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Football forecasting 2016

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New England Patriots' Tom Brady (12) throws a pass under pressure from Carolina Panthers' Vernon Butler (92) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. New England Patriots' Tom Brady (12) throws a pass under pressure from Carolina Panthers' Vernon Butler (92) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Previewing the latest NFL season

The 2016 National Football League season is upon us. In fact, many of you reading this may have already seen at least some of the first weekend of games the initial match-up takes place on Sept. 8 between last year's Super Bowl 50 foes, the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.

As always, there's plenty to anticipate. Lots that we know, lots that we don't knowand a whole lot that we think we might know but don't actually really know. Those who have read these previews in the past know that I live my life in that last category.

And so once again, I will be attempting to anticipate how the 2016 season will play out. Despite proving each and every year that I'm essentially a monkey with a dartboard, I'm going to give it another go.

(For those interested, I will also be continuing our popular 'Kibbles and Picks' online-only feature, wherein I attempt to pick the winners in each week's schedule on NFL games and try to be more successful than my dog Stella who has defeated me handily in two of the previous three seasons, by the way. Check our website at www.themaineedge.com every Thursday to see if man can even the score against beast; it's possible, but I wouldn't count on it.)

Without further ado, here is your sure-to-be-inaccurate 2016 Maine Edge NFL Preview.

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(y = division winner; x = wild card)

AFC

AFC East

New England Patriots - 11-5 (y)

Buffalo Bills 8-8

New York Jets 7-9

Miami Dolphins 7-9

I recognize that picking the Patriots to win the division could be construed as rampant homerism, but I would defy anyone to assemble a cogent argument for any of the other three AFC East teams as champion. Sure, New England faces the first quarter of the season without the suspended Tom Brady, but Jimmy Garoppolo just has to keep the seat warm. With Martellus Bennett joining Rob Gronkowski to form the scariest dual tight end sets in the league and Julian Edelman still around to do Julian Edelman things, the offense should be just fine. And the defense looks strong at linebacker and in the secondary, though the D-line could struggle to get to the passer. Still, until they don't win it, the Pats are the pick. I'm probably underselling the Bills here there's potential for a very good, perhaps even playoff-worthy season from this group. If Tyrod Taylor keeps things moving forward with Sammy Watkins and company and the running game maintains its high level of production, Buffalo's offense could be excellent. The defense is also ready to improve, even with some injury issues. With this assemblage of talent, Coach Rex Ryan might have his best chance in years to make some postseason noise too bad New England remains in his way. The Jets came closer to the postseason than their talent probably warranted last year; they seem primed for a step or two backwards this year. The awkward saga of Ryan Fitzpatrick ended with him under center for a team that didn't seem to want him. New running back Matt Forte might be cooked, especially if the O-line doesn't show some improvement. The defense is solid, but some key figures Darrelle Revis chief among them appear to have lost a step. A .500 finish seems like the best-case scenario. In terms of the Dolphins, they can likely count on continuing their long playoff absence. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still the guy, although the expected advancement has never taken place. They lost perhaps their best offensive talent in running back Lamar Miller, leaving the offense's performance in Tannehill's hands. As for the defense, there are some good players guys like Ndamukong Suh but there's a lack of cohesion. Basically, while I might have undersold on Buffalo, Miami might need a lot of luck to even get to seven wins.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals 10-6 (y)

Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7 (x)

Baltimore Ravens 8-8

Cleveland Browns 4-12

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet here I am, once more expecting the Bengals to take the step forward that we've been anticipating for years now. This team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball their starting lineup is elite - but will it be enough to get past the first round and break the streak of one-and-dones? Andy Dalton and company certainly hope so. The Steelers just keep plugging along. Not much changes, but it doesn't have to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown are a top-flight pairing, and while RB Le'Veon Bell will miss the first few games, DeAngelo Williams proved more than capable as a fill-in last year. The defense is a little shaky, but there's enough firepower to make Pittsburgh no fun at all to play against. They've got a straightforward path to nine or 10 wins and a playoff berth. Baltimore is in the worst possible place to be in today's NFL utter mediocrity. Their defense is solid as per usual guys like Terrell Suggs and new addition Eric Weddle will keep that tradition alive but they don't have much to celebrate on the offensive side. Quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't have many weapons and the O-line has some question marks; add to that the surprise dismissal of erstwhile starting RB Justin Forsett and this team will be lucky to land at .500. As for Cleveland, wellat least the Cavaliers won. Seriously, there's not a lot to look forward to from the Browns. They're once again pinning their hopes on a big QB question mark this time, it's Robert Griffin III. Tight end Gary Barnidge needs to continue his breakout and wideout Josh Gordon has to show that he hasn't lost a step after his lengthy drug-related absence from the league. Not that it matters, because this team is pretty terrible defensively. Four wins might actually be high.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 (y)

