2016-2017 NFL Playoff Projections

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AFC

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. New England Patriots

3. Oakland Raiders

4. Indianapolis Colts

5. Cincinnati Bengals

6. Baltimore Ravens

AFC Wild Card Round

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts

As dysfunctional as the Cincinnati Bengals are, not even they can lose in the Wild Card round in six consecutive years; especially since they are much better than the Indianapolis Colts.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Oakland Raiders

The fans in the Bay Area have waited a very long time to see an Oakland Raiders playoff game and they wont be disappointed.

AFC Divisional Playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Bengals will finally be happy to get the playoff monkey off of their backs, but their big brothers from the AFC North in the Pittsburgh Steelers want to show them that they are still in charge.

Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots

The Raiders are happy to win a playoff game, and the battle tested New England Patriots will be too much for them.

AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been on a mission to put “Deflategate” behind him and get back to the Super Bowl.

NFC

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. Green Bay Packers

3. Carolina Panthers

4. Dallas Cowboys

5. Arizona Cardinals

6. Minnesota Vikings

NFC Wild Card Round

Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers

The road to a consecutive Super Bowl berth for the Carolina Panthers begins with a home victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys

The Arizona Cardinals could be a team on a mission as they steamroll the Dallas Cowboys.

NFC Divisional Playoffs

Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers

In a battle of MVP quarterbacks in Cam Newton of the Panthers, and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, the legs of running back Eddie Lacy will lead Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks

The Cards-Seahawks rivalry is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL. And for the Cardinals, they are definitely one team that isn’t afraid to travel to Seattle and seek a victory.

NFC Championship Game

Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers

With the frozen mystique of football in Green Bay being a thing of the past, the Cardinals have what it takes to get a victory there and reach the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.

Super Bowl Bowl 51-NRG Stadium-Houston, Texas

New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals

These two teams began the year against each other, and it’s only fitting that they’ll finish they year on the gridiron. But the Patriots will find a way to win their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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2016 Heisman Preview

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Christian McCaffrey is just one of several talented players to look at in this year’s Heisman race.

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2016 AFC East Projections

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X-New England Patriots 12-4

There are two opinions on the New England Patriots as they are an organization that you either love or hate. Since 2001, the Patriots have not had a losing season and they’ve only had two seasons over that stretch which have ended without them making the postseason. The Pats have won four Super Bowl Championships as they’ve become the epitome of success in the National Football League. But life isn’t a bed of roses for New England as they’ve dealt with their fair share of controversy which included “Spygate” in 2007, and now “Deflategate”. The most recent controversy has seen NFL commissioner Roger Goodell drop the hammer on the Patriots which included a $1 million fine, a loss of draft picks, and a four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady. Now as the Patriots are preparing four life without Brady for the first four games here in 2016, head coach Bill Belichick will once again put on his thinking cap.

Patriots fans need to get used to hearing the name Jimmy Garoppolo as he will be the Patriots starting quarterback while Brady serves his suspension. In Garoppolo’s two years with the Patriots, he has seen some brief mop up duty behind Brady. But now Garoppolo will be charged with keeping Brady’s seat warm until he comes back.

Rob Gronkowski

There are still plenty of explosive play makers on the Patriots offense that features the likes of tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman. At 6’6″, Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as his height and pass catching ability keeps opposing secondaries honest. And it will be much tougher for Patriots opponents to double Gronkowski this season due to the fact that the team acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears.

Bennett has spent eight years in the National Football League with stints with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and the Bears. The majority of Bennett’s career has seen him underutilized in the passing game which could change this year. I expect the Patriots to employ more two tight end packages in the mode of the early 2010′s when New England would create matchup problems for opponents with Gronkowski and former tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Julian Edelman

Edelman is looking to bounce back after injuries slowed him down in 2015. And once the maestro at quarterback in Brady returns from his suspension the Patriots passing game should really take flight.

Last year the Pats were 30th in the National Football League in rushing and they are one of the few teams that can get away with that due to the ability of Brady. Under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots tend to use screen passes, along with short passes to their running backs such as Dion Lewis and James White which turn out to be de facto runs.

The Patriots have a solid offensive line and if left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are able to remain healthy, both Garoppolo and Brady should enjoy plenty of time in the pocket. It never worked out for guard Jonathan Cooper in three years with the Arizona Cardinals, but after the Patriots acquired him during the off-season, maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs after being a first-round pick in 2013.

It was shocking when Belichick decided to trade defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this off-season, but he did pick up a veteran to replace him in defensive end Chris Long. Long was the second overall pick of the 2008 National Football League Draft by the St. Louis Rams, but injuries have taken away from his effectiveness over the last two years as he has missed 14 games. However Long finally gets the chance to play for a winner and suiting up for the Patriots typically tends to allow veteran players to find the fountain of youth.

Aside from Long on the Patriots defensive line, there are a ton of veterans that includes defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton and defensive end Rob Ninkovich, while second year defensive tackle Malcolm Brown could be ready to take on bigger role in New England’s defense.

Jamie Collins

The Pats still have a strong group of linebackers which includes middle linebacker Donta Hightower and outside linebacker Jamie Collins, while the secondary is home to some quality veterans in cornerback Malcolm Butler, strong safety Patrick Chung, and free safety Devin McCourty.

If the Patriots are able to weather the storm without Brady, this team should once again be poised to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Jets 10-6

2015 saw much improvement for the New York Jets, but they fell just short of making the playoffs. After the Jets defeated their arch rival in the New England Patriots in Week 16, they only needed a victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2010. However things fell apart for the Jets as they lost to the Bills which was a bittersweet ending to what had the makings of a storybook season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fell 95 yards short of becoming the first Jets quarterback since Joe Namath in 1967 when the team still played in the American Football League to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker become the first duo of Jets pass catchers since Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet in 1998 to each gain 1,000 yards receiving and New York also had one of the fiercest defensive lines in the National Football League that featured defensive ends Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams. And as all of this should be building blocks for the Jets heading into the 2016 NFL season, this team has a laundry list of question marks that are surrounding them.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

After Fitzpatrick’s strong season he became a free agent as he and the Jets had a long dance around the floor before they came to an agreement on a new one-year deal for $12 million. Fitzpatrick has been a journeyman as he has suited up for six different clubs in his 11-year National Football League career. Many folks see Fitzpatrick as a backup quarterback which is one of the reasons why the Jets are not willing to commit on a long-term deal to a 33-year old player that has only made all 16 starts in a season three times in his career. Heading into the 2016 NFL season, the main thing for Fitzpatrick is to do exactly what he did last year which is to simply get the football to the play makers around him such as Marshall and Decker.

After running back Chris Ivory gained 1,070 yards on the ground for the Jets last year, he was allowed to leave in free agency as he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But as one door closed for the Jets, another opened as the team signed veteran running back Matt Forte. In eight years with the Chicago Bears, Forte was a very durable running back as only Walter Payton gained more yards on the ground than him while wearing a Bears uniform.

Matt Forte

Forte has also been solid in providing pass protection for quarterbacks, while also being a strong receiver coming out of the backfield which should pay dividends in the Jets offense.

After 11 years of protecting the blindside for Jet quarterbacks, offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson decided to retire. But Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t waste any time in replacing Ferguson as he acquired offensive tackle Ryan Clady from the Denver Broncos. Ferguson was extremely durable during his career, but the same cannot be said about Clady who after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year must show his worth on the big stage in the shadow of New York City.

As previously mentioned the Jets do have a strong defensive line which sets the tone for the rest of the defense. And if Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams are able to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it could make life much easier for players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Todd Bowles

For Jets head coach Todd Bowles, he knows that his team won’t be able to sneak up anybody here in 2016. And with road games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers,and Arizona Cardinals, along with divisional tilts against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, the Jets are going to have their hands full in they intend on making it to the postseason.

Buffalo Bills 8-8

The Buffalo Bills and head coach Rex Ryan are a match made in heaven. The Bills have not won more than 9 games in a season during this millennium, and Ryan is a head coach that tends to hover around .500 each year. Staying true to form for Ryan and the Bills in 2015, Buffalo went 8-8 as they were a team that competed, but they were an undisciplined team that simply found ways to lose. Ryan has always been known as a player’s coach with teams that shoot themselves in the foot, and we could be looking at the same blueprint for the Bills here in 2016.

Last year Ryan gave Tyrod Taylor the opportunity to be the Bills starting quarterback and he made the most of it by throwing 20 touchdown passes to just 6 interceptions. Taylor began to shed the label of him simply being a scrambler and now it will be interesting to see if he can take the next step and become an elite quarterback in 2016. But if Taylor is going to be able to take the next step as a quarterback, he has the players around him to make it happen.

