I have been deeply troubled in the past week ever since my Pittsburgh Steelers signed convicted felon and erstwhile dog killer Michael Vick as a backup quarterback. No, check that…I was ANGRY. I’ve always said that Vick “paid his debt to society” and “deserves a second chance”, but those were easy platitudes to spew as long as he wasn’t playing for MY team, a franchise that is usually associated with class & accountability. So I signed petitions, deleted Steeler fan pages from my Facebook feed, took down a Steelers helmet “fathead” that had been on my refrigerator for a decade, decided that I wouldn’t play any Steelers players on my multiple fantasy teams, promised myself that I wasn’t going to watch any Steeler games this year, & eradicated them from this season preview.
My resolve lasted only a few days, although there is a good reason for that.
The younger brother of one of my closest friends died unexpectedly. I called my friend and did my best to provide comfort, but what can one really say in such a situation?? It is terribly sad. Not long ago another friend (and mutual friend of the aforementioned friend) died in a tragic motorcycle accident. Even before that I had occasionally pondered mortality & legacy, but recent events have served to intensify the thought process. I am undecided as to whether that is positive or completely unhealthy.
At any rate, I began to contemplate Colossians 3:8, which advises that we are to “put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” I am far too jaded and easy to anger. I know that about myself. I know that it is one of the weaknesses that prevents me from being the kind of example & witness of Christ that I’d prefer. There are certainly bigger issues in life than football, but this is a tremendous opportunity for growth. I have received much pleasure from Steelers football in my life. Should I let one player deprive me of that happiness?? Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we all should live each day to the fullest…”suck out all the marrow of life”.
For me a big part of life is the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m still not a Michael Vick supporter. I don’t like the signing and probably won’t change my mind. However, as long as God blesses me with another day of life I shall do my best to not take it for granted. I must do that to honor God and out of respect for those who didn’t get an opportunity for another tomorrow. So the fathead is back on the fridge, and I’ll watch the games rooting on the Black & Gold. And more germane to the present discourse, Pittsburgh is included in this revised preview. Enjoy.\
New England Patriots
New York Jets
At this moment Tom Brady’s four game suspension stemming from DeflateGate stands. That could change. I think it may ultimately be reduced to two games, but even that could get delayed by a judge. Armed with the information I have I will forecast the Patriots to win the division, but the competition might be interesting. Rex Ryan is now in charge in Buffalo and has engineered some intriguing moves, like trading for RB LeSean McCoy. The problem is the Bills still have Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, & EJ Manuel battling to be the starting QB, which is kind of like going to a car lot and choosing between a Mercury Topaz & a Yugo. The Dolphins are set behind center and also added free agent defensive lineman Ndamakong Suh in the offseason. Miami could be in the wildcard hunt. The Jets are a bigger mess than ever, but after the 2016 NFL Draft should be able to make Geno Smith what he’s always been destined to be…a backup quarterback.
San Diego Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs
Surprise!! I do not have the Broncos winning the division. Peyton Manning finally showed signs of aging last season, and I believe his decline will continue in 2015. The Chiefs finally have some wide receivers, an improvement that I think will have them contending for a playoff spot. The Raiders are…well, the Raiders. They are a sad shadow of the mighty Dark Empire built by the late Al Davis. I keep looking for signs of a breakthrough but they just aren’t there, unless one chooses to be psyched about new head coach Jack Del Rio, which is a stretch. I like QB Derek Carr, but he doesn’t have alot to work with quite yet. We’ll see how rookie WR Amari Cooper does out of the gate. All of that means that the Chargers will finally get over the hump and win the division for the first time since 2009, although I don’t expect it to be easy.
Count me amongst those who felt like the Titans should have traded down in the draft and stuck with Zach Mettenberger at QB. It’s not that I don’t like Marcus Mariota, who I think will blossom down the road after some initial growing pains, but Mettenberger didn’t really get a fair shot in Tennessee and could very well become a solid signal caller somewhere else in a year or two. Of course I have always felt the same about Ryan Mallett, who I assumed was just in a bad spot behind Tom Brady in New England, but he couldn’t even beat out Brian freakin’ Hoyer for the Texans’ starting gig, so my instincts may need some fine tuning. There’s no question that the Colts are winning the division, but the real surprise could be the Jags, who I believe will be much improved as Blake Bortles gets settled in behind center and RB TJ Yeldon out of Alabama leads a power rushing attack that’ll wear defenses down. Jacksonville isn’t a playoff team yet, but they’ll win a few games they aren’t supposed to.
