Feb 02 2016

The 2015 NFL Hypothesis Report: Observed

All that’s left in the 2015 NFL season is Super Bowl 50. I’m taking the opportunity to review the 2015 season before focusing all of the attention on the two conference champions. In the 2015 NFL Hypothesis Report, I broke down every team based on picking all 256 regular season games.

The general results weren’t spectacular, but they were solid:

While my performance wasn’t as good as the season before, I did go 6-4 in the postseason. But I had the Seattle Seahawks making it back to the Super Bowl and winning it.

The Seahawks didn't win the NFC Championship, so this will have to do. (Twitter/@Seahawks)

The Seahawks didn’t win the NFC Championship, so this will have to do. (Twitter/@Seahawks)

Oh, here’s my 2016 Pro Bowl recap:

For this review, I will list the teams in divisional order, along with comparing what I said in the September Hypothesis Report with what actually went down this season. I’ll also comment briefly on the team’s postseason results and/or what the biggest need is in the offseason, especially for the teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs.

As for the Super Bowl? That clip will be produced later this week. The Carolina Panthers would have had me fined for predicting that they’d miss the playoffs, then take postseason Ls to the Seahawks and Cardinals. I had the Broncos winning their division, but not getting to the Conference Championship.

What we have now are two top seeds in the Super Bowl for the third year in a row. In a sport known for postseason parity, this is the first time since seeding began in 1975 that the #1 seeds in both conferences made the Super Bowl three years in a row. Of course, you may remember the last time the Broncos were the #1 seed:


1. New England Patriots (12-4, 2nd in AFC, eliminated by Broncos)

What I Said: The Patriots are bringing the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combo back for a 16th season, and they’ll have to go back to covering for an overhauled secondary. (11-5, 1st in AFC East, 4th in AFC)

Verdict: The New England secondary did a decent job this season, allowing a passer rating of 87.0, good enough for 13th in the NFL. Brady wound up leading the league in TD passes at the age of 38 years old.

Postseason: It was a tale of two offensive lines in the postseason for the Patriots. They got the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots allowed only one QB hit in a 27-20 win. Then the Patriots had to go to Denver, where they allowed Brady to get hit 17 times in a 20-18 AFC Championship loss. New England already fired the OL coach, but they need a talent upgrade as well after finishing 19th in sacks allowed and averaging 87.8 rushing yards per game, the fewest in a season with Brady as a starter.

2. New York Jets (10-6, eliminated by Patriots)

What I Said: The Jets haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since 1994-1996; it’s hard to trust what is an annually poor pass offense, but the return of Darrelle Revis should lead to a bounce back year defensively. (7-9, 3rd in AFC East)

Verdict: The Jets had another winning season under a first-year head coach, making Todd Bowles the sixth straight Jets head coach to accomplish that feat. Unfortunately, Bowles joined Al Groh and Bill Parcells on that list by failing to qualify for the postseason despite a winning record in Year One with the Jets. The New York pass offense got a franchise-record 31 TD passes from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, while Revis helped the Jets allow only a 79.0 passer rating, 6th-best in the NFL.

Offseason: The Jets lost in Week 17 in Buffalo, which cost them a postseason berth that went to Pittsburgh. The Jets fired special teams coach Bobby April after a season that saw the team finish 31st in average net yards per punt and 23rd in field goal percentage.

3. Buffalo Bills (8-8, eliminated by Patriots)

What I Said: The Bills are going to run and rely on the most well-rounded defense in the division, which will have to cover up their effort to forego a reliable air offense. (9-7, 2nd in AFC East)

Verdict: The Bills were the only team in the league to run the ball on more than 50 percent of all plays. QB Tyrod Taylor was efficient when he took to the air, throwing 20 TD passes and accumulating a 99.4 passer rating. But the defense underperformed, especially in the front seven.

Offseason: The Bills finished 31st in the NFL in sacks this season, with DEs Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams having only 5.0 each to lead the team. Buffalo needs to find an edge rusher that fits what head coach Rex Ryan wants to do on defense.

