The NFL writers of ISH come together to bring you a handful of different takes on who will make the playoffs this NFL season – Preseason version.
Max Marcovitch – Atlanta
Daniel Zimmermann – London
1. New Orleans Saints – 13-3
Love the addition of Brandin Cooks, Jairus Byrd, and Champ Bailey. This team brings veteran presence compounded with youth on both sides of the ball. The development of the receiving core now with Kenny Stills, Cooks, Colston, and Graham pose a huge threat to defenses. Brees is, as always, deadly. The RB crew of Ingram, Thomas, and Robinson are once again solid. The defense improved enough. This team is going to storm back into contender form.
2. Green Bay Packers – 11-5
I hate to say it, but the Pack are back. A healthy Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb make them once again scary, and Jordy Nelson is still a Packer. The sudden rise of Eddy Lacy as a top notch running back gives them a running game that they haven’t had in years. The addition of Julius Peppers makes the defense of Peppers and Matthews one of the scariest to all defenses. This squad is in a easy division as well.
3. Seattle Seahawks – 10-6
The Seahawks are my pick for worst superbowl hangover in the last few years, but I cannot bet against them to make the playoffs. They will edge out the niners by one game and the Cardinals by just two. This is the best division in football, despite Sam Bradford’s ACL tear today.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6
The Eagles lost DeSean Jackson but brought in Darren Sproles, so they shouldn’t lose too much in the real life flex position game. The breakout of Nick Foles will continue this season, where he will rank in the top 5 yardage quarterbacks. The defense is alright, and the running back game is very strong. Plus, they are playing the Cowboys and Giants twice this year, so thats already 4 of their 10 wins.
5. Carolina Panthers – 10-6
Panther fans and critics gathered this offseason to whine, but it was not half bad. The Panthers retain a top three defense and a top 5 QB. They also get a healthy Jonathan Stewart, which can’t hurt. I also think Fozzy Whittaker is about to burst onto the scene for this team as a 4th and final running option. The receiving core could be better, but just watch as Kelvin Benjamin is the offensive ROY this year. The Saints vs. Panthers rivalry will never be greater than it will be this year.
6. San Francisco 49ers – 9-7
The Niners made great offseason moves, drafting Carlos Hyde and trading for Stevie Johnson among others. The Niners will be in a whole season battle with the Cardinals and Seahawks for the top spot in this division, but Kap and his krew will edge out the Cards to take the wild card spot.
1. New England Patriots – 13-3
The Pats are back to being the top team in the league, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still being there. They boast the second best offense in the league and a solid defense. The reason these guys edge out Denver is because they just don’t lose. The veterans and explosiveness of this team will storm the AFC.
2. Denver Broncos – 13-3
The Broncos will lose the tie breaker to NE, but still boast the same record. The additions of Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward, Aquib Talib, and DeMarcus Ware make them even better than last season. Manning is Manning. This team is set for a showdown with Brady in the conference finals.
3. Indianapolis Colts – 11-5
The addition of Hakeem Nicks is looking quite worthless and the loss of Donald Brown may hurt. This division is more wide open than many think, and the Colts may be in danger of the Titans sneaking up on them. Still, they win the division and get to rematch the Chiefs in what was a classic game last postseason.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – 9-7
The Bengals suck. But they suck less than the rest of their sucky division, so they get the nod here. Gio Bernard is the X factor here, and he gives this offense something no one else in the division has (unless Johnny Manziel starts, which we are all praying for), which is explosiveness. Dalton is still their QB, though, so look out for Cleveland here.
5. Miami Dolphins – 9-7
I love the addition of Knowshon Moreno, and frankly don’t understand anyone who doesn’t. This guy was a beast last year and will continue his 1000 yard season streak to two. The breakout of Ryan Tannehill has arrived, and the Dolphins will be a true force in the AFC. I would bet on them advancing past the Wild Card round.
6. Kansas City Chiefs – 10-6
People overreact to the Chiefs quiet offseason, but forget that they lost very few key pieces of their defense. The loss of McCluster was swallowed by the addition of De’Anthony Thomas, who is looking like a serious contender for the new Darren Sproles. They play in the toughest division in the AFC but will edge out San Diego for this spot.
