- New England Patriots: 11-5
It’s finally over. After seven long months, the fake controversy that is Deflate Gate is over.
Earlier today, U.S District Court Judge Berman ruled against the NFL, overturning Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s four game suspension. Berman noted the deciding factor was the NFL’s unfair discipline. He said the discipline was “premised upon several legal deficiencies”
So how does this impact Brady and the Patriots? Well, in my opinion it doesn’t change much of how I think they would have done if Brady’s suspension was upheld. Sure, they might win one more game with Brady, but him being eligible to play isn’t going to hide their biggest hole, the team’s secondary. Yes, Brady’s suspension being overturned is great for the Patriots, but Pats’ fans shouldn’t be naïve; for the Patriots to win a second straight Super Bowl, the defense is going to have to severely overachieve.
The defending Super Bowl champions look completely different on defense; only returning five starters from last season.
The Pats defense may look different, but their offense returns 10 of their 11 starters; the only starter not returning to the offense is offensive linemen Dan Connolly who retired a few weeks ago.
The Patriots always seem to find a way to win the AFC East and I don’t think this season will be any different.
- Miami Dolphins: 10-6
After back to back 8-8 and seasons, I think the Dolphins get over the hump and finish two games above .500. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed flashes of brilliance during last season, so much so the Dolphins opted to sign him to a long-term deal one year early. As a dual threat quarterback, Tannehill can attack the defense through the air or on the ground, but if the Dolphins want to win more than eight games, he is going to have to improve his deep ball accuracy. On passes longer than 20 yards, Tannehill has a completion percentage of 27%, the lowest among active Quarterbacks with twenty or more starts. Reports out of training camp indicate that Tannehill has improved on his deep ball accuracy.
One major problem for the Dolphins at the end of last season was their defense. With the addition of the best defensive tackle in football, Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins hope that problem will be fixed. They made Suh the richest defensive player in NFL history. One thing for fans to note about Suh is his production doesn’t translate into statistics. He’s not going to lead the NFL in sacks or tackles, but what he does do is attract double teams, which allows his teammates open lanes to attack the quarterback or running back of the opposing team.
Will ten wins be enough for Joe Philbin to keep his job? Only time will tell.
- Buffalo Bills: 7-9
New head coach Rex Ryan expects the Bills to compete for championships right now, well before they do that, I hope Rex realizes what his options are at the quarterback position. At the start of training camp it was a three-man competition for the starting quarterback job between Matt Cassel, E.J Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor. Well, as of today (September 3, 2015), Tyrod Taylor is the Bills’ starting quarterback for week one.
In my opinion, even with their amazing defense, the Bills do not have a shot in hell to win the Super Bowl, especially with Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback.
The Bills are going to be a tough team for anyone to play, Rex Ryan coached teams are always that way, but in the end the Bills are going to over achieve with seven wins. They might have the best defense in the league, but their offense is going to be painful to watch, even with a healthy LeSean McCoy, something we aren’t sure when we will see (according to a Bills source, it is very likely that McCoy will miss week one).
- New York Jets: 4-12
Key Losses: Kenrick Ellis, Percy Harvin
Last week, quarterback Geon Smith broke his jaw after being punched by then teammate IK Enemkpail over a matter of $600. Was I the only one who thought, “This is so Jets”? This embodies everything the Jets have been over the last three seasons; mediocre. Now that Geno Smith is out 6-10 weeks, the team has to rely on maybe the most book smart quarterback in the NFL, Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick. He may be book smart, but that hasn’t translated into NFL success. Outside of a month of good football in 2011, Fitzpatrick has been a below average quarterback. So basically, the Jets are in the same position as the Bills, a great defense, but no quarterback.
However, unlike the Bills the Jets defense still has a few question marks. Yes their secondary is going to be solid with the return of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, but their once fierce defensive line is suddenly a question mark with the recent news about Sheldon Richardson. After already being suspended for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Richardson was arrested for going 143 MPH in a 65 MPH lane. He had a minor in the car with him, drugs, and an illegal firearm. How much worse can it get? Well, hours before this report came out, he was on a radio station in New York talking about how much he has changed since testing positive! According to ESPN’ Sal Palantonio, the Jets are preparing to play this upcoming season without their superstar defensive linemen. Luckily the Jets drafted arguably the best player in the 2015 draft in Leonard Williams.
