The end of the 2015 NFL season may end up much like last year as seven of the eight division winners from a year ago are expected to repeat. The only team not favored to win their division again are the Redskins in the super-competitive NFC East.
AFC off-season moves
NFC off-season moves
The Eagles’ competition will come from Dallas, the division winner last year. The Cowboys return QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant, but NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray is now in the Eagles backfield. The Cowboys running game will probably be one done by committee with carries being shared by Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, and Joseph Randle. If the Cowboys can maintain their solid run defense (they were 8th in the NFL a year ago) and do the same with their running game on offense (2nd in the league in 2014), head coach Jason Garrett could take Dallas back to the playoffs again.
The Giants are in the same boat. After starting last season 3-2, head coach Tom Coughlin and company suffered through seven straight losses. The running game was awful and the defense wasn’t much better. Quarterback Eli Manning still enjoyed a decent season throwing for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns, 12 which went to one of the league’s rising stars, Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants need more production from their run game and the defense must improve.
Chip Kelly was busy in the offseason putting together what he believes is roster that will allow Philadelphia to win the division title. LeSean McCoy, who had spent his entire six-year career with the Eagles, took his 6,792 career rushing yards with him when he was traded to the Buffalo Bills. Philadelphia got LB Kiko Alonso, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury, in return.
Kelly then went to work on the quarterback position. Nick Foles, who had played admirably in his time with the Eagles, was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for the Rams QB, Sam Bradford. The former Oklahoma quarterback had suffered knee injuries in successive seasons in St. Louis. Still, Philadelphia remains a favorite to win the East.
The division’s other two teams, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, are both probably a year or two away from contending for a playoff berth. Robert Griffin III is still the Redskins starting QB, but the former Heisman Trophy winner suffered a concussion in a preseason game. He has shown that he is susceptible to injury, which means Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy may see action during the season.
The Redskins did draft well adding monster (6-5, 319) offensive tackle Brandon Scherff from Iowa and outside linebacker Preston Smith (6-5, 271) from Mississippi State. The team added three defensive linemen and upgraded the secondary adding CB Chris Culliver and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson via free agency. Still, Washington is nowhere near ready to be a playoff caliber team.
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Chicago and Minnesota are the enigmas of the division. The Bears have a new head coach in John Fox, who brings four straight AFC West division titles with him. He knows how to win and the Bears should improve quickly. Offensive coordinator may be able to coax the talent out of QB Jay Cutler. He will have some weapons around him including first round draft choice Kevin White and veteran Alshon Jeffery. Defensively, the Bears will operate from the 3-4 and have one of the league’s better pass rushers in Jared Allen.
Detroit, which made the playoffs last year, returns most of their prolific offense but lost two-fourths of one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is now in Miami and DT Nick Fairley is in St. Louis. The Lions should still be a force to reckon with on defense. The running game needs to improve after finishing near the bottom of the league last year. Detroit drafted Ameer Abdullah out of Nebraska and 6-3, 325-pound guard Laken Tomlinson of Duke as a start. The Lions have the roster to get back to the playoffs. Can head coach Jim Caldwell lead them to a postseason victory?
The Green Bay Packers appeared to be the favorite once again in the division that is until WR Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury in a preseason game with Pittsburgh. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers will have to lean a little heavier on Randall Cobb and the Packers are going to have to count on 2014 draftees Davante Adams and Jeff Janis. Even with the injury, Green Bay is still the division favorite. They have a strong running game, an improving defense, and a roster that mostly remained intact from last year.
The Vikings are getting better under head coach Mike Zimmer. With seven wins last year, Minnesota is looking to take the next step and make the postseason. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is getting more comfortable with the offense and the defense is beginning to come together. The Vikings drafted defense in the first three rounds – CB Trae Waynes, LB Eric Kendricks, DE Danielle Hunter – and have some the NFL’s best young talent. With a break here and there, Minnesota could find itself in the playoffs.
Atlanta has a new coach in former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. The Falcons should instantly be better on defense. Atlanta was dead last in total defense a year ago. They also gave up over 26 points per game, which is not going to win many games. The Falcons offense is in good hands with veteran Matt Ryan and the game’s most unheralded pair of receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Carolina won the South last year after a 3-8-1 start to the season. The Panthers may find it difficult once again this season after losing WR Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending injury in the preseason. Tight end Greg Olsen can pick up some of the slack, but Benjamin gave QB Cam Newton a big target on the outside. Running back Jonathan Stewart, the team’s leading rusher last year, needs an even bigger season in 2015 for Carolina to be successful.
The Panthers should get heat from the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees returns for his 15th NFL season and shows no signs of slowing down. Brees threw for 4,952 yards and 33 touchdowns to lead the offense, but the Saints defense just fell apart. They finished 31st in total defense giving up 384 yards per game. The Saints won’t win many games doing that. The club did bring in CB Brandon Browner and LBs Dannell Ellerbe and Anthony Spencer in free agency. Hopefully, they can help make a difference.
Tampa Bay drafted QB Jameis Winston with the first pick in last year’s draft. While the rookie has done okay in the preseason, the regular season is markedly different and the Bucs just don’t have the overall talent to compete for a playoff berth yet. Tampa Bay may be a game or two better than 2014 but still have a very young roster.
If Arizona can keep QB Carson Palmer healthy, the West may be the toughest division race in the NFL. Seattle, of course, is a favorite having been to the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, but the Cardinals went 11-5 without Palmer and an injured Andre Ellington. The offense still has WRs Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. Defensively, the Cardinals have some solid pass rushers in Alex Okafor and Calais Campbell and one of the league’s better safety tandems – Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon.
San Francisco may be the team that falls the farthest. Sure, they only won eight games in their final season under Jim Harbaugh. Now, they have a new head coach in the inexperienced Jim Tomsula and a defense that has basically fallen apart. Patrick Willis, a seven-time Pro Bowler retired due to chronic foot problems. Fellow linebacker Chris Borland unexpectedly retired as well just days after Willis announced. Ray McDonald, a defensive end, was let go due to his off the field antics and the 49ers lost three of their top four corners to free agency. Repeating last year’s 8-8 season might be the best San Francisco can do.
Seattle returns a good portion of their roster and adds the league’s best tight end in Jimmy Graham. The former New Orleans TE gives QB Russell Wilson another receiving threat to go with Doug Baldwin and WR Jermaine Kearse. The running game is strong with Marshawn Lynch getting most of the carries. The defense is the league’s best in most every statistical category. Most everyone returns though the Seahawks did lose LBs O’Brien Schofield and Malcolm Smith. The roster is still loaded with the type of talent necessary to win a division title.
The surprise in the division may be the fall of one team and the rise of another. The Rams may create some noise in head coach Jeff Fisher’s fourth year. St. Louis will have Nick Foles at QB and rookie running back Todd Gurley in the backfield. The defense is improving and added Nick Fairley in the offseason. The Rams will find out early how good they really are when face four 2014 playoff teams in the first five weeks of the season.
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2020 NFL Football Season