The new season is almost among us, so what better time to reveal my playoff predictions than now? That is a trick question, as there is no better time.
The list is simple; I’ll go by division, predicting the winners of each, as well as the placing of all 4 teams in that respective division. The AFC side will be first, followed by the NFC side. At the end, I’ll give the placing of all 6 seeds from both conferences.
And remember, just because your team isn’t on my list does not mean they won’t make the playoffs in actuality. Again, these are just my predictions. I’ll likely revisit this list at the end of the year.
Without further delay, let’s get this started.
The AFC East has usually been a no-brainer, but with the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets upgrading on defense and offense, it appears that the Patriots’ road to the playoffs will finally get a bit of a challenge. In addition, Tom Brady will be missing the first 4 games of the season, so 2014 draftee Jimmy Garoppolo will get his chance to prove why he’s the future of the franchise.
Frankly, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I’m picking the defending champion New England Patriots to win the AFC East again. Bill Belichick has created a team that can win in many, many kinds of ways, so losing Brady for 4 games shouldn’t be that much of a deal. The loss of Revis Island and Brandon Browner sting, but not as badly as people would like to think. New England has long dominated the Yards After Catch (YAC) style of play as well, with the game’s best tight end in Rob Gronkowski, fresh in his prime.
The Miami Dolphins went big in free agency by signing (and overpaying) Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and significantly upgraded their receiving core, adding Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron, and Kenny Stills to the mix to compete with Jarvis Landry and rookie Devante Parker. Lamar Miller has been a solid runningback, and QB Ryan Tannehill is coming off a career year. They might not give New England a run for their money, but I see enough for a Wild Card spot.
In third place comes the Buffalo Bills. Rex Ryan’s defense, in addition with the underrated receiving core (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay), make this a scary non-QB roster, but that’s just it. Buffalo does not have a QB to elevate this team of potential (their best bet should be to start Tyrod Taylor in my opinion). They acquired LeSean McCoy, but he’s coming off a decline in production from 2014.
Still, I’d put Buffalo over the New York Jets, who come in last place for the division. The strong defense (return of Darrelle Revis most notably) and the addition of Brandon Marshall would help, but the loss of Geno Smith for 6-10 weeks drops my ranking of them. While Geno hasn’t molded into a good QB, he’s a very talented one, showing off incredible mobility and excellent arm strength. God knows Ryan Fitzpatrick’s limits, so let’s try and see what rookie Bryce Petty can do.
At one point, the AFC North was the top division in the league, with all 4 teams above .500 and much in playoff contention. Then the Cleveland Browns realized they’re the Cleveland Browns and choked away their last 5 games.
As for the other 3 teams, it’s tough to choose who’s on top. But ultimately, I think the Pittsburgh Steelers win the division for a 2nd straight year. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off his finest season yet, and Antonio Brown has established himself as a top 5 WR with perhaps the best route running out of anyone in the current NFL. The loss of star back Le’Veon Bell isn’t good, but his return should spark a much-needed fire into the offense. Martavis Bryant’s talent will also help Roethlisberger further his career numbers, and the acquisition of Brandon Boykin from the Eagles helps a declining defense.
Coming in 2nd place is trickier, but the Cincinnati Bengals win this battle. They might have the best non-QB roster in the NFL, coming loaded in receiving (AJ Green, Tyler Eifert), the run game (Jeremy Hill, Giovanni Bernard), special teams (Pac-man Jones), a great offensive line, and defense. I’d be a lot more sold on them if Andy Dalton showed any signs of progression, but since 2011 he’s been the same mediocre QB that the team (at times) seems to win in spite of and not because of. He must show progression in 2015. Still, Cincinnati has enough talent to make this list as a wild card team once again, and Dalton giving his receivers chances will certainly help.
In third place comes the Baltimore Ravens. Like I said, choosing 2nd place in the AFC North was not easy, but the Ravens lack the all-around depth the Bengals have, and while Joe Flacco is a quality starter, and certainly better than Dalton, he still has consistency issues that he’ll have to prove me wrong on. The receivers are either too old or too young, and can we expect Justin Forsett at age 30 to continue on his breakout season? This might be a season where Baltimore sits out in January.
The Cleveland Browns at the bottom of the AFC North should surprise no one, but until they get ACTUAL QB play, they’ll continue to stay down there, no matter how good their defense is.
The Indianapolis Colts do not have the best roster of all 4 AFC South teams, but QB Andrew Luck, who has dragged a severely flawed team in the playoffs in his first 3 seasons, makes up for that. Indy also upgraded the receiving core and running game, adding veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, getting rid of Trent Richardson, and drafting Phillip Dorsett. The franchise locked up T.Y. Hilton before the inevitable Luck extension as well.
