Russell Okung
Draft class: OL Germain Ifedi (Round 1: Pick 31), DT Jarran Reed (Round 2: Pick: 49), RB C. J. Prosise (Round: 3 Pick:
90), TE Nick Vannett (Round 3: Pick: 94), OG Reese Odhiambo (Round 3: Pick: 97), DT Quinton Jefferson (Round: 5 Pick: 147), RB Alex Collins (Round: 5 Pick: 171), C Joey Hunt (Round: 6 Pick: 215), WR Kenny Lawler (Round: 7 Pick: 243), RB Mac Brooks (Round: 7 Pick: 247)

Seattle had a down year last season but this team still has one of the more talented rosters in the NFL. Once again, Seattle’s defense should be the best in the league. However, it’s the offense that has a ton of question marks. The Seahawks lost its best offensive lineman, so, what was already a below average offensive line got worse in the offseason. Thomas Rawls looked like a capable replacement for Marshawn Lynch last season, but I question if the offensive line will be able to block for him. Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He proved last year that he can put this team on his back and he can avoid pressure, which means the lack of an offensive line might not affect Wilson’s play.

Seattle plays in probably the toughest division and has one of the toughest schedules. The Seahawks will play five teams that won 10 games or more last season, and will play four of those teams on the road. Even though the schedule will be brutal, but Seattle is well coached and I expect them to be in the postseason anyway.

2016 record: 11-5

Arizona head coach Bruce Arians.
Arizona head coach Bruce Arians.

Wild Card – Arizona Cardinals

2015 record: 13-3
2015 total offense rank: No. 4
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 4
2015 total defense rank: No. 2
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 1
Key additions: OG Evan Mathis, OLB Chandler Jones
Key departures: None
Draft class: DL Robert Nkemdiche (Round 1: Pick 29), CB Brandon Williams (Round 3: Pick 92), C Eric Boehm (Round 4: Pick: 128), S Marqui Christian (Round: 5 Pick: 167), OT Cole Toner (Round: 5 Pick: 170), CB Harlan Miller (Round: 6 Pick: 205)

Arizona is a very good team that didn’t have any major departures that could affect the team’s season. Bruce Arians is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and I expect Arizona to continue to have one of the league’s best offenses – even though I have my doubts about Carson Palmer since he’s going to turn 37 this year. However, he’s got a lot of young weapons and a good offensive line around him so that shouldn’t affect his production too much. Arizona’s defense was already one of the best in the NFL, but should be even better after drafting Nkemdiche and trading for Jones.

This team is still going to be just as good as it was last year, however like with Carolina, Arizona benefitted from Seattle and Green Bay having down years last season. The Cardinals ought to get off to a hot start with five of their first eight games at home, but I think they slip after their bye week with five road games in the last eight games.

2016 record: 11-5

Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston.
Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston.

Wild Card – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2015 record: 6-10
2015 total offense rank: No. 5
2015 scoring offense rank: No. 20
2015 total defense rank: No. 10
2015 scoring defense rank: No. 26
Key additions: None
Key departures: None
Draft class: CB Vernon Hargreaves III (Round: 1 Pick: 11), DE Noah Spence (Round: 2 Pick: 39), K Roberto Aguayo (Round: 2 Pick: 59), DB Ryan Smith (Round: 4 Pick: 108), OL Caleb Benenoch (Round: 5 Pick: 148), OLB Devante Bond (Round: 6 Pick: 183), TE Dan Vitale (Round: 6 Pick: 197)

This prediction probably will surprise everyone. It might be considered a little bold. This wild card slot was reserved for Minnesota until Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL in training camp a few weeks ago. I think Minnesota will take a step back without Bridgewater’s presence, but I won’t be surprised if the Vikings still make the postseason. I think Tampa Bay will be a much-improved team this season. I don’t think the Buccaneers are there yet to be a contender in the NFC South, but I think they could take a step forward if Minnesota has a down year (which most people expect). Jameis Winston had a great rookie season last year, and I expect him and Tampa Bay’s young offense to only get better. The Bucs’ defense was pretty good last season and should be better after drafting Hargreaves III and Spence with their first two picks.

Tampa Bay’s schedule will be difficult but the Bucs play in a favorable division. However, Tampa Bay will have six home games in its final 11 games, and six of the teams in those 11 games didn’t have a winning record last season. The Buccaneers might get off to a slow start but will have a prime opportunity to make a late playoff push.

2016 record: 9-7

nfl-playoffs

Playoffs:

Wild Card round:

6. Bengals at 3. Raiders
5. Chiefs at 4. Steelers
6. Buccaneers at 3. Seahawks
5. Cardinals at 4. Giants

Divisional round:

5. Chiefs at 1. Colts
3. Raiders at 2. Patriots
5. Cardinals at 1. Packers
3. Seahawks at 2. Panthers

Conference championships:

5. Chiefs at 2. Patriots
3. Seahawks at 1. Packers

sb51

Super Bowl LI:

2. Patriots vs. 1. Packers

Super Bowl champion:

Green Bay Packers

Go ahead, call me biased, but I think this is Green Bay’s year. Aaron Rodgers should be back to being the Aaron Rodgers that we’re accustomed to seeing. The weapons around him will be healthy, which is something the offense struggled with last year. The word is that this defense could be the best defense that Green Bay has had since winning the Super Bowl in 2010. Schedule wise, the Packers don’t have to play Arizona and Carolina, and have the easiest schedule in the league. The toughest opponents that Green Bay will face are Seattle, Dallas, and Indianapolis – all three games will be played at home. I think because of that Green Bay gets home-field advantage in the postseason. Lambeau Field is already a tough place to play, but it’s even tougher in the postseason. I really like the Packers’ chances to win it all this season.

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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