2016 NFL PREDICTIONS
New England Patriots
OK, so Brady & the PATS have decided to stop appealing “Deflategate” and sit out the first four games. Honestly it doesn’t matter for the PATS and their opponents. Their first four games are @ARZ, MIA, HOU & BUFF. Record after four weeks, 3-1. This is a golden opportunity for Jimmy Garoppolo to showcase his skills for NE and the rest of the NFL. Depending on how much longer Brady plays and stays healthy, Jimmy could be the next NE QB or traded for a QB. Anyway, this team was an extra point away from going back to the SuperBowl in 2015 even with an O-LINE that was miserable. That’s why the main priority for this team in the off-season was retooling the O-LINE. DE Chandler Jones who led the team with 12.5 sacks was traded to ARZ for LG Jonathan Cooper. LT Nate Solder who was injured vs DAL in 2015 hopefully will return at 100% to give Brady that much needed protection on the left side. OG Joe Thuney was drafted in the 2nd round out of NC State to help out on the left side. TE Martellus Bennett was picked up from CHI to give added strength to the position. Not that All-Pro Rob Gronkowski needed any help. WR Julian Edelman is still Brady’s No #1 guy and after missing part of 2015 with a foot injury we’ll see if he’s ready to go in 2016. WR Danny Amendola is recovering from off-season knee and ankle surgeries so opening day may not be in the cards for him. Even though WR Brandon LaFell never really worked out and left, Chris Hogan was picked up from BUFF and Nate Washington from HOU. Garoppolo will have a lot of options in the first four games. RB Dion Lewis will need another knee surgery so this will elevate James White to the position. Hopefully James can be a good alternate for strong guy RB LeGarrette Blount. On DEF, the secondary on this team has become a force to reckon with. CB Malcolm Butler has shown that he is more than a one trick pony by becoming a shut down corner in 2015 after Revis left. CB Logn Ryan has become very reliable at the other CB spot so opposing QBs will have to look underneath. FS Devin McCourty & SS Patrick Chung are locked up long term and are very underrated at their positions. DE Chris Long was acquired from STL and will probably end up in Chandler Jones’s old spot. LBs Dont’a Hightower & Jamie Collins make up a great 1-2 punch but depth at the position had been shoddy in recent yrs, so they signed LB Shea McClellin from CHI to help out, although LB Jonanthan Freeny will hold his own as the third LB. With DE Chandler Jones gone expect DE Jabaal Sheard to become the PATS top pass rusher. PATS drafted CB Cyrus Jones in the 1st round out of Alabama to help in the KR-PR position if Edeleman or Amendola can’t do it. The PATS are loaded and guys are willing to play with Brady for less but, this organization accepts nothing less than a SuperBowl victory in February. With no other real competition in the rest of the AFC, expect the PATS to be in HOU for SuperBowl 51.
PROJECTED 2016 (13-3)
After a so-so yr in his 1st yr in BUFF, HC Rex Ryan has been given an ultimatum, playoffs or you’re fired. At times in 2015 the DEF was no where to be found. High priced DE Mario Williams is gone and 1st round draft choice DE Shaq Lawson out of (where else) Clemson is slotted to replace him. Recently let go DC from NO, Rob Ryan was hired by Rex to get the DEF moving in the right direction. Dennis Thurman still retains the DC title but Rob is now Assistant HC and Defensive Coach. On OFF, the running game went from #26 in 2014 to #1 in 2015 with the addition of LeSean McCoy who ran for 895 yds. Karlos Williams who will be suspended for the first four games in 2016 added 517 yards and QB Tyrod Taylor also ran for 568 yds. But, he was just cut from the team after 1 season for showing up overweight and out of shape. This yr Tyrod will be expected to finish out games that BUFF should have won in 2015. Jacksonville and Philly are two games that BUFF should have won in 2015 but didn’t close out. RB Reggie Bush was just signed to give this OFF something extra. We’ll see if he is fully recovered from his injury in 2015 which sidelined him for most of 2015. WR Percy Harvin officially retired at 27 after an injury plagued career. Going into camp, eyes are on WR Sammy Watkins to see if he is 100%. He was banged up in 2015 and may not be fully heeled. But, now his timetable uncertain because of complications. So at WR for BUFF it is just a committee. With Harvin retiring and Chris Hogan going to NE, someone else has to step up and draw some coverage away from Watkins. This will be up to Robert Woods, Olympic track athlete Marquise Goodwin and rookie Kolby Listenbee who was drafted in the 6th round out of TCU. Also, WR Marcus Easley is questionable because he is recovering from knee surgery. We’ll see who comes out of camp as the go to guy. The O-line for BUFF is solid as LG Richie Incognito had a great comeback season with no fanfare. C Eric Wood & LT Cordy Glenn also had stellar seasons. Tyrod should have his work cut out for him with a great line protecting him and one that creates holes fro running. As Ryan & CO have been known to be defensive minded, the BILLS DEF better not disappear in 2016 if they want to be a part of the BILLS in 2017. BILLS sack total went from 54 in 2015 to 21 in 2016. Along with Shaq Lawson, ILB Reggie Ragland who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Alabama, is also slated to start and put pressure on opposing offenses. Unfortunately Shaq Lawson who was slated to start, will require shoulder surgery and h e should miss 5-6 months. DT Kyle Williams, who is coming off an injured 2015 season and DT Marcell Dareus with his $100 million dollar contract will be looked upon to lead this team on DEF. But guess what, Dareus will be suspended the first 4 games for PEDS. DE Jerry Hughes will have fun on one side knowing Lawson is ready to go on the other side. In the secondary CB Stephon Gilmore is a shut down corner and is tough to beat. CB Ronald Darby is the other corner who makes things happen as well. S Colt Anderson & Robert Blanton were signed in case SS Aaron Williams who was injured in wk 2 is not 100%. Barring injuries this team should make the playoffs for the 1st time since 1999. This team should win eleven games.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)
This team always seems to be moving sideways but not up. HC Joe Philbin was out during the season and Interim HC Dan Campbell came in. He’s out and HC Adam Gase is in along with a new coaching staff. But no matter how you slice it Ryan Tannehill is still the QB for MIA. Tannehill at times has problems reading the defenses and his accuracy. Under Philbin he was not allowed to audible. Under Gase he will be able to audible. But he still needs to reach his receivers. One of the problems with MIA has been their O-Line. In 4yrs Tannehill has been sacked 35x in 2012, 58x in 2013, 46x in 2014 & 45x in 2015. This is way too many times for a QB to be comfortable in the pocket and be able to get anything going. LG Laremy Tunsil was drafted in the 1st round out of Ole Miss will immediately help the O-LINE for MIA. Right now they have him penciled in at LG but will eventually settle in at LT. C Mike Pouncey is a solid Pro-Bowler and needs to stay healthy. LT Branden Albert is also another Pro-Bowler and is anchor on the left side. RT Ju’Wuan James had a toe injury in 2015 that sidelined him for the 2nd half of the season. When healthy, James is also very reliable. OL Jermon Bushrod was signed via FA and is penciled in as the starting RG. T Sam Young was signed for depth. This line needs to get it together if they are going to do some damage and win some games. TE Jordan Cameron is the go to TE and look for him to have a bounceback yr under HC Gase. At WR Jarvis Landry is the #1 guy and should continue to do well. He had the 1st 100+ receptions in the franchise history. With the departure of Rishard Matthews others will be looked upon to step it up in the receiving corps. DeVante Parker had an injury filled rookie season in 2015 and should come back strong. Kenny Stills was brought in to do big things and should have a better 2016. AT RB, Lamar Miller departed to HOU & Arian Foster was signed and should look to rebound after three injury filled seasons. He will be called upon heavily to take some of the load off QB Tannehill. On DEF the big news was the trade for MLB Kik Alonso & CB Byron Maxwell from PHILLY for some draft picks. These two will be staring although Maxwell was a disaster in PHILLY and as beat writer Howard Eskin said “Maxwell won’t even tackle me”. So we’ll see how Maxwell responds in a new location. Alonso will do fine and should get the DEF playing better. But pressure is also on Alonso to play like he did when he was a rookie. DE Mario Williams had a great 2014 with 14.5 sacks then disappeared in 2015 with 5.0 sacks. The FISH acquired Mario to regain his form. The loss of DE Olivier Vernon via FA is costly to MIA but hopefully others will contribute to cover that loss. DT Earl Mitchell missed a few games in 2015 and hopefully is back at 100%. DT Ndamukong Suh is solid & had 6.0 sacks in his 1st yr in MIA. He should be able to do more damage now that others will be drawing more attention. DE Cameron Wake suffered an Achilles injury in 2015 and questions linger as to whether he will be ready for wk 1. In only 7 games in 2015 he had second best sack total with seven. But, he will be 34 yrs old and we’ll see how much he has in the tank. OLBs Jelani Jenkins & Koa Misi are jsu average and have t be better than average. Both missed 3 games in 2015. In the secondary we already know about Maxwell, but the other CB will be Xavien Howard who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Baylor. He is slotted to start. SS Rehad Jones was a Pro-Bowler in 2015 so he isn’t going anywhere. FS Isa Abdul-Quddus who was acquired via FA is a solid veteran who will also start. This team has a lot of new faces on OFF & DEF. But it comes down to Tannehill & the O-Line. The O-Line must protect Tannehill better and Tannehill must make better decisions. He has been given the green light to audible in situations that he was not allowed to before. There are also some new names on DEF and they must produce as well if this team is going to have more wins then in previous seasons. They drafted some players that may not start but they will have time to develop under HC Gase. MIA doesn’t have an easy schedule and the AFC EAST is always tough but MIA has made some good moves. Let’s see how this team plays well together and if they can start to make people take notice. They are probably a few more players from being a playoff team but at least they are headed in the right direction.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
JET fans can breathe a sigh of relief. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick resigned for one yr as the starter. This is a win-win for both sides as the JETS get their starter back and Fitz knows he has to play well to get another contract with more yrs. He will turn 34 in NOV and if he wants more yrs and more money he better get the JETS to the playoffs. Sorry Geno but, with you the team was going nowhere. Fitz had the best yr of his career in 2015 but, self destructed in the last game vs BUFF and the JETS did not make the playoffs. RB Chris Ivory had a career yr for the JETS but departed for Jacksonville. In comes RB Matt Forte who can run and catch but, had an off yr in 2015. Let’s see what he has in the tank at age 30. RB Bilal Powell was resigned so the two RBs are great pass catchers and should keep opposing secondaries on their toes. LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired and the JETS traded for Ryan Clady from DEN who missed all of 2015 with a torn left ACL. We’ll see if he can do the job. WRs Marshall and Decker are back and both had very good yrs in 2015. The TE position is iffy because they haven’t gotten any steady production from the position. So we’ll see who emerges out of training camp. On DEF the big question is CB Darelle Revis who had a very off 2015 season. Was it a blip on the way to the HOF or is it the beginning of a decline? He will be tested early in 2016 and with all the money that he is getting guaranteed, if he is in decline, he will be the most expensive nickel back in the NFL. The JETS hope that is not the case because they need his shut down corner skills if they want to make the playoffs. CB Antonio Cromartie was let go after the season as CB Buster Skrine was a great find after signing with the JETS. He will start at the other corner position. DE Muhammad Wilkerson was resigned for 5 yrs and big money after coming to terms which the DEF could not afford to lose. But, will he be ready for opening day? The JETS have a great DEF line as they were #2 vs the RUN in 2015. The DEF needs to play big as well if they want better results than in 2015. The test for the JETS will come early as five of the first six games are against 2015 playoff teams. We’ll know early about this team.
