With preseason football upon us, CBS Sports NFL writer Will Brinson dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss the 2016 NFL season.

While Tom Brady has dominated many of the headlines this offseason – and for the last, oh, 15 years – Brinson does not think the Patriots will struggle all that much without the league’s Golden Boy.

“I firmly believe that the New England Patriots aren’t going to skip a beat when it comes to missing Tom Brady for four games,” Brinson said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Because of the situation with Tom Brady, you have to get (Jimmy) Garoppolo as many reps as you possibly can (in the preseason). You can’t let him get hurt and you’re going to simplify your playbook and you’re going to make sure that ball’s coming out quick. You’re going to make sure he’s getting rid of it and there’s no chance he’s taking shots. . . . I would expect that Garoppolo gets some pretty decent run throughout the preseason.”

Looking at the NFC, Brinson, believe it or not, is very big on the Chicago Bears. The Bears have missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons – and are 11-21 over the last two – but Brinson believes this is a team that can contend for a playoff spot.

“I like the Bears this year,” he said. “I’m curious how Jay Cutler and how that Bears offense is going to work. The loss of Adam Gase, to me, is a big red flag. I’m worried about how good that offense will be, but I think they have enough talent there, especially if Kevin White can bounce back from that rookie injury and play well with Alshon Jeffery. If Cutler can be the quarterback that he was last year and be efficient and not make mistakes, John Fox has a really good history of teams taking huge steps forward in his second year with them. I think the Panthers won 11 games and the Broncos won 13 games. Peyton Manning came on with them, so there’s an asterisk there a little bit, but John Fox has always done a good job of quickly turning bad teams into high-quality clubs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears were a little bit of a sleeper in that division.”

Jacksonville and Oakland, meanwhile, are both expected to take a step forward this season, especially with Blake Bortles, 24, and Derek Carr, 25, coming off strong sophomore campaigns. Bottles threw for 35 touchdowns and early 4,500 yards last year, while Carr threw for 32 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards.

Many NFL pundits think both teams can – and will – make the playoffs, but Brinson isn’t quite ready to go quite that far.

“How many times when everybody thinks something is going to happen in the NFL does it actually happen,” he asked. “Almost never, right? That’s my big concern with the Jaguars and the Raiders. There’s this hype train for the Raiders. Don’t get me wrong: The Raiders are a really good team. I like them. I think they’ll make the playoffs. They have all the pieces in place defensively. They’re loaded. Kahlil Mack is incredible. And Jacksonville is kind of the same way. They’ve got these receivers, they’ve got this quarterback who took a big step last year and could take another step this year. When you add Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, and Dante Fowler in one year, that’s like getting three top-five picks. The injuries are an issue, of course. I think they’ll be better.

“I think the Jaguars right now are probably one year away, and it could be a shame for Gus Bradley because the expectations (for this year), I think, (are a little too high). Everyone is expecting eight or nine wins for them, whereas I think given the Jaguars’ history, I think seven or eight is really a closer expectation. And the difference between six and 10 wins is like three or four bounces of the football, and it’s unfair to really judge somebody based on that. I buy the Jaguars, just not all the way. I still think they’re maybe a year away.”


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