It’s never too early to take a look at the teams that will be in the postseason for 2016. Let’s take a look at both the AFC and NFC to predict who will be battling for the right to play at Super Bowl LI in Houston this February.
AFC East – New England Patriots
The New England Patriots should find themselves right in the mix once again in 2016. There is certainly one large obstacle to overcome in quarterback in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, but the roster is still talented enough to overcome his loss. Once again, New England heads into the season as the AFC East favorite. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will be throwing to an excellent receiving corps while the defense is strong in the back-7 along with a versatile defensive line. TFDS fully expects New England to win the division once again and we predict they will go deep into the playoffs.
AFC North – Pittsburgh Steelers
Like New England, the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again in the conversation as one of the top teams in the AFC. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best and most consistent Quarterbacks in the entire league and is still playing at an elite level—even at the age of 34. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are fantastic weapons for the Steelers and have the ability to produce points on any given drive. There are questions on the defensive side of the ball but the proven leadership of James Harrison and stellar play of Cameron Heyward will pave the way for the playoffs once again in 2016.
AFC South – Indianapolis Colts
With a healthy Andrew Luck, we predict Indianapolis will bounce back and get back into the playoffs in 2016. The Colts were decimated in 2015 with a number of injuries to key players which led to a mediocre 8-8 season. Expectations are that Luck will return to the form he demonstrated in the first three years at Indy. Frankly, with his new monster contract, they’d better. There are questions on both sides of the ball but in a division with the likes of Houston (made playoffs in 2015), Jacksonville (one year away), and Tennessee (total rebuilding process), it is the Colts’ division to control once again.
AFC West – Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are expected to win the AFC West in 2016 primarily due to the success of a 2015 campaign in which they reversed a 1-5 start to win ten straight games and demolish the Houston Texans in wildcard week. The steady play of Alex Smith along with the eventual return of Jamaal Charles will lead an effective offense on the field to take the division. Kansas City was able to retain several players that could have opted for free agency so the Chiefs are primed to make a run in the AFC.
Wild Card – Cincinnati Bengals
Despite the meltdown against their arch rival Steelers in the playoffs last year, the Bengals are primed to makes waves in the AFC and go deep. The play of Andy Dalton is steady, with offensive weapons at all the skill positions. This makes the Bengals a very dangerous team moving forward. The defense is stacked and aggressive and put a lot of pressure on their opponents. Eliminating bad penalties will be the single most important thing the Bengals do this year, but history has proven otherwise. They will make the playoffs, but will make it as one of the two wildcard teams.
Wild Card – Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have not made the playoffs since 2002 and this is the year to end the drought. Derek Carr is developing into an elite quarterback and has talent in the skill positions with a bruising offensive line. Expect the reins to be pulled off Carr as he will distribute the ball to emerging stars like Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray. On the defensive side of the ball, new acquisitions working along with star Khalil Mack has Raider Nation once again saying “Just Win Baby!” While nothing is certain -and obviously Raiders fans know better than to get TOO excited heading into the season- we expect this team to join the playoff crowd this year.
NFC East – Washington
Initially, TFDS had the Cowboys winning this division but the loss of Tony Romo is too hard for the ‘Boys to overcome and that leaves the division up for grabs. TFDS likes Washington to win this year through a fairly well-rounded squad, courtesy of GM Scot McCloughan who is in his second year with the team. If Kirk Cousins can continue to improve at the quarterback position and the team can gel, the team can not only make the playoffs but make a push.
NFC North – Green Bay Packers
After a disappointing end to the 2015 season, there may be no team primed to for a bounce back than the Green Bay Packers. The return of Jordy Nelson will help the air attack led by Aaron Rodgers. RB Eddie Lacy looks slim and trim and is expected to return to form of his rookie year. Defensively, there needs to be better play from the front seven this year. Led by Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and 1st round draft pick Kenny Clark, Head Coach Mike McCarthy expects significant improvement on this side of the ball in 2016. The Packers are still the elite team in the NFC North.
NFC South – Carolina Panthers
After a disappointing end to a tremendous season, Cam Newton is focused on bringing his team back to Houston for Super Bowl LI. The team marched through the regular season and playoffs without their #1 offensive threat, Kelvin Benjamin. With him returning, it will make the offense even more potent. Defensively, the front seven led by Luke Kuechly of the Panthers may be the best in the NFL and unlike most teams projected to be in the playoffs, the defense will lead this team right back to the playoffs and very likely the Super Bowl.
NFC West – Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals set a franchise record last year with 13 regular-season wins and an NFC West title. Unfortunately, their worst team performance of the season came in the NFC Championship game, and they fell short of reaching the Super Bowl. The majority of Arizona’s key players are back on both sides of the ball, along with some impact newcomers like G Evan Mathis (Broncos), DE Chandler Jones (Patriots), and DT Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss). The Cardinals’ precision downfield passing attack and aggressive pressure defense should make them a Super Bowl contender in 2016.
Wild Card – Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have been perennial contenders in the NFL over the past four seasons and 2016 should be no different. They’ll be expected to contend once again this season, even with the Arizona Cardinals proving to be the best team in the NFC West in 2015. With a roster loaded with talent on offense and defense, the Seahawks will be confident that they can push the Cardinals harder in 2016 and reclaim their throne at the top of the division. But the absence of Beast Mode surely looms heavy.
Wild Card – Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings in 2015 dethroned the Green Bay Packers as the NFC North leaders and will still be in the hunt to win again this year. The injury to Teddy Bridgewater definitely sets the team back but the capabilities of Adrian Peterson continue to make the Vikings very dangerous to deal with. We are no believers in Sam Bradford but the Minnesota defense and Peterson should be good for some wins on their own. We have the Vikings sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC.