America’s team has not exactly lived up to its title as of late, a few 8-8 seasons, a couple of low ranked defenses, and 1 playoff win in the last decade works against you. This is a division that is usually won by the first team to 9,10 wins. Outside of their two almost accidental Super bowl runs, the Giants have been an enigma, and recipe for disaster in the east. Eli continues to have up and down seasons and provides no consistency at the most important position. The Eagles have been heavily marketed as the elite team in this division headed into this season, but lets pump the brakes on a Quarterback in Nick Foles who I doubt will only throw 2 interceptions this year. The Washington [Racial Slurs] have been under scrutiny as of late in regards to their team name, this type of dark cloud can shadow over a team throughout a season. But with additions on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball, RG3 and new Coach Gruden will have all the opportunities to return to prominence.
Washington Redskins (10-6)
Jay Gruden has the magic needed to take this team to new heights, but he will have to magically manage the ego’s of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Deangelo Hall, and not to mention RG3. A lot of egos, a boatload of talent, but will everyone buy in? What happens when DeSean doesn’t get enough touches? Is Ryan Clark at this age a liability? Jay Gruden has another good problem on his hands in his highly touted backup in Kirk Cousins. There are many teams favoring for the backup from Michigan State, so Gruden will need to decide if he’s content moving forward with RG3 or whether he should retain Cousins for one more year. The defense looks scary good so far in preseason. I expect Brian Orakpo to contend for defensive MVP, and as long as Brandon Meriweather can stay off the leagues radar for illegal hits I fully expect the Washington DC Football club to win this division.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Chip Kelly entered the NFL last year as a first year coach with a reinvented version of his collegiate offense. As a result Nick Foles threw 20 touchdowns and only a mere 2 interceptions, impressive to say the least but I’m not convinced he can repeat that performance. Teams will be prepared for anything Nick has to offer, and with Jeremy Maclin returning from a torn-up knee, and the absence of playmaker Desean Jackson, much will be placed on the shoulders of Lesean McCoy. Along with McCoy newcomer Darren Sproles will replace some of electricity lost from Jackson. If Chips' success with former small scat-back type of players; LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner is any indication, then Sproles will pick up right where he left off in New Orleans. The Eagles have been trying to build the defense for the past 4 seasons, and expect them to be a solid group this year. If they can learn to force opponents off the field on 3rd down, and shore up the pass defense in a pass happy division, then Philly may be set for another playoff visit. I doubt it though, especially in a deep NFC.
Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
Despite what media outlets may highlight, the Dallas Cowboys may be a tad better than expected. Jerry Jones has been on record saying that his primary interest is in making the Cowboys “box office” then to be a winning ball club. Although he may have not used those exact words, it remains that the Cowboys are staring a losing season dead in the face. Demarco Murray looks poised to be a top 5 rusher, and Dez looks great thus far in the preseason. The opposite side of the football is a totally different story, ranking dead last in defense, and historically one of the worst defenses of all time. Unfortunately the defense only got worse, losing cornerback Mike Jenkins and long time staple Demarcus Ware. Don’t expect Dallas to lose every game, but don’t hold your breath waiting on 8 wins.
New York Giants (4-12)
This very well could be the last season for Tom Coughlin as the Head Coach for the Giants. Regardless of the previous Super Bowl victories, this is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and Tom has not done much. Only producing 1 playoff appearance in the past 5 years will not cut it in the NFC east. Eli has to bounce back after ranking among the top 3 in interceptions thrown. Losing target Hakeem Nicks will not make a big difference in production being that Coughlin went out and drafted Odell Beckham Jr to replace him. Justin Tuck has left town, and Pierre is the only legitimate threat remaining from their Championship squads. The defensive line unit that has anchored the Giants for the last several years could now be the weak link. Look on the bright side, whenever Eli has led the league in interceptions he follows it up with a Super Bowl campaign.
