My 40 Predictions for the 2015 NFL Season
2013 was brilliant. 2014 was terrible. So 2015 will be decisive…or completely irrelevant like all predictions. Here we go!
1. AFC East
- Miami Dolphins 12-4:
The major concern about making Mike Tannenbaum your GM(which is what he appears to be despite Dennis Hickey’s presence) is your long-term outlook. In the short-term, Tannenbaum should make the team better. This isn’t like Jeff Ireland’s splurge which was immediately obvious in its misguidedness. Adding Suh, Parker, Philips, Stills, Jennings and Cameron should elevate the offense to be one of the best in the NFL.
- New England Patriots 12-4:
It’s going to be somewhat of a bumpy year but a favorable schedule will keep the Patriots as a playoff team. The complete absence of cornerback talent after last year’s success with star cornerbacks will be a tough transition to make early in the season, while the guard positions need to be sorted out on offense. Tom Brady is going to be available for all 16 games, but entering the year Aaron Dobson is his third receiver…and that’s presuming that Julian Edelman is going to be healthy. It is unlikely to be a Super Bowl hangover but last year is tough to follow.
- Buffalo Bills 8-8:
Tyrod Taylor is a quarterback I’ve wanted to get a starting shot for a few years now. I don’t think he will be anything greater than average, but average as a quarterback in the NFL is an achievement. It’s especially valuable when put in a situation where he can be used carefully and with a supporting cast that can work around his limitations. If Taylor stays in the starting lineup for 16 weeks they should threaten the playoffs, even if they ultimately don’t make it.
- New York Jets 5-11:
The Jets had a much better record prediction when I went through the schedule at the start of the preseason. Everything has gone wrong since then. Geno Smith’s injury is huge because he has threatened to breakout into a viable starter and finally had enough weapons around him to be consistently productive. Losing his preseason and training camp will hurt him when he returns, while Ryan Fitzpatrick is a terrible option as a stand-in. Devin Smith’s injury wasn’t as significant but a big hit. He could immediately have made a big impact. The suspensions and injuries on the defensive side are going to limit the overall effectiveness of that unit too.
2. MVP Finalists
Andrew Luck, J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Philip Rivers.
3. MVP Winner
Not that I think he will deserve it over others, but I suspect after passing on him last year there will be a desire to give it to J.J. Watt this season if he has another dominant year. Might be tough if their record is as dour as I think it could be though.
4. MVP Runner-Up
Andrew Luck is going to threaten records this year. Which records? All of the records.
5. Defensive Player of the Year Finalists
NaVorrow Bowman, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt.
6. Defensive Player of the Year
Watt. Everyone loves him too much.
7. AFC North
- Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7:
Much like the New York Jets, this team had a much better record when these predictions were first done at the start of the preseason. The combination of losing Maurkice Pouncey to injury and Martavis Bryant to suspension is going to be huge for them. The Steelers could have lost six or seven defensive players without taking as big of a hit as losing Pouncey, Bryant and Bell to star the year. They are an offense-reliant team with a defense that has major holes and generally lacks talent. It’s a testament to how talented their offensive pieces are that I still think they’ll have a winning record for the year as a whole.
- Cincinnati Bengals 9-7:
Part of me thinks this will be the year that the Bengals finally fail with Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback, but they’ve really built their offense to negate his inability as a player. Their offensive line is too strong(despite the starting center) while their running game should be very good with such a talented, diverse receiving corps. Defensively, Geno Atkins’ play will be critical as the defensive line looks limited and Vontaze Burfict’s absence will be felt early in the year. The franchise should still be a good regular season team, but the days of expecting a playoff run should be long gone.
- Baltimore Ravens 6-10:
A great offensive line but a quarterback who struggled a lot last year with a cast of receivers that initially appear very limited. Breshad Perriman’s injury to begin the year is going to hurt him for the whole season as he attempts to adjust to the NFL and develop better reliability at the catch point. Defensively, the idea that Haloti Ngata will be easily replaced is foolish, while the secondary talent surpassed Jimmy Smith is a significant concern. Kyle Arrington is an okay slot cornerback while Lardarius Webb’s career has been ruined by injuries. Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis are inconsistent veterans.