Is this the year Johnny Football inexplicably gets an opportunity to be an NFL starting quarterback?? At some point…yes. What do the Browns have to lose?? The more interesting question is what they’ll do with a top 5 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Do they choose from what I hear will be a deep class of QBs, or do they stick with Manziel?? Stay tuned. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I believe we’ll see the Ravens take a step back this season. It’s just a vibe. I think it’ll come down to the Bengals & the Steelers for the division title. There is understandable apprehension in Pittsburgh about the defense due to the retirements of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, & Brett Kiesel and the departure of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. These changes were necessary but there will be a period of adjustment. The Bengals are probably the favorites in places like Vegas & Atlantic City, but I’m not sure they have the total package.
Playoff Teams – Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Kansas City, Denver
AFC Championship – Indianapolis vs. Denver
Green Bay Packers
I have to be honest…I really pondered changing my original forecast for the Packers after a season ending knee injury to WR Jordy Nelson. However upon further reflection I still believe they will win the division easily. The more interesting competition will be for second place and a possible wildcard berth. Losing Ndamakong Suh could very well have a more negative impact on the Lions’ defense than anyone could imagine, and that’ll open the door for the Vikings to emerge as a playoff contender. I really like QB Teddy Bridgewater, and he definitely has some talented offensive weapons, including returning RB Adrian Peterson. I will skip the obvious quip about using “weapons” and “Adrian Peterson” in the same sentence. Chicago is still a joke and will continue to be as long as Jay Cutler is their quarterback. I like head coach John Fox and have no doubt the defense will be fine, but with Cutler under center the Bears will continue to tread water.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
I just hope that whoever tops this division in 2015 does so with a winning record. Might this be the year that Cam Newton fulfills his destiny and becomes a championship quarterback?? The loss of top wideout Kelvin Benjamin to a season ending knee injury doesn’t help that cause. Will new head coach Dan Quinn create magic for Atlanta’s defense like he did with the Seattle Seahawks?? Maybe. Can rookie QB Jameis Winston stay out of trouble long enough to help improve Tampa’s fortunes?? The biggest shock here may be the continued mediocrity of the New Orleans Saints. QB Drew Brees is still a gunslinger, but he lost a BIG target in the offseason when tight end Jimmie Graham was traded to Seattle. None of New Orleans’ skill players outside of Brees seem particularly intimidating on paper, and that’s a problem. This will be a competitive yet unexceptional division…again.
New York Giants
This is going to sting, but I have to be honest. I see no reason to expect anything less from the Cowboys than what they achieved last season. The competition just isn’t up to par. The unpredictable Giants should show improvement as long as they can keep everyone healthy (excluding DE Jason Pierre “Fingers” Paul of course), but they aren’t legit contenders. No one knows quite what the heck head coach Chip Kelly is doing. He’s either a mad genius or in completely over his head. We’ll know more in a couple of months. And what can I say about the Redskins?? RGIII is NOT the answer at quarterback, but neither is Jay Gruden an impressive head coach. I think they’re just going to have to scrap everything and start from scratch in Washington DC. That includes the football team.
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
It is completely possible that the Seahawks have gotten even better since inexplicably throwing away (literally) The Super Bowl seven months ago. There seems to be some consternation about how new TE Jimmie Graham will fit into their offensive scheme, but if that’s the biggest problem to solve they’ll continue to be the envy of the league. The Rams should be slightly better and the Cardinals are probably a solid playoff team if oft injured signal caller Carson Palmer can make it thru the season, but neither are a serious threat to Seattle. The 49ers are a trainwreck that seemingly lost half their team in the offseason, including former head coach Jim Harbaugh. I hope the new guy is renting because he’s probably just a transitional fix until the powers-that-be can get this sinking ship afloat again and attract a legitimate head coach.
Playoff Teams – Seattle, Dallas, Green Bay, Atlanta, Arizona, Minnesota
NFC Championship – Seattle vs. Dallas
Seattle Seahawks 24
Top 5 Picks in 2016 NFL Draft
1 NY Jets
2 San Francisco 49ers
3 Washington Redskins
4 Chicago Bears
5 Cleveland Browns