With the draft still in the future and even free agency just getting started in print, why would anyone attempt to predict anything, even divisions, in the NFL? Well, we do know stuff like administrative changes, team character, etc. etc. That usually handles about 75% of the results for some reason or other. Anyway I think it's time for division predictions 2015, rev 0. We at least know some things just a month removed from the Super Bowl. Too early? Of course. Can we still make most of it stick? Probably. At this stage it's a just an added referendum on how well teams will draft and sign personnel as well as on how the in-place stuff will gel.
We'll know more in mere weeks. More than that in mere months. Everything in a year. I don't feel like waiting a year. Not even mere weeks. The NFL's been just too easy for too long to predict on a coarse scale. Besides, who wants to read about football with NBA and NHL playoffs going and baseball in full swing? Maybe these days even that's a bad question.
New England: The increasingly corrupt-looking "Deflategate" notwithstanding (another NY media name, and why not since they are the driving force in turning what would be a misdemeanor even if it were true into this year's CSI:NFL scam), the Patriots have their needs scoped out and their radar scanning the premises as usual. Reports of Tom Brady's imminent demise have proven a bit exaggerated. But the reasons for believing they will re-re-repeat as division champs have a lot to do with what's going on elsewhere in the division.
Miami: The Fins, predicted by many to be the primo competition for New England last year, were just that --- until New England woke up. Then they started to fold under pressure, finally collapsing with a playoff spot, if no longer first place, in sight. That Joe Philbin was brought back was a head scratcher for some --- no, all --- outside observers. Fin fans should stock up on cortisone for their itchy scalps again.
Buffalo: The insertion of middling but competent Kyle Orton took the Bills to new levels of offensive punch, which says a lot. The defense needed no help. Enter Rex Ryan, great defensive coordinator. Exit Jim Schwartz, great defensive coordinator. Unfortunately, Rex will run the offense too. It's hard to picture Orton remaining at the helm. Rex's track record for quarterback development speaks for itself, and not well. Clearly he's obsessed with beating NE. That doesn't explain why the Bills were obsessed with him. They violated the first rule of everything, fixing something that wasn't broke. That usually begs for collateral damage. It might happen unless the fiery Ryan's personality rubs off on the offense... and he develops a quarterback.
New York: The Jets were sinking. The offense was becoming nonexistant with no leadership and no quarterbacks. Enter Todd Bowles. Former safety, fine defensive presence, he seems to be just what the Jets don't need. Somehow it seems they and Buffalo have tried to outdo one another. Word is he's more measured and cautious than Rex. Who isn't? Still, Rex' effervescence was supposedly something that inspired his team. Why do teams persist in thinking a great defense will take the division from New England? More to the point, how long do they intend to run the experiment?
Indianapolis: The team that probably ought to be on trial for soft footballs has a lot more 'splainin to do regarding what happens every time they face their eternal interconference rival in or out of the playoffs. Sure looks now like an attempt to sabotage their biggest obstacle. Are they the threat that Luck was supposed to make them? Well... yes and no. The lightning rebuild may finally be having the growing pains it should have had at the start. But in this division they have a shot at the title. They've owned it so far.
Houston: It's as unclear whether Ryan Mallett is the answer in Houston as it was Hoyer in Cleveland after 2013. Not enough info. Keenum anyone? One thing is certain --- with the former New England OC as coach the offense ought to improve, wouldn't you think? Then again, we had this discussion last year and they drafted Clowney, a MIA (not 'Miami') defensive end, on the eve of JJ's transition from great DE to possible all-time immortal. It begs the question of whether anyone upstairs is listening to O'Brien. Or whether he's listening to himself. The defense has been more than adequate. They have plenty of auxiliary strength to overcome Indy. But prospective juggernauts missing that one golden piece only have so long to figure it out before square-one beckons again.
Tennessee: If anyone can give me two even passable reasons why these guys aren't headed for another year of mediocrity, I'll listen.
Jacksonville: Whether the Jags can overtake their floundering rival in Nashville depends, as it does with most bottom feeders, on too many things to predict. Bortles showing signs of maturation would be a biggie. But it's just another 'if'. You never know. Young teams sometimes just suddenly come together. That's the plan anyway.
Baltimore: A strong showing late in the season made the Ravens a household word again for a while. Blowing two 14-point leads to New England and then whining about it did nothing for their street cred though. If Ben is no longer the best QB in the division (and he may yet be), Flacco continues to be the heir apparent. Elite? Who cares? Viper Joe makes them go when they do go. As usual their defense is their strong point. It's not what it was though, and they're scrambling to fix that. How well they fix it will determine their spot.
Cincinnati: The Bengals have to be the most dissed strong team in the league, and it's their own fault. But they are built to win in their division, and typically they do that well. Andy Dalton may be closer to John Brodie than John Unitas, but Brodie was still good. The question will be whether their O can generate enough to beat Baltimore. In the absence of a ton of skill players, that comes down to Andy vs. Joe, and so far Joe's winning that battle.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers continue to be a question mark. Their defense showed better than expected last year, but it was being towed by some dinosaurs who may become extinct. The offensive brain trust, with the prickly Todd Haley at the helm, seemed to do wonders for Ben when he wasn't threatening to stuff Haley into the Gatorade barrel. Then again, maybe that's part of a plan to make the giant QB more combative? Ben continues to be great, but it's hard to see the Steeler culture overwhelming what appear to be deeper rivals.