PROJECTED 2016 (9-7)
The 2015 team made the playoffs even though they had significant injuries to QB Big Ben, RB Le’veon Bell, C Maurkice Pouncey, just to name a few. Big Ben played 11 ½ games in 2015 and suffered injuries but was able to come back for the 2 playoff games. Ben had his highest INT total since 2006 and probably would like to cut it down to single digits. Beyond Ben the QB position has Landry Jones & Bruce Gradkowski who will also be competing for the backup QB position. Gradkowski was out all of 2015 with an injury. RB Le’veon Bell is coming back from a knee injury which sidelined him to six games in 2015, but no matter he will start the 2016 campaign with a 3 game suspension which will give his knee some more time to recover. RB DeAngelo Williams played very well as Bell’s replacement rushing and receiving so that PITT did not miss a beat. This is critical because Ben cannot do it alone. Beyond Williams the RB position is weak at depth and Fitzgerald Toussaint proved his worthiness but had a crucial fumble at DEN in the playoffs. At WR, #2 guy Matavis Bryant has been handed a 1 yr suspension because of drugs. WR Antonio Brown had another monster yr in 2015 but needs someone to be #2. Markus Wheaton had a nice yr and probably will be #2. At TE, longtime fan favorite Heath Miller retired and PITT signed TE Ladarius Green who will move into the starting rotation as Jesse James will be the backup. Ladarius adds a big-play element that Miller didn’t towards the end of his career. On the O-Line, C Pouncey is coming back from a big ankle injury that kept him out all of 2015. He is a great asset for the running game. LG Ramon Foster re-signed before FA and will be in his sixth yr as a starter. At LT, Alejandro Villanueva played all 16 games in 2015 after serving five years and two tours of duty in Afghanistan in the army. He will compete with Ryan Harris who was signed via FA and who started all 16 games for DEN in 2015. RG David DeCastro is coming off his 1st ALL-PRO selection, so he will be the starter. RT Marcus Gilbert is also a dependable starter who is on his second contract with PITT. On DEF, DE Cameron Heyward has played every game in his 5yr career and has 14.5 sacks in the last 2yrs. NT Javon Hargrave was drafted in the 3rd round out of South Carolina State to replace Steve McLendon who left via FA. DE Stephen Tuitt had a nice 2015 with 6.5 sacks, just off the team lead. LOLB Bud Dupree became a starter late in 2015 and ended up with 4 sacks. ILB Ryan Shazier is a rising star as long as he is healthy. ILB Lawrence Timmons may be 30 yrs old but he had 5 sacks in 2015 and still an important part of the DEF. OLB Jarvis Jones is rotated in with “retired 2 yrs ago” James Harrison who plays like a 25 yr old. Harrison had 5 sacks in 2015. The secondary will have 2 rookies. CB Artie Burns was drafted in the 1st round out of U of MIA & SS Sean Davis was drafted in the 2nd round out of Maryland. William Gay is the other CB who has been a steady as a rock his whole career. FS mike Mitchell led the team in INTS in 2015 and is steady as a rock. This team always has solid performers on both sides of the ball. The key is always that Big Ben stays healthy. The secondary will be starting a couple of rookies who will be tested early and the RUSH DEF is always solid up front. Even with injuries the Steelers seem to find guys that can play and play hard. Barring injuries, this team should go deep into the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2015 (10-6)√ PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)
This team had so many injuries in 2015 you wouldn’t have recognized some of the names in starting positions during some games. But because of so many injuries there will be a lot more battling for roster positions than any other team. There will be a lot of “ifs” because guys may not be 100% and fully recovered from their injuries. At M7T stadium for 2016, natural grass will replace the artificial turf that was on the field for many years. This will soften the blow for many players who had wanted this change. OC Marc Trestman’s first yr with this squad could not get a true evaluation with all the injuries that occurred. QB Joe Flacco missed six games with a season ending knee injury and that was the first time Flacco missed any time in the NFL. If he is not ready for the season, Ryan Mallet will be the starter. He was signed last season, played two games and held his own. RB Justin Forsett went down in NOV with a broken arm but still managed to lead the team in rushing yds. Javorius Allen filled in for Forsett but had some costly turnovers. They will be the 1-2 combination for BALT and 4th round draft choice Kenneth Dixon out of LSU will try to impress to get some touches. RB Trent Richardson who signed with BALT in the off-season had arthroscopic surgery on his knee and will be out indefinitely. At WR, Steve Smith tore his Achilles during what was supposed to be his last season and is coming back this season. WR Kamar Aiken who played a significant role while Smith was down will be starting in 2016. Well traveled WR Mike Wallace was signed as hopefully a downfield threat and also not as a side show that has followed his NFL career. WR Breshad Perrimn who missed all of 2015 hopefully will be able to contribute in 2016 and 4th round draft choice WR Chris Moore out of Cincinnati is another potential target for Flacco. At TE, Dennis Pitna was out all of 2015 & hasn’t had a full season since 2012. He is out indefinitely with a surgically repaired hip. Nick Boyle received a 10-game suspension for substance abuse in 2016. Maxx Williams & Crocket Gilmore rotated into the position without any consistency. Crockett Gilmore had off-season surgery on both shoulders and Benjamin Watson was signe via FA to hopefully provide a healthy & big target for Flacco.The O-Line for BALT has always been a solid bunch and even with all the injuries and different QB playing the role, the QB was only sacked 23x in 2015. OG Kelechi Osemele left for OAK via FA but OT Ronnie Staley who was drafted in the 1st round out of Notre Dame will probably fill the slot at LG. The rest of the O-Line will look the same as it did in 2015 barring injuries of course. On the DEF side, DE Christ Canty was place on injured reserve during DEC & his option was not picked up after the season. The second half of the season saw BALT play better defensively than the 1st half when they won 3 of the eight final games. Considering the injuries, this was an improvement from the 1st half of the season. For BALT they are always stellar on DEF no matter who puts on the jersey. To help fill the void left by Canty, BALT drafted DE Bronson Kaufusi in the 3rd round out of BYU. He is versatile and should see plenty in 2016. DE Brent Urban saw limited action in 2015 but has made some strides and is penciled to start. DTs Timmy Jernigan & Brandon Williams are top performers but Jernigan has to cut down on penalties for a DT. Two unnecessary roughness & 1 roughing the passer penalties. Look for DE Lawrence Guy to play a bigger role as guys are working their ay back into the rotation. OLB Terrell Suggs, age 34, is coming back from a torn Achilles in wk 1 but will have 2nd round pick Kamlei Correa out of Boise State chomping at the bit. SLB Elvis Dumervil is 32 but led the team with 6 sacks and went to another Pro-Bowl. SLB 2015 rookie Za’Darius Smith played a big role with all the injuries and had 5.5 sacks. Look for him to see even more playing time in 2016. MLB C. J. Mosley who is going into his 3rd season had 4 sacks in 2015 and is becoming a leader on DEF. WLB Zachary Orr who is a speedster shores up the weak side. In the secondary, the biggest addition has to be FS Erci Weddle acquired via FA from SD. He is a hard hitter who gives much leadership and playmaking ability to a struggling secondary. Ladarius Webb is making the move from CB to S and likely will be the starter. RCB Jimmy Smith led the team with 3 INTS and should continue to be effective in 2016. Shareece Wright only played 111 games in 2015 and is expected to step it up in 2016. There are a lot of “ifs” on this team for 2016 because of the injuries in 2015. If everyone has recovered and can contribute, BALT will have a winning season. But the AFC NORTH is very tough and veterans are coming off injuries. We will see early if BALT has recovered.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6)
HC Marvin Lewis has proven that he can get this team into the post season. But, he hasn’t proven that he can win in the post season. Marvin is 0-5 in the Wild Card 2011-2015 and 0-7 overall. Four of them were with Home field advantage. QB Andy Dalton has 1TD & 6 INTS in four playoffs games. A. J. McCarron was the QB in the wild card game as Dalton was injured. CINNCY had the game but, found a way to lose at the end at home vs PITT. However, A. J. McCarron has proven to be a worthy backup to Dalton. LB Vontaze Burfict will be suspended the first 3 games in 2016 because of penalties against him due to player safety in the game with the Steelers. TE Tyler Eifert will probably miss the first 3 games of 2016 due to off season ankle surgery that hobbled him in 2015. Dalton has to get over the hump in the playoffs. Windows of opportunity in the NFL only stay open a short while. The rushing game for CINNCY dipped from #6 in 2014 to #13 in 2015. Both RBs Jeremy Hill & Giovanni Bernard had off years and need to return to 2014 form. This will take added pressure off Dalton. At WRs, newly acquired Brandon LaFell had surgery to repair his hand so we’ll see if he is ready wk 1. WRs Mohammed Sanu & Marvin Jones left so 2nd round draft choice Tyler Boyd out of PITT will probably be penciled in as a starter along side unstoppable A.J. Green. The O-Line hasn’t changed from 2015 and LT Andrew Whitworth has become solid at pass protection and doesn’t look at all like he has slowed down at age 34. The rest of the O-Line is solid and should have no problems in 2016 as long as they stay healthy. On DEF, DT Geno Atkins had another All-Pro yr with 11 sacks. He cannot be single covered which leaves the door open for DEs Carlos Dunlap & Michael Johnson. Dunlap had 13.5 sacks & Johnson had 5 sacks in 2015. DT Domata Peko is a solid performer but will see heavy competition from 4th round draft choice DT Andrew Billings from Baylor. LB Burfict will be out for the first 3 games so that will give an opportunity to Vinny Rey to show what he can do at all three LB positions. LB Karlos Dansby was signed from CLEVE to help in nickel situations and on the strong side. Adam Jones & Dre Kirkpatrick round out the CB position as solid. CB William Jackson III was drafted in the 1dst round out of Houston but will be used as a backup and nickel situations. CB Darqueze Dennard will also be used in definite pass situations to help out. He suffered a shoulder injury in 2015 and saw limited time. George Iloka & Shawn Williams round out the safeties and should be consistent in stopping the run as they do the pass. This team will win games in the regular season but, will they go deep into the playoffs. It has to set on the mind of HC Marvin Lewis and QB Dalton. This team has consistently built through the draft and picked up a player here and there but when it comes to the playoffs, they can’t seem to put it together. Will 2016 be any different? We will see. Barring injuries and a Dalton meltdown, I can see this team making it to the next round.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)
Seems like this is a perfect example of Groundhog day in CLEVE. They are starting over, again. HC Hue Jackson takes over the reigns in CLEVE and he has a steep hill to climb. RG III is looking to resurrect his career and if he doesn’t show signs early that he has learned anything or improved his skill set, it will be a short stay in CLEVE for him. Right now he is the starter with Josh McCown as the backup. McCown had decent stats for 8 starts in 2015 but, CLEVE didn’t win. Gone is the Johnny Manziel circus. So hopefully there will be less distractions for CLEVE. For RBs, Isaiah Crowell & Duke Johnson are the 1-2 punch and should see more touches in 2016. WR Travis Benjamin left for SD which leaves a big hole to fill. CLEVE drafted WR Corey Coleman in the 1st round out of Baylor and he is slated to start. WR Brian Hartline should have a better yr after missing 4 games to injury. Andrew Hawkins had a disappointing and injury filled 2015 after a breakout 2014. Look for him to make some adjustments and hopefully have a better 2016. WR Josh Gordon who is trying to come back from off the field issues that has prevented him from playing, would be a welcome addition to this bunch and if he produces half of what he did in 2013 it would help CLEVE tremendously. TE Gary Barnidge had a Pro Bowl yr in 2015 and was rewarded with a big contract. He shined on a OFF that was ranked #25 in 2015. But it all comes down to the O-Line here. In 2015 they gave up 53 sacks and allowed 123 QB hits which were the most in the NFL in 2015. You can’t compete in ball games if your QB is horizontal. CLEVE was terrible in scoring too, ranked #30 in 2015. This O-Line still has questions going into the season and needs to gel as a unit or RG III will be running for his life. 2015 1st round draft choice OT Cam Erving who was pushed around a lot moves to the C position. He replaces Alex Mack that left via FA. LT Joe Thomas is a consistent All-Pro and LG Joel Bitonio shore up one side. The right side is a big question where RG John Greco & RT Austin Pasztor will have hungry rookies breathing down their necks. If the O-Line can gel as a unit & stay healthy look for bigger things from the OFF in 2016 than what occurred in 2015. The DEF will be headed by DC Ray Horton in 2016 after being ranked #27 in 2015. Horton’s main jobs are to fix the Run Defense & create a Pass Rush. Two top orders that are hard to fix in one season. To help the DEF, ILB Demario Davis was signed to stop the opposing run game and to add to the sacks. OLB Barkevious Mingo is entering the last yr of his rookie contract so if he wants big money he needs to make a lot of big plays in 2016. 2nd yr LB Nate Orchard needs to step it up a bit otherwise there is a hungry rookie in Emmanuel Ogbah waiting for his spot. LBs Christian Kirksey & Paul Kruger are solid at the in & out positions. DE Desmond Bryant led the team with 6 sacks in 2015 and is now out for the 2016 season because of a torn pectoral muscle. Not good news here. CLEVE drafted a lot of Defensive Lineman in 2016 so they will probably be rotated in to see what they have to offer in DC Horton’s scheme. In the secondary, CB Joe Haden is coming back from an injury laden season in 2015 and even when he is healthy he can’t do it alone. His timetable is questionable because of his ankle injury. So far 2014 1st round draft choice CB Justin Gilbert has been a bust so Tramon Williams has been the other CB after nice career in GB. This is Tramon’s 2nd season in CLEVE. SS Donte Whitner is gone and untested Ibraheim Campbell will take over the slot. FS Rahim Moore was signed to be on the other side. There are a lot of question marks on this team for 2016 as they are rebuilding once again. They need to have some kind of DEF against the run if they plan on getting better in the win column. Also, they are in the tough AFC NORTH where teams don’t stay down for very long. There are a lot of rookies that are looking to make an impact so if the veterans don’t come through, look for some young faces in the starting lineup. The pressure is definitely on RG III to resurrect his career here. CLEVE didn’t spend a ton on him and RG III has to prove himself if he wants to stay. But, as a team, they can only get better as they have drafted well and have two 1st round draft choices in 2017. It gets worse before it gets better. However, I see a tough 2016 for the Cleveland Browns.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11)
