NFL Season Preview

Another wonderful NFL season is upon us, and this weekend feels like the lead up to Christmas for everyone that has been thirsting for professional football.  Sure, the college season officially kicked off on Saturday with at least one super competitive meaningful game, but for everyone that wants to see the real deal, the season starts on Thursday.  I will be at the Titans vs. Raiders game for opening weekend to see the two up-and-coming teams face off in what should be a playoff year for both.  Let’s preview each team, and at the end, I will make some bold predictions.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys  – With the uncertainty surrounding Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension, the first few games will be important for the Cowboys, especially considering they play some good teams in the Giants, Packers, Broncos, and Cardinals.

Even with Zeke, they still have some questions to answer:  Will Dak Prescott have the same success this year with a year of tape on him?  Will the new defensive pieces be able to step up and buy the offense some wiggle room?

The Good:  A new defense, a good QB, and fresh legs on their RB.

The Bad: A possible 6 games without that RB, inexperience on defense, and a tough division.

NY Giants – The Giants have managed to hang around in more seasons than they should have been able to, they’ve even won a pair of Super Bowls after entering the playoffs as long shots.

They’ve got the experience needed to make it through the long NFL season, but which Eli Manning will we see?  The leader or the interception machine?

The Good: Ben McAdoo in his second year as head coach, a fully healthy Jason Pierre-Paul, Landon Collins, Odell Beckham Jr, and the addition of Brandon Marshall to help with the double teams that Odell was swamped with last year.

The Bad: Even though preseason is it’s own beast, their offensive struggles (particularly in the run game) were critical.  They have to be able to run the ball to have a shot at a winning season, let alone the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles – A few key additions to the Eagles may pay immediate dividends.  QB Carson Wentz struggled last season, but he had limited tools at his disposal.  Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should be able to change that facet of the game, but we are yet to see if it will be enough for this team to turn the corner.

The Good:  Derek Barnett, the edge rusher that can be a big game breaker for this Philly team that has struggled on both sides of the ball for the past few years.  The additions on offense to open up the field for Wentz’s strong arm.  Donnell Pumphrey and LeGarrette Blount should help them out on the ground with some power running.

The Bad:  LeGarrette Blount is ancient in football years.  Sure he had a good year last year, but many people credit that to the New England system.  Will he be a difference maker this year?  The same goes for Torrey Smith, he had a decent year on a bad team last year, but again he is aging.  Will Carson Wentz have enough time to even get the ball to either of his new weapons downfield?

Washington Redskins – Their shotgun marriage with Kirk Cousins will go one of two ways this year:  They will rise above the past few middling seasons and he’ll be glad to stay, or they will fail to meet expectations again and he will fight to leave for greener pastures.

The Good: Jonathan Allen.  The Alabama product is exactly what they need on defense, an excellent run stopper that can move the line of scrimmage at will.  Jordan Reed is one of the best at TE when he’s healthy, and the addition of Terrell Pryor could be an eye opener for Cousins, as he had a great season on a terrible team last year.  With a little bit of talent behind him, these two could be a hot tandem this year. Samaje Perine could come out as a true RB 1, he certainly has the talent to do so.

The Bad: The lack of proven talent at RB could be their downfall if every game devolves into a shootout, with the defense left to stop the bleeding week after week, wearing themselves out in the process.  In a tough division, that’s a lot to ask of a few guys.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears – With not much being expected out of the team from the Windy City, it won’t be such a bad year if they can manage to win even a few games.  However, the potential to have an all-time terrible win total looming large, it could be a depressing year for the fans in Chicago.

The Good: Jordan Howard is a great running back.  If his offensive line can make room for him to run, he can easily break 1,500 yards this year, but that’s a big if.  Another if:  Kevin White can have a huge season, if he can stay healthy.  For a guy that has only played 4 games in two seasons as a pro, the odds seem to be against him.  Mitch Trubisky cost the Bears a lot in the offseason, but if (when) he finally gets the call over Mike Glennon, he has some talent that can’t be denied, but will they even let him try?

