NFL – 2015 PREDICTIONS

Last year, my preseason NFL predictions were spot on.  I picked the New England Patriots to win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

It seemed to me that those were the two most dominant teams in their respective conferences with the most elite defenses and indeed, they were.  I also didn’t see any wild card teams complete enough to make it through any division championships.

But, it’s been more difficult to predict the outcome of the NFL 2015 season.

During this off-season, multiple teams improved, big free agent trades were made, and several exciting young draft picks entered the talent pool.

So, even though this year’s standings may end up looking very similar to the 2014 NFL Standings, I think at least one wild card team has a good chance to upset and win a division championship in 2015 which could change the whole dynamic of the playoffs.

One thing I know for sure at least: In 2015 there will be many competitive games that will be close, and fewer teams will be very bad.

MY PICKS:

NFC

NFC West Winner – Seahawks

NFC South Winner – Panthers

NFC North Winner – Packers

NFC East Winner – Cowboys

NFC Wild Card 1 – Cardinals

NFC Wild Card 2 – Falcons

NFC Champion – Packers

BOTTOM LINE:

Cardinals: It was a close call for me to choose the Seahawks over the Cardinals for this division this year. QB Carson Palmer is back from injury, they have weapons on offense, a good defense & excellent special teams. They also added more depth with the addition of Mike Iupati, offensive guard from San Fran, & picked up the speedy rookie WR JJ Nelson. However, Head Coach Arians decided to replace their Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowls (who went to become the Jets Head Coach) with an inexperienced former linebacker coach from within the organization (never once made a defensive call). Despite this, I think the Cardinals may have a real shot at contending for the top of NFC West mountain in 2015 and for sure win a wild card, particularly because the Seahawks may have new struggles this year.

Seahawks: I waivered on Seattle this year, because early on, there appear to be several issues that need to be worked out before they can make it to the Super Bowl again.  First, the team’s O-Line is shaky. During the off-season, they lost veteran center Max Unger to a trade and have shuffled around personnel to make up for that loss.  Throughout the preseason, their struggles were evident with blocking up front and continued, as during the 1st game of the season vs. St. Louis’ stout defense  Russell Wilson was hurried, rushed, and sacked 6 times. Obviously, key to their success yet again this year is to unleash RB Marshawn Lynch and let him fly. But, how will Lynch’s body hold up if he has to force his way through a shoddy O-Line? And, what should we make of Seattle signing the oldest RB in the NFL this past week (Fred Jackson)? Luckily, Seattle has bolstered other places of their offensive talent pool with the addition of TE Jimmy Graham & WR/Returner Tyler Lockett (a future superstar).

But, to add to the worry, Seattle’s defense is also struggling with the continued hold out of Kam Chancellor. Obviously, he is a tremendous player on the field as the leader of that defense, but according to former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, Chancellor’s presence in the locker room as a leader cannot be understated. It seems head coach Pete Carroll employs a “player-based” system of discipline and relies upon Chancellor to “do his dirty work” by talking to players in the locker room. How this will all play out depends on the Seahawks upper management.  But, if Chancellor fails to return, it’d be hard to think Seattle’s defense can intimidate like it had in the past and it could be disastrous to the chemistry of the team.  Seattle just has to make that contract work or they will be in trouble of not repeating a return to the SB.

Dallas: I’ve heard it said that choosing the Cowboys, Eagles, or Giants for the NFC East this season is like a flip of a coin and I agree somewhat.  But I went with the Cowboys for their mighty O-Line and personnel additions to address their previous pass rush issues.  (Dallas generated only 28 sacks last regular season, good for 5th fewest.)  The team also thinks that despite the loss of RB Demarco Murray, Joseph Randle & Darren McFadden will do the trick.  Still, there is always a lack of leadership issue for this team for me. I like them a lot, but don’t think they’ll make it through to win the conference, particularly now that Dez Bryant will be out for at least 6 weeks with an injury.

Eagles: I’m just not buying Coach Chip Kelly’s science experiment offense this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Kelly’s innovation and hope to be proven wrong, but when he traded away QB Nick Foles to get Sam Bradford, he lost me.  I also question many of his past last minute game time decisions which have cost them tight games, and his continued lack of time clock management.