4. Miami Dolphins (6-10, eliminated by Patriots)

What I Said: A few people are high on the Dolphins after they remodeled the receiving corps and signed Ndamukong Suh, but Suh has been on talented teams before that underachieved. (6-10, 4th in AFC East)

Verdict: Well, what do you want me to say? The Dolphins fired the head coach, defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator on three separate days during the season. Miami has missed the playoffs 13 of the last 14 seasons.

Offseason: The Dolphins hired Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase as head coach, and Miami still needs to improve the OL after allowing 45 sacks, tied for 24th in the NFL. No player has taken more sacks than QB Ryan Tannehill since Tannehill was drafted in the first round in 2012.

1. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, 3rd in AFC, eliminated by Steelers)

What I Said: Andy Dalton has started 64 straight games, a Bengals QB record, but this team may be too soft in the front seven to let him start a fifth straight playoff loss this season. (9-7, 2nd in AFC North)

Verdict: Dalton wound up extending his streak to 77 games before his career-best season was interrupted and ended by a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Cincinnati’s front seven was better this season, getting 42 sacks after only 20 in 2014, while the defense was 2nd in pass TD allowed.

Postseason: Unfortunately, the Bengals saved their worst for last, and they are still searching for their first postseason win since 1990 after a home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals were 15th in pass yards this season, and should be in the market for another WR with 2012 draftees Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu set to become free agents.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6, 6th in AFC, eliminated by Broncos)

What I Said: The Steelers have an explosive offense, but they won’t be at full capacity until late in the season, and the likely poor defense is a result of years of terrible drafting on that side of the ball. (7-9, 3rd in AFC North)

Verdict: The Steelers were indeed explosive on offense, finishing 3rd in yards and 4th in points. They weren’t really at full strength at any point in the season, however, which makes their winning season even more impressive. There wasn’t a single game this season where QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Antonio Brown, and WR Martavis Bryant all finished healthy. The Steelers were poor against the pass, finishing 30th in pass yards allowed, but they were 3rd in sacks and 6th in rushing yards per carry allowed.

Postseason: The Steelers were beneficiaries of a predictably undisciplined Bengals team in Cincinnati. But the Steelers also went into Denver with Roethlisberger playing disabled, Williams inactive due to a foot injury, and Brown concussed due to a reprehensible hit by Cincinnati LB Vontaze Burfict. Still, the Steelers had a 4th quarter lead until 3rd-string RB Fitzgerald Toussaint lost a fumble, and an offensive line missing LT Kelvin Beachum and C Maurkice Pouncey couldn’t protect the passer either. The Steelers will be healthier on offense, but the team needs to get serious about adding talent to the defensive backfield.

3. Baltimore Ravens (5-11, eliminated by Bengals)

What I Said: The Ravens return one of the league’s best offensive lines to go with a defense that just needs the secondary to hold up. (13-3, 1st in AFC North, 1st in AFC)

Verdict: Well, the Ravens allowed the 3rd-fewest sacks in the league, but while the defense finished 8th in yards allowed, they were 24th in points allowed. The secondary did not hold up at all, allowing a franchise-worst 30 TD passes to go along with only six INTs, the fewest in franchise history.

Offseason: Baltimore’s skill position players had a rough year, and the team needs to ensure that they are deeper in 2016. The Ravens finished 23rd in pass TD in 2015, and they lost QB Joe Flacco to a torn ACL/MCL, WR Steve Smith Sr. to a torn Achilles, and TE Dennis Pitta to his troublesome hip. In addition, first-round WR Breshad Perriman never played due to a knee injury, while TE Crockett Gillmore ended the season with a back injury.

4. Cleveland Browns (3-13, eliminated by Bengals)

What I Said: The Browns have a good offensive line and a confident secondary, but they may have the worst corps of skill position players in the league… again. (5-11, 4th in AFC North)

Verdict: This was the worst season in Cleveland since 2000, if you can believe that. The Browns allowed 53 sacks, which was tied for 30th-worst in the league, while the secondary allowed a franchise-worst 101.8 passer rating – also ranked 30th. TE Gary Barnidge was a bright spot, gaining more than 1,000 receiving yards and catching nine TDs, but the Browns were 30th in points this season.

