Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the party for the world champion Denver Broncos and their fans has just begun. But with the 2015 NFL season now officially over, at least on the field, the focus now shifts to next season. It’s never too early to look ahead, right?
While this loss is going to linger for a while for the Carolina Panthers, they have to lead the early list of contenders to get to Super Bowl LI (yes, it’s back to Roman numerals) next year. Other NFC teams that should be in the running include West rivals Seattle and Arizona as well as Green Bay and Dallas, provided the Cowboys can stay healthy.
In the AFC, the Broncos are a wild card at this point because so much is up in the air, even though Peyton Manning’s future plans will likely dominate the news cycle. New England will remain a threat as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, while teams like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati appear to have the pieces necessary to contend. And don’t forget about Indianapolis with a healthy Andrew Luck or a young team like Oakland, which could take another step towards being a playoff team.
Obviously so much will happen between now and September, whether it’s the draft, free agency or another type of personnel move. But how do things look division by division on Feb. 8? Just remember, it will be seven months until the next meaningful NFL game is played.
Very Early 2016 AFC Divisional Standings
1. New England
As long as Belichick/Brady are together the Patriots are a threat, but the championship window could be closing.
2. New York Jets
Just missed out on the playoffs last season, but work needs to be done in free agency to keep team together.
Can the defense improve in Rex Ryan’s second year with the Bills?
New head coach Adam Gase’s priorities include developing Ryan Tannehill, getting more out of defense.
If Big Ben and his weapons can stay healthy, Steelers could be one of the top contenders.
Bengals still looking to end playoff drought, will be busy during free agency.
Ravens need Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs to bounce back from serious injuries.
Hue Jackson looks to fix Browns QB situation and improve offensive production.
Priority should be finding more protection and a running game for Andrew Luck.
Is Brian Hoyer still the answer at QB after playoff debacle?
Jaguars figure to be big players during free agency.
Titans need to make No. 1 pick count, keep Marcus Mariota healthy.
Peyton Manning’s future just one thing the world champions must address in the offseason.
2. Kansas City
Have Chiefs already reached their ceiling? Free agency could bring changes on defense.
Raiders have young cornerstones in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack and could add more pieces through
Team’s future in San Diego is uncertain; same could be said for the roster.
Very Early 2016 NFC Divisional Standings
From worst to first? A healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are critical to a Cowboys turnaround.
Will Redskins commit to Kirk Cousins long term?
3. New York Giants
Offense should be fine, but new head coach Ben McAdoo must fix defense.
New head coach Doug Pederson must decide on QB, get everyone on same page.
1. Green Bay
Jordy Nelson’s return will be huge, but team also has some key free agents.
Can Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings take that next step?
Bears offense could look quite different with Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte free agents and Jay Cutler’s future uncertain.
Calvin Johnson’s reported retirement would add another hole Lions will need to fill.
Super Bowl loss will linger, but don't be surprised if Panthers are back on same stage next year.
Falcons hoping offense can find old form while defense continues to improve.
3. Tampa Bay
Can Buccaneers make the leap in Jameis Winston’s second season?
4. New Orleans
Saints’ efforts to improve league’s worst defense will be hamstrung by salary cap issues.
Some key free agents to deal with and Marshawn Lynch could retire, but the Seahawks core is still young and
Cardinals shouldn’t take too many steps back, but several key players not getting any younger.
3. Los Angeles
If Rams want to make California return successful they need to figure out their QB situation.
4. San Francisco
Chip Kelly should have plenty of opportunity to mold roster, starting with QB, to his liking.