By: Josh Bozzick ~Staff Writer~
The 2016 NFL season gets underway on Thursday, with the defending champion Denver Broncos hosting the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl rematch. The league looks considerably different than it did at the end of last season, so expect a lot of exciting developments in each and every division.
The AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots for the last 15 years. With quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the season because of “Deflategate,” the door could be left open for a changing of the guard. Expect the New York Jets to seriously contend for a divisional title.
In the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals should both vie for the division crown. The Steelers are a trendy Super Bowl pick due to their offensive juggernaut status, and the Bengals have one of the most talented rosters on both sides of the ball.
Down in the AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts look to regain their 2014 form with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck, who spent much of last season on the sideline with significant injuries. They’ll be challenged every step of the way, with the Texans adding Peyton Manning’s protégé Brock Osweiler and standout former-Dolphins running back Lamar Miller. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who won his third defensive player of the year award in 2015, will continue to anchor a strong Texans’ front seven.
The Oakland Raiders offer the best chance to end the Broncos’ string of five consecutive AFC West titles. Their young trio of quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and linebacker Khalil Mack have the Raiders playing great football on both sides of the ball. However, the Broncos won’t go down quietly, thanks mostly to their defense, which is one of the best in NFL history.
The NFC East seems to always be a comedy of errors, and this year looks no different. The Eagles and Cowboys will both be starting the year with rookie signal callers in Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. The Redskins will look to repeat as division champions, with a defense that looks to reload after the addition of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
The Green Bay Packers look to win the NFC North behind their incredibly talented roster, led as always by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Last year’s division champions, the Minnesota Vikings, don’t pose as much of a threat as they did one week ago. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is out for the season with a knee injury, causing panic in Minnesota.
After a 15-1 campaign a year ago, the NFC South is the Panthers’ to lose. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is back after missing 2015, ready to team up with 2015 NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton. Tampa Bay’s second year quarterback Jameis Winston should keep the Buccaneers interesting, and you can’t count out the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints purely because of their strong quarterback play.
The NFC West is rather top heavy, with both the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks entering the season as Super Bowl contenders. Both teams boast high-flying offenses and tough defensive fronts, essentially counting out the rest of the division. The Rams’ will be playing for the future, however, as second-year running back Todd Gurley and rookie quarterback Jared Goff, look to kick-off the Rams arrival in Los Angeles in a positive way.