The 6’2’’, 237 pound speedster at tight end is the piece that will take the Washington DC football team to the next level. In his rookie season, with a hobbled Robert behind center, he still managed to haul in 45 catches and 499 yards. Both of those stats were league leading for rookies last year. In addition to his solid contribution, he has the tangible assets in his game similar to Jimmy Graham which enables him to split out or line up in the slot especially in the red zone. If anyone will keep Gruden’s attack balanced, it will be Jordan Reed.
Odell Beckham Jr
The LSU receiver has been impressive in preseason practices. He hasn’t been able to put it together on the field, but with scouting focus primarily on Victor Cruz. Look for Beckham to be a breath of fresh air at slot for Eli Manning. Giants offensively have struggled running the ball which has forced Tom Coughlin to rev up the passing attack and allowed the emergence of Victor Cruz an Rueben Randle. There is nothing that will keep Beckham Jr. for making a name for himself with the 2 time super bowl winning Quarterback.
Could this be the end to Rex Ryan in New York? Is Tom Brady on the decline? E.J. Manuel has the most dangerous receiver in the division but will it be enough? Will Ryan Tannehill ever be elite? Judging by preseason he doesn’t appear to be set for a record breaking season, but the Dolphins are in a crucial year and certainly not rebuilding. Mike Wallace has yet to become dangerous in this division and the defensive draft picks have still not taken a step towards dominance. Tom Brady remains consistently great year in year out but has fell short of a Super Bowl since 2007. But defensive star power has been added to an already top 10 defense and the Patriots are imagining Super bowl or failed season. Rex Ryan has not reached the AFC championship since 2010, and everyone knows the one year extension he signed does not guarantee his job next season. The fate of Rex and the Jets may rely upon who plays more at Quarterback between Vick and Geno Smith.
New England Patriots (14-2)
Add Revis plus Browner to a team that was already upper echelon and it equals a Super Bowl ticket. These guys cannot guarantee you a championship alone, but they can get you a ticket to the game. I am positive Tom Brady would love an opportunity to prove himself against an opponent not name Eli Manning. Last year, outside of Julian Edleman, Brady’s weapons were either rookie’s or first year players in the Belichick offense. If that is not enough to convince you Brady is due for a 13 win season then maybe a healthy Gronk [Gronkowski] will. This is the finest roster Owner Robert Kraft has had in years, and we know that when Tom Brady is given talent, especially on both sides of the football yields success in New England.
Buffalo Bills (10-6)
I have seen enough from E.J. Manuel to know that he is capable of winning games in this league. We could not give him a fair analysis in his rookie season due to lingering injuries but expect improvements in his sophomore campaign. Bills General Manager has worked extremely hard with stockpiling this roster with talented, tall, skilled, and fast weapons who can stretch the field. Then to add Watkins to an already deep core of receivers gives Manuel no excuses for large passing numbers. The loss of Byrd at Safety will hurt early on against the Bears and the Dolphins, but the front seven have looked particularly solid in preseason and if Keith Rivers and Nigel Bradham can step up to feel the shoes that Kiko Alonso left than the Bills will be competing most likely with Pittsburgh, Houston, and San Diego for the last wild card spot.
New York Jets (7-9)
When news broke that Michael Vick was coming to New York, I made a case for the Jets to immediately challenge Brady and Peyton in the AFC. I made the case under the pretense that Vick would be promptly made the starter on a team that acquired Eric Decker and Chris Johnson and it would only be right to let a veteran lead other veterans on team which is on the brink of being a contender. But instead we had a summer fiasco of Vick given the ‘veteran scrub positive mentor’ role in the Jets locker room, and Geno being handed a team in a crucial year that everyone’s job is riding on. While Quinton Coples, and Muhammad Wilkerson continue to provide blueprints on how to play defensive line, the secondary is inexperienced. Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor’s youth could stop this team short a few wins needed to reach the playoffs
Miami Dolphins (5-11)
Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill attempt to make strides in their 3rd season together. Mike Wallace has not panned out as expected and the newly acquired Knowshon Moreno appears to be second on the depth chart behind Lamar Miller. All can’t be blamed on the Head Coach, amidst an Incognito/Martin scandal that provided a dark cloud over the season. The Dolphins did not dominate their opponent in any one area of football, they managed to be just “average” across the board. There is no indication that this season will be any different from the previous 3 or 4 seasons in Miami, and no playoffs this year will all but secure Philbin’s coaching vacancy in South Beach.
