Friday, August 28, 2015

Ten Bold Predictions for the 2015-16 NFL Season

Win-loss predictions for all 32 teams, plus my postseason picks … including the match-up, and winner, of Super Bowl 50. 

By: Jimbo X

At the end of this NFL season, the Lombardi Trophy will be handed out for the 50th time. The road to that illustrious, watershed moment in pro sports history effectively begins in about two weeks time, as all 32 teams begin the 2015-16 NFL season with much jubilation and optimism -- even when they probably shouldn’t.

We’ve got plenty of great storylines heading into the season, no doubt. How much will the Deflategate flap affect the reigning, defending Super Bowl champion Patriots? Now that their QB is making serious scratch, will the Seahawks go on a season-long warpath to the Super Bowl, or will some other potent offense -- be it the Packers or Eagles in the NFC or the Colts and Steelers in the AFC -- make opposing teams tremble? With beefed up defenses, just how well will teams like the Dolphins, Chargers, Giants, Jets and do this season, and are playoff squads like Denver, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas and Baltimore bound for some colossal setbacks? Will the new draftees make waves in their new locales, and which teams that sucked last year will play unexpectedly well this season?

Well folks, no need to wonder anymore. Using the same state-of-the-art metrics system I used to predict the course of this year’s college football season, I simulated the entire 2015-16 NFL season, from Week 1’s warm-up runs to the League Championship in early February. So, what does the upcoming pro pigskin season have in store for us, fellow football fanatics? Here are ten bold predictions for the ‘15 NFL season -- just remember, you heard ‘em here first.

Prediction Number One:
Despite the Deflategate brouhaha, the Patriots will have no problems winning the AFC East -- although two more teams from the division will do well enough to make the postseason

Even with Tom Brady sidelined for the first four games of the season, I don’t see the New England Patriots suffering. In fact, with Jimmy G. in the backfield, I actually see the Patriots going undefeated, with a shaky post-suspension Brady generating some mid-season quarterback controversy. Alas, the Pats will do just fine once Brady gets his groove back (having a bona-fide Hall of Fame wide receiver in Reggie Wayne added to the team right before the season begins will certainly expedite the process), as the team slowly pieces together a division-best 12-4 record.

Ryan Tannehill will have a breakout season, as the Miami Dolphins post a playoffs-worthy 10-6 record. With no real star wideouts or running backs, the Fins will do it primarily through vastly improved defensive play and a rock-solid O-line that gives their QB plenty of time to pick and choose his targets. Expect them to give the Patriots two of their four losses of the regular season.

Under Todd Bowles, the New York Jets will rebound, putting together a 9-7 record that’s just enough to earn them the sixth seed in the playoffs. With Matt Flynn anchoring the team for the first six game of the season, they’ll go 3-3, complete with a surprise victory in New England. When Geno Smith returns in early November, he’ll put up some very good numbers, despite one or two really awful games. The defense and wide receiving corps will be greatly improved, but the team will continue to struggle when it comes to the run game.

Much to the chagrin of the Buffalo Bills faithful, neither Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel will put up world-shattering stats this season. With LeSean McCoy inactive for a majority of the season, the team will have one of the worst run games in the League. The receiving units are a bright spot, but the defense will be nowhere near as good as some are predicting. I see the team going 6-10, with Rex Ryan hauling his bags elsewhere at season’s end.

Prediction Number Two:
The Steelers will win the AFC Central in a season-long dogfight

With a great O-line (with or without Maurkice Pouncey anchoring it), an aggressive defense and one of the League’s best receiving corps, the Pittsburgh Steelers -- on paper, at least -- seem to be the best team in the AFC Central this season. Expect Big Ben to have one of his best seasons in years, with the ferocious D putting up AFC-best numbers. Alas, even as 10-6 divisional champs, there are some things to be worried about here; namely, a struggling run game (expect Le’Veon Bell to have a big drop-off this season) and a lackluster special teams unit.

The defense of the Baltimore Ravens will keep the team competitive, despite a fairy lagging offense. Joe Flacco’s stats will be pretty unremarkable, with no receivers or backs posting anything close to League-best numbers. Still, this is a team that’s going to pose problems for most teams they encounter. With a respectable 9-7 record,  Baltimore will finish above .500 but miss out on the postseason.

The Andy Dalton-led Cincinnati Bengals have dominated the AFC Central for the last few years, only to experience epic collapse after epic collapse once the playoffs rolled around. Well, this season, Cincy doesn’t have to worry about that, since with a 8-8 record, they won’t even qualify for the postseason. AJ Green will be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but unfortunately for the southern Ohio faithful, the defense is just too porous to make the team truly competitive with the big dogs of the AFC.

