Sad to say, Zone Reads has been through some lean times this year. We’ve lost some contributors and those that remain have careers that are increasingly demanding of our time. We’ll still try to keep churning out content as much as we can, though, especially once draft season begins. That said, if you need a place to contribute your football knowledge and writing, we’re happy to listen to submissions for new contributors.
In the meantime, I pulled a season-standings prediction out of my ass sometime last week, and with the season upon us, I thought I’d generate some content by writing a quick sentence or three about each team:
- New England Patriots – 11-5. Brady is free (as he should be), and though the team lost a lot of defensive talent in the offseason, it’s more or less business as usual.
- Miami Dolphins – 11-5. They have the talent that they should take a substantial leap forward. In my heart of hearts, I still can’t justify picking them to win the division, and it’s because I think Joe Philbin is by all evidence a bad coach who is holding the team back.
- Buffalo Bills – 8-8. It’s a Rex Ryan team with a lot of defensive talent. They’ll mostly be competitive. They have a fair amount of offensive talent, too, and while I’m relatively optimistic about Tyrod Taylor, any Rex offense automatically brings certain assumptions of low-quality play.
- New York Jets – 7-9. Mike Maccagnan decided it was time to stop bullshitting around in the secondary. I like Todd Bowles’ prospects as head coach. Still not optimistic about the QB situation.
- Baltimore Ravens – 10-6. I didn’t care much for the Breshad Perriman pick (give me Devin Smith catching deep balls from Flacco all day, good lord), but this team always manages to stay freshly-stocked with talent, and has no major holes.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – 9-7. This was a team that had major defensive holes and was going to have to rely on offense, and now several major offensive contributors are going to miss significant parts of the season. I think they’ll struggle in stretches and may not win enough games to make the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Bengals – 6-10. Speaking of holes: I don’t know how a team with weak QB play and no pass rush won ten games. They didn’t try to upgrade either. I think it’s going to get worse for them.
- Cleveland Browns – 6-10. No QB. Their best receiver is probably Duke Johnson. Mike Pettine might be a wizard for getting them to 7-9 lats year, but even a wizard can’t overcome the talent level and organizational dysfunction this franchise consistently shows. Fun note: They’ve drafted one receiver in the last two years, and they cut him this preseason before he ever played a game for them. They’ve had seven first-round picks since 2012, and they’ve yet to find an impact player (though Danny Shelton might finally fit the bill. Might).
- Indianapolis Colts – 12-4. My pick for home field advantage in the AFC because they have a soft schedule and a juggernaut passing offense. Who needs defense when you have Andrew Luck?
- Houston Texans – 7-9. A replacement-level offense without Arian Foster. I just don’t know how this team will score enough points to keep competitive. Damn Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith (who is apparently untouchable no matter how many bad drafts he has) for denying us a Luck-Teddy rivalry.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – 6-10. I’m betting on a step forward for this team; I think they finally have enough talent to overcome the mistakes of the Gene Smith era. Mind you, they’re still on a shaky footing in a number of areas, and they have to count on guys actually taking their projected steps forward, but at least they’re finally trending in the right direction.
- Tennessee Titans – 5-11. Marcus Mariota will, I think, end up being a fine choice at QB. But this year, that still won’t be enough for the team to really bounce back. It may not even be enough to save jobs. Eventually, though, a Mariota – Dorial Green-Beckham connection could prove very scary.
- Denver Broncos – 11-5. I’ve made my thoughts on Gary Kubiak well-known. I even have worries about Peyton Manning finally hitting the physical wall that his brilliance can’t overcome. In the end, though, this is an extraordinarily talented squad all around.
- Kansas City Chiefs – 10-6. I don’t know if I buy all the preseason hype that Alex Smith is finally, in his 11th year in the league, willing to throw downfield, but I do buy that 2015 Jeremy Maclin is substantially better than 2014 Dwayne Bowe, I buy the emergence of Travis Kelce, I buy Andy Reid’s offensive gameplanning (if not always his playcalling or clock management), and I buy a strong pass rush and two of my favorite young CBs in the game, Phillip Gaines and Marcus Peters.
- San Diego Chargers – 8-8. I’m a believer in Philip Rivers, it’s just… what else do they have? Eric Weddle? Jeremiah Attaochu? I don’t think the line is strong enough to spring Melvin Gordon to the kinds of big plays he needs to justify his draft position. Rivers will keep them competitive, but do they have the talent to go further than that?
- Oakland Raiders – 5-11. I think Amari Cooper is overrated (though he’s proving me wrong so far). I think Derek Carr is significantly overrated. I think Reggie McKenzie has made mostly bad moves since taking over as GM. I don’t rate Jack Del Rio. Even if Cooper is the offensive equivalent of Khalil Mack vis-a-vis studliness… what else does the team really have, outside of them?
- Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6. Under-reported part of Chip Kelly’s roster remake: He’s targeted quite a few guys with worlds of talent but a substantial injury history– significantly, his top three additions to the backfield this year. Kelly is betting his commitment to advanced sports science and sports medicine will mitigate those injuries. (For you NBA fans, he’s trying to bring that Phoenix Suns Training Staff magic to the NFL.) I haven’t found a reason to bet against Chip Kelly yet.
- Dallas Cowboys – 10-6. Still think their run game struggles. They picked up an absurd haul of talent in the draft, though, and if their pass rush trio of Greg Hardy / DeMarcus Lawrence / Randy Gregory comes on strong, they could be a top team overall. They have a tough out-of-division schedule, though (NE, SEA, @GB), and Jason Garrett is a guy I always count on to come up short when the game is on the line.
- New York Giants – 6-10. The opposite of the Eagles in terms of sports medicine– they draft injury-prone or previously injured guys, their guys get injured all the time, and they don’t seem to give a damn about changing their processes. I don’t see a lot to like here. Please, Tom Coughlin, please, please, please, don’t let your retrograde opinions of sports medicine and injury treatment ruin Odell Beckham’s career.
- Washington Potatoes, 3-13. I see even less to like here. DeSean Jackson. Trent Williams. The running backs. A handful of good pass rushers. Bashaud Breeland, eventually. That’s about it. I think Jay Gruden is an embarrassment who should never have a head coaching job again solely based on his willingness to publicly undermine players and deflect responsibility onto everyone but himself– a total lack of leadership. At least they can look forward to taking the wrong quarterback #1 overall in 2016.
- Green Bay Packers – 11-5. Even without Jordy Nelson, the team is still led by possibly the best quarterback who ever lived. Aaron Rodgers’ career record (including a 6-10 first season as starter) is 70-33; pro-rated to 16 games, that’s good for 10.87 wins. I’m comfortable with predicting 11 wins in perpetuity for Mr. Rodgers until he is no longer possibly the best quarterback who ever lived.
- Minnesota Vikings – 10-6. A now-popular dark horse for a team to emerge into the playoffs, the Vikings have all the good signs: a head coach I like, a quarterback I love who is primed to take a big step forward, and a lot of other young and improving talent. I particularly like Mike Zimmer’s chances of getting the most out of a very talented pass-rushing squadron. Add it all up, mix in the return of Adrian Peterson and a third-place schedule, and a playoff trip seems well within the range of possibilities.
- Detroit Lions – 8-8. No way to get around how much losing Ndamukong Suh hurts. I think they won more games last year than their talent should have indicated, and this seems like about the right spot for them (particularly since I don’t see Jim Caldwell as coaxing more out of the talent at hand; his strength seems to be “not a screaming maniac who constantly has everyone on edge”).
- Chicago Bears – 5-11. Hey, it’s almost the same team as last year’s Bears, but less good at offense!
- New Orleans Saints – 9-7. The demise of Drew Brees has been greatly overstated. Yes, you can worry about the lack of receiving talent, but the Super Bowl team didn’t have much outside of Marques Colston at receiver, either (despite the high draft status of guys like Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson). The offense will go horizontal, the defense will benefit from a substantial injection of talent (once everyone finally gets healthy), and that combined with a weak schedule should be just enough to put them back on top of the division.
