It doesn't feel like there has been a lot of time since we saw Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks make a call at the end of Super Bowl 49 that will have people still shaking their heads in disbelief. For the life of me, I will never understand why they chose to throw a ball instead of giving it to Marshawn Lynch on the one yard line and it is a decision that will likely haunt that fanbase for many years to come.
Of course Seattle will be amongst the favourites to get a shot at winning the big prize again this time around so without further ado, I will get on with the preview for the 2015 NFL season.
There have been a few false dawns in recent years and Miami have perhaps underachieved when you consider how close they have been to a return to the Play Offs, but there definitely feels more positive vibes at the beginning of this season. The huge signing of Ndamukong Suh in Free Agency gives Miami one of the best Defensive Lines in the NFL, while they have shifted some of the unwanted big contracts, for example Mike Wallace, as well as the players with character concerns, for example Mike Wallace.
The schedule looks a good one for the Dolphins to try and chase down the New England Patriots who still seem to be the team to beat in the Division. The reigning Super Bowl Champions have made a number of personnel moves in the off-season though and they definitely don't look as strong as last season, although they will have Tom Brady playing after a judge overturned the four game suspension he was given after the 'Deflategate' saga was seemingly drawn to a close.
Players like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have moved on from the Secondary, while you don't replace the huge presence of Vince Wilfork on the Defensive Line easily. Tom Brady is a year older and the Patriots might be their most vulnerable in the Division since before Brady took over as the full-time starter.
I think the Patriots will just about hang on to their AFC East Division, while the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets could be the also rans behind New England and Miami.
Both of those teams will know all about Rex Ryan as the former Jets Head Coach takes over in Buffalo and while there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to the Bills, the Quarter Back is not one of them. Some Buffalo fans will point out the success Ryan had with the New York Jets and Mark Sanchez under Center, but they are opening the season with Tyrod Taylor at Quarter Back and he is a lot lower down the totem pole than Sanchez.
Taylor can run the ball and Ryan will be looking for LeSean McCoy to reinvigorate his career in Buffalo having traded for him from the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo will be a ground and pound team and have a very special Defense, but a difficult schedule and inconsistency from the Quarter Back may mean they struggle to break into a winning season.
It is still likely to be better than the New York Jets who have become such a mess that their starting Quarter Back is missing the first few games because a team mate punched him and fractured his jaw. Ryan Fitzpatrick at Quarter Back is not the answer as the likes of Buffalo and Houston will tell you and the Jets will be heavily reliant on a returning Darrelle Revis to plug holes in the Secondary.
It looks like a real rebuilding job for Todd Bowles and finishing outside the basement of this Division would constitute a successful season.
Unlike the Steelers of old, this team will look for the Offense to score enough points to keep them moving forward and there are some big playmakers here which make Pittsburgh dangerous. However, they have to make do without Martavis Bryant and, more importantly, Le'Veon Bell for a couple of games, while a more difficult schedule means the Steelers might drop off considerably from the 11 wins they achieved last season.
So who can perhaps take over from the Pittsburgh Steelers as Division Champions? One of the two teams looking to do that are the Baltimore Ravens who have won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons including last season when they were barely beaten by the New England Patriots in the Play Offs.
However, they too have made some big moves in the off-season that doesn't look like they have improved the team for this season, barring new faces stepping up to the mark. Torrey Smith is gone from the Offensive side of the ball and Haloti Ngata is a big loss on the Defensive side, although that unit looks the better of the two.
If Joe Flacco can get on the same page as new Offensive Co-Ordinator Marc Trestman, this Baltimore team can match the 10 wins they earned last season with the schedule looking a good one even though it begins with a rough road game in Denver.
The Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to be in the mix again and you have to think Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton have to give the franchise a Play Off win at the end of this season if they are going to start 2016 at this team. I give the Bengals a lot of credit for their 31 regular season wins over the last three seasons, but they haven't won a Play Off game since 1990 and that is the next step to prove this Head Coach and Quarter Back are going to get things done.
Cincinnati have kept their key pieces in place for another run to the Play Offs, but theirs is another schedule that will need them to produce a couple of surprising wins if they are going to get back to the 10 win mark and a fifth consecutive Play Off berth.
All three teams will feel they have much better chances than the Cleveland Browns who continue to fail to get out of their own way when it comes to building a team capable of consistent success. The Johnny Manziel experiment is not quite over, but Josh McCown has been brought in as the starting Quarter Back and that looks a terrible decision after seeing the veteran struggle badly in Tampa Bay last year.
