The availability of pumpkin beer can only signal one thing… it’s football season. Tommy Touchdowns is finally free and the NFL season kicked off Thursday with it’s highest rated season opener, a 28-21 Patriots win over the Steelers. Our staff has put together a season preview to help you navigate through the all the various roster shake-ups and story-lines coming into the season. My in-depth analysis of each team can be found below, but to give you a teaser here are Ross and I’s Playoff and Superbowl picks:

Cameron’s Picks

AFC Division Winners: Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Chiefs

AFC Wild Card Teams: Dolphins, Ravens

NFC Division Winners: Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Seahawks

NFC Wild Card Teams: Eagles, Cardinals

Championship Games:  Patriots over Chiefs & Packers over Eagles

Super Bowl: Patriots over Packers

Ross’s Picks

AFC Division Winners: Dolphins, Steelers, Colts, Chiefs

AFC Wild Card Teams: Broncos, Patriots

NFC Division Winners: Eagles, Packers, Saints, Seahawks

NFC Wild Card Teams: Lions, Cardinals

Championship Games:  Colts over Chiefs & Packers over Eagles

Super Bowl: Packers over Colts

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
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Key Departures: QB Kyle Orton, RB C.J. Spiller, TE Scott Chandler, LB Kiko Alonso, CB Da’Norris Searcy

Key Acquisitions: HC Rex Ryan, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Percy Harvin, QB Tyrod Taylor, TE Charles Clay

Key Draft Picks: CB Ronald Darby (Rd 2. FSU), OG John Miller (Rd 3. UL)

My Prediction: 9-7 3rd AFC East

Sexy Rexy is in town, and with him comes a vial of new blood to reinvigorate the Franchise with the NFL’s longest playoff drought. The Bills lost most of the 2014’s offensive production with the exodus of Orton, Spiller, and Chandler. But with the hiring of defensive-minded Coach Rex Ryan, the Bills surprisingly went mainly offensive in the offseason, replacing nearly all of their needs. After grabbing Percy Harvin, Charles Clay, Tyrod Taylor, and Richie Incognito in free agency, Rex made the move of the offseason trading young and decorated LB Kiko Alonso for Eagle’s RB LeSean McCoy.

After a preseason that saw Tyrod Taylor named the starting QB over both Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel, the Bills look poised to turn a corner in the AFC East. And that decision will be the fulcrum of their entire season, Taylor could turn out to be the next Russell Wilson, but could also more than likely be the next E.J. Manuel. It’ll be tough slugging for Taylor as he inherits an offensive line with legitimate questions that weren’t answered by the signing of Incognito. Though, it’s hard to find a better supporting cast for a young quarterback; stud second year receiver Sammy Watkins will be complemented by the additions of McCoy, Harvin, and Clay. The questions have never been about Rex’s defense, but his resume isn’t exactly filled with successful quarterbacks either. The Bills’ defense and offensive weapons will be enough to keep them in the playoff conversation until the final week, look for them to challenge for a Wild Card.

Miami Dolphins
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Key Departures: TE Charles Clay, DT Jared Odrick

Key Acquisitions: WR Greg Jennings, TE Jordan Cameron, DT Ndamukong Suh

Key Draft Picks: WR DeVante Parker (Rd 1. UL), DT Jordan Phillips (Rd 2. OU)

My Prediction: 11-5 2nd AFC East

The Dolphins have been knocking on the door and getting better each year under Tannehill and Philbin; now after coming up empty the past three seasons, it’s time to put up or shut up. The Dolphins front office definitely ‘put up’ in the offseason, signing Ndamukong Suh to the biggest contract ever for a defensive player. This pairs Suh with Cameron Wake to form one of the most fearsome defensive-lines in all of football.

In addition to the obvious upgrade on defense, the Fins went out and made sure Tannehill had the pieces on offense to get them to the next level. The Fins brought in Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron as well as drafted star wide-out DeVante Parker to surround the young QB, all while sending the underachieving Mike Wallace out of town. These new additions join Lamar Miller and Jarvis Landry, coming off an amazing rookie season. The Dolphins now have four very potent passing options with Parker and Jennings taking the two wide-out spots, allowing Landry to stay in the slot. Jordan Cameron excelled in a struggling Cleveland offense the past two years, expect him to emerge in a big way this year.

The Dolphins finally get over the hump this year, challenging the Patriots for AFC dominance and reaching the playoffs as a Wild Card.

 

New England Patriots
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Key Departures: CB Darelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, CB Arrington DT Vince Wilfork, RB Shane Vereen, LB Akeem Ayers

Key Acquisitions: TE Scott Chandler, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Brandley Fletcher

Key Draft Picks: DT Malcom Brown (Rd 1. Texas), SS Jordan Richards (Rd 2. Stanford), DE Geneo Grissom (Rd 3. OU), DE Trey Flowers (Rd 4. Arkansas)

My Prediction: 12-4 1st AFC East

The defending Super Bowl champions have their star QB back, and many pundits are claiming Angry Brady and Belichick are ready to dominate the league a la 2007. While Brady looked sharp tossing four TDs in the opener, the Pittsburgh offense certainly exposed many flaws outgaining the Pats by 103 yards in the losing effort. The so-called ‘Circle D’ the Patriots have fallen into by allowing three of their top corners to leave during free agency allowed 351 yards to an admittedly potent Steelers passing attack. Losing Revis, Browner and Arrington leaves second year UDFA Malcolm Butler as the No 1. Corner, with Logan ‘Can’t Cover the Double Move’ Ryan, and Bradley ‘Couldn’t Cover Dez Bryant if he Turned into Cole Beasley’ Fletcher to handle the weak side. The Pats are hoping an improved pass-rush that features newcomers Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard to compliment their veterans in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will be able to force quick and erratic throws. Behind them they boast one of the nation’s best LB corps with the return of Jerod Mayo in the middle along with Collins and Hightower.

The offense should be as potent as ever. The loss of LaFell for the early part of the season should allow for Brady to develop a rapport with newcomer Scott Chandler. Look for the Patriots to emphasize their two TE sets, which they ran more than any other team last year. With Gronk opposite him, the 6’5’’ Chandler is going to face man-coverage from a linebacker all too often. In the backfield, they’ve found their Vereen replacement as Dion Lewis has looked reminiscent of Kevin Faulk thus far. While the Patriots should have no trouble moving the ball up and down the field, the real worry is that the defense is reminiscent of the 2011-2013 squads relying on Brady to bail them out of many a game. This team should dominate the East yet again, look for a 5th consecutive AFC Championship game appearance.

