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"The Stack" 9-8-16

Who will lift the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl LI champions at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas? The NFL season is about to get underway. Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Who will lift the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl LI champions at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas? The NFL season is about to get underway.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Von Miller and the Denver Broncos defend their Super Bowl title with a Super Bowl L rematch with the Carolina Panthers tonight at 8:30 PM ET on NBC.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
 

The Stack is back on this Thursday and welcome back football!  We’ve missed you.  Well actually, college football was back last week and that was really entertaining so the NFL has a lot to live up to as the season kicks off tonight in Denver between the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.  In case you’ve forgotten, this is a rematch of Super Bowl L that Denver own 24-10.  I personally am more into the fantasy football aspect of it as well as my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, but I digress.  Let’s preview the upcoming NFL season right now in “the stack” for today, Thursday, September 8th:

 

2016-17 NFL season preview

 

The NFL season is upon us as it kicks off tonight at 8:30 PM ET on NBC between the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos squaring off in a rematch from Super Bowl L with the Carolina Panthers.  I believe the Panthers will win this game.  Let’s think about this a little more shall we.  The Denver Broncos not only lost their starting quarterback, Peyton Manning, to retirement, but also saw backup Brock Osweiler sign a megadeal in Houston with the Texans.  The Broncos must apparently not have liked what they saw from Osweiler or just thought he was asking for too much money.  They signed Mark Sanchez, but he couldn’t even make their 53-man roster and is now backing up Dak Prescott in Dallas.  Trevor Simeon is the Broncos starter.  Who? Exactly.  He’s from Northwestern and this will be his second year in the NFL.  So why does everyone have faith in Denver this season?  Probably because of Von Miller.  The linebacker is salty good and leads a vaunted Broncos defense back this season.  Their defense is the only reason to really think that the Broncos have any chance of repeating as division champions and making it back to the playoffs.

 

There will be a few players who we won’t see take the field to start the season.  #Deflategate is finally behind us (thank God) now that New England Patriots head coach Tom Brady has decided to stop fighting and just accept the four game suspension from the NFL.  He is not too happy about it and neither is his owner Robert Kraft.  That means Patriots fans get to see Jimmy Garappolo for four games before Brady comes back for a week five game against the Cleveland Browns.  Poor Browns.  Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is suspended the first three games for substance abuse and his teammate, wide receiver Martavius Bryant is suspended all year.  Oh yeah and we won’t see Johnny Football either. Actually, we probably won’t see him for quite a while.

 

There is some sadness with guys we won’t see not due to suspension, but due to injury.  Who knows how healthy Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is going to be after suffering a broken bone in his back in the Cowboys week three game at Seattle.  Reports say 6-10 weeks, but with Romo’s age and his back issues in the past it could be longer.  Vikings fans have been through a lot the past couple of weeks with Teddy Bridgewater going down in practice and suffering a complete tear of his ACL and a dislocated knee.  Had it not been for the quick work of the Vikings athletic trainers, Bridgewater could have lost his knee.  There are a few other players including Baltimore Ravens tight end Ben Watson who are out for the year with season ending injuries too.  That sucks.

 

The NFL does welcome in another rookie class headlined by quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.  Wentz will be starting in Philadelphia now that the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.  That was a trade the Vikings had to make.  Wentz doesn’t have much help around him it feels like.  Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas will be fun to watch.  He is a dynamic running back.  And Josh Gordon returns to the field for the Cleveland Browns.  Anxious to see how he looks after missing significant time the past two seasons dealing with his substance abuse.

 

That leads us to the season.  Who will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, come February?  Doubtful that it will be the Broncos.  Let’s get to some division previews and predictions as well as our playoffs and Super Bowl pick:

 

AFC

 

West

 

We start in the division of the defending Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos and the AFC West.  I’ve already kind of scoffed at the idea that the Broncos will be better than they were last year.  Their offensive line has changed quite a bit.  They say it is for the better.  I’m not so sure.  The defense brings most of their starters back, but defensive end Malik Jackson is in Jacksonville.  They have Von Miller though which is the most important part.  Still, this year the Broncos will be the hunted instead of the hunters.  Trevor Simeon going to do wonders under center this year?  I have my doubts.  I don’t even think the Broncos will make it back to the playoffs.

 

I am having a hard time with the Kansas City Chiefs.  They don’t do anything that truly wows you, but they are solid in all three phases of the game (that’s offense, defense and special teams in case you didn’t know).  Running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are certainly capable of carrying the load if Jamaal Charles struggles early or needs more time to heal from his torn ACL if he needs it.  They proved it last year.  Didn’t even mention Knile Davis.  Alex Smith has resurrected his career in Kansas City and should have another solid year.  They will miss Justin Houston for at least the first six games which will hurt the defense.  They are getting older on the defensive side and may take a slight step back.  I may be way off with this team, but I don’t think they make the playoffs either.