Even with a solid secondary and defensive line, the Jets anemic offense and lack of playmakers will be their downfall.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
Key Losses: Troy Polamalu, Jason Worilds, Brett Keisel
At the end of last season the Steelers were arguably playing the best of any team in the NFL, but a week 17 injury to superstar running back Le’Veon Bell left them in shambles for the playoffs, ultimately leading to their defeat at the hands of division rival Baltimore. With almost all of their offensive personal returning, the Steelers offense looks to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the entire league. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career right now and it’s no mystery why this is.
Despite losing their center, Maurkice Pouncy for at least the first half of the NFL season, this is the best offensive line the Steelers have had during the Roethlisberger era. In addition to that, the Steelers have surrounded Roethlisberger with superb talent at the running back and wide receiver positions. As I mentioned earlier, the Steelers have the best running back in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell, but they also have one of the best receivers in Antonio Brown. Brown can do it all. His small size (5’10) makes him the perfect slot receiver, but what makes Brown special is his ability to catch the deep ball. Despite his small size, Brown routinely beats bigger defenders on deep ball throws. The Steelers also have another great deep ball threat in Martavis Bryant, the second year receiver out of Clemson, who led the NFL last season in catches of 60 yards or more. Bryant is suspended for the first four games of the NFL season, but the Steelers offense is so dynamic, I don’t think it will hurt them as much as it would hurt another team.
Oddly enough, the Steelers one weakness this season is their defense, something Steelers’ fans are not used to hearing. They departed with their long time defense coordinator Dick LeBeau and replaced him with Keith Butler. Butler runs a similar system to LeBeau. The Steelers finished 18th in points per game allowed last season, the lowest during the LeBeau tenure. But, with the great offense the Steelers are going to have, the team can get away without having a superb defense.
- Baltimore Ravens: 11-5
After blowing a two-touchdown halftime lead to the Patriots in the divisional round last season, the Ravens decided to change up their team. They opted not to re-sign their primary deep threat in Torrey Smith, instead opting to draft rookie receiver Breshad Perriman. They traded Haloti Ngata, whom many thought was the heart and soul of the team, to the Lions. And finally, they replaced Gary Kubiak with self-proclaimed quarterback whisper Marc Trestman. So how in the world do I have them winning 11 games? Simple, their schedule and Joe Flacco.
Many people consider Joe Flacco to be overrated, overpaid, and undeserving of the contract he received, but if you ask me, those people are wrong and this was no more evident than at the end of last season. Flacco showed poise and a calm collective nature during the end of the year, when the Ravens needed it most. In two must win games in week 16 and 17, Flacco stepped up to the plate and delivered, leading the Ravens to two much needed wins. Follow that up with a superb performance in Pittsburgh, followed by almost defeating the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and you have got yourself one hell of a quarterback.
Flacco is an elite level quarterback and because of that the Ravens can win 11 games. They are talented enough to do that. They’ve got above average skill players and players on defense and that is all you need to win double-digit games if you have an elite quarterback like Joe Flacco.
- Cincinnati Bengals: 8-8
A.J Green, Jeremy Hill, Giovanni Bernard, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, and Carlos Dunlap, I know what you’re thinking; how can a team this talented only win eight games? Well much like the Ravens, it comes to quarterback play. Yes, the Bengals are super talented, but what is holding them back; Andy Dalton.
Four seasons, four one and dones. Put it this way, if Eli Manning were on the Bengals, would they have four one and done playoff appearance? Probably not, in fact, with the talent they have, they would probably have won a Super Bowl by now.
Dalton is an average quarterback at best. On the road, he is a completely different quarterback than he is at home. His touchdown to interception ratio is significantly worse on the road than at home, and his poise in the pocket is different. He looks like a different player.
