PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Dallas Cowboys
2. New York Giants
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Washington Redskins
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys come into 2017 thinking they can win it all. And why not? They were 13-3 a season ago with a rookie quarterback and a rookie halfback. There is no reason to think Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott won’t be even better this time around. Prescott was amazing in his rookie season, throwing for nearly 4000 yards and only four picks all year. Usually, a rookie with a little more touchdowns than interceptions is pretty good. Prescott had nearly eight TDs for every interception a year ago. That’s unheard of! Dallas does see the schedule toughen up this year though. They have the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks, Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos to go along with the two games with the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles. There aren’t too many easy ones on there. But the ‘Boys will be a contender in 2017.
New York Giants: The one team Dallas could not solve last season was the Giants. Two of their three losses were to the G-Men. Eli Manning will surely test the Cowboys again with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall to throw the ball to. Manning has two Super Bowl wins on his resume already. With him, the Giants are always a threat. New York had a top five defense last year as well. They held the Cowboys to 26 points in two games. Most teams couldn’t do that in one game. Jason Pierre-Paul, Eli Apple, and Janoris Jenkins will be tough to move the ball against this season. Look for the Giants to be a playoff team once again in 2017.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz in year two should be a lot of fun to watch. If not for the ridiculous season Prescott had last year, the football world would be giddy over what this guy did in his rookie season. He started in all 16 games, went 7-9, and threw 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Until Dak came along, that was a great rookie year. The Eagles have loaded up with some weapons for Wentz this year too. Jordan Matthews, Ryan Mathews, LaGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, the list goes on and on. With all of those guys to get the ball to, Wentz should have a fantastic year in his second season. The big question in Philly will be whether the defense can stop people. Last year, they were kind of a middle of the pack defense, but at just over 20 points per game, they don’t have too far to go to be one of the best. If that unit improves, watch out for the Eagles in 2017. We like the Eagles to be right there for a playoff spot all the way to the end.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins might come in last place in this division or they might come in first. Neither would be a surprise. But we are going to lean towards them finishing in last for two reasons. One, they lost DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, so Kirk Cousins has to get to know a new crop of receivers this year. That tends to make us think they will get off to a slow start in 2017. Two, this division is brutal. From top to bottom it is the best in the NFC, maybe in all of football. With six games against the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys, then also the Raiders, Broncos, Chiefs, Vikings, Cardinals, and Saints on the schedule, that is a tough slate. Look for Washington to finish around 8-8 this season.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. Los Angeles Rams
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks, defending NFC West champs, are the favorite going into 2017. The addition of Eddie Lacy should help ease the void left by Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson should be hitting his prime. The defense is still one of the best in the NFL. Pete Carroll is still roaming the sidelines. The Seahawks also have a favorable schedule in 2017. They play the Rams and 49ers twice, and every team from the AFC South. You have to like the Seahawks to win at least eight with the AFC South and NFC West. A couple more wins and Seattle is looking at a 10-6 or even 11-5 season. 11-5 will be plenty good enough to win the NFC West in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cards should be in great shape for a Wild Card berth. They have roughly the same schedule as Seattle, only instead of the Packers and Falcons, they have the Lions and Bucs. But can they sweep the AFC South? The Cards struggle when they play the AFC. Last year, they lost to Miami, New England without Tom Brady, and Buffalo. Arizona should stay in the hunt in 2017 if Carson Palmer can cut down on his interceptions and stay healthy. They still have Larry Fitzgerald, which means they are dangerous. The Cards secondary is one of the best in the game as well with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu back there. It’s a real possibility for Arizona to go 10-6 and take a Wild Card spot.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers come into 2017 hoping to put a tumultuous 2016 behind them. They finished 2-14 and had to deal with the fallout of Colin Kaepernick’s political activism. Kaepernick and their other quarterback from last season, Blaine Gabbert, are no longer with the team. The depth chart has Brian Hoyer listed as the starter with Matt Barkley as his backup. Neither of those has the Seahawks or Cardinals shaking in their boots. The Niners have a new GM, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer legend John Lynch. Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons last season, is the new head coach. The 49ers obtained some weapons for the offense in Pierre Garcon and Carlos Hyde to go along with Bruce Ellington. They should be better on offense this season. The defense last season was dead last in the NFL. They were the worst in both yards and points per game, allowing over 30 per game with an average of over 400 yards. So they have nowhere to go but up in 2017. Look for San Francisco to improve on the 2-14 season, but not by much.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams’ season is all about Jared Goff and his progression. They will not be too concerned about wins and losses, but how does Goff look in year two. Last year, he took over a 4-5 team and finished 4-12. So he’s got to be going into the preseason with a bit of shaken confidence. Can Goff become the quarterback the Rams thought he was when they picked him number one in the draft? Luckily for Goff, the schedule is not one of the toughest in the league. The Rams play the 49ers twice, the entire AFC South, and the Saints. He should be able to keep the Rams in these games until the end. Last year, the Rams ranked 23rd in the league on defense, they need to get better. Plus, they are still a few years away from playing in their new stadium in Inglewood, so they don’t have a big home field advantage. The Rams will do well to equal the 4-12 record from last season.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Detroit Lions
4. Chicago Bears
Green Bay Packers: The Packers come in as the defending champions of the NFC North after going 10-6 last season. Green Bay was 4-6 and on a four-game slide when they ran off six straight wins to win the division. Then they won two more in a row in the playoffs before finally losing in the NFC Championship game to the Falcons. Aaron Rodgers was amazing, throwing for 4000+ yards, 40 TD passes, with only seven interceptions. 14 of those TD passes went to Jordy Nelson and another 12 to Davante Adams. Rodgers kept it together during the four-game mid-season slide and did not allow the team to panic. With Rodgers at the helm, it’s hard not to like the Packers to win the division again.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings finished 8-8 a season ago after a 5-0 start. Minnesota played the entire season without QB Teddy Bridgewater. The starter injured his knee in the season’s first practice. Sam Bradford stepped in and did an acceptable job. Aided by one of the league’s best defenses, they stayed in the playoff hunt late into the year. If they can do better with Bridgewater back, they will be going to the playoffs in 2017. It will be interesting to see how the running game will do without Adrian Peterson. They lose one of the best running backs of all time with Peterson gone. But the defense is one of the league’s best and that will keep them in the race. We like the Vikings to finish second in the North.
