September 7, 2016

Our NFL 2016 season preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

On Thursday night, the NFL season kicks off exactly where it left off, with the Denver Broncos taking on the Carolina Panthers.

But don’t think that since it’s the same teams playing that nothing has changed in the past seven months. In fact, let’s go through the 32 teams and see where they stand this season.

NFC EAST

New York Giants

The Giants could potentially have one of the best offences in football, it’s just the defence that’s quite suspect. But in this division, the winner might not need much more than a winning record to earn the title. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if 8-8 took the NFC East.

Prediction: 9-7

Washington

Now’s the real test to see if Kirk Cousins, in fact, can be a franchise QB. Washington – still rocking the most racist nickname in sports – have done a nice job of rebuilding and has one of the better receiving corps in the league. The defence is on the ups too, but we still think it all falls just short of a wild-card berth.

Prediction: 8-8

Philadelphia

By trading away Sam Bradford and going with Carson Wentz to start the season – despite mostly negative reviews in the pre-season – the Eagles aren’t exactly in win-now mode. The defence will be improved, but we’re not sure how they’re going to move the chains when they have the ball. And while they did get Minnesota’s first-rounder, tanking this season will only give Cleveland a better pick, thanks to the Wentz deal.

Prediction: 6-10

Dallas

As good as Dak Prescott looked in the pre-season, let’s face it: Tony Romo’s injury basically scuttled the Cowboys’ season. The rookie QB would have to play at an outstanding level to carry this team to the playoffs, even if Ezekiel Elliott is the real deal and somehow rushes for 2,000 yards. Let’s not forget the defence is going to be average at best, too.

Prediction: 5-11

NFC NORTH

Green Bay

The Packers are setup once again to take the NFC North title. Minnesota had a chance to dethrone them, but Bridgewater’s injury scuttled that (more on him later). The offence will once again be one of the league’s best and Eddie Lacy getting back in shape will certainly help that. The defence is roughly the same as last year and the al-Jazeera report was cleared up, meaning no suspensions for a couple of key guys. As long as Aaron Rodgers leads this team, it will be playoff-bound.

Prediction: 11-5

Minnesota

You would think Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating knee injury would sink the Vikings’ season, but that’s actually not the case. For a team that’s heavily built around defending and the running game, it’s not that much of a downgrade from Bridgewater to Shaun Hill and Bradford, once he gets acclimated to the offence and his receivers.

Prediction: 9-7 (Second wild card)

Detroit

After bringing in a new offensive coordinator in the second half of last season, the Lions finally showed some bite. But with Calvin Johnson retired and some new management in place, we’re not sure where this team is headed in the post-Megatron era. The running game and O-line are questionable, as are the defensive backs. Don’t expect a resurgence in Detroit just yet.

Prediction: 7-9

Chicago

Can the Bears win with Jay Cutler? Not if he remains as one of the most inconsistent QBs in the league. The defence will continue to improve under John Fox and they made some key additions in free agency. But with OC Adam Gase and RB Matt Forte leaving town, the offence could be in some trouble.

Prediction: 6-10

NFC SOUTH

Carolina

The defending NFC champions will look for their fourth straight division title and it looks like there’s little in their way to stop them. The offence could actually be a bit better with Kelvin Benjamin returning after a season on the IR, if that’s even possible. It’s the defence that’s a concern – especially in the passing game – with CB Josh Norman in Washington now.

Prediction: 11-5

Tampa Bay

Year 2 of the Jameis Winston era should continue to build on the work the Bucs did last season. As long as Doug Martin can stay healthy and contribute with a strong running game, Tampa could be a nice sleeper this season. Whether it can follow through after years of disappointment is the key question.

Prediction: 8-8

Atlanta

We’re still not sure if this defence can be even average – which is a concerning sign since coach Dan Quinn is supposed to be a genius on that side of the ball. Julio Jones is one of the top receivers in the league and, if Devonta Freeman can repeat his performance from last season, this offence will be amongst the league’s best. It’s just getting the stops that matter most.

Prediction: 7-9

New Orleans

Drew Brees is always going to put up big numbers and the scoreboard will always be spinning in Saints games. The defence hasn’t gotten better and they’ve even lost first-round pick Sheldon Rankins to a broken fibula for the beginning of the season. The one constant that we know with the Saints should remain true: Bet the over.

Prediction: 6-10

NFC WEST

Seattle

The Seahawks came on strong late last season after a slow start, making a nice run before falling in the playoffs to the Panthers. The offensive line is a huge concern, but with their incredible defence holding the fort and Russell Wilson piloting the ship, the Seahawks will once again be a powerhouse in the NFC.

Prediction: 12-4

Arizona

The window is closing on the Cardinals, with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald getting another year older. Tyrann Mathieu made an incredible recovery from an ACL tear late last season and should be in “every single play” in Week 1. The Cards will go all out, but will have some tough competition from the Seahawks in this division and the first-round bye could come down to their Week 16 meeting in Seattle.

Prediction: 12-4 (First wild card)

Los Angeles

The Rams bring some hope for the future to L.A., but we’re not so sure about their present. First-overall pick Jared Goff will be eased into playing and actually start the season inactive – that’s a bit distressing. The defensive line remains one of the league’s best and Todd Gurley could be the next great running back, it’s just everywhere on this team that we have questions.

Prediction: 6-10

San Francisco

Chip Kelly is opening up his carnival on the West Coast this season, with Colin Kaepernick making headlines off the field instead of on it due to his stance on the national anthem – or rather, lack of a stance. This is a rebuild that won’t be done overnight as Kelly’s system will take some time for this talent-lacking squad will need to adapt.

