We take a timeout from our Top 500 songs countdown to bring you an annual tradition. As the NFL season begins later tonight, it's my honor to bring you my usually way off-base predictions of how the season will unfold. Always remember, and never forget, do not take this information and perform wagering in any way, shape or form unless you are comfortable losing all of your investments. And you can't blame me, either. :)
1) New York Giants (9-7): The NFC East shaping up to be an ugly division. The one (healthy) veteran quarterback in the mix is the default choice to win it. It's the Giants' turn. A little shake up at the top, a healthy season for the receivers, and some better play from the defensive front seven is the formula. But again, to win the East, 9-7 is about all you'll need, and, yes, the Giants will lose at Dallas Sunday.
2) Philadelphia Eagles (7-9): I like the Doug Pederson hire. He will bring some stability to the organization as a no-nonsense, quiet but forceful coach with good offensive thinking. The Eagles will also be able to breathe in the second half of games this season. The jury is big-time out on Carson Wentz. Their defense needs to win a few games for them, literally, or special teams, in order to gut out seven wins.
3) Washington Redskins (6-10): Kirk Cousins won't like that. Last year the Redskins won a couple of key games late, grabbed the division (kinda) and folded against Green Bay. Injuries will play a role this season, and Josh Norman, by week six, will be on Fox NFL Sunday openly questioning why he left Carolina. Awkward.
4) Dallas Cowboys (5-11): Remember when the Detroit Lions went 0-16 in 2008? Yeah, they went 4-0 that preseason. I put zero stock into Dak Prescott's spelling Tony Romo due to August success. I do think, however, he's worth a try at eventually replacing Romo, who is effectively done. Dallas is forced to hit fast forward on their late-decade post-Romo reboot this season, and, Ezekiel Elliott will likely be injured as often as Darren McFadden. Good luck with that.
1) Green Bay Packers (11-5): Jordy Nelson is healthy, Eddie Lacy is slimmed, and Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers. I'm concerned for Packer fans about their defense. If it can improve, you are allowed to smell Super Bowl. Hard to believe, but this is Rodgers' 12th season in the league, so his window, honestly, is starting to work towards the "closed" position.
2) Chicago Bears (8-8): Jeremy Langford. Loved what he did when Matt Forte was hurt last year, and think he can be the best running back in the division this year (GASP!---more later.....). But who does Jay Cutler throw to? On top of that, how do they make sure Cutler doesn't keep throwing to the other team?
3) Detroit Lions (6-10): The Lions will start horribly, win four late-season games, cost a team a playoff berth, and the Jim Caldwell era will be over. Matthew Stafford may be the most frustratingly good quarterback so far this century. He can throw for 350 yards, help your fantasy team, and never win a postseason game.
4) Minnesota Vikings (4-12): Until Teddy Bridgewater's injury, I saw Minnesota fighting for a playoff berth again. But now? Eight in the box, focus on AP, limit his yardage, and let Shaun Hill (or Mark Sanchez) beat you. Ahem. And, at age 31, it's past time for Peterson's to begin his downhill career slide. Beautiful new stadium in Minneapolis, bad year to open it.
1) Carolina Panthers (11-5): Cam Newton comes down to earth some this year, but still plays well. To me, the team's fortunes this year revolve around the front seven defensively. You've got to get pressure on Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and an improving Jameis Winston, and that's just in your division. They'll be good enough to repeat.
2) Atlanta Falcons (10-6): Right behind them, breathing down the Panthers' necks, the only team to beat them in the regular season last year. The best thing that ever happened to Julio Jones will be Mohamed Sanu. He was an unsung hero the past two years for Cincinnati, and the Bengals will miss him greatly. Dan Quinn has to get a better defensive performance out of his crew this year; he certainly has the mind to do it.
3) New Orleans Saints (8-8): Drew Brees, like Tom Brady, is insane. When will he ever hit the wall? How much is he looking forward to going back to San Diego to torch their bad defense? Oh, and speaking of bad defenses, here's the Saints! They'll be playing for the postseason in Week 17 in Atlanta.
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Tampa Bay is a year away. Brees hits the wall in 2017, and the Bucs are ready to move up the division. Can't see them winning more than two division games, and will be shocked if Doug Martin stays healthy all season.
1) Seattle Seahawks (11-5): Nobody is talking about Russell Wilson. Again. And that's fine by him. He's got the big contract, a beautiful new bride, and a running back who speaks. I really like Thomas Rawls. Staying healthy, he'll bring a jolt to the offense a la Beast Mode in the Wild Card Game against then Super Bowl champion New Orleans in early 2010. The defense is still great, but it's another year older. That window is starting to close, too.
2) Arizona Cardinals (9-7): There's no way Carson Palmer throws for another 35 touchdowns this year. Many are picking the Cards to head to the Super Bowl. I just can't see it. They tasted it in the NFC Championship last year, then were exposed. They start the soft fall back to earth this year.
3) Los Angeles Rams (6-10): Todd Gurley and a good defense (MVP Aaron Donald??) won't be enough simply because they don't have a quarterback. As of now. Jared Goff needs work. A lot of work. I hope he succeeds, but I don't think it will be this year.
4) San Francisco 49ers (3-13): The 2017 NFL Draft will be in Philadelphia, and it will be a one-two California punch in the draft order next April, as the 49ers, still on oxygen masks after trying to grasp Chip Kelly's offense all season, will pick second. Here's another case of beautiful new stadium, putrid team on the field. At least wi-fi will let you post to Instagram quickly at halftime when you want your friends to see you're on your fourth beer trying to forget how far the Niners have fallen.