 

A lot of people (myself included) really like the Oakland Raiders to take that next step this year.  Derek Carr has proven he can be a good quarterback in this league.  Amari Cooper is a stud at wide receiver and the defense continues to improve.  Yes the possibility of a Las Vegas move could be a distraction for this team, but they have plenty of young talent and I think they take that next step this year.

 

The San Diego Chargers were riddled with injuries last year on the offensive line.  Their defense wasn’t that great either.  Hopefully things go better for them this year, but the biggest storyline with the Chargers is whether or not head coach Mike McCoy can keep his job and if the Chargers can get enough votes in November to secure getting a new stadium.  If not, their future is very much back in the air.  Also, will Phillip Rivers have another kid?  Just wondering.

 

Predicted AFC West standings

 

  1. Oakland Raiders 9-7

  2. Kansas City Chiefs 7-9

  3. Denver Broncos 7-9

  4. San Diego Chargers 6-10

 

South

 

I’m going come out and say it right now.  The AFC South will be the most intriguing division in football this year.  Every team except perhaps the team that has dominated the division for the last decade except for last year is significantly better.  The Houston Texans upgraded at quarterback with Brock Osweiler from Denver and at running back with Lamar Miller from Miami.  They drafted wide receiver Will Fuller from Notre Dame.  Defensively they still have J.J. Watt.  The Texans are really going for it this year.  The Jacksonville Jaguars continued to spend money in the offseason on defense with defensive tackle Malk Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson.  Draft picks Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack definitely bolster this team plus first round pick from last year Dante Fowler Jr. will see his first action after missing all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in minicamp.  The offense is loaded, but can the offensive line keep Blake Bortles upright?  That is the key.  There is a lot of pressure on this Jaguars team this year.

 

The Tennessee Titans want to pound the rock with the DeMarco Murray who was discarded from the Philadelphia Eagles and second round draft pick Derrick Henry.  It’s old school style.  Marcus Mariota will take another step in his second season as quarterback.  This Titans team will be better.  How much better though?  Not real sure. And then there is the Indianapolis Colts.  Yes Andrew Luck is easily the best quarterback in the division and this Colts offense is legit, but there are major questions about the defense and I still have some concerns about the offensive line.  They are the safe pick to win the division, but I don’t know if I quite see it that way.  This is going to be one wild ride.

 

Predicted AFC South standings

 

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7

  2. Houston Texans 9-7

  3. Indianapolis Colts 8-8

  4. Tennessee Titans 5-11

 

**Note: I have both the Texans and Jaguars finishing with 4-2 records in the division so they will need to go to multiple tiebreakers to determine who wins the division.  It could be the Texans.**

 

North

 

A lot of people really love the Pittsburgh Steelers and for good reason.  Their offense is high flying.  Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the game.  He is going to get close to 140 receptions this year and possibly over 2000 yards.  The Steelers will need it too with wide receiver Martavis Bryant suspended for the entire year and running back Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first three games.  No worries though.  DeAngelo Williams will pick up the slack.  The defense will be better too.  Things look really good for the Steelers if Ben Roethlisberger and the major weapons stay healthy.

 

Cincinnati has been a constant presence in the playoffs the last few years, but haven’t broken through with a playoff win.  Trust me, they know about that in the Queen City.  The Bengals keep losing good players and coordinators to other teams, a sign of what Marvin Lewis has done in what was once a down and low-begotten franchise.  With offensive coordinator Hue Jackson leaving for the head coaching job at Cleveland and with several players leaving including wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.  That puts a lot of pressure on A.J. Green, but they will continue to roll.  If there is a year though where the Bengals take a step back this is it.  Speaking of Hue Jackson he is now the head coach of a Cleveland Browns team that kept all fourteen draft picks on the active 53-man roster.  While the future is looking a bit brighter, this season will be a disaster.  RG III and Josh Gordon should have a good connection, but it will be another long year in the Dawg Pound.

 

The Baltimore Ravens suffered a bunch of injuries last year including one to quarterback Joe Flacco (a torn ACL if I recall).  The Ravens lost nine games last year by eight points or less.  That should change this year.  However this isn’t the same dangerous Ravens team like we’ve seen in years past.  They’ll fight for the playoffs, but ultimately I think they come up a little short.

 

Predicted AFC North standings

 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4

  2. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5

  3. Baltimore Ravens 9-7

  4. Cleveland Browns 3-13

 

East

 

Despite the fact that Tom Brady is suspended the first four games of the season due to #Deflategate (last time I say this this post…maybe), how can you not pick the New England Patriots to win the AFC East?  They have the best coach (Bill Belichick), the best quarterback when he’s allowed to play and they seem to have the best system.  Tough not to pick them plus Martellus Bennett is a real good addition to a team with Rob Gronkowski.  Try and defend that double tight end set.  The New York Jets certainly will make it difficult on them however.  Todd Bowles is a great defensive coordinator and the defense will be very good once again.  With Ryan Fitzpatrick back under center, the Jets offense shouldn’t miss a beat plus they added Matt Forte which will be a great addition to the team.  I like the Jets to take that next step. 

