With bated breath, the 2016 NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 8th with a Super Bowl 50 rematch of the Broncos and Panthers. This year should be a fun with one; its fairly obvious who will be the last four teams in the NFC playoffs, but a Manning-less Denver team and a suspended Tom Brady makes for (at least, in September) a wide open AFC. We Beloveds fans are keeping expectations modest; the last two Bears teams to start the preseason 0-3 made the playoffs, so we'll believe what comes out of this bunch when we see it.
The biggest change in the NFL this offseason --at least, in my opinion-- was Panini America's exclusive trading card deal. Topps' six-decade association with the league, which almost mirrors the entire modern history of football cards, ended with all the randomness of a coin flip. Panini (which bought out Donruss in 2009) puts out a quality product, but it just won't be the same.
Digressions aside, here's my annual team-by-team breakdown, 17 soma at a time. (Asterisks note wild card teams.)
1. Packers (11-5): High-flying offense/back in shape; still, they're fourth-best/in this conference.
2. Vikings (8-8): I expected more/Teddy's ACL, Blair Walsh/and that bird problem.
3. Bears (6-10): Solid front seven/carries weak secondary/oh yeah, and Cutler.
4. Lions (5-11): Farewell, Megatron/not awful, but a little/Cooter does the trick.
1. Giants (10-6): An impressive draft/and Eli has one more good/year left in the tank.
2. Redskins (9-7)*: A good team, really/Snyder is kissin' Cousins/Norman was a steal.
3. Eagles (6-10): Kelly? Good riddance!/Bradford to Mathews might be/potent if healthy.
4. Cowboys (5-11): Little Dak Prescott/wee rookie among giants/Elliott, though? Damn!
1. Panthers (13-3): Benjamin is back/young Cam, miracle worker/they dab with their claws.
2. Buccaneers (7-9): Jameis improving/these soggy pirates have hope/but playoffs? Not yet.
3. Saints (6-10): Brees, passing machine/but with same porous defense/high-scoring fan angst.
4. Falcons (4-12): Blackbirds heading south/Matty Ice, underrated/but no O-line help.
1. Seahawks (13-3): Quirky yet intense/scoring on both sides of the/ball is (Puget) sound.
2. Cardinals (12-4)*: Palmer, Fitz, aging/beasts; window of victory/is shutting slowly.
3. Rams (8-8): Goodbye, Gateway Arch/new locale, QB hides lack/of offense upgrades.
4. 49ers (4-12): Atrocious offense/won't click; if I were Colin/I would sit down, too.
1. Steelers (12-4): Big Ben on the clock/the rush suffers without Bell/still, stealth contenders.
2. Bengals (9-7): Tempers cost them big/the running scheme needs blinders/or they'll choke again.
3. Ravens (5-11): Flacco, Smith, Forsett/are dangerous when healthy/no fullback depth hurts.
4. Browns (3-13): RG3, upgrade/(not a joke); proud Clevelanders/wish LeBron took snaps.
1. Patriots (12-4): Belichick: "Tom who?"/no real divisional threats/best of a flawed bunch.
2. Dolphins (8-8): Tannehill, due for/a breakout; still too many/questions for playoffs.
4. Jets (7-9): Needs more depth, even/with great receiver combo/young, but not too Green.
4. Bills (6-10): Your Stanley Cup champs/training camp injuries, yikes/Taylor needs targets!
1. Colts (11-5): Struggles last year were/Luck or just coincidence?/Also, where's the sacks?
2. Texans (10-6)*: Offensive upgrades/Hopkins no longer Lone Star/And defense? Watt's good.
3. Titans (6-10): Young, hard to forecast/Mariota racks up points/for roto rosters.
4. Jaguars (4-12): Not quite laughingstocks/promising but unproven/chiefly on defense.
1. Broncos (11-5): That lock-down defense/does the heavy lifting, and/Siemian's no ape.
2. Raiders (10-6)*: The playoffs loom near/but they need one more wideout/to be contenders.
3. Chiefs (7-9): A Lazarus act/is nothing new; to win now/they'll walk on water.
4. Chargers (5-11): Defense overhaul/underway; Rivers wasted/by shallow talent.
NFL MVP: Cam Newton, Panthers
Offensive ROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Defensive ROY: Joey Bosa, Chargers
First Head Coach Fired: Jim Caldwell, Lions
Super Bowl LI: Panthers 29, Patriots 17