The NFL Season Preview to help you make it to September

NFL Training Camps have started and Football is in the air.
Here’s a detailed NFL preview to help you with your fantasy draft, your general desire for ANYTHING football at this point in the year and regular day-to-day conversations with the way too confident fan in the office.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass during the second quarter of Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. ( Jon Shapley / Houston Chronicle )

Arizona Cardinals 

The Cardinals finished 7-8-1 last year. Honestly, that’s such a blah win/loss record some might prefer a real loser of a season to shake things up. But this is .500 territory, and nothing is worse than .500 territory. With that said, the defense was a bright-side, as they finished second best in the NFL (yards allowed). But that didn’t translate into any semblance of domination.

Going into the draft rumors had it that Arizona was gunning for a quarterback at number 13. Alas, this wasn’t the case, but overall the Cardinals did quite nicely. That number 13 pick went to linebacker Haason Reddick out of Temple, which along with Budda Baker, a safety out of Washington, the defense will remain solid. Free agent departures Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson certainly does not leave head coach Bruce Arians sleeping peacefully, but Reddick and Baker should provide some nice performance talking points leading up to Week 1.

Carson Palmer needs some help on the offensive side of the ball, and wideout Chad Williams from Grambling coupled with T.J. Logan, a running back from North Carolina, will complement the Cardinal attack. Logan ran a blazing 4.37-40 at the combine, which certainly caught everyone’s attention. David Johnson is one of the best at running back in the NFL and combined with Larry Fitzgerald it is a bit head-scratching how this team only ended up at 7-8-1.

Palmer took a beating in the backfield in 2016, getting sacked 40 times plus a head-ringing concussion. He’ll be 38 so it would be foolish to think Arizona isn’t thinking about the future. If the same guy who battled Cam Newton for the 2015 MVP is still lurking about, 2017 is the time to bring it out.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Ever hear of Super Bowl hangover? As a fan, that’s one thing, but as a team it’s entirely different, although the effects are similar. Fan bases and teams reach the big show and sometimes even if they don’t win it all, getting there was a heck of a ride, and resting on your laurels in the off-season does tend to occur with some franchises. Twenty-five years have passed since a Super Bowl loser has made it back the following year. But instead of dwelling on what hasn’t occurred, let’s focus on the positive in A-Town, as by far the biggest news out of the Dirty Bird camp this offseason has been the acquisition of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. “Sark” as he has been known since his USC days takes over a prolific offense, and one that returns an impressive 9 of 11 starters. This is an offense that scored 540 points last year, tying the 2000 St. Louis Rams which was the 7th most in the history of the NFL.

Helping on the defensive end will be newly added Dontari Poe, a key signing that should shore up the Falcon’s defensive line for a couple seasons to come. Coach Dan Quinn has been raving not only about Poe’s play, but his demeanor both on the field and in the locker-room. Quarterback Matt Ryan meanwhile is confident that the demanding work he’s been putting in on his footwork since February will pay major dividends, especially in regard to his accuracy. He had an amazing 2016 and even though he has in back-up Matt Schaub what might be a NFL caliber starting QB, look for Schaub to be a spectator throughout the year unless something unforeseen should occur.

The Falcons will be playing in the newly minted Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a whopping 27 years playing in the Georgia Dome. New home, new spark, perhaps that twenty-five-year streak might come to an end after all.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Defense, defense, defense. No mystery here, the Ravens are known for their D and the 2017 campaign is shaping up to be potentially legendary. Key defensive tackle Brandon Williams was re-signed, safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr were picked up, and the Raven’s first four draft picks were all defense. See a pattern here?

Baltimore’s D is expected to wreak havoc on quarterbacks and cover the back end just as effectively. While this will be critical, a stout offensive line on the other side of the ball certainly doesn’t hurt. Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor were highly prized draft picks weighing a combined 650 pounds. The ground game will depend on these boys, and newly added Senior Offensive Assistant/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman is expected to beef up the running game. Roman had been a part of two squads that finished top five in total rushing yards (Buffalo Bills and San Francisco Giants) and will be counted on to bring that same expertise to Baltimore come September.

Joe Flacco isn’t getting any younger, but we’ve seen this Baltimore franchise win the big one on the shoulders of a sound defense before. If Flacco can get adequate protection and benefit from a solid run game, the Ravens could be Super Bowl bound once again. Not likely in 2017, but we’ve seen stranger runs in the past … New York Giants anyone?

 

Buffalo Bills

When you’re talking the AFC East one team typically comes to mind, and it’s not Buffalo. But if there was a team to challenge the juggernaut that is the New England Patriots, it’s this year’s squad right here.

Let’s start at quarterback. While Tyrod Taylor is no Tom Brady, he’s a solid NFL QB who does not turn

the ball over (only 6 interceptions last year), and is complemented in the backfield by none other than LeSean McCoy. Get this gentleman in open space and he will make you miss, we’ve seen it time and time again. Taylor’s job would be a whole lot easier if the Bills could land free agent, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, a former teammate of McCoy in Philadelphia who visited the team in early June. McCoy has been publicly recruiting the speedy Maclin and adding a 6,395 receiving yard, 46 touchdown player (over his seven year career) would be a nice plus when running up against that Patriot defense.

At an organizational level, with head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, insiders are noting this is the first time these two positions have been philosophically aligned in decades. McDermott and Beane spent time together in Carolina (six seasons) and have a fantastic working rapport and shared vision for the future.

Last but certainly not least, the safety position improved dramatically with the signing of Micah Hyde to a five-year $30.5 million deal. One of the most coveted on the market during this offseason, McDermott’s defense will center on the versatile Hyde and is expected to improve dramatically as a result.