 

Buffalo has been dealt injuries to their top two draft picks from this spring (Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland).  Plus defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is suspended four games and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson is also facing a suspension.  Head coach Rex Ryan may be on the outs unless the Bills shock people.  Adam Gase is the new head coach in Miami and he wants the offense to be up-tempo.  That could make the Dolphins a sneaky dangerous team this season.  Plus we remember what Gase did with Jay Cutler last year as offensive coordinator in Chicago.  And the Dolphins have a remodeled stadium.  It will be an interesting year in South Beach.

 

Predicted AFC East standings

 

  1. New England 11-5

  2. New York Jets 11-5

  3. Miami Dolphins 7-9

  4. Buffalo 6-10

 

AFC Playoffs

 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

  2. New England Patriots

  3. Oakland Raiders

  4. Jacksonville Jaguars

  5. New York Jets

  6. Cincinnati Bengals

 

Both the Bengals and Jets will win, but then lose in the divisional playoffs to their division rivals.

 

AFC Championship game

 

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

 

NFC

 

South

 

We start in the division of the defending NFC Champions, the NFC South.  Doubt that Carolina will go 15-1 again.  They are going to get everyone’s best shot this year, but there is plenty of reason to believe that this team will win the division again.  One, the rest of the division is not all that good.  Two, the Panthers return the majority of their starters and they get wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back from the torn ACL he suffered last year.  However cornerback Josh Norman is no longer with the team.  He is in Washington after Carolina couldn’t come to a long term agreement with Norman.  We’ll find out if the Carolina defense helped make Josh Norman or if Josh Norman helped make the Carolina Panthers defense that much better.

 

The Atlanta Falcons looked like they would compete with the Panthers the entire season last year starting 6-0, but the faded down the stretch to finish 8-8.  Head coach Dan Quinn must get the defense to play a little better and he must get the most out of Matt Ryan who is not playing nearly to the level that he once did.  I personally think he can rise up and back to the level he was at a few years ago, but he needs to make better decisions.  Helps when you have a wide receiver like Julio Jones who will put up close to 2000 yards receiving if not more.  Devonta Freeman is a great running back.  The Falcons will definitely be in the hunt for a playoff spot this year.

 

I expect Tampa Bay to take another step towards playoff contention.  Jameis Winston and the offense will be tough to stop with Doug Martin and Mike Evans and the defense will be better, but they are still a year or so away from serious contention.  Some people really like the New Orleans Saints to do something this year, but I don’t see it.  Their defense is still very bad and Drew Brees and the offense aren’t the same high-power explosive machine they were a few years back.  I think it is going to be another down year in the Big Easy.

 

Predicted NFC South standings

 

  1. Carolina Panthers 11-5

  2. Atlanta Falcons 9-7

  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9

  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

 

East

 

The NFC East may very well be the worst division in football.  All four teams have major flaws.  The Dallas Cowboys have problems on defense with multiple suspensions to DeMarcus Lawrence (four games I believe), Randy Gregory (four games, but maybe ten) and Ronaldo McClain (ten games).  They are in a lot of trouble.  Plus Tony Romo has a broken bone in his back and is out 6-10 weeks.  Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott looked great in the preseason, but the regular season is a whole new ballgame.  Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott will be fun to watch.  Philadelphia traded starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings and now will turn to rookie Carson Wentz from North Dakota State for the season.  This team does not have a lot of talent and will be terrible this year.  The New York Giants spent a lot of money in the offseason to revamp that defense with defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.  They added cornerback Eli Apple in the NFL Draft.  An Apple in the Big Apple.  It writes itself.  No Tom Coughlin on the sideline this year.  Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is the new head coach.  They didn’t look great in preseason, but we’ll see what they can do once the season kicks off.  Actually Washington may be the safest bet to win the division.  Can Kirk Cousins perform as well as he did last year?  He has a lot of good targets to throw to and the defense is better with Josh Norman.  Still, Washington hasn’t had back-to-back years with an above .500 record since the 1990s.  Prove me wrong Washington.  Prove it. 