So Ok, after the QB carousel in 2015 with Hoyer, Mallett, Yates & Weeden with Hoyer having a disastrous wild card game, the TEXANS went out and signed DEN QB Brock Osweiler. HOU obviously liked what they saw in the 7 games that Brock started in his career, because HOU gave Brock a ton of money with a lot guaranteed. We’ll see if he lives up to the task without having to look over his shoulder. For the RB position, reliable but oft-injured Arian Foster was released after the season and Lamar Miller was signed from MIA. Alfred Blue will be the consummate backup and Tyler Ervin was drafted in the 4th round out of San Jose State. Hopefully with a reliable running game this will take some pressure off of Osweiler to get the ball down the field. DeAndre Hopkins who caught 111 passes in 2015 will continue to be the main attraction at WR. HOU drafted Will Fuller in the 1st round out of Notre Dame and Braxton Miller in the 3rd round out of Ohio State for mre speed and quickness at WR. The O-Line needs to do a better job but in 2015 with a lot of injuries linemen were mostly out of their natural position. C Ben Jones & RG Brandon Brooks left via FA. C Nick Martin was drafted in the 2nd round out of Notre Dame to fill Ben’s spot. RG Jeff Allen was signed for KC to fill in for Brooks. LT Duane Brown is coming off surgery to repair a quad tendon so we’ll see if he is ready opening day. RT Derek Newton & LG Xavier Su’a-Filo were inconsistent in 2015 and better shape up in 2016 if they want to be with this team. TE wasn’t addressed in the off-season because HC Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff are happy with Ryan Griffin’s receiving & C.J. Fiedorowicz’s blocking. In 2015 the HOU DEF was tale of two teams. In the first seven games of 2015, the HOU DEF allowed 28.4 points and 370 yds. of OFFENSE. Over the last nine games they allowed 12.7 points and 263 yds. The DEF ended up ranked #3 in the NFL. DE J J Watt didn’t get any help in the off-season as DC Romeo Crennel expects the DEF to pick up where they left off in 2015 with the same bunch of guys. JJ Watt is coming off three operations and says he expects to have a better yr in 2016. J J Watt frequently gets moved all over the field to create mismatches on the opposing OFF. DT Vince Wilfork has another yr in him as a run stopper but he’s not going to sack the QB too much. LB Whitney Mercilus came alive in 2015 with 12 sacks which takes pressure off Watt. DE Jadeveon Clownery needs to get healthy to be effective on this DEF but he does play well vs the run. MLB Brian Cushing played a full yr after 3 injury plagued seasons and ILB Benardrick McKinney played very well in the second half of the season after an injury. CBs Kareem Jackson & Jonathan Joseph are together again for the sixth season and know each other’s coverages very well. SS is wide open for HOU as they also signed Antonio Allen from NYJ. FS looks as though Andre Hal will be there on opening day. Rookie Tyler Ervin is slated to cover the punt return duties as HOU wants better explosiveness out of the position. All in all, this team is better and should make the playoffs if healthy but they are not quite SuperBowl bound yet. We’ll see.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6)
A lot of people had INDY going to the SuperBowl in 2015, me included. QB Andrew Luck went down for nine games with a number of injuries which included back, shoulder, ribs, kidney and abdominal. Matt Hasselbeck filled for eight games and was able to bring INDY to respectability but he retired after the season. HC Chuck Pagano who was on the hot spot in 2015 was given a four yr extension but his coaching staff was cleaned out. GM Ryan Grigson was also given a three yr extension. I have to say that I don’t think Pagano is that great of an HC. He doesn’t make the right calls. I also think Andrew Luck is overrated as he makes a lot of mistakes down the road in games when he tries to create or force things out of nothing. Luck’s INT% is high and he fumbles a lot. That said, hopefully for INDY he will be 100% for wk 1 because there is no one there to back him up. At RB, Frank Gore was the workhorse and played every game. The good news is, he will be back for 2016, the bad news is, he’s 33 yrs old. INDY added Robert Turbin & Jordan Todman to back Gore up in case he starts to wear down. At WR, INDY let Andre Johnson walk after T.Y. Hilton & Donte Moncrief proved to be a dynamic duo. Phillip Dorsett should be the deep threat after having concussion issues in 2015. TE Colby Fleener signed as a FA with NO so Dwayne Allen was given an extension. TE Jack Doyle will be he backup. The O-Line needed major attention and got it with the drafting of C Ryan Kelly in the 1st round out of Alabama. This will give stability to the position after Luck had 5 Centers in 4 yrs. LT Anthony Castonzo is the anchor of the line. Jack Mewhort is versatile but will be in the LG position. The right side of the O-Line is a little shaky. RG Hugh Thornton needs to be consistent & 7th round draft choice in 2015 Denzelle Good looks to be slotted at RT. Three other OL that were drafted in 2016 expect to see action as INDY looks to stabilize the line and protect Luck. On DEF, injuries depleted the squad and they went through a lot of personnel. DE Kendall Langford tied for the team lead with 7 sacks in his 1st yr in INDY over from STL. NT David Perry could be pushed for playing time with rookie Hassan Ridgeway who was drafted in the 4th round out of Texas. DT Art Jones who was IR in 2015 will battle Henry Anderson for the position. OLB Erik Walden is solid at this spot and D’Qwell Jackson is the best ILB on this team and the second leading tackler in the NFL. DE/OLB Robert Mathis who was out all of 2014 with an Achilles tear returned to form late in 2015 and tied the team for the lead with 7 sacks hopefully will be ready to go. ILB Nate Irving was in a limited role due to knee issues. The biggest loss to the LB crew was Jerrell Freeman who took big money to go to CHI. In the secondary CB Patrick Robinson was signed via FA and will be given a chance to start but needs to step it up. CB Vontae Davis has been playing lights out but just suffered a severe ankle sprain that could keep him out until OCT. Who steps up right now is a mystery. Look for D’Joun Smith to battle for the position. CB Darrius Butler is used in nickel situations. At safeties, Mike Adams is a Pro-Bowler who led the team with 5 INTS. The other safety will be a battle between Clayton Gathers & rookie T.J. Green. Luck has to cut down on being a gunslinger and taking unnecessary chances for INDY to make it back to the playoffs. HC Pagano also has to make better choices but I don’t think this is the yr that they make it back to the playoffs. Suddenly teams are looking better in the AFC SOUTH and can’t be taken for granted as they once were. Luck & CO will come back to earth as things get tougher. Hopefully the O-Line for INDY works out and Luck is not viewing the game from the ground. Also, the DEF needs to stay healthy and make plays. It seemed as though any team could score at will against INDY in 2015. That has to stop as well.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
This team has been rebuilding for the last five yrs. HC Mike Mularky took over in 2015 after HC Ken Whisenhurst started out 1-6. Hopefully they have found their QB of the future with 2015 1st round draft choice Marcus Mariota. Marcus missed four games in 2015 due to knee injuries but did have a pretty good rookie season. QB Zach Mettenberger seemed to struggle in place of Mariota so journeyman Matt Cassel was signed to battle Zach for the backup role. But the big acquisition in the off season came with RB DeMarco Murray. He had an off year in the Chip Kelly OFF in PHILLY in 2015 but, is looking to bounce back big time in TENN in ’16. TENN also drafted Heisman winner RB Derrick Henry in the 2nd round out of Alabama so this is shaping up to be a very dangerous 1-2 punch. The FB will probably be Jalston Fowler but beyond that, it hasn’t been decided in the backfield. At WR Andrew Turzilli is suspended for the first 4 games and we’ll see if he is even around later. Dorial Green-Beckham was traded to PHILLY and Rishard Matthews was signed via FA and may end up being the #2 WR. The other WR position has Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas and Justin Hunter battling for time. TE Delanie Walker became Marcus’s favorite target and was selected to the PRO BOWL. TE Anthony Fassano is also a solid option and is very good at run blocking. The O-LINE for TENN was again terrible in 2015. They gave up 54 sacks and the OFF ranked #30 in the NFL. Only place to go is up. They have to protect Mariota better and open holes for the run game. TENN drafted OT Jack Conklin in the first round out of Michigan State and he is slated to start at RT. Ben Jones was signed via FA and is slated to start at C. Holdovers LT Taylor Lewan & RG Chance Warmack are on notice to play better and LG is being competed for. But this line better shape up if the OFF is going to do any damage this yr. On DEF DC Dick LeBeau took the DEF that was #27 in 2014 and improved them to #12 in 2015. With LeBeau, look for more blitzes but, do they have the right players for the gamble? DE Jurrell Casey tied for the lead with 7 sacks in2015 and went to the PRO BOWL. LB Brian Orakpo bounced back nicely in his first yr in TENN with 7 sacks and not missing a game. DaQuan Jones will be the other starter at DE. OLB Derrick Morgan comes back after a shoulder injury that limited him to ten games in 2015. Veteran Wesley Woodyard (5 sacks in ’15) & Avery Williamson round out the ILBs. In the secondary CB Jason McCourty will be back after only playing 4 games in ’15 because of groin surgery. CB perrish Cox must tackle better if he wants to keep his job and LeBeau brought in CBs Brice MacCain & Antwon Blake to compete for the spot. TENN drafted a few more DBs so they should have their pick for starters by WK 1. Longtime S Michael Griifin was released and Rashad Johnson was signed as the SS. He will definitely be the leader of the secondary and call out the plays. Da’Norris Searcy is penciled at FS but he could be challenged by 3rd round draft choice Kevin Byrd out of Middle Tennessee. Right now KR/PR Dexter McCluster will be the return man but word is that he could be challenged by undrafted rookie Morgan Burns. This team has many questions at the O-LINE which will not help its cause. They need to protect Marcus and open holes for RBs. The WRs need to step up and get open because TE Delanie Walker can’t be the only go to guy for Marcus. Under LeBeau the DEF has made great strides and is becoming a force. The secondary should be better as Rashad Johnson was brought in to make sure that they make the right calls and execute. The schedule for TENN in ’16 is not that easy and the O-LINE needs to hold up. I’m going out on a limb here. No playoffs but some noticeable improvement.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)
Believe it or not, five wins for this team is progress. Before ’15 it was 2011 when they won five games. Owner Shahid khan is very patient because if it was anyone else, the team would have been gutted. GM Dave Caldwell & HC Gus Bradley both know that the clock is ticking. This off-season the JAGS went to work. The OFF did get better in 2015 going from #31 in 2014 to #18 in 2015. The PASS OFF went from #31 in 2014 to #10 in 2015. But the RUN game went from #21 in 2014 to #28 in 2015. So JAGS signed RB Chris Ivory via FA to team with TJ Yeldon who had an injury laden yr in 2015. This 1-2 combination should take some pressure off of QB Blake Bortles but there isn’t really any depth behind those two RBs. QB Blake Bortles had a much better 2nd yr but at times was throwing for his life. Plus he was sacked 51x in 2015. He was sacked 55x in 2014. This will cut the life of your QB if he doesn’t get protection. WRs Allen Robinson & Allen Hurns are very reliable and both had 1,000+ yd seasons. TE Julius Thomas was a nice addition in 2015 that added pass catching and TE Marcedes Lewis is well at pass blocking. WRs Marqise Lee & Rashad Greene need to step it up so that they are open in slots and underneath the coverage. Also, very dependable WR Bryan Walters who caught 32 passes in 2015 will be fighting for a roster spot. But this OFF comes down to the O-LINE. They cannot expect to win when you give up 51 sacks and can’t open up holes for the RBs to run. The O-LINE for 2016 is different but not necessarily better. There is not an ALL-STAR in the group. The only major upgrade was signing via FA, LT Kelvin Beachum who is coming off an ACL tear and will compete for the spot against Luke Joeckel. If Joeckel loses the job he will either move to G or be a backup. LG Mackenzy Bernadeau was also signed via FA but he is looked at mostly for depth. Brandon Linder is moving from G to C after being on IR for most of 2015. Jeremy Parnell returns as a starter at RT after starting 15 games in 2015. A J Cann will be at RG after playing 14 games in 2015. We’ll see early how this O-Line stacks up. On DEF, the JAGS will look significantly different. DE Chris Clemons went back to SEA. I guess he got tired of losing in 2 seasons in Jacksonville. At DE Jared Oldrick led the team with 5.5 sacks. DT Malik Jackson got a huge contract to come to town. He can stuff the run and rush on passing downs and will be looked upon to lead the defensive unit. The other DT will be Roy Miller who had 4 sacks in 2015. Dante Fowler will be the other DE as he spent the 2015 on IR. He was drafted in the 1st round (3rd Pick) in 2015 so JAGS want to see what he can deliver. Rookie OLB Myles Jack was drafted in the 2nd round out of UCLA and is slated to start at the position. MLB Paul Posluszny is the veteran leader on this unit and calls the plays but can be a liability on 3rd down passing downs. OLB Telvin Smith was 2nd on the team with 128 tackles in 2015. Telvin also had 2.5 sacks and has good speed. In the secondary JAGS a re starting a rookie at CB. Jalen Ramsey was the man they wanted way before the draft. They selected him as the 5th pick in the 1st round out of FSU. Davon House will be the other CB who is a very good cover guy and breaks up a lot of passes. House also led the team with 4 INTs. Tashaun Gipson was signed via FA to be the FS. Jonathan Cyprien will be looking at the SS spot but will be challenged by James Sample who was limited to 4 games in 2015 due to injury. CB Prince Amukamara was also signed via FA and will play the slot and nickel situations. Questions linger on the O-LINE for the JAGS. If that unit can get it together and protect Bortles & open up the running lanes then maybe the JAGS can do some damage in 2016. Also, the DEF can’t let everyone just score on them. They need to play as a unit, communicate and not make too many costly mistakes that lead to tds. Some definite upgrades in the secondary on the D-LINE should keep this team in many games late. In the past it seems like teams have scored at will against this team and that has to stop if JAGS are going to make any progress. A .500 record is not out of the question for this team but we should know some things early in the season. I’m going out on a limb here.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
