Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spygate, Deflategate and predictions: The 2015 NFL Preview



Outside the Lines produced a report Tuesday morning concerning the New England Patriots and Roger Goodell and the possible connection between Spygate and Deflategate. Goodell spoke on Mike & Mike in the Morning, adamantly stating that there was "no connection" in his mind that the two incidents were related.

Other reports arose around the same time claiming that Deflategate was Goodell's makeup call for what occurred during the Spygate proceedings in which many say the Patriots were 'let off the hook'.

Personally, I'm not sure what to make of these new allegations and it's no telling what other information will follow.

Now on to more important information. . .

The NFL season kicks off Thursday as those New England Patriots plus Tom Brady fresh off of an overturned suspension are scheduled for a showdown against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here's a very general preview of the upcoming season done by Mike Stephenson (@ThatsJustMike_) who will be taking care of the NFC South and West, James Patrick (@MettaWorld_Mack) who will handle the NFC North and East, Kevin Edwards (@KedDwade) manning the AFC South and North and I will give my take on the AFC East and West.

You wanted awards too? Gotcha.

THE NFC

Mike on the South:

Standings

1. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) -- I don’t believe the Falcons have done enough to get back in the conversation with elite teams, however, I do believe they have done enough to come out on top of this mediocre division. When new head man Dan Quinn, the architect of the league's top scoring defense over the past three seasons in Seattle he wasted no time attempting to improve the league's worst defense. Drafting Vic Beasley to help a horrible pass rush could provide huge dividends. Matt Ryan, a healthy Julio Jones and Ryan's new weapon out of the backfield in Tevin Coleman who is no stranger to workhorse duties should be enough on offense to take over the south.

2. Carolina Panthers (9-7) -- The injury of Cam Newton's number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin won't be as devastating as I first thought it would. I believe a stingy Panthers defense, a solid run game and more consistency from Newton will have Carolina in contention for its third consecutive playoff berth

3. New Orleans Saints (8-8) -- Quarterback Drew Brees isn't getting younger so the time to he has left to return to the Super Bowl is waning. It doesn't help that the Saints let one of his favorite targets in Jimmy Graham and his 46 TDs since 2011 go via trade. Brees however does have a young electric WR in Brandin Cooks to toss it to. The defense made minor upgrades, signing the physical Brandon Browner while importing one of the best corners from the CFL in Delvin Breaux.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) -- Honestly, before writing this I considered them as division winners, which shouldn't be that, hard in a division like this one. Instead, I have the Buccaneers winning as many games as they have combined over the past two seasons with six. Rookie QB James Winston has won at every level except his current one which he has to prove he can do. He has the luxury of two 6'5" wide receivers (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson) and a dangerous weapon in the backfield if he stays healthy and returns to 2012 form in Doug Martin. The sky is the limit for Winston if he can limit his mistakes after throwing a ton of interceptions his last season as a Seminole.

What about the West?:

1. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) -- Something just seems off with these Seahawks going into the season. I don't know if it's the Super Bowl hangover, Kam Chancellor's holdout proving to mean a lot for the welfare of the defense, or the defense period but I'm sure by year's end they will be on top, edging out. . .

2. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) -- Had Carson Palmer stayed healthy, I think the Cardinals would be in search of a back-to-back division crown. The departures of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Antonio Cromartie, both taking their talents to the New York Jets could be huge. Who knows when we'll see Daryl Washington again. But Bruce Arians has worked wonders since arriving in Arizona. This 2nd place finish will be contingent on a week 17 showdown in Arizona versus the Seahawks.

3. St. Louis Rams (7-9) -- The Rams will look to improve on a very decent season after their impressive offseason in which they acquired Nick Foles from Philadelphia and drafting Todd Gurley, whom when healthy will probably be a nice addition to coach Jeff Fisher's offense. They boasts one of the league's scariest front sevens but their secondary is a concern since E.J. Gaines will be missing the entire season. Although I have them finishing under .500, the arrow is pointing up in Missouri.

4. San Francisco 49ers (7-9) -- Horrible offseason to say the least. They lost coach Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, offensive coordinator Greg Roman to Buffalo and a handful of starters on both sides of the ball including All-Pro Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith Anthony Davis, Ray McDonald, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree to name a few. It will be interesting to see what quarterback Colin Kaepernick does without Gore and Crabtree especially, but their departures open the door for second-year back Carlos Hyde and a couple of other unproven commodities. Navarro Bowman's return is one of the only things to be optimistic about.

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James on the North:

1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) -- Even after losing their leading receiver in Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL, it's hard to imagine the Packers not coming out on top of the North. Randall Cobb is very good and will be relied upon much more; his health is crucial to the Packers' success. Second-year receiver Davante Adams steps into a new role after the Nelson injury and showed some of his potential as the slot guy last season. The Packers defense, though without Tramon Williams remains in tact. This team is good enough to finish in the top two of the NFC.

2. Detroit Lions (10-6) -- The Lions are without standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh but the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection is still very much alive. They added running back Ameer Abdullah via the draft, look for him to get tons of work this season.

