Latest Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team, Preseason Week 1 Edition

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystAugust 10, 2015

Latest Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team, Preseason Week 1 Edition

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    Associated Press

    Meaningful football is so, so close. You can almost smell the deep-fried bread and feel your warm couch groove that’s carefully sculpted over a 12-hour Sunday viewing period.

    But first we’ll have to be satisfied with meaningless football, at least as far as the scoreboard is concerned. 

    The preseason is wonderful because football is back on your television, even if you're watching third- and fourth-string players who will soon be working at a Home Depot. It’s a time for wish-casting in the hot August sun, because none of your dreams have been crushed quite yet.

    That is why the preseason is also a fine time for predictions.

    Trying to forecast each team’s record is a good way to both embrace the inherent preseason hope and start to ease into the business of dream crushing. For example: Are you a Seattle Seahawks fan? Go ahead and buy those Super Bowl tickets now. Are you a San Francisco 49ers fan? Try to limit your long shower cries to once weekly.

    I went through this exercise back in April when the league released its schedule. My predictions for each team's 2015 regular-season record from then are shown here, followed by the updated preseason version, which takes into account the draft and other offseason developments.

    Two reminders before you dive in: I’ve never, ever whiffed on a prediction, so everything written here must be viewed as a concrete fact. I also hate every team equally.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2014 record: 11-5

    April prediction: 9-7

    Preseason prediction: 10-6

    If quarterback Carson Palmer can stay healthy, the Arizona Cardinals will consistently bombard defenses with deep balls—or at least that will be the foundation of what the Cardinals do offensively.

    Defensively, even after the departure of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, there’s still plenty of ball-hawking speed in the secondary between safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

    But the defining difference between a 2014 Cardinals team that won nine of 10 games before fizzling out could be depth in the backfield, a critical spot where barely any backup existed before.

    Arizona used its third-round pick (86th overall) in 2015 to select running back David Johnson. While Johnson isn’t quite the bulldozing complementary option that the team needed, his fit lies in productive redundancy.

    He’s essentially a larger version (6'1", 224 lbs) of backfield mate Andre Ellington (5'9", 199 lbs), which doesn’t make Johnson a wasted roster spot in this offense. When healthy, Ellington has excelled as a pass-catcher, with head coach Bruce Arians’ vertical approach often placing him in free space. Even while missing five games, he’s still collected 766 receiving yards over two seasons.

    The problem, of course, is that staying healthy bit, which is where Johnson comes in. His much bulkier frame can sustain more punishment while running inside. In that role he’ll boost a pitiful rushing offense in 2014 that averaged a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry.

    And if Ellington were to crumble due to injury again, Johnson can slide in to function in the same capacity. He had 300-plus receiving yards over each of his four seasons at Northern Iowa, which included 14.1 yards per catch in 2014.

    Now that Arians is in possession of a deeper, more well-rounded offense, things could get scary fast.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

    2014 record: 6-10

    April prediction: 6-10

    Preseason prediction: 7-9

    The first two teams on our journey through (failed) NFL record predictions for 2015 had something in common entering the draft. Although the Atlanta Falcons didn’t quite reach Arizona’s level of rushing-offense stench in 2014, they came damn close.

    The Falcons ranked 24th while averaging only 93.6 rushing yards per game, and 4.0 per attempt. That came with a slowly eroding Steven Jackson as the lead back, while then-rookie Devonta Freeman was his promising backfield partner.

    The shine on Freeman has worn off just a bit after he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, though in fairness that was on only 65 attempts. The starting job is still his for now in the early days of training camp, with D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting Freeman holds the “upper hand” over third-round pick Tevin Coleman.

    But the slightest preseason stumble could lead to Coleman’s rise, giving the Falcons something they haven’t had since they drafted wide receiver Julio Jones in 2011: A new dynamic offensive weapon and potential game-breaker.

    Coleman finished with the second-most rushing yards in the nation during his final year at Indiana (2,036), establishing a pretty frightening per-attempt pace of 7.5 yards. In the 2015 draft class Coleman was also the only running back to average over four yards after contact per rush, according to College Football Focus.

    Coleman will inject life into a stagnant running game and hopefully provide quarterback Matt Ryan with relief from the aggressive blitzing he often faces. The Falcons are a better team offensively now, and the same applies defensively, too, after the addition of first-round outside linebacker Vic Beasley.

    Now it’s a matter of Atlanta finally capitalizing on the talent assembled to earn its first winning season since 2012.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    2014 record: 10-6

    April prediction: 9-7 

    Preseason prediction: 8-8

    The Baltimore Ravens landed their replacement for Torrey Smith early during the draft. And in grass burner Breshad Perriman, 21, they now employ a young man who oddly looks like a very old man. He’s surely been buying adult beverages for, well, a while.

    Between adding Perriman—who averaged a whopping 20.9 yards per reception in 2014 with Central Florida—and retaining running back Justin Forsett, management made the necessary moves to push Baltimore’s offense forward after it was on the cusp of ranking among the top 10 last year (No. 12).

    The team's securing Maxx Williams, the draft’s top tight end, was also critical with incumbent Dennis Pitta still recovering from multiple hip surgeries.

    But there are looming questions scattered throughout the defense. Can Timmy Jernigan slide in for the departed Haloti Ngata and do it effectively? Jernigan was solid throughout his rookie year in 2014 and recorded 15 defensive stops along with 12 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus, even while playing only 27.5 snaps per game.

    However, he’s replacing a five-time Pro Bowler, and Ngata had 30-plus tackles in five of his nine seasons as a versatile presence who’s played both nose tackle and 3-4 defensive end.

    And can a 23rd-ranked secondary rebound after an injury-riddled season? Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy now. But there’s concern with Webb, who allowed an opposing passer rating of 99.0 over 18 games in 2014 (including playoffs), per PFF.

    Both potential weaknesses will be tested early with a schedule that has the Ravens traveling for five of their first seven games, a stretch featuring some high-octane passing offenses (Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals).

