Falcons hit by injury bug, miss playoffs
No Super Bowl loser has gone back to the big game the following season since the 1993 Buffalo Bills, and Atlanta will struggle this year.
In what is a tough division, they will have to face three improved rivals: New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay. Carolina went to the Super Bowl two years ago and returned in 2016 as a 6-10 team. Atlanta will face the same fate. The success behind last year’s Falcons was their health. If they can be healthy for a second straight season, they will be tough to beat. But for a team that has an injury history such as the Falcons, I doubt they stay healthy two years in a row. It will be back to the couch for Atlanta in January.
Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota could work his way into the upper echelon of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but Houston is still king in this division.
The Texans had the league’s best defense from a year ago and have one of the greatest pass rushers of all time coming back to join them, also known as J.J. Watt. The quarterback position has been a struggle for them, but they have the most talent at the position than they have had in years with Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson.
The Titans’ mix of veteran talent and promise in their youth will have them sniffing the playoffs as the wild card, but I like Houston’s chances to three-peat as division champs.
Teams won’t put take talent into consideration, Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned through ‘17
As many players have stated, Colin Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster. His talent should supercede his actions off the field. In most occasions, this should hold true, especially when no criminal activity has been involved.
Teams experiencing quarterback trouble like Jacksonville, Miami, Baltimore and the New York Jets should seek out his services. However, things aren’t always fair in the NFL fair. It looks like Kaepernick — a former Super Bowl quarterback — will remain this season as a free agent.
Bucs end playoff drought, win NFC South for first time since ‘07
Tampa QB Jameis Winston is entering his third season. He grew a lot from 2015 to 2016 and now he is hoping his leap into Year 3 will take his Bucs to a place they haven’t been in 10 seasons: the playoffs.
Winston’s work ethic has been displayed as a main focal point on “Hard Knocks” and the team around him is very talented. The additions of tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver DeSean Jackson upgrade his weapons from last year. The defense is also coming into its own and looks like it can challenge the best. The team finished 9-7 last season, so they are nearly there.
The NFC East is the best division in football; all teams finish 8-8 or better
The NFC East is the deepest division in football and should be the most intriguing to watch. Reigning champion Dallas brings back their QB/RB dynamic duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott (even if the latter is suspended).
The Giants made the playoffs last year thanks to a much improved defense. With added weapons on the offensive side from this offseason, the club will be a tough out in the division.
Washington controlled its playoff situation going into a Week 17 home game against New York last season, which the Giants won. An improved defensive line and the addition of WR Terrelle Pryor gives Washington a good shot to contend yet again for the playoffs.
Philadelphia has a fourth-place schedule, but is likely the best cellar dweller from last season. The Eagles hope QB Carson Wentz makes a strong second-year leap, and have helped him by upgrading his receivers with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
It’s anyone’s division, though I like the Cowboys to repeat.
DeShone Kizer is only rookie starting Week 1, but by season’s end he won’t be the only one
DeShone Kizer was the fourth quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft — by the Browns — but he will be the only one lining up under center Week 1. Three teams traded up in the first round to take quarterbacks who are not ready to start. The Bears took Mitchell Trubisky, the Chiefs took Patrick Mahomes and the Texans took Deshaun Watson.
One of these guys will definitely get action this season. Trubisky is the likeliest of the three, given that the Bears will likely not be in contention. Watson is the second likeliest given that Tom Savage has a very shaky injury history. I don’t expect Mahomes to see the field unless Alex Smith gets injured. Smith has not missed more than one game in a season in his four years in Kansas City.
Rookie quarterbacks offer a ton of excitement, and it will be fun to see these guys take the field this season.
Aaron Rodgers wins another league MVP
Rodgers is entering Season 13 of his career and Year 10 as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback. In two of those seasons (2011 and 2014), he was the MVP. If we are going off of the pattern here, he should become an MVP yet again in 2017. A-Rod has one of the best offenses in the league and he’s an MVP candidate every single season. This season, I think he wins again because of the new threat in the running game.
