So here we are, reminiscing about yet another NFL season that has sadly come to a close. The golden year of the Super Bowl ended with perhaps one of the most unlikely winners since the New York Giants defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.
Maybe it's a Manning thing. If you're already comfortably seated aboard the conspiracy bus, however, then perhaps it's even less surprising that the Golden Boy of the NFL wins the Golden Super Bowl. But let's not get into that.
The Broncos defense absolutely deserved to win the Super Bowl and it's great that they did. But it's almost embarrassing that the ineffective and lethargic (quite frankly woeful) Manning-led offense gets to share the glory. However, that's a discussion for another day. Looking ahead as we always do, I'd like to make a few predictions for NFL next season.
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1. Jeff Fisher gets sacked
I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone if Jeff will be Fishing for another job before the end of next season The longevity of his tenure of mediocrity as head coach of the Los Angeles (formerly St. Louis) Rams is unparalleled in today's NFL. Fisher has overseen four consecutive losing seasons, which simply does not happen nowadays.
His 27-36 record, while not exactly diabolical, is certainly not enough to warrant his four-year tenure. The Rams are repeatedly billed as a team "on the rise", and are often expected to be "fantastic next season" but never deliver. They currently have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, as well as the second coming of Adrian Peterson in Todd Gurley. These factors make them a formidable opponent on paper, but it would be of little surprise if they finish with yet another 7-9 record, which should be enough to throw him overboard.
Of course, this depends on the revenue stream the team is able to generate. Fans of Arsenal Football Club, myself included, are all too familiar with Stan Kroenke's willingness to accept mediocrity, a lack of competitiveness, and a lack of silverware so long as good profit margins are maintained, as reflected in the retention of Jeff Fisher and Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger.
Perhaps that was his main motive for relocating the team to LA. But the move didn't come without excitement, tension and a whole lot of boardroom drama, and failure to reward Stan Kroenke's colossal investment is likely to result in dismissal. Expect Fisher to get sacked faster than it took Von Miller to pounce on Cam Newton.
Is it still too soon to use such references?
2. The Chip Kelly experiment starts with a whimper
I'm sure you've all heard by now that Chip Kelly could be the coach that revives Kaepernick's career. While that statement is plausible because Kaepernick is the mobile QB that Kelly needs, one look at the 49ers schedule is enough to assure me that whatever experiment he has lined up is going nowhere anytime soon.
Expecting them to go from 5-11 to 10-6 and beyond is foolhardy at best. NFL teams are well adjusted to Kaepernick's mobility, and are fully aware that keeping him in the pocket forces him to make head-scratching decisions and very costly errors. I don't see them finishing above 8-8. It's going to be a race for the bottom between them and the Rams. I guess it's safe to say that the Chips will be down once again for Coach Kelly.
3. Aaron Rodgers wins MVP
If you ever doubted the greatness of A-Rod, I invite you to look at his miraculous plays against the Lions and, more importantly, against the Cardinals last season. Granted, his stats suffered without his premier receiver Jordy Nelson, who was lost for the season before it even began.
But taking a sluggish and injury-ravaged offensive unit, coupled with an often disappointing and porous defense, to an overtime loss in the Divisional Round against an explosive Cardinals team (who in turn got undressed and exposed as fraudsters by Carolina) speaks volumes. Expect the Packers to bounce back in spectacular fashion next season. Nelson will be back, and Cobb and Adams will have better performances without the extra pressure and focus put on them in Nelson's absence. Additionally, Eddie Lacy is set to discontinue his late night adventures to Burger King and transform from a Mark Henry wannabe to an actual NFL running back.
Rodgers will have his full arsenal and, considering their schedule, could take Green Bay to the #1 seed in the NFC. I wouldn't be surprised if he brings home the cheddar to the cheeseheads.
4. The Oakland Raiders make a legitimate playoff push
I don't even think this prediction is bold enough, but I lack the courage required to predict absolute certainty that the Raiders will make the playoffs. This will have to do for now. The Raiders made a lot of progress from two seasons ago, with the exceptional play of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack largely responsible for their improvement.
At one point early in the season they looked like they could squeeze their way into the playoffs after laying waste to a stacked Jets defense, but a horrific defensive performance the following week against the Steelers, in what was one of the most exciting games of the season, was the start of an inconsistent run of form that ended their playoff dreams.
The Raiders will improve next season and should finish 8-8 at least. While I don't expect them to have a 12-4 record, I expect them to use the experience gained from this past season to fuel them to a better record. The AC/DC duo (Amari Cooper and Derek Carr for those living in the middle of nowhere) will be better, and there will be an improvement in the performances of the surrounding talent, especially All-Pro OLB/DE Khalil Mack.
I expect them to look like a serious playoff contender for much of the season, even if they may ultimately fall short. That should provide some well-deserved light for the long-suffering inhabitants of the Black Hole.
5. Super Bowl 51 will be a Super Bowl rematch
I'm hoping for a Patriots v Packers Super Bowl (rematch of Super Bowl 31), but I am prepared bet that, if both teams stay healthy, we will be watching the Steelers and Cardinals face off in Super bowl 51, with the Cardinals getting revenge for their loss in Super Bowl 43.
However, there are many other tantalizing potential rematches that could happen, such as a Patriots v Panthers rematch or a Steelers v Seahawks rematch. Heck, we could even have a Broncos v Panthers rematch, making it only the second ever Super Bowl rematch in consecutive years, with the Cowboys defeating the Bills in both Super Bowls 27 and 28.
While a lot of neutrals would love to see new teams face off in the Big Game, wouldn't we all love the drama of a Super Bowl between teams with Super Bowl history? Redemption versus Assertion. That would be quite compelling.