New York Jets
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Key Departures: WR Percy Harvin

Key Acquisitions: S Marcus Gilchrist, CB Darelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Buster Skrine, OG James Carpenter

Key Draft Picks: DE Leonard Williams (Rd 1. USC), WR Devin Smith (Rd 2. OSU), OLB Lorenzo Mauldin (Rd 3. UL)

My Prediction: 5-11 4th AFC East

Hypothetically, the pieces are there. The Jets made a huge splash in free agency replacing entirely their entire secondary, highlighted by the signings of Revis and Cromartie. The revamped secondary should allow their monster of a defensive line to be more dominant and aggressive at the line of scrimmage this year.

On offense the addition of Brandon Marshall opposite Eric Decker should cause problems for opposing secondaries. Marshall comes in having been targeted the 3rd most times in the NFL over the past three seasons, which bodes well for Decker who is 12th on the list himself. New head coach Todd Bowles will be able to alternate from a running game featuring an underrated Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, to a deep threat passing game featuring this new duo. The only problem is who will be throwing it? After sustaining a broken-jaw from a locker-room sucker punch, no you read that right, Geno Smith will be out for the beginning of the season. This may be a blessing in disguise as Ryan Fitzpatrick is the next to step up. Fitzpatrick is underrated in his own right, having posted nearly identical numbers to Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, and Carson Palmer over the past five years.

There will be too many new and unproven pieces on this team without any depth to cover them up. While the defense will be impressive, and the weapons are there on offense, they are still many questions at both QB and Linebacker.

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
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Key Departures: WR Torrey Smith, LB Pernell McPhee, TE Owen Daniels, WR Jacoby Jones, DT Haloti Ngata

Key Acquisitions: S Kendrick Lewis, CB Kyle Arrington

Key Draft Picks: WR Breshad Perriman (Rd 1. UCF), TE Maxx Williams (Rd 2. Minn), DT Carl Davis (Rd 3. Iowa)

My Prediction: 10-6 2nd AFC North

Shipping away Halogi Ngata in the offseason surprised many, but I’ve learned to respect Ravens GM Ozzie Newsom. All this means is that heir apparent NT Brandon Williams is poised to wreak havoc this year alongside pass rushing duo Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The additions of Kyle Arrington and Kendrick Lewis provide depth and a much needed nickel back to the secondary, while I expect huge things from second year LB C.J. Mosley. This may not be the Ravens defense of old with stars at all three levels, but this will most definitely be one of the best collective units in the league.

On offense, there are some huge questions. Losing Torrey Smith to free agency leaves an aging Steve Smith Sr. as the No. 1 option. The Ravens are banking on the emergence of Breshad Perriman, but injuries and drops problems don’t make that likely. The Ravens will have to look to one of Kamar Aikem, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, or Darren Walker to turn into a serviceable option. And if you just said ‘Who?’ that’s exactly the reaction I’m sure Joe Flacco will have Sunday afternoon. However, with new OC Marc Trestman, expect to see Justin Forsett utilized heavily in the passing game from the backfield. It remains to be seen if offensive guru can turn these scraps into a potent offense, but regardless their physical defense will keep them in every game.

Cincinnati Bengals
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Key Departures: OT Michael Newhouse, CB Terence Newman

Key Acquisitions: DE Michael Johnson, LB A.J. Hawk, WR Denarius Moore

Key Draft Picks: OT Cedric Ogbuehi (Rd 1. A&M), OT Jake Fisher (Rd 2. Oregon), TE Tyler Kroft (Rd 3. Rutgers)

My Prediction: 8-8 3rd AFC North

After four straight seasons of being bounced in the Wild Card round, you’d think the Bengals front office would head into the 2015 offseason ready to make a big splash. Instead they neglected to jump into the water entirely, making sparingly few changes to the core of this team. Return of Michael Johnson should add some depth to the defensive line which looks much better now that Geno Atkins is back to playing at the top of his game. Signing an overrated A.J. Hawk, while increasing their ‘A.J.’-count to two, does nothing to bolster one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL that already has their most efficient player, Vontaze Burfict, on the PUP list.

I’m wasting time on the defense because we all know this team is going to ride or die on the arm of Andy Dalton. Dalton has been so incredibly average that the internet has created what is known as the ‘Dalton Line,’ wherein if your quarterback is worse than Dalton your team should be on the market for a new one, while QBs better are deemed franchise worthy. Somehow Dalton has spent four consecutive seasons straddling that line. What doesn’t help is the fact that the team did veritably nothing to improve his weapons this offseason, aside from making sure A.J. Green was healthy. That’s worrisome to me, as their rivals in Pittsburgh and Baltimore spent the offseason shoring up the holes in their rosters. Cincinnati is good at a lot of things, but in this league you need to be special at something, and with one of the league’s toughest schedules looming, I think we see some regression for the Bengals this season.

Cleveland Browns
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Key Departures: CB Buster Skrine, TE Jordan Cameron, NT Ahtyba Rubin

Key Acquisitions: QB Josh McCown, CB Tramon Williams, WR Dwayne Bowe

Key Draft Picks: DT Danny Shelton (Rd 1. Wash), OL Cameron Erving (Rd 1. FSU), DE Nate Orchard (Rd 2. Utah)

My Predictions: 5-11 4th AFC North

This team is sure to be as boring as the changes made to their uniform this offseason were. Oh look, there’s a new brown stripe! Or… is that orange? The Browns did do the entire sports world a favor by signing Josh McCown to prevent an apocalypse due to the sheer media exposure of a starting Johnny Football. But allowing anyone to start behind that offensive line has got to be borderline workplace abuse. Their wide receiving corps is so pathetic that Terrelle Pryor was able to make the position change from QB and still grab a roster spot. The running backs are equally as concerning, earlier this offseason, RB Coach William Montgomery was quoted as saying ‘No one wants the role.’

The defense should retain it’s hard hitting personality even with the loss of Rubin up front. They’ve added depth there by spending two of their top three picks on lineman to help strengthen what was a pedestrian pass rush in 2014. Both Donte Whitner and Tramon Williams provide veteran leadership and knowledge to a secondary already featuring one of the NFL’s elite corners in Joe Haden. This unit will be asked to keep the Browns in nearly every game, and as the season goes on I expect that to wear the defense down.

Pittsburgh Steelers
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Key Departures: CB Ike Taylor, S Troy Polamalu, DE Brett Keisel, WR Lance Moore

Key Acquisitions: RB DeAngelo Williams, QB Tajh Boyd

Key Draft Picks: LB Bud Dupree (Rd 1. UK), CB Senquez Golson (Rd 2. Miss), WR Sammie Coates (Rd 3. Aub)

My Prediction: 10-6 1st AFC North

The Steelers don’t look like their teams of old; it’ll be odd to see the Steel Curtain defense take a backseat to this high-powered offense. Even though Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first two games, DeAngelo Williams proved in Game 1 that he’ll be a more than serviceable back-up. With a spectacular offensive line, Big Ben should have plenty of time to hit his variety of targets, including ol’ faithful, Heath Miller, along with a slew of young talented wide-outs in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Darius Heyward-Bey. Big Ben threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season and will likely need to repeat that feat this year if the Steelers want to make a deep playoff run.

