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NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Predictions


Wild Card Round - Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts

Can Andrew Luck and Colts upset the AFC’s top seed on the road Saturday?

 

By: Elias McMillan

Wild Card: 2-2

Playoffs 2-2

Divisional Round

Indianapolis @ Kansas City – Last weekend’s win in Houston went kind of like I expect it would for Indy. The Colts looked impressive on both sides of the ball. The defense limited Houston to just 7 points. Andrew Luck looked like himself passing the ball around and the Colts even ran the ball well. The Colts have the momentum going into a showdown with the AFC’s #1 seed. Kansas City jumped to the top the AFC this season behind the production of MVP candidate, QB Patrick Mahomes. Even with the suspension of RB Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs offense hasn’t missed a beat all season. On Saturday, the Colts will have to account for the speed of WR Tyreek Hill and the physicality of TE Travis Kelce. I think Kansas City will find success offensively in this matchup. The question for the Chiefs all season has been about their defense. The Chiefs can score a lot but they can also give up a lot as well. The team with the ball last may end up winning this one. There’s a narrative out there about Andy Reid’s teams in the post-season always coming up short. I bet this Chiefs team wants to be the group that bunks that trend. I also think the home field advantage will play a part in this one. Prediction: Chiefs 38 – Colts 33

Dallas @ Los Angeles Rams – Dallas’ victory last week at home against Seattle wasn’t as impressive as they wanted it to be but they got the job done. Now, they will be looking to enter uncharted territory when they travel to LA to face the Rams. Dallas hasn’t advanced to the conference championship round in 20 plus years and they haven’t won a playoff game on the road in about the same time frame. But this is a Dallas team that believes they have it in them. In their case, I believe they have the best defense left in the NFC. The Cowboys did a great job limiting Seattle’s run game last week. I am a bit worried about the secondary, as Seattle really didn’t press the issue until the game was out of the reach. This probably won’t be the case on Saturday night. Even with Todd Gurley returning from injury, the Rams know that they big play offense has been depended on what Jared Goff can do in the passing game. The Rams offense lit up scoreboards for most of this season but they have cooled off significantly heading into the post-season. Maybe losing WR Cooper Kupp to injury has something to do with that. I don’t really believe the Rams have a game breaker at the WR position. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks are nice players but they don’t demand the entire defense’s attention. If they can’t get Goff going, I think their best bet is to force feed Gurley who is bound to make a big play as a runner or receiver. The Rams have well known players on their defense but as a unit, they just haven’t been that good. DT Aaron Donald is beast and is capable of possibly winning this game himself. Despite having him up front, the Rams are pretty average against the run. Dallas will continue to run the offense through Ezekiel Elliott and he will eventually put the Cowboys in scoring positions. CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib have a history of making big plays but they are also risk takers. If QB Dak Prescott can stay away from Donald, he’ll be able to find his receivers downfield for some big plays off a double move or play action. The moment I feel that the Cowboys may do something worth talking about is the same moment when they usually disappoint me. Knowing this, I’m still going with my gut on this one. The Rams are not the offensive machine they were earlier this season and usually, a good defense can beat a good offense in January. This will be close but I’m taking the road team in the upset as the Cowboys fans will probably take over the stadium as well. Prediction: Cowboys 27 – Rams 24

Los Angeles Chargers @ New England – Despite Baltimore’s late push last week, the Chargers were fairly in control in that game. Now, they’ll make another long trip back to the east coast to face playoff staple, New England. This isn’t the same Patriots team that we are accustomed to seeing in January. The Patriots were able to win their division and gain a first round bye in the post season but this is probably their weakest playoff team during the Bill Belicheck era. Tom Brady is still a very good QB at his age but the Patriots have had receiver issues all season. Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan have both been banged up and they don’t have much waiting in the wings. The big play guy in the passing game has been TE Rob Gronkowski but even he doesn’t look like his normal self. The Patriots do have a plenty of options at RB but they are a team that just can’t depend on the run. The Chargers proved last week that they can handle a run first offense and it will also help that they have the pass rushers to get after Brady. New England has been known for years recently to have a less than impressive defense. I think this will allow QB Phillip Rivers to really push the issue in the passing game. Rivers has never beaten Brady in the post-season but I think this is his best shot. The Chargers are capable to out-physical New England on both sides of the ball. I like the Chargers in an upset that really shouldn’t be an upset. Prediction: Chargers 29 – Patriots 20