Coming in 2nd place are the Houston Texans once again. J.J. Watt (the best defensive player of our generation) is coming off an MVP-caliber season, but even an amazing talent can’t hide that Houston lacks a QB. We already saw what Brian Hoyer could do (which was literally just win), and Ryan Mallet failed to impress whenever he did start. Star runningback Arian Foster is injured once again, and the club lost a veteran in Andre Johnson (though new #1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins is poised to have an elite season in his 3rd year, and the acquisition of talented WR Cecil Shorts also helps). Jadeveon Clowney’s health has to be considered too, coming off a disappointingly short rookie season.
In third place come the Jacksonville Jaguars. While not a playoff team yet, the young talent (Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas, Marqise Lee) and the veteran presence of Clay Harbor and Mercedes Lewis suggest a step in the right direction. The defense also shows promise, but this is something that will have to wait for now.
The Tennessee Titans come in fourth place. Losing Justin Hunter after he was arrested for being involved in a bar fight is critical, but the drafting of Marcus Mariota and Dorial Green-Beckham suggests brighter things to come. There’s just nothing spectacular about this group of guys though, so like the Jaguars, things might have to wait.
This might be the toughest division to pick from. A healthy Peyton Manning always equals a clear-cut division winner, but his arm strength has declined so much that we wonder if he can still rely on his famous football IQ.
Ultimately, I can’t count out Manning, so the Denver Broncos (barely) come out on top this year. We’ve seen Manning come back from a neck injury to have the best old QB play since Y.A. Tittle. The emergence of undrafted star runningback C.J. Anderson will help the Broncos offense, and stud WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders return in their prime. The defense is filled with promising talent, including Von Miller and the undrafted corner Chris Harris Jr. New head coach Gary Kubiak (who brings Owen Daniels with him EVERYWHERE) debuts in Denver, and it’s to be determined if he can do a better job than John Fox.
In 2nd place return the Kansas City Chiefs. KC managed to upgrade the WR depth, adding Jeremy Maclin to the team and promoting talented tight end Travis Kelce to TE1. Jamaal Charles fresh and healthy helps as well, and Knile Davis isn’t half-bad as a backup. The Chiefs locked up Justin Houston, one of the best defensive players not named J.J. Watt, so the playing field is pretty even. Could this be the year Alex Smith decides to take the ever-so-crucial-risky passes? We shall see, and that’s where my doubts come in.
In third place are the San Diego Chargers. Recently, the club locked up Philip Rivers, who when healthy, will keep the ball club competitive in December. Losing future HOF TE Antonio Gates for the first 4 games damages the veteran presence, but it also gives an opportunity for the young Ledarius Green to shine. Outside Eric Weedle and Brandon Flowers, there’s not much reason to believe in the defense containing the tough schedule, and the offensive line is coming off a 2nd half struggle in 2014. Drafting Melvin Gordon doesn’t hurt, though, and this will be a team that will at least stay competitive in the dying weeks of the season.
The Oakland Raiders are in last place again, but the club upgraded at wide receiver, drafting Amari Cooper to give Derek Carr some help at separation. Carr’s inconsistency as a rookie was maddening, but he also showed signs of great play (at San Diego, against San Francisco) last year. Khalil Mack has become a star defender, and should serve to get better. Latavius Murray gave the club hope at the runningback position, and should be poised as the starter. Stepping stone for something better, Raider Nation.
Listed below is the seeding for all 6 AFC playoff teams.
This is a division that always seems to have a new winner. The Dallas Cowboys were not expected to win in 2014 in the slightest, but seemingly came out of nowhere to do so thanks to a much improved offensive line, a sustainable defense, the dominance of (now Eagle) DeMarco Murray, and an MVP-caliber season from Tony Romo. The club locked up Dez Bryant (arguably the top receiver heading into 2015) as well, but failed to lock Murray up. The path to the playoffs will be more of a challenge for “America’s Team”, but the offensive line should make up for losses, and new #1 RB Joseph Randle has been highly anticipated by many. For now, I give them the edge.
Do not expect to be shocked if the Philadelphia Eagles steal the division, though. The non-QB roster is better than Dallas’, but Tony Romo’s presence gives Dallas the edge. A healthy Sam Bradford should change that, but doubts are on him to do so. Still, the club managed to give their new QB a good cast, getting DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews from Dallas and San Diego respectfully, and the crazy potential of Jordan Matthews, insane talent Nelson Agholor, and young tight end Zach Ertz mark as dangerous weapons in Chip Kelly’s offense. Part of me thinks this team will end up as a house of cards collapsing at any minute, but there should be zero problems in Philly returning to the playoffs this season, clinching a Wild Card spot at the slightest. AND PLEASE DO NOT START TIM TEBOW.
The New York Giants always manage some fluke Super Bowl run every four years, and it spells it again this year. Or at least it would had Odell Beckham Jr (possibly coming off the greatest rookie WR season since Randy Moss) wasn’t voted on the Madden Cover. All jokes aside, I can’t trust NYG to avoid the Madden Curse, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if they somehow did another Cinderella run. The club figured out that Eli Manning is still a good QB, so there’s that. As of this moment, I don’t see a playoff run, but I’m not writing it off. They’ll have to shake off the injured defense, though, and Victor Cruz has to come back from a disappointing 2014 season.
