2016 National Football League Predictions
A “pre” preseason look at the entire league
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
With July training camps about to begin and the preseason just a few short weeks away, it’s once again that glorious time when every team in the National Football League talks like they have what it takes to make it all the way to the Super Bowl.
But even though the march to the NFL title starts in July, it’s rarely won in July. Players will get injured at all points during the next seven months in order to make this “prediction in July” look foolish, but regardless this is an early look into each teams odds and value going into the 2016 season.
Buffalo Bills - There’s a lot of pressure on Rex Ryan this season to start backing up all of his bold talk in Buffalo, and besides hiring his brother Rob as the new assistant head coach the Bills didn’t do much this offseason to improve other than the draft in April. The Bills need their first three picks from the draft (DE Shaq Lawson, LB Reggie Ragland and DT Adolphus Washington) to come in and contribute right away, and they’ll also need top corner Stephon Gilmore to show up and not hold out if the Bills defense has hopes of carrying the team into the postseason. The offense should be good enough, depending on if Tyrod Taylor truly is a top-line starting quarterback in the NFL.
Miami Dolphins - Following another 6-10 season last year, Miami is once again starting over with a new head coach. QB guru Adam Gase was pilfered from the Bears to try and turn the Dolphins into contenders, and at the top of his list is to try and make quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense NFL-worthy. Miami drafted LT Laremy Tunsil to protect Tannehill’s blind side, but as of right now the Dolphins will be going into 2016 with Jay Ajayi as their starting running back (This COULD change as they just signed Arian Foster), so it could very well be a long season for Gase, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and the Dolphins faithful.
New England Patriots - Unless you’ve spent the offseason living off the grid, the news that Tom Brady lost all of his appeals and will finally have to serve his 4-game suspension for having footballs deflated a few years ago in the playoffs will come as a surprise. Obviously, the Patriots will be fine for four games with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, even though they will have to play Arizona, Houston and Buffalo without Brady and could potentially be 1-3 in his absence. The Pats are still the class of the AFC East though, so it won’t come as a major shock when they're playing football in January again.
New York Jets - The New York Jets turned a lot of heads in Todd Bowles first year at the helm, nearly making the AFC playoffs with an improved defense and a journeyman QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets did pick up some help at running back signing Matt Forte, and if they can keep LT Ryan Clady healthy he will help shore up the offensive front. Ryan Fitzpatrick finally signed the dotted line giving Jets fans relief as Geno Smith was in line to be the starter at quarterback, which was enough to scare the Jets players in the locker room into thinking they were going to give back all of the progress they made in 2015.
Baltimore Ravens - Baltimore missed the playoffs last season for the first time in a long time, so in an effort to get back, they doubled down on franchise QB Joe Flacco giving him another new deal in the winter for even more ridiculous money. The Ravens drafted LT Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame to protect Flacco’s backside, and they’ll need second-round pick Kamalei Correa to play significant minutes at LB this season too. Playing in a strong division doesn’t make these moves seem big enough, but the Ravens are strong enough on both sides of the ball to know that they’ll be in the race with the Bengals and Steelers all the way into December. Expect many games with small final score margins.
Cincinnati Bengals - If you look up the definition of Déjà vu in the dictionary there just might be a picture of the Bengals and QB Andy Dalton next to the word. After another strong season in 2015, Dalton, head coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals failed to get out of in the wild card round for like the 15th year in a row. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bengals have to find a way to win a few rounds in the playoffs. If they don’t finally figure out a way to do it in 2016, Lewis may be gone because the Bengals will have finally lost their patience with him waiting to find the final piece needed to get them over the hump.