Offseason: Cleveland could use another offensive lineman, especially if C Alex Mack opts out or RT Mitchell Schwartz leaves in free agency. The Browns have added Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as head coach, and GM Ray Farmer has been released.

1. Houston Texans (9-7, 4th in AFC, eliminated by Chiefs)

What I Said: The Texans are going to struggle to score this season, but so are their opponents, especially if Jadeveon Clowney can take the heat off J.J. Watt and bring it to opposing backfields. (11-5, 2nd in AFC South, 5th in AFC)

Verdict: The Texans were tied for 21st in scoring this season, but they allowed 19.6 points per game, tied for 7th-fewest. OLB Jadeveon Clowney had 4.5 sacks this season, but it was fellow OLB Whitney Mercilus (12.0 sacks) taking the pressure off of DE J.J. Watt (NFL-high 17.5 sacks).

Postseason: The Texans didn’t make it to the game against the visiting Chiefs, allowing a kickoff return TD eleven seconds into the game and watching QB Brian Hoyer turn the ball over five times. The Texans also fired their special teams coach, but they could also use a lift at RB after Arian Foster tore his Achilles. Houston finished 24th in the NFL in rush TDs, and four different RBs got snaps after Foster’s injury.

2. Indianapolis Colts (8-8, eliminated by Texans)

What I Said: The Colts are still average defensively and overly reliant on their transcendent quarterback, but at least Andrew Luck has some viable veteran weaponry as he tries to save his team from postseason beatdowns. (13-3, 1st in AFC South, 2nd in AFC)

Verdict: The Colts were below average defensively, ranking 26th in yards and 25th in points allowed. The problem was that they were also bad offensively, ranking 28th in yards and 24th in points, while QB Andrew Luck had a nightmare of a fourth NFL season (74.9 passer rating, 2-5 as a starter, missed games due to shoulder and kidney injuries). RB Frank Gore failed to have a 100-yard rushing game all season, while WR Andre Johnson failed to have a 100-yard receiving game all season. The Colts also lost a home game to the Texans for the first time in franchise history.

Offseason: The Colts’ second-leading rusher this past season behind Gore was Luck, which would have been a problem even if Luck played a full schedule. Gore was the only player to score a rush TD for the Colts this season, as they finished 28th in the NFL in rush TD. The Colts still need a dynamic RB to pair up with Luck, who has played one career game with a 100-yard rusher out of 61, including the postseason.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11, eliminated by Texans)

What I Said: The Jaguars need their recent high draft picks that still have functional ligaments to form a core after an NFL-high four straight seasons of at least ten losses. (6-10, 3rd in AFC South)

Verdict: The Jaguars should be encouraged by the season second-year QB Blake Bortles had (franchise-record 4,428 pass yards, 35 pass TD), especially with WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns going over 1,000 receiving yards and ten receiving TD. The Jaguars should be discouraged by the fact that Bortles was sacked 51 times, while the defense allowed 28.0 points per game (31st in the NFL).

Offseason: The Jaguars could use another difference-maker in the front seven, specifically at LB, after the team finished 26th in the NFL in rush TD allowed.

4. Tennessee Titans (3-13, eliminated by Texans)

What I Said: All eyes will be on rookie QB Marcus Mariota, but the Titans need to figure out who is helping him make plays this season, especially on the ground. (4-12, 4th in AFC South)

Verdict: Mariota was awesome in three wins (11 TD passes, one INT, 140.5 passer rating), underwhelming in nine losses (eight TD, nine INT, 76.0 passer rating), and sorely missed whenever QB Zach Mettenberger had to start (0-4 W-L, two TD, five INT, 60.1 passer rating). Mariota also had the only 100-yard rushing performance for the Titans this past season.

Offseason: The Titans kept interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who needs to figure out how to improve the offensive line after the team allowed a league-high 54 sacks.

