Bold predictions for NFL’s second half

The first half of the NFL season was already pretty darn unpredictable. Who would have thought that the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars would be in playoff positioning heading into November? Not a single soul outside of those three cities.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders continue to struggle with consistency after heading into the season with Super Bowl aspirations. Can they turn it around in the second half? And from an individual player standpoint, two quarterbacks are surprisingly at the top of the NFL MVP conversation. How will that play out?

These are among the bold predictions for each NFL team heading into the second half of the season.

Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater finishes as starter

Teddy Bridgewater

There’s a darn good chance Bridgewater will be back in the mix under center in time for Minnesota’s Week 10 outing against the Washington Redskins. Working his way back from last year’s devastating injury, Teddy is practicing with the team. And with Sam Bradford still sidelined, it’s looking more and more like this former first-round pick will see the field before his veteran counterpart.

We do like the way Case Keenum is playing under center. He’s done well in a fill-in job. But Minnesota is 6-2 on the season and boasts Super Bowl aspirations. Bridgewater, if healthy, is a much more dynamic option under center. He’ll be given a chance to start when activated.

Green Bay Packers: Last place finish in NFC North

We saw it prior to Green Bay’s Week 8 bye. Brett Hundley might have a decent future ahead of himself, but he’s nowhere near the level of player Aaron Rodgers is. This was already known.

The issue here is that the rest of Green Bay’s roster is not talented enough to make up for shortcomings at quarterback. It has three offensive tackles already on injured reserve. Rookie Aaron Jones is performing well at running back, but he’s unproven. And the Packers’ secondary continues to be an absolute joke. All of this will lead to a surprising last-place finish in the black and blue division.

Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson plays … for another team

We saw the reports Johnson might want to return to the NFL and is looking to potentially be traded from Detroit. While that didn’t come to fruition prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, there’s a chance Johnson could suit up for another team this season.

The scenario is as follows. Detroit does the future Hall of Famer receiver a solid and releases him from his contract. In turn, Johnson attempts to latch on with a contending team. Maybe it’s the New England Patriots or Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe it’s another team. Johnson obviously has the itch to play, and it would not be a shock to see him suit up this season.

Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard goes for 2,000 yards 

Heck, dude might put up 2,500 yards at this rate. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has completed a grand total of 38 passes over the past four games. That very same span has seen Howard touch the ball more than 90 times. He’s also averaging well over 100 yards in these four games.

Much more competitive than most people anticipated at the start of the season, Chicago will remain in games for the most part in the second half of its season. That will give Howard plenty of opportunities to cross the 2,000-yard plateau.

New Orleans Saints: First-round bye

Winners of five consecutive games, this is the most balanced Saints squad since its Super Bowl season back in 2009. It ranks in the top six in scoring offense and is a surprising 12th in points allowed.

That right there is what leads us to believe New Orleans will be in contention for a top seed in the NFC when all is said and done. We’re talking about a defense that was historically bad in each of the past two seasons. Led by Cameron Jordan upfront and rookie Marshon Lattimore in the secondary, that’s changed a great deal in 2017. With Drew Brees still playing good football and rookie Alvin Kamara doing his thing on the ground, this version of the Saints is the real deal.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton will be suspended

Ouch. That might seem harsh, but the writing has been on the wall for some time here. We’re not talking about any issues with the law. Instead, it’s been all about Newton’s immaturity in dealing with the media. You simply can’t skip out on pressers and act like a child when confronting reporters, and expect to get away with it.

Now that Carolina finds itself in a battle with New Orleans in the NFC South, it makes little sense for the team to make a statement by suspending Newton. But if the up-and-down team were to fall out of contention, we could easily see that happening.

Atlanta Falcons: Team to miss the playoffs

Even after last week’s narrow win over the Jets, these Falcons remain a hot mess. Matt Ryan is having one of the worst seasons of his career coming off an MVP performance. Julio Jones is also performing well below where we have seen in the past. And offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is already on the hot seat.

