AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
The AFC North comes into this season as one of the weakest divisions in football. With the Steelers going through a minor rebuild and the Browns just starting one of their own, this division boils down to be a fight between the Bengals and Ravens.
The Ravens brought in longtime Carolina wideout Steve Smith this offseason to finally give Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith another weapon in the passing game. They were also able to re-sign Dennis Pitta and sign Owen Daniels to value deals, giving them one of the most dangerous tight end duos in the league.
The Ravens took C.J. Mosley out of Alabama in the first round of the draft this year, and that pick could easily pay dividends for this defense. For a team that has lacked the toughness at linebacker since Ray Lewis departed, Mosley could help climb this Raven’s defense back to the top.
The Bengals, on the other hand, saw their defensive motor walk away. Michael Johnson signed with the Bucs this offseason, leaving Cincy a bit distraught. Their biggest signing was Danieal Manning this offseason and their biggest pick was A.J. McCarron out of ‘Bama.
The Bengals didn’t get worse, they just did not get better.
The Ravens will most likely win this division with a record of 11-5.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ dominance in the AFC will not end until Manning is retired and wearing a golf shirt hitting all 18 holes year round.
The Broncos actually got better than they were last year, which is surprising for an aging team with cap problems.
They had 4 huge signings that bolster the talent on both ends of the ball.
On one end, the defense brings in T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aquib Talib. That is one scary mashup of guys. With Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware bull-rushing the O-line and Talib and Ward laying out hits and taking in picks in the secondary, Denver’s defense could be just as effective as it’s offense. According to pro-football-reference.com, the Broncos defense was ranked 22nd in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed per game. They really need these guys to come in and change the culture of the Denver shootout and become a team that values stops as much as it does scores.
On offense, the Broncos brought in former Steelers utility man Emmanuel Sanders. This guy can really do it all. After a breakout season where he saw 112 passes come his way, the speedster is ready to replace Eric Decker in the Broncos offense. Coming off of a 67 reception – 6 touchdown season, Sanders’ numbers will most likely ignite with Manning at the helm.
The Broncos saw some of the most improvement of any team in the league this offseason (except for the Raiders). Thats pretty hard to do when you were already perhaps the most talented team anyway.
The Broncos will take this division with ease and probably post a record better than 12-4.
AFC East: New England Patriots
The AFC East is surprisingly weak after the 2014 offseason. Only the Jets were able to make large strides of improvement, but even then, it’s the Jets!
The Patriots will likely coast through their 6 division games and represent the AFC East as their only playoff team. With a cast of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Vince Wilfork coming back, they are sure to be dangerous. But, like the Broncos, even a team with a lot of talent can get better.
The Pats bolstered their defense more than anything, bringing in Patrick Chung, Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, and Will Smith. Those are some impact players that will make life ridiculously easier for Tom Brady.
He also gets a new weapon in Brandon LaFell from Carolina. LaFell never was able to take over any games, but he was a solid contributor for Cam Newton’s Panthers and is easily better than half the receivers Bill Belichick lined up last season.
The Pats come into this season like every other for the last decade; A contender.
I expect a 12-4 / 13-3 from the New England squad this year.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had a quiet offseason, but did just enough to claim top dog in the division this season. They already have the best quarterback and defense in the division (Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel may disagree).
So how could they get better, you ask?
Signing Hakeem Nicks. Despite it just being a one year deal, Nicks gives Luck 3 solid wide receiver options – Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, and Nicks. Throw in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and you have a scary passing game down in Indy.
The Colts are in a division full of rebuilding teams. This season should be a cake walk.
I think the Colts take at least 11 of their 16 games this season and cruise to the playoffs.
NFC North: Detroit Lions
I say it every year. The Detroit Lions are going places.
Unfortunately, that place is always their couches during the playoffs and not what I meant.
The Lions have so much talent on their roster. Giving QB Matthew Stafford receiving options like Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to pair with Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush is just ridiculous. They now have the scariest passing game besides Denver and have no excuses to not be a contender this year.
Their defense also is strong, with young guys like Ezekial Ansah and Ndamukong Suh headlining the roster.
If the Lions don’t win the division or at least make the playoffs this year, I don’t see Matt Stafford staying in a Detroit uniform any longer. He is surrounded with too many weapons to not be an elite gunslinger and to lead the Lions into a period of success.