1. Denver Broncos (12-4, 1st in AFC, AFC Champion)

What I Said: The Broncos offense will be much different than the previous three seasons with QB Peyton Manning, but they could have one of the league’s stingiest defenses as well. (13-3, 1st in AFC West, 3rd in AFC)

Verdict: Manning was the worst passer in the NFL this season (career-low 67.9 passer rating, career-worst 9-17 TD-INT ratio), and the Broncos were fortunate to have competent backup QB play from Brock Osweiler (5-2 as starter, ten TD, six INT, 86.4 passer rating). The Broncos led the league in total defense, sacks, rush yards per carry allowed, and pass yards per game allowed.

Postseason: The Broncos are in the Super Bowl due to their defense. The Broncos had three sacks against the Steelers in the Divisional, while they had four sacks against the Patriots in the AFC Championship. It also helps that Manning hasn’t thrown an INT since coming back from a midseason foot injury; the Broncos were one of two teams this season to have more INTs (23) than TDs this season (19). The other team was the Dallas Cowboys, who finished with the worst record in the NFC this season.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 5th in AFC, eliminated by Patriots)

What I Said: If the Chiefs can force more turnovers to go with their solid defense and special teams, then it should complement the conservative offense well enough. (11-5, 2nd in AFC West, 6th in AFC)

Verdict: In 2014, the Chiefs had six INTs as a team. In 2015, the Chiefs drafted CB Marcus Peters in the first round, and he tied for the league lead with eight of the team’s 22 INTs. The Chiefs were second in the NFL in fewest turnovers, while forcing the fifth-most takeaways in the NFL.

Postseason: Kansas City’s strong special teams unit showed up immediately in Houston, with RB Knile Davis returning the opening kickoff 106 yards for a TD to commence a 30-0 rout. The pass rush was nonexistent in New England, however, as they failed to get a sack or force a turnover for the first time since Week 4. The Chiefs could use better health at OLB (Justin Houston was only available for eight snaps against the Patriots), but the team could use another pass target to go with WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce. Kansas City finished the season 30th in pass yards.

3. Oakland Raiders (7-9, eliminated by Broncos)

What I Said: Whatever plays Khalil Mack and rookie WR Amari Cooper don’t make will leave the Raiders with problems all season on both sides of the ball. (1-15, 4th in AFC West)

Verdict: Mack was outstanding with 15.0 sacks and 23 TFL, while Cooper became the first Raider to gain more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Randy Moss did it in 2005. QB Derek Carr’s performance regressed in the second half of the season, but he still finished with 32 TD passes. The Raiders were way better than I thought they would be, but they still finished with a non-winning season for the 13th season in a row.

Offseason: The Raiders had relatively strong seasons from Carr, Cooper, 1,000-yard RB Latavius Murray, and WR Michael Crabtree (922 receiving yards, nine receiving TD). All five Oakland OL started at least 13 games. Yet, the Raiders went from 374.6 yards per game in Weeks 1-9 (8th in NFL) to 292.4 yards per game in Weeks 10-17 (29th in NFL). The Raiders were 28th in the NFL in rushing yards despite Murray finishing 6th in the NFL in rushing. The Raiders would have been in trouble if they weren’t one of the healthiest offenses in the NFL, so they could use another explosive RB to complement Murray, who is heading into a contract year.

4. San Diego Chargers (4-12, eliminated by Broncos)

What I Said: The Chargers simply have way too many depth issues on both sides of the ball, and it would not be shocking if QB Philip Rivers is unable to start every game for the tenth straight season. (2-14, 3rd in AFC West)

Verdict:The Chargers wish they had the Raiders’ health this past season. The only players on the entire team to start all 16 games this past season were Rivers, OT Joe Barksdale, and OLB Melvin Ingram. The Chargers were 26th in the NFL in points, while they finished 21st in the NFL in points allowed.

Offseason: Despite drafting RB Melvin Gordon in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Chargers had the fewest rush TD in the league this past season – and none of the four that they actually scored were from Gordon despite 184 carries. San Diego will hope Gordon improves in Year Two, but they need to add another runner.

1. Washington Redskins (9-7, 4th in NFC, eliminated by Packers)

What I Said: The Redskins improved the defensive line, but the secondary is still suspect, and they are a safe bet to use multiple starting QBs this season. (5-11, 4th in NFC East)

Verdict: Washington’s defense finished 28th in the NFL in yards allowed, but QB Kirk Cousins started all 16 games and threw for a franchise-record 4,166 pass yards. Perhaps more importantly, Cousins threw only 11 INTs and was sacked only 26 times.