- Cleveland Browns 4-12:
We should probably have predicted that Josh McCown would become the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback at some point. McCown continues to get opportunities to start in the NFL despite a long track record that shows he’s an incompetent player. He will have stretches of impressive play, but ultimately he throws more games away than he helps you win. Danny Shelton could have a major impact on the defense as a run-stopper in the middle, but it won’t matter much unless the dominance of the offensive line is such that the Browns don’t need to throw the ball at all this year.
8. General Manager of the Year
Rick Spielman. It will be more of a two-year award, but the Vikings expected ascension into a playoff team will earn him widespread plaudits.
9. NFC Rookie of the Year
Jameis Winston. He will be very inconsistent, but his good will be good enough in what appears to be a relatively weak class of incoming rookies this year.
10. AFC Rookie of the Year
Marcus Mariota. Read above.
11. AFC South
- Indianapolis Colts 11-5:
The offense could propel this team to previously unforeseen heights, but the defense remains a major question mark. Ryan Grigson has had his best offseason since taking over as the team’s GM, but the holes on the defense will again be exploited by the better teams in the league. If the AFC South had improved more this offseason, the Colts could actually face some stiff competition for their division crown. It’ll be a surprise if they don’t comfortably win it though.
- Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10:
The hope for the Jaguars this year is that Blake Bortles can be subpar instead of a catastrophe. The offense has set itself up to consistently run the ball behind a strong offensive line. By taking more pressure off of Bortles they won’t be asking him to develop too much to improve as a team. Defensively, losing Dante Fowler and getting delayed play from Sen’Derrick Marks is going to have a major impact. The Jaguars were heading in the right direction with Jared Odrick and Fowler joining the defensive line as well as Telvin Smith and Ryan Davis coming into more prominent roles, but those injuries are just too severe.
- Tennessee Titans 6-10:
The Titans surrounding talent on offense will be good enough to allow Mariota to be an effective starting quarterback during his rookie season. Defensively however, they lack the pieces to be a truly competitive team. It should be a year of positive steps in the right direction even if the destination is still off in the distance.
- Houston Texans 5-11:
The defense could be great. It could even be the best in the NFL. My concern is how do they score points? Brian Hoyer was the worst charted player in the interceptable passes project. He was truly woeful for the Browns last season and that was playing behind a great offensive line. The Texans offensive line isn’t bad, but it’s not close to the Browns unit and Arian Foster is entering the year with a significant injury. Foster is already very old to be a feature back, but the Texans need him to be a star for their offense to function as desired. They do have enough receiving talent, especially DeAndre Hopkins who is a star, to be a good passing attack, but the quarterback without Foster is a terrifying proposition.
12. With the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft…
Washington selects Jared Goff. Another quarterback for Washington, although I’m really not confident in this prediction. Next year’s draft doesn’t have the obvious options like last year’s did with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
13. AFC West
- San Diego Chargers 13-3:
Depth is a concern because it feels like the Chargers can’t afford to lose even a couple of starters without taking a major slide. Melvin Gordon isn’t even a back I expect to be average or above average during his rookie season. What makes the Chargers so appealing is the prospect of Philip Rivers behind a real offensive line with the pass-rushing potential and secondary options on the other side of the ball. Rivers was great when healthy last year, but he was asked to do too much behind a porous offensive line and while playing through injuries over the second half of the season. With more talent upfront and presumably better health, the offense should be one of the best in the NFL. The defense will be a complementary unit that looks for key plays and turnovers rather than consistency.
- Denver Broncos 11-5:
Wade Philips should make the defense even better than it was under Jack Del Rio, but the biggest question of the whole season might be Peyton Manning’s arm strength. The early signs aren’t encouraging as he was off target with limp efforts on downfield throws during the preseason. Manning’s brain is still amazing, but can the body do what the brain tells it? Even if it does, can it do it for 16 games?
