Before I issue my take on how the league will play out this year, as well as my week one ATS picks, I must issue a disclaimer:
A vast majority of NFL preseason prediction articles are shots in the dark. Some try to go as far as predicting every game, which is absolute folly. There’s no way to make judgements, based on a team’s current health and form, on a matchup 3 months from now. Reading one of these articles is most likely a waste of time (unless you’re that desperate for football that you’ll consume anything having to do with the NFL, much like myself). Nobody ever recalls their predictions at season’s end, unless they were correct, in which case you can expect them to gloat mercilessly.
Which I will do, if I’m right.
Here’s each division, with a short explanation of my train of thought. Feel free to pick it apart and call me an idiot. You’re probably right. The order, from left to right, is the projected order of finish in the division. Teams in italics are playoff bound.
AFC West: Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders
The Broncos will finish first here, but not by a large margin; the Chargers will be on their tail and at least split the season series. They were on too much of a roll at the end of last season to think they’ll simply fade away, and Philip Rivers looks as good as he’s ever been under Mike McCoy. The Chargers will be a wild card team. The Chiefs will drift back to the middle of the pack, as Alex Smith will bore and frustrate Kansas City fans with his astoundingly average performances. The Raiders will be awful. Adding a bunch of veterans to a terrible team never works out. Al Davis lives on through his son.
AFC South: Colts, Jaguars, Texans, Titans
The Colts should consider themselves lucky they’re in such an awful division, much like the Eagles. Indy really isn’t much more than their quarterback, which is enough to win them some games. The Jags will be improved, but too much raw, undeveloped talent at the receiver position, along with a sieve of an offensive line, will doom them. The Texans should be better too, but how much do you trust Ryan Fitzpatrick? At least they should be able to generate a pass rush. The Titans may challenge for the position of worst team in the league. Their offensive line has potential, but it’s offset by an absolute dearth of talent at the skill positions.
AFC East: Patriots, Bills, Jets, Dolphins
The Pats added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to shore up their cornerbacks, who were last seen getting annihilated by Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game. If they can get a pass rush, and just a little production on offense by anyone not named Gronkowski, they can be a championship team. The Bills and Jets will both have very good defenses and challenge for a wild card spot, but will both come up empty because of inconsistent quarterback play. Expect to see Mike Vick and Kyle Orton at some point. The Dolphins will be middling as well, but their offensive line is in shambles and I’m not a believer in Ryan Tannehill.
AFC North: Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns
The Ravens will wrest the AFC North crown back from the Bengals, but it will be a dogfight. Uncertainty at the running back position may be their Achilles Heel. The Bengals will finish in second and grab a wild card spot. Having a new offensive coordinator will throw Andy Dalton off in the early going, but AJ Green will help with the learning curve. The Steelers will be bad in the early going, make a late push, but come up just short of the playoffs again. Ben Roethlisberger will throw for a ton of yards and try to put the team on his back, but I don’t like their offensive line to 1) keep the run game going and 2) keep Ben off his back. The defense looks old in some spots and clueless in others. The Browns, lastly, will sorely miss Josh Gordon, and even though they have a nice defense, they don’t have the answer at QB.
NFC West: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams
The Seahawks will kill it at home and be mediocre on the road. The increased emphasis on Illegal Contact and Defensive Holding will cost them a few wins. The rest of the division will cannibalize itself. The Cardinals will have the best defense in the league and claim a wild card spot. The 49ers are in for a whirlwind season. All the turmoil with McDonald and Smith will upset their pass rush, and their star linebackers are crippled. I don’t foresee good things for them this season. The Rams will get to the quarterback, and that’s about it. They’ll miss Sam Bradford, who was actually having a very good season last year before he went down.
NFC South: Saints, Panthers, Bucs, Falcons
The Saints will be dominant this year. They loaded up in their secondary, got younger and faster at WR, and their O line improved vastly as the season went on. The Panthers will decline precipitously. Poor Cam will have no one to throw to (his top 4 receivers are gone), and their best offensive lineman retired. Their stout defense will have to win games for them. The Bucs will be better than last year, but loading up on Guards will only get you so far. I don’t believe in Josh McCown. There’s a reason he floated around the league for 10 years before having even a slight spell of success. The Falcons have shown me nothing on defense or the offensive line to make me believe they will bounce back. They’ll have no run game yet again. If their WRs stay healthy, then yeah, Matty Ryan will throw for a ton of yards, but they’ll be in garbage time.
NFC North: Bears, Packers, Lions, Vikings
The Bears and Packers will both be very good this year. If Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, there’s no reason his squad shouldn’t win 11 games. Bu the bears will surprise people. Their offense will be prolific. Jeffrey and Marshall will both repeat their monster performances last year as they win the division by a hair over the Packers. The Lions will be the Lions- Stafford will throw for a million yards and have an INT a game at least. They’ll outscore people sometimes, but be on the wrong end more often then not. Their highly-drafted D Line had better start producing, or they’re in for a long season. And the Vikings will be bad to start the season before switching to Teddy Bridgewater to give them hope for the future. Adrian Peterson is a surefire HOFer, but as we’ve seen time after time, he can’t do it alone.
NFC East: Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Giants
The Eagles will miss Desean Jackson, but should still score a ton of points. Their offensive line and system are too good for this division, and if the defense plays average ball, they’ll win 10 games minimum. They Cowboys, much like the Eagles, will have a fantastic offense. Romo, Murray, the O-line, Dez, Witten, the list goes on. It’s a shame they may have the worst defense of all time. Think about it: worst NFL defense from last year, minus Demarcus Ware and Sean Lee? This could get ugly. The Redskins have a lot of weapons on offense, but Robert Griffin does nothing for me. He had a great rookie year, but since his injury, he hasn’t been the same. Even when he’s healthy, he’s throwing off his back foot and looks shaky and tentative. The Giants, lastly, look abysmal. Eli has nobody to throw to, and even if he did, he’d chuck it to the other team. No O line, no defense. Stick a fork in them.
