Training camps are underway which means the NFL preseason is almost here! Before the Cardinals and Cowboys get things started on Thursday night, here’s a four-pack of what I think will happen in 2017-18. I’ve probably mentioned at few of these in previous blogs but here I’ll go in-depth:
FIRST DOWN: The New England Patriots will once again go undefeated in the regular season.
Hey they did it in 2008, why not again this season? After battling back from a 28-3 third quarter deficit to win Super Bowl LI in overtime, I have to believe the Pats’ momentum will continue into the regular season. In the offseason they made some key personnel changes:
RB: Mike Gillislee (from Buffalo) and Rex Burkhead (from Cincinnati) for LaGarrette Blount (went to Philadelphia)
WR: Brandin Cooks (from New Orleans)
TE: Dwayne Allen (from Indianapolis) for Martellus Bennett (went to Green Bay)
DE: Kony Ealy (from Carolina)
CB: Stephon Gilmore (from Buffalo) for Logan Ryan (went to Tennessee)
To sum it up, they acquired more running back depth, an elite wide receiver, a very solid backup tight end, an underrated defensive end, and a shutdown cornerback.
Oh yeah…and New England gets the best tight end in the league, (former UofA standout) Rob Gronkowski, back after missing the last half of the 2016 regular season and playoffs.
This roster is EASILY the best in the league and I’m not sure anyone else’s is close.
Taking a look at the schedule, here are the tough road games:
Week 2: at New Orleans
Week 5: at Tampa Bay
Week 10: at Denver
Week 11: at Oakland (in Mexico City)
Week 14: at Miami
Week 15: at Pittsburgh
I can make an argument for 2-3 losses at most…but I believe Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are so focused to cement their legacy as the greatest dynasty in NFL history that another undefeated season is coming. And this time…they won’t have to face a hungry Giants team in the Super Bowl.
SECOND DOWN: The Dallas Cowboys will regress, miss the playoffs, and cost Jason Garrett his head coaching job.
Sorry Cowboys fans…the truth hurts sometimes. The sophomore slump will be a factor for 2016 Rookie of the Year, QB Dak Prescott and runner-up, RB Ezekiel Elliott. Unfortunately Elliott can’t keep his nose out of trouble and a multiple game suspension might be coming.
Looking at the schedule…don’t underestimate the possibility of an 0-3 start (especially if Elliott is suspended) with games against the Giants, at the Broncos, and at the Cardinals.
Three straight home games between Weeks 11-13 give them a chance to right the ship but they close at the Giants, at the Raiders, home against the Seahawks, and at the Eagles.
I’ll say 8-8, no playoffs, and owner / GM Jerry Jones will be looking for a new head coach come January.
THIRD DOWN: The AFC South will be the most competitive division in the league with all four teams mathematically alive to win at the start of December.
According to BetOnline.ag, the Texans and Titans are both 2-1 to win the AFC South title with the Colts at 2.2-1 and the Jaguars at 6-1. But as I discussed several weeks ago in my Over/Under Wins article, Jacksonville has a MUCH improved defense and if Blake Bortles can throw the ball more to his own team than the opponent, this team is very interesting. Their odds should be closer to the other three teams.
Houston has major QB issues and unless rookie QB Deshaun Watson is this year’s Dak Prescott, the Texans might struggle to move the ball effectively through the air. A healthy J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney arguably gives the Texans the best defensive line tandem in the league…but the loss of underrated #1 CB A.J. Bouye (to the Jaguars) really hurts. A record between 7-9 and 9-7 seems most probable.
Tennessee is the popular pro football pundits sleeper in 2017. A balanced offense led by former NFL rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, and 2015 & 2016 Heisman Trophy winners, QB Marcus Mariota and RB Derrick Henry should keep the Titans in just about every game. Adding veteran WR Eric Decker and top-ten draft pick Corey Davis addressed the Titans’ biggest offseason need. Assuming Mariota stays healthy (unlike the end of last season), I expect Tennessee to win 9-10 games and be a strong AFC playoff contender.
Indianapolis might be in deep trouble if QB Andrew Luck’s shoulder woes don’t improve. The offensive line isn’t great and if they can’t get off to a 3-0 start (with games at the lowly Rams and home against the Cardinals and Browns), coach Chuck Pagano may not make it to November. As they look to be rebuilding a bit, a 7 or 8 win season appears most likely barring Luck’s health.
Jacksonville’s first 10 games are fairly favorable so it wouldn’t be an impossible dream to imagine the Jaguars at 7-3 coming into Arizona on Thanksgiving weekend. Well…that might be asking too much. Either way, I’m thinking the Jags are a year away and should finish 2017 with 6-8 wins total.
Give me Tennessee as the favorite but I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these four teams play a home game in the Wild Card round.
FOURTH DOWN: The NFC West will have completed its transformation from the strongest division in football several years ago to the weakest in 2017.
In 2013, Seattle won the West at 13-3 followed by San Francisco at 12-4, Arizona at 10-6, and (then) St. Louis at 7-9. Since then the division has been in a major slide and this year profiles to be the worst in football.
Seattle has run into salary cap issues since their back-to-back Super Bowl run several years ago. QB Russell Wilson is still the face of the franchise but the talent around him has diminished.
The Cardinals are aging and despite having star RB David Johnson and future Hall-of-Famer WR Larry Fitzgerald, they look to be the definition of an average team on paper.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are in the midst of major rebuilding processes and appear to be at least two years away from achieving a .500 season.
It’s conceivable, based on the talent drop-off, that the NFC West might see close to a repeat of 2010, where each team won between 5 and 7 games. While that might be a bit drastic, an 8-8 Seattle or Arizona might have a chance at capturing the NFC’s #4 seed with a division title.