The Bad: The defense is a mess, there are really no proven stars, and they played near the bottom of the league last year.  Cameron Meredith, one of the few bright spots from last year, is already lost for the season to injury.  The really bad news is nothing much is expected from the Bears, so they have few expectations to meet, which can lead to complacence.

Detroit Lions –  The Lions are back for another season, ready to slug it out in the bitter cold of the North, they’ve got a few years of experience at core positions, and seem to be headed in a good direction offensively, but will they even be able to make it out of their own division?

The Good: The core of Matthew StaffordMarvin JonesGolden Tate, and Eric Ebron proved themselves in Jim Bob Cooter‘s offensive scheme, and with more experience and playing time together, one can only assume they’re going to be even more high powered this year.

The Bad: The defense that can’t seem to stop a roof leak, let alone a professional offense.  Sure, Matthew Stafford is a guy I’d like to have in a 4 quarter shootout, but most teams would rather not be in the position, it doesn’t bode well for a deep playoff run.

Minnesota Vikings – Unfortunately for Minnesota, it doesn’t seem like Teddy Bridgewater will be seeing the field again this year.  Stuck with Sam Bradford they can be a solid team in the meantime, and the young defense should be able to continue their ascent as a top 10 overall squad.

The Good: The defense is young, and while they don’t have any tremendous stars, they played well all season last year.  The addition of Dalvin Cook harkens back to the days of Adrian Peterson, he could be that good if everything breaks right.  If Sam Bradford maintains his high completion rate to receivers like Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, they will make for an explosive offense.

The Bad: An injury to a key position could bring it all crumbling down.  No matter how good your defense is, if you can’t move the ball on offense, you will not make it out of the north this year.

Green Bay Packers – Sometimes one player really can be the difference between continuous losing seasons and playoff run after playoff run.  Aaron Rodgers has been that player for the Packers, who really should have had no business in the post-season last year, but instead nearly made it to the Super Bowl.  Will this be a year where they get over the hump?

The Good: Year after year, people count out the players around Rodgers, and nearly every year they’re sorry they did it.  The man can make magic with very few weapons around him, but with a healthy Jordy Nelson, the addition of Martellus Bennett, and the X-factors of Jeff Janis and Devante Adams, the Packers are primed to score some points.  The addition of Kevin King in the secondary to help Ha-Ha Clinton Dix should be able to change some things on the defense.  If Clay Matthews can stay healthy and have even a mediocre season, it will be an improvement over last season, where they still made a deep run in the playoffs.

The Bad:  There is still no long-term solution at RB.  Jamaal Williams could take some of the pressure off of Ty Montgomery but expectations aren’t high and the Packers will still be a pass-heavy offense.  The defense could fall apart easily, especially if ravaged with injuries once again.

NFC SOUTH

Carolina Panthers – There are so many doubts in Carolina.  Cam Newton is back, but is he really ready to go after shoulder surgery in the off-season?  Will the age of the defense finally catch up to them?  Will Christian McCaffery’s multi-tool talents translate to the NFL?

The Good: “Riverboat” Ron has his QB, and if he’s healthy and can stay that way, he’s one of the best in the game.  Christian McCaffery made magic when he had the ball in his hands in college.  Kelvin Benjamin has the potential to be a top receiver in the league if he can stay healthy.

The Bad: The good contained a lot of unanswered questions.  While Rivera remains a great coach in the league, he needs a lot of things to break right for his season to continue into January.

New Orleans Saints – Another year where the Saints seem to be stuck in the middle.  Their offense arguably gained some fuel, for every piece they lost, they gained another.  If the defense can’t stop the other team, as they haven’t the past two years, they aren’t going anywhere.

The Good: The additions of Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara should help balance the game and open the field for Michael Thomas, who arrived as a top-tier WR last year.  If you’re going to shoot it out, you need Drew Brees, no matter his age.

The Bad: Peterson is 32 (“over the hill” in RB years), and coming off an injury.  Kamara could see limited use.  There is no polite way to say it, the defense will likely just be flat-out bad again.  Drew Brees is 38, and every big hit could be his last.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – One of the young teams that lived up to the expectation of growth last year, this year will be their true litmus test for how far they can really go.  Jameis Winston is back, and if Hard Knocks is any indication, he is ready for action.

The Good: Jameis Winston is constantly learning, and taking over as the offensive leader.  The addition of DeSean Jackson will keep defenses honest, and limit the double coverage that Mike Evans gets this year.  Their young defense should take a big step up this season.

The Bad: Doug Martin still has 3 games of suspension to serve, so he will not be able to help right away.  Jameis Winston needs to correct his turnover problem to really succeed at the NFL level, otherwise they will be chasing their mistakes yet again.

Atlanta Falcons – The defending NFC champions will bounce right back, despite the staggering loss in the Super Bowl to the Patriots last year.  They have all their pieces coming back, however, and should be primed to fly high on offense yet again, despite losing Kyle Shannahan as play-caller.

The Good: Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones likely haven’t missed a step, nor has Matt Ryan.  Dontari Poe joining the team should be a huge plus on the defense for the Falcons.

The Bad: Jalen Collins is suspended for 10 games, and the offense flew so high last year, there is always the potential for a slump this year.  Being the heavy favorite in a tough division is never a welcome position either, as everyone is gunning to take you down.

NFC WEST

San Francisco 49ers – With low expectations, not a whole lot can be lost, but a few key additions could help the 49ers show up a little better than last year.

The Good: Kyle Shannahan is the best thing to happen in San Francisco since Jim Harbaugh left.  A healthy Carlos Hyde can be very tough to stop.  The defense should be vastly improved, Solomon Thomas, Elvis Dumervil, and Reuben Foster join Arik Armstead and DeForest Bruckner to shore up the interior of the defense for the 49ers.

The Bad: Brian Hoyer is, at best, a journeyman gap fill for a team that struggled offensively last year.  The addition of Pierre Garcon is more of the same, better than no change, but not a game-changer in any sense.  The young secondary shows the defense is trying to get better, but they could be riddled with mistakes all year over the top.

Los Angeles Rams – The stigma of Jeff Fischer finally passed, Sean McVay has a lot to prove in his first year as head coach in Los Angeles.  Jared Goff gets his first full year of play to prove he’s not just a bust #1 overall pick.  A talented defense gets the chance to prove that if they get the chance to relax for a few minutes a game, they can stand up to even the best offenses.

The Good: Jared Goff has talent, and with the additions of Cooper Kupp and SammyiWatkins he might be able to show it off a bit.  Todd Gurley is one of the most talented RB’s in the league, it will take a lot to slow him down.

The Bad: More failures on the part of Goff could lead to a lot of losses.  If Sammy Watkins can’t stay healthy, that will make Goff’s mission even harder.  If the offense can’t get going, it will continue to pull down the talented defense.

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals have been perennials hangers-on the past few years.  They have talent, led by the aging Carson Palmer, but their window for success is quickly closing.  Larry Fitzgerald has been an ageless wonder, could this be the year he slows down?

The Good: Carson Palmer began to show his age last year, but he still had a solid campaign.  David Johnson arrived as arguably the best RB in the league last year, and is ready to return to form this year.  John Brown will be a big target for Palmer, ready to go deep once again. The defense is still solid and Bruce Arians is still one of the best coaches in the league.

The Bad: Age is catching up with some of the best players in Arizona.  Patrick Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Carson Palmer are not getting any younger.  The Cardinals still have to play the Seattle Seahawks twice every year, which is no easy task.

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks have seemingly had a stranglehold on the NFC West for a few years now, and it doesn’t seem like that will change this year.  However, last year, that didn’t mean much since they couldn’t get very far in the post-season, and I have a feeling that will be the case again this year.

The Good: Russell Wilson.  You just can’t argue that the guys knows how to escape danger, he can come back when it counts the most, and he just flat-out plays great almost every single year.  The RB committee is healthier this year, Doug Baldwin should be ready to go again, and Sheldon Richardson is a great addition to their already stout defense.