 

Carolina Panthers

Outside of Cam, what’s on everyone’s minds both inside and outside Carolina is how this backfield paring of Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey is going to shake out. Most expect a similar outcome to the previous DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart duo that enjoyed tremendous success rushing, each, for over 1,100 yards in a single season (an NFL record).

Stewart is a ground and pound runner, and McCaffrey is electric. “Thunder and lightning” has emerged as the ideal scenario where Stewart takes on the tough, short yardage, and McCaffrey gets a chance to shine in the open field. Had the Panthers selected Leonard Fournette for example, there would probably have been some grumbling from Stewart due to the similarity of their playing style. But McCaffrey seems to complement Stewart’s weaknesses, and vice-versa, very well.

Now on to Cam. Most are predicting a bounce back year for the electric quarterback who disappointed in 2016. Finishing 6-10, they are pre-ranked 11th and no team in the Top 10 had a losing record last year. In fact, Vegas Super Bowl odds peg the Panthers at 20-1 – only six teams have better odds.

Tight-end Greg Olsen alongside Stewart and McCaffrey is expected to give Cam the firepower he needs to bounce back in a tangible way. It was a tough decline from winning the MVP to going 6-10. Carolina fans understand dips in performance, but expect the pressure to be on from Day 1 this season.

 

Chicago Bears

An interesting signing over the off-season for the Bears was quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract. Matt Barkley registered 14 interceptions in 216 passes last year and is now a 49er. Jay Cutler is working for Fox Sports, so that leaves Glennon in the driving seat. Chicago picked up Mitch Trubisky in the draft who has already been pegged as the future of the franchise, so Glennon’s margin for error will be in a word – infinitesimal.

On the receiving end Alshon Jeffrey and Eddie Royal (two of their top three last year) have bolted, which leaves Cameron Meredith as the only player with over 25 receptions from last year. Kevin White, a first-round pick from 2015, will bear a heavy burden and combined with tight end Zach Miller will be expected to lead the strike downfield.

Surprisingly enough Chicago ranked 6th in yards per carry and 7th in yards per completion in 2016. Running back Jordan Howard (5.2 yards per carry) had a nice rookie season last year and could be a breakout player come this fall. The addition of Tarik Cohen, a speedy rookie from North Carolina A&T will be a nice complement but the drop off is drastic after Howard and Cohen.

On the defensive side the Bears were miserable last year, and so far, this doesn’t look to be improving. Chicago does return safety Adrian Amos, cornerback Kyle Fuller and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall. Add this to the signing of cornerback Prince Amukamara and not all is doom is gloom. But this isn’t the same Prince from two years ago so look for Chicago to be offensively led coming into 2017. Improvement overall is expected, but a playoff run is still a couple years out.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

We won’t sugarcoat it; the Bengals need to make some serious improvements over the coming months to have a shot at any semblance of success in 2017. The bright side – his name is John Ross. The 5’11’’ burner out of Washington is a freaking blur, and at the number 9 pick in this year’s draft Cincy fans are looking at Ross to be their DeSean Jackson and take them to the promise land. The problem is, rarely can one player put an entire NFL squad on their back, so where is the help going to come from?

It starts and ends with Andy Dalton. Quarterback since 2011, Dalton has had some bright moments, but the help around him has been average at best. A.J. McCarron out of Alabama sits in the wings but it’s unlikely he will push Dalton for the starting job. Running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are above average in the backfield, and Rex Burkhead had a nice season last year, averaging the most yards per carry for the Bengals. Only problem, Burkhead signed a one-year contract with the Patriots this offseason.

Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green is Dalton’s premier weapon, and Tyler Boyd (a second-round 2016 pick) is a nice slot option. But if Green is injured, moving the ball will be difficult via the air unless Ross can step in and contribute immediately. Former first round defensive back picks Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson are heavy hitters which makes the position the strongest on defense. George Iloka signed a five-year, $30 million contract to be the starting safety, so the defense should be well positioned to hold their own.

Bottom line, the offensive line needs to get better to buy Dalton some time with this young corps. Probably another couple years away from a playoff run.

 

Cleveland Browns

Fourteen years, ladies and gentlemen. Fourteen long years since the Browns have sniffed the playoffs. For some this is an entire childhood, outrageous! Let’s start on the line of scrimmage and the pickup of Myles Garrett of Texas A&M with the first pick in the 2017 draft. Nicely done, Garrett possesses otherworldly athleticism and this should improve their dismal 2016 29th ranking with a 4.57% sack percentage. The Browns also drafted Larry Ogunjobi at 65 and Caleb Brantley at 185 to shore up the run defense.

The quarterback position for Cleveland this year is a bit shaky. They acquired Brock Osweiler in a trade and have on roster Cody Kessler, a former third-round pick, and DeShone Kizer, a 2017 second-round pick. Looking at Osweiler’s 2016 numbers, his former team the Texans were 1-5 in games decided by more than a touchdown and finished 32nd in yards per completion. Needless to say, it’s probably safe to assume Osweiler will not be the answer for the Browns long-term.

Terrelle Prior led the team with 77 catches last year but he signed with the Redskins this offseason. Gary Barnidge was their number two target, but the tight end was eventually cut in favor of David Njoku, a 2017 first-round pick out of the University of Miami. The Browns finished second in the NFL in yards per attempt last year, but the percentage of those plays emanating from the running game was the second-lowest. A positive of sorts on the overall offensive end, but plenty of room for improvement for the running back position.

Fourteen straight years without a postseason appearance, look for that to extend to 15 (insert sad face).

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott was a fourth-round gem of a pick. But prior to Dak there haven’t been a lot of Dak’s or even “near-Dak’s” to speak of in Dallas. Over a two-year stretch, 2014 to 2016, the Cowboys have selected 9 times in the first 101 picks of the respective year’s drafts. Names like DeMarcus Lawrence, Chaz Green, Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper and Jaylon Smith were among those picks. What have they done? Talent aside, depth is going to be a giant issue for the Cowboys going into their 2017 campaign.

But heck, aside from the lack of adequate depth, the Dallas offense is humming with a 23-year-old quarterback and 21-year-old running back. Dak and Ezekiel Elliott are as electrifying as they come and a mind-boggling 85% of last year’s offense was run through the two of them. The Cowboys O line is super young as well (average age 24), so look for this offense to keep clicking and evolving with the parts they have for at least another four years.

On defense, defensive back will be a concern. Only three teams in the league lost four defenders that had an average salary of $3 million or more during the offseason. In Dallas, four alone came from the defensive back/safety positions. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne are all gone, and what’s been the response? Signing cornerback Nolan Carroll is one, with second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie out of Colorado and Jourdan Lewis from Michigan to hopefully fill the gaps. Awuzie is the most intriguing of the bunch with many scouts expecting him to be one of the top NFL cornerbacks over the next couple years.

It should be a wild ride in Dallas this year, expect America’s team to accept that flag and run with it in 2017.

 

Denver Broncos

It happens every now and again. A team will make it to the peak of the mountain, and then the fall can be steep, rocky and full of bad memories. This was the 2016 Denver campaign. The crew won the Super Bowl to subsequently finish 9-7. Yuck! Oddly enough the team has all the requisite pieces to make it back, as they didn’t lose hardly anyone of value in the off-season. But their offensive line is not good so their draft started there.

Coming in to the draft the consensus among analysts was the offensive line class was miserable. Every team that picked from 1 to 31 agreed except … you guessed it, the Broncos. Having an offensive line that is in shambles tends to sway management towards fixing said shamble. The Broncos drafted Garett Bolles at number 20, an amazing potential guy but one with a whole lot of baggage. He’ll be a risk, but should it pay off that tackle position will shape up nicely.

The major question on the offensive side of the ball is quarterback Trevor Siemian and his long-term ability to lead this team. The pickup of Jake Butt, a tight end out of Michigan at number 145 was a steal on every analyst’s board. He is expected to be a major weapon moving forward, and at 145, this was a literal high jacking. De’Angelo Henderson, a running back from Coastal Carolina will be a serviceable back, especially considering Denver dumped Kapri Bibbs in a trade. Henderson was quite productive in college and could emerge as the Bronco’s number 2 back.

This year will be Siemian’s time to shine (nor not). Mile-high fans will get restless after another ho-hum finish however.

 

Detroit Lions

26-6. Detroit fans spent an entire offseason with 26-6 haunting them morning, noon and night. Yes, they made the playoffs, a success for any Lions fan. But they were promptly dispatched 26-6 by the Seattle Seahawks. In fact, it wasn’t much of a game, so for most Lions followers, the season was again a frustrating one.

Matthew Stafford is an above average quarterback, but the offense is not. Running backs Theo Reddick, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner and Ameer Abdullah shared the rock in the backfield, with Abdullah standing out among the bunch. Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and third-round pick Kenny Golladay will be Stafford’s go-to receivers, and from a protection standpoint Detroit signed right tackle Ricky Wagner to a five-year, $47.5 million contract to make sure Matthew gets as much time as possible to bob and weave.

On the defensive side linebacker was a weakness and the good news is Detroit higher-ups are on it. First-round pick Jarrad Davis out of the University of Florida, Jalen Reeves-Maybin from the University of Tennessee, and Paul Worrilow, a one year signee from the Falcons are on board, and this is a massive step up and a welcome one at that.

Yet despite all that, the Lions will lean on their offense, and more specifically being able to dink-and-dunk their way to wins. Coach Jim Caldwell is going to have an uphill grind this year and a wildcard would be a victory, period. If running back Abdullah continues to develop and a major signing arrives, things might turn around for Detroit. Otherwise look for the Lions to hover around .500.

 

Green Bay Packers

It will come down to the Pack and the Vikings for that NFC North title race. A solid rivalry if there ever was one, and 2017 is shaping up to be a close one. The core of this team has been in place since 2008. That’s rather unheard of in the NFL, much less pro sports in general. General Manager Ted Thompson, Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, and Quarterback Aaron Rodgers are the heart and soul in Green Bay and lead the Packers into 2017 with lofty expectations, as usual.

If we started with anyone but Rodgers you’d close this page. Since he’s been named starting QB only the Patriots have won more games. They’ve been to 9 of their last 10 playoffs with Mr. Rodgers at the helm and there is no reason to think a drop in productivity is upon him anytime soon.

Eddie Lacy signed with the Seahawks after going down with an injury last year. That sent the Pack into a quiet frenzy resulting in Ty Montgomery (a former wide receiver) transitioning into the backfield. Green Bay then signed Christine Michael and added Knile Davis, and their 2017 draft class (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays) leaves Rodgers and company with a plethora of rock-running options. One of these six should pan out, right?

On the receiving side, Lance Kendricks was brought in to join Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Richard Rodgers. Second-year, undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison still has some scouts drooling at the mouth, and if he lives up to expectations, look for another high-octane air attack out of the Pack.

Green Bay’s defense will be nice, but not as nice as the offense. Clay Matthews is well, Clay Matthews, but much of their penetrating depth is not returning unfortunately. Julius Peppers and Datone Jones signed elsewhere and other additions are minor if anything. Either way, a force to contend with like always, get used to seeing the green and yellow late in the season once again.

 

Houston Texans

The Texans have been like the most popular girl/guy in school that excels at everything but manages to crash and burn when it’s really time to perform. Be it the final game of the season, cheerleading championships, dance or theatre, the most popular arrives, but don’t always bring their A game.

