As a somewhat well informed fan who pays attention to not just his own team but the entire league, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the league and make some predictions. This is not a well-researched post, but more of an opinion based one. Enjoy it for what it is, and leave your own predictions/disagreements in the comments section. It'll be fun. I promise.
1- The Buffalo Bills will record 40+ sacks this season. Thanks to a vastly improved defensive front, this team should have no trouble getting to the qb. I think their defense will look dominant at points against the pass.
2- They will still have a bottom 10 rank against the run. They will be playing a number of teams with run-heavy offenses this season, and none of their new additions have ever been stalwarts against the run. There's no reason to assume that they will vastly improve in this department.
3- Buffalo does not make the playoffs. Though they will improve in one key area, they will still have the same subpar hot-and-cold offense and porous run D. They will hang around until week 16 or so due to a really easy stretch from weeks 11-16, but there will be other teams better than them.
1- The Dolphins will record their first win in week 9. This is an awful team. When Reggie Bush and Chad Ochocinco are the guys you are counting on to carry you, you may as well just start thinking about who you're gonna spend your top five draft pick on.
2- Brian Hartline will establish himself as a legitimate NFL receiver. He will finish the season with just under 900 yards and about six scores, and will establish himself as part of Miami's plans going forward.
3- Ryan Tannehill will make his first NFL start in week 15. Dolphin management will want to start him by week 13, but will hesitate for two weeks as they will not want him to get his career off to a start against the Patriots or the 49ers.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS-
1- New England will get the #1 seed in the AFC, but will lose their playoff opener. It will be very heartbreaking. We shall all sob.
2- Brandon Lloyd will finish the season with more yards than any other Patriot receiver. Despite being slightly overrated, this is the first legit #1 Brady has had since Moss declined, and he will take advantage of it. Lloyd will not get lost in the offense as many seem to think. Brady will start looking for him consistently by week 3.
3- New England's defense will not be any better than they have been in the past couple of years despite their two early defensive draft choices. I'm not calling them both busts yet, I just don't think either Chandler Jones or Donta Hightower is going to have much immediate impact.
NEW YORK JETS-
1- The Jets will reach the AFC Championship game for the third time in four years. This is a team with a lot more talent than people realize, and I expect Sanchez to not be the guy he was last year.
2- Rex Ryan will win coach of the year. This is his 4th year as a head coach, and there have been growing pains. I believe he will finally get it and exert enough control while being less buddy-buddy than he has in the past, thanks in large part to the new supporting cast of coaches, especially Sparano. I expect Sparano to be a stabilizing force.
3- Dustin Keller will make the pro-bowl for the first time. Keller has teased us in the past with dominant stretches punctuated by disappearing acts. This season will be more dominance than disappearance for him. He will benefit from Hill stretching the field as much as Holmes will.
1- Baltimore will have a top five pass defense. What was once a weakness of this team has become a strength after several years of smart drafting. The starting group of Jimmy Smith/Ed Reed/Bernard Pollard/Cary Williams/Lardarius Webb could end up being the second best in the AFC.
2- Dennis Pitta will pass Ed Dickson on the depth chart at TE by season's end. He is not necessarily the more talented player, but seems to be a bit smarter and have a bit better chemistry with Flacco.
3- Courtney Upshaw will win defensive Rookie of the year. Upshaw will have huge shoes to fill as he subs in for te injured Terrell Suggs, and he won't be anywhere near as good as T-sizzle, but rushing behind Haloti Ngata in that aggressive defense and with Ray Lewis coaching you? He will make an immediate impact.
1- Andy Dalton will have a sophmore slump. The team added another receiver in Mohammed Sanu and drafted a decent guard in Kevin Zeitler, but they also lost two o-line starters from last year and I think we can see more games like his playoff game and fewer like the crazy ones he was putting up in the regular season.
2- Benjarvus Green-Ellis will fumble for the first time in his career this year. He will also top 1,000 yards rushing and carry the Bengals offense at points. This has to be one of the most underrated guys in the current NFL. He's a tough runner, and while he doesn't have the best measurables he compensates with smarts and guts. I expect a big year from him.
3- The Bengals on again/off again defense will be off again, and a brutal final five games of the season (SD, DAL, PHI, PIT, BAL) will deny them a playoff spot.
1- Brandon Weeden will look very good against bad teams, giving the Browns hope for the future. They will still be too awful defensively to compete in this division but they could be one good offseason away from being an upper-middle of the pack team.
2- Trent Richardson will win the offensive Rookie of the Year award. Cleveland has been a run first team for a while now and there's no reason for this to change. The offense will run through him and while I don't buy in to the Adrian Peterson comparisons, he's going to be very good right out of the gate.
3- Joe Haden will continue growing as a cornerback, and could be in the conversation for one of the best in the league by year's end. It is likely that teams will stop throwing at him soon.
1- Pittsburgh will not make the playoffs this year. they have a tougher schedule than they have had in quite a while, and they are already showing signs of disarray with injury concerns and holdouts. I think this is the year where things start going wrong for them.
2- There will be talk at some point in this season of moving on from Ben Roethlisberger. It won't happen, but there will be talk.
3- The defense will uncharacteristically struggle against the run this year. Ziggy Hood will underachieve and Troy Polamalu will continue to injure himself with his reckless playing style. The defense will decline on both levels, but not too much. They won't be bad, they just won't be as good as we've come to expect.
1- Houston's defense will come back down to earth this season. They overachieved last year and while they will still be better than the squad from two years ago, they will finish just outside of the top ten in the NFL for overall defense.