3. Minnesota Vikings (9-7) -- The Vikings are a very dangerous, young team that returns a defense full of raw talent, youth, potential, and speed and the workhorse of all workhorses in Adrian Peterson. He and second-year, very talented quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should enjoy a few successes together.

4. Chicago Bears (6-10) -- The Bears add Coach John Fox from Denver after the Mark Trestman experience didn't quite pan out as expected. Jay Cutler is in a steep decline and he's without his favorite target Brandon Marshall. Look for rookie receiver Kevin White to step into a similar role. His height, size and raw speed for the former is rare; he's got tons of potential. Yet, as this division gets tougher the Bears lag behind in key departments -- defensively for example. Although they could surprise, this is not your dad's Chicago Bears defense, nor your older sibling's.

The good ol' East:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) -- Head Coach Chip Kelly made this offseason an interesting one. He traded away running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills and their top receiver Jeremy Maclin walked in free agency. The Eagles bounced back by acquiring LB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade and acquired the rushing title holder DeMarco Murray; a thorn in their division rival's side. Kelly managed to also draft Nelson Agholor from USC to pair with Jordan Matthews, the very impressive second year pass catcher. If new quarterback Sam Bradford can stay healthy, which is a big if, look out for these Eagles, this team could be very dangerous.

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) -- Jerry Jones should be getting restless. Their state-of-the-art arena only has old legacies to show inside. Jones and the Cowboys are hungry to improve on a very surprising 2014 season. The departure of the aforementioned Murray will only be devastating if backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden fail to supplant the Cowboys with consistency on the ground, which will prevent quarterback Tony Romo from repeating the most efficient year of his career (34 TDs 9 INTs). The defense has a few new faces including combine warrior Byron Jones who will have to step in immediately after corner Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL in practice and the troubled but talented edge-rusher Randy Gregory.

3. New York Giants (8-8) -- Another season of Manning to Beckham Jr. is upon us. But don't forget about Victor Cruz who has proven he can put up top tier numbers. The Giants defense also boasts a couple of new faces, including rookie Landon Collins. It'll be interesting to see how their best defensive player Jason Pierre-Paul performs after losing a couple fingers in a July fireworks incident.

4. Washington Redskins (2-14) -- The Redskins may be the most dysfunctional franchise in the league. If you've been keeping up with the Robert Griffin III saga, you'll know what I mean.


THE AFC

Kevin on the North:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) -- Surprise, I have the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the AFC North for the second season in a row. Coming into the 2015 season, Pittsburgh is bringing it’s #2 ranked offense which should see some improvement as the Killer B’s (Ben, Bell, Brown, and Bryant) and Wheaton gain more chemistry with each other. The defense is in the middle of a major youth movement letting older players go and replacing them with young players like Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas. This defense should be around average and because of that, I expect it to hurt them at times during the season.

2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) -- In second, I have the perennial tough team, the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, the Ravens finished in third, but finished further than any other AFC North team. The Ravens are bolstered by their tough defense which could be stronger depending on how their young players, like CJ Mosley and Jimmy Smith progress. The latter's return from injury could prove to be big. Their offense, while not spectacular, is solid. They are led on offense by Joe Flacco and after a breakout season, Justin Forsett. The receiving core could become an issue without Torrey Smith. Flacco is now dependent on the old vet Steve Smith, rookie speedster Breshad Perriman and a core of tight ends with 10 career receptions.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) -- In third, I have the Cincinnati Bengals, coming off a fourth straight playoff appearance. QB Andy Dalton, young up-and-coming RB Jeremy Hill, and star WR A.J. Green lead the Bengals. They hope to be adding even more offense with a returning Tyler Eifert, and hope to upgrade their defense as they dropped from third overall in 2013 to 22nd overall in 2014.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) -- Then, there is the Cleveland Browns and their four-year streak of coming in last place. The Cleveland Browns have many questions on their offense, like will QB Johnny Manziel live up to his hype? How long can Josh McCown last as the starting QB in the tough AFC North? How will their running game shape up with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, after the trade of Terrance West? Or will their Receivers be able to make plays when they are needed? These questions lead me to believe the Browns will be making this year their fifth straight in the basement.

Is it Andrew Luck or JJ Watt's South?:

1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4) -- In first place in the AFC South, I have reigning division champ, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are coming off of an AFC Championship visit that ended in a huge loss, but spent the summer doing much needed retooling. The Colts let go of RB Trent Richardson, who was a bust, and signed a reliable veteran RB Frank Gore. They added another veteran WR Andre Johnson and rookie Phillip Dorsett, with hopes to take their passing offense led by Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to another level. The defense still leaves much to be desired but with the return of Robert Mathis and free agent signing Trent Cole, it should improve.

2. Houston Texans (9-7) --  In second, I have the Houston Texans. The Texans are coming into the season with a few glaring concerns at QB along with star RB Arian Foster sidelined for a couple of weeks. However, the Texans have a young star at receiver in Deandre Hopkins and a great defense led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year and runner-up MVP JJ Watt. With the addition of longtime Patriots NT Vince Wilfork and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney, their defense could carry them to a second place finish in the AFC South.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) -- In third place I have the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are led by a young core of players on offense including Blake Bortles, rookie TJ Yeldon, receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and big free agent signing Julius Thomas. They hope to improve on a defense that finished 26th overall last year, led by LB Paul Posluszny.

