Looking at each game and projecting wins and losses accordingly, here's how the season could shake down. It's rebuilding years in San Diego, Oakland, New York and Jacksonville. The NFC West is not as dominant as some think and the NFC South lays claim to some wildcard spots. The NFC has double the playoff-caliber teams as the AFC and that makes it tough on some teams in the conference.
AFC WEST: BRONCOS (13-3), CHIEFS (11-5), CHARGERS (3-13), RAIDERS (2-14)
This is the easiest division to predict. I could be very wrong about the Chiefs, I haven’t seen what I wanted to in the preseason, but looking at their early schedule, their first 9 games are fairly winnable. You get a team like that, coming off such tumult on a run and they’re likely to be very impressive. I think the Chargers are going to have a VERY tough year. Obviously. I had to work really hard to find 2 winnable games for the Raiders.
AFC EAST: DOLPHINS (9-7)/PATRIOTS (9-7), BILLS (7-9), JETS (3-13)
Both Dolphins and Pats finish with winning records. I give the Dolphins a nod because they took some chances in the offseason, adding Grimes and Ellerbe and Wallace that I think make this team much better. The Patriots had the polar opposite offseason. I wanted to be more optimistic about the Bills, but with no preseason for Manuel, I can’t trust them. The Jets’ season will make the Chargers season look entertaining.
AFC NORTH: BENGALS (12-4), STEELERS (7-9), RAVENS (7-9) BROWNS (6-10)
Love this Bengals team. Offensively, defensively, this team is “Most Likely To Be Overhyped” and that’s ok. They’re also fun to watch and have a schedule that helps them procure the most wins since 1988. Can’t help but think the Ravens and Steelers both take steps back. Mostly because they face off the NFC North with 4 solid teams. Wanted to be more optimistic about the Browns, so a 1-win improvement is all I could see given the schedule.
AFC SOUTH: TEXANS (12-4), COLTS (10-6), TITANS (5-11), JAGS (3-13)
Nothing shocking here. Texans continue to take the AFC by storm, Colts have another playoff season under Luck and the Titans offseason acquisitions prove meaningless until they get a quarterback. The Jags season will make the Jets season look fun.
AFC WILDCARDS: COLTS, CHIEFS
NFC WEST: NINERS, (14-2), CARDINALS, (8-8), SEAHAWKS (7-9), RAMS (5-11)
THIS is where people are going to think I’m nuts. And feel free, but Pete Carroll’s first 2 seasons the team went 7-9. One of those years that was good enough to make the playoffs. True, he didn’t have Russell Wilson those years, but this year he’s without Gus Bradley, the guy who coached up that D to the top scoring D in the league. Take away the blowouts over Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco in weeks 14-16 (Seahawks scored 58, 50 and 42) in which the defense collected massive stats and the offense averaged 20.1 points per game week 1-13, and 17. Good enough for 24th in the league. Just ahead of the Browns and Raiders. Point is, losing Gus Bradley is a big deal. Couple that with the Hawks east coast swings and the improvement of the rest of the NFC and they miss the playoffs. Niners run the NFC, secure the top seed. I could be wrong about the Rams, but I don’t think Brian Schottenheimer is the guy for that set of offensive talent.
NFC EAST: COWBOYS (11-5), GIANTS (8-8), REDSKINS (8-8), EAGLES (4-12)
This is the Cowboys’ division to lose. Redskins take a step back and Eagles don’t quite have enough on defense to keep pace in the NFL.
NFC NORTH: BEARS (10-6), LIONS (9-7), PACKERS (8-8), VIKINGS (7-9)
Picking the Bears to win the division. Packers have a tough season behind one of the NFL’s flimsiest offensive lines but they could be in the playoff hunt come season end. Lions look tough on paper. But same story, different year. Hoping they put it together this year.
NFC SOUTH: FALCONS (11-5), SAINTS (10-6), BUCS (10-6), PANTHERS (7-9)
Love the Falcons chances this year adding Steven Jackson. Saints are once again a beast on offense, but can’t stay healthy on defense. No pass rush= Drew Brees throwing 48 TDs over the season and the team losing games 38-35.
NFC WILDCARDS: SAINTS, BUCS, LIONS, CARDINALS, GIANTS, REDSKINS, PACKERS
You might be asking yourself, “Why does she have 6 teams as potential Wildcard teams?” It’s because I’m accounting for a win/loss differential of 2 in my projections and pointing out the fact that the NFC has about double the playoff quality teams as the AFC, so the end of the season could once again see a good 10-6 team miss the playoffs.
Season’s here Thursday!!! Who are YOUR division winners? Drop your thoughts at @Julie_Buehler on twitter, or leave comments here…