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2017 NFL REGULAR SEASON PREVIEW

In America. September means the start of the most popular sport in the country.

32 NFL teams will endure a short but highly competitive, gruelling, brutal yet exciting 16 game regular season, in hope of making the post season play offs. This will then bring them a step closer to Super Bowl 52, which will be on February 4th in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Although I am not an expert in the sport. My 19 year love affair has kept me interested and provided me with the knowledge I have today.

Below is my division by division season preview. The teams are placed in order of where I think they will finish in the division, with their 2016 season records in brackets.

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-2)
MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-6)
BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)
NEW YORK JETS (5-11)

In terms of this division. It will be the usual romp for the Super Bowl champions. They have claimed this division in the last 8 years and 14 times in the last 16. With the Jets & Dolphins winning one each in that time. New England have also reached at least the AFC Championship game in the last 6 years.

Winning the Super Bowl in two of the last three years will not quell the Patriots hunger and just as I said last year, whoever beats them will go all the way. Even at 40, QB Tom Brady is showing no signs of slowing down and his dramatic come back to win the title cemented his already legendary status. With a few key acquisitions this term, added to an already formidable team. The scary thing is they could even be better this year. 

The Dolphins shocked me last year. I tipped them for fourth but head coach Adam Grease steered them to the play offs in his first season. This was mainly due to QB Ryan Tannerhill having the best season of his career before it was cut short through injury. Sadly, he is again out with long-term injury, forcing Miami to turn to QB Jay Cutler, who was on the way to retirement before he got the call. His often erratic form may make it a struggle, but explosive RB Jay Ajayi after a break out season last year is a major plus. 

It’s now 17 long years since the Bills made the play offs. Many have tried and failed and now it’s the turn of new head coach Sean McDermott. They have overhauled most of their squad, in hope of putting an end to inconsistencies to release the pressure on QB Tyrod Taylor, who maybe playing for his contract. A lot will be expected of RB LeSean McCoy, who is their one real start player. But I doubt he will even be enough to improve on their record of last season. 

At the start of last year I thought the Jets had turned the corner, but it all went horribly wrong and it has gotten even worse since. Their roster is struggling for real talent and there has even been talk of them not winning a game this season. QB Josh McCown has a real job on his hands as their defence will not offer much resistance, in what will most likely be a very long season in New York. 

AFC NORTH 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5)
CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-9-1)
BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8)
CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-15)

Even though the Steelers have been the dominant force in this division since its 15 year inception. They have not had it all their own way. Baltimore & Cincinnati have both won 4 titles each, while Pittsburgh have won 7.  

However, it will be a surprise if the Steelers don’t again take this one with QB Ben Roethlisberger looking for one last SuperBowl run with help from RB Le’Veon Bell. WR’s Antonio Brown & Martavis Bryant. As well as  LB Ryan Shazier in defence providing he stays fit. On their day the Steelers are a fordable outfit not to be taken lightly. 

I had to really think before placing the Bengals second. They were really poor last year winning six games less than the year before and it was more about them being poor than the Ravens being good, why they finished behind them. QB Andy Dalton will really need to step it up, while hoping for contributions from WR AJ Green providing he stays healthy and LB Vontaze Burfict proving he stays out of trouble. Their season could really go either way as you are not quite sure what to expect. 

Although they were inconsistent last term. The Ravens, with some top performances from QB Joe Flacco managed to end the season three games better off than the year before. However, they missed out on the play offs for the second straight year. Injuries have been their Achilles heel and with Flacco again struggling, the pressure is mounting on their squad depth. A lot will depend on how well Flacco performs and how healthy the team can stay generally. But they have reinforced the defence and look a bit more stable. 

Basically, any improvement on last year is an improvement from an almost winless season.  With that said, rumour has it the Browns are coming with a new lease of life. This is due to a new defensive regime and rookie QB DeShone Kizer whose three-way battle with Brock Osweiler & Cody Kessler will only bode well for the team. It will also be interesting to see what impact No1 draft pick DE Myles Garrett can make. It will all be too soon but the Bengals could finally be moving in the right direction. 

AFC SOUTH

TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)
HOUSTON TEXANS (9-7)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)

Although the Colts have been fairly dominant in this division with 9 titles in the last 15 years. The tide is well and truly changing with Houston winning the last two and 4 of the last 6. The tide could be changing once more with the emergence of Tennessee. It does help that this was the poorest division in the AFC and was the second poorest in the NFL last year. 

The Titans are offensively strong with the impressive QB Marcus Mariota. Providing he’s fully recovered from a leg break that more or less lost them the division last year and a place in the play offs.  As well as RB’s DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Anything less than the play offs will be a disappointment for Tennessee, who big things are expected of this year. 