Sammy Watkins

It hasn’t taken wide receiver Sammy Watkins that long to show that he indeed is a play maker. In just two years, Watkins has displayed the rare combination of blazing speed and pass catching ability which makes him a logical candidate to make the Pro Bowl this season. And if the Bills passing game is going to improve, wide receiver Robert Woods must become consistent as well.

The Bills were the top rushing team last year in the National Football League, and this was without the benefit of having a healthy LeSean McCoy at running back for the entire season. But if McCoy is able to remain healthy and show the explosiveness that made him the Philadelphia Eagles all-time leading rusher, then the Bills offense should be a force to be reckoned with.

Ryan is known as an aggressive defensive coach, but the Bills only managed to muster up 21 sacks last year after having 54 in 2014. The defense could once again be a point of frustration for the Bills due to suspensions of players such as defensive tackle Marcel Dareus which could rob them off a chance to improve and that’ll more than likely hamper their chances of ending the longest current playoff drought in the National Football League.

Marcel Dareus

Suspensions to players such as Dareus’ show that the Bills are still a very undisciplined team. Last year the Bills had 143 accepted penalties against them which was tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tops in the National Football League, and if Ryan doesn’t get this pattern tempered, Buffalo will once again be stuck in the mud.

More than likely the Bills will be an up and down team again in 2016, and you have to wonder if anything short than a trip to the postseason will mean the end for Ryan in Western New York.

 

 

 

Miami Dolphins 5-11

From 1970-1995, the Miami Dolphins only employed one head coach in Don Shula. But since Shula’s retirement, the Dolphins have had a revolving door at head coach. Adam Gase is set to begin his first season as Dolphins head coach, and he represents the tenth different head coach that the Dolphins have employed since Shula stepped down. The Dolphins coaching carousel is reflective in the team’s record as they have not had a winning record since 2008, while failing to win a playoff game since 2000.

Aside from head coaching issues, the quarterback position has also been a problem for the Dolphins. As Ryan Tannehill is set to begin his fifth year as the Dolphins starting quarterback, it marks the first time since the early 2000′s that Miami will have the same starting quarterback five years in a row.

In four years as the Dolphins starting quarterback, Tannehill has put up impressive numbers which would make a fantasy football owner happy, but he has come up short in the most important category that defines a National Football League quarterback which is victories. Tannehill has a career record of 29-35 and the Dolphins have never finished a season with a winning record with him under center. In May 2015, Tannehill and the Dolphins agreed on a six-year, $96 million extension, and if he’s unable to begin to deliver, the folks in South Florida that follow this team will begin to want another franchise quarterback.

In 2015, the Fins struggled to run the football as they were 23rd in the National Football League in rushing. The Dolphins leading returning rusher is Jay Ajayi who gained just 187 yards on the ground last season. The Dolphins did sign former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. But Foster has a ton of miles on his legs along with injuries, and it is difficult to expect him to be the play maker that he was a few seasons ago.

Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins lack of a running game will put more pressure on Tannehill and wide receiver Jarvis Landry to carry the offense, and although that the duo will pad their stats, it more than likely won’t lead to that many wins in Miami.

Defensively the Dolphins lost defensive end Olivier Vernon in free agency as he signed with the New York Giants. But Miami is hopeful that veteran defensive end Mario Williams will be able to fill the void. Williams will join a veteran defensive line that includes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake, but there are plenty of issues in the back seven of the Dolphins defense that will stress the mental of first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

It’s going to be another long year in Miami, but I expect Gase to use this time to assess the talent there as he is hopeful to build a solid foundation.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 NFC South Projections

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X-Carolina Panthers 11-5

Last year saw the Carolina Panthers join an elite club as they became just the eighth team in National Football League history to win at least 15 games regular season games. But success in the regular season doesn’t always translate to the playoffs as the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos. And in the process the Panthers showed how hard that it is to keep it going in the postseason as only the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and 1985 Chicago Bears are the only teams in NFL history to win at least 15 regular season games that were able to see it materialize into a Super Bowl Championship. The Panthers had their way in 2015 as their stout defense and powerful running game simply bullied opponents. However in 2016, teams will be gunning for the Panthers in spite of the fact that they were unable to win it all, and it will be interesting to see how they’ll respond.

Cam Newton

Cam Newton will enter the 2016 National Football League season as the reigning MVP of the league. At the age of 27, Newton has put it all together as he now has the pocket presence that is needed to compliment his supreme athleticism. But Newton cannot do it all by himself as he needs help in the passing game.

As a rookie in 2014, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin became a very dependable pass catcher for Newton. Benjamin had 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns, but on the first day of Panthers training camp in 2015, Benjamin suffered an ACL injury. The Panthers were able to make it to the Super Bowl without Benjamin, but they missed his presence in the Super Bowl where the Broncos took away their power rushing attack.

Greg Olsen

The Panthers still have tight end Greg Olsen who gained 1,104 receiving last year which was a career high. And although that Olsen is entering his tenth National Football League season, he is still an effective option for Newton in the passing game.

The Panthers were second in the National Football League last season in rushing, but surprisingly they didn’t have one player gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is coming off of a career high in carries with 242 and after eight years in the NFL, you have to wonder if he can still take the pounding.

Carolina has one of the better centers in football in Ryan Kalil who will anchor an offensive line that has the cohesion necessary to keep Newton clean in the pocket.

Last year the Panthers were sixth in the National Football League in total defense as they were a very stingy group. Eight Carolina opponents were held under 20 points, while their defense feasted off of turnovers as they were plus-20 in the turnover category.

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is arguably the best middle linebacker in the NFL as he has tremendous lateral movement, while he also has the ability to tackle anything that moves. Led by defensive end Kawann Short and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, the Panthers have a defensive line that will get after opponents as this front seven is relentless.

Carolina could have some issues in the secondary as they released cornerback Josh Norman after a contract dispute, while also parting ways with veteran strong safety Roman Harper. And more than ever the Panthers secondary will rely on the front seven of the defense to carry them.

Ron Rivera

For Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, he has a team that is very capable of making it back to the Super Bowl, but every team in the NFC will be gunning for them; especially with the brash bravado of Newton.

Atlanta Falcons 10-6

As the 2016 National Football League season is getting set to start, the term “finish” will be thrown around in regards to the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons began 2015 with a record of 6-1 as they appeared to be a lock to make the postseason. But unfortunately for the Falcons, the wheels fell off as they would lose their next six games. The Falcons were able to recover to finish 8-8, however for head coach Dan Quinn, he is seeking to get Atlanta back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 in this their final year at the Georgia Dome.

Matt Ryan

In eight years as the starting quarterback of the Falcons, Matt Ryan has quietly gone about his job. Ryan has a career record of 74-52, while he is also the Falcons all-time leader in passing yards (32,757) and touchdowns (202). But with a playoff record of 1-4 with two of those losses coming at home when Atlanta had home-field advantage, Ryan has been pushed aside as fairly or unfairly, quarterbacks in the National Football League are firstly judged by playoff wins and championships.

However Ryan can still get the job done at the age of 31 as he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in football. Ryan also has the luxury of throwing the football to one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the National Football League in Julio Jones. Last year saw Jones lead the NFL in receptions (136), and receiving yards (1,871). At 6’4″, 220 lbs., Jones can make it look very easy at times due to his size, strength, and freakish speed which will keep in the conversation in regards to being an All-Pro.

After being a role player for the last four years with the Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver Mohammed Sanu signed with the Falcons this off-season as a free agent. Sanu is not a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver, but what he possesses is enough ability to keep opposing defenses honest in regards to their coverage on Jones.

Devonta Freeman

The Falcons also enjoy balance on offense due to the contributions of running Devonta Freeman. Last year Freeman gained 1,061 on the ground, while also doing a solid job in pass protection and catching passes out of the backfield for Ryan. Freeman made the Pro Bowl last year and he could be ready to become one of the best all-purpose backs in the National Football League.

 

The Falcons have a veteran offensive line that should be improved with the addition of center Alex Mack. Mack spent the first seven years of his National Football League career with the Cleveland Browns where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. But now Mack is looking to be a part of a winner and he has a shot to make the playoffs for the first time in his career with the Falcons.

2015 was a disappointing rookie campaign for outside linebacker Vic Beasley who was Atlanta’s first-round pick, but the additions of outside linebackers Brooks Reed and Courtney Upshaw should take some of the pressure off of him as Atlanta looks to move up in the defensive rankings after being 16th in the National Football League last year in total defense.

