Picking the New England Patriots not to win the Super Bowl is like picking the Golden State Warriors not to win the NBA.
The Patriots, by hook or crook, have established a dynasty, even if some of their methods are considered shady by the rest of the NFL.
The Patriots, even without star receiver Julian Edelman as he’s already out for the season, are an overwhelming favorite to repeat. They’ll just plug in a replacement for the sure-handed Edelman and probably not miss a beat.
Observers say as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around, the Patriots will always be the favorite going into the season.
But in the NFL, nobody repeats anymore. That’s just fact. So I’m not bucking the trend and somebody else is going to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year.
You’ll have to wait until the end to see my pick. For now, the division order — with a heavy tilt in the AFC West where three teams will battle it out.
• AFC EAST •
1. New England — Now I didn’t say the Patriots wouldn’t win their division. How can they not?
2. Miami — The best of the worst. The Patriots could have this division clinched by December 1.
3. Buffalo — The Bills are third, only because the New York Jets are so dreadful.
4. New York Jets — They need to have a game at the end of the year between the Jets and Cleveland to determine the NFL’s worst team.
• AFC SOUTH •
1. Houston — The Texans are a quality quarterback away from going deep into the playoffs. If healthy, their defense is ferocious.
2. Indianapolis — The uncertainty of just how healthy quarterback Andrew Luck is clouds this team’s optimism.
3. Tennessee — Getting better, but needs help at receiver.
4. Jacksonville — Is there any hope for the Jags?
• AFC SOUTH •
1. Pittsburgh — The window is closing with Ben Roethlisberger’s advancing age and thought that he might be done after this year.
2. Baltimore — The Ravens are always competitive because of their defense.
3. Cincinnati — I think the time has passed for the Bengals, who have been a fringe playoff team but might sink deeper.
4. Cleveland — Just a horrendous franchise.
• AFC WEST •
1. Oakland — A boom-or-bust pick. Marshawn Lynch gives them that thumper in the backfield.
2. Kansas City — A shaky secondary will keep the Chiefs from repeating as division champ.
3. Denver — The core of the great Bronco teams is starting to decay.
4. Los Angeles Chargers — Getting better, but nowhere to go.
• Wild-card teams — Kansas City, Denver
• AFC Champion — Pittsburgh
• NFC EAST •
1. Dallas — Team Turmoil. The Cowboys will win division if they don’t self-destruct.
2. New York Giants — Just waiting for the Cowboys to shoot themselves in the foot.
3. Philadelphia — Carson Wentz is one of the up-and-comers at quarterback.
4. Washington — Kirk Cousins will put up big numbers, but not many wins.
• NFC SOUTH •
1. Carolina — Nobody ever repeats in this division, so Carolina looks like the best bet.
2. Atlanta — The Falcons have to fight the one-year-wonder stigma.
3. Tampa Bay — The Bucs are getting closer to the playoffs.
4. New Orleans — Always entertaining with Drew Brees at quarterback, but terrible defensively.
• NFC NORTH •
1. Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers is to the Packers what Tom Brady is to the Patriots.
2. Minnesota — Can the Vikings score enough points?
3. Detroit — I liken the Lions to New Orleans. A lot of explosiveness, but they can’t stop anybody.
4. Chicago — Quarterback woes stall the rebuilding process.
• NFC WEST •
1. Seattle — With that defense, never pick against the Seahawks.
2. Arizona — The Cardinals have been close to the Seahawks the last few years, but are starting to fall off as Carson Palmer is on his last legs.
3. San Francisco — I think the 49ers are starting to slowly rise from the abyss.
4. Los Angeles Rams — Another hopeless franchise.
• Wild-Card — Atlanta, New York Giants
• NFC Champion — Seattle
• Super Bowl Champion — Pittsburgh