Houston surprised all last year by winning the division then toppling Oakland in the play offs, before falling to the Patriots. That showed their ability even without star DE JJ Watt in defence. He’s struggled with injury and him being healthy is vital to their chances of making it a hat-trick of divisional titles. They pulled out all the stops to acquire rookie QB Deshaun Watson. His battle with QB Tom Savage to start could just bring out the best in both, which could only benefit the team. 

Indianapolis have struggled in the past two years with two 8-8 seasons but this year could be even worse, with the team riddled with injuries. QB Andrew Luck will continue to take the team as far as he can, but even he has just come back from arm surgery. They have recruited a back up at QB but it will be important Luck receives great protection from his offensive line to allow the Colts to compete in this division. 

It will be touch and go to see if the Jaguars could improve on their record of last year. New head coach Doug Marrone has been handed that task and will need better performances from the often erratic QB Blake Bortles. They have had a very busy season bringing in a host of players, especially in defence but first round draft pick, RB Leonard Fournette looks an exciting prospect as the Jags could finally be moving in he right direction. 

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-4)
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-4)
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-11)
DENVER BRONCOS (9-7)

For me this is one of the hardest division to call. Now that Denver’s supremacy’s been broken with the Chiefs snapping the 2016 SuperBowl champions five-year winning streak. I am fully expecting Kansas City to make it back to back titles, but it won’t be easy.

I really like the look of Kansas. On their day they have one of the best defences. They also have almost the same team as last year with QB Alex Smith still trying to take them to the next level and WR/RB Tyreek Hill continuing to deliver stunning plays. After a disappointing post season last year, they will be determined to put that right this term. 

Oakland were the surprise team last year, ending with the joint third best record in the NFL. But their bubble was burst in the post season with a surprise defeat to the Texans. The surprise acquisition of RB Marshawn Lynch could go either way. QB Derek Carr needs to stay healthy as his injury cost them the divisional title and the play off game. This year they will be going all out to end the season on a high before moving to Las Vegas. 

San Diego are no more, as the Charges have moved to Los Angeles. Rookie head coach Anthony Lynn will oversee a transitional season in LA Galaxy’s StubHub Centre stadium before moving again to ground share with the LA Rams. There is no doubt the move could  hinder them. But they will persevere with veteran QB Philip Rivers and hope the likes of RB Melvin Gorden can continue to impress for the offence while CB Casey Hayward can perform on defence to keep them stable and competitive

The Broncos made a miserable attempt at defending their SuperBowl crown last year by not making the play offs for the first time since 2010. Defensively they have a chance with the formidable LB Von Miller and two CB’s Chris Harris Jr & Aqib Talib. But offence is where they struggle and I feel neither of the two young QB’s Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch will have enough for Denver to challenge for a play off spot. 

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS V KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (13-3)
NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5)
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (7-9)
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-7-1)

If anything, this is the most difficult division to call, as no team has really managed to have a sustained strangle hold on the division since the Eagles won four titles from 2001 to 2004. Since then, no team have won back to back titles. 

With that said, I feel the Cowboys could change this. They recorded the second best regular season record last year with rookie of the year QB Dan Prescott and rookie RB Ezekiel Elliot both looking extremely impressive. Pressure of matching last season could be an issue, as well as Elliot being suspended for the start of the season. But they have solid, experienced players as well as some exciting young acquisitions, which will make them real contenders again this year.

Although the Giants had star players such as QB Eli Manning and WR Odell Beckham Jr making huge plays. Their defence was the ones that got them to the play offs. If they can find adequate protection for Manning, in addition to new WR Branden Marshall and the likes of CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DE Olivier Vernon and DT Damon Harrison in defence. They could go one step further this year. 

Eagles QB Carson Wentz will be under the microscope this year. He started the season very well but faded badly and struggled towards the end. But with a rookie year under his belt and a more settled offensive line, along with new WR’s Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith it could be a much better season. Providing the defence holds up. 

The ongoing contract negotiations with QB Kirk Cousins who will play under the franchise tag for the second season, tells you all you need to know. It’s conceivable this could be his last year. Washington are decent offensively but have made improvements defensively. WR Jamison Crowder was a pleasant surprise last year and will hope to continue progressing. Washington’s biggest issue was not closing out games when leading and that’s why not much is expected of them this year. 

NFC NORTH

GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6)
MINNISOTA VIKINGS (8-8)
DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
CHICAGO BEARS (3-13)

For the most part. The biggest contention is who will finish second and third in this division. As the masses are generally in agreement that the Packers will win the division and the Bears will finish last. Green Bay has been the dominant team in this division with 9 titles in the last 16 years. 

