Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jeremy's Best- and/or Worst-Case NFL Preview

Tom Brady is back, but can the Patriots repeat?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

I’ve been slacking lately. Usually, I contribute extensively to the NFL preview. This year, I’ve contributed, in the words of Matt Foley, a cup filled to the brim with jack squat.

I don’t really have an excuse. I’ve been listless, lazy, and lacking inspiration. But I’m forcing myself to write an NFL preview. Because that’s what writers do. Because I’m listless, lazy, and lacking inspiration, I’m not really going to write anything of substance. But because I’m verbose and long-winded, this somehow runs over 7,000 words. However, each team will be nice and bold for you, so that if you want, you can just scroll until you find your favorite team and skip the rest.

Let’s be honest here - anything that I would possibly write that involves any type of analysis has probably already been published by someone far smarter, and anything that I would write that would be interesting to read has probably already been published by someone far more talented. And I say “probably” because I really haven’t read anything over the last month. Hell, the only reason I know what team all the free agents ended up on is because I’ve been doing research for my fantasy teams. I’m really just flying by the seat of my pants here.

I really don’t even have hard-and-fast predictions for each team, so I’m giving a wide range for all of them. Each team gets a best-case scenario for their season, each team gets a worst-case scenario for their season, and then each team gets a middle ground prediction that most reasonable people could probably see some merit in.

Arizona Cardinals
2014 Record: 11-5 (2nd in NFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over +110; Under -130)

Best-Case Scenario: Their performance with Carson Palmer under center was no fluke. Michael Floyd develops into the big-play receiver Arizona wants him to be, and Larry Fitzgerald has a career resurgence to remind us that the talent is still all there. The stars on defense keep the unit as one of the best in the league, and the Cardinals shock the Seahawks in Week 17 for a division crown.

Worst-Case Scenario: It turns out Carson Palmer’s health was the part that was no fluke. He goes down with another injury in Week 4 and the Cardinals once again scramble with replacements. Nobody is as bad as Ryan Lindley, but the ongoing fiasco costs them a playoff spot.

Real-Case Scenario: Palmer stays mostly healthy (let’s say he starts 14 games), but his torrid pace from last season tapers off considerably. The defense’s smoke-and-mirrors become exposed and it turns out Bruce Arians isn’t a wizard after all. They remain competitive but aren’t the cinderella story they were last year. They finish a respectable 9-7, but just miss the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons
2014 Record: 6-10 (3rd in NFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

Best-Case Scenario: Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman establish themselves as tremendous upgrades over the might-as-well-have-been-a-dead-guy Steven Jackson. Julio Jones continues to make his argument for being the best receiver in football. Vic Beasley is a terror on the pass-rush and the Falcons piece together a serviceable pass defense. In another down-year for the NFC South, a 10-6 season wins the division by a clear margin.

Worst-Case Scenario: The run offense still sucks, the defense still sucks, Roddy White loses a step, and Julio Jones takes a step back. With no reliable third receiver to pick up the slack and no depth at really any position, the offense sputters and Atlanta falls to a disappointing 5-11.

Real-Case Scenario: Coleman and Freeman provide small, but noticeable upgrades over Steven Jackson. The run game doesn’t rival Seattle’s, but it’s good enough to avoid embarrassment. New coach Dan Quinn helps the defense take a few steps forward, and a little luck in fluky areas help the Falcons improve to 9-7, which is good enough to steal the division in another weak year.

Baltimore Ravens
2014 Record: 10-6 (3rd in AFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 9.5 (Over +110; Under -130)

Best-Case Scenario: The Ravens scheme and talent on the offensive line is exactly what Justin Forsett had needed the whole time. The ageless Steve Smith remains a reliable target on the outside, and Breshad Perriman is the perfect deep threat to replace Torrey Smith. As per usual, they’re able to replace stars on defense with recent top picks and don’t miss a beat. The Steelers and Bengals slip and Baltimore cruises to an 11-5 division title.

Worst-Case Scenario: Forsett’s 2014 was a fluke, Smith hits a wall, and Perriman proves unready for NFL offenses. Haloti Ngata’s departure proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the defense finally falls to the bottom half of the league. With both units in decline, a surprise 7-9 disappointment leaves them far out of the playoff hunt.

Real-Case Scenario: Baltimore’s talent up-front makes their starting tailback position idiot-proof. Forsett keeps on trucking, as does Smith, and Perriman replicates most of what Torrey Smith did. The Ravens effectively roll back their 2014 season for another 10 wins.

