After a long offseason filled with many non-football related storylines, the NFL season finally kicks off on Thursday. Here are some of my predictions for the upcoming season.
NFC East Winner: Dallas Cowboys
This division is almost always a toss-up but I like Dallas to win the division for the second year in a row. Yes, the Cowboys have lost running back DeMarco Murray, who ran for more than 1,800 yards last season. A player who contributes like that is clearly tough to replace, but the Cowboys offensive line remains intact.
I expect the Cowboys’ running game to still be strong enough to compliment the Tony Romo-Dez Bryant combination.
NFC North Winner: Green Bay Packers
As long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers will always have a chance to win. Rodgers is coming off a ridiculous 2014 campaign where he threw for 38 touchdowns and just five interceptions. With that type of passing efficiency and a strong running game led by Eddie Lacy, Green Bay’s offense will be a handful for opposing defensive coordinators.
NFC South Winner: Carolina Panthers
This is arguably the weakest division in football. The Panthers were able to win this division last season with a 7-8-1 record. It is quickly shaping up to be another down year for the division as a whole.
The Panthers still lack offensive weapons for quarterback Cam Newton, especially now that Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season. Newton is the X-factor, however, and I think we are going to see more of “Super Cam” making something out of nothing on the way to a division title.
NFC West Winner: Seattle Seahawks
After such a heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks start the season. They are still the most talented team in the division and will have a loaded defense, even with safety Kam Chancellor still holding out.
The addition of tight end Jimmy Graham is just another weapon for coach Pete Carroll in the red zone. But then again, we all know how great Carroll’s red zone decision making is. (See: not running the ball with Marshawn Lynch on the goal line in the Super Bowl.)
AFC East Winner: New England Patriots
The AFC East has certainly reloaded this year with every team making improvements. But the edge has to go to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the longest coach and quarterback duo in the division. The Patriots have dominated this division for the last decade and I do not see them being dethroned this season, especially a year after winning one Super Bowl.
AFC North Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
After breakout seasons from running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers offense should be very explosive. With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback the Steelers will have the offensive weapons to survive the most physical division in the NFL. It will be critical for Pittsburgh to be able to establish the run to start the season while Bell is serving a two-game suspension for violating league substance abuse policy.
AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts
Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts will have the best offense by far in this division. The Colts have made impact moves this offseason by drafting wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round and signing two key free agents, wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore. The addition of these weapons to work with receiver T.Y. Hilton will certainly keep Luck happy all season long.
AFC West Winner: Denver Broncos
The window may be closing on the Peyton Manning era in Denver but I believe he still has one more elite level season left in him. Although the Broncos may look to rely more heavily on the run this season they still have one of the most dangerous receiving combinations in the league. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for more than 3,000 receiving yards, 200 catches and 20 touchdowns last season and show no signs of slowing down this season.
Super Bowl Prediction: Seattle Seahawks over the Pittsburgh Steelers