Buffalo Bills

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    Associated Press

    2014 record: 9-7

    April prediction: 9-7

    Preseason prediction: 8-8

    The Buffalo Bills did more than just remodel their offense this offseason. For his role in the great AFC East arms race of 2015, Bills general manager Doug Whaley went into full wet-spaghetti-hurling mode, except with established offensive producers.

    Eventually, if you bring in enough either premier or formerly premier talent, something has to stick, right? Indeed, it would seem that having an abundance of great football players is a good thing.

    After a list of bold, decisive moves, the Bills offense now trots out running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Percy Harvin, tight end Charles Clay and fullback Jerome Felton. There are five Pro Bowl appearances spread among those four (three from McCoy, and one apiece from Harvin and Felton). They join an offense that already had promising young wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.

    And they’re all supported 2014's fourth-ranked defense, with the core pieces on that side of the ball returning. But when you look at the quarterback depth chart, believing in this version of the Bills is still difficult.

    The Bills’ passing offense will be structured around floating easy, short, high-percentage throws to the likes of McCoy, Clay and Harvin in space. Then they'll have to create more yardage after the catch. That’s what they do, and why they were all so appealing Buffalo, a team trying to win with a replacement-level quarterback.

    That signal-caller's main job will be to not screw up. And is there a Bills QB who can be trusted with that basic task? Probably not.

    Matt Cassel was also part of the Bills’ offseason shopping, and he was “noticeably worse” than both EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor throughout OTAs, as ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak observed. That isn’t exactly surprising after Cassel completed only 57.7 percent of his pass attempts in 2014 over three appearances with the Minnesota Vikings.

    But if not Cassel, then who? Buffalo demoted Manuel during his second season last year after he suffered from chronically wayward crosshairs (58.0 completion percentage), and Taylor has attempted a grand total of 35 regular-season passes so far in his NFL career.

    For coaches, experience at the quarterback position means comfort. Unfortunately in this case, Cassel’s experience may also mean a lot of talent elsewhere is wasted.

Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2014 record: 7-8-1

    April prediction: 8-8

    Preseason prediction: 7-9

    Smiling and nodding as you look at the Carolina Panthers offense is easy.

    It’s easy when you remember that running back Jonathan Stewart averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven games of 2014, including playoffs. It’s easy after wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin ended his rookie season with 1,008 receiving yards while scoring nine touchdowns. And it’s easy after tight end Greg Olsen matched Benjamin’s receiving yardage total, finishing second at his position.

    Then any expression of joy dies when you notice who’s playing left tackle for the Panthers.

    The team signed Michael Oher in the offseason, and he’ll now be responsible for protecting quarterback Cam Newton’s blind side. That’s also the name of some movie Oher hates.

    The concept on that side is simple yet critical. The quarterback’s head is turned in the opposite direction following the snap, so having a sturdy, trustworthy presence over there to give him a chance against what he can’t see is sort of smart.

    That's basic thinking Panthers general manager David Gettleman probably should have done for at least a few minutes before calling Oher his answer at left tackle earlier this offseason, a notion relayed by Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com. Oher has given up a rather painful 137 pressures over his last three seasons, per PFF, and he played right tackle for much of that stretch.

    A rusty storm-gate imitator will be the most important blocker in front of an oft-injured quarterback who’s been sacked 152 times over four seasons, which ties Alex Smith for the most sacks taken since 2011.

    Nothing will end well there, and the Panthers offense will be heavily restricted.

Chicago Bears

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    2014 record: 5-11

    April prediction: 5-11

    Preseason prediction: 5-11

    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has continued to tease and then mostly disappoint. If new Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase can’t break that cycle, another year with mounting losses is coming.

    Right now it’s hard to see a happy future with Cutler in Chicago, a place where he’s still getting paid as a starting quarterback because his contract is a monstrosity. He’s due for a cap hit of $16.5 million in 2015, per Spotrac, with a dead-money hit of $29.5 million that's preventing him from being cut.

    If that financial hurdle didn’t exist, then axing Cutler to start fresh would surely be a thought after the team benched him in favor of Jimmy Clausen at one point in 2014. It was a season when he finished tied for the league lead in interceptions (18) while once again making poor decisions and forcing balls into tight coverage far too often. His 6.8 yards per attempt ranked 24th among the 28 quarterbacks who took at least half of their team’s snaps, per PFF.

    The Bears replaced one top wide receiver with after shipping off Brandon Marshall and subsequently drafting Kevin White in the first round. They also bolstered their pass rush by signing Pernell McPhee, who’s just hitting his prime after recording 7.5 sacks while playing only 48.8 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in 2014.

    But all of that could be wasted again by a quarterback who annually falls short of his potential.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    2014 record: 10-5-1

    April Prediction: 10-6

    Preseason prediction: 11-5

    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s playoff flameouts are an annual occurrence we come to expect from January, right alongside post-holiday malaise and rotten egg nog.

    To review, over four playoff games Dalton has completed only 55.7 percent of his passes while averaging 5.5 yards per attempt with six interceptions and one touchdown. He's also 0-4.

    In the past, however, we’ve been able to express confusion while analyzing why the postseason version of Dalton doesn’t look even half as good as the regular season quarterback who was solid if not spectacular over 16 games.

    Yet in 2014 he went full Cutler during the regular season, too (17 interceptions and only 212.4 passing yards per game). This leaves the Bengals wondering: How do you keep the most important offensive player from undoing the work of so many other talented individuals around him?

    Well, it starts with those individuals staying healthy. In fairness to Dalton, his marquee receiver, A.J. Green, was either injured or hobbled for much of 2014, while fellow wideout Marvin Jones missed the entire season. Then there’s promising young tight end Tyler Eifert, 24, whose second season ended in Week 1 due to an elbow injury.