4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) -- In last place for the 2nd year in a row, I have the Tennessee Titans. The Titans will be led by the number two overall pick, QB Marcus Mariota, whom the Titans hope will develop into the franchise guy at the position they haven't had since the late Steve McNair. At RB they have two players that underwhelmed in their rookie seasons, Bishop Sankey and newly added Terrance West. Their offense will likely come from reliable targets for Marcus Mariota in Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker. Their defense finished last in the division and is looking for some improvement with the additions of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and Brian Orakpo, who’s been a Pro-Bowler most seasons when he was healthy.

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The other East:

1. New England Patriots (11-5) -- I don't expect these New England Patriots to relinquish the division crown until Tom Brady hangs up the cleats. The Patriots offense will always be a nightmare for opposing defenses, but an emphasis on the secondary is what proved to win the Super Bowl for this team. Now without All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the secondary looks like the unit that gave up an astounding amount of yards over the previous couple of seasons (ranking 31st and 29th in 2011 and 2012). Now, Coach Bill Belichick has turned his attention to the front seven despite the loss of Vince Wilfork, bolstering it with first-round draft pick Malcolm Brown and rotations guys like Jabaal Sheard and other mid-to-late round draft picks. The overturning of Tom Brady's suspension should help the Patriots get off to a better start than last year that seen them surrender two of their first four including an embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football to the Kansas City Chiefs.

2. Miami Dolphins (9-7) -- If there was one threat to the perennial division champion Patriots it would be the Dolphins. Quarterbacked by one of the league's most steadily improving guys in Ryan Tannehill, the addition of Davante Parker gives him the legit big wideout needed to stretch the field with Jarvis Landry working the slot. Their impressive defense gets a boost with arguably the league's best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. Watch out for this squad.

3. Buffalo Bills (8-8) -- Rex Ryan is going to pound the rock until he gets tired so he needs someone who can carry that load. Enter former rushing title holder LeSean McCoy. The offensive line factor in going from one of the league's best offensive lines to the worst-rated run blocking line might matter as much as McCoy allows it. His raw talent alone can neutralize some of the line's fallacies. The Bills defense is still scary and will be even better under defensive mastermind Rex Ryan.

4. New York Jets (5-11) -- The re-additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is surely going to bolster a secondary that was atrocious last season. Their front seven plus those two corners should keep the Jets alive when their offense can't. Although the addition of receiver Brandon Marshall is key, there may be more than a couple of instances where the defense will be needed to supplant offensive inefficiencies.

Wild, Wild West:

1. Denver Broncos (11-5) -- The Denver Broncos are once again loaded on both sides of the ball. An 11-5 record may be understating the firepower this team has harnessed since Peyton Manning has been under center on both sides of the ball.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) -- FINALLY! The Chiefs went out and got Alex Smith a receiver he can throw touchdowns to in Jeremy Maclin. HIs addition plus the ever-dangerous Jamaal Charles out of the backfield and emerging tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs should once again be in contention for one of the wildcard spots in the AFC. The Chiefs made a huge commitment to sack-artist Justin Houston, signing him to the richest deal for a defensive player in NFL history, hilariously giving him one million more than J.J. Watt. Eric Berry is back now, which should steady the Chiefs' secondary once again.

3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) -- Fresh off of a contract extension of his own, Phillip Rivers and company are good enough to finish second in this division. In need of a new workhorse back the Chargers drafted one of the most electrifying guys to carry that load in Melvin Gordon. I'm curious to see what the suspension of Rivers' favorite guy Antonio Gates will do to this Chargers offense.

4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) -- The Raiders WILL be competitive this season. Get ready to hear a lot of Derek Carr to new, already polished target Amari Cooper throughout the season. The Raiders have did a great job in free agency and via the draft over the past couple of seasons. This team is a season or a key injury to a division rival away from being good enough to finish second in the West.


About these awards:

MVP --

Me: Tom Brady
Mike: Aaron Rodgers
Kevin: Andrew Luck
James: Tom Brady

Offensive Player of the Year --

Me: Antonio Brown
Mike: Julio Jones
Kevin: Aaron Rodgers
James: Antonio Brown

Defensive Player of the Year --

Me: J.J. Watt
Mike: Bobby Wagner
Kevin: J.J. Watt
James: J.J. Watt

Offensive Rookie of the Year --

Me: Amari Cooper
Mike: Marcus Mariota
Kevin: Amari Cooper
James: Amari Cooper

Defensive Rookie of the Year --

Me: Vic Beasley
Mike: Eric Kendricks
Kevin: Bud Dupree
James: Leonard Williams

Coach of the Year --

Me: Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Mike: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Kevin: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
James: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles

Comeback Player of the Year --

Me: Adrian Peterson
Mike: Eric Berry
Kevin: Adrian Peterson
James: Adrian Peterson