NFL Preview: 2015-16 Playoff Picks and Week 1 Predictions

As the calendar turns to September, NFL fans everywhere rejoice! Hey everyone, and welcome to another year of Santiago’s Scoreboard.

I know, I know.  It feels like forever go that the New England Patriots outlasted the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XLIV. What with all the drama surrounding the World Champions, another big draft and all the craziness that surrounds free agency, we’ve had plenty to keep us occupied.

My 2014-15 season predictions had the Denver Broncos over the Green Bay Packers. Obviously I was very wrong there, but I had a very good season overall picking games so time to improve.

Here’s how I see the 2015-16 season going down:

NFC East                                                          AFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys                                       1. New England Patriots
  2. New York Giants                                      2. New York Jets
  3. Philadelphia Eagles                                  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. Washington Redskins                               4. Buffalo Bills

NFC West                                                           AFC West

  1. Seattle Seahawks                                     1. Denver Broncos
  2. Arizona Cardinals                                      2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Louis Rams                                               3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. San Francisco 49ers                                 4. Oakland Raiders

NFC South                                                          AFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints                                    1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Carolina Panthers                                       2. Houston Texans
  3. Atlanta Falcons                                            3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers                              4. Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC North                                                           AFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers                                       1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Detroit Lions                                                  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Chicago Bears                                               3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Minnesota Vikings                                         4. Cleveland Browns

NFC Playoff Teams

  • Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Cardinals

AFC Playoff Teams

  • Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Steelers, Jets, Patriots

NFC Championship Game

  • Packers over Saints

AFC Championship Game

  • Colts over Steelers

Superbowl

  • Packers over Colts

So with all that said, here are my week 1 picks.

