The NFL season has finally arrived, which means it's time to roll out the yearly predictions.
More than any other sport, the National Football League is the toughest to predict. It's a sport that features very few great teams, some good and many in the average to bad category.
The talent has been diluted, there are too many teams and not enough players. I need to stop here though, because I really enjoy the NFL and if I continue speaking negatively about the league, the masses will call for my head.
With that, let's hit the picks.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Washington Redskins
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. New York Giants
The NFC East is a division filled with mediocrity. These teams' division battles will be high-scoring, entertaining affairs, but the lack of even average defenses doesn't bode well for league-wide success. The Cowboys have the highest ceiling because they have serious talent on both sides of the ball, but I don't trust head coach Jason Garrett to make it all come together. The coach I do trust is first-year man Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. He will be the best coach to make the jump from college to the pros since Jimmy Johnson. Much like the Redskins offense did last year, Kelly's creative, unique looks will take the league by storm. Even if Michael Vick can't stay healthy for 16 games, Nick Foles can do enough to make it hum.
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings
The hardest accomplishment in the NFL is winning with a below-average quarterback. Minnesota was able to do it last year with Christian Ponder, but won't be able to put together back-to-back overachieving seasons. Chicago and Detroit are pretty interchangeable, with the Packers being the clear-cut class of this division. Not to over simplify, but whomever has the better season between Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford is the key to second place.
1. Carolina Panthers
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The time has come for Cam Newton's individual success to translate to team success. It's not all about the quarterback though -- the Panthers' defense, led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, will help Carolina be the most well-rounded team in the division. The Saints' defense has been ravaged by injuries and the Falcons lost key members on that side of the ball this offseason. If it wasn't for Josh Freeman, I probably would have picked the Bucs to finish second, but I've lost trust in him despite flashes of slightly above average play across his career.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals
I'm picking the hometown team last, but that shouldn't be seen as an insult. Instead it's a product of circumstances. I could very easily see them finishing ahead of the Rams. Arizona's brutal schedule might make for a weird situation where they are actually better than the season before yet finish with the same record or even worse. The Cards are heading in the right direction -- the program head coach Bruce Arians and Steve Keim are putting together needs a little time and breathing room.
San Francisco is the class of the league. After this season, I expect Colin Kaepernick to be considered in the top tier of quarterbacks in the NFL -- he can do whatever he wants on a football field. Seattle isn't far behind -- Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick > Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson is the main reason the Niners go above.
#1 49ers #2 Green Bay Packers #3 Carolina Panthers #4 Philadelphia Eagles
#5 Seattle Seahawks #6 New Orleans Saints
NFC Championship Game
49ers vs. Packers
49ers vs. Packers
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Miami Dolphins
4. New York Jets
The biggest lock in the NFL is the Patriots winning the AFC East. The competition just isn't there. I do find the Bills intriguing with the potential of C.J. Spiller having a Marshall Faulk-type season running and pass catching out of the backfield. Buffalo also has some sneaky potential in their receiving corps. Spending sprees in free agency have a tendency to lead to failure -- welcome to the club, Miami. The Jets have some talent, but are one more offseason away from filling out the roster to be able to compete for a playoff spot again.
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Cincinnati Bengals
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bengals are a trendy pick to come out of the AFC. People seem to be forgetting their head coach is Marvin Lewis and their quarterback is Andy Dalton. Outside of those two positions, they are arguably the most talented team in the league. But unfortunately for Cincinnati, those are two most important spots on a football team. Baltimore's defense got better by subtracting aging stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The new regime in Cleveland should lead to big things this year. Getting to play the AFC East and NFC North is a big help for this division.
1. Houston Texans
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Picking the winner of this division was the toughest selection in the AFC. I went with the more talented roster top to bottom. One of the more intriguing storylines in the NFL this season is whether second-year QB Andrew Luck takes a big enough leap to help the Colts overcome what is a very obviously a regression year for them. It's not out of the question. Tennessee is somewhat intriguing. If they get elite offensive line play, there could be something there. If Jacksonville has some fun incorporating Denard Robinson into their offense, it will be the most watchable that team has been in years.
1. Denver Broncos
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders
Much like the NFC North with the Packers, the AFC West is about the Broncos, then everyone else. Even with the Von Miller suspension and some injury issues on defense, there just isn't enough talent in this division for anyone to compete with Denver. Watching Andy Reid have Alex Smith throw the ball 40 times a game for the Chiefs will have almost as much comedic value as his clock management skills (recognize ALMOST). The thought in some circles that San Diego's Philip Rivers is still a top-tier quarterback is one of the more entertaining narratives across the league. Rivers has been average and trending in the wrong direction the last two seasons. With a lack of skill players on the outside, this has disaster written all over it. Terrelle Pryor is starting for the Raiders -- that is all.
#1 New England Patriots #2 Denver Broncos #3 Baltimore Ravens #4 Houston Texans
#5 Cincinnati Bengals #6 Cleveland Browns
AFC Championship Game
Patriots vs. Ravens
Patriots vs. Ravens
49ers vs. Patriots
Super Bowl Champion: San Francisco 49ers
NFL MVP: Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia
Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina
Coach of the Year: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia
Breakout Player: Shane Vereen, RB, New England
"Bridgewater Sweepstakes" Winner: Oakland Raiders
Biggest Surprise: Sean Payton does the Johnny Manziel "money gesture" after a big defensive hit
Most Predictable: Rex Ryan beats up a Jets beat writer during a postgame press conference, and it will be well-deserved.
Biggest Accomplishment: The lights will stay on for the entire Super Bowl.