There is no reason a Houston team without J.J. Watt (without J.J. Watt!) that was the best defensive unit in the NFL last year could go 9-7. Well, they’ve gone 9-7 for the past three years so to die-hard Texans fans, it is painfully possible, and painfully unexplainable.

Now, the defense did lose a top tackler in cornerback A.J. Bouye, a fair to above-average linebacker (John Simon) and Quintin Demps, a veteran safety who had a nice season last year with 6 interceptions. But again, J.J. Watt was injured and is expected back in full form, and the Texans picked up some capable players in the draft. Zach Cunningham, a linebacker out of Vanderbilt was picked 57, but hardly anyone had him dropping so low. The guy is a major hitter, and will help fill in where aging Brian Cushing cannot. Another decent acquisition on the defensive end was safety Treston Decoud out of Oregon State. He’s got a history of concussions, so this might derail the young man, but if not, a nice addition nonetheless.

Aside from the dominating D, let’s talk offense, and specifically quarterback. Did you think the Texans were going to hand the keys over to Tom Savage after losing starting QB Brock Osweiler? No dear reader, this was not going to occur, hence the number 12 pick in the draft of Deshaun Watson. Houston fans thought Tony Romo might have been available, but that didn’t pan out for anyone. Watson was a bit of a stretch at number 12, but again, Tom Savage … Tom Savage. Case closed.

 

Indianapolis Colts

Chuck Pagano, how can we put this, err, politely – win this year or Canadian football awaits. Not an Alcatraz sentence, but not the type of exit any NFL coach desires. Yet, after missing the playoffs now two years in a row, Colts fans have pretty much had it. This is Peyton Manning country, Indy doesn’t miss the playoffs, much less two years in a row. Andrew Luck is due for a bounce back year, but can the rest of the team step up?

That’s a legit question after losing some serious offensive talent in the offseason. Stud tight end Dwayne Allen said adios and headed to none other than the Patriots. Ouch, sort of like Kevin Durant bolting town to the Warriors, Allen was sick of losing and took his talents to the northeast. The other Colt losses came on the defensive side of the ball with D’Qwell Jackson and Erik Walden (free agents), and Josh McNary and Patrick Robinson in Jacksonville and Philadelphia respectively. Robert Mathis retired which leaves some serious holes to be patched up.

Free agency was understandably defense focused with the signings of linebackers Sean Spence and Barkevious Mingo (underrated “name” of the year), coupled with Jonathan Hawkins at defensive tackle. Offensively, wide receiver Kamar Aiken arrived who has notched three touchdowns over his last three seasons. A sneaky pickup in the draft at number 143 was Marlon Mack, running back out of South Florida. This dude is super athletic and could very well move into a starting position post Frank Gore.

The rest of the draft, like free agency, was defense centric. Notable draftees like Malik Hooker, a very highly rated safety from Ohio State at number 15, and Quincy Wilson, a cornerback from Florida will put the Colts D back in a position to play playoff caliber football. Again, Pagano’s career depends on it, and Andrew Luck might find himself in a hotter seat if another underperforming year ends up haunting him.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Remember all the buzz about Leonard Fournette? Then it subsided a bit during his last college season but Fournette was supposed to be Barry Sanders reincarnated. Well, that would frankly be awesome, and every Jaguar fan is rooting on that outcome as Jacksonville selected Mr. Fournette in the first round in the hopes of lifting this squad into the playoffs.

At quarterback Fournette will have Blake Bortles running the show. His backup is Chad Henne who could see some snaps obviously if Bortles goes down. But Blake has consistently outperformed Chad, so Jaguars fans, Blake is your man.

In the backfield with Fournette will be T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory and Corey Grant. On the pass catching side Allen Robinson, Marquise Lee and Allen Hurns return from last year alongside the addition of rookie Dede Westbrook, a Heisman finalist out of Oklahoma. Mychal Rivera, a tight-end signing from Oakland also makes his way to Jacksonville.

On the line of scrimmage the Jaguars clearly pulled out all the stops. They signed Malik Jackson to an $85 million contract, and Calais Campbell for $60 million. The draft over the past couple years yielded pass-rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Dawuane Smoot and with this collective the defensive line looks to be the bell of the ball for the Jaguars.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara is gone after his one-year deal ended, and is now replaced by A.J. Bouye, who many feel is an upgrade. A similar move occurred at safety with John Cyprien leaving and Barry Church arriving. Church signed a four-year, $26 million deal and alongside Tashaun Gipson will be the Jaguar’s safety duo moving forward.

Looks to be another re-building year in Jacksonville, but who knows, on paper they look decent to above-average.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Poor Alex Smith, sometimes you feel this guy can’t catch a break. The Chiefs were pretty good with Alex at the helm last year, 12-4 to be exact. But the guy continuously takes a beating and he took a real psychological beating during this year’s draft when Andy Reid and company selected Patrick Mahomes at number 10. The Texas Tech gunslinger is quite possibly the opposite of Smith. He is accurate as can be and will really take to Reid’s tutelage. The question is, will Smith be as giving of his time and knowledge to young Patrick? Talk about a rough situation.

But getting back to football, the goal is to improve, and the talent is here in Kansas City for a Super Bowl push. The Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles in the offseason, a legendary running back who will be sorely missed, but more than likely replaced with the likes of C.J. Spiller. Add in rookie Kareem Hunt out of Toledo (number 86 in the draft) and running back seems to be in good hands moving forward. Jehu Chesson, a wide receiver out of Michigan is a very skilled runner who really exceled at catching passes out of the backfield while playing in Ann Arbor, so if Smith can get his receivers and Spiller the rock, the Chiefs have more than a fighter’s chance of moving on.

