Are You Ready For Some (Probably Rigged) Football?

nfl

Are you sitting in Labor Day traffic right now? Wait, you’re not even on the road yet? You’re stuck at your job, where you’re constantly refreshing google maps only to see that dark red get longer & longer on the main freeway out of town? Yikes. Do yourself a favor and make someone else drive while you sit in the passenger seat and soak up our predictions for every NFL team’s 2015 record.

Guest blogger Neil and I have been competing in the NFL’s version of “closest to the pin” for three years now, and he leads me 2-1 overall. The game is simple. We each guess the record of all 32 teams, and whoever is closer on more of those picks wins. The wager remains the same as the last two years: Whoever wins, gets to pick 8 alcoholic beverages for the loser to consume during a 12-hour period during our annual Vegas trip in March. Neil’s strategy when he won two years ago was to make me order the most colorful and flamboyant drinks possible. My strategy last year was to find the 8 beverages with the highest alcohol content and unleash them on Mr. Conservative. It may not be the highest of high stakes, but it’s a helluva good time concocting the drink list and watching the other person squirm before he sees his fate.

Let’s jump right in. We’re doing all 32 teams in the same blog because I know you have a long road ahead of you today and you do not want to listen to your significant other talk about which of your friends might get engaged next and which couples might be pregnant (do women like anything more than randomly speculating about this stuff?). We each made a prediction and a supporting comment.

Arizona Cardinals

2014 Record: 11-5

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • This team was not as good as their record last year, especially in the second half of the season. They also didn’t solve their “who plays QB when Carson Palmer gets hurt” problem.

Ross: 7-9

  • Plenty of people have fully bought into Bruce Arians being a miracle worker, but I’m still one year away. If he gets this very flawed team to 10 wins again, I’m done betting against the man who is singlehandedly keeping Kangol in business. If you’re taking the Cardinals to win a lot more than I am, remember that they’re banking on a very old quarterback coming off his 2nd career ACL tear to lead the way.

Atlanta Falcons

2014 Record: 6-10

2015 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

  • Someone has to be the best team in this crappy division, I guess let’s go with the best offense?

Ross: 10-6

  • Sometimes it’s as simple as fresh blood at head coach combined with the easiest (projected) schedule in the NFL. This is the NFC South, where 7 wins took the division last year and it probably won’t take much more than that in 2015. The Falcons won the offseason’s coaching sweepstakes by landing Dan Quinn, and you could make the case that they employ the two best players in the entire division (Julio Jones and Matt Ryan). They deserve to be the slight favorite that Vegas has made them to start the season.

Baltimore Ravens

2014 Record: 10-6

2015 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

  • Anytime Baltimore has an “off year” they bounce back with a division win, right? Plus John Harbaugh must be happy he gets the title of “biggest crybaby Harbaugh brother in the NFL” back.

Ross: 11-5

  • Ahh, the poor man’s New England Patriots. They’re so cute, barely sneaking into the playoffs every year and being a “tough out” for the eventual AFC champ. It’s nice to see John Harbaugh starting to show his true crybaby Harbaugh colors. Unfortunately the Ravens always reload and have a solid quarterback so something would have to go terribly wrong for them not to be in the mix for the AFC North title.

Buffalo Bills

2014 Record: 9-7

2015 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

  • The defense will win them 8 games; their QBs will lose them 8 games. Par for the course for Rex. (Editor’s Note: Not sure why he picked them to go 7-9 considering his 8-8 logic.)

Ross: 8-8

  • You gotta hand it to him. Rex Ryan certainly has a type. He shunned jobs in Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago that would have landed him quarterbacks who have played at Pro Bowl levels at some point in their careers. Instead he opted for the team that was voted “Most Likely to Mimic the 2009-2014 New York Jets”…right down to their shitty quarterback situation. The thing is, Ryan is a very good coach. I’m just glad he’s never had a full arsenal to work with.

Carolina Panthers

2014 Record: 7-8-1

2015 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

  • Defense is pretty good. Cam Newton has proven he can win games by himself. However at some point having no other offensive talent has to catch up with them.

Ross: 6-10

  • Cam Newton needed every bit of help he could get if the Panthers were going to be good this year. Losing Kelvin Benjamin is huge because Newton isn’t very good in the first place. He’s never finished in the top 10 in FootballOutsiders’ QB efficiency stats. And his numbers have gotten worse every season of his career. His running is the only thing that keeps him employed at this point.