1) New England Patriots (12-4): Brady, Belichick, Gronk, yeah, they're fine. Just think, Brady's body will be four weeks healthier than every one of his playoff opponents.
2) New York Jets (9-7): This is an interesting bunch that surprised me last year, including in Week 17 when they absolutely choked themselves out of a playoff bid. But I'm a huge Todd Bowles fan. There will be more cheers than boos in Met Life this year.
3) Miami Dolphins (5-11): Who is Miami? Honestly, they haven't had an identity, much less a leader, since Dan Marino sailed into the sunset. Talk to any Dolphins fan about the wonder years of Jay Fiedler, the brief moment of excitement with Chad Pennington winning the Brady-less division in 2008. How 'bout that Ryan Tannehill? This is the franchise that had a "No-Name Defense" and The Perfect Season six years into their existence. Today? They're fighting the Marlins for respect on South Beach, behind the Heat.
4) Buffalo Bills (5-11): The Rex Ryan era will quietly come to an end this season, Buffalo will again miss the playoffs, and Western New York will wonder why the Bills gave so much money to Tyrod Taylor.
1) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Imagine if Martavis Bryant could play. Yikes! If the Steeler defense can take care of business, they can run away with a division with the Browns, a Ravens team struggling to return, and a Bengals team on the decline.
2) Cincinnati Bengals (8-8): The Bengals have a good enough defense. The season will rest on whether Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill can become an upper-tier 1-2 punch in the running game, because Andy Dalton to A.J. Green isn't enough, especially with Bengal fans holding their breath over Green's health in the preseason. They're going to miss Sanu and Marvin Jones.
3) Baltimore Ravens (6-10): Last year was a bit of an aberration in that I believe they would have been playoff caliber had there not been so many injuries. The Ravens will not be so beat up by the injury bug this year, but what will be shown this year is that, right now, the team isn't just that good compared to the past several years and thus, no postseason again.
4) Cleveland Browns (3-13): I like Hue Jackson. I hated it when the Raiders showed him the door after a season. But when you're hired as head coach of an NFL franchise and your best players are a tight end no one knew about a year ago and your left tackle, who is excellent, but hasn't sniffed a playoff berth in his decade in the league, what can you really do? They'll have the third pick in the NFL draft.
1) Indianapolis Colts (10-6): The Colts are in a perfect position. The media is filled with Jacksonville talk (huh??) and forgetting that Andrew Luck spent almost the entire 2015 season hurt. A healthy Luck will do wonders for the Colts, but they will tie for the division title with.....
2) Houston Texans (10-6): Brock to DeAndre? Get used to it. There's no reason why the Texans offense can't finally now be, well, at least close to as good as their defense can be. Hey, they may even make the playoffs and beat a team not named the Cincinnati Bengals!
3) Tennessee Titans (6-10): I'm more on the Titans' bandwagon than the Jaguars. It's a lonely place to be. :) But I think Derrick Henry will not fall into the mode of other recent Alabama running backs in the NFL, and is a definitive candidate for Rookie of The Year, so much so that DeMarco Murray will be traded just before the deadline back to the Dallas Cowboys. So there. :)
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): Everybody calm down here. Two years ago we had the Jags in Los Angeles and fans couldn't name seven players on the roster. Blake Bortles showed some signs, but his division opponents have either improved, or gotten healthy. We'll see how much better he can be this year. The Jacksonville defense will be the unit that proves this prediction wrong.
1) Denver Broncos (10-6): Another divisional tie, as, when you have questions at quarterback following a Super Bowl win, you tend to struggle. Remember Bubby Brister, circa 1999? The reason Denver tops the division for me is, duh, defense. That part hasn't changed much. They'll be just fine.
2) Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Until they get back to at least the AFC Championship, there's a reason that Kansas City under Andy Reid has had success, but hardly any print, hardly any talk. Even with the long winning streak last year; it was written off as a must just to make it to the playoffs, as it was. Alex Smith continues to be serviceable while the running attack and defense will finally give Reid another shot at the Big Game.
3) Oakland Raiders (7-9): I begin my 44th season as a Raiders fan with very, very low expectations. I'm seeing prognosticators everywhere bumping us upward, some even saying we'll win the division.
Derek Carr is better than David Carr. How much better? I'm still waiting to see something that makes me think "elite". I love Amari Cooper, and I was (so far) totally wrong on Khalil Mack. But we'd have to sweep either Denver or KC to win the division, and that's not happening.
4) San Diego Chargers (3-13): Via tiebreaker, with the first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chargers select a really good player who won't hold out on them! :)
NFC DIVISION WINNERS: NY Giants, Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle
NFC WILD CARDS: Atlanta, Arizona
NFC WILD CARD: Seattle d. Arizona, Atlanta d. NY Giants
NFC DIVISIONAL: Seattle d. Carolina, Green Bay d. Atlanta
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Green Bay d. Seattle
AFC DIVISION WINNERS: New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver
AFC WILD CARDS: Kansas City, Houston
AFC WILD CARD: Houston d. Denver, Kansas City d. Indianapolis
AFC DIVISIONAL: New England d. Houston, Kansas City d. Pittsburgh
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Kansas City d. New England
SUPER BOWL LI: Green Bay over Kansas City
Yes, my friends, everything old is new again as Aaron Rodgers finds Richard Rodgers midway through the fourth quarter, then the Green Bay defense forces an Alex Smith interception to seal a 27-19 win over the Chiefs. Vince Lombardi somewhere smiles and the Packers win their fifth Super Bowl championship.