With former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's vision of "parity" having become a reality, it's hard to stand on one's hind legs and confidently make bold predictions. Too much luck is involved. A bad bounce here, a key injury there, a deflection, a fumble, a critical penalty, and a whole season can go up in smoke. That said, here are five intrepid predictions for the 2015 season.
1. The first coach to be fired will be Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins. Besides being saddled, top to bottom, with a team that can, at best, be called "crappy," Gruden finds himself being squeezed on either side by an injury-prone quarterback (Robert Griffin III) who suffers from delusions of grandeur, and a squirrelly and meddlesome owner (Dan Snyder).
Even though he's failed to demonstrate that he can consistently drop back and pass, RG III thinks he should start at QB, and Snyder agrees with him. Meanwhile, Gruden can be depended upon to ignore the wishes of both prima donnas, and do what he thinks is best for the team. Which is why he'll be fired.
2. The Denver Broncos become mediocre. This is the year Peyton Manning learns what it feels like to be a slow-footed, relatively weak-armed, 39-year old quarterback in the NFL, playing for a zany new offensive-minded coach, on a team that has experienced so many disappointments and setbacks, it is beginning to believe God hates them. Don't let anyone tell you team morale isn't important. And these Broncos now have the zap on their heads.
3. This is the year Pittsburgh wins the Super Bowl. Even with Bouncey's injury, and even with the Steelers having the League's "toughest" schedule, they're going to start well, play hard and steady Steeler-style football, pick up momentum, and then finish strong.
Mike Tomlin, in his ninth year, is a quality, even-keel head coach; Ben Roethlisberger is a Hall of Fame QB; and Le'Veon Bell, their violent and shifty running back, is one of the best in the League. Pitt's offense will be a juggernaut. And with Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau having moved on (for crying out loud, the man was 78 years old), their defense will be revitalized and improved. Steeler Nation will rejoice.
4. Cam Newton, of the Carolina Panthers, will ascend to the next level and establish himself as one of the NFL's "elite" quarterbacks, right up there with Big Ben, Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and Wilson. We all knew young Cam had the size and talent, but last season he proved he could pass consistently and decipher NFL defenses. The Panthers may be a year or two away from stardom, but Newton moves there next season.
5. The San Francisco 49ers will finish 6-10 and--not counting Jim Harbough and Mike Singletary--all of us will be reduced to crying like babies, recalling their past glory. Not only will their new coach, Jim Tomsula (other than rhyming with Don Shula, nothing else in common), be handed the thankless job of trying to win a tough division with a team that has been eviscerated, he'll be asked to do it with a high-priced quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) whom the League has pretty much figured out. It's going to be a long season.