Philadelphia @ New Orleans – As much as I hate to admit, the Eagles actually matchup well with the Saints. I know this is the same team that was blown out by them on the road but a lot has changed since then. The Eagles don’t have a run game so they are forced to unleash the full capability of QB Nick Foles. The play of Foles during this last month are becoming the stuff of legend as he looks to help the Eagles make a return trip to the Super Bowl. I think the play of the Saints secondary plays in favor to the Eagles as that unit isn’t a strength for the home team. Philadelphia has also received great play out of their offensive line.  Knowing that they are a pass-first offense, they are going to need another great performance from that unit as New Orleans has an impressive front four on defense. But I think this game will have to turn on QB Drew Brees exposing the Eagles defense. This was something that the Bears failed to do last week. The Eagles will have to account for RB’s Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram but they should be okay with what they have in their front seven defensively. Philly’s weakness in the secondary and Brees must be able to exploit that. I think the Eagles will be able to do damage and score points in this one but I think Brees will be the one to set the tone causing Philly to play catch up for most of the game. Prediction: Saints 41 – Eagles 31

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NFL Playoffs: Wild-Card Round Predictions

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QB Russell Wilson marches an impressive Seahawks team into Dallas this weekend.

 

By: Elias McMillan

Last Week: 12-4

Final Regular Season Record: 150-104-2

Wild-Card Round

Indianapolis @ Houston – These interdivisional playoff matchups are usually really competitive so I’m expecting a close matchup here between AFC South rivals. The Colts and Texans split their meetings in the regular season with the road team winning in each matchup. In their first meeting in Houston, plenty of points were scored as the Texans escaped by a field goal. A lot has changed with both teams since then. More so with Indy. The Colts caught fire late this season and they’ve been able to ride their current wave they’re on into the post season. With Indy, you know what you’re getting with their offense. QB Andrew Luck is a candidate for comeback player of the year. At receiver, they don’t have much outside of T.Y. Hilton but TE Eric Ebron has been a breakout player after a disappointing start to his career in Detroit. In the second half of the season, the Colts found their running game as Marlon Mack has emerged as a difference maker along with rookie Nyneim Hines. But what has really been impressive about the Colts this season has been the toughness they’ve shown on the defensive side of the ball. Rookie LB Darius Leonard led the league in tackles this season and he sets the tone for this “bend but don’t break” defense. Houston will present a lot of challenges offensively. QB Deshaun Watson is a playmaker with his arm and legs. It helps that he has an all-Pro WR to go to in DeAndre Hopkins. RB Lamar Miller has also quietly had a nice season. I think this game will hinge on if the Houston defense shows up and makes big plays. The Texans do defend the run well up front with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. But they also have the tendency to give up big plays in the secondary. I think the Colts will be able to attack through the air for some big plays if Luck can avoid the Texans pass rush. Despite having Hopkins, I don’t think Watson will be able to out produce Luck especially with how well Indy’s defense has been playing. Despite winning 11 games, Houston really hasn’t beaten a quality opponent this season outside of that early season victory against the Colts. I think Indy is playing better football right now and they’ll get the win on the road Saturday. Prediction: Colts 34 – Texans 24