Wild Card: Chargers over Ravens, Colts over Bengals
Divisional: Patriots over Colts, Chargers over Broncos
AFCCG: Patriots over Chargers
Wild Card: Eagles over Bears, Cardinals over Packers
Divisional: Saints over Eagles, Cardinals over Seahawks
NFCCG: Saints over Cardinals
And, in the Super Bowl:
Saints over Patriots
These predictions will probably look pretty stupid come February. Oh well. Deal with it.
Anyway, on to something that I may actually know what I’m talking about:
WEEK ONE PICKS.
SEATTLE (-5.5) over Green Bay
As much as I like the Packers’ prospects this season over all, winning week one in the hornet’s nest that is Century Link Field is just too much to ask. Aaron Rodgers likes audibling at the line as much as any quarterback in the league not named Manning, and the noise will disrupt his mojo. The Raji injury really does it in for Green Bay. Expect Seattle to control the clock and the game.
Seahawks 31, Packers 24
Minnesota (+3.5) over ST. LOUIS
The Rams simply haven’t had enough time to digest the Bradford situation and give Shaun Hill reps with the first team. Cordarrelle Patterson should have a big day.
Vikings 24, Rams 17
CHICAGO (-6.5) over Buffalo
The Bears, at home, with a dynamite offense, will have no problem with the Bills. EJ Manuel will struggle.
Bears 38, Bills 10
Washington (+2.5) over HOUSTON
Alfred Morris and Roy Helu will carry the day. Redskins fans hopes will not be extinguished this early in the season, as long as JJ Watt doesn’t break RG3 in half. Ryan Fitzpatrick will throw a few picks and the Texans won’t recover.
Redskins 23, Texans 14
KANSAS CITY (-4.5) over Tennessee
Feeding Jamaal Charles should be enough to beat the Titans. I’m surprised this line isn’t higher. KC’s defense will stifle Jake Locker.
Chiefs 28, Titans 13
Jacksonville (+10.5) over PHILADELPHIA
No, the Eagles won’t lose this game. But usually, whenever everyone is absolutely sure a game will be a walk in the park, the favorite starts to get a little cocky, and the underdog gets pissed off and shows up to play. This line is a product of the ocean of hype the Eagles are pumping out right now. The Jags will not be as bad as they were last year. They’ll make the birds sweat it out.
Eagles 30, Jaguars 24
NY JETS (-5.5) over Oakland
The Jets won’t score a ton of points, but their home field and defense will be more than enough for the Raiders. The Jets run game will control the flow. Expect a lot of punting.
Jets 17, Raiders 9
PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over Cleveland
I’m not a big believer in the Steelers this year. But I believe less in the Browns. Neither team will score a lot, but the Steelers have enough in them to beat a sorry Browns offense by a touchdown. I think. The Browns will come to play on defense, but Antonio Brown will have a big day.
Steelers 24, Browns 17
BALTIMORE (-1.5) over Cincinnati
Joe Flacco will have a lot of work to do to prove his worth. His albatross of a contract denied the Ravens a chance to lock up several of their championship players. I think this year he takes a step back in the right direction after a disappointing 2013. Beating a good Bengals team at home is a good start. But it’s his defense that needs to come up big in this game. Contain AJ Green, and you stop the Bengals. I don’t have a strong feeling on this one, so I’m going with home field.
Ravens 20, Bengals 17
New Orleans (-2.5) over ATLANTA
I think the Saints will blow the roof off the Georgia Dome. The Falcons have done nothing to make me think they’re going to improve this year, and the Saints did nothing but get better.
Saints 42, Falcons 21
New England (-4.5) over MIAMI
The Dolphins just don’t have the horses to keep up with the Pats. Revis will lock down Mike Wallace, and Tannehill will have nowhere to go. The Dolphins always play the Patriots tough in Miami, though, so the game will be relatively close.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 21.
DALLAS (+4.5) over San Francisco
At home, in Jerryworld, Tony Romo will light up the battered 49er defense. Kaep and co. will rally in the second half and make it a high scoring affair. In the end, the Cowboys weapons will outshine the 49ers in a new edition of a classic rivalry that will little resemble Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman. Expect a lot of points.
Cowboys 44, 49ers 38
Carolina (+1.5) over TAMPA BAY
The Panthers will decline this year. But their defense can still handle the Bucs. Cam will lean on his tight ends and run game and let the Buccaneers make mistakes against Luke Kuechly and the boys.
Panthers 17, Bucs 14
DENVER (-7.5) over Indianapolis
I’ll bet all Peyton Manning has done for the last 7 months is watch film, alone in his basement, shunning Eli and Archie, shooing them away so he could watch slow motion replays of each play of that train wreck in February. He will awaken from his slumber this Sunday night and unleash his wrath on poor Andrew Luck and the Colts at Mile High.
Broncos 52, Colts 28
DETROIT (-4.5) over NY Giants
If you read the above NFL Preview, you’ll recall I have very little faith in the Giants. They may have some success against the Lions suspect defense, but Detroit should easily move the ball on big blue.
Lions 34, Giants 20
ARIZONA (-3.5) over San Diego
This could be the game of the week. Shame it’s on at 10:30 PM on the East Coast. The Chargers will show flashes of brilliance, but the Cardinals defense is just too good. I like Andre Ellington as a surprise performer this week.