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NFL bold predictions: Going out on a limb with each AFC team

The "All or Nothing" Cardinals are making the playoffs again, and Bruce Arians will be a candidate for Coach of the Year. Those are solid predictions, man.

And boring.

It's mid-July. Nearly every player is healthy. Everyone is anticipating when Tony Romo won't be ... and every team besides the Browns have hope. The landscape of pro football is wide open for off-the-beaten-path speculation.

This installment of our "All 32" series focuses on precisely that. Bold -- not boring -- predictions for every team in the league. Maybe even the Cowboys and Browns can surprise us. What you won't see here is speculation about Ezekiel Elliott winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award (not very bold) or the Bengals losing a wild-card game (not bold at all).

So take a gander and provide your thoughts on how plausible you think all 32 predictions are ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.


Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan's team ends Seattle's run as the NFL's stingiest scoring defense.

Rex Ryan says the Bills won the offseason. I was under the impression that everyone gets a participation trophy (usually wood with a gold-colored foil plate that says "participant") for the offseason. I am OK with saying Buffalo won the draft, however. The Bills picked up two pass rushers and an inside linebacker in Reggie Ragland who is capable of starting Week 1. Throw in an under-the-radar corner in sixth-round pick Kevon Seymour -- as well as the departure of the disgruntled Mario Williams -- and voila: You have a retooled defense. The Seahawks have led the league in points allowed four consecutive years, a record in the modern era. It has to end some time. That Tom Bradywill be suspendedfor the Week 4 trip to New England certainly helps the cause.

Miami Dolphins: The Fins lead the NFL with 50 sacks.

Mario Williamsmight be walking into what could be the best pass rush in the league. Part of that is because Miami will let him tee off on QBs as a 4-3 DE, which is what Williams has always been best at doing. While many boo-hooed Olivier Vernon's departure, the inconvenient truth is that Vernon only averaged 7.25 sacks per year. Then you have Cameron Wake, who missed much time last season. While he might be considered past his prime at 34, bear in mind he racked up seven sacks in seven games. You think Ndamukong Suh might've heard whispers about his own declining play? I see 30-35 sacks coming from Williams, Wake and a man named Suh.

New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett combine for 20 scores.

Thankfully, the Deflategate saga is now over. Whether you agree with Tom Brady's or the league's actions, there is no doubt New England's passing game will be weaker during Brady's four-game suspension. You will also hear about the Patriots using the run game more. The beauty of that strategy is that both Gronkowski and Bennett are solid in-line blockers, which means they will be on the field, together, often ... Which also means that, even with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback through Week 4, these two tight ends could still combine for a staggering 20 touchdowns in 2016.

New York Jets: Matt Forte rolls up 1,800 yards from scrimmage.

Making a bold prediction about the Jets' defense sounded fun -- maybe something like Leonard Williams making first-team All-Pro in Year 2. Prognosticating that New York would make the postseason with Geno Smith at quarterback darted through my mind, but that felt like a swing and a miss. Then I realized that the Ryan Fitzpatrickand Muhammad Wilkerson sagas have pushed a significant offseason signing under the carpet. Forte has changed his workout routine -- incorporating Pilates -- in an effort to stay productive at 30. With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker outside, and with Forte's ability to catch the football, the lofty yards-from-scrimmage total of 1,800 -- which he topped in both 2013 and 2014 -- is within reach.


Baltimore Ravens: Steve Smith Sr. joins Jerry Rice in the "1,000 yards after Year 15" club.

Yep, that's right -- only Rice has posted a 1,000 yards after Year 15 of his career. And he did it twice. Smith is looking to duplicate the feat coming off a torn Achilles, having reversed field -- like he was running a Steve Smith comeback route -- on his pre-injury decision to retire. The interesting parallel here is to Lawrence Taylor, a Hall of Famer who similarly chose not to end his tremendous career in the trainer's room after suffering a torn Achilles. Give Smith 1,100 yards in 2016.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy misses the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The only thing more common than wondering whether the Bengals will win their first playoff game in nearly three decades is assuming that they will be in the postseason. Nearly as automatic: guessing whether Andy Dalton will take the next step as a quarterback by virtue of postseason success. Well, Dalton did make great strides last year before getting hurt -- meaning we're still waiting to see if he can put it all together on the postseason stage. But based on the Bengals' schedule, the Browns and Ravens being improved and the Steelers being healthier, Cincinnati won't be playing meaningful football in mid-January.

Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson doubles the 2015 win total in Year 1.

Granted, it might not be that hard for the Browns to do, given that Cleveland only won three games last season. Yet, most of my colleagues at NFL Network don't see the Browns sniffing even six wins. I think we could all be surprised by a 7-9 campaign. Hue Jackson was a wonderful hire, and he should do much not only for Robert Griffin III but the running game, as well. Look for running back Duke Johnson to be more of a contributor in both the ground and air attack. And what's not to love about Coachocinco?

Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown wins the NFL MVP award.

Would you believe that no wide receiver in The Associated Press' history of handing out NFL MVP awards -- which began in 1957, when The AP gave rookie Jim Brown the award -- has ever received the honor? Antonio Brown has led the league in receptions each of the last two seasons and posted over 1,800 yards last year with Michael Vick and Landry Jones playing significant time at quarterback, and he still couldn't get a whiff in the MVP voting. This year, he goes for 2,000 yards and takes home the hardware.


