The NFL season is finally upon us! The world champion Patriots set to defend their title tomorrow night against the Chiefs to open up another (hopefully) wonderful year. My preview blog is by far my favorite to write, but it is also the toughest. You can look back no further than last year when the two teams I picked to meet in the Superbowl combined for 13-19-1 record….not my best stuff. With more research and less bias, this year’s will be better! I promise!
$: First Round Bye
*: Wild Card
- New England Patriots 14-2$
- Miami Dolphins 8-8
- Buffalo Bills 6-10
- New York Jets 1-15
To everyone’s surprise, the Patriots will take home their 14th division title since realignment in 2002, and 14th straight when Tom Brady plays more than 11 games. It is an incredible run, one we probably won’t ever see again. The only question regarding this year’s club is whether or not they can produce the second 16-0 regular season in NFL history. They make it to week 11 unbeaten, but then fall to the Oakland Raiders in a tight game on the west coast. Miami’s progress with Ryan Tannehill was thrown for a loop when he suffered a knee injury in training camp, which caused Jay Cutler to come out of the broadcast booth before he even got started. I don’t think it moves the needle either way, but they lose a few of the close games that they won a year ago. The Bills clearly are building for life in the AFC East post-Brady by trading some of their best players (Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby) for draft picks. Their run game, anchored by a strong offensive line, will get them some wins, but not nearly enough to be in contention. Coming in last will be the New York Jets. There is no discussion here. The offense will be one of the worst in NFL history without any weapons outside of Bilal Powell. A post bye-week home game against the Panthers is their only win.
- Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4$
- Cincinnati Bengals 9-7*
- Baltimore Ravens 6-10
- Cleveland Browns 4-12
Three of the four teams will improve records based on what the teams have done in the off-season or the unfortunate luck from a year ago. The Steelers have the best team on paper. They have all of their weapons on offense, with the expectation that Martavis Bryant will be cleared, and the defense continues to improve. If Roethlisberger can play at least ¾ of the regular season, they will slowly pull away from the rest of the division as the year goes on. A year ago, the Bengals lost key players to injury and many close games. The following year, teams will usually get the better side of that luck. The defense got younger and faster, as did the offense. If the offensive line play can be average, the win total could jump a few. If training camp and the preseason is any indication, it is going to be an injury-plagued season for the Ravens. They have already lost 10 players for the season, and Joe Flacco just started practicing last week. Look for them to have a similar year to the Bengals a year ago, where many games fail to get into the 20s. The Browns may have improved more than any other team in the division. While that still won’t get them out of the basement, the improvement will show. Myles Garrett has the look of a future star, and the offense will be helped by an improved offensive line. Cleveland football finally has something to look forward to, even if it isn’t more than 4 or 5 wins.
- Tennessee Titans 9-7
- Houston Texans 7-9
- Indianapolis Colts 6-10
- Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11
For the third straight year, the AFC South winner is going to fail to get to double digit wins. While the Titans continue to build their roster and improve, the rest of the division has glaring holes at multiple spots. Once again, Tennessee will rely on the run game. They improved their aerial attack with the acquisitions of Corey Davis (draft) and Eric Decker (FA), but it DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry will still be the focal points. The offense will help out the defense by controlling the ball, but there are still issues over there. Houston is going to have a great defense, no bones about it, but a tough stretch to start the season will do them in. Tom Savage cannot win games without a lot of help, which will lead to the QB switch to Deshaun Watson sooner rather than later. Watson will show promise, but the Texans will fall short of a third straight division title. With Andrew Luck healthy, he can lead the team to more than 6 games, but he isn’t. Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett are not viable options at the league’s most important position. During the heart of the offseason, Jacksonville was once again a team on the rise. Then came training camp and people were reminded that Blake Bortles is not a good NFL quarterback. The defense will keep them in games, but the lack of QB play and a reliable offensive line will keep them picking in the top five.
- Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
- Oakland Raiders 10-6*
- Los Angeles Chargers 8-8
- Denver Broncos 8-8
Top to bottom, the best division in football. This is the only division where each of the four teams could win it (sorry NFC East). The most balanced of the bunch, the Kansas City Chiefs, will be the ones that come out on top for a second consecutive season. A ball-controlling offense and a legitimate top five defense are the reasons that Kansas City will be the best team. Alex Smith has shown in the past that he is good enough to win games in the regular season. The Raiders will naturally take a step back from last year’s 12 win season. What once looked like a potential title contender, the injury to Derek Carr ended those hopes. To me, they are identical to the Bengals of 2015 and then 2016. Contenders before a quarterbacks injury, and then a step back. The high-powered offense will keep them in contention in the division, but not much else because of the porous secondary. In year one in LA, the Chargers just need to stay healthy. Philip Rivers and company have been derailed by poor o-line play and injuries to playmakers. The injury bug doesn’t bite, but the offensive line issues hold the Chargers back to .500. Denver is the only team in the division that I believe got significantly worse, even though the Chiefs and Chargers records do. They did nothing to add weapons on offense, or a QB, and got another year older on the defensive side. The defense is still elite, but they won’t be able to win enough games by themselves to get them back to the playoffs.
