Going into the season, I had this as my prediction for the playoff picture at the end of the season. After 1 week, it's too early to tell which teams might peak early and come down back to the pack. In fact, the playoff picture is still murky until around November, as the bottom-feeding teams separate themselves from the pack. Even after that, the month of December is when the cream rises to the top and the playoff seeding is determined.
To summarize the prediction:
Playoff Teams: Patriots, Ravens, Colts, Broncos, Steelers, Texans
Playoff Contenders: Dolphins, Bengals, Chiefs, Chargers
No chance this year: Bills, Jets, Raiders, Titans, Jaguars, Browns
These are the teams that made the playoffs in the prediction that should be worrying a bit:
Baltimore Ravens: While it's not smart money to count out the Ravens, their weaknesses were exposed by the Broncos. Even though Peyton Manning had his typical Foxborough in January type game, the Broncos defense was able to create offense of their own and that proved to be the difference. The Ravens lost Torrey Smith in the offseason and drafted Breshad Perriman to replace him, but Perriman is battling injuries and the Ravens offense was limited. Another big blow was losing Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury. Even though Suggs is reviled across the league, the man was one of the top pass rushers in the league coming into the season. It should be interesting to see how the Ravens attempt to mitigate his loss. Even with the poor showing against the Broncos, I believe that the Ravens will be able to fix those issues over the course of the regular season, which is why I still think they'll make the playoffs this year but perhaps not as a #2 seed.
Pittsburgh Steelers: While this is nothing new for the Patriots and their fans, Tom Brady was able to shred apart the Steelers porous secondary without even breaking a sweat. It could turn into a problem if the same happens against their divisional foes. The Steelers have the best offense in terms of talent and potential, but their defense is a major issue moving forward. The Steelers did not tackle very well and on some plays completely forgot where Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was. It's a young defense that will give up some yards, but poor fundamentals and mental mistakes are going to play huge in any closely-contested game. Right now, I think the Steelers will have to be able to score 31+ points to win a game. It's too early to panic in Pittsburgh, but there are some issues that need immediate fixing and it starts with better coaching execution.
These teams that were originally slated as having no chance could make a lot of noise this year if they don't outright make the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills: I'm not going to change my prediction after Week 1 just yet, although I'm leaning on the fence to upgrade the Bills to the contender tier because they're in a similar situation now as the Seahawks were with Russell Wilson in 2012. The defense is very good and led by a coach who knows how to generate excellent schemes. The biggest key for Tyrod Taylor is being able to manage the game and take what opposing defenses gave him. He took advantage of some holes in a porous Indianapolis Colts defense to put up 24 points, which is usually enough with the Bills vaunted defense. The Bills defense may have the fewest weaknesses in the NFL, with a very strong defensive line and solid secondary. Bills are the greatest threat to beat the New England Patriots inside the division, although their playoff fates might hinge on their match-ups against the Miami Dolphins. I believe the Bills are a year away from contending for a playoff spot and challenging the Patriots for the division crown, but the development of their starting QB may accelerate that process into this year.
New York Jets: In a fortuitous twist of fate, the Jets ended up with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter when Geno Smith was sucker-punched and sidelined with a broken jaw. Fitz is more reliable QB than Geno Smith and could sneak up on some teams, given the Jets' easy non-division schedule. The Jets are built on running the ball and playing defense, a theme that made Rex Ryan successful when he was their head coach. Head coach Todd Bowles is not nearly as boisterous a fellow as Rex, but he will likely follow a similar game plan to win games. If the Jets can take advantage of some easy non-division match-ups and steal a couple divisional games, they could sneak up on some people. Just as long as they don't put Geno Smith back in at QB.
The other teams at the bottom of the barrel don't have any answers to how they could move up from the bottom to the middle of the pack. The Raiders, Jaguars, Titans, and Browns lack a strong defense and have question marks surrounding the QB position. While the Bills and the Jets have the latter problem, they already had strong defense fronts in place coming into this year. The Jets made a lot of moves to sign veteran players to their secondary and the Bills were able to keep their key guys from last year. In order to win in the NFL, you need a good defense and solid QB play. The formula to successfully developing a young QB is to take the pressure off them and build your offense to the strengths of your QB. In the case for the Buffalo Bills, they were able to use Taylor's mobility as a weapon. They used him as a runner, in move the pocket situations, and even as a passer. For the Jets, Fitz has seen everything and is a very smart guy. He won't lose you games at the QB position, even though he can be a streaky passer at times.
I would also like to remind everyone that one bad loss is not going to affect any playoff-caliber football team and that one big win is not going to affect any team that isn't playoff-caliber. The picture will continue to look fuzzy until about the midpoint of the NFL season, which is the middle of November. In the first 9 weeks, the bad teams separate themselves from the pack and in the final 5 weeks the playoff-caliber teams separate themselves from the contenders. We'll know who is contending by Week 9 and which teams have a best chance of making the playoffs by Week 13. The next snapshot will come after Week 9.