Buffalo Bills
2014 Record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over +110; Under -130)

Best-Case Scenario: Tyrod Taylor becomes Russell Wilson-lite, zone-reading all over the field with LeSean McCoy and nailing inexplicably wide-open receivers downfield. Sammy Watkins emerges as the next great receiver and takes over several games. The Buffalo front four swallow up opponents, leading the league in sacks, and the secondary shuts down everything else, leading the league in interceptions. The Bills shock the Patriots twice and finish 11-5 to win the AFC East.

Worst-Case Scenario: Tyrod Taylor is, well, Tyrod Taylor. Buffalo can’t make any plays in the passing game and LeSean McCoy gets bottled up as a result. Constantly playing from behind, Buffalo’s great pass rush is negated, and the Bills stumble to a 5-11 finish.

Real-Case Scenario: Taylor opens up the playbook a little for Buffalo, making their offense at least reasonably fun to watch. He’s able to swing a game or two by making plays outside the pocket on key third-downs, and the defense takes care of the rest. The Bills win 9 games and keep themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt all the way through Week 17.

Carolina Panthers
2014 Record: 7-8-1 (1st in NFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8 (Over Even; Under -120)

Best-Case Scenario: Jonathan Stewart stays healthy for all 16 games for once in his life, and is able to sustain his performance from the second half of 2014. Cam Newton miraculously doesn’t constantly have to deal with bumps and bruises all year and is able to make big plays on the ground. Devin Funchess steps in admirably for Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen emerges as a top-flight tight end. The defense remains one of the better units in the league and the Panthers take the division for the third straight year at 10-6.

Worst-Case Scenario: Stewart goes down, leaving Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne atop Carolina’s running back depth chart. Without Kelvin Benjamin, the passing attack plummets to the bottom quarter of the league, and the defense can’t support such an anemic offense. The NFC South improves across the board outside of the Panthers, and they stumble to a 4th-place finish at 5-11.

Real-Case Scenario: Stewart and Newton both struggle at times to stay on the field. Neither plays 16 games. The passing game takes a noticeable hit, especially for the 2-3 games they have to rely on Derek Anderson. The defense keeps up appearances, but it’s not enough to keep Carolina atop the division. They finish 8-8.

Chicago Bears
2014 Record: 5-11 (4th in NFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6.5 (Over +125; Under -145)

Best-Case Scenario: Alshon Jeffery blows up with Brandon Marshall out of the picture, and Kevin White steps in mid-season to be 2015’s version of Odell Beckham. Eddie Royal gives Jay Cutler the slot receiver he’s been missing for just about his entire career, and Matt Forte continues to be one of the most reliable running backs in football. The defense gets lucky with turnovers and turns in a unit good enough to propel Chicago and their surprisingly spectacular offense to 10 wins and a wild-card berth.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jeffery isn’t ready to be a No. 1 target, and Kevin White can never get fully healthy. Jay Cutler’s gunslinger disposition leads to an ungodly amount of turnovers, and a dismal defense sinks the Bears all the way to a 2-14 season.

Real-Case Scenario: Cutler admirably tries to keep the offense afloat in a transition year, and he, Jeffery, and Forte at least keep the points flowing while the defense leaks like a sieve. The Bears only manage 5 or 6 wins and the offseason gets ugly.

Cincinnati Bengals
2014 Record: 10-5-1 (2nd in AFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

Best-Case Scenario: A healthy A.J. Green, coupled with the thunder-and-lightning combo of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard give the Bengals a high-powered offense to match their efficient defense. Andy Dalton has a breakout year and emerges as an elite NFL quarterback. An 11-win season clinches them the division and they finally get over the hump and advance all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Worst-Case Scenario: The residual effects of repeated disappointment finally come crashing down on Dalton’s head and he is rendered useless (think Matt Schaub in 2012). The pass rush disappears and a banged-up linebacking corps can’t stay healthy. In a season from hell, the Bengals go 4-12 and find themselves searching for a new quarterback.

Real-Case Scenario: Dalton remains old faithful - never one of the league’s elite, but always serviceable and never an outright train-wreck. Hill and Bernard again provide a versatile combo out of the backfield, and last year’s anemic pass rush gives way to a sack rate closer to the middle of the league. A.J. Green returns to old form, and solid play in every facet of the game keep the Bengals on track in a once-again competitive AFC North. 9 or 10 wins isn’t enough to guarantee them the division, but they’re in the hunt for a playoff spot the whole way.