The biggest issue with Smith is the slow, methodic pace he plays with. It has been shown to win games in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs. The problem is when you get to the rounds of the Brady’s or Roethlisberger’s as that’s when the wheels typically fall off. Knowing Andy Reid and his penchant for grooming young talent, Chiefs fans might get to know Mahomes a whole lot earlier than anyone expected.

 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams need help. We’re not going to sugarcoat this preview one bit. This team needs help, fast, and while they have some interesting building blocks for the future, there are some key areas, quarterback being one of them, that needs to get addressed. The team is back in L.A. which has appeared to make everyone happier, St. Louis residents aside, but they went 4-12 last year which is dismal, to say the least. Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, will get a crack at being a head coach in the NFL and is inheriting an offense that finished last in points and yards last year. Double vodka-tonic, anyone?

Talk about a challenge for Mr. McVay. Let’s start with some key player additions in the offseason. Robert Woods, a hometown favorite (former USC star) arrives at wide receiver where he had put up some impressive numbers with the Buffalo Bills – 203 receptions for 2,400 plus yards. Offensive linemen John Sullivan and Andrew Whitworth come on board, a pair that has started collectively 258 games in the league, and Whitworth is a three-time Pro Bowler. Not bad! Nickell Robey-Coleman, another former USC Trojan, arrives at cornerback and a stud of a linebacker, Connor Barwin, comes to aid the pass rush.

The Ram’s draft had its up’s and down’s. Fullback Sam Rogers and wide receiver Josh Reynolds were the bright spots. Rogers will join fellow running back Todd Gurely, who has already proven himself to be a top-flight RB in the league. Reynolds was a very productive receiver at Texas A&M and will be a nice addition alongside Woods for the L.A. aerial attack.

There were some odd selections as well, namely Los Angeles moving up 16 spots to select Samson Ebukam, a sixth-round prospect. They also took tight end Gerald Everett in the second round, a clear third round talent which again was a stretch. The Rams will trot out QB Jared Goff who has not performed well. If he improves, getting to .500 will be considered a successful season.

 

Miami Dolphins

There is one area that the Dolphins got better during the offseason – linebacker – with the signing of stud Lawrence Timmons, the ex-Steeler and former Pro Bowler. On a two-year, $12 million contract, Timmons will be starting on Day 1. Couple this addition with the drafting of Raekwon McMillan in the second round and Kiko Alonso who signed with the Dolphins to a four year deal, and this corps is going to be nice, real nice.

This is good news because the linebacking crew is going to have to help out the defensive tackle unit. But this is Ndamukong Suh, you shout! We hear you, but it’s the issues between the B-gaps that are most concerning with Miami being 24th in run percentage in 2016. They lost Earl Mitchell to the 49ers, but did draft Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor. These two will bear a heavy burden, hope the rookies can handle it.

Overall league analysts concur that the Dolphins really lucked out last year. As such, most predict a sub .500 season in 2017. Quarterbacks Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill are back for another go-around, and their performances head-to-head weren’t all that different. Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake will be carrying the rock, with the receiving corps of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills rounding out the offensive attack. Former Jaguar tight-end Julius Thomas comes on board, who is expected to contribute, but expectations are still up in the air.

Vegas has been down on Miami over the off-season. If there is any other way to end this review, that should tell it all.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Ok, Sam Bradford doesn’t exactly ring Super Bowl. But in all honesty, the guy played decent last year and was helped by a shift to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Pre and post-Shurmur numbers for Bradford were revealing, so if Shurmur sticks around look for Bradford to continue to develop.

The other piece of good news at the quarterback position is a man by the name of Teddy Bridgewater. Mr. Bridgewater has shown potential, when healthy, but the problem is the latter. The Vikings traded for Bradford to protect against Bridgewater’s injuries and if Teddy isn’t 100 percent then Case Keenum will step in at number two.

Adrian Peterson is gone, so that leaves running backs Jerick McKinnon and newly signed Latavius Murray. Minnesota drafted Dalvin Cook out of Florida State in the second round who could be an interesting, and capable addition in the backfield. But when you wave goodbye to a talent like Peterson, it’s hard to conclude that the Vikings improved at all in this specific area.

The Vikings will succeed based off their defense this year. Additions of defensive tackles Datone Jones and Jaleel Johnson will be welcome contributors, with Jones being known as a freak athlete while in Green Bay. Young guns Ben Gedeon, Kentrell Brothers and Elijah Lee will compete for linebacker time while cornerback is as deep as Minnesota has had in recent years. The Vikings pass defense was already relatively stout (5th in completion percentage) so this should actually improve, which is scary.

The Vikings defense will carry them, let’s see if Bradford and company can follow suit.

 

New England Patriots

Let’s start where you normally wouldn’t with the Pats – the D side of the ball. The New England defense has been called it all – boring, stale, predictable, you name it. But you know what it really is – effective. It’s also consistent, and 2017 should be no different. Draft picks Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. were graded nicely, with the former being projected to be a Pro Bowl caliber pass-rusher at some point. At defensive tackle, new-comer Lawrence Guy from the Ravens joins Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch. Couple this crew with their other linemen and the Patriot’s line of scrimmage improved, hands-down.

At safety, you have the fearsome duo of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. No real work needed here, especially not if you consider the signing of Stephon Gilmore, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, to a $65 million, five-year deal. But enough with the D, let’s talk Brady’s aerial attack. Seven players last year caught 20 or more passes, and six return. Frightening. The only player not to return is tight end Martellus Bennett who signed a $21 million deal with the Packers. Yes, this hurts, a little, but even less when your backup plan of Rob Gronkowski returning to full speed is a viable option. On top of that, New England went out a found a more than capable number two at tight-end in Dwayne Allen (35 receptions at 11.6 yards per reception last year).