Kansas City Chiefs
KC started 2015 1-5 and it didn’t look like they would right the hip. But then they went on a 10-game win streak and made the playoffs where they blew out HOU, @HOU but lost by seven @NE. HC Andy Reid has been here three yrs and has been 11-5 2x & 9-7 1x. Can he turn the corner with this team and go further into the playoffs? One of Andy’s big guns on DEF, LB Justin Houston will be out for an extended period of time due to his knee injury. He may be out for all of 2016. That is definitely not good for KC. On OFF, KC plays a conservative style with QB Alex Smith. A lot of short passes and not too much risk taking. Also, he gets sacked a lot. RB Jamaal Charles tore his ACL in 2015 and missed 11 games. KC went 11-1 without him, including the playoffs so he must really overachieve to show his worthiness in this OFF. RB Charcandrick West filled in nicely for Charles and showed that he can catch the ball as well. RB Spencer Ware was also a nice fill in and we’ll see if he gets more touches in 2016. Anthony Sherman remains a strong FB for blocking. WR Jeremy Maclin made a big impact to the receiving corps in 2015 that was otherwise dead before. Albert Wilson was the #2 WR in 2015 but Chris Conley will be looking to change that. After Maclin there is not much to get excited about but Travis Kelce is a Pro-Bowl TE that sees a lot of touches in this conservative OFF. He needs to cut down on penalties & dropped balls. In 2015 the O-LINE did not have a single spot that was played by one guy. Due to poor play, suspensions & injuries the O-Line has been shuffled & re-shuffled. Right now only LT Eric Fisher & RT FA signee Mitchell Schwartz are locked in. All the other OL positions are up for grabs but they must be in unison when protecting QB Smith. On DEF, DE Jaye Howard had a great yr with 5.5 sacks and was rewarded with a new contract. NT Dontari Poe recovered from back surgery, only to miss one game in 2015. He did play less downs and his production was down. Hopefully he will rebound in 2016. DE Allen Bailey stepped up as a solid pass rusher and had 4.5 sacks. In the LB crew with Houston probably missing substantial time KC is looking for Dee Ford to step up. Ford contributed in 2015 with 4 sacks. ILB Derrick Johnson had an Achilles injury in 2014 to bounce back to Pro-Bowl status in 2015 with 4 sacks. ILB Josh Mauga is penciled in as the starter although draft choices from 2015 D.J. Alexander & Ramik Wilson will look to break into the starting lineup. Perrenial Pro-Bowler OLB Tambia Hali had 6.5 sacks in 2015 and is entering his 11th season. Hali is also recovering from a knee surgery but not as severe as Houston’s. The LB crew is a definite threat on passing downs as they had the #9 Pass DEF in 2015. In the secondary, FS Eric Berry has a made a triumphant return after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went to the Pro-Bowl in 2015 and is the leader in the secondary. However, some questions remain as CB Sean Smith left for OAK & FS Husain Abdullah retired. CB Marcus Peters had a great rookie yr with 8 INTS & making it to the Pro-Bowl. However, at the other CB position, untested Phillip Gaines with be the starter. Ron Parker will probably be the SS as he has shown that he can play S, CB & nickel. Look for recently signed S Stevie Brown to get significant playing time. Not having LB Justin Houston on DEF will be a big hole to cover. Is Hali 100%? The Passing game was ranked #30 in 2015 and if KC wants to go anywhere they need to throw the ball instead of playing so conservatively which teams are waiting for. I don’t think it will change as HC Andy Reid is known for winning in the regular season but not getting teams to the SuperBowl. Some shakeups on OC side as Doug Pederson left to take over as HC in PHILLY. The OFF has to be able to score from the redzone as they have had problems with the short field. OAK has certainly gotten better in the AFC WEST & DEN’s DEF is tough. They can’t just beat up on SD all the time. Not a winning season for the CHIEFS.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
So, did anyone predict that this team would win the SB in 2015? I certainly did not. Peyton had a down yr as I predicted but led this team to a SB victory and rode off into the sunset. Brock Osweiler who did a nice job when Peyton was injured in 2015 signed for big money with HOU. So what to do about a QB? They signed Mark Sanchez who has not been impressive in training camp and named Trevor Siemian the starter for opening day. They also drafted future QB, Paxton Lynch in the 1st round out of Memphis. They want to go a little slow before throwing Lynch into the NFL fire. As of right now DEN is trying to trade Sanchez & if there are no takers he may be released. RB C. J. Anderson will get the bulk of the touches with a bunch of rookies behind him. RB Devontae Booker who was drafted in the 4th round out of Utah may challenge C.J. for the starting RB position but we’ll see. Don’t forget RB Ronnie Hillman who helped out a lot when Anderson was not in the lineup. All the RBs will see a lot of touches as DEN goes conservative. The O-Line certainly needed revamping as they were terrible in 2015. LT Russell Okung & RT Donald Stephenson were acquired via FA to give whoever snaps the ball needed protection and open some rushing lanes. C Max Paradis had a nice yr in 2015 and emerged as a leader on the O-LINE. They will need that leadership big time in 2016. TE Jeff Heuerman is expected to start after missing 2015 with a blown knee. I’m sure he’ll be doing a lot of blocking in 2016. Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders round out the WR core as being very dangerous at getting open. Although, Thomas needs to hold onto the ball a little more than in 2015. DC Wade Phillips finally got his due in 2015 with great players and a great defensive scheme. On DEF the Broncos are very talented and very depth rich. OLB Von Miller signed a big contract later rather than earlier after being named SB MVP for DEN and having a massive season. He seemed to be all over the place in 2015. Future HOF OLB DeMarcus Ware will be back for another yr but rumor has it, that this may be his last. DE Malik Jackson left and signed for big $$$ with Jacksonville. DE Adam Gotsis who was drafted in the 2nd round from Georgia Tech is expected to make an immediate impact at the position. ILB Danny Trevathan left via FA but ILB Brandon Marshall will be there without missing a beat. In the secondary CB Aqib Talib may miss a substantial part of the season due to some off the field activities with a gun. But this secondary is deep. CB Chris Harris has become one of the best and should have another stellar yr. Look for CB Bradley Roby to step in for Talib. S T. J Ward is a versatile player in that he plays well in stopping the run as well as reading the QB. This DEF will be asked to give something extra. Because of the QB situation, look for DEN to be more of a run team than a pass team and rely on the DEF which was ranked #1 in 2015 to make some big plays. HC Gary Kubiak had the luxury of a great Defense and a suitable replacement at QB to win the SB. Let’s see how he fares in 2016. With the upswing of OAK and KC staying strong, DEN may not have enough to get to the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
HC Jack Del Rio has certainly made some great strides here in 2015. He has people believing in the turnaround. Now he needs to continue forward and not regress. QB Derek Carr has definitely progressed as an NFL QB but, has some ways to go. He can’t try to force things when the team is down. Take what the DEF gives you. Carr has made great strides and with the coaching staff intact from last season look for Carr to bring confidence and winning back to Oakland. Matt McGloin is the backup QB and capable if Carr faulters but, he will be on the bench with 4th round draft choice QB Connor Cook out of Michigan State watching a lot of action if Carr delivers. Latavius Murray has become the #1 RB for OAK and he can catch too. Look for him to get more passes as Carr spreads it around. To stop the wear and tear for Murray, RB DeAndre Washington was drafted in the 5th round out of Texas Tech to be his backup. There are some other RBs on the roster for OAK but they need to really shine in the pre-season to see action in the regular season. Someone really needs to step up in this area in case Murray gets injured or needs a break. WRs Amari Cooper & Michael Crabtree are the go to guys for Carr and should have even a better 2016. Crabtree had his most yds receiving since 2012 in SF. Most defenses can’t double cover these guys, so usually one of them is open for Carr. OAK is loaded at TE with Clive Walford who had an injury in the off-season but should be ready for the season. There’s also Lee Smith & Mychal Rivera who are ready and capable to handle the position. The O-Line has been built through the draft & FA. Kelechi Osemele was signed to start at the RG position. He will help push forward in the running game. OAK re-signed Donald Penn at LT. He hasn’t missed a game since 2007. LG Gabe Jackson has been a starter since 2014 and Rodney Hudson is solid at C. The only question is RT as Austin Howard & Menelik Watson will be competing for the spot. On DEF, DE Khalil Mack has become a superstar after being named ALL-PRO at 2 positions. Mack also racked up 15 sacks. Mack can’t do it alone so OAK signed Bruce Irvin to play SLB. Irvin had 5.5 sacks for SEA in 2015. DT Dan Williams & NT Justin Ellis are very big playmakers but Ellis’s 2015 was limited to 12 games due to injury. WLB Malcolm Smith had a fine season, his first in OAK. In the secondary, three new starters for 2016. FS Reggie Nelson was signed FA as was CB Sean Smith. SS Karl Joseph was drafted in the 1st round out of West Virginia and is known as a big hitter. Only CB Daid Amerson is a holdover from 2015. This crew will be tested early to see how they cover and gel. The safeties should help in stopping the run but were #26 vs the PASS in 2015. OAK needs to improve in this area if they want to make the playoffs. This team can only get better and it’s even sweeter for HC Jack Del Rio a local boy who didn’t get the chance to play for OAK but is a major part of their rebuilding. Carr is definitely in the hot seat as the fans and everyone else is looking to see him take this team to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Latavius Murray can’t have a dropoff in the 2nd half like he did in 2015 and someone needs to step up and lighten the load for him. Pass DEF needs to be better and with the retirement of S Charles Woodson, let’s see who steps up to lead the secondary to greater heights. The big test will come early as their first four games are @NO, ATL, @TENN & @BALT. Three road games early and all terrible in 2015. But they are winnable by OAK if they are moving forward. This team will challenge in the AFC WEST and finally make the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2015(7-9)√ PROJECTED 2016 (10-6)
San Diego Chargers
Here we go again. In 2015 I had this team at 9-7 because as usual there is nothing exciting about this team and QB Philip Rivers can’t beat anyone good. However, on top of the fact that this team was decimated by injuries it also exposed how this team had no depth either. HC Mike McCoy was given an extension through 2017 but most of his offensive coaching staff was let go. Ken Whisenhunt was brought in as OC. Could he be the HC in waiting? On OFF, QB Philip Rivers (Mr. Overrated) had a decent yr but when you look at the numbers he had no support whatsoever. He attempted an average of 41 passes a game because his RB crew was decimated by injuries and therefore SD’s running game was ranked #31 in the NFL for 2015. RB Melvin Gordon had a so-so yr because the O-Line for SD was terrible. He ended the yr with a knee injury and missed the last two games. Hopefully he will be ready for 2016. Mr. Versatility, RB Danny Woodhead was banged up most of the yr but did see action in all the games. He needs to be utilized more in 2016 if SD wants to win and to take pressure off Rivers and Gordon. FB Derek Watt, J J’s brother, was drafted in the 6th round out of Wisconsin to help block for SD’s RBs and get some extra needed yardage. The O-Line was consistently injured and the pass blocking was terrible for SD and it felt like Rivers had no time to develop anything. To shore up the O-Line SD drafted C Max Turek in the 3rd round from USC, signed C/G Matt Slauson from CHI and also drafted G Donavan Clark in the 7th round from Michigan State for depth. If injuries hit the line like it did in 2015, 2016 will be a long yr. At WR, Malcom Floyd retired and Travis Benjamin was signed from CLEVE. He will also add some zest to the KR-PR spot which has been so lacking for SD as well. HOF to be TE Antonio Gates has announced that 2016 is his last season, so SD drafted TE Hunter Henry in the 2nd round out of Arkansas. Hopefully the transition will be a smooth one because Rivers has relied so much on Gates over the yrs to get him out of some jams. On DEF, DE Joey Bosa was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State and should become a team leader right off the bat. Bosa will be asked to fill the void for the SD pass rush which was horrible at #27 in 2015. DT Brandon Mebane was signed from SEA to help clog the middle against the run as well. In the secondary team leader S Eric Weddle left and signed with BALT. S Dwight Lowery who was signed from INDY will take over Weddle’s spot. Hopefully there won’t be anything missing there. CB Brandon Flowers who did a disappearing act in 2015 needs to reappear in 2016 if this team wants to stop any long passes. SD went 0-6 vs AFC WEST in 2015 and OAK and KC have gotten better, so what can SD hope for in 2016? Maybe they will play against Mark Sanchez in DEN. In 2015, the Chargers beat Jacksonville and Rivers has a great lifetime record vs AFC SOUTH opponents which because of SD’s terrible record in 2015 gets to play the whole AFC SOUTH in 2016. But, because SD has a tough schedule in 2016, it is conceivable that they may end up at 4-12 again. There is also the fact looming that this team may move and that doesn’t sit well in anyone’s mind, not the players nor the fans. If things don’t go up for SD this may be their last yr in SD, we’ll see.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11)
New York Giants
So after a long ride HC Tom Coughlin is finally out. He certainly didn’t go quietly. Ben McAdoo who was the OC was promoted to HC. The OFF probably won’t change. The same DC & coordinators remained as well. NYG have not been to the playoffs since they won the SuperBowl at the end of the 2011 season. That’s what got Coughlin fired. It was either feast or famine. QB Eli Manning is entering is 13th yr as QB for the NY Giants. Eli doesn’t get sacked as much as other QBs in the NFL, that’s why he’s been pretty much injury free during his career. The running game for NYG consisted of Rashad Jennings and a bunch of nobodies. RB Shane Vereen who was brought in as of 2015 is more of a pass catching RB than a rushing RB. His only rushes are to give Rashad a breather. RB Bobby Rainey was signed in 2016 via FA to try to take some of the load off Rashad and add a little more firepower. We’ll see what happens. At WR Odell Beckham had a fantastic yr and is able to catch anything. However, he blew his lid in the game vs CAR & CB Josh Norman which cost Odell a 1-game suspension. He must not let defenders get under his skin especially now that he will see Josh Norman twice a yr when facing WASH. WR Reuben Randle was the #2 WR but he departed for PHILLY. To find a #2 NYG drafted WR Sterling Shepard in the 2nd round out of Oklahoma to pair with Odell. Also, Victor Cruz is trying to make his way back after being sidelined with a torn patellar back in 2014. Dwayne Harris who is used specifically for PR/KR is also going to be used more in 2016 as a WR. Eli should have many options. At TE, Will Tye out of StonyBrook made a nice impact in 2015 and looks to be the starter there. Also getting playing time at the position is big man Larry Donnell. Injuries to the O-Line in 2015 led to a so-so running game and sacks when NYG least expected. The left side of the O-LINE is solid with C Weston Richburg, LG Justin Pugh & LT Ereck Flowers. Flowers had a shaky rookie yr in 2015 but should adjust nicely. The right side of the line is up for grabs and was not addressed in FA or in the 2016 draft. This may come back to haunt the GIANTS as they looking within their own ranks to solve the problem. The pass rush in 2015 was non-existent for NYG until Jason Pierre-Paul showed up after his fireworks accident. DE Jason Pierre Paul says his hand is a non-issue at this point and should return to his PRO-BOWL status. However, NYG did beef up their DEF in the off season to combat the fact that their DEF was #32 in the NFL in 2015 & their Pass DEF was #32 as well hence, the losing record in 2015. Their Rushing DEF wasn’t that much better at #24 either. DT Damon Harrison was signed via FA & will start at the position. Look for him to have more sacks in 2016 and be a run stopper. DT Johnathan Hankins is in a contract yr and is coming off a torn pectoral muscle, so look for him to have a big yr. DE Olivier Vernon was given a big contract via FA to help ignite the pass rush and get sacks. At LB, Keenan Robinson & Kelvin Sheppard were signed via FA to compete for the MLB position. Hopefully Robinson can get over his injury issues. At OLB, Devon Kennard is also coming off injury issues to start and J.T. Thomas had a high ankle sprain in 2015 that limited him to 12 games. At CB, Janoris Jenkins was signed via FA but he is a risk taker and has been known to get burned. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a Pr-Bowl season in 2015 and will face teams #1 WR. CB Eli Shepard was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State and will be used in nickel and slot situations. S Landon Collins had a nice rookie yr in 2015 at FS and looks to better his skill set. He will see competition from Nat Berhe. The other safety will be played by Darian Thompson who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Boise State. This team has questions at S but with the additions on the D-LINE the DEF should be able overcome any deficiencies. They certainly will not be ranked #32. DC Steve Spagnuolo is definitely on the hot seat to get this DEF going. In 2015 he was given a pass but with the recent additions he will have no excuses in the next off-season. As for the OFF, the line needs to protect and open up the running lanes and Eli can’t make rookie mistakes that have plagued him his whole career. Staying healthy is the key here because depth may be a problem but a 10-win season is not out of the question.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6)
With this team, so goes QB Tony Romo, so go the Cowboys. Romo injured his back in 2015, then re-injured it again and the Cowboys ended up 4-12. Then in preseason he breaks a bone in his back vs SEA and now again is out indefinitely. Also out in 2015 with significant time was WR Dez Bryant. CB Orlando Scandrick was out for all of 2015 as well. Scandrick & Bryant are back, Romo’s out and who knows when he will be back. DAL didn’t do much in the way of FA but they had a pretty good draft. RB Darren McFadden had a nice season for DAL in 2015 but RB Ezekiel Elliott who was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State will probably be the starter. The 1-2 punch of these two will give DEFs something to worry and keep both RBs fresh and not overloaded. RB Alfred Morris was also picked up in the off-season as a third option for a team that all of a sudden has a crowded backfield. But he should see action as well. TE Jason Witten is always reliable and a safety net for whoever the QB is and may be showing some signs of wear and tear entering his 14th season. TE Gavin Escobar tore his Achilles in DEC & likely won’t be ready for the start of the season. TE James Hanna has stuck around because he is a reliable blocker but, I’m sure he would like to see some more touches. Besides these two at TE, DAL is weak at depth at the position. AT WR, Dez Bryant fractured his fifth metatarsal in his right foot in game 1 requiring surgery and missing 5 games. He was never 100% the rest of season before going on IR in late December. WR Terrence Williams stepped up in place of Dez & had a nice 2015 but, doesn’t carry that BIG TARGET presence as Dez. Cole Beasley is another reliable WR on the squad that sees a lot of action on slot routes. If Dez is healthy he usually gets double-covered, so this will open it up for the other WRs. The DAL O-Line may be the best in the league. However, they had their worst yr in 2015. They gave up an uncharacteristic high sack total and some penalties they probably would want back. The so-called weak-link of the group is Doug Free at RT. DAL is hoping that Chaz Green develops and can take over for Free. Signed in the off-season was C/RG Joe Looney who adds depth to the O-Line and can start if needed. On DEF, LB Rolando McClain is suspended 10 games, DE Greg Hardy was not re-signed, DE Randy Gregory is suspended 4 games, DE Demarcus Lawrence is suspended 4 games & LB Jaylon Smith is recovering from a torn ACL & LCL and may miss all of the 2016 season. DAL has always had a problem sacking the QB. DE Demarcus Lawrence who will be out for the first 4 games led the team in 2015 with 8 sacks. DE Benson Mayowa who was signed in the off-season and had his knee scoped but will probably fill in for Lawrence and will keep a spot if he plays well. DE Charles Tapper who was drafted in the 4th round out of Oklahoma will see significant playing time while Randy Gregory sits out his suspension. DT Tyrone Crawford who had 5 sacks in 2015 and who played the season with a shoulder injury should be ready to go. NT Cedric Thornton was signed via FA for Nick Hayden who left via FA. WLB Sean Lee had a healthy yr, had 2.5 sacks, made the Pro-Bowl and should build on that for a bigger 2016. MLB McClain is out for 10 games so whoever steps up will have their hands full. SLB Anthony Hitchens started all three LB positions last yr so he’ll be in the starting lineup. CB Brandon Car hasn’t has an INT in 2 yrs but stays on the field due to injuries in the secondary. There is hope that CB Scandrick will be 100% because he is the leader in the secondary. CB Morris Claiborne will be used in nickel situations and slot coverage after coming in as a starter but hasn’t done much since he’s been in DAL. Byron Jones played all the secondary positions in 2015 but will be focused on FS and DAL expects big things from hi. Barry Church is the SS and he is a reliable tackler which DAL can surely use. S Jeff Heath who led the team with 2 INTS will definitely see action in 2016 if others in the secondary do not produce. The secondary must get more INTS and more pressure. There are reliable backups for DAL that have made an impact and are looking to push the starters in the secondary. Due to the injury to Romo, the suspensions and the general lack of leadership on this team, I don’t see how they have a winning season. A bright spot is QB Dak Prescott who was drafted in the 4th round out of Mississippi State and will probably start now that Kellen Moore is having ankle surgery. He has shown great promise in preseason and looks to be the QB of the future or right now for the Cowboys. The DEF looks like they will have some adjustments because a lot of starters are out at the beginning. The secondary has questions as to who will be the leader and who will perform. We’ll see but another down here for DAL because of Romo or not? But, not enough to get to the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)
HC Jay Gruden has turned around a franchise that has been in disarray for most of the 21st century. Jay’s first season was 2014 where he and his staff evaluated the WASH talent and or otherwise excess baggage and prepared for a turnaround in 2015. In 2015 he gave the starting QB job to Kirk Cousins and has never looked back. This is now QB Kirk Cousins team. Kirk doesn’t have to look over his shoulder at RG III anymore. He had a very nice 2015 and brought the SKINS into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. However, Kirk right now is under the franchise tag and a longer deal has yet to be agreed upon. But anyhow, things finally look promising in D.C. With the departure of RB Alfred Morris the RB may be a problem for WASH in 2016. Matt Jones will now be the starter where he was previously the backup and Chris Thompson who was used for both catching and rushing will now be the backup. WASH didn’t draft any RBs until the 7th round so hopefully the OFF will not be put totally on Kirk’s shoulders to get this team going. Fortunately Kirk has a nice assortment of WRs that he can rely on. WRs DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder & 1st round draft choice WR Josh Doctson out of TCU will all see throws their way. TE Jordan Reed has also become a FAV of Kirk’s so he needs to stay healthy. All at one time will be hard for any DEF to cover. The key for WASH is the O-LINE. 4x Pro-Bowler LT Trent Williams is the leader on the line while RG Brandon Scherff was steady all season. This line is not filled with all-stars but they get the job done and will need to open a few more running lanes in 2016 for the OFF to be successful. On DEF, the biggest acquisition in the off-season has to be All-Pro CB Josh Norman from CAR. This has given the secondary a major boost where injuries to SS DeAngelo Hall and others have made them vulnerable to any decent QB. Norman will be opposite up & coming Bashaud Breeland who has suddenly come into his own after two seasons. FS Kyshoen Jarrett will be out for the season with nerve damage to his neck and shoulder. However, the WASH secondary which had been very bad for many years now is a very well regarded bunch with SS Su’a Cravens drafted in the 2nd round out of USC & CB Kendall Fuller drafted in the 3rd round out of Virginia Tech. OLB Junior Galette will finally get to play after sustaining an Achilles tear in August of 2015. This is a make or break yr for him because he is looking for a big $$$ deal after next season. Look for big things from Junior in 2016. LB Ryan Kerrigan should have a big yr with Galette on the other side rushing the QB. Both of these guys together will be hard to stop. The Defensive Line for WASH is a mixed bag because guys were let go and also departed on their own but is a little smaller unit than in 2015. This team should make the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive yr and should go further than just the wild card. Certain factors will come into play as the season progresses and they get into a groove. The O-line must hold up and pressure must be put on opposing QBs. Look for Cousins to have another good yr deserving of a big contract.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)
The Chip Kelly experiment ended rather abruptly in 2015. He didn’t even get to finish the season. The roster for PHILLY has gone through a thorough cleansing during the Kelly regime and looks like it will continue to do so. New HC Doug Pederson was recently the OC for KC the last three yrs and has no HC experience except for High School. However, even without a new HC this team has many questions at almost every position and will only get worse before getting better. AT QB Sam Bradford re-signed for a two yr deal with a lot of money guaranteed. Chase Daniels was signed as the backup with a lot guaranteed and then PHILLY went and drafted, with the #2 pick, Carson Wentz as the QB of the future. Wentz will have a lot of QB input from ex-QBs Pederson, OC Frank Reich & QB Coach Frank DeFilippo. But, then in the first exhibition game Wentz gets bruised ribs. Oh well, welcome to the NFL. HC Pederson has a West Coast OFF as opposed to Kelly’s hurry up & go. So the OFF should get adjusted to the scheme of things rather quickly. At WR, gone is Riley Cooper, a dependable receiver who was a likeable guy. WR Jordan Mathews is a slot guy with no downfield ability. A lot is unknown about 2nd yr WR Nelson Agholar, so this yr he should see more touches to find out his strengths. In the off-season PHILLY signed WR Reuben Randle & Chris Givens to give some depth and experience to the position. WR Dorial Green-Beckham was acquired in a trade with TENN for RT Dennis Kelly to even further bolster the WR ranks. At TE, Zach Ertz & Brent Celek are solid and either one of them can handle it full time. They will be called upon a lot this season. At RB, the DeMarco Murray experiment was a complete bust partially because the O-LINE couldn’t open up any running lanes and DeMarco had frustration at not be used in obvious run situations. Ryan Mathews will be the main RB as he was another 2015 acquisition but, beyond him I don’t see any depth at the position. All-everything Darren Sproles can run/catch & return punts but, don’t look for him to run full time if Mathews can’t handle it. The O-Line could be a big problem again in 2016. LT Jason Peters is always reliable but is coming off an injury filled 2015 and has a big cap hit in 2016. He needs to have a big yr if he wants to continue to get paid. Isaac Seumalo who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Oregon is slated to start at LG. That will give C Jason Kelce a lot of help but G/C Stefan Wisniewski was signed to help out the O-Line if things don’t work out. RG Brandon Brooks was also signed in the off-season to bolster the line. LG Allen Barbre is being moved to RT as Lane Johnson is facing a 10 game suspension. We’ll see what happens. On DEF, PHILLY finished #30 mostly due to the fact that they couldn’t stop anyone when they needed it most. CB Byron Maxwell who wouldn’t even tackle me, HA HA, was traded to MIA along with LB Kiko Alonso for a draft pick that was used for QB Wentz. CB Erick Rowe who played well late in the season will take over Maxwell’s spot. Nolan Carroll will be the other CB. CBs Leodis McKelvin & Ron Brooks were both signed to bolster a PASS DEF that was #28 in 2015. At FS, Rodney McLeod was signed & will start and SS Malcolm Jenkins is coming off a Pro-Bowl yr. The RUSH DEF finished #32 in 2015 so in 2016 it couldn’t get any worse. New DC Jim Schwartz is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme which should help DT Fletcher Cox who led the team with 9.5 sacks and went to the Pro-Bowl should like this change. LBs Connor Barwin (7 sacks in ’15) & Brandon Graham(6.5 sacks in ’15) will move up to DEs under the new alignment. Look for DE Marcus Smith to be in the mix as well. MLB Jordan Hicks is coming back from a pectoral injury that ended his ’15 season so we’ll see how he responds. FA Nigel Bradham & Mychal Kendricks will round out the OLBs. There are a lot of questions on this team and not so much depth. The secondary will be tested early and the safeties need to help out with a RUSH DEF that was #32 in 2015. If, they are up for the challenge that may keep PHILLY in some games. If Carson Wentz is starting early in the season that will spell disaster for PHILLY as the future is riding on his shoulders. If RB Ryan Mathews is injured or the O-Line doesn’t do their job the QB will be throwing 50x a game and that will t-off the DEF right on the QB, disaster waiting. This team is in serious rebuilding and there will be a lot of empty seats late in the yr at Lincoln Field.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11)
