Yes, I know that it’s early in May, but this is still a fun thing to do. NFL teams have already gone through free agency and the draft. Teams won’t be changing their personnel up that much, outside of some late free agent adds, and players swapping teams when teams make roster moves. Obviously plenty will change between now and Week 1. Based on moves made by teams, let’s take a look at where each team stands headed into OTA’s and voluntary minicamps:
This is a small group, as it should be. There are very few teams that go into a season that are considered serious Super Bowl contenders, and these three teams are legit. Brady will probably miss 4 games, but if they can manage to win two of those, they’ll be in good shape. They have a good defense, and Gronk. The Patriots should be the favorites in the AFC. In the NFC, the Cardinals would be my predicted Super Bowl champs if the season started today. The Cardinals addressed their needs on the defensive line, and if they can stay healthy will be competing for a title. While I thought the Seahawks may have finally dropped off a bit, Russell Wilson has an insane second half of the 2015 season.
These are all teams that are pretty talented, but for one reason or another I just don’t think they are on the previous level. The Panthers will get Kelvin Benjamin back this year, but must find a some way to replace Josh Norman. The Steelers have the type of offense to get them to the Super Bowl, but need to find a defense that could help keep them afloat in high scoring games. Some people think the Bengals could have played for a Super Bowl if Andy Dalton was healthy last year. I’m not so sure about that, but there is no denying that the Bengals are good. Finally, the Packers get Jordy Nelson back so we get to see if the Packers offensive struggles last year really had to deal with Nelson.
These teams probably should be solid playoff teams, like ten win teams. The Vikings made a leap next year, and will look to build off that. Bridgewater probably needs to make improvements if they want to make the playoffs. The Chiefs will be back at near full strength come September, and would be my pick to win the AFC West. They have a good defense, a strong run game, and just enough in the passing game to get them to a divisional crown. The Broncos will be replacing a few starters from their great defense from last season, which means we will see a drop off there. They also need to find a starting QB, something that is more concerning than replacing defensive starters. The Jets have an asterisk because I, like many other, still assume they will end up signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. Like the Chiefs, the Jets have a strong defense, they have good positional players on offense, but Geno Smith/Christian Hackenberg will not cut it. This team could win 10-11 games with the right QB.
Kirk Cousins led the league in completion percentage last year, and looked the part of a decent NFL starter. They also addressed their secondary needs by signing Josh Norman. Washington could very well repeat as division champions, and maybe even win a playoff game this year. The Texans finished 8th in defensive DVOA last year. They have also added Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller to help make their offense more potent. The Texans look like the favorites on paper in May to repeat as divisional champs. Finally, the Raiders looked like a young team on the rise last season. They added Karl Joseph to their secondary, andCarr/Murray/Cooper get another year to grow and develop together. The Raiders could end up snagging a wildcard spot.
The Bills are going to need to play better defense if they want to end their playoff drought. They ended 24th in defensive DVOA, after ending up in the top 10 after 2014. The health ofSammy Watkins will be important to that happen. Hopefully, he won’t try to rush back from surgery, but if he does it may hamper him, and the Bills may whiff on the playoffs. The Colts need Andrew Luck to be healthy, or they will be screwed again. Their defense will also be important, as it has not been stellar since Luck’s arrival. The Colts will need a middle of the pack effort from their defense, and 16 starts from Luck to sniff the playoffs. The Cowboys have a similar story. They need a full season from Romo and Dez Bryant. It would also be nice ifEzekiel Elliott looked like 2014 DeMarco Murray. That combined with an okay defense could give them 10 wins and a playoff berth.
The Bears defense looks very much improved coming into 2016. Their offense will be boosted by Kevin White returning from missing his rookie year. The Bears have some pieces to make major improvements, and if some other teams slip, they could make the playoffs. The Jaguars are another young team that could make a leap. They added some nice defensive pieces in the offseason and the draft. They also have Blake Bortles, who made strides last season. The Jaguars have a good formula for future success, it is still to be determined if they will start cashing those in this upcoming season. The Giants have a great QB-WR duo with Eli and OBJ, and made a splash by signing Olivier Vernon. The Giants could compete for a playoff spot if something happens to either of the Cowboys stars.
The Dolphins have a player who could be their franchise QB in Ryan Tannehill. That’s a great start, and they also have some talented defensive players. The Dolphins could make the playoffs if something breaks their way. The Falcons have enough offensive firepower to keep them in some games. They need their defense to come around, and they did use most of their earlier draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens had nearly every major offensive player go down to injury last year. They need to stay healthy, and they should be healthier than last year, and hope that their young defensive players like C.J. Mosley make strides.
All three of these teams has big enough holes to probably hold them out of playoff contention, but still have some talent. The Rams have a good defense, Todd Gurley, and a new QB inJared Goff. The only issue is that their offensive line and receivers are not good at all. They could hurt his growth, and they could keep the Rams out of the playoffs this upcoming season. The Eagles now have three QBs on their roster that all might be able to play. That sounds like a good problem, and it is at the end of the day, but it could come back to bite them. Their secondary does not inspire me all that much. Doug Pederson will have plenty to prove in his first year. The Lions lost Calvin Johnson, their best player. They have tried to sign people and replace him, but no one can replace megatron. It will be interesting to see how Stafford does without one of the league’s best receivers. They will need their defense to step up to help make up for the lack of serious offensive firepower.
The Buccaneers could make me look foolish, but I’m not sold on them for 2016. To be good,Winston is going to need to make a big leap. They are also going to need Mike Evans to get to another level. They also needed to address their secondary. They added Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes, but we will see how good Hargreaves is right away, and what Grimes will still have at age 33. The Saints had a bad defense last season, and that’s being nice. They added some pieces to their defense, but it can’t get that much better without nailing a bunch of draft picks. They are also going to need Drew Brees to hold off father time for another year or two. The Saints won’t be sniffing the playoffs this year, unless Brees is rewriting some of the offensive record books. The Chargers also did not have a great defense last year, and are hoping that Joey Bosa can help fix that. Philip Rivers is going to need to stay protected and healthy if the Chargers want to win half a dozen games. The Chargers play in a very tough division, and just don’t have the talent to compete with the other three teams in their division.
The Titans have something that the Browns and 49ers don’t, and that’s a potential franchise QB. That’s huge for the Titans. They added two good RBs this offseason, and used their plethora of draft picks to add offensive line and defensive talent. The only issue is that it will take a couple of years for all of this talent to peak and be ready for a playoff run. The Browns meanwhile are attaching their 2016 hopes to RGIII and Josh McCown. That, along with Josh Gordon possibly not playing this season and the Browns offense does not look promising. They also lost some talented young players in free agency, such as Tashaun Gipson. That is not good for a Browns team that already had a lot of holes. They still have lots of weaknesses, and will probably be playing for the first overall pick this year. The 49ers also have plenty of holes, and Kaepernick vs. Gabbert could end up being as bad as the Browns have. It probably won’t, but you never know. The 49ers don’t have great offensive skill players, mostly becauseTorrey Smith is not a #1 WR. They also have issues on defense after finishing 27th in defensive DVOA. The 49ers aren’t the worst team on paper, but they play in a tough division and do have some holes. They will be one of the worst teams in 2016.
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst