As the NFL season creeps towards the forefront of American sports yet again, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. Each Sunday brings a team or player out of obscurity, creating regional heroes and national sensations only to send them back into the shadows the next week. Do you remember the Colts’ incredible playoff comeback against the Chiefs last year? Of course you do. Do you remember the Rams beating those same Colts by 30 points in Indianapolis about a month before Andrew Luck’s playoff magic? Probably not. That is the glory of the NFL, one week you can get demolished in front of your home crowd and then a few weeks later you can find redemption as the clock ticks down in a close game.
Think about how many people knew the name “Richard Sherman” before last season. This season will inevitably produce more surprises, raising new players from obscurity. The best part of all of this beautiful madness is that I, by no means an NFL insider, have the same ability to “predict” the craziness of each NFL season as the guys on TV. So in honor of the upcoming NFL season I will make three bold predictions that will probably prove horrifically incorrect… or they could turn out to be exactly right.
1) Sammy Watkins will not be the most impressive rookie wide receiver
I like Watkins. I followed Clemson closely last year and he formed an impressive combination with Tajh Boyd, so this is not a knock on Watkins’ skills. There are three reasons why I don’t think Sammy will be the best, all of which stand largely outside of his control. First of all, the amount of (deserved) hype that Watkins has gotten rivals that of players like Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel, so I expect opposing defenses to key on Watkins when preparing for matchups with the Bills. Secondly, I don’t trust EJ Manuel, his young quarterback, to get the ball to Watkins enough. Add to that CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson and I imagine the offense will be rather run-heavy. Finally, while I think Manuel will have a good year, I don’t think it will be better than the season that Mike Evans will have in Tampa Bay catching passes from the seasoned Josh McCown. Evans is built like an elite wide receiver and has Vincent Jackson opposite him, which will open things up for McCown who shined last season with the duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferies.
2) The Philadelphia Eagles will have the best record in the NFC
As a lifelong Giants fan, typing that statement pains me, but I think they have a legitimate shot at the top spot in the NFC. Many factors go into this prediction, and as with Watkins it depends on more than just the Eagles. Part of the problem for so many of the other top NFC teams is that they play in great divisions, which the NFC East can no longer claim to be. Teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals all beat each other up while the Eagles can cruise through the Cowboys, Redskins, and (hopefully not) Giants. I believe in Chip Kelly as a coach; unlike the running quarterback (Hi RGIII!), I think the up-tempo offense is more than just a cute fad. Philadelphia shouldn’t miss DeSean Jackson too much as the uptempo offense thrives with short, quick passes and the Eagles brought in Darren Sproles to fill that role. Sproles and LeSean McCoy are two of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL and having both of them means the Eagles might be able to score enough points to win games even if they had Georgetown Football’s defense.
3) We will see a Super Bowl rematch
Until Russell Wilson gets paid (and trust me, he will get paid) the Seahawks have enough money to assemble a super team around him. With a hopefully healthy Percy Harvin, the offense might be able to take shots downfield. Marshawn Lynch will complement this by continuing to run over people while the defense remains the envy of coordinators across the league. Their home-field advantage is stifling enough that they should defeat the 49ers, their closest challenger on the road to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks appear to be a more evolved 49ers team: Wilson over Kaepernick, Lynch over Gore, Harvin over Crabtree etc.
Meanwhile, the Broncos seemed almost unbeatable last season until the Seahawks made them look like a Division II team. Peyton Manning’s robotic neck has shown no signs of holding him back and they have been working on plugging enough holes in their defense to allow Manning’s 50 points to win most games. There really isn’t much else to this Broncos team; they have one of the all time great quarterbacks and a stacked offense around him. They are going to score lots and lots of points and dare the opposition to keep up, and I think it lands them back in the Super Bowl.
Three bold predictions amongst a sea of others. I could just as easily convince myself how wrong all of these are as I convinced myself that they could happen. That’s the best part, the only thing you know going into the NFL season is that you know nothing.