Thursday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Patriots: I had Pittsburgh winning this game before Tom Brady’s suspension was lifted.  Ben Roethlisberger shows up in big games, and I think he makes a statement to open up the 2015 season with a little help from the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014, Le’veon Bell. But in the end, the raising of the banner plus the desire to put the off-season in the past will lift the Pats to an opening night victory. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Packers @ Bears: Aaron Rodgers is without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson for the season. But he still has a lot of weapons, including being reunited with James Jones, and of course, one of the best up-and-coming backs in Eddie Lacy.  Chicago is coming off a disappointing season, and I don’t think they did enough in the off-season to fix all the problems they had last season.  It’s never easy to win on the road, but I think the reigning NFC North champs take their opener. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Chiefs @ Texans: Both teams ended last season 9-7 and second in their respective divisions. Alex Smith has Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Macklin to help open up the offense and a defense capable of shutting anyone down. Houston has a new starting QB in Brandon Hoyer, JJ Watt and a big question mark at running back with the questionable health of Arian Foster. I like Kansas City better as a team, but I think the Texans find a way at home in a close game.  HOUSTON WINS
  • Browns @ Jets: Cleveland had a pretty good 2014-15 season as compared to what they’d dealt with years prior. But they are a new team on offense, and they have to contend with a very good Jets defense to open the season.  New York had their own changes in the off-season, adding Ryan Fitzpatrick to the QB depth chart; a good move as they’re without their starter Geno Smith for a while after a locker-room scuffle that left him with a broken jaw. But it could be a blessing in disguise, as Fitzpatrick has been a solid quarterback in this league, and can spread the offense a bit more than Smith can at this point in his career. Add a solid starting running back in Chris Ivory and that defense, New York should at the very least be in the running for a wild card this season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Colts @ Bills: Buffalo’s defense was a highlight last season, and they’re going to need it to be every bit as good as last season if they want to defeat Andrew Luck and the Colts in week 1. I think this could be a close one, but even with the Bills defense and Rex Ryan at the helm, Andrew Luck has Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton to go deep to, and I think he will take that next step as he enters his fourth year in the league, and lead his team to the first of many wins this season.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Dolphins @ Redskins: Washington is a mess. Or should I say still a mess. Remember when RGIII was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012? Yeah, me neither.  And neither do the Redskins apparently.  The struggling franchise has given the reigns over to Kirk Cousins.  DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon always have the possibility of breaking the big play, but Miami is just a better team.  They have a QB in Ryan Tannehill who has gotten better every year in the league, a solid defense that only got better with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. MIAMI WINS
  • Panthers @ Jaguars: Two very good defenses look to get their teams off to a good start. Carolina enters the season with virtually no one for Cam Newton to throw to, while the Jags are going with rookie running back TJ Yeldon to help ease Blake Bortles and the passing game that now includes Julius Thomas who left Denver via free agency.  There’s probably more potential CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Rams: These two teams play in arguably the toughest, most evenly competitive division in football.  Seattle has been to back-to-back Superbowls while the Rams have been getting better every year, particularly on defense. Now that the Seahawks have locked their QB up for the next four years, they look to figure out how to keep Kam Chancellor as a key part of their vaunted defense. This is going to be a real battle, but give me the defending NFC Champs in this early West matchup. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Saints @ Cardinals: Arizona’s great season was derailed by injuries at quarterback a season ago. But with Carson Palmer healthy again, the Cardinals look to get to their winning ways.  New Orleans on the other hand just played down to their normal standards a season ago.  The Saints lost a big offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham, but their running back core is stronger than ever with the addition of CJ Spiller.  Their defense cannot be much worse than it was last season, a season where at 7-9 they almost won their division.  So give me Drew Brees and his winning pedigree to start a bounce back season off right for New Orleans on the road. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Buccaneers: It’s a battle between the first and second picks of the 2015 NFL draft in week 1, as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both look to prove themselves and earn their first professional wins.  TENNESSEE WINS
  • Bengals @ Raiders: Cincinnati continued its great regular season, disappointing playoff performance run a year ago, while Oakland was just bad. Neither team should be proud of what they did defensively last season.  I think the Raiders will be a bit better this season than the three-win team of a year ago, but the Bengals need to get wins wherever they can with the teams they are competing with in the AFC North. Not to mention having one of the toughest schedules in the league this season.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • Lions @ Chargers: Detroit is the NFC equivalent of San Diego in that they both shows flashes of pure greatness one minute, and flashes of pure mediocrity the next. Matt Stafford has one of the most dangerous weapons at his exposal in Calvin Johnson, but injuries and road woes last year saw a 7-1 start slowdown in the second half. And it’s those road struggles that led me to choose the home team to take this game SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Ravens @ Broncos: Both teams lost in the Wild Card round a year ago, so both have some unfinished business to attend to. Peyton Manning is back and like the Spurs every year, we wonder when the decline will come. The Broncos lost a big piece in Julius Thomas, while the Ravens lost Torrey Smith and continue to move on without Ray Rice. I still like the team that Denver has, and the regular season has never been the problem for Manning, so give me the home team. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Giants @ Cowboys: This is a tough one. Dallas usually starts the season as the best team on paper in the NFC East.  I’m not sure the loss of DeMarco Murray is as big as most think, but it’s no small thing either as the Cowboys did a good job adding depth at the running back position.  New York’s defense remains a question thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul’s uncertain status and a trouble spot at safety. But I can’t help but be intrigued by the Giants offense.  After a rough start to a new scheme last year, the Giants became very efficient in the second half of the season.  They get back Rashad Jennings and added a versatile Shane Vereen to the back mix.  Their biggest offensive question mark will be Victor Cruz, but if he can get on the field at even 80% of what he was before the injury, you can make the argument they have the deepest receiving core in the league with Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ruben Randle. NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Falcons: Philly had another good season last season but missed the playoffs, while Atlanta struggled in nearly every facet of the game a year ago. The Eagles have a new quarterback in Sam Bradford who hasn’t played a game in nearly two years and a new running back in DeMarco Murray after LeSean McCoy left for Buffalo.  The Falcons have their top wideouts healthy and a revamped running game. So which bird flies higher in this week 1 contest? I like home team in this one because experience in this league is important, and if nothing else, this Falcons team knows each other better at this point, not to mention they have something to prove.   ATLANTA WINS
  • Vikings @ 49ers: San Francisco had one of the worst off-seasons in recent memory, losing important guys in seemingly every key position except quarterback. Minnesota got their all-pro running back in Adrian Peterson back, and have Rookie of the Year Teddy Bridgewater back under center. Peterson has something to prove after missing most of last season, and giving Bridgewater a number 1 receiver like Mike Wallace will only make his job easier. MINNESOTA WINS

Well, that’s it.  We’re just hours from kick-off.  Enjoy the action.

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NFL: Week 7 Thoughts

Through 7 weeks, we’re down to 2 win-less teams, while just 1 undefeated squad remains.

New Orleans and Oakland had their byes.

I know it’s the NFL, and injuries are apart of the game, but this week seemed to contain a lot more season ending ones than normal.