Postseason: Washington was unable to hold on to a lead against the Packers, and they wound up allowing 141 rush yards and two rush TD. The defensive line didn’t hold up against the run all season, finishing 31st in yards per carry allowed, so Washington could use another run stopper up front.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9, eliminated by Redskins)

What I Said: Even with an untrustworthy secondary and the most fragile starting QB in the league, the Eagles have a blend of toughness and balance that could allow the team to take a big step forward. (14-2, 1st in NFC East, 1st in NFC)

Verdict: The Eagles allowed a franchise-worst 36 pass TDs in 2015, and the Eagles lost both games that QB Sam Bradford missed due to injury. The Eagles would finish with the worst time of possession for the third straight season, and head coach Chip Kelly was fired after Week 16.

Offseason: Former Eagles QB Doug Pederson is the new head coach in Philadelphia, and the new defensive coordinator is Jim Schwartz. Pederson and Schwartz must shore up a front seven that allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL.

3. New York Giants (6-10, eliminated by Redskins)

What I Said: The Giants are supposed to win the Super Bowl this year, but their superstar WR is on the cover of Madden, while the team’s best defensive player is unfortunately down a digit. (6-10, 3rd in NFC East)

Verdict: WR Odell Beckham Jr. was great until he was suspended for a violation of player safety rules. DE Jason Pierre-Paul had only 1.0 sack in eight games, and the Giants finished 30th in the NFL in sacks. And New York lost six of their last seven games.

Offseason: New York missed the postseason six of the last seven seasons, which resulted in head coach Tom Coughlin stepping down. New York promoted offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to head coach, but the bigger problem for the Giants is a secondary that allowed the most pass yards in the league this season.

4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12, eliminated by Redskins)

What I Said: The Cowboys still have WR Dez Bryant and QB Tony Romo to lean on, but they are the first team to lose the previous season’s rushing leader due to free agency, while their overachieving yet mediocre defense face a lack of depth and talent at every level. (10-6, 2nd in NFC East)

Verdict: The Cowboys really didn’t have Bryant (nine games due to foot injury) or Romo (four games due to collarbone injury) to lean on. While RB Darren McFadden had 1,089 rushing yards (more than DeMarco Murray had in Philadelphia), the defense finished the season with the fewest takeaways in the league (11).

Offseason: While Denver’s backup QB went 5-2, Dallas’ backup QBs combined to go 1-11 with Romo out of the lineup. The Cowboys were 29th in pass TD this season, and with Romo turning 36 years old in April, perhaps it’s time that the Cowboys use a draft pick in the first three rounds on a QB. Dallas is the only team since 2003 to have zero draft picks used on a QB.

1. Minnesota Vikings (11-5, 3rd in NFC, eliminated by Seahawks)

What I Said: The Vikings improved at the end of the 2014 season as QB Teddy Bridgewater came into his own, and that trend should continue on into this season if RB Adrian Peterson still runs like an MVP. (11-5, 3rd in NFC North, 6th in NFC)

Verdict: Peterson led the league in rushing yards and tied for the league lead in rushing TD, while Bridgewater played his best at the end of the season to help the Vikings earn a division title.

Postseason: The Vikings took a 9-0 lead into the 4th quarter against the defending NFC Champion Seahawks, on a day that was -6 degrees at kickoff. Unfortunately for Minnesota K Blair Walsh, he missed a 27-yard FG with 26 seconds left to play. In addition to hoping Walsh can come back and be reliable next season, Minnesota needs to address a pass offense that finished 31st in pass yards in 2015.

2. Green Bay Packers (10-6, 5th in NFC, eliminated by Cardinals)

What I Said: The Packers may have lost their best WR, but they still have an MVP QB, while the annually poor run defense shouldn’t cost them too much before the postseason. (13-3, 1st in NFC North, 2nd in NFC)

Verdict: QB Aaron Rodgers certainly won’t be the MVP in 2015. Though he had the third-best TD-INT ratio in the league (31-8), Rodgers had his lowest passer rating as a starter (92.7) while leading the lowest-ranked Green Bay offense in 25 years. Yes, the run defense was still poor, finishing 29th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per carry.

