Category Archives: National Football League

McAduped

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Ben McAdoo

In 2014, the New York Giants hired Ben McAdoo to be the team’s offensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Giants, McAdoo spent eight years as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers; first as the team’s tight ends coach, and then as their quarterbacks coach. The Giants admired McAdoo’s work with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and they felt that he would be a perfect match to collaborate with quarterback Eli Manning in New York. With McAdoo as the Giants offensive coordinator, Manning enjoyed two of his best seasons in the National Football League as he completed more than 62% of his passes. However with the Giants not putting a talented team around Manning, they would fail to make the playoffs in each of those seasons. And after the Giants went 6-10 in 2015, longtime head coach Tom Coughlin was fired and replaced with McAdoo.

The Giants promoted McAdoo due to his familiarity with Manning, while he was also seen as someone who could kick start a stagnant offense.

In McAdoo’s first year as the Giants head coach, New York went 11-5 to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 which was the last time that they won the Super Bowl. However the strength of the Giants in 2016 was their defense as New York was 25th in the National Football League last season in total offense in spite of the presence of Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Things have not gotten better for the Giants this year as following Monday night’s home loss to the Detroit Lions, they have begun this season with a record of 0-2 for the fourth time in the last five campaigns. And in each of those seasons the Giants failed to post a winning record.

The stagnation that has hurt the Giants offense in recent years is still in place as New York has only mustered 13 points in two games this season, while they have only produced 27 first downs which is 28th in the National Football League. And for a guy in McAdoo that was supposed to be an offensive guru, he must have done a tremendous sell job on his interview because he is stealing money.

Eli Manning

Manning has taken his fair share of criticism during his time with the Giants, but he still has one of the best arms and sharpest minds in the National Football League, while he has a talented duo of Beckham and wide receiver Brandon Marshall to get the football to. However it doesn’t mean a thing if Manning is running for his life in the pocket.

In 2016, the Giants offensive line was suspect at best and they’ve gotten worse in 2017. McAdoo and Giants general manager Jerry Reese never took the time to upgrade the team’s offensive line during the off-season. Already Manning has been sacked eight times compared to 21 for all of last season. In 2015, Reese used a first-round pick on offensive tackle Ereck Flowers who was expected to protect the blindside of Manning which has not been the case. Flowers has consistently shown vulnerability due to his lack of footwork. And instead of Reese and McAdoo shifting Flowers to right tackle, they continue to hold him responsible for protecting Manning’s blindside.

The Giants have lacked a running game for several years which continues here in 2017 as they are last in the National Football League in rushing with just 97 yards after two games. The Giants attempted to sign running backs LeGarrette Blount and Adrian Peterson during the off-season. But Blount opted to join the Philadelphia Eagles, while Peterson is now with the New Orleans Saints, and the Giants running game is still stuck in the mud.

Image result for new york giants offenseIn the Giants last seven regular season games they have failed to produce at least 20 points which falls into the lap of the “wonder boy” in McAdoo. At first it appeared that McAdoo was “sandbagging” his play calling as the Giants offensive coordinator in order to get Coughlin fired, but now it is clear that he simply cannot get it done. And following the Giants loss to the Lions, McAdoo couldn’t even own it, but he was more than happy to thrown Manning under the bus after New York was hit with a delay of game penalty in the third quarter during a key fourth-and-goal situation.

Manning will never be seen as the perfect quarterback, but he has earned respect in the Big Apple due to the fact that he has produced a pair of Super Bowl Titles, while McAdoo doesn’t have that much on his resume with Big Blue.

Now McAdoo must attempt to rally the troops as the Giants must get prepared on a short week to face their NFC East rivals in the Philadelphia Eagles on the road this Sunday. And if the Giants were to fall to the Eagles, they would be 0-3 overall, 0-3 in the NFC, and 0-2 in the NFC East as no team has ever won the Super Bowl after beginning the season with a record of 0-3.

Jerry Reese

But all of the blame for the Giants struggles don’t fall into the lap of McAdoo as Reese deserves his fair share of criticism as well. After the Giants last Super Bowl Title, the team got old, and as Reese saw key veterans retire, he has been unable to consistently draft well and replace that talent which has shown up in New York’s inability to run the football or protect Manning. Giants co-owner John Mara put Reese on notice publicly last year which led to New York making the playoffs, but will he be able last if Big Blue has another subpar year?

It is only September, but the Giants already find themselves at the crossroads. And if the Giants are unable to figure things out soon, there might be some house cleaning going on in East Rutherford.

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2017-2018 NFL Playoff Projections

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American Football Conference

1. New England Patriots

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

3. Kansas City Chiefs

4. Houston Texans

5. Oakland Raiders

6. Miami Dolphins

AFC Wild Card Round

Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans

These two teams met in last year’s AFC Wild Card Game, but if Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is healthy this time, the results will be much different.

Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The Dolphins have what it takes to make a good run in the playoffs, but they’ll draw a Chiefs team in the first round that won’t be denied.

AFC Divisional Playoffs

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Until the Chiefs find a way to get past the Steelers and Patriots, the second round of the playoffs will be as far as they can go.

Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots

The Raiders could be the heir apparent to the Patriots in the AFC, but they still have to wait their turn.

AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots

It might be a new season and a more motivated Steelers team, but the result will be the same as last January.