- New York Giants 11-5$
- Dallas Cowboys 10-6*
- Philadelphia Eagles 7-9
- Washington Redskins 7-9
There has not been a repeat division champion since the Eagles won the first three after realignment. The cycle continues as the Giants overtake the Cowboys at the top of the pack. New York has Dallas’ number, and their defense should be even better this season than it was in ‘16. While the defense will take home a top-five effort, the offense will be opened up for Odell Beckham with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. If they can get a decent run game from Paul Perkins, this team could win 12 or 13. A big part of the Cowboys season relies on Ezekiel Elliott. As of right now, he is still suspended six games. If that is the case, the schedule at the beginning will not be kind. The offensive line will still be elite, but their ball control style offense will not be nearly as effective. On the other side of the ball, there are holes aplenty. Carson Wentz should make a big jump from year one to two, especially with Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith coming to town, but the run game will be subpar, which will lead to their demise. The Eagles just feel like a .500 club, but a tough schedule drops them below that bar. Washington is going to get a great year from Kirk Cousins. He is playing for the biggest contract in NFL history, as he is slated to become the first quarterback, since the big TV deal, to enter free agency in the prime of his career. Their tough schedule and lack on a consistent defense will cause them to struggle and have fans wondering if Jay Gruden should stick around.
- Green Bay Packers 13-3$
- Minnesota Vikings 9-7
- Detroit Lions 8-8
- Chicago Bears 4-12
This is the Aaron Rodgers division and no one is taking it from him. With four the first five against potential playoff teams, a fast start could lead to a historic season. Rodgers new weapon in Martellus Bennett should open the field up even more, as well as an improved run game with Eddie Lacy and James Starks out and Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams in. The Vikings are a mystery to me. They have an elite up and coming defense with young weapons all over the offense. Sam Bradford is a game manager and the offensive line may be the worst in football with five new starters. This leads to a 9-7 year with a shot at the playoffs in the waning games of the season. I am of the belief that the Stafford contract was needed. You can criticize him for not taking the Brady model of taking less, but he plays a violent sport where one play can end it all. Everyone doesn’t have a supermodel wife that makes more than you. The Lions will be in every game, but after things fell their way last year, they won’t this season. Chicago brings up the rear again, but not without some sign of improvement. No matter who is at quarterback, they are going to struggle. Unless Kevin White shows his top ten talent, there are no weapons in the passing game. Jordan Howard is going to consistently face 8 man boxes, but there are winnable games on the schedule.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
- Atlanta Falcons 10-6*
- Carolina Panthers 8-8
- New Orleans Saints 6-10
I am all aboard the Tampa Bay hype train, specifically Jameis Winston. With all the young quarterback talent in the league, I believe Winston is the only one that can enter the upper echelon at the position. He has all of the tools (strength, precision, intelligence, mobility). He just has to put it all together and learn how to limit some mistakes. He will never be an Aaron Rodgers, as he plays more like Brett Favre. With the gunslinger mentality, a division title is sitting there waiting for him. Naturally, there is a Superbowl hangover for the loser the previous season. This should be magnified by the way the Falcons lost the game. Blowing a 25-point lead to bad at any time, but in Superbowl and in the final 18 minutes is heartbreaking. Expect a slow start without Kyle Shanahan, but a trip back to the playoffs should be expected. No team took a bigger step back a year ago than the Carolina Panthers, who lost 9 more games than they did the year before (cough, cough Super Bowl hangover). The team will bounce back, but Cam Newton’s health and the secondary are still huge concerns. The Saints can’t seem to get that defense fixed. While it should be better, it’s improvements won’t move the needle much, especially with the offense losing Brandin Cooks.
- Seattle Seahawks 10-6
- Arizona Cardinals 9-7
- Los Angeles Rams 6-10
- San Francisco 49ers 5-11
Seattle is still the class of the division and a legitimate NFC champion contender. The defense is elite and the offense, with a healthy Russell Wilson, should be much improved from a year ago. When Wilson is able to utilize his mobility, the offense is at its best. In a crowded NFC, the Seahawks may have to play on the opening weekend of the playoffs, but this team is built for January. The Cardinals took a big step back in 2016, largely due to the health and play of Carson Palmer. David Johnson will look to set records and the offense will be good enough to win a lot of games. But, they play in a hard-nosed competitive division which will leave them on the outside looking in. I expect Jared Goff to take a huge step forward in year two. I just don’t know how many more wins can be expected. While weapons are available by becoming the Buffalo Bills West (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods), and the offensive line is improved, there are still learning curves to go through. That being said, if I had to pick one team that I have predicted a losing record to make the playoffs and surprise everyone, it’s the Rams. The 49ers are going look way better on the field this season. They will be prepared and ready to go each and every week. Kyle Shanahan is a budding star as a coach, and will have this team on the right side of the scoreboard more times than the talent suggests. 5 wins would be a huge momentum boost heading into an off-season where Kirk Cousins may be available.