In addition to the mediocrity of Andy Dalton, the Bengals have one of the tougher schedules in the NFL. With trips to Arizona, Denver, and Buffalo, not to mention their divisional games, the Bengals schedule is brutal.
It looks as if this could be the final season of Head Coach Marvin Lewis’ career with the Bengals.
- Cleveland Browns: 4-12
When you think of football mediocrity, one team immediately comes to mind; the Cleveland Browns. Since 1999, the Browns have started 21 different quarterbacks, the most among any NFL team. And if all reports are true, that number is going to rise to 22 with Josh McCown, who is reportedly light years ahead of last years first round, pick Johnny Manziel.
The Browns are an absolute mess. They don’t have a quarterback; they’re choosing between Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel (That’s like picking between day old cheese and moldy bread). Their running back position is a mess, so much so it looks like 3rd round pick Duke Johnson may be the opening day starter. At the receiver position, they’re without their best player Josh Gordon all season; leaving the Dwayne Bowe as the number one target. On defense the secondary is abysmal. So much so, that their other first round pick from last season, cornerback Justin Gilbert cannot even stay on the field. He has no respect among teammates and is routinely burned by average receivers.
Bottom line Browns fans, you’re in for another long season.
- Denver Broncos: 11-5
It’s hard to believe that Peyton Manning is entering his fourth season with the Denver Broncos. In his first three years, the Broncos have been the best in yards per game, points per game, and have won the AFC West three times, but this year feels different. Could it be because of their new head coach, Gary Kubiak? Possibly, or, could it be the health of Peyton Manning? It was no secret that as last season went on, Manning’s level of play and health declined rapidly. Either way, this is most likely Manning’s last season as a pro. With that said, the pressure to win his second Super Bowl is greater than ever.
Despite the loss of Julius Thomas, the Broncos offense is still filled with an abundance of dangerous weapons. If the final six weeks of last season are any indication of what C.J Anderson will do this season, than the Broncos finally have a reliable running, something they haven’t had during the Peyton Manning era. Head coach Gary Kubiak prefers to run the football. With C.J Anderson at running back, Peyton Manning’s number of passes will decrease, which might lead to a healthier Peyton Manning by season’s end.
Owen Daniels has been most efficient while playing in Gary Kubiak’s offense. Well after a successful season in Baltimore, Daniels has followed Kubiak to Denver. Daniels is a downgrade in terms of athleticism when compared to former tight end Julius Thomas, but in Kubiak’s offensive system, Daniels is a perfect replacement.
On the defensive side of the football, the Broncos added rookie pass rusher Shane Ray, a top five talent who ultimately fell in the draft due to marijuana problems. If Ray plays to his potential, the Broncos pass rush will be even better than it was last season.
- San Diego Chargers: 10-6
Despite a potential move to L.A hanging over the Chargers’ head, they still managed to re-sign quarterback Phillip Rivers. With their quarterback locked up for the next few seasons, the window to win a Super Bowl is now. Since 2004 (Rivers rookie season), the Chargers have appeared in the playoffs five times with Rivers at quarterback. Unlike Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, the two other quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2004 draft, Rivers lacks a Super Bowl championship. Many think Rivers is the most talented of the three, but the lack of postseason success looms around him.
As I previously stated, the Chargers window to win is now. In the offseason, they added Orlando Franklin in order to bolster their offensive line, specifically in the running game; one of the weaker aspects of their team last season. In the draft they added Melvin Gordon the 3rd out of Wisconsin. With the addition of Franklin and Gordon, the Chargers will likely have a more balanced offense. Over the last three seasons, the Chargers have relied on the arm of Phillip Rivers more than any other team has relied on their quarterback.
On the defensive side of the football, the Chargers upgraded at cornerback; a huge area of need. Patrick Robinson is a huge upgrade at cornerback. According to ProFootballFocus, Robinson was the 27th best cornerback last season. He is expected to replace Shareece Wright as the teams’ number one cornerback. Robinson is more versatile than Wright. He thrives in both man and zone coverage.
- Kansas City Chiefs: 5-11
Last season the Chiefs were on the wrong side of NFL history after finishing the season without a single touchdown reception by one of their wide receivers. This season the Chiefs added Jeremy Maclin, one of the best receivers last season. Does this upgrade help the Chiefs offense? Well the obvious answer is yes, but why do I still have the Chiefs winning a mere five games? Well, that answer is complicated.
To start their schedule is brutal. They are tied in seventh place with the Raiders for the toughest schedule in the league. In addition to that, their outer division road games don’t do them any favors. They have to go on the road to Green Bay, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Minnesota, and Houston. What’s common among those teams? They all are tremendous home teams.
In addition to their brutal schedule, the Chiefs offense holds them back. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the offense is limited in what it can do. Smith’s lack of a strong arm, limits the amount of plays the Chiefs offense can run. Alex Smith’s strengths include quick and short throws, and mobility in the pocket. All of these things are good, but without a legitimate threat to throw the ball deep, opposing defenses can stack the box with eight defenders and not worry about giving up a big play. In my opinion we have seen everything we could possibly see from Alex Smith as the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite their bad offense, the defense is tremendous. They have best defender in the NFL not named J.J Watt, in Justin Houston. The Chiefs are returning almost all of their defensive starters and added a Tyvon Branch; a great situational safety. The team gave up an average of 17.6 points per game last season, good for second best in the NFL. I expect more of the same from the Chiefs defense this season.
Even with a great defense, I do not think the Chiefs have enough offense or a favorable schedule to win more than five games.
- Oakland Raiders: 3-13
For the last decade, the Oakland Raiders have been the laughing stock of the NFL; this season is no different. Sure, the Raiders added superstar receiver Amari Cooper in the draft and are entering year two of the Derrick Carr/ Khalil Mack era, but is that enough for the Raiders to win more than three games? Not at all.
Derrick Carr finished last season with one of the worst quarterback ratings in the NFL, but despite that, many think Carr is poised for a big season. In my opinion, Carr will not have a big season; in fact, he may have a worse season. His offensive line is worse than it was last year. He is relying on a rookie receiver in Amari Cooper and a veteran receiver who drops a lot of passes in Michael Crabtree. His staring running back is an often-injured Latavius Murray, who outside of a big Thursday night game against the Chiefs has done absolutely nothing in the NFL. Carr is being looked at like he’s the next star of the NFL, but in reality, I think he’s in for a bad season.
On the defensive side of the football the Raiders lost their starting safety and staring outside linebacker. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but for the Raiders it is because they didn’t add a capable replacement for these positions. They are relying on career backups to come in and preform like starters.
- Indianapolis Colts: 14-2
Since Andrew Luck’s rookie season, the Colts have advanced one round further in the postseason each year. If that stays true, then the Colts should expect to make an appearance in Super Bowl 50 (If only it were that easy).
This past offseason, the Colts loaded up on the offensive side of the football. Prior to this, they were already one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, but with the additions of Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, the offense has only gotten better. Having Andre Johnson as a number two receiver gives the Colts a huge advantage over other teams. I can’t think of another team with a better number two receiver than Andre Johnson. Frank Gore is the first reliable running back that the Colts have had during the Andrew Luck era. With a reliable running back, the offense will have more balance, allowing for more variety in the play calling. With the second best quarterback in the NFL on the roster combined with a weak division and an abundance of offensive weapons, the Colts offense is going to be historic. Just look at the skill players the Colts have.
Running Backs: Frank Gore, Dan Herron
The only downside to the 2015 Colts is their defense, which is full of older, past their prime defenders. Of the 11 defensive starters, eight of them are 29 years or older. During the Andrew Luck era, the Colts defense has been among the bottom teams of the league, but as I noted previously, the Colts offense has a chance to be historic. So, does that mean the Colts can get away with an awful defense? The answer; possibly.
The Colts defense is going to be on the field a lot, but not because of an inefficient offense, but because of how fast the Colts are going to score. So, how will that affect the defense? Well, it wouldn’t shock me if they give up 25 plus points per game, but in my opinion, they can still win the Super Bowl with this defense. The key for them is going to be the amount of turnovers they can force and red zone defense. If the Colts can win the turnover battle than they will be in a good position to win the game. Also, if they can hold opponents to field goals, rather than touchdowns in the red zone, than they will have a golden opportunity to win the Super Bowl.