National Football Conference

1. Green Bay Packers

2. Seattle Seahawks

3. Philadelphia Eagles

4. Carolina Panthers

5. New York Giants

6. Dallas Cowboys

NFC Wild Card Game

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

There is no love lost between the Cowboys and Eagles which will make this an intense battle.

New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers

After coming up short in playoffs last season, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. needs to redeem himself.

NFC Divisional Playoffs

New York Giants vs. Seattle Seahawks

Which Super Bowl winning quarterback will be able to do enough to help his team advance?

Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers

The networks will be salivating over covering this game as it’ll be the Cowboys and Packers meeting in January for the second consecutive year.

NFC Championship Game

Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have been close, but will this be the year in they are finally able to get back to the Super Bowl?

Super Bowl 52-US Bank Stadium-Minneapolis, Minnesota: Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots

It will be must-see TV to have Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers playing each other in the Super Bowl, but Brady finds a way to win his unprecedented sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

 

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2017 AFC West Projections

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X-Kansas City Chiefs 10-6

Andy Reid’s run as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs has a familiar feel to his time with the Philadelphia Eagles as well as that of former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer. In four seasons in Kansas City, Reid has led the Chiefs to the playoffs three times which included ending the franchise’s postseason victory drought during the 2015 National Football League season. Last year the Chiefs won the AFC West for the first time since 2010, but they would lose at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round in controversial fashion. The last two years have seen the Chiefs eliminated from the postseason by the New England Patriots and Steelers respectively as they have been the premier teams in the AFC for more than 20 years. And for the Chiefs to reach their first Super Bowl as members of the National Football League, these are the team’s that Reid’s squad must go through in order to get to Minneapolis in February.

Alex Smith

For Reid, Alex Smith has been his guy in regards to being his starting quarterback with the Chiefs. In 2013, one of Reid’s first moves in Kansas City after finding out about the city’s great barbecue was to acquire Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. In Kansas City, Smith has enjoyed immense success which has included three playoff appearances, and two Pro Bowl selections. Smith has developed a reputation of being a “game manager” and he is known to not force the football, while relying on his athleticism and smarts. But being that Smith has never been known for having a strong arm, is he the guy at quarterback to help the Chiefs take the next step?

Last year the Chiefs were 15th in the National Football League while they also failed to produce a 1,000-yard ball carrier. But a staple of Reid’s offense is also to get his running backs involved in the passing game. Losing running back Spencer Ware to an injury changes what the Chiefs are able to do, but it gives running back Charcandrick West and rookie Kareem Hunt more opportunities to show what they can do. And I guarantee that Reid will find creative ways to get West and Hunt the football this season.

In limited action last year wide receiver Tyreek Hill showed his potential to be an impact player on offense for Kansas City as well as special teams. Hill is one of those players who excels in space, while I see Reid getting him the football on various plays such as reverses and screens.

Travis Kelce

When the Chiefs used a third-round draft pick on tight end Travis Kelce in 2013, he was an afterthought. However Kelce has continued to improve in each season with the Chiefs as some folks in the National Football League see him as the poor man’s Rob Gronkowski. Last season Kelce became the first Chiefs tight end to gain at least 1,100 yards receiving in a season and his ability to split the seams, while also constantly demanding a double team will open things up for other players at the skill positions.

The Chiefs have one of the more underrated offensive lines in the National Football League which includes the likes of left tackle Eric Fisher. Kansas City was able to add to that depth when they acquired Cam Erving from the Cleveland Browns this summer. Erving has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line which means that quality line play should never skip a beat for the Chiefs.

There is no underscoring the fact that the loss of defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency will hurt the Chiefs, as he was the perfect fit at nose tackle due to his ability to consistently command a double team. But now the Chiefs will also have to do it without the services of free safety Eric Berry who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury as he and Poe were solid anchors for the defense. Kansas City still maintains one of the strongest linebacking units in the National Football League which is led by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson who has quietly become one of the best defensive players in the franchise’s history. And the smarts of Johnson on the football field, along with his leadership ability will be needed more than ever to somewhat offset the loss of Poe and Berry.

It’s hard to believe, but the Chiefs have never won the AFC West in consecutive years which means that Reid and his team will have their work cut out for them in order to make it happen this season.

Y-Oakland Raiders 10-6

2016 saw the long awaited re-emergence of the silver and black as the Oakland Raiders appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Jack Del Rio delivered on his promise of reversing the fortunes of the Raiders as he was able to return the team to the postseason in just his second season with the franchise. The Raiders revival once again sparked a fan base that has suffered through losing seasons and bad draft picks as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was once again a raucous place for opponents to visits.

However all of this goodwill was thrown out of the window in late March when it was announced that the Raiders would soon be leaving Oakland in favor of Las Vegas, Nevada. This has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Raiders fans as this now marks the second time that the City of Oakland has been burned by the silver and black. The Raiders intend to play in Oakland for the next two years, but will they be able to succeed on the field in spite of the ill will between the fans, the city, and team owner Mark Davis?

Regardless of the Raiders preparing to leave Oakland, they have one of the best young quarterbacks in the National Football in Derek Carr. In 2014, Carr had all of the tools necessary to be selected in the first round of the National Football League Draft. However Carr was forced to wait with a team such as the quarterback needy Houston Texans passing up on him twice. Carr would find a home with the Raiders and he has a chance to be the franchise’s best quarterback since Ken Stabler.

Derek Carr

Carr was in the running to be the National Football League’s MVP last year until he suffered a broken fibula in Week 16. Subsequently Carr would be unavailable for the Raiders during their foray into the postseason as a team that was once viewed as a Super Bowl contender was now one-and-done in January.