Chicago Bears

2014 Record: 5-11

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • I have not heard anyone say anything positive about the Bears’ 2015 chances. That’s not a dig at this team. That is just a fact.

Ross: 5-11

  • Just a brutal schedule across the board for these guys. They face 4 of last year’s playoff teams in their first 6 games, and then face another gauntlet later in the year: @San Diego, @St. Louis, Denver, @Green Bay. Thinking we see Jay Cutler on the Jets in 2016, marking the 3rd time some team will have tried & failed to turn Cutler-to-Marshall into a winning combination.

Cincinnati Bengals

2014 Record: 10-5-1

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • Good news, Cincy fans: This is most likely the last year of the Marvin Lewis era. Bad news, Cincy fans: This may be the last year of the A.J. Green era.

Ross: 9-7

  • Is Andy Dalton better off if the Bengals go 7-9 and miss the playoffs rather than winning 10 or 11 games and making the playoffs? This has gotta be the only situation in the NFL where that’s a legitimate question. But if Dalton isn’t given the chance to be in the playoffs, then he can’t have another playoff meltdown. Another polarizing playoff start full of errors might get Dalton kicked out of town before Marvin Lewis.

Cleveland Browns

2014 Record: 7-9

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • This team is wasting some valuable years of a good defense and a good offensive line.

Ross: 3-13

  • With the 1st pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select…If they don’t end up with the 1st pick, they’ll have the 2nd pick. They’re that bad. The only intrigue to the Browns’ season revolves around their ability to out-crazy the Redskins and take back the title of “Most Dysfunctional Franchise.”

Dallas Cowboys

2014 Record: 12-4

2015 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

  • Even if their injury luck from last year regresses to the average they should still be deep enough on offense to make the playoffs.

Ross: 12-4

  • The high confidence is partly due to how good I think the Cowboys are and partly due to how bad I think their division will be. Trust me, I’d love to see Dallas fall right back to their rightful 8-8 record, but they really do have a TON of talent on both sides of the ball. The coaching staff better just hope they don’t have to back up their claims that Brandon Weeden is the team’s most improved player by actually playing him in meaningful situations.

Denver Broncos

2014 Record: 12-4

2015 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

  • It seems like everyone is about 75-80% sure Manning is still an NFL caliber QB. That 20% chance he is not is very intriguing.

Ross: 11-5

  • We haven’t been this uncertain about Peyton Manning since…2012. In his first season in Denver, coming off the neck surgeries, it took him a little while to look like the classic “best regular season QB in NFL history” Peyton, but he eventually got there. I think this year will probably be the same. And call me crazy, but I think Brock Osweiler would do just fine filling in if Manning gets hurt at any point.

Detroit Lions

2014 Record: 11-5

2015 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

  • No way their defense is as good as it was last year. And it’s against natural law for Detroit to make the playoffs two years in a row.

Ross: 8-8

  • Take last year’s playoff team, swap out the creampuff NFC South & AFC East teams on the schedule for the much tougher NFC West & AFC West teams, subtract your best defensive player, and continue to employ Jim Caldwell as your head coach. You get a .500 record. It feels like the Lions are going to be stuck winning between 7-9 games a year for as long as Matthew Stafford & Calvin Johnson are combining to take up nearly 30% of the Lions’ salary cap.

Green Bay Packers

2014 Record: 12-4

2015 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

  • I think Rodgers has reached the Tom Brady “I can get to double digit wins with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as my WRs” zone, but I’m not sure they can beat Seattle without Jordy.

Ross: 11-5

  • If we don’t lower expectations for Green Bay at least slightly after the Jordy Nelson injury, then we’re basically saying wide receivers have no value. They’re now just like running backs, totally replaceable and interchangeable. As long as you have the right QB, the rest doesn’t matter. Is that what we’re saying? Not me. I’m lowering the Packers’ win total by a couple because I think their offense will take the smallest step back. Also, as is required at the start of each NFL season, let me just say: FIRE MIKE MCCARTHY! HE’S THE WORST AND HE’S WASTING AARON RODGERS’ CAREER!

Houston Texans

2014 Record: 9-7

2015 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

  • J.J. Watt is the best QB on this team. If you don’t believe me, watch episode 3 of Hard Knocks from this season. Also, Vince Wilfork. Overalls.

