Picking each NFL division, ranking them 1-4

-Brady VanDeurzen

The 2016 season is right around the corner, and with OTAs beginning league-wide, it is getting to the point in the off-season to start building hype. With a large amount of players moving around in the 2016 free-agency, and a great rookie class entering the NFL, teams will most likely perform much differently from their 2015 seasons. Taking all these factors into account, I have sculpted standings and percentiles for each individual division in the NFL. These standings and percentages are my predictions for which teams will finish at which divisional position after the 2016 season.

Due to the length of each post, I will divide my posts. The NFC teams will be my first post, followed by the AFC teams.

NFC South

1.Carolina Panthers, 11-5 record, 62% chance to win the NFC South.

The Carolina Panthers had a very successful 2015-2016 campaign finishing 15-1 in the regular season, with their only loss coming in week 16 to their in-division rival the Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers remained relatively unscathed throughout the free agency, besides of course, their major loss in CB Josh Norman. Due to this key loss, I expect that Carolina’s secondary will have some weakness against various big name WRs that are in their division. These WRs include: Julio Jones, who has been to three Pro Bowls in 5 seasons; Mike Evans, who had 1,206 receiving yards in 2015 and has 15 total touchdown passes in his two year career; and Brandin Cooks, who had a breakout season in 2015 totaling 1,138 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. These dynamic receivers will definitely cause some problems for the Panthers, which could result in a few losses for the Panthers. However, the Panthers’ versatile offense, and their incredible defensive front seven, will be the ultimate turning point and the key to the Panthers’ success in 2016.

2. Atlanta Falcons, 8-8 record, 16% chance to win the NFC South.

The Atlanta Falcons gave the Panthers their only loss of the 2015 season, in a shocking upset victory late in the game. However, that was basically the Falcons’ only highlight of their season. The Falcons experimented with Dan Quinn as their head coach after a relatively unsuccessful bout in their 2014 season. Although the Falcons started off extremely strong in 2015 with a 6-1 record after week seven, their performance fizzled out near mid-season when the Falcons dropped six straight games, potentially ruining there playoff chances. The Falcons still own some very talented offensive threats whether it is Julio Jones streaking down the sidelines, or Devonta Freeman busting through holes in the defensive line, the Falcons offensive onslaught will win them games. The Falcons defense is their major point of concern, with major gaps that need to be filled, teams will take advantage of the Falcons’ weak defense. Due to both their weak defense, and their solid offense being basically a push, an 8-8 record ultimately seems logical for the Falcons in 2016.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8-8 record, 14% chance to win the NFC South.

The Buccaneers are on the rise, and they have some very talented players at some very crucial positions. This abundance of talent will lead the Buccaneers to do some damage in the NFC South. However, the Buccaneers still lack leadership, and in my opinion,  they are still missing a reliable QB. Although Jameis Winston did make the Pro Bowl, it is only because of the record amount of players who withdrew from their positions in the Pro Bowl.  Winston threw for 22 TDs in 2015 as well as 15 interceptions, and because of this, it is hard to see the Buccaneers offense being very dynamic. The Buccaneers average defense will also keep them afloat, as well as their mediocre special teams system. Taking all of these factors into account, I believe that the Buccaneers individual player talent will allow them to reach .500, however that is all the father they will get.

4. New Orleans Saints, 7-9 record, 8% chance to win the NFC South.

The Saints had an average season in 2015, it had some flashes of good, however it never seemed like it would be that great of a season for the Saints. The Saints defense was hands-down atrocious, and stats-wise, was the second worst defense in the entire league. The Saints offense looked stable, however, this may be due to the Saints playing many teams that were also very poor on defense. The Saints lack threats, on both sides of the ball. The Saints offense was kept alive by Drew Brees, and their defense… well that was just hard to watch at times. The Saints addressed this issue by picking Sheldon Rankins with their first pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and with the departure of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, I don’t expect to see the Saints defense doing much in the 2016 season. The one key piece that will allow the Saints to reach seven wins is Drew Brees, his athleticism will always keep the Saints dynamic, however, his athleticism can only achieve so much.

NFC East

1.Dallas Cowboys, 10-6 record, 48% chance to win the NFC East.

The Dallas Cowboys were easily the favorite for the 2015 season when the season began. However injuries plagued the Cowboys throughout the year, especially to key players, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were just a few of their key injuries. The Cowboys had one of the most versatile offenses prior to the 2015 season as well, and now with the addition of Zeke Elliot at RB, the Cowboys offense will be a sight to see. If – and that is a large if – the Cowboys can maintain a healthy 2016 campaign, they will easily win the mediocre NFC East. Under Tony Romo’s experience, I can see the Cowboys easily getting into the playoffs in the 2016 season.

