Each week, SiriusXM NFL Radio’s hosts vote on the top six teams in both the NFC and AFC. This week’s voters are Brady Quinn, James Lofton, Jim Miller, Pat Kirwan, Bruce Murray, Vic Carucci and Brian Lauvray.
Arizona Cardinals (2015 Record: 13-3)
Week 1 opponent: New England Patriots, Sunday 8:30 pm ET (Sirius 88, XM channel 225, Internet 88)
Coming off a season that saw the Red Birds run through the regular season to the tune of a 13-3 record, only to be destroyed at the hands of Carolina in the NFC Championship, Arizona has all the motivation they need. With a healthy Honey Badger and with David Johnson getting even more involved in the offense the Cardinals have all the look of another deep playoff run. But first? They need to “prove it” against perennial contenders the Patriots in their season opener.
Carolina Panthers (2015 Record: 15-1)
Week 1 opponent: @ Denver Broncos, Thursday 8:30 pm ET (Sirius 81, XM channel 225, Internet 809)
Cam Newton and Co.’s encore off a 15-1 season and a bitterly disappointing loss in the Super Bowl begins against the same team they lost the Lombardi Trophy to. Thursday night under the lights and a mile up in Denver. We’ve already explained why we’re bullish on Cam, but the rest of the Panthers (save for the bizarre departure of Josh Norman) are back as well. Don’t be surprised if ‘Zona and the Panthers continually are vying for the top of the NFC (and the Power 12) all season long.
Seattle Seahawks (2015 Record: 10-6)
Week 1 opponent: Miami Dolphins, Sunday 4:05 pm ET (Sirius 113, XM 225, Internet 828)
Remember how Seattle lost 4 of 6 to start their 2015 campaign and how that wound up meaning that they were the 6th seed in the playoffs? The ‘Hawks open with a much more friendly first half of the season this year and between that and Russell Wilson surely not wanting to struggle for playoff position, count on the Seahawks and that nasty defense to make some noise early and often this season.
Green Bay Packers (2015 Record: 10-6)
Week 1 opponent: @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (Sirius 93, XM 811)
For folks in Wisconsin a 10-6 record and a wild-card berth was a “down year” for the Green & Gold. With a healthy Jordy Nelson out wide and a svelte Eddie Lacy in the backfield, Aaron Rodgers should have plenty of options to distribute the ball to. The Packers still have to contend with their rivals the Vikings who, despite the loss of Teddy Bridgewater for the season, are the divisional champs and still harbor one of the NFC’s nastiest defenses. With both teams locked and loaded this rivalry (and the NFC North) just got a whole lot woollier.
Minnesota Vikings (2015 Record: 11-5)
Week 1 opponent: @ Tennessee Titans, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (Sirius 135, XM 818)
Even with the running gag that is Sam Bradford under center, Minnesota cannot be taken lightly. The Vikings, particularly on defense, are a very talented and young squad that was arguably the quietest Super Bowl contender of 2016 prior to Teddy Bridgewater’s catastrophic knee injury last week. Now, without Bridgewater, the squad will be faced with an adversity they’ve not known. How they respond will be testament to the squad’s resiliency and Mike Zimmer’s leadership.
Washington (2015 Record: 9-7)
Week 1 opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday 7:10 pm ET (Sirius 81, XM 225, Internet 831)
A year after winning the power vacuum that was the NFC East, Washington now must prove that their entire 2015 run to the playoffs wasn’t some half-remembered fever dream. With Tony Romo once again injured in Dallas and with both Philadelphia and the Giants breaking in new coaches and personnel, NFC East power vacuum/banana republic vibe is coming on strong again. Will Kirk Cousins and crew come out on top once again? We’ll know more after their Monday night tussle with the Steelers.