Their Defensive unit still looks the better of the two on the team, but Cleveland remain some way off their three Divisional rivals with the moves made this off-season and the Browns might be one of the teams 'chasing' the Number 1 overall Draft Pick next year.
Andrew Luck means you are going to get plenty of points so adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore to this Offense should only make them more potent. Defensively the Colts still look a little unsure, but they have the capability of outscoring all of their rivals, while a big regular season game is hosting the New England Patriots and proving they can beat that team.
It is the Patriots who have demolished the Colts in the Play Offs in the last two years so winning that game at home might be key for them mentally to prove they are ready to go all the way to the Super Bowl. Indianapolis do have to play the other Division winners, but this Division is paired with the NFC South and there are plenty of 'easy' games on slate for them to finish with the best overall record in the NFL.
The closest challengers to the Colts in the Division look to be the Houston Texans but they are similar to the Buffalo Bills in looking to be a team that might be over-reliant on their Defensive unit. Brian Hoyer has experience of the Bill O'Brien Offense from their time together at New England and he looks to be someone who can produce some special games, but also not too far away from really having a hard time as we all saw in Cleveland last year.
You can have no doubt that the Defensive Line is going to be nasty with JJ Watt patrolling and Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney alongside him and that is going to inspire the entire Houston Defense. However, winning games comes down to scoring points too and I think the schedule means there is a chance they even take a step back from the 9 wins they achieved in 2014.
With Indianapolis and Houston leading the way, the other two teams in the AFC South are still playing catch up as they continue turning around franchises. Gus Bradley has seen an improvement in the way the Jacksonville Jaguars have been playing even if the record books didn't show that improvement in terms of wins in his second season.
He now has Blake Bortles in his second year as a starter and the Jaguars have made some fine moves in Free Agency and the Draft to show an improved number of wins this time around. The Defense being built looks a strong one and Jacksonville might just have found the Running Back of the next few years in taking TJ Yeldon from Alabama in the Second Round, but they still look a little short of Offensive playmakers.
I think the Jaguars will surpass their three wins from last season, but most of their winnable games are on the road which might mean Bradley has to settle for another losing season. It should be better than the Tennessee Titans to avoid finishing in the basement of the Division for the third year in a row as Ken Whisenhunt continues to get time to rebuild in Nashville.
Marcus Mariota has been picked as the future franchise Quarter Back for the Titans, but the rookie will experience teething problems and the Offensive Line has been rebuilt and might take time to bed in. Dick LeBeau has joined the staff to improve the Defensive unit too, but Tennessee might be looking at a very high Draft Pick again next season with the way the schedule has come down.
Gary Kubiak comes in as the new Head Coach and Manning remains along with most of his key Offensive weapons although Julius Thomas was lost in Free Agency. That might not matter as Kubiak will look to run the ball more to try and power this Offense and Denver look to have a decent balance Offensively if CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman can pick up from where they left off at Running Back last season.
It is on the Defensive side of the ball that Denver looks especially strong and Wade Phillips will be very happy with the players he has to organise into his 3-4 system. The Broncos could generate a lot of pressure up front to create turnovers and make sure their Offense is not relying on Peyton Manning to throw 40 times a game to win.
Denver still look by far the best team in the Division and I expect them to be challenging for a bye in the Wild Card Round of the Play Offs.
The main rivals to Denver look to be the Kansas City Chiefs who finished second in the Division in 2014 and have had winning records in back to back seasons under Andy Reid. The big question for the Chiefs is whether Alex Smith has enough to carry them back into the Play Offs at Quarter Back although I do think Jeremy Maclin is a big upgrade at Receiver and there will be a TD thrown to a player in that position this time around.
Jamaal Charles is a huge player for Kansas City if they can keep him healthy, but the schedule makers haven't exactly been kind to the Chiefs who could easily find themselves in a 0-4 hole after taking on Houston, Denver, Green Bay and Cincinnati to open the season. If they can manage to get out of that at 2-2, Kansas City have a solid Defensive unit that can perhaps carry them into a Wild Card spot, although a poor start will lead to their first losing record under Reid.
I am not so sure what to make of the San Diego Chargers who have considerable talent on both sides of the ball but can be guilty of struggling to put it all together. They are relying on a rookie in Melvin Gordon to spark the running game which would make Philip Rivers more dangerous, and the rebuilt Offensive Line looks one that will give the Quarter Back time to find the likes of Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson and Keenan Allen.
The Chargers have looked to improve the Defensive unit through the last Draft and if they have managed to do that, they can overtake the Kansas City Chiefs in the Division. San Diego look to have the better schedule between themselves and the Chiefs, but they might need an upset or two to make the Play Offs after missing out last year.
