Aaron Rodgers to bring Green Bay Packers their fifth Super Bowl title: 2016 NFL predictions

• More NFL: Arizona Cardinals top preseason Power Rankings | Week 1 schedule

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The NFL returns Thursday. Kevin Jeffers wildly speculates on how the NFL’s eight divisions will shape up this season and picks the play-off and Super Bowl winners. Click/swipe through for 2016 NFL predictions.

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AFC EAST

Death, taxes, and the New England Patriots winning the AFC East. Few things in life are more sure than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick playing chess while the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are playing checkers.

Both the Bills and Jets looked improved last season, and Miami has hired a badly needed new head coach (Adam Gase), but none of them are stable enough to hang with the model of consistency in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Even without Brady for the first four games, no division is easier to call than this one.

Predicted order:

1 New England Patriots

2 Miami Dolphins

3 Buffalo Bills

4 New York Jets

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AFC NORTH

This should come down to a battle between two of the league’s best teams in the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals won the division last year, only to get knocked out in the first round by the Wild Card Steelers in heartbreaking fashion.

Both teams are loaded, but I feel like this is Pittsburgh’s year. Ben Roethlisberger is better than ever and the defence should be improved. The Bengals stay snakebitten by the Steelers, but will be good enough to make the play-offs as a Wild Card.

Cleveland will be fun with a young team and new quarterback Robert Griffin III trying to revive his career, while Baltimore will be old and boring. Neither team competes for a play-off spot.

Predicted order:

1 Pittsburgh Steelers

2 Cincinnati Bengals (Wild Card)

3 Cleveland Browns

4 Baltimore Ravens

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AFC SOUTH

Houston capitalised on an injured Andrew Luck and an otherwise meek set of teams to squeak into the play-offs last season at 9-7g, and they did so with a bunch of nobodies at quarterback. If new signing Brock Osweiler gives them anything more than what they had under centre last year — and he will — the Texans will be better, and they still have one of the league’s best defences.

Luck is back for the Colts and gives them some hope, but the rest of the roster is a jumbled mess. He’s the long-term fixture in Indianapolis, but the rest of the organisation — players, coaches, executives — are on thin ice.

Jacksonville is intriguing. They’ve invested heavily in free agency and the draft on defence, and the passing game showed last year it can score with anyone. I still think they’re a year away.

Tennessee stinks.

Predicted order:

1 Houston Texans

2 Jacksonville Jaguars

3 Indianapolis Colts

4 Tennessee Titans

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AFC WEST

Perhaps the toughest and most unpredictable division in the league. The Super Bowl champions reside here, but no one is mistaking the Denver Broncos and their uncertainty at quarterback for true contenders this year. Still, Von Miller and that defence are too good to completely ignore.

My pick is the Kansas City Chiefs. I think this is their final year of really being a championship contender, and I think they’re in it for a long run, regardless of how many injuries they are currently dealing with.

I’m also one of many on the Oakland Raiders bandwagon, and think they snag the last AFC Wild Card spot, leaving Denver close but just outside the chase. The Raiders haven’t been relevant in so long that it will be fun to see them contend again.

San Diego could be better than people anticipate — and it won’t be tough to improve on last year’s 4-12 showing — but they’re behind the rest of the division.

Predicted order:

1 Kansas City Chiefs

2 Oakland Raiders (Wild Card)

3 Denver Broncos

4 San Diego Chargers

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NFC EAST

I hate this division. None of the teams are that good, yet they’re always on national TV, making the biggest headlines because of the media markets they’re in, and are guaranteed one of the six play-off spots whether they deserve it or not.

But someone has to win. Washington surprisingly did so last year, but with a lot of luck and the rest of the teams falling on their faces. In a battle of attrition, I’ll take the tried-and-true Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to the play-offs. They have fewer holes than any of the other teams, and a new (but familiar) head coach Ben McAdoo could give them new life.

Dallas is relying on a rookie quarterback and running back and the defence isn’t talented enough to carry them. Philadelphia is rebuilding for the future and starting their own rookie QB. They could be two of the worst teams in the league, which bodes well for New York and Washington.

Predicted order:

1 New York Giants

2 Washington

3 Dallas Cowboys

4 Philadelphia Eagles

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NFC NORTH

Minnesota surprisingly won this division last season and were a sleeper pick to make a Super Bowl run this year before Teddy Bridgewater injured his leg in practice last week. He’s out for this season and maybe longer. They traded for retread Sam Bradford from the Eagles, and he is pretty decent as far as insurance goes. Plus, there so many freakish athletes on defence that Minnesota will still compete despite losing their leader.

But this division now belongs, again, to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Detroit lost team legend Calvin Johnson, but I think they did enough to shore up the wide receiver position. They finished last year strongly and could surprise people this year.

Chicago could also surprise, but there’s a lot less talent on the Bears than on the Lions. This division will be competitive 2 through 4, but it’s tough to see the Packers not winning it.

Predicted order:

1 Green Bay Packers

2 Detroit Lions

3 Minnesota Vikings

4 Chicago Bears

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NFC South

This division used to be infamous for no team winning it two years in a row. That stopped two seasons ago when the Panthers won the South for a second straight year, and they one-upped that last year by dominating the NFC en route to a 15-1, Super Bowl season. Carolina and defending MVP Cam Newton are again the class of the division and will make it four straight South titles.

There’s an equal measure of hope and uncertainty with the division’s other three teams: Atlanta has a potent passing attack and an abysmal pass rush; New Orleans has the Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterback-coach combination they’ve had for years but an awful defence; Tampa Bay put up a ton of points with a rookie QB last year but are really young and can’t rush the passer at all.

Of all of them, I like the potential with the Buccaneers under new coach Dirk Koetter. The Saints are past their prime and the Falcons just don’t have enough depth. I even think Jameis Winston leads the Bucs to the play-offs, surprising many on the way.

Predicted order:

1 Carolina Panthers

2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Wild Card)

3 Atlanta Falcons

4 New Orleans Saints

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NFC West

In our preseason NFL Power Rankings, I had the Cardinals and Seahawks at Nos 1 and 2. It wouldn’t take much to argue one over the other, so close are they in talent and potential. Luckily for us, they play each other twice. It’ll be a shock if both loaded squads don’t make the play-offs, but only one can win the West.

The safer pick is Seattle, where Russell Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate and the defence remains one of the most battle-tested units in the league. But Arizona, as long as Carson Palmer stays upright, will be right there with them.

Relocated from St Louis to Los Angeles, the Rams have one of the most talented defences and running backs in the league, but rookie quarterback Jared Goff hasn’t looked good at all in preseason action so far and will hold the team back from contending.

San Francisco stinks.

Predicted order:

1 Seattle Seahawks

2 Arizona Cardinals (Wild Card)

3 Los Angeles Rams

4 San Francisco 49ers

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PLAYOFFS

AFC PLAY-OFFS

• Wild Card Round: No 3 Pittsburgh d No 6 Oakland; No 5 Cincinnati d No 4 Houston

• Divisional Round: No 5 Cincinnati d No 1 Kansas City; No 2 New England d No 3 Pittsburgh

• Championship: No 2 New England d No 5 Cincinnati

NFC PLAY-OFFS

• Wild Card Round: No 3 Carolina d No 6 Tampa Bay; No 5 Arizona d No 4 New York Giants

• Divisional Round: No 1 Green Bay d No 5 Arizona; No 3 Carolina d No 2 Seattle

• Championship: No 1 Green Bay d No 3 Carolina

SUPER BOWL

• Green Bay Packers 30, New England Patriots 24

kjeffers@thenational.ae

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Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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