AFC East – New England Patriots – Despite Brady’s suspension, I don’t see much competition from the other teams in the division. The Dolphins are rebuilding, Jets have a much tougher schedule than last year and could be 1-6 through 7 games. The Bills will need to be better than last year, but even a massive jump shouldn’t be enough to seriously threaten the Pats.
AFC West – Kansas City Chiefs – I think this division is a toss-up between Kansas and Denver. The Chiefs have built on their Offence from last year and also have a returning Jamaal Charles. The Broncos were outstanding on Defence last year and won a lot of games with very little help from their Offence. The Broncos can’t rely so heavily again on Defence again this year to pull them through as the Raiders and Chargers are much better outfits in 2016. Speaking of the Raiders, whilst the preseason hype might be over the top, another year of having Derek Carr in the program and Reggie McKenzie continuing to build through the draft with DeAndre Washington at RB and Karl Joseph at Safety should see an improved record. The Chargers will most likely finish last put it will be more likely a 7-9 or 8-8 season rather than the 4-12 from 2015. Keenan Allen’s return, Melvin Gordon looking better in pre-season, Perryman back from injury and of course Joey Bosa mean that the Chargers will be a stronger team.
AFC North – Pittsburgh Steelers – Pittsburgh might be missing Bryant for the season and Bell for 3 games, but their overall roster and the culture of winning cannot be understated, especially when you are being compared to a team like Cincinnati. The Bengals might have a stronger roster but I am not a believer in Andy Dalton or Marvin Jones. Could this year be the year they finally win a playoff game? Maybe, but they should have done it 2/3 seasons ago. The Ravens will improve in a similar fashion to the Chargers to a 7-9, 8-8 team after losing a lot of close games last year. I really like what the Browns are doing but their curve of improvement will follow that of the Jaguars, a slow season by season rebuild into a competitive team.
AFC South – Houston Texans – This might not be the fashionable choice due to the fact that all the preseason talk has been how the Jaguars and Titans are now going to be part of the “playoff elite”. Houston has a (marginally) better Quarterback this year in Osweiller with more options for him to throw to. Clowney is beginning to show what he can really do as he recovers from micro-fracture surgery. The Colts are a complete wildcard; I predict Luck will be back to the real Andrew Luck and not the 2015 shadow we witnessed last year. The Colts real issue lies in their non-playing staff, Ryan Grigson doesn’t really know how to build a good roster and Chuck Pagano doesn’t know how to coach one. The Jags will no longer be the laughing stock, but a winning season is their ceiling as the Defense has got to bed in a lot of new players in Fowler Jr, Jackson, Ngakoue, Jack, Amukamara, Gipson and Ramsey, all projected to be starters, all new to the roster. I like what the Titans are doing, but Mike Mularkey does not instil a lot of confidence. Hopefully for them, the ownership realise that their talented roster could be doing better and move on by the end of the 2016 season.
NFC East – Washington Redskins – I was going to say the Cowboys before Romo’s injury, and whilst Prescott has been more than impressive in pre-season, the speed of the game increases exponentially in the regular season, so expectations should be dampened a touch. The Redskins should be a similar team to last year. I am a believer in Cousins and whilst he isn’t a top-10 Quarterback, he isn’t far off it. The Giants will challenge them but a lack of running game and a poor Offensive Line will make them very 1 dimensional, although an Odell Beckham Jr dimension isn’t a bad one to have. For the Eagles, it will be Chase Daniel to start the season with Wentz to take his place when fit. If I remember rightly, Wentz was seen as a raw talent that needed to sit for a while before making the leap. He may have the talent but is he ready? One thing is for sure, his Offensive weapons won’t help him.
NFC West – Arizona Cardinals – Rumours of Carson Palmer’s demise is greatly exaggerated! Yes he was poor in that playoff game and he is a year older, but he has enough to get this stacked team to the playoffs again. The Seahawks will be a fun team to watch this year. Wilson is probably one of the most entertaining Quarterbacks in the NFL to watch. What will really be interesting to see is can the Wilson to Baldwin connection pick up where it left off last year so the Seattle passing game maintains being a legitimate threat? The Rams have pulled back the curtain this year on how they run their organisation by being on the 2016 edition of Hard Knocks. Jeff Fisher might be sick of being a .500 team but unless they get more production from the offence it might be the same old Rams. The 49ers really do look like they will be the worst team in the NFL. Gabbert at Quarterback, an injury-prone Hyde at RB, nothing to write home about at WR or TE the Offence will struggle. The Defense doesn’t seem too bad but with an Offence that looks like it will be conceding poor field position on a regular basis, it will be a long, hard season for Bowman et al.
NFC North – Green Bay Packers – In Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have the best Quarterback in the NFL. That fact alone is sometimes good enough to win game, other times it is enough to win a division. In Minnesota they have mortgaged a significant part of the 2017 draft by trading for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater’s injury. The rest of the roster is a potential Superbowl contender. I fear for the Vikings that even before Bridgewater’s injury, that the Quarterback position might be their downfall, but now they have Bradford, I’m sure of it. Chicago and Detroit are really the epitome of also-rans in 2016. They will win a few games but nobody will remember how or why.
NFC South – Carolina Panthers – The Panthers once again have an excellent roster thanks to David Gettleman. They are the front-runners in their division once again and with Cam Newton showing that he really is in the “Elite” category it does not bode well for the rest of the NFC South. Down in New Orleans they appear to have improved areas of weakness in their defence but a few of their free-agent signings appear passed their use by date in Kruger and Laurinaitis. Tampa Bay will hope to see a strong second season from Winston and with 5 Tight Ends on their 53 man roster it will be interesting to see if they are utilised in heavy sets to block for Doug Martin or if they will be used to complement Evans and Jackson in the passing game. Either way the Bucs will be more competitive and will be Carolinas biggest competition. The Falcons I believe are hamstrung by their Quarterback once again. Matt Ryan has regressed in the last two seasons and Atlanta are in the unfortunate situation where they think they have a franchise QB but in reality they should look to the draft next year if Ryan has another unproductive season in the win column.