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Sunday, September 06, 2015

Football's Back, Baby!: 2015 NFL Predictions

by JASmius



The seven interminable months are over, free agency is done, the draft has come and gone, ditto OTAs and minicamps and training camp and the preseason, I'm approximately $10,000 poorer, and the time has finally arrived to wash that "slant" taste out of our mouths - or mine, anyway - with another quest for Seahawks redemption.

Or whatever it is your team has on its agenda.

This isn't the first time the 'hawks are coming back after a crushing, heart-breaking playoff defeat the previous season.  You might recall that in 2012, when this team "came of age," as it were, winning its last six games down the stretch in absolutely blowout fashion (in one three week stretch they averaged fifty points a game), rolled into the playoffs where they easily dispatched the Washington [Obamas] and went on to Atlanta, coming from twenty points behind to take a one point lead with (does this sound familiar?) under a minute left in regulation.  But the Falcons took the subsequent kickoff and, as I remarked to my son before it happened, Matt Ryan completed a couple of twenty yard passes to get within field goal range, and Matt Bryant booted it through the uprights with no time left on the clock.

Atlanta 30, Seattle 28.

It fueled two factors that were to prove devastatingly decisive the following season: (1) quarterback Russell Wilson's slogan, "Why not us?", and (2) the Legion of Boom's group vow to never let the team down like they felt they did on that last Falcon drive again.

Overall, they coined the phrase "unfinished business".  It made the 2013 season into a forced-march crusade that burned through the league and straight through the playoffs to Super Bowl XLVIII, where Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and their record-breaking offense found out what a REAL defense can do.

Last season, the 'hawks were the hunted and not the hunter.  They struggled with one of the biggest list of injuries, including to key players like middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, in the league.  And, of course, came the Percy Harvin meltdown and quick trade, which turned out to be the catalyst for the team coming back together, rediscovering their badass run-first/defense-always identity, and going on another 2012-like tear down the stretch to run down and pass the Arizona Cardinals for another NFC West crown, followed by a solid win over Carolina and then the epic NFC Championship comeback against Green Bay.  The first back-to-back championships in over a decade and the possibility of making history this year with the first threepeat of the Super Bowl era were there, tantalizingly there for the taking.

And then the LOB gave up another couple of fourth quarter touchdowns, for which Russell Wilson and the offense were poised to get them off the hook until...."the slant".

Think the Seahawks have forgotten that?  I wouldn't, if I were the rest of the NFL.  And now they've got more "unfinished business".  This time with the best tight end in the game in Jimmy Graham, better depth on defense and at running back with Thomas Rawls and ex-Buffalo Bill Fred Jackson, and rookie wide receiver/kick return sensation Tyler Lockett, who will defibrillate the only major weakness the 'hawks had last season.

The only chink in the armor?  Kam Chancellor's stupid, selfish, inexplicable holdout, which shows no signs of ending anytime soon.  Here's hoping Dion Bailey can hold down the strong safety fort at least adequately, with road games at St. Louis (a mediocre team at best but one that always gives Seattle a tough battle at their place) and a week from Sunday at Lambeau in a rematch the Packers have been slaveringly looking forward to since last January.  Something tells me Aaron Rodgers is going to be devoting him quite a bit of attention.

Here, then, and to provide context for my predicted division standings, are my Week 1 power rankings:

  1) Green Bay
  2) Seattle
  3) Indianapolis
  4) New England
  5) Denver
  6) Dallas
  7) Philadelphia
  8) Pittsburgh
  9) Baltimore
10) Arizona
11) Cincinnati
12) Miami
13) Detroit
14) Minnesota
15) Kansas City
16) San Diego
17) Buffalo
18) Carolina
19) New Orleans
20) Houston
21) St. Louis
22) N.Y. Giants
23) Atlanta
24) N.Y. Jets
25) San Francisco
26) Chicago
27) Cleveland
28) Oakland
29) Tampa
30) Jacksonville
31) Washington
32) Tennessee

I put the Packers at the top for two reasons: (2) Their loss of pro bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson is not as big a hole to fill as Seattle being without Kam Chancellor, who may wind up being traded if he holds out long enough (something I find unimaginable, but is entering the realm of possibility), and (2) this year the regular season game is back in Cheeser country, which will probably make the difference in determining where the NFC title game rematch is played.  And Seattle in late January is most definitely not Green Bay, Wisconsin that same time of year.

Now then, the division by division predictions:

AFC East

(3) New England  11-5
Miami                     9-7
Buffalo                    9-7
N.Y. Jets                7-9


AFC North

(4) Pittsburgh  9- 7
(5) Cincinnati   9- 7
(6) Baltimore    9- 7
Cleveland        5-11


AFC South

(1) Indianapolis   14-  2
Houston                9-  7
Tennessee            4-12
Jacksonville          3-13


AFC West

(2) Denver    13- 3
San Diego      8- 8
Kansas City    7- 9
Oakland         2-14


NFC East

(3) Philadelphia  11-  5
(5) Dallas            11-  5
N.Y. Giants           7-  9
Washington          3-13


NFC North

(1) Green Bay  13-  3
Minnesota          9-  7
Detroit                8-  8
Chicago             5-11


NFC South

(4) Carolina     9-  7
New Orleans   9-  7
Atlanta             7-  9
Tampa             5-11


NFC West

(2) Seattle        13-  3
(6) Arizona         9-  7
St. Louis             6-10
San Francisco    3-13


WILD CARD ROUND

Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
New England over Baltimore
Philadelphia over Arizona
Dallas over Carolina


DIVISIONAL ROUND

Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
Denver over New England
Seattle over Philadelphia
Green Bay over Dallas


AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Indianapolis over Denver

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Green Bay over Seattle

SUPER BOWL L: Green Bay over Indianapolis

Of course, if the 'hawks win that Sunday night game a week from Sunday at Lambeau, perhaps on the strength of an unexpected Kam Chancellor return to the fold, who knows?  That unfinished business might get taken care of after all.

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