2016 NFL RECORD PREDICTIONS FOR ALL 32 TEAMS


Heading into training camps, all 32 NFL teams have essentially taken shape. So before injuries, benchings, firings, (more) suspensions and hot streaks start shaping the 2016 season, here’s USA TODAY Sports’ annual projection of how the season will unfold with record projections for each team based on picking all 256 games, plus a bonus playoff forecast
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NFC EAST

New York Giants (9-7): This division is wide open, but New York could be poised to make a significant jump. A defense that ranked last in 2015 received a $200 million upgrade and three of the club’s first four draft picks after the Giants lost five games they led in the final minutes. But the D may only need be serviceable if new head coach Ben McAdoo’s offense remains explosive. 

Dallas Cowboys (9-7): They’re banking on the offense to return to its 2014 form with QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant healthy and first-round RB Ezekiel Elliott projected as a superstar. But how many shootouts can the Cowboys survive with a defense riddled by suspensions?

Washington Redskins (7-9): The reigning NFC East champs won’t sneak up on anyone. Even with CB Josh Norman aboard, the defense remains a question. And the post-bye schedule is unforgiving with the Vikings and Packers visiting FedEx Field before the ‘Skins finish with four of six on the road.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): They junked the three-year Chip Kelly experiment and are rebooting on both sides of the ball. And the transition won’t be made any easier with a slew of tough teams from the AFC and NFC North on the schedule. Patience, Philly fans — it’s what you do so well.

NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers (12-4): They might stumble out of the chute as they open on the road at steamy Jacksonville and then are the first visitors to Minnesota’s new building. But look for a rejuvenated group — QB Aaron Rodgers has his weapons back and LB Clay Matthews is back on the edge — to catch fire after that with four consecutive dates at Lambeau Field.

Minnesota Vikings (11-5): U.S. Bank Stadium should feature a formidable team for its inaugural season. Expect the Vikings, and especially a potentially dominant defense, to improve overall in 2016 even if they don’t manage to retain the NFC North crown.

Chicago Bears (7-9): Coach John Fox’s track record suggests a four- to five-win improvement in his second season. This defense could mature into a scary bunch now that 3-4 scheme has taken root and has the personnel to execute it. But there seem to be too many issues on offense for the Bear to make a playoff push.

Detroit Lions (7-9): They were one of the league’s best teams in the second half of 2015 after a 1-7 start. But they’ll likely have to embrace a difficult philosophical shift as they embark on life after Calvin Johnson.


NFC SOUTH

Carolina Panthers (11-5): Don’t expect another 15-win campaign for the NFC champs, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less a threat to win the Super Bowl. The league’s highest-scoring offense could be even more dangerous with WR Kelvin Benjamin’s return, but the defense may take a step back with a new-look secondary.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9): QB Matt Ryan and the defense must be far more effective after an up (6-1 start) and down (2-7 finish) 2015. Road games in Oakland, Denver and Seattle suggest Atlanta might still be a year away.

New Orleans Saints (7-9): The offense is always a top-five outfit under coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees. But even with newly added TE Coby Fleener and healthy RB Mark Ingram in the fold, will they be able to cover for the defense on a weekly basis? The guess here is no.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): They’ll play six of eight games at home starting Oct. 30, a stretch that could determine if second-year QB Jameis Winston is ready to pass the Bucs back into relevance.


NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals (12-4): If you’re looking for a weakness, good luck — especially with Chandler Jones now aboard to inject more fear into into the pass rush. If RB David Johnson comes close to meeting expectations, last year’s No. 1 offense might average close to 35 points per week. 

Seattle Seahawks (11-5): The Legion of Boom-led defense has allowed the fewest points in the league for four years running. Turn the trick again in 2016 (or even come close), and Seattle should book a fifth consecutive playoff trip no matter how difficult a transition the offense undergoes.

Los Angeles Rams (5-11): Rookie quarterback — assuming No. 1 pick Jared Goff starts. New city — and challenging logistics as the franchise awaits a new stadium and permanent practice facility. Tough schedule — and that includes a trip to London on the heels of a road trip to Detroit. Don’t be surprised if the Rams aren’t an immediate box-office smash in Hollywood even if expectations are lofty.

San Francisco 49ers (2-14): Chip Kelly inherits a team with less talent than he had in Philadelphia … in a tougher division … plus a schedule that includes four trips to the East Coast.


AFC EAST

New England Patriots (12-4): In the last 15 seasons, they’ve only failed to win the division once when QB Tom Brady has managed to start as many as two games. Expect them to survive his month-long absence just fine and maybe parlay the Jimmy Garoppolo Experience into a 2017 bidding war for quarterback-needy teams elsewhere in the league.