The Bad: Richard Sherman seemed to want to go somewhere else, hopefully for Seattle that will only be about the money, and not the rumored behind-the-scenes arguing between Sherman and the coaching staff.  Injuries have held them down the past few years, especially at the RB position, so let’s hope they can stay healthy if they want to go anywhere in January.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills – The Bills have had a tough run the past 20 years or so.  After making deep post-season runs in the Jim Kelly era, they have struggled mightily.  Tyrod Taylor has shown flashes of hope, and some off-season acquisitions have been steps in the right direction.

The Good: Zay Jones, the rookie receiver could be a healthy replacement for Sammy Watkins and the recently traded Jordan Matthews could prove to be a good addition if he can manage to hold onto the ball when it’s thrown to him.  LeSean McCoy is quickly aging, but if he can stay healthy, there’s a good chance he can run for 1,200 yards again this year.

The Bad: The defense is still weak, and let’s hope Marcell Dareus can behave himself and not get sent home before any regular season games.  The offense really has to step up and Tyrod Taylor has to prove that he has more than 3 really good games in him per year for the Bills to win more than 6 or 7 games this year.

Miami Dolphins – When your best shot at a QB is to bring an announcer out of retirement, you might be starting poorly, which is exactly what the Miami Dolphins did to start their year when QB Ryan Tannehill went down with a season ending knee injury.

The Good: Jay Ajayi proved himself as a solid RB last year, let’s see if he can repeat the performance and prove he wasn’t a fluke last year.  Adam Gase is still a great offensive mind, and Jay Cutler played his best football under him.

The Bad: They have a tough schedule, a QB that hasn’t had a good season in years, and a defense that is spotty when it counts.  You factor in a lack of real downfield threats, and it’s likely going to be a mediocre season in Miami.

New York Jets – This team is the first in a while that really has the potential to lose every single game they play.  Unfortunately, there really is no upside for them, other than to not lose every single game they play.

The Good: Matt Forte still seems to have a little gas in the tank, and Quincy Enunwa came out as a legitimate threat last year alongside Bilal Powell.  Who will actually get the ball to all of these people without getting sacked all year, remains to be seen.

The Bad: Not having a single QB that could be considered even mediocre.  They are all borderline bad, and I only say that because Josh McCown has played so long he deserves a modicum of respect.  Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, not so much.  No QB, no wins.

New England Patriots – The defending champions are hard to count out, and anyone that does so is often proven wrong. Last year they proved that more than ever, and it’s likely that with 16 games of Tom Brady, they are looking to do it again.

The Good: Tom Brady.  The guy just doesn’t seem to age.  However, as proven in the pre-season, anyone can go down at any time, so he needs to avoid injury to remain scary good.  Brandin Cooks is a great addition to the team, and Rob Gronkowski coming back healthy is always terrifying to opposing defenses.

The Bad: Julian Edelman has been the white horse to Tom Brady‘s white knight that has always come to save New England, and he is out for the season.  Mike Gillislee likely won’t pick up the slack that LaGarrette Blount left behind, and there’s always the chance that Gronkowski won’t stay healthy all year, which would seriously hamper New England’s ability to make another deep playoff run.

AFC NORTH

Cleveland Browns  – Despite the strong preseason showing in Cleveland, the Browns still can’t be expected to win more than a handful of games this year.  With a rookie QB, limited talent on either side of the ball, and a long history of bad luck all working against them, all Cleveland can hope for is moderate improvement.

The Good: DeShone Kizer showed enough to win the starting job at QB.  Corey Coleman has a year of experience under his belt.  Jabrill Peppers and Myles Garrett were other notable draft additions that should improve their overall status in the league, even if they can’t help win now.

The Bad: The Browns paid Brock Osweiler $16 million to go away, getting nothing in return.  Josh Gordon remains suspended, his best years likely long behind him when or if he does get reinstated.  Outside of Garrett and Peppers, there is not much of a defense to stop the opposition.

