Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reviewing 2016 NFL Preseason Picks

By Brad Oremland

With only one game left in the 2016 NFL season — Super Bowl LI — I thought we'd take a look back at my preseason power rankings to see what I got right and wrong. We'll review teams in reverse draft order: Falcons and Patriots at the top, then the Steelers, the Packers, and the rest of the playoff teams, all the way down to the Browns, who will choose first in the 2017 draft.

New England Patriots

Predicted record: 11-5
Actual record: 14-2

Key quote: "Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should be able to keep the ship steady until Brady returns, and when New England is full-strength, this could be a scary-dominant team."

They were a popular preseason Super Bowl pick, and they didn't disappoint.

Atlanta Falcons

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 11-5

Key quote: "In 2014, the Falcons allowed the most yards of any defense. In 2015, they generated the fewest sacks. I don't see that they've done enough to correct the problem, so unless Julio Jones can play safety, they're probably looking at another year close to .500."

I wasn't entirely wrong about Atlanta's defense, which ranked 25th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed, but I didn't anticipate Matt Ryan's career year.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 11-5

Key quote: "The Steelers' biggest concern is probably the defensive backfield [and] the team recognizes a weakness ... the Steelers should be a playoff bubble team."

Rookie CBs Artie Burns and Sean Davis upgraded the secondary, the Killer B's stayed healthy, and the Bengals fell out of contention in November, giving Pittsburgh an easy AFC North title.

Green Bay Packers

Predicted record: 12-4
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "Jordy Nelson is back, Eddie Lacy seems to be in shape, and Rodgers should return to form ... There are reasons to expect great things from the Packers this season, but there are also some pretty clear areas of concern."

I worried about the offensive line without Josh Sitton, and it took a month or two for the offense to gel after its disappointing perform at the end of last season, but there's just too much talent here for the Packers not to make the playoffs.

Dallas Cowboys

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 13-3

Key quote: "Everyone knows that Tony Romo's injuries killed the Cowboys' season in 2015. Many fans don't know that the Dallas defense also generated the fewest takeaways in the NFL (11). There are problems on both sides of the ball."

Obviously my prediction here was really off, but I don't think anyone anticipated Dak Prescott breaking the rookie record for passer rating.

Kansas City Chiefs

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 12-4

Key quote: "The Broncos had a rough offseason, as Super Bowl teams often do, which could open the door for Kansas City to win the AFC West."

A number of my concerns about the Chiefs came true (Jamaal Charles staying healthy, Tamba Hali losing effectiveness, no Justin Houston for much of the season), but young players like Dee Ford, Marcus Peters, and Tyreek Hill all took steps forward to help KC post its best record since 2003.

Seattle Seahawks

Predicted record: 12-4
Actual record: 10-5-1

Key quote: "A great team with one big problem: offensive line ... it's hard for me to see this team missing the playoffs. They're a Super Bowl contender."

One of my better predictions. The Seahawks made the playoffs easily, but offensive line was indeed a problem, as they couldn't run effectively and had trouble protecting Russell Wilson. It's their clear top need heading into the offseason.

Houston Texans

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "If Will Fuller can provide a legitimate threat across from DeAndre Hopkins, and Jadeveon Clowney or Whitney Mercilus across from J.J. Watt, Houston could be one of the best teams in the AFC."

Houston led the league in fewest yards allowed; with Watt, too, it might have been the greatest defense in 30 years. If Brock Osweiler had played a little better — even Brian Hoyer-level — and Watt had been healthy, Houston would have been a Super Bowl contender.

Oakland Raiders

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 12-4

Key quote: "I think Oakland is still a year away from the playoffs, but if everything clicks, they could post a winning record this season."

Everything clicked.

New York Giants

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 11-5

Key quote: "Their offseason moves look like treading water, and outside of Odell Beckham, there don't look to be a lot of meaningful weapons on offense. I think the run game and defense hold the Giants back from being truly competitive in 2016."

Although Beckham was the only meaningful weapon on offense, and I did have New York in the playoffs, this was obviously wrong. Their offseason moves paid off big-time and the defense was among the best in the league.

Miami Dolphins

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "I'm not predicting the Dolphins to make the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do: there are a lot of parts here that could fall into place and produce something awfully good."

I wondered how quickly a new coaching staff and a number of new starters would mesh, but the Dolphins have a lot of talent. They need to build on that, and they need some consistency. Hopefully the departure of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph isn't a setback.

Detroit Lions

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "Obviously, the offense will look different without Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate now becomes the number one receiver, which I'm not sure is a good fit."

I'm still not sure how I feel about Golden Tate as the go-to receiver, but their lack of run game was the obvious problem. They need to upgrade the offensive line.

Denver Broncos

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "Other than the Ravens in 2013, I can't think of a defending Super Bowl champion with so many question marks at the beginning of next season ... They're a playoff bubble team."

The offense struggled, especially late in the season, and the defense took a step back following some free agency losses.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "Moving in the right direction ... If you're looking for a really deep dark horse, go with Tampa Bay to win the NFC South."

I didn't actually pick them to win the division (I had Carolina), and they didn't, but they are indeed moving in the right direction. The Bucs have some really promising young players.

Tennessee Titans

Predicted record: 3-13
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "If the Titans are okay, it will be with good play from their young offensive line — where this is some promise — a productive ground game, fancy playmaking by Marcus Mariota, and a defensive lockdown, with everyone on the unit bringing his A-game."

They radically exceeded my expectations, overcoming the lack of playmaking receivers and inexperience across the roster. Head coach Mike Mularkey deserves a lot of credit.

