The season began with a bang on Thursday night. The Chiefs stunned the Patriots and America in the second half en route to a 42-27 win. There will surely be overreactions to that game, but the Chiefs certainly are for real. Also, the Pats dynasty isn’t over. They will be around until the end.
On a more important note, welcome back to football. We are in store for another special season. Without further ado, let’s get into my predictions for 2017.
Analysis: The Patriots lost to the Chiefs on Thursday, but it isn’t downhill from there. Sure, the Patriots might not be as good as last season, but the defense will come along later in the season. Bill Belichick will keep this team on course. Plus, the offense is still very good. The Dolphins are playoff hopefuls after signing Jay Cutler. Jay Ajayi is poised for another big year, and Devante Parker is ready to be a breakout player on offense. However, a 16-game-in-a-row schedule will doom them. The Bills are not a playoff team this year after trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. They do have six picks in the first three rounds next year, so watch for them to add lots of young talent. The Jets are in an even worse spot than the Bills, especially when you talk about the quarterback situation. However, watch Leonard Williams and the rookie safeties this year. It’s a good indication on how their defense will be going forward. Still, they are the clear favorites for the number one overall pick.
Analysis: Last year, I picked the Jaguars to win the division. That is not happening this season. The Titans have improved on the offensive side of the ball, and Marcus Mariota is rising as a quarterback. He still hasn’t thrown a red zone pick in his career. They’ll continue employing exotic smash mouth, and that will carry them to a division title. The Texans will hang around all year, and their defense is among the best in the league. However, I am worried about the quarterback position. Tom Savage is not their guy, and who knows if Watson is ready. The offense holds them back in this case, and they sit on the outside looking in. The Colts will start poorly without Andrew Luck, but don’t be surprised if the Colts pick up some wins in the second half and play spoiler. The defense is young, and Malik Hooker is one to watch this season. They aren’t a playoff team yet. As far as the Jags go, they won’t go far with Blake Bortles at the helm. Trading for Tyrod Taylor or signing Kaepernick should be the move. There are weapons all around on offense in Allen Robinson and Leonard Fournette. The defense also is better, and they have one of the top young corner duos in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. This team should be better, but they haven’t found the coach or the quarterback.
Analysis: The Steelers are a big challenger for the Patriots this season. That offense is the best in football. Le’Veon Bell is a top back in the league for starters. The receiving core gets Martavis Bryant back in the mix. He joins Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Eli Rogers. The defense should only improve with more young guys joining the roster. I expect big things from rookie TJ Watt and second year lineman Javon Hargrave. The Bengals are an underrated team to watch this year, and they’ll be dangerous when Joe Mixon and John Ross both get on the field. AJ Green will be dominant again this season. The question lies in the trenches. Losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Heitler hurts on offense, and they need help pressuring the quarterback on defense. The Ravens will always play defense under this management, but the offense has taken a hit in recent years. Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace are aging, and losing Kenneth Dixon affects the running game. They will struggle this year. Picking five wins for the Browns is a big deal, but the schedule presents opportunity. The front seven will be strong, and they should be able to run the ball effectively behind the offensive line. Don’t be shocked from this group.
Analysis: The Chiefs showed who they were on Thursday. This is a team that isn’t going anywhere. The defensive front is scary, and Kareem Hunt showed he is an every down back. Will he dominate like that again? Possibly. But we saw a new Alex Smith on Thursday, and his weapons stood tall in Foxborough. Losing Eric Berry seriously hurts their Super Bowl chances though. The Raiders still have a good offense, but their defense could struggle this season. The secondary is still young, and they really don’t have difference makers at linebacker. They may rely on the offense to win a bunch of shootouts. Don’t sleep on the Chargers this season. Even though they lost their second round pick Forrest Lamp, this team is ready. The defense starts with a great pass rushing duo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They have a solid young group at linebacker, and the secondary is better. Desmond King is a dark horse for rookie of the year. Philip Rivers has his weapons back, and he should get first round pick Mike Williams back in October. The Broncos have an excellent defense. Justin Simmons should replace TJ Ward and play well, and they still have the best corner duo in football. The problem arises on offense. They got by early last year, but Trevor Siemian is not leading them to a playoff berth. They need a signal caller who can impact the game more.
AFC Playoff Teams
Analysis: A lot of people see the Giants taking a step back this season. I don’t see that. The defense is still the best in the division. Their front loses nothing after the departure of Jonathan Hankins. Rookie Dalvin Tomlinson will fill that role just fine. The secondary is excellent with Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins. The offense is the concern. It’s not about the receiving core, which is a deeper group this time around. It comes down to the play of Eli Manning. The Cowboys are building to the future. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will be fine this year. The issue resides on defense. There isn’t enough up front. Rookie Taco Charlton will get there, but there isn’t too much to help him. The secondary is really young. Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis could both start, and Anthony Brown is also young. Teams will pick on that all year. The Cowboys take a step back to make strides forward next season. The Eagles are on the rise and aren’t going anywhere. Carson Wentz has weapons this year, and a good offensive line to boot. I expect a better year from Wentz. Also, the defense has a stout front. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares. They, like Dallas, are building for the future. Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones will be a nice duo down the road. The Redskins are in disarray, especially on defense. They have gaping holes in the secondary and along the line. Also, it hurts to lose both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in a single offseason. Watch for Cousins to be on the way out if it’s not a playoff season.