Green Bay Packers
2015 was an off yr for the GB OFF. OC Tom Clements was the play caller for GB and that proved to be a disaster. Mike McCarthy took the play calling back in Dec & should be making the calls in 2016. WR Jordy Nelson who is Rodgers favorite target was out the whole yr with an ACL tear in the preseason. RB Eddie Lacy had an off yr and veteran RB James Starks had to pick up the slack. Rodgers was sacked the most times since 2012 even though he was injured for half of 2013. The OFF sputtered in the redzone and the DEF did not make stops when it needed them. WR Randall Cobb had a down yr in 2015 because there was no #2 WR to throw to at times. At times WR Davonte Adams seemed lost so they had to re-sign WR James Jones who had his best yr in receiving yds. But he left for SD. Hopefully Jordy Nelson is 100% and Rodgers can get him the ball. The other WRs on the team need to prove themselves to Rodgers before getting more playing time. Make no mistake, the OFF goes through Rodgers. A rare signing in FA led to the acquisition of TE Jared Cook. He has had some drop issues in STL but will quickly be in Rodger’s dog house if that continues in GB. Richard Rodgers is the other TE but he lacks blocking abilities and doesn’t have the speed that Cook has. But, he can catch the ball. The O-LINE had only one starter play all 16 games in 2015 hence the high sack total. But if healthy for 2016 HC McCarthy believes it’s the best O-LINE he’s ever had in GB. OT Jason Spriggs was drafted in the 2nd round out of Indiana to help backup the line. But make no mistake, because the O-Line was often injured in 2015, a lot of the backups have experience and may fill in if the starters aren’t cutting it. On DEF, GB helped itself by drafting DT Kenny Clark in the 1st round out of UCLA. He will fill the void left by DT B. J. Raji’s sudden retirement. Clay Matthews will go back to OLB from ILB. Clay is great at rushing the QB on the edge and stopping the run. DE Mike Daniels got a nice extension so expect big things from him in 2016. DE Dantone Jones is mostly used as a hybrid OLB/DE. Ts Letroy Guion is a dependable run stopper & Mike Pennel had a very good rookie season at T/DE. OLB Julius Peppers led the team with 10.5 sacks and a trip to the Pro-Bowl. ILB Sam Barrington will be in a battle to start after being on IR for 14 games in 2015. ILB Jake Ryan got a late start after a hamstring injury in 2015 but finished nicely and played in the playoffs. In the secondary Sam Shields & Damarious Randall have the outsides covered. Quentin Rollins will play nickel. Morgan Burnett & Ha Ha Clinton-Dix round out the safeties. This secondary is a very good one and keeps offs out of the endzone. RB Eddie Lacy is in the hot seat to rebound in 2016 to the form he had when he came into the league. GB has to score in the redzone and not settle for three points or no points which seemed to happen a lot in 2015. The O-LINE should be phenomenal in 2016 because most of them are FA in 2017 and they want big money. Rodgers will have a big yr, no doubt about it. The DEF should also pick it up a notch because some of these guys are getting older and this may be their last go round. GB has an easy schedule but most of their tough games are within the NFC NORTH. Healthy, this team will go deep into the playoffs but not to the SuperBowl.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4)
This is the first season at the new U. S. Bank Stadium. After 2 years outdoors, the Vikings go back indoors. Having been in Minneapolis and seeing the new stadium in April 2016, I dubbed it the “Iceberg” because it looks like a giant iceberg. Hopefully the VIKES will continue their upward climb from 2015. Minnesota exceeded a lot of people’s expectations in 2015 by going 11-5 and advancing to the playoffs. I said it would not be far fetched if they made it to the playoffs in my Predictions for 2015 and they did. QB Teddy Bridgewater had a full yr as the starter and a full training camp working with OC Norv Turner. MINN went 5-1 vs the NFC NORTH. They were a fg away from beating Seattle at home in the wild card and moving on to the Divisional Round in the NFC playoffs. QB Teddy Bridgewater has progressed nicely and a healthy RB Adrian Peterson doesn’t hurt either. However, Peterson is now 31 yrs old and we’ll see if he can still go full force. MINN is expected to go further into the playoffs in 2016. They shored up their O-Line with signings of G Alex Boone & T Andre Smith. This was a point of contention during 2015 as Teddy was sacked 44x and Peterson seemed to be starting his runs from negative positions.With Peterson a big threat and the O-Line shored up, this will give Bridgewater more time to find newly drafted WR Laquon Treadwell out of Ole Miss. He gives Teddy a nice big target for the departed Mike Wallace who didn’t work out anyway. Laquon is slotted to start alongside Stefon Diggs. TE Kyle Rudolph is a reliable target and must be a bigger part of the offense for the Vikings to be successful. Word is that the Vikings & OC Norv Turner are going to let loose Teddy Bridgewater so he can turn it on when he needs to. Since Mike Zimmer has been the HC, the DEF has taken great strides going from #31 to #14 to #13. MINN is not easy to score on and their DEF is getting better and better. Under Zimmer DE Everson Griffen has had 27 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in 2015. In the secondary, CB Terence Newman is 38 yrs old and if he can’t do it, 2015 draftee Trae Wayans will move into the slot. At the other CB Xavier Rhodes has become a shutdown guy abut will probably be tested early. S Harrison Smith is solid and a 2015 Pro-Bowler. SS Michael Griffin was acquired in the off-season and is penciled in but you could see other people step up if he slumps. On Special teams there are no two better than KR Cordarelle Patterson & PR Marcus Sherels. These two give the VIKES great field position know matter where they get the ball and teams should be wary of kicking to these guys because of their explosiveness. This team is primed to take the next step and I see them going deep into the playoffs with a healthy team. Their schedule in 2016 is expected and they should be able to tackle their opponents and turn a few heads.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4)
Like I said DET can’t put together back to back winning seasons. I had them at 8-8 for 2015 and then they went 7-9. New GM in January Bob Quinn does a front office house cleaning. This was after DET started 1-7 & OC Joe Lombardi was fired mid season. Jim Bob Cooter came in as the new OC and DET went 6-1 vs an easier schedule but Stafford was better. However, overrated HC Jim Caldwell stays and Megatron retired. I always felt that Megatron was overrated because when it came to big games and big opponents, he contributed little. His best games were against bad teams. Anyway, QB Matthew Stafford is still the QB and seems he has to work with another new bunch of OFF guys this yr. To make up for Metgatron’s departure, DET signed WR Marvin Jones from CINNCY & PR/WR Jeremy Kerley. This will add depth to the position and make sure that WR Golden Tate is not always double covered. Other WRs on the roster will get more chances as DET needs to open up the passing game so not as to rely on just one guy. RBs Ameer Abdullah & Theo Riddick will share duties after Joique Bell left via FA. DET didn’t acquire or draft any new RBs in the off-season so it will be up to these two guys to get it going. DET was #32 in Rushing in 2015 and I don’t see it getting better. The OFF is a pass first, run second OFF and they haven’t done anything to change that perception. Eric Ebron is the starting TE but should be used more in an OFF that consistently looks for openings down field. TE Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from knee surgery and is questionable for wk 1. Stafford was sacked 44x in 2015 so the O-Line definitely needed some fixing. Veteran LT Geoff Schwartz was signed for insurance and then drafted 3 of their first five picks on OL. OT Taylor Decker who was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State will probably be the starting LT and will improve the team’s run blocking no matter which side he end sup on. C Travis Swanson better step it up or otherwise he has rookie Graham Glasgow fighting for his job. Riley Reiff will probably move to RT where it will be an upgrade for the team. LG Laken Tomlinson is looking for a stronger 2016. On DEF, after All-PRO Ndamukong SUH left after the 2014 season DT Haloti Ngata & OLB DeAndre Levy were being asked to step it up but both were injured during 2015 and the DEF suffered. Hopefully they will be 100% for 2016. DET drafted DT A’Shawn Robinson in the 2nd round out of Alabama to help out the run. At DE Ezekial Ansah is a leader on the team and had 14.5 sacks in 2015. Look for him to continue his ascension upwards unless the rest of the DEF falters and he consistently gets double-teamed. DE Devin Taylor had 7.0 sacks in 2015 as a backup & DET will probably have him start over Wallace Gilberry who will be the 3rd DE option. Tahir Whitehead signed a new deal and should start at MLB. In the secondary, CB Darius Slay has become a shutdown corner and if DET is playing well, look for him to make it to the PRO-BOWL. CB Nevi Lawson is fast and physical and plays the outside. FS Glover Quinn led the team with 4 INTS in 2015 but tailed off a little from 2014. But, he will definitely start in 2015. For the other S it is unclear whether Rafael Bush signed via FA or Miles Killebrew drafted in the 4th round out of Southern Utah will start. The secondary does have a lot of depth on paper so we will see who shines come wk 1. This team drafted a lot of Defensive players in 2016 and hopefully DET will be able to work them into the rotation. But on OFF the O-LINE needs to do a better job and the RB position does not have the depth or the explosion that you want from the position. Let’s see how Stafford adjusts to not having Megatron grab things from the air. If DET gets off to a bad start HC Caldwell will be gone. Could go either way but they will not compete for the lead in the NFC NORTH.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)
So, HC John Fox is now in his second yr in CHI. I predicted that they would go 6-10 in 2015 and they stayed the course. However, he has now brought in assistant coaches that he had in DEN and is looking to bring in his kind of football. But, the problem with CHI is the always unpredictable QB Jay Cutler. Well traveled QB Brian Hoyer was signed as the backup and Cutler has not played a full yr since 2009, so he may see some live action. Everything RB Matt Forte left via FA and CHI is left to rely on RBs by young committee, Jeremy Langford who has speed and could possibly replace Forte will be the leader here. Ka’Deem Carey who has been used sparingly and 5th round draft choice Jordan Howard out of Indiana round out the RB ranks. Someone has to step up to take the pressure off Cutler. At WR, Kevin White returns after missing all of 2015. Alshon Jeffery had a injury filled 2015 and Eddie Royal also missed significant playing time for CHI. If all of these three WRs are healthy Cutler will have a lot of options. Also, WRs Marquees Wilson & Marc Mariani proved themselves in 2015 when others were injured and should provide Cutler with underneath touches when Cutler is being rushed. Zach Miller will be the go to guy at TE after Martellus Bennett left for greener pastures in NE. The big question for the OFF is the O-LINE. CHI will have different starters at all five positions. How they gel as a unit is very important to the OFF. The O-Line allowed seven fewer sacks in 2015 than in 2014 and the OFF went from 27th in 2014 to 11th in 2015 so we’ll see how they stack up. On DEF, CHI is looking to build a front seven that will stop anyone. They signed DE Akiem Hicks to a big contract that should right away produce dividends. ILB Danny Trevathan was also given big money to play in CHI. ILB Jerrell Freeman was also signed and will start. NT Eddie Goldman was a 2015 pick and was very effective. LB Lamar Houston was brought in on passing downs and had 8 sacks to lead the team. OLB Willie Young contributed big time with 6.5 sacks. Don’t forget OLB Pernell McPhee with his 6 sacks. Again the front seven is loaded for CHI and it’s the secondary that breeds questions. CBs Kyle Fuller & Tracy Porter are the starters but, only intercepted three passes between them. CB Bryce Callahan has emerged as a big time player in 2015 and should see more action in 2016. He only played in nine games in 2015 but expect to see more of him on the field. At S CHI drafted Deon Bush in the 4th round out of MIA FLA and is penciled in as the starter after Antrel Rolle left. Adrian Amos will be the other Safety as CHI has drafted other DBs in case these two don’t work out. All in all CHI has made some improvements in areas that were lacking in 2015 but again it comes down to Cutler and what he can do. Will the reshuffled O-Line do wonders in CHI or will it flop? The front seven on DEF looks great on paper and has depth but, will the secondary let everyone down? We’ll see but I think there is improvement for CHI this yr but it will be tough as MINN is looking better and GB is always tough.