The defense has lost the legendary Dick LeBeau, and with it the defensive identity of this team is gone. The secondary is in shambles, switching to a Cover-Two scheme to cover for some of their personnel deficiencies. 2014 first round pick Jarvis Jones hasn’t turned into the sack producing monster as expected, and that leaves questions abound in a defensive line losing it’s most veteran member in the offseason. This unit is in a clear transitionary period as the team is going to ride or die with Ben’s arm. If the first game is any indication, that’s not the worst plan. Even without Bell and Bryant due to suspensions, Ben threw for over 350 yards to keep them in the game. They’ll be able to ride this offense far into the playoffs before the defensive inefficiencies are ultimately their downfall.

AFC South
Houston Texans
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Key Departures: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Andre Johnson, OLB Brooks Reed,

Key Acquisitions: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Cecil Shorts, NT Vince Wilfork, S Rahim Moore

Key Draft Picks: CB Kevin Johnson (Rd 1. Wake), ILB Benardrick McKinney (Rd 2. MSU), WR Jaelen Strong (Rd 3. ASU)

My Prediction: 9-7 2nd AFC South

Bill O’Brien has been the standout star of HBO’s Hard Knocks and has shown all the right traits that make me believe he’ll be able to turn Houston into a true contender. Unfortunately, Houston is stuck in that middling spot between being able to compete a championship, and being bad enough to get a top QB from the draft. Alas, Bill was left to choose between Hoyer and Ryan Mallet, ultimately settling on Hoyer… for now. Even without a secure QB, the offense is in trouble after losing Andre Johnson to free agency, and having Arian Foster suffer a potentially long term injury in training camp. The additions of WR Cecil Shorts and RB Chris Polk could help alleviate some of these losses, but this team will struggle until Foster can return to the line-up and won’t truly be efficient until the team has a franchise QB.

The defense will be fun to watch this year. Joining J.J. Watt on the front line is newcomer Vince Wilfork, as well as a healthy Jadeveon Clowney. This should be an elite group that routinely terrorizes opposing QBs. The addition of rookie McKinney to the linebacking corps will be a huge step forward in their run defense, look for him to eventually replace Cushing as the three down ILB. First round pick Kevin Johnson will see a lot of playing time this year, and while he’ll take some time to adjust to the NFL game, will be an immediate playmaker. Relying on rookie contributions is never a safe bet, but the Texans have veterans at all the right places on this defense to help each of them grow into their games. Without an NFL caliber QB there will always be a ceiling on this team, look for them to challenge for a Wild Card spot but ultimately fall short.

Indianapolis Colts
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Key Departures: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Reggie Wayne, S LaRon Landry, DE Cory Redding, DE Ricky Jean-Francois

Key Acquisitions: RB Frank Gore, WR Andre Johnson, DE Trent Cole,

Key Draft Picks: WR Phillip Dorsett (Rd 1. Miami), CB D’Joun Smith (Rd 3. FAU)

My Prediction: 13-3 1st AFC South

The Colts are coming off an AFC Championship beatdown, but are looking to hang more than a finalist banner this year. This team might legitimately lay claim to the NFL’s best offense. Explosive a year ago, the Colts have now surrounded Luck with Miami products, Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and first-round pick Phillip Dorsett. Adding a running game can only help open passing lanes for Luck to exploit, and adding Johnson gives him a true red-zone target that was sorely lacking last year.

The offense won’t be the problem this year, but a defense that allowed 45 points in that previously mentioned Championship loss is the problem that needs fixing. The front office made a few strides, the addition of Trent Cole should shore up their porous run D, but losing Redding and Jean-Francois should diminish much of their pass-rush. Without a pass-rush the secondary is likely to remain a group of sitting ducks. The Colts seem content to engage in shootouts, leaning on their star QB to outperform the opposition week in and week out. This strategy should work in a weak division, but come playoff time I expect another disappointing exit as the luck finally runs out.

Jacksonville Jaguars
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Key Departures: LB Geno Hayes, C Jacques McClendon, CB Alan Ball

Key Acquisitions: TE Julius Thomas, RB Bernard Pierce, OT Jeremy Parnell, DT Jared Odrick

Key Draft Picks: DE Dante Fowler Jr. (Rd 1. Florida), RB T.J. Yeldon (Rd 2. Bama), G A.J. Cann (Rd 3. USC)

My Prediction: 5-11 3rd AFC South

If there is one thing Jags fans can be excited about it is the preseason play of Blake Bortles. While not off the charts, he definitely seems to have improved since his hapless rookie campaign. Bringing in Julius Thomas will give Bortles and immediate favorite target after his return from injury. Speaking of, that injury to Thomas might have been a blessing in disguise as it will force Bortles to find other ways to move the ball for the first quarter of the season, creating a more well-rounded offense upon his return. Rookie T.J. Yeldon will be inserted into the offense immediately, and I expect huge things from him this year.

The defense remains a bit of a mystery. Losing 3rd overall draft pick, Fowler, to a season ending ACL tear before training camp was definitely deflating for this unit, especially with top 2014 performer, Sen’Derrick Marks recovering from an ACL injury of his own to begin the year. Nonetheless, the Jags did well to sure up the line by acquiring DT Jared Odrick from Miami and will do well to pick up the slack on that line. The linebacking corps also improves with the return of Posluszny from injury and the development of second year OLB Telvin Smith. This is a unit that won’t be enough to stop high octane teams like the Colts, should be plenty talented enough to stifle their other two division rivals and keep them in most games.

Jags fans will be pleased after the 2015 season, while they won’t challenge for a playoff spot just yet, they’ll be able to rest easy knowing they’re not in danger of getting the top draft pick either. Gus Bradley’s team will show some promise and momentum heading into 2016.