2- Andre Johnson will begin his decline from great receiver to very good receiver this year. His legs look like they are about to start going on him.
3- Houston will have the worst record of any AFC division winner, but will certainly win their division based on how weak it is. They have a much tougher schedule this year than they did last year, and by the end of this season we should know exactly who this team is, and whether they really are as good as they looked last year. I say they aren't.
1- Reggie Wayne will put up another solid season and will become Andrew Luck's favorite target fast. One of Wayne's great strengths is his short/comeback routes, and Luck should be looking to get rid of the ball quickly behind that o-line.
2- Andrew Luck will challenge Peyton Manning's rookie interception record but will not break it. He will have at least three 4 pick games. The lack of a run game in Indy will force them to throw often.
3- Indy's defense will be better than people think. They will still get beat up due to a tough schedule, but they will not get blown out often. Mathis and Freeney will look good, and Cory Redding will help open Mathis up for more pressures/sacks, and Pat Angerer will become one of the better NFL middle linebackers.
1- Rashad Jennings will thrive, with or without MJD back with the team. For that matter, if Jacksonville decides to not cave to MJD's demands, Jennings could have top five rushing stats by season's end in a run-heavy offense with a team whose offensive philosophy has always been run-heavy/control the clock.
2- Jacksonville's defense will be middle of the pack, but Clint Session could make them just a bit better. It's an interesting addition to a front seven that was already pretty decent.
3- Jacksonville will draft Matt Barkley with the first pick in the NFL draft, though they may have to trade up a couple spots to do it. I just don't buy Blaine Gabbert as the answer.
1- Chris Johnson will have games where he looks like the old Chris Johnson, but he will not put up the kind of full season numbers he did his first few years. With a couple of lukewarm options at qb and a receiver corps that is average (excepting Kenny britt, who could be suspended for his dumbassery a few weeks ago), teams can still afford to focus their entire defensive gameplan on him.
2- Tennessee will have a decent defense but will be a six win team at most.Their offense has too many holes, their defense is not strong enough and their schedule is challenging.
3- Tight End Jared Cook will continue to progress as a receiver and should have a 900-1000 yard season. He has been getting a little better every year and the offense will probably need to look over the middle often.
1- Peyton Manning, if he manages to stay healthy, will be a top ten qb but I don't believe he'll ever be a top 3 guy again. Upside for Denver is, he may not need to be. Their defense is really good, though I can see the secondary becoming a huge problem for them within a couple of years if they don't start drafting some real talent.
2- Eric Decker will be Welker-esque this year with Manning healthy. He's quick and has great hands, and Manning should be focusing more on short/intermediate routes until his full armstrength returns, if it ever does at all.
3- Knowshon Moreno will redeem himself for years of underperformance this year. At some point he will get a chance to see the field and I expect him to make the most of it. He's a prototypical Manning running back, a shifty guy with above average receiving skills. He could become Manning's new Joseph Addai. Of course he will need to stay healthy first.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS-
1- KC still does not have a real NFL quarterback and are ultimately not a real title contender, but their offensive and defensive talent gets a little better every year. Jonathan baldwin and Dwayne Bowe are a very good pair of receivers, and the backfield is loaded with talent too. Tight end Tony Moeaki is also very solid. The only thing this team seems to be missing is a qb. If they ever figure that out, they could be lethal.
2- If KC can avoid the injury bug this year I expect them to win the AFC West. They have a young, hungry defense and a loaded offense. The win still won't be an impressive one, I'm guessing 10 wins will get it done in the West. I think they finish with an identical record to Denver but a better head to head record.
3- The addition of Eric Winston will make KC's offensive line one of the best in football. They have young guys with promise all across their line, as well as 3rd and 4th year guys who were early draft picks or have shown a bunch of potential and look like they are just about to make good. Winston could prove to be the stabilizing force.
1- Oakland will regress this year. For the last couple of years they have looked like they could become competitive but have constantly fallen just short. This year their schedule is too tough and they did not do enough to keep up with the improvements that the rest of their division has made.
2- Carson Palmer will once again show a few games of promise but ultimately prove that the Bengals made a good call in moving on from him. He's just never going to be the guy they thought he was.
3- The difference between a 7-9 Oakland team that hangs around for a bit and a 5-11 team that goes nowhere in a hurry will be Darren McFadden. He could be the best running back in football when healthy. The problem is, he's never healthy. This year is a crucial one for him. He could find himself out of a job come this time next year if he gets hurt again.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS-
1- San Diego lost Vincent Jackson after years of undervaluing him. This will undoubtedly hurt them. It could be another rough year for Phillip Rivers, as there is nothing better for a gunslinger like him than a guy like Jackson who cleans up mistakes. I don't know if any of the guys on their receiver depth chart is capable of doing that right now, and Antonio Gates is a practical lock to miss 4-5 games a year at this point.
2- Despite their setback on offense, San Diego actually did a lot to improve their defense. Melvin Ingram could make an immediate impact. Kendall Reyes adds depth to an already good d-line. Atari Bigby and Jarrett Johnson could end up being two huge free agent pickups. If either of them plays the way they are capable of, this team will have a good defense. If both do, the defense could be scary good.
3- San Diego's trend in recent years has been to start slow and finish impossibly strong. I believe that this year will see a reversal. I expect them to look like they are in control of their division with a 4-2 or 5-1 start, and then tailspin to a 7-9 or 8-8 finish.
Well. That's the AFC. I'll do the NFC either over the weekend or next week.