Mark Shutley – Atlanta
Jeff Holmes – Charlotte
No surprise here, the Broncos return as the best offense in the league and a much improved defense will only help their cause. The Broncos had potentially the best offseason in terms of free agent signings in the league with Emmanuel Sanders, Demarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib all joining the team. The Chiefs will struggle to score on offense but their elite defense will lead them to a respectable season. The Chargers are a tricky team and a lot depends on the play of Phillip Rivers. I think Phillip Rivers will struggle this year with a tough schedule and the Chargers simply will not be able to keep up. The Raiders had a pathetic excuse for a team last year but a strong offense will bring them back to their former mediocrity and unfortunately they will still get last in the division.
AFC East: New England Patriots: Seed 2
This is a relatively easy prediction due to the fact that the Patriots are consistently one of the best teams in the league and none of the other teams in the division look ready to compete. The Jets simply do not have a good enough defense to win this division and their offense needs work as well. The Dolphins are a young team on the rise but with a questionable run game and defense it is hard to see them even coming close to competing with the Patriots. The Bills will most likely come in second in this division as they are a much improved team but EJ Manuel just isn’t good enough to lead this team to the playoffs. The Patriots will run away with this division.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts: Seed 3
The Colts have a really great roster and the addition of Hakeem Nicks will only improve this potent offense. The only concern I have with the colts is their run game but in a relatively weak division that shouldn’t stop them from dominating this division. The Texans have a good team but they don’t have anyone capable of being a successful starting quarterback in the NFL and they have injury concerns across the board. The Titans are just bad and without Chris Johnson their offense will be hard to watch. The Jaguars are a team on the rise and i wouldn’t be surprised if this team got second in the division but they will only find success if Blake Bortles is the quarterback and they seem adamant on keeping him as a backup which essentially means they are adamant on remaining mediocre. The colts are just too talented to lose this division and I believe Andrew Luck will emerge as one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the league.
There has been a lot of talk surrounding the issues of age on the Steelers roster but the reality is they only have four starters over the age of thirty: Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Heath Miller. Other than those four players this is a relatively young team and after a superb draft which added a lot of speed and youth the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to return to the postseason. Let’s face it the Browns have absolutely no chance at the playoffs this year regardless of who plays quarterback and they will almost undoubtedly finish at the bottom of the division. The Ravens will be decent but a lot of their success will ride on the back of Ray Rice and after a very poor season last year and all the troubles he has had this offseason it is hard to believe that he will have a strong season. The final team in the division and the one most likely to steal a playoff spot from the steelers is the Bengals and while they have a fantastic defense and some young firepower on offense they will simply be outcoached by the steelers and Andy Dalton cant compare to Big Ben.
AFC Wild Cards:
Seed 5: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are a very talented team and they belong in the playoffs. They have firepower in AJ Green and Giovanni Bernard and a truly elite defense. They will win the race for a wild card and could make a deep run in the playoffs if they get their act together in the playoffs and Marvin Lewis learns how to coach during postseason football.
Seed 6: San Diego Chargers
If the Chargers play up to their potential they can be a dangerous team in the playoffs and I think they will have that opportunity but it all depends on whether Phillip Rivers can be a great quarterback or not. Last year he was spectacular and they had a great season but it would be no surprise if he lead them to and 8-8 season. The Chargers have the best shot at getting this spot but it could easily fall to the Dolphins, Texans, or Bills if San Diego isn’t careful.
The Seahawks have looked absolutely dominant in the preseason and it appears they will return to last years incredible form. The “Legion of Boom” will have another strong year while Marshawn Lynch will return to bullying opposing defenses. The 49ers have looked a little off this preseason but i expect them to shape up in time for the opener and be solid again. I don’t think the 49ers will be able to keep up with the dominant seahawks this year. The Cardinals have a good team but with the loss of Darnell Dockett I don’t anticipate another ten win season. The loss of Sam Bradford for the Rams has essentially ended any possibility of a good season in St. Louis and the Seahawks will dominate this division.
This is another super competitive division but the Saints passing attack is one of the best in the league and a much improved defense will make them a very dangerous team. The Carolina Panthers will have an elite defense and a strong run game but the pass game will be absent from their offense and it will be hard for them to keep up with teams like New Orleans and Atlanta who have more offensive firepower. Atlanta had a bad year last year but I see them having a very strong rebound and another strong season that could end up in the playoffs. The Buccaneers are a much improved team but the other teams in this division are far better and will keep them out of the playoff hunt.