But now as the new season is set to begin, Carr is once again someone who should be in consideration to be the MVP of the National Football League. The Raiders also believe in Carr and his ability as this summer saw them give him a five-year deal for $125 million.

Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree

Carr has a talented combination of wide receivers to throw the football to in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Last season both Cooper and Crabtree gained more than 1,000 yards receiving and in the process they became the Raiders first duo of wide receivers since Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in 2001 to pull off the accomplishment. And with Carr entrenched as the Raiders starting quarterback, don’t expect the level of productivity for Cooper and Crabtree to fall off.

Marshawn Lynch

The Raiders were sixth in the National Football League in rushing last year and they’ll get a boost this season with the addition of running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch developed a reputation for being one of the best power backs that the game has ever seen and in the process he helped the Seattle Seahawks win their first and only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. However in 2016, Lynch decided to retire from the NFL at the age of 29, it took some people by surprise. But Lynch has always been an unpredictable person, and this year he once again developed the inch to play football. Lynch decided to give the NFL another try, but since he was still under contract with the Seahawks, the Raiders had to compensate their former AFC West rivals which saw Seattle receive a fifth-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The year away from the game should provide Lynch with some fresh legs, while he will look to get it done in his hometown of Oakland.

Since Reggie McKenzie has taken over as the general manager of the Raiders, he has taken great pride in building Oakland’s offensive line as he himself played on the O-line in the National Football League. The Raiders offensive line produced three Pro Bowlers last season in left tackle Donald Penn, center Rodney Hudson, and guard Kelechi Osemele. The offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys gets a ton of attention and rightfully so, but the unit of the Raiders isn’t exactly chopped liver.

The Raiders were 26th in the National Football League in total defense last season and they got exposed once Carr went down with the injury. The Raiders do have defensive end Khalil Mack who is a premier edge rusher, while outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is solid as well. However the Raiders were 24th in pass defense last year and their secondary must improve if they want to be a Super Bowl contender.

It’s good to see the Raiders once again relevant in the National Football League, but you have to wonder if the upcoming move to Las Vegas as well as a suspect secondary will hurt their chances here in 2017.

Denver Broncos 7-9

From 2006-2010, the Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs which was their longest stretch without being able to play football in January since 1976. In 2011, former Broncos quarterback John Elway would return to the organization as the team’s executive vice president of football operations. Elway would rapidly begin to revitalize the Broncos roster and in his first season, the Broncos would win the AFC West. With Elway leading the charge, the Broncos were once again a title contender and in just five years he led them to their first Super Bowl Championship since he played for them.

Last year would see the Broncos go 9-7 as they would lose four of their final six games which included being swept by the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time since 2000. And in the process Denver would be watching the postseason at home for the first time under Elway’s watch.

But the 2017 Broncos will look very different and have a new feel to them as opposed to the team that played last season. Health issues have forced Gary Kubiak to step down as Broncos head after two years. However Kubiak will always be remembered for helping the Broncos get another Super Bowl Championship. Kubiak has been replaced by Vance Joseph who joins the Broncos after spending last season with the Miami Dolphins as their defensive coordinator.

Joseph is seeking to put his stamp on the Broncos and his first order of business was to switch Denver’s base defense from a 3-4 to that of a 4-3 which made defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expendable.

Over the last 35 years, Phillips has built a reputation for having one of the sharpest minds in the National Football League in regards to coaching defensive football. Phillips believes in putting consistent pressure on an opposing team’s quarterback, while his players would run through a wall for him. And when Phillips decided to leave the Broncos organization following Joseph’s arrival, it marked the end of an era, while Joseph will have a tough selling job ahead of him in regards to making the defensive players in Denver believe in his system.

Von Miller

But with Joseph set to begin his run with the Broncos, one thing that he has going for him is outside linebacker Von Miller. Since Miller entered the National Football League in 2011, he has played like a man possessed. Miller plays with a high motor and although that he only weighs in at 250 lbs., he has been known to make some of the best left tackles in the NFL look bad. Miller flourished in the 3-4 scheme of Philips, however his versatility allows him to be successful in any system that he is in. And if Miller buys into what Joseph is selling, the Broncos defense should continue to be one of the top units in football.

Miller will have to carry the load for the beginning of the season as his tag-team partner in outside linebacker Shane Ray will miss roughly two months as he is recovering from a torn ligament in his wrist, while Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. continue to operate one of the best cornerback tandems in the National Football League.

The Broncos defense should once again be solid, but for this team to be a postseason contender, their offense must improve. Last year Denver was 27th in the National Football League in total offense which included them failing to score at least 20 points in three of their last four games. Two years ago Elway used a first-round pick on quarterback Paxton Lynch, but he has yet to show that he can be the guy. In 2015, Elway drafted quarterback Trevor Siemian who was an afterthought when he was taken in the seventh round. But Siemian who does have a reputation as being game manager has become the more viable option for the Broncos at quarterback in spite of the fact that he doesn’t possess a big arm like Lynch. And whereas Siemian might not be able to win the game for Denver, he won’t lose it either.

Trevor Siemian

Siemian will be the Broncos starting quarterback this season and he’ll have a pair of talented wide receivers to throw the football to in Emanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Both Sanders and Thomas gained more than 1,000 yards last year receiving, however it will be difficult for them to match those numbers due to the struggles of Denver’s rushing attack.

