By Josh Svetz
It’s finally time, football is back! Yes, friends, it’s finally time to sit on the couch, eat some snacks and watch your favorite team try to capture the Lombardi trophy. Of course, that sentiment presents one big question–who is that team going to be? Let’s try and figure that out.
I’m only going to say this once: if you don’t have a good quarterback, you usually aren’t going to do too well. The quarterback position can make or break a team, as many teams have great rosters top to bottom, but a below-average quarterback.
In fact, you can predict at least a few of the division winners just by examining the quarterback.
For example, teams like the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots should win their divisions due to their strong quarterback play, with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady commanding the huddle. The next two divisions are a bit tougher. In my opinion, the AFC West and AFC North are both three-team races.
In the North, the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers all could end up taking the division crown by the end of the season.
In the West, the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers each have the tools to clinch a playoff spot. However, in the West, I still think Peyton Manning and company take that division, and in the north, I believe Baltimore finds itself with the division title in the end. To me, those four teams are locks, with Denver probably being my least confident lock. Now that the divisions are wrapped up, things get interesting.
This year’s AFC wildcard is wide open. There are only about four teams that I couldn’t envision having the possibility of making the playoffs. Honestly, the Steelers, Bengals, Bills, Dolphins, Chargers, Chiefs, Texans and even the Jets have the rosters to compete for a spot. However, choices need to be made, and in the end, I will always lean towards which teams have good quarterback play.
In that case, I’m going with the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, I understand Ryan Tannehill is not an elite quarterback by any stretch, but he improves every year, and if he improves on last year’s numbers, he will be very close to being a top 10 quarterback in the league depending on how things shake out. As for the Steelers, their defense is not very good, but their offense could end up as the best offense in the league, as they have arguably the best three-headed monster with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Le’Veon Bell at running back, and Antonio Brown at wide receiver. While I understand that Bell and last year’s talented rookie, Martavis Bryant will be out with suspensions, I still believe the offense will generate enough production to stay afloat, and when those two come back, it’ll be scary.
With that said, anything could happen with those two teams, so if I were to pick two alternates to find their way into the playoffs, it would be the Chargers and the Bills. If you told me the Bills traded for an average NFL quarterback like Andy Dalton right now, I would easily have them in the wild card round; in addition to an improved offense, they sport arguably the best defense in the league. I like Tyrod Taylor, but I’m not sure if he can actually get the Bills to where they need to be. As for the Chargers, they have a top ten quarterback in Phillip Rivers, and have a solid enough defense, but they are incredibly erratic and streaky and I don’t trust them. Remember how hot they were last year? After starting 5-1 last year, they ended up going 4-6 the rest of the season, missing the playoffs.
So, with six teams placed into the playoffs, who will actually come out on top? I think in the end, it’s between the Patriots, Ravens and Colts. This is the year Andrew Luck takes the next step. With an improved offense and a couple years under Luck’s belt, I expect the Colts to find themselves in the Super Bowl at the end of the season.
As I said last time, you can get a good idea of which teams will make the playoffs just by looking at the quarterback position.
In that sense, both the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks should be locks, with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson dictating the offenses and both teams featuring experienced, and deep rosters. From there, we have two completely wide-open divisions in the NFC South and NFC East.
The East and West both feature three-team races. In the East, the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants each have teams that can compete. In the South, the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons all have their issues, but one of those teams has to win.
In the East, I like Chip Kelly and the Eagles to take the division. They’ve upgraded at almost every position other than offensive line and feature arguably the best backfield in the NFL. With that said, some people may believe the Eagles downgraded at quarterback, but the former QB, Nick Foles was a product of Kelly’s system, and will assuredly struggle with the St. Louis Rams this year. The new QB, Sam Bradford, has actually been solid but doesn’t play that often due to injuries. Hopefully, in a quick passing system like Kelly’s, Bradford will be able to avoid multiple hits and finally live up to the potential that made him the first overall pick several years ago.
As for the South, this division is weak. These teams all have multiple issues with their rosters, which means truthfully any team could win this division. Many people may believe that either the Saints or Panthers will take the division, but I’m going with the Falcons. Led by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and featuring the talented duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons should have a productive offense this year. As for the defense, the unit should be improved immediately with the presence of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn taking over as head coach. Not to mention the continued development of Desmond Trufant, who looks to make a big leap this year, and put himself into the discussion for top cornerback in the league.
The last two spots in the playoffs could go to a couple teams. In total, I could envision the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants each having a good chance to take the wildcard spots. Both Dallas and New York have extremely high ceilings. I could see them both competing for a championship, and I could also see them only getting five wins. The outcomes vary, maybe more than any other teams in the league. Since I believe Dallas and New York are extremely risky picks, I’ll take the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.
The Cardinals won ten games with a combo of Logan Thomas, Drew Stanton, and Ryan Lindley at quarterback last year. Now, with a healthy Carson Palmer, I believe Bruce Arians and company make something happen. As for the Vikings, not only do they have one of the best young defenses in the NFL, a new receiving corp, a promising quarterback in second-year player, Teddy Bridgewater, and one of the best offensive lines in the game, but they also get back one of the greatest running backs of all time in Adrian Peterson, who was suspended after week one last year. All this combined, and you have a young, hungry and ferocious team that could make some noise in the playoffs this year.
While all six of the teams we’ve put into the playoffs have a shot at the Super Bowl, a few teams have better chances than others.
In the end, I believe the Packers, Eagles, and Seahawks each could contend for the Lombardi Trophy. However, when it’s all said and done, I have Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers getting to Santa Clara this year.
At the end of the season, the Indianapolis Colts will face the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. In the game, the Packers and Colts will have a fantastic shoot out, resulting in a victory for the Packers.
Of course, in the glorious game we call football, anything can happen.