Well, I let it run down to the wire, as usual, but you wouldn’t love me if that wasn’t my style, now would you? Let’s take a quick glance at what my expectations for each team in the National Football League is for the upcoming 2017 season:
New England Patriots – Whenever I begin this annual list, I fear that my predictions are simply takeoffs from the end of the previous year. Most divisions will end up drastically different than most pundits imagine, as injuries will derail the most purposeful of predictions, weather will switch up small outcomes, and everyone’s favorite – a tie game or two – will just fling everything into disarray. The one absolute, however, is that the damn Patriots will be the best team in the league. Tom Brady is god among men, and even when losing the 2015 Super Bowl “MVP” Julian Edelman to an ACL tear, they’ll still walk away with something like a 14-2 record.
Miami Dolphins – The one thing about that typical absolute is that there’s also someone to be underestimated. There’s also something to be said about redemption, specifically when something like the case of the Miami Dolphins is involved. Since Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury, hopes were low on the Fish. That is, until Smokin’ Joe Cutler came calling, rewarding the fans in South Florida a chance to see that once-and-future commentator give it one last go as a quarterback. I, for one, don’t think this is a bad thing – while Cutler’s stats over the last two years have been anything but special, he’s still an able body that will undoubtedly be better than those in upstate New York or the swamps of northern New Jersey. Besides, with the run game boldly helped by Jay Ajayi, there should be plenty of matches won by Miami. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs, but they’ll still be fun.
Buffalo Bills – Meanwhile, what the hell is going on in Buffalo? After a complete overhaul of the front office, it seemed like the ship would be righted and built around Tyrod Taylor, in order to find the way into a second place and possible wild-card finish, ending the longest playoff drought in professional sports (1999). but suddenly the team sent Sammy Watkins to the Rams, inexplicably dropped a second back-up in Jonathan Williams (they’d already let Mike Gillislee land with rival New England) and finally it looked like even Taylor wouldn’t start week one. For now, he’s the most solid force on the team, with RB LeSean McCoy still able to perform. That isn’t much respite for fans, as this will be a markedly long season.
New York Jets – It also should come as a surprise that Buffalo seems to be in full-tank mode, as they may not even be able to fall into the basement of their own division. Before Buffalo caught on to the cool way to tank, New York was doing it all summer. First they sent Eric Decker packing to Tennessee, after letting both quarterbacks move on to backup roles with the Giants (Geno Smith) and Tampa (Ryan Fitzpatrick). Just this week, the team traded star DL Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse (one rare optimistic moment), while losing star center Nick Mangold and solid kicker Nick Folk to free agency. At first it seemed strange, but the Jets have never been so transparent in their tanking. The best part each week will be guessing which quarterback will be starting – brittle veteran Josh McCown, abysmal rookie Christian Hackenberg or oft-injured backup Bryce Petty. Maybe they should have stuck with Mark Sanchez after all?
Pittsburgh Steelers – In what looks to be the twilight season of the Ben Roethlisberger era, he’ll have the chance to have what could be the most fun in Pittsburgh in all his time. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are two of the best players in the league, giving him passing and running options. Martavis Bryant returns in style, perhaps to eclipse even Brown with h is catching skill. There’s no reason to suspect a downfall, unless one of the rival teams puts together a better string of consecutive wins and rides past what should be one of the highest-scoring seasons in Pittsburgh history, which is saying something.
Cincinnati Bengals – Last year I made the mistake of voting for the Red Rocket and his striped band of merry men to finally make it over the hump and past the first round in the playoffs. Not only did the fail to do that, they went 6-9 and missed the playoffs by a mile. Given that AJ Green is fully healthy, as well as Dalton, they’ve also added the underrated Brandon LaFell. Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon will ride tandem along the run routes, and while I don’t see them overcoming the impossible Steelers, they will make it into a wild-card spot. Now to get to that second round…
Baltimore Ravens – Weapon X, anyone? If the rumors are correct, we’re going to be looking at a bionically charged superhuman in Joe Flacco, who’s been hidden from media all summer with back problems. There’s no doubting he’ll continue to lead the team to solid wins – especially if his health is full. With that being said, if Breshad Perriman is equally healthy, we could be in for an upset of the division. Flacco has tools we haven’t seen him use (Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace) and the running game has been solid with Terrance West (and Danny Woodhead hops his way into the bay). I’m all for them taking that step forward, but on paper they seem like a lot of talk with no bite.