With a suspended GM, a quarterback fresh out of rehab and some really, really dumb looking jerseys, the Cleveland Browns will have a much worse season than last year. Josh McCown will get benched early in the season, only for Johnny Football to show up and play even worse. Expect the Browns to pay top dollar for either Matt Flynn or Jimmy Garropolo once their abysmal 4-12 season wraps up.

Prediction Number Three
The Colts will run roughshod over a pathetic AFC South

With Andrew Luck, Frank Gore and Andre Johnson in the backfield, the Indianapolis Colts will post an AFC-best offense, averaging close to 30 points a game. A great O-line, a solid defense and a really good special teams unit makes Indianapolis arguably the most well-rounded team in the conference. With a stellar 13-3 record, they’ll easily win the AFC South crown en route to securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

My picks for the final AFC regular season
With Arian Foster injured, a no-name cast of wide receivers and Brian Hoyer starting as QB, the Houston Texans will finish the season 7-9, thanks in no small part to their dynamic defense. J.J. Watt is a lock for defensive player of the year, but beyond that, there really aren’t that many bright spots to talk about here. This is a team that’s in dire need of a new play-caller; expect the team to be in the market for a new quarterback, and a new head coach, in early January.

While a 5-11 season is hardly anything to be ecstatic about, it nonetheless indicates a considerable improvement for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blake Bortles will play much better than he did last season, and the defense, while by no stretch of the imagination anything astounding, will do well enough to earn the Jags at least one or two unexpected victories. The biggest news of the year for the team, however, will take place off-field; expect Roger Goddell to announce formal plans to relocate the team to Jolly Old England by years’ end.

Marcus Mariota will be downright JaMarcus Russell-esque this season, “leading” the Tennessee Titans to a dreadful 3-13 record. Expect the team to post among the lowest rushing averages in the League, with a defense giving up an average of 300 yards per game. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and General Manager Ruston Webster will both be gone at season’s end, and the team -- yet again -- will find themselves in the market for a new QB heading into the 2016 Draft.

Prediction Number Four
The Chargers will win the AFC West, the Broncos will fail to make the Playoffs and the Raiders WON’T finish last in the division

The San Diego Chargers have played exceptionally the last few seasons, and I see them getting even better in 2015. With Antonio Gates and Jacoby Jones as targets, expect Philip Rivers to rack up a ton of points this season, with the team posting a near League high 28 points per game. Alas, what has me really sold on the Chargers is their beefed up defense. This is one of the few teams in the league that has a defense as potent as it’s offense; with so much talent on both sides of the ball, I’ve got SD winning the division with an 11-5 record.

The good news for Gary Kubiak is that in his first season as head coach of the Denver Broncos, he’ll commandeer a 9-7 team. Unfortunately, that above-.500 record won’t be enough to get Denver in the postseason. Peyton Manning will have one of worst seasons statistically this year, thanks in no small part to a depleted receiving corps. Even worse, the team just will not be able to run the ball, and defensive play will be quite a bit worse than last season. With some ultra-tough games against the likes of the Packers, the Colts, the Pats and the Steelers -- not to mention some way tougher than expected divisional competition -- I just don’t see the purple and orange dominating like they have in the past few years.

The Oakland Raiders (it's a complete toss up whether they will be the L.A. or S.A. Raiders next season) will be one of the year’s biggest surprises. Reinvigorated with a fresh receiving corps, a beefed up O-Line, a tremendous line backing crew and an actual run game, the Raiders will wind up with a 7-9 record. Expect Carr to hit Cooper for double digit touchdowns, with halfback stud Latavious Murray racking up multiple 200-yard rushing games. The secondary is still a big concern, but all in all? This is a team that -- after more than a decade of abject failure -- seems to be right there at turning the corner.

According to the eggheads at Harvard, the Kansas City Chiefs are practically a lock for the playoffs. Sorry, Ivy Leaguers, but all that fancy schmanzy book-learning don’t add up to a hill of beans when it comes to the mystery machine known as professional football. The run game will be solid, but Alex Smith will never find his groove throughout the season, thanks to a leaky offensive line. I fully expect KC’s defense to be among the worst in the AFC this season, looking more like the atrocious 2012 squad than the Chiefs of ‘13 and ‘14. With so many key offensive losses and so few pick up on the defensive side of things, I just can’t fathom these guys doing better than 6-10 this season.

