This is my 18th season projecting NFL regular season and playoff results. As per my tradition, I select the two teams I expect to win each division and conference after I preview all teams. Only two times (Super Bowl 34 and Super Bowl 38) was I unable to project at least one of the teams that end up in the Super Bowl. But on the flip side, the last eleven straight seasons has had a team that has gone from Worst to First to make the playoffs in the NFL and I only projected 4 of those. So my formula is flawed but oh well, no one is perfect.
Quick cheat sheet to my system
*“Projections” – My resulting win/loss record after going through the full team’s schedule.
*“Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential” – The “plus” is how many more wins they could get, minus being how many fewer wins they could get. These are based on what I label as “swing” games that could go either way.
Here is my preview of the NFC South:
2015 Projected Record: 10-6
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/14 vs Eagles; 9/20 @ Giants; 9/27 @ Cowboys; 10/15 @ Saints; 11/22 vs Colts; 12/13 @ Panthers
Synopsis: In 2015 the Atlanta Falcons are looking for a bounce back year under new Head Coach Dan Quinn. Before the season the Falcons made upgrades on the offensive and defensive lines but their defensive secondary is still questionable. Also the Running Back position looks to be in flux as neither Tevin Coleman or Devonta Freeman have done much to set themselves apart to solidify the starter at that position. But the team still has Matt Ryan at Quarterback, one of the best at his position in the NFL.
The Falcons have a brutal start to their regular season schedule with games against high powered offenses (Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys) and then a top ten defense (Texans). If the Falcons can survive the tough stretches of their schedule, they should be able to make the playoffs in 2015.
2015 Projected Record: 6-10
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/20 vs Texans; 9/27 vs Saints; 11/15 @ Titans; 12/13 vs Falcons; 12/20 @ Giants
Synopsis: The Carolina Panthers have two major obstacles going into the 2015 NFL season: a depleted unit on offense and a tough schedule in which they play nine potential playoff teams. While their defense will be solid, I question if their offense will be able to keep up when they face high powered offenses such as the Saints, Eagles, Packers, Colts, Cowboys, and Falcons. Their starting Quarterback Cam Newton is very talented but the Panthers have average talent at the Wide Receiver and Offensive Guard positions.
This team lacks the depth to overcome any more injuries, especially on the offensive line. Outside of Michael Oher and Ryan Kalil, the Panthers do not have the talent up front to consistently protect their Quarterback or open lanes for their running backs. Also, outside of Pro Bowl Tight End Greg Olsen, Newtown has very few dynamic offensive players around him. This season may be a setback year for the Panthers.
New Orleans Saints
2015 Projected Record: 11-5
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Cardinals; 10/4 vs Cowboys; 10/11 @ Eagles; 11/29 @ Texans; 12/21 vs Lions; 1/3 @ Falcons
Synopsis: The New Orleans Saints made a major move this offseason by trading away Pro Bowl Tight End Jimmy Graham to acquire Pro Bowl Center Max Unger. Shoring up the offensive line was a big deal for the Saints with their offense functionality predicated on protecting the Quarterback. The additions to the defense will help the Saints as they navigate through the NFC on their way to the playoffs. The toughest task will be winning on the road as they play at five potential playoff teams (Eagles, Cardinals, Colts, Texans and Falcons). Home field advantage has been a big factor in past Saints’ success during the regular season and postseason, so winning on the road may make or break this team in 2015.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2015 Projected Record: 5-11
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/13 vs Titans; 9/27 @ Texans; 10/25 @ Redskins; 11/8 vs Giants; 12/6 vs Falcons
Synopsis: At first glance, the 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster has a lot of talent on offense: Dynamic Wide Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans along with Pro Bowl caliber Running Back Doug Martin. The defense roster looks like a typical Lovie Smith constructed team, with depth and talent at every position.
Smith, the Bucs Head Coach, has two major hurdles to juggle this season. The first and foremost is his rookie starting Quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston is the 2015 number one overall NFL Draft choice and after winning a Heisman Trophy along with a National Title in College, expectations are high. Probably too high honestly. Winston has talent, no one can deny that much; but what he does lack is maturity. While in college he exhibited multiple issues on and off the field. Winston’s development is not just important in 2015, but necessary for Smith to keep his job for the long term.
The second issue for Lovie Smith to handle in 2015 is a schedule that is littered with difficult matchups, from top 15 defenses (Rams and Texans) to high powered offenses (Eagles, Saints, Cowboys, Colts, and Giants), There will be games the Buccaneers will just be out matched in.