“It’s the most wonderful time…of the year.” That’s right ladies and gentleman, cue that famous Andy Williams Christmas song, because football season is back, and I couldn’t be any more excited. We had our first taste this past weekend with the Hall of Fame game in Canton, and will get a few more weeks of preseason football to tide us over until the real hard hitting action begins. The 2014 season was fantastic, culminating with a Super Bowl for the ages. This year is shaping up to bring more of the same, and to get you started, here’s ten things bold predictions for the 2015 NFL season.
1. Adrian Peterson wins the rushing title
Adrian Peterson missed all but one game last season due to a near season long suspension, and the rumor is he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. The Minnesota Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, still managed to finish 7-9 without AP last year and I think he adds so much to a talented, albeit young, team. The danger of play action with Peterson will be an immense help to Bridgewater’s game, and I think AP is back with something to prove.
2. The New England Patriots will finish 2nd in the AFC East
Since winning the Super Bowl last year, the New England Patriots have remained in the headlines but not for hoisting the Lombardi Trophy or Rob Gronkowski’s partying. Instead, all the attention has been on Tom Brady and the Patriots for the infamous “Deflategate” scandal which has landed Brady a four game suspension to start the season. The Patriots have won the division 11 of the last 12 seasons and still may be the favorites even with Brady’s suspension. I think a 2-3 start is very possible and it takes 10-11 victories to win that division this year. The Miami Dolphins are the last team to win the AFC East other than the Patriots, and I think they may do it again this year with a week 17 home win over the Pats. If not Miami, look for Buffalo Bills to challenge for the division title.
3. Ray Rice will be back in the NFL
Ray Rice was suspended all of last year for his role in a domestic violence incident with his fiancé and was cut by the Baltimore Ravens. It’s said he is perhaps too big of a distraction for any team to sign. Factor that with a poor 2013 season, and being nearly 30 years old, and many teams don’t feel he is worth the risk. However, one team that is no stranger to signing players with a checkered past, is the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas lost star running back DeMarco Murray to the rival Philadelphia Eagles this past off-season and are set to go with the oft-injured Darren McFadden. Behind him are Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and rookie Lache Seastrunk in what should be a running back by committee type attack. The Cowboys offense last year went through Murray and while the connection of Romo to Bryant is absolutely lethal, they’ll need a similar balance if they want to duplicate last year’s division title. A guy like Ray Rice may be just what Dallas needs, or Dallas may be just the type of team Ray Rice needs.
4. Jameis Winston and Amari Cooper win NFC/AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year
Say what you will about Jameis Winston’s struggles off the field in college, but the guy can flat out ball. His freshman season numbers were a lot better than his sophomore season, but he only lost one game between those two years. In Tampa, he will have the luxury of throwing to big targets like Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and play in possibly the weakest division in all of football. I think he performs well, and Tampa could find itself contending in the NFC South in just a year or two. In Oakland, the Raiders got possibly the most NFL ready player in the draft in wide receiver Amari Cooper. Raider quarterback Derek Carr had a really underrated rookie season last year finishing with 21 touchdowns and only 12 picks while throwing to some absolute duds at wide receiver. I think newly hired head coach Jack Del Rio is the right guy for the job. Expect big offensive numbers from both guys from the start.
5. Leonard Williams and Landon Collins win AFC/NFC Denfensive Rookie of the Year
The New York Jets have one of the best defensive lines in all of football and it got even better when they selected Leonard Williams in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. He is very versatile and can play on the end or the interior which is great for the Jets considering they are without Sheldon Richardson for at least four games due to suspension and could be facing more time off from another arrest a couple weeks ago. Williams will get plugged in right away and be pressuring quarterbacks all season long. Also on draft night, the New York Giants traded up seven spots to nab Safety Landon Collins from Alabama. He is said to have already impressed the Giants coaching staff with his leadership and work ethic. Odell Beckham Jr. became an instant success last year for the Giants and I think Collins will be a similar story this year.
6. The Carolina Panthers will have the biggest increase in wins from 2014
The NFC South was by far the worst division in all of football last season with Carolina winning the division despite having a losing record of 7-8-1. This year, I expect the division to again be very weak, however Carolina’s relatively easy schedule allows them to win 11 games, a significant improvement from last season.
7. The Dallas Cowboys will have the biggest drop off in wins from 2014
The Dallas Cowboys had a tough decision to make this past off-season when they had to choose between re-signing DeMarco Murray or Dez Bryant. Considering Murray’s injury riddled past and the short shelf life of running backs in today’s game, Dez Bryant probably was the correct decision. Unfortunately, Dallas did very little to replace DeMarco Murray and I think it will hurt their offense a ton this year. The offensive line is one of the best in football, but another 12-4 season with their current backfield seems very unlikely to me. I see Dallas as a 9-7 team this season.
8. Peyton Manning will retire following the 2015 season
After 18 seasons, 5 MVP awards, the NFL record for most touchdown passes and likely most passing yards, Peyton Manning will call it a career after this upcoming season, and what a career it was. His legacy will forever be somewhat debated because of only having one Super Bowl ring, but only a few quarterbacks at most will be ranked higher than him in the history of the game.
9. Aaron Rodgers will win MVP, again
For the third time in his career, and second year in a row, Aaron Rodgers will win the league’s Most Valuable Player award, and deservedly so. He is, in my opinion, the best quarterback in football and is incredibly efficient while having a nearly unbeatable record at home. Last season Rodgers finished with 38 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. This year I expect much of the same as Rodgers still has Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams to throw to, along with Eddie Lacy in the backfield.
10. The Green Bay Packers will defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 50
Both Green Bay and Indianapolis lost in the conference championship games a year ago, but both with contrastingly different results. The Packers blew a 12-point with under three minutes left vs the Seattle Seahawks, and wound up losing in overtime after an improbable comeback by Seattle. Green Bay blew numerous opportunities to seal the game including allowing Seattle to recover an onside kick late in the fourth quarter. The Indianapolis Colts were blown out by the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but not without controversy. It’s called “Deflategate” and you’re probably just as sick of hearing about it as I am. Unless of course you’re some New England slappy in denial that the legendary Bill Belichick or Tom Terrific would ever do such things to win a football game. This year I think both the Packers and the Colts take the next step and meet in the Super Bowl with MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers winning in another great Super Bowl.
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