    With those three now healthy and running back Jeremy Hill—fresh off a season with 1,339 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns—ready to shoulder a larger workload, the Bengals offense is loaded again.

    Now it’s time to see if Dalton ignites the explosion or drags everyone to the bottom with him.

Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    2014 record: 7-9

    April prediction: 4-12

    Preseason prediction: 3-13

    We can all nod in agreement about the improvement veteran defensive tackle Randy Starks and first-round nose tackle Danny Shelton will bring to the Cleveland Browns defense. The 31-year-old Starks is aging, but he can still be used as an effective pass-rusher in a rotational capacity. And Shelton should immediately bring muscle to a defensive front that opponents gashed while the Browns allowed a league-worst 141.6 rushing yards per game in 2014.

    But it’s hard to muster anything that resembles excitement over a team that could call Josh McCown its starting quarterback.

    For at least a brief time, McCown will likely be under center for the Browns. The team's signing him a year after it drafted Johnny Manziel in the first round is the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. 

    McCown is little more than a journeyman fallback option. He's a 36-year-old now working on his sixth team. Much like Brian Hoyer in 2014, McCown is the guy you trot out when someone is needed to impersonate a quarterback briefly.

    In 2014 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McCown averaged a mere 6.8 yards per pass attempt and needed only 327 attempts to chuck 14 interceptions. All that came when he was throwing to talented wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Now he’s in a huddle that doesn’t include tight end Jordan Cameron (he left for the Miami Dolphins), and there’s little but uncertainty beyond Dwayne Bowe at wide receiver.

    Believing in the Browns is hard until you can believe in their quarterback. And believing in a Browns quarterback has been difficult for, well, a long time.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    2014 record: 12-4

    April prediction: 10-6

    Preseason prediction: 12-4

    The Dallas Cowboys are about to attempt a sort of grand experiment.

    Behind the Bunsen burners and beakers will be offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and he’ll be trying to replace a running back who at one point in 2014 threatened the all-time single-season rushing record. That running back is DeMarco Murray, and he departed for the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent after accounting for 36.8 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive yards.

    The question Linehan and Dallas’ offense now has to answer is: Can they plug in any running back behind a dominant offensive line and achieve similarly great results?

    There’s uncertainty surrounding Joseph Randle, who will serve as Murray’s primary replacement, purely because of his inexperience. He’s been given only 105 carries over two seasons.

    But despite that small sample size, Randle has still shown impressive open-field burst, with 46.5 percent of his rushing production in 2014 coming on 15-plus-yard runs, per PFF. He has plenty of speed to capitalize on the ample holes a bulldozing offensive line will create, fueling hope that Dallas can indeed slide in Randle and keep chugging.

    The Cowboys added defensive ends Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy to address an ailing pass rush that recorded only 28 sacks (28th) during a season that ended in the divisional round. Now another significant question still looms in the backfield, and Randle’s ability to answer it will determine if the Cowboys can repeat their 2014 success.

Denver Broncos

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 12-4

    April prediction: 11-5

    Preseason prediction: 11-5

    The 2015 season could be a farewell tour for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning—or maybe that’s far from the truth.

    He won’t use that particular dirty F-word, and neither will his former college coach, David Cutcliffe, who raved about how Manning looked during their annual April workout together.

    “I thought he looked really fit,” Cutcliffe told Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. “I thought his core was great. I watched him train inside, and he looks good and he’s strong where he needs to be strong, and he didn’t show anything at all from the quad.”

    If that’s true, and the Manning we saw over the final stretch of 2014 who played with a torn right quad is now a memory, then his Broncos offense will be imposing again. The combination of Virgil Green and Owen Daniels can replace Julius Thomas at tight end, and promising young receiver Cody Latimer can ascend into the hole left by Wes Welker.

    What’s truly frightening, though, is the Broncos could still field a premier offense even without Manning in top form. Over Denver’s final nine games in 2014, including the playoffs, running back C.J. Anderson averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and recorded 1,143 total yards from scrimmage.

    That marked an offensive course change for the Broncos as Manning’s arm strength began to fade. It’s a direction that can easily continue now under new head coach Gary Kubiak, who uses one-cut power running as his offensive staple. Ravens running back Justin Forsett posted 1,266 rushing yards in 2014 under Kubiak, shattering his previous single-season high of 619 yards.

    So a team that still calls Peyton Manning its quarterback could become even more diverse offensively with Anderson’s emergence. And now the head coach is aboard to optimize the run game, making sure his prized passer stays healthy.

Detroit Lions

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 11-5

    April prediction: 10-6

    Preseason prediction: 9-7

    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked a career single-season high 45 times in 2014. That speaks to the poor quality of his offensive line, an issue that the team addressed when it used a first-round pick on hulking guard Laken Tomlinson (6'3", 323 lbs).

    Tomlinson is a space occupier who didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit throughout his entire senior season at Duke, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus.

    The benefit of having a potential pillar like Tomlinson up front is two-fold for the Lions. Stafford won’t be a target in the opposing defense’s whack-a-mole game nearly as often, and there will be more room for another of Detroit’s top picks, Ameer Abdullah, to accelerate quickly downfield.

    The Lions took Abdullah, a more durable version of last year's starter, Reggie Bush, in the second round. Abdullah posted two straight 1,600-plus yard rushing seasons to end his college career at Nebraska. He generated 66 missed tackles in 2014, per PFF, which is some serious slipperiness.

    To review then, the Lions brought in the required offensive muscle and speed to both protect their heavily punished quarterback and bolster a rushing offense that ranked 28th in 2014.

Green Bay Packers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 12-4

    April prediction: 14-2

    Preseason prediction: 14-2

    The Green Bay Packers offense was pretty unfair for the rest of the league in 2014. So unfair that for a while, their dropping 35-plus points just felt like a casual Sunday/Monday. They hit that mark six times during the regular season while overall averaging a league-leading 30.4 points per game. And quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with 13 interception-free weeks.