Cleveland Browns
2014 Record: 7-9 (4th in AFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6.5 (Over +150; Under -175)

Best-Case Scenario: Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline (as crazy as this sounds) offer huge upgrades over last year’s receivers. Josh McCown starts the season with a few stellar games, leading the Browns to a surprising 3-0 start. Once he falters, he’s benched for Johnny Manziel who sparks Cleveland’s offense along with their three-headed monster at tailback (Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Duke Johnson). The other AFC North teams falter, and the Browns sneak in to steal the division at 9-7.

Worst-Case Scenario: McCown still can’t find the form he showed during the second half of 2013, and an overwhelmed Manziel doesn’t fare any better. Bowe and Hartline can’t find their groove with such erratic quarterback play, and the Browns offense finishes dead last. The defense doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, either, and the Browns finish 3-13.

Real-Case Scenario: Neither McCown nor Manziel play well enough to really seal themselves as the long-term starting quarterback. The improved talent at wide receiver and depth at running back makes the offense vaguely interesting, but not enough to keep the Browns afloat. The AFC North is once again strong, so the Browns don’t come anywhere close to a playoff spot.

Dallas Cowboys
2014 Record: 12-4 (1st in AFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 9.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

Best-Case Scenario: DeMarco Murray’s 2014 season was a mirage - all that really mattered was the Dallas offensive line. Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden rush for 1000 yards each and Tony Romo once again has an explosively efficient season. Terrance Williams emerges as a dynamite No. 2 receiver and the Cowboys, with an improved defense thanks to the return of Sean Lee, surge to a 13-3 record and an easy NFC East crown.

Worst-Case Scenario: DeMarco Murray really *is* that good, and McFadden and Randle and the rest of the Dallas backfield can’t replicate his success. Romo is forced to throw a lot more, which leads to some diminishing returns and a lot more turnovers. The defense doesn’t improve as hoped and the Cowboys return to their old tradition of squandering a division title in Week 17.

Real-Case Scenario: Running back once again proves to be a fungible position and the Cowboys turn out to be just fine with their running-back-by-committee. Romo again has an efficient season with the offensive line keeping him upright and Dez Bryant continues to be one of the league’s premier receivers. The defense holds together with spit and glue and the Cowboys scrape their way to 10 wins.

Denver Broncos
2014 Record: 12-4 (1st in AFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 10.5 (Over +110; Under -130)

Best-Case Scenario: C.J. Anderson isn’t just lightning in a bottle and proves to have real staying power. He leads the league in rushing, allowing the Denver passing attack to be the most efficient in the league. With less riding on his shoulders, Peyton Manning picks his spots and is able to stay healthy. Shane Ray adds to an already impressive pass rush, and they’re able to tee off with Denver playing from ahead the whole time. The Broncos win 14 games and cruise to the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.

Worst-Case Scenario: The hobbled Peyton Manning we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs last year is just how Peyton Manning is from now on. Offensive responsibility is placed in the lap of the running game, which wilts under greater scrutiny. The defense regresses for reasons unexplained, and the Broncos inexplicably drop to 8-8.

Real-Case Scenario: Manning is 39, so we can’t expect him to throw for 5500 yards and 55 touchdowns anymore. But he’s still Peyton Manning, so the Broncos will still be good. C.J. Anderson is serviceable, and the defense is still better than most, and the Broncos cruise to 11 or 12 wins and an AFC West title.

Detroit Lions
2014 Record: 11-5 (2nd in NFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over +105; Under -125)

Best-Case Scenario: Haloti Ngata serves as a reasonable facsimile of Ndamukong Suh, but Ziggy Ansah breaks through to become the new star for Detroit’s defense. Glover Quin cements himself as the best safety in football not named Earl Thomas, and the Detroit defense doesn’t miss a beat. On offense, Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah provide the Lions with the ground game they’ve been missing all these years, and a healthy Calvin Johnson re-establishes himself as the best receiver in football. With the rest of the division in flux, 12 wins seals a division crown and a first-round bye.

Worst-Case Scenario: The defense craters without Suh, and Stafford’s turnover rate spikes back up. With a poor defense, no running game, and a turnover-prone quarterback, the Lions fall all the way back to 6-10.

Real-Case Scenario: The Lions have enough talent on defense to remain respectable. Finally with real depth at the skill positions, they’re able to stomach a few bumps and bruises to key guys. They don’t have any one unit that sets them apart, but instead are above-average in every facet of the game to put them in double-digit wins again.

