Who will comprise what promises to be an esteemed group of legends? I'll go with five players, one contributor and a Seniors Committee candidate. Or, more specifically, a quarterback who looks like Ernest Hemingway, a wideout who loves him some him, a sack machine, the personal protector of "The Greatest Show on Turf" and "America's Coach." The contributor won with panache, while the Seniors Committee nominee was all substance, no style.
Let's discuss my predicted inductees -- and why they should get into Canton next year -- in more detail below:
Brett Favre, quarterback
The headliner of the Class of 2016 will and should be Favre. Perhaps more striking than any of the myriad passing records he set -- or his Cal Ripken-esque consecutive starts streak -- are the three consecutive MVP awards he won in the mid-1990s. To be considered the best player in pro football three years in a row is not only impressive, but unmatched. And then there was his brilliant 2009 campaign with the Minnesota Vikings. While hardly needed to support his Hall candidacy, it's easily the best season by a quarterback at 40 years old in NFL history: 4,202 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions -- and he led the Vikes to the NFC title game.
Terrell Owens, wide receiver
The only thing that could keep T.O. from making it into the Hall of Fame is Marvin Harrison's still-looming candidacy. Hall of Fame voter and longtime Dallas Morning News football man Rick Gosselin acknowledged that "it will be tough putting Owens in before Harrison," a two-time finalist. While voters are encouraged to not consider off-the-field achievements, recent off-field stories about Harrison could play a role in Owens making it as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
When you saw Owens play in his prime, there was no doubt you were watching a Hall of Famer. The fact that he ranks second all time in career receiving yards (15,934), third in touchdown catches (153) and sixth in receptions (1,078) only furthers the point. Thus, Owens will present a strong case come 2016 -- unless some voters considered him an off-the-field problem, a distraction to his team.
"I think that's a consideration, but I don't think it really is going to be easy to define," explained Hall of Fame voter-at-large Jarrett Bell. "Because the bylaws state that you are supposed to only consider what happens between the lines, what happens on the field ... but you can also make the argument if there are things that happened off the field that affected things that happened on the field, then it enters the equation. I don't think it's going to be the dominant issue with [Owens], but it is the most controversial part."
Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton had a different take: "When you look at T.O's record, I don't remember him ever getting in any real trouble off the field. The biggest trouble he was was for the defense ... I thought he was a dominant player."
Kevin Greene, linebacker
Voters did some accounting work with the Class of 2015, admitting a handful of players who had been waiting on the books for years, like Will Shields, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis and especially Charles Haley. And Greene, a finalist the past four years, is next. That's right, 2016 is the year for the man who amassed 160 sacks. The most impressive part of that total might be that he racked up 97.5 of those after turning 30. Unreal.
Unfortunately, the fact he played for four different teams -- including two runs with the Panthers -- might hurt him in the eyes of those who prefer to associate players with legendary runs they've made with one club.
"I think people will put into account the fact that we are in a free-agency era," said Bell. "I really do. And that's the responsibility of the selection committee, is to put everything into context. And one thing you can put into context with (Greene) is 160 sacks. So ... it's not always all about stats ... because it's about Super Bowl rings, and impact, and so on and so forth, but some stats really speak for a reason. And I think that's part of the deal with Kevin Greene, too."
Orlando Pace, left tackle
The fact that Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones are in means Pace will make it. These left tackles were all considered equals in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Pace started -- dominated -- for two Super Bowl teams in 1999 and 2001, earning first-team All-Pro honors in both seasons. Those Rams teams led the league in scoring, eclipsing 500 points each season -- as did the 2000 St. Louis club.
"Willie Roaf, Walter Jones, and my guy from Baltimore, Jonathan Ogden. And the [best] guy who is not in there right now? Orlando Pace."
Everyone I spoke with this weekend, from players to members of the media, felt 2016 would be the year for Pace.
Tony Dungy, coach
"Tony Dungy is America's coach," Bill Polian told me Friday. "He represents everything that is good about the NFL. And his winning percentage [.668] is among the top [coaches]. I don't know what more you have to say than that."
While opinions vary as to whether Dungy was one of the top three head coaches in the game at any time, in this case, the body of work provides the measure of the man. The Bucs were nowheresville when Dungy took over in 1996, having not been to the playoffs since 1982 -- and he had them in the playoffs within two years, making it three more times after that. Dungy never missed the postseason in seven seasons in charge of the Colts. Many attributed his Super Bowl win to Peyton Manning, but the inconvenient truth is that Manning hasn't won a Super Bowl without Dungy. Let us also not forget Dungy developing the "Tampa 2" scheme from his Steelers roots, and his distinguished service as an assistant coach.
Said Polian -- who worked with him in Indianapolis -- Saturday night: "I look forward to his enshrinement in this Hall."
CONTRIBUTOR: Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
I had been leaning toward former New York Giants general manager George Young, until 2015 inductee Charles Haley and Gosselin swayed me toward the former Niners owner.
"Mr. D., he won five Super Bowls," said Haley during his enshrinement speech. "He presented five players. I won five. If the standard is winning, why is he not here? You know?"
Gosselin, meanwhile, is a huge believer in the guys who can spot and draft the talent ... the personnel guys. But he thinks 2016 will be different.
"Getting two personnel guys in the Hall this year was a coup. It will probably be an owner this [coming] year."
If that's true, well, DeBartolo has the most heat around his name. That's the name Haley and Gosselin have circulated, as have many others. His stewardship of an organization that won five Lombardi Trophies during his tenure is too difficult to ignore.
SENIORS COMMITTEE CANDIDATE: Chuck Howley, linebacker
I've been pushing this train -- as opposed to merely riding it -- for some time now, but if a few in-the-know people I've spoken with are correct, Howley's enshrinement could be coming sooner than later. The five-time All-Pro, Super Bowl MVP and Super Bowl champion has been waiting nearly 40 years too long for his call to the Hall. When I ran into Bob Lilly on Saturday, I subtly mentioned there was one former Cowboy I would write about who should be in the Hall of Fame.
"Chuck Howley," Lilly interrupted.
"Heckuva player," said former Cowboys personnel czar Gil Brandt. "I found Howley at a gas station in Wheeling, West Virginia." Howley had given up football for the gas bidness when the Cowboys snatched him up -- and the man seemingly never ran out of gas, playing outside linebacker until he was 37 years old.