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Friday, September 8, 2017

Pro Football Media 2017 #NFL Preview






Welcome to Pro Football Media’s 2017 NFL Preview




Note: Like most of my articles the 2017 NFL Preview is long, so feel free to skip to your favorite team and/or division - or all the way to my Super Bowl LII prediction. Thanks for reading!



AFC 

EAST


The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI in the most incredible fashion ever, coming back from down 28-3 to win the game in overtime. As if people didn’t hate the Patriots enough already New England went out and had, arguably, the best off-season of any team in league history. New England signed free agent and division rival Stephen Gilmore, one of the league’s top cornerbacks, because they feared losing star cornerback Malcolm Butler; the Patriots ultimately retained Butler, too. Perhaps an equally strong a move on the offensive side of the ball was the trade for the talented Brandin Cooks, who will supply New England with their first deep threat since Randy Moss. The Patriots lost LeGarrette Blount and his 18 TDs, but signed Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, another divisional opponent that gave New England trouble. In fact, about the only negative thing to happen to the Patriots was the unfortunate late preseason loss of their top wide receiver, Julian Edleman; fortunately for the Patriots, in addition to Brandin Cooks, New England traded for another young talent in Phillip Dorsett. The defense will have its issues up front and will hinge largely on Dont’a Hightower’s health, but the secondary is good enough to make up for anything until Bill Belichick has the unit at mid-season strength. Anything short of winning Super Bowl LII would be a serious disappointment.

The Miami Dolphins were on the verge of knocking on the door at the end of the hallway, but now they have serious quarterback issues after losing Ryan Tannehill for the season. Miami had to resort to yanking Jay Cutler out of retirement with a $10 million offer. Reports claim he was as shocked as anyone they actually accepted. Jay Cutler’s familiarity with head coach Adam Gase will certainly help, as will having great skill players in Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi, but chemistry could be an issue and Cutler isn’t the guy to fix chemistry issues. Miami also lost their bye week to Hurricane Irma, which means Week 1 is technically their “bye week”. This also means the Dolphins travel to Los Angeles then to New York and then to London for Weeks 2, 3 and 4. That’s a brutal way to start the season, which wasn’t going to amount to much anyway after losing their “franchise” quarterback.

The Buffalo Bills had the best rushing attack in the NFL in 2016, but that’s where it ends. A promising threat to New England’s dynasty the past few seasons, the Bills suddenly seem to be in rebuilding mode. They sent Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams and then had Anquan Boldin retire on them. This set of circumstances will certainly stifle Tyrod Taylor’s growth, if he even passes the concussion protocol in time to play Week 1, otherwise the Bills will rely on rookie Nathan Peterson. The Bills will eat up a lot of yardage on the ground and rush the quarterback, but don’t expect much more.

The New York Jets are fire selling their only remaining good players to position themselves for a quarterback in next year’s draft that might end up staying at USC.


1.     New England Patriots

2.     Miami Dolphins

3.     Buffalo Bills

4.     New York Jets



NORTH

The Pittsburgh Steelers once again stand alone in this black-and-blue division. After suspension issues and a hold out scare with star running back Le’Veon Bell, another year filled with wincing over Ben Roethlisberger’s health and a defense that was no longer the anchor of the gritty Western Pennsylvania team, the Steelers are, well, basically right back where they were last year but in slightly better position. Roethlisberger is rested, Bell finally showed up alongside Anthony Brown problem-free for now and the Steelers historical defense is getting back to old form. Can Big Ben survive the gauntlet known as the AFC North? That’s the key to a Super Bowl run for Pittsburgh.

The Baltimore Ravens are worried about Joe Flacco’s health, but they should be more worried about all that money they paid him several years ago, which has hindered their ability to sign skill players. Speaking of that the Ravens may be just as worried about whom he’s going to throw the ball to. The Ravens defense is still one of the best in the NFL, but they might not be able to keep opponents within the small range of points the Ravens will score themselves - certainly not against playoff-caliber teams.

The Cincinnati Bengals have offensive weapons, but how will they fare after losing two of the best lineman in the NFL (T Andre Witworth; G Kevin Zeitler). The Bengals also added depth to an already clogged backfield, albeit by drafting uber-talented lightning rod Joe Mixon, which didn’t help their image in the process. However, image doesn’t really matter in the NFL, wins do, and the Bengals get plenty of those. Unfortunately those wins come in the regular season and never in the playoffs. Expect the same,  with even fewer regular season wins.


The Cleveland Browns are the worst team in the NFL again for the (however many years it’s been since Art Modell broke Cleveland’s heart and then somehow the city got another NFL football team) years.

1.     Pittsburgh Steelers

2.     Baltimore Ravens

3.     Cincinnati Bengals

4.     Cleveland Browns



SOUTH

The Houston Texans defense is one of the best in the NFL and if they had a quarterback Houston could be a favorite in the AFC. They don’t. Houston drafted talented Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson and it’s possible we could see the rookie before the Texans bye week if Tom Savage can’t get any offense going. The Texans have the opposite problem the Tennessee Titans do – they have a super talented receiver in DeAndre Hopkins but no quarterback. Lamar Miller, when healthy, is also one of the most talented running backs in the league, but the offense struggled last year with the same components. The defense will be the key to any success the Texans have in 2017.

The Tennessee Titans are expected to make strides with talented 3rd-year quarterback Marcus Mariota and a young defense on the rise. The problem is they’re in a division where you could argue that to some degree about every other team in the AFC South. Mariota has a bright future, and the 3rd-ranked rush offense should only get better, but until Tennessee finds a serious threat at wide receiver the Titans continues to tread water.


The Indianapolis Colts are a mess. The franchise's entire future rests in the hands of a star quarterback with serious health issues. Sound familiar? The Colts will throw Scott Tolzien to the wolves until Luck is healthy enough to utilize TJ Hilton’s talent, leaving the seemingly ageless Frank Gore left to anchor the Colts until that moment arrives. The Colts scored in 2016, but that was with Luck, no pun intended. The defense isn’t talented enough to weather a long Luck absence.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot to be excited about, but their young quarterback isn’t one of them. Just as the Jaguars have drafted the most anticipated rookie running back since Adrian Peterson their quarterback is regressing at an alarming rate. That being said, if Blake Bortles weren’t regressing Jacksonville wouldn’t have been in a position to draft Leonard Fournette in the first place. The Jaguars have a lot of young talent on defense, but that’s been the case for a few years now.

1.     Houston Texans

2.     Tennessee Titans

3.     Indianapolis Colts

4.     Jacksonville Jaguars



WEST

The Oakland Raiders suffered a heartbreaking late season injury to Derek Carr, destroying their 2016 playoff run, but this team is ready for their 2017 playoff run. All reports suggest Carr is back to full strength and all the Raiders did was lure hometown hero Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to make sure Oakland maintains that 6th-ranked rushing attack. Offense will not be a problem because Oakland is explosive, but the defense could remain an issue unless Khalil Mack can play all 11 positions or their top three draft picks immediately contribute. Either way, the Raiders have high aspirations.

The Kansas City Chiefs are interesting. Despite losing Spencer Ware for the season they could still be one of the most talented offensive units in the NFL. Despicable as he may be off the field, Tyreek Hill is explosive. The carries will be handed to a rookie, and although he may be hyped, he didn’t fumble once in four years at Toledo and also has serious explosiveness. I’m in the minority that thinks Alex Smith is a good NFL quarterback, but Kansas City drafted a talented rookie in case the Chiefs fall prey to fan hysteria if something were to go wrong. The real bread and butter in Kansas City is the defense, which once again enters 2017 as one of the NFL’s best. Kansas City could be the team to look out for besides New England and Pittsburgh in the AFC.

The Los Angeles Chargers boast one of the more talented young rosters on both sides of the ball, but they’re in the toughest division in the league. If the Chargers were in any other division in the AFC they’d be that division’s winner, save the AFC East, where they’d be the Wild Card team. Unfortunately they’re not, and although the AFC West could send three teams to the playoffs, it isn’t very likely. This division will likely cannibalize itself and leave Los Angeles as the most talented team in the league watching the playoffs at home.

The Denver Broncos are another team on a long list of those with quarterback issues. After enjoying Peyton Manning’s services for a run of Super Bowls, quarterback has become Denver’s top issue, a strange predicament for a team run by quarterback legend John Elway. Denver is also on an NFL short list of those with a completely dominant defense with an offense that can’t score points. Their offensive inabilities will become the team’s Achilles heel again in 2017, and will be the reason they miss the playoffs.


1.     Oakland Raiders

2.     Kansas City Chiefs

3.     Los Angeles Chargers

4.     Denver Broncos




NFC

EAST

The Dallas Cowboys return from a 13-3 season in which rookie quarterback Dak Prescott almost stole the show. The 2017 Rookie of the Year (ROY) and MVP candidate was amazing, but perhaps not even the best rookie on his team. Ezekiel Elliot did steal the show in 2017 with his own incredible ROY and MVP campaign, but continued to steal the spotlight with his poor personal conduct off the field. Regardless of whether Elliot is guilty of domestic violence or not, it’s become a major distraction and could hurt the Cowboy’s chances of building on last year. Dallas has the offensive line and running back talent to weather Elliot’s absence, but the distraction could be too much in a tough division.

The New York Giants are a dark horse to win the NFC. Eli Manning has his most talented receiving group in years and the defense could be the leagues best by the end of the 2017 season. Eli Manning escaped AutographGate, but he’ll have a tougher time escaping his opponent’s blitzes because the Giants offensive line is problematic. Assuming Manning can get the ball off in time he’ll have plenty of weapons to throw it to, although diva wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is already injured with a high ankle sprain and could miss the first few games. The Giants are another team that will put most of its eggs into its defensive basket.

The Philadelphia Eagles are a long shot to make the playoffs, but realistically they’re victims of a crowded division. Carson Wentz gives Eagles fans hope for the future, but how much hope considering the division has two other great young quarterbacks? The Eagles have a good defense, but the best defense in the NFL could also be in the NFC East, so at the end of the day the Eagles are just another good team stuck in a great division, which makes them mediocre.

The Washington Football Team is an interesting one. After the RGIII dust settled they seemed to find something in Kirk Cousins, although their checkbook would suggest otherwise. Maybe Washington is just terrible at math. The ascent of Terrelle Pryor was apparently high enough that Washington was comfortable signing him and letting their two other receiving threats (Pierre Garcon; DeSean Jackson) go. Maybe Washington just hates Kirk Cousins. You like that?! The Football Team is just talented enough on both sides of the ball to hang in every game, but besides that it’s tough sledding in the NFC East.


1.     Dallas Cowboys

2.     New York Giants

3.     Philadelphia Eagles

4.     Washington Football Team


SOUTH

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, which would normally automatically disqualify them for me. However, the NFC South is a vulnerable division right now and ripe for the taking. Of course this hinges on the continued development of Jameis Winston, whose athletic ability and leadership has never been a question, but his decision-making has been. Tampa Bay is a middle of the pack team statistically, but have the weapons on both sides of the ball to improve on that mediocrity. The Buccaneers just missed the playoffs last season, so the team has high hopes for 2017. Hurricane Irma also stole Tampa Bay's bye week, which might’ve come into play in a more competitive division, but shouldn't be an issue for this young team.

The Atlanta Falcons. Wow. What can you say? The NFL’s top offense in 2017, one that ranked among the best in league history, returns basically in tact. The defense, which wasn’t that good anyway, does as well, but with more experience. The only real question here is how the Falcons recover from the worst loss in Super Bowl history?

The Carolina Panthers went from Super Bowl to super low in two years, which is actually something they’re used to. Carolina was the only repeat NFC South champion in what seemed like at least a decade from 2014-2015, but the 2014 team was 7-8-1, beating out the 7-9 Saints by mere percentage points. Maybe that makes no sense, but the point is things in Carolina, and the NFC South at large, are whacky. Carolina will be counting on quarterback Cam Newton, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and only threw for the first time again two months ago, a still improving Kelvin Benjamin, and a potential rookie star in running back Christian McCaffrey to anchor their offense. A little less dabbing and a little more accuracy and bodily protection might do the trick, as Newton needs to become a true leader for these young talents. The Panthers defense, once the darling of the league, is not what it used to be, but it’s still plenty formidable with guys like Mario Addison, Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short. This division is a crapshoot.

The New Orleans Saints were the top passing team in 2016 and scored the second most points in the league behind their division rival Falcons. So why do the Saints seem terrible? Perhaps New Orleans seems terrible because their defense is and the Saints traded away their best player, and reason for leading the league passing, in Brandin Cooks, to the Patriots. The end is near for Drew Brees and this defense will let him down more than he can rise up New Orleans. Then again, anything is possible in the NFC South.


1.     Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2.     Atlanta Falcons

3.     Carolina Panthers

4.     New Orleans Saints



NORTH

The Green Bay Packers are heavy favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII, and for good reason considering their offense. Aaron Rodgers could win Most Valuable Player every season, and with a healthy Jordy Nelson back, Green Bay might have the best receiving corps in the NFL. The running game and defense are terrible compliments to the league’s most prolific air attack (Sorry, Falcons) and will once again be the Packers undoing. Aaron Rodgers might be a bad man, but even his shoulders aren’t that broad.

The Detroit Lions are an enigma. After years of wasting some of the greatest talent in league history, and swinging and missing on No. 1 draft pick after No. 1 draft pick, Detroit finally seems to be in a position to award their fans after decades of disappointment. Ironically, it comes with no real barnburners at any position. Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate withstanding, the Lions just have good players like Marvin Jones, Ameer Abdullah and Eric Ebro. The same applies to the Detroit defense, which is why the Lions will be a good team and nothing more.