Green Bay Packers
2014 Record: 12-4 (1st in NFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 11 (Over +105; Under -125)

Best-Case Scenario: The offense doesn’t miss a beat without Jordy Nelson. Eddie Lacy emerges as the best all-around back in football, Davante Adams enjoys a breakout year on par with DeAndre Hopkins last year, and Aaron Rodgers continues to be a superhuman freak of nature. Ty Montgomery pitches in, almost like a Randall Cobb clone, and the Packers offense remains the class of the NFC. Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers wreak havoc on opposing offenses and the Packers win 12 games again.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jordy Nelson was the straw that stirred the drink, and the Green Bay offense sputters (relatively speaking) without a go-to receiver on the outside. Eddie Lacy again doesn’t improve much despite big expectations, and the defense ages 20 years overnight. They look fine on paper but they limp to a 9-7 finish and just miss the playoffs.

Real-Case Scenario: Rodgers proves to be just too good for the loss of any one receiver to matter. He turns Jeff Janis, James Jones, and Ty Montgomery into serviceable weapons, and the defense holds up well enough for the Packers to win 10+ games.

Houston Texans
2014 Record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

Best-Case Scenario: Arian Foster, against all odds, returns to the lineup in Week 3 and puts together a healthy, productive season. Jadeveon Clowney gets his legs underneath him and becomes a terror on the defensive line alongside J.J. Watt. Brian Hoyer is a serviceable, albeit limited quarterback, but he doesn't turn the ball over and finds DeAndre Hopkins downfield often enough to keep the Texans in just about every game. Houston goes 11-5 and steal both games against Indianapolis for a division title.

Worst-Case Scenario: Hoyer proves why he's never stuck with a team for very long and never finds a groove. Without a reliable passing attack, the ground game also sputters when a banged-up Foster and overwhelmed Alfred Blue can't find running lanes against 8-man boxes. J.J. Watt has a down year and the Texans go 4-12 as the defense falls with him.

Real-Case Scenario: Hoyer plays basically like he did last year - he's not going to win you any games, but he probably won't lose any, either. Foster comes back mid-season and has a few strong games before fading down the stretch. Watt continues to be a terror for opponents and disrupts just enough to keep the defense afloat. Average in every respect, Houston's season comes down to luck and they win somewhere between 7-9 games.

Indianapolis Colts
2014 Record: 11-5 (1st in AFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 10.5 (Over -165; Under +140)

Best-Case Scenario: Andre Johnson has a career resurgence and once again is an All-Pro receiver. Frank Gore does exactly what Frank Gore does every year, and the Colts finally have a running game to take pressure off Andrew Luck and makes defenses respect play-action for once. Robert Mathis returns to the lineup and resumes his All-World pressure on quarterbacks. The Colts' defense catches up with their offense and they finish 13-3.

Worst-Case Scenario: It turns out Trent Richardson wasn't as bad as advertised, and it's really Indianapolis' offensive line where the problem lies. Frank Gore and Andre Johnson slow two steps each and they both prove to be poor investments. The offensive line can't keep Luck upright and a few nagging injuries keep him out of two games, which both turn into losses to teams they certainly would have beat with Luck. The Colts finish 9-7, second in the division.

Real-Case Scenario: Having a reliable second target opens up the passing game even more. Frank Gore does almost everything that they hoped Trent Richardson would do, and having two real threats puts Indianapolis on the same level as Denver and New England. The defense still has holes, which keeps them from a truly transcendent season, but they easily get to 12 wins in a weak AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2014 Record: 3-13 (3rd in AFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 5.5 (Over -120; Under Even)

Best-Case Scenario: Blake Bortles makes a significant leap from Year 1 to Year 2, and a surprising amount of depth at the skill positions makes for a good Jacksonville offense. Defensive newcomers Jared Odrick, Chris Clemons, and Dan Skuta shore up the front seven and the Jaguars somehow piece together a league-average defense. The Jags go 8-8 and leave themselves in a position to possibly steal the division should anything happen to Andrew Luck.

Worst-Case Scenario: It turns out they were just as wrong about Bortles as they were about Blaine Gabbert. He still fails to grasp even the most basic of concepts at the NFL level, and a makeshift offensive line leaves him on his back more often than not. Turnover on defense turns out to be a net negative in Year 1, and the Jags stumble to an embarrassing 1-15 record.

Real-Case Scenario: Bortles is slightly better, the running backs are slightly better, and the defense is slightly better. But it turns out to not matter much as every other team in the division got better as well. The Jaguars are better on paper, and better on the field, but the end result is still just 3 or 4 wins.