Tennessee Titans
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Key Departures: WR Nate Washington, QB Jake Locker, TE Anthony Fasano, OT Michael Oher, S Bernard Pollard

Key Acquisitions: WR Harry Douglas, OLB Brian Orakpo, CB Perrish Cox, S Da’Norris Searcy, OT Byron Bell

Key Draft Picks: QB Marcus Mariota (Rd 1. Oregon), WR Dorial Green-Beckham (Rd 2. Mizzou), OT Jeremiah Poutasi (Rd 3. Utah)

My Prediction: 2-14 4th AFC South

The Titans faced an interesting position with the second pick of this year’s draft. Either trade the pick and pick up numerous pieces for the team, or go all in on either Mariota or Winston. Ultimately, they went with their guy, Mariota, but I have to imagine the entire fan base will be wondering what could have been after the next two years of mediocrity. The Titans roster had numerous holes coming into 2015, and while they may have struck gold at the most important spot, it’ll be all for naught if they don’t work to put the right pieces around him soon. First and foremost, they need to fix the mess that is their offensive line. With losing both Michael Roos and Michael Oher to retirement and free agency respectively, the Titans are left with no one to protect the blindside of their young franchise quarterback. Mariota won’t have much help at the skill positions either, RB Bishop Sankey is coming off an underwhelming rookie campaign, and 5th round draft pick, David Cobb, doesn’t look like he’s challenging for the starting spot either. The Titans are banking on Green-Beckham to develop into a dangerous complement to Kendall Wright and soften the blow of losing Washington.

The Titans defense was terrible last year, surrendering 27.1 points per game. The addition of Brian Orakpo gives the team a strong core and big time leadership, but as on offense, one player isn’t enough to stop all the holes. Titans are hoping former 49er Perrish Cox can provide some stability to the secondary, but with no pass rush, those DBs will be hung out to dry far too often to build any type of confidence or swagger. After struggling mightily this year, the Titans front office will have to make a big splash in free agency next year to assure they don’t waste Mariota’s potential.

AFC West
Denver Broncos
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Key Departures: WR Wes Welker, TE Julius Thomas, G Orlando Franklin, NT Terrance Knighton, C Will Montgomery

Key Acquisitions: TE Owen Daniels, DE Antonio Smith, C Gino Gradkowski

Key Draft Picks: LB Shane Ray (Rd 1. Mizzou), OT Ty Sambrailo (Rd 2. CSU), TE Jeff Heuerman (Rd 3. OSU)

My Prediction: 9-7 2nd AFC West

Much has been made about Peyton’s demise after struggling down the stretch in 2014 and ultimately bowing out sheepishly to the Colts in the divisional round. What wasn’t mentioned nearly as much is that he was dealing with a torn quad for nearly all of that period. While Peyton’s health is clearly paramount to the success of the Broncos in 2015, I’m worried that the Denver front office only allowed the offensive-line to get even worse in the offseason. The losses of Montgomery and Franklin, will leave an aging Peyton exposed in what is possibly his last season. Not only losing blockers, Peyton has lost two of his biggest security blankets with the departures of TEs Julius Thomas and longtime connection Jacob Tamme. The addition of Owen Daniels and Gary Kubiak should alleviate some of these pains, but the Broncos should rely heavily on C.J. Anderson to take some of the offensive burden off Peyton and Demaryius Thomas.

On the defensive side, elite linebacker Von Miller is finally going to be playing in his natural 3-4 defensive scheme. This should frighten the entire AFC west as Miller has been so dominant not playing in a system built to his strengths. With Wade Phillips taking over the unit, Miller will be the focal point of a team that also features Demarcus Ware, creating an amazing OLB rushing tandem. The secondary should be equally as strong with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris being able to shut down nearly any team’s one and two options. While this team is certainly talented at many levels, I expect a bit of regression in the first year of a new system on both sides of the ball. It remains to be seen if this is Peyton’s last year, but it looks as if this is finally the year AFC West foes begin to catch up to the Broncos.

Kansas City Chiefs
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Key Departures: WR Dwayne Bowe, TE Anthony Fasano, DE Vance Walker

Key Acquisitions: WR Jeremy Maclin, G Ben Grubbs,

Key Draft Picks: CB Marcus Peters (Rd 1. Wash), G Mitch Morse (Rd 2. Mizzou), WR Chris Conley (Rd 3. Georgia)

My Prediction: 11-5 1st AFC West

The Chiefs went the entire 2014 season without a TD pass to a wide receiver. With one of the NFL’s best defensive units, and a star running back, the Chiefs need to do everything in their power to make sure they can have a relatively solid vertical passing attack. A lot of this hinges on Alex Smith’s capabilities and either his or the coaching staff’s inability to take chances in the passing game. Alex Smith’s average passing distance was dead last in the NFL last year, while this definitely limits turnovers, it allows teams to continue stacking the box and puts pressure on both him and Jamaal Charles. With the loss of Dwayne Bowe, the only downfield threats this year will be Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce. We’re still waiting on Kelce to reach his potential, but matching Maclin back up with Andy Reid should be spectacular. Not only can Maclin help extend the defense, but his skill set matches Reid’s screen heavy scheme and doesn’t force Alex Smith out of his comfort zone. Look for Kelce to emerge and Maclin to shine giving Charles more room to work.

On the defensive side, there are very few problems, with one of the nation’s best secondaries only getting better with the Marcus Peters pick and an emotional boost from the return of Eric Berry from cancer. Their linebackers are some of the best in the NFL and pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will continue harassing opposing QBs. The one question heading into 2015 will be their poor run defense. While they didn’t directly address this with any offseason moves, the Chiefs are hoping to avoid injuries to key run stoppers like Derrick Johnson this year. With the improved offense and an already stalwart defense, look for the Chiefs to finally wrest the AFC West crown from Denver this year.

Oakland Raiders
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Key Departures: RB Darren McFadden, WR James Jones, LB LaMarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers

Key Acquisitions: RB Roy Helu, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Trindon Holliday, LB Curtis Lofton

Key Draft Picks: WR Amari Cooper (Rd 1. Bama), DE Mario Edwards Jr. (Rd 2. FSU), TE Clive Walford (Rd 3. Miami)

My Prediction: 4-12 4th AFC West

The Raiders have to be very excited after what they saw from rookie QB Derek Carr last year. With nearly no weapons around him, he was able to put up impressive numbers and showed impressive decision making in key moments. He has a bright future, and it appears the Raiders front office is prepared to surround him with the pieces needed for him to succeed. Fellow 2014 rookie, Latavius Murray, also broke out onto the scene last year and looks to improve along with Carr as this offense develops. Adding in WR phenom, Amari Cooper, and TE Clive Walford should give this fanbase a young core to watch grow together. Scouts are already calling Cooper the best wide receiver in all of California. The Raiders also made moves to bolster their line, adding Rodney Hudson as an upgrade at center and banking on another fantastic campaign from Donald Penn.

The Raiders can also be excited about the youth movement on defense. They hit the jackpot drafting Khalil Mack at No. 5 last year. Adding veterans like NT Dan Williams and LB Curtis Lofton should help fill some holes while rookies like Mario Edwards and CB T.J. Carrie develop into young stars of their own. Ultimately, it won’t be enough this year, there are too many holes, the secondary features 39 year old Charles Woodson starting for instance. But the youth movement in Oakland is real, and something fans can be legitimately excited about. Look for the Raiders to surprise some teams this year as they work towards building a core for 2016, 2017, and beyond.

