2017 NFL Predictions from the Sports Soothsayer: Tough schedule haunts Eagles

Are you ready for some football?

I know you are, in fact, anxiously counting down the minutes until that blissful event known as Week One arrives, and the games are for real. My question was rhetorical in nature. I just like quoting Hank Williams Jr from time to time, you see.

But seriously, folks…

With that magical time quickly approaching, now is when Sports Soothsayers, like me, dust off the old crystal ball and attempt to make predictions for the 2017 NFL season (and postseason) that are potentially so wrong, they tend to walk that fine line between insanity and – well – insanity.

And yes, as I write this column I am fully aware that there is one meaningless preseason game left to be played tonight. That being said, since no team in the league will let anyone who will remotely matter for his respective team’s fortune anywhere close to even putting a single pad on, let alone actually PLAYING in preseason game number four (AKA “The Dane Evans Bowl Game”), there isn’t really the risk of losing a player to injury during the affair, so I feel pretty comfortable closing my eyes and pretending it doesn’t actually happen tonight. The point is we know right now about as well as we can what this season will look like.

Well, Sports Soothsayers like me know these things, that is. So let’s delve into what I believe will happen, once it has the chance too, shall we?

 

NFC East

1. New York Giants 12-4

2. Dallas Cowboys 9-7

3. Eagles 8-8

4. Washington 6-10

Look, I HOPE I’m wrong about this, and the Eagles somehow manage to win three more games than I’m predicting them to, but the fact is their schedule is absolutely brutal. Having to play the AFC West, possibly the best division in football, doesn’t help matters. And having to play against the Chiefs IN Kansas City and having to fly out to play the Chargers IN Los Angeles – both within the first four games of the season – is just not fair. To be specific, after opening up the season at Washington, the Eagles head to Kansas City in week two, come home to play the Giants (who, as you can see, I think are winning the division) in week three, then head all the way across the country the next week to play the Los Angles Chargers (I know, it sounds so weird not saying San Diego Chargers, doesn’t it?), only to have the Arizona Cardinals waiting for the Eagles at the Linc for week five. I think that puts the Eagles in a 1-4 hole to climb out of to open the season. I see them beating Washington at home, but then losing the next four. If they can somehow steal another win in the first five games and find themselves at 2-3, that would be remarkable. Anything better than that, and I’ll have to be peeled up from the floor.

With that being said, to then wind up the season at 8-8 (and their schedule is formidable the rest of the way) would be acceptable – as far as records go. But this season isn’t going to be about numbers, as much as if the team passes the “Eye Test” after the season. In other words, did Carson Wentz appreciably improve as the season went on? Can we say the defense was able to put consistent pressure on Quarterbacks with just the four down linemen? Is the secondary showing that with the addition of Sidney Jones the following year from the Achilles injury, it will be considered a strength moving forward? How did the wide receivers ultimately look? It will be the fact that, I believe, these questions will all have excitingly positive answers, as an Eagles fan that will say it was “a very good” 8-8.

As far as the rest of the Division, I see the Giants defense continuing to be smothering, and if their offensive line can just be serviceable and keep Eli Manning from missing significant time, they will win the East. I do see the Ezekiel Elliott suspension hurting the Cowboys a bit out of the gate, and their atrocious secondary bringing them back down to Earth. As for Washington, they are a difficult team to figure out. I actually think Kirk Cousins puts up big numbers (attention Fantasy fans), but something about this team makes me sense an implosion of some kind.

 

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers 13-3

2. Detroit Lions 11-5

3. Minnesota Vikings 7-9

4. Chicago Bears 4-12

 

The Packers are going to dominate this division, and although I see the Lions being a good team, and making the playoffs, the Packers will be on a whole different level. Aaron Rodgers will have an MVP-type season (I know, big surprise), and their defense will be improved. Not much noise from the Vikings, and the Bears are trying to figure out what their identity will be moving forward.

