I can’t believe it is once again time for the NFL! I am still in full baseball mode, but the best thing about football is that I only have to pay attention to it one day a week, and since my team isn’t local, I rarely get to really see them play anyway. The invention of apps, and the old-fashioned having a few different televisions in the house certainly help during this busy time in the sports year.
The wins I project below are not really “added up” to make sense. In other words, don’t expect an even amount of wins and losses. These are ballpark figures, and it isn’t like missing on some football math is going to destroy the universe. I can also claim that the “common core” math initiative has thrown me off.
Over the past several years, this has been the most boring and predictable of all the divisions. Sure, the team that finishes second has often been the Jets, often been the Dolphins, and rarely has been the Bills (though they did do it in 2014). However, until proven otherwise, anyone who picks a team other than the one in New England is just looking for something to brag about if a miracle were to occur.
1. New England Patriots (12-4) – Did they play poorly in their opener? Yes. Do they still have essentially 5 or 6 games they can pencil in to their win column within their division? Yes.
2. Miami Dolphins (9-7) – The only team in the division where you can realistically say “If everything goes right, maybe they can put a little scare into the Pats…” The Dolphins are better than the Jets and Bills, because DUH! To pull off the division upset, they to find a way to go 5-1 against the other three teams in it.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12) – I was so tempted to put the Jets in this spot, but if I am going to be realistic, there is nothing on their two rosters that would justify such a thing. That said, Buffalo may only win 4-5 games themselves, so a little luck could keep the Jets out of the basement, I suppose. It amazes me just how bad this franchise has been since the Super Bowl years.
4. New York Jets (2-14) – Tanking has officially come to the NFL. (No, the Browns never tank – they are actually scarier than a team like the Jets, because they think their moves will actually lead to success!). Any way, there isn’t one redeeming quality on this team, and it is hard to find any path to a meaningful season.
2012: Ravens. 2013: Bengals. 2014: Steelers. 2015: Bengals. 2016: Steelers. Sense the trend? The Bengals and Steelers have alternated division titles the past four years. The 2012 Ravens were the last team to actually repeat as division champions. The Browns? Believe it or not, they tied for the division lead in 2007, but even that led to the typical “Same old Browns”, as they lost the division tie-breaker and completely missed the playoffs.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Even with those trends, impossible to pick against a healthy Ben, Bell, Brown. Three top players at the three skill positions.
2. w – Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – The Bengals playoff follies are legendary at this point, but they remain the second best team in the division.
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-10) – It is rather amazing that the Ravens have missed the playoffs 3 of the past 4 years. At one time, you were able to pencil them in as easily as you might punch in the Patriots: From 2008-2012, they made the playoffs five straight years. Of course, that 2012 season ended with a Super Bowl championship. They haven’t quite been up to par since.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) – 2010 was the last time they were out of the basement of this division, and they were only 5-11 that year. The Browns are starting to collect some talent, but until a quarterback finally emerges, images of Bernie Kosar will continue to dance in Browns’ fans heads.
This division has been downright depressing the past two seasons, both seasons featuring a 9-7 Houston Texans team winning the division crown. After three consecutive 11-5 seasons (two of which resulted in division titles) for the Colts between 2012-2014, they have run into some bad luck, as Andrew Luck just can’t seem to stay healthy. Will his shoulder injury keep the Colts annoyingly mediocre again?
1. Tennessee Titans (10-6) – The Titans came very close to winning this division in 2016, and I figure another year of experience for Marcus Mariota will make him just that much better. I also expect more explosion out of Derrick Henry in Year 2.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) – Yes, I am going a little rogue this season in this division, because why not? The Jaguars have been a bit of a wise guy choice over the past few seasons, only to fall flat on their faces. Maybe this is the year they show up?
3. Indianapolis Colts (6-10) – If Luck can get back healthy, there are weapons here to work with. The Colts, however, just seem to have fallen down into that mediocre path.
4. Houston Texans (5-11) – This appears to be a good place to go for a feel-good story in the NFL this season, but this squad’s quarterback situation is just too messy for me to get behind. I know I am going against the grain with this pick, but it is boring to always go with the grain. That said, if there is any division that any team can realistically win, this is it.
Since 2012, this division has produced two teams per year that won 10+ games four times. In the season where it didn’t happen, one team won 12 teams while two others won 9. All of these teams have talent, though I think one of them is a bit better than the rest.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) – Was this ranking influenced by their Week 1 win over New England? No. To be exact, I actually had the division rankings in my mind before that game was played. That said, it certainly does not hurt their ranking, given that one of their toughest road tests of the season has already been stamped in the win column.
2. w – Oakland Raiders (11-5) – If Derek Carr would have stayed healthy last year, I think the Raiders could have made a push through the AFC playoffs. Of course, that didn’t happen, and their season ended prematurely. The Raiders have a very talented offense. In 2014, this franchise scored 253 points in a 3-13 campaign. In the space of a few years, they were able to increase that output to 416, second in the conference behind the Patriots.
3. Denver Broncos (9-7) – It has probably become fashionable to knock the Broncos down a few pegs post-Peyton Manning. Last year, they fell apart as the season went along, but still finished 9-7 with a +36. Their defense should keep them in many games yet again – but can the offense pick up the pace?
4. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) – I doubt their first year outside of San Diego will make people in Los Angeles any happier than the Rams did in 2016. L.A. Football is back, baby!
The evenly matched NFC East was the only division in football last season where all four teams had positive point differentials. The Cowboys and Giants were able to get to the playoffs, but the Eagles, led by a rookie quarterback, was actually had the second-best point differential in the division, despite their last-place finish (last place is a bit deceiving, as most last place teams don’t have a 7-9 record)
1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3) – I am not going to go out on a limb here. Sure, if Elliott’s suspension needs to be served at some point this year, that will be damaging to this team. For now, he is playing. I don’t think Dak Prescott was a fluke, but that certainly is another thing to watch.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – No, I am not an Eagles fan. Yes, I am a Carson Wentz fan. I think he might explode as early as this season, and while I am not convinced this team has the level of talent the Cowboys has top-to-bottom, I think they are in position to be a surprise team in 2017.
3. New York Giants (8-8) – I like the offense, though a franchise that used to pride itself on its running game does not have one anymore. It will be tough for some teams to stop this team vertically, but even in today’s NFL, some balance is needed.
4. Washington Redskins (7-9) – When I started looking at rosters this year, I actually thought I might put the Redskins at the top. To think I have since shifted them to the bottom should tell you one thing: I think, once again, that this division is loaded with good teams.
The Lions have made the playoffs two of the past three years, and have not won less than seven games in a season since 2012. Yes, the LIONS have actually been at least a competitive franchise for four years running. The Packers continue to be the gold standard here, but the Lions have begun to make life interesting.
1. Detroit Lions (11-5) – Even with the success, the year 1993 still represents the last time this franchise won a division title. Why not predict that to finally change? Even without Megatron, they were competitive in 2016 – enough to get to the playoffs.
2. w – Green Bay Packers (11-5) – Not that I expect the Packers to fall apart. They still boast what is probably the most dangerous offense in the sport, and even with these rankings, I would still consider them a better Super Bowl contender than the Lions…
3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – Their fall from grace last season (from a team that looked like they could repeat the Broncos’ defensive run to the Super Bowl to completely missing the playoffs) was mind-boggling. The fact that the defense/special teams may have taken a bit of a hit is scary.
4. Chicago Bears (3-13) – So much pressure on Mitchell Trubisky to eventually produce, given the Bears’ gave up a lot to get him. For now, they are banking on Mike Glennon, who was once an up-and-coming young QB. If he performs, the Bears will have a nice problem. For now, they are in a rebuild mode.
After the 2014 fiasco, when an under .500 team won the division, the South has now produced two straight Super Bowl participants. This doesn’t happen often – two different teams from the same division going to the Super Bowl in consecutive years. It happened in 2013-2014 (San Francisco/Seattle), but that was the first time since 1992-1993, when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys pulled off the feat.
1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) – Many Super Bowl losers crash and burn the following season. Not since the Buffalo Bills’s AFC Dynasty has a team that lost the Super Bowl gone back the next year. The Falcons seem to have the personnel to at least make another run at it, as their high-octane offense remains mostly intact.
2. w – Carolina Panthers (11-5) – The addition of Christian McCaffrey gives the Panthers the type of dynamic playmaker that the offense has lacked during Cam Newton‘s career. If he is as good as the buzz, their offense should be strong again, though the defense is still trying to come together.
3. Tampa Bay Bucs (8-8) – This is a tough division to handicap. The Bucs are yet another team that should have a strong, dynamic offense. You just never know when a young team like this will gel and come together.
4. New Orleans Saints (6-10) – And now you have the team that can put up a 50-point game before the defense can blink their eyes. This division has the potential for some high-octane shenanigans, and only the messy Saints’ defense puts them in last.
In the last three years, Seattle and Arizona have occupied the 1-2 spots in the division (in some order), though last year, it didn’t do much for the Cardinals, as they ended up under .500.
1. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) – There is nothing that indicates to me that any of the other three teams have a chance to keep pace with the complete package the Seahawks are. Heck, Russell Wilson had a rough 2016 campaign, and they still were able to win this division with some ease.
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9) – I wish I could reverse the trend mentioned above, but tell me exactly how that would happen? Even if Carson Palmer were to go down with an injury, still hard to imagine any other team in position #2.
3. Los Angeles Rams (5-11) – They haven’t been at .500 since 2006. They haven’t been over .500 since 2003, when they were 12-4 and at the end of their resurgence. Unless Jared Goff takes a GIANT leap forward in Year 2, it is hard to imagine this team getting to those goals this year.
4. San Francisco 49ers (3-13) – 31-year old Brian Hoyer is going to try to steady the sinking ship, or at least build a bridge to whoever their future quarterback may be. The Niners no longer have the defense to cover for their offensive shortcomings, so it is tough to imagine them being anything but a team looking to secure the #1 overall pick, where that quarterback may just reside.
League MVP: Derek Carr, Oakland
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Oakland over Tennessee
Pittsburgh over New England
Oakland over Kansas City
Oakland over Pittsburgh
Carolina over Seattle
Green Bay over Detroit
Atlanta over Green Bay
Dallas over Carolina
Dallas over Atlanta
Oakland wins Super Bowl over Dallas