Welcome to another edition of Love It or Hate It. This edition will focus on 5 burning questions surrounding the 2016 NFL season. The writers include Dwight Smith Jr and Zach Sparks of nflchalktalk.com and Mark Wilson.
The Washington Redskins Will Repeat As NFC East Champs
Dwight: Love It. The Washington Redskins have improved as a division winning team with the addition of shutdown corner Josh Norman which should solidify that defense on the back-end. The front seven is no mystery, and the offense should improve from last year with stability at the Quarterback position.
Zach: Hate it: The Redskins had a good year in 2015 behind Quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins had a break-out year in 2015 and has many wondering if he’s the new franchise QB in Washington? I have the Dallas Cowboys as division champs. Tony Romo will be quicker on his release after his breaking his collar-bone twice. Ezekiel Elliot will have an outstanding year behind that All-Pro O-line. A healthy Romo, Elliot, Witten, and Dez Bryant will lead the Cowboys past the Redskins for the division title this year. I don’t think the Redskins will make the playoffs, sorry Redskins fans.
Mark: Hate It. Last season was a breeze for the Redskins as they were rather healthy throughout the season. Cousins stepped into the starting role and led the Redskins to the division title but it’s not like there was any real competition along the way. The Philadelphia Eagles were messy, the Cowboys were without Romo and the Giants forgot that defense was a part of the game due to injuries. This season will bring change as all teams look to rebound.
The Oakland Raiders Will Make The Playoffs.
Dwight: Hate it. The Oakland Raiders will again improve this season and that alone will be a testament of quarterback Derek Carr’s growth into a solid NFL QB. The defense still needs some improvement, but they are solid enough on the defensive side of the ball to make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Raiders they’ll only make a run at the playoffs and fall just short in an already competitive AFC conference and AFC West division.
Zach: Love it: The Raiders have found their franchise Quarterback in Derek Carr. Carr is progressively getting better every year he is in the league and the Raiders are slowly but surely putting the pieces together around him. Amari Cooper looks to be a future star in the league. The Raiders have depth at WR with youngsters fighting for a spot on the roster and they may have a few stars in that bunch. Latavius Murray must have a good year to help boost them into the playoffs. They have a real shot of winning the division. The Broncos have no real QB, the Chargers have problems at running back and defense and the Chiefs had problems with injuries last year at the running back position and their defense wasn’t the best. I’ve said this for a few years now but this year I believe it. Ladies and Gentlemen the Raiders will be in the playoffs.
Mark: Love it: For the past three seasons I have given the Raiders my seal of approval, each year they have let me down. Last season the Raiders showed they could be contenders but late game mistakes due to inexperienced players cost them a shot at the playoffs. 2016 is the true beginning of a new era in Oakland. The young players have a year under their belts on offense and the defense is ready to make that Panthers type of jump in the rankings.
If Tom Brady Is Suspended The New England Patriots Will Miss The Playoffs
Dwight: Hate it. Tom Brady is still the best QB in the league. Don’t know how he does it but it works and he’ll only be suspended for 4 games. If that suspension was double then I would say they wouldn’t make the playoffs. This is a team that almost made the playoffs without Brady for an entire season due to injury which leads me to believe that once again the New England Patriots will be AFC East champions yet again.
Zach: Hate it: The Patriots will make the playoffs. If Brady is suspended they will not win the division but they will make a wildcard spot. If Brady is not suspended they will go 13-3 and be a #1 seed. Here is why they will make the playoffs. Gronk and Edelman. Everyone would love to have a target like Gronk, big, fast, and hard to bring down. The Bengals have a not-as-good but effective version in Tyler Eifert and Andy Dalton’s numbers are up when he is healthy. Edelman is one of the best wide-outs in the game. He is agile with a high football IQ which allows him to make split second decisions that change the game. Jimmy Garoppolo will have great success with these two targets. If the passing game isn’t working they have two great running backs in LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Blount will be their ground and pound guy and Lewis is an outside the tackles back and a threat in the passing game. The Patriots will be fine without Brady for four games.
Mark: Love It: There comes a time when all great runs must come to an end. Look at the Golden State Warriors. If Brady is to serve his 4-game suspension that’s a wrap on the Patriots 2016 season. I’m sorry Pats fans but if you honestly believe that Garoppolo can hold the fort down than I have some rental property to sell you in the black hole. The Pats will miss the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Are The Team To Beat In The AFC
Dwight: Hate it. The Pittsburgh Steelers are definitely a team not to be taken lightly! However, every year the Steelers have trouble with sub par teams and injuries. Their starting running back has to stay healthy and replacing Heath Miller will prove to be easier said than done. The defense still has some question marks in the secondary while hoping newly drafted corner Artie Burns must live up to his potential immediately. The Steelers will be among the top AFC teams but they may end up fighting for a wild card spot, and if they make it they could be a dangerous out.
Zach: Hate it: Before I even get started, Yes I am a Bengals fan but that has no effect on this article. Big Ben is a good Quarterback but he’s getting old. As last year showed he is fragile as well. Their number one running back has been hurt these last two years. The AFC North is one of if not the toughest division in the NFL. You can’t be fragile and play here. Heath Miller is gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended, and Bell is coming off a major injury. I don’t know if they can win the North this year. Their defense is not the best, their cornerbacks are awful and with the Steelers facing AJ Green, Steve Smith, Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham JR, and others they will have a rough year. No they’re not the team to beat.
Mark: Love It: Should it be the Denver Broncos due to their Super Bowl win? I have faith in their defense but their QB situation is much different. Despite Peyton Manning having the worst year of his career he is still better than any QB on the roster. The Steelers have the necessary tools, experience and they play in a division that should be in for a decline in production. With Le’Veon Bell healthy the offense will put up record-setting numbers and the defense will follow.
The Carolina Panthers Will Improve In 2016
Dwight: Hate it. The Carolina Panthers defense took a couple of big blows losing veteran Roman Harper and disgruntled shutdown corner Josh Norman. They still have excellent talent within the front seven but the loss of Norman will prove to be a gaping hole in their defense. This is a team that went 15-1 in the regular season last year and an improvement would mean an undefeated season! I honestly see this team taking a major step back with the improvements of the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina team has a target on their back.
Zach: Hate it: The Carolina Panthers had an outstanding year in 2015 behind Cam Newton. With that being said I don’t think the Panthers can improve. Carolina lost their best corner this offseason. Josh Norman held the other teams best Wideout in check most games and looking at the roster there is no one that strikes me as someone who will take that role over. Cam Newton will lead them to the playoffs again this year but as a 3 seed with a 12-4 record. They won’t improve because their defensive backs won’t be as strong as last year and that will cost them some games.
Mark: Love It: I love this but not for the reasons many think. The Panthers lost two games last season, the final one in the Super Bowl. Carolina went 15-1 during the regular season with the league’s top offense and a highly ranked defense. Yes the loss of Norman will hurt but the next man up mantra has always been the Panthers way. What the Panthers can improve on is their ground game and receivers. Both have been upgraded with the return of Kelvin Benjamin and a healthy Jonathan Stewart to start the season. Yes they can and did improve.