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Bold predictions for the 2015 season

*We're just days away from the start of the regular season, the perfect time to be bold about what we think will happen in 2015. These predictions are not for the faint of heart. *

Andy Dalton throws more TDs than Peyton Manning

I'm no Andy Dalton fan, but I love the talented Bengals offense. With a loaded backfield and A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and a healthy Marvin Jones in tow, Cincy's starting quarterback has no more excuses. He'll toss his share of drive-crushing picks, but Dalton is two years removed from a 33-touchdown campaign. This prediction, though, is more about Manning, who is months away from turning 40. Yes, Denver's quarterback is one of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history, but age-old passers tap out quick. Brett Favre's final season saw him throw just 11 touchdowns over 13 starts. Manning's a legend, but this season will mark the end. -- Marc Sessler

Alex Smith will throw for 4,000 yards, set career high in TDs

You're either laughing at the concept of the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback throwing anywhere near that many yards, or scoffing that it's not "bold" enough in today's pass-happy NFL.

For the latter group, I offer you this knowledge: Donovan McNabb never threw for 4,000 yards in any of his seasons under Andy Reid (3,916 in 2008). In fact, in no time during his head-coaching career has Reid's offense produced a single 4,000-yard passer.

As for those of you laughing, the Chiefs' offensive additions have helped open up the passing attack. Jeremy Maclin looks like a go-to receiver and tight end Travis Kelce will do his Gronk-in-2011 impersonation. The Chiefs' speed on the outside is vastly improved from last season's piddling unit. Yes, it's still Alex Smith, the quivering, never-take-chances quarterback. But he threw for 3,265 yards with a group of receivers that couldn't earn separation from a blowing leaf, much less a cornerback in 2014. -- Kevin Patra

Alex Smith will also set a career-high in passing touchdowns. A unit that failed to complete a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver a year ago will be completely forgotten and Smith will redefine himself as a passer at age 31. This will not be a Ben Roethlisberger-type explosion from a year ago, but Reid will work his magic and Smith, now with Maclin by his side, will find a new best friend rather quickly. *-- Conor Orr *

The Rams, Vikings and Falcons will make the playoffs

Six new teams make the playoffs every year, but analysts almost always play it too safe in their preseason predictions. I could be guilty of that in the AFC, where the big four teams (New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Denver) all look like safe bets to make it back. The NFC should have far more turnover. Look for the Eagles to win the NFC East crown back, while bigger changes will come at the bottom of the playoff seedings. St. Louis' front seven is ready to win 10 games in a weakened NFC West, while the Vikings' balance should be enough to get a wild-card spot. In a weak NFC South, the Falcons' defense should rebound to mediocrity under Dan Quinn while Matt Ryan proves he's the best quarterback in the division. --Gregg Rosenthal

Peyton finishes in top 5 of MVP voting

Here's a prediction that's come home with regularity since Savage Garden was on the charts: Peyton Manning will finish in the top five in MVP voting. So what makes this so bold? Well, this offseason has been especially rich with speculation about Manning's demise. People point to Manning's injury-ravaged second half in 2014, his gradual loss of arm strength and a new offense that doesn't suit him. And you know what? Those are all fair concerns. He did break down physically last year. His arm is one of the weakest among starting QBs. And yes, Gary Kubiak's offense could cause growing pains. And yet ... I refuse to count Manning out. I predict another big statistical season (how does 38 touchdowns, 4,300 yards and a 68 percent completion rate sound?) and another division title for the Broncos, their fourth in as many years with Manning at the helm. Don't run The Sheriff out of town just yet. -- Dan Hanzus

McCarron makes at least one start before taking over Bengals' O in '16

AJ McCarron will make at least one start this season before the Bengals turn over their offense to the young quarterback in 2016. This organization isn't known for bold strokes, but patience is wearing thin with Andy Dalton's penchant for face-planting in big games. Stuck in quarterback purgatory with Dalton, the coaching staff believes McCarron is "fully capable of becoming a starting-quality player," NFL Media's Albert Breer reported in June. McCarron made three impressive throws in the third preseason game that we simply don't see in Dalton's repertoire. Armed with the most loaded offenseof his tenure in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis can turn to McCarron if necessary, knowing that Dalton's six-year, $96 million contract is essentially a year-to-year proposal with an escape clause available next offseason. -- Chris Wesseling

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