The NFL season is finally upon us. Gridiron fans have had to wait since last year or for those who’s teams were successful January or February earlier this year for some football action. Fans got excited during free agency and then with the Draft and even seeing how their teams rosters were filling out during the preseason. But now real football is finally back and here on TheInsideZone I will be giving you my ultimate 2016 predictions. I strongly recommend those of you reading this to either grab a piece of paper or open a word document and tweet @TheInsideZoneUK or @TomLikeFootball with your own predictions. So without further ado, let us take a look at my predictions for the 2016 NFL season.
AFC East: New England Patriots (12-4)
I am predicting the Patriots to go 12-4 in 2016, with 2 of those losses coming during Jimmy Garoppolo’s four game tenure. The Patriots have dominated not only the AFC East but also the entire AFC for the past decade and with the addition of Martellus Bennett on offence alongside a dominant front seven on defense; I believe that Patriots will be running rings round the rest of the AFC East once again in 2016.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
I have the Steelers edging their division by one win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have a high-powered offence that is headlined by the NFL’s best triplet in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. They also have a strong defense with a dominant front seven that boasts the perfect blend of young, athletic playmakers and savvy veterans. The Steelers play in an extremely difficult division but it will ultimately be their franchise quarterback “Big Ben” and his brand of “Backyard football” that will light up scoreboards and see the Steelers edge out other teams in shoot-outs week in week out. The Steelers will be an exciting team to watch in 2016.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Long gone are the days of the AFC South as one of the easier divisions in the NFL. The Jaguars, Texans and Titans are all currently in a rebuild but all have taken strides and will continue to develop in 2016 with the Texans in particular pushing to dethrone Luck and the Colts as the powerhouses of the AFC South. I believe ultimately that although many have the Texans as Super Bowl dark horses, that 2016 is simply too early for them and that they need another year to gel before they can start pushing for a deep run at the playoffs. The Colts have a top-5 quarterback in the NFL who many believe has the ability to progress to challenge for the no.1 spot amongst current NFL QBs. The Colts also have playmakers at receiver, however, I believe that their defense will let them down in 2016 and that although the Colts will make the playoffs I doubt that they will progress far.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders (11-5)
Controversial. The Denver Broncos are the reigning Super Bowl champions, yet I believe that they will finish third in their division behind the Raiders and the Chiefs. The Raiders are a good young football team who seem to be consistently developing on offence and have key pieces in place with young QB Derek Carr and WR Amari Cooper and boast arguably the League’s second best offensive line. While the Raiders defense appears to add elite players every offseason. The group is headlined by Khalil Mack (the third best pass rusher in the NFL behind J. J. Watt and Von Miller) yet is also boasts the talented Linebacker duo of former Seahawks Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith with playmakers in the secondary in FS Reggie Nelson, SS Karl Joseph (a promising rookie) and CB Sean Smith. The Raiders have been slowly improving the last few seasons and I believe that it will all click in 2016 as the Raiders will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
This one was an incredibly difficult one as the NFC East consistently ranks as not only one of the worst divisions in football, but also one of the more difficult to predict due to its inconsistent nature. While Romo is out until mid-season, I have seen enough from Dak Prescott during the preseason that gives me hope that the Cowboys will win the NFC East in 2016. Prescott will be protected by the League’s best offensive line and will have Ezekiel Elliot, Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden in the backfield (the deepest unit in the NFL). While Dallas’ defensive line has been decimated with suspensions for the opening few games, the Cowboys have a leader in Sean Lee on defense who will hope to dissect plays at the line of scrimmage in order to help Dallas’ defensive line line up correctly and generate enough of a pass rush so that opposing QBs do not have all day in the pocket. SS Barry Church will hope to partner with promising sophomore FS Byron Jones and hold down the secondary to allow ball hawks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne to go to work in the secondary.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Aaron Rodgers. His play alone can win teams 10+ games, but with the return of his no.1 WR Jordy Nelson the Packers offence should reach juggernaut status in 2016. The Packers also have a top-5 defense that appears to be flying under the radar. Green Bay benefit from playing in a poor division, however, I believe that while their roster is extremely talented; the NFC is simply too stacked and that the Packers will fail to make it the NFC Championship Game.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Cam Newton is a freak. Newton’s measurable are straight out of a laboratory, however, despite his no.1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin returning, Cam’s 2016 will not be as successful as his 2015 outing. Despite the offence looking strong and the front seven appearing top-5 on paper; I feel that the loss of Josh Norman and the gaping holes in the secondary will allow fellow NFC juggernaut offenses to light up the Panthers on too regular of a basis.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
I am predicting Arizona to be the best team in football in 2016. They have the League’s best offense on paper and are pushing for the top ranked roster overall. They have playmakers at every aspect of the game whether its elite pass rushers, lockdown corners or future Hall of Famers at Wide Receiver alongside boasting a top-5 QB and the leagues best Guard. The Cardinals have it all as well as a top Head Coach who will turn the Cardinals into the most complete team in football in 2016.
AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
Brady will light up the Steelers like he did to the Colts two years ago and the Patriots defense will deliver as it silences Le’Veon Bell to less than sixty yards and holds Antonio Brown to a quiet game of less than five catches for just under eighty yards. The Patriots are built for deep runs in the playoffs and the cold encounter in Foxborough will be a hard hitting affair as the Patriots and Steelers respective front sevens will look to puncture holes in the opposing teams offensive lines. If it comes down to this scenario and both teams stay healthy, I believe the Patriots will edge this by 14 points.
NFC Championship Game: Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals will finally make it to their second franchise Super Bowl where veteran Carson Palmer will stake his claim as the League’s MVP as he throws for three touchdowns on the league’s best secondary as the Cardinals dominant defense will be too much for the Seahawks mediocre offensive line. Russell Wilson won’t go out without a fight, however, it could turn into a repeat of the Broncos/ Patriots game last season as Wilson will be repeatedly hit and will wake up the following day battered and bruised after the Cardinals new signing Chandler Jones will have 3.0 sacks on the day alongside the Cardinals secondary scoring three interceptions.
Super Bowl 51:
Winner: New England Patriots
Loser: Arizona Cardinals
Tom Brady will have a performance for the ages and prove those wrong who overlooked him for MVP. Brady will be fully rested and have four games less wear on his body after sitting the first four games of the season. The two-headed monster that is Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett with revolutionise the game as teams will look to copy Head Coach Bill Belichick’s strategy of deploying two Tight Ends where it is unclear which side a run play will develop or whether after initially blocking the TE duo will run routes against slower and less mobile safeties and linebacker’s. Despite Carson Palmer’s best efforts, New England’s young and athletic front seven with culminate the past five year rebuild and prove that without the services of Chandler Jones, New England’s defense can still generate an elite pass rush and stuff the run while allowing the playmakers in the secondary to generate turnovers that kill the Cardinals with poor field position. Tom Brady will win a record fifth Super Bowl and tie Charles Haley’s record of five super bowl rings before announcing that he will come back for one last rodeo to seek a sixth super bowl ring in reference to the six quarterbacks taken before him in the 2000 NFL Draft and the sixth round which he was taken in. Fairy tail stuff.
Carson Palmer will win the MVP in 2016 in a controversy. Although Tom Brady will throw for more touchdowns in just 12 games than Carson Palmer will do in 16, and will pose a higher winning percentage in 2015 than Palmer; I am predicting that Palmer’s 5,000+ yard season will overshadow the efforts of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. I believe that 2016 will be the year of Carson Palmer as all the positives from the previous two seasons will manifest themselves in an injury free campaign that will see Palmer fire the Cardinals all the way into the Super Bowl. Read below for more predictions about Palmer’s 2016 season predictions.
Offensive Player of the Year: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer is going to light up the NFL in 2016. I am predicting a 5,000+ yard season as Palmer will attempt to ride off into the sunset at the end of his career. Palmer has an improved offensive line in front of him as well as the League’s best group of wide receivers. I am predicting that the Cardinals will have three receivers over 1,000 yards in Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd. Palmer regularly takes shots down the field and has the speedy duo of John Brown and J. J. Nelson who can stretch the field alongside Fitz’ and Floyd going to work through the middle and down the side-lines. Throw in rookie sensation David Johnson who will be entering his sophomore season and Chris Johnson in the backfield, then you have two more options on wheel routes and check downs who can break tackles and rack up yards after the catch for Palmer in 2016.
Defensive Player of the Year: J. J. Watt
Watt will win his fourth (third consecutive) NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Watt has previously won this as the only stud along the Texans Defensive Line who through his own ability alone can generate a one-man wrecking bomb of a pass rush that disrupts opponents passing and running games. Watt suffered with injuries in 2015 and has had numerous operations in the offseason including groin surgery for a sports hernia and back surgery for a herniated disc. The result of this will be a now healthy and fixed machine as Watt will blow up box scores and outdo his 2012 and 2014, 20.5 sacks as he will break Michael Strahan’s 15-year old 22.5 sack record. Watt will be healthy in 2016 and will have Vince Wilfork drawing attention as he plugs up gaps in the middle and the now healthy and athletic freak that is Jadeveon Clowney coming screaming round the edge on the opposite corner allowing Watt to potentially face a lone Tackle for one of the first times in his career.
Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot
In a recent interview Ezekiel Elliot commented that he had “one of the easiest jobs in America.” Elliot was taken fourth overall this year and is an elite, three-down back who has a rare combination of speed, size, athleticism, pass-catching ability and blocking skills that allowed him to excel at every facet of the running back position at college. These skills were on display in his preseason debut against Seattle where Elliot not only showcased his ability with the ball in his hand and his toughness and competitive nature as he repeatedly attempted to lower his shoulder on the hardest hitting safety in football, Kam Chancellor. Elliot also demonstrated his blocking skills which are elite for a rookie running back. Elliot will play behind the NFL’s best Offensive Line who in the past two seasons have dominated opposing teams at the line of scrimmage and give running backs a 2-yard push before they have even reached the line of scrimmage. Elliot is a gifted player and behind this O-Line should put up 1,100+ yards along with a Rookie of the Year award in 2016.
Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians
Bruce Arians will guide the Cardinals to an NFL high 13-3 record in 2016. The colourful character and charismatic leader knows how to get his players fired up and will use the tools that General Manager Steve Keim has compiled to stake the claim as the NFL’s best roster in 2016. QB Carson Palmer has experienced a rebirth under Arians, while the Head Coach is also able to get the best out of his defensive stars Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and new signing Chandler Jones. Arians lives and breathes football, something that will make the Cardinals Super Bowl loss in 2016 all the more crushing and stomach wrenching.
Passing yards leader: Carson Palmer
I have previewed this before. I believe that a mixture of an improved offensive line alongside the NFL’s best receiving group and a solid run game with backs who can contribute catching balls out of the backfield will lead to a historic year for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
Rushing yards leader: Adrian Peterson
AP all day, all day. Adrian Peterson was considered a once in a generation back coming out of Oklahoma and that is exactly what he has gone on to become. He is one of 7 players in the 2,000 yard rusher club and in 2012 had a year for the ages as he finished just 8 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s 1984 record of 2,105 yards. Peterson has been a 3x NFL Rushing Yards Leader (2008, 2012 and 2015).
Peterson is an angry runner who is a true beast in the backfield. He is elusive and mobile while at the same time possessing the ability to one cut alongside being a relentless thumper who can make opposing defenders miss with either his speed or power or often a combination of the both. AP is not only gifted athletically but also mentally and is the best in the League in finding holes and choosing his lanes before morphing into a runaway freight train who opposing defenders cringe when they have to bring down. I am not predicting AP to be go over 2,000 yards again, however, I do believe that he will rack up 1,700 yards at least and with his main competition Le’Veon Bell missing 3 games due to injury that the rushing yards leader trophy should be all but wrapped up.
Receiving yards leader: Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown is the best Wide Receiver in the NFL. For the past three years Brown has ranked 2nd, 1st and 2nd in receiving yards and is one of the most difficult receivers to cover and contain. He combines elite route running, quick handwork on the line of scrimmage alongside a safe pair of hands not to mention tremendous speed and vision which turn him into a nightmare match up for opposing corners. Brown benefits from having a top-5 Quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who is able to extend plays outside of the pocket and allow Brown even more time if he has not already got open against opposing secondary’s. I believe that 2016 will be a record setting year and not only will Watt break Michael Strahan’s 15-year old sack record, but that Brown will beat Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 yards he posted in 2012 and become AB2K, the NFL’s first ever 2,000 yard receiver.
League’s best Defense:
Year in year out, the Seattle Seahawks have a habit of being amongst the League’s best defenses. It is a unit that boasts Pro-Bowlers and All-Pro’s with Michael Bennett, K. J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. The Seahawks will return to the top spot in 2016 after losing their crown in 2015 to the Denver Broncos. It is an extremely talented group that has a ball hawking and hard hitting secondary alongside a tone setting front seven that is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
Team with the no.1 overall pick in 2017:
I believe that the San Francisco 49ers will post the leagues worst record at 3-13. A combination of an incredibly difficult schedule (owing to playing in the NFC West) and an extremely poor roster will cause Chip Kelly to essentially write off his first season in the bay as he will look to take a Quarterback first overall in 2017 who he can groom the same way he did with Marcus Mariota in college. Kelly and ownership will look to build a long-term dynasty behind the athletic and superbly accurate, Clemson Quarterback Deshaun Watson.
These have been my thoughts on the 2016 season and I would love to hear yours! Please tweet all your ideas @TheInsideZoneUK or @TomLikeFootball and if you’re feeling adventurous enough, fill out the categories listed above and again tweet them at the links above.