The regular season is upon us, which means someone at The MMQB needs to set the expectations and volunteer to receive scathing second guesses from commenters and Twitter trolls. With all 32 team-by-team Deep Dive previews complete (click on each team to read the full preview), here’s how I see the final standings playing out.
The season-ending knee injury to cornerback Orlando Scandrick gives me some pause about the Cowboys, but the arrival of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory plus the return of Sean Lee should make this defense better than it was a year ago. Great defense is the best way to complement a dominant rushing attack, which Dallas’s O-line provides. The Eagles’ defense, however, is equally improved (if not more so). Don’t be surprised if both Dallas and Philly finish 11-5 or 12-4 with a tie-breaker deciding it.
The best quarterback in football makes for a top-five offense regardless of who is at wide receiver. In Minnesota, an ascending Teddy Bridgewater is surrounded by an Adrian Peterson-led ground game and a talented young defense that is sure to be better in Year Two under Mike Zimmer. The Bears, who have catastrophic personnel issues on defense, are an easy pick for last place, making the Lions, who are poised to regress defensively, the default third-place finisher.
This division doesn’t look much better than it did a year ago given Tampa Bay’s youth, Carolina’s lack of aerial firepower, New Orleans’s paucity of pass rushers and Atlanta’s defensive transformation under first-time head coach Dan Quinn. But with Matt Ryan, the Falcons have the ability to occasionally outscore people. So do the Saints, but I think Ryan will overtake a subtly declining Drew Brees in the quarterback rankings this season.
The Seahawks aren’t as strong as they were a year ago, but the Rams don’t have the offensive weapons to fully counterbalance a defense that might very well be the league’s most talented. Arizona prospers with smoke and mirrors created by good coaching. Who knows, maybe that will once again mean double-digit wins for them. But if we’re to project, their roster is better than only San Francisco’s in this division.
NFC TITLE GAME
Packers over Cowboys: Green Bay’s multiplicity on defense is intriguing—and let’s not forget, this team was an onside kick recovery away from winning the conference a year ago.
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The Dolphins are much better than a last place team—I could even see them going 9-7. But they have questions in their back seven, while the Jets and Bills have two of the league’s stingiest defenses. Of those two defenses, New York’s gets the slight nod because of the Revis factor. At the top, the Patriots aren’t as good as they were a year ago (also because of the Revis factor), but no self-respecting analyst projects Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to finish second in their division.
The Ravens are the most complete team in football. The Steelers have the league’s most dangerous offense. The Bengals are exactly what they’ve been the last four years while the Browns have a discouraging number of questions on offense.
Indy is the easiest division winner call we’ve seen in years. The Texans might take a step back, but that step will still be smaller than the one the Jags are poised to take forward. In Tennessee, it’s going to take time for Ken Whisenhunt and Marcus Mariota to acclimate to one another.
Denver is worse than it was a year ago while the other three teams are all better. But we’re still talking about a Broncos team that features a top-five quarterback and an immensely talented defense. A healthy Chiefs defense is also very good, and their offense has shown it can manufacture productivity through design. The Chargers are the real grab bag club. They’re talented enough to go 11-5, but recent history says they won’t. Finally, the Raiders are not the NFL’s worst team. In fact, if they played in the AFC South, they could push for a .500 record. Too bad they’re in the deep AFC West.
Ravens over Colts: I love Baltimore’s young defense, zone-blocking O-line and pairing of Joe Flacco with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Indianapolis is frightening offensively but their defensive front gives me pause.
SUPER BOWL 50
Ravens over Packers