Washington

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 8-7-1

Key quote: "If everyone stays healthy, Washington should run away with its second straight division title [but] it wouldn't take a lot of bad breaks for this team to look the way people expected in 2015."

Injuries on defense contributed to their disappointing finish, and the rest of the NFC East was better than I anticipated.

Baltimore Ravens

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "The Ravens are rebuilding, and if I were a Baltimore fan, I'd be pleased with an 8-8 finish."

Ravens fans should be pleased! They need some stability on offense, especially in the run game.

Indianapolis Colts

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "There's every reason to expect a healthy and productive season from Andrew Luck, bouncing back from last year's disappointment. The Colts are relying on some aging defensive leaders, but as long as they can stay healthy, they should easily top last year's 8-8 performance."

A disappointing third-place finish in a weak division. Luck played well, but not at the same level we saw in 2014, and the defense was terrible. The offensive line was a disaster early in the season.

Minnesota Vikings

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "Sam Bradford ... hasn't played well even when healthy. Look for defense to carry the team in 2016."

Bradford was just okay, the defense was good, and they went .500.

Arizona Cardinals

Predicted record: 12-4
Actual record: 7-8-1

Key quote: "Is Carson Palmer okay? ... The Cardinals have so much talent, they should make the playoffs regardless of Palmer's status, but if he can return to all-pro form, they're a Super Bowl contender."

Palmer had a disappointing season, and Ty Mathieu got hurt, but the Cardinals just didn't have a great season. Michael Floyd's DUI and release seemed to disrupt the offense.

Philadelphia Eagles

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "When the Eagles traded Sam Bradford, they admitted this is a rebuilding season. Philadelphia might be good a couple years down the line, but not this season."

This was a much better prediction than I made with the Cardinals.

New Orleans Saints

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "Unbelievably bad defense. I remain amazed that the team didn't draft a cornerback. The Saints went 7-9 last year, and it could have been worse. This year, it gets worse."

Drew Brees continues to defy Father Time, and it didn't get worse. But the defense was still very bad, holding New Orleans back from serious playoff contention.

Buffalo Bills

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "If the Bills are going anywhere this season, they'll have to do it with offense ... I see the Bills at or below .500."

Buffalo ranked 10th in points scored and 17th in points allowed, 16th in yards gained and 19th in yards allowed. They finished just below .500. This is the section of the rankings where I look smart.

Cincinnati Bengals

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 6-9-1

Key quote: "I think the Bengals have enough juice left for a winning record and a sixth consecutive playoff appearance, but they'll need Andy Dalton to play at the level he did in 2015, not 2014."

It's hard to blame this year's disappointing finish on Dalton. Instead, a tough schedule followed by A.J. Green's injury sunk their season. This is the section of the rankings where I don't look so smart.

Carolina Panthers

Predicted record: 11-5
Actual record: 6-10

Key quote: "The offense will be fine. But I think the defense will decline, I believe they'll have trouble keeping everyone healthy, and I don't expect the Panthers to be Super Bowl contenders."

The defense did decline, but so did the offense, which went from league-leading to average. Their 15-1 run in 2015 is starting to look like a fluke.

San Diego Chargers

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 5-11

Key quote: "The Chargers went 4-12 last year. For the second straight season, injuries were a massive problem ... It's a rebuilding season for the Bolts."

I thought their injury luck was bound to change, but the hex continued, as they lost a major player to season-ending injury in each of the first three weeks. Maybe that's why they're leaving town.

New York Jets

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 5-11

Key quote: "Expect the offense to underperform last season's success, without D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall regressing somewhat toward the mean. I think the Jets fall to third place in the division, at or below .500."

I had the right idea, but obviously didn't go far enough. Head coach Todd Bowles had a really bad season. He's lucky to still have a job.

Los Angeles Rams

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 4-12

Key quote: "The Rams don't have a good offensive line, either: by trading up for Goff, they ignored all their other needs. I worry about Todd Gurley. Defenses can key on him ... The Rams take a step back this year, and they don't appear poised for success any time in the near future."

With such a negative summary, it's hard to believe I overestimated this team.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 3-13

Key quote: "The offense showed legitimate progress last season, especially in the passing game ... the Jags are finally moving in the right direction."

The offense regressed in 2016, especially in the passing game. The only thing I got right here was the losing record.

Chicago Bears

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 3-13

Key quote: "They don't have an elite quarterback, Adam Gase could be a major loss, Pernell McPhee begins the year on PUP, and the NFC North is a tough place to rebuild. They'll probably be better than last year, but still a year away from the playoffs."

They look a lot more than one year away from the playoffs. They clearly missed Gase and McPhee, but there are just a lot of holes on the roster right now.

San Francisco 49ers

Predicted record: 4-12
Actual record: 2-14

Key quote: "The 49ers have a new head coach, Chip Kelly, who might be able to make lemonade out of a roster filled with lemons. But the Niners don't even have lemons. They have, I don't know, gooseberries."

There's a massive problem here that begins at the top of the organization, and the Niners are years away from being competitive.

Cleveland Browns

Predicted record: 5-11
Actual record: 1-15

Key quote: "The Browns aren't going to the playoffs this season, but they might be a lot better than last year, and if they are, they'll probably be a pretty fun team to watch."

I was wrong about the Browns being better than anything except the '76 Bucs, but Corey Coleman got off to a nice start, and Terrelle Pryor was definitely fun to watch. If Robert Griffin and Coleman had stayed healthy, a couple more wins and a fun-to-watch offense wouldn't have been out of the question.

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