Seattle @ Dallas – The Seahawks hammered Dallas at home back in September but in this rematch, I expect them to see a different Cowboys team. After starting the season 3-5, Dallas saved their season by trading for WR Amari Cooper, leaning on their defense, and allowing the other teams in their division to collapse. Seattle has had an impressive regular season that no one really saw coming. Without the Legion of Boom, Seattle stuck to their guns and now they look like a team that no one in the playoffs wants to see. QB Russell Wilson continues to lead this offense efficiently while at the same time having the potential to create a big plays after each snap. RB Chris Carson has been a big part of Seattle’s offense as he is one of the top rushers in football this year. Seattle’s wideouts still have that underrated label on them but defensive backs across the league know how dangerous Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett can be. Yes, the Legion of Boom is gone but this Seahawks defense is underrated. LB Bobby Wagner is a guy that Dallas will need to key on as he is always around the ball. Seattle’s defense ranked in the middle of the road this year against the run and the passing game. I think Dallas can really present some issues for them on offense. As usual, everything for Dallas will run through RB Ezekiel Elliott. But Seattle can not completely write off what QB Dak Prescott can bring to the table. Dallas allowed Dak to gain extra reps last week in a meaningless game in New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if that experience left him with more confidence so we could see him take more chances down the field to Copper and the other receivers. Dallas’ turnaround this season was heavily aided by the play of their defense. DE Demarcus Lawrence has solidified himself as one of the top pass rushers in the game. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are basically what Carolina had a few years ago with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. And CB Byron Jones is having an all-Pro season in his first year in that position. The Cowboys on defense will have to focus on preventing the big plays from Wilson but they also have to account for Seattle’s running game. Dallas ranks in the top five for run defense but then I remember what the Colts did to them in their last defeat. I think Seattle is capable of using the run to set up the big plays from their QB. Dallas created a lot of big plays on their own last week but that was against the Giants. These teams are almost equally matched. I guess we also have to consider that Seattle has a knack for under performing on the road. But they are more experienced in these situations. My heart is with the home team but I think Wilson will lift Seattle to victory. Prediction: Seahawks 24 – Cowboys 23

Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore – The Ravens really bullied the Chargers a few weeks ago. I think experience will prove to be a great teacher as LA travels up to Baltimore looking for revenge. Baltimore was able to dominate LA in their first meeting upfront on offense and defense. The Ravens collapsed that offensive line and made it tough for QB Phillip Rivers to create in the passing game. I think LA will be better prepared for what Baltimore brings to the table. For starters, the Chargers are healthier on offense. RB Melvin Gordon will be ready to go and big play TE Hunter Henry will also be returning from injury. Baltimore has a tough front 7 on defense but their secondary can give big plays. The key for the Chargers will be to keep their QB away from pressure so he and WR Keenan Allen can attack this secondary. LA’s defense has been shaky but they have some great individual talent. I’m a big time believer in edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Rookie safety Derwin James is another young player who makes plays on this defense. The Chargers will have to focus on stopping what Baltimore can do in the running game. Rookie QB Lamar Jackson has been a killer with his running ability during Baltimore’s run to a division title. RB’s Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon have proven to be more than serviceable recently as well. LA shouldn’t dare Jackson to throw but they do have to account for Baltimore’s strength, which is the run game. If the Chargers can better protect Rivers this time around, I really like their chances on the road. Rivers is at the end of his career. These opportunities for him are not guaranteed. Knowing this, I think the Chargers will make the best of it and score the upset. Prediction: Chargers 29 – Ravens 24

Philadelphia @ Chicago – Finally, a game that is not a rematch from earlier this season. The Bears eliminated Minnesota last week in the final game of the regular season, making this matchup possible. Philadelphia defied odds late in this season, scoring upsets in LA and against Houston to spring them into the postseason conversation. The Eagles, much like last year, are rallying around QB Nick Foles. Foles didn’t start the 2018 season great but he has really come on recently. The Eagles are going to have to lean on Foles and the air attack in this game. The Eagles don’t have a run game to talk about and they’re facing a defense that is tough upfront and in the secondary. I expect to see LB Khalil Mack and company to set the tone in this game at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield pressuring the QB. I also believe that Philly’s defense will not be able to account for Chicago’s many weapons on offense. QB Mitch Trubisky has a great cast around him in the backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and at wideout with Allen Robinson and rookie Anthony Miller. The way the Eagles got into the post season was a nice story but it will end in Chicago on Sunday. Prediction: Bears 27 – Eagles 13

 

NFL 2018: Week 17 Predictions

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All eyes on Sunday will be on Cleveland’s rookie QB, Baker Mayfield.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 11-5

Season: 138-100-2

Week 17 Picks

Bills over Dolphins – Buffalo gives DT Kyle Williams a hero’s send off into retirement.

