So much has changed since my last prediction. Moves that were not expected. Injuries that have crippled franchises and already put their whole season in doubt. Minnesota and Dallas lost their biggest pieces and Philadelphia traded their projected starting QB away (which probably improved their chances) It could change things in the post season.
The Patriots (AFC East Winner) are still the class of the East. Brady will get 12 games to exact revenge on the NFL. They can start at 2-2 and still be in a strong position. Keeping Gronk healthy is key, as always, but even with Martellus Bennett as the No.2 TE they should be ok without Gronk for a few games. How will a Chandler Jones’ less defense look? Who knows but you should never doubt Bill Belichick.
The Steelers (AFC North Winner) who are the popular vote to win the Super Bowl this season. It’s not hard to see why. They have replaced The Broncos at the top of the AFC alongside New England. Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell (Only for 13 games) will frighten any team and their secondary showed signs of improvement at the end of last season and should continue to improve.
The Jaguars (AFC South Winner) who continue to develop as a team. The young core on offense comes together with Allen Hurns/Robinson having great years again with Julius Thomas as a safety net for future MVP Blake Bortles. A much improved and young defense should see them have more than enough to best a weak AFC South. They have the least question marks, good continuity and a great head coach. They will be serious Super Bowl winning contenders in 2 years but a play-off appearance will be huge for them this year and rewards The Jaguars patience with Gus Bradley.
The Chiefs (AFC West Winner) edge out The Raiders. It was a tough choice between the two but Andy Reid’s Chiefs have the edge in players. Alex Smith and Derek Carr were even but The Chiefs have more depth and the experience of big games. They have been waiting for a chance to surpass The Broncos and without Peyton Manning this is the year they do it.
The Jets (AFC East Wildcard) who are a much improved team who were unlucky to miss out last year. A solid offense should be more than enough for the defense to carry to the play-off and play during Wildcard Weekend.
The Raiders (AFC West Wildcard) with Derek Carr developing. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as a solid WR pair. A much improved Khalil Mack led defense sees the 14 year playoff drought end and the Raiders back in the play-offs. It was hard not to put The Broncos here but they have too many doubts at QB. Siemian and Lynch have played 1 career game between them and despite an elite defense they miss out. The Raiders have more proven and rounded talent and it gives them the edge.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (Home Field Advantage)
2. New England Patriots (First Round Bye)
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. New York Jets
6. Oakland Raiders
The Giants (NFC East) win the division. As is always the case with the NFC East it will be a brutal, close race between The Redskins and The Giants. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr have enough (with some solid defensive support) to tip that race in their favour. The Cowboys are out of the race without Romo because they still need to prove they can win without him.
The Packers (NFC North), hand them the division now. Rodgers, Nelson, Lacy, Matthews and McCarthy. The reasons why are simple. The Bears are their biggest challengers after The Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater to a nasty Dislocated Knee and Torn ACL injury. The Vikings were legitimate contenders to retain their division crown but without Bridgewater (and with Sam Bradford) it is hard to see them putting up a big fight for the division. They have Adrian Peterson and a good young core on defense who should keep them in it for a while but Bradford is, at this point, a draft bust and a less than average starting QB.
The Panthers (NFC South) despite a brutal last second loss in the kickoff game they are still the best team in their division. Last years MVP had a rough game but they will not face a better defense all year (unless they play themselves). Cam Newton has Kelvin Benjamin back who will be a huge boost for the offense. With Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr all able to contribute. The Buccaneers with be the biggest threat, but they are a year away from contending, but they should win it.
The Cardinals (NFC West) who edged out The Seahawks in the toughest call for a division winner. The Cardinals and The Seahawks have been the NFC standard for the last 3 years. The Cardinals edge it. They have slightly more continuity and Chandler Jones will help their defense. Bruce Arians is a winner, who wins with bold, huge risk calls and the team are totally bought into his ideas. The continuity was the edge.
The Seahawks (NFC West) make the playoffs. Easily. They will probably have a better record than The Giants but still be playing Wildcard weekend. The loss of Marshawn Lynch was big, he was the heart of the offense who have serious doubts with their O-Line. Russell Wilson is talented, an outsider for the MVP and their defense is talented enough to get into the play-offs.
The Redskins (NFC East) who get in the play-offs by virtue of not really having anyone else who are legitimate contenders. The Buccaneers will be the closest to The Skins and a potential surprise package (Someone like The Lions/Bears) Jay Gruen has finally imparted his vision on the team and without the distraction of RGIII and Kirk Cousins quietly and effectively performing it was an easy decision to put the Skins as a sixth seed.
1. Cardinals (Home Field Advantage)
2. Packers (First Round Bye)