Cleveland Browns - Perhaps no team in the NFL has had more turnover in the offseason more than the Cleveland Browns. Hue Jackson was brought in to be the next head coach fired, the front office finally admitted they made a gigantic mistake in drafting Johnny Manziel and cut bait with him, and just about every player that could get out of Cleveland left in the winter to greener pastures. Jackson and new OC Pep Hamilton are starting over in 2016, and at the top of the long list of question marks will be can Robert Griffin III somehow turn himself into a starting QB in the NFL again. Not much is expected in Cleveland in 2016, so don’t be surprised when at the end of the year that’s what they’ve produced … not much.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Even if you’re not a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can’t help but be impressed with the way they performed in 2015. Injuries could have killed the Steelers season last year, but they still found a way to make it into the Divisional round of the playoffs where a loss to the eventual champion Broncos finally shut them down. Both RB Le’Veon Bell and C Maurkice Pouncey will be back this year, and the addition of TE Ladarius Green should make the Steelers offense better than last year. No matter what happens between now and December, the one constant through all of this is the fact that you can’t count Pittsburgh out.
Houston Texans - The Houston Texans took advantage of the weak AFC South division and injuries to the rival Colts Andrew Luck to win the division title last season, despite not having a really good QB of their own. So the Texans went out and raided other teams in free agency this winter, picking up QB Brock Osweiler from Denver and RB Lamar Miller from Miami to have a new look on offense. However, news that J.J. Watt will start the season on the PUP list with a bad back is what’s most concerning to me. With Luck back healthy in Indy, the Texans will absolutely need a healthy Watt causing problems once again if they want to stay alive in a two-team race for the division.
Indianapolis Colts - The Indianapolis Colts paid a hefty price for letting their franchise QB Andrew Luck take a beating last season (NFL high 118 QB hits), losing him for multiple weeks to injury and thus losing any hope of making a long run in the AFC playoffs again. The Colts plugged the middle in front of Luck by drafting Alabama center Ryan Kelly in the first round, then they took four more offensive linemen in the draft to try and fix the holes in front of Luck going forward. If it works and the Colts somehow find a way to protect Luck, he’s already shown he can take them on a deep run in the AFC playoffs almost all by himself.
Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jacksonville Jaguars vowed to make the offseason all about fixing the gaping holes on their defense, and they did a good job picking up help up front (DT Malik Jackson) and in the backfield (FS Tashaun Gipson) in free agency. Then they drafted corner Jalen Ramsey and LB Myles Jack with hopes that both of them will come in from day one and become future All-Pros. However, all of this is dependent upon the hopes that Blake Bortles truly is a franchise QB in the league, a question that in my opinion that has yet to be proven. The Jaguars will be better no doubt, but I’m not so sure they have moved past the Colts and Texans in their own division just yet.
Tennessee Titans - While the Jaguars and their offseason moves have garnered more headlines, the Tennessee Titans made just as many moves to improve over the winter. The Titans will be the new home of RB DeMarco Murray after the failed experiment in Philly last year, but they also added solid weapons in WR’s Harry Douglas and Tajae Sharpe in the draft to give Marcus Mariota more to work with in 2016. The big question will be can the offensive line under new line coach Russ Grimm do what it has to do to get the Titans offense out of the AFC South cellar. Hall of Fame coach Dick LeBeau is back as the Titans defensive coordinator this year too, so the unit should be able to disrupt schemes even though the personnel isn’t exactly top shelf. Much like the Jags, the Titans have gotten better this winter … but most likely not quite enough to realistically challenge for a divisional title just yet.
Denver Broncos - Most teams that win a Super Bowl get raided and experience a large amount of turnover the following season, but the Denver Broncos have taken it to a new level this winter. As mediocre as Peyton Manning was last season, he’s still light years better than current starter Mark Sanchez is or ever will be for that matter. The good news is that Von Miller and the Broncos Brass finally came together on a new contract. It’s always hard to repeat as champs, but going from Manning to Sanchez at the most important position on the field could make it almost impossible for the Broncos.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs had one of the quietest 11-win seasons a team in the NFL has ever had last year, and if it weren’t for the champion Broncos being in their division we would certainly be talking more about Kansas City this year. The Chiefs didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason either to try and leap over the Broncos in the standings. Add into the mix that their two best players on defense, LB Justin Houston (ACL surgery in February) and S Eric Berry (still unsigned) could begin the season on the sidelines doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence for a lot of improvement in 2016.