Cleveland: Last year we wondered whether we'd be putting the Browns higher, maybe even first, for a good while. Oops. For a team that stayed so close to the top for as long as they did, the crash may have been overstated, but it was still a crash. Has the coach turned out to be an owner's placeholder? Is Manziel worth anything? Is that what deep-sixed their chances last year? Is hometown product Hoyer fed up? Shanahan was. The Browns are showing way too many signs of dissolution. Changing their once-iconic uniforms won't help, unless the new Bengals-like color brings Paul Brown karma back to a Browns' franchise he didn't found. Josh McCown sounds a lot like Kyle Orton in Buffalo. And odds of all competition hovering a shade above .500 again aren't good.
Denver: The only reason these guys are here is that I can't figure out where else to put them. Against strong competition (even against the Colts) Manning looked done. Maybe he's not. If he's not, they finish first by virtue of their competition. He didn't hand-pick this venue for nothing. If he is done (or gone), prepare to crown a new division winner. Gary Kubiak comes off a good performance as Ravens' OC and several bad ones as Texans' HC. If the defense stays decent, the offense ought to be ok coaching wise --- considering Manning does most of that. If he's not done. Or gone. Doesn't sound much like a lock, does it?
Kansas City: Why put these guys here? Well, Reid is a pretty good coach, Smith is a pretty good QB, they have a pretty good D, and the Chargers may be in for a season of distraction.
San Diego: Is this the last year we'll be calling them that? The team that Rivers has led, at times heroically, has other issues too. They aren't what you'd call deep. They do have holes. When all the parts are together they're pretty formidable. They should be formidable enough to beat KC. But then there's all that LA talk. Why would they care? Well, San Diego's a nice place and it's been home to them since 1961. But even if they'd all love the move, it's hard to see how all that noise won't be a distraction. It's not a good tiebreaker.
Oakland: These guys are immune to distraction. What more can it do? As the NFL prepares to shuttle franchises to places that have stadia befitting their regal stature, the Raiders are sure to be a player --- unless nobody wants them. Someone will. Oh yeah, the team... every year we hear how they're ready to break out. Every year they string together some impressive games. Then... poof. They have what looks like a good young quarterback. Show us already.
Dallas: Finally, a year shows up in which we can just plain plop the Boys here without feeling most of those ifs, ands and buts. They were clearly the best team in the division. Nearly the best team in the NFC. They'll probably be back, secret videos of Dez notwithstanding. I think. Hey, it's the Boys.
Philadelphia: Does Kelly really want a new QB with Foles coming back and Sanchez having mostly shined despite his press coverage when thrown in? Maybe a little D work is in order instead.
New York: Why put the Giants here? Isn't it their year to rise from the ashes and shoot to the top? They'll probably be better than last year. How hard is that? They might even overtake Philly if they founder. But phoenixes (phoenices?) don't grow on potato vines. Still, with Coughlin, it could happen.
Washington: The only thing worse in Washington than the Executive Order Branch is the Redskins. The Branch has earned its criticism. The Redskins will continue to be the DC lightning rod for misplaced (along with well-placed) ire. And they'll probably continue to do their part to earn it.
Atlanta: Mike Smith is gone. Quinn is in. Is this the stimulus that pulls what's supposed to be a talented team out of the swamp? That's a biiiiiiig 'if'. Unfortunately for the division, it stinks so bad that it may be enough. This neighborhood is so defunct that mere uncertainty seems no more than a speed bump. It may even be an advantage considering the certainties of hindsight. And Atlanta may have more horses than anyone else --- if their D gets better (likely with Quinn) and their O-line gets a total revamp (not as likely).
Carolina: Why put a team as hamstrung offensively as the Panthers in second place even? Well, that D is still pretty good. And it's the NFCS. That's why.
New Orleans: The team with the best QB in the division plus a lot of familiar names around him was said to be in trouble before last year. Most of us didn't listen, yours truly included. It was true.
Tampa Bay: I don't know if Warren Sapp is breaking open doors dressed like a pirate and handing out beer or if he's in jail. I do know that Sapp breaking open offensive lines is about the only thing that might move this stalled bunch out of the cellar. But again it's the NFCS, where amazing things happen.
Green Bay: Why do I rank these guys over the Lions? They really aren't that much better. But considering the Packer 'relationship' with league officials versus that of the Lions, they get the tiebreaker. And there's that home-field thing too. Plus Rodgers.
Detroit: It would have been interesting to see how Detroit would have fared in the playoffs had the aforementioned officials not intervened against Dallas. It will be more interesting to see how they fare this year. For some reason, Caldwell doesn't inspire visions of lions (real ones) chomping their way through the competition. But they have some talent. A couple of pieces... you know the story.
Minnesota: Assuming Teddy grows into his role, the Vikes just might improve along with him. It's hard to see them improving to the Lions' level though. Hopefully they've realized AP isn't going to carry them to the division title whether he's there or not. Face it, even Seattle without Wilson would have been just another .500 team with a great running back.
Chicago: The wheels have come off. You gotta believe to think Da Bears will just sort things out. I don't.
Seattle: They were convinced they were the best. They're young. They have a good coach. Why wouldn't they win the division? I can think of plenty of reasons why they wouldn't win the conference, but the division? Might be close depending on some things (these guys themselves being one of them) but they'll figure it out. I think. Then again, look what happened to Frisco.
Arizona: Do I think Palmer will be back with his new contract to get hurt again? Ok, maybe that's a little unfair, but I think 'maybe'. Arians still has to figure something out for his dwindling roster besides QB anyway. Stanton was good. Between the two, Arians probably can focus on a variety of other needs. He's the main reason I have these guys second.
San Francisco: Were the Niners really a great team with a great QB just waiting for distractions like Harbaugh to go away? Could be. Or not. We shall see. They shall have to show us though. The honeymoon's over.
St. Louis: Every year someone somewhere says the Rams are ready for a breakout year. Never happens. Will it happen this year? Could they even finish second? Sure. Lotsa things could happen. But raise your hand if you think Sam is coming back to lead the league in passing.