San Diego Chargers
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Key Departures: RB Ryan Matthews, WR Eddie Royal, DE Dwight Freeney, S Marcus Gilchrist

Key Acquisitions: WR Stevie Johnson, G Orlando Franklin, WR Jacoby Jones

Key Draft Picks: RB Melvin Gordon (Rd 1. Wisc), LB Denzel Perryman (Rd 2. Miami), CB Craig Mager (Rd 3. TSU)

My Prediction: 7-9 3rd AFC West

While the Chargers will be forced to hear questions about their supposedly imminent move to LA all season, the team itself will do its best to shut out the noise and focus on challenging the Chiefs and Broncos for the AFC West title. Like nearly every Chargers team since the turn of the century, they certainly have the talent to contend, but will they be able to put it together? Rivers will turn 34 this season, but surely isn’t too old to compete. While he had one of his worst seasons as a pro last year, much of that could be blamed on a porous offensive line. The team looked to correct that with the signing of Orlando Franklin from the Broncos, and the long term contract given to King Dunlap to continue protecting the blindside. Melvin Gordon appears to be San Diego’s most talented running back since Tomlinson, and his pass catching abilities will surely be utilized. The biggest offensive question mark is in the passing weapons. Keenan Allen had a small sophomore slump, and Antonio Gates isn’t getting any younger. Adding Stevie Johnson should give Rivers another target, but Johnson has had a problem with drops throughout his career.

With very little roster turnover, the defense should look much the same as last year. Those that did leave, were some of the most underperforming players on the team. It’ll be interesting to see whether second round pick Denzel Perryman can crack the starting lineup over Donald Butler who had a 2014 campaign to forget. The main worry for San Diego is their defensive interior, where they have very few players capable of a pass rush or run stopping. The defense on the whole is serviceable, but won’t be winning any games for this team. This is still Rivers’ team and he’ll have to perform week in and week out for this team to succeed. Expect another tumultuous year for the Chargers with them looking like a Championship contender and a dumpster fire from week to week.

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
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Key Departures: RB DeMarco Murray, DT Henry Melton, LB Justin Durant

Key Acquisitions: LG La’el Collins, RB Darren McFadden , RE Greg Hardy, LB Jasper Brinkley

Key Draft Picks: DE Randy Gregory (Rd 2. Nebraska), CB Byron Jones (Rd 1. UConn), RT Chaz Green (Rd 3. Florida)

My Prediction: 11-5 1st NFC East

The Cowboys are coming off their most successful season under Jason Garrett and Tony Romo, finishing 12-4 and a Wild-Card victory over the Lions before falling to the Packers in a close Divisional Round matchup. The Cowboys excelled in a balanced offense, running the ball more than ever before in Garrett’s tenure. The offensive success and was able to hide many of the deficiencies in the Cowboys’ defense which gave up an astounding 5.8 yards per play. Another worrying stat is that Dallas was 2nd in the NFL with 31 Turnovers Caused, I expect that number to regress to the mean this year.

The major question going into this year is whether the Cowboys can replicate their success after the loss of DeMarco Murray to the Eagles. Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden will share the load in the backfield, bolstered by one of the best offensive lines in football that only got better with the additions of Collins and Chaz Green. Ideally, the acquisitions of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory will give them a fearsome pass rush to alleviate some of the pressure on the DBs.

Ultimately, I’m of the opinion that their OL is too good for Randle or McFadden to have bad years behind. Romo will again lead a very efficient offense, which will take the pressure off their defense. If they can get adequate play from their defensive front 7 it should mask the issues in their defensive backfield. The Cowboys will take a slight step back, but will be in the conversation to reach the NFC Championship game come January.

New York Giants

Key Departures: S Antrel Rolle, CB Walter Thurmond III, CB Zack Bowman

Key Acquisitions: DC Steve Spagnuolo, RB Shane Vereen, SS Brandon Meriweather

Key Draft Picks: OT Ereck Flowers (Rd 1. Miami), S Landon Collins (Rd 2. Alabama), DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Rd 3. UCLA)

My Prediction: 5-11 3rd NFC East

Coming off a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2014, the Giants were surprisingly quiet this offseason. I mean, it truly says something when the most exciting acquisition is the signing of DC Steve Spagnuolo. For an organization seemingly resistant to change, it truly feels like 2015 might be the last chance or Eli and Coughlin to put it all together once more, but as a Patriots fan the idea of Coughlin being on the ‘hot-seat’ is the stuff of nightmares. With mainly cosmetic upgrades, adding a 3rd down back in Vereen and serviceable SS in Meriweather, the Giants are banking on their team coming together and improving from within.

This may not be the worst strategy as Eli has rookie phenom Odell Beckham Jr. coming back for his sophomore campaign as well as a relatively healthy Victor Cruz returning. However, the real questions are on the defensive side. With Jason Pierre-Paul’s status still up in the air after a 4th of July fireworks incident, the Giants’ front seven is severely lacking in both depth and talent. Middle linebacker Jon Beason is injured yet again, and the losses of both Walter Thurmond III and Zack Brown thin out an already weak defensive back corps.

All of this together points to yet another mediocre season spent battling the hapless Redskins for the coveted 3rd place in the NFC East title.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key Departures: RB LeSean McCoy, QB Nick Foles, WR Jeremy Maclin, LB Trent Cole, G Evan Mathis

Key Acquisitions: RB DeMarco Murray, QB Sam Bradford, LB Kiko Alonso, RB Ryan Matthews, CB Byron Maxwell

Key Draft Picks: WR Nelson Agholor (Rd 1. USC), CB Eric Rowe (Rd 2. Utah), ILB Jordan Hicks (Rd 3. Texas)

My Prediction: 11-5 2nd NFC East

Chip Kelly spent another offseason making headlines and working towards building a roster of ‘his guys,’ for better or for worse. Not afraid to change things up, Kelly sent their starting QB and RB tandem packing in favor of new blood, Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. While arguably upgrades for his system, Bradford’s injury history is concerning and DeMarco’s bound to regress after his amazing 2014 season. In addition, the team lost speedy WR Maclin, and a consistent piece of their OL in Mathis.

Regardless of injury history, the Eagles were some of the biggest offseason winners. The addition of Byron Maxwell should aid in shutting down the big WRs the Eagles play frequently like Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. You know it is a crazy offseason when it takes me to the second paragraph to even mention their acquisition of 2013 DROY Kiko Alonso from the Bills.