The Oakland Raiders might have to settle for another place in the basement of this Division, but they look an improving team who are finally looking to rebuild in the right way rather than throwing bad money on top of bad money. Derek Carr looks to be a potential franchise Quarter Back and I love some of the Draft Picks they have made on both sides of the ball in the last couple of years.
Khalil Mack looks a stud Linebacker and I am expecting big things from Amari Cooper at Wide Receiver, while Latavius Murray might give Oakland a genuine threat out of the backfield.
The change in Head Coach (Jack Del Rio looks an excellent appointment) means a change in systems and that might knock Carr from a big improvement this season. However, this is an improving team that might surpass the number of wins they have had in each of the last three seasons and potentially double their win total from last season (3) if making a strong start to the new season and buying into Del Rio's methods.
It is all about belief in the system for Kelly who also traded for oft-injured Sam Bradford to be his new Quarter Back in a big trade with the St Louis Rams that saw Nick Foles go the other way.
DeMarco Murray was the other big move made by the Eagles that would have caught the attention and Philadelphia look solid on both sides of the ball. The big thing that goes in their favour has to be the schedule too and they could easily go into their bye week unbeaten and then work their way through to double digit win and perhaps even surpass the number they have achieved in each of the two seasons under Chip Kelly (10).
No doubting that the biggest rivals to the Philadelphia Eagles in this Division are the NFC East winners from 2014, the Dallas Cowboys who believe they can overcome the loss of leading rusher Murray to the Eagles.
With an Offensive Line that has been built through very good Draft Picks, Dallas believe the likes of Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Darren McFadden and Christine Michael can produce solid numbers at Running Back. I'm a fan of Michael and returning to the State where he starred in College could be exactly what he needs to get something going in his NFL career having struggled at Seattle to make an impact.
I have little doubt Dallas will score plenty of points with the Offensive Line wearing down Defenses up front by opening holes for the Cowboys to run the ball down their throat. That only makes Tony Romo more of a threat knowing he doesn't have to push too much and the likes of Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are much more than a supporting cast.
The issues for Dallas are clearly on the Defensive side of the ball, especially the Secondary with Orlando Scandrick a huge loss having been their best player in Training Camp. Plus winning the Division means taking on the likes of Seattle, Green Bay, while Dallas have road games in Miami and Buffalo compared with the Eagles who those at home.
All of that combined means I don't believe the Cowboys match the 12 wins from last season, but I do think they can get to double digits which might be enough to reclaim the Division if Sam Bradford struggles/is injured for the Eagles, while a Wild Card spot is the minimum this team should expect.
There isn't much to say about the Washington Redskins who look in complete disarray at the moment and have benched RG3 with the likelihood he is traded away soon. I simply don't think Kirk Cousins is the answer at Quarter Back, especially not behind an Offensive Line that simply stinks, while the Defensive unit have too many new faces to really be expected to gel together and form a cohesive unit immediately.
Jay Gruden is under some pressure as the Head Coach and some consider Washington to be the worst team in the NFL, while the schedule doesn't make for great reading and I think this team reaching 4 wins to match 2014 would be pretty remarkable alone.
The New York Giants don't seem to be in as much of a mess as Washington, but who does to be honest, but they haven't really made the moves that can see them close in on the top two teams in the NFC East. Eli Manning does have Victor Cruz back to pair up with breakout Odell Beckham Jr, and I expect they will score points, but there are questions about the Defensive Line and the Secondary that don't seem to be answered.
With an Offense that should be able to score lots of points, I expect the Giants will have a couple of surprise wins, but I also won't be surprised if they are upset a couple of times too. All of it leads me to thinking that New York might end with their third straight losing season under Tom Coughlin and perhaps part with their two time Super Bowl winning Head Coach.
Most teams might fail to pick themselves up, but the Packers still look the team to beat in the NFC North with Aaron Rodgers at Quarter Back and some key pieces returning including BJ Raji. Even the injury to Jordy Nelson is unlikely to stop the Packers as I am a big fan of Davante Adams and think he is going to have a huge season.
James Jones has also been re-signed and should add decent depth, while the Packers look like they can have a disruptive Defense that will force teams to throw on them when playing catch up to Rodgers and his Offense. I fully expect the Green Bay Packers to win at least 10 games and I think they will be challenging for the Number 1 Seed in the Division as they host the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys.