Prediction: 4-12

AFC EAST

New England

Tom Brady’s suspension doesn’t hurt the Pats as much as some think it will. With the talent and coaching that New England has, it might be able to get through the first four games with a 2-2 record with Jimmy Garappolo at the helm. The pass rush may suffer with Chandler Jones traded away, but Bill Belichick is no slouch when putting together a defence.

Prediction: 11-5

New York Jets

Will Ryan Fitzpatrick have the Fitz-magic again? That might be a bit hard to do, but this Jets defence under coach Todd Bowles can surely be one of the best units in the league. The receivers are solid, if unspectacular, and the running game should be pretty good with Matt Forte coming aboard and Bilal Powell remaining an underrated gem.

Prediction: 8-8

Miami

Adam Gase will try to work his magic with Ryan Tannehill, but we’ve been waiting years for him to finally show us some more than some average numbers. Arian Foster will be good for the running game if he can stay healthy, which never seems likely. The defence certainly has some issues, and that was with Ndamukong Suh having his best season yet last year.

Prediction: 6-10

Buffalo

If you are surprised that the Bills have turned into a three-ring circus under Rex Ryan, you must not have followed his reign with the Jets. On top of bringing in his twin brother, Rob – the most overrated defensive co-ordinator in football – Buffalo has had to deal with suspensions, off-season injuries and just  a general feeling that they don’t know what they’re doing. I’d be very surprised if the Ryans are back in Orchard Park next season and think there’s little chance they have a winning record in 2016.

Prediction: 5-11

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati

The Bengals were an Andy Dalton injury away from being a serious Super Bowl contender last season, but we don’t see why that can’t be the case again this year. The defence is a strength, their two-headed running game is top notch and A.J. Green is a top 5 receiver. If Dalton can hold it all together, this team will go far.

Prediction: 11-5

Pittsburgh

This offence could be really scary. When Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension, you’ll have him, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger shredding defences seemingly at will. The defence has some nice pieces, but also some concerns. Yes, this won’t be your dad’s Steel Curtain defence, it will be Pittsburgh winning with its offence.

Prediction: 11-5 (First wild card)

Baltimore

Losing Joe Flacco hobbled the Ravens and scuttled their season last year. He might not be an elite QB, but he can easily return this team to .500 if the defence sees a return to form. Considering the Ravens were one of the worst teams in the league in creating turnovers, we can see that number improving and Baltimore making some noise.

Prediction: 8-8

Cleveland

The Browns are in full rebuild mode and will be gunning for the first overall pick. They’re trading away assets for picks and clearly just want to look towards the future. RG3 is a stop-gap solution at QB and the defence isn’t going to scare many. At least there’s some actually hope that the men in charge can actually build for the future.

Prediction: 3-13

AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis

Keeping Andrew Luck healthy is the top goal this season and the key to possibly earning a first-round bye. The running game and defence remain average, but the passing game has potential to be the league’s best. Their division is getting harder, but we still think Indy is the cream of the crop.

Prediction: 11-5

Jacksonville

The Jaguars are a team on the rise and in a division that could be weak. While we don’t think that Blake Bortles will put up the same numbers he did last season, if he’s more efficient, the Jags could return to the playoffs for the first time in forever. The defence made some very nice additions in free agency and through the draft, paving the way to some closer games.

Prediction: 9-7

Houston

Adding Brock Osweiler from Denver will bring some stability at QB for the first time since Matt Schaub turned into a pick-six machine. The running game should be more consistent as well, with Lamar Miller replacing the oft-injured Arian Foster. J.J. Watt is still recovering from back surgery, which will likely be the biggest stumbling block to the Texans making a run at the division title.

Prediction: 9-7

Tennessee

The Titans invested in their running game and will look to keep last year’s second overall pick, Marcus Mariota, healthy with a better offensive line. But this team just lacks playmakers and the defence still has some pretty sizable holes in it. It’ll likely be another top-5 pick for Tennessee this after year.

Prediction: 4-12

AFC WEST

Kansas City

After a terrible start to last season, the Chiefs went on an incredible run to close things out. They’ll be in tough to start this season, with RB Jamaal Charles still recovering from a blown knee and top rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the mend, it could be another slow start in K.C. But, we certainly know they can turn things around quickly.

Prediction: 10-6

Oakland

Could this be the season that the Raiders return to glory? It’s been a long time since the Black Hole had something to cheer for, but the long rebuild looks like it could finally pay off. Their young core on offence featuring Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray should continue to rise and the defence has a chance to be top 10 in the league. Yes, the Raiders, may actually be playoff bound.

Prediction: 10-6 (Second wild card)

Denver

The defending champs lost a lot of key pieces in the off-season, including their starting and backup QBs. While Denver tried out Mark Sanchez – and released him – and drafted Paxton Lynch, it will be last year’s third-stringer Trevor Sieman under centre in the opener. If he (or Lynch) can keep the turnovers down, the defence and running game could lead this team a long way. Just don’t expect a repeat.

Prediction: 8-8

San Diego

We’re in for another season of questioning whether or not the Chargers will head north to Los Angeles. The Chargers made some key additions in free agency, but there are still some issues. They also have the worst home-field advantage in the league – one of the many reasons a move could come. Phillip Rivers committed to the team, but how long can he carry it on his back without some more help.

Prediction: 6-10

Come back Friday for some Week 1 picks and more predictions for the 2016 season!

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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