With the Super Bowl and the Seahawks' 'worst result ever' in the rear-view mirror, FOX Sports South invokes a detailed and whimsical look at some early, early bold predictions for the 2015 NFL season. (Photos: Brad Penner/Charles LeClaire/Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
The Patriots and Steelers will launch the 2015 season
SKINNY: 1) Baltimore Ravens' plight aside (2013), it's customary for the defending world champions to open the following season on Thursday of Week 1 -- at home. The Patriots' opponent options include: Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Jaguars, Eagles, Redskins, Steelers, Titans. 2) The NFL likely won't tap also-rans Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington, Miami or New York for this slot. That leaves the Bills (Rex Ryan's Buffalo debut), Eagles (Bill Belichick vs. Chip Kelly) or Steelers (defending AFC North champs) as the most attractive alternatives. 3) From 2005-14, spanning 10 seasons, the defending Super Bowl champs opened with a non-divisional foe eight times (perhaps ruling out Bills at Pats). 4) The NFL would undoubtedly love the QB clash of Tom Brady (left) vs. Ben Roethlisberger (right).
The Chiefs will bust their ludicrous TD drought in Week 1
SKINNY: 1) Incredibly, neither Dwayne Bowe (right), Donnie Avery, A.J Jenkins, Albert Wilson, Jason Avant nor Junior Hemingway (left) tallied a receiving touchdown in 2014. That ignominious streak dates back to Dec. 9, 2013 -- a day after Bowe scored against the Redskins. 2) Against the Chargers last season (Week 17), Bowe fumbled the ball right before the goal line, allowing tight end Travis Kelce to collect the fumble-recovery TD. 3) For the April NFL Draft, the Chiefs should be among the clubs which covet Alabama's Amari Cooper (middle -- 124 catches, 1,727 yards, 16 TDs in 2014). Bottom line: Championship-caliber teams should never be this mediocre -- especially in a so-called passing league.
Justin Blackmon will lead the Jags in receiving yards/TDs
SKINNY: 1) We're taking a giant leap of faith on Blackmon, who's this close to a lifetime NFL drug ban. He'll need the league's approval for reinstatement. 2) From Week 10 of 2012 to Week 8 the following year, spanning 11 games, Blackmon notched four outings of 90-plus yards, scored five TDs and had nine-plus targets nine times (including 20 against the Broncos in 2013). 3) Citing his last eight games, Blackmon averaged seven receptions. 4) All three Jaguars rookie receivers fared well in 2014, with Allen Hurns (51 catches/677 yards/6 TDs), Allen Robinson (48 catches/548 yards/2 TDs) and Marqise Lee (37 catches/422 yards/1 TD) showing flashes of potential. 5) Adding to the degree of difficulty here, Jacksonville will likely target another receiver from this draft -- perhaps Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Jaelen Strong or Ty Montgomery.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
The Seahawks will drop multiple home games in 2015
SKINNY: 1) In the Russell Wilson era (2011-13, including the playoffs), the Seahawks have a sparkling 26-2 record at CenturyLink Field. 2) During this run of dominance, the 'Hawks had plenty of salary-cap flexibility -- a function of paying out Wilson ($817,302) and Marshawn Lynch (above) less than $8 million in 2014. Both stars, however, are expected to get substantial pay raises next season. 3) For 2015, Seattle has daunting home games (on paper) against Pittsburgh, Detroit, Carolina, St. Louis, San Francisco and Arizona. Plus, Chicago and Cleveland (depending on the 'when' portion of the schedule) could be trap outings.
Rookie Melvin Gordon will finish among the top-five rushers
SKINNY: 1) It's usually proper to wait until after the draft before making any grand proclamations with rookies. But it won't really matter which club selects Gordon (a Jamaal Charles clone) in late April -- just like it didn't matter how the Cincinnati Bengals already had Gio Bernard upon taking Jeremy Hill in Round 2 (1,339 total yards, nine TDs). Translation: Gordon's a no-brainer, transcendent talent. 2) Gordon rushed for 175-plus yards nine times in his collegiate career -- a robust figure that would have been substantially higher if Montee Ball (33 rushing TDs in 2011) and James White didn't outrank him on the U-W depth chart for two seasons. 3) Gordon rushed for 408 yards/4 TDs against Nebraska in November. Nebraska!