2. Washington Redskins, 8-8 record, 21% chance to win the NFC East.

The Redskins received the NFC East playoff bid in 2015 by winning, the comical, NFC East. With a record of 9-7, the Redskins received the fourth seed for the NFC in the playoffs which led to their eventual loss against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round. The Redskins had somewhat of a breakthrough season in 2016, a season that not many people saw happening due to the Redskins lack of a QB. Kirk Cousins stepped into the spotlight, and played fairly successfully, which ultimately led the Redskins to the playoffs. For the 2016 season, I see the NFC East teams figuring Kirk Cousins out, and making him seem like a backup. If this happens the Redskins will surely struggle, and with the departure of Alfred Morris, the Redskins offense may struggle for longer than they can handle..

3. New York Giants, 7-9 record, 16% chance to win the NFC East.

The Giants were another team whose defense looked downright spotty, they ranked dead last in yards given up per game,and were ranked No. 30 in total points allowed. The Giants addressed this issue in the free agency, the signing of DT Damon Harrison, DL Olivier Vernon, and CB Janoris Jenkins are a few examples. Due to these signings, the Giants could easily surpass the .500 mark, however certain aspects may hinder this result. One of these hindering aspects may certainly be the replacement of head coach Tom Coughlin. The players that signed in the free agency will not only have to learn a new system, but they will have to adapt to a changing football team, and because of this, I see the Giants struggling more than usual in 2016.

4. Philadelphia Eagles, 7-9 record, 15% chance to win the NFC East.

The Eagles were arguably the shakiest team in 2015 and was, also arguably, the most disappointing team of 2015 as well.With the Eagles making huge free agent transactions prior to the 2015 season, it seemed that the Eagles would fly high in the NFC East (no pun intended.) However, many of their transactions turned out to be absolute busts, which clipped the Eagles’ wings (not intending any puns) which lead them to crash harder than many expected. Players like: Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and most surprisingly, Demarco Murray, all played extremely underwhelming, and because of this underwhelming play, they were not re-signed by the Eagles for the 2016 season. Preparing for the 2016 season, the Eagles talent pool looks depleted. The Eagles lack of solid play from any single position is why I believe that the Eagles will not soar in 2016… Okay the puns were intended.

NFC West

  1. Arizona Cardinals, 12-4 record, 51%  chance to win the NFC West.

The Arizona Cardinals ‘No Fly Zone’ reigned supreme again in 2015, and was a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. Defensive talents such as Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell posed a huge threat to opposing offenses and were a primary reason for the Cardinals’ 13-3 record in 2015. With the addition of Robert Nkemdiche as well, the Cardinals’ defense will be a potential superpower in the 2016 season. In 2015 the Cardinals’ offense was also very effective, which was why the Cardinals were one of the league’s most versatile teams. In 2015, the Cardinals were the top ranked offense in the entire NFL, they led the league in both total yards, and yards per game. Their off-season movement was focused on re-signing all of their talents, and by doing this, the Cardinals basically secured their playoff spot for the 2016 season.

2. Seattle Seahawks, 10-6 record, 36% chance to win the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawk’s 2015 campaign was glorified by a botched 27 yard field goal attempt. Besides their fortunate playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawk’s record declined in 2015 from its prior two seasons. This decline can be based on SS Kam Chancellor’s hold out to begin the 2015 season, or it could be placed on the lack of performance from injury-plagued RB Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks’ seemed to play the best when all of their cogs were working correctly, and when their team wasn’t all-together, the Seahawks struggled. In 2016, the Seahawks will not be all-together, and they will be missing important cogs in their defensive, as well as, offensive machine. Although Lynch has yet to officially retire, it seems very likely that he will, and if Lynch does retire, this would hinder the Seahawks’ potential in 2016. Other key departures that will hinder the Seahawks include: DT Brandon Mebane, LB Bruce Irvin and OL J.R Sweezy. With all of these crucial departures it is hard for me to see the Seahawks being as versatile as they have been in recent years; the Seahawks always seem to make due with the talent they have though, which leads me to believe that Seattle will be just fine in 2016.

3. Los Angeles Rams, 6-10 record, 9% chance to win the NFC West.

The Rams are officially in LA, and they will most certainly have a very odd 2016 campaign. The moving of a team is always a substantial issue for any team, it places a new mindset on players, and requires players to adjust to a new environment. Although the Rams will have to deal with plenty of off-field issues in accordance with their move from St. Louis, their on-field issues will not be easy to overlook either. The Rams’ secondary was ripped apart in the 2016 free agency, the Rams lost starting CB Janoris Jenkins, as well as starting FS Rodney McLeod. Their secondary gave up around 250 passing yards a game in 2015, and with this depleted secondary, I only see this number rising drastically in 2016. With all of the factors that the LA Rams will have to face in the 2016 season, I cannot see them faring to well in the 2016 season.

