I don’t actually own a crystal ball, clear or murky, but I’m guessing if I went and got one off one of the online retailers it wouldn’t be terribly expensive. Like all things, though, I would get what I paid for. In which case, I would probably be no better off predicting the exact finish of the NFL season than any other writer, 1 a.m. bar friend, or that stock picking cat named Orlando who outperformed many investment analysts
I could also give you a rather boring article so that I could "be wrong with the herd". The vast majority of writers seem to take last year's results, adjust a couple wins and losses here and there based on free agency or retirement, and call it a day. However, the NFL standings almost always look dramatically different than the year they did before. The only comfort the predictors get is that they were either relying on a computer model or able to say "boy was that a surprise". Unlike the tabby cat stock picker, though, I don’t rely on a toy mouse to judge my direction, instead I go with a tried and possibly true method: relying on "Lies, Axioms, Half-Truths, and Heart Breakers." Which is to say:
- Things that are often repeated by almost never correct (Lies)
- Predictions you can generally rely on to be true even in the worst of times (Axioms)
- Things that are almost always true but never predicted (Half Truths)
- Predictions that are, well, not so nice to say (Heart breakers)
"The NFC East is the Worst Division in Football, you can win that with just 8 or 9 wins"
Still not true, and I’ve heard it all preseason. Yes, it's true that last year it was in fact the worst division in the NFL. It’s not going to be this season. Simply put history, of this kind, doesn’t enjoy repeating itself. Perhaps you could check out the Bucs Nation posts or old broadcasts, but this time last year the NFC South was the worst division in football. Not so much now. 8 wins would have finished a distant second to Carolina’s 15. The thing is, when you are bad you make changes and attempt to get better. Not all the changes work, but people are just more inclined to fix what’s broke than what isn’t.
Not ready to believe me? Since the NFL went to its current format of 4 team divisions, 4 times in the last 13 years a division has been won outright by a team with 8 wins. Each time that’s happened someone followed up by winning a minimum of 12 games, and all 4 made it to at least a Conference Title game. The Panthers went to the Super Bowl. Perhaps that should give the NFC East fans some hope at least.
Speaking of the NFC East, last year I nailed them correctly in pre-season as "the worst division in football" So can I go 2 for 2 and "nail it" with a kiss of death for 4 cities hopes? There are some good candidates , the AFC West has Trevor Simien leading the Champs with San Diego and Oakland still missing pieces; the AFC South didn’t have a team win 10 games last season, the NFC North just lost Teddy Bridgewater a year after the Vikings improved to 11 regular season wins and no, I don't consider Sam Bradford to be an upgrade. The division also saw Calvin Johnson retire. However:
This year's "worst division in football" goes to: AFC East. This division has the worst collection of quarterbacks in the NFL, and now Tom Brady is out for the first 4 games. I love the FCS guys coming into the NFL and actively root for them, but graduates of Eastern Illinois (Jimmy Garoppolo) and Harvard (Ryan Fitzpatrick) are now running AFC East offense.
Last season was Fitzpatrick’s best in his career. He previously played with Arian Foster and Andre Johnson and wasn’t nearly as productive. Ryan Tannehill started his college career at receiver, and at times still looks like that. Maybe that's his best position, so unless Adam "QB whisperer" Gase has got his head screwed on right, old Arian Foster won’t carry the load there.
I like what Tyrod Taylor’s doing in Buffalo, but last year everyone underestimated him. That’s not likely to happen twice and their most important defensive piece just checked into rehab. It gets worse, it’s a brutal schedule. They draw a resurgent AFC North and take long trips out to battle the NFC West. Play Pittsburgh at home then follow it with even the 49ers out west and that tends not to bode well.
The New England Patriots will win the AFC East. And why not. I’ve called it the worst division in football but why not give it to them. They’ve only won it 13 of the last 14 times. So their offensive line is a giant hodge podge, so more people can probably identify their state senator in a lineup than a Patriots receiver, so Brady’s suspended for 4 games, so their 3rd best offensive weapon might be LeGarrette Blount. They are still good enough on defense and great enough in coaching. They don’t have a typically great year for them but still walk through the rest of their division opponents with ease.
