2017 NFL Season Predictions

 

With the kickoff of a new NFL season lingering just over 24 hours away, the time is here for a bunch of nobody’s like myself to give you opinions on the upcoming campaign that you probably don’t care about. In the off-chance you are interested though, I’ve taken the liberty of giving you a division-by-division run down complete with the record for each team.

So without further ado, I ask you in the legendary words of Hank Williams Jr. (that’s a 90s Monday Night Football reference for all of you youngsters out there):

“Are you ready for some Football?”

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AFC East

  1. New England Patriots (14-2)
  2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
  3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
  4. New York Jets (1-15)

So let’s call it what it is, the New England Patriots will once again be the best team in football, and their record with undoubtably reflect that. Even if catastrophe strikes, this team will still somehow find a way to make a playoff run and without a shadow of a doubt win their division along the way. Tom Brady won’t be missing out on the early goings this year and Rob Gronkowski is back to full health after missing the tail end of last season. So it’s very practical to believe that the boys from Boston could roll to an undefeated regular season. That being said, I see a number of tough games lining the Pats’ schedule so I think a 14-2 mark is a fair assessment.

After the top spot, this is arguably the weakest division in the NFL this year. While we might see an improvement from the Miami Dolphins courtesy of a potential Jay Cutler resurgence (just kidding, but even bad Cutler is good enough at slinging the pigskin around to get Miami’s solid receiving core going), their ceiling is a .500 record.

There’s always a chance the Bills Mafia wills their franchise to steal a few games at home, but overall this isn’t a team who’s in any position to shock the world. The Buffalo Bills’ saving grace this year can be summed up in a single phrase: “Hey, at least we’re not the Jets.”

Which brings us to Gang Green, and I apologize in advance to all (three) of the Jets fans who read this. The Jets are going to be bad this season, painfully so. If this is news to you, then I’m twice as sorry as before. But the saving grace here should be that I’m giving you guys at least 1 win (probably at home against the Bills in Week 9), where as a lot of experts are saying that number might be too generous.

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AFC North

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
  2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
  4. Cleveland Browns (2-14)

The AFC North will see a two a horse race around the top, and could even be decided in the final weeks of the season. All in all though, I think it’s safe to assume that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be led to another Divisional crown by the Killer B’s. A big key this season will be the health of their star players, in particular the aging Ben Rothelisberger, who will need to forgo his usual string of mid-season injury-stints in order to hold off the Bengals down the stretch.

Speaking of Cincinnati, they are certainly a team who could climb a lot higher than the 10-6 record I’ve allotted them. The Bengals offense was shaky last season at best, but they have the tools to right the ship and make huge strides towards surpassing the Steelers in the North. The real crown jewel of this franchise though remains their defensive prowess which will cause huge problems all season long for the rest of the AFC.

The Baltimore Ravens are a team caught in the dreaded mid-tier for some time now. Ever since their win in Super Bowl XLVII, they haven’t really been able to grind back to the top but haven’t really bottomed out yet either. This year I expect more of the same from a team who haven’t made the roster moves necessary to contend with the teams at the top of the division.

Congratulations are in order to the Cleveland Browns. Not only has the pressure of championship-caliber performances been lifted off of your shoulders by the Cavaliers and Indians in their respective sports; but also you’re no longer a lock as the worst team in the NFL. There are at least 3 franchises who will be capable of sinking below you in 2017. You’ve gotta learn to savor those moral victories when the in-game victories are few and far between.hi-res-188025835-andrew-luck-of-the-indianapolis-colts-looks-to-pass-in_crop_north.jpg

AFC South

  1. Tennessee Titans (10-6)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)*
  3. Houston Texans (6-10)
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

Here’s the thing you have to understand about the AFC South that separates it from any other division in football this year. The entire Division’s outcome rests squarely on the shoulder pads of one man. If Andrew Luck can get back to Indy early and at top form, then he is legitimately good enough to carry them to the AFC South crown despite no significant improvements being made around him. If he can’t however, an Indianapolis Colts playoff season turns into a 4-12 year really quick. That 8-8 record is just sort of the average of two possible outcomes.

Regardless of Luck’s health, many are predicting this to be a breakout campaign for Marcus Mariota, and I’m inclined to agree with that assessment. If he can continue his progression and his regular-season marks are in line with what we saw in sample sizes during the preseason, the Tennessee Titans will be poised for a run at the top spot here. The only real question is will there be any competition.

An Indianapolis flop this year could result in a couple more victories for the Houston Texans than I previously accounted for. Momentum is key in sports and while picking up a pair of Ws against the Colts only does so much for the record, it could prove to light a spark in a team that needs one if it hopes to return to the playoffs this year.

A large number of experts are already buying high on the Jacksonville Jaguars for this season on account of their solid offseason and progression from several young cornerstone pieces. While I love Tom Coughlin and think this Jags team has potential, they won’t be this year’s Cinderella Story on account of awful Quarterback play from Blaine Bortles. It’s hard to believe in an offense that’s being led by one of the worst QBs in the NFL right now. It might still be too early to right him off altogether, but I don’t think he has the tools to lead a winning organization.

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AFC West

  1. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
  3. Denver Broncos (9-7)
  4. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)

The AFC West as a whole could certainly surprise some people down the stretch this season, but the winner definitely shouldn’t. As tight a race as we might see early on, it should be clear by mid-season that the Oakland Raiders will be bound for postseason football. All around, they’re my pick for the most complete team in the AFC (after the Patriots of course), and their record will reflect that.

The real battle here will be waged right beneath the Raiders as a pair of teams clash for a playoff berth. The edge here will go to the Kansas City Chiefs because of their ability to handle business within the division. They have one of the league’s strongest Defensive units and they pair that with an above average offensive attack which will separate them from the one-sided Broncos.

The Denver Broncos defense will single handedly win them football games in spades. I understand that the name of the game is putting points on the board, but the Broncos are so adept at keeping opponents from the endzone that it will allow them to win a lot of low scoring football games with one of the league’s worst offenses.

So the Chargers are in Los Angeles now, so that’s pretty cool I guess. And their new logo comes with a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to me as a baseball fan. The Dodgers Chargers are going to win their fair share of contests this year but haven’t necessarily done much to make me believe in them as contenders in a pretty rugged AFC West.

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NFC East

  1. New York Giants (11-5)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
  3. Washington Redskins (9-7)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

For my money, this will be the most competitive Division in football this season. Now you could argue that me picking the New York Giants to win it might be a bit biased siting the Big Blue t-shirt I’m currently wearing…but truth be told I think they have the edge this year. The defensive unit that staked a claim as one of the NFL’s best a season ago returns almost entirely healthy and intact, and the gun-slinging offense only seems to have added fire power in the form of Brandon Marshall. There are questions about Odell Beckham Jr’s availability to start the campaign after suffering an ankle injury early in the preseason, but at this point it seems more precautionary than anything else as all signs point to the most dynamic player in the NFL being a go come Monday.

Now I guess you could say that the picture I chose for the NFC East is definitely biased, and I couldn’t really disagree. But the truth is it’s pretty metaphorical. If the G-Men can grab the top spot it’ll be by a fingertip. The Dallas Cowboys were without a shadow of a doubt the best team in the NFC last season and it should come as a shock to nobody if they manage that feat again. That being said the absence of Ezekiel Elliot for 6 games (despite him being green-lit for Monday’s face off with the Giants) has the ‘Boys dealing with a massive hole in their backfield. In my eyes Zeke’s absent star power will be the decisive blow in the war for the East.

If you’re looking at the NFC East and thinking it’s a 2 team race than you’re sadly mistaken. Just beneath the bright lights of Dallas and New York is a team lurking in the shadows and waiting for any hole to exploit. The Washington Redskins are a legitimate threat in the NFC this season and if given the opportunity they can unseat the powerhouses atop the division. If nothing else this is a team aiming for a run at the playoffs, and there are only a few teams capable of stopping them from making it.

The NFC East is the only division in the NFL this season who is legitimately 4 teams deep. With no other division can you realistically argue that anyone could win. On any given night the Philadelphia Eagles are a team who can go out and beat any of the other teams in the NFC. The fact of the matter is, it’s almost unfair to put any of the teams in this division at the bottom so my apologies to any Eagles fans who feel they might’ve been wronged here.