With the progression of Jordan Matthews into the team’s No. 1 receiver, and early beaming reports on rookie Nelson Agholor, the Eagles shouldn’t miss a step with the loss of Maclin. In fact, the new 1-2 punch of Murray and Matthews in the backfield give this offense, already unique in Kelly’s system, some of the most intriguing weapons in the league. With a bolstered defense and a retooled offense, the Eagles are poised to challenge the Cowboys for NFC East supremacy. A wild-card berth is their floor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles were in the conversation for a bye-week come playoff time.

Washington Redskins
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Key Departures: OLB Brian Orakpo, RB Roy Helu, DE Jarvis Jenkins, WR Santana Moss

Key Acquisitions: DC Joe Barry, DT Terrance Knighton, FS Dashon Goldson, CB Chris Culliver

Key Draft Picks: OT Brandon Scherff (Rd 1. Iowa), DE Preston Smith (Rd 2. MSU), WR Jamison Crowder (Rd 3. Duke)

My Prediction: 2-14 4th NFC East

And now we get to the Redskins, it’s amazing that in a league with the Raiders that somehow the Redskins have stolen the title of ‘NFL Laughingstock.’ That’s what an offseason filled with the benching of a franchise quarterback, training camp brawls, and a GM leaking information for blowjobs will do to a team’s reputation. Coming off a horrendous 4-12 season, the Redskins haven’t made any noticeable strides forward. Even with the naming of Cousins as the Week 1 starter, the RGIII circus will follow this team throughout this season until his inevitable releasing.

Media issues aside, the team did make a concerted effort to add to the defense, with nose tackle Terrance Knighton, cornerback Chris Culliver, safety Dashon Goldson, and Stephen Paea all set to start. New DC Joe Barry still has his hands full as he inherits a team that let up the 4th most points in 2014, and is lacking any true difference makers. The offense is filled with weapons, rookie Jamison Crowder joins a talented group of veteran receivers in Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, and a surprisingly healthy Jordan Reed. The key will be Cousins, he has been consistently erratic in his time starting, and nothing has shown he is capable of carrying a team.

Unless Cousins and the defense make some serious strides forward this year, we’re looking a team that’s destined for a top-5 pick in the 2016 draft.

NFC North
Chicago Bears
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Key Departures: HC Marc Trestman, DT Stephen Paea, CB Charles Tillman, LB Lance Briggs, WR Brandon Marshall

Key Acquisitions: HC John Fox, S Antrel Rolle, WR Eddie Royal, DE Jarvis Jenkins, CB Kyle Fuller

Key Draft Picks: WR Kevin White (Rd 1. WVU), DT Eddie Goldman (Rd 2. FSU), C Hroniss Grasu (Rd 3. Oregon)

My Prediction: 4-12 4th NFC North 

Trestman is gone, and Fox is in, along with him a new offensive coordinator in Adam Gase and a new defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio, but it’ll take more than coaching changes to fix the problems with the Bears’ roster. Fangio has already set to work acquiring the new keystones of his defense with DE Jarvis Jenkins, promising second year cornerback Kyle Fuller, and veteran safety Antrel Rolle. However, the payoff on these moves is likely a year or two out at this point.

The offense, already anemic a year ago, is now just looking for able bodies to field. First round pick, Kevin White, expected to replace Brandon Marshall, is out for the season with a stress fracture. A calf injury to Alshon Jeffery has left him in a walking boot for the entirety of the preseason and veteran wideout Eddie Royal is dealing with a hip injury of his own.

Cutler will still have his weapons; Matt Forte is playing in a contract year, Martellus Bennet is coming into the season fully healthy, and I’m excited to see the Cutler-Royal connection return from their days in Denver together. Altogether I expect the defense to take a slight step forward, but unless Cutler becomes a different quarterback this year, he is not strong enough to lead this roster past mediocrity.

Detroit Lions
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Key Departures: DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, RB Reggie Bush

Key Acquisitions: DT Haloti Ngata, WR Lance Moore,

Key Draft Picks: G Laken Tomlinson (Rd 1. Duke), RB Ameer Abdullah (Rd 2. Nebraska), CB Alex Carter (Rd 3. Stanford)

My Prediction: 10-6 2nd NFC North

The Lions are coming off one of their most successful seasons of the 21st century, and look poised to continue that success into the 2015 season. They made a major upgrade at the running back position, drafting Ameer Abdullah to replace aging Reggie Bush. With Abdullah’s speed and receiving ability he should be a perfect fit for this offense, and is already getting Barry Sanders comparisons.

One of the major concerns with this team will be the passing game. We know Stafford is capable, but it’s now been multiple seasons since he excelled with 41 TDs and over 5,000 passing yards in 2011. Since then, he’s been far too turnover prone and unable to complete above 60% of his passes. Considering his main target, Calvin Johnson, is getting up there in age, it’ll be interesting to see if Stafford can work on upping his efficiency this year.

On the defensive side, the loss of star DTs Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley, left many expecting a weakened front. However, if the preseason is any predictor of future success, they haven’t lost a step; Robert Griffin III who just recently lost his starting job due to his inability to handle them can vouch for that. Altogether this is a team that returns many of their pieces and upgraded at a few key positions, if Stafford can reduce the turnovers and up his completion percentage this will be a scary team to play come playoff time.

Green Bay Packers
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Key Departures: CB Tramon Williams, LB AJ Hawk, QB Matt Flynn, WR Jarrett Boykin,

Key Acquisitions: None

Key Draft Picks: CB Damarious Randall (Rd 1. ASU), CB Quinten Rollins (Rd 2. Miami (OH)), WR Ty Montgomery (Rd 3. Stanford)

My Prediction: 12-4 1st NFC North

The Packers came into the preseason returning all eleven offensive starters from a team that was a few plays from a Superbowl berth. While the loss of Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL will surely impact the offense, it seems like Rodgers always gels with the new guys, and second year players Davante Adams and Jeff Janis appear to be them.

The main question surrounding this team is the defense. After surrendering 39 points to the Eagles in just the first half of the 3rd preseason game, even the Packers’ players themselves were left speechless as to what should excite fans about this unit. The short answer is nothing, a slew of recent draft disappointments and busts have left massive holes in the front seven. The teams best, but also most overrated player, Clay Matthews, is being moved to inside linebacker effectively removing one of his key assets, pass rushing. The secondary has just as many question marks with multiple rookies challenging for a starting CB spot and FS Micah Hyde recovering from a neck injury.

Rodgers is a generational talent, and with the pieces on offense, this team will be fine. The question marks on defense will prevent this team from being the true Super Bowl contender they could be. The Lions will give them a fight for the North, but Rodgers will secure the divisional title, whether they’ll have enough to challenge the elites in the playoffs remains to be seen.