The NFC South Championship should come down to the Falcons and Carolina Panthers who are the defending champs. And the Week 4 and Week 16 showdowns between these two clubs will go a very long way in deciding who’ll win the division here in 2016.

New Orleans Saints 8-8

Three of the last four National Football League seasons have seen the New Orleans Saints fall short of making the postseason as this is an organization that is attempting to hold on. The Saints issues began when they gave quarterback Drew Brees a five-year deal that was worth $100 million in 2012 which has hamstrung the front office as they’ve been unable to put quality players around him. But the Saints could be ready for a breakthrough here in 2016.

Drew Brees

At the age of 37, Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League and the Saints indoor home of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is perfect for him. Brees has four, 5000-yard passing seasons to his credit as when the Saints offense is clicking, it it the equivalent for fast break basketball.

Speed is the name of the game with the Saints wide receivers in Brandon Cooks and Wille Snead. But the biggest issue that has held the New Orleans offense back in recent years has been their lack of a consistent running game. The Saints were 24th in the National Football League last season in rushing and you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time that a New Orleans running back gained 1,000 yards on the ground.

As Dennis Allen is set to begin his first full year as the Saints defensive coordinator after he took over for fired Rob Ryan midway through last season, there is only one direction to go which is up. Last year the Saints were 31st in the National Football League in total defense as they allowed 413.8 yards against them per game which also saw four New Orleans opponents tally at least 39 points on them.

Cameron Jordan

But as much as the Saints struggled on defense, they do have play makers in defensive end Cameron Jordan, middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, and cornerback Delvin Breaux. However New Orleans must find a way to get off of the field on third down as they were 22nd in the National Football League in opponents third down conversions last season.

For Saints head coach Sean Payton, his team’s first four opponents failed to make the postseason last year and they will need a hot start in 2016 as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into the 2016 National Football League in a very familiar spot as they are once again starting over. The Buccaneers were making strides last year under head coach Lovie Smith. But after Smith declined to make changes to his staff, Bucs general manager Jason Licht decided to make him walk the plank. Smith was replaced by Dirk Koetter who served on his staff last year as the Buccaneers offensive coordinator. The hire of Koetter as the Buccaneers head coach marks the fourth different head coach in the last six years, and it is no wonder why this organization has not made the postseason since 2007. But the reason why Licht decided to go with Koetter is due to his relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston.

Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston

With Koetter as Winston’s offensive coordinator last year, he was named as the National Football League’s Rookie of the Year as he passed for 4,042 yards while throwing 22 touchdowns. Winston has the talent to be a superstar in the NFL, and it will be interesting to see how much that he’ll grow in this his sophomore campaign under Koetter.

Last year the Bucs were fifth in the National Football League in total offense, but there were six games in which they scored less than 20 points which comes down to their execution in the red zone. The Buccaneers have big wide receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson that should be able to win most jump ball situations in the red zone. Running back Doug Martin gained more than 1,400 yards on the ground, but like the passing attack in Tampa, he struggled in the red zone as he only managed to get 6 rushing touchdowns.

Like the offense in Tampa Bay in 2015, the defense was also a top ten unit, but what hurt them the most was that they were minus-5 in the turnover category. The Buccaneers do have play makers in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, but somebody must step up and become a consistent under first year defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

The schedule makers didn’t do the Bucs any favors here in 2016 as they will be running the gauntlet out of the chute with road games against the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, along with games against the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos who were the two participants in the Super Bowl this past January.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 AFC South Projections

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X-Indianapolis Colts 8-8

The struggles of the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 reminded folks of the previous regime that was running the show for the team. When former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 National Football League season following neck surgery, Indianapolis went from being a Super Bowl contender to being the worst team in the league. The Colts would then have the first overall pick at the 2012 NFL Draft which they used on quarterback Andrew Luck. In Luck’s first three years with the Colts, he led the club to an 11-5 record in each year with a trip to the postseason. But things unraveled for the Colts last year as Luck was injured while Indianapolis simply lacked cohesion. Pep Hamilton would be fired as the Colts offensive coordinator, while Chuck Pagano held on by a thread to remain as the team’s head coach. And now in 2016, the Colts are hopeful that they will be able to once claim the title of being the team to beat in the AFC South.

Andrew Luck

First and foremost Luck is healthy and looking to put 2015 behind him. Last year Luck was never right as he threw 12 interceptions in just seven games while his record was 2-5. Luck must get back to feeling comfortable in the pocket, but it also comes down to the team that is around him.

The Colts have been unable to provide Luck with a quality running game around him as you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time that Indianapolis had a running back gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The Colts were 29th in rushing last year in the National Football League and they can’t rely on the legs of running back Frank Gore who is an 11-year NFL vet to hold up under the riggers of the 16-game regular season.

 

 

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is a burner at wide receiver, but the Colts receiving corps behind him are very weak as team general manager Ryan Grigson has not done a good job as far as putting play makers around Luck.

The same can be said about the Colts offensive line where there isn’t any star power which could make for a long season in Indianapolis in spite of the fact that Luck is returning to the team.

Chuck Pagano

Defensive football is Pagano’s specialty, but the Colts were 26th in total defense last season, and it could once again be a struggle for this team.

The ability of Luck can keep the Colts afloat, but this is an organization that has not learned from how they assembled a team during the latter years of Manning’s time with the team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee Titans 7-9

The Tennessee Titans franchise find themselves in the midst of a long dry spell. 2011 was the last year that the Titans were able to finish a National Football League season with a winning record, while 2008 was the last time that they made the postseason. And if you want to take it a step further, you have to go back to January 2004 to find the last time that the Titans were victorious in the postseason.

After taking over for Ken Whisenhunt during the 2015 National Football League season after he was fired, Mike Mularkey is looking to do things his way with the Titans. Mularkey went 2-7 in relief of Whisenhunt last year, but the Titans front office feels that he is the man that can turn things around for this franchise.

In 2015, the Titans used the second overall pick of the National Football League Draft to select quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota was coming off of winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Oregon, and there was an adjustment period for him as he spent 2015 getting accustomed to a pro-style offense with the Titans. Mariota took his lumps as a rookie as he went 3-9 as a starter. But Mariota was able to throw 19 touchdown passes which included him a having a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his first career game and he should be ready to assume a leadership role in Nashville.

Marcus Mariota

Mariota and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham were expected to be building blocks in the Titans offense for years to come. But Titans general manager Jon Robinson grew tired of Green-Beckham’s inconsistency in his route running and pass catching which led to him being recently traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. This will leave a void in the Titans passing game as Green-Beckham was expected to develop into a play maker. But Tennessee will now lean on veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson, along with a pair of youngsters at wide receiver in Justin Hunter and Kendall Hunter to step up and become consistent pass catching options for Mariota.

A young quarterback’s best friend is the running game, and after the Titans were 25th in the National Football League last season in rushing, they should be ready to improve here in 2016. Earlier in the off-season the Titans acquired running back DeMarco Murray from the Eagles. 2015 was a year to forget for Murray as he struggled in an offense that wasn’t suited for his running style. But now with Titans, Murray could once again regain some of the form that he had in 2014 when he led the National Football League in rushing as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Aside from Murray, the Titans used a second-round pick on running back Derrick Henry. Henry won the Heisman Trophy last year as he helped the Alabama Crimson Tide win the national championship, and his physical running style should allow Tennessee to keep drives going.

The past four years have seen the Titans use three, first-round picks on offensive linemen. Guard Chance Warmack is entering his fourth year with the Titans, while offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is entering his third year. And offensive tackle Jack Conklin is looking to give Tennessee a pair of young bookends on their offensive line as this is going to be the unit that is going to generate flow for the Titans offense.

Dick LeBeau is entering his second year as the Titans defensive coordinator, but he brings with him a plethora of experience. LeBeau played 14 years with the Detroit Lions as a defensive back and his 62 career interceptions are the tenth most in National Football League history. LeBeau has also coached in the NFL since 1973 which includes winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an assistant coach.

In 2015, the Titans were 12th in the National Football League in total defense in spite of the fact that LeBeau didn’t have the typical play makers needed to operate his blitz happy 3-4 defensive scheme. The Titans still don’t have those play makers, but they will still be a thorn in the sides of their opponents.

The AFC South is not expected to be overly strong this year, and the Titans could find themselves in the divisional title hunt until the very end.

