Written by: LaShawn Encarnacion aka The Dark Knight of Sports
Tonight the 2015 NFL season kicks off with the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots WITH Tom Brady take on the AFC North favorites, the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight. Football is in the air and there is a ton of predictions coming from all angles, including from Nuts & Bolts feature writers. So its time The Dark Knight of Sports gives his predictions, from division winners to Super Bowl predictions. MVP awards, ROY’s and offensive and defensive players of the year.
We already covered NFC predictions and NOW its time to hit the AFC and its winners.
AFC West Division Winner: The Denver Broncos
With a healthy and rested Peyton Manning, the Broncos are looking for a serious trip to the Super Bowl and winning the whole thing. The emergence of running back C.J. Anderson gives them a solid number one option and back up Ronnie Hillman changes things up with his speed and elusiveness. Outside targets of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders continue to be a viable threat. But the loss of Julius Thomas (now with Jacksonville) could be one the team could be missing moving forward. Owen Daniels is a former pro bowl tight end from Houston but his last several seasons have been filled with injuries and low output numbers. The X-Factor is the defense with new coordinator Wade Phillips. The pass rush of the Broncos looks to be the strength and highlighted point for the 2015 season. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and rookie Shane Ray are hungry, healthy and ready.
AFC Wild Card slot from West: Kansas City Chiefs
The quarterback may be the same, Alex Smith. The running back may be the same, Jamaal Charles, but the receiving core has been revamped and is ready to give some touchdowns from that position. The key acquisition is Jeremy Maclin from the Eagles, a player head coach Andy Reid knows very well. Add in threat Travis Kelce clogging up the middle and you have a very solid offense. The defense is led by Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Tamba Ali. The obvious X-Factor is in the secondary and returning pro bowl safety Eric Berry who overcame his battle against Lymphoma to play the 2015 season. Can you say “Comeback Player of the Year?”
AFC South Division Winner: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have been the top dog of the NFC South for a while. Houston has come close, overtaken them once or twice, but in the end this is the Colts division to lose. Add in the additions of Andre Johnson from the Texans and a solid running back in Frank Gore and you give quarterback Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton reason to be giddy. Normally these predictions will not bring in schedules but if you want an idea of how confident the Colts pick is, the Colts have the second EASIEST schedule of the entire NFL. It compares to the schedule of The Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten of CFB. The defensive side was always the question when it comes to the Colts but it too has gone through some changes. Along with a healthy Robert Mathis, comes Trent Cole from the Eagles and D’Qwell Jackson from the Cleveland Browns. Expect a better defense from the Colts this season. One that could get them to the Super Bowl? Keep reading and find out.
AFC North Division Winner: The Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell may be out for the first two games of the season but you cannot deny that the best 1-2 punch in the NFL arguably is the tag team of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown. this connection had the most connections last season and can only get better in 2015. Add in Dri Archer who always seems to be the forgotten one and former pro bowl running back from the Carolina Panthers DeAngelo Williams to aid during Bell’s suspension, the offense may not skip a beat … IF the offensive line can endure the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey. The re-signing of James Harrison was big for the defensive side. Need that veteran leadership to go along with the young guns like Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Jarvin Jones. The addition of Brandon Boykin from the Eagles adds a veteran to that secondary which lost its emotional leader Troy Palomalu to retirement.
AFC Wild Card slot from North: Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco continues to impress and the emergence of Justin Forsett as the clear number one running back for the Ravens gives the offense some much needed stability. Add in the emotional ride that wide receiver Steve Smith Sr will be on as this is his retirement tour and you may have a magical season that compares to seasons like Ray Lewis and Jerome Bettis of the Steelers. The defense returns solid and reloaded with new young talent. Led by the linebackers of Terrell Suggs C.J. Mosley and Elvis Dumervil, young guns like rookie Timmy Jergnigan can learn from these veteran players.
AFC East Division Winner: New England Patriots
The “Deflategate” drama is over and the New England Patriots can move onto their opening game WITH their star quarterback Tom Brady and nothing looming over his head. Add in a healthy Rob Gronkowski, who had himself one hack of a fun off-season and the other 1-2 punch that dominates the NFL is together and ready to go. The teams receiving core continues to look intact with Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman while questions surround Aaron Dobson who starts the season injured. So expect others like Matthew Slater and tight end Scott Chandler to pick up the slack. On the defensive side, Chandler Jones and Patrick Chung make up two of the most solid defenders on the Patriots squad. Along with a returning Jerod Mayo, who is coming back from injury and it becomes that much solid. And yet the X-Factor is the deficiencies on that defense that can make or break the season for the Patriots. The loss of Darrelle Revis (to the Jets) and Brandon Browner (to the Saints) is a loss of two shutdown corners that gave time for the front seven to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
AFC Championship game: New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts
While the Seahawks are out for redemption for last year’s Super Bowl loss, the New England Patriots … more specifically “PSYCHO” Tom Brady is on a mission to make Roger Goodell eat so much crow that Goodell will be forced to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Brady, Kraft and the Patriots … as the final blow to the career of Roger Goodell. However, as previously stated, the loss of Browner and Revis will eventually be the Patriots undoing as the Colts have all the pieces to beat the Patriots AND it will be taking place at Lucas-Oil Field in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Colts head to Santa Clara, CA to take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 50.
AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Amari Cooper
AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Leonard Williams
AFC Offensive Player of the Year: Andrew Luck
AFC Defensive Player of the Year: J.J.Watt
NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year: Eric Berry
NFL Most Valuable Player: Andrew Luck
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