Remember that old Far Side comic where “Dick Clark suddenly ages 200 years in 30 seconds”? I feel like that happened to Peyton Manning last November. It could be that he was simply worn down and is no longer capable of playing a full 16 games anymore, in which case Denver could (SHOULD) be smart and parcel out his playing time to keep him fresh for the playoffs. If Manning is completely shot, however, then this entire division is up for grabs. K.C. should be first in line to take over as champs if Denver indeed falters, though they and the Chargers definitely have their flaws. In fact, I think San Diego might be primed for such a letdown that I’m even picking them to finish behind the Raiders. That’s right, I’m on the Derek Carr bandwagon! Nothing can possibly go wrong here!
AFC EAST: Patriots, Bills, Dolphins, Jets
At this point, I’m just going to keep picking the Patriots until Tom Brady retires, Bill Belichick retires or….well, until any of the other teams get a clue. The Dolphins are quietly one of the worst-run teams in football. The Jets are quite publicly one of the worst-run teams in football (though new coach Todd Bowles is promising). The Bills recently got new ownership, a decent coach, a fantastic defense…unfortunately, they’ve decided to just have a bag of leaves play quarterback for the last 10 seasons or so. The latest bag is named Tyrod Taylor, a guy who couldn’t even beat out Joe Flacco for playing time. I feel like all three AFC East teams could deflate the footballs as much as they want and New England would still win this division by at least three games.
AFC SOUTH: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars
Shocker! Here’s my logic: for the last two years, people have been predicting a Colts regression and it hasn’t happened. Now that Indianapolis has beefed itself up with veteran additions and pundits are predicting a possible Super Bowl challenge, it stands to reason that the fates will NOW intervene and hand Indy a letdown season. I realize I’m putting way, way too much faith in a team with Brian Hoyer as its quarterback, but maybe Houston gets it all together this year with the Watt/Clowney wrecking crew in full force on the defensive line. With Marcus Mariota at QB, the Titans will be interesting for the first time in literally seven years. Jacksonville will continue to apparently be an NFL football team.
AFC NORTH: Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns
I feel like nothing ever changes in this division. Baltimore is always good, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh take turns being ‘the other good team’ and ‘the semi-dangerous, semi-disappointing 8-8 team’ and Cleveland is always awful. Rinse and repeat for this year, with the Bengals taking their signature first-round playoff loss. There’s no more underrated injury in football than losing one’s center, so losing Maurkice Pouncey for the season will ruin the Steelers’ chances.
NFC WEST: Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers
Seattle is Seattle, still the class of the division and maybe even the NFL despite Byron Maxwell’s departure and Kam Chancellor’s holdout. The Rams will be the usual Jeff Fisher-led mediocrity with a worthless offense, though the D looks downright scary. The 2014 Cardinals were such a weird Twilight Zone of a team that I don’t know what to predict this year. By all the advanced metrics, Arizona shouldn’t have been nearly as good as they were in the first half of last year, but they then had karma snap back on them like a rubber band when literally all their quarterbacks got hurt and they had to start what I believe was a guy off the street in the playoffs against Carolina. I just think there’s too much uncertainty there, though Bruce Arians is clearly an exceptional coach. As for the 49ers, yikes, this may have literally been the worst offseason in team history. Since I started writing this paragraph, I think three more 49ers retired.
NFC EAST: Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington
The damn Cowboys are going 13-3 and might win home-field advantage solely because they’re in this wretched division. The Eagles are truly going to be a disaster (I don’t buy into the Chip Kelly hype) yet they’ll still be 7-9 at worst because, you bet, they’re in this terrible division. New York and Washington…wow, just bad. The Jets are at least bad in a goofy way, whereas the Giants just stink under the radar. Odell Beckham Jr’s catch was literally the most exciting thing to ever happen in Giants history, topping even the Super Bowls and Lawrence Taylor’s “pack of wild dogs” sideline rant. Washington, meanwhile, is the worst franchise in sports. Moving on….
NFC SOUTH: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints
Part of me wants to pick Carolina again since I have no idea how they’ve won back-to-back divisions already, so I might as well ride the wave. That said, this seems primed for an Atlanta bounce-back year now that Mike Smith’s Eyebrows have been fired as the Falcons’ head coach. This’ll be the year when the Saints finally truly fall apart, and the Bucs will be mildly improved because of it (though 50 times less liable thanks to their sorry new quarterback). I might’ve picked Carolina had Kelvin Benjamin not been lost for the year to a preseason knee injury. Man, wouldn’t it suck to have that happen to your favourite team?
NFC NORTH: Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions
Aw dammit. No question, losing Nelson hurts Green Bay quite a bit. My hope is that Aaron Rodgers is just that damn good and can make any ol’ receiver into a star (there’s like an 85% chance this is the case), so the Pack’s offense won’t drop off that much. I’m also worried since the division is overall tricky. Not necessarily good, per se, but ‘tricky.’ The Vikings will be improved and I actually think they’ll make the postseason. Chicago replaced CFL Charlie with an actual NFL coach, so that’ll upgrade the defense right away. Detroit is goodish, rather than actually good; I have trouble believing the Lions can deliver back-to-back quality seasons since that hasn’t happened in 20 years.
AFC wild cards: Colts, Chiefs
NFC wild cards: Vikings, Panthers
AFC title game: Patriots over Colts. New England wins 81-0. The Colts discover that during the game, Tom Brady wore his socks a half-inch lower than NFL regulations dictate and then everyone argues about that for seven months.
NFC title game: Packers over Cowboys. Dez Bryant seems to catch the game-winning touchdown as time expires but the refs call it back since his socks were a half-inch higher than NFL regulations. I laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Super Bowl 50: It only makes sense that an anniversary Super Bowl should feature the Green Bay Packers, the greatest franchise in football history, defeating the modern-day dynasty from New England. Am I a giant homer for making such an obvious Super Bowl pick? Yes. On the flip side, if you consider that 50 in roman numerals is ‘L,’ and L is for loser, then logically the Super Bowl should be something like Lions vs. Browns. Can you even imagine that matchup? I think the halftime show of a Lions/Browns Super Bowl would just be David Byrne singing the “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” lyrics from ‘Once In A Lifetime’ over and over again.