Jacksonville Jaguars 7-9

It is no secret that the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the midst of a rough patch. The Jaguars have not had a winning season since 2007 which was also their last trip to the playoffs. Since then the Jags have had six seasons in which they’ve lost at least 10 games including each of the last five. And with the Jaguars struggles, it was a bit surprising that team owner Shahid Khan decided to retain the services of head coach Gus Bradley for a fourth year. But Khan and Bradley are hopeful that the Jags young nucleus will be able to gel here in 2016.

Blake Bortles

The Jags feel that they have their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles who is coming off of setting a single-season franchise record in passing yardage (4,428), and passing touchdowns (35). As Bortles continues to progress as a quarterback, he must work on developing his pocket awareness as he has been sacked 106 times in two years, while also throwing 18 interceptions last season which was tops in the National Football League.

In front of Bortles, the Jaguars have a young offensive line that is anchored by left tackle Luke Joeckel as it is time for the training wheels to be taken off of this group if Jacksonville expects to contend for a playoff berth.

If the Jags offensive line is able to give Bortles enough protection, they have play makers at the wide receiver position in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. Last year Hurns and Robinson became the Jaguars first duo of wide receivers since Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith in 2001 to each gain at least 1,000 yards receiving as they should once again ready to cause problems for the secondaries of the AFC South.

But if Jacksonville’s offense is going to become consistent in 2016, the running game must improve. Last year the Jags were 27th in the National Football League in rushing with running back T.J. Yeldon being the team’s leading ground gainer at 740 yards. This off-season has seen the Jaguars sign veteran running back Chris Ivory who gained a career-high 1,070 last year as a member of the New York Jets. The Jags must be more committed to the ground game as it will take some pressure off of Bortles, while also cutting down on his sacks.

This year’s Jags defense could be all about “high risk, high reward”. In 2015, Jacksonville used the third overall pick of the National Football League Draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But in Fowler’s first practice with the Jaguars, he suffered a torn ACL that ended his season before it started. This year the Jaguars used a second-round pick on outside linebacker Myles Jack who missed the majority of his final year at UCLA with a knee injury. Both Jack and Fowler are healthy now and if they are able to live to the hype, they could become pleasant surprises in Northern Florida.

In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts used a first-round pick on defensive end Bjorn Werner. Collegiately at Florida State, Werner was the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, along with being an All-American. But when the Colts drafted Werner, they insisted on making him an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive system and he was never able to adjust. The Colts cut ties with Werner this off-season and as the Jaguars picked him up off of the scrap heap, a return to Northern Florida, along with going back to his original position as a 4-3 defensive end could be just what the doctor ordered for him.

Werner’s collegiate teammate in cornerback Jalen Ramsey was Jacksonville’s first-round choice this past spring, and the combination of him and former New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara should be help to solidify the Jaguars secondary.

The Jaguars are very close to breaking through and becoming a playoff team, but they have to start winning the games that they are expected to win, along with defeating the good teams.

Houston Texans 6-10

Bill O’Brien

In each of Bill O’Brien’s two years as the head coach of the Houston Texans, he has led his team to a record of 9-7. But unlike 2014, O’Brien was able to get the Texans to the postseason in 2015. The Texans won the AFC South last year for the first time since 2012 and although that their season didn’t end in the fashion that they wanted to as they were blown out 30-0 at home by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Game, Houston is looking to build off of last year’s trip to the postseason in a very weak AFC South.

But the Texans will begin the 2016 National Football League season with a huge disadvantage as they’ll more than likely be without the services of defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and in five seasons with the Texans, he has registered 74.5 sacks. Watt underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in July, and although that he could be ready to go in Week 1, it’s difficult to expect him to be the same player immediately. Aside from what Watt can do, his presence on the field makes his defensive teammates better due to the matchup nightmares that he can cause for opposing offenses.

Aside from Watt, the Texans have a very active defensive front seven that includes nose tackle Vince Wilfork, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, and inside linebacker Brian Cushing. But if Watt isn’t going to be 100%, it’s time for outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney to begin living up to the hype. Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft by the Texans, and after being a two-time All-American in college, he has been unable to become the dominant edge rusher that most people expected him to be. And if there was ever a time for Clowney to figure it out, that time is now.

However the Texans biggest issues have recently come on offense which is what has held this team back. Last year Houston was 19th in the National Football League in total offense as they went through four different starting quarterbacks. In the off-season the Texans would sign quarterback Brock Osweiler to a four-year deal that is worth $72 million. Osweiler spent the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos and he was expected to be the heir apparent there to Peyton Manning. But unlike the Texans, the Broncos were unwilling to pay Osweiler $18 million per season. In four year with the Broncos, Osweiler only started seven games and he is still very raw as a quarterback as it very tough to gauge what he can do.

DeAndre Hopkins

The Texans possess one of the best wide receivers in football in DeAndre Hopkins who’s numbers have increased in each of his three seasons in the National Football League. The Texans were 15th in the NFL last season in rushing, but they still need to be more effective as for the second time in the last three years, they failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

The word of 2016 for the Texans will be continuity as they must find some of it if they expect to be in contention to win the AFC South.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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You Can Learn From Us

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With Alex Rodriguez no longer on the New York Yankees roster, the next chapter of his life has begun. Rodriguez spent 20 years as a Major League Baseball player and it has been a journey that was full of peaks and valleys. Rodriguez was the first overall pick of pick of the 1993 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, and when he made his debut in 1994, he joined a star studded lineup that included the likes of future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Rodriguez would come into his own in 1996 when he batted .358 with 36 home runs and 123 runs batted in as he finished second in the American League MVP voting. Rodriguez would go on become a superstar, but his career changed after the 2000 MLB season when he signed a 10-year, $252 million deal to join the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez’s deal changed the landscape of baseball contracts as before his deal, star players would typically receiver $10-$15 million per season. And although that you can’t fault Rodriguez for taking the money that was offered to him, he quickly became a lightning rod for criticism as he was making $25 million per season.

Rodriguez would go on to put up great numbers with the Rangers which included him winning his first American League MVP Award in 2003 when he batted .298 with 47 home runs and 118 runs batted in. But Rodriguez alone could not get the Rangers to playoffs. And after former Rangers owner Tom Hicks nearly went broke after signing Rodriguez, the perennial All-Star was traded to the New York Yankees in 2004.

Rodriguez would join a team that was full of star power and he would begin playing alongside his good friend in Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. But since Jeter was entrenched as the Yankees shortstop, Rodriguez had to learn how to play a new position which saw him take over at third base.

Rodriguez would have a solid first year with the Yankees as he batted .286 with 36 home runs and 106 runs batted in. But with such lofty expectations placed on Rodriguez’s broad shoulders, and the fact that Jeter had already helped to deliver four World Series Championships to the Bronx, Rodriguez wasn’t a sensation with the Yankee fans; especially after New York lost the American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox, and in the process became the first Major League Baseball team to blow a 3-0 series lead in a postseason series.

Rodriguez would go on to win two more American League MVP Awards while playing for the Yankees, but he couldn’t escape criticism, with some of it being self inflicted. During the 2007 World Series between the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Rodriguez announced that he was opting out of his deal with the Yankees to become a free agent. This move by Rodriguez and his agent Scott Boras would draw the ire of many baseball pundits as they took some of the focus away from the Fall Classic. Rodriguez would get a new 10-year deal from the Yankees that was worth $270 million. The Yankees saw Rodriguez as the “clean” player that was going to become Major League Baseball’s new all-time home run king.

But in 2009, Rodriguez admitted to Sports Illustrated that during his time with the Rangers that he used steroids as he felt the pressure to live up to his massive contract. Rodriguez claimed to have never used performance-enhancing drugs during his time with the Yankees who were willing to put the past behind them. That October would see Rodriguez put his postseason demons behind him as well as he helped the Yankees win the World Series and the folks in the Big Apple finally accepted him.

Rodriguez would continue to put up quality numbers, but the injuries began to take their toll on him. Over the next few years Rodriguez would have multiple hip surgeries along with a procedure to repair a torn labrum. But the bottom would officially fall out for Rodriguez when he was linked to a South Florida biogenesis clinic that was distributing performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez received a free pass for his steroid abuse with the Rangers from Major League Baseball as players were given amnesty. However at this point MLB had implemented a strict policy in regards to using performance-enhancing drugs and Rodriguez was dealt a harsh punishment.

Rodriguez was initially suspended by Major League Baseball for 211 games, but an arbitrator wiggled it down to 162 and he would miss the entire 2014 season. Rodriguez would return in 2015 and he led the Yankees in home runs with 33. But here in 2016, Rodriguez was putting together the type of season that most people expected him to have last year.