NFC EAST (We Have a Winning Team Atop the Division)

  • Cowboys: Despite many injuries, the defense came to play.  They harassed Nick Foles all day, then knocked him out late in the 3rd quarter with an injury.  Not to mention holding a high octane offense in Philly to under 300 yards of total offense.  A decent day on the ground without DeMarco Murray, along with just enough from Tony Romo and a Phillip Tanner TD run, means a winning record and an NFC East lead all to themselves.  Dallas is also now 3-0 in the division.  (4-3)
  • Eagles: Down two quarterbacks following a head injury to Nick Foles, Matt Barkley saw his first action, and it wasn’t a great debut.   Three interceptions, no touchdowns for the fourth round pick out of USC.  The defense did all they could against the Cowboys, picking off Romo twice, and holding him to one touchdown.  The score was just 3-0 boys at the half. (3-4)
  • Redskins:  A good day for the offense, with both Alfred Morris and RGIII running for over 80 yards a piece.  Add 298 yards and 2TDs from Griffin to that against a take-a-way happy Bears defense.  But this day belonged to Roy Helu Jr, who scored 3 touchdowns, including the game winner with 45 seconds left.  Rookie tight-end Jordan Reed had a big day as well, catching 9 passes for a 134-yards including getting into the end-zone once. (2-4)
  • Giants: It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win, New York’s first of the season.  For the third straight game, the Giants defense shutdown a top 5 running back, this time the reigning MVP.  And for the first time this season, the defense pitched a shutout, forcing three Vikings turnovers to their one.  This while Eli Manning finally played turnover free football.  That’s not to say the Giants QB looked great.  There were a couple missed picks by the Vikings, to go with some poorly thrown balls and drops, but a turnover free day from the offense is something this team desperately needed.  Ruben Randle did lose a fumble on special teams, but made up for it with a 24-yard touchdown catch.  Peyton Hillis made an immediate impact running the ball, as did rookie Michael Cox, even if the numbers don’t show it.  Philly’s up next before their bye week. (1-6)

NFC NORTH (New Leader, But Still Crowded at the Top)

  • Packers: Aaron Rodgers and company got off to a fast start against Cleveland, leading 14-0 after the 1st quarter, and they never let up.  Rodgers threw for 3 touchdowns, while rookie back Eddie Lacy added another on the ground.  They’ve leaped back into first, but it came with a cost.  Tight-end Jermichael Finley, who was getting more targets with the loss of Randall Cobb, was carted off the field in the 2nd half after a big helmet-to-helmet hit.  As of Monday night, Finley was out of the ICU, had movement in his extremities, and is out indefinitely. (4-2)
  • Lions: Matthew Stafford had a big day, thanks in large part to his favorite target.  He hooked up with Calvin Johnson to the tune of two touchdowns and 155 yards.  Stafford ended up over 300 yards, something a passer hadn’t done to the Bengals in 20 games.  But it wasn’t enough, as rookie punter Sam Martin shanked a kick late in the game, which set up a Cincy game winning field-goal as time expired. (4-3)
  • Bears:  Devin Hester and Matt Forte were the stars.  Hester tied an NFL record with his 19th return touchdown, an 81-yard punt return in the 1st half.  Forte ran in for two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder in the 3rd quarter.  But the defense had no answer for RGIII and the Redskins, and it didn’t help when they lost Jay Cutler to a groin injury late in the 1st half.   They held two short lived leads, including 41-38 late, but it’s hard to win when you allow nearly 500 yards of total offense.  (4-3)
  • Vikings: How Josh Freeman is their best option is quarterback astounds me, but maybe we give the guy a break, as he learns a new system.  But what I really want to know is how a game changer like Adrian Peterson only ran the ball 13 times. I get the Giants did a good job stopping him, but he’s the type of back that no matter how a game is going, can rip a long one.  And this was a close game throughout.  That being said, without a special teams touchdown, there’d be no real positives for this team.  Sure they didn’t do terribly on defense, but they also missed a couple opportunities. (1-4)

NFC SOUTH (It’s Still All About the Big Easy)

  • Saints: Bye Week. (5-1)
  • Panthers: Another good day from Cam Newton and their defense helped Carolina double up the Rams 30-15.  Newton didn’t put up big numbers, throwing for just over 200 yards, but was accurate and smart with the football.  The run game was adequate with Newton teaming up with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to combine for over 100 yards on the ground.  The defense forced two turnovers, racked up 4 sacks and knocked the Rams Sam Bradford from the game. (3-3)
  • Falcons:  Harry Douglas was huge in the absence of Julio Jones and Roddy White.  The 5th year pro had seven receptions for a career-best 149 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown catch.  The Bucs made it interesting but the defense had its moments, like when safety Williams Moore sacked Mike Glennon to force a fumble on Tampa Bay’s first possession. Safety Thomas DeCoud added a 30-yard TD on a fumble recovery.  It was a much needed win for a team many thought had chances at a Superbowl run. (2-4)
  • Buccaneers: The offense had probably it’s best game of the year, and had a chance in the 4th, but couldn’t muster more than 2 field-goals in the final period.  Vincent Jackson continues to put up big numbers, grabbing 10 balls for 138-yards and 2 scores.  But in a winless year, things got worse.  Tampa Lost star running back Doug Martin for the year to a torn labrum.  (0-6)