Cincinnati Bengals  – The Bengals are one of the teams in the NFL that will either delight or surprise their fanbase, with no middle ground.  They can easily make the playoffs again, but also easily lose in the first round, again.

The Good: Andy Dalton can easily play up to his potential and lead a crew of Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, and John Ross to post-season glory.

The Bad: Andy Dalton could also lead the same crew to 8-8 with enough mistakes, and Vontez Burfict could do enough stupid stuff to get suspended.  This team could really go either way, and injuries (common for Eifert and Green) could slow them tremendously.

Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco‘s health will impact this team to a high degree.  Age on both sides of the ball will also play a determining factor in their success.

The Good: Mike Wallace and Marlon Humphrey were two key additions for the Ravens this year, who will likely have immediate impacts on either side of the ball.

The Bad: Joe Flacco has already been injured, and lack of talent in the run game and the age of the defense will likely slow the Ravens down quite a bit this year.  They will most likely be mediocre at best, awful at worst.

Pittsburgh Steelers – It may sound crazy, but the Steelers‘ window is rapidly closing.  Ben Roethlisberger is getting banged up year after year, and there is no guarantee he will be back next year, they need to win now.

The Good: There is plenty good on the offense.  Le’Veon Bell is finally back with the team after a contract dispute, Antonio Brown is still the best WR in the game, and Martavis Bryant is back from suspension.  If Big Ben can stay healthy, they can roll on offense again.

The Bad: Injuries can easily hamper them, Le’Veon Bell has been injured (and in trouble) before, and Big Ben has been down for chunks of time recently, which can severely slow them down.  The defense will be hit or miss, but that has never stopped them from going far in the past.

AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts – The entire Colts season will depend on Andrew Luck‘s availability, and Frank Gore‘s health.  Beyond those two, there aren’t a lot of pieces in place to make everything else work, either with or without them.

The Good: Frank Gore had a decent last season, and T.Y Hilton and Donte Moncreif did well without a viable passer throwing to them.  Malik Hooker was a prime addition that should help the defense keep the score lower than they did last year. Marlon Mack could be a good addition if he gets enough playing time behind Gore.

The Bad: The Colts signed Jacoby Brisett, signaling that Andrew Luck will likely not be ready to play right away.  Frank Gore is 34, another 1,000 yard season is nearly impossible for him at this point, let’s hope there isn’t a sloppy transition to Marlon Mack. The defense is likely not going to stop much of anyone.

Houston Texans – With the return of some key players, some good additions in the off-season, the Texans are primed to make a better run at an AFC south title once again.  However, indecision in key positions could lead to a middling season.

The Good: J.J. Watt is back, Jadaveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus should combine for a dominating defensive front, if they can all stay healthy.  DeShaun Watson could step up to the pro level, throwing to DeAndre HopkinsBraxton Miller, and William Fuller V, flanked by the mean running game of Lamar Miller and D’Onta Freeman.  If everything breaks right, they could have a really big season.

The Bad: Tom Savage is still the starting QB for now, and the past few years on defense have been marred by different injuries to key players, including J.J. Watt last year and Jadaveon Clowney the year before.

Jacksonville Jaguars  – A young core of talented players could lead Jacksonville farther than they have been in years.  Years of high draft picks could finally pay off, especially if Blake Bortles can put his turnover troubles behind him.

The Good: Myles Jack and Dante Fowler Jr could lead the defense to a good season with Jalen Ramsey holding down the backfield.  Leonard Fournette is the most talented RB they’ve arguably ever had, and could open up the field for Allen Robinson, who has been good with little help and lots of double coverage.

The Bad: Blake Bortles seems to continue to regress, losing his starting job temporarily during pre-season to Chad Henne, who is no prize himself.  The defense is still inexperienced and could continue to struggle, even when the offense is successful.

Tennessee Titans – With a bit of experience under their belt, the Titans could be a force to reckon with in the AFC.  They may still be a year or two away from going really deep in the playoffs, but in the weaker South division, their chances of getting to the playoffs are increased.

