It’s been a long wait for the NFL season to come back around, but it is finally here. There has been a lot of very reasoned and logical predictions made both on RealSport and elsewhere, however the start of September is for hope, even baseless hope. Every team starts 0-0, and every fan, somewhere deep down, believes this could be their year. Okay, maybe not Cleveland and Jets fans, but basically everyone.
With that in mind, here are 10 bold, head-in-the-clouds, predictions for the 2017 season.
1 Cleveland Browns win six games, or more!
There is a lot of very exciting young talent on the Browns, along with some quality veteran offensive linemen who can provide a platform to build on.
In the last two drafts, Cleveland have added some seriously explosive players. Corey Coleman, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, and DeShone Kizer aren’t all going to work out as expected, that’s just not how the draft works. However, they provide the kind of versatility that a good coach can use to surprise people, which is just what Hue Jackson is.
DeShone Kizer has shown enough to give hope for a competent offense, and with Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio being joined by Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter they have an offensive line who can set up the run game and give Kizer time to excel.
All of that sounds good, but I haven’t yet mentioned the man that is making all Clevelanders excited. No, not Corey Kluber, Myles Garrett. The #1 pick from this year’s draft is a monster who is set to terrorize quarterbacks and be a huge boost to the Browns defense this year. Maybe it’s too far to say they’ll win six games, but their over/under is 4.5 and I really, really like the over.
2 Dallas Cowboys will miss the playoffs
Dallas had the best record in the NFC last year at 13-3 on the back of two exciting rookies and a shock-and-awe run through the regular season.
This year they can't take teams by surprise, except in how bad they will be. Ezekiel Elliott is suspended, two-fifths of the offensive line have gone, the entire secondary has changed and most of the defensive line is facing suspension as well.
The Cowboys still have Dak Prescott, but defensive coordinators have also had a whole offseason to watch tape and create a way to play to his weaknesses.
A lot of people are expecting the Cowboys to walk into the playoffs again, but I have no faith in Jason Garrett to keep the egos deflated and the team focused on the next game rather than last season.
3 Indianapolis Colts will end up with the #1 pick
This might be the least bold of all my predictions. Andrew Luck has been ruled out for Week 1, and there is a good chance that he won't take a single snap all season, either because his shoulder just isn't ready or because by the time it is ready the Colts will already be out of playoff contention.
Outside of Luck, the Colts roster is dangerously thin in playmakers. TY Hilton is reliant on the quarterback, and Frank Gore is very much a plodding back who can break a tackle but isn't going to run away from a defense.
There is so much 2011 potential in this team that the #1 pick is not that distant an idea.
4 Phil Rivers will win MVP
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees... Those are the favorites. However, a quarterback that can be on their level has been forgotten, and that's Phil Rivers.
The Chargers quarterback has seen his best targets get hurt year after year. He has had to try and get by with street free agents, and it's had an impact on results.
Over the last four years, Rivers has averaged 4,486 yards and 31 touchdowns to 16 picks per season with a 65.6% completion rate. That's a very good stat-line for someone playing without half his offensive line or his top three receivers.
In 2017, if Keenan Allen stays healthy and Hunter Henry can come on in his second year then Rivers will have the weapons he needs to hit the statistical heights of the top level QB's and go after his first MVP award.
5 Mitchell Trubisky will start before before December
Chicago wants to let Trubisky mature on the bench, but before too long John Fox's hand is going to be forced.
The Bears' schedule is a potential murderers row before their bye week, facing Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina and New Orleans. The teams that are imbalanced and don't have overt playoff ambitions (Ravens, Saints) at least have elite units that will make life miserable.
It's not inconceivable that the Bears open their season with eight straight losses and that in their desperation the coaches throw Trubisky onto the field and see if he sinks or swims.
6 Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl LII
With one trade the Seattle Seahawks have a defense that is legitimately fearsome again.
The addition of Sheldon Richardson gives Seattle good interior pass rush in their base defense and is the kind of addition that can really cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
In 2016 we saw the lowest sack rate in NFL history. Why? Well, offenses are becoming far better at getting the ball out early. Quarterbacks are getting better at stepping up or spinning out of edge pressure. The best pass rushing teams have interior pressure either from blitzes or linemen to pin the quarterback down, and now the Seahawks have Richardson to reduce the space quarterbacks have to avoid Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
Throw in Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas on the back end and you have defense that is once again elite, and defenses win championships.
7 Eli Manning breaks his own interception record
In 2013 Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions, which is the most in the modern, pass-happy, NFL. Until this season.
A lot has been made about the additions to the Giants receiving corps this offseason, but the guy throwing Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram the ball is an aging problem.
In his 12 full seasons in the league Manning is averaging 17 interceptions a season, and with Ben McAdoo's predictable, 11 personnel offense there is a very good chance that the increased emphasis on passing without improving the offensive line will result in a lot of hits, disrupted throws, and classic Manning Faces.
8 Brock Osweiler starts more than one game for the Broncos
Brock Osweiler's journey back to Denver is littered with poor performances and several enormous pay cheques, but he is back in orange now.
The Broncos' quarterback battle this preseason was one of the more depressing in the league, as 2016 first round pick Paxton Lynch was unable to beat out the distinctly below-average Trevor Siemian. Lynch is currently out with a shoulder injury, which is why Osweiler was brought back into the fold in the first place.
It's easy to remember that Osweiler left Denver in free agency, but what people don't remember is that John Elway wanted him back, it's just he got outbid by Houston. Despite his disappointing year there, Elway still likes him and there is enough talent to impress a new coaching staff. Give it a few months and some struggles from Siemian and you will see Osweiler back under center for Denver.
9 Tampa Bay misses the playoffs
Being on Hard Knocks always increases expectations, as does signing big name free agents. However, we've been here before with the Bucs when they signed Darrelle Revis and Vincent Jackson, and that didn't end well.
There has been an effort from some established names to crown the Bucs already and just write them in as a #3 seed in the NFC, but that is doing the rest of the division a massive disservice. The Saints still have one of the best passing attacks in the league, Atlanta dominated the NFC last year and return all their key components, and the Panthers are healthy and have added some explosiveness to their offense.
The NFC South is going to be a dog fight this year and there is a real chance that the Buccaneers finish third and miss the playoffs despite adding DeSean Jackson, O. J. Howard, and T. J. Ward.
10 The Buffalo Bills will be worse than the New York Jets
The New York Jets started their tanking efforts a while ago, but Buffalo have been very active in trying to catch them up.
They have traded away two of their best players in Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, and seem ready to take any offers for their players in order to collect picks and build a roster that can actually contend.
I know there is still some talent on this team in the shape of Marcell Dareus, LeSean McCoy, and Tyrod Taylor, but the Jets also have a good defensive line and some nice running backs.
I wouldn't at all be surprised to see the Bills offload a few more players before the trade deadline and start to turn the offense down to lose games. They need to get more talent on the roster, and that starts with picking higher.
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