The start of the 2016 NFL season is still three months away, and much too early to make Super Bowl predictions, but it’s a safe bet to assume who the division winners could be this season. I believe that we are going to see a lot of the same teams returning to the playoffs, along with a few surprises. Here is my take on who is going to win each division this season.
AFC East: New England Patriots
It’s kind of hard to bet against the Patriots. When you have one of the greatest coaches of all time in Bill Belichick, and future hall of famer Tom Brady as your quarterback, you have the odds stacked heavily in your favor. The deadly combo of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski returns for yet another season in New England, along with the deadly pass rush on defense led by Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Brown and Donta Hightower. If you have anyone else winning the East, you’re flat out crazy.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
It was a disappointing end to the Bengals post season last year. They embarrassed themselves on the field, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, taking poorly timed penalties and showing very little maturity as players. I expect Andy Dalton and the gang to come back with a vengeance in 2016. They have a solid secondary and added defensive depth via free agency with the addition of Karlos Dansby. These Bengals are going to be a tough team to beat.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
The AFC South could arguably be the weakest division in the NFL right now, all four teams show signs of promise and a bright future ahead of them. I believe that time has come now for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blake Bortles had a stellar sophomore season, where he threw 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. The emergence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns at the WR position was something Jaguar fans have been waiting to see after top prospect Justin Blackmon never panned out. This team is young and has room to improve defensively, but I believe this offense is going to put up some high scoring games this season and will finish the year with a surprising 10-6 record, just enough to win the division.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
I originally picked the Chiefs to win the division this year with Peyton Manning retiring, but when I thought about it long enough, I knew that Denver was the right choice. Even though the great 18 is gone, this Broncos team still possesses one of the deadliest defenses in the NFL. They brought in Marc Sanchez, who I believe can be just a good enough quarterback to get them by while Paxton Lynch develops, they have a two-headed monster at the WR position in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, as well as a solid running game led by C.J Andersen. Just like they did in 2015, the Broncos will ride the backs of their stout defense, on route to another Division Title.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
I think this is the year the Dallas Cowboys get back into the playoffs. It will be a close one between them and the Redskins, but I think Tony Romo will lead the Cowboys back into playoff serenity. The Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines to block for Tony Romo and with the drafting of top runninback Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are going to be a fun and exciting team to watch.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
I’m predicting the Vikings will be claiming the Division Title for a second year in a row in 2016. Adrian Peterson is back for another season and looks as healthy and strong as ever. The Vikings defense is young and continues to grow in experience each and every year. They have a handful of solid veterand in Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn. Their younger talent on defense is just as intimidatng with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks at linebacker, Harrison Smith at safety, and Xavier Rhodes at cornerback. Bridgewater is going to take the offense to a new level this year and I just don’t see the Packers, Bears or Lions being able to compete with the Vikings.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers
Pretty hard to go wrong with this prediction. The defending NFC Champions are coming into 2016 with a big chip on their shoulder. Besides the loss of Josh Norman, all of Carolina’s key players will be back this season. Norman’s shoes will be hard to fill, but there are plenty of other dangerous player on the defensive side of the ball like Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, Kurt Coleman, Kawann Short and Charles Johnson. Cam Newton will have another target at wide receiver with Kelvin Benjamin returning this year after missing all of last season with an injury. No one is going to stop the Panthers in the NFC South.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
It was a tough decision between the Cardinals and the Seahawks, but I just had to go with Seattle on this one. I know that Arizona’s defense dominated against Seattle last year in the playoffs, and both teams are equally talented. To me, it just came down to the record. I see both teams making the playoffs this next season, but just with Seattle winning one more game than Arizona.