Kansas City Chiefs
2014 Record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -155; Under +135)

Best-Case Scenario: Now two years removed from a strange knee injury that cost him all of 2013, Travis Kelce blossoms into the best tight end in the league without a name that starts with G (and better than a few that do). Along with Jeremy Maclin, he turns Kansas City’s passing game into a far more explosive and productive exercise. Finally with real threats on the outside, Jamaal Charles leads the league in rushing and Alex Smith leads the league in passer rating. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali combine for 30 sacks and the Chiefs earn a surprise AFC West title.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jeremy Maclin can’t provide much of an upgrade over Dwayne Bowe, as it turns out Maclin’s talent was inflated by Philadelphia’s system. Jamaal Charles gets banged up and misses a few games, and Knile Davis can’t pick up the slack. Alex Smith regresses back to his pre-Jim Harbaugh years and the Kansas City offense crumbles from top to bottom. Unable to consistently score, the great pass rush becomes near-irrelevant and the Chiefs finish 5-11.

Real-Case Scenario: Maclin is a marginal upgrade over Bowe - at least enough to break the streak of Kansas City wide receivers not scoring touchdowns. Kelce comes into his own and an improving offensive line leads to a bounce-back year for Charles. The Chiefs get to 10 wins, possibly more if Peyton Manning’s bumps and bruises become anything more than bumps and bruises.

Miami Dolphins
2014 Record: 8-8 (3rd in AFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 9 (Over -145; Under +125)

Best-Case Scenario: Ndamukong Suh transforms Miami’s defense into the league’s best outfit. Lamar Miller and Jarvis Landry both enjoy breakout seasons and Ryan Tannehill takes a leap into the conversation as a top-10 quarterback. The Dolphins steal a game from the Patriots like they always do, but are able to ride that momentum all the way to an 11-5 record and a shocking division title.

Worst-Case Scenario: Even Suh can’t fix what went wrong with Miami’s defense during the second half last year. Brian Hartline proves to be the secret ingredient to Miami’s offense and Tannehill regresses badly. The Dolphins stumble out of the gate and then things go even worse with a tough second-half schedule. They finish 6-10 and everyone gets fired.

Real-Case Scenario: Tannehill improves, and Suh fixes some problems, but not all of them. Their lack of depth at wide receiver hurts them at times, and they become hopeless if the game turns into a shootout. They scrap their way through an improved AFC East and keep themselves in the playoff hunt through the end of the season.

Minnesota Vikings
2014 Record: 7-9 (3rd in NFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 7.5 (Over -250; Under +210)

Best-Case Scenario: Adrian Peterson returns to the lineup and promptly runs through everyone in his path. He eclipses 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns just like he has every other year that he’s played more than 12 games. With Peterson providing the thunder, Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson provide the lightning - they run in straight lines downfield and torch teams for long touchdowns. Minnesota surprises with a top-5 offense, and the defense improves substantially as well. Detroit takes a step back without Suh, Green Bay takes a step back without Jordy Nelson, and Minnesota sneaks into a division crown at 11-5.

Worst-Case Scenario: Adrian Peterson just straight lost it in the year he didn’t play football. He’s a step slower, he can’t make people miss, and his upright running style finally takes its toll. He plays six mostly ineffective games before suffering a season-ending injury. With no running game, there’s no reason for opposing safeties not to sit on the deep routes from Wallace and Patterson and the Vikings can’t move the ball unless Teddy Bridgewater turns nothing into something with his legs. The Vikings struggle all season and only muster 4 wins.

Real-Case Scenario: Peterson is probably going to be about as productive as he was in 2013. He’s not going to light the world on fire, but he’s going to be a pretty good running back. Wallace, Patterson, and Charles Johnson are going to make big plays occasionally. The defense lacks traditional star power, but they’ve got strong players at every position. Most signs point to 9 or 10 wins and possibly a playoff berth.

New England Patriots
2014 Record: 12-4 (1st in AFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 10.5 (Over -150; Under +130)

Best-Case Scenario: Tom Brady and the rest of the team comes out with a chip on their shoulder following the deflategate decision and run up the score like they did following spygate. The offensive line issues that plagued them at the start of last season have been resolved, and they spend the entire season playing like they did in that stretch from Weeks 5-12 when they blew out everyone they played. They win 15 games and never come close to relinquishing the No. 1 seed.

Worst-Case Scenario: The NFL appeals Judge Berman’s ruling and wins, suspending Tom Brady in the middle of the season. Without Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner, the pass defense regresses substantially, and a season full of hiccoughs ends in disaster with a 9-7 record and a 3rd-place finish in the AFC East.

Real-Case Scenario: They win 12 games. Like they always do.