Antonio Brown will notch three straight 100-catch seasons
SKINNY: 1) Here's the exclusive list of back-to-back-to-back wideouts with 100-plus catches: Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall, Herman Moore. 2) In 2014, Brown tallied 1,698 yards, 13 TDs ... and 129 receptions -- the second-greatest tally in a single NFL season. 3) Brown has averaged 144 targets in the past four years (2011-14), hlighlighted by the 181 from last season. 4) Moving forward, opposing defenses cannot double-team Brown with regularity -- given the presence of RB Le'Veon Bell (good bet for 2,000 total yards) and WR Martavis Bryant. 5) Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger remains an annual candidate for 5,000 yards passing/30 TDs.
The lowly Bucs will make a 7-victory jump in 2015
SKINNY: 1) In Lovie Smith's second season with Chicago (2005), the Bears leapt from 5-11 to 11-5. 2) Don't be too distraught about the Buccaneers' 2-14 record. They're teeming with potential superstars like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (right) and receiver Mike Evans (left -- 68 catches/1,051 yards/12 TDs as a rookie). 3) One-time Heisman winner Jameis Winston (middle) remains the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 overall draft pick ... and lead Tampa Bay for the next 10-12 years. 4) The Bucs have eight outings against the NFC East and AFC South in 2015. 5) The rushing duo of Doug Martin and Charles Sims have the capacity for 2,300 combined yards this season.
The NFC North will have three clubs of 10-plus victories
SKINNY: 1) Dating back to 2012, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (middleP) has won 18 straight regular-season home outings. 2) Presuming Ndamukong Suh re-signs with the club, the Lions should again have a top-three defense. 3) Receiver Calvin Johnson (right) has averaged 93 catches, 1,554 yards and 10 TDs over the last four seasons. 4) Tailback Adrian Peterson (left) should be a strong candidate for 1,600 rushing yards/10 TDs in 2015 -- assuming the Vikings are OK with the $15.4 million cap number. 5) The Vikings may have struck gold with Teddy Bridgewater at QB. 6) In their final 11 games last year, Minnesota held the opposition to 17 or fewer points six times. 7) The NFC North draws both West divisions in 2015 (eight games).
Greg Zuerlein will match or eclipse the NFL field-goal record
SKINNY: 1) In his Broncos heyday (2013), Matt Prater (now of the Lions) kicked a 64-yard field goal -- an NFL record (formerly 63 yards). 2) With the Rams last year, Zuerlein buried five of seven kicks from 50-plus yards. 3) Speaking of long range, Zuerlein has connected on 59 percent of his field-goal tries from 50-plus yards. 4) St. Louis ranked just 22nd last season, in terms of red-zone scoring percentage (50 percent ... TD only). That leaves a lot of open-ended opportunities for Zuerlein, who boasts a career rate of 82 percent.
Follow the trend: The Giants will beat the Pats in Super Bowl 50
SKINNY: 1) In the Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin era (2004-14), the Giants have claimed a Lombardi Trophy whenever drawing the AFC East (2007, 2011). This happens again in 2015. 2) Odell Beckham Jr. (right -- 91 catches/1,305 yards/12 TDs) just finished one of the greatest rookie campaigns in NFL history. 3) Once again, New England should be a prohibitive favorite to claim the AFC East title and represent the conference in the Super Bowl. 4) Tight end Rob Gronkowski (left) and Tom Brady remain the premier assets at their positions. As such, Brady seeks to become the first starting QB to claim five Lombardi trophies. 5) It must be a 'Giants' trending thing: The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series for every even-numbered year this decade. (Photos: Matthew Emmons/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)