Packers over Lions – This meaningless game will be highlighted by Aaron Rodgers, I guess.

Patriots over Jets – New England still needs to lock up that first round bye in the playoffs. They’ll put their best foot forward against a competitive Jets team.

Saints over Panthers – Teddy Bridgewater will hope to have a strong game as he auditions for a potential job elsewhere.

Giants over Cowboys – Dallas can’t improve their seeding in the NFC. I think New York will win it late against the Cowboys’ backups.

Falcons over Buccaneers – Atlanta’s defense will strive against a Tampa Bay offense that turns over the ball too much.

Texans over Jaguars – Houston is still in play for a potential bye in the post season.

Chargers over Broncos – LA was bullied last week. They’ll need a strong performance this week to put that Baltimore loss in the past. Also, the AFC West crown is still up for grabs.

Chiefs over Raiders – KC needs this one to lock up the AFC West in what could be a high scoring affair.

Rams over 49ers – No Todd Gurley worries me for LA. San Francisco has played decently at times late this season. I still like LA in this match up but don’t be surprised if the Niners make things interesting.

Vikings over Bears – I thought Minnesota would falter on the road last week. This week, I think they’ll clinch the final playoff spot in the NFC. Minnesota has been a stronger team at home. Chicago may want to knock Minnesota out this Sunday but they might be better off facing a familiar opponent in the wildcard round.

Steelers over Bengals – Pittsburgh needs help to get into the playoffs but in terms of this week’s game, they should roll against the 2ndstring of the Bengals.

Seahawks over Cardinals – Seattle may rest their starters but that may not even matter. Arizona will lock up the first overall pick in next April’s draft.

Eagles over Washington – The way Philadelphia has rallied behind Nick Foles is reminiscent of last season. Too bad they won’t make the post season.

Ravens over Browns – Baltimore has only lost once since their bye week. If the Ravens defense shows up like they did last week, Bayer Mayfield will be in for a world of hurt.

Colts over Titans – With the final playoff spot in the AFC on the line, I’m going with the healthiest team. Marcus Mariota will try to give it a go on Sunday but I doubt that he’ll be able to play the entire 60 minutes. I like Andrew Luck and the Colts on the road.

NFL 2016: Week 8 Predictions!

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Can the Eagles defense slow down the league’s best running game in Dallas?

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 7-7-1

Season: 62-44-1

Big Five Games of the Week

New England @ Buffalo – The Bills were riding high after winning four straight coming off the firing of their offensive coordinator. But last week, Buffalo fell for the trap on the road in the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo couldn’t stop the Dolphins rushing attack and their own best offensive weapon, LeSean McCoy, was injured and not effective. Buffalo will return home this week but they will have the New England Patriots waiting for them. New England didn’t look too impressive last week in Pittsburgh but they were still able to win convincingly against a shorthanded team. The Patriots enter a similar situation this week on the road again. Buffalo will be without their best player so the Pats will need to take full advantage of that. Buffalo was able to beat the Patriots before Tom Brady returned but despite that, Bill Belichick and company will have revenge on their minds this Sunday. For Buffalo to have a chance, they will need to run the ball as well as they did in their first meeting this season in New England. I think that will prove to be impossible without Shady McCoy. Brady and Rob Gronkowski usual have big performances in Buffalo and I think that is what we will see this team. Prediction: Patriots 32 – Bills 20