 

NFC South

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12-4

2. Atlanta Falcons 10-6

3. Carolina Panthers 8-8

4. New Orleans Saints 3-13

So, Tampa Bay wins the division, as they enter the upper echelon of teams as Jameis Winston has a great season thanks to the plethora of offensive toys he has to get the ball to, while I see the Buc’s defense ends the season in the top seven. That is a recipe for the beginning of the makings of a good young team for years to come. Along their ascent, Tampa Bay passes by the Falcons despite the fact that Atlanta is still a good team. I think that the Falcons will suffer due to the loss of Kyle Shanahan leaving to become the 49ers Head Coach, as well as that natural “Super Bowl Losers” hangover that tends to plague so many teams over the years. Meanwhile, the Panthers are just kind of there, which is better than the Saints, who I believe will fall off the cliff this season. I have a feeling that Drew Brees struggles all of a sudden, while their defense remains non-existent. Most surprising of all, whether it’s of his own volition or not, I believe this season has Sean Payton coaching his last game for the Saints. By the way, that’s not to say Payton doesn’t go on to coach elsewhere next year, or possibly after a year off and has success someplace else. I just believe it’s a case of Payton wearing out his welcome in New Orleans, although he’s young enough and a good enough coach that I can easily see him being like Andy Reid’s second act in Kansas City.

 

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals 12-4

2. Seattle Seahawks 10-6

3. LA Rams 8-8

4. San Francisco 49ers 5-11

Once again, The NFC West is it’s typically tough self, especially at the top of the division, where I think the Cardinals cash in their last ticket for one last serious playoff run before age catches up with them. As long as Carson Palmer looks more like a healthy 2015 version of himself, instead of last year’s model, and the defense holds up, I think Bruce Arians will manage to be in the conversation for coach of the year to go along with Arizona winning the West. The Seahawks are an interesting team. Nothing would really surprise me; they have the talent to go back to the Super Bowl, but also the potential to lose a few games they shouldn’t and barely sneak into the playoffs. This year, I’ll go with the latter. I think the Rams may be heading in the right direction, with new Head Coach, Sean McVay, but are still at LEAST a year away from making any real noise. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan begins the long process of fixing what Chip Kelly presided over last year. The Niners are several years and good drafts away, after having to start from the scorched earth that Chip leaves in his wake.

 

AFC East

1. New England 12-4

2. Miami Dolphins 11-5

3. Buffalo Bills 7-9

4. NY Jets 3-13

Umm, so the Patriots will win this division, and is ANYONE surprised? Of course not. I actually believe with the Patriots going (only) 12-4, it’ll be a bit of a down regular season for them at times. But when you have Tom Terrific, and Darth Hoodie, you wind up with 12 wins during a “bad” season. I like Miami a lot this year. I actually am someone who thinks the Jay Cutler situation, is more than just a bizarre story – coming out of retirement in the broadcasting booth (after zero games called, that is) and taking over for Ryan Tannehill. I think Cutler with Adam Gase (who I believe is an excellent coach) and his offense is a better fit in Miami than Tannehill (the human dump off pass machine) will ever be. The Dolphins will have a solid enough defense and Jay Ajayi is a beast at RB. Put that together with Cutler’s arm, and three above average, bordering on great wide receivers, and you all of a sudden have a team nipping at the Patriots heels. Buffalo has the right coach, in Sean McDermitt, but lack talent almost everywhere other than with Shady at running back. The Jets are a train wreck. Again.

 

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5

2. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5

3. Baltimore Ravens 8-8

4. Cleveland Browns 5-11

OK, nice and easy here… Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh. They beat the refurbished Bengals on a tie-breaker to win the division. Baltimore, is – well – Baltimore. Some good, some bad, mostly respectable. Look for the Browns to be the “story” of this division, in so far as they are at least finally FACING the right direction to begin to move in the right direction. When you can improve by four wins, but still only be sitting at 5 at the end of the season, it’s a testament to just how terrible they have been and for how long.

 

AFC South

1. Tennessee Titans 11-5

2. Jacksonville Jaguars 10-6

3. Houston Texans 7-9

4. Indianapolis Colts 3-13

I wish, with all the terrible flooding going on in Houston (and our hearts sincerely go out to anyone who is dealing with the wake of Hurricane Harvey), I could see my way to predicting that the Texans were going to have a great year (I wish they would) – but I’m predicting with my head and not my heart. I know most people think the Texans are still the “best” of a weak division and should win it one more year, but I just don’t see it that way. I see the division kind of flipping, with the Titans, behind Marcus Mariota and an extremely efficient offense and respectable (if not overly spectacular) defense winning the division, and beginning what will be (I can’t believe I’m about to type this next thought…) an epic rivalry for the next several years with the JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS.. ahem – cough…cough… that felt weird seeing those last several words take shape. But, I truly believe that Jacksonville now has – with several key additions, a few important holdovers and the right coaching – the makings of a DOMINANT defense.