The Packers will again be a big threat in the NFC. They are expected to take this division easily and will again be a force, but it’s been seven years since they last made it to the SuperBowl. The quality of QB Aaron Rodgers will always get them close, but though they have recruited, the roster is not as dominant. Former Patriot, TE Martellus Bennett will be a good weapon. Along with WR’s Jordy Nelson & Davante Adams. They just need the defence to hold up their side of the bargain. 

It’s very unlikely the Vikings will become the first team to play in and host the Super Bowl but they have an outside chance of making the play offs. They started last season well but faded with their offence being the main culprits. They have made improvements on both sides, but I feel neither of their QB’s Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater seem good enough to challenge Green Bay but they could just hold off Detroit. 

The Lions have really gone out on a limb by surprisingly making QB Matt Stafford the highest paid player in the league. That brings its own pressure, which could affect him and the team. With that said, they will be boosted by the injury returns of dynamic RB Ameer Abdullah in offence and DE Ezekiel Ansah in defence, in hope of making a return to the play offs. 

Almost everyone are in agreement that Chicago will struggle this term. Only two teams won fewer games than them last year and even with Cutler gone. They do not look much better with Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky and veteran QB Mike Glennon vying for that main spot. Though they have a decent defence. I am predicting a long season in the Windy City. However, one plus is RB Jordan Howard who will provide some bright spark moments. 

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (11-5)
CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-7)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)

This has historically been one of the most open divisions. In the last 15 years, Carolina have won 5, Atlanta 4, with Tampa & New Orleans both winning three divisional titles. Atlanta’s win last year snapped Carolina’s three-year winning streak.

The Falcons’ epic run to the SuperBowl was both outstanding and exciting and for three quarters they looked every bit the dominant team in the NFL, on the verge of making history, but it all fell apart in the fourth. The question is, have they fully recovered to make another run to the promise land? Led by MVP QB Matt Ryan. They look strong with the likes of WR Julio Jones. They have a talented roster throughout, but the move to their new Mercedes-Benz stadium may take some getting used to and help the chasing pack.

Although depleted by injuries. Carolina really suffered a SuperBowl hangover and will want to show that was a one off by again, at the very least, challenging for the division. QB Cam Newton had a tough season, but form is temporary and I fully expect him to get back to his best with help from new RB Christian McCaffrey who looks an exciting prospect. However, the key could be improving on Cam’s protection. 

Some are picking Tampa Bay, who are certainly moving in the right direction, to challenge both Atlanta and Carolina this year but I am not yet convinced. Although QB Jameis Winston looks a real talented player and he will have RB Mike Evan and new WR DeSean Jackson at his disposal. They have improved on defence also and may just have enough to make this tough division very interesting. That’s if they get their kicking right.

QB Drew Brees led the league in passing yards last season but it still wasn’t good enough for a winning record for the Saints. Their defence was the main issue and they have tried to take the necessary steps to fix this but it’s not an easy fix. Especially as they have been riddled with key injuries. WR Michael Thomas & RB Mark Ingram will be needed but it will be important that the defence improves considerably this term. 

NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-5-1)
ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-8-1)
LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (3-13)

The AFC west have the unenviable label of being the worst division in the NFL. They were the only division to have three teams finish with a losing record. In the last 15 years, Seattle have won 8 titles and 3 in the last 4. Arizona and San Francisco have won 3 each. 

It’s touch and go as to whether the poor west division helped or hindered Seattle in their quest for another SuperBowl return. But with QB Russell Wilson free of the niggling injuries that plagued him last season, their ultra physical defence including CB Richard Sherman. The returning FS Earl Thomas and LB Bobby Wagner. The Seahawks look strong and could go even closer this year. 

The Cardinals promised a lot but delivered little. A losing record makes a mockery of the talents and experience of QB Carson Palmer. WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson, who are all good enough to grace at least a championship final. Improvements will be demanded and expected this term, as it could be last chance saloon for some resemblance of success, where much more will be required of the defence. 

The move to LA last made an instant impact as the new fan base wasn’t impressed with their poor season, causing the head  coach to lose his job. The Rams have now appointed the youngest head coach in the league Sean McVay. He has a real job on his hands to first improve the offence, who seriously lack points. QB Jared Goff really needs support if he’s to improve on a poor rookie year, to take the pressure off the defence who have performed well. An improved record is expected but not enough for a winning record. 

Though they are one of my least favourites. It does seem weird to see San Francisco struggling for so long. But they have been making major changes, not least at general manager and head coach and are expecting to see instant improvements. Though they have some major rebuilding to do, QB Brian Hoyer will provide stability. They have some promising young talent at both ends but it will still be a long road ahead. 

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS V DALLAS COWBOYS