Detroit @ Houston – The Texans are the leaders in the AFC South right now but they have to be feeling pretty low after what happened to them last Monday night. The Texans might be able to back into a division crown again but they will not be taken seriously around the league. Brock Osweiler has been proven to be a bust of a free agent signing already. He can’t get star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, involved. And the defense is playing well but not well enough to win ball games for the underachieving offense. The Detroit Lions haven’t been the most impressive team so far this season but I like the way the fight until the final whistle. Last week, they were in another situation where they could have let that game get away. But they fought hard and were led by their leader, QB Matt Stafford, and he got them the victory. Both moods from these football teams will ride with them into this week’s matchup. Houston is trying to find a way to pick them selves off the mat while Detroit is looking to continue to fight the good fight for all 4 quarters. I think Osweiler’s woes continue and the Lions will score the road victory. Prediction: Lions 28 – Texans 21

San Diego @ Denver – Denver hasn’t looked too impressive recently. If Houston’s QB was worth anything, the Broncos could be going into Week 8 on a three game losing streak. Instead, the Broncos will be looking for revenge against a Chargers team that beat them a few weeks back on the road in a Thursday night matchup. For Denver, it is going to continue to be about their defense. Trevor Siemian and the Broncos will not be dynamic enough to win ball games for this Denver team. They will have to do just enough to put the game in the hands of their talented defense. And that task will be tougher going forward now that staring RB, CJ Anderson, is out for the rest of the season. San Diego has its flaws and they have lost a couple of close ones this season but they are trending upwards right now. Phillip Rivers and the passing game is performing well and Melvin Gordon has the run game going in San Diego finally. The Chargers have a weakness in the secondary on defense but their front seven is really starting to become a difference maker this season. I don’t know how long it has been since the Chargers have swept the Broncos in the season series but I see that happening this Sunday in a close one. Prediction: Chargers 31 – Broncos 30

Green Bay @ Atlanta – I think all of the worries about the Packers are valid. I’ve watched them recently in past weeks and I can’t understand why they are not playing at a level that we were use to seeing. Aaron Rodgers would have more than enough time in the pocket to be his old dominant self but he just kind of stands there now, waiting for something to happened instead of making it happen. Green Bay’s offense will be hurt going forward as well now that Eddie Lacy has been shut down for the rest of the season because of injury. Atlanta had a hiccup last week but I think they’ll be ready to rebound quickly this week at home against the Packers. I think Atlanta’s pass rush will be able to get after Rodgers. Green Bay also will not have an answer for the Matt Ryan-Julio Jones connection. RB Tevin Coleman will be missing time because of injury but Devonta Freeman is more than capable to carry the load on the ground for this Falcons offense. Atlanta will have to win the battle on the line of scrimmage if they hope to really put Green Bay away on Sunday. If they can keep Ryan protected and created rushing lanes for Freeman, the Falcons will have a chance to look really impressive this week. Prediction: Falcons 30 – Packers 20

Philadelphia @ Dallas – You gotta hand it to the Eagles for what they did to an undefeated Vikings team last week. But really, Minnesota was due for a loss. It was amazing by itself that Vikings were starting the season so hot after losing starter after starter due to injury. Philadelphia had a plan to expose their weaknesses last week and it work perfectly, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles defense will have to come up strong again this week as they travel to Dallas to take on a rested, division leading Cowboys team. This game, like most, will be all about the players up front on the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys offensive line has taken on all challengers so far this season. Green Bay had the top run defense in the league when they faced them and they were still able to take care of business. I think Philadelphia’s front seven will prove to be a great challenge for the Cowboys upfront. We all know what kind of player Fletcher Cox is but really, the Eagles front seven usually does a great job upfront at disrupting the run while pressuring the QB. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has been a tough cookie to crack so far for opposing NFL defenses. While Prescott isn’t exactly putting up big numbers, his ability to not get rattled has been his greatest attribute so far in his career. The Eagles sole goal this weekend on defense will be to rattle Prescott. But a lot can go right for Dallas if the offensive line can continue to be dominant. Ezekiel Elliott can continue his unreal streak of 100-yard games on the ground in a row. Plus, we might see Prescott excel as a down the field passer with the return of Dez Bryant who has historically toasted the Eagles on many occasions. The other matchup in this game between the Eagles offense and the Cowboys defense is pretty lackluster and I don’t see it being a factor. Can Carson Wentz play well enough to outscore the Cowboys offense? Can the Cowboys defense take advantage of an offense that struggles with protection and with running the ball? Both questions are a coin flip. But the Cowboys have been very consistent so far this season and they are even healthier coming off the bye week. Prediction: Cowboys 29 – Eagles 23