I think the Lions offense will prove too much for the NFC North’s defenses and Detroit’s team will sneak out of the division a winner by a record of 10-6.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
The Super Bowl champs play in the toughest division in football.
Does that mean their reign as champions will come to an end?
I doubt it.
While the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals have all put together solid squads the last few years, I don’t think anyone in their right minds can bet against a Seahawks team that was able to retain Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, AND Michael Bennett.
The Seahawks will storm back through the NFL and post a record of 13-3, winning the NFC West and the NFC entirely.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The NFC East.
An Embarrassment. A joke. A media hub.
The division that used to be known for it’s competitive play now is known for its Cowboy’s drama, it’s Redskins drama, Eli Manning’s interceptathon seasons, and the Eagles trying to be good.
Luckily for the Eagles, they did get much better this offseason.
No, I’m not talking about Mark Sanchez. I am speaking of Darren Sproles, Nolan Carroll, Malcom Jenkins, and (the release of ) Desean Jackson.
These three key additions and one key cut allow the Eagles to grow into a contender in the NFC. Nick Foles has proven to opposing defenses that he is a quarterback to be scared of. The defense has improved. The run game is there.
There is nothing stopping this Philly team to shoot up the standings. I’d expect a 11-5 record for the Eagles.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
In one of the most exciting divisions in the NFL, every team improved this offseason. Unfortunately, the Bucs still don’t have a good quarterback, the Falcons still don’t have a defense, and the Panthers still don’t have receivers.
Cue the Saints.
Adding Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey, and Brandin Cooks to an already strong core should see the Saints head back to the playoffs and just edge out the Panthers for the top spot in this division.
The Saints will struggle to remain atop the standings, but I say they take the division with a 11-5 record.
Wild Card Teams:
Personally, I am in love with this Raiders team. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has put together a ridiculous squad in just a matter of months, and I don’t see how these big names don’t turn into on field success.
Key additions include secondary players and former 49ers Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers, defensive lineman Justin Tuck, Linebackers Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, wide receiver James Jones, and 2014 draft picks Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.
Add those guys to key re-signings of Charles Woodson, Usama Young, and Darren McFadden, and you have a tough squad to compete with at nearly every position.
The Raiders do play in one of the toughest divisions, but after a surprisingly successful 2013-2014 campaign and bringing in a whole batch of new talent to help this great coaching staff, the Raiders are most likely going to be playing with the big dogs after the regular season comes to an end.
Call me crazy, but Cleveland has a solid team in the making.
No, I’m not a Johnny Manziel overhyper, and I don’t even think he’ll start week one. But if you look at the guys that Cleveland has surrounded him and fellow QB Brian Hoyer with, they do have a shot at success.
If Josh Gordon is able to stave off suspension, then they have the number two best receiver in the league.
On defense, they brought in safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Karlos Dansby, and cornerback Isaiah Trufant.
On offense, they brought in starting running back Ben Tate, slot receivers Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins, and fullback Chris Pressley.
This teams offseason moves are very likely far from finished, too. They are definitely a team that could take a look at a guy like Santonio Holmes or Miles Austin to bolster their receiving core, especially if they lose Josh Gordon for the season.
I say Cleveland just squeaks into the declining AFC’s playoff picture with a record of 9-7.
Some may say they got worse, but I say that the Carolina Panthers’ overall change was for the better this offseason. So much so for the better that I think the Panthers will challenge the much improved Saints for the NFC South division title and definitely make the playoffs.
With an offense led by Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams along with a defense led by the BEST LINEBACKER IN THE LEAGUE Luke Kuechly, I just don’t see Carolina failing this year.
Their success last season may have been an over-performance, but the Panthers have tasted blood and want to get back to those playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers:
I want to put the St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals here so bad, but I just can’t. While all 3 of the teams in their division got better,San Francisco did not drastically. San Francisco just has too stacked of a roster to not succeed this season, though.
The additions of Stevie Johnson and Carlos Hyde make the offense more talented and make life easier for the still learning Colin Kaepernick.
Despite some losses on defense like Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and Tarrell Brown, the 49ers still sport a top 10 defense.
This team will definitely struggle this season, but I say they take both games against the Rams and split the series with the Cardinals to edge them out of the wild card race.