Buffalo Bills (8-8): They’ll have the final shot at Brady-less Patriots in Week 4 as they enter potentially crucial stretch of five roadies in seven-game stretch. Survive that, and perhaps they’ll finally be playoff bound for first time in the 21st century.

New York Jets (8-8): Regardless of who’s under center, they face an uphill climb with the Bengals, Bills, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals the first six opponents on the schedule. And unlike the Bills and Dolphins, the Jets will draw (a presumably highly motivated) Brady twice in the regular season.

Miami Dolphins (7-9): A new regime opens with September road games at Seattle, New England and Cincinnati. Not an easy way for rookie head coach Adam Gase to kick off his program with a group that has talent but consistently underachieved in recent years.


AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Even if they only have reportedly suspended RB Le’Veon Bell on the field for 12 games, this offense is capable of dropping 40 points on anyone, assuming it can finally avoid crippling injuries. And if a turnover-generating defense improves marginally against the pass, this may be the year to build a stairway to (Lombardi Trophy) seven.

Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Little reason to believe they won’t reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, especially if a healthy Andy Dalton continues to progress. But will they finally get that long awaited postseason breakthrough for coach Marvin Lewis?

Baltimore Ravens (9-7): They’ve only missed the playoffs twice in eight years under John Harbaugh, so it stands to reason they’ll be back in the hunt a year after losing 20 players to injured reserve. But December will be pivotal with the Ravens facing the Patriots, Steelers and Bengals on the road to end the season.

Cleveland Browns (1-15): It will be a while before the analytics bear fruit, and this year’s crop does not look promising.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans (9-7): Coach Bill O’Brien finally seems to have the full suite of offensive weapons he could have only dreamed of in his first two seasons. Houston will probably need new QB Brock Osweiler and RB Lamar Miller to assimilate quickly with the defense almost certain to be impacted early in the season as J.J. Watt recovers from back surgery.

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7): No one will take them lightly anymore, especially after QB Blake Bortles’ breakthrough in 2015 seemed to establish him as one of the game’s rising stars. Jacksonville should certainly contend for a playoff berth and almost must do so for coach Gus Bradley to remain employed after owner Shad Khan has shown so much patience.

Indianapolis Colts (8-8): Owner Jim Irsay seems to finally be preaching patience, and that’s probably wise a year after this team fell so far short of Super expectations. Yes, QB Andrew Luck is rich and healthy, but it remains to be seen how he adapts to another playbook and compensates for what appears to be a weak defense in a vastly improved division. 

Tennessee Titans (2-14): As improved as they appear on paper, they probably haven’t made as many strides as the competition elsewhere in the AFC South. The Vikings, Raiders, Packers and Broncos are part of a daunting lineup of Nashville visitors this season.


AFC WEST

Oakland Raiders (10-6): Despite their unsettled civic situation, the arrow seems to be pointing decidedly up in a division where the Broncos look primed for a fall. The Raiders face only one 2015 playoff team in the first half of this season and have a golden opportunity for a hot start.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): Reintegrating RB Jamaal Charles into a lineup that won 11 consecutive games without him in 2015 should signal an optimistic outlook. But OLB Justin Houston (knee surgery) is a big question, and this team needs all its stars in a year where it has to travel to Houston (perhaps not so friendly a venue in 2016), Pittsburgh and Carolina.

Denver Broncos (8-8): The uncertainty at quarterback is enough to expect a regression even if it’s worth noting how little production Peyton Manning gave them in 2015. But don’t forget the champs are also overhauling their offensive line, breaking in two new defensive starters after losing DE Malik Jackson and ILB Danny Trevathan in free agency and playing in what looks to be an even stronger division.

San Diego Chargers (6-10): They couldn’t establish the run or stop it in 2015, factors that coupled to create quite a burden on 34-year-old QB Philip Rivers. It’s far from certain the Bolts will be much better in those departments in 2016 — not good considering every other roster in the division looks superior to San Diego’s.

AFC playoffs

Wild card: (3) Raiders def. (6) Jaguars; (4) Texans def. (5) Bengals

Divisional: (2) Patriots def. (3) Raiders; (1) Steelers def. (4) Texans

AFC Championship Game: (1) Steelers def. (2) Patriots

NFC playoffs

Wild card: (3) Panthers def. (6) Vikings, (5) Seahawks def. (4) Giants

Divisional: (1) Cardinals def. (5) Seahawks; (2) Packers def. (3) Panthers

NFC Championship Game: (1) Cardinals def. (2) Packers

Super Bowl LI: Steelers def. Cardinals

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