The Rest of Week 8

Titans over Jaguars – Jacksonville maybe in trouble of losing their head coach.

Bengals over Washington – I bet Cincinnati is hoping to see what they saw in Jeremy Hill every week. I wonder how Cincinnati football fans feel about losing a home game to London this year.

Jets over Browns – A lot of talk about the QB position in NY but the RB, Matt Forte, will be the difference in this game.

Chiefs over Colts – I feel that this game is a toss up but Alex Smith had some impressive days as a passer playing indoors in Indianapolis.

Seahawks over Saints – I know that Seattle played poorly last week but New Orleans’ defense is still trash. Can Drew Brees keep them in this game for all 4 quarters?

Raiders over Buccaneers – Oakland might be in first place in the AFC West heading towards the midpoint of the season.

Panthers over Cardinals – Carolina is having a rough season but their offense actually got it together before the bye. I think Carolina has some momentum going into this one.

Vikings over Bears – I don’t think Chicago has the resources to expose Minnesota’s weaknesses. That defense will get Jay Cutler to play like Jay Cutler.

Week 8 Fantasy Football Picks

QB: Russell Wilson (Seahawks) – Wilson will be facing a defense that allows the third most yards through the air in the league on Sunday.

RB: DeMarco Murray (Titans) – People need to take notice to what Murray is doing in Tennessee. Murray is among the league leaders on the ground after a loss season in Philly.

WR: Mike Evans (Buccaneers) – The passing game will be Tampa’s only chance on Sunday so, I would expect Jameis Winston to be looking for his best threat multiple times this weekend.

TE: Jimmy Graham (Seahawks) – I sure, that Graham will be very motivated to show out against the team that traded him.

DEF: New England – The Patriots defense will have its chances to play well against a shorthanded, one-dimensional Bills offense.

NFL 2016: AFC West Preview

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Khalil Mack and the Raiders defense will make a playoff push in 2016.

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs quietly had an outstanding season in 2015 headlined by that massive win streak that they rode into the playoffs. I think that this Chiefs team going into 2016, will have a pretty good shot at overtaking this division from Denver since the Broncos may have not improved in the offseason. The Chiefs have a great veteran core, a great running game, and a great defense. Head coach Andy Reid will have this team ready for bigger things in 2016. I think the questions about QB Alex Smith going into last season are about done. I’m not saying that Smith is a top QB in the league but he is much better than what people believe. When pressed, he can make the big plays at times and I think last season he won the respect of a lot of people in that locker room. A big help to Alex Smith is that the Chiefs are one the best teams at running the football. Everyone knows that Jamaal Charles is the star but they have great depth behind him with Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, and the speedy kick returner Knile Davis. I don’t know if the depth behind Charles is in result of just having good talent or if the Chiefs offensive line does an outstanding job but either way, it works for this team. The Chiefs receiving core is kind of boring outside of Jeremy Maclin. Maclin showed a lot of heart last season by playing through injuries and he is one of the toughest guys in the league. The Chiefs need someone else opposite of Maclin to step up this season. That could be Albert Wilson or second year receiver Chris Conley. Smith also has a pretty good connection with TE Travis Kelce in the passing game. Kansas City’s defense is strong up front and they had a top 10 run defense in 2015. Nose tackle Dontari Poe is the leader of the group and I think top draft pick, Chris Jones from Mississippi State, will be a great addition eventually. The Chiefs return the same great group at linebacker this season. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston maybe starting to get up there in age but they are still a top pass rushing duo in the league. LB’s Derrick Johnson and Josh Mauga are both good tacklers and pass defenders. Kansas City’s secondary received a big boost last season from reigning defensive rookie of the year, CB Marcus Peters. Peters is an interception machine and he looks to continue right where he left off in 2015. The veteran leader in the secondary, safety Eric Berry, is back and is fresh off a season where he won Comeback Player of the Year. The Chiefs have a great collection of talent in 2016 and they are battle tested. They should be able to win the AFC West and maybe make some noise in the post season. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC West Champs)