- Kansas City Chiefs 6-10:
Back problems are not the problems you want your nose tackle to have. Dontari Poe’s injury is going to have a major impact on the Chiefs season because he’s an integral piece of their defense both against the run and the pass. That defense finished second in points allowed last year, but was below average by Football Outsiders DVOA, a better measure of units in the NFL in my opinion. The Chiefs defense will always give up fewer points so long as their offense is led by the hyper-conservative Alex Smith. Smith may help his defense look better, but he doesn’t help his team win games by turning down open receivers downfield. The overly-cautious play can be the fatal play as much as an interception or fumble.
- Oakland Raiders 4-12:
Amari Cooper should have a positive impact on the offense while a full season of Latavius Murray behind Rodney Hudson should have a huge impact on the running game. Defensively, the Raiders are still working towards being a good unit, but the development of Khalil Mack alone will make the front seven intimidating. This team ultimately comes down to Derek Carr. They have enough talent to win six or seven games, but Carr needs to be a lot better than he was during his rookie season. If he takes a step forward mentally and technically then he can make better use of his apparent physical talent.
14. Dead Coach Walking
I actually liked Jay Gruden a lot when he was the Bengals offensive coordinator but too much has happened in Washington this offseason and the obvious wrestling match between he and his owner over the team’s quarterbacks should ultimately lead to his departure. It would not surprise me if Griffin is reinserted as the starter after Gruden is fired before midseason.
Gus Bradley. It’s hard to pick someone because so many teams have changed coaches so recently, but are the Jaguars going to improve enough to justify the Jaguars sticking with Bradley past this season? The question may simply be ‘Is Blake Bortles going to improve enough…?’
16. NFC East
- Dallas Cowboys 13-3:
A healthy Romo and potentially an even better offensive line with multiple additions to the defense, the Cowboys are set up for big things in 2015. Figuring out who the starting running back should be may not ever happen, but it likely won’t matter so long as they don’t get atrocious play from the position. DeMarco Murray is a very talented running back, but that doesn’t meant he Cowboys can’t replicate much of his production with other players in 2015. The bigger deal is that Romo won’t be dealing with constant health ailments entering the season at least. When healthy last season, he was nothing short of phenomenal.
- Philadelphia Eagles 12-4:
Sam Bradford is going to be great in the Eagles offense. The signs were there in the preseason, but it goes further past that. Bradford is a hugely talented player who has played very well in the league, his production has just been shut down by awful supporting casts. The concern for the Eagles is obviously his health coming back from a second career torn ACL, but nobody can predict if his knee holds up or not. All we can examine is how he played after it. The preseason suggests he’s ready to return to top form. Defensively, the Eagles secondary is going to be a problem, but the front seven is strong enough to cover for many of their mistakes.
- New York Giants 7-9:
Will Beatty’s injury came at an awful time for the Giants as they appeared set to put together a strong starting unit on the offensive line for the first time in a while. Shane Vereen’s addition will help them mask any offensive line issues as he will be a focal point of the quick passing game, while Odell Beckham should remain uncoverable so long as he keeps his head on the field instead of searching out defensive backs to hit. Defensively, the Giants are bringing the lack of safety talent across the league to a new level but should have a strong starting cornerback tandem. The defensive line without Jason Pierre-Paul will be a problem, but not as big of one as the linebacking corps’ inability to play in space.
- Washington 3-13:
Kirk Cousins likes to turn the ball over….a lot.
17. BreakOUT Candidates
Melvin Ingram, Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald, Stephon Gilmore, Scott Chandler, Dominique Easley, Kendall Wright, Jadeveon Clowney, Latavius Murray.
18. BreakDOWN Candidates
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Arian Foster, Roddy White.
19. Comeback Player of the Year
Sam Bradford. Will put up huge numbers if he plays 16 games.
Adrian Peterson. He’s not coming back from an injury and it’ll be impossible for voters to give him the award considering why he was suspended last year, but based solely on play he should be up there.