Cleveland Browns – DeShone Kizer, household name? My guess is that it’s unlikely, and Cleveland will continue its search for that quarterback that will finally push the Browns back into relevance. It seems like the world will never see a successful Cleveland football team, and with the only interesting player on the team being Isaiah Crowell, expectations are as low as they can get. The only disappointing thing will be watching the Jets and Bills tank their way past into the top two spots of next year’s draft, letting another great QB slip into New York state instead.
Tennessee Titans – It’s time to get excited about sports again in Nashville. After their hockey team made it to their first Stanley Cup this past June, it finally looks like the Titans have gotten back on track to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There’s a lot to look forward to in 5th overall pick (2017) Corey Davis, and the Eric Decker signing is only the Jets’ loss. Delanie Walker and DeMarco Murray stabilize their spots, and Marcus Mariota is the quarterback we all deserve. He’s fun to watch, he can keep cool under pressure, and he’s slowly built up a winning pedigree. It’s time for the Titans in 2017.
Houston Texans – Defense is still the name of the game in Houston, as J.J. Watt is the star here. Tom Savage takes over the quarterback role from the fallen Brock Osweiler. Savage will be the fifth straight different leader for the team since Matt Schaub was cast aside in 2013, but he should hopefully still connect with the highest paid WR, DeAndre Hopkins, in order to win just enough games to stay in the race with Tennessee. Lamar Miller doesn’t look as good as he did in Miami, but if Savage isn’t the quarterback they need him to be, Miller can run like the best of them.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Allen Robinson is going to waste away his best years in Jacksonville. Apparently Blake Bortles is suddenly terrible, leaving the Jaguars with their entire game plan lying with rookie runner Leonard Fournette. He’ll have veteran help from former Jet Chris Ivory, so I do expect some wins out of the team, but they’ll have to figure out their quarterback mess first. Will Bortles shape up quick, or will Chad Henne save the day? Since no one ever expected to write that sentence, likelihood is low.
Indianapolis Colts – Hoo boy, there should be some worried in Naptown, that Andrew Luck is not faring well recovering from his shoulder surgery. With Scott Tolzien leading the team, the expectations are well below .500, and the ones who will fare the worst are Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton, who were expecting their stellar star to return and throw them over 1,000 yards each. Now the team must rest their hope on ancient running back Frank Gore, amidst the revival of both the Jags and Titans, as well as the difficulty of playing the AFC overall. Not looking too awake there, in Naptown.
Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr is the real deal, clearly. He’s shaped the Raiders back into the unit they’ve meant to be since their last heyday in the early ‘aughts. He’s got weapons on either side with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, while replacing Latavius Murray with an un-retired Marshawn Lynch is a brilliant yet predictable move. (There were plenty of rumors that Lynch would go to Oakland instead of retirement anyway. Perhaps he should have given his age?) The message inside the parentheses is the only thing to worry about, because this team will run roughshodden over their opponents. One last grand hurrah in the Bay Area is in store for the Raiders before they jump ship for Vegas.
Kansas City Chiefs – Defense is the name of game, and just as in Houston, the team will hope that it will lead them to a Super Bowl. As I watch them crumble to a difficult New England team, they’ll likely end up relying on the running prowess of Kareem Hunt, spelling the team’s worries after Spencer Ware went down with an MCL tear. Charcandrick West is a capable back-up, so expect a lot of output from the pair. Alex Smith will throw like he’s on fire with Austin Mahomes breathing down his neck, but it’s strange to worry about his job. The Chiefs have won the fourth most games in the NFL over the past four seasons, after the Patriots, Broncos and Seahawks. The only thing they’re missing now is that Super Bowl ring.
Los Angeles Chargers – Philip Rivers will never get the due he deserved earlier in his career. He’s one of the steadiest front men for a team the league has ever seen, and his consistency reminds one of Joe Flacco, sans the two Super Bowl rings. The shame of it is that nothing could get done in San Diego, so the team moves to Los Angeles…satisfying who, exactly? Executives who like the idea of having two teams in LA despite the downfall of the two in the nineties. The foolish thing to do was have two terrible teams arrive in Hollywood before they reach their upswing. Rivers is on his way out of the league in a few years, while he has nothing to highlight for the new fans. The only thing keeping them out of the basement is the sharp decline of the Denver Broncos.
