We're still months away from football games that matter, but it's never too early to put your reputation on the line.
Mired in the NFL's silent period, we're shaking things up with four comprehensively irresponsible predictions. Read: Onion hangers.
Not here. It's time to get funky. Here we go:
The Panthers will miss the playoffs
The one thing Carolina has going for them? A near-perfect season did not dismantle their coaching staff like some of the most recent en vogue teams in the NFL who have reached the big game. Both coordinators are still intact and nearly all of the core players who propelled Carolina to a 15-1 record last year are still in place.
But these are irresponsible July predictions, and I intend on being more irresponsible than the rest of my colleagues. Carolina succeeded last year thanks in part to some perfectly hand-selected veteran role players who helped keep the team looking forward. Some of those players are gone or still have not been re-signed. The running game that greased Carolina's offensive success is a year older, with lead back Jonathan Stewart pushing 30, and the secondary could be starting rookies at two of three cornerback positions after losing Josh Norman to the Redskins. -- Conor Orr
Megatron's record goes down
Odell Beckham breaks Calvin Johnson's single-season record of 1,964 receiving yards. After struggling to beat bracket coverage early last season, Beckham found his stride in early November. His final eight games of the season prorate to 108 receptions, 1,852 yards and 18 touchdowns over a full 16-game schedule. The final nine games of his rookie season prorate to 144 receptions, 2,132 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Before he ever learned a veteran's tricks of the trade, Beckham proved he could go on historically productive tears through defensive backfields. It shouldn't surprise anyone if the game's most talented wideout keeps mowing down NFL records -- Chris Wesseling
Cleveland will post its first winning record since 2007
The Browns have been written off by most as a team already locked in for the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. The truth is that last season -- and the last 17 (mostly horrible) years in Cleveland -- is no roadmap for what comes next. Coach Hue Jackson has a history of getting the most out of his players, something no coach has done for the Browns since their return to the league in 1999. This roster is completely overhauled -- no team in the league looms as a bigger mystery. That said, Jackson -- who made Bucky Brooks' "dream coaching staff" as a receivers aide -- is the ideal figure to work with the club's five rookie wideouts, a crop led by exciting playmaker Corey Coleman.
The burning question still boils down to the quarterback, but I'd argue the Browns can win games with Josh McCown if Robert Griffin III flames out. After all, it was McCown who took the Broncos to overtime last year. For me, though, I don't think we're asking too much for any team in the NFL to win nine games. Besides, Jackson has wasted no time setting the past on fire, leaving pass rusher Paul Kruger to say: "His energy level, his enthusiasm, his positivity, it's just something that lights you on fire every time you walk in the building." Those are just words in the dead of summer, but this regime feels less encumbered by the horrors of yesterday. That will be especially true after this season. -- Marc Sessler
San Diego Chargers go from worst to first in AFC West
The AFC West sits as the deepest division entering 2016. It holds the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, wild-card winning Kansas City Chiefs and offseason darling Oakland Raiders. We could make a case for any of the three swiping the division and plowing deep into the playoffs. But on July 1, give me the biggest underdog: the San Diego Chargers.
Sure, a lot of "ifs" are needed for a shift in fortune for San Diego. But if the offensive line stays healthy, ifMelvin Gordon finally lives up to expectations, ifAntonio Gates continues to stiff-arm father time, ifJoey Bosa is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, ifMelvin Ingram continues his upward trajectory and if Mike McCoy stays out of the way, the Chargers will win the West.
San Diego lost eight games by seven points or fewer last year -- three of those by three points -- despite being decimated by injuries. In a cyclical league dominated by the quarterback, bet on Rivers and the Chargers bouncing back big in 2016. -- Kevin Patra