Atlanta Falcons: A couple of things in this team’s favor is that they have the Seahawks former Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn as their head coach this year.  Presumably, he was brought in for his defensive experience which is already having an effect on a defense that has been shoddy for the last 2 years.  The team will also benefit from a relatively easier schedule including several beatable teams if they step up to the plate, ultimately giving them the possibility of having a 9 or 10 game winning season in a crappy division.  If they can stay healthy overall & QB Matt Ryan performs well under a nice looking O-line (Ryan sacked only 31 times in 2014), this team could be an exciting and dangerous wild card to look out for.

Packers: Before WR Jordy Nelson went out with a season-ending injury in a preseason game, I picked the Green Bay Packers to beat out the Seahawks in the NFC Conference Championship this year and go on to the Super Bowl. Despite this huge loss, I’m staying with my choice.  The Packers have a much easier schedule than the Seahawks this season which may help them retain home field advantage in the playoffs. And, even though the Packers also have issues on defense, I believe the chemistry is stronger here than in Seattle. I also believe that I’ve lost faith in some of the Seahawks’ play calling in the last minute of recent games. It’s really been questionable. Beyond the Super Bowl debacle when they failed to use Marshawn Lynch to walk into the end zone, beyond the awkward off-side kick to start the OT vs. St. Louis this year, the way they ultimately lost the game makes the coaching staff look dubious in their decision-making. So, while I have issues with the Green Bay Packers overall, they are the best team in the NFC when Seattle isn’t clicking on all cylinders. And, I don’t believe they will be this year.

AFC

AFC West Winner – Chiefs

AFC South Winner – Colts

AFC East Winner – Patriots

AFC North Winner – Steelers

AFC Wild Card 1 – Broncos

AFC Wild Card 2 – Bengals

AFC Champion – Patriots

BOTTOM LINE:

Chiefs/Broncos: Last year, I picked KC to win a wild card, but injuries hurt this team.  Now that it seems to be full steam ahead for the Chiefs at the start of the year, I like them to win the division over the Broncos. It’s a bold choice, yes, particularly given that QB Alex Smith is not elite and has had issues in the past with deep throws in clutch games. But that defense is just so good… And, Peyton Manning is showing wear and tear.  It’ll be close, but I’ll stay with that pick.

Colts: Many of my professional expert counterparts went all in on Indianapolis this year. Unfortunately, even with improved personnel and a spattering of above average talent around QB Andrew Luck this season, I’m not buying it and don’t feel this team is there yet.  Rumors are also swirling that Coach Chuck Pagano is on the hot seat and the players must be aware that their leader is on the brink.  That’s not good for morale.

Steelers: Last year, Pittsburgh finished 11-5, but this year, their schedule is tougher, this division is tougher, and many teams in this conference are much better than they were last year. However, I reluctantly pick them to win the division because I believe their offense is bordering on elite and have an established O-Line. The reluctance lies in the defense which is really young and has undergone recent changes with a new defensive coordinator (Keith Butler) and personnel.

Bengals: Despite four straight seasons with 4 straight playoff berths & nothing to show for it, we just can’t discount this dangerous Cincinnati team. There’s too much potential and talent to think they won’t win a wild card. Like in season’s past, it all comes down to the performance of QB Andy Dalton.  He needs to play consistently well during the regular season and into the playoffs. There is some hope here for him to have more weapons this year including numerous WRs who were out last year due to injury.  And, if the defense gels better and lives up to their potential, they could make a difference.

Patriots: Whether or not QB Tom Brady was going to play the 1st four games of the season has always been irrelevant to me.  New England flat out has the best coaching staff and the best offense in the NFL.  Add to that a veteran QB who has a Deflategate chip on his shoulder, you have to like them a lot this year.  Yes, there’s the obvious question mark regarding the defense, namely core players who left in free agency: Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner. And, while we should be concerned that Revis imparticular will not be there anymore,  I still think the defense will be good enough.  Barring any upstart wild card team crashing this party, I like the Patriots to repeat a SB win.

Super Bowl L Champion – Patriots

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