Denver Broncos – It feels like forever since Peyton. While much of the squad remained with the club, namely star Demaryius Thomas, the defense and Peyton’s heroics were what pushed them over the top in 2015. Brock Osweiler, somehow returning as a backup, is a mere shadow of the complimentary firecracker that helped launch the team into the second seed that year, allowing Peyton the easy ride to Super Bowl XLIX. The heir apparent, Paxton Lynch, seems to have sputtered, leaving Trevor Siemian as the choice to lead the team. I have no faith in this team, and neither should fans in Colorado. It’s a year to twiddle our thumbs until the rebuild finally rears its ugly head.
New York Giants – Eli Manning is looking at his most complete team in about five years. With his twilight years approaching, he has to be happy that the team nabbed players like Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram to throw for. He’ll also retain one of the most dynamic wideouts in the league, Odell Beckham, Jr. – once he returns from a mysterious ankle injury. Paul Perkins is an able running back, and the schedule lends itself to ease. The only team in the way is Dallas, who is missing their dynamic player for six games as well….save week 1 against the boys in blue.
Dallas Cowboys – Sure, the Cowboys have the Giants’ number, and likely will in week one. Of course, they’ll lose breakout star Ezekiel Elliott to an unnecessary suspension for the following six weeks. Given the team has enough weapons for Dak Prescott to handle, including stalwart Dallas players Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, there isn’t too much to fear in his absence. We’ll see Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden (over from Oakland) step up and take care of the run game. Even though it looks that Dallas has the more complete team, I think the Elliott disappearance will allow the Giants to slip ahead in a tight two-team race in the East. Plus there’s seemingly a rule that the same team can’t win consecutively out here.
Philadelphia Eagles – You see I mentioned there will only be two teams in this race, did you? Yes, that means I don’t expect much from the Eagles, who only four years ago were on top of the world….well, that was the Nick Foles/Mark Sanchez era, so there you go. Too much faith in Carson Wentz? Last year he had Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham to throw too, but ended up usually just passing to Zach Ertz. Agholor remains and is joined by castoffs Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey, who are merely comeback candidates, likely underachieving. The run game is improved with LaGarrette Blount, although rumors out of camp have the position a complete mess.
Washington Redskins – Kirk Cousins has his franchise tag still, and the carousel of years past seems to have ended, although the ground is unsteady under his feet. One bad sack could lead the Redskins down an unfathomable path, left steady with an underrated Colt McCoy. The barrel of a tunnel the Redskins are facing down won’t be overcome with the likes of rookie RB Samaje Perine or finally ready Josh Doctson. Terrelle Pryor moving to wide receiver is a great move, though. It just won’t be enough for contention.
Green Bay Packers – Just like the Steelers, Green Bay has a ridiculous quarterback with an incredible team in front of him. Aaron Rodger is one win away from 100 for his career, and I don’t believe he’ll stop there. Healthy performances from Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery look to have the team trouncing everyone else in the league, especially given the soft schedule ahead of them. I’m particularly interested to see how Martellus Bennett does on his third team in two years – I loved him as a Giant, he struggled as a Bear, then rekindled his career on the Super Bowl winning Patriots last season. He shines when given the opportunity, but he could easily fade in such a potent lineup. My guess is he shines, and gives Rodgers even more weapons than Brady.
Minnesota Vikings – Sam Bradford was a clear win for GM Rick Spielman, who scrambled after losing Teddy Bridgewater to a dislocated knee and torn ACL in the preseason last year. The result (8-8) was enough of a surprise that we can expect potentially great things from his 2017 effort. Even with Bridgewater breathing down his neck during rehab, I bet the team sticks with Bradford for another year, leaving Teddy on the PUP list. It’s a shame more for Bridgewater’s potential than anything, as many expected him to be the explosive star Minnesota needed. Instead we have a steady hand at the helm, one that had his best season (of six total) in purple, throwing for 20 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. If anything, I think they’ll sneak into a wildcard with his hand and on the back of newly drafted running back Dalvin Cook.
Detroit Lions – Now the highest paid player in all of football, John Matthew Stafford has a lot riding on this season. Without Calvin Johnson to throw pigskins at, he managed to edge the unenviable Lions into the playoffs with sturdy performances out of Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Ameer Abudllah returns to the team from injury, joining a tandem with Theo Riddick. So I’m listing these pieces to prove that even with a decent team that slid into the playoffs last year, there’s really only hope that they’ll capture a wildcard given they live in the same division as the Packers, and I believe Bradford to be a more consistent play-caller. Stafford is undoubtedly overpaid, as he swings talent-wise up and down way too much from week to week. There’s a reason Calvin Johnson called them out, preferring retirement to the mire that is Detroit.
Chicago Bears – Then we reach the Bears. With a disaster on all fronts, the Bears seemingly overpaid for the third spot in the draft only to take an unremarkable Mitchell Trubisky, who came out of North Carolina college ball. He’s got to move his way past Mike Glennon, who is unremarkable himself, but once he’s the figurehead in Chicago, he’ll have nothing to throw to. The only player of any worth on this team, this year, is Jordan Howard, the massive running back. If the Bills and Jets hadn’t gone full tank mode, the Bears would have the pleasure of taking first overall in the 2018 draft.
Atlanta Falcons – Losing the Super Bowl will do a lot to you, none of it terribly good. After their downfall in the 1999 big game, the Birds spent three seasons in nihility before finally retuning to the playoffs. While Matt Ryan and company don’t want to do that, they have the luck of retaining much of the same crew that got them to that final showdown. Julio Jones should somehow have an upswing, only because points-wise he was down. Contributions will be seen by everyone, from third-spot wideout Taylor Gabriel to backup runner Tevin Coleman. I expect fireworks each week, and Matt Ryan could even have a career year after his MVP work last season. Despite the Patriots constant topping of predictions, I don’t expect regression from this loser, and I want to see them back in Super Bowl LII.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I wanted to put the Bucs in the number one slot, but Matt Ryan’s squad is just too complete to ignore. This could be the easy heir apparent in the NFC, though. With Jameis Winston ready to step into the limelight just like fellow 2015 no. 2 pick Marcus Mariota up in Tennessee, he finally has the tools to throw and pass to – DeSean Jackson came down from Washington, OJ Howard was drafted to ease into the tight end role beyond Cameron Brate, and Mike Evans will continue topping the charts. Meanwhile the running game will be a solid switch-up when the passing defense gets too tough. If Atlanta weren’t too damn perfect, this would be Tampa’s year.
Carolina Panthers – While I personally am high on Cam Newton (he’s my back-up quarterback) I know that the team assembled around him isn’t up to snuff, at least not as much as his 2015 squad that reached the 50th Super Bowl. Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess are still there…but that doesn’t give much to hope for. Beyond the excitement surrounding 8th overall pick (in 2017) Christian McCaffrey, who will undoubtedly steal the lead run job from Stewart by week 4, there isn’t much to look for this season. And yet….Newton will push to advance past the Saints, desperate to not proceed for another year in the division basement. I’m expecting both teams to be bad, but the Panthers to have a slight advantage due to ineptitude at the wheel in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints – The only thing to look forward to here is the records Drew Brees will continue to break. I just took a glance at the wide receiver corps because I realized I couldn’t name one of them, and their top guy is Ted Ginn, Jr. He abandoned the Carolina sinking ship for an even worse development. Beyond that, there’s three guys I’ve never heard of – Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman, and the ridiculously named Tommylee Lewis – despite the trio being around since 2014 or so. In my exploration, I realized they still have Willie Snead, though he’s suspended for the rough first three weeks (@Minnesota, vNew England, @Carolina). The biggest question for this team is what to do with fallen star Adrian Peterson, who currently sits at number two on the depth chart behind clearly better Mark Ingram. Everyone has said that Ingram is fine with the situation, and they’ll share when necessary, but I just see a powder keg. Ingram’s always had a cool head, but you can always push a man too far.
Seattle Seahawks – There’s been plenty of turnover in the rainy northwestern haven, but the consistency of Russell Wilson will be enough to overcome the difficult Cardinals. I’m typically down on my favorite teams, but I have a feeling because everyone is so high on Arizona this year, they’ll be a little overestimated. Sure, Marshawn Lynch has re-emerged for the Raiders final season in Oakland, leaving fans wondering whether they should be nostalgic and jealous, or buy in to Eddie Lacy as being still viable. Luckily behind Lacy (or ahead if he’s healthy) is Thomas Rawls, the completely able RB that backed Lynch up for a few years. CJ Prosise is also capable, so there isn’t too much to worry about in the end. As for receiving, we’re looking forward to a fully healthy year out of Jimmy Graham, and despite letting Jermaine Kearse go to New York, they’ll have a career year from Doug Baldwin, and of course, Wilson will continue to run the ball himself. I just think this is the most optimistic I’ve been for the team since their Super Bowl year, and that will result in one last huge threat for champions.
Arizona Cardinals – Like I was just saying, Arizona will be a tad overrated. While reports of Carson Palmer’s premature death are exaggerated, he will not be the late-age phenom he was two years ago. The defense will challenge Seattle and Kansas City for best in the league, sure. David Johnson is the highest rated fantasy player for good reason. Despite all these clear qualities, I think Seattle will slip to the top of the division. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re tied, but it’s broken by direct games together. I imagine defense will slip Arizona ahead in tight games, and John Brown is actually one of the underrated gems in the wide receiver corps, a hidden player ready for a big comeback. Honestly, I’m surprised right now that I put them in second, but I just think we’ll all be wrong that they win the division, and it’ll come down to week 17, where the pair of rivals actually play each other on New Year’s Eve.
San Francisco 49ers – That’s right, I have the 49ers in third! This is more about how inept the Rams still are than the 49ers, but there’s also optimism in the Bay area for the first time since Colin Kaepernick was popular. The new coach Kyle Shanahan is coming off the Falcons loss to the Patriots, so he has a chip on his shoulder. He’s in his first year as head coach ever, but despite the inexperience, I think he’ll shine and take a motley crew of invaluables and turn them into gold. Marquise Goodwin has breakout potential for catching bombs from underrated quarterback Brian Hoyer, who’s getting his last best chance to prove himself. I think Pierre Garcon and Carlos Hyde still have memories of being on a talented team, so they’ll love to get back to that standard, pushing the younger members into their best form. Simply put, expect a few surprise victories against teams that aren’t from Seattle and Arizona, and the 49ers might pop into being a .500 team.
Los Angeles Rams – What’s left to say about the Rams? Jared Goff has promise, but promise in the same way Geno Smith once had. With a good team in front of him, he might be able to do something grand. Interesting, then, that they’ve put a few men in front of him that might actually be able to catch. Robert Woods came over from Buffalo in free agency, and then somehow Buffalo decided they’d rather help the Rams than themselves and passed along his teammate Sammy Watkins. The Rams already had Tavon Austin, who is always waiting to break out, and the run game has Todd Gurley, who struggles more than he should. On paper this team looks great, but we have to remember they only managed to string together 4 wins last year. Perhaps the passing game will had a match or two, but as they rise up alongside the 49ers, I think those boys in red and gold will skip ahead on their way back up the pendulum.
And there you have it – 32 predictions for teams that will likely be abysmally wrong, save the Patriots trouncing the entire league. As for the playoffs, I’ll go with:
Vikings upset the Seahawks (there’s my negativity), only to fall flat on their face in Atlanta. Tampa Bay rises up against the Giants, but must deal with the juggernaut Packers. In the NFC Championship, in a rematch from last year, the Falcons are unable to deal with the different weapons at Aaron Rodgers’ disposal, and Green Bay returns to the Super Bowl.
The Titans return to the postseason by immediately facing off against the defense-minded Chiefs. Lucky for them, Mariota knows a thing or two about escaping difficult situations. Oakland will enjoy its final postseason in California by knocking out the equally defensive Texans, who sputter under Tom Savage. The Steelers will discover that Roethlisberger can’t go on forever as his body breaks down in the final game, against those dominant Raiders. Meanwhile, the inimitable Patriots handily oust the Titans. With the only remaining challenge in the Oakland Raiders, Tom Brady underestimates his opponent and whiffs on several important plays.
This sets up a showdown in Minneapolis of Oakland Raiders vs. Green Bay Packers. Interestingly enough, I chose the Packers to make it last year against the Bengals, losing in a tight race. I think Aaron Rodgers wants to prove he can make it to the double ring club, and with a slick run through the postseason, he’ll be able to manage it. My guess is Green Bay for champions this season.
Of course, the last two years I chose Arizona over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati over Green Bay, so hold these with a grain of salt. I’m not the best at being right.