10 Things- The 2016 NFL Season: Projected Standings and Bold Predictions
The NFL season begins on Thursday with a Super Bowl rematch, as the defending champion Denver Broncos take on the Carolina Panthers. This past offseason saw the departure of legends, the arrival of new faces, and the suspension of a certain goat. As this year has already shown outside of the sports world, 2016 promises to be a season of surprises.
From start to finish, here are my predictions for the NFL season's standings and projected winners, as well as 10 bold statements for the upcoming season.
(z- first round bye and home-field advantage; y- first round bye; x- division winner; w- wild card)
z- New England Patriots- 14-2
Miami Dolphins- 9-7
New York Jets- 7-9
Buffalo Bills- 6-10
y- Pittsburgh Steelers- 12-4
Cincinnati Bengals- 9-7
Baltimore Ravens- 8-8
Cleveland Browns- 2-14
x- Houston Texans- 11-5
w- Indianapolis Colts- 10-6
Jacksonville Jaguars- 9-7
Tennessee Titans- 4-12
x- Oakland Raiders- 10-6
w- Kansas City Chiefs- 10-6
Denver Broncos- 9-7
San Diego 3-13
x- Dallas Cowboys- 10-6
Washington Redskins- 9-7
New York Giants- 9-7
Philadelphia Eagles- 5-11
z- Green Bay Packers- 13-3
Chicago Bears- 9-7
Minnesota Vikings- 6-10
x- Carolina Panthers- 12-4
w- New Orleans Saints 10-6
Atlanta Falcons- 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 6-10
y- Arizona Cardinals- 12-4
w- Seattle Seahawks- 12-4
Los Angeles Rams- 8-8
San Francisco 49ers- 5-11
AFC Wild Card:
3 Kansas City vs. 6 Indianapolis
KC 31, IND 24
4 Oakland vs 5 Houston
OAK 23, HOU 17 (OT)
NFC Wild Card:
3 Carolina vs 6 New Orleans
CAR 42, NO 21
4 Dallas vs 5 Seattle
SEA 28, DAL 10
AFC Divisional Round:
1 New England vs 4 Houston
NE 34, HOU 17
2 Pittsburgh vs 3 Kansas City
PIT 17, KC 14
NFC Divisional Round:
1 Green Bay vs 5 Seattle
GB 32, SEA 24
2 Arizona vs 3 Carolina
ARI 42, CAR 27
1 New England vs 2 Pittsburgh
NE 47, PIT 26
1 Green Bay vs 2 Arizona
ARI 28, GB 21
Super Bowl LI:
New England vs. Arizona
NE 31, ARI 14
And, of course, no NFL season prediction list would be complete without a little fun. Here are 10 extremely bold predictions for the upcoming season!
(Editor's note- not all of these predictions fall in line with my standings predictions, I know, shut up.)
10 Bold Predictions for the 2016 NFL Season:
1. Cardinals RB David Johnson will win the rushing title.
The Arizona Cardinals are poised to make a run at their first-ever Super Bowl title, having made it to the NFC title game last year and being blown out by the Carolina Panthers. The team returns again with one of the league's most explosive offenses, including Carson Palmer (who isn't getting any younger), Larry Fitzgerald (ditto), Michael Floyd and John Brown. Lost in the array of weapons that Palmer has to throw to is the running game, which, in the last few years, has been muddled through various RBs such as Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson. The Cardinals schedule features 9 teams that finished last year in the bottom half of the league in rushing defense, including two games with San Francisco (29), and Los Angeles (21). I expect this year to be David Johnson's year, as he rushes for more than 1,500 yards this season, finishing as the league's leading rusher.
2. Antonio Brown will break the single-season receiving record.
My reasoning is simple- there's no one who can stop him. Ben Roethlisberger has a grand total of three targets to throw to. He's got Darrius Hayward-Bey, who's mediocre at best, Markus Wheaton, who's a viable deep threat and not much else, and Antonio Brown. And yet, he led the league in receiving in 2014, while coming up 40 yards short of doing it again last year. Expect Brown to top Calvin Johnson's single season receiving record of 1,964 yards. The Steelers get a depleted Bengals defense twice, the Ravens twice, and the Browns twice, as well as the entire NFC east and AFC East. No problem. In fact, I'll go one step further with this prediction- Antonio Brown will also be the NFL's 2016 MVP based on his output this year.
3. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West.
The Raiders have dramatically improved in the last 2 seasons, with newcomer QB Derek Carr and WR Amari Cooper forming a threatening one-two punch on the offensive side of the ball. This isn't even taking into account the arrival of Khalil Mack, who had a field day got most of last season sacking opposing quarterbacks. I anticipate the Raiders to win 11 games this year. Most of this is due in part to their intra-division opponents, who, while definitely not getting worst, have certainly not going any better. Denver is now without Peyton Manning and a couple key defensive players. Kansas City could miss it's best pass rusher in Justin Houston, and San Diego is in full-on rebuilding mode. The stars are aligning for the Raiders to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Also, the last time the Raiders won the AFC West, they went on to play in the Super Bowl.
4. The Denver Broncos will miss the playoffs.
The departure of Peyton Manning has left the Denver Broncos' offense in shambles. This season, the defending champs will start rookie Trevor Siemian at QB. I think it's safe to say that, on paper, Trevor Siemian is a big step down from future-first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. It's not all bad on offense for the defending champs, though. They're got a potential 1,000-yard rusher in CJ Anderson, and still have WR threats like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. But, much like last season, the Broncos strength must come from their defense, which lost Danny Trevaithan and Malik Jackson this offseason. However, I don't believe the handsomely-paid Von Miller and his stupid glasses won't be enough to get the Broncos into the playoffs. They will lose games against opponents like Carolina, New England, Kansas City, Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Oakland. 9-7's not good enough to get into the playoffs in this league. Just another in a long list of defending champs to miss the playoffs the following season.
5. The NFL's new rules will make the game only more frustrating to watch (and they'll still have no idea what constitutes a catch and what doesn't).
The NFL has done a masterful job at frustrating all of us with its stupid rule changes in an attempt to make the game both more competitive and safer at the same time. The one-year trial on moving extra point tries back to the 15-yard line is now a permanent thing. A new rule this year involves moving the touchback line to the 25-yard instead of the 20, which the league believes will increase the amount of touchbacks and reduce injury. To me, this solves nothing, considering that moving the kickoff line to the 35 has made kick returns essentially non-existent, this is rule change is one more step toward eliminating kickoffs altogether, which means eliminating one of the most exciting things in football- the kick return for a touchdown. With fewer kick returns, it makes the game a touch less exciting to watch- and a little more frustrating. The NFL will also still have no explanation for what makes a catch and what does not. A major play with a catch possession rule will end up deciding a game, and while the NFL may deliberate the issue of the referee's decision, they will ultimately look the other way.
Sub-prediction- Josh Norman will be the first victim of the new Unsportsmanlike Conduct-Ejection rule. Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and you're out.
6. Andy Dalton will lose his starting job to A.J. McCarron.
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991 (spoiler- that's not going to change this season), no thanks in part to Andy Dalton. Dalton even injured his hand last season, opening the door for then-rookie A.J. McCarron to take his spot. McCarron actually fared pretty well, almost beating the Denver Broncos in overtime, which would have all but knocked them out of playoff contention. I believe Dalton's play will suffer again this season, as well as the reappearance of the nagging hand injury, leading McCarron to begin starting games for the Bengals as early as week 7 (after they get throttled by the Patriots in Foxboro the week prior). The Bengals will recover under McCarron, ultimately finishing second in the AFC North and earning a wild card spot, where they will lose to the Houston Texans. Just because there's a change at QB doesn't mean the playoff drought will end.
7. Tony Romo is about to get Bledsoe'd.
Like Tom Brady before him, Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott will start in place of the injured veteran Tony Romo (not that Dak Prescott is the next Tom Brady, but you know what I mean). And, like Brady before him, Prescott will take over permanently as the starter. Let's be serious here. Are Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett so infatuated with Tony Romo that, no matter what happens or how well Prescott fares, the golden boy is going to return as soon as his back has healed up? (Actually, thinking about it, they are that infatuated with him...) Romo is only as good as the players around him like Dez Bryant and newcomer Ezekiel Elliot, as well as a freakishly talented offensive line that includes consistent Pro-Bowler Zach Martin. Other than that, he's an injury prone quarterback who's been on the shelf for more than half of both this season and last season. He also can't seem to win playoff games. Prescott will inject the new blood the Cowboys desperately need, leading them to a 7-3 record atop the NFC East before Tony Romo is should be cleared to return. If the Cowboys have any common sense at all (AT ALL), they'll stick with Prescott for the remainder of the season, as I predict the Cowboys will win the NFC East of Prescott plays the full 16 games.
8. The Cleveland Browns will go 0-16 this year.
I would really love for this one to happen, although, whenever I'm confident in ANYthing sports related, it typically backfires in the first hour. The Browns will lose every single football game they play this season. I mean, they're already listed as underdogs in every game this year. The addition of Robert Griffin III will do nothing for the Browns, as the injury prone QB will either get hurt or lose his starting job to Brian Hoyer (yeesh). Last season, the three Browns wins came against teams with draft picks 6, 7, and 8 (Baltimore, Tennessee, and San Francisco, respectively) in the 2016 Draft. Two of those wins came with Johnny Manziel under center, who is no longer on the team. Also, it delights me so to know that Cleveland fans will be so high off the success of the Cavs and Indians that they'll plummet into despair when the Brownies lose every game this season. At least LeBron signed for a couple more years, right? An interesting matchup for the Browns comes on Christmas Eve against the Chargers, who are also in rebuild mode.
9. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be in the playoff hunt (until week 17).
Blake Bortles is a capable quarterback. He's also got good weapons like Allen Hearns, Allen Robinson, and TJ Yeldon. The AFC South will be one of the most competitive divisions in the league this year, mark my words. The next steps for the Jags must come on defense. This is all, of course, banking on bounce-back seasons from Davon House and Jared Odrick. Expect the Jaguars to notch a few important wins against Indianapolis (a surprise win at that), and against Houston (another surprise win), on their way to a 9-6 record going into week 17, needing a win and some help to get into the final wild card spot. They will, ultimately, lose to Indianapolis, knocking them out of the playoff race altogether. Keep an eye out for this Jacksonville squad, though.
10. The New England Patriots will not lose a game that Tom Brady starts.
Gillette Stadium already has a giant banner hanging on its lighthouse. Countdown clocks on sports networks around the country have begun to tick. Tom Brady's suspension has begun, and it's only a matter of time before it's over. And when it's over, there will be hell to pay. This "Gronk You" tour will be much sweeter than last season, as Brady is actually serving his suspension this time around. There will also be more to play for, as the Patriots, even without Tom Brady, are far and away the best team in the AFC, and possibly the entire league. After Jimmy Garoppolo starts the first four games, which I anticipate him losing at least one of- look at Arizona in week 1, that's a scary defensive unit, Brady will return against the Cleveland Browns with - dare I say it- improved offensive weapons to use. Assuming everyone can remain healthy, the Patriots will finish the season on at least a 12-game winning streak, where they will blow out opponents by an average of 20 points or more the rest of the way, on their way to a victory in Super Bowl LI.
Which team will come out of nowhere this season? Am I right? Why am I wrong? Leave a comment down below!
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I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.