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NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
  3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
  4. Chicago Bears (5-11)

Aaron Rodgers is the best Quarterback in the NFL today. If you need any proof of that you can do one of two things: check any reputable site for NFL stats…or (and this one’s my personal favorite) watch a video of Stephen A. Smith calling him a “Baaaaaad Man” on a loop until you believe it. He’s going to lead this Packers team to another NFC North crown with little if any resistance, the only real question is how far can he take them after that.

The Minnesota Vikings are a sleeper pick this season to slip into the playoffs virtually undetected. They have a solid collection of players on both sides of the ball, and as per usual the key for them will remain health. If they can stay healthy (which is a big question every year for this franchise), then it’s not beyond belief that they can pick up the necessary win total to reach the playoffs.

The Detroit Lions are an interesting team to watch year in and year out. A couple years ago, Matthew Stafford compiled one of the best seasons by a QB in NFL history. But still though the team underwhelmed significantly. It seems to be that’s always the case in Detroit. We see a few standout performances by players you wish were in better situations, and then watch as the team collectively falls to the middle of the pack in the NFC. Expect much of the same in 2017.

The Chicago Bears finally parted ways with Jay Cutler and believe that they have found their QB of the future in the form of Mike Glennon. Whether he pans out or not the truth is it won’t really matter much this year. The Bears at best will reach the 6 victory mark, and at worst…well they can keep building with another high draft pick in 2018.

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NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
  2. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
  4. New Orleans Saints (8-8)

Have you ever seen a team come so close to immortality only to watch it painfully slip away? I was a Yankee fan in 2001, so fret not Falcons fans I know what it’s like to feel that heartache. It’s all good though, Atlanta is back and looking just as good as last year. There might be a few bumps along the way, but with Matty-Ice under-center there’s little standing in the way of another deep run for the Atlanta Falcons.

Last season was a bitter disappointment for a Carolina Panther team who marched their way to the Super Bowl the year before. They’re still young, and still hungry, and whether or not parting ways with their GM will fix the issues they had a season ago is yet to be seen. All signs point to a bounce back season for the squad and a return to Pro Bowl form  for Cam Newton. At least I hope so…he’s kind of my QB this year in fantasy…

If you want to talk quick turn arounds in the NFL, look no further than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After securing the services of Jameis Winston with the top selection in the 2015 Draft, the Bucs now see themselves poised for playoff contention. Even if this isn’t Tampa’s year, anything near the 9 win mark should be viewed in a positive light for a team still a ways away from their peak.

I’ve spent much of the last few months looking at photos of Adrian Peterson in a New Orleans Saints jersey and crying. It doesn’t make sense…he could’ve been a Giant…we could’ve done so many amazing things together. Nonetheless here we are at the dawn of a new campaign and a man who still stands near the top of NFL Runningbacks will find himself looking up from the cellar of the NFC South. Despite the legendary aura that surrounds AP and Drew Brees, the supporting cast isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the division.

 

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NFC West

  1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (3-13)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

The NFC West is another case where the victor will emerge early. If there’s any doubt in your head about the Seattle Seahawks securing their 4th divisional title in the past 5 seasons, you should go ahead and erase it now. This a team loaded on defense, and Russell Wilson has emerged as one of the Top 5 QBs in the NFL today. Nobody is going to be able to hang with the Legion of Boom until playoff time.

The Arizona Cardinals are one of the NFC’s fringe teams who might be able to muster up a couple of extra Ws and slip in to the playoffs as a result. Truth be told though, they haven’t done all that much to boost a league average defense to warrant me pushing them up to 9 or 10 victories. If any improvements are made, it’ll have to come from the guys they already have.

A part of me wonders whether or not sharing a stadium will affect the Rams in anyway. They were just getting their feet wet in LA and now in come the Chargers to bite into that  burgeoning fan base. All in all it probably won’t matter too much. The Rams aren’t going to set the world ablaze regardless, and the only contending that this LA franchise is going to see this season is for the top pick in the draft.

The San Francisco 49ers are another team floundering at the bottom of the NFL. They come into the season as arguably the worst team in the NFC on paper (only really trailing the Jets in the entire NFL). They do take the cake though as the most uninteresting team to watch in 2017, with the only real storyline here being the lingering Colin Kaepernick saga.

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