Detroit Lions: Not far behind the Packers and Vikings are the Detroit Lions. Last season, they were in the division race until the last game of the season. They made it to the playoffs as a Wild Card team, finishing 9-7. With Matthew Stafford, the Lions have one of the best starting quarterbacks in the game. Stafford threw for almost 4000 yards, 24 TD passes, and only 10 interceptions in 2016. His 65% completion rate is one of the best. Like the Vikings, the big question in Detroit is who will run the ball. Will it be second year back Ameer Abdullah? And if so, how good will he be? Another big question is can they beat the Packers in that last game at home. They didn’t last year and we all remember the game two years ago when they couldn’t stop a Hail Mary. Too many questions make us think they miss the playoffs.
Chicago Bears: The one sure bet in this division is the Bears finish last. The big question in Chicago is when do we see Mitchell Trubisky. Can Mike Glennon perform well enough to keep him on the sidelines and learn for his rookie year? Or will he be thrown to the Lions (and Packers and Vikings) early? Glennon, kicked to the curb by Jameis Winston in Tampa, signed a three-year deal to replace Jay Cutler in Chicago. Then the Bears selected a QB at #2 in the draft. Glennon hasn’t taken it well. Plus, the Bears had the third pick but gave away the farm to move up one spot to take Trubisky. But if you believe the 49ers, he would have been there anyway. Bad moves on and off the field will keep Chicago at the bottom of their division.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Carolina Panthers
Atlanta Falcons: Last year’s Super Bowl runner-up will be a team to watch in 2017. They have a new, state-of-the-art stadium opening this year, which will create a lot of buzz. But will they be able to forget that they had a 25-point lead in the second half of the Super Bowl and couldn’t finish? Nobody knows. Because nobody’s ever blown that big of a lead in the Super Bowl. The Falcons are extremely talented with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. But how will they come out mentally? It would surprise nobody of they struggle out of the gate. One thing working in their favor is five of their six division games are in the last six weeks of the season. So they have an opportunity to finish strong and make up a lot of ground.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston enters year three as the worst starting quarterback in the NFC South. Of course, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about when the other three are Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees. Those three could all be in Canton one day. Winston can make huge strides in getting mentioned with those three if he can improve as much in his third season as he did last season. If he can cut his 18 interceptions down to about 10, and with new weapon DeSean Jackson to go with Mike Evans, he might be able to do that. The Bucs won nine games last season, so with a couple more this year, they are a playoff team. Vernon Hargreaves has the potential to be the next great shutdown corner in the league, so that could help propel the Bucs’ defense among the top ten. Things are looking up in Tampa Bay.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints need to get busy, because Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger. Their defense was awful last year as they went 7-9 despite Brees putting up video game numbers again. New Orleans is wasting a Hall of Fame quarterback much like the Miami Dolphins wasted Dan Marino in the 1980s and 1990s. The Saints did manage to win one Super Bowl with Brees, and it looks like they might have to settle for that. Even with Adrian Peterson coming in and making an already explosive offense even better, everyone knows defense wins championships. The Saints do not have one.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers seem to be good every other year. The good news for Panthers fans is 2017 is their year to be good again. Last year, they plummeted to a 6-10 record, which was a nine-game fall off from the previous season. That’s an unheard of free fall. Obviously, Carolina suffered from a Super Bowl hangover in 2016. That makes people think they should be dangerous in 2107 because their biggest threat should be suffering from the mother of all Super Bowl hangovers this year. So if the Panthers can get by Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay, there is no reason they can’t win the NFC South and perhaps make a serious run at the Super Bowl. One big question, though, is Cam’s mental state. Last season, he admitted that he and football have a “love-hate relationship” and that right now he isn’t feeling the love. That has to make every Panthers fan cringe when they hear this. He sounds like a guy thinking about retiring sooner rather than later. A bad 2017 might make him think about it even harder. So this is a big year for him and the future of the Panthers.