The NFL kicks off Thursday, September 5. Daily previews of all eight division are in order.
The sky is the limit. This is the epitome of a Super Bowl or bust season. The band will more than likely not be back together if Houston doesn’t cash it in and at least make it to the AFC Championship game. The problem is quickly going to turn to money with Houston. J.J. Watt is the giant battle red elephant in the room. Going into the third year of his rookie deal, the Texans are already thinking about the sizable check they’re going to have to sign him for. We’ll also have to sign Brian Cushing to a medium deal this offseason. There’s already big chunks of money tied into other big time contributors on the team. Looking at this AFC this season, it is easily the most watered down it has ever been as a conference. The Texans have got to take advantage of the opportunity and make a playoff push. It’s a make or break kind of year. Drafting DeAndre Hopkins will finally provide Andre Johnson with the Robin to his Batman. Adding Ed Reed on defense brings leadership but I’m not sure what else he brings to the table. The Texans have to make some serious noise this season. Anything less than 12 wins feels like a net loss.–Marcus Brent
The goodwill tour is over and now Indianapolis has to deal with the fact that worked horse Ahmad Bradshaw is starting at running back. His default presence is a grim reminder of the Bill Polian drafts that wasted first round picks on hood ornaments for Peyton Manning like Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown. The narrative with Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano in 2012 was the team’s ability to turn a corner like C.J. Spiller, hollow out the mildew-infested basement, and compete. But this is not a top shelf roster and a step back is inevitable. Case in point: per Football Outsider’s annual almanac, first-round rookie Anthony Costanzo led the league in blown blocks with 36. It’s the old fable about the razor-thin differences between 10 wins and six wins. Expect a 4-4 team at midseason: Wins against Oakland, Miami, Jacksonville, and San Diego; losses to Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, at Houston. Throw in the bye, and the Colts are .500 at Week 10. We’ll give them another Jacksonville win and conservatively split the Tennessee games. At this point we’re going out of order on the schedule but this is a 6-5 team that faces a thick stack of middle-of-the-road sleepers: St. Louis, Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas City. They get Houston at home. They need four of those games to make the playoffs, and Luck is the best quarterback in each showdown. Growing pains and nine wins is certain, you can talk me into the over. — Ramon Ramirez
Mike Munchak needs results in his third season as he helms a once-steady franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008. There’s been smoke but it’s been coupled with mirrors and not fire, as Munchak won nine games and six games, respectively, during his first two years in control. Now he’s built a sea wall of lineman, drafting Alabama stud Chance Warmack in the first round and bringing in Andy Levitre from Buffalo. The team will be top five in rushing attempts. One never trusts the Titans receivers because they all look the same in their clunky, fairly ridiculous uniforms. Their turn-of-the-century success has overshadowed the fact that they are the Toronto Raptors of the NFL in terms of dated unis rooted in the ’90s. But no matter how funny it would be, Tyrone Calico is not walking through that door, Titans fans. The starting wideouts are Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt. Nate Washington and Damien Williams still work here. I’m done waiting for Britt to do something just because he’s the tallest, it’s Wright’s now. The second-year Titan will have the most consistent year. The problem is that Jake Locker is a stunted specimen that no one believes in. I don’t see how Ryan Fitzpatrick stays on the bench for long. The defense allowed 29.4 points per game last year, and the Titans spent the off-season trying to generate a pass rush in the draft, even bringing in former Saints bounty hunter, Gregg Williams as a full-time assistant. I don’t expect Munchak to get the eight wins he needs to save his job. — RR
I made obvious jokes about the Jaguars this summer and got taken to task by their passionate base. Now I’m crying under a blanket, tears ruining my mascara, asking YouTube to leave Blaine Gabbert alone. He looks like Nick Carter and has been abysmal under center, but this is the year the two zeroes become an eight and it all comes together. I’m buying three-day passes to Gab-Fest. He has a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew (whom led the league in rushing just two years ago), a breakout receiver in Cecil Shorts–winning that elusive third game is a certainty. The narrative is important and telling: New owner Shahid Kahn is committed to making this brand a global export, committing them to the London game for the next three years. To do that, he needs a relevant team. To be relevant, he burned down the 2-14 house and brought in general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley. They drafted the best offensive line prospect, Luke Joeckel, and took playmakers Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders in subsequent rounds. This is year one and the goal is five wins. They’ll get there, but more importantly it’ll be a stylish, wild ride. The kind that makes elementary school children choose the colors and the logos; just like it did 16 years ago for a generation of useless bandwagon kids that would change colors and root for Tennessee and Tampa Bay a year later anyway. Don’t think I’ve forgiven, Scott Migl. — RR
Gambling Pete’s Divisional Special
I did a little research and found out two things. If you tally up all the win totals it gets us over the maximum amount of wins at 256. The sportsbook is playing into everyone’s preseason optimism. I tend bet unders, so I’m good there. Also, Blaine Gabbert is bad. But my fear there is that the Jags will eventually figure out that their best bet to win is with Chad Henne. They don’t need to win a Super Bowl mind you, just five games. Mo Jones, Cecil Shorts, etc. Look at their schedule, it’s cake. This is a 4-5 win team with Henne. I’m staying away. I actually think Tennessee is just as bad as the Jags. And their win total is set at 6.5. Is Tennessee a seven-win team? I’m betting no. I think CJ2K has lost a step and Jake Locker is a backup in starter’s clothing. If I’ve got a million dollars, I’m putting 100k on the under 6.5 wins for the Titans at -125. — Pete Fitzsimmons