In what has been an extremely busy off season for NFL teams, there is much in the air about the teams that will succeed and those that will fall and winter. There are teams like the Cleveland Browns who have bolstered their roster and have been very active in adding pieces this offseason. On the contrary, there are teams like the Seattle Seahawks who have done little to add to there already depleted roster. And finally, there are teams such as New England Patriots who have been riddled by off the field “issues” that many believe will affect the team’s performance this upcoming year. With so many factors in play from this offseason, fans are left to wonder who will rise to the occasion and who will plummet to the depth of America’s league.
So… Here’s what I think:
AFC East: New England Patriots (13-3)
All the news this off season regarding the New England Patriots surrounds the relationship between Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Robert Kraft. Whether there is or isn’t legit tension between these three, the New England Patriots have always found a way to put distractions on the sidelines when they enter a season. Do I believe there is tension between Belichick, Brady and Kraft? You bet. Do I believe it will derail their season? No way. The division is too weak, Tom Brady is still at the top of his game, and Bill Belichick always finds a way to make something out of nothing. Look for the Pats to have a rocky September (like they usually do) and get off to a 2-2 start. From there they will dominate like they usually do and breeze to another AFC East title.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
The team that seemed to improve the most this offseason in the AFC North was the Cleveland Browns. The problem is that that isn’t saying much because they didn’t muster a single win last year. The Browns are obviously still far away from competing for the AFC North title. That leaves the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals pulled off some minor deals, but mostly leave themselves handcuffed by keeping Marvin Lewis at the helm. The Ravens may have added Lamar Jackson, but don’t expect him to make any sort of impact in his freshman season. That leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers remain one of if not the most talented rosters in the league. Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown provide a three-headed monster for nearly every defense. As long as these three stay healthy, the Steelers are well on their way to another AFC North title.
AFC South: Houston Texans (9-7)
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t taking a gamble with this pick. All the talk has been about the Jags this offseason due to their surprisingly good showing last year. But… People forget just how good the Texans were prior to Desean Watson’s season ending injury. The reason I see the Texans dethroning the Jags this year has all to do with who is playing Quarterback. Both the Jags and Texans have elite defenses. The differences between the teams center around the offenses. I like Desean Watson and his play-making ability over Blake Bortles and his game management. Moreover, the supporting cast surrounding Watson provides him with ample opportunity for explosive plays. The Colts and Titans are out of the picture and aren’t worth talking about. The division will come down to the wire, but expect the Texans to edge out the Jags.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders (10-6)
This may be the hardest division to predict. The Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos all made drastic changes to their teams while the Chargers stayed mostly quiet. The conservative pick in the division is the San Diego Chargers. However, I see an aging Phillip Rivers as a problem. The Chiefs shook their organization up this off season by sacrificing the short term for long term payoff. Handing the keys to Patrick Mahomes will provide long term benefit, but won’t get the Chiefs far in the 2018 season. Like the Chiefs, the Denver Broncos made a change at QB. Despite Case Keenum’s outstanding year with Minnesota last year, I see him coming back down to earth and not providing the Broncos with much of an upgrade. This leaves the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders gambled big time in the offseason by bringing in a “players coach” in Jon Gruden. I like Gruden. I believe that Gruden’s style and creativity will open up outlets for Derek Carr to succeed and perform like he did two years ago. The addition of Jordy Nelson will help too. The AFC west is tough, but I say Oakland Raiders
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
I wouldn’t be surprised if some people look at this pick and stop reading this article… But give me a chance here. The loss of Zeke Elliot last year was more than just an impact to fantasy owners. Losing Zeke turned the Cowboys offense from a potent one to one that was predictable. Having Zeke for a full season (pending injury) will turn the cowboys back into a team that posses the ball for more than half the game, keeping their defense rested, and opposing offenses on the sidelines. So how about those Eagles? One word: Overrated. I view the 2017 Eagles the same as I did the 2016 Atlanta Falcons: Talented teams that get hot and are bound to regress the following year. For some reason people believe that Carson Wentz is a lock to come back the player he was before his injury. Why are people so sure of this? I see Wentz struggling out of the gate a returning to the player we saw last year by the end of this season. As for the Giants and Redskins. The addition of Saquon Barkley will drastically improve the performance of Eli Manning and the Giants. However, not enough improvement to leave them atop the division. I see the Redskins not making much of any jump. Alex Smith is and will always will be a game manager. Without any sort of running presence, Washington is bound for another underwhelming season. The NFC East belongs to America’s team.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers (13-3)
The fate of the NFC North is contingent on one player: Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers can stay healthy for a full season, the Packers are in business. If Rodgers doesn’t, the Packers will once again struggle through the season. I say Rodgers does stay healthy and plays at the top of his game. The Vikings will once again be a tough team due to their stout defense and very capable offense. But.. in this league, the quarterback generally wins. Rodgers is the best in the business and will prove that when he is healthy, he can beat any team in the league. The lions and bears will both make improvements from last year, but both teams are well behind both the Packers and the Vikings. I think we should all put our cheese heads on.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-5)
I see the NFC South as a two team race between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. The Buccaneers and the Panthers have too many glaring inconsistencies that will eventually doom them by the end of the season. The reason I take the Saints over the Falcons has to do with Drew Brees, the combo of Kamara and Ingram (following his suspension), and a young revamped defense. The Saints pose such a threat to opposing defenses because they are not one dimensional. Last year, the attack of Kamara and Ingram shredded teams week in and week out while relieving the stress from and aging Drew Brees. Despite Brees getting older, his light workload last year (compared to years prior), allows him to empty the tank heading into this season. On the other side of the ball, the New Orleans defense is young and hungry. Their strong secondary will do very well (especially within the division) in getting off the field and allowing their explosive offense to get back to work. Look for a lot of celebration on Bourbon street this coming year.
NFC West: LA Rams (14-2)
This pick kills me… it really does. I wanted so badly to go with Jimmy G and the Niners … but I just can’t. The Rams are by far the best team in the west heading into this year and they are arguably a much better team than they were last year. Their defense is absolutely loaded. Jared Goff will continue to improve. And Sean McVay proved in year one that he is one of the best up and coming coaches in this league. It is their division to lose. Don’t get me wrong, the Niners will make a drastic improvement with Jimmy G leading the pack, but they are still a few years away from glory. The Cardinals and Seahawks are out of the picture. The drafting of Josh Rosen puts the Cardinals future in a promising place, but this year won’t be their year. The Seahawks are trending downward. They are no longer the formidable team that the once were. They have lost their defense and they have lost their identity. The NFC West is headed back to LA.
There is plenty of debate on what will happen this year… But one thing is for sure: Football is back and we love it.
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