The NFL season officially started Thursday night. Anyone foolish enough to believe that the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots would go undefeated for the year were foiled in that prediction just hours into the new season.
Here are my predictions for how I think the 2017 season will unfold. Remember, this is for entertainment value only, and not to be used in court as evidence against my mental capacity.
New England Patriots (*), Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets
Moving right along, nothing to see here. As long as the hoodie roams the sideline and Brady continues to suit up, this division belongs to the Patriots. Miami has some exciting talent, and a good young coach in Adam Gase, but will be relying on Jay Cutler at quarterback. Enough said.
Pittsburgh Steelers (*), Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns
Mike Tomlin's crew might very well be the most complete team in the NFL. Avoiding injuries to key players like Le'Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, and Ben Roethlisberger during rugged divisional games has always been an issue. The bigger problem for Pittsburgh has always been trying to overcome the giant stone wall that is the Patriots. The Bengals window of opportunity seems to have closed. Still talented, but much thinner because of free agency defections over the last couple of years. The players left behind are a sports psychologist's nightmare, and a mental meltdown waiting to happen. The Ravens are the anti-Bengals, a tough team that will square up with anyone and play close. Major questions about quarterback Joe Flacco's health and offensive talent overcome a rebuilt defensive unit. The Browns....well, Draft Day was a pretty good movie.
Houston Texans (*), Tennessee Titans (*), Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Texans defense gives them a slight nod over an inexperienced Titans squad, as long as they can generate at least a little offense. Tennessee has quietly built a solid squad on both sides that might be a nightmare match up by season's end. Colts management should be imprisoned for doing such an awful job surrounding Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton with talent.
Denver Broncos (*), Oakland Raiders (*), Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers
The Broncos bounce back to prominence with solid play from underrated Trevor Siemian and improved offensive line play. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are as talented a duo at wide receiver as there is in the NFL, and C.J. Anderson's return at running back is an underrated shot in the arm for that offense. Defensively, they are still as good as anybody, but retirements and free agency losses have left them a little thin. The Raiders have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game with Derek Carr, and a solid receiving corps for him. They still have some question marks defensively, and relying on a 31-year-old running back with tons of mileage on his legs and sitting out last season seems like a dangerous gamble. The Chiefs will play everyone tough, look to be one of the best teams in the league over the first half of the season, then falter down the stretch.
New York Giants (*), Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
The Cowboys have the biggest stars, but the Giants look to have the most talent on both sides of the ball of anyone in the division. Ezekiel Elliott's suspension puts Dallas in an early hole they can't claw out from. The Redskins and Eagles to just enough to get fans excited, then come down to earth just as quickly. This seems the division likely to produce a winner with a record of 9-7 or 8-8.
Green Bay Packers (*), Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, the other teams do not. Minnesota has one of the better defenses in the league, but an unreliable offense. Chicago is building for the future, and Detroit has talent, just is always unable to put it all together to take the next step forward.
Seattle Seahawks (*), Arizona Cardinals (*), Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks and Cardinals are heads and shoulders above the other two teams in the division. Both teams have excellent defensive players, as well as explosive capability on offense.
New Orleans Saints (*11-5), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (*9-7), Atlanta Falcons (8-8), Carolina Panthers (6-10)
Atlanta still has a ton of speed and talent at the skill positions, as much as anyone in the league. But losing both coordinators cannot be overlooked, along with the fact that the Super Bowl loser often falters a bit the following year (did I mention that Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl?). Tampa Bay is everyone's dark horse candidate to take the next major step (can you really be a dark horse if almost everyone expects you to be one?).
While Tampa is building with a lot of young talent, their running game could be non-existent in 2017, and a young defensive secondary still needs to progress to make this a more complete defense. Carolina's addition of Christian McCaffrey adds an explosive and versatile element to it's offense, but Cam Newton looks like he's falling apart physically. Newton's passing accuracy has never been a strength, so it will be worth watching to see what this team's offensive identity will be. The Panthers front seven on defense is as good as they come, but the secondary could again be their undoing if opposing passers are given time to throw.
There seems to be something different with this year's Saints. Yes, they still have Drew Brees, which keeps them competitive in every game they play. But the team has had an edge to them this entire offseason. They have rebuilt the team around Brees with tons of young talent, so a good start to the season is vital for confidence. The schedule makers did them no favor, sending them on the road for a Monday night opener, only to follow with the defending Super Bowl champs at home (Patriots), a bitter division rival (Panthers) on the road, then a trip to London (Dolphins) before a bye week. The middle part of their schedule looks much softer on paper, and this young team will be far better at the end of the season, particularly if healthy.
MVP = Drew Brees, QB (Saints)
Defensive Player of the Year = Von Miller, LB (Broncos)
Offensive Rookie of the Year = Dalvin Cook, RB (Vikings)
Defensive Rookie of the Year = Marcus Williams, S (Saints)
NFC Championship: Seahawks over Cardinals
An under the radar NFC rivalry gets a little more fierce with a playoff match up to determine the conference championship.
AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots
Pittsburgh finally gets over the Patriot postseason road block that has haunted them for over a decade and a half.
Super Bowl LII: Pittsburgh Steelers over Seattle Seahawks
The Steel City gets it's 7th world championship, and Ben Roethlisberger cements his status as a Hall of Fame quarterback with an MVP performance.
Well, there you have it, my predictions for the 2017 season, and proof that I've taken one too many shots to the head during my life.
Enjoy Week 1 of football!