NFC Fantasy Spotlight: Christine Michael vs Thomas Rawls, running backs, Seattle
With uncertainty surrounding Thomas Rawls’ return from his season-ending injury in 2015, roll with Christine Michael if you’ve got him this week against the ‘Phins. Michael has looked rejuvenated throughout the preseason and the real battle to replace Marshawn Lynch will begin once Rawls is at full strength.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2015 Record: 10-6)
Week 1 opponent: Washington, Monday 7:10 pm ET (Sirius 132, XM 226, Internet 825)
Once again starting the season without LeVeon Bell and Martavis Bryant (suspensions), the Steelers are still poised to make a run at the AFC North crown and will continue to, so long as “Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown” is a thing. Brown’s numbers last season were otherworldly and with Big Ben healthy and under center the Yinzers should be ready for another playoff run. Much like last season, the Steelers and their shaky defense needs to make some strides or else their season will end once they butt up against a touchdown-scoring juggernaut in the playoffs.
New England Patriots (2015 Record: 12-4)
Week 1 opponent: @ Arizona Cardinals, Sunday 8:30 pm ET (Sirius 83, XM 226, Internet 819)
No Tom Brady and no problem for New England. Sure, they’ll probably lose on the road to the Cardinals on Sunday night (a lot of teams will be losing to the Cardinals this season); but any Bill Belichick team is always going to be measured by its postseason success. That holds true for the 2016 edition of the Pats and by the time December rolls around, with Tom Brady shredding defenses, no one will be recalling the early season speed bump of “no Touchdown Tom” for four weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs (2015 Record: 11-5)
Week 1 opponent: San Diego Chargers, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (Sirius 113, XM 225, Internet 815)
The Chiefs went on an improbable 11-game winning streak before falling to the Patriots in the divisional round last year. While the likelihood of KC (or any team) reeling off 11 wins in a row is unlikely, Kansas City is very much for real. With Denver breaking in a new quarterback and with Oakland potentially a season away from serious contention, the Chiefs are poised to claim their first divisional title since 2010. I know, I know, lingering issues about Jamaal Charles’ status. Breathe. Calm down. Kansas City’s success is predicated off a very good defense and a solid offensive line. Spencer Ware will be fine until JC from KC returns.
Cincinnati Bengals (2015 Record: 12-4)
Week 1 opponent: @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (Sirius 81, XM 806, Internet 822)
The Bengals return a largely intact squad that was a few boneheaded penalties away from advancing in the playoffs. Down a Marvin Jones after Jones signed with the Lions, Cincy did well to replenish their wideout corps. by drafting Tyler Boyd. With Tyler Eifert out for the beginning of the season, Boyd should have ample opportunity to prove his worth to Andy Dalton and the Bengals brass. One thing that could cause Cincy some issues is their brutal first half of the season. The Bengals face the New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Denver, Dallas, New England and Washington within the season’s first half. Save for Dallas, that’s a bunch of teams that made the playoffs a year ago, plus the Jets who were “thissss close” to making the postseason as well.
Denver Broncos (2015 Record: 12-4)
Week 1 opponent: Carolina Panthers, Thursday 8:30 pm ET (Sirius 83, XM 225)
The biggest question mark in the NFL this season is: What will Trevor Siemian do as Denver’s new quarterback? He’s replacing the legendary Peyton Manning and still has a world-class defense that will keep Denver in every game this season. That being said, how Siemian responds to the pressure of being a starting QB for the defending Super Bowl champs will be very telling of how Denver’s fortunes go this year.
Oakland Raiders ( 2015 Record: 7-9)
Week 1 opponent: @ New Orleans Saints, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (Sirius 137, XM 823, Internet 823)
Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray are the personnel you know on Oakland’s offense, but the real action for Oakland is on the other side of the ball. Khalil Mack is poised to become the most disruptive young defender this year. The man can line up anywhere along the line or drop back as a linebacker and he creates havoc on every snap. Double-teams are the new routine for Mack and that’s a boon for the rest of this front seven. Toss in the fact that Oakland has a very cushy schedule overall and you’ve got yourself a strong dark horse contender for a wild-card berth in the Bay Area.
AFC Fantasy Spotlight: Matt Forte, New York Jets
Welcome to the AFC, Matt Forte! You’re facing a rugged Cincinnati Bengals defense in your first week, but you should serve as the perfect safety valve option for Ryan Fitzpatrick because the Jets don’t really have a tight end. You made your hay in Chicago serving this same role for Jay Cutler and we see big things for ya, buddy. Roll with Matt Forte in your fantasy league as a safe RB 2 or flex option with buckets of upside.