Oakland Raiders - Its been over a decade since the Oakland Raiders have been relevant in the AFC West, yet alone the NFL, but for some reason the Raiders are creating a buzz as one of the most improved teams of 2016. The Raiders addressed the holes in their defensive secondary by drafting Karl Joseph and picking up Reggie Nelson this winter, and they are hoping that former Seahawk Bruce Irvin playing opposite of stud Khalil Mack will be enough to stop opponents from triple-teaming Mack and create a more balanced pass rush. QB Derek Carr will also have to take the next big step in his career progression if the Raiders hope to leap frog up the standings in the division and contend in 2016.
San Diego Chargers - Other then Rex Ryan in Buffalo, perhaps nobody in the NFL is sitting on a hotter seat than Chargers coach Mike McCoy. San Diego drafted Joey Bosa to be a major playmaker on a Chargers defense that has struggled at times over the years, but he’s not going to do a thing if he remains unsigned going into camp. The Chargers also faced a “must improve” prospect along their offensive line, and other than signing C Matt Slauson they really haven’t done a whole lot to protect Philip Rivers or open up any holes for Melvin Gordon to run through. Plus, lets not forget that team ownership burned a lot of bridges with fans trying to move the team to L.A. this winter only to be denied and come crawling back to San Deigo with their tails tucked. Could the Chargers be better and reach the playoffs in 2016? Yes … but for a team that has been major underachievers for several years now, the answer can just as easily be a big, huge no.
Dallas Cowboys - For the past couple seasons the Dallas Cowboys have been all offense and little to zero defense, which has put extra pressure on QB Tony Romo and the offense to carry the load. The load broke them down last year, literally, as both Romo and Dez Bryant missed time with major injuries that they will hopefully be fully recovered from in 2016. However, the defense seems to be the same story. LB Rolando McClain and DE Randy Gregory will start the season suspended, Greg Hardy is gone and corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are both a step slower and may or may not be playing for their jobs in training camp. The addition of RB Ezekiel Elliot could make the Cowboys offense dominate again, and with their issues on defense they will need to be for the Cowboys to even get out of their own division.
New York Giants - The New York Giants underachieved so much last season that the front offense decided Tom Coughlin had to go in order to turn the corner. So OC Ben McAdoo who has only been a coordinator for a few seasons is now calling the shots on a Giants team that has had injury issues for a few years now. Defensively the addition of corner Janoris Jenkins and draft pick Eli Apple should help them stop giving up big plays on offense. Meanwhile, if Victor Cruz can rebound to compliment Odell Beckham Jr. at wideout the offense should be able to make more big plays of their own. It’s not an official rebuilding situation, but if the aforementioned players cannot make it back on the field its only a matter of time before the official rebuilding mode will kick in.
Philadelphia Eagles - Chip Kelly is gone and now Doug Pederson has been tasked with the job of rebuilding the attitude and culture in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room. Sam Bradford struggled so much in Kelly’s scheme, that the Eagles traded up in the draft to get his replacement in Carson Wentz. If Bradford struggles again, the call for Wentz to take snaps before he’s ready will be even louder in Pederson’s ear. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will be in charge of making the defense that played so many snaps the past few years that they’ve added the equivalent of 10 years onto their careers.
Washington Redskins - The Washington Redskins stunned a lot of folks in the NFC East and the league in general when they won the division behind quarterback Kirk Cousins in 2015 with a 9-7 record. Then they made headlines this summer by stealing corner Josh Norman away from Carolina in free agency, which will move veteran DeAngelo Hall to safety and strengthen the back end of the defense in a division that still likes to throw the ball. But since the Redskins didn’t offer Cousins a long-term deal, it makes it look like not even the front office knows what they’ll get out of Cousins in 2016. If he continues to improve and make good decisions, this could be the first time the Redskins put together back-to-back playoff seasons since the late 1990s.