Last year the Broncos were 27th in the National Football League in rushing, and it marked the third consecutive year in which they failed to produce a 1,000-yard running back. The Broncos will once again rely on a “running back by committee” which C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles more than likely getting the bulk of the carries. But if the Broncos are unable to effectively run the football, it will put their offense in a bind.

Fans in the Rocky Mountains are not accustomed to seeing the Broncos partake in losing seasons. However this could be the case in 2017 as Denver appears to be a team that is in limbo.

Los Angeles Chargers 6-10

It will definitely take some time to get adjusted to referencing the Chargers as being from Los Angeles. For more than 50 years the Chargers called San Diego home as it was hard to think of one without the other. But the finances and politics in the National Football League reign supreme as the City of San Diego and the Chargers would prepare for a very messy divorce. For years Chargers owner Dean Spanos has attempted to get a new stadium for his team, but he was unable to secure the funding from the City of San Diego in order to make it happen. And with the NFL hell bent on putting two franchises in Los Angeles, Spanos decided to pack up his team for a three-hour trip north on Interstate-5 to join the Rams in Hollywood. Now the Chargers are in Los Angeles which is the city that they came into existence in 1960 as members of the American Football League. However times have changed in Los Angeles as this is a city that only supports winners which means that the Chargers who lost a combined 23 games over the last two years must find a way to get things turned around in a hurry.

Upon making the journey to Los Angeles, the Chargers decided to hire a new head coach in Anthony Lynn. Lynn played in the National Football League for six years which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships with the Denver Broncos. Lynn has spent the last 17 years as an assistant coach in the NFL for six different teams, but now he has his opportunity to be the man in charge (no pun intended).

Philip Rivers

Lynn can sleep a little bit easier at night knowing that he has a quality veteran quarterback that he can rely on. Philip Rivers has been the Chargers starting quarterback for the last 12 years and in the process he has become the most prolific quarterback in franchise history. Rivers found a way to do the impossible as he has broken the major passing records that were set by Dan Fouts with the franchise as he has thrown 314 career touchdowns passes, while also throwing for 45,833 yards heading into this season. Eight of the last nine years have seen Rivers pass for at least 4,000 yards, and now he is closing in on being the only player in franchise history to pass for 50,000 yards. And even at the age of 35, Rivers can still sling the football around with the best of them.

Rivers’ go-to-guy throughout his career with the Chargers has been tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is set to begin his 15th season with the Chargers and although that he no longer has the physical tools that he had a decade ago, he is still a leader for this club. Gates is 37-years of age, and all signs point to this being his last year in the National Football League. Gates has clearly lost a step, but if Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is able to use him properly which means getting him consistent action in the red zone, he can still be effective.

Injuries have forced wide receiver Keenan Allen to miss a combined 38 games over the last three years which includes him dealing with a kidney issue over the past two seasons. Allen still possesses explosiveness while giving Rivers a big target to throw to, but it doesn’t help if he is consistently not available.

Allen’s absence has given wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman the opportunity to become impact players in the Chargers passing game. Like Allen, Inman and Williams are big wide receivers who generally have a size advantage versus most defensive backs that they face which gives Rivers an advantage when throwing the football up for jump ball situations.

But whereas Rivers has shown the ability to put the Chargers offense on his back, he cannot do it all by himself as Los Angeles needs to improve the running game. Last year the Chargers were 26th in the National Football League in rushing which includes them not having a running back gain at least 1,000 yards in a season since 2013. In 2015, the Chargers used a first-round pick on running back Melvin Gordon who has failed to live up to the hype due to the fact that he has been unable to remain healthy. When healthy Gordon is supposed to be an explosive player that can provide the Chargers with speed as a ball carrier along with being a pass receiver coming out of the backfield. And hopefully 2017 is the year where Gordon is able to put it all together.

The Chargers offensive line has been a burdensome group for this organization for the past few years which can illustrated by seeing Rivers run for his life at times. The Chargers attempted to remedy that during the off-season by signing offensive tackle Russell Okung. Okung is a former Pro Bowler who is a solid left tackle which will be relief for Rivers as he needs someone to protect his blindside.

Things didn’t work out for Gus Bradley during his tenure as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he was 14-48, however things could be different for him as the defensive coordinator of the Chargers. The Chargers have a stout defensive line which is led by defensive end Joe Bosa. Last year Bosa was named as the National Football League in spite of the fact that he only appeared in 12 games. Bosa tallied 10.5 sacks and he has the makings of being a poor man’s J.J. Watt. Aside from Bosa, the Chargers have defensive end Melvin Ingram, along with defensive tackle Corey Liuget as Los Angeles will be a much tougher team in the trenches this season.

The transition from San Diego to Los Angeles will not be an easy one for the Chargers as this season will be full of growing pains for them.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card

Source: Pro-footbal-reference.com

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2017 NFC East Projections

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X-Philadelphia Eagles 11-5

2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Philadelphia Eagles as they were beginning life with a new head coach in Doug Pederson as well as a new starting quarterback in Carson Wentz. But whereas that the expectations were not that high for Philadelphia, they came out of the gate like gangbusters by winning their first three games. But with Wentz taking his lumps as a rookie quarterback, the losses began to show up for the Eagles. However the Eagles would remain a tough out in spite of the fact that they finished in last place in the NFC East. But Philadelphia’s last place finish was deceiving as they went 7-9 which included picking up victories over both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys who survived the riggers of the division en route to earning a playoff berth. And as Wentz is only going to get better, while the Eagles did a solid job in regards to putting a quality team around him heading into a new season, there is plenty to like about this team.