Atlanta currently finds itself at 4-3 on the season and in a major battle for a wildcard spot in the NFC. We’re going to predict the defending conference champs continue the Super Bowl hangover narrative by missing out on the playoffs altogether.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston benched

Again, this is all about making a statement. Currently in last place in the NFC South, the Buccaneers have been one of this season’s biggest disappointments. And it starts at the quarterback position. To say Winston has been inconsistent this season would be a major understatement.

He’s put up four touchdowns passes in the past four games (all losses). That came on the heels of a three-touchdown performance against the Giants, which, itself, followed a three interception outing in Week 2. That’s just not acceptable. And head coach Dirk Koetter might very well want to make a statement by sitting Winston for just one game to get his head right.

New England Patriots: Undefeated from here on out out

It looked like a much more difficult stretch run for the defending champs at the start of the season. Now, with both Denver and Oakland struggling in the AFC West, the team’s two games out of the Week 9 bye will be seemingly much easier than most people anticipated.

That doesn’t change the fact that New England faces much more difficult competition in the AFC East in the form of a 5-2 Buffalo Bills squad. With two games remaining against Buffalo and a road date in Pittsburgh, there’s conceivably three games New England could lose. But in the midst of a four-game winning streak, we’re expecting Tom Brady and Co. to hit the accelerator and win out heading into January football.

Buffalo Bills: First playoff appearance since 1999

LeSean McCoy

Fresh off a blowout 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders, it’s readily apparent that these Bills are for real. Buffalo has now won two games against playoff teams from last season over the past month. That includes a surprising road win against the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

We’re looking at a defense that now ranks third in the NFL in points against. We’re also looking at a running back in LeSean McCoy who has dominated to the tune of 763 total yards in seven games. This is a well-balanced attack under first-year head coach Sean McDermott. And with the Dolphins and the Jets struggling recently, the competition behind New England in the AFC East isn’t as severe as it seemed earlier in the season.

Miami Dolphins: David Fales will start a game

Jay Cutler has been out with cracked ribs. And let’s be honest, he wasn’t really doing anything of substance before suffering the injury back in Week 7. In lieu of Cutler this past week, Matt Moore threw two pick-six’s in a 40-0 shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This lead head coach Adam Gase to note that his team has the worst offense in the NFL.

Signed following Cutler’s injury, we’re projecting that Fales will start at least one game for Miami this season. Maybe, Gase just gets fed up with how the other quarterbacks are playing. It’s possible Cutler himself loses interest. And with both New England as well as Buffalo looking like much better teams, the Dolphins themselves might be out of contention here soon. Then, why not go with a youngster that knows Gase’s system?

New York Jets: Todd Bowles won’t last the season

The Jets were a feel-good story for the first month of the season. They found themselves at 3-2 on the season heading into a Week 6 outing with New England. That’s when the wheels started to fall off here. New York was up 14-0 in the game before letting the Pats come back to win it by seven. Then, over the past two weeks, costly mistakes and struggles at the wrong time have led to consecutive losses by a combined eight points.

Sure New York is more competitive than most expected after the team blew it up in the offseason. But if Bowles’ Jets are not in playoff contention entering December, there’s no real reason to keep him around. The Jets’ brass is looking to the future, and Bowles is part of the past. Look for him to be canned before the conclusion of the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Martavis Bryant won’t last the full season

Martavis Bryant

Bryant was not traded before Tuesday’s deadline. In no way does this mean he will remain a member of the Steelers for the remainder of the season. When asked recently if he’s confident Bryant will contribute as the season progresses, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin answered in the negative. This comes after the embattled receiver both called out a teammate on social media and seemingly requested a trade. He’s obviously in Tomlin’s doghouse.

Sure the Steelers would have like to have gotten something for Bryant prior to the deadline. But the team currently sits at 6-2 on the season and already has a pretty divided locker room. Any further issues relating to the receiver, and it would not be a shocker to see him released.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco will be benched

Baltimore might be coming off a 40-0 win over Miami, but most of that had to do with what has to be considered a dominant defense. For his part, Flacco exited the game with a concussion after this dirty hit from Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso.

