COM0011 – Blog #4 – Christmas in September

As a NFL fan, Christmas is almost here. The preseason is over, the fourth and final game of that section of the season mercifully put to rest. Roster cut downs have come and gone and while every team is down to 53 players on their roster, most will still make a few changes before the season officially starts.

But for the players, the coaches, the teams and the fans, it’s countdown time. Thursday marks the official start of the season as the Panthers visit the Broncos. Then it’s prime time on Sunday when 26 more teams start their journey. Monday features the last two games of the opening week and suddenly there are only 16 weeks left to go.

2016/17 NFL Predictions

AFC East

  • New England Patriots – No Brady, no problem. Even if they only win one or two out of the first four, this is still a double digit win team in a bad division. Brady will come back looking to make a point and I’d be stunned if this team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs. 11 wins
  • Miami Dolphins – Maybe the last chance for Tannehill to prove he can be more than an average quarterback at the NFL level. Gase comes in as a reputed quarterback whisperer and will need to work some magic. Foster and Ajayi should give them a solid run game and their receiving core is deep. They boast one of the most talented defensive fronts in the league, they just need them to play like it. I’ve got Miami making a 3-4 win jump this year and leap frogging the Jets and Bills. 9 wins
  • New York Jets – Getting Fitzpatrick back and adding Matt Forte helps, but as solid as this team is at most positions, I have a hard time believing in them. Most of their top end talent is on the wrong side of 30 and depth across the board isn’t a strength. A two or three game step back this year drops them to third in the division. 7 wins
  • Buffalo Bills – I want to like this team. A dual threat quarterback recently signed to an extension, a former All-Pro RB and an ascending top WR lead the way on offense. The defense is solid if unspectacular but I still can’t get excited for them. I hope they prove me wrong but I have a hard time seeing them repeat the .500 record they had last year. 6 wins

AFC North

  • Pittsburgh Steelers – They start the season down one of the top RB in the league and will be short an electric WR all season, but they’ve proven in the past that they can overcome those hurdles. If Roethlisberger can stay healthy, this is a double digit win team and the division comes down to who comes out on top in the season series vs the Bengals. 11 wins
  • Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton is back, but it’s looking less and less likely that Tyler Eifert will make much of an impact in the first half of the season. Short one of their main weapons on offense, it’ll fall to the two headed rushing attack and the phenomenal talent of AJ Green to carry the load. The big question on defense is how many times Burfict and Adam Jones will cost the team with penalties and in a race as close as this division will be, wild cards like that could cost them the division. 10 wins
  • Baltimore Ravens – An aging team trying to make a run before their window shuts, they’ve got a lot of once elite talent with a lot of pride. Unfortunately for them they’re in a division that will punch them back harder than they can dish out at this point and what was once a physicality advantage for them has slowly eroded away. 6 wins
  • Cleveland Browns – The rebuild is fully underway and while there is a lot of young talent, they’re two to three years away from being able to put it together consistently enough to threaten for a playoff spot. 4 wins

AFC South

  • Houston Texans – Watt is back, Osweiler looked like a legitimate NFL quarterback in the preseason and Clowney isn’t on injured reserve. This may be the best the Texans look all season, but if, and it’s a big IF, they can stay healthy, they have the best roster in the division. A nine win team last year, they improve by a win or two this year to take the division. 10 wins
  • Jacksonville Jaguars – A five win team last year, the Jaguars get a huge talent infusion this year with their rookie group as well as their first rounder from last year after Fowler missed the season due to injury. The passing game likely regresses due to being in closer games more often, but the balance they’ll have on offense along with a much improved defense makes them the most improved team in the league this season. 9 wins
  • Indianapolis Colts – Luck rebounds this year but while they may have one of the top air attacks in the league this year, the lack of offensive line talent and, at best, league average defense means a lot of frustration in Indy this year. 8 wins
  • Tennessee Titans – A culture change has started in Tennessee and their is reason to be optimistic. Mariota looks like he has a bright future ahead and there are some nice youthful pieces on offense with him like Derrick Henry and late round steal Tajae Sharpe. The Titans will look to rely on an aggressive ground game to limit the number of plays each game, keep things close and to keep their defense fresh. There will be growing pains but they’re poised to make strides this year and reveal what pieces they’ll need to add next offseason to put them into playoff contention. 6 wins

AFC West

  • Denver Broncos – Odd to see the defending Super Bowl champions having a quarterback tryout process, but as concerning as that may be for Bronco fans, almost any option is likely going to out play what the ghost of Peyton Manning gave them last year. Siemian starts the year under center, but if he doesn’t excel, it’ll likely be rookie Paxton Lynch ending the season there. The Broncos are set up about as well as possible to bring in a less experienced QB. A dominant defense, plenty of talent at the skill positions and, well, it sounds a lot like how Russell Wilson broke into the league. They’ll rely on the running game to open up the passing game and for the defense to dominate and while I think Oakland challenges this year, the Broncos still take the division. 11 wins
  • Oakland Raiders – Plenty of young talent spear heading the offensive charge here. Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray give them a great group to build around. They also have a great complimentary group on the offensive side of the ball with Crabtree and Walford while also featuring one of the best offensive lines in the league. Defensively, there will be a lot of wow plays as Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin will create nightmares for opposing offensive lines. The defense still needs a few pieces to be reliable enough, game in and game out to stop other top offenses from out scoring the Raiders, but they’re getting very, very close. 10 wins
  • Kansas City Chiefs – An 11 win team last year that relied on consistency, I see them being surpassed by the Raiders this year and regressing to being an eight to nine win team. A lot of people kept expecting them to do this last year as well so I may be falling prey to the flash and upside of the Raiders youth, but the health of Jamaal Charles, the hold out of Eric Berry and their seeming lack of commitment to featuring Kelce ends up seeing them fall back this year. 9 wins
  • San Diego Chargers – Mildly improved from last year, but still far and away the worst team in this division. Adding an aging run stuffer in Brandon Mebane will help, but the inexplicable handling of rookie Joey Bosa’s contract situation has him entering the season well behind the learning curve, a huge blow given how much they had to have hoped he’d help the defense. Rivers is nearing the twilight of his career and while some of the younger talent on offense looks to take the next step, they’ll need to get their QB of the future soon or they may find themselves a ship without a captain sooner than later. 5 wins

NFC East

  • Washington – Washington continues to improve under the roster building acumen of Scot McCloughan. A productive offseason still likely comes down to whether or not Kirk Cousins is the answer at QB. If he is, they emerge as a threat to make a deep run into the post season. If not, they still might be good enough to win this division. 10 wins
  • Dallas Cowboys – The loss of Tony Romo wasn’t so much a matter of if but when. Now the question is, does he come back this year, and if so, how long does he last? Odds are that the Cowboys are going to find out if Prescott can be the answer and he’ll have every offensive advantage he could hope for. The best offensive line in the league, a top five WR in Dez Bryant and the odds on favorite for offensive rookie of the year in Ezekiel Elliott. It’ll be interesting to see how they adjust their offensive for the rookie signal caller as they made sure to heavily favor play action and rollouts during his preseason time, but now that opposing teams will be game planning and designing looks to confuse the rookie, they’ll need their offensive line to be all world early on. Defensively, well, they’re really hoping that their offense will be very productive this year. Lucky for them they might be in the worst division in the league this year. 7 wins
  • Philadelphia Eagles – Gone is Chip Kelly and his up tempo offense. Gone too is just about every player that Chip Kelly brought in during his brief tenure as GM. So new coach, a returning GM, a new QB after trading their thought to be starter a week before the season starts and nothing but questions in Philly. The offense has loads of talent at the skill positions but question marks on the offensive line. The rookie QB will hopefully grow as the season does and if the offense can be even league average, it may not take all that long for the Eagles to reload and become a threat in the division again. 7 wins
  • New York Giants – Featuring arguably the best player in the division and maybe the best WR in the game at this point, the Giants don’t have a lot else going for them. A six win team last year with an uninspiring offseason, they fall to the bottom spot in the division this year. 5 wins

NFC North

  • Green Bay Packers – Rodgers had an off year last year, or at least that’s what Packer fans hope it was. Overall the offense is a lot healthier than last year and Eddie Lacy seems to be closer to where he was two years ago which would be a big step ahead of where he was last year. The late preseason cutting of Josh Sitton raises some questions, but this should be your division winner with the injury to Bridgewater. 11 wins
  • Detroit Lions – A few days ago I would have had them third in the division, but the injury to the Vikings starting QB flips the script a bit. The Lions lost their superstar this offseason but appear ready to replace his production through depth rather than through one individual. Golden Tate has a chance to emerge and establish himself as a legitimate WR1 in a volume passing attack. SPARQ monster Ameer Abdullah will see a lot of action out of the backfield if he can stay healthy and his ability as a pass catching back could be a big weapon for the Lions this year. The addition of Haloti Ngata on defense may be the anchor they need, but the defense probably still ends up being the difference between them being a playoff contender or not. 8 wins
  • Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater seemed poised to take a big step forward this year, then suffered likely the most tragic injury of the preseason. Sending a first and a conditional fourth to the Eagles for the oft injured Sam Bradford was likely an act of desperation, but with Adrian Peterson nearing his twilight, they know their time has to be now. Unfortunately, as solid as the defense is and as well as they’ve build their WR group, by the time Bradford is up to speed, it may very well be too late, and that’s assuming he doesn’t get hurt, again. 7 wins
  • Chicago Bears – They got an unexpected gift when the division rival Packers cut Josh Sitton. However, even with an extra All-Pro added to their roster, the Bears are too mercurial to threaten. They may have as much physical talent as any other team in the league on offense, but they have yet to show that they can put it together consistently, especially at the QB position. Their defense has taken hits the last few seasons as aging stars haven’t been adequately replaced. 5 wins

NFC South

  • Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan is poised for a big bounce back year and the Falcons feature one of the most talented offenses in the entire league. Devonta Freeman exploded onto the scene last year and it’ll be tough for opposing teams to focus too much on him so long as Julio Jones is healthy. A sneaky weapon added in is rookie TE Austin Hooper who could be a red zone dynamo for the Falcons. Defensively they look to take a step forward as their young talent, led by Desmond Trufant, have another year of experience together. 11 wins
  • Carolina Panthers – Biggest regression on the list but still a likely playoff team, the Panthers really had nowhere to go but down after winning 15 last year. Losing one of their best defensive players in free agency allowed them to keep their front seven in tact, but the drop off at corner will be an issue. Offensively this team goes as Cam does and while he can carry a team like few others, it’s hard to imagine that things will fall nearly as well for them this year as they did last year, especially with the rest of the division improving around them. 10 wins
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A six win team last year, they take a step forward this year as Winston continues to learn his craft. An excellent offense across the board, they get that much more dangerous as Winston gets more and more comfortable at the NFL level. Defensively they should be able to shave a few points off their average from last year to give them about an overall four point swing per game that should mean a couple more wins. 8 wins
  • New Orleans Saints – Still led by Drew Brees and always a threat to beat you through the air thanks to the draft (Michael Thomas) and free agency (Colby Fleener), the Saints have improved the reliability of their running game. That said, until they can prove that they aren’t where defensive stars go to die, it’s hard to rely on a 37 year old quarterback to be the difference week in and week out. 5 wins

NFC West

  • Seattle Seahawks – They’ve featured some interesting story lines the last few years. First it was the supposed Super Bowl hangover, the drama with Percy Harvin, not giving it to Lynch in their Super Bowl loss against the Patriots, then Marshawn Lynch’s swan song last year. This year it’s getting Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham back from injury. Going into the season, Rawls appears to be ready and while the jury is out on Graham, this looks to be the strongest roster the Seahawks have had since their first Super Bowl win. Their core remains in tact and age wise, should be in their prime. They have to prove it on the field, but with young talent like Tyler Lockett and Jeremy Lane emerging to provide quality players at former spots of weakness, they could be in for a big year. 12 wins
  • Arizona Cardinals – It’ll be a brawl between the Seahawks and Cardinals this year, not just to win the NFC West, but to lay claim to being one of the best teams in the league. The Cards need Palmer to stay healthy, for David Johnson to live up to the hype and for their defense, especially Tyrann Mathieu to stay on the field all season. 10 wins
  • Los Angeles Rams – Moving into their new home, the Rams will shelter their QB of the future for at least the start of the season. They’ll continue to make life hard for their NFC West rivals but until they can learn to win outside the division, they won’t challenge for a playoff spot. Whether Goff sees extensive action or not this season, they’ll be lucky to match their record of last season. 5 wins
  • San Francisco 49ers – Maybe the worst roster in the league at this point, they’ll have a tough time grinding out the season. Vance McDonald will look to use this season to emerge as a legitimate starter at tight end and the Niners are hoping that Hyde can stay healthy. If not, it will be a LONG season for the defense. The defense still has talent but is dealing with almost continual controversy with the different legal issues that face the group. This is a team that needs to stay really healthy just to approach five wins and given the injury rates year in and year out, the odds of staying healthy just aren’t all that high. 3 wins

AFC Seeding: Patriots, Steelers, Broncos, Texans, Bengals, Raiders

NFC Seeding: Seahawks, Packers, Falcons, Washington, Panthers, Cardinals

AFC Championship: Patriots over Steelers

NFC Championship: Seahawks over Packers

Super Bowl: Seahawks over Patriots

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