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nfl-logo-blue-607x370The wait is over, it’s finally Week 1 of the NFL season and with it comes my predictions, first for the AFC East specifically, then my entire playoff picture and 2016 MVP winner.

Have at it:

AFC East

Tom Brady can't even play catch with other Patriots during his suspension-media-1New England Patriots (12-4)

– The Patriots have won this division 12 times in the last 13 years and even down Tom Brady for the first four weeks of the season, how can you pick against the Bill Belichick coached Patriots? With Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm New England will manage to go 2-2, before Brady takes the reins the rest of the way. It was already hard enough to defend Rob Gronkowski, now he has a partner in Martellus Bennett. What a scary thought for opposing teams. New England reclaims their thrown atop the AFC East once again.
 
Buffalo Bills (9-7) – Rex Ryan has vowed that the Bills defense will be better than it was during his first year in Western New York, and despite several unfortunate injuries they will show improvement. The biggest reason why: their communication is leaps and bounds better than it was in 2015. They’ll have more success, but will remain just outside the top 10 because they lack depth. Offensively they feature a healthy and spry running back in LeSean McCoy, a comfortable quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, a nice one-two punch at wideout with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and a solid line to lead the way. I’ve said it all preseason that this offense has a chance to be special. I still feel that way. The toughest part of the schedule is immediately after the bye when the Bills go to Cincinnati, return home to face an up-and-coming Jaguars team, then head out west for an tough game against the Raiders before returning home once more to face Pittsburgh. That portion of the schedule could determine if they make the playoffs, and unfortunately the drought runs to 17 years.

New York Jets (8-8) – The Jets are certainly relieved to have the contract situation with Ryan Fitzpatrick sorted out, but as Buffalo learned with Fitz-magic, that magic can wear off pretty quick. As a journeyman he posted the best marks of his career in 2015. Don’t see that happening again even with weapons like Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Matt Forte.

Miami Dolphins (6-10) – The Dolphins spent a lot of money in the off-season, however history has shown that doesn’t always equate to wins during the season. This season is all about quarterback Ryan Tannehill for Miami. Is this finally “the year” that the four-year veteran shows he’s a capable franchise QB? New head coach Adam Gase could certainly make it happen. After finishing in the bottom third of the league in defense last year, the Dolphins went out and added DE Mario Williams, LB Kiki Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell. Is that enough to fix that side of the ball. We’ll find out, but I’m betting no.

As for the rest of the NFL…

* Denotes a Wildcard team

AFC South

Houston Texans (10-6)

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)*

Indianapolis Colts (6-10)

Tennessee Titans (4-12)

AFC West

Denver Broncos (11-5)

Oakland Raiders (10-6)

Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

San Diego Chargers (5-11)

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (13-3)

Minnesota Vikings (11-5)*

Detroit Lions (7-9)

Chicago Bears (5-11)

NFC South

Carolina Panthers (12-4)

Atlanta Falcons (8-8)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

New Orleans Saints (6-10)

NFC East

Washington Redskins (10-6)

Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

New York Giants (7-9)

Philadelphia Eagles (3-13)

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (13-3)

Seattle Seahawks (11-5)*

Los Angeles Rams (7-9)

San Francisco 49ers (3-13)

The Playoffs…

AFC Playoffs                                           NFC Playoffs

WC: Bengals* over Broncos                     WC: Seahawks* over Redskins

WC: Jaguars* over Texans                       WC: Panthers over Vikings*

DIV: Steelers over Bengals                       DIV:Cardinals over Seahawks

DIV: Patriots over Jaguars                        DIV: Panthers over Packers

AFC: Steelers over Patriots                        NFC: Cardinals over Panthers

6724876     Super Bowl

Cardinals over Steelers

 

It’s a rematch of Super Bowl 43, with the opposite result. Pittsburgh was pretty darn close to beating the Broncos in the playoffs last year, without the likes of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. The defense will be stronger, the offense, electric and both units lead the Steelers back to the promise land. Arizona may be the most complete team in the league entering this season. Last year QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald turned back the clock and had fantastic seasons and while they don’t do quite as much damage in 2016, they have plenty of other firepower at the skill positions. Defensively they’re a stout group, which added linebacker Chandler Jones. They get there revenge on the Panthers in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game, then get their revenge of the Steelers for Super Bowl 43.

Awards…

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, RB Dallas Cowboys – This one is a no brainer, especially with Tony Romo injured for a large portion of the season, the Cowboys are going to be very run dependent behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. Elliot is going to get the touches and clearly has the talent to put up big numbers. Get ready for the Zeke show in 2016.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack, LB Jacksonville Jaguars – Jack took a tumble in the draft after admitting he may need micro-fracture surgery on his knee, but is clear and free to play in 2016. The Jaguars have been a team in rebuild in recent years and Jack is going to be a key contributor in why they exit that phase and enter the contending phase. The rookie LB will be a major force in helping Jacksonville reach the playoffs as a wildcard team.

MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh Steelers – Roethlisberger missed four games in 2015 and still posted career highs in attempts per game (39.1) and yards per game (328.2). The versatility of the Steelers offense with weapons like Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell – after his three game suspension of course – means he’s poised for another career year. As long as he can stay healthy, Big Ben will post incredible numbers and claim this year’s MVP award.

Follow me on Twitter: @Spencito6