At 4-4, the Ravens remain in the AFC Playoff picture. That’s despite what has been a disastrous performance from Flacco. He’s thrown six touchdowns compared to eight interceptions in eight starts this season. The former Super Bowl MVP is also leading an offense that’s failed to rack up as much as 300 yards in five of eight games. Whether it’s him being benched during a disastrous performance or to give the Ravens new blood, we’re expecting Ryan Mallett to see action at some point in the second half of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis will be fired

Week 8’s win over a hapless Colts team notwithstanding, the Bengals have been a complete and utter disaster this season. They head into week 9 with a 3-4 record and with no real shot at the playoffs for a second consecutive season. This comes after Cincinnati went one-and-done in the playoffs in each of the previous five seasons.

At some point, the Bengals’ brass is going to realize this Lewis’ marriage needs to end in a swift divorce. And with the head coach in a lame-duck season, that could come once Cincinnati falls completely out of contention. With road dates coming up against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Denver, that could come sooner rather than later.

Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson will be fired

Hue Jackson Cleveland Browns NFL coaches

Yeah, we’re boldly predicting the two NFL head coaches in Ohio will be given their walking papers prior to January. For Jackson, the writing most definitely seems to be on the wall here. He has the Browns at 0-8 for the second consecutive season and could make some “history” with five more losses here in the next month-plus. All said, the Browns are 1-23 during Jackson’s tenure in Cleveland. There’s also an apparent rift between Hue and the Browns’ front office.

Though, it’s not the record that has us believing Jackson will be fired. It’s his continued ineptitude in handling what has been a disastrous quarterback situation. Here’s a guy that’s benched rookie DeShone Kizer in three consecutive starts. He’s also turned to less-talented signal callers such as Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler. None of this has worked.

And in reality, the brass in Cleveland can’t have confidence that Jackson will be able to handle what might be a new young quarterback next season. He’s gone.

Jacksonville Jaguars: AFC South title, baby

Here’s a team that just added a Pro Bowl caliber player in Marcell Dareus to what is already the best defense in football. Jacksonville comes out of its Week 8 bye ranked first in pass defense, first in quarterback rating allowed and first in passing touchdowns allowed.

Led by the likes of Calais Campbell and Dante Fowler, this unit is also on pace to break the NFL’s single-season sack record. If that weren’t enough, A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey represent the best corner tandem in the game.

On offense, Blake Bortles has done a much better job managing the offense and avoiding turnovers. He’s on pace for 11 interceptions after averaging 17 picks in his first three seasons. That’s definitely aided by the presence of Leonard Fournette on an offense that’s seemingly now running through the rookie. In what is still a weak AFC South, look for the Jags to earn their first division title since 1999.

Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry will be primary ball-carrier

The Titans have been very shy about giving Henry more playing time than Pro Bowler DeMarco Murray. This makes sense given that Murray put up over 1,600 total yards en route to earning Pro Bowl honors last season. But it’s now readily apparent that Henry, a former Heisman winner, is the more dynamic of the two backs.

Both are averaging nearly 4.5 yards per tote this season, with Henry himself acting as more of a home run threat. That’s a big deal considering Tennessee also boasts a dynamic quarterback in Marcus Mariota, who, when healthy, can be a threat on the ground. The idea of teaming Mariota and Henry up on a consistent basis in the backfield has to be too appealing to pass up on. Tennessee has a clear shot at winning the AFC South this season, and this duo will likely be the primary reason that could come to fruition. The future is now in Nashville.

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson breaks every rookie record

This one might be a harder prediction to see come true after Houston traded its franchise left tackle. But let us remember that Watson’s performance prior to his stunning Week 8 outing came with Duane Brown holding out. Despite this and all the pressure he faced, the rookie was still dominating statistically.