Oakland Raiders – Coming off a 7-9 season, the Raiders actually have some momentum going into 2016. They have assembled a young talented roster but they still have some holes that need to be filled. I think this Raiders team is going to be good this year mainly because of their defense. I’m not entirely sure if the Raiders have made the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense but the moves they have made in the offseason do reflect that. Either way, they have drafted very smart and they have brought it some key veteran players. On the defensive line, they have a couple of guys that fit the 3-4 scheme as big bodied, run stuffers. DT’s Dan Williams and Justin Ellis offer a lot of size inside and rookie Jihad Ward will offer athleticism inside as a defensive end. There is also some hope that second year DE Mario Edwards Jr. will improve this season. The Raiders have the players at defensive line but the real standouts will be the pass rushers. Khalil Mack had a standout 2015 and he has the ability to be the next Von Miller. In a 4-3 defense, Mack was moved around a lot and did well. But he really excelled at creating pressure in the backfield. In a 3-4 defense, Mack would have more opportunities at getting to the QB and I believe that this is the plan for 2016. I think the offseason signing of OLB Bruce Irvin supports that scheme change. Irvin played in a 4-3 defense in Seattle but he is probably more suited as an outside rusher in a 3-4 defense. With Mack on the opposite side, Irvin is going to have the chance to be an impact player in this defense. The Raiders have had a big hole in their secondary for years now. This offseason they brought in a couple veterans and some young guys that might be able to turn this unit around. CB Sean Smith was a good player in Kansas City and former first round pick D.J. Hayden is coming off his best season as a pro. Charles Woodson retired but Oakland will attempt to replace him with seasoned vet, Reggie Nelson. Nelson isn’t the player that Woodson was obviously, but he is a ball hawk with a knack for creating big time turnovers. Nelson will be paired with this year’s first round pick, safety Karl Joseph. I thought Joseph was a reach in the first round for Oakland but the guy is a heat seeking missile when it comes to ball carriers. The combo of Nelson and Joseph will be perfect for this defense as both bring that playmaking potential on each down. On offense, the Raiders have the QB and WR positions figured out at least. QB David Carr hasn’t put up monster numbers yet but he is the young leader of this offense. Carr has a great set of reliable receivers in veteran Michael Crabtree and second year standout Amari Cooper. The combination of AC/DC has already become a popular one for Raiders fans. What worries me about the Raiders offense is that I don’t think they are strong up front and I think that is holding back Carr and especially the running game. RB Latavius Murray had a decent 2015 season but I think he could be better if the Raiders had a better offensive line. The Raiders don’t have great depth behind Murray at RB. Rookie DeAndre Washington led the Big 12 in rushing last year and he might be called upon early in his career. The Raiders are also really lacking at the TE position. Mychal Rivera isn’t dynamic to give Carr a reliable target in the passing game. I expect this Raiders defense to be a monster and I think Oakland could possibly ride it into the team’s first post-season berth since 2002. But they need to fill some holes on the offensive side of the ball if they want to return to being the dominant team in this division. Prediction: 9-7 (Wildcard)