2015 (6-10)√ PROJECTED 2016 (9-7)
New Orleans Saints
The SAINTS are a tale of two teams. Their OFF is always in the top 5 and it seems that they can score points most of the time. Although, lately they have had some problems scoring from the redzone. But the DEF has been terrible and they have not been able to stop anyone. Hence, the high scoring games. For the last 3 of 4 years NO DEF has been ranked either #31 or #32 in the NFL. It was only in 2013 with DC Rob Ryan who is no longer with the team, that somehow the DEF managed to put it all together, rank #4 and get a wild card berth that yr. The OFF can’t rely on the shoulder of Brees all the time otherwise DEFs will tee off on him. Brees averaged 41 passing attempts per game which is pretty high. Brees is great at reading defenses and with his quick delivery defenses can’t make too many mistakes. But the SAINTS need a more balanced attack. The Running game for NO was ranked #24 which says that it either was non-existent or underutilized and needs to be used more so that defenses can’t automatically zone in on Brees. Right now with RBs Mark Ingram, C.J Spiller and Tim Hightower it is by committee. C. J. Spiller is great out of the backfield so look for him to be used more after a disappointing 1st season in NO. Ingram should see more carries as the O-Line for NO should mesh better after the addition last yr of C Max Unger from SEA. However, NO didn’t draft any lineman or acquire any through FA so they need to make sure everyone upfront stays healthy. The WR corps are always reliable for Brees with no one a clear #1. TE Ben Watson departed for BALT so TE Coby Fleener was signed away from INDY. On DEF they can only get better. CB Brandon Browner is back in SEA. This guy is the human penalty flag. Every game it seems he has penalties for interference called against him. Besides Browner, the SAINTS are going with the same guys in the secondary for 2016 that they did in 2015. These guys must make more stops and stay healthy otherwise the SAINTS do not have a chance. MLB James Laurinatis was signed away from LA to shore up the LB crew. That means MLB Stephone Anthony who was a drafted in 2015 and did a fine job at the position will move to SLB to accommodate Laurinaitis. LBs Craig Robertson & Nathan Stupar were signed in the off-season to shore up the weak side. DT Sheldon Rankins was drafted in the 1st round out of Louisville to help DE Cameron Jordan in the sack area. All things mentioned have to go right for the SAINTS to be considered for any kind of playoffs. They need to stay healthy because they are very thin at the O-Line and the secondary. Plus, they will probably be involved in some shootouts which they cannot lose. I don’t think this team makes the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)
In 2015 it looked like Cam Newton and the Panthers turned the corner and became the team they were capable of. Cam looked like he matured and he didn’t sulk when he made mistakes as he had in the past. Well, guess what? The team was winning, all the way up to the SuperBowl. In the SB, Cam reverted back to his immature self and when DEN rushed him like never before, he didn’t adjust and went back to sulking instead of leading. Panthers lost the SB. The Panthers were so good in 2015 it’s hard to think that they could be that good again. This team is pretty much intact from 2015 except for All-PRO CB Josh Norman who was let go and signed with WASH. It’s amazing to think that only one yr ago HC Ron Rivera was on the verge of being let go after going 7-8-1 in 2014. After 2015, he will be around CAR awhile to try to get CAM & CO back to the SB. Let’s see if Cam bounces back from a terrible SB. Let’s see if his maturity level is where it’s needed to be to lead this team back to the promise land. This team will not go 15-1 so Cam will definitely face more adversity than he did in 2015. He gets WR Kelvin Benjamin back who spent 2015 with a torn ACL. Besides Benjamin, Tedd Ginn, Philly Brown & Devin Funchess still need to do what they did before so that Cam can spread it around. Pro Bowler TE Greg Olsen is always reliable and has turned into a needed safety net when Cam needs one. RB Jonathan Stewart had a nice 2015 and should continue to give the Panthers that needed run game so that the OFF is not totally on Cam’s shoulders. The O-Line is stellar in that Cam was only sacked 33x in 2015 and gave him that needed protection for him to find a receiver. They are led by All-Pro C Ryan Kalil & Pro Bowler RG Trai Turner. LT Michael Oher joined in 2015 and had a fine yr. The weakest link of the O-Line became obvious in the SB with RT Mike Remmers who was consistently beat by Von Miller on his way to MVP honors. Hopefully Mike will have learned some new moves for 2016. On DEF, the Panthers have a very solid 1-2 punch on LB with MLB Luke Kuechly & WLB Thomas Davis, both ALL-PRO in 2015. Both are very strong on pass coverage as well. DT Kawann Short is back after having 11 sacks in 2015. DT Star Lotulelei is back as well and consistently draws a double team which leaves an open route for Short. The Panthers drafted DT Vernon Butler in the 1st round from Louisiana Tech and he will fit into the defensive rotation right away. DE Charles Johnson is back after resigning for less money and only played nine games in 2015. The missing person in the secondary is CB Norman but hopefully CAR will not be torched. Panthers drafted CB James Bradberry in the 2nd round out of Samford and he is slated to start right away. CB Bene Benwikere will be on the other side, so watch for a lot of cover-2 by the secondary. Tre Boston & Kurt Coleman will round out the safeties. This secondary will be tested early and often and might be a soft spot for CAR if the D-LINE and LB crew give the opposing QBs time. This team will make the playoffs from the weak NFC SOUTH but I do not see a return to the SB. The secondary worries me and if RB Stewart goes down it will be RB by committee. Other than those two, CAR is solid and should compete for the NFC Championship.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4)
For the 1st five games in 2015 HC Dan Quinn made it look easy. ATL was 5-0 & people were talking playoffs. Then reality set in. On TNF @NO the world saw ATL having problems scoring from the redzone and ATL turning the ball over like a bunch of rookies. The rest of the season ATL went 3-8 to finish 8-8. Under new DC Richard Smith, the DEF went from #32 in 2014 to #16 in 2015. The OFF centers around QB Matt Ryan. I have never been a big fan of Ryan and the book on him is to put a little pressure on him and he will make mistakes. Plus, sometimes he just makes bad decisions but, he has done that throughout his career. Anyway, Ryan isn’t going anywhere because they do not have anyone decent behind him. In the Backfield RB Devonta Freeman is coming off a PRO-BOWL yr and Tevin Coleman is his backup. Patrick DiMarco is the FB and he is coming off a PRO-BOWL yr as well. At WR, Julio Jones is Ryan’s FAV and seems to catch anything & everything. Julio was All-PRO in 2015 and even catches passes when double covered. Another FAV of Ryan’s was WR Roddy White but, he left via FA which makes newly acquired Mohammed Sanu Ryan’s #2. TE Jacob Tamme has fit in nicely after TE Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of ’14. Also, PR/KR/WR Specialist Devin Hester was cut after an injury plagued ’15. 7th Round draft choice WR/PR/KR Devin Fuller out of UCLA will take over where Hester left off. We’ll see if he can continue the magic. Hester was extremely dangerous at giving ATL great field position whenever he returned the ball. The O-Line for ATL has always been a problem and the run game for ATL has been so-so. But ATL signed C Alex Mack who had been a 3x Pro-Bowler with CLEVE to help shore up the line and add leadership. LT Jake Matthews & RT Ryan Schraeder had solid a 2015 and with some more improvement could reach the Pro-Bowl. RG Chris Chester was re-signed after ATL missed out on bidding for J.R. Sweezy. LG Andy Levitre had 11 penalties against him in ’15 so he needs to clean that up. The DEF produced only 19 sacks in 2015, the worst in the NFL. Without any pressure on opposing QBs, ATL will certainly lose games in 2016 and should be lucky they won eight in 2015. ATL signed DE Derrick Shelby via FA but his specialty is setting the edge and protecting against the run. DE Adrian Clayborn was re-signed and will play the other end. DE Vic Beasley did not have a good rookie yr in ’15 and will play his way back into the rotation through nickel situations. Courtney Upshaw & Sean Witherspoon were signed via FA to help with the WLB position. Grady Jarett who showed quickness and desire in his rookie campaign in ’15 will be the starter at DT. Ra’Shede Hageman will be the other DT but veterans Jonathan Babineaux & Tyson Jackson will be on hand if things don’t pan out. SLB Brooks Reed is overcoming a groin injury or he will likely be gone. MLB Paul Worrilow is the leader in tackles the last three seasons and calls the signals. ATL also drafted two LBS that have speed and quickness to fast track themselves into the rotation. In the secondary SS Keanu Neal was drafted in the 1st round out of Florida and is penciled in to start. 2nd yr guy Ricardo Allen plays the FS position. Allen had a nice rookie yr and made the transition form CB to S. CB Desmond Trufant has become one of the better CBs in the league and went to his 1st PRO-BOWL in 2015. Look for him to have another stellar yr. Robert Alford is developing into a good CB but with his size he will cover slot receivers. CB Jalen Collins has been suspended for the first four games and will be back week 5. All in all it sounds good on paper. Matt Ryan needs to be on the same page with his OC Kyle Shanahan. It didn’t work well in ’15 and hopefully it will gel in ’16 otherwise ATL will have another loser. Plus, Ryan is good at the no-huddle so that should be implemented more. Ryan is definitely on the hot seat here. On DEF the newcomers and the rookies need to make an impact and the veterans need to hold their own. Shelby was brought in to make a difference against the run on his side. We’ll see how this pans out.
PROJECTED 2015 (8-8)√ PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
HC Lovie Smith is out after 2 seasons in TB. OC Dirk Koetter is the new HC. He will still call the plays and be more aggressive with the passing game. QB Jameis Winston had a not too shabby rookie yr. Hopefully Winston will develop more as a Pro QB and the BUCS can get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later. RB Doug Martin had a great yr in 2015 and then signed a nice long deal which made RB Bobby Rainey expendable. RB Charles Sims will still be the backup and he is very dependable having played every game in 2015. WRs Mike Evans & Vincent Jackson are a great duo but Evans has to cut down on his dropped balls and Jackson was injured for a good part of 2015. Jackson is 33 but still is a big threat to defenders. WR Kenny Bell who spent 2015 on injured reserve could emerge as a 3rd WR for Winston to target. In 2015 TE was done by committee but, Austin Seferian-Jenkins will probably be the starter in 2016 if he stays healthy. He has suffered injuries the last two seasons and Cameron Brate has played well at the position in Jenkins absence. Could be a tale of two TEs here. On the O-Line, LG Logan Mankins retired and J R Sweeney was signed to take his spot. LT Donovan Smith & RG Ali Marpet did very well as rookies in 2015 so they will be back in 2016 without any fanfare. C Joe Hawley was a success after an injury plagued career with ATL. The O-Line needs to have a repeat of 2015 where they only gave up 27 sacks and opened holes for Martin to bust out. On DEF, TB went from #25 in 2014 to #10 in 2015. But they cannot afford to give up points late in the games and at times seemed to be underperforming. All new coaches were brought in for DEF & Mike Smith (formerly ATL HC) will be the new DC. DT Gerald McCoy led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2015 and look for him to have even a better yr in 2016. TB went out and signed pass rusher DE Robert Ayers who had 9.5 sacks with NYG in 2015. This should free up McCoy. LB Lavonte David made his first Pro Bowl in 2015 and we’ll see if he can duplicate that in 2016. He led the team with 3 INTS. LB Daryl Smith was signed and he should start at the SLB position. Look for more intensity from the front seven and more sacks in 2016. In the secondary, TB signed CB Brent Grimes who played for Mike Smith in ATL. The other CB will be Vernon Hargreaves who was drafted in the 1st round with the 5th pick out of Florida. He will be tested early but the BUCS like what they see. The safeties on the team are just average as they combined to have just 4 takeaways in 2015. The secondary has to play better for the front seven to get to the QB and make plays. Opposing QB completed 70% of their passes vs TB and that cannot continue if TB wants to win games. Moving forward, Winston needs to make better decisions when under pressure but he wants to win which makes him a great football pupil. Also, TB tied for the lead in penalties in 2015 which shows a lack of discipline. You can’t win games if you extend the other team’s drives. The secondary needs to play better. Considering that TB is in the tough NFC SOUTH we’ll see how they fare against the division and the rest of the league. They don’t have an easy schedule and things may get tough early.
