This year could be an interesting one in the NFL. Super Bowl 50 winners Denver look vulnerable, there were some huge free agent moves in the off-season, and a few young teams look like they might be ready to contend this year. So after taking a look at every team’s schedule this year, these are Kettle's picks for who will make it to the 2016 playoffs.
Division winners: Raiders
Wildcard possibility: Broncos
You still would not want to be going up against the defence in Denver this year but having lost players like Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in free agency, it is unclear whether this defence can carry the team the way it did last year. However much faith Gary Kubiak may have in his new quarterback room, it is hard to see Mark Sanchez, Trevor Sieman or Paxton Lynch being anywhere near the same level of Peyton Manning or even Brock Osweiler. Since this article was written Denver have released Sanchez and named Sieman their starter. While that is a smart move, he is not a championship winning QB
We think Oakland are going to take the AFC West this year. Derek Carr looks ready to make the jump to an elite quarterback, and they have the easiest schedule in their division relative to the talent on the team by far. The AFC West as a whole has it pretty rough this year, having to play the vastly improved AFC South and the offensive powerhouses in the NFC South.
Division winners: Steelers
Wildcard possibility: Bengals
Slightly unoriginal picks in this division but we are unconvinced Baltimore have the talent to compete this year, or that they will have better luck than they have had recently. Without wanting to be too harsh on Cleveland, the Browns are the Browns and unless RGIII can lead one of the greatest shocks in the history of sport, there does not appear to be many winnable games on their schedule. Pittsburgh look like being a much stronger team than the Cincinnati this year. A look at last year’s standings, combined with the level of home/away games outside the division, plays into the Steelers’ hands this season. The Bengals look like a strong wildcard contender as neither the AFC or NFC East divisions hold many unwinnable games for them.
Bengals make it past the first round in the NFL playoffs #RidiculousNFLPredictions
— Daphne ColemanPerine (@DMCsings) August 19, 2016
Division winners: Patriots
Wildcard possibility: Dolphins
There appears to be absolutely no reason why New England’s dominance in this division would end this year. Even without Tom Brady for the first four games, the other teams in the division just do not have the talent to beat them. After last year’s second in the East, the Jets have a tough schedule and you could see Miami finishing ahead of New York and Buffalo. However, with a schedule featuring the AFC North and NFC West, it looks unlikely that we will see an AFC East team claiming a wildcard spot this season.
Division winners: Texans
Wildcard possibility: Jaguars
Houston are only going to get better this season with a new-look offence and Jadaveon Clowney opposite JJ Watt, and think look like they will defend their AFC South title this year. Indy have invested a lot in protecting Andrew Luck and, while we hope the young QB makes a comeback, it is unconvincing whether the Colts boast the quality and quantity of playmakers that Houston and Jacksonville do.
Seeing the Jags make the leap this year is an exciting prospect. Watching their likely top-10 offence up against the Texans defence could really be something. The Titans are not quite ready yet, but they are heading in the right direction. The Colts could just as easily push for a wildcard place as the Jags, but it will be tough for either with some strong teams likely to finish divisional runners-up.
The NFL playoffs are more exciting than the Olympics
— Willie Beamon (@BgreatOrDieTryn) August 14, 2016
Division winners: Seahawks
Wildcard possibility: Cardinals
This is definitely one of the tougher divisions in the NFL. It is hard to see San Fran or LA stand much chance of a making it to the playoffs behind powerhouses Seattle and Arizona. The 49ers look like they could have another disastrous season, while the Rams are still team building and are a season or two away from breaking out. Seattle, with a slightly easier schedule, could well win the division over Arizona, but it will be a real shock if the runner up here does not feature in the playoffs. The rest of the NFC is essentially fighting for one wildcard place.
Division winners: Packers
Wildcard possibility: Vikings
This division looks as much of a two horse race as the West. Matt Stafford’s Lions have a lot to prove as they start the post-Calvin Johnson era, and the Bears lack the quality players of Minnesota and Green Bay. The Vikings stole the division last year on the regular season’s closing Sunday, but the Packers may just get some revenge this year. It is easy to underestimate the effect that Jordy Nelson being back this year will have on Aaron Rodgers, and having finished second last season their schedule is a little kinder. The Vikings are a strong team though and could like their chances of a wildcard spot. Having Sam Bradford under centre due to Teddy Bridgewater's injury hurts Minnesota's chances, but not too much as they are not a passing team
DPOY: Khalil Mack
Super Bowl: Cardinals over Pats
— Mimz (@the_1st_mimzee) August 16, 2016
Division winners: Redskins
Wildcard possibility: Giants
The NFC East looks to be the weakest division in the league this year. Every other division has at least one team with a half decent chance of a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI, but it is hard to see any of these four teams as a contender. If the Skins can play at the level we saw flashes of last year then they could be strong in the division. NY spent a lot in free agency but may just come up short of having enough talent as a team. Their preseason has also been disastrous so far, although that is mot the end of the world. Philly lack playmakers and Dallas’ raft of suspensions will hurt them. However, if both teams are out of contention towards the tail end of the season, it could be fun to watch Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz go head to head in week 17. Romo is out for the start of the season and Bradford has gone to the Vikings, so although that hurts Dallas and Philly, both Prescott and Wentz will be starting week one games.
Division winners: Panthers
Wildcard possibility: Saints
Although Carolina have lost players like Jared Allen and Josh Norman, they still look like a Super Bowl contender. Cam Newton still has a lot to prove and will be helped by Kelvin Benjamin’s return. There does not appear to be a team in the division that can compete with the Panthers across the season. New Orleans showed commitment to repairing their awful 2015 defence and should outplay the Buccaneers and Falcons. Drew Brees probably will not get another ring unless he can continue being an elite QB for more than a couple of years. The Bucs are still growing and Atlanta’s star players are too far ahead of most of the squad for the team to really compete.
It is always fun to be really wrong at the end of a season with these predictions after teams take the league by surprise, so we are looking forward to rereading this in January. Of the eight wildcard possibility teams we have highlighted we would say that Arizona, Minnesota, Denver and Cincinnati will take the spots.
The regular season kicks off on September 8th with a Super Bowl 50 rematch as the Panthers head to Denver.