The Minnesota Vikings defense is really, really good. Unfortunately their offense is really, really bad. Sam Bradford broke the single season passing percentage record in 2016, which just means he probably completed the most short passes in NFL history. In fact, Sam Bradford ranked 22nd of quarterbacks with at least 150 passing attempts in yards per attempt. Minnesota’s two top receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, ranked among the top-35 receivers in receiving yards, but averaged only 9.4 and 6.9 yards, respectively, if you take away yards after catch (YAC). That means everyone has to work hard for yards, which plays right into rookie running back Dalvin Cook’s hands, but this team is going to have to work hard for wins, too, which won’t be easy and will put a huge strain on their defense.

The Chicago Bears are awful. After freaking out about their quarterback prospects the Bears went out and wasted $15 million on Mike Glennon just to trade up in the draft to take a project in UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears are relying on Jordan Howard and Kevin White on offense, the latter of which is a guy who has played a total of four games in a possible 32 to start his career. The Bears defense should improve slightly with the addition of Quintin Demps, but any improvements in 2017 are futile.

1.     Green Bay Packers
2.     Detroit Lions
3.     Minnesota Vikings
4.     Chicago Bears


WEST


The Seattle Seahawks are another favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII and for good reason considering their defense. Their defense isn’t just good - it’s unbelievable. Seattle added Sheldon Richardson to one of the best defensive fronts in the league, which is backed by the best linebackers in the league, which are backed by one of the best defensive backfields in the league. With a healthy Russell Wilson and a skinny Eddie Lacy ready to lineup alongside blossoming star Doug Baldwin, Super Bowl LII is the expectation. The one question is whether the two sides of the ball can get along in the same locker room, but Michael Bennett’s arrest in Las Vegas may have galvanized the locker room and answered that question.

The Arizona Cardinals are another defensive juggernaut with a few complimentary star players on offense, but so few that one, Larry Fitzgerald, is offering to pay defender’s fines for high hits just to save his legs. That means the other, David Johnson, has one serious load to carry. Carson Palmer probably should have been done last year, but this year could very well be it. If Palmer can pull a rabbit out of his helmet, and everyone else stays healthy, the Cardinals could make noise considering their defense is loaded. The problem is the likelihood of that happening is very low, and with a team like Seattle in your division, the odds are even lower.

The Los Angeles Rams have two of the best players in the league on both sides of the ball in running back Todd Gurley and defensive linemen Aaron Donald, although you’d never know it. The Rams are up there with the Browns for the title of League Laughingstock, statistically. To complicate matters, one of those two aforementioned players, Donald, remains a holdout. The Rams went all in on Jared Goff last season, drafting him No. 1 overall, and pretty much immediately threw him to the wolves. The results matched the lowest of expectations. If newly acquired wide receiver and former top draft pick Sammy Watkins helps Goff’s development along, Todd Gurley returns to his Rookie of the Year form and Aaron Donald ends his holdout the Rams might end up third in their division.

The San Francisco 49ers were statistically one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016. They hired Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but then watched his team blow a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. Still, Shanahan should be able to find ways to get running back Carlos Hyde and wide receiver Pierre Garcon going, if only it weren’t Brain Hoyer throwing them the football. The 49ers drafted Rueben Foster to try and get back to their recent defensive domination, but that’s a work in progress. It’s hard to believe this team was in the Super Bowl only a few short years ago. The NFL stands for Not For Long, unless you’re the New England Patriots apparently.

1.     Seattle Seahawks

2.     Arizona Cardinals

3.     Los Angeles Rams

4.     San Francisco 49ers




AFC PLAYOFFS

New England
Pittsburgh
Tennessee
Oakland

Wild Card: Kansas City; Houston 
(Potential alternates: Baltimore/Los Angeles)

NFC PLAYOFFS

Dallas
Green Bay
Tampa Bay
Seattle

Wild Card: New York; Detroit 
(Potential alternates: Carolina/Atlanta)


AFC Championship



New England v. Pittsburgh



NFC Championship



Seattle v. Green Bay



Super Bowl LII



New England v. Seattle



Super Bowl LII Champion


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS




2017 NFL MVP

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers 



2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Khalil Mack, LB/DE, Oakland Raiders





Stay tuned every Thursday and Sunday for #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) and every Wednesday for Tuesday's Gone: Weekly Game Predictions Review! Thanks for reading!


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