The one area that is questionable, just like in 2016, is the backfield. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead join the squad, while the Patriots say adios to LeGarrette Blount. Not necessarily names that leap of the page, but these are the Patriots and they’ve shown us time and time again that the backfield is plug and play. Look for another Super Bowl run, especially if Gronk and Brady stay healthy.

 

New Orleans Saints

If I told you your favorite NFL squad just signed Adrian Peterson and Ted Ginn Jr., and it was 2012, you’d be high-fiving your entire block for a week. But the key number in that last sentence was … 2012. It’s 2017, and Adrian Peterson and Ted Ginn Jr. are not nearly the same guys as five years ago. Sort of like the New York Knicks signing Derrick Rose, everyone looks at these names on paper – wow, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, on the same squad, this is a sure path to the Finals. Folks forget father time and his cruel sense of humor. With that said however, the Saints are picking up in Peterson a Hall of Fame running back who has only logged 20 games over the past three years. His mileage has been salvaged somewhat, so this could pan out nicely in Saint’s land.

A big loss for New Orleans was wide receiver Brandin Cooks who ended up with the Pats. He had 20 touchdowns and 2,800 receiving yards over his three-year tenure in New Orleans. A super explosive threat, Cooks will be missed by Drew Brees as he gears up for yet another season alongside coach and mentor Sean Payton. The Saints have finished 7-9 in every season since 2014. They have the resume and winning formula, but it has not been clicking as of late.

The defense, which needed help, got cornerback Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State at number 11. This is a plug and play player if there ever was one. He will provide an immediate boost to the secondary, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson is an awesome athlete who will fill another immediate need for New Orleans.

If all the parts click, this is a playoff team. Heck, if it was 2012, they would have been crowned champions already!

 

New York Giants

The guy has two Super Bowl rings, so Eli Manning has deserved to some extent untouchable status, whatever that is worth in the NFL these days. He gets hot in the post-season, everyone has seen it, but his regular season play consistently frustrates Giant’s fans year in and year out with persistent turnovers and erratic plays. His job is secure, but the Giants did draft Davis Webb out of California. Just saying …

New York signed Brandon Marshall and drafted Evan Engram, a first-round receiver out of Mississippi. Together with Will Tye at tight end, Sterling Shepard, and the incomparable Odell Beckham, Manning will have yet another world-class receiving corps at his fingertips. Add in the hybrid fullback/tight end signing of Rhett Ellison from the Vikings and this might be the most talented group he has had to date.

The New York running game isn’t much to write home about, but they did protect the ball extremely well last season (second in fumble percentage), and look for that to continue into 2017. Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen return and fourth-round rookie pick-up, Wayne Gallman, should see some significant minutes.

On defense the Giants finished 2nd in yards per carry which speaks volumes of how hard this D-line plays. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are otherworldly, but they will need fifth-round pick Avery Moss and free agent signing Devin Taylor to back them up to repeat their 2016 performance. Defensive back is a particular strength with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Andrew Adams. In fact, depth alone should draw comparisons to the Denver Broncos for the best secondary in the league.

The Giants will sniff the Top 10 by the end of the season, and should Eli’s heroics continue, look for a lengthy playoff run.

 

New York Jets

Ah, the Jets. Super-bowl bound, and that’s a lock! DELETE, DELETE … although we do hope one year we can write that with confidence. But alas, 2017 is not that year. Coach Todd Bowles went 10-6 in 2015 and 5-11 last year. He has been given the reigns for a third year and needless to say, this is probably it (if sub .500 is repeated).

The squad trotted out three quarterbacks last year, all receiving significant minutes. Two of the three, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, were let go which means only former fourth-round pick Bryce Petty remains from last year. Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg are the other two options which leaves the position in general … a bit worrisome.

Running the ball will be the responsibility of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. Sixth-round pick Elijah McGuire out of Louisiana-Lafayette comes on board, and in conjunction with receivers Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and new additions ArDarius Steward, Chad Hansen and Eric Decker, there you have the 2017 New York offense.

Now on to some positive notes – the Jet’s 2016 run defense was awesome. They finished fourth in yards per carry, third in fumble percentage, and sixth in TFL percentage. Good stuff, and with the addition of fifth-round pick Lorenzo Mauldin and the return of stout linemen Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, look for another solid showing from the.

It’s another re-building year however in New York, so expectations need not get close to a playoff berth. But the good news then is if they do make it in, it will be almost like winning a Super Bowl … almost.

 

Oakland Raiders

Oak-town, Oak-town, ain’t no bay like the Bay-Bay-Area! The Raiders were back last year, and with a vengeance. It was their first time notching a 12-win season since 2002, and while this is not a betting preview, word on the Vegas strip is this team is getting lots of action as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. When Derek Carr is healthy, the Raider quarterback is as good as it gets. Maybe not at a Brady or Rodgers level, but right up there. The Oakland offense was devastating last year and while they lost their leading rusher, Latavius Murry, to the Vikings in the off-season, they brought Marshawn Lynch out of retirement who is expected to unleash Beast Mode Part II after having sat out 2016.

The draft was somewhat controversial as Oak-town selected Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley at number 11. Now, talent wise, he could have gone higher. Problem is, Mr. Conley has been embroiled in a sexual assault case, and if charged, would render this one of the worst first-round gambles in recent memory. Picks this high change franchises. Blowing it would really hurt.

The Raiders made up for it (somewhat) by snagging safety/cornerback Obi Melifonwu out of Connecticut a little further on. Obi is colloquially known as a swiss army knife, able to literally play almost any position on defense. Many had him pegged to go in the early 20s. He dropped to 56 and the Raiders were there with open arms.