Postseason: The Packers got a great rushing performance in Washington from RBs Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The defense came up short yet again in the postseason, losing 26-20 in overtime at Arizona. Green Bay needs to get LB Clay Matthews back outside, but Rodgers could use another WR with Jordy Nelson recovering from ACL surgery. Green Bay finished 25th in the NFL in pass yards this season.

3. Detroit Lions (7-9, eliminated by Vikings)

What I Said: The Lions haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1993-1995, but the coaching staff has enough talent to get it done this season especially against the run. (11-5, 2nd in NFC North, 5th in NFC)

Verdict:The Lions still haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since the mid-1990s. The Lions only got 17 snaps out of OLB DeAndre Levy this season.

Offseason: Detroit’s run defense was poor for most of the season, as they finished 30th in rush TD allowed. Even if Levy comes back, Detroit needs another LB.

4. Chicago Bears (6-10, eliminated by Vikings)

What I Said: The Black & Blue division needs a cellar dwellar, and a Bears team in transition on defense while waiting out the remainder of QB Jay Cutler’s contract will struggle to keep their ten-year streak of not having consecutive losing seasons alive. (7-9, 4th in NFC North)

Verdict: For the first time since 1997-2000, the Bears finished in last place in the division back-to-back seasons. The Bears were a better team, especially on defense, while Cutler had the highest passer rating of his career (92.3). Chicago did struggle to defend the pass (31 TD passes allowed, only eight INTs).

Offseason: The Bears were only 23rd in pass TD, and WR Alshon Jeffery is a free agent. Chicago also didn’t get to see 2015 first-round WR Kevin White on the field this past season, while Cutler’s offensive coordinator Adam Gase took Miami’s head coaching job.

1. Carolina Panthers (15-1, 1st in NFC, NFC Champions)

What I Said: The Panthers were the beneficiaries of a weak division last year, but their relative improvement defensively figures to be cancelled out this season due to what may be a bottom-five pass offense. (6-10, 2nd in NFC South)

Verdict: The NFC South was a little stronger this season, but the Panthers were a lot stronger. The Panthers scored a league-leading 500 points this season, with QB Cam Newton accounting for 76.3 percent of Carolina’s 59 TDs.

Postseason: The Panthers jumped all over the visiting Seahawks before letting them back in the game in the second half. Against the Cardinals, the Panthers beatdown was complete and thorough, featuring three rushing TDs and seven takeaways. The pass offense was 24th in the NFL, even with Newton slinging it, so Carolina still has one more game to prove that the WRs aren’t a liability.

2. Atlanta Falcons (8-8, eliminated by Panthers)

What I Said: Matt Ryan to Julio Jones should be a lethal connection, but there’s little else that the Falcons can feel too good about this season under new head coach Dan Quinn. (4-12, 4th in NFC South)

Verdict: Jones led the NFL with 1,871 receiving yards, while teammate RB Devonta Freeman finished 5th in the league in yards from scrimmage (1,634). The Falcons were also tied for 8th in the NFL in sacks allowed. But Ryan was inconsistent (21 TD, 16 INT, 89.0 passer rating), and the Falcons had the fewest sacks in the league.

Offseason: The Falcons were 23rd in pass TD, and while some of that falls on Ryan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Ryan could use better red zone targets than TE Jacob Tamme (one receiving TD all season) and WR Roddy White (one receiving TD).

3. New Orleans Saints (7-9, eliminated by Panthers)

What I Said: The Saints haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since Mike Ditka and Ricky Williams were together, although they’ll need Sean Payton and Drew Brees to be great with a shallow group of playmakers and a front seven that has been vulnerable for years. (8-8, 1st in NFC South, 4th in NFC)

Verdict: Well, the Saints have consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1994-1999. Brees had 32 more TD passes and a league-leading 4,870 pass yards, but the Saints allowed a league-worst 29.8 points per game.