This Division is the most competitive in the league but I think Chicago will come out on top. With the best wide receiver duo in the league and a stellar running back Chicago will have a top five offense in the league. The Packers will come second in this division due to a complete lack of defense. The Lions are a polarizing team and could have a great year or a terrible season. They have a lot of firepower on offense and defense its just a matter of putting together the final pieces of the puzzle and being well coached which hasn’t happened in past years. The Vikings are still a good team with Adrian Peterson but a tough schedule will ultimately be their downfall.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles: Seed 4
The Eagles offense will simply be too much for opposing teams to handle and they will run away with this division. The Redskins have quarterback issues but will still be a strong team. The Giants are most likely going to have another awful season because I don’t think Eli Manning will be able to return to his former glory. Dallas has no defense whatsoever but one of the best offenses in the league. They will be a part of some fun games and many of their competitions will turn in to shootouts due to their lack of ability to stop opposing offenses. Ultimately Dallas’ lack of defense will lead to a 6-10 season. The Eagles will have a great year but I don’t anticipate LeSean McCoy having as great a year as some people have predicted. The loss of deep threat Desean Jackson and the addition of speedy tailback Darren Sproles will limit LeSeans deep runs and opportunities. The Eagles will still have the best offense in the division and will win by a substantial margin.
Seed 5: San Francisco 49ers
This is still a dominant team that would compete for the second seed if they were in a division without Seattle but they are and therefore they will have to settle for a wild card. San Francisco will still compete for the NFC title when the playoffs come around but the Seahawks will keep them in the wild card spot and not a division seed,
Any team with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Matt Ryan is going to be great and Atlanta is no exception. They have enough firepower to make a deep run in the postseason and I anticipate them doing so. A tough schedule puts them in the Wild Card race but odds are they will find their way into the playoffs.
Hank Stichter – Charlotte
1) New Orleans Saints (13-3)
New Orleans had a few issues last season, mainly on defense, and they seemed to fix those this year. The offensive juggernaut that they were last season will roll on, recording yet another perfect season at home. Losses will come at Carolina, Chicago, and Tampa Bay late in the season. Playing teams like the Lions and Packers should be easier for the Saints then most others, considering the lack of secondary on both squads. After barely losing the division last season to Carolina, the Saints will be back on top this season.
2) Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Seattle will be pretty much the same team they were last season, a powerhouse defense with an offense good enough to put up more points than the opponent. They will prove themselves early with home wins against Green Bay and Denver within the first three weeks. Losses at San Diego, Kansas City, Carolina, and Arizona will give them one more loss than they had last season, and this one loss will be the one that costs them the number one seed. Despite playing 11 teams that had eight or more wins last season, the Seahawks will be one of top teams in the NFL once again.
3) Chicago Bears (11-5)
Chicago’s strong offense and favorable defense will help win their division over two offensive powerhouses in the Lions and Packers. Last season the Bears had one of the worst front seven’s in all of football, despite a very strong secondary. After improving this flaw in the offseason, the Bears should be back on track. Wins against the Panthers, Saints, 49ers, Packers, and Lions, will show that this team is well worthy of their playoff spot. Bringing down this team will be a challenge, but they will still drop games to New England, Green Bay, Detroit, New York (yes the Jets, it’s shocking I know), and Tampa Bay. Even though a lot of heads are turned towards Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, or Calvin Johnson and the Lions, the Bears will come out of the NFC North.
4) Washington Redskins (10-6)
One of my biggest surprises in the postseason comes here with the Redskins. After signing several key guys in free agency, the Redskins will have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, making up for their weak secondary. The offense should be back on track with a healthy RGIII who will have help from good receivers and a star tailback. Losing an early shocker to Houston will be an eye opener for Washington, and will help lead them to a successful season, much like the start to the Panthers’ season last year. Losses to Seattle, Philadelphia, Arizona, San Francisco, and Indianapolis, will make for a tight competition for this spot between the Skins and the Eagles, but the Redskins will record one more win then the unlucky Eagles. The Redskins are on the rise, and they are a team not to be underestimated.