Wild-Card Playoff Round
#6 Dallas Cowboys @ #3 Seattle Seahawks
The Cowboys have the recipe to beat the Seahawks. They can control the ball with a dominant offensive line and a superstar running back. But the Seahawks excel in January. They can make games ugly, and have the quarterback who has had success in the playoffs. This Seahawks offense makes plays to win survive and advance. Seattle 31-23.
#5 Atlanta Falcons @ #4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the third time in seven weeks, the Falcons and Bucs matchup, with the home team winning the first two. Many times in the playoffs, the team with past experience has the advantage, and even though the Falcons are on the road, they have that advantage. Matt Ryan has won in the bright lights, and the Buccaneers are still a year away. Falcons 28-20.
#6 Cincinnati Bengals @ #3 Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone knows. 0-7 under Marvin. 5 straight losses from ‘11-’15. Zero playoff wins since ‘91. Now, back in the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, the Bengals have to travel to the one of the toughest places to play, Arrowhead Stadium. But, 27 years to the day of their last playoff win, Marvin Lewis breaks through. Andy Dalton steps up. Vontaze Burfict becomes a hero, that was taken away in the blink of an eye two years prior. This becomes the final straw for Alex Smith. Welcome to the Pat Mahomes Era. Bengals 24-20.
#5 Oakland Raiders @ #4 Tennessee Titans
Two teams on the rise! Even though the Raiders took a step back in record, they are young and improving with each season. As for Tennessee, this is only the beginning of what could be an impressive stay near the top of the conference. The difference in the game is going to be the defenses. The Titans will be able to control the ball with their run game and keep Oakland’s offense off the field. A late touchdown Raider touchdown makes a close, but Mariota gets his first playoff win. Titans 21-18.
Divisional Playoff Round
#5 Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Green Bay Packers
A rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game comes a week earlier this time around and it won’t be the only thing different. In an offensive showdown between two great offenses, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will go back and forth all game long. The difference in the game will come down to the turnover battle, and no one turns it over less at the quarterback position than A-Rod. For the fourth time in the last eight years, the Green Bay Packers head to the NFC Championship game. Packers 34-31.
#3 Seattle Seahawks @ #2 New York Giants
The Giants will have all sorts of momentum heading into the playoffs winning three of their last four, but the bye week always seems to hurt one of those teams. This year, it’s the Giants. Pete Carroll will have that defense ready to go with constant pressure on Eli, something he does not handle well at all. Odell Beckham fails to come up big for the second straight year, and once again, the Giants are one and done. Seahawks 24-14.
#6 Cincinnati Bengals @ #1 New England Patriots
The Bengals postseason break through doesn’t last long as they run into the machine that is Brady and Belichick. In the quest for back to back titles, New England has little issue with Cincinnati in a dominating effort from the GOAT. While Dalton doesn’t crumble like year’s past, they just don’t have the talent to keep up. Patriots 34-17.
#4 Tennessee Titans @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers
Much like the Bengals, the Titans are playing in uncharted territory against a team familiar with its surroundings. While the TItans best defense is their running game, they won’t have the success that they were able to have against the Raiders the previous week. The Steelers front seven will present more problems and when they get the ball, they should have little trouble scoring. Steelers 31-19.
Conference Championship Week
#3 Seattle Seahawks @ #1 Green Bay Packers
Three years ago, these teams played one of the most exciting NFC Championship in history as the Seahawks came back from a 16-0 halftime deficit and down 12 with under three minutes to go to force overtime and head to their 2nd straight Super Bowl. The two teams meet again, but the Packers hold the home-field advantage this time around. This makes all of the difference, as Rodgers has one of the best games of the year besting the vaunted Seattle defense with a touchdown in the waning moments. Packers 28-27.
#2 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #1 New England Patriots
The two kings of the AFC meet for a trip to the Super Bowl for the second straight season as the Brady goes for number six while Big Ben tries to get his chance at a third title. While both players excel in the biggest moments, Roethlisberger has struggled mightily on the road lately. Unfortunately for the Steelers, this happens in their biggest game of the year. Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have their best game together as they each pick of Roethlisberger as the Pats earn the right to go back-to-back. Patriots 31-28.
New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers
It’s rare to have the two best quarterbacks in the NFL facing off in the Super Bowl. We never got to see Brady-Manning since they both played their entire career in the AFC. In SB LII, we get lucky enough to see Brady-Rodgers. Just like last year, we get an offensive showdown in the league’s biggest game. The Patriots find themselves down in the 2nd half, but the comeback ensues. What was an 35-17 deficit with 13 minutes to go is cut down to 5 after back to back Brady touchdown passes. A missed two point conversion followed by a failed onside kick ends the the quest for a sixth title. Rodgers gets ring number two and another Superbowl MVP. Packers 35-30.
MVP: Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
OPOY: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
DPOY: Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
OROY: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
DROY: Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets
COTY: Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans