A Debacle

The NFL Hall of Fame Game is the unofficial kick off for the NFL season and the start of the NFL pre-season. A day after celebrating the legends of the games being enshrined in immortality in Canton, Ohio, two NFL teams take the field next door to celebrate the inductees. This year it was The Packers Vs The Colts, with Brett Favre (Falcons, Packers, Jets, Vikings) put in the Hall for his time in Green Bay, with Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy in the hall of their contributions in Indianapolis.

This year we would have seen a starter! This is a rare opportunity in the HoF game. Andrew Luck was scheduled to play a series at QB and would have been good for The Colts fans to see their injured Franchise QB return to action, even in a meaningless game. Yet, everyone at the game and the new members of the Hall of Fame were denied a game. It was not the weather or a crisis but the paint, used to paint logos and markings on the field, ended this celebratory game. The paint congealed and was rubbery making it dangerous for the players to play and with nothing at stake both teams were ok with the cancellation. It was a debacle that the NFL didn’t need. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t need this setback. He is popular with the owners, though Tom Benson and Robert Kraft may not be amongst them, his image to the NFL fans is at breaking point. He is almost universally hated by NFL fans, whether rightly or wrongly, and this will hurt his time as commissioner as the fans get another stick to beat him with.

We have to wait another week for the NFL to return. This would have been a nice occasion and a good opportunity for players on the bubble to impress their head coaches. Now we have four weeks of mundane, back up filled games to fill the time until Super Bowl 50 Part 2 in Week 1 with The Panthers facing The Broncos again.

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NFL – Divison predictions

NFL training camps are in full swing as the season draws near. The season opener is the Superbowl repeat as a Manning-less Denver Broncos take on Cam Newton and a revenge hungry Carolina Panthers. We will have a full preview of the kick off game during the final week of build up to the NFL season. Now we try and predict divisions for the upcoming season.

Italics indicate a play-off berth for the team.

AFC:

AFC South 
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonsville Jaguars
Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans

The Colts (with a rejuvenated Andrew Luck) win the division and return to the play offs as a division winner. They have had problems with their Offensive Line but Luck, starting 16 games, has proven he can overcome this. IF this happens then they are winning a tough AFC South with a strong threat from the young upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, who also make the playoffs. Houston have a transition year with a new, unproven QB in Brock Osweiler and their new look offense for a more serious challenge in 2017 with JJ Watt spear heading a strong defense. Tennessee are still missing key pieces on defense to compete right now but they are growing stronger as they develop Mariota and a young team to challenge in a few years. However the division should be wide open and a widely entertaining affair with lots of intrigue and growing talent over the whole division.

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns

The AFC North once again provides multiple play-off teams. The Steelers return to the top of the division and win the AFC North securing a home play-off game and potentially home field advantage, if key pieces remain healthy and Le’Veon Bell returns in good form, even if their secondary remains a concern. It is hard to trust The Bengals but they are still good enough to be a play-off team. Their biggest loss is Hue Jackson but three pronged attack of Dalton, Eifert and Green should be more than enough to see them in the play-offs and we watch the cycle repeat again. Baltimore should be much improved with Joe Cool back under centre it should give the Ravens a lift. With Steve Smith back for one last run I wouldn’t put it past them to be the team that upset this prediction and make the play-offs. The Browns years of basement dwelling hasn’t changed anyone’s opinion of the bottom of the barrel franchise but they should improve with the aforementioned Hue Jackson taking the reins as head coach. He did a good job with a terrible Raiders team in his one season as a head coach and his time with the in-state rival Bengals did no harm to his stock. They will be not terrible, they will be better but they are still going to be last in their division because this is a long term project.
AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills

If there was a year to dethrone the Patriots this is probably the year but I think they still win the division, despite having Tom Brady for only 12 games, Bill Belichick is best Head Coach in NFL history and he can survive four games with Brady with the heir, Jimmy Garoppolo under centre. Even if they go .500 in the four games they are in good shape. The Jets pose the biggest threat with strong defense and a mistake limiting offense. With The Amish Rifle, Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed they should be a threat to The Patriots and like the Ravens could crash the Play-off party. The Dolphins are always unpredictable. The year they are meant to be great, they fall apart. However, a new head coach will help with a clever offensive mind (Adam Gase) should help them offensively. It could be a make or break year for the perennial break out star, Ryan Tannehill, especially if the Dolphins are drafting high in the draft in Spring. The Bills are also as unpredictable as the Dolphins, mostly due to head coach Rex Ryan, Ryan has a reputation for promising the world and massively underwhelming in his promises. He rubbed Mario Williams the wrong way last season and his scheme is one that takes adjustment too. If they are to succeed the offense needs to contribute as this is the one thing that holds Ryan’s teams back.
AFC West
Oakland Raiders
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
San Diego Chargers

The first ‘upset’ if you will as The Oakland Raiders win the AFC West. With Amari Cooper, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack they have three legitimate and experienced stars. They all need to keep taking the next step and they could break their play-off drought with a young team. Kansas City Chiefs will be a team who miss out on the play-offs on a tiebreaker, which went in their favour last year, they are not a bad team, Alex Smith is a solid QB who could start for any team in the right circumstances. The Chiefs have no real identity. They don’t stand out to viewers. Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin are key weapons for their quickly improving offense but a tough division and schedule (AFC/NFC South) is the difference. The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos are an unknown quantity on offense. Sans Peyton Manning has led to the Broncos scrambling after the heir signed with The Texans. Their Defense was historic last year and they are the key but in the NFL it’s the teams with the best QBs that rise to the top and that is their biggest question mark. Mark Sanchez will start the season but he will be replaced by Paxton Lynch once they are out of the playoff picture. The San Diego Chargers they are now the holders of the longest city drought in American Sports. The Chargers are unlucky. They have stars, they have great players but it never seems to come together. Philip Rivers should have won a Super Bowl but has always had something missing around him. They have had trouble signing third overall pick Joey Bosa to his rookie contract and it has put doubt, once again, into the upper levels on management in San Diego. Keenan Allen is a legitimate star WR and The Chargers are a better team than finishing last in their division but they always seem to be unable to progress.

NFC:
NFC South
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints

The Panthers and Cam Newton overcome the loss of Josh Norman with a better offense with Devin Funchess having a good year and the return of Kelvin Benjamin in a division full of offense and little defense. They win the division for the third consecutive year and are the sole NFC South team in the play-off. The Buccaneers challenge the Panthers at the top of the division with their basketball team offense but it is a year too soon for Jameis Winston and the Bucs who may be a bigger challenger for the division next year. Atlanta Falcons are an improving team but they have allowed big parts of their offensive to leave. Roddy White was a solid WR2 to complement Julio Jones. Free Agent Signing Mohammed Sanu may fill the gap but is not a sure thing. They should be improved with Dan Quinn working on the defensive side of the ball. Matt Ryan is a solid QB and that is a precious commodity in the NFL. New Orleans Saints are a team in transition. Drew Brees can still be a great QB on his day but The Saints are a team that are rebuilding. They need to get younger and are in the process of doing this. They are too far away to be a contender for the play-offs but Drew Brees keeps them relevant. They need another blue chip prospect on defense to really start moving forward.

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

The Packers will be in a for a fight to re-gain the NFC North Title. They have Aaron Rodgers, who is still in his prime, Jordy Nelson has returned and Mike McCarthy always finds a way to get contributions out of lesser known stars. The Vikings will just miss out to their biggest rivals after winning the division last year. Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson always give them a chance of being one of the best offenses in the league. The Vikings have a head coach who suits them perfectly in Mike Zimmer and with young, athletic playmakers on defense they should return to the Play-offs in 2016 after a shootout at the top of the division. The Bears are a solid team with Jay Cutler at the reins at QB. Adam Gase will be a big loss for Cutler, who finally produced a decent year. John Fox should have The Bears playing better again this year with Kevin White making his delayed rookie season. They are still behind The Vikings and Packers but they are moving in the right direction. The Lions are the Browns of The NFC. The second things look like they are improving the hope quickly disappears. Once considered to have one of the top teams in the league. The inability to keep star players has The Lions, once again, languishing at the bottom of the NFC North. Last off season they lost Suh, Fairley and their defensive stars. This off season they lost one of the leagues biggest stars Calvin Johnson Jr., who cited The Lions declining performances as a main reason for his retirement. Stafford is an average QB with a massive arm and they could be ok with Ebron and Tate III but they have too many holes and will be drafting high next year.

NFC East
Washington Redskins
New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys
Philadelphia Eagles

The East shouldn’t disappoint as a widely competitive division for the past few years. The Washington Redskins win the division again. Solid QB play from Kirk Cousins and the addition of Cornerback Josh Norman should be the difference in the NFC East. Typically, this division is won by the healthiest team and The Redskins have a team that has proven it can remain healthy. The New York Giants will be improved as the G-Men threaten The Redskins for supremacy in the East. Eli Manning with Odell Beckham Jr and a healthy Victor Cruz should give them a good chance but they will fall short with question marks  on their improving defense. They should be challengers to make a deep run in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys they always seem to be plundered by injuries and doubts over Tony Romo’s ability to remain upright for 16 games is a legitimate question mark. An improved running game should help take the pressure off but they are a team that have always fallen short when the pressure of expectation gets to them. The Philadelphia Eagles finish last in the division but they have some hope for the future. Carson Wentz will need time to adjust to the NFL after only ever playing NCAA Division II football at North Dakota State. He should be good in the future but right now the rebuild is in full swing with Doug Pederson.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers

The most difficult division to decide in the NFL. Three teams with legitimate play-off hopes and two with legitimate super bowl hopes. The Cardinals once again edge out their west coast rivals to win the NFC West. One of the best head coaches in the NFL with a strong core of players, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones on Defense and Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and David Johnson on Offense both sides of the ball have a legitimate core that could see them contend deep into January. The Seahawks come close and make the post season but miss out on winning the division again. Way too many questions on the offensive line and running back to make them division winners. A Terrible offensive line and a Marshawn Lynch-less running game shouldn’t be a major problem for a great defense and Russell Wilson at QB but it is enough to tip the balance in the division winner debate. The Los Angeles Rams return to LA with a number of solid and unspectacular offensive weapons with the added intrigue of Rookie QB, Jared Goff. They have a great defense and they know how to win games in the division at home. Questions remain about facilities and offensive consistency but another season around .500 awaits for Jeff Fisher’s Rams. The 49ers are still a mess. They missed their Super Bowl window and they have fallen apart since. Jim Tomsula last a year as Head Coach and has been replaced with Chip Kelly with a chance to rebuild The Niners in his image. The Niners lack any real star players outside of Navorro Bowman and are likely to have a top 5 pick next year as they have no chance of competing with any of the three teams in their division.

Projected Playoffs based on these rankings. (Sorted by Alphabetical Order)

AFC:
Bengals
Colts
Jaguars
Patriots
Raiders
Steelers

NFC:
Cardinals
Packers
Panthers
Redskins
Seahawks
Vikings

Top 5 Draft Picks: (Alphabetical Order)
Browns
Eagles
49ers
Saints
Titans