Minnesota Vikings
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Key Departures: QB Matt Cassel, LB Jasper Brinkley, WR Greg Jennings

Key Acquisitions: WR Mike Wallace, LB Casey Matthews, CB Terence Newman

Key Draft Picks: CB Trae Waynes (Rd 1. MSU), ILB Eric Kendricks (Rd 2. UCLA), DE Danielle Hunter (Rd 3. LSU)

My Prediction: 9-7 3rd NFC North

Teddy Bridgewater was a happy surprise for the Viking’s fanbase last season. He posted on of the NFL’s best December months and did it with a supporting cast of Matt Asiata, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright and Chase Ford, not the complete arsenal of Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph he was expecting to have. Bridgewater comes into the season a year more experienced and with a team full of weapons. Mike Wallace was brought in to replace the aging Jennings, and the emergence of Charles Johnson has removed the need for Cordarrelle Patterson, and of course the team returns Adrian Peterson to the field. As defenses are forced to key in on Peterson, Bridgewater will experience much larger passing windows this year.

The offense has a few question marks, namely the offensive line, but altogether this is a solid team from top to bottom. No true stars, but the defense was bolstered with additions of Casey Matthews and Terence Newman to their back-seven. First-round draft pick, Trae Waynes, is going to be a star in this league but will surely have his growing pains this year and their other notable picks add depth to what was already a formidable defensive line. Minnosota has a strong roster from top to bottom, but while they don’t have many weaknesses they equally have no definitive advantages over other teams. They’ll be in the conversation for a wildcard spot come the end of this season, potentially battling the Lions for second in the division.

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
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Key Departures: RB Steven Jackson, LB Sean Weatherspoon,

Key Acquisitions: HC Dan Quinn, OC Kyle Shanahan, LB Justin Durant, LB Brooks Reed

Key Draft Picks: LB Vic Beasley (Rd 1. Clemson), CB Jalen Collins (Rd 2. LSU), RB Tevin Coleman (Rd 3. IU)

My Prediction: 9-7 2nd NFC South

The Falcons made a splash in the offseason by hiring Dan Quinn away from the Seahawks and adding Kyle Shanahan from Cleveland as offensive coordinator. They are each two of the young minds in football and should bring some energy and aggression to a team that has looked flat for the past two seasons.

The team made some leaps forward in free agency, aiming directly at their lack of a pass rush. Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, and first-round pick Vic Beasley should all add some athleticism and speed to their front-seven. However, the rest of the defense is still a work in progress and they’ll be lucky to be a middle of the pack team. While young cornerback Desmond Trufant is going to be a star in this league, the rest of the roster is filled with holes and aging role players.

The Falcons will be relying on a high-octane offense to lead them to victories. They have a underrated franchise QB in Matt Ryan who has been failed by the front office up to this point in his career. In Kyle Shanahan’s offense I truly expect the connection of Ryan to Julio Jones to be electric week in and week out. Add in an aging, but still serviceable, Roddy White and two young backs in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman and they shouldn’t struggle scoring points, but they’ll need to stop teams from doing the same. This team should challenge for a wildcard spot this year, but expect more from them in 2016.

Carolina Panthers
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Key Departures: DE Greg Hardy, RB DeAngelo Williams, RT Byron Bell

Key Acquisitions: OT Michael Oher, WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr., CB Charles Tillman, CB Alan Ball, TE Ed Dickson

Key Draft Picks: LB Shaq Thompson (Rd 1. Wash), WR Devin Funchess (Rd 2. Mich), OT Daryl Williams (Rd 4. OU)

My Prediction: 7-9 3rd NFC South

The Panthers’ playoff hopes took a dive with the loss of Kelvin Benjamin for the season. An already thin WR corps has been shrunk to rookie Devin Funchess and veteran journeyman Jericho Cotchery. While DeAngelo Williams looked strong towards the end of last year, it’s been years since he was a truly elite back, and has been injury prone in recent years. Football is the ultimate team sport, but the Panthers seem keen to try and let Cam Newton play the other team 1 on 11. He’ll have ol’ faithful in Greg Olson, but without any alternatives in the deep passing game, I don’t expect this offense to find much success throughout the season.

Luckily for Newton, they shouldn’t have to put up too many points to win as their defensive front-seven might be the most talented in the NFL. A unit that already includes stars such as Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Shortt gets richer with the addition of Shaq Thompson out of Washington. Free agency brought in a past-his-prime, Charles Tillman and work-in-progress Alan Ball to help shore up the secondary.

The detractors will blame Newton for the failed 2015 campaign, but the onus has to be on the GM and the team to give him some talent to work with. A too anemic offense will be their downfall this year as they struggle to hit .500.

New Orleans Saints
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Key Departures: TE Jimmy Graham, WR Kenny Stills, ILB Curtis Lofton,

Key Acquisitions: C Max Unger, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB Brandon Browner, RB C.J. Spiller

Key Draft Picks: T Andrus Peat (Rd 1. Stanford), ILB Stephone Anthony (Rd 1. Clemson), OLB Hau’oli Kikaha (Rd 2. Washinton)

My Prediction: 10-6 1st Place NFC South

The trading of Jimmy Graham marks a new era for the Saints. It appears they will be leaning far more heavily on their run game with the additions of Max Unger and C.J. Spiller, taking some of the pressure off of Drew Brees and an unproven WR corps led by Brandin Cooks. Running back Mark Ingram, proved last year he was capable of being the bell-cow and with an added horse in the stable, the Saints should have a dynamic backfield.

A new offense focused on running the ball and ball control could be a strategy to keep their defense off the field. A defense already lacking talent at many key positions is now facing injuries to multiple starters leaving them thin and talentless. Acquisitions of Brandon Browner and Dannell Ellerbe accent the 2014 acquisition of Jairus Byrd and the recent draft picks of Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha, both expected to play a large number of minutes for this depleted LB corps. While Cameron Jordan is a bona fide star, the rest of the front seven will do little to keep the pressure off an injury raddled secondary.

Because of the weak division they are playing in, the new-look Saints should be able to do enough offensively to cover their defensive woes. Come playoff time they’ll be exposed for the pretenders they are, but a few more defensive additions and this team could be true contenders for the 2016 campaign.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Key Departures: DE Michael Johnson, QB Josh McCown, OT Anthony Collins, S Dashon Goldson

Key Acquisitions: S Chris Conte, DT Henry Melton, CB Sterling Moore, TE Tim Wright

Key Draft Picks: QB Jameis Winston (Rd 1. FSU), OT Donovan Smith (Rd 2. PSU), G Ali Marpet (Rd 3. Hobart)

My Prediction: 3-13 4th NFC South

The Bucs are still a few years out from being a contender but the talent on their roster means every game will at least be entertaining and watchable. First overall pick Jameis Winston will spend most this year getting accustomed to the speed and complexity of the professional game. He’ll have exceptional talent on the ends with wide-outs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, as well as Doug ‘Never Call Me Muscle Hampster’ Martin in the backfield to help ease his transition.