NFC WEST (The Hawks Continue to Fly Higher than the Rest)

  • Seahawks: They never trailed Sunday against Arizona, but didn’t pull away until the 2nd half.  Seattle played well on both sides of the football.  Their defense picked off Carson Palmer twice and dropped the Cards QB 7 times.  The offense turned both those turnovers into touchdowns as a part of a 3 score day for Russell Wilson.  Wilson did fumble twice, but a fourth touchdown on the ground by Marshawn Lynch helped the hawks pull away.  Wide-receiver Sidney Rice found the endzone for the 3rd time in 2013. (6-1)
  • 49ers: The score says they only won by 14, but their fourth straight victory was never really close.  Up 17-0 at halftime, it took until the 4th for Tennessee to do anything productive on offense.  Colin Kaepernick wasn’t at his best in the air, but on the ground, him and Frank Gore did work.  Kaepernick found paydirt once, while Gore scored two rushing TDs.  The 49ers special teams added a score, when Kassim Osgood recovered a muffed punt for a touchdown.  (4-2)
  • Rams:  Sam Bradford was carted off late in the 4th, and it was revealed that he did in fact tear his ACL, and is lost for the season.  But the game was basically over by then thanks in large part to penalties.  St Louis was flagged for five personal fouls alone, and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for throwing a punch.  Turnovers and a lack of a ground game didn’t help. (3-4)
  • Cardinals: They kept it close early, but couldn’t avoid losing their 7th divisional game.  With absolutely no help on the ground, Palmer was forced to throw the ball 45 times, and managed just one touchdown and two interceptions.  Palmer did manage to spread the completions around, with 9 players registering receptions.  Jay Feely had a good day kicking the ball, going 3-3 on his field-goals, with a long of 52. (3-4)

AFC EAST (We Have a Race)

  • Patriots: They rallied late in the 4th to force overtime, but a new league penalty call helped set up New York’s game winner.   Chris Jones was called for and unsportsmanlike conduct for pushing a teammate forward in an attempt to block the kick.  But the game only went to overtime after New England rallied in the 4th after allowing the Jets to score 17 unanswered in the 3rd.  For the 2nd time in 3 games, Tom Brady didn’t throw a touchdown, and threw a pick 6 in the first half.  It was the run game and the leg of Stephen Gostkowski that gave them a chance in overtime.  Rob Gronkowski had a big day in his season debut, catching 8 Brady passes for 114-yards.  (5-2)
  • Jets: A risky 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime almost gave New England a chance to win it.  But the penalty on Jones gave New York new life, and Nick Folk an easier attempt from 42, which he nailed.  Geno Smith has yet to lose 2 straight games thanks to their overtime win against the Pats. Chris Ivory with over 100 yards on the ground. (4-3)
  • Dolphins: It wasn’t the performance you want coming out of your bye week.  Down 14-0 early, they managed to take the lead heading into the 4th quarter, but a turnover late set up a game winner for Buffalo.  Ryan Tannehill threw 3 touchdowns to lead the comeback, but his three turnovers (two interceptions) led to two Bills scores.  After starting out the season 3-0, the fins need to figure some stuff out in an improved division and quick. (3-3)
  • Bills: The defense won the game for Buffalo.  Rookie defensive back Nickell Robey’s pick six on the 3rd play of the game helped them build a big 1st quarter lead.  After blowing that 14-0 lead, Mario Williams had the play of the game, a sack forced fumble set up the game winning field goal but none other than former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter.  Carpenter was released by Miami in August. The win snapped a 6 game road losing streak.  (3-4)

AFC NORTH (The Cats Have Come to Play)

