NFL – 2015 SEASON REVIEW; PLAYOFF PICTURE

Overall, my 2015 preseason predictions held up reasonably well. I was correct in picking 9 of the 12 teams that made it to the playoffs.  I also assessed many of the team dynamics correctly and how they would perform overall.

What I didn’t (or couldn’t) have foreseen was the multitude of quarterback injuries sustained by several teams destined for the post season (Cowboys, Steelers, Bengals, Colts, Broncos).  These issues have had the most impact on the negative outcomes of the regular season.

Here’s how I made out:

SHELLY’S PREDICTION (NFC)

ACTUAL

SEED

SOUTH (Panthers)

Panthers

1

WEST (Seahawks)

Cardinals

2

NORTH (Packers)

Vikings

3

EAST (Cowboys)

Redskins

4

WILD CARD 1 (Cardinals)

Seahawks

5

WILD CARD 2 (Falcons)

Packers

6

 

SHELLY’S PREDICTION   (AFC)

ACTUAL

SEED

WEST (Chiefs)

Broncos

1

EAST (Patriots)

Patriots

2

NORTH (Steelers)

Bengals

3

SOUTH (Colts)

Texans

4

WILD CARD 1 (Broncos)

Chiefs

5

WILD CARD 2 (Bengals)

Steelers

6

WHERE I NAILED IT:

Chiefs/Broncos – I had a feeling the Chiefs would contend for the AFC West Division with the Broncos this season due to a healthier and more cohesive KC team plus the predicted breakdown of Peyton Manning’s body.  I was almost right on both accounts.  Manning did indeed suffer from injuries bad enough to take him out of commission during Weeks 10 – 15.  But, KC’s poor 1-5 start (before winning their last 10 games) hurt their chances to reign supreme.  Denver managed to squeeze out a win on Week 17 by 1 touchdown over the Chargers late in the game after benching their backup QB and bringing in Peyton Manning.  If not for that win, the Chiefs would have won the division and be seeded 3rd instead of 5th in the playoffs.

Eagles – During the preseason, it was pretty obvious to me that Chip Kelly’s “science experiment” team wouldn’t work due to all of his random and unexplained personnel changes.  But, I didn’t foresee what an embarrassing debacle it would become and end up with Kelly fired after the last game of the season.  While the actual on field play looked brilliant at times (when it actually worked) especially in the pre-season and late in the reg season, most concerning is the fact that Kelly allegedly “lost” the locker room and the respect of his players during the course of the season.  Word is that he didn’t just experience disconnect with his players, there was almost a downright mutiny before he was yanked from his throne.  He seemed to be more concerned with sticking with to his “scheme” rather than utilizing each player’s talents.  It frustrated them, the fan base, and apparently the owner(s). It will be interesting to see which team he ends up with next.

Cardinals/Seahawks – In the preseason, I picked Seattle to win the NFC West division over the Cardinals, but I had thought it might be a “close call”.  Seattle was suffering from major O-line travails early on and had obvious defensive woes which I thought would affect their overall record.  The team did start with a 4-6 record but managed to gain speed down the stretch like a locomotive and saved their season to get a wild card.  Meanwhile, Arizona played even better than most of us expected and actually took the division with their best overall offense & 5th best defense in the NFL.  But they got clobbered by Seattle during the last game of the season (6-36). This shellacking must have sent the Cardinals back to the locker room scratching their heads and the Seahawks back home with a renewed sense of swagger.  I do see this end result as the personalities of who these teams will be in the playoffs.

Colts – As mentioned in my preseason article, many experts picked Indy to go to the Super Bowl this year.  But, I didn’t feel the team was ready yet, particularly QB Andrew Luck.  He had been anointed as the best unproven quarterback in the league and well, he’ll hold that distinction until next year again.  Luck only played 7 games this season due to injuries.  And, when he did play he looked terrible.  He threw 12 interceptions and fumbled the ball 3 times in those 7 games, and had a QBR of just 47.6 making this the worst season of his four-year career.  The rest of the team was just as disappointing and injured too, which didn’t help matters.  The team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.  Surprisingly, the owners signed Coach Pagano to a 4-year extension, because the players and fan base seem to love him.  Proof is in the pudding, as they say.  And, I don’t see any of it yet from Coach Pagano. Certainly not enough to give him 4 more years of chances…

WHERE I WENT WRONG:

NFC EAST – Did anyone get this one right?  If they did foresee the Redskins taking control of this division, they probably had a crystal ball.  This division blew up and when the dust cleared, a glorified backup QB for Washington (Cousins) finished with a 101.6 QB Rating and took them unbelievably to the playoffs.  The three other teams in the division which I included in my preseason 3-headed coin toss (Dallas, Philly, & NYG) choked, sputtered, and limped home to their fancy cars & houses in the suburbs without contending in the playoffs. If anything, I thought that after Romo & Bryant went out injured in November, Dallas would be the team who had the most talented squad to sustain them through to the end and win the division.  Certainly not Washington.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