Offseason: The Saints allowed NFL-records of 45 pass TDs and 116.2 passer rating this season. They clearly need help in the secondary after firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan midseason.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10, eliminated by Panthers)

What I Said: The Buccaneers should get improved coaching this year after having issues at offensive coordinator distract Lovie Smith from the defense, but the offensive line figures to lead to many mistakes from rookie QB Jameis Winston. (5-11, 3rd in NFC South)

Verdict: The Buccaneers were better than the 2-14 2014 team, but that wasn’t enough to save head coach Lovie Smith’s job. Instead, 2015 offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was promoted to head coach after the first top-five offensive ranking in team history, and the Buccaneers were tied for fourth in sacks allowed. The Buccaneers still weren’t good at winning on the scoreboard, as Tampa Bay ranked only 20th in points scored and 26th in points allowed.

Offseason:Lovie Smith’s defense did him in, as he was never able to figure out his secondary. The Buccaneers were 25th in pass TD allowed this season, allowing franchise-worsts 31 TD passes and 102.5 passer rating.

1. Arizona Cardinals (13-3, 2nd in NFC, eliminated by Panthers)

What I Said: The Cardinals keep raising expectations due to the presence of Bruce Arians, but the defense figures to take a step back while the offensive line looks extremely hazardous to Carson Palmer’s chances of starting the entire season. (3-13, 4th in NFC West)

Verdict:There wasn’t another team I was more wrong on this past season. While the Cardinals allowed a few more points this season, they were 5th in yards allowed and 1st in total offense. Palmer started every game coming off a torn ACL, and he had the best season of his career with 4,671 pass yards, 35 pass TD, and a 104.6 passer rating. Palmer also took only 25 sacks.

Postseason: The Cardinals were able to escape the Packers in overtime, but the wheels fell off in Carolina, where Palmer turned the ball over six times. Arizona allowed 49 points and had issues in all three phases. Arizona could use some extra bodies on the defensive line after getting blown out by the Panthers in the NFC Championship, but Arizona also needs to improve the special teams unit after finishing 32nd in average net punt.

2. Seattle Seahawks (10-6, 6th in NFC, eliminated by Panthers)

What I Said: The Seahawks have major issues on the offensive line and with Kam Chancellor’s contract that will keep them from hosting multiple home playoff games, but by the end of the season they’re going to be a tough out due to an improved receiving corps and defensive line. (12-4, 1st in NFC West, 3rd in NFC)

Verdict: The Seahawks were a tough out due to QB Russell Wilson and his receivers complementing the best scoring defense in the NFL. But Seattle had to go on the road to start the postseason.

Postseason: The Seahawks benefited from a missed game-winning FG in Minnesota. Unfortunately, they took a half to get into the Panthers game, which was entirely too long. The Seahawks had only one sack in Carolina, so they could look to get another DE. But the bigger problem all season was an offensive line that finished 26th in the league in sacks allowed.

3. Saint Louis Rams (7-9, eliminated by Cardinals)

What I Said: The Rams want to be a run-heavy team behind an offensive line that figures to be abused early, and the pass rush isn’t enough to make up for what has become a mistake-prone team. (7-9, 2nd in NFC West)

Verdict: The Rams finished with the number of wins I said they would finish with. Rams rookie RB Todd Gurley finished third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards while adding ten TDs, and the team had the fewest sacks allowed in the league. But the Rams were tied at sixth for most penalties in the league, while the team barely converted more than a quarter of 3rd downs.

Offseason: Well, the Rams are based in Los Angeles now, so there’s that. The team was 32nd in pass yards, with no player gaining 700 receiving yards.

4. San Francisco 49ers (5-11, eliminated by Cardinals)

What I Said: Everyone focuses on what the 49ers lost, and while there is still experienced talent on every level, they’ll struggle to reach .500 with their backup coaching staff. (6-10, 3rd in NFC West).

Verdict: I think you can focus on what the 49ers lost, which now includes head coach Jim Tomsula, who was replaced by former Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly.

Offseason: The 49ers scored the fewest points in the NFL this past season, and were 29th in pass TD. While Kelly has decisions to make between QBs Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco would do well just to have another dynamic WR on the roster after Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith had four TDs each to lead the team.

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