The defense on the other hand is a mix of boom and bust; true studs Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are the lone bright spots of a defense that is filled with unproven youngsters and Lovie Smith’s old pals Henry Melton and Chris Conte. With no pure pass rushers on the roster, it’s hard to envision success for a defense with little talent in the secondary.

Jameis looks like the real deal for now, but he’ll need his defense to help win him games, which at this point looks unlikely. Lovie Smith was brought in to build up that unit, and up to this point it looks like a failure. While the offense should prove exciting, it won’t be enough to win more than a handful of games this year.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
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Key Departures: CB Antonio Cromartie, DT Dan Williams, DE Darnell Dockett

Key Acquisitions: OLB Sean Weatherspoon, DT Corey Peters, OG Mike Iupati

Key Draft Picks: OT D.J. Humphries (Rd 1. UF), DE Markus Golden (Rd 2. Mizzou), RB David Johnson (Rd 3. UNI)

My Prediction: 10-6 2nd NFC West

The major offseason move for the Cardinals was getting healthy on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Carson Palmer is coming back healthy after knee surgery and on defense, safety Tyrann Mathieu among others is back flying around the field. The defense faced a fair amount of attrition this offseason, losing key pieces in Cromartie and Dockett, but retains much of the talent that made this a fearsome unit for the past two years.

The biggest concern for this team will be keeping Palmer healthy. This is a team that was 6-0 before he went down last year. Can this much maligned offensive line do its job and keep their signal caller in the game? The rest of the roster is talented, rookie David Johnson joins Andre Ellington to complete a strong backfield. Look for the emergence of wide-out John Brown as defenses key on the 1-2 options of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

This isn’t an exciting team, but the fact is they play better as a collective than any of the names on the backs of their jerseys would suggest. There isn’t much that this team doesn’t do well on either side of the ball, and this consistency will again have them pushing the Seahawks for supremacy in the west.

St. Louis Rams
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Key Departures: QB Sam Bradford

Key Acquisitions: QB Nick Foles, S Mark Barron, DT Nick Fairley

Key Draft Picks: RB Todd Gurley (Rd 1. Georgia), OT Rob Havenstein (Rd 2. Wisc), OT Jamon Brown (Rd 3. UL)

My Prediction: 7-9 3rd NFC West

The Sam Bradford era is over before it was ever really given a leg to stand on… sorry, it was just too easy. This team is a bit of an enigma, it feels like they have the right pieces. First-round pick Todd Gurley is sure to be an offensive force in this league and the trade for Nick Foles gives them a relatively confident signal caller. On defense, this team returns one of the most fearsome defensive lines that only got stronger with the acquisition of Nick Fairley. And picking up Mark Barron should provide some strength to an otherwise mediocre secondary.

While questions of the team’s future in St. Louis provide distractions for the team, there are more pressing questions they should be concerned with. First and foremost is the WR corps. No team has failed at drafting big name talent at that position as consistently as the Rams and it has culminated in a depth chart that currently has Kenny Britt sitting at No. 1.

Can Nick Foles develop a rapport with these unproven wideouts? That remains to be seen, but the apparent power running game behind Gurley should take some of the pressure off. Ultimately the Rams remain on the fringe as they have so often during Fisher’s tenure.

San Francisco 49ers
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Key Departures: G Mike Iupati, RB Frank Gore, CB Chris Culliver, WR Michael Crabtree, LB Patrick Willis, DE Justin Smith, LB Aldon Smith

Key Acquisitions: DT Darnell Dockett, WR Torrey Smith, RB Reggie Bush

Key Draft Picks: DE Arik Armstead (Rd 1. Oregon), S Jaquiski Tartt (Rd 2. Samford), DE Eli Harold (Rd 3. UVa)

My Prediction: 3-13 4th NFC West

After the offseason from hell, the 49ers are just happy to be playing football again, though they might rethink that joy once the games actually start. Fans better start bracing themselves as this season is going to hurt. After losing what seemed like every key piece of their defense to retirement, free agency, and legal related waives, the team’s acquisition of Darnell Dockett feels like trying to plug one hole in a sinking ship. New Head Coach Tomsula takes over a team that just lost notable names such as Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith, Chris Culliver, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, and Michael Crabtree.

The offense will be as frustrating as ever as they foolishly try to contain Kaepernick as a pocket passer, rather than letting him be the playmaker that won him the starting job. The loss of both Iupati and Davis leaves this line in patchwork, likely unable to protect Kaepernick nor create holes for Carlos Hyde or Reggie Bush to exploit. The acquisition of Torrey Smith should help replace Michael Crabtree, but still doesn’t make this WR corps formidable.

The defense itself is one giant question mark, as there are new starters at each level. Return of all-pro linebacker NaVarro Bowman is the one bright spot, but it remains to be seen how the rest of the team gels together. With questions on all sides of the ball and a new coaching staff, this is going to rough slugging for the 49ers team.

Seattle Seahawks
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Key Departures: C Max Unger, OG James Carpenter, CB Byron Maxwell

Key Acquisitions: TE Jimmy Graham, CB Cary Williams, DT Ahtyba Rubin

Key Draft Picks: DE Frank Clark (Rd 2. Michigan), WR Tyler Lockett (Rd 3. KSU)

My Prediction: 13-3 1st NFC West

After the losing the Superbowl in the final seconds, the Seahawks aggressively upgraded their offense by trading for TE Jimmy Graham, giving Russell Wilson a brand-new red-zone toy to play with. Their red-zone offense should be impressive with double tight-end looks with Graham and Luke Willson, tall wideout Chris Matthews and beast-mode Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.

Aside from acquisitions the Seahawks did an amazing job securing the future of this team in signing many key free agents. New contracts for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennet assures the core of this defense will be sticking together for quite a while. While Kam Chancellor is still holding out, the remainder of this defense is elite at nearly every position. The only question mark might be the secondary, with Chancellor holding out, the loss of Byron Maxwell to free agency, the Seahawks are hoping new addition Cary Williams can be an adequate replacement.

The loss of pro-bowl center Max Unger is sure to be felt on the offensive line, but while his replacement Drew Nowak has no professional starts to his name, the remainder of the line is strong through and through. In terms of offense, it will be interesting to see how the playbook opens up for Wilson with the acquisition of Graham and third round draft pick Lockett to bolster the WR corps. Seattle should be as dominant as ever, not missing a step on the defensive side, while increase the weapons for an already dynamic offense.

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