Bold predictions sure to be wrong
After a six-month break, the NFL is back. With that, it's time to make the bold prediction of picking the 12 teams who will make the playoffs.
In the AFC, I feel like things are pretty clear. Out west, Peyton Manning is running out of time to win himself another Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Denver Broncos will win the AFC West and Kansas City will just miss out on a playoff spot. San Diego won't be quite as good as everyone thinks they will be, like always, while Oakland's second-year quarterback Derek Carr will get the Raiders heading in the right direction.
Indianapolis wins the AFC South thanks to a lack of competition in the division. Houston will compete; it just won't have a good enough quarterback to lead the Texans to the playoffs. Tennessee and Jacksonville will remain stagnant.
Of course, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady have been the main story through the offseason, and they will likely continue to be the main story through the regular season. Though Brady has to miss the first four games of the season because of Deflategate, the Patriots will still find a way to win the AFC East. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh will be enough for Miami to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Unless the Bills and Jets can solve their quarterback problems, they will be happy to get a winning season.
The AFC North has arguably been the most competitive conference in the NFL over the past several years. There is no reason to think that will change this year. Pittsburgh will find a way to win the division thanks in large part to Le'Veon Bell. As great as Antonio Brown is, Bell is even better when the weather turns cold. Baltimore and Cincinnati will battle for the final wild card spot in week 17. The postseason experience of the Ravens gives them the edge. Cleveland stays at the bottom of the pack, but quarterback Johnny Manziel will finally show some NFL promise.
In the NFC, things are more jumbled up. Barring injury, I have no reason to believe Seattle won't win the West. Arizona will compete with a good defense, but the quarterback play (Russell Wilson vs. Carson Palmer) doesn't even compare. St. Louis made a smart move by signing Nick Foles to a contract extension, but it will take a few years to build a team around him. As for San Francisco, what a difference a year makes.
The NFC South was one of the worst divisions in all of football last year. It should be much improved this year, with the New Orleans Saints coming out on top. This is a make-or-break year for Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and while the Falcons will be one of the first teams to miss out on the playoffs, he bounces back well from a year that he and his teammates want to forget. Even with a losing record, the Carolina Panthers won a game in the playoffs last year and gave Seattle all it wanted. With the Panthers' defense, they will give everyone all they can handle this year as well, but in the end, they will finish a game or two out of the playoffs. With the addition of Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay will be improved, but not yet ready to contend.
The NFC East will be the most competitive division in the NFC this year. Losing Demarco Murray will hurt the Cowboys, but replacements Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle will be enough for them to win the division. It is also a make-or-break year for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. I feel like he makes it by surprising a lot of people and sneaking into the playoffs. Chip Kelly and Philadelphia will struggle to get a winning record out of a season that is already turning south. In Washington, it's all up to Robert Griffin III and how healthy/motivated he is.
The NFC North will continue to run through Lambeau Field until proven otherwise. Aaron Rodgers has won four straight division titles and with the kind of talent the Green Bay Packers possess offensively, there is no reason they can't make it five. Detroit is looking to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 1994-1995 seasons. The Detroit Lions did lose Suh on defense, but they bring back Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on offense, which is enough to get them there. Having Adrian Peterson back with Minnesota will help that team continue to grow. Chicago's success hinges on the ability of quarterback Jay Cutler to learn the offensive system that Adam Gase has implemented. Gase will be Cutler's fourth offensive coordinator in seven years at Chicago.
In Friday's paper, one NFL team will be jinxed from winning the Super Bowl.
Ty Loftis is the sports editor for the Carroll County News. His e-mail is CCNSports@cox-internet.com