While this is a ridiculously early prediction, I believe LeSean McCoy has a great shot at winning the MVP honors next season.
McCoy has been on an absolute tear since he was given the reigns as the first halfback out of the backfield. He has accumulated 4836 yards in the last 4 years and, except for his rookie season and a down year in 2012, has ran for over 1000 yards per season his whole career. He has scored 39 touchdowns in his career.
He is also a huge threat in the pass game; He has accounted for 2127 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through the air in his whole career.
Last year was by far his best, rushing for 1607 yards and 9 scores. He also posted career highs in the passing game, bringing in 539 receiving yards and 2 TDs.
The Eagles are ready to take flight this season and their offseason is part of that. One key move that could help LeSean McCoy bring in the MVP trophy – acquiring Darren Sproles.
Sproles is going to open up the offense for Philly drastically and, having two running backs who are threats in the passing game, Nick Foles should have a field day looking downfield at his options while linebackers and corners rush to cover his halfbacks.
This acquisition will also help McCoy show off his versatility when Foles, Sproles, and himself line up in the shotgun formation. Defenses will scramble to determine if it’s a pass or draw, and that split second of hesitation that the opposing linebackers will have will give McCoy just enough time to take off past them.
McCoy was the best running back in the league last season besides Jamaal Charles, and I believe that he is the biggest candidate for another breakout year as well as leading his team to playoff success.
Mack falls into a ideal situation in Oakland. Their new defense boasts several additions like former 49ers Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers, defensive lineman Justin Tuck, and Linebackers Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley. Also, the Raiders brought back safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young.
With such a stacked defense, the Raiders are a prime location for this star. Mack was considered the best overall prospect and surest NFL talent by some in the entire NFL draft. Mack will probably shine on a team that, despite it’s additions on defense, still only has Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach as notable linebackers.
I would expect Mack to win the Rookie of the Year award because he will make the most impact in the shortest amount of time. Much like Sheldin Richardson (the defensive ROY) last season, Mack can easily change games for his team.
The numbers that Mack will put up are likely to be similar to Buffalo Bills star rookie Kiki Alonso, who put up 87 tackles, 4 picks, and 1 forced fumble. Mack’s influence on the game will be felt immediately by opposing offenses and likely lead Oakland to success.
I see Mack taking over the Oakland defense much like Luke Kuechly did in Carolina. Khalil finally has a chance to make Oakland’s football team almost as scary as it’s fans.
Kuechly won this award last year, and I don’t see him slowing down at all. Him winning the award last year basically sealed the deal as Kuechly being the best linebacker in the league, and possibly the best defensive player overall.
In two years as a Panther, Kuechly has combined for 320 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 6 interceptions. While those numbers don’t scream “best player in the league”, Kuechly has an affect on games that numbers cannot express. His pass coverage is exceptional for a linebacker, and his pass rush is deadly for opposing quarterbacks.
Coach of the Year:
Lovie Smith has already made his impact felt in the Tampa Bay area.
His success in Chicago on both sides of the ball should have Bucs fans drueling for the season to start. His defense for the Bears was always one of the best in the league, and the Bucs have no shortage of talent to help guide that along.
With talent like Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner, and Adrian Clayborne on defense, as well as Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, and Doug Martin on offense, the Bucs are likely to be fighting for a playoff spot in late December – thanks to Lovie Smith.
Super Bowl – New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
The Patriots come into this season with some key additions like Darrell Revis, as well as their young players from last season blossoming into serious weapons.
Guys like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are now worth a cover from defenses, who still have to defend route runner star Julian Edelman and vertical receiver Danny Amendola.
The Patriots have a lot of weapons, but their coaching and heart stand out as X factors over the Denver Broncos.
The Saints also had some key adds like Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey, and Brandin Cooks. Despite cutting a huge chunk of their veteran defense that won them a championship, the Saints are still a force to be reckoned with.
Drew Brees now has more and younger weapons on the wings and a now cut in stone running back committee. With leaders on both sides of the ball like Byrd, Brees, and Colston, the Saints need to be seen as the top dog in the NFC and the number one prospect to avenge themselves from last year and take back the NFC from Seattle.
I expect this to be a close fought battle but, in the end, Tom Brady walks away with his crucial 4th ring. Patriots defeat Saints, 31-27.
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