Carson Wentz

Wentz’s transition to the National Football League was made easier in part due to the fact that he played in a pro-style offense collegiately for the North Dakota State Bison, while now playing for a head coach in Pederson who himself played in the NFL adds to his transition. Wentz had his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie which was evident by him throwing 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but he was able to hang in there and take his lumps. Through it all Wentz displayed solid pocket awareness and in the process the youngster was able to earn the respect of his teammates.

Now as Wentz’s sophomore campaign is beginning, credit to the Eagles front office in regards to putting talent around him on the offensive side of the football. This off-season saw Philadelphia and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery agree on a one-year deal for $14 million. At 6’3″, 218 lbs., Jeffery gives the Eagles a play maker at the wide receiver position which is something that they’ve lacked over the past few seasons. When healthy Jeffery can be one of the most productive receivers in football, however the operative term is when he is healthy. Over the last two years Jeffery has missed 11 games to either injury or suspension, but the fact that he only signed a one-year deal should put him in line to be extra motivated this season.

The past three years have seen running back LeGarrette Blount be a big contributor to a pair of Super Bowl Championships for the New England Patriots. But as much as Blount enjoyed his time winning with the Patriots, he decided that is was time for him to have a change of scenery. Blount is coming off of his best season in the National Football League as he gained 1,161 yards on the ground last year, while also leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 18. And Blount’s presence in Philadelphia should help to boost an Eagles rushing attack which was already 11th in the NFL last into possibility being a top-five unit.

The Eagles already had a solid offensive line and they received a boost during the off-season by signing guard Chance Warmack. Warmack may have never lived up to his full potential with the Tennessee Titans who made him a first-round pick in 2013, but now he has the opportunity to be on an Eagles offensive line which includes right tackle Lane Johnson as well as left tackle Jason Peters who is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.

Philadelphia was only able to generate 34 sacks on defense last season, however their defensive line has been upgraded during the off-season. The Eagles used their first-round pick on defensive end Derek Barnett who has the potential to be an anchor on the defensive line for years to come, while they also signed veteran defensive end Chris Long. Like Blount, Long was a member of the Patriots Super Bowl Championship team last season, and his postseason experience as well as knowledge of what it takes to rush the passer will be a vital for an Eagles team that is looking to become a contender in 2017.

Malcolm Jenkins

Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins continues to be a leader on the defensive side of the football, but Phiiladelphia will need young players such as cornerback Jalen Mills who is in his second year in the National Football League to be able to step up and take his game to the next level.

Two of Philadelphia’s first three games are within the NFC East, and a strong a strong start could put them in line for their first division title since 2013.

Y-New York Giants 10-6

The 2016 National Football League saw the beginning of the Ben McAdoo era as the head coach of the New York Giants. Under McAdoo, the Giants went 11-5 for their first playoff berth since their last Super Bowl Title in 2011. There were many positives for the Giants which included having a stingy defense as well as going 7-1 at MetLife Stadium. But New York would be one-and-done in the playoffs as a slew of dropped passes along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would prove to be too much for them as they were eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game. But as a new NFL season is set to begin, will the Giants be able to do something that they’ve been unable to do since 2008 which is to make the postseason in consecutive years?

Eli Manning

One of McAdoo’s luxuries is that he has Eli Manning as his starting quarterback. Throughout Manning’s National Football League career he has had his detractors as he has led the league in interceptions three separate times. However Manning is 108-91 as starting quarterback and he’s also the most prolific quarterback in Giants franchise history. Manning is closing in on becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to pass for 50,000 career yards, while he still has the pocket awareness as well as the arm strength to get it done at the age of 36.

But even though that Manning is coming off of the sixth 4,000-yard passing season of his National Football League career, the Giants were still 17th in the league in passing. The Giants offense was inconsistent at times last year; especially in the red zone.

John Mara

Giants general manager Jerry Reese has attempted to remedy this by upgrading Manning’s passing options. In free agency, the Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marhsall who gives them size at the position. At 6’5″, 232 lbs., Marhsall is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs in the National Football League due to his size and sheer athleticism. And this size should pay dividends for New York and Manning as the quarterback will definitely lean on him in the red zone in jump ball situations. The Giants will be the fifth NFL team that Marshall has suited up for, and when this season comes to an end, he will more than likely find himself in the NFL’s all-time top-20 list for receiving yards.

The Giants would also use a first-round pick in this past spring’s National Football League Draft on tight end Evan Engram. Since the Giants traded tight end Jeremy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints in 2008, they have used a “tight end by committee” approach which has not worked that often. And by not having a quality option at the tight end position, it has taken away from the Giants ability to have a more effective offense.

The Giants didn’t draft Engram for his blocking ability as he was used as more of an H-back in college for the Mississippi Rebels, but what he gives New York is a fluid receiver at the tight end position. And aside from the fact that Engram attended the same college that Manning did, he could become one of the quarterback’s favorite options in the passing game this year.

Odell Beckham Jr.