Chicago Bears - Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler posted the best quarterback rating of his career last season under Adam Gase, but now Gase is in Miami and Cutler is on his sixth offensive coordinator in eight years in the Windy City and all bets are off. Will Cutler revert back to throwing to the other team like season’s past, or will new OC Dowell Loggains be able to continue the progress made in 2015? Matt Forte is gone and the Jeremy Langford era begins. Even if the Bears do improve a few games over last year’s 6-10 campaign, it still might not be enough to compete in the NFC North, a division that’s becoming one of the deepest in the league.
Detroit Lions - The Detroit Lions have been so dysfunctional in recent years that it’s a surprise to many that head coach Jim Caldwell is still employed there these days. In 2016, the Lions have to somehow find a way to recover from the sudden retirement of their best player, Calvin Johnson, this winter. They did go out and draft Ohio State’s Taylor Decker in the first round to try and protect Matthew Stafford a little better this year, but without Megatron who is going to be the go-to player for Stafford when push comes to shove? The Lions have a lot of unanswered questions they will need to find solutions to before we can realistically start talking playoffs again in the Motor City.
Green Bay Packers - Under GM Ted Thompson the Green Bay Packers have never made much noise in the offseason, and this year is much of the same. The biggest benefit for the Packers will be the return of Jordy Nelson on the outside and a leaner Eddie Lacy in the backfield. Thompson is also hoping that by drafting Stanford LB Blake Martinez and a healthy Sam Barrington will finally mean that Clay Mathews can go back outside to create havoc off the edge. The clock is ticking for Green Bay, especially since QB Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger. Once again anything but a Super Bowl title will be a disappointment in Green Bay.
Minnesota Vikings - Last year the Minnesota Vikings surprised a lot of folks en route to an 11-win season, but now that expectations have been raised can they live up to the pressure? Perhaps the biggest offseason goal was to get QB Teddy Bridgewater another weapon on the outside, and by drafting Laquon Treadwell in the first round to complement Stefon Diggs the Vikings should be able to keep defenses from stacking the line against Adrian Peterson. Minnesota’s strong defense should make the debut of their new stadium a good one, as it returns mostly in tact from last year. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is the real deal. Players bring it for him. The longer he stays here the better this team will get. In the end, the Vikings will be as good as Bridgewater can play this season, turning the NFC North into a two-team race.
Atlanta Falcons - While most of the offseason focus has been on the rival Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons have quietly rebuilt on both sides of the ball adding important pieces to a team that struggled to make it to .500 last fall. Center Alex Mack was brought in to anchor the line, while Mohamed Sanu was added to play opposite of Julio Jones. Both moves should make the Falcons better around QB Matt Ryan. Atlanta also addressed their defensive holes in the draft, with first-rounder SS Keanu Neal and LB’s De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones all slated to start right away or at least press for a starting position. The Falcons are going to be better than they were last year, but is it enough to win a South Division that is a tough one to play remains to be seen.
Carolina Panthers - The Carolina Panthers obviously had a breakout season in 2015, due in part to the MVP season of quarterback Cam Newton and a solid defense that propelled them all the way to the Super Bowl. Much has been made of their decision to let All-Pro corner Josh Norman walk away, but finding a suitable replacement is going to be one of the biggest questions the Panthers will have to answer before the season starts. They drafted three corners (James Bradberry (2nd), Daryl Worley (3rd) and Zack Sanchez (5th)) hoping to find a replacement, but if all of them play like rookies it’s certainly going to have an effect on how opponents attack them. The good news for Carolina is that TE Greg Olsen doesn’t have to be Newton’s go-to weapon in 2016, as WR Kelvin Benjamin will be back following his knee injury and it should make the Panthers more explosive on offense. How Newton and Carolina perform with the target clearly on their backs will also be another major factor on the final number in the win column … life isn’t so easy at the top.