    The team re-signed wide receiver Randall Cobb, but the offensive did more than simply remain together this offseason. It improved by adding a key piece set to make small but significant contributions as the team selected wide receiver Ty Montgomery in the third round. He’ll primarily be a factor in the return game immediately after averaging 27.4 yards per kick return over four years at Stanford.

    Offensively, Montgomery’s touches will likely be scattered, as he sits behind wide receivers Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams on the depth chart. But as ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky has already observed during training camp, Montgomery’s versatility could bring another weapon to an offense that has plenty of them.

    “Already in the first four days of camp Montgomery has returned kickoffs, lined up at receiver, caught a shovel pass out of the backfield and run the ball on an end around,” Demovsky wrote.

    An offense that just led the league in points per game and touchdowns has another threat and another way to add a few unexpected playbook wrinkles.

Houston Texans

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    2014 record: 9-7

    April prediction: 6-10

    Preseason prediction: 5-11

    Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is an all-galaxy football player. He can do more than make life a horrible experience for opposing quarterbacks, as the 6’5” tire flipper also caught three touchdown passes in 2014.

    But can he throw those touchdown passes, too?

    It’s possible to win games with quarterback play that’s somewhere between mediocre and awful. The Texans won six of them with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter for 12 games last year. Squeaking out, say, three more and having at least a shot at the playoffs isn’t out of the question.

    That’s only possible if your mediocre quarterback has the support of a great defense and has a running game equipped to hammer away. Basically, the game needs to be taken out of the quarterback’s hands as much as possible.

    The Texans have one of those things, but they just lost the other.

    Defense is never a problem when Watt is collapsing pockets along with outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans’ rushing offense, however, took a major blow when running back Arian Foster suffered a major groin injury in the first days of training camp that will require surgery.

    He’s likely destined for short-term injured reserve, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, meaning at minimum he’ll miss the first eight weeks of the season.

    Foster powered the Texans in 2014, with his 1,246 rushing yards at a pace of 4.8 per carry coming even while he missed three games and was hobbled in others. Foster recorded 90-plus rushing yards in nine of his appearances.

    He’s the kind of guy you need to have around if you’re going to trot out either Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer at quarterback. And now he’s likely gone for at least half the season.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 11-5

    April prediction: 13-3

    Preseason prediction: 13-3

    The hierarchy created by preseason hype around the NFL can lead to a rigid divide between those with legitimate championship hopes and other teams simply aiming to keep their head coach employed.

    The Indianapolis Colts are on the right side of that line, and if you need any confirmation of their top-tier status, consider the questions they now have the luxury of facing after an offseason of reeling in new core talent.

    Chief among them: How much does running back Frank Gore have left?

    The Colts signed the 32-year-old Gore as a free agent, and including the playoffs he's logged 2,942 touches throughout a 10-year career. That number is mountainous, and it’s always more meaningful than a running back’s age.

    But Gore seems to laugh at both the common perception of aging at his position and his running back odometer. He’s had four straight seasons with 1,100-plus rushing yards. During two of those years he was on the wrong side of 30 years old.

    Similarly, wide receiver Andre Johnson is climbing the age wall. Johnson was also among the Colts’ offseason of going all-in, and he turned 34 recently after finishing 2014 with only 936 receiving yards. If that number seems jarring at first, please recall the Houston Texans quarterbacks he was dealing with, and that Johnson is only a year removed from two straight 1,400-plus-yard seasons.

    Everything should be just fine if a team’s most concerning offseason questions are tied to two veterans who both seem to escape common age restrictions.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    2014 record: 3-13

    April prediction: 2-14

    Preseason prediction: 2-14

    Any hope for a step forward in 2015 by the Jacksonville Jaguars rests with more than just quarterback Blake Bortles and his improved mechanics after an offseason spent working with ball-throwing whisperer Tom House.

    And despite some upgrades among Bortles’ supporting cast, one glaring weakness remains.

    Opponents sacked Bortles a league-leading 55 times during his rookie season. That capped a two-year run of shame by the Jaguars offensive line. As a unit during that time, the five men up front offered resistance on par with a line of rubber bands tied together. Since 2013 the Jaguars have rushed for the second-fewest yards (2,893) and allowed the most sacks (121) in the league, per Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

    The Jaguars won’t make any strides forward until they plug that gushing hole up front. And tight end Julius Thomas’ first season in Jacksonville could quickly be a lost one after the team gave him $24 million in guaranteed money.

    Jacksonville also threw mounds of cash at right tackle Jermey Parnell, who will provide stability on that side of the line. But the offensive line's fate is truly tied to left tackle Luke Joeckel, who’s been a crushing liability since the Jags took him second overall in 2013.

    Joeckel allowed eight sacks in 2014, and although new offensive line coach Doug Marrone has said some glowing words about his offseason progress, per Conor Orr of NFL.com, believing in a potential draft bust is difficult until he performs when snaps and games matter.

    Joeckel has to anchor the Jaguars’ offensive line. If he doesn’t, then Bortles and rookie running back T.J. Yeldon will suffer, and so will Jacksonville’s win column.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    2014 record: 9-7

    April prediction: 7-9

    Preseason prediction: 7-9

    The Kansas City Chiefs addressed a need that was screaming at them this offseason by dumping money on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and trading up in the third round to land speed-merchant wideout Chris Conley.

    Conley posted the scouting combine’s fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time, clocking in at 4.35 seconds. And Maclin is fresh off a season in which he finished with 1,318 receiving yards at 15.5 per catch, shattering previous career single-season highs (964 yards and 13.8 yards per reception).

    That is all swell, as the pair should end Kansas City’s infamous no-touchdowns-to-a-wide receiver drought in a real hurry. But will more weapons on the outside and the addition of quality run-blocking guard Ben Grubbs be enough to overcome an absolute schedule gauntlet starting immediately?