Prediction Number Five:
Chip Kelly’s Eagles will go 10-6 again and FINALLY win the NFC East

With the three-headed QB controversy still raging, we tend to overlook just how many other offensive weapons the Philadelphia Eagles have at their disposal. Darren Sproles and DeMarco Murray makes for one of the best one-two halfback punches in the League, while a small platoon of solid receivers -- chiefly, Miles Austin and Riley Cooper’s racist ass -- gives the Eagles tons of targets regardless of who’s chunking the pigskin. Sure, there are some questions about the defense, but when the offense is that good, it’s pretty hard to not get optimistic about the team’s chances. I’ve got ‘em going 10-6 (again), which will be just good enough to win them the NFC East this time around. Oh, and as for the starting QB? Expect Sam Bradford to get the initial call, only to get injured again. Mark Sanchez will get the nod for backup, suck, and get replaced by Tim Tebow -- who will then go on to pretty much single-handedly win them the final four games of the season.

After sucking like a vacuum cleaner with a turbo-prop engine these last two seasons, Eli Manning will FINALLY start playing like a dude who won two Super Bowls again. With Odell Beckham, Jr, Juron Criner and Victor Cruz as targets, expect the New York Giants to rack up among the highest yards-per-game average in the League. Even with Jason Pierre-Paul and his missing fingers, the Giants D will be much improved. They’ll look sloppy at times and lose a game or two they probably shouldn’t but when it’s all said and done, they’ll do enough to lock up a 9-7 record … and a playoff berth.

Sans DeMarco Murray, the Dallas Cowboys will be plum pitiful when it comes to a run game. Even worse, after all the drama surrounding Dez Bryant in the offseason, he’ll actually have a much worse season than in 2014. At times, Tony Romo will look nice, and the O-line will still be one of the best in the league; alas, with a much weaker defense and an utter lack of explosive receivers, this is a squad that’s pretty much destined for disappointment. An 8-8 record is the best I can envision here.

This is the year the Washington Redskins officially become the new Oakland Raiders. With piss-poor halfbacks and virtually no standout receivers to speak of, starting QB Terry Cousins will struggle all season long to find the end zone (a god awful offensive line won’t make that task any easier, either.) By week 6, expect a mildly recuperated RGIII to be handed the starting job, and as hard as it may be to believe, he’ll actually do even worse than his predecessor. When RGIII gets carted off the field with a season-ending injury in a week 12 game against the Giants, Colt McCoy will take over … en route to the team losing its next seven games. Sorry, hogs, but it’s going to be a looooong rebuilding process in the nation’s capital, beginning with this abysmal 4-12 season.

Prediction Number Six:
The Packers will steamroll the NFC North en route to the League’s best record

Unless Aaron Rodgers goes down with a season-ending injury, the Green Bay Packers are pretty much destined to dominate not only the NFC North, but really, the entire conference. Losing Jordy Nelson is a big setback, but with Randall Cobb and John Kuhn anchoring the offense, expect GB to put up a ton of points no matter who they’re playing against, with a solid all-around defense  -- in particular, one of the best line backing corps in the League - giving  Rodgers and crew all the breathing room they need. They’ll get tested in a few close games, but I just don’t see them dropping more than two games this season. Not only do they finish first in the NFC North, I’ve got them accumulating the League’s best overall record at 14-2, guaranteeing the road to Super Bowl 50 will have to go through Lambeau.

My picks for the final NFC regular season
With Adrian Peterson back in the line-up, the Minnesota Vikings will be a MUCH improved squad in 2015. Pretty much a lock for the League rushing title, he’s bound to have at least two or three 200-yard-plus games. The scary thing there is that he won’t be the only rusher on the time racking up big numbers -- expect DuJuan Harris and Blake Renauld to churn up the field pretty well themselves. Alas, the receiving corps still aren’t developed enough to give Teddy Bridgewater a potent aerial attack, and the defense is still in need of a few key position players. Still, with one of the best running attacks in the League, Minnesota will rebound this season, going 9-7 and missing the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

John Fox had a lot of success in Denver, but unfortunately, Jay Cutler is no Peyton Manning. Furthermore, the receiving units for the Chicago Bears are nowhere near as talented, the O-Line is in dire need of repair and the overall defense is lacking across the board. The run game, admittedly, is pretty good, but with so many other weak spots on the team, its hard to see Chicago amassing many wins this season. I’ve got them finishing a disappointing 5-11, with Mr. Fox packing his bags at season’s end.