21. NFC North
- Green Bay Packers 11-5:
Jordy Nelson’s injury is going to hurt the Packers more than most think, but they will still be the best team in the NFC North. Beating better teams in the playoffs will be a lot tougher without Nelson though.
- Minnesota Vikings 10-6:
Teddy Bridgewater is already an above average quarterback. If he develops better accuracy throwing to vertical routes, he will threaten the top five at his position. Many of those deep shots will be going to Mike Wallace, a player who needs to re-establish himself after struggling so much in Miami. Wallace couldn’t track the ball in the air, but he will still comfortably get open as he is close to the prime of his career. Adrian Peterson’s return will improve what was already an efficient running game. Defensively it’s going to be tough to be excited about the Vikings if Trae Waynes is starting. The cornerback was exposed throughout the preseason and simply isn’t ready to start at this level. He may never be. Otherwise the unit boasts a lot of talent at each level.
- Detroit Lions 8-8:
There are few replacement options for Ndamukong Suh, but Haloti Ngata may be the best of them. Ngata still won’t have the same snap-by-snap impact as Suh did on the whole Detroit defense. The unit should slacken off with a less-talented defensive line covering for the secondary’s mistakes. On offense, Matthew Stafford remains an enigmatic player but Ameer Abdullah threatens to greatly improve the rushing attack. A healthy Calvin Johnson across from Golden Tate would also make the Lions a much better offense this year than last.
- Chicago Bears 5-11:
Not making that mistake again.
22. Coach of the Year
Mike McCoy. If the Chargers are as successful as I think they can be, McCoy will receive most of the credit.
Joe Philbin. Philbin will likely be fired if the Dolphins don’t make the playoffs, so there isn’t really a middle ground for him this season.
24. The NFC Team Most Likely to Surprise
Nick Foles is a major problem as a starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, but the defense is terrifying and the running game should be strong if Todd Gurley and Tre Mason stay healthy. Benny Cunningham flashed talent last year too.
If everything clicks for the Detroit Lions offense, that unit could be unstoppable. Of course, we’ve been saying some form of that sentence for a few years now. Expecting Matthew Stafford to be anything other than Matthew Stafford at this point is foolish.
26. The AFC Team Most Likely to Surprise
If Geno Smith gets back quickly and plays with the consistency that he finished his first two season in the league with, the New York Jets will have a chance to compete in the AFC East.
Just like they did last year, the Browns could win in spite of their quarterback play, but that seems unlikely on the whole.
28. NFC Player Who Will Feel the Most Pressure
Drew Brees. Same player as last season for reasons that are largely the same. The window is closing and every effort to improve the team around him has been made.
29. AFC Player Who Will Feel the Most Pressure
It’s the year of the old quarterbacks! Peyton Manning is the obvious one here. This season should be his last and it may face a premature end if he and Gary Kubiak can’t figure it out.
30. NFC South
- Atlanta Falcons 9-7:
I doubt this division turns into a quality one after the debacle that was last year. The Falcons have the best offense with Kyle Shanahan at the helm while the defense should be dramatically improved over last year. They may not be a good team, but someone has to be the best team of the four.
- New Orleans Saints 7-9:
This may be a generous number because the predictions were made before Keenan Lewis was ruled out for an extended period. The Saints have changed a lot, but the secondary looks like a travesty and the edge rushers were a problem before Anthony Spencer and Junior Galette departed.
- Carolina Panthers 6-10:
Kelvin Benjamin isn’t a good player yet, but he was the best receiver the Panthers had and the gap was dramatic. Not only does his loss push a player who isn’t comfortable as a starter into a starting role, it also puts more pressure on every single receiver on the depth chart to outperform his abilities. Otherwise Cam Newton will be playing quarterback with his hands tied for the year.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12:
Winston will be a good quarterback eventually, but I doubt he is from day one. He needs to improve his mechanics to get more from his arm strength and accuracy while the roster around him has major holes at many spots.
