In the world of football, there are teams at every level that will be consistently great no matter how much we try to talk ourselves out of them.

In high school, teams like Bishop Gorman (NV) and St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) are national powerhouses.

In college, Alabama reigns supreme. No matter who they stick out there at quarterback, the Crimson Tide always end up playing for the national championship.

 

The NFL is no different.

This year, the normal names are at the top of the power rankings. Seattle, New England, Arizona, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are all popular choices for Super Bowl champions.

But we’ve tried to talk ourselves out of them in favor of a “flashy” pick.

We’ve been told Seattle has a terrible offensive line. Arizona is still trying to rebound from a crushing loss to Carolina. Green Bay’s offense last year was abysmal. Pittsburgh has plenty of suspensions and injuries to deal with. Oh, and Tom Brady is suspended for the first game.

But in that same vein, there are so many constants that we just have to accept as fact with these teams.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson is a Top 5 quarterback in the NFL right now. Arizona has young stars like Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers and a healthy Jordy Nelson. Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Once Brady returns from suspension, he will remind people that he is perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history.

In my NFL predictions below, you won’t find anything flashy or eye popping. There will be a few teams that might do better than expected, but consistency in football is vastly underrated. If normal injury luck holds, the good teams stay good.

Predicted order of finish is included in each division preview.

*indicates playoff berth

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers* (12-4)

2. Cincinnati Bengals* (11-5)

3. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)

4. Cleveland Browns (2-14)

This division will come down to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, two of the most complete teams in the NFL. I have the two teams splitting their head-to-head matchups, but the edge goes to Big Ben and Antonio Brown. When Le’Veon Bell returns, that offense could be scary good.

Cincinnati might take a step back on offense with the loss of Marvin Jones and Muhammad Sanu. Hopefully rookie Tyler Boyd can step in and provide some consistency while the Bengals wait for Tyler Eifert to return from injury.

Baltimore usually outperforms expectations, but that roster is lacking in several areas right. They are not a contender. Meanwhile, the Browns offense could be interesting with RG3, Corey Coleman, Tyrelle Pryor and Josh Gordon, but overall they will be contending for only one thing: the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans* (13-3)

2. Indianapolis Colts* (10-6)

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

4. Tennessee Titans (3-13)

I think this Houston offense could be really good. Osweiler does not have to be a world-breaker when he is surrounded by talent like Nuk Hopkins, Will Fuller, Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller and Lamar Miller. Oh, and keep an eye on Tyler Ervin as well. That offense will be fast and has the potential to be the best in the league.

Indianapolis might not be favored to make the playoffs right now and their roster might be deplorable, but Andrew Luck has dragged this team kicking and screaming to the playoffs before. With Luck healthy, this team will have double-digit wins.

I like the potential this Jacksonville squad has, but I still believe they are a year or two away from seriously contending. Similar with Tennessee. I admire their approach to build to more of a “smash mouth” running approach in this era of spread offenses, but their defense is very concerning.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots* (13-3)

2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

3. New York Jets (7-9)

4. Buffalo Bills (5-11)

So what if Tom Brady is suspended? This team could lose all four games with him out and they would still make the playoffs. None of the other teams in this division will ever seriously challenge the Patriots until the Brady era is over.

The Dolphins and Jets both have potential, but quarterback issues will hold those teams back. Buffalo has had perhaps the worst luck in the NFL this offseason with injuries and suspensions and I expect them to take a step back.

AFC West

1. Oakland Raiders* (11-5)

2. Kansas City (9-7)

3. Denver Broncos (7-9)

4. San Diego Chargers (4-12)

This Oakland team could be very fun. Derek Carr is an emerging quarterback talent and he is surrounded by young stars like Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. They could be dangerous down the stretch.

Kansas City is the only other team I could see winning this division, but injuries to Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston are concerning. Meanwhile, I do not believe in the Denver Broncos for one second with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. San Diego has major holes to fill and are in a rebuilding mode.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers* (14-2)

2. Detroit Lions (7-9)

3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

4. Chicago Bears (5-11)

The injury to Teddy Bridgewater had major impact in this division. I now think that the Packers will cruise to an easy division title. They really have no competition, especially since their offense should return to form with Jordy Nelson healthy.

Detroit is moving on from the Calvin Johnson era and will have to see if Golden Tate can be a reliable No. 1 from here on out. Minnesota still has a lot of talent, but relying on Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill is never an ideal option. Chicago has some young talent on their roster, but they aren’t built overall for a playoff run just yet.

NFC South

1. Carolina Panthers* (12-4)

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers* (10-6)

3. Atlanta Falcons (6-10)

4. New Orleans Saints (5-11)

Carolina is still the best in the division. They might take a small step back from the dominance they had last year, but Cam Newton gets his favorite target back in Kelvin Benjamin and they should be just fine on defense, despite starting a couple of rookie cornerbacks.

Tampa Bay is a sleeper team. Jameis Winston is primed for a major step forward and has great talent around him like Mike Evans and Doug Martin. With the additions of Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves on defense, this team is a playoff squad.

Julio Jones might score the most fantasy points this year, but the Falcons will be just average if they cannot figure out a way to get a pass rush going. The Saints will always put up a good fight with Drew Brees, but their defense is still deplorable, especially with first-round pick Sheldon Rankins injured.

NFC East

1. Dallas Cowboys* (10-6)

2. New York Giants (9-7)

3. Washington Redskins (7-9)

4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-13)

If there’s one thing I trust in this division, it’s the Dallas run game. Despite having Romo out with an injury for perhaps most of the season, Dallas’ run game should be able to hold things down until he returns. Dak Prescott has a lot on his plate, but having names like Dex Bryant, Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott around him will make his job a lot easier.

The Giants spent a lot of money on defense this year, but they still have a lot of holes to fill all over their roster, especially on the offensive line. Washington will take step back this year, partly because I do not think Kirk Cousins can replicate his success from last season.

Philadelphia is starting an FCS quarterback this year. Good luck with that.

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals* (14-2)

2. Seattle Seahawks* (12-4)

3. Los Angeles Rams (4-12)

4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

Arizona might have the most complete roster in the NFL right now. Up and down this depth chart are proven starters and elite players. David Johnson is an emerging star on offense and Tyrann Mathieu might be the best overall defensive player in football. They are primed for a major run this year.

Meanwhile, Seattle isn’t bad either. Sure their offensive line looks bad on paper, but Russell Wilson played at a very high level last year and was able to mask many of their issues. They’ll be back in the playoffs this year.

I think the presence of Aaron Donald on the Rams’ roster gives them a win or two. He’s a freak. San Francisco will be bad. Deshaun Watson’s agent might already be looking for apartments with a view of the water in the greater San Francisco area right now.

PLAYOFF ORDER – AFC

1. Houston (13-3)

2. New England (13-3)

3. Pittsburgh (12-4)

4. Oakland Raiders (11-5)

5. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

6. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

PLAYOFF ORDER – NFC

1. Arizona Cardinals (14-2)

2. Green Bay Packers (14-2)

3. Carolina Panthers (12-4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)

 

WILD CARD

AFC: (4) Oakland over (5) Cincinnati

AFC: (3) Pittsburgh over (6) Indianapolis

NFC: (4) Dallas over (5) Seattle

NFC: (3) Carolina over (6) Tampa Bay

DIVISIONAL ROUND

AFC: (2) New England over (4) Oakland

AFC: (3) Pittsburgh over (1) Houston

NFC: (2) Green Bay over (4) Dallas

NFC: (1) Arizona over (3) Carolina

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

AFC: (2) New England over (3) Pittsburgh

These two teams match up very well. Brady and Gronkowski are matched by Big Ben and Brown. In the end, I believe the Patriots’ defense is the deciding factor here. Pittsburgh’s youth and lack of size at defensive back will get them in trouble versus a dangerous New England passing game.

NFC: (1) Arizona over (2) Green Bay

Again, the key here is defense. The Packers have a fine defense, perhaps a Top 10 defense. But a Cardinals defense led by Tyrann Matheiu, Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones is elite. Perhaps the best in the league. They are able to limit Rodgers through the air and the Cardinals return to the Super Bowl.

NFL AWARDS

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

Despite having trouble on offense last year, I expect Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to return to form this year. A big part of that will be because of the return of Jordy Nelson. Him, along with Randall Cobb, give Rodgers perhaps the best tandem of wide receivers in the NFL. He will put up some big numbers in 2016.

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Cardinals

I think this Cardinals team could be awesome and it all starts with the job done by Bruce Arians. The Cardinals’ passing attack could be amongst the league’s best with Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson out of the backfield. Meanwhile, their defense should be elite. Don’t sleep on first round pick Robert Nkemdiche. He has the raw talent to be a force this year.

Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

Refer to the reasons above. He will have an excellent year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Oakland

I’m all in on the Khalil Mack hype train. I think this guy has the chance to put up 20+ sacks this year. With talent around him like Bruce Irvin and emerging star Mario Edwards, it will free up a lot of opportunities for Mack one-on-one. He will make offensive tackles pay this year.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas

There really isn’t another option here. With Tony Romo out, the Cowboys are going to rely on Elliott for a majority of their offensive production. Dallas’ offensive line might be the best in NFL history and he will have plenty of holes opened for him up front. Elliott will break a whole bunch of rookie records this year.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay

Noah Spence has all the talent in the world, but off-the-field issues caused him to fall in the draft. But with players like Gerald McCoy and Levonte David on defense around him, he will be able to do the one thing he does best: rush the quarterback. He might not put up some insane numbers this year, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him challenge for double digit sacks as a rookie.

Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis

Andrew Luck was sidelined for most of last year with injury. This year, he returns and he has a boat load of talent to work with on offense like T.Y. Holton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. The Colts have made it known that they are committed to improving their offensive line situation, as seen by the selection of Ryan Kelly in the first round. Luck will put up impressive numbers in 2016 as he leads the Colts back to the playoffs.

SUPER BOWL LI

New England over Arizona

Tom Brady wins his fifth Super Bowl ring and establishes himself as perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history. For a brief moment, everyone forgets about the DeflateGate scandal as well.

The key here is the Patriots passing offense. Both teams have elite defenses. But history has proven that it is near impossible to contain Gronkowski through the air, much less when he is alongside Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. Brady wins yet another Super Bowl MVP as well for his efforts carving up a talented Cardinals’ secondary.

BONUS – The first five picks in the 2017 NFL Draft!

1. Cleveland Browns – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

2. San Francisco 49ers – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

3. Tennessee Titans – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

4. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia) – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

5. San Diego Chargers  – Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

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