Packers – I wasn’t sure whether to put this quick analysis of the Green Bay Packers in the “Where I Nailed It” or “Where I Went Wrong” category.  While I picked them to make the playoffs, I also picked them to get to the Super Bowl vs. New England.  The fact is that while the Packers started their season 6-0, they’ve gone 4-6 after the bye week and lost the last 2 games of the regular season.  This late downward turn does fit my preseason analysis that the Packers seemed to have “issues” overall, but I also predicted that the Packers would look better than the Seahawks in the NFC, which they do not.  Green Bay’s problems seemed to have stemmed from several issues: 1) A very faulty O-line (Rodgers was sacked 46 times; 2nd most in the NFL) which is causing Rodgers to make uncharacteristic mistakes; 2) The gaping hole that WR Jordy Nelson left when he went out injured at the start of the season and the inability of the other receivers to get open down field; 3) The coaching staff’s difficulty in providing creative routes for Rodgers to find the receivers; and 4) The Packers Defense has above average talent, but it has performed at or below average overall.  After the bye week, the Packers defense has not been able to stop more difficult competitors from scoring, particularly with the pass-rush. Going forward into the playoffs, the keys for Green Bay to get to the Super Bowl include finding ways for Aaron Rodgers to be better protected and give him time in the pocket to use his masterful agility, cannon-like arm and his smarts. The coaching staff also needs to help find ways to get receivers opened up better down field and compete better on a man to man basis which they have also faltered at.  In the end, it doesn’t look good for the Packers because they have too many issues to overcome, including loss of home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Panthers – The one major thing that sticks out to me about this Carolina team (other than the fact that QB Cam Newton will likely hoist the league MVP trophy and the team almost went undefeated) is the chemistry.  As I’ve written before, it’s a very potent asset to have and this team has got it in spades this year.  And, I think it’s the reason the Panthers have done so well.  Head Coach Ron Rivera takes the credit for it since he decided to relocate his office down to the locker room and make it a point to integrate himself into the players’ lives.  Since that time, he has connected better with them & discipline has gone sky high.  Add this to a stout defense and above average offense, this team will give every other one a run for their money.  Head to head vs. Seattle in the Division Playoffs will be interesting if the teams do match up.  I still think Seattle is a better team than Carolina.  Will the Panthers’ enhanced chemistry be the tipping point?  It’s going to be close. But whoever wins this game will go on to win the Super Bowl.

Patriots – During Tom Brady’s press conference this past Monday, he summed up why the Patriots have lost 4 of their last 6 games of the regular season and look flat: “A lot of guys are banged up.” Understatement of the season. Since week 11, 9 key players have gone down on both offense & defense (Amendola (WR); Collins (LB); Edelman (WR); Gronkowski (TE); Hightower (LB); McCourty (FS); Chung (SS); Jones (DE); Vollmer (OT)). It should explain why New England lost the last game of the regular season to a bad team (Miami) and their offense sputtered against the Dolphins’ 30th ranked pass defense and 27th ranked run defense.  The good news is that all of these injured 9 players did not suffer serious injuries and are set to return for the playoffs with 2 solid weeks to heal.  Brady said the Patriots will be a “different team” when that time comes.  If not, they are in trouble.  More worrisome to me is that O-line.  I’ve said it before, but it is the key to Tom Brady’s success going forward.  If you can’t run block and/or protect a non-mobile injured QB, that offense will go nowhere.  Still, having WR Danny Amendola back will be key for the Pats’ success.  With him in the game, the offense is quicker, which Brady will need to be with his gimpy semi-healed sprained ankle.  Bottomline:  I think the Patriots can go far down the stretch with time to heal, but I doubt they can withstand the chemistry-laden largely healthier teams like the Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals & Seahawks.

Broncos – The biggest story of this franchise in 2015 was the fact that of all the teams in the NFL who lost their starting QBs during the season, this one remained dominant.  Their backup QB Osweiler did an excellent job in Peyton’s absence and the Broncos’ elite defense (1st overall, 1st best Passing Def, and 3rd best Rushing Def) helped to hold the line. And, now that a fresh Peyton Manning is slated to return to the playoffs, this makes the Broncos a legit Super Bowl contender.  I predict that they will face NE in the AFC Championship and defeat the Patriots on their own turf. The Broncos’ defense should have their way with Brady and exploit all the rest of New England’s late season issues.

Seahawks – Despite their 5th place seeding in the NFC playoffs, Seattle is currently the best team in the NFL.  Unlike all other teams, their offense, defense & special teams are all clicking now and their players are largely healthy.  And, despite early season issues with the offensive line, defense and injuries to Beast Mode, the team has made nice adjustments down the stretch.  They finished the season with the best defense (allowing least points), quarterback Russell Wilson is performing on a very high level (110.1 passer rating despite 3rd most sacks), and they are winning big on the road (incl. blowing out Minnesota & AR).  As a result: the team is super confident.  This all adds up to: Most Dangerous Playoff Team.  If not for all of New England’s nagging injuries, I would stick with them as my original Super Bowl choice.   I hate to jump lines, but Seattle is looking really good to go all the way.

Here’s how see the 2015 Playoffs unfolding:

Presentation1

 

 

 

 

 



Source : NFL

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.theladylovessports.com/contact.