4. San Francisco 49ers, 5-11 record, 4% chance to win the NFC West.

The 49ers were a defensive juggernaut a few years ago when they were led by star defensive players like Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and Donte Whitner. The days of this ‘defensive juggernaut’ are long gone, and the 49ers’ offense has not stepped up to counteract this major loss. Ultimately the 49ers took a huge blow that they were unable to bounce back from, and referencing their records over the past few years, these records speak for themselves. To add to this huge loss, QB Colin Kaepernick is currently uneasy with his position in San Francisco, and has been in trade talks for some time. If the 49ers do not rid themselves of Kaepernick, then they may face some issues in the locker room, however if they do release Kaepernick, they may face some talent issues on the field. The 49ers’ 2016 season will be focused around facing these two evils, and because of it, I cannot see the 49ers fending for themselves very well next season.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers, 12-4 record, 47% chance to win the NFC North.

The Packers had an injury-plagued 2015 campaign, yet they still fared abnormally well in both their division and in the playoffs.The Packer’s injury list consisted of many key players in 2015; Jordy Nelson, Eddie Lacy, and starting MLB Sam Barrington are just a few of these key players. Because of all these key injuries, the Packers were going to have to rely on other aspects in order to be successful in 2015, so they turned to “Luck and Good Fortune.” Luck, and VERY good fortune were definitely on the side of the Green Bay Packers in 2016, with not one, but two successful Hail Mary passes to backup this assumption. The Packers 2015 season was just one lucky play after another, and because of these successful ‘lucky plays’, they were fairly successful last season. In 2016, if the Packers remain healthy they will not need to rely on luck and or good fortune. With a fresh Jordy Nelson, a reshaped Eddie Lacy, and… well… Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packer’s offense will return to its threatening ways in 2016.

2. Minnesota Vikings, 11-5 record, 42% chance to win the NFC North.

The Vikings have the chance to be one of the most threatening teams in the NFL, they have young talent all across the board. However, this young talent is just that… young. With a young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, and a very young wide-receiving corps in Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings seem to be lacking veterans in certain, critical areas on offense. Their defensive leadership is relatively young as well, with first-year LB Eric Kendricks being the leader of the defense in 2015, and both DT Linval Joesph, and RE Everson Griffin being young-ish, it is clear to see that the Vikings lack veterans all over their team. This lack of veteran players may be the potential downfall for the Vikings in 2016, although it seems unlikely, it could definitely result in a few more interceptions on offense, or a few more blown coverage plays on defense. The Vikings’ overall talent will lead them to success, and a solid 2016 draft pool will definitely benefit the Vikings in 2016.

3. Detroit Lions, 6-10 record, 6% chance to win the NFC North.

The Lions are a very ‘roller coaster-like team’, their record in 2014 compared to 2015 just goes to prove this assumption. In 2016 it seems very apparent that the Lions will get off this metaphorical ride, and they will definitely feel nauseous because of it. This elongated metaphor was an attempt to state that the Lions will not return to their promising ways in 2016, due to many different aspects. The Lions’ off-season has revolved around the retiring of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. With his departure, the Lions are floundering to find offensive threats; Golden Tate looking at the current No. 1 WR spot, and a conundrum at the RB position. Due to this general lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, I cannot see the Lions providing much offensively; the Lions defense is not strong enough to receive the increased load as well. Ultimately, I presume that the Lions will have a down year in 2016 because they are rebuilding.

4. Chicago Bears, 5-11 record, 3% chance to win the NFC North.

The Chicago Bears hit the free agency hard in 2015, with attempts to fill the voids that were left by the large amounts of players who were released by the Bears in 2015. Key signings made by the Bears include LBs Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, and DL Akiem Hicks. With a large amount of money being placed towards the Bears defense, it seems like the Bears are attempting to create a defensive juggernaut. Rightfully so, because “Defenses win Championships,” however, there still are two sides of the ball. The Chicago Bears’ offense lost Matt Forte to the Jets, not only was Forte a key player in the Bears’ system, he was a veteran for the Bears’ offense. Due to his departure, it makes sense that the Bears offense will struggle in 2016. With Jay Cutler being a very shaky QB as well, it seems that the Bears’ offense will be mediocre at best. If the Bears’ defense turns out to be something special, I still cannot see the Bears doing much damage next season due to their lesser offense, and their uncertain defense.

 

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