New Orleans Saints - So the New Orleans Saints will likely go into the 2016 season with QB Drew Brees playing on the final year on his contract. Despite what both sides are telling the media, it should be and will be a distraction. Every bad pass Brees throws will be amplified, while every TD thrown will put more pressure on management to re-sign him even though Brees has clearly slipped a little in performance the past few years. But there’s almost more pressure on new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to turn the biggest liability on the Saints squad, the defense, back into a formidable unit once again. First-round pick Sheldon Rankins will help give depth on the front, and new middle linebacker James Laurinaitis will give them a presence in the middle they’ve been lacking for years, but it’s no secret Allen has a tall task in front of him to make the Saints contenders again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Despite some improvement, even with a rookie quarterback, Lovie Smith was shown the door at the end of last season and now-promoted OC Dirk Koetter gets the short leash as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers new head coach. So much of the Bucs season will be riding on how much improvement Jameis Winston will make in his sophomore year. Winston has some weapons around him in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and RB Doug Martin, but if there’s a lack of progression in year two Koetter may regret saying yes to the front office’s offer to move into the bigger corner office. Defensively the Bucs must find someone to bring consistent pressure on the other team’s QB. DE Robert Ayers was brought in to start on one side, but its no secret the Bucs need more out of William Gholston and last year’s epic trade that failed George Johnson. Playing in a division that has gotten stronger won’t give Koetter extra time to find answers either.
Arizona Cardinals - There’s really not much the Arizona Cardinals didn’t do right last season, yet they still fell one game short of making it to the big game. So 2016 will be all about making it to the Super Bowl, as it should. The offense returns virtually in tact, with every player that scored a touchdown for the Cards last season back. Carson Palmer is coming off perhaps his best season ever, and the offensive line in front of him should be solid once again in 2016. Defensively is where the Cardinals hope they have made the one-game improvement they need. They traded for OLB Chandler Jones to get him out of New England, and are hoping first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche plays with a huge chip on his shoulder after being considered the best player in the draft only to fall like a rock due to his off-the-field issues. Arizona doesn’t have many holes, if any, so it’s go for broke in 2016.
Los Angeles Rams - The Rams are back in Los Angeles and they mortgaged six picks in the draft to pick quarterback Jared Goff to be the face of the franchise … talk about pressure. Officially, the Rams are listing Case Keenum as the starter on the depth chart, but everyone and their brother is expecting Goff to be the one handing the ball off to Todd Gurley and throwing passes come September. Goff should have the advantage of having the Rams defense setting him up, but the Rams lost starters at middle linebacker, end, corner and free safety during the winter so the Rams may struggle to stop teams unless replacements are found during camp. Realistically, the Rams will go as far as Goff can take them. But are you willing to let your money ride on an unproven rookie QB? Me neither.
San Francisco 49ers - It always amazes me when a coach flames out with one team in the NFL, what inspires a different team to decide that all that guy needs is a change of address and things will be so much better. That’s exactly what the San Francisco 49ers will be offering Chip Kelly in 2016, and how well Kelly adjusts in his second chance will determine how much improvement the 49ers will make this year. On paper it appears Kelly has a prototype QB for his scheme in Collin Kaepernick, but oh yeah … Kaepernick lost his job to the resurgent Blaine Gabbert last season. And while the 49er defense led by NaVorro Bowman certainly is better than the unit he had on the East Coast, how many 25-second three-and-outs will it take before that unit is calling for a mutiny? San Francisco should improve in 2016, but it could be a long year unless Kaepernick somehow gets his mojo back.
Seattle Seahawks - Not much has changed from last year for the Seattle Seahawks. There will be no more skittles or Beast mode now that Marshawn Lynch has retired, but the Seahawks are putting a lot of faith in Thomas Rawls to be his replacement despite the fact he’s still not fully healed following knee surgery. Same could be said for TE Jimmy Graham. But if both of those players are fully 100 percent come September there’s no reason to believe Seattle won’t contend with the Cardinals for bragging rights in the NFC West. Much like they did last year with Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks have taken a hard-line stance with DE Michael Bennett and his discontent with his contract could be the same distraction Chancellor’s was for the early part of last season. With the entire coaching staff back, along with a majority of the playmakers on both sides of the ball, if the Seahawks can get out of their division they stand a solid chance of making a long playoff run just like they have done in the past four seasons.