 

Predicted NFC East standings

 

  1. New York Giants 10-6

  2. Dallas Cowboys 8-8

  3. Washington 7-9

  4. Philadelphia Eagles 4-12

 

North

 

The NFC North changed entirely Tuesday, August 30th when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a devastating knee injury.  The promising Vikings quarterback suffered a complete tear of his ACL and a dislocated knee and he could have completely lost his leg had it not been for the quick work of the Vikings athletic training staff.  Even with the trade for Sam Bradford, it seems extremely unlikely that the Vikings will win the NFC North.  The Green Bay Packers already had an extremely easy schedule.  This injury just made things a whole lot easier.  That’s not to say that the Vikings won’t be pushovers.  They have a top five defense that will only get better.  They still have the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson.  There was already a ton of pressure on Bridgewater this year to take that next step and be the reason why the Vikings would be Super Bowl contenders.  With the Bradford trade the Vikings certainly have positioned themselves to be in the playoff discussion.  Head coach Mike Zimmer will make sure they stay that way, but the division is a whole different story.  A healthy Jordy Nelson and a re-energized Aaron Rodgers will lead the Packers to a division title.

 

It’s hard to get better when the franchise leaves the team, but that is what has happened in Detroit with Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) leaving the Lions.  They can try and replace him with Marvin Jones and whoever else they want to, but at the end of the day, there is no replacing Megatron.  New GM Bob Quinn has addressed the offensive and defensive line, because games are won in the trenches.  That is very true, but the Lions lack an overall complete team necessary to win this division.  Like with the Saints, there are some who think the Chicago Bears can take a significant step forward this year and defensively that is certainly true.  They got linebacker Danny Trevathan from Denver and drafted Leonard Floyd out of Georgia, but when you lose Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, not to mention offensive coordinator Adam Gase, I don’t see how that improves your offense.  Plus no more Robbie Gould!  Bears are in for a bad year I think.

 

Predicted NFC North standings

 

  1. Green Bay Packers 12-4

  2. Minnesota Vikings 10-6

  3. Detroit Loins 6-10

  4. Chicago Bears 5-11

 

West

 

The two best teams in the NFC arguably are in the NFC West.  That would be the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals.  Seattle is going with a real youth movement with sixteen guys I think I heard that were drafted or undrafted in this past draft.  That’s not to say that they still don’t have a lot of talent though.  Russell Wilson at quarterback, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in the secondary plus a host of other great players.  The Seahawks are primed for a Super Bowl run yet again, but the Cardinals will have something to say about it.  I’ll admit though, I have some serious concerns about Carson Palmer.  Can he shake off the terrible outing he had in the NFC Championship game last year?  That is not going to be easy.  The Cardinals as a whole did not look all that impressive in preseason.  Take it for what it’s worth, but in that third game at Houston Palmer and company looked dreadful.  Having said that, there is so much talent across the board and they have one of the best head coaches in the game in Bruce Arians so it is hard to think that this team won’t win the division or at the very least make the playoffs.

 

The other two teams in this division are dreadful.  Hey L.A.!  The NFL is back!  And the Rams are not going to be very good regardless of what head coach Jeff Fisher says in Hard Knocks.  Yes Todd Gurley is a stud at running back and Aaron Donald is a tremendous defensive tackle, but that is about it it feels like with this team.  Yes Tavon Austin is a decent wide receiver, but you need a quarterback to get him the ball and do the Rams have that in Case Keanum?  I think not.  The San Francisco 49ers?  No thank you.  Chip Kelly is trying to get the team assembled the way he wants, but when you are starting Blaine Gabbert at quarterback for your team, things have gone in a completely wrong direction even before the season officially starts.  This team is going to be bad.  Even Cleveland is better than San Francisco…I think.

 

Predicted NFC West champions

 

  1. Seattle Seahawks 12-4

  2. Arizona Cardinals 11-5

  3. Los Angeles Rams 6-10

  4. San Francisco 49ers 3-13

 

NFC Playoffs

 

  1. Seattle Seahawks 12-4

  2. Green Bay Packers 12-4

  3. Carolina Panthers 11-5

  4. New York Giants 10-6

  5. Arizona Cardinals 11-5

  6. Minnesota Vikings 10-6

 

Arizona is fortunate they play the NFC East winner while the Vikings will bow out to the Panthers.  Carolina’s season ends in Green Bay while Seattle beats Arizona in a slugfest.  That leaves Green Bay and Seattle and in Seattle will the Packers have any better success in the NFC Championship game this time around?  Nope.

 

Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston, TX)

 

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

 

Super Bowl LI champions: Seattle Seahawks

 

A little bit out there I feel, but hey let’s go with it.  There are really a half-dozen teams that realistically could win the Super Bowl this year. 

 

MVP

 

Speaking of going out on a limb, I could just say Aaron Rodgers, but that would be too easy.  Let’s say Antonio Brown who will have 140 receptions and over 2000 yards for the top seed in the AFC.  Sometimes you have to be a little bold with your predictions.

 

The season officially kicks off tonight at 8:30 PM ET on NBC.  Enjoy the season everyone.

 

Coming up Friday: Week 1 NFL preview and picks


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