- Houston Texans: 6-10
Key Additions: Brian Hoyer, Vince Wilfork, Rahim Moore, Cecil Shorts
Despite having the best defensive player in the NFL, the Texans will not win more than six games this season.
Yes, I know they won nine games last year, I know they have arguably the best defensive player in NFL history in J.J Watt, I know their defense is going to be terrifying for opposing offenses, but last year was an anomaly. They played a last place schedule and won a handful of coin-flip games. This year, they’ll be playing a much tougher schedule and with the injury to superstar running back Arian Foster, the Texans will be in for a rough season.
Foster is likely out till at least mid-October. Without Foster in the backfield, the Texans are relying on Alfred Blue, who averaged a mere 3.1 yards per carry. In addition to the question mark at the running back position, there is also one at the quarterback position. A few days ago, head coach Bill O’Brien named Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback, but is this right choice? Well, all things consider it might be. By no means has Hoyer won the job, but he hasn’t lost it. His competitor, Ryan Mallet has been so bad, O’Brien had no choice but to name Hoyer the starting quarterback. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver, the Texans offense lacks any dynamic players. Until Arian Foster returns from his injury, the Texans offense is going to be abysmal, and even when he does return; the offense will only slightly improve, as it is going to take multiple weeks for Foster to return to form. The Texans offense is going to be their downfall.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
The Jaguars have already suffered a major loss. During rookie mini camp in May, the team’s first round pick (Dante Fowler), tore his ACL. This was a huge disappointment, as the linebacker position was a major need for this team and not to mention, in my opinion, Fowler was the best pro prospect in the draft.
As bad as the offseason was, the Jaguars had one of the more underrated offseason moves with the addition of Julius Thomas, arguably the most athletic tight end in the NFL. Thomas, who made a huge name for himself while playing in Denver, is the perfect target for second year quarterback Blake Bortles. With a reliable red zone target and a player who can stretch the field, Bortles should vastly improve off of a rookie year in which he showed a lot of promise.
The Jaguars also added T.J Yeldon out of Alabama in the draft. Yeldon is expected to be the future every down back for the Jaguars. He may not be ready to make an immediate impact, but Yeldon is going to be a star in the league in the near future. I really like what the Jaguars did this offseason.
With all that said, I still think the Jaguars are a year away from being a team capable of winning eight or more games. They have a brutal schedule and have one of the youngest rosters in the entire league, not to mention the lack of continuity that these players have with each other. In two to three seasons, the Jaguars could be one of the best teams in the NFL.
- Tennessee Titans: 3-13
Other than the Titans, was there a team that didn’t have a definitive face of the franchise type player? I really can’t think of one. The Titans were so boring to watch last year that the NFL Network advertised Bishop Sankey as the face of the Titans during their Thursday night game last season, but that all changes this season.
With the addition of the number two overall pick, Marcus Mariota, the Titans finally have a player fans can get excited about. Regardless of how he plays, at least the Titans will be exciting to watch.
They drafted Mariota with the number two overall pick with the hope that he brings them back to football relevance. Well Titans’ fans, I’m sorry to tell you, but that is not going to happen anytime soon.
The defense is abysmal, the team lacks any real stars on offense, the offensive line is mediocre at best, and, this is going to be hard for Titans’ fans to hear, but, I don’t think Marcus Mariota will have any success in the NFL. I just don’t think his game translates well to the professional level.
I’m not a college scout, but just watching Mariota in college gave me an eerie feeling about his pro potential. Outside of quarterback kneel downs; Mariota took almost zero snaps from under the center. In other words, he played his entire collegiate career from the shotgun, away from the center. That is not how the NFL is played. In addition to that, while he played at Oregon, Mariota played with the best of the best athletes. He didn’t have to throw his receivers open. They were just faster than the opposing defenses. That is not going to happen in the NFL.
Bottom line, the Tennessee Titans are in for a long season and the near future doesn’t look any brighter.
Spark Sports NFL Analyst