The closest rival in the Division is likely to be the Detroit Lions again, but I am interested to see how they do on the Defensive side of the ball having lost a dominant force like Ndamukong Suh as well as Nick Fairley in the middle of the Defensive Line.
Haloti Ngata has been brought in to fill the big shoes Suh has left behind and I think the Secondary might just be exposed now the pressure is perhaps not as strong up front as it was.
However, Detroit still possess a top Offensive unit that should be able to score plenty of points. They will be looking for someone to take on in the running game and Draft Pick Ameer Abdullah could be the man to do that, but it is clear that the Offense will continue to rely upon the arm of Matt Stafford and the catching ability of Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and hopefully an improved Eric Ebron.
A tougher schedule will need Detroit to secure an upset or two if they are going to make it back to the Play Offs for a second consecutive year, but they have the scoring power to do that if Ngata can fill in for Suh on the Defensive Line.
I do love what the Minnesota Vikings are doing under Mike Zimmer and the return of Adrian Peterson to the fold will only aid second year Quarter Back Teddy Bridgewater who already looked pretty comfortable in his rookie season.
I am a fan of Bridgewater and think he was harshly treated to fall so far down the First Round in the Draft of 2014, but the Vikings will be the beneficiary of having him here. Signing Mike Wallace to provide another deep threat for Bridgewater might sound good on paper, but the locker room needs to keep the moody Receiver from breaking the confidence of the young Quarter Back.
Jerome Felton has moved on as Full Back and he was a key in aiding Adrian Peterson to come close to breaking the season rushing record, but the return of the star Running Back and a young cast around him makes the Vikings dangerous. With Mike Zimmer known for the way he crafted the Cincinnati Defense in recent years, he has already had a big impact with the Vikings Defense and this looks a team that might potentially challenge in the Division or for a Wild Card spot.
The problem is a difficult looking schedule and a poor record against their Divisional rivals last season which may mean Minnesota are still a year away from competing barring some big upsets early in the season to build confidence and momentum.
A complete rebuilding job is going to need to be done with the Chicago Bears who have a new Head Coach in John Fox, but have some major holes in both Offensive and Defensive units to make up. Jay Cutler is still the starting Quarter Back, but I am not convinced he has the support of everyone in the organisation, although he needs to be better protected to produce better numbers.
Brandon Marshall has moved on though and the second weapon of choice for Cutler was Kevin White before an injury has knocked him out too. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are gone from the Defensive unit and Vic Fangio is going to have to work some magic to make them a competent team on that side of the ball too.
John Fox can turn things around with Fangio as Defensive Co-Ordinator and Adam Gase as Offensive Co-Ordinator, but this looks a transition season and even matching the 5 wins from last season might be beyond them in 2015.
They still look a force on the Defensive side of the ball, but the injury to Kelvin Benjamin has taken away a big weapon from Cam Newton and it is hard to see them consistently moving the chains Offensively.
Jonathan Stewart is the main Running Back these days having previously shared the duties with DeAngelo Williams, but he is injury prone and another losing record looks like it will be the result for the Panthers, but one that won't produce a Division win in 2014.
You have to think that Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still not ready for a push in the Division having picked Jameis Winston with the Number 1 overall Draft Pick in May to become the franchise Quarter Back. While Winston has some big targets to aim for in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, he will have some rookie teething problems.
Doug Martin has looked good in the off-season and a return to form from the Running Back would be a big boost for Winston, while the conversion back to the Tampa-2 Defense is in its second year and may see an improvement on that side of the ball where the Buccaneers have some talent.
Tampa Bay potentially get out of the NFC South basement for the first time in three years if they take advantage of some of the weaker games on their schedule and I expect an improvement on their 2 wins from 2014 although not enough to challenge in the Division.
Picking a winner in the NFC South hasn't proved easy in recent years but I think the game in Week 17 between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints may be the decider and I would give the edge to home field advantage and the Falcons.
Dan Quinn has taken over from Mike Smith as Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons and he has built his reputation on what he created at the Seattle Seahawks as their Defensive Co-Ordinator in 2013 and 2014. Assuming he can get some improvement out of this Falcons Defensive unit that struggled in 2014, Atlanta might be the team to beat.
Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley are all expected to have an impact for the Falcons on the Defense with the former two being brought in during Free Agency and the latter as a top Draft Pick. Dan Quinn has been blessed with a strong Offensive unit so doing what he did in Seattle will give Atlanta every chance of winning the Division.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are two very strong players to have on the Offense, but Atlanta will be hoping Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can give the Falcons something of a running game to keep the pressure off of Ryan and allow him to have time to make his passes.
