I had this article started but did not get a chance to post it prior to the first Sunday of games. My friend and sometimes contributor Tim and I each set out our predictions for this season. They will be listed as a quick chart below, followed by some explanation from each of us. Feel free to comment on how wrong we both are for our predictions.
AFC Division Winners: Tim – Patriots, Bengals, Texans, Broncos
Ryan – Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Broncos
AFC Wild Cards: Tim – Bills, Ravens
Ryan – Titans, Chiefs
NFC Division Winners: Tim – Niners, Saints, Packers, Cowboys
Ryan – Niners, Falcons, Packers, Eagles
NFC Wild Cards: Tim – Seahawks, Falcons
Ryan – Seahawks, Saints
NFC Rookie of the Year: Tim – Eddie Lacy, Ryan – Tyrann Mathieu
AFC Rookie of the Year: Tim – E.J. Manuel, Ryan – Giovanni Bernard
Defensive Player of the year: Tim – Aldon Smith, Ryan – Clay Matthews
Offensive Player of the year: Tim – Peyton Manning, Ryan – Peyton Manning
MVP: Tim – Aaron Rodgers
Ryan – Colin Kaepernick
I left out the Texans in the AFC South and had both the Colts and Titans replace them. This was more about my concern of the Texans being a team who could fall out of the playoffs than it is an endorsement for the Titans or Colts as a championship contender. My last wildcard spot was the Chiefs. Their offensive line is very good and the pass-rush can be scary with Hali and Houston. If Alex Smith can take care of the ball, Andy Reid will pile up a decent amount of wins.
In the NFC nothing is too surprising, there are a lot of teams with the talent to make the playoffs. I picked the Eagles to win the East partially as a homer and partially because no one in that division impresses me and someone has to win. The Saints are my last wild-card despite my despise for any defense led by Rob Ryan, their offense is just too good. The Bears are the one team that I think can seriously challenge.
I like Eddie Lacy for NFC rookie of the year but went a different route. In the AFC Gio Bernard has a lot of hype following Hard Knocks so it won’t take more than a few big plays to get him the award. If Peyton Manning isn’t the offensive player of the year with his group of receivers, something is wrong. I went with Clay Matthews for Defensive POY because of an improved group around him that should allow him to make plays. My MVP is Colin Kaepernick, I am in that group of people that is in love with his skill set and the Niners should be the best team in the league this year.
Only real surprise here is the Bengals taking the AFC North. They are a team on the rise, and have maybe the only defense that can compete with the 2 powerhouses in the NFC West in Seattle and San Francisco. The Patriots shouldn’t have too much competition in the AFC East with the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins. I expect the Bills and Dolphins to be improved, but it would take a lot to unseat the Patriots there. The Broncos and Texans should dominate weak divisions, but the Colts could be a sneaky team. I just don’t see them getting the same luck (no pun intended) they did last season in close games.
The NFC is stacked with good teams, making these picks that much more difficult. Obviously 2 teams stand out, the Cowboys and Saints. The pick of the Cowboys is all about health. I think this is their last chance to put it all together, keep Austin, Murray, and the offensive line healthy and make a run for the playoffs. Any of those 4 teams could win the division without much of a thought, but I like their chances. The Packers should cruise in the North behind Rodgers and Lacy. The Saints will be rejuvenated by the return of Sean Payton. The offense is never a question, but the team looked lost last season at times, and I think his leadership will catapult them over the Falcons. The 49ers and Seahawks are a toss-up, so I took the team I think has better line play on both sides of the ball, and that was the 49ers.
The BILLS! Yes I know, it seems crazy, but stay with me here. Talent is not the issue with this team. C.J. Spiller is a beast, Stevie Johnson is a solid WR, and EJ Manuel could really surprise some people with his ability. He may not be the greatest single game QB, but he knows how to put together a decent season. Their D-Line should be great. They underperformed last season, but I’m optimistic they play to their potential. The Ravens just squeak in over the Colts and a bevy of 8-8 teams that will likely come out of the AFC. Let’s see what Flacco can do when he’s the “man”
Again, the NFC is so stacked. Right now I have the Redskins, Giants, Bears, Lions, and Vikings as the teams on the outside looking in. Any one of them could make a serious run at that 6th seed, but this race will be interesting to watch all season.
Rookie of the Year:
Manuel gets the nod because I believe he leads the Bills to the playoffs, and that puts him over the top for any players in the AFC. Lacy should get enough touches in the Packers offense to put up the kind of numbers that win awards. I don’t really see any defensive players having the kind of impact these rookies do, but one name to watch if it does come from the defense is Ziggy Ansah. That’s a tough lineup to crack, but if he gets regular snaps he could be a handful for offensive lines to block.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Smith is a sack artist extraordinaire, and with the likely regression of JJ Watt from the season he had last year, Smith has an opportunity to claim the title this year. Von Miller’s suspension helps a little too. If the 49ers don’t win the division, look for Watt to repeat.
Offensive Player of the Year:
Unlike last season, when Adrian Peterson took home both Player of the Year and MVP, this season will see a split between the two awards like the past. Peyton will come up short of the MVP, but in leading the Broncos to the AFC West crown, and just being Peyton Manning (7 TDs in the first game helps) he will take home the Offensive POTY award.
Most Valuable Player:
Not a huge shocker here. Rodgers is the best QB in football right now. He plays on one of the best teams in the NFL. I don’t really pay attention to the people talking about his leadership skills. Jermichael Finley needs to be more concerned with actually catching the passes thrown his way than how Rodgers leads. Expect Peterson, Manning, and Brees to be in contention, but Rodgers will walk away with the hardware.