This is something I started doing a few years back, first on another non-football site and as of last year on this site. As a somewhat obsessive NFL 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 all the teams 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.
Look for the NFC edition in a couple of days.
BUFFALO BILLS- The Buffalo Bills will finish last in the AFC East. They will be a 5 win team. CJ Spiller will not make it through the season healthy. Mario Williams will continue to be a shadow of his former self, making Buffalo regret the contract they awarded him. Kiko Alonso will be a solid addition to the defense, but EJ Manuel will have a bad first year to the tune of ten touchdowns and over fifteen picks.
MIAMI DOLPHINS- The Miami Dolphins will dethrone the New England Patriots and win the division. They are a team that has always played hard, and a bevy of smart free agent signings and interesting draft picks will put them over the top. Their pass rush will be fierce with Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan, their secondary has a chance to be above average, depending on the health of new addition Brent Grimes and the development of new addition Jamar Taylor, their middle linebacker combo of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler gives them crazy versatility in coverage and blitz packages, and the additions of Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Mike Gillislee, Marvin McNutt and Brandon Gibson on offense is going to make Ryan Tannehill's life fairly easy.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS- The New England Patriots will go into their bye with a losing record, but will have a very strong second half and get the final Wild Card spot. Tom Brady's numbers will be the lowest they have been since before the Randy Moss era and New England will rely much more heavily on the run game than they have in a long time. Shane Vereen will be a breakout star for this New England team, and Danny Amendola will be very good but will miss time with injuries as he always does. Chandler Jones will have a decent year but will not consistently be the force he was at times last year, and Aqib Talib will prove to be just another headache for the organization at some point before the season ends.
NEW YORK JETS- The Jets will not be as bad as everyone expects, but they will still be pretty bad. The positives I expect this year are the continued development of Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill along with continued domination by Mo Wilkerson and Antonio Cromartie. The Jets defense will perform admirably and will see a 10 sack player for the first time in a while, but the offense will not be able to get the job done consistently. Geno Smith will start at least ten games this year and the jets will finish around 7-9.
BALTIMORE RAVENS- The Baltimore Ravens will control their division from start to finish. After ridding themselves of Brian Schottenheimer-esque offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Baltimore became an offensive juggernaut with Joe Flacco at the helm and Jim Caldwell calling the shots. Flacco's numbers will not increase significantly over the regular season but Baltimore will produce a dangerous balanced attack with what will become the best rushing duo in football, breakout seasons from underperforming TE Ed Dickson and rarely used but always promising receiver Tandon Doss, who will now get a chance to see the field with Boldin gone, and continued excellence from Torrey Smith. The Ravens will finish top ten in run defense and will be top three in the league in sacks thanks to 25+ combined takedowns by the duo of Suggs and Dumervil.
CINCINNATI BENGALS- The Bengals are an interesting team. A top wideout, a special defensive front four and a good coaching staff have made this team a popular dark horse candidate to many analysts, but when I look at them I see the Houston Texans; a team good enough to look like a threat at times in the regular season before you realize that gameplanning against them involves efficient quarterback play and limiting their one dimensional offense, regardless of how great that single dimension can be. This team does not become a legitimate threat unless Giovani Bernard becomes a rookie of the year candidate and gives Cincy one viable threat outside of AJ Green. I don't think he will. To me they seem just good enough to contend for a wild card spot, but not good enough to do anything of note with it.