Compared with Atlanta, the New Orleans Saints look to be changing their philosophy on Offense and have traded away Jimmy Graham to Seattle in exchange for Max Unger. The Center could be huge for the Saints who want to move to a power running team with Mark Ingram, but the key will be keeping the Running Back healthy, while any team with Drew Brees at Quarter Back is going to be a threat.
Brandin Cooks looks to be the big threat at Receiver as New Orleans moved on Kenny Stills to Miami too with salary cap issues hurting them. The Saints will be hoping Rob Ryan can fix the Defensive problems of 2014 and the big challenge for Ryan will be to incorporate all the new faces at Linebacker and in the Secondary into his system.
If the likes of Dannelle Ellerbe and Brandon Browner can make a big impact coming in, New Orleans might be a better team than I initially expected from them. Drew Brees the Offensive Line to protect him now as the Saints look to run the ball to keep their Quarter Back in manageable down and distance, but they might have to win a road game in Atlanta in Week 17 to get into the Play Offs.
The Seattle Seahawks have to show there is no Super Bowl hangover after losing the big game in the most excruciating and mind boggling ways possible. That is going to be tough to pick themselves up from, while I am not sure the trade for Jimmy Graham is going to be considered a good one at the end of the season knowing how much they struggled to run the ball without Max Unger last year.
Graham is a big target, but he simply doesn't run block effectively and Seattle remains a team committed to pounding the ball with Marshawn Lynch at Running Back. The Offensive Line has a few questions to answer too and Russell Wilson may have to make a lot more plays with his legs if they can't hold up protection.
Defensively they still look strong, although Kam Chancellor is unhappy and threatened to hold out unless given a pay rise. If Chancellor was to miss time, that would mean two of the four 'Legion of Boom' players from last season are gone after Byron Maxwell moved on, and Earl Thomas has been banged up. The Seahawks still look like the best team in the Division and they have won at least 11 games in their last three years and can expect to challenge for the Number 1 Seed in the NFC for a third consecutive season.
Their main rivals this season look to be the Arizona Cardinals who have surpassed expectation the last couple of years under Bruce Arians and will be looking for better health to reach the levels the fanbase may expect this time around. Carson Palmer returns at Quarter Back after injuries to that position saw Arizona have less than 80 Offensive yards in the Play Offs last season after a positive start to the season looked to have put the Cardinals in a position to win the NFC West.
If Palmer is back to the level he was producing, the Cardinals look solid on both sides of the ball and they are going to be one tough team to knock off during 2015. Arizona have won at least 10 games in each of the last two seasons and the Cardinals will challenge for a Wild Card spot in the NFC although they might need a surprise win or two to reach double digits in terms of wins this season.
The St Louis Rams haven't had a winning record since 2003 and only twice have they finished even, but Jeff Fisher has built a solid roster and has to start producing wins to keep the owners from perhaps think about making changes. Rumours about an impending move to Los Angeles has to be another distraction for the entire franchise, but St Louis can't let that be an excuse for them to fail again.
Nick Foles has been traded for to replace Sam Bradford and St Louis will be hoping for better luck at the Quarter Back position than they had with the former Number 1 overall Draft Pick. Foles had a really big year for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and has to show he is more than a product of the Chip Kelly system and he does have some playmakers on this side of the ball.
However, the majority of the big time players the Rams have are on the Defensive side of the ball and they will keep this team in every game as long as Foles doesn't give it away when the Offense has the ball in their hands.
There is every chance that the St Louis Rams can finish with their first winning season if they can record a couple of big wins in home games later in the season, but challenging for the Division still looks a little while away.
Finally we get to the dysfunctional San Francisco 49ers who have replaced Jim Harbaugh with Jim Tomsula as Head Coach and this looks a real transitional season for the team. The Offensive side of the ball has seen the Offensive Line continue to struggle to protect Colin Kaepernick who has an ageing Anquan Boldin and inconsistent Torrey Smith as his main weapons along with Vernon Davis.
While that side of the ball is going to suffer through some inconsistencies, the Defensive unit has been decimated by retirements and off field issues of some huge players. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland have all retired, Ray McDonald has been released, while Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver have left in Free Agency.
Vic Fangio has also moved on as Defensive Co-Ordinator and the 49ers now look a mess in a unit that was a strength for them in recent seasons. It is a tough situation for Tomsula to walk into and I am not sure he can motivate this team to get anywhere near a winning record.
With the schedule as it is, I think there is a fairly high chance that the San Francisco 49ers halve their number of wins from 2014 and they could be one of the teams picking high in the next Draft if making a poor start to the season.