The Washington Redskins come in last place. There’s not much to say about this club. Jay Gruden probably hates RGIII, who I’ll wait the regular season for to see if he can hold up. I just don’t see it personally, which can be summed up for the rest of the team.
Aaron Rodgers=Green Bay Packers on top of the NFC North again. Not too challenging. Eddie Lacy gives the running game a strong identity, and the most underrated receiver in Jordy Nelson looks to continue his success. But basically, with the reigning MVP active, Green Bay stays on top.
Coming in 2nd place should be the Minnesota Vikings. Many experts are picking them as a sleeper playoff team, and I’m leaning that way as well. The return of Adrian Peterson should boost the offense, and Teddy Bridgewater is coming off an impressive rookie season. The receiving core doesn’t scream excellence, but the young talent, and the addition of Mike Wallace, suggests improvement. Mike Zimmer’s impact on the defense has been terrific, so I’m expecting big things from the Vikings this year.
The Detroit Lions come in third place in the division. The club struggled with the offensive line, and I don’t trust Matthew Stafford to progress in the new offense. The team made up for the loss of Ndamukong Suh with the signing of veteran Haloti Ngata from the Ravens. Golden Tate as a #2 WR has lived up the hype, and it’s tough to signal Detroit out in a stacked conference such as the NFC. I give Minnesota the edge, though.
The Chicago Bears are coming off a disastrous 2014 season. Jay Cutler’s likely heading out after the season, so it looks like a rebuilding year for the Monsters of the Midway. Young talents in Kyle Fuller and Kevin White build promise for the future, however.
This by far was the worst division in 2014, and it makes me cringe to pick a winner out of the NFC South this year. With that being said, I like the Atlanta Falcons coming on top. Matt Ryan is perhaps the most underrated quarterback in the league, and his connectivity with star WR Julio Jones has racked up yardage and will continue to do so. New head coach Dan Quinn looks to prove he was not the benefit of Pete Carroll in Seattle, and the drafting of Vic Beasley is HUGE for an awful 2014 defense. I think they barely squeeze on by.
The Carolina Panthers come up in 2nd place. Cam Newton has been good, but not great, and his inaccuracy is the main reason I’m low on Carolina for now. The offensive line has been crap, but the talent of Kelvin Benjamin will shine as long as he works on lowering his drops and improving the route running.
Carolina still has a better team than the New Orleans Saints, third in the division. Future HOF QB Drew Brees has kind of gotten screwed, losing Jimmy Graham to Seattle and Kenny Stills to Miami, and the supporting cast isn’t giving him much to cheer up about. No one should raise their hand to see if they trust a Rob Ryan defense either.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will end up fourth in the division again. Rookie Jameis Winston is a bright spot, but the offensive line is expected to cause struggles for him passing to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Runningback Doug Martin has decline since his breakout 2012 season, and it’s unlikely he’ll reach that point again. And you know my doubts on Lovie Smith coaching this team.
This might be the last year for the Seattle Seahawks to stay this damn good. Marshawn Lynch is close to HOF status, but he’s at that age where it’ll be a surprise if he’s still any good, let alone elite. Russell Wilson is rich and locked up, but he’s coming off a 2014 season that was not as good as years past. The health of the Legion of Boom is to be determined. With this being said, the presence of Wilson, Lynch, the arrival of Jimmy Graham, and the #1 defense provide enough reason for me to have faith in Grungeville winning the NFC West again, and getting back to the Super Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals come in 2nd place again, but this time might be excluded from the playoffs. Carson Palmer healthy helps the offense significantly, but losing Michael Floyd hurts, as could defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The club managed to upgrade at tight end, signing Jermaine Gresham from the Bengals to a 1-year deal, but is it enough to get back to the playoffs?
In mediocrity hell come the St. Louis Rams. It’s already been established how little Nick Foles can be trusted, and outside a Chip Kelly based offense, there’s little reason to expect him to return to his 2013 play. The defense is very strong, and the club drafted star runningback Todd Gurley, risking his health. But unless the QB play improves, I don’t see the Rams getting to the playoffs.
The San Francisco 49ers come in 4th place. Quite possibly coming off the worst offseason EVER, the identity of this once dominant ball club has vanished in the blink of an eye. Jim Harbaugh fired, players retiring or leaving in free agency, and the regression of Colin Kaepernick provide a black eye for this historic franchise. New RB1 Carlos Hyde provides a bright spot for an identity challenged football team.
God bless Jim Tomsula.
Listed below is the seeding for all 6 NFC playoff teams.
I plan to be wrong on some of the predictions, so expect the unexpected from the NFL in 2015.