Denver Broncos – It’s hard for champions to repeat especially in the NFL. Denver is going to have a tough time bucking that logic in 2016. Denver still has a lot of the talent pieces from last year’s championship run but they also lost a few and the division they play in has improved. Denver was able to ride their defense to a championship a season ago and it looks like the defense will have to be the vocal point once again in 2016. Peyton Manning wasn’t his old self last season but his presence and his knowledge of the offense was able to get the most out of what he was able to do. I don’t think Denver has a QB on the roster right now that can be as valuable as Manning was to the offense last season. Manning looked bad at times in his final season but I think he’ll look better than what Denver has to offer at QB in 2016. Mark Sanchez is a veteran whose best days are behind him. Trevor Siemian hasn’t taken a snap in the regular season. And first round pick, Paxton Lynch, may not be ready to start on day one. Denver also lost multiple starters on the offensive line so, they may be in trouble when it comes to pass protection and run blocking. The QB will have to lean heavy on RB’s C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are talented receivers but their impact on the game will be lower this season because of the situation at QB. On defense, they may have lost Malik Jackson in free agency but I think they’ll still be pretty solid up front with Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. Of course, the star of the defense is Von Miller who is the best pass rusher in football right now. Miller paired with DeMarcus Ware proved to be a deadly combo during the last post season and they will hope to pick up where they left off in 2016. Ware does have an injury history but Shane Ray is waiting in the wings as his heir apparent. Denver’s secondary could be a mixed bag this year too. Last season, CB’s Chris Harris and Bradley Roby proved their worth but that group will miss Aqib Talib who is facing a possible suspension and is battling his own injury problems. As the case for most good movies, the sequel wont be as good as the original. I don’t think Denver is going to fall off the face of the earth but they wont be contenders with that messy QB situation. They should have pulled the trigger on that purposed Colin Kaepernick trade. Prediction: 8-8

San Diego Chargers – The Chargers could potentially climb out of the AFC West basement in 2016 but I don’t see it happening. There are too many question marks on both sides of the ball and I think that the mismanagement from the front office is starting to affect the team. On paper, I think San Diego should be strong offensively. The only thing really missing on offense is a consistent run game. At QB, Phillip Rivers returns for another season as one of the most overlooked players in the league. Rivers can throw it with the best of them and this year he’ll have a pretty talented core of WR’s. I like the pairing of WR’s Kellen Allen and free agent acquisition Travis Benjamin as one serves as a tough possession and the other is a speedy game breaker. I also like the idea of veteran WR James Jones serving as a third option for Rivers. This is a role that Jones excelled at in Green Bay. Of course, Rivers will have Antonio Gates to throw to again at the TE position. But also look out for rookie Hunter Henry who will have a role at the second TE. The Chargers have drafted well up front and have brought in free agents in the past to help bolster that offensive line. Despite that, the running game has been such a major disappointment. San Diego has a decent collection of RB’s but second year player, Melvin Gordon, has to prove this season that he can be the guy in the backfield for this team. Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver are good complementary players at RB but Gordon has to prove that he was worth that first round pick from a season ago. On defense, the Chargers have a lot of talent but they have been inconsistent at all three phases. They don’t stop the run, they don’t get to the QB often enough, and the secondary will definetly be hurting without safety Eric Weddle. This years first round pick, Joey Bosa, was suppose to be a big help upfront at stopping run and creating pressure in the backfield. But the front office has screwed up the process of getting him signed much like other first rounders under this regime. Who knows if the Bosa holdout will last the entire season but I think the affects of it will cause division in the locker room. The Chargers struggle at stopping the run but they do have a pair of decent pass rushers in Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. Inside at linebacker, Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman need to become the stars that they were in college to help improve the run defense. In the secondary, I actually like the two starters, Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. I don’t know if Dwight Lowery can replace Weddle at safety for this team but he might provide some needed veteran leadership. I expect this Chargers team to compete hard for those fans in San Diego this season. But I think they will lack the consistency on both sides of the ball to compete for a playoff berth. I’m looking forward to these two victories for the Chargers in 2016: 1) Joey Bosa ending his holdout & 2) San Diego getting a stadium deal done. Prediction: 6-10