CLEVELAND BROWNS- The browns have a running back with limitless potential, A top tier left tackle, one cornerback who looked a lot worse than expected after his excellent first year, a very underrated trio of defensive linemen upfront and one overpaid pass rusher who did his part to win the Ravens a super bowl. It remains to be seen if Paul Kruger's performance last year was an anomaly and if Barkevious Mingo can live up to his potential. The Browns could be two years and one quarterback upgrade away from contending for their division. This year I expect Trent Richardson to be top 5 in the NFL in rushing, and I expect them to compete respectably in many games, but they will still be picking in the early part of the draft.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS- The Pittsburgh Steelers have a good coach and great philosophies, and are proof that you can remain true to your philosophies as an organization in order to succeed in the NFL. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they have not drafted well over the last few years to replace older and more expensive players, which was always a staple of their ever-on-top team. Pittsburgh's attacking front needs Jarvis Jones to be a big hit for them, because it is apparent that Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds are not going to have the sort of impact that James Harrison did. The two most important players on Pittsburgh are Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, and neither is a safe bet to make it through the season uninjured. The Steeler offense is going to be relying on a collection of rookies and average players to score points and protect Big Ben, and the defense is primed to experience growing pains. I think they finish 8-8 and will not make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
HOUSTON TEXANS- The Texans still don't matter in terms of title contention. They have an excellent OLB in Brooks Reed, possibly the best defensive player in the NFL in JJ Watt, a top 3 running back in Arian Foster and a great offensive line, plus they just added Ed Reed to their secondary in an attempt to solve the Tom Brady problem. None of it will matter. They will edge out the Colts for their division, and will again be trounced in the playoffs by a team that can do the bare minimum and make Matt Schaub try to beat them. They are a classic tease team. They make you think they have a shot, but they are too flawed to win a title. I predict that their offensive line will not look as stout as it has over the past few years and that it will make Arian Foster look a bit more human.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS- Back when Peyton Manning was a Colt, the philosophy for Indy was simple. Give Peyton weapons and he will get you wins. It seems not much has changed in that regard. This offseason the Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw and Darius Heyward Bey, giving Andrew Luck a solid running back and a viable big receiver to work with. He still has Reggie Wayne and a collection of young speedsters and solid TEs to work with as well. On defense they signed Laron Landry to bolster a questionable secondary and drafted Bjorn Werner in the hopes of replacing Dwight Freeney. They are on the right track and I expect them to dethrone the Texans next year, and push them this year. I predict that Ahmad Bradshaw will account for 1,500 yards on the ground and through the air for the Colts this season.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS- The jags have an underrated linebacker in Russell Allen who is probably the future captain of the defense, and they have an exciting young receiver in Cecil Shorts who kind of reminds me of Victor Cruz at times. The prediction here is easy. They are going to be awful and they will be drafting either Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater next year.
TENNESSEE TITANS- A couple of fun defensive backs with solid upside on this team in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, and a guy who has become a perennial underachiever but is still notable in Chris Johnson. Kenny Britt is a problem child, Delanie Walker is already injured and Shonn Greene will be relied on to spell Chris Johnson. Oh, and the AFC South plays the NFC West this year. These guys will be drafting whichever one of those aforementioned two guys that Jacksonville doesn't.
DENVER BRONCOS- Barring an injury to Peyton Manning, Denver will cruise to a first round bye by virtue of being an above average team in a pretty bad division and having a pretty easy schedule. Of their last 8 games, only 2 will be against teams that had winning records last year, and none of those teams have significantly improved this offseason. Denver added some secondary help and probably still the best slot receiver in football, but their pass rush took a hit with the loss of Elvis Dumervil, and the injury to starting center Dan Koppen will have an effect on them early in the season as they face some of the more aggressive blitzing teams in football. My prediction is that Denver will look unbeatable at times in the regular season, but will not win a title due to a combination of Peyton Manning struggling in cold weather as he always does, and secondary woes from uninspiring safeties and the old-and-slowing-down Champ Bailey.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS- For two consecutive years I have predicted that the young, talented Chiefs were about to become competitive, and for two years in a row I was wrong. I am looking to make it three in a row. Call me crazy, but I am buying KC to finish with an over .500 record and while they won't make the playoffs, they will show enough to legitimize them as a franchise. Alex Smith is going to remain a game manager, Andy Reid will run Jamaal Charles ragged the way he did with Brian Westbrook, and if they are not put in a constant pressure cooker as they have been over the past few years by inept QB play, the KC defense will surprise a lot of people with how good they can be. Look for Eric Berry to have a breakout season, Brandon Flowers to enter the conversation as one of the best cornerbacks in football, and for the combo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to produce 20+ sacks.
OAKLAND RAIDERS- The raiders will continue to be the Raiders. They have a decent quarterback prospect in Matt Flynn, a couple of flashy speed receivers who will make big plays but are not refined route runners or possessing the most reliable hands, a running back in Darren McFadden who is a bigger, stronger version of Arian Foster when healthy (but he's never healthy…) and a collection of young defensive players who may eventually play well enough in Oakland to earn overpayment by some other team. Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch are a good safety duo, and Kevin Burnett is a good linebacker, but that's about it. Just another year in which a formerly notable franchise continues to be irrelevant.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS- The chargers are a team with a unique problem. They have a franchise quarterback with declining armstrength that wasn't so good in the first place, but whose timing used to be impeccable and is now suspect at times. He is a player who is still good enough where you can't just shrug your shoulders and move on to a new QB, but unless he reinvents his game he is not a player who will ever carry a team to a division again. This is a problem they seem to have as a franchise, in which their offense is still designed as if they have LT in the backfield, a healthy Antonio Gates tearing up the middle and a viable deep threat to air it out to. Every aspect of the thing that made the mid-2000s Chargers so good has faded to a pale shadow of its former self, and I don't think they realize that yet. Dwight Freeney rushing from behind behemoth Kendall Reyes could be a good pickup for them if he stays healthy, but outside of Eric Weddle this team's secondary is a joke. They will lose nine to ten games this year.