More attention will be focused on defending the run, which will allow Rodgers to do his thing and air out the ball with much less pressure than in past years. He has every ingredient necessary for an MVP campaign.
Denver falls off the horse, finishes below .500 for first time since 2010
Gary Kubiak is a quarterback whisperer. He made Matt Schaub a Pro Bowl quarterback for crying out loud! Now, he’s out as Broncos head coach and defense-oriented Vance Joseph is in. Joseph has talented defense, but the offense is another matter. The offense that QB Trevor Siemian is expected to run cannot be expected to perform at the same level. The Broncos’ strong defense led them to a 9-7 record last year, but now, with a weakened offense, Siemian needs to progress in his second year as starter. But he does not have the weapons to succeed.
Myles Garrett is the defensive ROY, makes Pro Bowl
Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, Myles Garrett was the surefire top selection and the Browns were happy to take him. Garrett looks like someone that could be a mainstay on the line for a decade in Cleveland. He has the tools of a premier pass rusher and has little competition for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Solomon Thomas of the 49ers and Jamal Adams of the Jets will be his main challengers, but Garrett has the greatest chance to succeed. Cleveland may not be a winner this year but the Browns are making the correct moves now to be a contender down the line.
NFC Wild Card berths go to Washington and New York
As mentioned earlier, the NFC East is going to be stacked. I expect three teams to make the playoffs out of there. Dallas is going to suffer in the secondary, but I still expect the overall talent of the Cowboys to take them to the top of the division. Philadelphia will also be a threat for the wild card, as will New Orleans, Carolina, and Minnesota, but I like Washington and New York to make it out of the NFC as Wild Cards.
Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt will be this year’s surprise breakout rookie
Spencer Ware is out for the year and was projected to be the lead back for Kansas City. What’s the solution? Enter Kareem Hunt, a third-round pick from Toledo. Hunt was the sixth running back selected in this past draft, but might be the No. 1 rookie running back this season.
The Chiefs will likely have Hunt and Charcandrick West split carries to begin the season, but Hunt is the running back with the higher ceiling. If you are looking for a fantasy sleeper this season, Hunt’s your guy. He’s going to do big things for the Chiefs.
Giants vs. Packers in Lambeau for the NFC Title
Rodgers is going to lead the Packers to the NFC Championship because of their high octane offense. The Giants will get there because of their dynamic defense. Dallas and Seattle will also be teams making the Divisional Round, but I like Green Bay against Dallas and New York to upset Seattle.
Derek Carr and Raiders will be the top challenger to the Patriots in the AFC
The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, but three teams are in the next tier. Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Oakland all have the chance to be the team to face them in the AFC Championship.
If QB Derek Carr can stay healthy, I like Oakland’s chances to be that team. The Raiders had a nightmarish ending to last season when Carr got hurt, but if they can avoid that, I like Oakland’s chances of going deep into January.
We will finally get our Rodgers-Brady Super Bowl
Green Bay will be able to conquer the defense of the Giants, and the Patriots will make quick work of Oakland in their respective conference championship games.
Many people peg Packers vs. Patriots as their Super Bowl prediction every year, yet a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl has not occurred in 21 years.
The reason why this year is the year for that to happen? The Patriots are the defending champions and also won the offseason, acquiring WR Brandin Cooks, RB Mike Gillislee, and CB Stephon Gilmore. The NFC is wide open, but Rodgers has as good an offense as he has ever had. This might be our last chance to have a Brady-Rodgers Super Bowl, and this is the year we are going to get it.
New England will win its sixth Super Bowl
New England has won some pretty tight Super Bowls, so there will be time for the dramatics. In a game featuring arguably the game’s two best quarterbacks on the game’s greatest stage in Minneapolis, we might witness one of the greatest games ever played.
It will be tough to top last year’s game, but this one will be close. I like New England 34-28.
Jeremy Brener is a student at Central Florida and writes a weekly NFL column for Outsports He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@BrenerJeremy).