Neutral Zone: NFL Picks and Predictions

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Music to listen to: Prelude-Kiara by Bonobo

Since we’re a sports media site, I guess we’re obligated to make our predictions for the upcoming NFL season. We need the hits as a growing business and it’s usually high comedy to see how terrible my predictions are.

I’m a solid prognosticator of games after the first week of the season. We have no clue how these squads are going to look. Preseason means nothing to me unless your team suffers an injury like Dallas with Tony Romo.

My struggles are even higher with preseason picks. In the past five years at one point or another, I’ve had Cincinnati in the Super Bowl along with squads like Miami and Detroit in the playoffs when they finished with losing records. Those picks were made after extensive research, crunching numbers and over-analysis.

This year, I’m literally making my predictions as I’m writing. Let’s get to them with the team’s listed in order of finish within their division. The wild card teams will have an asterisk next to its name.

AFC East: New England, New York Jets, Miami, Buffalo

AFC South: Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee

AFC North: Pittsburgh, *Cincinnati, Baltimore, Cleveland

AFC West: Denver, *Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego

AFC pick: Pittsburgh

NFC East: Dallas, Washington, New York Giants, Philadelphia

NFC South: Carolina, *Tampa, Atlanta, New Orleans

NFC North: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit

NFC West: Seattle, *Arizona, San Francisco, Los Angeles

NFC pick: Seattle

Super Bowl pick: Seattle over Pittsburgh

 

Thoughts: The AFC East is still the Patriots’ division even with the four-game suspension of Tom Brady. The Jets were intriguing as a potential wild-card team but I passed. The Dolphins will be improved, particularly on the defensive end. I can’t trust Ryan Tannehill with another new offense. You would think a Rex Ryan-led team would be better defensively but the Bills are weak on that side of the ball.

I have to see a fully-healthy season from Andrew Luck before I pick the Colts to go anywhere. He turns the ball over too much as well and the overall talent of Indy is lacking. I like Houston and Brock Osweiler will be fine at quarterback. Jacksonville and Tennessee are heading in the right direction but the talent isn’t there for a playoff spot.

I’m obviously bullish on the Steelers since they’re my AFC pick to head to the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger is poised for an MVP-caliber season with a solid offensive unit. The Steelers’ defense will be improved as well. The Bengals aren’t as talented as they’ve been in the past few years but have a solid quarterback, excellent receivers and a strong defense. That makes them a wild card team. Baltimore is tiering down and Cleveland is tiering up (I’m still a believer in Robert Griffin III) but neither makes the playoffs.

We have no idea what the quarterback situation will be in Denver with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch but the rest of the squad, particularly the defense is good enough to take that division. Oakland is lurking with playmakers on both sides of the ball, Derek Carr evolving into a top-level quarterback and Khalil Mack becoming a defensive MVP-level player. The Raiders make the playoffs. Kansas City is an average team and San Diego is a potential dumpster fire with an aging quarterback.

My Dallas pick in the NFC East is less about my confidence in the Cowboys and more about the weakness of the rest of the division. I think Dak Prescott will be fine and Dallas’ offense will be productive, the defense needs improvement but is adequate. Tony Romo’s eventual return will only boost the Cowboys’ chances to come out of the division. Washington will regress with the coming back to reality for Kirk Cousins and exposure of Josh Norman as an average cornerback. The Giants can’t stop anybody, struggle rushing the ball and Eli Manning turns the ball over too much behind a weak offensive line. Philadelphia is in complete rebuilding mode with a rookie quarterback who isn’t ready. The Cowboys are the division winner by default.

The Panthers are the class of the NFC South and return virtually the entire team. I’m on the Jameis Winston train and the Bucs have quietly developed one of the better young rosters in the NFL. That’s good enough to be a playoffs team. Atlanta will have better offensive line play and put up some points with Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and a bounce-back season from Matt Ryan. The problem with the Falcons is their defense, particularly a front-seven that can’t rush the quarterback and average at stopping the run. The Saints have regressed on offense and on a historically-bad run as a defense.

Green Bay will always be a championship contender with Aaron Rodgers under center and the return of Jordy Nelson helps the cause. I’m not picking the Packers because of their defense. Even with Teddy Bridgewater, I wasn’t high on Minnesota and now that Sam Bradford is taking snaps, I’ll pass. Detroit and Chicago aren’t showing me anything to inspire hope for a playoff spot.

Seattle and Arizona are both top-five teams in the entire NFL. Both teams can run the ball, stop the run, have offensive weapons and have elite secondaries in a passing-heavy league. I’m taking the better quarterback between the two teams in Russell Wilson over Carson Palmer. Los Angeles has a good defense and Todd Gurley but too much instability with the franchise move and the quarterback position will sink the Rams. San Francisco is another potential dumpster fire with Chip Kelly at head coach and Blaine Gabbert at starting quarterback. Not good for the Bay Area team.

Those are my picks, what are your thoughts?

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