New Orleans Saints
2014 Record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -125; Under +105)

Best-Case Scenario: The Saints switch gears and turn into the league’s best rushing attack. Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller stay healthy and combine for over 2000 yards. Brandin Cooks adds another 400 on jet sweeps and reverses and generally is a terror in open space. Marques Colston benefits from safeties playing up and burns opponents with his signature post and square-in routes. The secondary emerges as one of the league’s best, and teams find it exceedingly difficult to make up leads against New Orleans. The Saints cruise to an NFC South division title at 12-4.

Worst-Case Scenario: The plan to put more of an emphasis on the running game works great until Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller both get hurt, like they always do. Without their usual depth at receiver, Drew Brees once again has to do everything himself, which leads to more interceptions than anyone wants. The defense can’t keep it up all year with no real depth, and New Orleans stumbles to a 6-10 finish.

Real-Case Scenario: Like just about every other team in the NFC South, there’s just as much reason to believe their best-case scenario will happen as their worst-case scenario will happen. The best bet is that they all finish somewhere between 6-10 wins and the division comes down to which team gets lucky in their games against the other three teams.

New York Giants
2014 Record: 6-10 (3rd in NFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8 (Over +130; Under -150)

Best-Case Scenario: Odell Beckham continues his tour de force downfield. He cements himself as the best receiver in football and successfully opens up the shallow field for Victor Cruz to operate as well as he did before his injury. Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams pound through the line on 1st and 2nd down and Shane Vereen continues to be one of the best 3rd down backs in football. The Giants aerial attack is unmatched in the NFC and alongside an improved secondary, the Giants win the NFC East.

Worst-Case Scenario: Odell Beckham regresses, because his production is simply unsustainable in the long-term. Victor Cruz is still hobbled and can’t make the plays he used to. Rashad Jennings gets injured, Andre Williams loses his touch, and Shane Vereen can’t handle being an every-down player. With no pass rush to speak of, the defense folds like an accordian and the Giants limp to a 4-12 record.

Real-Case Scenario: Beckham is still one of the league’s best, Cruz helps a little bit, and the three-headed monster at running back gives Big Blue a respectable rushing attack. The secondary is strong, but the front seven gets inconsistent pressure on the quarterback. Eli Manning has a usual Eli Manning season - four spectacular games, four terrible games, and eight nothing-to-sneeze-at games. The Giants go 8-8.

New York Jets
2014 Record: 4-12 (4th in AFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 7.5 (Over Even; Under -120)

Best-Case Scenario: The defensive line negates everything else that is wrong with the team. Mo Wilkerson and Leonard Williams form the best duo of 3-4 defensive ends that we've seen in a decade. With Revis and Cromartie back in town as well, the Jets assemble the league's best defense and ride it to 10 wins and a wild card berth.

Worst-Case Scenario: Regardless of how good the defense is, the offense is so inept that it doesn't even matter. A two-score lead is insurmountable, even with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the league in interceptions even though they're running the ball more often than any other team. They fail to score more than 24 points all season and finish 2-14.

Real-Case Scenario: Somewhere in the middle. The defense isn't *that* good, but the offenses isn't *that* bad, either. Fitzpatrick keeps them afloat just enough to stay competitive, but their lack of firepower eventually does them in. A respectable 6 or 7 wins plants the seeds for a better future.

Oakland Raiders
2014 Record: 3-13 (4th in AFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6 (Over -115; Under -105)

Best-Case Scenario: Derek Carr makes a huge leap forward and Amari Cooper has a rookie season along the lines of Beckham or Benjamin or Mike Evans. Latavius Murray emerges as the next great previously-unknown running back and the Raiders surprise with an efficient, productive offense. Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards form a dynamic duo at defensive end and combine for 20+ sacks. In an awkward year for the division, a pleasantly surprising 9-7 Raiders team find themselves in contention for a playoff spot.

Worst-Case Scenario: Amari Cooper has a rookie season more along the lines of Jordy Nelson’s early years - promise and flashes of things to come, but not quite a world-beater. Latavius Murray was just a flash in the pan, and Derek Carr still has a lot of work to do. With no top-end talent on either side of the ball (and really no even above-average players on offense) Oakland once again gets swallowed up by a good AFC West and can’t muster more than 2 or 3 wins.