    Scroll through the first eight games of Kansas City’s season. You’ll notice a three-game stretch starting in Week 2 that sees the Chiefs host the Denver Broncos, then travel to play the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. Then prior to a Week 9 bye they host the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The total combined 2014 record of Kansas City’s opponents over those first eight weeks? Oh, just 77-39-1.

Miami Dolphins

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    Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    2014 record: 8-8

    April Prediction: 10-6

    Preseason prediction: 11-5

    If an arms race was defined more literally and it meant signing the largest arms, then the Miami Dolphins still probably would have won an AFC East arms race.

    The Dolphins made defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the highest-paid defensive player in league history. In the not-so-distant future his $114.4 million contract over six years will become an absolute salary-cap boulder. But it’s true that flags fly forever, to borrow a common baseball YOLO approach, and if putting Suh alongside defensive end Cameron Wake leads to a long playoff run, then every future cap headache is well worth it.

    Miami’s defensive line is about to be terrifying. I’m talking vintage "pumpkinhead child on Halloween" terrifying.

    Suh has recorded 129 pressures over the past two seasons, and during the same period Wake has notched 20 sacks along with 136 pressures. They’ll often meet at the quarterback and proceed to the sideline where they'll watch their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, connect with wide receiver DeVante Parker.

    The first-round pick out of Louisville averaged 4.21 yards per route run in 2014, per College Football Focus. Parker is recovering from foot surgery right now and may be limited to begin the season. But long term he projects to be a more dynamic wideout than the departed Mike Wallace, whose inability to do anything but run vertically resulted in many misfires.

    With Suh, and the additions Parker, wide receiver Kenny Stills and tight end Jordan Cameron, Miami has the necessary pieces to rise quickly. Now it’s a matter of execution.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 7-9

    April prediction: 7-9

    Preseason prediction: 8-8

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater appeared polished during his rookie season. He looked like a quarterback who deserved to be drafted much higher than 32nd overall after laughably plummeting, partly because of a few wonky throws during his pro day.

    He completed 70-plus percent of his pass attempts during four of Minnesota’s final five games in 2014, doing that without a true deep threat or reliable backfield support.

    Now he has both, and plenty of the latter coming from a running brick house.

    Vikings running back Adrian Peterson eventually returned after his future with the franchise was uncertain for much of the offseason. That means a sophomore NFL quarterback who was already comfortable under pressure (Bridgewater had the third-highest completion percentage while under pressure in 2014, per PFF) can now operate with a little more comfort due to the threat posed by Peterson.

    As a 30-year-old running back, Peterson faces some questions after sitting out nearly an entire season. But he’s only one year removed from averaging 90.4 rushing yards per game, and his near-record-setting 2012 (2,097 rushing yards) still isn’t far in the rearview.

    When Peterson’s presence is combined with the deep option provided by newly acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace and the health of tight end Kyle Rudolph, suddenly Bridgewater has a surplus of support, and his offense is ready to rise.

    But a difficult schedule could douse that ascension in a hurry. Minnesota plays the Lions, Broncos and San Diego Chargers prior to a Week 5 bye. We’ll find out quickly if this team is indeed ready for the next step.

New England Patriots

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    2014 record: 12-4

    April prediction: 12-4

    August prediction: 10-6

    We don’t really know with any certainty who Jimmy Garoppolo is as an NFL quarterback for the New England Patriots.

    The tiny sample size of four preseason games in August 2014 offers something, but still nearly nothing. He completed 58.2 percent of his 79 pass attempts, doing that while averaging 7.8 yards per throw. He also tossed five touchdowns passes and chucked only one interception.

    Sure, those numbers are all impressive from a second-round pick who was in the process of learning an offense. But there are still few conclusions to be drawn from games played in August against vanilla defenses that consisted of second- and third-team defenders.

    What we can definitely say, however, is that Garoppolo is on a tier many rungs below Tom Brady, who is facing a possible four-game suspension for his alleged role in Deflategate. But most QBs can't live up to Brady's resume, because only two other players at the position in league history have matched the Patriots legend's four Super Bowl wins.

    The Patriots face their toughest title defense if Brady’s suspension is upheld (again) and the NFLPA lawsuit filed against the NFL falls flat. They’ll go from having a quarterback who threw only nine interceptions in 2014—tied for the fifth-fewest among quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, per PFF—to a young, inexperienced arm who hasn’t even thrown a truly meaningful pass yet outside of garbage time.

    The Patriots may play a quarter of their season without Brady, which would include games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and the division-rival Buffalo Bills. And they’ll be doing it after their defense lost both 2014 starting cornerbacks.

    Earning a seventh straight division title could quickly become an uphill battle.

New Orleans Saints

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 7-9

    April prediction: 8-8

    Preseason prediction: 7-9

    Outside linebacker Junior Galette doesn’t exactly provide a shining example of fine human behavior for many reasons. That’s why he’s no longer a member of the New Orleans Saints.

    Football players don’t have to be perfect off the field, and they can be far from it while still keeping a job. But eventually patience wears thin and a divorce between team and player is needed. The Saints reached that point with Galette the person, so now he’s with the Washington Redskins.

    But Galette the football player and pass-rusher? Yeah, they’ll miss that guy.

    Galette’s off-field behavior made his release necessary, even if it came with a crushing future salary-cap penalty. However, when the 27-year-old moved on to Washington he took 22 sacks over the past two seasons with him. Over that stretch he accounted for 26.5 percent of the Saints’ sacks.

    Any defense would sorely miss Galette after he’s gone, and the Saints aren’t just any defense. They have a unit that struggled to get pressure in 2014 even with Galette firing off the edge, as he recorded 10 of their 34 total sacks (25th).

    The Saints’ schedule includes top-tier quarterbacks like the Cowboys' Tony Romo, the Colts' Andrew Luck and the annual two games against Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. They’ll all feel comfortable and have ample time to pick apart holes downfield.