31. AFC Team Most Likely to Flop
The Colts. Expectations are huge because of the offensive talent, but Frank Gore could conceivably fall off and the holes on the defensive side aren’t going anywhere. The AFC South will keep them away from the worst records in the league, but their chances of winning the AFC may not be higher than they were last season.
So long as Andy Dalton remains the starter in Cincinnati, the threat looms. Though all of the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl predictions suggest they should be in this spot.
33. NFC Team Most Likely To Flop
The easy choice here is the Philadelphia Eagles because an injury to Sam Bradford would cripple their chances of living up to their high expectations. That is largely the same for every team across the league though. Instead, the Vikings being behind schedule seems more likely as their expectations continue to bloat.
If the Packers can’t effectively replace what they lost in Jordy Nelson, they won’t have any chance of living up to being a favorite in the conference.
35. NFC West
- Seattle Seahawks 13-3:
This Seahawks team doesn’t look to be as talented as the teams of the previous two seasons, but the quality of the defense and enough weapons on offense should still allow them to consistently win games during the regular season. Russell Wilson needs to play without the hesitation that plagued him as a passer last season, though that may be difficult behind what looks set to be one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Kam Chancellor needs to return so the Seahawks can more easily compensate for the inability of Cary Williams starting across from Richard Sherman.
- St. Louis Rams 9-7
I’m not sure how you gameplan for a defensive line that boasts Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Nick Fairley and Chris Long…not to mention Michael Brockers who will actually start ahead of Fairley on run downs. Donald should continue to improve in his second season while Quinn is still approaching his prime. T.J. McDonald is a star in the secondary while the remaining pieces should be strong enough to make this a defense that is competing to be the best in the NFL. The concern is Nick Foles. The Rams should be able to run the ball and their receivers are much better than they have been in previous seasons, but Foles is a mistake waiting to happen. A quarterback who was elevated by Chip Kelly and a player who struggles under pressure.
- Arizona Cardinals 7-9:
What Bruce Arians did with this team last season was incredible. Losing Carson Palmer so early in the year should have completely derailed their season, but it didn’t. Whether that was about fortune or skill, it’s not something the Cardinals will be expecting to face in 2015. Palmer is healthy and looked good for most of the preseason before struggling in his final outing. Palmer and the offense should be fine and so should the defense, but they don’t appear to be a better all-around team than they were last year.
- San Francisco 49ers 4-12:
Jim Tomsula doesn’t inspire confidence in place of Jim Harbaugh, while Colin Kaepernick isn’t the kind of quarterback who is going to succeed regardless of what he is asked to do. Tomsula will likely place an emphasis on running the ball, but the 49ers offensive line isn’t the dominant, versatile unit it was previously. Defensively, you can’t afford to lose all your star players and still be a good defense. Regardless of what kind of talent you have drafted, the transition to less experienced players and their need to develop will make for a tough year. Tough even if you presume those players are as talented as the ones they are replacing.
36. Team with the Best Chance to Go Undefeated
If the offense clicks right in the weaker division and weaker conference, the Indianapolis Colts could have an outside shot of going undefeated. This isn’t a year with an obvious choice though.
37. Team with the Best Chance to Go Winless
Washington’s overall talent on their roster isn’t awful, but it is close to it. Without competent quarterback play, they could be a walkover each week.
38. AFC Championship
Indianapolis Colts v San Diego Chargers. It’s Andrew Luck’s year. He smooths out his minor flaws and gets the most out of the weapons around him to lead the Colts and their limited defense to the Super Bowl.
39. NFC Championship
Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks. The three-peat could have been on if the Seahawks hadn’t made the wrong choice at the goal line or dealt with so many debilitating injuries in their secondary during last year’s Super Bowl.
40. Super Bowl
Although the Seahawks offensive line is a major issue over the whole year, it’s something they are able to work around. They are fortunate to come up against an opponent in the Super Bowl who doesn’t have the defensive line talent to expose their greatest flaw, allowing the Seahawks to win another Super Bowl under Pete Carroll.