Analysis: I hesitate to pick the Falcons, because the Super Bowl loss could be too much. But this roster is very good. The defense only figures to get better, especially with the return of Desmond Trufant. Vic Beasley finally has a partner in crime off the edge. Plus, the offense didn’t lose anybody big either. They have a deadly running back duo, and the best receiver in football. The Saints will shock everyone this season. Drew Brees always does work, and his receiving group is solid this year. Plus, they have three running backs capable of doing damage. The defense isn’t great, but Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams make the secondary interesting. Here comes the biggie. The Buccaneers missing the playoffs is a shocker to many. First off, they now play 16 straight games without a bye. Second, their schedule is very tough. I worry about the four game stretch of Minnesota, the Giants, the Patriots, and Arizona. They finish with a bunch of tough division games along with the Packers. The offense will be better under Winston, that is a guarantee. However, the defense is young and has some holes. I worry about a team that could wear down late in the year. They’ll be a game or two away from the postseason. The Panthers need work in areas that I’m not comfortable looking past. The offensive tackle spot needs work, and this division has threats off the edge. Cam Newton still needs weapons who can separate. Christian McCaffrey should have a solid year, but they need more help. Plus, the secondary is a bit unproven. You see I have them at 7-9. That’s still a competitive group.
Analysis: The Packers are still the class of the division, even if by a smaller margin. Aaron Rodgers is the best in the game, and their offense will be so diverse and matchup-driven this year. The versatility at tight end and running back is something to watch. Defensively, the secondary might cost them some games, but the front keeps improving. Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry are two names to watch in year two, and rookie Montravius Adams could be a force when he returns. Ahmad Brooks should help on the edge, and Matthews could shift to an underwhelming linebacker position. The Vikings have the defense in place to make a deep run. Dalvin Cook is my rookie of the year pick on offense, even with the suspect line. They can do so much with him in the backfield. Bradford has played well in this system, and the receivers are getting better. The defense is lights out. From the front to the linebackers to the secondary, there aren’t holes. Watch out for them as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. The Lions are missing players in key spots. Rookie Teez Tabor has pressure on him at corner, and the front may not generate a ton of pressure. Jarrad Davis is a heck of a player though. Matt Stafford earned his contract, but they still aren’t multi-dimensional on offense. The Bears are still building their team. The front seven is their strength, but they could have the worst pass defense in the league this year. They have an awful start schedule wise, and Mitchell Trubisky could play this year.
Analysis: The Seahawks got better with the addition of Sheldon Richardson. An already improving front got even better. They will wreak havoc on defense. The one hole they have is opposite Richard Sherman. The only thing holding this team back is the offensive line. But, they have a deep group at running back that can make plays out of the backfield. Russell Wilson is a very good quarterback, and he will make an MVP case this season. The Cardinals are the rebound shocker this season. They just miss out on the postseason in my projections, but they could make it. The defense is vastly improved with Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are a nice edge duo. The pressure comes on offense. David Johnson can’t do it all himself, so Carson Palmer needs to have a better season. The Rams could contend with teams this year, but there is growth to be made. Jared Goff can only go up, and he has more weapons this season. The offensive line is the big question mark. If they don’t hold up, it could be a really long season. The Niners need a quarterback to make hay in the division, but their defense is strong up front. Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas will play well this season. Look for lots of rookies to show out on this team.
NFC Playoff Teams
MVP – Aaron Rodgers
Offensive Player Of The Year – Le’Veon Bell
Defensive Player Of The Year – Joey Bosa
Coach Of The Year – Bill Belichick
Comeback Player Of The Year – JJ Watt
Offensive Rookie Of The Year – Dalvin Cook
Defensive Rookie Of The Year – Reuben Foster
Wild Card Weekend
Chiefs over Chargers
Titans over Raiders
Packers over Saints
Vikings over Falcons
Giants over Vikings
Seahawks over Packers
Steelers over Chiefs
Patriots over Titans
Seahawks over Giants
Steelers over Patriots
Seahawks over Steelers
Quick Thoughts: The Seahawks and Steelers each have a dominant side of the ball, and if the other sides pick it up, they will make the Super Bowl runs. Seattle is battle tested for the Super Bowl, and they will hold off the stellar Pittsburgh offense.
I can’t wait to make a bunch of mistakes on these this year. But, who cares, football is back so let’s enjoy it!
Jake Schyvinck covers everything football for The Sports Guys. Disagree with him on these picks? Find him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 to yell at him and fire away on why he’s wrong.