Houston Texans: J.J. Watt finishes no higher than third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Contrary to the belief of Texans fans on Twitter -- where real football is discussed -- I have no bias against Houston. (My brother went to Rice, for crying out loud! I almost went to La Porte on vacation!) Bill O'Brien has done an absolutely fantastic job in two seasons in South Texas. Of course, the major piece of the pie is Watt. It's gotten to the point where he practically has been anointed the Defensive Player of the Year before the season even kicks off. But I'm going with Honey Badger in 2016. And I have a feeling Darrelle Revis will prove many of us wrong about his supposed decline. That said, another disruptive, Watt-style campaign makes him a Hall of Famer in my book. No lineman has dominated from the 3-4 like this, ever.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck becomes the sixth player to pass for 5,000 yards in a season -- but Indy still finishes third.

Andrew Luck has heard the criticism about the turnovers. Andrew Luck has been told to be smarter about protecting his body, to not run like a linebacker. Andrew Luck can't be a one-man band. But the real issue for Indy is that the Jaguars and Titans are much improved, while the already-viable Texans made potential upgrades all over their offense. With a defense that allowed 25.5 points per game last year, Luck will find himself footing the bill if the Colts are to stay in games. Five thousand yards, folks.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley's squad wins the AFC South.

Seeing much similarity between this team and the 1996 Jags. That '96 team went on a run, besting the favored Bills and the Broncos in the postseason behind a quarterback with outstanding pocket mobility and a pair of wide receivers who scorched defensive backs from Houston to Buffalo to Denver. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have worked out so well that the first-round selection of Justin Blackmon in 2012 feels like it happened in 1962. Blake Bortles is ascending in terms of pocket presence -- he's always owned the mobility. Meanwhile, general manager David Caldwell retooled the defense while adding punter Brad Nortman to win the field-position game. Chris Ivory should be this team's version of the '96 team's Natrone Means. I really really like this squad.

Tennessee Titans: This offense leads the league in rushing.

Tennessee will attempt to limit Marcus Mariota's pass attempts, similar to what the Steelers and Falcons did with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, respectively, early in their careers. In fact, the last time the Titans enjoyed success, they were securing home-field in the playoffs behind rookie Chris Johnson and LenDale White (before White's career succumbed to cookies). DeMarco Murray and second-round pick Derrick Henry should receive at least 25 carries per game between them. Despite their "Thunder and Thunder" moniker, they are different players. Both are downhill runners, but Henry is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds. The dude outweighs Murray by 30 pounds. Henry is a runaway truck when he gets going. Can't wait to see him take off behind Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.


Denver Broncos: Mark Sanchez holds off Paxton Lynch all season.

Why is it everyone thinks Mark Sanchez is going to fall flat on his face this season? OK, other than the fact that he did exactly that with New York, against the Dolphins in a key regular-season finale in 2011 or when he faceplanted in Brandon Moore's butt. Remember that Sanchez's pocket mobility will be a plus in Gary Kubiak's offense, particularly on play-action off the stretch runs that made Arian Foster and Matt Schaaaaa ... uh ... Arian Foster famous in Houston. Peyton Manning was a turnover machine last season in Denver. Brock Osweiler had his moments, but was ultimately sent to the bench. This is still a defense-centric team that only needs its quarterback to play within himself.

Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles rushes for 1,000 yards and averages 5 yards per carry.

Why is this bold, given that Charles has never averaged less than 5 yards per carry in eight seasons? You could say I ain't exactly going out on a limb. Then you realize Charles' limbs turn 30 in December -- and one of them includes an ACL that was torn last year. Not to mention, a handful of league observers thought he might be cut, especially with the organization re-signing both Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West (both are tailbacks, you see). Charles knows he's running out of time on the football field, and has set major goals. I wouldn't bet against him. No running back has ever averaged 5 yards per rush nine times -- no, not even Barry Sanders. He managed 5.0 per "only" five times. What a feat for Charles.

Oakland Raiders: Jack Del Rio is named Coach of the Year.

It would be easy to say the Raiders will make the postseason for the first time since 2002. But that doesn't feel too bold. So how about Del Rio winning coaching's highest honor? It might seem like a long shot -- yet, if we are going to dump buckets of praise on Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, then shouldn't the coach (and staff) with a hand in leading those guys also receive something more than a Pez dispenser? This just in: All teams have talent. Stellar coaching involves pulling the most out of that talent. You don't get a winning nucleus without leadership on the headset.

San Diego Chargers: Keenan Allen leads the league in receptions.

Don't get me wrong, I love Danny Woodhead as much as anybody. The four-downs-from-the-5-and-we're-going-to-Woodhead-every-play offense enthralled millions of fans everywhere ... #getexcited. Allen's injury left an oft-misstepping offense in the lurch the rest of the way in 2015, leading to a 4-12 finish. Because of the paltry product, many fans missed the fact that Allen had caught 67 balls through seven games and part of an eighth to start last season. Travis Benjamin adds a nice deep threat for Philip Rivers, but given the lack of a running game, expect Allen to get 200 targets.

Elliot Harrison is an analyst on NFL Network and can also be seen regularly on NFL Now. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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