We expect this to remain the case, especially now that he’s built a strong relationship with both Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. Already on pace to break the single-season record for touchdown passes, we’re predicting Watson will also set the threshold for completions and passing yards. Whether that’s enough for Houston to win the AFC South remains to be seen.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck won’t play a down

Considering that Indianapolis has decided to work out street free agents at the quarterback position, it’s now a good bet the team will shut Luck down for the remainder of the season. That’s likely not a bad idea, now that the team is pretty much out of the AFC Playoff picture.

For first-year GM Chris Ballard and Co., the idea would be to tank as much as possible in order to grab a high first-round pick in next year’s draft. Why prevent acquiring such a capital in lieu of playing a still-injured Luck behind an atrocious offensive line in an already lost season? Yeah, the Colts will come to their senses here soon and shut him down.

Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith will win NFL MVP

What Smith has done thus far this season is nothing short of amazing. Heading into Week 9’s game against Dallas, the veteran has put up 2,181 passing yards to go with 17 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s also performed better than any quarterback when tossing the rock down the field. That’s a dramatic shift from a quarterback many proclaimed to be “check-down king” earlier in his career.

We’re now going to predict that Smith will earn the NFL MVP over the likes of Tom Brady and Carson Wentz. He has his Chiefs in first place in the AFC West and tied for the best record in the conference. Smith will keep up at this pace, helping Kansas City to a division title in the process. That will earn him NFL’s top individual honor.

Denver Broncos: Last-place finish 

Following the major struggles of Trevor Siemian, the Broncos have turned to the washed Brock Osweiler to start. Fun times in Denver, indeed. And it’s unlikely to lead to much on-field success. Osweiler is bad. Really, really bad. What does it tell us about the Broncos that they have to turn to him instead of Siemian or Paxton Lynch? Ouch.

Even with the Oakland Raiders struggling big time and the Los Angeles Chargers proving themselves to be inconsistent, we’re predicting that Denver will finish in the AFC West’s cellar.

Oakland Raiders: Jack Del Rio is a surprise fire

Jack Del Rio

It’s not a secret that things aren’t going swimmingly in Oakland right now. Entering the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Raiders find themselves at 3-5 and tied for last in the AFC West. They’re also coming off a humiliating 34-14 loss to the Bills in Buffalo. Short of a dramatic turnaround here, this team will not be playing meaningful January football after winning 12 games a season ago.

With games coming up against New England, Kansas City, Dallas and Philadelphia, these struggles are likely to continue into the season’s second half. Should that happen, owner Mark Davis will look for a fall guy. That would then come in the form of a head coach in Jack Del Rio that has been under considerable fire recently.

Los Angeles Chargers: AFC wildcard team

Even at 3-5 on the season, there’s definitely a glimmer of hope for this new Los Angeles team. The Chargers have won three of four and are coming off a narrow road loss to the defending champion Patriots. There’s a lot to like about what we’ve seen from this team recently.

But it primarily starts on the defensive side of the ball, where Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have combined for more sacks (17) than 13 NFL teams. That’s enough to keep Los Angeles in most games. And with Philip Rivers avoiding the costly mistakes more recently, the Chargers’ offense is much better off. In an AFC where a team might get into the playoffs with just eight wins, we’re not going to discount what Los Angeles brings to the table.

Seattle Seahawks: Russ finishes with 5,000-plus total yards

Now that the Seahawks have added a Pro Bowl left tackle in Duane Brown, we’re expecting Russel Wilson to flourish even more in what has been a surprising pass-first offense in Seattle. Last week alone, Wilson netted 482 total yards and four scores in a thrilling comeback win against a good Houston Texans team.

It’s the fourth time in seven starts that Wilson has tallied 300-plus total yards. He’s now on pace for nearly 4,600 on the season. With games coming up against weak defenses in the form of the 49ers and Cardinals, look for him to pad these stats. There’s no reason to believe Russ won’t hit that 5,000-yard plateau.