2016 AFC PREDICTIONS
AFC East - New York Jets – Odds to win AFC East (+500) – I really liked the way Bowles coached this team in year one. I think the Jets are the only team in the AFC East capable of taking advantage of the Patriots without Brady for the first month.
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers – Odds to win AFC North (+130) – The Steelers are the favorite in the North, but even that can’t stop me from backing them. They have all of the pieces, and I have a man-crush on head coach Mike Tomlin. If they can just stay healthy in August, I think the Steelers finally send Marvin Lewis packing in Cincy.
AFC South - Indianapolis Colts – Odds to win AFC South (+140) – The only reason the Texans took the South last season is because Andrew Luck got hurt. Luck is back, the front office finally decided to put an offensive line in front of him and even with the small favorite odds on this team, I still think this division is Luck’s and the Colt’s to lose.
AFC West - San Diego Chargers – Odds to win AFC West (+650) – The Chargers are going to be my “flyer” pick in the AFC this season. You and I both know that the Chargers have underachieved for like a decade now, but 2016 will be the year that Rivers finally lives up to his potential and brings the AFC West title back to San Diego … even though the owner didn’t want to be in San Diego anymore. Think of the story lines.
AFC Champion Pick - Indianapolis Colts – Odds to win AFC Championship (+1200) – I thought long and hard about taking the Steelers in this spot, but the value (alright, it was the big number) makes me think that Luck pulls off the feat in Indy this year. The NFL is a quarterback league and I really think Luck is one of the best and brightest of the bunch right now. Make your bets and Bovada Sportsbook using your credit card and get a whopping 50% bonus on your first deposit up to $250 FREE!
2016 NFC PREDICTIONS
NFC East - Washington Redskins – Odds to win AFC East (+300) – Dallas is the favorite, and will certainly get most of the futures money in the NFC East. But the Redskins have better balance, Cousins is just as proven as Romo as far as winning in the playoffs, and the Skins defense will be light years better than the Cowboys.
NFC North - Minnesota Vikings – Odds to win AFC East (+200) – I fully expected to pick Green Bay here, but then I saw that they were -140 and my philosophy of not PAYING to make a futures bet kicked me back to the Vikings. Minnesota has a better defense than the Packers, and the Vikings are better at running back too. If Bridgewater can stay within himself, it could be back-to-back North titles for a perfect way to break in a new stadium in Minnesota.
NFC South - Atlanta Falcons – Odds to win AFC East (+525) – I picked the Falcons to win the South last year and it turned into an epic fail. But I honestly like what they did to improve this winter. Matt Ryan has proven he can win, the defense will be better, so why not take a shot at humiliating myself again?
NFC West - Arizona Cardinals – Odds to win AFC East (+140) – I guess I’m a little surprised the Seahawks are picked as the favorites in the West. It’s hard to say a team that had 13 wins and ended one game short has something to prove, but that’s exactly what the Cardinals have in front of them. So I say why not in 2016.
NFC Champions - Arizona Cardinals – Odds to win NFC Championship (+600) – See above for what I think will motivate the Cardinals this fall. The offense is solid, the defense has been built for depth to win it all. Plus, they are fourth as far as odds to win the NFC behind Seattle, Green Bay and Carolina. I’ll take those odds.
2017 Super Bowl 51 Prediction - Arizona Cardinals – Odds to win NFL Super Bowl 51 (+1200) – The Cardinals superior balance on both sides of the ball and better overall depth will propel them to the Super Bowl 51 title in 2017. Although, at +2800 it wouldn't hurt to throw a unit as a "longshot" on the Colts to win it too. Find the absolute best paying odds on all futures bets AND lay only -105 (opposed to -110 elsewhere) at the web's best football betting site: 5Dimes!
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