NFC EAST 1. Um, if you’re one of those hardcore types who just has to bet…NYG? 2. WAS 3. DAL 4. PHI I’ll start with the division I have no idea what to do with; I really don’t like any of these teams. The Giants have a passing game, and their defense should be better. On the other hand, the offensive line seems like a shambles, and attempts to rebuild defenses with expensive non-elite free agents don’t have a great track record. Also, as many Giant fans seem to be noticing, it’s really time for some #Realtalk about Steve Spagnolo. The last 5 defenses he’s been involved with as a defensive coordinator or head coach have ranked 30th, 32nd, 21st, 19th, and 31st in DVOA. He’s like the boring version of Rob Ryan. And even the 2007-2008 defenses he’s still milking a career out of were pretty unimpressive (13th and 8th in DVOA) given that he had multiple All Pro-to-Hall of Fame pass rushers to work with. He deserves his share of the credit for the Super Bowl Win over the 2007 Pats, but at this point I’m not sure continuing to employ him as a DC makes any more sense than starting David Tyree at wideout would. The Redskins could definitely repeat, but I remain somewhat skeptical about Cousins, who will need the o-line and his skill players to stay healthy to be a effective again since he’s unusually vulnerable to pressure. The addition of Norman will help the defense, but most signs point to regression and I can’t really disagree. The Romo injury is devastating to the Cowboys — Prescott is an interesting prospect but he seems pretty unlikely to be quality starter is a rookie, and backing him up is the Sanchize. It’s tempting to think that the o-line and Bryant and Elliot et al. are so good they can make anyone look good, but to this argument I have 4 words: “Brandon Weeden Matt Cassel.” Plus their defense is pretty bad. But, really, I’d give roughly equal odds to any of these three teams. In Philadelphia, Roseman has done an admirable job of cleaning up Chip Kelly’s worst misses, but for 2016 he’s made an already weak roster even worse. Even if he had had a full training camp, it’s pretty hard to see Wentz jumping from the FCS to quality NFL starter throwing to a fourth-rate receiving corps under a rookie coach.
NFC WEST 1. SEA 2. ARI (*) 3.
STL LA 4. SF This stars-and-scrubs division is much easier. Basically, if Palmer is healthy and performs well, Arizona is the best team. But at 36 with his erratic and injury-prone history — I’ll lean very slightly to Seattle despite grave concerns about the Seahawk offensive line. These are two of the best 5 teams in football if they’re remotely healthy. The Rams are starting Case Keenum at QB and recycling Jeff Fisher to see if he can achieve his 40th non-winning season in a row — welcome back to the NFL, Los Angeles! The one interesting question about the 40ers — could Chip do anything with Kaepernick? — will apparently not be answered in the opening weeks or perhaps ever. It’s also not obvious how Kelly’s uptempo system will work to the advantage of a team that will have less talent than virtually every team it plays.
NFC NORTH: 1. GB 2. MIN. 3. DET. 4. CHI The injury to Bridgewater makes this division as easy to pick as the East is difficult. My views on Bradford are on the record; he is not a championship quality QB and a bad QB and a great running back equals a below-average offense. I think the Lions might weather the loss of Megatron a little better than might be expected and they were better than their record showed last year, but even a wildcard is a stretch. I don’t think Chicago has the defense yet, but any order in which the non-Green Bay teams finished here wouldn’t surprise me.
NFC SOUTH: 1. CAR 2. TB(*) 3. NO 4. ATL The Panthers will win fewer games this year but they remain the best team in the division, and getting Benjamin back will more than make up for the loss of Norman. I see Winston and the Bucs as the team most likely to step into the void created by the injury to Bridgewater in a conference that doesn’t have a lot of serious Super Bowl contenders. Brees is still great and still doesn’t have the defense to win. Hiring Dan Quinn seems to be one of those classic Peter Principle coordinator deals where the hiring hurt both the incoming and departing teams; guys like that rarely turn it around in the second year.
AFC EAST 1. NE 2. BUF 3. NYJ 4. MIA There are definite vulnerabilities for the death star — not only is Brady going to miss 4 games he’s at an age where rapid decline is possible (although he was so good last year I wouldn’t be unduly concerned in 2016.) Maybe Scarnecchia can save the o-line and maybe he can’t, and the Pats might struggle to have even a minimally competent running game. But it’s still enormously difficult to see them not winning the division. You can sorta make a case for the Bills — they appear to have a QB, and between the talent on the roster and Ryan’s track record as a defensive coach there’s room for a huge improvement. But subjectively I’m not wild about the team — hiring his legendarily incompetent brother is Ryan’s latest step toward self-parody, and the defensive front 7 is already riddled with injuries and suspensions, and the teams only threatening receiver is also fragile and inconsistent. I would much rather have Bowles as a head coach, but you have to expect Fitzpatrick to regress and the Jets’ opening schedule is brutal. I would expect the Dolphines to keep Dolphining.
AFC WEST 1. KC 2. DEN(*) 3. OAK 4. SD We’ve been through this — the Broncos have a great defense, but barring another extraordinary run of luck that’s not going to take what by all appearances is quarterbacking that will struggle to be replacement level that’s not going to get them home field in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them finish last in an improving division with a couple of defensive injuries.
AFC NORTH 1. PIT 2. BAL (*) 3. CIN 4. CLE The Steelers will again have an excellent offense, and the defense should be good enough. The Ravens and Bengals should both be wildcard contenders. As the liberal blogosphere’s preeminent Marvin Lewis apoligist I fear they may have missed their best shot last year, but they could win the division. The Browns appear headed in the right direction, with a front office that made shrewd moves and a good head coaching hire (that might hurt the Bengals as well,) but they certainly will be terrible in 2016.
AFC SOUTH 1. IND 2. JAX, I guess? 3. HOU 4. TEN Looks like another win by default for the Colts, although it’s time for Andrew Luck to take a step forward (the most accomplished QB from his draft class, as of now, is Russell Wilson.) I don’t like any of the remaining three teams at all. The Titans seem to be elaborately trolling Oregon fans, taking Mariotta and then somehow replacing Everybody Beats the Whis with a substantially worse coach — a guy who didn’t deserve< a second shot getting a third -- running an anachronistic under-center GROUND AND POUND offense. Between the Jags and Texans meh; I'll give a nod to the former because while I'm not a big Bortles fan better him than Osweiler.