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2015 NFL regular-season predictions

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Pats to host Steelers in Thursday night opener

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter discusses the NFL season opener, which will see the Patriots hosting the Steelers.

NFL Nation reporters predict the regular-season record for the team they cover. Each prediction was made independent of the predictions of their colleagues.

» NFC Picks: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFC EAST

11-5. The Cowboys will have to answer questions at running back and cornerback and make sure Dez Bryant is happy, but the schedule-maker has been somewhat favorable. They have back-to-back games against teams with winning records in 2014 just once (Seattle and Philadelphia in Weeks 8-9). In the second half of the season, they play just two teams that had winning records in 2014. Based off what we know now, the Cowboys could win consecutive NFC East titles. -- Todd Archer | Game-by-game picks

8-8. As I always do, because the NFC East is always unpredictable and this is the only fair way I know to do this in April, I started by giving the Giants a 3-3 record (three home wins, three road losses) in the division. After that, the road games that look the scariest are the one in New Orleans the day after Halloween (how will they get any sleep?) and the outdoor one in Minneapolis on Dec. 27. I see them starting fairly quickly thanks to getting three of the first four games at home. Things start to get dicey when the Super Bowl champion Patriots show up at MetLife in Week 10. -- Dan Graziano | Game-by-game picks

10-6. It’s impossible to forecast anything but the record that Chip Kelly has posted in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. When you factor in all the change Kelly has brought about -- at quarterback, at running back, at wide receiver, in the secondary -- the Eagles are especially difficult to project this year. So, 10-6 again. -- Phil Sheridan | Game-by-game picks

6-10. I like the defensive additions, and if they fix some lingering issues in the draft (line, edge rusher), then they can do better. But Jay Gruden still must prove himself as a head coach and quarterback Robert Griffin III must prove he can be an effective passer after two down years. Until we see some proof in camp, it’s hard to go above this win total. -- John Keim | Game-by-game picks


NFC NORTH

7-9. Head coach John Fox’s trademark phrase is “understate and overproduce.” Expect Chicago to improve, but a tricky opening three weeks of the schedule against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle does not look promising for a club in rebuild mode after a horrible 5-11 effort in 2014. -- Jeff Dickerson | Game-by-game picks

8-8. If the Detroit Lions are able to manage this schedule and make a second consecutive playoff appearance, they will have done it despite two brutal stretches coming at the beginning and the end of the season. Looking at the schedule, the Lions could start 1-4 and still contend for a playoff berth, but it won’t be enough. -- Michael Rothstein | Game-by-game picks

11-5. The Packers won’t be able to run the table at home like they did last year, not with the Seattle Seahawks coming to Lambeau Field. In fact, NFC West teams Arizona and San Francisco could account for three of the Packers’ five losses. Nevertheless, this looks like the best team in the NFC North again. -- Rob Demovsky | Game-by-game picks

9-7. The Vikings have a tough opening stretch -- they don’t play a team with a 2014 losing record until Week 8 -- but they’ll get to weather that stretch with three of their first five at home. That, combined with a late-season slate including three 2014 playoff teams in the final five weeks, will be the key to the season. -- Ben Goessling | Game-by-game picks


NFC SOUTH

8-8. The Falcons and new coach Dan Quinn will benefit from playing eight teams that finished below .500 last season, but that doesn't necessarily mean things will be easy. A season-opening Monday Night Football matchup against Chip Kelly and the quick-strike Philadelphia Eagles will be a test of how quickly Quinn can improve the defense, though the Falcons should benefit from playing in front of a fired-up Georgia Dome crowd in Week 1. The Falcons should be able to finish above .500 in the NFC South, particularly if Tampa Bay goes with a rookie quarterback such as Jameis Winston. -- Vaughn McClure | Game-by-game picks

10-6. The Panthers return 10 of 11 starters from a defense that finished 10th in the NFL and nine of 11 starters from an offense that helped Carolina win five of the final six games in 2014. That continuity, along with a weak division and overall schedule ranked 27th in the league, should make Carolina the NFC South champion for the third straight year. -- David Newton | Game-by-game picks

10-6. The Saints are a bigger question mark than usual after a 7-9 meltdown and offseason makeover. They still might have the most talent in the NFC South, starting with QB Drew Brees. But they have to regain the home dominance that disappeared last season. (They have the NFL’s second-easiest home schedule based on 2014 win percentage). -- Mike Triplett | Game-by-game picks

8-8. The Bucs have the nucleus to have a very good defense, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. If they can get some offensive production from a rookie quarterback (Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota), they should be much more competitive than last year and be one of the league’s most improved teams. -- Pat Yasinskas | Game-by-game picks


NFC WEST

9-7. Winnable games are evenly distributed throughout, but around every winning corner is a game or two that Arizona likely will lose. The final three games against the Eagles, Packers and Seahawks could dictate the Cardinals’ NFC standing. -- Josh Weinfuss | Game-by-game picks

7-9. There is no grace period for the 49ers, who have the league’s third-hardest strength of schedule, in breaking in new head coach Jim Tomsula while dealing with major roster turnover. Not when they open the season on ESPN’s Monday Night Football with a home game against the Minnesota Vikings and do not enjoy their bye week until after nine games. -- Paul Gutierrez | Game-by-game picks

11-5. Nine games come against 2014 playoff teams and five of the road games come against teams that won at least 10 games last season. The Seahawks open with two road games for the first time since 2011 and have to end the season with three of the last five on the road, including the season finale at Arizona. -- Terry Blount | Game-by-game picks

8-8. It's not going out on much of a limb to predict this team to finish in the .500 range though they haven't done it since 2006. This is a defense that's ready to win now. Barring a major uptick in offensive production, it's hard to see how the Rams take a much-needed next step in the fourth year of the Jeff Fisher regime. -- Nick Wagoner | Game-by-game picks


AFC EAST

9-7. Rex Ryan’s new-look Bills will face a tall task early in the season when they host the Colts and Patriots to kick off their 2015 slate. If they can weather the early storm, and also a late-season stretch of five road games in six weeks, they stand a chance of making the playoffs. -- Mike Rodak | Game-by-game picks

9-7. I like the talent on this year’s team -- especially with the addition of Ndamukong Suh -- but depth and coaching are still question marks. Can fourth-year coach Joe Philbin get Miami to 10 wins and the playoffs with a challenging schedule? I’m not so sure. -- James Walker | Game-by-game picks

11-5. A Week 4 bye, which is as early as it can come, generally isn’t ideal. Back-to-back prime-time games in late November -- against Rex Ryan’s Bills in Foxborough, and then against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver -- will be a challenge, as they will be the seventh and eighth consecutive games played after that bye. -- Mike Reiss | Game-by-game picks

8-8. With an improved secondary, the Jets will double their win total from last season. But uncertainty at quarterback, coupled with an improved AFC East, makes the playoffs out of the question in 2015. -- Rich Cimini | Game-by-game picks


AFC NORTH

9-7. The combination of four trips out west (including two back-to-back), an opening stretch of five road games in the first seven weeks and a total of five games against teams with losing records make this the toughest schedule in coach John Harbaugh’s eight seasons. This isn’t a playoff team right now, but the Ravens do their best work at this time of the offseason. -- Jamison Hensley | Game-by-game picks

10-6. With a timely bye, a veteran roster and some favorable late-season matchups, the Bengals can get 10 wins even after going 5-5 heading into Thanksgiving. Despite prime-time road games in Weeks 15 and 16 (the Bengals are 1-12 on the road at night since 2005), they still can go 5-1 to close out the regular season. -- Coley Harvey | Game-by-game picks

4-12. The Browns might answer their quarterback question by opening day, but as of today it’s a black hole that needs filling. That, the lack of a potent offense in an era of offense and a difficult schedule means the Browns take steps back this season. -- Pat McManamon | Game-by-game picks

9-7. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell will miss up to the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is unhappy with his contract with three years still left on it. What should concern the Steelers more is they have enough questions at outside linebacker and in their secondary to fill a show of "Jeopardy," not to mention a demanding schedule in which they open at New England and play five of their last six games against teams that made the playoffs in 2014. -- Scott Brown | Game-by-game picks


AFC SOUTH

10-6. Last year I undershot, predicting 8-8 while the Texans went 9-7 despite dramatic quarterback turmoil. There are some significant pieces missing right now (like the name of the starting quarterback) but as things stand now, I expect the Texans to be better and take advantage of having the third-easiest schedule in the league. -- Tania Ganguli | Game-by-game picks

13-3. The Colts have the talent to finish with one of the best records in the NFL, and the schedule definitely favors them. Indianapolis opens the season at Buffalo instead of playing there in the dead of winter in December. The Colts get New England and Denver at home and they finish the season with two of their last three games at Lucas Oil Stadium. -- Mike Wells | Game-by-game picks

7-9. The Jaguars’ strength of schedule ranks 25th, and that’s a good thing for a franchise that is going to be relying upon a lot of second-year players on offense, including quarterback Blake Bortles and three receivers. The Jaguars get the NFC South, which didn’t have a single team reach .500 last season, and have two games against Tennessee and another against the New York Jets. If Bortles can go from the league’s worst starter (21.9 QBR) to a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, then the Jaguars can legitimately challenge .500. -- Michael DiRocco | Game-by-game picks

5-11. Two things will make the 2015 Titans three games better than the 2014 version. The defense is already discernibly better. There should be four new starters from free agency and returning from injury, with potential for more in the draft. And regression to the mean says Tennessee will improve. -- Paul Kuharsky | Game-by-game picks


AFC WEST

13-3. The Broncos have won four consecutive AFC West titles and, at least at first blush, have the schedule to make it five in a row. That would be historic in context given the Broncos have not made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons in the franchise’s history. If the Broncos get past four road games in the first six weeks of the season in good shape, they get the heavyweights at home and finish with three of the last four at home. -- Jeff Legwold | Game-by-game picks

9-7. The NFL did the Chiefs no favors with the first four-week stretch of the season. Included is a Thursday night home game against the Denver Broncos and road games with the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. It’s difficult to imagine the Chiefs will start better than 2-2. The road gets much easier from there. -- Adam Teicher | Game-by-game picks

6-10. The Raiders have won a total of 11 games in three seasons. They are starting another coaching era, this time with Jack Del Rio, who was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11. This schedule is not nearly as difficult as last year’s, the toughest in the NFL. The Raiders have some winnable games and with young foundation players, quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack, the Raiders should double their win total from 2014. -- Bill Williamson | Game-by-game picks

8-8. With the potential of Philip Rivers moving on in 2015, the Chargers face four of last year's playoff teams as part of the team's road schedule. So it will not be an easy task to win away from Qualcomm Stadium against a daunting schedule, perhaps with a rookie quarterback. With Rivers, San Diego finished 4-4 on the road in 2014. -- Eric D. Williams | Game-by-game picks