- Atlanta Falcons – 8-8. It’ll be neck-and-neck with these two teams all year. The Assassination of Julio Jones’ Prime by the Coward Mike Smith has mercifully come to an end. I like Dan Quinn, I cried a little when they drafted Vic Beasley, and Kyle Shanahan has proven to be a true offensive mind, not a hire based out of nepotism. Still, though, I think the Saints will be a little better, at least this year.
- Carolina Panthers – 7-9. The records may be close, but I think Carolina substantially lags behind the other two. The Panthers’ offensive line and receiver crew seems to be the product of an approach that says “How little can we give Cam Newton and still field a competitive offense?” With Kelvin Benjamin out, the situation goes from bad to worse. The front seven is good, but there’s no dominant pass rusher. I just see a lot of places the team has subpar talent, and a lot of ways that can come back to bite them.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 6-10. I think Jameis Winston is the real deal and I love that they gave him offensive line support to boot. They’ll be better than last year, although they still have no pass rush outside of Gerald McCoy, and I honestly couldn’t tell you much about the back seven outside of Lavonte David (although they apparently love Kwon Alexander and will name him the starter at MLB). Trending up, but not there yet.
- Seattle Seahawks – 10-6. The win total is a little light, because I think they’ll not be quite as good as last year. As long as Kam Chancellor is out, the defense is that much weaker. The offensive line is extremely unproven and could turn out to be really, really bad. Obviously they’re too good all around to slip much, but they will not seem nearly as invincible this year as they have in the past.
- Arizona Cardinals – 10-6. Didn’t have the guts to pick them for the division, either, but I’m not betting against Bruce Arians at this point. Could be a juggernaut on offense if Carson Palmer stays healthy and lives up to what Arians thinks he can do. Still some question marks on the line and on defense, but I’m going to assume Arians finds a way to pull it all together.
- St. Louis Rams – 6-10. Football Outsiders picked them to finish 5th in DVOA this year, and I don’t understand that at all. I don’t understand why people love Jeff Fisher, but again, I’ve written on that extensively. If you believe drafting a bunch of rookies automatically makes a great offensive line, and if you believe that, for some reason, Nick Foles can replicate his 27:2 TD:INT ratio from 2013 in a Jeff Fisher offense, and you believe Todd Gurley comes back healthy, faces no more problems, and is a juggernaut (by far the most likely part, IMO), then sure, they could make the playoffs. Me, I see them losing a lot of games 13-9 because they can’t move the damn ball unless Gurley breaks a big play or someone bites on a play-action deep ball to Brian Quick. (That involves both Quick, coming off an ACL tear, beating his man deep, and Foles hitting him in stride, so, good luck.) Also, for as much buzz as their front four gets, the back four isn’t nearly as good.
- San Francisco – 5-11. I’m willing to be open-minded about Jim Tomsula. But this team has faced such a massive talent drain– with an incredible amount of unexpected losses; maybe you expect Justin Smith to retire and Mike Iupati to take a big free-agent deal, but nobody could have planned to lose Chris Borland, Anthony Davis, AND Aldon Smith on top of that. I don’t know if any coach could overcome that degree of talent drain.
AFC WILD CARD
3)Denver over 6)Kansas City
4)Baltimore over 5)Miami
NFC WILD CARD
3)Philadelphia over 6)Arizona
4)New Orleans over 5)Minnesota
1)Indianapolis over 4)Baltimore
2)New England over 3)Denver
1)Green Bay over 4)New Orleans
3)Philadelphia over 2)Seattle
1)Indianapolis over 2)New England
1)Green Bay over 3)Philadelphia
Packers 34, Colts 31– Two of the league’s best at the top of their game produce an all-time classic with multiple lead changes in the fourth, before Aaron Rodgers leads the final comeback drive without leaving Andrew Luck time to answer.