In 65 games this year Rodriguez batted .200 with 9 home runs and 31 runs batted in and he found himself deep on the Yankees bench. It all came to a head for Rodriguez on August 6 when he and the Yankees jointly announced that his final game would be on August 12 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Being that the Yankees were still on the hook for nearly $25 million through the end of 2017 to Rodriguez, he was named a special advisor to team co-owner Hal Steinbrenner while also taking on a role as far as working with the organization’s young talent.

Rodriguez would finish his career with 696 home runs while he’s also been a lightning rod of controversy, and now he joins a small list of former sluggers that were linked to performance-enhancing drugs that are attempting to wipe the slate clean.

In 1998, Mark McGwire had the baseball world eating out of the palm of his hand when he did the unthinkable as he surpassed Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. McGwire would go on to finish the year with 70 homers and he became the best thing since sliced bread. In 2001, Barry Bonds would take it a step further when he hit 73 home runs which is a single-season record that still stands and is more than likely to never be broken. McGwire would finish his career with 583 home runs which at the time of his retirement was fifth all-time in Major League Baseball, while Bonds would finish up in 2007 as MLB’s all-time home run king with 762.

But after several years out of the public eye, both McGwire and Bonds would once again resurface. In 2010, McGwire would become the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals which was preceded by him admitting to using steroids during his playing career. McGwire helped the Cards win the World Series in 2011, and since then he has gone on to be the hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now the San Diego Padres. But since McGwire admitted his use of steroids, the media has left him alone and he has gone about his life working in Major League Baseball to develop talent.

Barry Bonds

Like McGwire, Bonds admitted to using steroids, but he did it through his lawyer Allen Ruby in 2011 as the Federal Government was going after him on perjury charges during their investigation of the BACLO clinic. Just like McGwire, Bonds kept a low profile until last year when the San Francisco Giants brought him in as a spring training instructor. Now Bonds is currently serving as the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins, and in the same form of McGwire, he has mostly faded into obscurity without most people having moved on from his past.

Now Rodriguez is seeking the same life for himself. After Rodriguez attempted to sue both Major League Baseball and his Player’s Union before ultimately accepting his suspension, he chose to reconcile with all parties as he has expressed interest in working in MLB once his playing career was ultimately done. Rodriguez did analyst work for Fox Sports last year during their coverage of the World Series, and aside from receiving the occasional jeers from fans, he did a solid job. Rodriguez has the look, the voice, and the charisma for television and could be a tremendous on-air personality if he so chooses. Like Bonds and McGwire, Rodriguez could be a solid contributor to a club as a hitting coach. And just like Bonds and McGwire, Rodriguez appears to have been somewhat humbled as he also has a laundry list of mistakes that he has made which current players can learn from as he attempts to begin the next chapter of his life.

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2016 NFC North Projections

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X-Green Bay Packers 11-5

The Green Bay Packers have been the model of consistency in the National Football League as their seven consecutive trips to the postseason are tied with the New England Patriots for the longest current streak in the league. For Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, the last two Januarys have ended in heartbreaking losses on the road against teams from the NFC West. In January 2015, the NFC Championship Game saw the Packers in control for the majority of the game until the very end when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks. And this past January saw the Packers scrap and claw to force overtime against the Arizona Cardinals before coming apart at the seams during the extra frame. Now the Packers are looking to put all of the playoff disappointment of the recent years behind them and get back to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers

Luckily for the Packers, they still have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers is a two-time National Football League MVP that is one of the best signal callers in the business. But recently Rodgers ability has masked some of the Packers flaws on offense which can no longer be the case if Green Bay wants to get back to the Super Bowl.

Last year weight issues plagued running back Eddie Lacy as he is an important part of the Packers offense. Lacy only gained 758 rushing yards as he drew the ire of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy due to his conditioning. This off-season has seen Lacy dedicate himself to getting in better shape, and the slimmed down running back should become a bigger contributor in Green Bay’s offense.

 

Rodgers had to go all of 2015 without the services of wide receiver Jordy Nelson who has been his most reliable pass catcher. Nelson tore his ACL last summer, and although that he is back on the Packers roster, it is going to take him some time to regain the form that he had in 2014 when he tallied 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. In the Packers receiving corps, they also have Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, and Davante Adams, but somebody needs to step up from this trio and become more consistent.

The Packers offensive line isn’t full of Pro Bowlers or household names, but they have been together for awhile. However Rodgers was sacked 46 times last year which isn’t going to cut it in 2016 if Green Bay wants to win the NFC North.

For Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, he must find a way to get more usage of outside linebacker Clay Matthews as a pass rusher. In 2014, injuries to the Packers defense forced Matthews to play inside linebacker. Matthews tends to line up at different spots defensively for Green Bay, but he is a better player as an outside linebacker. The Packers used a fourth-round draft pick on inside linebacker Blake Martinez this past April, and if he is ready to fill Green Bay’s void at that position, Matthews should be able to see more time as a pass rusher. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers is 36-years of age, but he still can put plenty of fear into opposing quarterbacks. Peppers is a freak of nature and there is a strong possibility that when this season is over, he will be in the top-five on the National Football League’s all-time list for sacks.

There is plenty of potential for the Packers in their secondary, but it is just a matter of whether or not that cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall, along with free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and strong safety Morgan Burnett will come to play on a weekly basis.

Kicker Mason Crosby can be shaky at times on field goals, but he is still a player that McCarthy relies on, while punter Tim Masthay has the strong leg needed for when the temperature drops during the Wisconsin winter.

The Packers have a chance to set the tone for themselves early as three of their first six games will come against the foes from the NFC North as they know that they must scrap and claw to win this division.

Y-Minnesota Vikings 11-5

 

Last year saw everything beginning to come together for the Minnesota Vikings as they won the NFC North for the first time since 2009, but they suffered a heart breaking loss in the NFC Wild Card Game to the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings are hopeful that they can learn from that experience as they look to make it consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 2009 as they are set to begin life in their new home of U.S. Bank Stadium in Downtown Minneapolis.

Mike Zimmer

For Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer it has not taken him that long to make Minnesota a contender once again as he has two years under his belt. Zimmer has always preached having a strong defense, while he also has an offense that can take care of the football.

Running back Adrian Peterson is set to begin his tenth season in the National Football League. But unlike most 31-year old running backs, Peterson isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Peterson gained 1,485 yards last year, however he led the league in carries with 327 as it marked the fourth time in his career that toted the rock at least 300 times in a campaign. Peterson is still extremely vital to the Vikings offense as his running ability sets up the pass. And as Peterson will look to keep his legs churning, another 1,000-yard campaign on the ground will put him in the top 10 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

But as Peterson is still important to the Vikings offense, is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ready to take the next step? From the early stages of Bridgewater’s National Football League career, he doesn’t appear to be a quarterback that is going to be hot commodity in fantasy football, but he has been accurate to the tune of completing 65.3% of his passes last season. However Minnesota’s passing offense was 31st in the NFL in 2015 as they have been know to shy away from taking chances down the field which is something that must change if the Vikings want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And that will come down to whether or not that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turnver is ready to take the kid gloves off of his young quarterback.

Stefon Diggs

Last year as a rookie, wide receiver Stefon Diggs showed promise as he averaged 13.8 yards per catch, but he will need to develop more consistency with Bridgewater. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is still a very dependable pass catcher at his position while the Vikings have high hopes for rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

But make no mistake about it that Minnesota’s team has a blue-collar feel to it which starts with their defense. Defensively the Vikings were 13th in total defense as they have a unit that can get after opponents.

The Vikings defensive line might not be “The Purple People Eaters” of the 1970′s, but they can still bring the noise. The combination of defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd have the potential to combine for 25 sacks, while at least one member of the quartet could end up in the Pro Bowl.

Chad Greenway

Minnesota has solid corner linebackers in Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway, but their secondary is littered with play makers such as free safety Harrison Smith which is important in a division such as the NFC North that has Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.

Since joining the Vikings in 2012, kicker Blair Walsh has been one of the more accurate kickers in the National Football League, but he must put last year’s meltdown in the playoffs behind him. Last year Walsh had a field goal percentage of 87.2 which included making six kicks from beyond 50 yards and his strong right leg will have an impact on the upcoming season for the Vikings.

It won’t take us long to see if the Vikings are for real as in Week 2 they will host the Packers which will be followed by a trip to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers who are the defending NFC Champions. But comes Christmas, Minnesota should still have plenty to play for.

