Few people can consistently make bad predictions year to year like I can, and that includes the talking heads on TV networks like ESPN and NFL Network. I think I set a new low for myself last year, getting only one prediction correct of the ten I had made. I suppose I could spin that and say I have to rebound since there's just about nowhere to go but up.....right?
Let's see what 2016 may have in store for us, if my crystal ball has anything to say about it.
1. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West. The AFC West is entirely up for grabs this season following Peyton Manning's retirement. The Broncos have a roulette wheel of options at quarterback since Brock Osweiler left for Houston, while the Chargers still have yet to sign their top draft pick Joey Bosa, and the Chiefs have the Andy Reid Factor alive and well. Meanwhile, over the last couple seasons the Raiders have quietly stockpiled some superior young talent between Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, DJ Hayden, and Mychal Rivera. They also added former Ravens OL Kelechi Osemele to anchor their left tackle spot. Suffice to say, they're fairly loaded on both sides of the ball and play in a division that isn't nearly as top heavy as it's been the last couple years. They have a real chance at winning double-digit games this year and take the division title.
2. Ezekiel Elliot will break the NFL rookie RB record for rushing yards. The Cowboys' offense has the chance to be very special this season. Their offensive line is still the best in football, and they've added a special breed of athlete at running back in the draft this past May. Ezekiel Elliot will break Eric Dickerson's previous record of 1,808 rushing yards set in 1983. I don't think he'll necessarily shatter the record or anything, but he has the talent to beat Dickerson's season. The Cowboys have the dynamic offense needed to win the NFC East again, though Tony Romo's health is becoming a bigger and bigger question with each passing season. Speaking of top offenses....
3. The Baltimore Ravens will have a top-5 offense in the league this season. Up is down, back is front, black is white, right is left, and top is bottom. The Ravens have had some good offenses in their history, and Joe Flacco's best season was two years ago when Gary Kubiak had called the plays. For the first time in team history, the Ravens will finish with a top-5 offense because of the talent surrounding Flacco on offense. Steve Smith is a fairly large question of just how effective he'll be coming off his torn Achilles last year, but adding Mike Wallace and finally having Breshad Perriman on the field will form one of the best group of receivers in football along with their tight ends. If anything, the bigger questions for the team will be how well their defense plays, which is unfamiliar territory for the Ravens. While we're talking teams with surprise elite units....
4. The Jacksonville Jaguars will finish with a top-5 defense in the league this season. The Jaguars' offense took a huge step forward last year with their young receivers led by Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Their defense will take a similar step forward this year since they had added Malik Jackson in free agency, and they'll finally see Dante Fowler take the field after he had torn his ACL in minicamp last year. They also landed two of the top defensive prospects in this year's draft in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. Gus Bradley's job as head coach is somewhat under the gun this year, but the AFC South is another division up for grabs. The Jaguars will be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL in 2016, and they're my pick for AFC South champions.
5. The Seattle Seahawks will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011. The law of averages says that for every upstart team like the Raiders and Jaguars, another perennial quality team has to take a step backwards. The Seahawks will be that version this year, following losing guys like Marshawn Lynch to retirement and OL Russell Okung to free agency. They won't fall off a proverbial cliff, but the Cardinals are one of the elite teams in the NFL, and the Rams look like another team who will take a big step forward this year.
6. The New England Patriots will go undefeated for the rest of the regular season after Tom Brady returns from his suspension. This is one of the rare predictions where I genuinely hope I'm wrong. However, Tom Brady is going to play with a chip on his shoulder the size of all New England when he takes the field after serving his suspension. He will want to flip a proverbial middle finger at the league office and Roger Goodell in every game he plays and tear through every opposing defense he faces. Jimmy Garappolo will be serviceable enough at quarterback for the first four games, but the Patriots will lose at least one or two of those games. I don't want to see it happen, but Brady will shred every secondary and lead the Patriots to yet another divisional title and playoff berth.
7. It's the final swan song for Adrian Peterson. Peterson was one of most special offensive talents to play on a football field in an entire generation. He's a rare type of running back who still played at an incredible level at 30 years old last year (though that was the end result of extremely unique circumstances). Father Time will set in on him by the end of the season, and he will have to hang up his cleats for good.
8. Carson Palmer will be the league MVP. Palmer has enjoyed the best years of his career to date during his time in Arizona, and his career will set new personal heights in 2016. The Cardinals are both the best and most complete team in the NFC, and Palmer will lead them to the Promised Land because.....
9. The Arizona Cardinals will defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 51. The Cardinals will get some revenge after losing a rather heart-breaking game in Super Bowl 43 to the Steelers. I will hate seeing Pittsburgh getting that far through the playoffs to the point of literally seeing red. However, the Steelers will miss out once again on getting their seventh Super Bowl title, and Arizona will hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time in franchise history.