It's finally here. After Deflate-gate and a wild offseason (and months of anticipation), the 2015 NFL season kicks off this weekendwith 32 teams vying to fight for the 50thSuper Bowl.
And while there is no predicting the inevitable onslaught of injuries or the rise of the next of the league's super stars --clandestine on NFL depth charts somewhere ready to burst on the scene -- there is no harm is taking a guess as to which teams will rise to the top, and which players will nab hardware. Here are our picks:
AFC East: Patriots
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The Pats are still the team to beat this year, despite some roster turnover (the loss of Vince Wilfork and Darrelle Revis among others). If Jimmy Garoppolo was starting the first four games, the Bills and Dolphins --both improved --would have a legitimate shot here. But an uncertain offense in Buffalo and revamp defense in Miami won't be able to unseat the reigning champs and Tom Brady. Look for the Fins to be in the mix for a wild card spot with New England in the mix for a first-round bye.
AFC North: Ravens
Many football pundits have Baltimore in this year's Super Bowl. Perhaps that's a stretch for a team with so many new faces and in one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. The Ravens have the edge with a more complete roster than the Bengals and Steelers, but both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have the firepower to make it a dogfight, or even make it a trio of teams from the North in the playoffs.
AFC South: Colts
No one is really talking about it, but Andrew Luck and the Colts have revenge on their minds. They mayhave been blown out of the water in the AFC title game (ground zero for Deflate-gate) but they have certainly reloaded and will be among the top teams in the entire NFL in 2015. Don't be shocked if Luck hooks up with new acquisition, veteran Andre Johnson with great frequency, or if Frank Gore revitalizes the Indy running game.
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AFC West: Broncos
Don't bet against Peyton Manning. With an offseason of rest and of hard work behind him, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer should be in regular season form and can lead Denver to the promised land (one last time). But the Chiefs and Chargers are not to be trifled with, and the Broncos will likely rely more on C.J. Anderson and the ground game to fend off two legitimatechallengers for the division crown.
NFC East: Eagles
The Eagles could finish with anywhere between six and 14 wins. That's quite a range, and like most NFL teams, Chip Kelly's success comes down to the health of his players. If Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray can stay healthy and play an entire season, there is no limit to how far this team can go. And even if not, Kelly has taken two Eagles teams to double-digit wins with a combination of Nick Foles,Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez at the helm. Bet on his scheme, and his just-good-enough defense. Cowboys will win a Wild Card spot.
NFC North: Packers
It's a three-team race up north with the Packers, favored even without Jordy Nelson, barely fending off the Lions and Vikings to win the division. The Lions could mount a serious challenge and are a real threat as a Wild Card playoff team. Aaron Rodgers still puts up MVP-worthy numbers.
NFC South: Buccaneers
Like last season, no one in the NFC South really deserves a playoff spot. So why not have some fun and take Jameis Winston and the underrated Bucs to win the division (probably at 8-8). Matt Ryan and Julio Jones aren't enough to carry the Falcons and Cam Newton's primary weapons are too beat up for him to win the division in Carolina single-handedly.
NFC West: Seahawks
The Cardinals aren't bad, but the Rams (too early) and the 49ers (too late) are really no threat for one of the best defenses in NFL history -- along with Russell Wilson, whose got Jimmy Graham on his side. If Seattlecan settle this thing with Kam Chancellor, they're a sure thing.
AFC Championship: Colts over Patriots
The official changing of the guard will take place in the AFC.
NFC Championship: Eagles over Packers
Sam Bradford is an All-Pro, The Eagles'offense sets records and the defense is deep enough to stand tough for extended reps on the field.
Super Bowl 50: Colts over Eagles
The Birds come close but can't overcome Andrew Luck and his thwarting of the Eagles' secondary.
Defensive player of the year:J.J. Watt, Texans
Things learned about Watt from HBO's Hard Knocks: Watt can mount a goal line stand all by himself. Watt sleeps 10 hours a day and treats his body like an Olympian. Watt never stops practicing (except when he sleeps). Watt played quarterback in practice. Watt did an awesome Chris Farley impression. Back-to-back trophies for the best player in the NFL.
Offensive player of the year: Adrian Peterson, Vikings
APeteis back with a vengeance. He'll also win comeback player of the year.
NFL MVP: Andrew Luck, Colts
Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Frank Gore -- that's plenty for Luck.