Ross: 9-7

  • When I was in Vegas in March, I put a $30 bet on the Texans to win the 2016 Super Bowl at 30/1 odds. I was kind of hoping Bill O’Brien would pull off a trade for a relevant QB or trade up to draft one…because I certainly don’t think Brian/Ryan Hoyer/Mallett can lead this team very far. I was originally going to write that having a lottery ticket that allows you to root for J.J. Watt is a good thing, but it turns out that even I have an oversaturation point when it comes to Watt. Just too much of him on Hard Knocks and too much media shoving his greatness down my throat these days. It’s not as fun anymore.

Indianapolis Colts

2014 Record: 11-5

2015 Prediction

Neil: 12-4

  • Week 6. Hope you’re ready.

Ross: 13-3

  • Their schedule is SO EASY. They face only two teams that are locks to be contenders, Denver and New England. And both of those games are at home for Indy! Even if, like me, you’re dubious at the idea of old Frank Gore and old Andre Johnson helping this team, they don’t matter. Andrew Luck has already brought this team to the playoffs multiple times without a Pro Bowl running back. And they still have T.Y. Hilton & several up-and-coming receivers regardless of what Johnson contributes. The Colts have a great chance of hanging yet another AFC Finalist banner next Spring! We better be careful. They’re gonna start to dominate those “runner-up in the semifinals” awards.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2014 Record: 3-13

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • I have to say, a person whose football knowledge I really respect kept Blake Bortles in a fantasy football league. I just don’t get it.

Ross: 4-12

  • Last year they improved 8 spots in overall defensive efficiency (via FootballOutsiders.com) and 1 spot in offensive efficiency (from 32nd to 31st). I feel like they’re going to take similar steps this year, including the miniscule improvement in offense. Signing Julius Thomas was stupid to begin with, now he’s going to miss at least 4 games. The biggest concern is that two years from now they’re going to have a top 10 defensive unit just as they’re realizing Blake Bortles isn’t a franchise QB.

Kansas City Chiefs

2014 Record: 9-7

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • I believe Maclin is a huge upgrade over Bowe. I also believe Alex Smith is still just a game manager.

Ross: 11-5

  • They won 11 games in Andy Reid’s first year, then 9 games last year with some bad luck and a difficult schedule. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs take the division over the Broncos, but I wouldn’t think of betting on it. I’m already looking forward to week 8, when the Red Zone Channel cuts into another game to telll us a Kansas City receiver finally caught a touchdown pass.

Miami Dolphins

2014 Record: 8-8

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • With all the offseason money spent, there is going to be a lot of pressure to make the playoffs. Not sure Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill are going to handle it well.

Ross: 9-7

  • Philbin is just boring & ineffective enough to keep the Dolphins on the slowest possible trajectory toward the playoffs. They won 7 games in his first year as head coach, 8 games in his second & third years, and now they’ll grind all the way to 9 wins! If they don’t make the playoffs but their offense continues taking steps forward, expect Philbin to be replaced with Bill Lazor in 2016. Lazor is the team’s offensive coordinator who coached under Chip Kelly in Philly. Making Ryan Tannehill a good QB + having Chip Kelly’s name on your resume = head coaching job in 2016.

Minnesota Vikings

2014 Record: 7-9

2015 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

  • Not a real contender yet with their defense, but the offense should be fun and keep them in games.

Ross: 6-10

  • I love when people are already talking about “next year’s sleeper team” before the current season even ends. That was what happened to Minnesota last year. There’s no bigger red flag for me than the overhyped, extremely trendy “sleeper pick.” There are question marks all over this team, including Teddy Bridgewater. I agree that he could be a good QB, but don’t get too hard over him just yet. He finished 27th in QB efficiency in 2014, behind Derek Carr, Shaun Hill, Colt McCoy and Geno Smith. Calm yourselves.

New England Patriots

2014 Record: 12-4

2015 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

  • October 18th.

Ross: 13-3

  • Is there part of me that wants to see Jimmy Garoppolo lead the Pats to a 4-0 record to start the season just so the other 31 fanbases can freak out? Yes, but a very teeny tiny part. There’s not much to talk about here. The Patriots will win either 11, 12 or 13 games. I’m backing a scorched-earth mentality from Tom Brady this year by picking the high end. (Editor’s Note: This comment was obviously written before Judge Berman vacated Brady’s suspension. And in hindsight, no part of me wants to see Garoppolo start a Patriots game until 2019.)

New Orleans Saints

2014 Record: 7-9

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • They do not seem to have the offensive weapons they’ve had in recent years, right?

