Read pretty much any article written by pretty much anybody between the months of February and August, and you'll quickly come to an obvious conclusion: making predictions about the NFL is a completely fruitless endeavor. There's absolutely no reason to make any predictions for an upcoming NFL season, as the odds are almost 100% that you'll be completely wrong and you'll have your awful, awful takes on display for the world to see for the rest of eternity. That never stops anyone, of course, and it's almost like making predictions is everyone's collective secret shame that we've all tacitly agreed never to bring up again when we're all proven very, very incorrect.
There is a loophole, of course, a way to say pretty much anything you want while having zero accountability. And that loophole consists of four little letters used to describe certain colors, sauces, and typefaces. And those letters are B, O, L, and D. Nothing like a "bold prediction" to give you license to spout off some nonsense without having to worry too much about the repercussions. It's kind of like using the phrase "with all due respect" before committing some wanton jackassery.
So seeing as I now have complete immunity from owning up to how off I'm going to be in six months, here are 10 Bold Predictions for the upcoming 2016 NFL season. Since this is a Patriots blog first and foremost, five of my predictions are team related. But the other five take a look around the league and try to put some direction to what's about to take place over the next 17 weeks. Here goes nothing.
1. The Jacksonville Jaguars will make the playoffs. The last time the Jags made the playoffs was almost a decade ago, when they beat the Steelers before losing 31-20 to the still undefeated Patriots. But the team has been trending up as of late, and their receivers all have tremendous potential. The jury is still out on Blake Bortles, and who knows what they'll bring to the table defensively, but the AFC South is a bit of a mess right now and the AFC as a whole is pretty weak. Don't be surprised if Jacksonville is playing a meaningful game in January of 2017.
2. The Patriots tight ends will combine for 20 TDs. Health is obviously a variable here, but the talent level at the position combined with Belichick's love of the tight end-based offense makes this one of the less bold predictions on this list. Gronk and Bennett together along the goal line are all but uncoverable, and with the amount of potential on this offense, a 20 TD campaign out of the tight ends is more than doable.
3. The Raiders will win the AFC West. I thought I was totally thinking outside the box when I picked Oakland as my dark horse team this year, but I guess I'm not alone. The Raiders have been sneaky getting good over the past few seasons, and this could be the year that the turn some heads. I imagine the early favorite to win the West is KC, but I'm taking the Raiders here and I'm not looking back (until the Chiefs win the division).
4. The Patriots will finish the year 11-5. I don't know how bold this prediction is, to be honest, as New England is all but guaranteed double digit wins every year. But to make any kind of call as to the win/loss column of any team before the first snap even takes place is a setup for failure. This year especially makes predicting New England's success rate a little tricky, but I think that 11-5 is a solid bet. It should also be enough to get them a 1st round bye, if all goes well.
5. Rex Ryan will be fired mid-season. Firing a coach mid-season is a desperation move. Something has to go extremely wrong in order for a GM to punt on a coach before the year even ends. But The Rex Ryan hype train is going to end this year, and sooner rather than later. It will start with rumblings of dissent in the Bills locker room, then a string of ugly losses, and then he'll be out of there. Luckily, his brother can just get a haircut, shave his beard, but on a blue sweater vest with a long sleeve white tee, and it will be like Rex never left.
6. Danny Amendola will play all 16 games. I really, really hope I'm not jinxing it here by saying this, but this is a year in which Amendola plays a full NFL season. He was kept on ice all preseason, and through much of training camp, and I think that will translate into a full 16 games for Amendola in which he will become a key contributor to the offense. It's great that Amendola is good for a small handful of absolutely amazing plays every season, but much better would be the ability to rely on his production consistently. Time for him to get it done.
7. The Dallas Cowboys will win the NFC East. No Romo? No problem. While I don't think that Dak Prescott is the 2nd coming of Troy Aikman, I think that he'll be able to do enough, in another weak division, to keep Dallas afloat until Romo returns for a few games before getting hurt again.
8. Joe Thuney will make the Pro Bowl. Homer pick of the year! My mancrush on Thuney is well-documented at this point, and I know that it's tough to make the Pro Bowl as a lineman...but such is my mania and belief in the guy. I've been saying it since day one: Joe Thuney is an all-time great lineman name. And he's going to prove me right this season.
9. The Patriots defense will not surrender a 4th quarter TD for the entire month of December. The Patriots are all about playing their best football in December, and much of their success hinges on the stinginess of the defense. Once again, healthy is a factor, but if key players can stay on the field, then expect the New England defense to round into playoff form right around the holidays and completely keep opponents out of the end zone late, allowing the Patriots a string of crucial late-season wins that help to earn them a much-needed week off in January.
10. No fewer than four games this year will be decided on an incorrect call. I'm not talking about a bogus penalty, like the illegal hands to the face call that almost cost the Broncos the game last night. I'm talking about a call that is just flat-out wrong. The refs are already off to a rough start after missing a few helmet-to-helmet hits on Cam Newton, and the mistakes they make in 2016 are going to end up altering the postseason landscape for both conferences. And since the referees don't make Roger Goodell money, expect him to do something about it that further makes him look like an incompetent oaf.