Haves and Have Nots for the 2015-16 NFL season
It is said that predicting the winner of the Super Bowl before the National Football League season starts is among the hardest predictions in sports to get right.
So, let’s just look at what we can expect for the regular part of the 2015-16 NFL season, starting with the strongest divisions and go on from there.
The NFC West
This quadrant has been one of the strongest divisions in the country in the recent memory, including last year’s campaign.
Having said that, the weakest team of the lot this year looks to be the San Francisco 49ers, who will likely remain mediocre this year.
Just two seasons away from the Super Bowl appearance, their defense looks weak due to retirements and off-field controversies.
The St. Louis Rams could be challengers this year, but last year’s champion Seattle Seahawks have remained mostly intact during the trading season. Their star center Max Unger has been traded, but their front line still looks hard to beat.
My top teams also include the Arizona Cardinals, who look especially strong on defense. They can also rely on veteran quarterback Carson Palmer for strong leadership.
The AFC North
On the other side of the fence, in the American Football Conference, there were three teams in the division last year that made the playoffs.
It follows, too, that tough competition in a division might mean losing a game or two during the regular season, but this might put a team into contention for a championship once the playoffs start, when they find themselves
challenging weaker division opponents.
Who was tough in the division last year? The Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens were all tough, each of them making it to the playoffs.
Look for the Ravens’ tough defense to shine in Baltimore. They are especially strong at the linebacker position with four of the best in the league, including Terrell Suggs, C.J. Moseley, Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil.
The AFC East
The Patriots look to again dominate their division opponents, especially with the controversy over Tom Brady mostly out of the way. With his return, this is the easiest district to predict well, they have a lot of work to do.
This division has been dominated by the Indianapolis Colts in recent years, in part because the rest of the league has offered little resistance. The toughest (other than the Colts) should be the Houston Texans, while the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars have done barely much more than show up in recent years.
Between the Titans and the Jaguars, the teams notched five victories last year. They each look improved, but losing also gets to be a habit among NFL teams the best thing to happen to Green Bay since, Bret You-Know-Who.
Green Bay gave up some secondary power on defense in the off-season and Jordy Nelson, a productive wide receiver. But neither the Vikings, with a modest 7-9 record last year, nor the Lions or Bears, did anything dramatic in the off season to improve their chances.
This was the weakest division in the NFL in the 2014-15 campaign, given the top team last year, the Carolina
Panthers, had a losing record of 7-8-1.
The Atlanta Falcons have made some positive off-season moves, the most promising of which might be the addition of Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator. From the sidelines, Quinn managed the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, which proved to be among the NFL elite last year.
The New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play competitive football this year, but it is unlikely they will vie for a playoff berth, let alone a Super Bowl run.
The Saints were a pushover last year with regards to a pass defense and have not made significant changes in that department.
Do the Math
There are 32 teams in the NFL, which means an average of 16 contests per weekend and 16 weeks to the season or 256 games in the regular season.
Four major networks, CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC cover the action each week with games aired by networks based on division play.
CBS covers intra-conference play in the AFC, while Fox has the same arrangement with the NFC. NBC covers prime time games on Sundays, while ESPN covers Mondays night games.
Whether you have the best TV service in Philadelphia or looking at rebroadcasts on the Internet, you can catch a great deal of action at home, at your neighborhood sports pub or at the game.
The season kicks off with a great match up: The defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots versus the Steelers on Thursday, Sept. 10 on NBC at 8:30 Eastern Standard Time. After that, it’s everybody’s game.