PROJECTED 2016 (6-10)
Los Angeles Rams
Ok, so now the RAMS are back in LA after 21 years in St. Louis. They will be playing in the coliseum as their new home is slated to open in 3 years. In 2015 I liked the RAMS to go 9-7, they ended up 7-9. By the way, I did say that the RAMS would move back to LA, as I like so many others felt funny saying the St. Louis RAMS. Now if they change back to the uniforms of Navy and Gold full time I would be satisfied. HC Jeff Fisher is on the hot seat. I have never liked him because he is with out a doubt so overrated. Only six winning seasons in 21 and he still has a job. If the RAMS get off to a very bad start look for a coaching change. If the RAMS don’t make the playoffs or do not end up with 10 wins look for a coaching change. Fisher has had many chances with this team and at times the team has looked lost. The RAMS acquired the 1st overall pick and with it took California QB Jarod Goff as their QB of the future. Looks like he may be the starting day QB as LA has recently released Nick Foles. QB Coach Chris Weinke has the dream assignment of preparing Goff for the pro game and turning him into a winner for LA. RB Todd Gurley had a nice rookie season and took some of the heat off the QBs and LA is hoping he has a better 2nd season. The RAMS don’t have any big time WRS so they need decent play from the O-LINE and their existing OFF. WR Tavon Austin is more of a specialty WR than a regular WR and doesn’t play typical downs. Greg Robison needs to step up pass protection for the QBs after many penalties and getting beat by opposing DEFS in 2015. Having a healthy Gurley will take a lot of pressure off whoever is the QB for LA. The DEF has not stepped up like it should have and some big names with big $$ were let go after the season. CB Janoris Jenkins (either all or nothing) signed on with the NY GIANTS. DT Aaron Donald and DE Robert Quinn should have a big yr after a disappointing 2015. This DEF had flashes of greatness in certain games and looked lost in others. On special teams K Greg Zuerlein & P Johnny Hekker are at the top of their fields and should get the RAMS out of any jam. The RAMS have a tough schedule and every win will be a blessing. ARZ & SEA will be tough in the NFC WEST so the RAMS will have their work cut out for them. I don’t think Fisher makes it to 2017 with this team.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)
HC Pete Carroll has done a great job since coming to Seattle in 2010. He has turned around this franchise and made SEATTLE into a very dangerous team on both OFF & DEF. He & GM John Schneider have found gems in each draft that have led to great players. Guys that other teams overlooked and didn’t want, SEATTLE took a chance and won with. SEATTLE started 4-5 in 2015 but came on strong with a 6-1 to finish the season 10-6. QB Russell Wilson has improved every year by increasing his completion percentage and cutting down on his fumbles. He has become a great QB and can still run the ball when necessary and for substantial yards. RB Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch missed significant time in 2015 due to injuries and decided to retire after the season. Thomas Rawls filled in nicely for Lynch before he too injured himself with a broken ankle in Game 13. He should be ready for wk 1. Then there is Christine Michael who filled in for Rawls and finished up the season. He too will be back in 2016. The Seahawks drafted three other RBs in the 3rd, 5th & 7th rounds as backups. At TE, Nick Vannett is the best blocking Tight End the team has, so that will get him significant playing time. TE Jimmy Graham who has a big contract and who SEATTLE gave up a Center for, suffered a patellar tendon knee injury & is questionable for wk 1. At WR, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett & Jermaine Kearse have become dependable targets for Wilson. Lockett was ALL-PRO in 2015 based on his KR/PR stats but is a deep threat. But, like a lot of teams the question is the O-LINE. With new faces here the gelling gets harder and Wilson continues to get more than his fare share of sacks. Granted he scrambles around at times looking for that open receiver but the O-Line must do a better job. Wilson has been sacked 44x in 2013, 42x in 2014 & 45x in 2015. In the off-season SEA lost LT Russell Okung & RT J.R. Sweezy to FA without viable replacements. C Patrick Lewis is the only guy from the O-Line coming back as a starter, not good. German Ifedi who was drafted in the 1st round out of Texas A&M is slated to start at RG. 3rd round pick Rees Odhiambo out of Boise State will compete with 2nd yr player Mark Glowinski for LG. Justin Britt was at LG in 2015 but will switch to center & either compete with Lewis or back him up. Gary Gilliam who played at RT in 2015 will be moved to LT. G/T J’Marcus Webb who played for OAK in 2015 is expected to play RT for SEA in 2016. Expect more moves on the O-LINE before wk 1. On DEF, ¾ of the Legion of Boom secondary remain fixtures. FS Earl Thomas, SS Kam Chancellor & CB Richard Sherman are the best in the business and work together flawlessly. CB Jeremy Lane is the other CB and he is certainly no slouch. CB Brandon Browner was re-signed after two years away but he is definitely a liability with many defensive penalties called against him in the last two years. He will be used in nickel situations and situational role matching. 3rd yr CB Tharold Simon who has had a few injuries looks for this yr to establish himself in the Legion of Boom. On the D-Line DE Michael Bennett DT Ahtyba Rubin & DE Cliff Avril are returning veteran starters. With the departure of DT Brandon Mebane via FA, SEA will pencil in 2nd round draft choice DT Jarran Reed. He will be relied upon to stuff the run. MLB Bobby Wagner is one of the best in the game. OLB K.J. Wright plays the weak side and has very good movement. OLB Bruce Irvin left via FA so Mike Morgan has a chance to step up in the spot and show what he can do. A solid DEF all around. This team cannot get off to a slow start and then turn on the juice when it feels necessary. There is some great personnel on this team but the O-LINE is a big question. They must protect Wilson better and open up the running lanes. The DEF is solid & DE Chris Clemons is back and can teach the hunger guys. Legion of Boom is still in tact but will Browner be a nice addition or a penalty sideshow? Also, they cannot lose games they should be winning on the road. This team must show more grit. They are playoff bound but not SuperBowl bound.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)
This team’s slogan should say “SuperBowl or Bust”. In 2015 this team went 13-3 but was blown out in the NFC Conference Championship by Carolina. QB Carson Palmer had a nice regular season where he was healthy but had a weak game in a blowout loss in wk 16 to SEA and had a terrible game at CAR in the playoffs. Palmer had never won in the playoffs before 2015 and that is a concern if this team wants to make it to the SuperBowl. This team starts with the 2nd best HC in the NFL with Bruce Arians. Since he has been the HC in ARZ this team has had nothing but success. He gets his team ready to play every week and you never know what trick play he may have up his sleeve. This is the team to beat in the NFC. On OFF Palmer is 36 yrs old so the window is closing fast. WR John Brown just suffered a concussion and is going through the protocol. The RB corps is very deep with Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, David Johnson & Kerwynn Williams. Anyone of them can break out a long run at any time. The O-Line has had some problems but RG Evan Mathis and the drafting of C Evan Boehm from Missouri in the 4th round should protect Palmer better and create more running lanes. On DEF DE Dwight Freeney left and signed with ATL. ARZ should have kept him as he led the team with eight sacks in only 11 games. The biggest acquisition for ARZ was DE Chandler Jones from NE who had 12.5 sacks in 2015. His main job with ARZ is to sack QBs. The D-Line was shored up with 1st round draft choice DT Robert Nkemdiche out of Ole Miss. These two along with DE Calais Campbell will allow ARZ to put pressure on opposing QBs without having to blitz and leave open a WR underneath. This secondary is one of the best in the NFL. All-Pro S Tyrann Mathieu was given a nice extension and hopefully will be 100% for the season opener. All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson had another solid yr. However, ARZ is looking for another CB on the other side. A couple of later round CB draftees and off-season signee S Tyvon Branch could fill the role. This team definitely needs that other CB. We’ll see. Another question mark here is ILB Deone Bucanon. He lines up like an LB but plays like a safety. He is undersized for an LB but not for a S. Will opposing teams change their game plan to go right at this guy? On special teams K Chandler Catanzaro missed 5 extra points even though he connected on every fg attempt inside the 40 in 2015. But if this team gets to the SuperBowl it will be because of Carson Palmer. This is definitely my favorite in the NFC for the SuperBowl if all falls into place. I can see another 13-3 season with home field throughout the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (13-3)
San Francisco 49ers
After the mass exodus by players & coaches at the end of 2014, I said this team would finish 5-11 in 2015, I was correct. Well, the 49ers cleaned house once again and Chip Kelly is the new HC with a new coaching staff. QB Colin Kaepernick has certainly regressed as a QB since he led this team to the SuperBowl in 2012. Enter Blaine Gabbert who was acquired as a backup in 2014, played well in eight games in 2015 and is being considered for the starting QB over Colin. We’ll see how this plays out. QB Jeff Driskell was drafted in the 6th round out of Louisiana Tech and will probably be number 3 as QB Thad Lewis was signed and then tore his ACL in the first preseason game vs HOU. Colin is also recovering from left shoulder, right thumb and left knee surgeries. At RB, Carlos Hyde missed nine games in 2015 due to a foot injury. We’ll see if he is fully recovered to be the #1 RB. Journey man RB Shaun Draughn filled in for Hyde in 2015 and we should see more of him in ’16 if Hyde is not fully recovered. Other than those two at RB it is a bunch of unknowns. WR Anquan Boldin departed via FA which leaves Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton & Bruce Ellington as the starting WRs with a bunch of FAs looking to make the team. Unfortunately nothing here is standing out to scare defenses. After TE Vernon Davis was traded mid season, it looks like Vance McDonald & Garrett Celek will be sharing the TE duties in 2016. The O-Line has gone through a major shakeup in the last two seasons which contributed to the SF OFF going #31 in 2015 & the QB being sacked 53x in 2015. LT Joe Staley is solid, been to the Pro-Bowl five straight seasons and has not missed a game since 2010. Next to him at LG is 1st round draft choice Joshua Garrett out of Stanford. Joshua will definitely get some good training from Staley. Daniel Kilgore is set to start at C but has battled injuries the last 2 seasons. If he can’t make it C/RG Marcus Martin will fill in like he has in the past. Zane Beadles was signed via FA to start at RG. Beadles hasn’t missed a game since 2010 and Trent Brown should end up at RT although this is a very soft spot on the line for SF. On DEF, SF was #29 in TOT DEF & 29th vs the run. LB Navarro Bowman is the perennial consistent ALL-PRO on DEF but that’s as far as this DEF goes and he can’t do it all by himself. It’s amazing the yr he had in 2015 after missing all of 2014 after suffering that knee injury in the playoff game at Seattle in 2013. DE Arik Armstead showed nice promise as a rookie in 2015 and should increase his sack total in 2016. The other DE will be 1st round draft choice DeForest Buckner out of Oregon. If DeForest is half as good as Arik these guys will make a difference for a long time on DEF. OLBs Aaron Lynch & Ahmad Brooks both tied for the lead on SF with 6.5 sacks each and should continue to have good years. Either ILBs Michael Wilhote or Gerald Hodges needs to take the reign and get going because neither one of them had a sack in 2015 and neither one of them played the whole season. Someone has to step up to the position. NT Quinto Dial was rewarded with a 3 yr extension in FEB and may fill in for Ian Williams who had ankle surgery in the off season. In the secondary FS Eric Reid is the anchor of this group but has not been the hard hitter that he once was. SS Antoine Bethea suffered a pectoral tear in 2015 and missed nine games where rookie Jaquiski Tartt filled in and got some valuable experience. He will see more action in ’16. CB Tramaine Brock had a nice bounceback season in ’15 after an injury filled ’14. The other CB position is open for competition between backups and a rookie. This team has serious questions marks at almost every position except ILB Navarro Bowman. SF is in a serious rebuilding mode after being so great just a short time ago. It will be a long season in SF for Chip Kelly and company as all the other teams in the NFC WEST are staying tough and striving to get into the playoffs. There are a lot of unproven players here and we’ll see if anyone stands out but, it looks as though the DEF will be out on the field a lot longer than the OFF. The secondary has a lot of questions and if the front guys to put any pressure on, there will be a lot of long gainers against this team. They have a tough schedule in ’16 and there are no gimmee games on their schedule. Good luck as I don’t see any real changes in wins from 2015.
PROJECTED 2015 (5-11)√ PROJECTED 2016 (4-12)