Los Angeles Rams: Rams win NFC West

Sure the Seahawks are riding high following last week’s win and the trade for Duane Brown. But Los Angeles has actually been the more consistent team in the NFC West this season. It ranks second in the NFL in scoring offense and is just outside of the top 10 in scoring defense. This has the Rams with the largest scoring differential in the NFL. It’s an amazing thing to witness considering just how bad this squad was last season.

Jared Goff is playing mistake-free football under center. Todd Gurley has reverted back to his rookie form. Meanwhile, Wade Phillips’ defense is getting at it. This will lead to a NFC West title over the above-mentioned Seahawks. Bank on it.

Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert wins multiple starts

With Carson Palmer lost for the season, the Cardinals are now forced to go with Drew Stanton under center. That’s never been good for an NFL team’s luck during Stanton’s career. This leads us to believe a Cardinals team without any real playoff expectations will turn to a higher-upside quarterback.

Yes, that comes in the form of Gabbert. It’s an interesting dynamic to look at. Gabbert has already been cast off by two teams. What makes Arizona think he can be the long-term solution? But with the playoffs out of reach, why not give the still young signal caller an opportunity to prove himself? After all, Bruce Arians is said to be high on him.

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t start a single game 

San Francisco sent shockwaves throughout the NFL earlier this week, acquiring this in-demand backup from New England for a second-round pick, and subsequently, releasing Brian Hoyer. It was a much-needed upgrade at quarterback, and gives the winless squad long-term stability that that position.

According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, this doesn’t mean Garoppolo will actually see action this season. And that makes perfect sense. Both of the 49ers’ starting tackles are injured. Shanahan’s offense is highly complicated. The 49ers are also seemingly in tank mode. Why throw Garoppolo into this situation? He’ll sit the final eight games and learn the scheme.

Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz leads team to No. 1 seed

There are definitely signs of domination in Philadelphia right now. The team heads into Week 9 boasting a top-10 scoring offense and defense. Led by MVP candidate Carson Wentz, it also ranks in the top 10 in total offense. This is a sign that the Eagles’ hold on a top seed in the NFC is here to stay.

For his part, Wentz finishes the first half of his sophomore campaign on pace for over 4,000 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 picks. His presence alone should help Philly fend of what will likely be a hard-charging Cowboys team in the second half of the season. Add an improved defense and a surprising rushing attack, and that’s taken to a whole new level.

Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott will play entire season

If healthy. That’s the biggest key here. Elliott will not serve a single game of his six-game suspension this season. The already long, drawn-out court process simply won’t come to a culmination in time for the NFL to see this star sidelined at all over the final nine weeks of the regular season. That’s our prediction based on both evidence pointing in this direction and our own conjecture, even after this latest court ruling in the NFL’s favor.

If this indeed does happen, it will be a major boon for the Cowboys. Elliott has put these off-field issues behind him recently, going for 644 total yards and eight touchdowns over the past five games.

Washington Redskins: Skins to move on from Gruden

Jay Gruden’s game plan against Dallas this past week was an utter disaster. Here’s a team that gave running back Chris Thompson four rush attempts despite the fact that the youngster came into Week 8 averaging nearly five yards per rush on the season. It’s a continuation of what we’ve seen from the Gruden-led Skins’ offense during a 3-4 start to the season.

And there’s no real reason to believe that Washington’s brass, led by the always impulsive Dan Snyder, will continue to keep Gruden on as long as he struggles with game management. There’s still a lot to be decided in D.C. moving forward. Will Kirk Cousins be back next season? Will the team actually hire a general manager? If we continue to see on-field struggles, a major shake-up will likely come in the form of the coaching staff before anything else transpires.

New York Giants: Eli won’t finish season as starter

Whether it’s to preserve him behind a horrendous offensive line or to give rookie Davis Webb some regular season action, Eli Manning will not finish the season as the Giants’ starter. The team finds itself at 1-6 on the season, six games behind Philadelphia in the win column in the NFC East. It’s going nowhere fast.

There’s just no reason to continue throwing Manning out to the wolves in a lost season without his top two receivers in the mix. It’s in this, we’re going to predict Webb will see some starting action late in the season.