Listen up people. I’m not exactly the guy you call when you need to bet the house, though I did get three of four divisions in the AFC correct last year, and I probably would have run the table if not for the untimely injury of DeShaun Watson. But I digress. Predictions are fun. They’re also kind of hard, and frequently embarrassing. I’m going to do it anyway. Because, why not?
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers. I’d love to say that some change is in the wind. I really would. But it isn’t. So long as the Steelers have this core on offense, they will likely have too much firepower in a mediocre conference. Ben Rothlisberger, Antonio Brown and a grumpy Le’Veon Bell will be enough to put up ten wins, easy. No other team in the division will approach that. The Bengals are about as blah as blah can be, and I think we’ve already seen Andy Dalton at his absolute best already. The Ravens were better than advertised last year, but their love/hate affair with their Jekyll and Hyde QB will limit their potential until its time for him to retire. The Browns, yeah. Let’s talk about the Browns.
Hot Seat: Hue Jackson. Yeah, I know. You watched Hard Knocks and you’ve got a great feeling that the Browns are going to turn it all around this year. Here’s the thing. That likely means that they’ll quadruple their win total from the last two seasons combined. That sounds super impressive until you realize that that would still be a 4-12 season and put their winning percentage below ten percent over a three-year period. That would be like me misspelling ninety percent of the words in every article I write…You can’t keep your job like that.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars. While I’m expecting some regression from the offense here, especially in the absence of their top receiver, Marqise Lee, that defense is still one of the top units in the league. It will be hard to displace them without two head to head victories. Who might do it? The Houston Texans. I picked them to win the division last year. And with Watson healthy, I think they might have. Tom Savage just really wasn’t up to the task when push came to shove. This is still a scary defense with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu looking to be one of the stoutest units in all of football. The Titans will contend as well, but I see a decided advantage for the Texans in the head to head matchups, provided that the core remains healthy in Houston. Fans in Indianapolis are keen to get back to Andrew Luck’s run of brilliance, but from where I’m sitting, until he’s shown that the surgically repaired shoulder can carry the load, I can’t buy in. Not to mention, that defense was simply atrocious, and they did nothing significant to make it better this offseason.
Hot Seat: Blake Bortles. I refuse to believe that his job is safe if the Jaguars offense is the only thing preventing them from a Super Bowl run. If he shows signs of becoming the old Blake, and the Jags lose two or three games before mid-season, Tom Coughlin will be making some phone calls.
Winner: New England Patriots. Boring. I know. The receiving corps is depleted. I know. Tom Brady is old. We all know. The Bills made the playoffs last season for the first time since the nineties, and they looked like they could contend with a few offseason improvements. Then they traded away their quarterback and apparently didn’t draft the right guy. Nathan Peterman will be under center for game one, and we all know what happened last time he started a game. The Dolphins still think Ryan Tannehill is a savior for some reason, and the Jets just traded the best quarterback on their roster for picks to feed the ego of their first rounder. It’s a mess. J-E-T-S spells MESS. Until Brady and/or Belichick retire, the East goes through Foxboro.
Hot Seat: Every coach but the Hoodie. Just kidding, though I could make a solid argument for any of these guys getting sacked if their team doesn’t over-deliver, but for argument’s sake, I’m going with Todd Bowles. Sean McDermott is currently Buffalo royalty (free wings for life, live it up, bro) after squeezing that solid defense and ragtag offense into the postseason for the first time in almost two decades. Miami thinks Tannehill is good, so I have no idea what goes on in their heads, and they’re more likely to go .500 than the other two teams in the division.
Winner: LA Chargers. Man. Fans in KC are SALTY. It’s cool. I get it. Mahomes Mania™ is in full swing. But hear me out. The Chargers were A LOT better than their record last season and they would have been a very, very tough wild card team if they had snuck in. Philip Rivers was a top three passer in the league and that defense is sneaky good. The Chiefs are very likely to come back to earth as Mahomes has some predictable bumps and bruises in his first full season. That defense didn’t really look great in the offseason either, did it? Marcus Peters where art thou?
Hot Seat: Jon Gruden. Yeah, I know he has a big, shiny new contract and a commitment from the team. He’s probably not getting fired. But if these Raiders take another step back from the halcyon days of 2016, the mood in the stands is going to be ugly. There’s job security and then there’s job scrutiny. Expectations are high in Oakland, and methinks that Gruden will have more of the latter.
Editor’s Note: click here to read Tom’s NFC predictions
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