Spiller is a well known target in every coaches meeting prior to competing against the Bills. But in Spiller’s first 4 seasons he has only surpassed 1,000 yards rushing once. I fully expect for Spiller to be the feature to the Bills offense. Fantasy owners need to understand that CJ is set to have a breakout campaign that will leave him among the top 5 rushers in the NFL. He has an uncanny ability to make people miss in open space, and he is vital in the passing attack for E.J. manuel. Get used to hearing E.J. to C.J.!
Calvin’s on field persona is very similar to another hard hitting safety D.J. Swearinger. He likes to play midfield, closer to the line of scrimmage so that he can be active in both run defense and deliver big hits in the intermediate passing attack. Pryor’s eagerness and lack of discipline to the pass is the only thing that separates him from Defensive rookie of the year. If he can remain healthy enough to contribute early, we know that Rex will integrate him into a starter earlier than later in the season. But with two inexperienced corners already, Calvin will be highly depended upon by Rex to lead this defensive back unit.
Possibly the 2nd toughest division after the NFC West, the NFC south features the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton. Although Brees is the only leader who has eclipsed NFL supremacy winning the Superbowl in 2008, Matt Ryan has thoroughly dominated the division for many years up until last season. And until Atlanta discovers some dominance defensively they will always be considered a team on the “cusp” but never achieving greatness. Cam Newton’s Panthers will look very similar to last year’s Cleveland Browns, highly touted defense and 1 or 2 pieces on the offensive end. Cam will be better but it will not result in more wins are a deeper playoff run, sorry but I don’t think that even the great Tom Brady could turn this team around. Tampa Bay’s success hinges on the health of Doug Martin being able to carry the load for McCown all season. Analysts are so high on Lovie because he finally has the right personnel who are fitted to run his defensive scheme. Lovie’s Bears’ front line had always been menacing and if he can get McCoy and Michael Johnson to enter their prime then Tampa cannot be ignored as a team on the brink for that final wildcard spot.
New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Assuming that Drew Brees does not stub his toe going down the stairs, or throws his back out lifting his son, the Saints are poised for another deep playoff run. In recent years it has been their inconsistent play on the road that has kept them from dominating the NFC. The Saints have upgraded a defensive unit that was already top 10. The running back by committee with Pierre, Mark Ingram, and Robinson will continue to salvage the shelf life of Thomas and allow Ingram to extend his career as well. The hype surrounding Brandon Cooks is real, and will fill the explosive playmaking that has departed with Darren Sproles. As long as the essential pieces of this team stay healthy look for them to have another productive season among the elite in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
Lovie Smith has already established an attitude in camp, in the few months he has been there, the tone in the locker room is much improved. This Tampa team has an awful lot of similar characteristics to Gruden’s 2002 team--who ended up winning the Superbowl. Top 5 defense, tall, skilled receivers (Keyshawn Johnson) in Evans and Vincent, and above average special teams. McCown is another one of my “implementation specialist” and his game plan will be very much predicated off of running between the tackles and play action passes. Doug Martin returns from injury and will be looking to return to elite form. If the Bucs' can establish an early identity against this brutal schedule, they may be able to squeeze out 10 wins.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
The Falcons imploded last year after losing both Roddy White and Julio Jones to injuries. Stephen Jackson has proven that after turning 30 years of age, running backs are truly serviceable. Not to mention there has still not been a decent cover corner on this roster in years. Fortunately a healthy Roddy and Julio can guarantee you 8 wins, but after that wins will come few and far between. Stephen Jackson’s skeletal frame just can’t be trusted at this stage in his career. His body took a severe punishment throughout his career in St. Louis and he has little to nothing left to add to the “physical” run game that Mike Smith was attempting to implement. There is just not enough defensively for Atlanta to hang their hat on. Its a collection of old veterans past their primes trying to gel, which will accumulate another middle of the 1st round draft pick. Let’s hope this talented team can pick up some much needed help on the other side of the football.