Ross: 7-9

  • I was tempted to stick the Saints with just three or four wins and give them a top five pick in the 2016 draft, but they’re just competent enough to stay above the usual riff raff (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Washington). The Saints still have lots of cap problems, had an atrocious defense last year, traded away their best two receiving options in the offseason, and have an aging quarterback who has started to look a little too much like late career Brett Favre. I think they’re significantly behind Atlanta in terms of talent at this point.

New York Giants

2014 Record: 6-10

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • Sorry, not buying the “every 4 years” banter. Defense is probably going to be horrible and we have no idea if Victor Cruz will be the same.

Ross: 11-5

  • I’m as shocked as you are that my calculations spit out an 11-5 season for the Giants. Maybe I’m optimistic that Eli Manning can be good for the 2nd straight year. Maybe I love the combination of Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, even if Cruz doesn’t see the field until later in the season. Or maybe I’m just a Patriots fan who knows there’s a mini-trend out there that says every four years the Giants must make a surprise playoff appearance and then shock my team in the Super Bowl. I hate knowing how this season will play out before it even happens.

New York Jets

2014 Record: 4-12

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • See: Buffalo comments. Pretty much “samsies” here.

Ross: 7-9

  • Everything you need to know about the current state of the Jets (and really, it was a microcosm for most of the Jets’ entire history): When Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw from a teammate’s sucker punch in July, the collective reaction among football fans was, “Damn, now the Jets are gonna be semi-competent while Ryan Fitzpatrick fills in for Smith.” They have an easy schedule and a defense that should keep them in games against teams like Cleveland, Washington, Oakland, Buffalo (twice), Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee.

Oakland Raiders

2014 Record: 3-13

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • I guess this was the most stable and logical offseason the Raiders have had in a dozen years or so. So that’s something?

Ross: 5-11

  • If the Raiders can prove me right and climb all the way to 5-11, it’ll be their best record since 2011. For once, it doesn’t seem like being drafted a Raider is an automatic death knell for players. Derek Carr survived last year, and by all accounts, Amari Cooper is too good for the Raider stink to affect him. Finally, they have some building blocks. Too bad they play in the AFC West and have one of the hardest schedules in the league. We’ll check back in 3-4 years to see if they’re ready to be a contender.

Philadelphia Eagles

2014 Record: 10-6

2015 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

  • I’m probably assuming too much in terms of Sam Bradford’s health, but I actually think Chip Kelly has a plan here.

Ross: 7-9

  • It’s probably best to evaluate Philly as if it has a run-of-the-mill coach because if you buy into the mythology of Chip Kelly, you’re going to immediately give the Eagles bonus points they don’t necessarily deserve. You could back Kelly, still a somewhat unknown commodity as an NFL coach and a total unknown when it comes to being in charge of personnel, or you could realize that this team just jettisoned its best wide receiver, running back and offensive lineman while adding Sam Bradford in the offseason. If the mystique of Kelly wasn’t involved, would you even be considering this team for more than a handful of wins?

Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 Record: 11-5

2015 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

  • I’m worried the offense is not going to be quite as good as it was last year. I think they could use another receiving option. Even if everything breaks perfect I think it is an average defense.

Ross: 8-8

  • By some stroke of luck, the Steelers have faced a bottom-five strength of schedule for four straight years. This year they’re projected to have the 9th hardest. The offense should be fine, if not as out-of-this-world as last year’s unit. But the defense is still going to be horrific. I counted 9 games on their schedule where they face teams who might be very good offensively. I think they’re going to lose a lot of games this year when both teams score 28 or more.

San Diego Chargers

2014 Record: 9-7

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • I wish this team would have made a move and traded for Mariota. I just don’t think as constructed they are ever going to win more than one playoff game in a given year.

Ross: 9-7

  • Over the past five years, the Chargers have won 9 games, 8 games, 7 games, 9 games and 9 games. They did nothing to change their default mediocrity in the offseason. I guess if they didn’t lose roughly 11 centers to injury last year they might have done more. But I fully expect another 9 wins that’ll either be just not enough or just enough to sneak into the playoffs as a team not to be feared.

San Francisco 49ers

2014 Record: 8-8

2015 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

  • So, we probably don’t have to worry about anyone getting a home game for the Super Bowl this year.