Real-Case Scenario: Derek Carr takes a step forward, helped by Cooper and Murray to form what will hopefully be a productive trio for years to come. There might finally be hope in Oakland, but it’s not enough to change their fortunes for this season. A 6-10 record is a step forward, but still nowhere close to the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles
2014 Record: 10-6 (2nd in NFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 9.5 (Over -175; Under +150)

Best-Case Scenario: All Sam Bradford needed to reach his potential is a few wide receivers with, you know, talent, and an offensive coordinator with, you know, imagination. Bradford thrives in Chip Kelly's offense and makes it to the Pro Bowl. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews split time, each keeping the other fresh, efficient, and productive. The offense is so potent that all they need is an average defense to cruise to an NFC East crown.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Eagles bet poorly across the board - they should have kept Foles and McCoy as Bradford and Mathews can't stay healthy and Murray breaks down after being overworked last season. The passing game takes a dip without a truly reliable receiver and the defense isn't good enough to carry them. They lose 10 games and Chip Kelly finds himself on the hot seat.

Real-Case Scenario: The Chip Kelly offense is just about idiot-proof. Any quarterback, running back, or wide receiver with a reasonable amount of talent will be able to find success. The offense is mostly the same and the defense improves with Kiko Alonso at middle linebacker. Philadelphia fights it out with Dallas for the division title, but both should slide into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2014 Record: 11-5 (1st in AFC North)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over -130; Under +110

Best-Case Scenario: Antonio Brown remains the most reliable receiver in football, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton both enjoy breakout seasons, and Le'Veon Bell cements himself as the best receiving running back since Marshall Faulk. Their young talent on defense finally gels and they field a top-10 group on that side of the ball. They finish 12-4 and earn a first-round bye.

Worst-Case Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger goes down for a handful of games and the offense crumbles. The defense once again struggles and the Steelers can't figure out where their strengths are. A disappointing 6-10 season ensues.

Real-Case Scenario: Antonio Brown is still Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger is still Ben Roethlisberger for as long as he's healthy. The ground game suffers with a banged-up offensive line, and while the defense improves slightly, it's not enough to be a true game-changer. The Steelers once again duke it out with Baltimore and Cincinnati for AFC North Supremacy.

San Diego Chargers
2014 Record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 8.5 (Over Even; Under -120)

Best-Case Scenario: Melvin Gordon is a revelation, and it doesn't matter that he's a poor receiver - a healthy Danny Woodhead handles all the third-down work and the Chargers return to the hyper-efficient offense they had in 2013. Philip Rivers is in the MVP conversation and they steal the AFC West with a win over Denver in Week 17.

Worst-Case Scenario: Gordon struggles and the offense, not designed to make big plays, can't keep up when they get behind in the chains. The defense, lacking elite talent, can only do so much, and the Chargers can't make it to .500.

Real-Case Scenario: Gordon is an upgrade over Mathews simply because he's able to stay on the field. Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen keep the sticks moving with the passing game, and the defense holds up well enough that they're in the mix for the AFC's last playoff spot.

San Francisco 49ers
2014 Record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6.5 (Over +125; Under -145)

Best-Case Scenario: For as great of a coach Jim Harbaugh was, he was grating and his players didn't like him. They get back to enjoying football and have a surprising resurgence. Carlos Hyde is just Frank Gore 2.0 and with Kaepernick, the 49ers lead the league in rushing. An effective but unspectacular defense does the rest and the 49ers buck all predictions to make the playoffs at 10-6.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jim Harbaugh is a wizard and the 49ers are hopeless without him. Attrition on defense sends it tumbling all the way to the bottom quarter of the league, which isn't helped by a spike it turnover rate from Kaepernick. A decrepit group of receivers fail to make plays and San Francisco craters all the way to 3-13.

Real-Case Scenario: With a struggling defense, the offense plays more aggressively, meaning a lot of zone-read. Kaepernick and Hyde eat yards and clock, but an anemic passing game and porous defense keep them from getting too far. They finish either an underrated 7-9 or an overrated 9-7, but in either case it's not enough to make the playoffs. 

Seattle Seahawks
2014 Record: 12-4 (1st in NFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 11 (Over -125; Under +105)

Best-Case Scenario: Kam Chancellor resolves his holdout in time to be a key contributor. Jimmy Graham opens up the passing game, becomes an offense-changing red zone target, and scores 15 touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch defies the laws of space and time and has the best season of his career. Seattle sets an NFL record for rushing yards in a season and with a lot of luck with fumbles and in the kicking game, celebrate an undefeated regular season.

Worst-Case Scenario: Chancellor and Seattle never budge on their contract disagreements and he misses the entire season. The Legion of Boom doesn’t recover and all of a sudden teams can exploit the Seahawks in the short passing game. Marshawn Lynch hits the wall as running backs often do at his age and the Seahawks can’t find a suitable replacement. Without the engine of their offense, their passing game falls apart and they struggle their way through the season to an 8-8 finish.

