by Eric Fulton
The National Football League’s regular season kicked off on Thursday (Sept. 8) right where it left off last season with the Denver Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. There are many storylines to follow as a new season enters: How will the Broncos fair now that Peyton Manning has retired? How many games will the New England Patriots win without Tom Brady? Will Robert Griffin III rediscover himself in Cleveland? What about the return of Andrew Luck? Can Luck lead the Indianapolis Colts back to the top of the AFC?
I would say there are over half of the teams I believe that have a strong case to make the playoffs. However, only 12 teams can make it. And only one will raise the Lombardi Trophy as champions of Super Bowl LI.
Here are the 12 teams I believe will make the playoffs in 2016.
East- New England Patriots
The Patriots will not have the services of Tom Brady for four games, but if they can win two or three of those games without Brady, they will be favorite all the way until the Super Bowl.
North- Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though they won’t have Le’Veon Bell for three games, the Steelers seem to be the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. If everyone, including Ben Rothelisberger can stay healthy throughout the season, Pittsburgh has a very good shot at making the Super Bowl.
South- Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South is the toughest of all divisions to pick who will win. Last year, the Texans won with only a 9-7 record. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are both young and should improve this season. However, this division will be decided on the health of Andrew Luck and his offensive line. If both things are a positive for Indy, they will return to winning the division.
West- Kansas City Chiefs
Now that Peyton Manning is gone, the AFC West seem to be open a little bit. The Oakland Raiders will be the team everyone will watch. The San Diego Chargers always seem to make things interesting. Right now, this is Andy Reid’s division to win. Kansas City should not have any problems winning the division. By the way, the only chance the Broncos have a shot at winning this division is if the defense can shut out everyone every week (Not likely to happen).
Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets
The Bengals should compete for a playoff spot once again. Can they finally win a playoff game under Marvin Lewis? The return of Andy Dalton should help tremendously.
The Jets got a huge confidence boost when Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signed with New York. Now with the addition of Matt Forte at running back, the Jets are poised to have double digit victories and this time get in the playoffs.
East- New York Giants
It seems as though the NFC East is a crap shoot every year. You never know who will win that division. This year, I will say the Giants should win the NFC East, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t win. You just never know about that division and the teams.
North- Green Bay Packers
With the terrible injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Packers are now the favorite to win the NFC North. Once again, Green Bay is led by Aaron Rodgers who gets his main target back in Jordy Nelson. But the Vikings defense under head coach Mike Zimmer will give it all they have when defending their division championship.
South- Carolina Panthers
The defending NFC Champions will return wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, which will help Cam Newton. The Panthers also have a great defense with a healthy Luke Kuechley leading the way. They will have a major target on their back, but Ron Rivera’s team seems to be built for the long haul of the NFL season.
West- Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer had the best year ever as a quarterback in his NFL career as the Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship game last year. Having safety Tyron Mathieu return from an ACL injury will be huge as he along with fellow LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson form the best defensive back duo in the NFL. Bruce Arians will have his team ready to go and poised to go back for the Super Bowl.
Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints
Seahawks – Seattle will once again try to return to the top of the NFL Mountain. However, it will have to do so without the services of running back Marshawn Lynch as he decided to retire. Quarterback Russell Wilson will once again try to lead the offense into another deep postseason run. Meanwhile the defense will try to prove themselves as still the best in the NFL.
Saints- There should be a handful of teams fighting for at one more playoff spot in the NFC. But I think the Saints will be the main team to take on the Panthers for the NFC South crown, but will ultimately be a wild card team. While the defense is not that great, they still have Drew Brees. With Brees now at the final stages of his career, the Saints are poised to make at least one more playoff run with their future hall of fame quarterback.