Barring injuries to their QB, the Ravens will win at least 8 games. They only won 5 last year, the last time they finished below the .500 mark was 2007. However, the Ravens were crippled by injuries Terrell Suggs spent last year on IR, Joe Flacco joined him, so did Justin Forsett (who may or may not be a Raven week 1), Steve Smith, and even 1st round pick Bershard Perriman never made it onto the field. So the injury bug didn’t just bite them, it devoured them. I hate to make too much of the pre-season but they look pretty pissed off to me about all the disappointment last year. If they can find some consistent offensive performance it should be a major rebound year on defense where they also added Weddle and wholesale changed every cornerback not named Jimmy Smith.
Someone is going worst to first. Simply put, it’s the NFL’s parity recipe. It’s happened 5 of the last 6 seasons. Last year I picked the wrong team and overlooked the magic that was Kirk Cousins as Washington did indeed go from worst to first. This year's crop of teams gives us: Miami, Cleveland, Tennessee, San Diego, Dallas, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco.
That’s a really uninspiring crew. I already ruled out the Dolphins with the Patriots pick, do I trust Dak Prescott in Dallas? Well, I have another half-truth for that. Perhaps a Mariota eruption…eesh that defense. Cleveland on an RGIII revival, that may happen but the rest of the time is still a disaster. Chicago, maybe if Aaron Rodgers goes on IR tomorrow. How about a homer pick with Tampa………I’m almost there but no. San Francisco, I think everyone knows how I feel about Blaine Gabbert.
Going from worst to first this season will be the San Diego Chargers. Several reasons:
- They do have the best QB in their division.
- It’s likely Antonio Gates' last season and that sort of thing tends to "rally the troops".
- Somewhere in the offseason Melvin Gordon learned to pinch the football maybe he can stay on the field.
- The defense has "just enough" and finally has people who can make a difference.
Someone will go 2-14 or worse. Okay, so it didn’t happen last season, Cleveland hosed me over by winning 3 games instead of 2 including a wild one in OT against Baltimore. Chicago decided not to play along with my macabre predictions by winning 6 while Cutler stayed healthy all season. Last year was the first season since 2003 that at least one NFL team didn’t finish the season with 2 or fewer wins.
The biggest thing those teams have in common is running an absolute dumpster fire at QB and being dysfunctional in general. So whose fan base should be ready to start rooting for the NFL draft before Halloween? Who should be having heated passionate arguments about Deshaun Watson or Brad Kaaya?
You can take Denver off the table: the defense is far too good, the complimentary pieces on offense are exceptional. The same holds true for the Rams, who have too much defense, where Todd Gurley is too good.
Three more franchises should really have bright warning lights: The New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, and Minnesota Vikings. For the first two, if they lose either Drew Brees or Andrew Luck it's going to be lights out. The Saints defense is a vile creation that has dumpster fire written all over it in several languages and while I like Grayson, forget fire, that would be trial by inferno.
The Colts offensive line without Mewhort couldn’t block an avalanche of spit wads from your local 5th grade class. The only pass rush they make look good is their own and that’s because their best pass rusher is still Robert Mathis, who did actually win a Super Bowl in Indianapolis in a decade ago.
The Vikings are already down to Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford , given Bradfords playing level and injury history a QB dumpster fire could quickly ensue, but they gave up less than 19 points a game last season and I think their defense got better not worse during the off-season. That and AP takes them off the table of Doom.
Winning 2 games or less this season will be the San Francisco 49ers. Their QB situation is by design a dumpster fire. Blaine Gabbert has just over 6,000 passing yards and nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in 5 NFL seasons where he’s also been injury prone. The 49ers offensive line has had a dramatic decline in quality, their wide receivers not so much. They kept Christian Ponder on the roster for a reason, don't be surprised if he ends up the last man standing at QB by years end.
Carlos Hyde can’t stay healthy, the LB’s and secondary are fantastic but in a 3-4 you need space takers up front and their current DL doesn’t have enough veterans to support them. Plus when I think dysfunctional teams, Jed York, Trent Baalke, and Chip Kelly? I can’t think of 3 people who have collectively made as many erroneous personnel decisions as this "brain trust".
New England Patriots (9-7)(Division Champions) – Still playing at home in January despite a rough season.
Miami Dolphins (7-9) - By most advanced metrics had one of the lowest ranked offensive lines in the league last season, so adding Tunsil isn’t an instant fix. Not a good enough pass rush last season, though adding Mario Williams helps. However, still missing far too many pieces.
NY Jets (5-11) – Fitzpatrick comes down to earth, throws about the same number of TDs and INTs regressing the Jets back to well below .500.
Buffalo (4-12) – Won the off-season. We here in Tampa have heard that before. Bring on the chaos.
Baltimore Ravens 11-5(Division Champions) – Still missing some weapons on the outside but finally decided to field a defensive backfield with players that belong in the NFL. That and a return to health should take care of them.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) – Should miss Martavis Bryant (or someone) opposite Antonio Brown, but LeVeon Bell (when not suspended) and a bit better defense should keep their heads above water even if they finish a little short of their post-season goal.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)– Lost both complimentary receivers to AJ Green, Tyler Eifert is on the PUP list, Jeremy Hill still fumble and Vontaze Burfict is suspended. This team may have jumped the shark and that wild card loss may linger far longer than anyone imagined.
Cleveland Browns (5-11) - At least LeBron is back. Josh Gordon may be back too if he’s not suspended again before stepping on the field. The defense is a work in progress. It looks headed in the right direction but the talent deficit here is really big.
Houston Texans (13-3)(Division Champions) – Jadeveon Clowney looks healthy and attacking. JJ Watt will be back and that defense is still rock solid. Brent Osweiler to DeAndre Hopkins looks like a winner so far. Even better for the Texans Will Fuller, Lamar Miller and Jaelen Strong look promising as well. The best part for them is Miller in a Bill O’Brien offense. Miller goes from an offensive line ranked in the 30s to one ranked in the middle of the pack. If healthy he goes from 12 carries a game to nearly 18. He probably leads the AFC in rushing by years end.
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) (Wild Card Team) I don’t necessarily like the early part of this schedule but I do like it late. A December 4th win at home gets them the tiebreaker needed over the Broncos as they finish out the season strong winning 6 of their final 7.
Tennessee Titans (5-11) – I like Tajae Sharpe, he caught 111 passes at UMASS last season and is a crisp route runner. It’s a good find for the Titans, asis Derek Henry. The offense is coming along but they need to get some good finds on defense.
Indianapolis Colts (5-11) – I still like the blame debate that’s already restarted about Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. That’s easy: Grigson is to blame, all day long. That offensive line is a huge mess, Frank Gore cannot be your only plan at RB, and the defense still doesn’t have an impact player.
San Diego Chargers (11-5) (Division Championship) – They would need just about everything to go right. However even without a proven WR outside of Keenan Allen, I do like the Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry combo working for Rivers.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) (Wild Card Team) – I have them losing out on divisional record but they're a very dangerous playoff team. Still one of the NFL’s better defensive units and a dynamic backfield. Seem at least another impact WR away from challenging though.
Denver Broncos (10-6) – Number 1 defense and a top 5 rushing attack with 2 quality WRs. That's enough to get them to or at double digit wins. Peyton Manning wasn’t great last season and they still won the Super Bowl.
Oakland Raiders (7-9) – 5 divisional losses doom the Raiders. I really appreciate what they are building towards, but they are not there yet.
NY Giants (12-4)(Divisional Champions) – Set an NFL record for passing yards surrendered last season. Quietly unnoticed is that they finished only a field goal away from the 3rd most points scored. Eli added new weapons and may get back Victor Cruz. Much more helpful is the addition of Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and the hopeful full return of Jason Pierre-Paul Even an average defense gets the Giants back atop this division.
Washington Redskins (9-7) – Back to back 9-7 seasons. Their health already concerns me, as Josh Doctson and Matt Jones are already on the shelf. DeSean Jackson is in a contract year but neither he nor Jordan Reed are known for durability.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Don’t get me wrong, I think Dak Prescott is promising. It’s a great offensive line but it's led by a rookie and they are still not a great defense, so let's leave the Russell Wilson comparisons alone for now.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) – Chip Kelly wasn’t their only problem. This team fundamentally is poorly planned. Sam Bradford (now traded) and Chase Daniels (for big money) and Carson Wentz (for big draft assets). They couldn't tie a knot so they tied it alot?
Green Bay Packers (12-4)(Divisional Champions) – Aaron Rodgers still plays for the Packers and in a weaker division with Bridgewater down and Calvin Johnson retired the Packers got healthier and should be better.
Detroit Lions (7-9) – Not a bad defense, not a bad offense but….and that’s just it, with the Lions there is always a but. They always seem to leave just enough holes on their team to ensure they're respectable with Tampa native , Stafford under center while not scaring anyone.
Chicago Bears (7-9) – Computer numbers are wrong and Langford has a bang up year for the Bears. Unfortunately it looks like their receiving corps is banged up again and their defense is still a transitional (4-3 to 3-4) work in progress.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9) The defense is underrated and they still have Adrian Peterson. However, in Sam Bradford I don’t trust.
Carolina Panthers (12-4)(Division Champs)– The Panthers fall back to earth a bit this season, as their long ball completion percentage last year was just unsustainable (I think). Still more than enough defense and more than enough Cam Newton to claim a post-season spot.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)(Wild Card) – Started off hot, then fell apart last season. I like what they have going on right now and really like the Alex Mack addition at center to solidify the middle of the line to keep Ryan upright. Mohamed Sanu is a nice weapon, Brooks Reed a nice edge rusher. However, they still need the rest of the team to jell better before seriously challenging the Panthers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) – Wouldn’t it be nice not to have a losing season? I think it’s a possibility but I think we take the long road there. Edge rush, left side of the offensive line, and depth at WR are still major concerns. I also don’t like starting out at Atlanta and at Arizona followed by defensive slobber knockers with the LA Rams, Denver Broncos, then back on the road to Carolina. I do like finishing with two games against the Saints, one against Dallas, and home for a potentially resting Panthers.
New Orleans Saints (3-13) – Delvin Breaux against Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Kelvin Benjamin 6 times a year? Doesn’t seem prudent to me. In addition to that you can add matchups against Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, and Odell Beckham Jr. among others. Their offensive line is my favorite, though. Max Unger and Terron Armstead are really. really good, Lelito, Peat, and Strief are really, really bad.
Arizona Cardinals (14-2)(Division Championship) – They could very well end up with the #1 overall offense and #1 defense in terms of points allowed. If I could pick only 1 NFL team for Super Bowl 51 I’d go with the Cardinals.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)(Wild Card) – Russell Wilson has taken consistent steps each season, getting better at passing the ball. He’s been the focal point and that role only gets bigger with Marshawn Lynch having hung up his cleats. I don’t know if hes going to be using Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Kearse or even sleeper Paul Richardson who finally looks healthy. What I do know is that with Wilson and that defense, no game against the Seahawks is easy.
Los Angeles Rams (4-12) – Football returns to LA, kind of. Whether it's Case Keenum or Jared Goff the simple truth is its Todd Gurley. Teams that can stop him will win those few that cant with him as the focus won’t.
San Francisco 49ers (1-15) – Blaine Gabbert to Quinton Patton is actually the antonym of Montana to Rice. The linebackers and safeties are fantastic but beyond that it doesn’t look exciting at all. I think we can set the over/under of number of QB’s who will start for the 49ers at 3 this season.
......Of course that's just what my imaginary crystal ball tells me what does yours say?