We are all fighting the post-Super Bowl hangover today. Two weeks of build-up are only part of the year-ending celebration. It is always a culmination of an exciting year of football.
And then Monday.
We are now without football for a long, long time. And that’s sad. Sure, we have the combine and draft, but July seems like a long wait.
And I don’t know about you, but I want more football today. So, of course, I need to start looking at next season. Shall we?
I’ll have a few predictions for my 2016 season; you’re excited, right? Super Bowl champs? I’ll have that. Playoff predictions? Those will be there too! MVP? Duh. And of course, rookie of the year.
Let’s start with my surprises to look for.
Robert Griffin III will have a bounceback year with a new team. I’m not sure where RGIII ends up quite yet, but I know he’s going to have a good season. He needs a new team, new city, and new system catered to his strengths. Where will that be? Cleveland,
St. Louis Los Angeles, Dallas? Who knows where he ends up, it could be a number of teams. But he’ll find a comeback season where that is.
The Cleveland Browns go 8-8. Hue Jackson is coming to Cleveland and will be well received. I’m assuming they’ll sign several key free agents. The wide receiving group in Cleveland, as terrible as it currently is, will look a lot different next season. The defense needs to get healthy. The offensive line is already respectable. The biggest question, as always, is who’s the quarterback? Whomever Jackson brings in will be excited (something rare in Cleveland) because they’re getting a coach who has turned Andy Dalton into a top five quarterback in only a few seasons. He’s got a lot of talent and will squeeze the most out of his signal caller.
The Jacksonville Jaguars could make the playoffs. The Jaguars were a strange team to watch this season. At times, they looked like they were only a step away from competing with the best of the best. Still, at other times, they looked like the same old Jaguars. This was sort of the plan. A young team with a solid core was destined to battle through some tough times. But Blake Bortles is starting to learn the game, it’s slowing down for him. He was able to get a wide receiver, Allen Robinson, to the Pro Bowl. Robinson reeled in 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back, T.J. Yeldon, averaged 4.1 yards per carry on his 182 carries. An excellent 740-yard season despite injuries. The parts are there. On defense, they’ve got some growing to do. However, they’ll get a former top pick, Dante Fowler Jr., back this season. That should enable a fierce pass rush to blossom. Will it all be enough? Who knows?
1. Cincinnati Bengals (13-3)
With a favorable NFC East slate in 2016, they also get the AFC East. The New England Patriots will be their toughest opponent, out of division anyway. The schedule bodes well for a team that took significant steps forward in 2015. The biggest worry is what happens in free agency this offseason.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
The Chiefs have a favorable schedule next season. Not only that, the Denver Broncos will likely have a steep fall off next season. With the division’s best team falling off, the Chiefs are there to gain. With a top defense already, the offense doesn’t need to do a whole lot to get them to 12-4.
3. New England Patriots (11-5)
The Patriots have to start taking a downturn someday, right? I mean Tom Brady is getting some serious age on his legs. But it won’t be 2016. They’ll find somebody to make an impact in free agency. Brady gets the team through the regular season with another successful record.
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
With an ultra easy schedule and a team that will look different just because they’ll have a healthy Andrew Luck, any offseason improvements will only multiply the likelihood that Indy gets back to the top of the South.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
The Steelers have the best offense in the NFL with the new-age triplets. Antonio Brown is the most dynamic receiver in the NFL; he beats you with route running and yards after the catch. Le’Veon Bell, when healthy, is one of the last three-down running backs in the league. He can do it through the air and on the ground. And Ben Roethlisberger is the glue that holds it all together. Big plays, big yards, and big scores. The problem has been the defense. With Ryan Shazier emerging as a leader, they can now fine tune the defense to becoming a strength once again.
6. Denver Broncos (9-7)
A big time slip from Super Bowl champs, the Broncos will need to find an answer at quarterback and find more success from the running game. The defense will be the anchor and makes them a dangerous team nonetheless.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
The Packers were one of the best teams in the NFL with an offense missing it’s most lethal weapon, having an oft-injured star running back, and a quarterback that couldn’t get the offense under control most of the time. Things weren’t as beautiful as we traditionally expect with a Packers team. However, they still won a lot of games. Fixing those issues and improving the defense even more are the things to look for. Keeping ARod upright will inevitably happen. They should get the one-seed.
2. Arizona Cardinals (12-4)
The Cardinals looked primed for a Super Bowl run this entire season. Even with the top two running backs getting hurt, they emerged with a powerful run game and a passing game to match. The defense was excellent and even lost one its best players near the end of the season. They’ll be a top team again.
3. Carolina Panthers (11-5)
I see real regression next season, but just in the record. They’ll have a much more difficult schedule in 2016, and they’ll have a target on their back. A team that could’ve lost quite a few games this year had a lot of things flip in its favor, that’s rarely going to happen two seasons in a row. They’ll still be amongst the top of the conference.
4. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
The Cowboys had a rough 2015 thanks to injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, amongst others. They’ll be an easy pick to have a rebound season, especially in one of the worst divisions in football.
5. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
The Vikings are improving under Mike Zimmer. However, Teddy Bridgewater still needs to improve when the game is on his shoulders. They’ll fight through a good division and still make it to the playoffs because of the talent level. Still improvements to be made.
6. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Seattle is going to regress next season. Russell Wilson continues to impress me more each game, each season. I just see them having a down season next season. It’s just a feeling.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
Rodgers will do quite a few of discount double checks next season. With Jordy Nelson back, Eddie Lacy healthy, and an all around resurgent offense, I expect huge numbers.
Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Elliott is going to be an immediate star in the NFL. From long runs to short, powerful runs, he’s going to have the talent to do it all. He has a season much like that of current ROY, Todd Gurley.
Super Bowl 51/LI Champs
Deciding if we will see roman numerals again or continuing with the theme of numerical Super Bowl numbers may be a topic of the offseason. I’d like to see LI on a personal note. More importantly, who wins the ball game?
Well, I see it coming down to a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be back-to-back Super Bowls featuring the top seed from each conference.
The Bengals get a franchise first Super Bowl title. A defense that will be amongst the NFL’s most elite will improve next season. The secondary will get younger, and the defensive line will only improve with more depth. Getting to the quarterback and sacking him is a good path to victory, ask the Broncos. On offense, the Bengals will have a bounceback season from Jeremy Hill after his sophomore slump. The running game will be one of the most fierce two-headed monsters in the NFL. Andy Dalton will continue to improve, as will Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green. The passing game gets more prolific, and it’s a mashing of Marvin Lewis’ dreams in 2016. A team that’s maybe one playoff win from starting a run will get over the hump in 2016.