As the NFL finally hits our screens this Friday, the 32 franchises have been exhausting all avenues during the off-season to gain that upper edge. The Super Bowl rematch between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will be an early acid test to determine if the mental scars have healed for Cam Newton and his chargers, while question marks remain for the Colorado outfit to see if they can pick themselves up and challenge again without their inspirational QB Peyton Manning.
Down Under supporters of American football rode the Jarryd Hayne rollercoaster until it came to a screeching halt before getting a taste of the real thing in the West of Sydney this past month. All of this build up and preparation lays the groundwork for a fascinating, bone-crunching and unpredictable 2016 NFL campaign.
In that spirit, American Sports News has asked a collection of the best and brightest domestic NFL minds (predictions pending) to gaze into their crystal ball and tell us what lies ahead.
You can find plenty more great NFL content from two of our Triple M experts Daniel Juchima and Jay Mueller on their podcast In The Pocket, through Daniel’s site Third Down Report and Jay’s very own Bad Producer Productions.
Team with most to gain this season
The Oakland Raiders.
A brilliantly coached team with a young defence full of stars the Raiders will improve to a 9-7 record finishing third overall in the AFC West. In a tough division, it will be a year of improvement that will place them favourites to win the division the following season.
Carolina. Cam Newton can rebound and show the world he’s not a fluke and that he can win the big game.
It’s a draw for me between the LA Rams and the Denver Broncos. While the Rams return to LA has been greeted with excitement, there is little optimism about how they will perform. If they manage 5+ wins this season then enthusiasm for the franchise will continue to grow. But if they fail to make any significant impact on the league, no one will be too concerned.
Alternatively, the Broncos have lost a lot of cogs from their Super Bowl winning team. But I think many have forgotten how readily the Broncos were written off when Manning was injured last season, not to mention that Manning was far from his best throughout the post-season. This is a team that is greater than the sum of its parts and it wouldn’t surprise me if they managed 10+ wins for the season.
The Oakland Raiders.
The team with the most to gain and lose off the field is the San Diego Chargers. Their play may determine whether people end up voting for the stadium which might in turn mean they stay or go, so a lot on the line! But purely in terms of on the field – the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The San Diego Chargers should improve a bunch this year.
Team with most to lose this season
The Buffalo Bills.
It is do or die for Rex Ryan. The defence first philosophies will be his achilles heal. I am predicting them to finish 8-8, and Rex Ryan will get the sack at seasons end.
Cam Newton doesn’t recover from the Super Bowl loss and shows the world he can’t get it done. He can and he will one day (maybe this year, but not likely), but if Carolina has a bad season (i.e. misses the playoffs, the blame will be placed on Cam).
Without a doubt this would have to be the Panthers. They considered themselves the best team last season and I have no doubt that everyone within the franchise has the same expectation for this season. Anything less than a Super Bowl ring will be a failed season for them.
The New England Patriots.
The Philadelphia Eagles.
Team with the most to lose is the LA Rams. Especially with a coach experienced with 8-8 seasons. If they don’t win straight away, fans will go surfing.
First coach to be sacked
Mike McCoy at the San Diego Chargers. I am predicting their record to be 3-13.
Detroit’s Jim Caldwell.
I don’t expect much from Detroit even though they have a relatively easy schedule (they play Green Bay twice, Houston once and Indy once), but if they are 0-3 heading in to the October 2 game against Chicago, serious pressure will be on Caldwell and if they lose to the Bears, Caldwell’s days will be numbered.
I think Jack Del Rio at Oakland will struggle this year. The Raiders promise a lot this year but they have a tough schedule against potentially quality opposition. If they don’t live up to their promise, Del Rio will take a lot of the blame. I don’t think he’ll be first, but you never know… nine months ago I, like everyone else, was convinced Pagano would get sacked – wrong!
I honestly think that this is the make or break season for Jason Garrett. The Cowboys are consistently rated highly in offence and defense, but with the exception of 2014, Garrets’ five full seasons as head coach the Cowboys have had no real impact. The Cowboys are being talked up again this season, and if Garret doesn’t deliver I suspect the front office won’t hesitate to send him on his way quickly.
Aussie Guys NFL
Hue Jackson first to go, but I hope not. Sick of seeing the Cleveland Browns implode with 3,894 first round picks in the last 5 years. Love to see them do well.
First payer to retire
Steve Smith Snr. – Baltimore Ravens.
He’s the number two RB on Buffalo’s depth chart. He’s recovering from injury and he’s playing a punishing schedule while having to live in Buffalo. He might think he do other things with his time.
Unfortunately, I’m thinking this might be Rob Gronkowski. Despite still being young (27), The Gronk hasn’t played a full season since 2011. He has also been notably absent from the Patriots’ pre-season games and there are reports that he has missed practice this week with injury.
The fact is that tight ends take a beating on the field and while quarterbacks like Tom Brady go on to play late into their 30s, this is usually at the expense of players like Gronkowski who are expected to provide both muscle and speed. There is no doubting The Gronk’s ability but there is only so much cotton wool the Patriots are able to wrap him in.
Sadly I think Tony Romo.
First player to retire will be Robert Griffin III!
MVP for the season
Carson Palmer. I can dream can’t I?
I find it hard to say that Cam Newton won’t be the first back-to-back winner since Payton Manning in 2008/2009. Newton was unstoppable last season and no one doubted his worth as last year’s winner. Combine that with the fact that the Panthers are certainly focusing on improving their offensive line and we’re likely to see a Cam Newton that is even more deadly than the one we saw in 2015.
MVP will be Todd Gurley or Aaron Rodgers.
Super Bowl champion
Arizona Cardinals to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Arizona Cardinals. If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up.
It’s always hard to go past the Seahawks, Packers and Patriots – they’re all great teams who have consistently performed over the years in offence and defense. But the other team I keep looking at is the Panthers.
I know that Superbowl runners up have a habit disappearing in the following season, but something tells me that the Panthers are be different. Their defence is consistently rated as one of the best in the league and has proven itself capable of nullifying strong oppositions. Combine that with the threat of Cam Newton and it’s difficult for me to say that they’re not going to go one better this season.
Green Bay Packers or Carolina Panthers. Whoever wins the NFC conference will win it.
Aussie Guys NFL
Arizona Cardinals over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Super Bowl champions will be the New England Patriots defeating the Seattle Seahawks – I know!
So Arizona for the Super Bowl with a Carson Palmer MVP after The Gronk spectacularly retires?! What do you make of this? Let us know in the comments below.