  • Bengals: It wasn’t easy, but they did just enough to outlast a high-powered Lions offense.  Andy Dalton had a good day, showing he can go deep with an early 82-yard TD strike to AJ Green, as apart of a 3 touchdown, 372-yard passing day.  Dalton needed a big day in the air, because he got very little help on the ground.  Taking advantage of a short field in regulation, Dalton got into field-goal range, and Mike Nugent kicked the game winner, a 54-yard field-goal as time expired.  It was a big win, putting some distance between them and the rest of the league, with both Baltimore and Cleveland losing.  It’s also their 2nd straight road win. (5-2) 
  • Ravens: Another day, another close game doesn’t go their way.  They managed to come back and tie the Steelers in the 4th, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 3rd loss in their last 4.  The defense did it’s job, holding Pittsburgh to mostly field-goals.  But once again Ray Rice did nothing on the ground, while Joe Flacco didn’t do much good or bad in the passing game.  Justin Tucker continues to be their only consistent offense, going 3-3 on field-goal attempts to keep it close.  (3-4)
  • Browns: Brandon Weedon with another bad start since returning from injury.  Cleveland’s QB went just 17-for-42 for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception.  The Packers offense was just too much for their defense, which had been rounding into form during their 3 game win streak. Yet another case of a team not getting steady production on the ground, which puts the onus on the quarterback to throw more.  (3-4)
  • Steelers: Shaun Suisham’s leg was the hero, hitting all four of his field-goal attempts, including the 42-yard game winner as time expired.  Rookie rusher Le’Veon Bell ran for a career high 98 yards.  The defense only dropped Flacco once, but did a good job stopping the run.  It’s their 2nd straight win after starting the season 0-4. (2-4)

AFC South  (Luck Has Everything To Do With It)

  • Colts: This team continues to show they’re for real.  They have no defeated the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos, and by an average of over 10 points.  It’s hard to win any games against Denver, let alone in Peyton Manning’s return to Indy.  But Manning’s replacement shows more and more why he was the number 1 pick in last years draft.  Andrew Luck was on point, An MRI confirmed that iconic wide-out Reggie Wayne is done for the year with a torn ACL suffered in Sunday night’s win.  (5-2)
  • Titans: Jake Locker’s return wasn’t enough to save Tennessee from a 2nd straight loss.  The offense couldn’t do anything until the 4th quarter, but by then it was too late.  Another week, another lack of production from Chris Johnson on the ground, though he did have a nice showing in the pass game.  Locker threw for 326-yards, but was sacked 3 times and picked off once in his return from injury. (3-4)
  • Texans:  Making a bad season worse, Houston is now on a 5- game losing streak, and saw both of their tailbacks go down.  Arian Foster left in the 1st quarter with a hamstring, then Ben Tate went down early in the 3rd, but he would return.  They also saw Brian Cushing go down with a left knee injury.  The defense got their first take away, a fumble recovery, since week 4 against Seattle,  One of the few positives was the play of Case Keenum at quarterback.  He looked steady all game, spreading the ball to many different players, and he didn’t throw any picks, something unique to Texans QBs this season.   But little protection late led to a lot of drive killing sacks, as well as the final one on a potential game winning drive which resulted in a lost fumble.  But look for Keenum to get another shot after throwing for more yards in a debut by a Texans quarterback. (2-5)
  • Jaguars:  According to NFL.com, their the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to lose every game of the season (played so far) by double digits.  The Oilers opened the season losing their first 10 this way.  After a decent showing against Denver, the offense couldn’t do much of anything.  Chad Henne wasn’t awful, throwing for over 300 yards, but he couldn’t find the end-zone, and threw one interception.  Maurice Jones-Drew and the run game was non-existent once again.  (0-7) 

AFC WEST (And Then There Was One)

  • Chiefs: Don’t look now, but a 2-win team from last season now stands as the last undefeated team and the division leaders.  Jamaal Charles ran for 86-yards and a score, while Alex Smith added a rushing score of his own.  They got one of their tougher tests from a desperate Texans team, but a strip sack with under two to play by Tamba Hali on rookie quarterback Case Keenum sealed the one point victory.  (7-0)
  • Broncos: They let the Colts jump out early, and they just couldn’t recover.  Peyton Manning sure tried to get his team to 7-0, and it looked like it would work.  But an interception and a fumble in the fourth quarter meant Denver just didn’t have enough time to complete a comeback.  They were down as many as 19, but managed to close the final deficit to 6. Eric Decker went for a season high 150 yards and a touchdown, while the run game continues to force Manning to throw nearly 50 passes. The loss ended their undefeated season and snapped a 17-game regular season win streak.  And just like that, they’re not even in first anymore thanks to a great start by KC.  (6-1)
  • Chargers: Ryan Matthews with his second straight 100 yard rushing game, while finding the endzone twice.  Phillip Rivers with a good day, going over 30,000 yards passing for his career.  The defense did exactly what it should against a team like Jacksonville.  They kept the pressure on them and held the Jags to just a pair of field-goals.  (4-3)
  • Raiders: Bye Week. (2-4)

So that’s it.  Week 8 is upon us.  It gets started in Tampa Bay on Thursday, where Mike Glennon hopes to lead his team to their first win of the year, while Cam Newton hopes to lead his team to a 3rd straight victory.  Enjoy it everyone.