We have arrived.
The Chiefs and Patriots kick off the NFL season tonight on NBC, and I fully plan on planting myself on the couch this Sunday with some chips and guac, maybe cook a couple of brats, and watch football for 10 hours.
After a long, grueling month, the preseason has reached its finish line. Fantasy drafts are in the books, and we are ready for the regular season. Every team, no matter how grim the outlook, starts off 0-0, which means anything goes. Here are my predictions for the 2017 NFL season.
- New England Patriots (14-2): The loss of Julian Edelman doesn’t make things easier on Brady, but no matter—he has plenty of weapons in Belichick, Gronk and Cooks to lead the Patriots to their 13th division title in 14 years.
- Miami Dolphins (9-7): Jay Cutler will fill in (surprisingly) nicely for Ryan Tannehill, but it’s not enough to get the Dolphins to the playoffs.
- Buffalo Bills (7-9): Questions surrounding Tyrod Taylor and the departure of Sammy Watkins put a damper on this offense and subsequently this team.
- New York Jets (2-14): A few star players on defense and a mess of an offense leads to the first overall pick next season.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): Pittsburgh makes the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but that’s not all—the Steelers will ride this high-flying offense all the way to the promised land.
- Baltimore Ravens (9-7): The Ravens will have one of the best defenses in the league, but lack of offensive star power keeps them out of the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Bengals (6-10): Marvin Lewis finally gets the boot as he fails to capitalize on the Bengals’ talent and Cincinnati goes another season without a playoff win.
- Cleveland Browns (4-12): The Browns took a step in the right direction this offseason—they should be content with three more wins than last year. Trust the process.
- Tennessee Titans (12-4): This offense is on the verge of elite—I like Mariota to shock the world and land the Titans the second seed in the AFC.
- Houston Texans (9-7): Deshaun Watson will be the starter by the end of the season and J.J. Watt will return to form, but they are a year away from returning to the playoffs.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): The defense is improving; the offense is not. Fournette helps, but without a signal caller worthy of being an NFL starter, the Jaguars’ playoff drought continues.
- Indianapolis Colts (6-10): Could be a little low given the fact that Luck will be back, but there’s not much around him to work with—Gore is 34, the offensive line is subpar, and the defense is abysmal.
- Oakland Raiders (11-5): The Raiders are ready for their redemption tour—Derek Carr is back and ready to take his step into the elite class and lead Oakland to its first *real* playoff appearance since 2002.
- Los Angeles Chargers (10-6): I initially didn’t have faith in the Chargers in this division, but then I reconsidered the talent, and decided to take a leap of faith in Rivers—it’s time for the hot-headed quarterback to lead this team. With Melvin Gordon in the backfield and a deep receiving corps, anything can happen.
- Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Could Mahomes take over the starting quarterback job this season? Unlikely, but QB has never dominated on this team. The Chiefs go as their defense goes.
- Denver Broncos (7-9): The best defense in the NFL is supplemented by an offense filled with questions—will Siemian be able to carry this team, and who will help him in the backfield?
- New York Giants (10-6): The health of Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall is key to a deep playoff run, but the Giants’ defense is strong enough to capture the NFC East title.
- Dallas Cowboys (9-7): This standing may change if Zeke is able to play a full slate of games, but as it stands I see a weak defense that will dig a hole early that will be too hard to climb out of.
- Washington Redskins (7-9): I’m a big fan of rookie Samaje Perine, and fully believe he will be the starter after a few weeks, but Cousins lost two big threats on offense in Jackson and Garcon, and Jordan Reed’s health is a concern.
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-10): Many experts predict the Eagles to at least finish above the Redskins—I believe Wentz will take a step back this season.
- Green Bay Packers (12-4): The Packers won this division last season with a defense in shambles—after investing heavily in the defense on draft day, and yet another with year with an elite offense, the Pack win the North more comfortably this year.
- Minnesota Vikings (9-7): The defense will take the next step under Mike Zimmer, but Bradford at the helm is not enough to win the division.
- Detroit Lions (8-8): I like the Lions to have a similar season as last year, but some of those close calls will go against their favor this year.
- Chicago Bears (4-12): Trubisky will likely become the starting QB a, but the Bears need a few more seasons to gain relevance in the NFC North.
- Atlanta Falcons (11-5): The loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be apparent, but the talent on the offensive side hasn’t gone anywhere—that, along with an improved defense, wins the South once again.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5): The Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007—Jameis Winston is ready to take the next step as Tampa Bay grabs the 6 seed.
- Carolina Panthers (9-7): Cam Newton slumped hard after his MVP season two years ago—he’ll improve this season, but give it one or two years with Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey and they’ll be back with the elite.
- New Orleans Saints (7-9): Drew Brees has to be one of the most underappreciated quarterbacks ever—he’ll push for the all-time passing yards record this season, but the loss of Brandin Cooks and a suspect defense means a last-place finish for the Saints.
- Seattle Seahawks (13-3): A healthy Russell Wilson means the Seahawks are one of the most balanced teams in the league. Balance equals sustained success.
- Arizona Cardinals (11-5): Carson Palmer will bounce back this season on the shoulders of MVP candidate David Johnson and old-timer Larry Fitzgerald.
- San Francisco 49ers (5-11): Kyle Shanahan will start to turn the tide of the 49er’s—it won’t be enough this year, but things are looking up in San Francisco.
- Los Angeles Rams (3-13): Goff won’t have the bounce-back year people think—the Rams can have success on defense, but the offense isn’t up to par yet.
- Pittsburgh Steelers def. 6 Kansas City Chiefs
A home playoff game in for Pittsburgh spells trouble for a Chiefs team that has never won at Heinz field.
- Los Angeles Chargers def. 4. Oakland Raiders
My first playoff upset—There’s no doubt the Coliseum will be rocking, but Phillip Rivers will lead his team down the field and put Internet sensation kicker Younghoe Koo in position for a game-winning field goal.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers def. 3. Atlanta Falcons
Two division rival matchups on Wildcard weekend? The young gun outplays the former MVP late in the game.
- New York Giants def. 5. Arizona Cardinals
Sure to be a low scoring affair featuring two of the NFL’s top defenses, Landon Collins makes one more play than Patrick Peterson.
- New England Patriots def. 5. Los Angeles Chargers
This will be a two-score game—but if the Chargers make it this far, their season can be labeled as a success.
- Pittsburgh Steelers def. 2. Tennessee Titans
How cruel of me to vault the Titans all the way to the two seed only to have them lose their first playoff game—no matter, they will be good for years to come.
- New York Giants def 1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks losing at home in the playoffs? That can’t be right. Manning’s weird playoff overdrive kicks in here.
- Green Bay Packers def. 6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A regular season rematch has the Packers on top again—the Bucs will score, but not enough to counter Rodgers and co.
- Pittsburgh Steelers def. 1. New England Patriots
A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship, this would be a tremendous upset. Brady rarely loses at home, but Ben plays just a little better here.
- Green Bay Packers def. 4. New York Giants
Will there be another Hail Mary? Maybe, but this game of revenge has been building since Favre’s last pass as a Packer, where he threw a pick that lost the 2007 NFC Championship to the Giants.
- Pittsburgh Steelers def. 2. Green Bay Packers
As a Packer fan, I cringed typing every word on the last line. This will be an incredible game, but just too much offense on the Steelers’s side of the ball.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jamal Adams, S, Jets
Comeback Player of the Year: Justin Houston, LB, Chiefs
Coach of the Year: Mike Mularkey, Titans
With all his weapons back, Rodgers will join Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only players to win MVP 3 or more times. Antonio Brown will follow Rodgers in the MVP voting and break the all-time receptions record. And forget the back injury—Watt will fall right back into form for the Texans. Although he doesn’t have the job right now, Samaje will lead all rookie rushers this season. Jamal Adams will be one of the few bright spots on the Jets this season, and anchor the back line of the defense. Speaking of anchors, Justin Houston will be back with a chip on his shoulder for the Chiefs. And finally, Mularkey is leading the Titans in the right direction.
Football is back, here we go!