The Good: Marcus Mariota is back, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are back with the one-two punch at RB, and Eric Decker and Corey Davis join Delanie Walker in the receiving corps to provide downfield threats for Mariota.  The addition of Adoree’ Jakcson in the secondary will reduce how many games will need to turn into shoot-outs.

The Bad: Mariota is one injury away from being labeled as injury-prone.  The defense still has some holes in the secondary that could lead to some big games being tougher than they should.  The Titans were notoriously bad against their own division, even with Mariota.  They need to solve that to be successful in the post-season.

AFC WEST

Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs are another team whose window is quickly closing.  Alex Smith won’t have too many more years of successful football in front of him, but they play in the toughest division in football currently, which likely won’t change anytime soon, increasing their need to win now.

The Good: Tyreke Hill had a breakout season last year, and rookie RB Kareem Hunt is in the spotlight now, ready for his own breakout season.  Travis Kelce is a top-5 TE, and on the other side of the ball Dee Ford can learn from his past mistakes, and Justin Houston is still a game-breaker occasionally.

The Bad: Spencer Ware is down for the season, and Kareem Hunt is on his own as the every-down back.  Dontari Poe is gone, and Tamba Hali will likely be out for nearly half the season, which will turn last year’s close games into losses, which is not what the Chiefs want in a tough division.

Denver Broncos – The Broncos have already had a rough pre-season, losing their insurance policy in Paxton Lynch and instead signing Brock Osweiler as their back up due to his familiarity with the system.  In what is sure to be another season of stout AFC West competition, Denver will need to fire on all cylinders to make the post-season.

The Good: Denver’s trend of strong defenses should continue in 2017.  The addition of Jamaal Charles is a step in the positive direction, if he can stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do the past two years.  As long as Trevor Siemian does not regress, he will be able to get the ball efficiently to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Bad: Shane Ray is out for the majority of the first portion of the season, leaving Von Miller to create pressure by himself.  If Trevor Siemian doesn’t progress well, there is not much recourse for the Broncos without Paxton Lynch to fall back on, and even then, he struggled in limited duty last year.

Los Angles Chargers  – The move to Los Angeles means a new city and smaller stadium for the Chargers, but everything else should be pretty close to the same for Phillip Rivers this year, including their inability to get anywhere in the post-season, if they should make it there.

The Good: Mike Williams, seventh overall pick in the draft, looks like he will be able to play earlier rather than later.  Keenan Allen is back and healthy, and should be a good top option for Rivers.  The pass game can open up more running lanes for Melvin Gordon, who struggled to get over 1,000 yards last year.

The Bad: While Joey Bosa played out of his mind last year, he is the only working piece on the Chargers defense, he needs someone else to help create pressure, or they will be continually stuck in shoot-outs week after week.

Oakland Raiders – Outside of New England, the Raiders are arguably the most hyped team coming into the 2017 season.  They have an uphill climb in front of them, with the TitansPatriots, and Cowboys highlighting their out-of-conference schedule.  That’s a rough season, considering they play in arguably the best overall division in football.

The Good: Derek Carr is back, Marshawn Lynch has joined to anchor the ground game, and Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are back to build on career-high seasons.  Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack are ready to improve upon their decent defensive season with pro bowl caliber performances.

The Bad: The Raiders won a lot of close games last year, and if it weren’t for the last-minute heroics of Derek Carr they would not have made it as far as they did.  Unfortunately for Oakland, his injury in the playoffs last year took them down quickly, it’s alarming to think what another injury could do to them.

Post-Season Predictions

Here’s where I play a bit of prognostication. I won’t go as far as figuring it out division by division, but here’s my guess:

I think the Raiders have the wherewithal to make it all the way to the Super Bowl, but that’s only because Tom Brady won’t last the whole season and the Patriots won’t go too much further without him.

From the NFC, I think it will come down to Dallas and Green Bay, with Green Bay able to make it past  Dallas’ secondary.

From there, I think the Green Bay passing attack would be too much for Oakland’s secondary, and will take home their second Lombardi Trophy under Aaron Rodgers.

Take it with a grain of salt, but there you have it.  Think I disrespected your team or missed something important? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

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