Chicago Bears 9-7

2015 was an up and down year for the Chicago Bears as they finished with a record of 6-10. It marked the fifth consecutive season in which the Bears failed to qualify for the postseason which is their longest stretch since 1995-2000. And during the Bears current streak, they have employed three different head coaches over that stretch. But however the Bears appear to be committed to their current head coach in John Fox. Fox is coming off of his first year in Chicago and he knows a thing or two about turning around struggling franchises from his previous work as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos respectively.

Jay Cutler

After leading the National Football League in interceptions in 2014 with 18, quarterback Jay Cutler threw just 11 in 2015. Cutler improved under offensive coordinator Adam Gase last year. But Gase is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Dowell Loggains was the Bears quarterbacks coach last year and he will now take over the play calling duties with Gase being in Miami and he must continue to build off of what Chicago’s former offensive coordinator was able to accomplish with Cutler last season.

What helped Cutler improve as a quarterback in 2015 was the fact that he began to trust throwing the football to his running backs as opposed to simply trying to force his passes down the field. Last year Bears running backs accounted for nearly 70 receptions and Jeremy Langford could once have a big impact in Chicago.

Jeremy Langford

After the Bears parted with longtime running back Matt Forte this off-season, Langford should take a bigger role in Chicago’s offense this year. Langford only averaged 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie in 2015, but I expect him to be a guy that gets at least 20 carries per game, and he can also be a solid contributor on swing and screen passes.

Kevin White

Last year saw the Bears use a first-round pick on wide receiver Kevin White, but a shin injury prevented him from taking the field. Now 2016 will be White’s de facto rookie season as he theoretically gives the Bears another first-round pick this season. White’s presence should take some of the pressure off of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as the Bears look to open up the passing game some more.

As Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are in their second year with the Bears, they’ve gone about putting more play makers on that side of the football. The Bears have high hopes for outside linebacker Leonard Floyd who was their first-round pick this past spring. At 6’6″, 240 lbs., Floyd has a slender build, but the Bears are optimistic that he will have a smooth transition to the National Football League. The Bears also have outside linebackers that can rush the passer in Willie Young and Lamarr Houston as this is a part of their arsenal that will be needed as they look to compete with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

The Bears first six opponents this season did not make the playoffs last year, and a quick start could be just what the doctor ordered as they look to sneak up on the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North.

Detroit Lions 6-10

Last year was an up and down one for the Detroit Lions as they began the season with a record of 0-5 only to rebound and finish 7-9. Assistant coaches were dropping like flies while general manager Martin Mayhew was also relieved of his duties and replaced by Bob Quinn. But somehow Jim Caldwell was able to maintain his post as the Lions head coach. And although that Caldwell was able to avoid the chopping block this past January, he is still on the hot seat and he’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get the Lions back to the postseason after missing out on it in 2015.

It is going to be difficult for the Lions to replace the contributions of wide receiver Calvin Johnson who decided to retire after nine seasons in the National Football League as his presence alone caused matchup issues for opposing defenses. And in Johnson’s final season with the Lions, he led the team in receptions (88), receiving yards (1,214), and touchdowns (9) as quarterback Matthew Stafford is going to now have to rely on committee of wide receivers where nobody stands out.

One of the Lions biggest issues in 2015 was their inability to run the football. The Lions were last in the National Football League in rushing with rookie running back Ameer Abdullah being their leading rusher with just 597 yards. Abdullah’s struggles summed up the Lions issues on offense which began with their offensive line. The Lions were never able to get the right combination on their offensive line which made their offense one dimensional, while Stafford was running for his life in the pocket.

Ezekiel Ansah

Defensively the Lions do have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in defensive end Ziggy Ansah who had 14.5 sacks last year, but overall this is a unit that lacks play makers as they could once again be fighting an uphill battle in the NFC North.

Three of the Lions first four games here in 2016 will be on the road, with two of those contests coming against NFC North foes in the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears as another slow start will get the folks in Motown gearing up to run Caldwell out of town.

X-Division Winner

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 12-4

The past four years have been the best stretch of football in the franchise history of the Seattle Seahawks. Over the stretch the Seahawks have a regular season record of 46-18 while they also have a Super Bowl Championship to their credit. And since Pete Carroll became the Seahawks head coach in 2010, this team has had depth at every position along with a competitive fire. In spite of not winning the NFC West last year, the Seahawks found a way to win a road playoff game before falling to the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Playoffs. And as Seattle bid farewell to running back Marshawn Lynch who was arguably the most physical runner in the history of the Seahawks, this is a team that is ready to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.

Russell Wilson

As the Seahawks record over the last four years is 46-18, a solid portion of that can be attributed to quarterback Russell Wilson. In four years as the Seahawks quarterback, Wilson has provided the Seahawks with strong leadership at the most important position on the field. Aside from the quality winning percentage, Wilson knows how to take care of the football as in four years in the National Football League, he has only thrown 34 interceptions. And Wilson’s ability to protect the football, along with his strong pocket awareness put the Seahawks in a position to win each game.

The Seahawks will miss the powerful runs of Lynch, but as he missed the majority of the 2015 National Football League season due to injury, they were still third in the league in rushing. Wilson’s elusiveness as a runner will once again be on display, while the Seahawks have high expectations for running back Thomas Rawls. In 13 games with the Seahawks in 2015, Rawls averaged 5.6 yards per carry and he was on his way to gaining 1,000 yards before a broken ankle ended his campaign. But if Rawls is able to regain his form, he has plenty of speed and elusiveness in the backfield that will compliment Wilson.

The Seahawks don’t have Pro Bowlers at the wide receiver position, but it doesn’t hurt that Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett are in sync with Wilson. Baldwin has become Wilson’s most dependable wide receiver; especially on third downs and scrambling situations, and that will once again be the case in 2016.

In the last two off-seasons there has been some roster overhaul on the Seahawks offensive line, but the new additions of offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb and guard Jahri Evans will need to keep the machine that has become the Seattle offense going.

Defensively the Seahawks can still get after opponents with the best of them as they were second in the National Football League last year in total defense. The Seahawks defense will miss the contributions of defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, but they still have defensive end Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Aside from cornerback Richard Sherman, Bennett might have the biggest mouth in the Pacific Northwest. And just like Sherman, Bennett knows how to back it up as his motor on the field is just as active as his mouth.

Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas

But make no mistake about the fact the strength of the Seahawks defense is still in their secondary where they have a trio of All-Pros in Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor who can change the game plan of opposing quarterbacks.

Under Carroll, there isn’t a facet of the game that the Seahawks don’t take for granted as you can see with their commitment to special teams. The Seahawks have one of the best place kickers in the National Football League in Steven Hauschka, a punter in Jon Ryan who typically sets the defense up with great field position, and a kick returner in Lockett who has shown in a very short time that he is always one step away from breaking a big return.

In recent years the Seahawks toughest opponent has been the Los Angeles Rams, and when these two clash in Week 2, it could set the tone for each team’s season. But when the smoke clears at the end of the season, the Seahawks should once again be the team to beat in the NFC West.

Y-Arizona Cardinals 12-4

This is the dawn of a new day for the Arizona Cardinals as for the first time since 1974-1976 when the franchise still called St. Louis, Missouri home, the Cardinals have put together three consecutive seasons in which they’ve won at least 10 games. The Cardinals also made the NFC Championship Game last year for just the second time in franchise history as there has been a definite culture change that has taken place on the watch of head coach Bruce Arians and the folks in cactus country are definitely thinking about their team winning the Super Bowl.

Carson Palmer

The success of the Cardinals begins with the health of quarterback Carson Palmer. At 36-years of age, Palmer has bounced around during his National Football League career which has included stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Palmer is still a very capable quarterback, but it comes down to his health as the injury bug has bitten him several times during his career.

Arians has gone to work as far as putting a solid team around Palmer that begins with the Cardinals offensive line. Guard Mike Iupati is entering his seventh National Football League season and each of the last four years have seen him reach the Pro Bowl as he is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the best guards in the game. Guard Evan Mathis joins the Cards after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year. And as the Cardinals are Mathis’ sixth NFL team, Arizona is hopeful that his experience will pay dividends for them this year. The Cardinals also employ two of the larger offensive tackles in football with D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer as this is the unit that is charged with keeping Palmer’s uniform clean.

Bruce Arians

Under Arians, the Cards have been committed to a solid running game which was evident by the fact that Arizona finished 2015 eighth in the National Football League in rushing. The Cardinals have a trio of running backs in Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, and David Johnson that each possesses a different running style which keeps opposing defenses on their toes.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is set to begin his 13th year with the Cardinals. And as Fitzgerald is getting older, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he still has some of the best hands in football while being a dependable pass catcher for Palmer. Aside from Fitzgerald, the Cards have speed at wide receiver in the form of John Brown, along with Michael Floyd who has a big frame as he can ward off smaller defensive backs.