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
With all due respect to Cam Newton, who I personally think is a beast, I find the Panther’s success last season to be blip and not a trend. From my vantage point, this team is in Phase 3 of a rebuild. They have their franchise quarterback in tact, they have what is now should be a solid offensive line. The defensive front seven are vicious led by Luke Kuechly at linebacker and Hardy on the pass rush. I am concerned however by the addition of the aging veteran Roman Harper. Obviously, his experience may be invaluable to the defensive back crew, but there is a reason why Rob Ryan did not want to bring him back after all this time. He gets beat early and often and does not have the speed required to be elite, especially with Colston, Brandon Cooks, Roddy and Julio as elite wideouts in this division. Look for the Panthers to be a low scoring team, ground and pound, with occasional great flashes from Cam. If the Panthers get down early they will struggle immensely and does not have the catch up talent on the outside. This team is one or two players away from being consistently top 5 in the league.
In his 2nd season, he nearly reached 80 tackles playing in 14 games. He anchored a top 10 Saints defense and showed premature “Ed Reed” ability on a number of plays. The Texas native will look to cement himself among this new look secondary, and with the addition of Champ Bailey, Kenny may be able to hone in on the mental side of being the defensive captain. If he can match the football IQ needed with his physically freakish measurables, in January he will be in Honolulu--that’s if he doesn’t end up in Arizona.
The BCS national championship running back has already made a name for himself due to ‘HBO’s Hard Knocks’ exposure. Although his running style is similar to Jacquizz, he may be equipped to swap carries with Jacquizz Rodgers assuming Stephen Jackson has another injury plagued season. He has narrow hips and quick feet similar to LeSean McCoy. He has shown the ability to burst through arm tackles and to run between the tackles as well. Preseason aside he is averaging 5.1 yards a carry, and he is one of those running backs who never loses a yard on a run.
AFC South predictions
Throughout the past few seasons, one of the more puny divisions in the NFL happens to be the AFC south. Many years this division was Peyton’s man cave, until the recent arrival of Andrew Luck. This kid Andrew Luck is the TRUTH. Any angle of his game that you want to dissect, please do and you will find greatness in its foundation. There is no ceiling and you will see him reach tier one elite status during this season. I strongly believe the Texans are within grasp of first place, but its so difficult to bet against a guy who hasn’t won less than 11 games since being in the league. The rest of the division has been a joke for the most part, Jacksonville allowed their perennial franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew to go to Oakland and seem to be in Phase 2 of their rebuild after drafting Blake Bortles. The Titans have a ways to go, between a QB who hasn’t played a full season, losing several great defensive anchors, chalk this season up early, and pray that Jameis Winston (FSU QB) falls to you in the top 3.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
I’ll see your 11 wins and raise you 1. The Colts will struggle against division rival Houston Texans, but that is about the only team they will struggle against this year. Andrew Luck will be in an early rhythm with T.Y. Hilton until Reggie Wayne gets into game conditioning. The Colts have showed up loose ends defensively adding D’Qwell Jackson at linebacker and Arthur Jones at defensive tackle. If the Colts can avoid mental lapses during late game situations and prevent the “big play” they will be poised to finish 2nd only after Peyton himself in the AFC.
Houston Texans (10-6)
Jadeveon Clowney has looked tremendous in preseason and has showed flashes of All-pro potential all over the field. I just haven’t quite figured out if the team has truly bought in to new head coach Bill O’Brien and his system. The first indication of this was Andre Johnson’s failed trade request. Looking across the roster it is evident that there was no potential franchise quarterback neither selected in the draft or taken in free agency. Even after his expressed interest in acquiring Michael Vick, he wanted out and Bill didn’t let him. Early turmoil in camp among the receiving corps may keep this team from reaching its full potential as quickly as possible. If O’Brien utilizes Foster and Johnson just within Ryan Fitzpatrick’s comfortable operating level then the Texans from Houston are bound to put up 10 wins this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)
The Jags are on the other side of their rebuild project, as they have cleaned house at running back, drafted what they believe to be their franchise quarterback, and have put an assembly of athletic defenders on the front line in what is becoming potentially the deepest division for defensive lineman. My prediction may have been different if it was not for Justin Blackmon’s suspension for failing a drug test. He is the difference maker and arguably the best receiver in this division after Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne and has more upside than both. The jags much like the Browns were competitively bad, which allowed them to hang in nearly all of their games due to an impressive defense. The Jags rising out of the gutter of the AFC south depends on how quickly Gus Bradley inserts Blake into the starting line up.