But you can’t talk too much about the Giants offense without mentioning the exploits of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just three years with the Giants, Beckham is making a strong case to be recognized as the most prolific wide receiver in Giants franchise history. Beckham has already racked up 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns while getting the Pro Bowl nod in each of his three seasons. Beckham has become the most polarizing and exciting player that the Giants have employed since Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and his rare combination of speed as well as elusiveness have made him one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. Beckham falls into that category of being a “coverage buster” as it doesn’t matter if teams want to give him extra attention because he still finds a way to make the catch. But if opposing defenses want to pay too much attention to Beckham this year, the Giants have options in their passing game such as Marshall, Engram, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard who can make them pay.

There was a time when the Giants were primarily known for their ability to run the football, however they’ve now built a reputation the National Football League for the inability of their ground game. You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time that the Giants had a ball carrier gain at least 1,000 in a season, while they were 29th in the NFL last season in regards to rushing.

The Giants will once again use a running back by committee. But between Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen, if one of these running backs gets hot for the ground attack, it would not surprise me to see McAdoo stick with the guy who is getting it done.

Ben McAdoo

McAdoo’s offensive system is all about Manning getting the football out quickly which doesn’t put as much stress on the offensive line. Manning was sacked 21 times last year which was his lowest total since 2012. However for the Giants offense to be as productive as their potential adds up to, the offensive line must find to step up in big situations.

In 2015, the Giants used a first-round pick on left tackle Ereck Flowers. The Giants immediately plugged Flowers in at left tackle, but throughout his brief stint in the National Football League, he has lacked the footwork necessary to be a successful left tackle. And in order for Manning to find Beckham and Marshall for those big pass plays, it all starts with Flowers being able to protect Manning’s blindside.

Defensively the Giants were tenth in the National Football League as Steve Spagnuolo began his second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo’s first stint with New York was predicated by his ability to consistently create pressure with his defense. As a team the Giants had 35 sacks last year, but they knew how to consistently create pressure; sometimes with just their front four.

Damon Harrison

The Giants lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency as he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but they still have a formidable defensive line which features defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison along with defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.

New York has not had a strong linebacking unit in years, but they possess arguably the best secondary in the National Football League. The Giants were 23rd in the NFL in passing yards allowed, however they were second in the league in points allowed per game at 17.8. The Giants had a “bend, but don’t break” mentality as they stiffened in the red zone. And as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led the team in interceptions with 6, while strong safety Landon Collins has 5, along with the coverage ability of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the Giants secondary dubbed themselves the NYPD (New York Pass Defense). This unit could get better, while Collins who barely missed out on being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 is making his case to be recognized as the best safety in the game.

McAdoo was somewhat able to fly under the radar in 2016, but it will be important for him to bring all of the talent that the Giants have together in 2017 for a potential Super Bowl run.

Y-Dallas Cowboys 10-6

It’s been a topsy-turvy ride for the Dallas Cowboys as in 2014 they would go 12-4 to win the NFC East which was followed by them going 4-12 in 2015. Dallas would then respond by going 13-3 last year to not only win the NFC East again, but they also finished with the best record in the NFC. However the Cowboys would be one-and-done in the postseason as they fell at home to the Green Bay Packers, and you have to go back to the 1995 National Football League season to find the last time that they made it past the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cowboys enter this season with a very exciting team, but will they have enough in their arsenal to live up to the Super Bowl expectations that have been thrust upon them?

Ezekiel Elliot

The Cowboys expected running back Ezekiel Elliot to have a strong impact in 2016 after they used the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft on him. Elliot was able to burst onto the scene as he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 rushing yards, while he drew comparisons to Hall of Fame running backs in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith who also played for the Cowboys. Elliot provided Dallas with a “home-run hitter” at the running back position as he was always a step away from breaking a big play. And in the process Elliot was able to make Cowboys owner/president Jerry Jones look like a genius after investing several first-round picks into his offensive line and coming to his senses by putting an explosive ball carrier behind the line after he let running back DeMarco Murray leave as a free agent in 2014.

Elliot was the engine for the Cowboys offense as he carried the football 322 times. And in the process his ability helps the passing game in Dallas due to the fact that opposing defenses must consistently focus on him.

Like Elliot, quarterback Dak Prescott was a part of the Cowboys draft class in 2016. But unlike Elliot, Prescott didn’t enter the National Football League with as much fanfare. Dallas used a fourth-round selection on Prescott who was simply expected to simply be a backup to starting quarterback Tony Romo. However when Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back during the preseason, the starting quarterback job became Prescott’s to lose.

Dak Prescott

After the Cowboys lost their first game with Prescott as their starting quarterback, Dallas would reel off 11 consecutive wins as they became the team to beat in the NFC. Prescott was not going to overtake Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in order to be the top signal caller in the National Football League, but he was still effective due to his smarts. Prescott learned very quickly to allow the game to come to him which means not trying to win by himself. Prescott is not a “game manager” but he is someone who knows how to put the football into the hands of the play makers around which has seen him draw comparisons to another former Cowboys quarterback in Troy Aikman.

Prescott has the luxury of not only handing off to Elliot, but he also can pass the football to a talented trio of wide receivers in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams, while you cannot overlook the ageless one at tight end in Jason Witten who even at the age of 35 can still split the seams in a defense with the best of them. Witten continues to be “Steady Eddie” in the Cowboys offense, and by the end of the season he’ll be in the top five of the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions.

The current Cowboys offensive line might not be as good as the unit from the 1990’s which changed the game, but these guys are still very effective. The Dallas offensive line is littered with first-round selections which includes left tackle Tyron Smith. And as long as this unit can continue to effectively open holes for Elliot, pass protection for Prescott will be easier due to opponents being so conscience of the Cowboys running game.

For Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, he must find a way for his unit to wreak more havoc in order to offset the team’s explosive offense. Strong safety Barry Church led Dallas in interceptions last season with only 2, and he is no longer with the club, while no Cowboys defender was able to record at least 10 sacks last year.

Jaylon Smith

Dallas should get a boost in their front seven with middle linebacker Jaylon Smith returning from injury. Smith would have been a first-round pick last year had it not been for him tearing ligaments in both his ACL and LCL during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys would draft Smith in the second round last year due to his potential when healthy. And after Smith sat out the entire 2016 National Football League season while recovering, he is ready to be an impact player this year.

Dallas’ pass rush has the potential to be solid if everyone is able to get on the same page. There is potential in defensive end Taco Charlton who Dallas selected in the first round this year, but this team needs more depth in regards to pass rushers, and thus it is important for the Cowboys to get both defensive end Randy Gregory as well as defensive end Damontre Moore back as they are both currently suspended by the National Football League.

It will also be important for the Cowboys to create pressure with their front seven as the team’s secondary still has question marks after they were 26th in the National Football League last year in pass defense. And as this unit lacks play makers, the Cowboys could be susceptible to the deep ball.

The Cowboys will continue have one of the better special teams units in the National Football League due to the strong right leg of kicker Dan Bailey. In six years with the Cowboys, Bailey has become one of the most accurate kickers in league history which has also seen him make 24-of-35 attempts from beyond 50 yards. And that powerful and accurate leg of Bailey should help to win a few games for the Cowboys here in 2016.

After the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC last year, they have to be ready to take every opponent’s best punch. However all of the Cowboys losses last year came within the NFC East as it will be very tough for them to repeat as division champs.

Washington Redskins 6-10

Ever since the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 1991 National Football League season, things have gotten away from this once proud franchise. The Redskins only have six playoff appearances to their credit since then with just three postseason victories. Washington would come out of nowhere to win the NFC East in 2015, but when the expectations rose for them last year, they hung in there until the final week of the regular season when a loss to the New York Giants eliminated them from postseason contention. Now as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and his team look to bounce back this year, they’ll have their work cut out for them with a team that will be much different from the squad that took the field last season.

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins has been the Redskins starting quarterback for the last two years, but his relationship with the organization has been contentious at best. After Cousins set a Redskins record by passing for 4,166 yards in 2015, the organization used the franchise tag on him for 2016. And after Cousins and Washington could not come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he went out last season and passed for 4,917 yards.

Cousins and the Redskins would continue to have problems as the team allowed his top two wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to leave in free agency. Cousins was reluctant to sign his franchise tender as he was seeking to be traded to the San Francisco 49ers, but his request would not be obliged. Cousins is still on the Redskins roster, but generally nothing good comes when there is an unhappy camper on the team.

Terrelle Pryor

Cousins’ new go-to-guy in passing will be wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Pryor initially entered the National Football League as a quarterback, but he was converted to wide receiver. Last year Pryor led the Cleveland Browns in receptions (77), and receiving yards (1,007). At 6’6″, 240 lbs., Pryor is an imposing figure, but it will be important for him to get onto the same page with Cousins early.

Tight end Jordan Reed will also be important to Washington’s passing game. Reed is listed as a tight end, but Gruden tends to use him in the H-back mode as he can do a little bit of everything. However Reed must find a way to stay on the field as he has never appeared in all 16 games during his five-year career in the National Football League.

But as sharp as Cousins can be in the passing game, he can’t do it by himself and the Redskins need their running game to improve in order to provide some balance. Last year Washington was 21st in the National Football League which is not going to cut if they intend to win the NFC East. Running back Robert Kelley should receive the bulk of the carries for the ‘Skins, but keep an eye on rookie running back Semaje Perine who at 5’11, 236 lbs., was a load to bring down during his collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners.

It’s been some time since Washington was solid on defense which included them being 28th in total defense last season. The Redskins defense suffered a huge blow when outside linebacker Trent Murphy was lost in the preseason to a torn ACL. As a rookie in 2016, strong safety Su’a Cravens showed the promise of being a difference maker, but now the Redskins are without his services as he is flirting with retiring. Washington still has outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan who has tallied a combined 34 sacks over the last three years, as well as cornerback Josh Norman who is solid in coverage. However not having having more play makers on this side of the football will makes things tougher for Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

In 2015, Gruden had the Redskins headed in the right direction, but things have gotten away from him rather quickly as another losing campaign appears to be on the horizon.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2017 AFC South Projections

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X-Houston Texans 10-6

Four of the last six years have seen the Houston Texans make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to get past the second round. And the two biggest reasons why the Texans have been unable to advance are the New England Patriots who have eliminated them in two of those years as well as their issues at the most important position on the football field. Each of the last four years has seen the Texans have a different starting quarterback on opening day and this year will mark five consecutive seasons in which that is the case.

The Brock Osweiler experiment is over for the Texans after just one season as Houston has decided to move on from him. Tom Savage will enter the new season with the most experience at quarterback for the Texans, but he only started two games for Houston last year. The Texans used a first-round pick this year on quarterback Deshaun Watson as he is looked at as the future of the franchise, but he could also be the present.

After Watson lost his first start for the Clemson Tigers in 2014, he would only lose twice more for his collegiate career. Watson led Clemson to consecutive 14-1 seasons and this past January saw the Tigers claim their first national championship since 1981. Watson might not be familiar with taking snaps under center, but he is a winner which is something that the Texans need at the position.