In 2015, the Cardinals were fifth in the National Football League in total defense as this is a veteran unit that has turned into a band of brothers. Arians has made it a point to hire former NFL players, and if you look at the Cards defensive coaching staff, defensive line coach Brenston Buckner, linebackers coach Larry Foote, and defensive backs coach Kevin Ross all played in the league which makes it easier as they can relate to their players.

The Cardinals typically run the 3-4 defense which requires a stout defensive line to open up things for the rest of the defense. On Arizona’s defensive line, the likes of Red Bryant and Calais Campbell never stop moving, while the expectations are high for rookie defensive end Robert Nkemdiche who was the Cardinals first-round pick this past spring. This off-season has seen the Cardinals acquire outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots as he is one of the best pass rushers in the National Football League which only makes this unit stronger.

But just like the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals possess one of the best secondaries in football. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has great tremendous cover skills, while safety Tyrann Mathieu is turning into one of the best defensive players in the league. And Arizona also has a hard hitting strong safety in Deone Bucannon who is known to creep up into the box as a run stopper as he is indeed an intimidator.

Of the Cardinals first six games in 2016, only the New England Patriots made the playoffs last year as they will look to keep up with the Seahawks for supremacy in the NFC West.

Los Angeles Rams 8-8

The 2016 National Football League season will be nostalgic for anyone old enough to remember the days when the Rams called Los Angeles home. From 1946-1994, the Rams played in Los Angeles, until former team owner Georgia Frontiere decided to move the team to St. Louis, Missouri. However the current Rams owner Stan Kroenke was seeking a new stadium on the St. Louis waterfront which he was unable to secure, and that led the Rams returning to Los Angeles. And once you factor in that the Raiders left Los Angeles in 1994 like the Rams did, this marks the first time in more than two decades that the second largest metropolis in the United States has an NFL franchise to call its own.

Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher is set to embark on his fifth season as the Rams head coach and you have to wonder how much more rope that he’ll be given as he has yet to post a winning record with this team. Fisher feels that the lack of production from the quarterback position has been a hinderance to this team which led him to trading up in the National Football League Draft this past April to select quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick.

To me Goff needs some time to get adjusted to the professional game, but since the Rams gave up so much in the draft to get him, you can expect to see him under center sooner rather than later in Los Angeles. On top of that, Goff will be dealing with immense pressure he’ll be under the Hollywood microscope.

But while Goff is attempting to get his feet wet in the National Football League, he can rely on one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Last year as a rookie, running back Todd Gurley arrived in a very loud way with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to be named as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. The Rams are hopeful that Gurley can avoid the sophomore slump while also adding to the franchise’s tradition at running back that includes Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.

The Rams also employ one the biggest and ferocious offensive lines in football that includes offensive tackle Greg Robinson, and guard Roger Saffold as there is plenty of beef in Los Angeles.

The Rams have an intimidating defense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good. The Rams have a stout defensive line that includes defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, along with defensive end Robert Quinn who are all talented pass rushers. But the Rams were 23rd in the National Football League last year in total defense and they allowed two leaders to leave this off-season in defensive end Chris Long who signed with the New England Patriots and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is now with the New Orleans Saints. And that lack of leadership will definitely hurt the Rams defensively as they are seeking their first playoff berth since 2004.

The bright lights of Hollywood will be on the Rams, and it will be interesting to see how they’ll be able to handle it.

San Francisco 49ers 4-12

After being one of the best teams in the National Football League from 2011-2013, the San Francisco 49ers have once again fell on hard times. Last year saw the 49ers go 5-11 for their worst campaign since 2007. After just one year as the Niners head coach, Jim Tomsula was fired and replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Like Tomsula, Kelly was dismissed last season. But for Kelly, he had a mutiny on his hands in the Eagles locker room. And for some strange reason, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke decided that Kelly would be the right man for the job in San Francisco.

Colin Kaepernick

According to the salary that Colin Kaepernick is receiving, he should be the 49ers starting quarterback, but that is something which isn’t etched in stone. Kaepernick has been the 49ers starting quarterback since 2012. But whereas Kaepernick’s athleticism allowed him to become a household name upon his arrival to the National Football League, he has been unable to make the adjustment to becoming a pocket passer. Kaepernick has been lukewarm at best to playing for Kelly who does use spread offense principles, however he’s never been a head coach that was willing to commit to using just one quarterback. The Niners were on the verge of trading Kaepernick to the Denver Broncos this off-season, until the quarterback wasn’t willing to take a pay cut. And what this makes for is something that is festering in the Bay Area that doesn’t smell good with Kelly who still has a college mindset.

Overall last year the 49ers were abysmal on offense as they were 31st in the National Football League in total offense. The Niners once proud rushing attack was reduced to a heap of rubble as they were 21st in the league in rushing with the team’s leading ground gainer being running back Carlos Hyde with just 470 yards.

Chip Kelly

Make no mistake about it that the 49ers will do a much better job of running the football this season under Kelly as he is committed to the ground game. The Niners commitment to the rushing attack begins with the offensive line that features left tackle Joe Staley who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons, and guard Joshua Garnett who is a rookie from Stanford University that San Francisco is high on.

When the 49ers were one of the better teams in the National Football League a few years ago, their defense was stingy and full of play makers. But that is no longer the case as middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman will try to lead an unproven group that will be fighting an uphill battle in the NFC West.

Unless Kelly has changed his mindset on how he treats his players, and how he chooses to treat his starting quarterback, San Francisco needs to prepare for a very long football season.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 NFC East Projections

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X-Dallas Cowboys 9-7

After winning the NFC East in 2014, the bar of expectations for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2015 National Football League season increased. But when quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken clavicle last September, the Cowboys chances went up in smoke. Dallas would go 4-12 for their worst season since 1989 and they are now hopeful for a quick turnaround.

Ezekiel Elliot

With a porous season for the Cowboys, it resulted in them gaining the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft which led to them selecting former Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot is a home-run hitter at the running back position that is always on the verge of breaking a big play. Elliot will run behind an offensive line that is one of the biggest and physical groups in football as they are reminiscent of Dallas’ line in the 1990′s.

Left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick are developing into two of the better players at their respective positions, and guard La’el Collins has the potential to be a Pro Bowl selection this year. And this offensive line will be very important as they must find a way to protect Romo.

Like Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant is looking to bounce back after an injury hampered his 2015 campaign. Bryant only appeared in nine games last season due to a foot injury and his presence is vital for any success that the Cowboys intend on having. But Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of feet and ankle injuries and you have to wonder if he’ll begin to lose some of his speed and explosiveness. However having Bryant on the field opens things up for the other Cowboys wide receivers such as Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams who then tend to get more one-on-one coverage on them.

But the Cowboys chances simply come down to the health of Romo. Collarbone and clavicle injuries have been taking their toll on Romo who is one or two good hits away from having to bid farewell to the National Football League. And unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t have any insurance behind Romo as they have not used a first-round pick on a quarterback since selecting Troy Aikman in 1989.

Defensive for the Cowboys, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones took some chances on some players and it has recently come back to bite him in the rear end. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive end Randy Gregory are facing suspensions from the National Football League this year as each player was expected to have an impact on that side of the football for Dallas.

In the secondary, cornerback Morris Claiborne has nine lives and he might be on his ninth life with the Cowboys as it simply has not worked out for him in Dallas. But cornerback/safety Byron Jones could be ready to step into a leadership role on that side of the football.

Kicker Dan Bailey has been a key cog for the Cowboys in recent years as he is almost automatic from within 55 yards, and more importantly he has a strong leg to get it done when the temperature changes which will be big for Dallas’ chances of getting to the postseason.

Jason Garrett

For Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, he and his squad have a chance to get on the right foot as they’ll host the New York Giants in Week 1 before traveling to face the Washington Redskins in Week 2. The Redskins won the NFC East last year and the Cowboys definitely want to try to set the tone for themselves in 2016 with a strong start within the division.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Giants 9-7

There will definitely be a different feel to the New York Giants this year as for the first time since 2003, Tom Coughlin is not the team’s head coach. Coughlin was at the forefront of one of the greatest stretches in Giants franchise history, but after three consecutive losing seasons and not making the postseason since 2011, he was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2015 National Football League season. But if you’ve watched the Giants over the past two years, you saw the writing on the wall when Ben McAdoo was hired to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2014. McAdoo has been groomed to be the Giants head coach and the time is now for him to have his opportunity.