Add in running back Elijah Hood from North Carolina and he and Beast Mode should give a healthy Carr all the help this offense needs to propel them to the promise-land. It would be the first Super Bowl appearance in over a decade, let’s see if that Raider magic is still alive.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

This is shaping up to be an odd year in Philly. The team is used to grandiose projections – good or bad, but not in between. This year however is shaping up to be an in between year. Obviously, that is better than bad, but still unnerving for many Eagles fans.

Starting at quarterback, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles are on the roster. What this means exactly is up to speculation at this point. Foles signed a two-year, $11 million contract which would make him the highest paid back-up QB. We’ll go out on a limb and state here and now, if Wentz ends up starting and flailing, Foles is in, no questions asked.

Either one will have Ryan Matthews, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood to hand the rock off to. Good gracious, that’s doesn’t exactly conjur up images of a “Super Bowl contender,” but LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey have also been added so who knows, stranger outcomes have occurred in the NFL over the years.

On the receiving end Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews, Trey Burton, Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor are all back. Problem is, of all those guys not one was a 30 + reception/11 + yards per reception player last year which is troubling on a number of fronts. A bit of good news comes in the form of free agent signings Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Alshon is in at a one-year, $9.5 million deal. That should be incentive enough to perform like a stud to get that second and third year locked up somewhere.

The defense is rather ho-hum, and while a big name in Nolan Carroll did leave town, there is enough back-up talent to keep the Philly D respectable, but that’s about it. Unless some interesting twists come about, look for this Eagles season to be one to forget unfortunately.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

We’ll cut to it – Pittsburgh is the clear leader in the AFC North. The Steelers return nearly everyone important from last year after making it to the AFC Championship game. Mike Tomlin has now joined Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy and Marvin Lewis as the league’s longest tenured coaches. Big Ben Roethlisberger is back again and the only free agents of note that were lost over the offseason were receive Markus Wheaton and linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

If we’re writing about Pittsburgh, we’re going to hit the D first. Pro Bowler James Harrison, 39, and still plugging along, will return as will Alvin “Bud” Dupree, a disruptive force at linebacker. T.J. Watt was drafted out of Wisconsin and will likely be groomed by Mr. Harrison and company. Coty Sensabaugh, a veteran cornerback, signed a two-year deal and while on paper no giant names at the defensive back and safety positions leap out, expect similar dominance to 2016.

Le´Veon Bell returns at running back after having missed four games last year due to suspension and another 10 in 2005 due to knee ligament issues. DeAngelo Williams is a free agent but the Steelers did draft James Conner out of the University of Pittsburgh to back up Bell. The electric Antonio Brown will have his running mates in Eli Rogers, tight end Jesse James and Sammie Coates to help Big Ben down field, and USC standout JuJu Smith-Schuster comes in to add some fire-power (as if that was even necessary).

Big Ben should be well-positioned for another run at it, stay tuned.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Quarterback Philip Rivers, like many quarterbacks, doesn’t like to get hit nor hurried. He wants protection, commands protection, but didn’t always get protection. The front office heard his demands, registered them appropriately, and went out over the off-season to see what they could scrounge up.

Scrounge up the Los Angeles Chargers did, as they reeled in Pro Bowl tackle Russell Okung, a big man with 88 starts and still under the age of 30. They then centered their focus on the draft and scored Forrest Lamp (Guard, Western Kentucky), Dan Feeney (Guard, Indiana) and Sam Tevi (Outside Tackle, Utah). Talk about a haul on the offensive line, with Lamp being the real gem of this bunch. He was ranked the top interior offensive line talent in the draft, and while Feeney is also a guard, he will still find a way to play major minutes for the Chargers.

Los Angeles had the number 7 pick and scooped up wide receiver Mike Williams out of Clemson. Guys like Jonathan Allen and Malik Hooker were available and could have arguably served the Chargers better, but Williams is a gamer, and Rivers will be pleased. Wide receiver Keenan Allen has an injury history so a young complement in Williams is a safe bet for Los Angeles in the short-term.

The Charger’s defense is still going to need some help, despite landing Desmond King, a safety/cornerback from Iowa in the draft. If they can make a couple more moves or existing talent improves, the “other L.A. team” has a chance to shine.

 

San Francisco 49ers

So, when you win 2 games, in theory you could get worse. That would be 1 or 0. Both are bad, but it’s not like the difference between 0 and 2 is all that great. That’s a long-winded way of saying – Niner fans, it can only get better, cheer up! It is likely 2017 will yield more than 2 wins, but getting to .500 will be an uphill grind.

San Francisco comes into the season having lost both their quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick is still looking for a landing spot and Blaine Gabbert headed off to the Cardinals. Receiver Quinton Patton sought greener pastures with the Jets while Torrey Smith will take his pass catching talent to Philadelphia. Could this get worse? Yes, as it was the defensive losses that hurt the most. Antoine Bethea, Gerald Hodges, Nick Bellore, Tramaine Brock and Michael Willhoite – all gone. The icing on the cake, kicker Phil Dawson, who was a “money shot” at 86.1% of his field goals over a four-year tenure – out!

Talk about a house clearing, but perhaps the draft was a bright spot of sorts. This was John Lynch’s first draft and expectations were not all that high. But all in all, Mr. Lynch scored rather well. Solomon Thomas, defensive head and all-around disrupter was a great pickup at number 3. He’ll be a cornerstone player for potentially the next decade. Lynch then hit another home run at number 34 with Reuben Foster, inside linebacker from Alabama. He had some injury concerns, but that’s why he fell to 34. Otherwise he’s a top 10 prospect, with names like Ray Lewis and Luke Kuechly being compared to him.

