The NFL season is underway! Time to make some predictions.
As I see it, there is only one "guaranteed" team to make the playoffs in the AFC and that, of course, is the Broncos. I don't feel great about any other teams, but I do feel like the Patriots, Texans, and Bengals will return to the postseason. Tom Brady hasn't missed the playoffs since 2002. I'm not going to predict he'll do so now. The Texans are a very solid team and happen to play in (presumably) the second weakest division in football. The Bengals are similar to the Texans. A very solid team that doesn't seem to have any obvious competition for the division title. The Ravens did only win 10 games last year. Now they're without two of their top three receivers from last year and have a lot of new personnel on defense. I just don't seem them making the playoffs. The Bengals' only other likely source of competition would come from the Steelers. Last year I noted that, since Roethlisberger arrived, the Steelers have had a pattern of making the playoffs two years and missing them one. If that continues, that means it's a playoff year for Pittsburgh. But part of me also feels like the Steelers are on the verge of decline (similar to how I felt about the Jets two years ago and the Chargers last year). The difference is that the conference seems pretty weak and the Steelers have something the Jets and Chargers didn't: a coach and quarterback with proven success. So while I feel like their window is closing, I think the Steelers have at least one more playoff berth in them. Who gets the final spot? I picked the Bills last year, but - unless Manuel is a revelation - I don't see them making it. The Dolphins have some talent, but I don't think they're quite there yet. I think the last two spots comes down to one of two teams: the Colts or the Chiefs. The Colts are a strong regression candidate, and I'm betting they do regress. But they also have a very good (potentially great) quarterback. Instead of declining by an expected three to four wins, I think Luck may be able to stop the decline at two. The Chiefs seem to be everyone's "bad team improves to playoff team" this year. They improved from greatly by going from Cassel and Crennel to Smith and Reid. They had the number one pick in the draft. They brought in Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. And they're playing a 4th place schedule. They have four games against the Chargers and Raiders, games against the Browns, Bills, Jaguars, and Titans, and most of their toughest out-of-division games (Cowboys, Giants, Texans, Colts) are at home. Upgrade at coach, upgrade at quarterback, upgraded talent, and an easy schedule is why I feel the Chiefs make the playoffs.
The likely teams to return to the playoffs are the Seahawks, Packers, Niners, and Falcons. The Seahawks and Niners are on two of the most talented teams in football. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Falcons are talented, but I'm not as high on them as other people seem to be. I think they'll make the playoffs, but I do think there's a real chance they don't win their division. For starters, it's hard to win 13 games two years in a row, so they're likely to regress a little. Second of all, since realignment in 2002, no team has won the NFC South two years in a row. I think it's possible that Atlanta wins 11 games but loses the tiebreaker. Picking which team they'd lose to is rather difficult. On one hand, you have the Saints; a team that has one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is getting the return of Sean Payton. I predicted the Saints wouldn't make the playoffs last year due to the absence of Payton, so I would think his addition would be pretty helpful. On the other hand, I liked the Bucs prior to last year; and while they only finished 7-9, they did start out 6-4. Also noteworthy: of their nine losses, six were by a touchdown or less (and a 7th by 8 points). They lost nine games and seven of them were by one score. And now they've added Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson and gotten Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back from injury. I love their potential, but I can't pick against the quarterback/coach combo of New Orleans, so I'm picking the Saints to make the playoffs. The NFC East is a crapshoot. Like the South, I could easily see any of three teams making the playoffs, but I'm going with the Giants. The Redskins have injury risk surrounding RGIII and they made the playoffs last year. There's turnover every year and since I don't think it's likely to come from the top four teams, that means it has to be the Redskins. I can't pick the Cowboys because they seem like habitual underachievers. That leaves the Giants; another team that also happens to fit my quarterback/coach formula. Final note, if another NFC North team beats out the Packers or gets a wildcard spot, I think it would be the Bears. They won 10 games last year and had the 4th best point differential in the NFC. I love their potential on offense, with some additions to the o-line and the hiring of Marc Trestman, but I have questions about how their defense will respond after thriving off so many takeaways last year and the loss of Lovie Smith.
Easy. Unless Tom Brady wins 12 games with Gronk and Amendola playing less than 20 games combined, Peyton Manning wins the MVP.
Seahawks versus Broncos. The other teams just have more question marks.