Tennessee Titans (5-11)
The theme of the Titans is “turnover” and that is exactly what has happened this offseason. Jake Locker is back [insert crickets] and this is marks the end of the CJ2K era. Tennessee has always showcased a tough defense in recent years, but they took a major hit in the lost of Alterraun Verner their best corner. Offensively the disruptive Kenny Brit has left town, Chris Johnson is in New York, and the committee of Shone Greene, Dexter McCluster, and Bishop Sankey are on deck to carry the load for Locker and the Titans. Although scouts anticipate Justin Hunter, the speedster from the SEC to have a breakout season, I don’t think it will be enough for the new age Oilers who eventually will be taking a long hard look at Mariota (Oregon QB) or Jameis Winston (Heisman winner).
Chance Warmack started all 16 games last season for Tennessee Titans. Look for him to be the next great young lineman, despite whoever may line up behind center. He will be a staple, franchise player at guard and will directly impact the win column. His mistakes during his rookie season were mental ones. There were times that he was caught on film not blocking anyone, times that he whiffed on a block, but the one thing that failed to appear on film was a lack of effort or tenacity. Take a chance on Warmack as a player to look out for in the AFC south.
I should have said Impressive youngster who isn’t named one, Jadeveon Clowney, but I’d like to introduce you all to another young baller from Ole Miss, Donte Moncreif. This 6’2’’ stud lit it up in the SEC and will become a likely target later in the season after age and attrition kicks in for the other Colt receivers. How much can you trust Hakim Nicks after last season and Reggie Wayne returning from major surgery? You can trust Donte, he would be the first freakishly big talented receiver that Andrew Luck has been waiting for.
Chuck Pagano has the ingredients to make a deep playoff run. The Colts have not been tested in this division much and that will change this year. I say they lose both divisional games against the Texans but still finish among the elite in the NFL and clinch a number two or three seed in the AFC playoffs. While Houston may be able to churn out 10 victories, regardless it won't be enough with the likes of the Jets, Bengals, Chargers, and Steelers all vying for wild card spots. This division will become increasingly tougher with the emergence of Blake Bortles and Jake Locker, but for the upcoming season watch Andrew Luck try to impede Peyton's Superbowl revenge tour.
This division has remained in the shadows as of recently. We all know what Aaron Rodgers is capable of, but does he have enough weapons to justify a 1st place finish? Brandon Marshall has already gone on record to say Jay Cutler is an early MVP candidate, is that realistic? Could Jim Caldwell be the missing piece to bring Detroit over the hump? And will Teddy Bridgewater make a dark horse out of the Minnesota Vikings? I see this playing out possibly 1 out of 2 ways. It has been 4 years since Rodgers emerged as a Superbowl winning Quarterback. It is hard to imagine that he does not return to prominence this season. The NFC north has been the most offensively prolific division when you take a look at the QB’s, and although there have been some major changes in personnel, coaching, and leadership this will be a tight race to the finish. The two keys to this division will come down to:
Will Teddy be the starting QB this season, and if so how many games of Cassell will it take before a change is made?
How quickly can Jim Caldwell get his guys to “buy-in”?
Detroit Lions (11-5)
Caldwell has a super bowl pedigree both as a Head coach and Offensive Coordinator. He knows exactly what it takes, preparation wise, in order to win a championship. Adding him as a Head Coach to this overly talented Lions team will implement a sense of discipline and accountability in the locker room. Although he is an offensive specialist, don’t be surprised if the defensive unit is what carries this team. Look for Stafford to lead a more balanced attack, resulting in a longer average time of possession, and by not attempting to break the single season passing record as he so effortlessly puts up daunting numbers every year. Not only is Suh in a contract year, but the defensive front (as a unit) are entering the prime of their careers. Put opposing offensive lines on notice.