Eli Manning

For Giants quarterback Eli Manning, he is hands down the most prolific quarterback in the 92-year history of the franchise. But what has hurt Manning recently is that the Giants have not put the most talented team around him. However Manning is entering his third season working with McAdoo which should benefit him and the Giants offense.

One thing that will definitely help Manning is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just two years in the National Football League, Beckham has already amassed 2,755 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns as he is on the fast track to becoming the best wide receiver in the history of the Giants.

But the Giants will holding their breath on wide receiver Victor Cruz who has been hit with the injury bug over the last two years. In 2014, Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon, while a calf injury kept him out for the entire 2015 National Football League season. The deck is stacked against him as far as having the same explosiveness that made him an overnight sensation in 2011, however the key for him is to be healthy.

Sterling Shepard

In the second round of the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Giants selected wide receiver Sterling Shepard who is Cruz with the explosiveness. The last few years have seen Shepard be one of the most dynamic wide receivers on the college football scene and it shouldn’t take him that long to become a favorite of Manning; especially on third down.

However as good as Beckham, Cruz, and Shepard can be, they are all smaller wide receivers which doesn’t help the Giants in the red zone where they need a big, physical receiver, or tight end. The Giants haven’t had a wide receiver with that presence since Hakeem Nicks in 2011, and they’ve lacked a player with that ability at tight end since Jeremy Shockey who last played with the team in 2007. However the Giants believe in their combination at tight end in Will Tye and Larry Donnell to be good options for Manning.

Under McAdoo, Manning has worked on getting the football out quicker which has taken away some stress from the Giants offensive line. But after having so much continuity on the offensive line from 2005-2012, the Giants have spent the past few years getting younger and more athletic. The Giants have used first-round picks on left tackle Ereck Flowers and guard Justin Pugh who along with center Weston Richburg need to become consistent contributors on the offensive line in 2016 if New York’s offense is going to have some success.

Defensively in 2015, the Giants never got on track as they were the worst unit in the National Football League. It was ten times easier for opponents to navigate their way through the Giants defense than traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike as they simply couldn’t stop anyone. As Steve Spagnuolo is in the second year of his second stint as Giants defensive coordinator, he is looking to get the unit back to what he had in 2007 when they made life tough for opposing quarterbacks en route to winning the Super Bowl.

A fireworks incident appeared ready to derail the career of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who played last year in spite of losing two fingers. Pierre-Paul played with a “club” on his right hand, and although that he was able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he was unable to record sacks. Pierre-Paul had a surgery on his hand this off-season that means no more club for him on his right hand, but he will still be fighting an uphill battle to tally quarterback sacks.

To offset Pierre-Paul, Giants general manager Jerry Reese went out and spent big in free agency on the defensive side of the football. The Giants signed defensive end Olivier Vernon to a five-year contract that could potentially be worth $85 million. In four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Vernon had 29 sacks, but with the contract that he signed, the folks in the Tri-State Area want to see him become a great pass rusher in the mode of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan.

Aside from Vernon, the Giants also signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins to big deals this off-season, while using their first-round pick on cornerback Eli Apple. The additions of Jenkins and Apple give the Giants much needed depth in the secondary as veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the team’s nickel cornerback, or Apple could assume that role as he gets his feet wet.

Landon Collins

After a solid rookie season in 2015, strong safety Landon Collins could be ready to take a bigger role defensively as he showed flashes last year of being a game changer which will be vital if the Giants are going to end their playoff drought.

The Giants linebacking core has been weak in recent years and this is a unit that has been searching for a leader since Antonio Pierce retired in 2009. And it will once again be a patch work unit here in 2016 which will hurt New York’s chances.

It seems like just about each National Football League season in recent years has the Giants opening with the Dallas Cowboys and that will be the same in 2016 when New York travels to AT&T Stadium to get things started in a few weeks. But the pressure will be on Reese to get the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 46 as he has run out of people to fire and team co-owner John Mara wants to see some positive results from his team.

Washington Redskins 6-10

The Washington Redskins found themselves as one of the pleasant surprises during the 2015 National Football League season as they came out of nowhere to win the NFC East. But the Redskins will begin 2016 looking to do something that they have not done since 1992 which is to make the playoffs in consecutive years. And to give you an idea of how long that has been, it was the last year of Joe Gibbs’ initial run as Redskins head coach, while the team still also called RFK Stadium home.

Kirk Cousins

In 2015, Kirk Cousins shocked many skeptics (myself included) to have the finest passing season of any Redskins quarterback to date. Cousins passed for 4,196 yards and 29 touchdowns as his famous catchphrase “you like that” was right at the forefront. The emergence of Cousins would see the Redskins part with quarterback Robert Griffin III who was the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft. Ironically Cousins was a seventh-round selection that year, but he was the one that was more prepared for the pro-style offense that Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is running. But the biggest question around Cousins entering the upcoming season is whether or not that last year was a fluke, or is he ready to become the Redskins franchise quarterback?

The Redskins allowed running back Alfred Morris to leave in free agency which means that running back Matt Jones will have an increased role this year in the team’s rushing attack. Morris was the team’s leading rusher last year with just 751 and Washington cannot afford to have an imbalance on offense like they did in 2015.

Tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Pierre Garcon should once again be the recipient of the majority of Cousins passes, but the Redskins must find a way to incorporate wide receiver DeSean Jackson into the offense more. Jackson missed six games last year due to injury and and Washington needs him to be healthy as he is their deep threat at wide receiver.

Last year under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the Redskins defense was a no-named band of brothers. But there will be some swagger in D.C. this year with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman. In four years with the Carolina Panthers, Norman developed a reputation around the National Football League as a solid cover corner. However we’ll soon find out if what we’ve seen from Norman was his ability, or the fact that he played behind a solid front seven with the Panthers.

Washington will have the luxury of beginning the upcoming season with consecutive home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. But it will be tough for the Redskins to once again find the formula that worked so fluidly for them in 2015.

Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

Jeffrey Lurie

After nearly three years of seeing the Chip Kelly experiment destroy his locker room, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to make a change. Lurie had gotten away from what had made his Eagles successful when he fired longtime head coach Andy Reid in 2012, in favor of a college coach in Kelly. Kelly tried to run the Eagles in the same mode that he ran his college program with the Oregon Ducks, but in the National Football League he didn’t realize that he was dealing with grown men. Lurie gave Kelly full autonomy over all personnel decisions which was a recipe for disaster. But Lurie saw the ills of his ways and he has decided to go back to the formula that made his Eagles a perennial playoff contender in the 2000′s.

With the termination of Kelly, Howie Roseman who is the Eagles executive vice president of football operations is now back to being the main decision maker when it comes to the team’s personnel moves. Roseman’s first order of business was to hire Doug Pederson as the Eagles new head coach. Pederson is very familiar with the Eagles family as he played for them as well as serving as an assistant coach under Reid.

Doug Pederson

Pederson is looking to rebuild the Eagles from the ground up and the first order of business for him was to find a franchise quarterback. At the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Eagles moved up to the second overall spot to select quarterback Carson Wentz. At 6’5″ 237 lbs., Wentz has the size to be a solid NFL quarterback, along with a strong arm. But Wentz has a tough task ahead of him as he looks to win over the fans in Philadelphia who’ve been known to be rather hostile.

However the Eagles are going about in the right way as Wentz is not expected to begin the season under center for the Eagles as he’ll have a clipboard in his hands, and an earpiece in his ear. Sam Bradford was the Eagles starting quarterback in 2015, and even though that the writing is on the wall as far as him not being in the long term plans of Philadelphia, he isn’t ready to give up the starter’s role without a fight.

It’s best that the Eagles are not ready to throw Wentz to the wolves as they don’t have a solid running game to protect him. The Eagles will more than likely employ a running back by committee system with Ryan Matthews and Kenjon Barner more than likely getting the bulk of the carries.

Zach Ertz

Philadelphia does have some young talent to catch the football in wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight Zach Ertz who should once again be able to click with Bradford in the passing game. And it also didn’t hurt that the Eagles recently acquired wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham from the Tennessee Titans. Green-Beckham has immense potential, but it is just a matter of him becoming consistent.

The Eagles defense has been undersized in recent years with Kelly at the helm, but there will be a new brand of physical and aggressive football under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Eagles were 30th in the National Football League last year in total defense and in order for them to improve, safety Malcolm Jenkins cannot lead this unit in tackles for a second consecutive year. The Eagles have veteran pass rushers in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Connor Barwin who must get after opposing quarterbacks and possibly force some turnovers.

The Eagles will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in 2016, but Pederson is in the process of laying the foundation for his time in Philadelphia.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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