Houston Texans 8-8

Indianapolis Colts 7-9

Tennessee Titans 6-10

I'm probably a year early on the Jaguars, but this team has the potential to be one of the league's most exciting this season. Blake Bortles has shown some flashes at quarterback and has developed a nice rapport with his pair of Allens receivers Robinson and Hurns - but he's going to need some O-line improvement to keep moving forward. Still, there is a ridiculous amount of young talent here. Jacksonville's long run of top-five draft picks is on the verge of paying off. The Texans have a couple of the NFL's best players at their respective positions in defensive end JJ Watt and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, while new running back Lamar Miller is poised for a breakout season in an offense more inclined to utilize his skill set. However, there's no way of telling whether or not Brock Osweiler is the answer to Houston's long-running issues at quarterback. If he exceeds expectations, the Texans will exceed this predicted win total. Things haven't been great in Indianapolis recently despite all-world quarterback Andrew Luck. Unfortunately, Luck's luck wasn't great last year thanks to a less-than-effective offensive line; that unit needs to improve drastically to give the QB a chance to get the ball to playmakers like T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. The defense is fairly thin, so offensive production will be vital. It's worth noting that the Colts have what might be the best kicking game in the league with Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee. Tennessee at 6-10 might not look great, but that's double last year's win total. Marcus Mariota looks poised to continue growing at quarterback; he's got a ton of potential if the offensive line can protect him consistently. They've also got a great-looking running game with new addition DeMarco Murray and first-round pick (and reigning Heisman winner) Derrick Henry. An incremental improvement from the defense could get the Titans the rest of the way; a few lucky bounces and they might make it to .500.

AFC West

Oakland Raiders 10-6 (y)

Denver Broncos 9-7 (x)

Kansas City Chiefs 8-8

San Diego Chargers 7-9

Yep. I'm as shocked as you are. But there's no arguing that the timing is ideal for Oakland to make the leap. Derek Carr has shown the potential to be a top QB, and he's got a pair of quality targets in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree; the running game is solid as well. The key will be the defense if the rest of the side can follow the force of nature example of Khalil Mack, they'll cruise to a division win. Picking Denver as a playoff team might be a bit of a reach, considering the unfortunate state of their quarterbacking situation. Trevor Siemian is not the long-term answer, but top draft pick Paxton Lynch clearly isn't ready. However, there's no disputing the fact that the defense led by the newly-extended Von Miller is as good as any in the NFL. That D will allow the Broncos to win someclose games, but their margin for error is razor-thin; they could easily falter. Either of the other two teams in the division could conceivably make a move as well. Kansas City isn't a sexy squad no Andy Reid-coached team ever is - but they've got a surprisingly potent offense. Alex Smith isn't anyone's favorite QB, but he's got playmaking talents like Jeremy Maclin and Jamaal Charles to work with this team is going to score some points. And if the defense can put forward the pass rush of which it is capable, they could drastically outperform this prediction. Ten wins wouldn't shock me, but neither would six. The Chargers aren't quite where the Chiefs are, but any team with Philip Rivers at QB is going to put up some points. They've got Ken Whisenhunt running the offense, and if WR Keenan Allen and TE Antonio Gates can stay healthy, the San Diego offense could be quite good. They've got some question marks on defense the preseason-long holdout of top draft pick Joey Bosa certainly doesn't help but if they can get it together, the Chargers might have a shot.

NFC

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys 9-7 (y)

New York Giants 9-7 (x)

Washington Redskins 6-10

Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

It seems odd to be picking the Cowboys to considering that their starting quarterback was just lost for at least half the season. However, rookie Dak Prescott has looked capable of minding the store until Tony Romo is back. It doesn't hurt that he's got the best offensive line in football protecting him and opening holes for dynamic rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot. Prescott can also look to wideout Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten to help him out. Even middling defense will lad Dallas to nine wins. The Giants once again look like a mediocre team, but the reality is that this team has made a habit of surprising. Sure, the team can't run the ball on offense or stop the run on defense, but they've still got Eli Manning throwing the ball and guys like Odell Beckham who I think will have a massive year if he stays healthy - catching it. It boils down to the defense handling its business; there are a lot of new and well-paid faces on that side. Washington's success last year is largely the result of lucky breaks and an extremely soft schedule. There's no reason to expect that Kirk Cousins will have the same sort of performance at the quarterback position; he's OK, but not great. There are a few skilled players scattered here and there tight end Jordan Reed looks like he's for real but for the most part, this team simply can't hang. They'll keep some games close, but a half-dozen wins is probably a bit on the optimistic side. And the Eagles will be bringing up the rear (sorry, Mike Fern). The reality of today's NFL is that it is a quarterback league and Philly doesn't have much of one. The ostensible starter Sam Bradford just got shipped to Minnesota. They're looking at journeyman Chase Daniel or rookie Carson Wentz, and they simply don't have the talent in other areas to make up that deficit. Honestly, six wins would be a triumph for the mess that has been assembled in Philadelphia.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers 12-4 (y)