I think Doug Marrone will prove to be a very good Head Coach (just like he was in Buffalo before strangely splitting of his own accord after one season a few years back), Leonard Fournette will be a monster as a rookie at RB, and despite not having their Quarterback of the Future yet (Blake Bortles will be competent this year, and next season they begin the year with their true QB), their wide receiving corps – led by Allen Robinson, who I believe will have a year more like his breakout 2015 campaign than last season’s underwhelming one, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns – all have the ability to be difference makers. I see Jacksonville, based on these assets, making a little noise (albeit in an overall weak division) already.

I told you, I think the Texans will struggle this year, and I believe the Colts – with Andrew Luck’s arm being highly questionable ay BEST – will implode this season. As in, other than Luck, this team is actually devoid of talent. Luck is/was (when healthy) an incredible talent. One who could cover for deficiencies across the rest of the roster. The man played behind Swiss Cheese instead of an offensive line, and now Jim Irsay meddles, and hires and fires General Managers, and threatens coaches every year, all while not truly having a plan and never really surrounding Luck with much of anything. Luck was so good he covered up these transgressions – but no more. At least this season he can’t do it. The man has half of an arm, no help at the offensive skill positions, an offensive line and a bad defense, Luck just can’t do it alone anymore. This will be the end of Chuck Pagano’s time in Indianapolis (actually, I predict that one way or another, he is this season’s first coaching casualty) as well. It all equals a miserable basement dwelling Colts team.

 

AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs 12-4

2. Oakland Raiders 11-5

3. Denver Broncos 10-6

4. LA Chargers 8-8

This, my friends, is a REAL division. Reminiscent of the NFC East in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, there are three great teams in this division, and a fourth, in the Chargers, who may win a few different divisions if they were in them instead. The Eagles play this division this year, so understand that if they play well, but lose against this division, it actually WILL be a moral victory. So for starters, I think the Chiefs have a great Head Coach in Andy Reid, a great offensive line, a capable game managing QB in Alex Smith (who I predict will see the drafting, presence, and competition from Patrick Mahomes as fuel to just keep winning), and serious offensive talent and versatility in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Rookie Kareem Hunt (you just may see his name appear elsewhere in this column). That along with the team’s real strength – Bob Sutton’s Defense – equals the best of a bunch of quality in this division. The Raiders are going to ride Derek Carr’s arm, a revitalized Marshawn Lynch, and perhaps the best starting two wide receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) in the league to a prolific offensive season. You add to that a vicious defense that is going to keep improving, and the sum of the equation is a happy Raiders Nation. The Broncos may get lost in the shuffle, but don’t sleep on them. They have a top three defense, the potential for a solid all-around offense if they can get consistent play from the quarterback position. Trevor Simien begins the year as the starter (and is a solid – if unspectacular – signal caller), but John Elway is going to want to see Paxton Lynch play sooner rather than later after spending such a high pick on him in 2016. Either way, Denver will be there all year. And, as mentioned, the Chargers will enter Los Angeles this year and make their new home proud because they will hold their own against the toughest division in football this season.

 

Playoffs:

NFC Championship Game:

Arizona vs. Green Bay

AFC Championship Game:

Kansas City vs. New England

SUPER BOWL

Green Bay vs. Kansas City

SUPER BOWL CHAMPION:

Kansas City Chiefs (I know, I know. Andy does what he couldn’t for us)

 

Individual Awards

NFC Coach of the Year: Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay

NFC Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

NFC Defensive MVP: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey

NFC Defensive Rookie of the year: Derek Barnett, DE, Eagles

AFC Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland

AFC Offensive MVP: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh

AFC Defensive MVP: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland

AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City

AFC Defensive Rookie of the year: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland

One last prediction…

I believe Jon Gruden will say “SpiderY2Banana” this season LESS times than Doug Pedersen loses a challenge that we all know he shouldn’t have attempted anyway.

Anyway, that’s the way I see things. And if I wind up wrong, remember how much these picks cost you. That’s right exactly $0.00.

Now let’s play some football!

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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