Ross: 4-12

  • If ever there was going to be a surprise 0-16 team, this would be the one. They are dealing with more turnover on their roster (and coaching staff) than I’ve ever seen. They have a new head coach who had never even risen to the title of coordinator before getting this job. They’re dealing with a young quarterback who took MAJOR steps back last year. And they’re also dealing with the 2nd hardest projected schedule in the league. That schedule includes nine games against 2014 playoff teams. Other than games at Cleveland and Chicago, they don’t play a single pushover team. This is going to be a rough year for 49ers fans. At least we won’t have to hear any chatter about “Will the 49ers be the first team to play at home in a Super Bowl?”

Seattle Seahawks

2014 Record: 12-4

2015 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

  • I know there were a lot of changes on both lines, but they kept all the key pieces. Hard to imagine another NFC team overtaking them this year.

Ross: 13-3

  • Listen, the Seahawks have absolutely moved into that rare space that the Patriots have occupied mostly alone for the past 15 years. We can fuss about small things that might cause them to lose a game or two, but at the end of the day, they’re a lock to win their division, probably win about 12 games, and at worst be fighting for the #1 seed until the end of the year. Their offensive line is by far their weakest spot, but they just happen to have a QB who can run whenever his pocket breaks down. Let’s just all keep our fingers crossed that God wants to teach Russell Wilson more tough lessons about adversity.

St. Louis Rams

2014 Record: 6-10

2015 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

  • The defense is going to be incredible. Can the offense score enough points to make them a playoff contender?

Ross: 9-7

  • I believe all you Minnesota bandwagon jumpers are going to wish you got on the considerably more spacious St. Louis bandwagon once the dust settles on 2015. Jeff Fisher teaming up with Nick Foles is the opposite of exciting, but the defense might be amazing, and with the Cardinals and 49ers taking huge steps back, there will be some extra wins to be had in the NFC West this year. And why not put the Rams in the playoffs just to make things even more messy for a league that’s intent on moving them to LA as soon as possible? Sounds like your classic NFL clusterfuck.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2014 Record: 2-14

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • If Lovie Smith just is not a good defensive coach anymore, this could get ugly.

Ross: 4-12

  • Similar to Oakland, at least the Bucs now have an intriguing offensive connection between Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Let’s say Winston throws for over 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns while Evans exceeds 1,000 receiving yards and scores 7 or 8 times, there will be a lot of people foaming at the mouth in Tampa in the summer of 2016. I’d rather be the Bucs right now than the Panthers or Saints.

Tennessee Titans

2014 Record: 2-14

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • At least this team will be intriguing for a few weeks until we realize they are not using Marriota in the right way.

Ross: 2-14

  • My actual prediction for the Titans is 0-16, but it doesn’t make sense to pick 0 wins when I know Neil is going to play things conservatively and give this team at least 4 wins. I might as well go with a 2-14 record, knowing I still win if they lose 16 straight. This team has no redeeming qualities except that their rookie quarterback is a complete unknown. Their two “easy games” are against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but both of those are on the road. What bothers me most about Tennessee is that they’re just so damn boring. If you’re going to win less than 5 games a year, you need to have some psychotic elements going on, like Cleveland and Washington. You can’t be bad and boring. That’s just boring.

Washington Redskins

2014 Record: 4-12

2015 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

  • Thirty months ago every team would have wanted RG3 over Andrew Luck.

Ross: 3-13

  • Speaking of dysfunction, our final team is also our most pathetic team. Be careful when you’re making any bets on “which coach will be fired first during the season” if you’re thinking of picking Jay Gruden. He may very well quit before he can get fired, and I doubt the sportsbook will pay your bet if he didn’t technically get canned. If any owner needs to die to immediately improve the fortune of his team, it’s Dan Snyder. Congrats to the 2015 Washington Redskins for winning the 2015 Most Pathetic Team award before a single snap of the regular season is played.

With the regular season only six days away, we’ll be back next week with playoff predictions along with some superlatives for the season (a favorite of mine because we focus on actual superlatives like “most passing yards in the regular season” and the exact opposite of superlatives like “first coach to be fired” and “first QB benched due to looking too much like a Ryan Lindley/Brandon Weeden hybrid”).

Check back in next week and enjoy your final Sunday without football until Valentine’s Day!

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2 thoughts on “Are You Ready For Some (Probably Rigged) Football?

  1. “Check back in next week and enjoy your final Sunday without football until Valentine’s Day!”…now THAT’S the best news I’ve heard about the sport since Pete Carroll passed up a chance to win the Super Bowl.

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