New York Giants

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 6-10

    April prediction: 9-7

    Preseason prediction: 8-8

    The New York Giants offense will continue to grow in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s second season. And really, any time wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is part of the group executing what’s in a playbook, the X’s should feel pretty good about their ability to beat the O’s.

    But the reason for worry begins immediately beyond Beckham. Throughout the Giants offense there are sources of concern tied to injury. The most prominent of those is fellow wideout Victor Cruz, who’s recovering steadily from a torn patellar tendon—but still recovering nonetheless.

    His participation in training camp is clearly a positive sign, though as Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media noted, Cruz doesn’t look nearly as shifty and explosive as the slot receiver who’s recorded two 1,000-plus yard seasons. That’s expected right now, but it's questionable whether the old Cruz will ever return.

    Then there’s running back Rashad Jennings, who missed five games in 2014 due to knee and ankle problems. He hasn’t played a full NFL season yet over a five-year career. But when healthy he was briefly effective as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield during his first year with the Giants, averaging 78.6 total yards per game.

    But the most glaring and possibly crippling injury lies along the offensive line, where left tackle Will Beatty will be on the physically unable to perform list. That means he’ll miss a minimum of six games after tearing his pectoral muscle. That thrusts promising but still raw first-round pick Ereck Flowers into a starting role immediately as he becomes quarterback Eli Manning’s blindside protector.

    Beatty allowed only three sacks in 2014, which tied him for 15th among the 54 tackles who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, per PFF. Translation: The time for those deep connections with Beckham and a possibly healthy Cruz could be at a minimum until he returns.

New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 4-12 

    April prediction: 7-9

    Preseason prediction: 9-7

    Defensively the New York Jets will turn opposing quarterbacks into little more than tiny dust particles. A unit that finished tied for sixth in 2014 with 45 sacks and received a combined 14 from defensive ends Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson added even more strength up front through the draft.

    Leonard Williams is a versatile, explosive defensive end who finished his collegiate career at USC with 36.5 tackles for a loss and 21 sacks over three seasons. The Jets selected him with their sixth overall pick, and they'll use him in a rotational role at first. Facing Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson (once his suspension ends) will make getting a pass attempt airborne an accomplishment for opposing QBs.

    Then when that does happen, a shutdown cornerback duo of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will be waiting. A reminder: Revis is still downright unfair and allowed a reception only once every 14.8 snaps in coverage during the 2014 season, per PFF.

    The worry, however, is that quarterback Geno Smith will unravel those defensive efforts.

    Running back Stevan Ridley will help once he’s healthy (ACL/MCL), as will wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who can reel in Smith’s wayward throws. But which Smith will we see most often?

    Stretches with constant misfires have largely overshadowed Smith's flashes of brilliance. All it takes is a quick glance down Smith’s game-by-game completion percentages in 2014 to reveal the confusion. In two full games he connected on at least 80 percent of his throws (Smith was benched at halftime in a third), and in six others that percentage was lower than 55.0.

    The 2015 season may be Smith’s last chance to establish himself as a starting NFL quarterback.

Oakland Raiders

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 3-13

    April prediction: 2-14 

    Preseason prediction: 3-13

    Eventually the Oakland Raiders will feed a lot of people some delicious crow (I prefer mine boiled, not raw, thanks).

    In the draft they added wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose shiftiness after the catch is ideal for short-yardage targets. Cooper forced 26 missed tackles during his final year at Alabama, while also leading all draft-eligible players in yards (1,727) and touchdowns (16), per College Football Focus.

    The Raiders added more offensive firepower during the draft when they selected tight end Clive Walford in the third round. The former Miami Hurricanes standout finished second nationally among tight ends with 676 receiving yards in 2014. He also demonstrated an impressive blend of size and speed by averaging 15.4 yards per catch.

    So there's support in place for second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who may benefit from the continued emergence of running back Latavius Murray. If veteran receiver Michael Crabtree can also regain his pre-2013 injury form, then another outlet for yards after the catch is available.

    But despite those upgrades at skill positions, the Raiders have two critical defensive problems, and they'll likely keep Oakland's win total low.

    First, the pass rush is still weak after a league-low seven sacks by defensive ends in 2014. The Raiders used a second-round pick on Mario Edwards Jr. to help bolster that position, but he finished his time at Florida State with only eight sacks.

    Then there's the secondary, which is underwhelming to say the least. The Raiders allowed 29 passing touchdowns in 2014 while making only nine interceptions.

    Those weaknesses—defending the pass both before it leaves the quarterback's hand and after—are less than ideal when the schedule demands defending Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers twice, along with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 10-6

    April prediction: 11-5

    Preseason prediction: 10-6

    We're about to finally see the on-field product created by Philadelphia Eagles head coach/general manager/crazed football wizard Chip Kelly. It's equal parts exciting and combustible, as for every offseason addition that makes you leap from your chair and claim the Eagles are ready to dominate the NFC East, there's a quieting counterpunch.

    Look at running back DeMarco Murray, for example. He seems like the ideal one-cut power runner for Kelly's fast-paced scheme, and that's true. But he's also a human with bones and muscles that can only withstand so much abuse. Will a 27-year-old who averaged 138.1 yards from scrimmage per game throughout the regular season and playoffs in 2014 still function at a high level after 497 touches?

    And will quarterback Sam Bradford's knee hold up even though it's currently held together with string and that Sticky Tack stuff you used to hang dorm room posters? That's the even larger worry, though Bradford recently told Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com that his twice-shredded knee feels fine now.

    Murray and Bradford possess the perfect skill sets to excel at their positions in Kelly's offense. Kelly the general manager has taken a calculated risk, however, and if it backfires, Kelly the head coach will have the core of his offense shelved.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 11-5 

    April prediction: 12-4

    Preseason prediction: 12-4

    The Pittsburgh Steelers' ability to repeat or even improve on their 2014 record doesn't necessarily rest with their offense. That unit will produce the expected fireworks, because supremely talented players usually do spectacular things when they're on the field together.

    Individually, the Steelers' offensive components finished the 2014 season with league-leading numbers or thereabouts. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tied for the NFL lead in passing yards (4,952), wide receiver Antonio Brown was tops in receiving yards (1,698) and running back Le'Veon Bell finished second in yards from scrimmage (2,215).

    Much of the same should be on the way in 2015, but a deep playoff run will hinge on the defense.

    That unit needs to improve swiftly, particularly up front with the pass rush. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds abruptly retired after 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He was set to walk as a free agent, so the Steelers were going to have to deal with losing a significant presence off the edge either way.

    They did that by using a first-round pick on outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who had 37 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks over four seasons at Kentucky.

    He needs to rise fast, because behind him there's still potential for a leaky secondary in its first season without safety Troy Polamalu, who also retired. The Steelers selected cornerback Senquez Golson in the second round as a possible solution to the problem after he recorded 10 interceptions during his final season at Ole Miss to rank second in the nation. But Golson injured his shoulder during offseason workouts and it could require season-ending surgery, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    That necessitated a trade with the Eagles to acquire cornerback Brandon Boykin. But Boykin is undersized and most effective when used in the slot, leaving the 27th-ranked secondary in 2014 still vulnerable on the outside.

    Which means winning games in shootout fashion could often be necessary again.

San Diego Chargers

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 9-7 

    April prediction: 8-8

    Preseason prediction: 10-6

    The San Diego Chargers looked at their backfield this offseason, saw an oft-injured Ryan Mathews ready to leave and identified a problem. They needed help, and they needed to resurrect a rushing offense that averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in 2014 (31st in the league).

    The Chargers needed to make an aggressive move in the draft. Most of all, they needed Melvin Gordon, even if he cost them two mid-round picks in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

    San Diego moved up from 17th to 15th to select Gordon, shipping a fourth-round pick in 2015 and a fifth-round pick in 2016 to San Francisco. Immediately, the Wisconsin product solved a problem for an offense thirsting for a multi-dimensional talent in the backfield who can support quarterback Philip Rivers.

    During his final year with the Badgers, Gordon led the nation in rushing yards (2,587), which also stands as the second-highest single-season mark in college football since 1956. So he can serve as the missing ingredient for a team that will have to survive without tight end Antonio Gates for four games due to his performance-enhancing substance suspension.

    Beyond that, Gordon can also elevate the Chargers back into playoff contention.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    2014 record: 8-8 

    April prediction: 4-12

    Preseason prediction: 3-13

    Every offseason the roster carousel starts. It spins for every team and inevitably, important players with value tumble off. Losing them stings, but that pain is an accepted reality in a salary-cap league.

    General managers are left to, well, manage. But what happened to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason went beyond the typical roster reshuffle. No, this was a roster detonation, and what could follow is a lesson in why some semblance of continuity is needed to win football games.

    The 49ers lost 10 starters on either side of the ball. The disintegration was concentrated on defense, where two linebackers (Patrick Willis and Chris Borland) retired, two cornerbacks (Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox) left as free agents and an anchor at defensive end (Justin Smith) also retired.

    The latest and most crushing blow was the loss of outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who was released following a hit-and-run incident and DUI charge. Smith's used up his chances, and now he has to get his life turned around while the 49ers move forward without a pass-rusher who had 44 sacks in 50 career games.

    As an extra kick to the groin, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio—the same defensive coordinator who led the 49ers to four straight seasons with top-five defenses—was part of the coaching exodus led by former head man Jim Harbaugh.

    Offensively, the 49ers finally supported quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a deep option to match his deep arm, bringing wide receiver Torrey Smith aboard after he averaged 16.9 yards per reception over four years with the Baltimore Ravens. San Fran also signed running back Reggie Bush, primarily to reprise his role as a passing-down back, which led to two years of 70-plus catches to start his career.

    That fuels hope that maybe the 49ers can win some shootouts if Kaepernick's apparent offseason transformation holds true when it matters. It's faint hope, though, and the disassembling of a defense and coaching staff will be too much to overcome.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    2014 record: 12-4

    April prediction: 15-1

    Preseason prediction: 13-3

    Caution is pretty much the only reason why I dialed down my earlier prediction of a single loss for this edition of the Seattle Seahawks. But a one-loss year certainly wouldn't be surprising, as the tools for world domination are in place.

    If we assume safety Kam Chancellor ends his training camp holdout and returns to the fold (it's difficult to believe he's willing to miss regular season games, despite a report from ESPN's Josina Anderson), then a juggernaut defense will remain intact. Actually, that's a lie: The Seahawks defense will get better with the return of run-stuffing defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who missed seven games in 2014 with a hamstring tear.

    But defense was never a concern for Seattle. The only worry for this team is converting in the red zone and maximizing opportunities to score points. The Seahawks converted a touchdown on only 51.5 percent of their red-zone trips in 2014, which ranked 20th in the league.

    The solution? Oh, just a tight end who has scored 51 touchdowns over five years.

    When the Seahawks completed a trade with the New Orleans Saints to secure Jimmy Graham, they added an element to their offense that's largely been absent since quarterback Russell Wilson's career began. Wilson hasn't had the luxury of a trusted red-zone option who can dominate physically to win battles for contested balls. He has missed that both around the goal line and on third down.

    The Seahawks will still have a run-oriented offense. But now with Graham looming, defenses won't be able to make the automatic decision to stack up against Marshawn Lynch in short-yardage situations.

St. Louis Rams

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    2014 record: 6-10

    April prediction: 7-9 

    Preseason prediction: 7-9

    It was easy to arrive at two conclusions while watching the St. Louis Rams in 2014. Your first thought was surely "Damn, they need a quarterback." It was then followed by "Damn, it must really suck to be a quarterback when you're playing the Rams."

    Each observation was repeatedly proved correct. The Rams had the misfortune of seeing quarterback Sam Bradford crumble for the second straight season with a torn ACL, and then they had to watch the bumbling duo of Shaun Hill and Austin Davis.

    Yet they still managed to win six games with substandard quarterback play. Those wins were made possible by a defensive line that treated opposing quarterbacks like that fluffy chew toy your dog devoured in two minutes. The Rams finished 2014 with 40 sacks, which seems solid but unremarkable until you remember that after five games they had registered a mere one sack.

    The subsequent conclusion is that the Rams entered this offseason needing to somehow get their hands on a merely average quarterback to become a postseason contender. Which is a low bar for Nick Foles to meet after he was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles via trade.

    I once reached that conclusion, too. But now I'm backpedaling while looking at the Rams' schedule.

    Of their first five games, three are on the road. The opponents over that stretch? The Seahawks, Steelers, Cardinals and Packers, with the Redskins in Week 2 for a bit of relief. The combined record of those teams in 2014 was 50-30.

    Being in the playoff conversation generally means winning a minimum of nine games, and there's a very real chance the Rams start 1-4. Then the uphill battle could be too steep.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    2014 record: 2-14

    April prediction: 3-13

    Preseason prediction: 5-11

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also had a quarterback problem entering the offseason, and that's usually a pretty simple issue to take care of when your team holds the first overall pick. The Bucs used the top selection on Jameis Winston, who was arguably (so arguably) the most pro-ready quarterback available.

    Winston will be supported by three human skyscrapers: wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, along with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. All three loom large at 6'5" and weigh at least 230 pounds (Seferian-Jenkins far exceeds that at 260 pounds).

    During his rookie season in 2014, Evans finished with 1,051 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, which included a particularly sizzling stretch from Week 9 to Week 11. In those three games, he totaled 458 yards at a pretty unfair average of 21.8 yards per reception and scored five times.

    So, reliable receiving options won't be a problem for Winston, and therefore scoring points should become easier for a team that finished 29th in that category in 2014 (17.3 per game). But preventing points will still be the Buccaneers' weakness—and ultimately their downfall.

    The 28th-ranked secondary is now set to start Chris Conte at free safety. Conte's passer ratings allowed in coverage over the past two years come with an odor: 104.5 in 2013 and 109.7 in 2014, per PFF.

    Cornerback Alterraun Verner will be alongside Conte, and he was a whiffing disappointment after Tampa threw money at him during free agency in 2014. Verner gave up a reception once every 8.6 cover snaps during his first season as a Buccaneer, again per PFF, which ranked 59th out of the 73 cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 50 percent of their team's snaps.

    The hope is surely that with defensive tackle Henry Melton added to the interior rotation and defensive end George Johnson signed as an upgrade at his position, a stronger pass rush will help to keep games close.

    It's fine thinking, but if that approach fails, the secondary will be exposed again and so will Winston when he's battling both the scoreboard and bad field position.

Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2014 record: 2-14

    April prediction: 3-13

    Preseason prediction: 3-13

    When we talk about quarterbacks, we often talk about support. That's especially true with a rookie quarterback who isn't coming from a pro-style offense and may need time to adjust at the next level.

    Which describes Marcus Mariota, the Tennessee Titans' hopeful cornerstone quarterback who was selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. Who, exactly, does he have as his support system?

    Well, it begins with wide receiver Kendall Wright, who's only a year removed from his first 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Then there's a swift plummet down the wide receiver depth chart to second-round disappointment Justin Hunter. He's recorded only 852 receiving yards in his two seasons in the league.

    Beyond him, the Titans took free agency fliers on Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks. Douglas is a soon-to-be 31-year-old who's never been more than a No. 3 receiver when all his teammates are healthy. And Nicks' downfield burst has been zapped by leg injuries, which led to career lows in receptions (38) and yards (405) during his first and only year with the Indianapolis Colts last season.

    The combination of Wright and tight end Delanie Walker—who finished fourth at his position in 2014 with 890 receiving yards—won't be enough for Mariota to have immediate success. The hope then is either a still-young Nicks, who is 27, will find his New York Giants form or Douglas will emerge and prove his 2013 season (1,067 receiving yards) wasn't an injury-induced fluke.

    That's a little too much hoping, and not enough certainty, for an offense still trying to rebuild.

Washington Redskins

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 record: 4-12

    April prediction: 3-13 

    Preseason prediction: 4-12

    The Washington Redskins did something strange this offseason: They made mostly quiet moves that lacked the swagger we've come to expect from Albert Haynesworth's former employer. But they were smart moves nonetheless.

    New general manager Scot McCloughan solidified his defensive front by signing linemen Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Ricky Jean-Francois to affordable and salary cap-friendly deals. Then he also brought in outside linebacker Junior Galette to replace the departed Brian Orakpo. From a character standpoint, the Galette signing could backfire, but financially there's little risk tied to a one-year deal worth $745,000.

    McCloughan also signed cornerback Chris Culliver to strengthen a secondary that ranked 24th in the league in 2014 and drafted Brandon Scherff, one of the strongest and most athletic tackles available. NFL Network's Mike Mayock compared the fifth overall pick to the Cowboys' Zack Martin.

    But that could all be undone once again by a poor fit at the most important position.

    Quarterback Robert Griffin III simply doesn't have the field vision or instincts to excel in head coach Jay Gruden's pro-style offense. He thoroughly demonstrated that in 2014 when he was often confused in the pocket, which meant his default mode of frantically trying to create something from nothing kicked in regularly. The result: Griffin took 33 sacks even while appearing in only nine games.

    The Heisman Trophy winner says he now feels more comfortable entering his second year as Gruden's quarterback.

    "Second year in it, I feel like you can go out there and you kind of know what to do, and I think that helps," he told Liz Clarke of the Washington Post. "You can play free and not be worrying about a thousand different things at one time going on in your head."

    That needs to be true when games matter, and Griffin needs to have a sense of ease. Because if he doesn't, the Redskins offense will flounder once again.