Minnesota Vikings 8-8

Chicago Bears 7-9

Detroit Lions 6-10

Surprise, surprise someone picking the Packers to win the NFC North. Sure, they coughed it up last year, but this team still won 10 games. They've got arguably the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers and they've gotten Jordy Nelson, perhaps their best receiver, back after last year's injury absence. They've got talent all over the field and are playing in a relatively weakened division; it's not a question of whether they'll take the division title, but rather of by how much. They should cruise. The Vikings lost their starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to injury and gave the Eagles way too much for the mediocre Sam Bradford. However, a game-manager might be all the Vikings need they've still got Adrian Peterson, who likely has enough left in the tank to be a major contributor in the run game, and some big bodies at receiver. They also have a potentially game-changing defense the reality is that Minnesota might not need to score a ton of points to win some games. The Bears are just sort of blah they're not a particularly bad team, but they aren't that good either, and mediocre is the worst place to be in the NFL. Jay Cutler is still here at QB, but all-time team great RB Matt Forte isn't. Chicago needs big play out of replacement RB Jeremy Langford and improvement from the defense. This team lost a lot of close games last year, but don't be surprised if they're not that close this season. The Lions are facing down the sad reality of a future without all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson; the man known as Megatron walked away from the game while still in his prime. Still, they've got Matthew Stafford ready to throw it up 50 times a game and a handful of guys including newcomer Marvin Jones - who can go get it. However, making up for the loss of a future Hall of Famer is awfully difficult. Plus, they can't run the ball and they probably can't stop anyone.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers 11-5 (y)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-8

New Orleans Saints 7-9

Atlanta Falcons 6-10

Hard to go against last year's NFC representative in the Super Bowl. The Panthers return a whole lot of talent, led by reigning MVP and all-around stud Cam Newton. Even if he regresses a bit, he'll still be one of the best at his position. The running game also looks to remain strong, so long as the O-line can keep up the good work. The front seven of the defense looks great; the one potential weakness here is a young secondary, but that's not enough to pick anyone else. There's actually a fair amount to like about Tampa Bay this season. Jameis Winston had a great rookie season and looks ready to keep moving forward in his second year. Running back Doug Martin showed something in a bounceback year and there's some interesting talent at receiver; this team could score some points. The defense isn't spectacular, but it should be solid. They look to be on the way up, but with a few breaks the future and double-digit wins could be now. Meanwhile, things in New Orleans look to be about the same as always. Drew Brees will throw for approximately a billion yards and the Saints will put up serious points, but the defense will be generally ineffective and give up even more points, leaving Coach Sean Payton and company to finish at or slightly below the break-even mark. There's some exciting young talent, but without a major overhaul, nothing will change in the Big Easy. The Falcons followed up a hot start with utter collapse last season; unfortunately for them, the real team is much closer to that second half. Matt Ryan is still here, and while he's got weapons like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman (and what appears to be a half-decent line), he just doesn't look like a guy who is going to be able to put this team over. Expect some real defensive struggles as Atlanta crumbles to the tune of 10 or more losses.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals 12-4 (y)

Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (x)

Los Angeles Rams 5-11

San Francisco 49ers 3-13

First things first either one of the two teams atop this division could win it. Arizona looks like it has the pieces in place to make a legitimate Super Bowl run. Granted, this assumes that aging QB Carson Palmer stays healthy, but when he's right, he's an elite passer. And the offensive line looks ready to keep Palmer on his feet and open holes for an unspectacular, but deep group of running backs. The defense looks incredible, with athletic studs all over the field. Hell, the secondary alone offers guys like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. This is a scary squad. Meanwhile, Seattle might be just as good as the Cardinals. The retirement of RB Marshawn Lynch hurts, but Russell Wilson looks ready to have another MVP-caliber season at quarterback. The receiver corps is deep, with a number of guys ready to step up. The defense is as imposing as ever, with an elite group of linebackers and significant talent in the secondary; that said, some of the key figures are getting a bit long in the tooth. Still, a dozen wins seems reasonable for this crew. The Rams have a new home in Los Angeles and a new quarterback in top draft pick Jared Goffnot that Goff is ready to start, instead ceding the gig to Case Keenum. However, they also have an elite talent in RB Todd Gurley and a defensive front four that stacks up favorably with any in the NFL. Still, the Rams are on a lengthy run of sub-.500 play and this group probably doesn't have what it takes to end the skid. San Francisco is going to have a rough go of it this season. The shine is definitely off one-time coaching star Chip Kelly and the 49ers don't have much in the way of talent to help right the ship. They've got all sorts of unrest at the QB position and relatively few offensive playmakers. The defense has potential, with some strong players and a handful of quality new additions. Still, you have to score to win and Kelly's offensive guru reputation can only get the team so far.

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