The NFL regular season officially kicks off Thursday when Green Bay travels to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Shutdown Corner will be previewing everything to come all week, capped off by our awards and Super Bowl predictions on Thursday.
Here's a bonus pick before we get to my 10 bold predictions for this NFL season: We're two weeks away, three max, from the first wave of "OMG the NFL is SO CRAZY this year!" hot takes.
The NFL is #OMGcrazy every year. That's what happens when the entire league is set up so the 32nd best team feels like it can have hope against the best team. That will never be the case when Florida State plays The Citadel.
We already know the NFL will be crazy, but it's tougher to predict the wackiest things that will happen this season. Eh, let's try anyway ...
Drew Brees will break Peyton Manning's yardage record, and 6,000 is possible
Last season Manning threw for 5,477 yards to beat Brees' record by 1 yard (and even that was debated), which has to bother a competitive guy like Brees a little bit. So why not go and get the record back? He's certainly capable. The Saints moved up to draft Brandin Cooks for a reason, and Kenny Stills is ready to be even better after a good rookie season. Jimmy Graham is happy and Marques Colston is still more than capable. At some point, someone will make a run at 6,000 yards, with the rules being what they are. And the first one will be Brees, this season. I'm not sure if he can get there because that's a big jump from the old record, but he will come closer than we think is possible.
Robert Griffin III will be a top 10 quarterback
Thank goodness the preseason is over. Only because I can stop hearing how Kirk Cousins will be the savior of the Washington Redskins. Once Griffin was ripped to shreds for a preseason game against Cleveland in which he had 112 passing yards and 24 rushing in one quarter – and he was mostly criticized because he didn’t slide well enough, which told me the "Griffin stinks!" narrative is too far gone to be saved – it was clear that some people desperately want him to fail. He won’t.
He has tremendous skills and is with a great offensive coach in Jay Gruden. He has a fantastic trio of Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed to throw to. I get it, he's still learning the offense and isn't quite polished as a passer yet. But he’s going to have a big year. Sorry.
The Ravens will have offensive problems
Don't think that's bold? Well, check my inbox. People did not agree with me putting the Ravens No. 19 in this week's power rankings, to say the least. I was shocked they were shocked. The Ravens couldn’t move the ball last season and what, Steve Smith is going to change all that? Go look at his production last year. Or people are getting Dennis Pitta confused with Rob Gronkowski. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak might help, but I’m not sure why the 8-8 Ravens are suddenly much better. The offensive problems are still very real.
Peyton Manning won’t throw 50 touchdowns again … or 40, either
Let's look at how every quarterback who threw for 40 or more touchdowns in a season before 2013 fared the next year ...
Tom Brady: 50 in 2007 to 0 in 2008 (he was hurt in the first game; Brady threw 28 in 2009)
Manning: 49 in 2004 to 28 in 2005
Dan Marino: 48 in 1984 to 30 in 1985
Drew Brees: 46 in 2011 to 43 in 2012
Aaron Rodgers: 45 in 2011 to 39 in 2012
Marino: 44 in 1986 to 26 in 1987 (12 games due to strike)
Brees: 43 in 2012 to 39 in 2013
Kurt Warner: 41 in 1999 to 21 in 2000
Matthew Stafford: 41 in 2011 to 20 in 2012
A quick note after that list: If you're not yet on board with Brees being a top-5 all-time quarterback, you're missing out. Aaron Rodgers also did a good job avoiding the regression monster. But even if we use Brady's 2009 season as his follow-up campaign, the average drop-off the year after throwing 40 touchdowns is 14.8 touchdowns, and that's with The Great Drew Brees bringing the average way down. Six of the nine dipped by at least 18 touchdowns.
It has already happened to Manning, too. Nobody expected him to slip by 21 touchdowns after his record-setting 2004 campaign, but he did. Manning threw 55 last season. Even with all the weapons he has, history says he's not coming anywhere near that number again. I'll bet on him being in the 30s.
The Broncos will beat the Seahawks in Seattle
Manning's touchdown regression doesn't mean the Broncos won't be good. They're loaded, actually. And you're telling me that spending an offseason hearing "43-8" every day won't work them into a frenzy to get revenge against the Seahawks, who blew them out by that score in the Super Bowl? The Broncos travel to Seattle in Week 3. The Seahawks, other than a game against the Cardinals late last season when they had little to play for, are almost unbeatable at home. But motivation is a strong thing. The Broncos will have a ton of it in this matchup. They'll upset the Seahawks.
Trent Richardson will be a 1,000-yard back
There are a few players who get ripped so much and so often, they become underrated. Such is the case with Richardson. Nobody is saying Richardson was good in Indianapolis last year, when he couldn't even average 3 yards per carry. But he's young, talented, had an offseason to get comfortable with the Colts, and will never be the focus of defenses as long as Andrew Luck is upright. I'm not saying Richardson will win a rushing title, but he'll be better than anyone expects and get more than 1,000 yards rushing.
Cam Newton's contract extension talks will get ugly
Based on history, there's no way Newton will be anywhere but Carolina after 2015, when his contract is up. But it might get messy. Newton had to see quarterbacks who haven't played nearly as well as he has (Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick) get massive extensions and place his expectations north of what they got. But for whatever reason Newton is still disrespected when it comes to ranking quarterbacks, and it'll be interesting to see how the Carolina front office feels about him.
And, ironically enough, the Panthers' terrible management in giving Newton the worst supporting cast of any decent quarterback in the NFL might lead to him having a down season and the team trying to save money on his deal as a result. Newton is already dealing with a rib injury and will be playing behind a line that might be the worst in the league. We'll see how Newton plays, and how the extension negotiations play out.
Calvin Johnson won't be the best receiver in his division. It won't be Jordy Nelson or Brandon Marshall, either
Get ready for Alshon Jeffery to join that Dez Bryant-A.J. Green-Megatron-Demaryius Thomas tier of receivers. Jeffery had 1,421 yards last year at age 23 and he'll be even better this year. He has a diverse skills that coach Marc Trestman will use to the fullest, and opponents won't be able to devote all their attention to him because of offensive teammates like Marshall and Matt Forte. Jeffery will be the best receiver in the NFC North this year, and might be the second best receiver in football behind Thomas (who is going to top all receivers this season).
Josh Gordon will play this season
I have no hard information to back this up, only a hunch. But I keep wondering why Gordon hasn't sued yet. Is he worried the NFL will be petty toward him in the future (he probably has good reason to think that's the case) if he sues? It seems like he'd have a good shot to at least get an injunction and play while the courts sort it out. That worked in the StarCaps case. I think Gordon will take his shot at it. Look, he's going to tire of being a car salesman in pretty short order.
The NFL will announce the Raiders are moving back to Los Angeles
This was my crazy prediction in our big 2014 season predictions post because it makes too much sense. The Raiders need a home, Los Angeles is open and there's already a huge fan base there from their time in L.A. years ago.
If the Raiders don't end up in Los Angeles, we will know without any doubt whatsoever that the NFL is intentionally keeping L.A. free of a team so it can use that market as negotiating power anytime a team wants public money for a new stadium. There's no reason the Raiders won't move there unless the NFL wants to preserve its "Fund our stadium or we're moving to Los Angeles!" threat. Which it has done for 20 years now.
- - - - - - -