Greenbay Packers (11-5)
The Packers compete with a certain level of consistency year in year out. The NFL seasons in which they do not advance deep into the post-season is primarily due to major injuries at core positions. Their defensive unit is deeper with Clinton-Dix, and a healthy B.J. Raji will return this Packer team back to the upper echelon in the NFC. This is not a strong receiving core, and certainly not a physical one. But with Green Bay, its never if—its when, and in this instance it is when the newcomer wideouts become acclimated with Aaron Rodgers. Look for Green Bay to tote a strong veteran team who will compete for 1st place but be ousted by the Lions towards the latter part of the season.
Minnesota Vikings (10-6*)
*Assuming Teddy Bridgewater starts at Quarterback
Surprise, surprise—Minnesota is NOT as bad as you may think they are going to be. Their predicted record is based on Teddy Bridgewater assuming responsibilities sooner than later. There is a myth in the NFL that rookie Quarterbacks that are teetering on solid starters need an additional redshirt year in order to be ready. Teddy is perfectly capable of taking this team to the next level. He is what I like to call an Implementation specialist, also referred to as “Game managers” by many NFL analysts. I use the word “Implementation Specialist” because he implements the software (game plan/playbook) as it is intended to be used. There will be no improvising, no playmaking greatness, but he will execute the game plan, and minimize turnovers a la Alex Smith. There are plenty of weapons offensively for him to succeed, and a plus is the fact that weapons like Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson are players you can get the ball to early and allow them to generate YAC (yards after catch).
Chicago Bears (7-9)
I totally believe the hype surrounding Jay Cutler, but that is not the problem. The problem is the defensive unit for the Bears is so regular, so average, that Cutler will have to be flawless game in and game out to have a legitimate playoff opportunity. These aren’t the same Lovie Bears of the past years. The front seven of the bears are either non-impact players, on the decline, or too young to have made a name yet. Lance Briggs, Jared Allen, and Tim Jennings will not be enough to contain the other high powered offenses in this division. Did I forget to mention they also lost the best return man of all time in Devin Hester--so much for special teams.
Cobb has already led the league in combined net yards, which is very difficult to do if you are a 3rd option-slot receiver and mainly return kicks. This guy is special, and now that James Jones, and Jermichael Finley is gone, Randall Cobb will be expected to show up and play are larger role in the offense. He has proven that he is completely capable of hauling in receptions; he had 80 in 2012, and was only 50 yards away from a 1,000 yard receiving campaign. Now after returning from an injury plagued season, Randall will completely let loose on the weak NFC north corners and also continue to make an impact on Special teams.
The Vikings playoff hopes lie on the maturation of Teddy Bridgewater and the immediate impact of Anthony Barr. The highly touted linebacker out of UCLA will play a vital role in not only the production of this teams’ defense but the leadership as well. Expect Barr to finally give some athleticism to this mundane Vikings defense, and be in the hunt for Defensive rookie of the year...neck and neck with Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney.
It is hard to bet against Aaron Rodgers, and I’m not. The Packers have arguably the best QB in the league which will automatically get them into the playoffs. But Matthew Stafford is poised to have a sensational season with the addition of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. Detroit’s front line will bring controlled chaos under the leadership of Jim Caldwell. I give the edge to Detroit purely because of Caldwell’s extensive coaching experience and ability to improve the team in every aspect of the game. Detroit wins the tiebreaker for the division, and Rodgers and the Packers become a dangerous 5th seed wild card team. Minnesota will just miss out in a very competitive NFC playoff pool that is mostly dictated by tough defenses and Chicago surprisingly takes a step back with an aging defense
The first of 8 divisional previews, for the next two weeks I will be releasing my predictions for each divisional winner and the impact players in those divisions
Created Hiphop and Home Runs in 2014 out of his broadcasting studio in Queens, NY. Visit daily to find updates and breaking news in the urban sports community
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