But let’s be honest, in the best of cases this time scrapes to .500. Rebuilding once again, uff.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle is awesome, they’ve been that way since Pete Carroll came on board. But they’ve slipped a bit, and while it is far, very far from panic time, this is basically the same team coming back once again and one that will need to do something (remains to be defined) to get over the hump and win it all.

Richard Sherman trade rumors abound, and if true, the secondary is going to need to be addressed. Perhaps not left to chance, the Seahawks picked up some nice defensive additions in the draft. Cornerback Shaq Griffin out of Central Florida is a tall, athletic corner who was rated well and at number 90, a nice value pick. Safety Tedric Thompson has great instincts, also athletic, and had a nice career at Colorado before heading further west to Seahawk country. Seattle selected three safeties in the draft so look for some movement of positions in the secondary come the fall.

A big offseason signing was running back Eddie Lacy. In four seasons, he had notched an impressive 3,400 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Seattle also picked up kicker Blair Walsh, an 84.2 percent kicker, as well as Oday Aboushi at offensive guard and Luke Joeckel, an offensive lineman who was considered the best offensive lineman in the nation during his time at Texas A&M.

Stud QB Russell Wilson comes into the season healthy, so that alone will put Seattle as the team to beat in the NFC. They possess the same championship pedigree, but there is a nagging feeling that something more is needed. An interesting squad to keep an eye on this year.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ok, there have been some steals in this year’s draft, but Tampa Bay pulled off a straight high-jacking with the number 19 pick. That O.J. Howard, the tight end out of Alabama, would slide this far, past so many teams, is mind-boggling. He was slated as the 4th or 5th pick at one point, and it is still surprising he slid so precipitously. It’s a classic example of once the really big names flew off the board in the first three picks, teams became nearly blinded with “team needs” and ignored the talent that was staring them in the face.

Tampa Bay did not, and now quarterback Jameis Winston has an amazing pass catcher to add to his arsenal. Howard’s presence alone will make Winston better, he’s that good. Another solid pick was wide receiver Chris Godwin from Penn State. He was great value at number 84 and coupled with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and the previously mentioned Howard, this corps has the potential to be the best in the NFL, period.

In the backfield Doug Martin struggled last year. The Bucs needed another option/potential upgrade, and they might have found that player in Jeremy McNichols from Boise State. He was a strong receiver in college, great in pass protection, but injury issues are a concern. At worst, he is a number 2 or 3 back that was picked up at number 162. Nice work.

Tampa Bay is right there, sniffing the playoffs. They went 9-7 last year and have steadily improved over the last three years. The defense remains intact and the offense as already mentioned is good to go. This will be a fun team to watch if anything. A wonderful year to be a Bucs fan!

 

Tennessee Titans

This team might be the favorite to win the AFC South. What, what, what you say? The same Titans team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008 is now going to win the AFC South? In a nutshell, yes, and it won’t be as crazy as you think. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be a good NFL signal caller, but he needs help. The Titans added depth to the O-line with Tim Lelito and then drafted stud 6’3” receiver Corey Davis at number 5 in the draft. There were some grumblings of Davis being chosen so high, which is understandable, but the guy can flat out play and coupled with tight end Jonnu Smith from Florida International at number 100, Mariota will finally have some weapons to work with.

On the defensive side Tennessee added a nice veteran safety, Johnathan Cyprien, to the crew, a player that logged over 400 tackles with the Jaguars. Cornerback Logan Ryan was also signed and will bring his two-time Super Bowl champion experience to the Titans young corps. Another cornerback, but this time a rookie, Adoree Jackson from USC, was chosen number 18 and will be a giant weapon, especially on special teams. His crosstown rival, former UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown will also be headed down south to shore up the Titan’s run support.

Folks forget that this Titan team won eight of their last twelve games which included victories over the Broncos, Chiefs and Packers. Mariota suffered a leg injury last year, so assuming he bounces back into form, with the new additions, this team very well could win the AFC South. There, we said it again!

 

Washington Redskins

One thing is for sure, the NFC East this year will be highly competitive, so Washington fans could very well see their team either scrapping it out, or sitting 2017 out on the scrap heap. First up, losses at receiver of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are troubling to say the least. Garcon notched 79 receptions at 13.2 yards per reception, and Jackson reeled in another 56 for a respectable 17.9 yards per reception. These were team leaders who are now in Tampa Bay and San Francisco. Yikes!

Tight-end Vernon Davis is around however, and if he can bounce back into relevancy coupled with the signing of Terrelle Pryor and some output from former first-round pick Josh Doctson, the receiving outfit could bounce back to relevancy. But who is throwing to these young guys? Well that is Kirk Cousins, ladies and gentlemen, the same Kirk Cousins that recorded an impressive air campaign in 2016. Now, two of his top four targets as we mentioned earlier are out so adjustments will need to be made. Cousins is backed up by Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfield. Needless to say, if Kirk goes down Washington does not have a capable starting NFL quarterback. So, in a nutshell, in Kirk the nation’s capital trusts!

The Redskins drafted Jonathan Allen out of Alabama who received the most (for a defender) first-place Heisman votes last year. The loss of Chris Baker on the defensive line will sting, but in addition to Allen the Redskins signed Terrell McClain and Stacey McGee in free agency. Allen is expected to replace Baker’s output over the long-term, but the key here is long-term. Nobody is expecting a rookie to step in and match the talent of someone like Chris Baker.

A bit of a toss-up season for Jay Gruden and his troop here. If Cousins can match his 2016 output and the defense steps up, Washington will certainly have a team to cheer for in 2017.

 

You’re now all ready for the 2017 NFL Season!

If you’re looking for tickets, you can find them here.

Comments

comments