The loss of Donkey Kong Suh is going to hurt the Detroit Lions a lot more than they think. The defense was already showing some signs of fatigue in sloppy wins over teams like the Falcons and Dolphins last season, and this is the year I think the wheels fly off the wagon. The aerial attack will be as good as ever, while the run game will be just slightly mediocre -- that is, until Calvin Johnson goes down with a season-ending injury in a week 6 contest against the Bears. From there on out, it’s just going to be a train wreck in the Motor City, with the Lions going a terrible 2-10 for the remainder of the season. It’s going to be a colossal fall from grace from last year’s 11-5 season -- I’ve got ‘em going 4-12, at the absolute best.

Prediction Number Seven:
TWO teams from the NFC South will make the Playoffs 

The Atlanta Falcons are a team with a LOT of defensive deficiencies. This year’s team will be a bit better, but they will still be giving up among the League’s highest yardage per game. That said, with Julio Jones, Devin Hester and Roddy White in the line-up, they remain one of the best aerial attacks in the NFC. The big x-factor here is going to be whether the team can get a run-game going. While the Devonta Freeman and Antoine Smith-led halfback crew may not send shivers down the spine of cornerbacks throughout the League, I DO think they will be able to move the chains better than the other three teams in the NFC South. They won’t win games by much, but somehow, someway, the Falcons will be a 10-6 team in 2015.

The defense of the New Orleans Saints is going to do remarkable things for a team largely deficient in offensive weapons. With a subpar run attack and a passing game that’s nowhere near as potent as it was half a decade ago, New Oreans is going to have to win games by shutting down their adversaries rushing and blitzing their QBs like crazy. With some key pickups at the defensive line and linebacker positions, I envision the Saints as one of the 10 best defensive teams in the League this season, although their general offense will be quite anemic, especially compared to their high-scoring divisional arch-rivals in Georgia. It may sound crazy now, but this looks to me a 9-7 squad, who -- by proxy of more in-conference victories -- leapfrogs over the Vikes for the number six seed in the playoffs.

Cam Newton stepped up big time last season, and I think this year, he’s bound to take a few steps back. He’ll single-handedly win a game or two for the Carolina Panthers, but with such a dearth of quality receivers  -- not to mention the worst running back crew in a division glutted with substandard halfbacks -- he’s going to struggle to hit the end zone all year-long. The defense will come up back when it counts, but they’ve got WAY too many tough games on their schedule --- including a four-week battering ram against Seattle, Philly, Indy and Green Bay -- to keep them playing at 100 percent. I’ve got them clawing their way to a 7-9 finish, with Ron Rivera likely on his way out at season’s end.

It’s nearly impossible to find a bright spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The defensive is atrocious, the wide receivers are lackluster and the run game is practically non-existent. Jameis Winston will no doubt have a rough season as starting QB, with a porous O-Line ensuring that he gets accustom with the taste of the turf at Raymond James Stadium early and often. Even with one of the easiest schedules in the League, this is a team that’s destined for some hard, hard times. I’ve got them as a 3-13 team -- and that’s me being optimistic.

Prediction Number Eight:
The Seahawks will have no difficulties repeating as NFC West Champions

Now that Russell Wilson is making top-dollar, of course he’s going to see a notable decline in productivity. When the Seattle Seahawks lose the first two games of the season, EVERYBODY will start sounding the doomsday alarms, but with Detroit, Chicago and San Fran on their schedule, I see this being a team that’s easily 6-2 at bye week. From there, the Hawks will play like their old selves, despite back-to-back losses against Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Simply put, this is a team too talented on both sides of the ball to fail. They may not be as good as they were last season, but they are still going to be a dominant force in the NFC. The Temple of Boom rolls to a 12-4 finish, giving them the second seed (and a home game) in the postseason.

Now that they are bound for southern California, of course the St. Louis Rams turn into a playoff-caliber team. Nick Foles may not have the most recognizable targets in the League, but he’s going to hit Tavon Austin and Jared Cook for pay dirt frequently. Oh, and Todd Gurley is going to be a stud, earning offensive rookie of the year honors for almost surpassing 1,400 yards. Alas, the Rams defense STILL needs some work, which is why I just can’t select them as a playoff worthy squad just yet. With a solid 9-7 record though, they are definitely going to give fans in L.A. something to be excited about … and something St. Louis fans are going to be bitter about for decades.