5) Carolina Panthers (11-5)
The Panthers will make the playoffs again, just not as the division champs as they did last season. This a team that will have both quality wins and tough losses, but will still end up as one of the best teams in America. Losses to New Orleans, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Green Bay, will get them started off on the wrong foot, but winning eight of their last nine games will make them one of the favorites going into the postseason. Expect to see the Panthers perform as they did last season, but maybe Cam on the ground a tad bit more.
6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
The NFC South will be the hardest division in football this season, as the third team out of this division winds up in the playoffs. After the best offseason in the NFL, the Buccaneers are ready to win. They will be led by my pick for defensive player of the year in LaVonte David, and newly added quarterback, Josh McCown. Losses to Carolina, New Orleans, Washington, Atlanta, and Cincinnati will make it a close race between them and the Eagles, but the Eagles’ lack of defense will be their downfall. Even though the Bucs aren’t who most people would pick for this spot, I certainly don’t see any argument against it, and plenty of arguments for it.
1) New England Patriots (14-2)
New England has a fairly easy schedule for a team of their caliber. Sure they have to play teams like the Bears or the Broncos, but they also play the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins all twice. The Dolphins have the potential to be good, but they have yet to capitalize so far since the Tannehill era began. Losses at Green Bay and San Diego will be the lone losses for the underestimated New England Patriots this season. After the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Pats have arguably one of the top secondary’s in the league. That combined with simply Tom Brady alone makes for one damn good football team. The Patriots will post the best record in the NFL this season.
2) Denver Broncos (12-4)
The Broncos had one of the most disappointing Super Bowl showings in NFL history, after having one of the best regular seasons of all time. This season’s regular season shouldn’t be too different, other than the competition. Tough losses against San Diego, Arizona, Seattle, and New England will ruin the perfect season that some Broncos’ fans have in mind. Denver starts out the season rough, with games against Indianapolis, Kansas City, Seattle, and Arizona in their first four games. Despite games against San Fran, San Diego, and Cincinnati later on, the Broncos have fairly easy competition for later half of the season. Denver is one of the few teams that are a lock for the playoffs this season.
3) Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
The Colts are so lucky to be playing in a division where they play the Jaguars, Texans, and Titans all twice in a season. With the development of young talent the past few seasons, the Colts should just now be starting a string of very good years. Losses to the Broncos, Patriots, Texans, and Bengals will knock the Colts down to the number three seed in the AFC. The Colts post Manning, have been a lot of young talent but nothing more than that yet, but this should be a breakout year for Andrew Luck, and a talented offense. As for the defense, it needs some work but it will just be good enough to get them the number two seed.
4) Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Bengals have one of the most stacked teams in the league, but they have never done anything in the postseason in recent years. Last season they were a top ten team in passing, and top five in both passing and rushing defense, and they are for sure one of the more underrated teams in the NFL. They play a tough schedule though, and that will mean losses to New Orleans, New England, Denver, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. If the Bengals can get even just one win against any of the Saints, Patriots, or Broncos, it will be a big boost to the overall confidence of the team. The few fans that the Bengals have will be hoping that Andy Dalton will not just make the playoffs but lead them somewhere in the post season.
5) San Diego Chargers (11-5)
The Chargers always seem to be the fun spoilers for good teams in the NFL. Last season they were the lone team to win at Denver, and they also happened to beat Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Kansas City twice. But they are also the fun for weaker teams, as they lost to the Texans, Raiders, and Redskins, all teams with four or less wins last season. This offseason they didn’t lose anyone and added a few key pieces, which should make them a more consistent team this upcoming season. Losses to the Broncos, Dolphins, Chiefs, Cardinals, and Ravens will rob them of the division title but they will still get in as a wild card. The Chargers will be one of the teams to beat this season, and they will make it a close race with Denver for the division title.
6) Houston Texans (10-6)
Ok please just hear me out before you declare this completely ludicrous. So as the worst team in the league last season, the Texans have now acquired one of the easiest schedules the NFL has to offer, not to mention they will play the Jags and Titans twice each. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are healthy, and they have young stars in DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney. They also have arguably the best defensive player in the league in JJ Watt. The Chiefs were almost exactly the same story last season, so why not the Texans? Losses to the Colts, Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Eagles, and Cowboys will make it a close race between them and the Steelers for the last spot, but the Texans will wind up on top. Houston is not as talented as some of the other teams missing out on the post season, but they are simply positioned better.
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