Real-Case Scenario: The Seahawks do what the Seahawks do. Stellar defense and special teams, hyper-efficient offense, steal at least two or three games that they have absolutely no business winning, blow two or three games they have absolutely no business losing, and then run roughshod over the rest of the league. 11 or 12 wins is enough to take the NFC West and a first-round bye.

St. Louis Rams
2014 Record: 6-10 (4th in NFC West)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 7.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

Best-Case Scenario: After being the potential NFC Sleeper for five straight years, they finally break through with a stellar season. The defensive front emerges as convincingly the best in football, and Alec Ogletree establishes himself as a sideline-to-sideline terror on the weak side. Todd Gurley suits up Week 4 and blazes through the rest of the season as the running back equivalent of Odell Beckham. Brian Quick and Tavon Austin have breakthrough seasons with improved quarterback play and the Rams steal the division at 11-5.

Worst-Case Scenario: Nick Foles implodes outside the friendly confines of Chip Kelly’s offense. Todd Gurley never gets healthy, and the defensive front seven can’t support a weak secondary. The NFC West is again the best division in football and the Rams can’t keep up. Jeff Fisher gets fired and Nick Foles gets dumped, and the Rams have to start all over again.

Real-Case Scenario: Foles is worse than he was in Philadelphia, but good enough to make a few plays and catch the Rams’ offense up with their defense. The front four wreaks havoc but the secondary is often exposed when the pass rush can’t get home quickly enough. Gurley gives them a ground presence, but a makeshift offensive line can’t spring him often enough to save their season. The Rams finish 8-8 with a net scoring margin of exactly zero.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 Record: 2-14 (4th in NFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6 (Over -135; Under +115)

Best-Case Scenario: Jameis Winston proves he was worth the No. 1 pick. In a Cam Newton-esque rookie season, he throws for 4,000 yards and makes plays outside the pocket as well. Doug Martin stays healthy and returns to 2012 form. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson continue to make big plays down the field and the Bucs play from ahead most of the season, making life easy on their defense. The Bucs get to 9-7, which is enough to win the again-dismal NFC South.

Worst-Case Scenario: Bucking all historical trends, the Bucs once again lose a ton of close games and under-perform their Expected Wins. Jameis Winston is more Blake Bortles than Cam Newton, and Doug Martin once again gets hurt. They finish in the basement of the NFC South again and Lovie Smith gets fired.

Real-Case Scenario: Winston is an upgrade over Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, and that alone makes them a vaguely competitive team. With better luck in random areas, the Bucs get to 6 or 7 wins and set the tone for positive things to come.

Tennessee Titans
2014 Record: 2-14 (4th in AFC South)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 5.5 (Over -150; Under +130)

Best-Case Scenario: Marcus Mariota develops chemistry quickly with Tennessee’s young and talented receivers. Eight picks in the first or second round over the last five years have been offensive players, and those investments start to pay off. Houston and Jacksonville stink, as does the NFC South once again. The Titans sweep those 8 games and steal two more against Cleveland and the Jets. They finish 10-6 and make the playoffs despite not beating a single team with a winning record.

Worst-Case Scenario: Mariota struggles as a rookie and the young talent is too raw to make consistent plays. The defense falls apart and the Titans finish 3-13.

Real-Case Scenario: Mariota is an upgrade over Zach Mettenberger, and the rest of the young talent on offense make slight improvements. A number of small improvements cumulatively make for one big improvement, and the up-and-coming Titans get to 7 wins.

Washington Redskins
2014 Record: 4-12 (4th in NFC East)
2015 Vegas Win Expectation: 6.5 (Over +170; Under -200)

Best-Case Scenario: Robert Griffin III gets healthy (relatively speaking) and finally learns how to make the most of his limitations. He picks his spots and makes a few big plays with his legs. Alfred Morris has another solid year and Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson provide two great deep threats for a surprisingly explosive offense. The front seven solidifies and is able to slow the run game and rush the passer, providing some relief for a weak secondary. The Redskins stay competitive in the NFC East and are in position to steal a Wild Card spot with enough luck down the stretch.

Worst-Case Scenario: Griffin never gets healthy, Kirk Cousins never finds a groove, Alfred Morris finally has a down year, and the defense is as bad as it was last year. With all the other NFC East teams improving or staying as good as they were, a hopeless year for Washington ensues.

Real-Case Scenario: The ongoing circus at quarterback means a lack of continuity, which means a bad offense. They have enough talent to make the occasional big play, but not enough to offset a quarterback disaster. The defense improves slightly, but the Redskins still lose at least 10 games.

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