The 2014 Arizona Cardinals might just be the worst good team in recent NFL history. Yeah, they won a ton of games and made the playoffs, but from position-to-position, it’s hard to think of a more lackluster squad who have achieved such aberrant success in pro football in a long time. Assuming Carson Palmer doesn’t get injured again (I’d say that’s a 50/50 EVERY season), this is a team that, for the most part, will look playoff-worthy. Alas, with a five game concluding skid that includes tilts against Green Bay, Seattle and the Eagles, I just don’t think this team is going to do well at all after Thanksgiving. They get a hot start, but get murder-death-killed throughout December. After talking “Super Bowl” in Tempe for most of the fall, the Cards will wind up a 7-9 squad, watching the playoffs on DirectTV with the rest of us.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The San Francisco 49ers made it to the NFC Finals three years in a row, but ever since migrating to Levi’s Stadium (which may or may not be haunted by the vengeful ghosts of Chinese blue jeans stitchers), the red and gold have played more like dead and mold. Colin K. is pretty much the only remnant from those quasi-champion teams from a few years back; with no receivers, no rushers and a defense that’s going to be competing for worst in the League -- in tandem with a vicious schedule that includes some ferocious divisional games plus tilts against the Vikes, Steelers and Packers -- this is a team that’s going to get pummeled all year long. I’ve got the Niners finishing 4-12, with virtually ever position -- including the QB -- in question heading into the 2015 draft.

The road to Super Bowl 50...five months in advance?

Prediction Number Nine:
Aaron Rodgers will win the MVP, Peyton Manning will retire and Ndamukong Suh will get suspended again

A-Rod won the MVP last year, and this year, he’s going to do so again. Similarly, I see J.J. Watts repeating as defensive player of the year. The AP will select last year’s offensive rookie of the year, Odell Beckham, Jr. as the offensive player of the year (even though Antonio Brown will have more reception yards.) With 1,800 yards rushing, AP will be the rushing champ, and the recipient of the comeback player of the year award -- which won’t be controversial, whatsoever.
A few other quick predictions for the season ahead:

- Andrew Luck will break the NFL record for most completions in a single game, while Aaron Rodgers will break the League record for most consecutive completions in a single game.

- The Dallas Cowboys will sign Ray Rice in week 8, only to bench him for the remainder of the season due to public backlash.

- Tim Tebow will have the highest selling jersey in the League, despite having virtually zero marketing from the League or outside endorsement deals.

- Sebastian Janikowski will nail a 71-yard field goal for a new NFL record.

- Several games will be stopped when consumer drones infiltrate the stadiums.

- Marcus Mariota will get sacked more times than David Carr in his rookie season.

- Suh will score a TD off a sack and a fumble against the Bills in Nov. 8. However, he will be benched from week 10 onward after failing a drug test.

- Peyton Manning will announce his retirement the Friday before the playoffs begin. Others who will call it quits at the end of the season? Charles Woodson, Devin Hester, Jared Allen and, perhaps most shockingly -- New England TE standout Ron Gronkowski.

Prediction Number Ten:
The Packers will crush the Colts in Super Bowl 50

Ranked from first to sixth seed here are my AFC teams: Indianapolis, New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Miami and the Jets. Over in the NFC, the line-up is as follows: Green Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta, the Giants and New Orleans.

I am going nothing but upsets on wildcard weekend, with the lower seeded teams winning every single contest except for the Philadelphia/New Orleans game. That gives us the following match-ups in the divisional round: Green Bay/New York Giants, Seattle/Philly, Indianapolis/New York Jets and New England/Miami.

I expect all of those games to be close, but eventually, the higher-seeded teams will come out on top. That leaves us with repeat conference championships from last year, only flip-flopped. Now, it’s the Patriots AT Indy for the AFC crown, and the Seahawks trying to win the NFC AT Green Bay. Powered by screaming home turf fanatics, both the Colts and the Packers will exact revenge for their conference bow-outs this past January.

Which leaves us with the two best offenses in the League -- with undoubtedly the two best quarterbacks in pro football -- duking it out in a big-name, small-market, half-century anniversary donnybrook. Unfortunately, it will be a pretty uncompetitive game, with the Packers defense putting a ton of pressure on Luck and the Packers O-Line giving the year’s MVP all the time he needs to make the much-needed completions. The first quarter might be entertaining, but from that point onward, the route is on, as the first team to ever hoist the Lombardi Trophy raises it again at Super Bowl 50. The final score: 35-14, Green Bay, with the Super Bowl MVP Honors going to -- who else? -- Aaron Rodgers.

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