Bill O’Brien

For Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, he has a solid commitment to running the football which is a lost art in today’s game. Last year the Texans were eighth in the National Football League in rushing and you can expect another healthy dose of the rushing attack this season. Lamar Miller will once again be the feature ball carrier for the Titans, and he once again has the potential to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. But Houston has depth behind him in the form of Alfred Blue as well as D’Onta Foreman as this rushing attack will be important to a young quarterback in Watson who I expect to get his feet wet sooner rather than later.

It has not taken wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that long to morph into one of the better pass catchers in the National Football League, and he has been able to accomplish this in spite of not having consistency at the quarterback position. Like Watson, Hopkins is a Clemson alum, and if these two former Tigers are able to get on the same page, Houston’s offense should be a force.

J.J. Watt

Defensive end J.J. Watt has been at the forefront of the relief efforts in the Houston area following the devastation that was caused by Hurricane Harvey, and the icing on that cake is that he is a darn good football player. Watt is a three-time National Football League Defensive Player of the Year, but he is attempting to bounce back after an injury plagued 2016. Last season Watt was limited to just three games as he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Watt is a physical specimen, but it’ll be interesting to see how is body will be able to respond to the wear and tear that comes with paying in the NFL.

However Watt’s return along with the emergence of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney as well as the consistency of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Brian Cushing will once again make Houston’s defense tough. And whereas that the Texans will be unable to replace the experience of nose tackle Vince Wilfork who retired after 13 years in the National Football League, the return of Watt will be able to remedy some of that.

The Texans will face their old nemesis in the Patriots in Week 3, however with the competition in the AFC South expected to once again be light, Houston should once again be the team to beat in that division.

Tennessee Titans 9-7

The 2016 National Football League season saw the Tennessee Titans possibly barreling to their first playoff appearance since 2008. However things would change in Week 16 when quarterback Marcus Mariota would suffer a fractured right fibula. The Titans would go on to lose that game to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they would rebound to defeat the Houston Texans to end the regular season. The Titans would finish 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011, while they tied the Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. However the Titans would lose the tiebreaker with Houston due to the fact that Tennessee was only able to go 2-4 within the division, while the Texans were 5-1. But now as a new season is set to begin, are the young Titans poised to take that next step in 2017 in order to become a playoff team?

Marcus Mariota

After the Titans made Mariota the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft, he is rapidly developing into a franchise player as well as a leader in Nashville. The biggest knock on Mariota coming out of college was whether or not that he would be able to make the transition to the pro game which meant adjusting to a pro-style system as opposed to the spread offense that he played in during his collegiate days.

Mariota has been able to make the transition which has included him completing more than 62% of his passes in the National Football League. Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has done a solid job of putting Mariota in situations where he can succeed which means an emphasis on featuring his running ability.

The Titans were third in the National Football League season in rushing as this is a team that is a throwback to a different era of football. Running back DeMarco Murray enjoyed his first season in Nashville as his 1,287 yards were third in the NFL. Murray did carry the football 293 times last season, but Tennessee won’t have an issue in regards to keeping him fresh due to his understudy.

In 2015, running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy en route to helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win the national title. Henry was used sparingly last year as a rookie; mainly to give Murray a breather. However I see Mularkey and Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie using Henry more this season. Henry checks in at 6’3″, while he weighs 247 lbs., and he has solid speed on that frame which means that he runs like an 18-wheeler that is barreling down the interstate. And aside from being a good runner at the goal line, Henry could team with Murray and Mariota to give the Titans a running game reminiscent of that of the Miami Dolphins from the early 1970s which featured running backs Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka, and Mercury Morris.

Mike Mularkey

Once upon a time Mularkey was a tight end in the National Football League and he’s bringing that physical mentality to his team. The Titans have a pair of bookend studs in left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin who help to give Tennessee one of the best offensive lines in the NFL which will be important with Mariota returning from the injury.

But as much as the Titans can run the football, they are going to need some production through the air. The Titans used a first-round pick on wide receiver Corey Davis, while they also signed free agent wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker has proven throughout his career that he can be a solid slot receiver in the right offense. And as effective as the Titans can run the football, Decker should be able to benefit from consistent play-action passing.

For Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, he operates a 3-4 defensive scheme where the strength of the unit comes from the linebackers. However the Titans were 20th in the National Football League in total defense last season, while they lack a disruptive force on the defensive line as well as at linebacker who can consistently get to the quarterback. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was able to tally 10.5 sacks in 2016 which led the team, but as he is 31, while also having several severe injuries during career, can he be counted on to have another productive season?

The Titans do have several weapons on special teams who could be game changers. The Titans entered the National Football League last spring owners of a pair of first-round picks with one of those being used on cornerback Adoree Jackson. The Titans not only drafted Jackson for his coverage skills on defense, but also for his ability to return kicks and punts, while he could also be used in special packages on offense. And then there is kicker Ryan Succop who made 11 field goals from beyond 40 yards last year as his leg will be important in 2017 if Tennessee wants to end their playoff drought.

The mental strength of the Titans will be tested during the early stages of their schedule as four of their first five games will be against playoff teams from last season. But if the Titans want to take the next step, these are the games that they must find a way to win.

Indianapolis Colts 6-10

The names have changed for the Indianapolis Colts, but the results are still the same as this is an organization that has too much reliance solely on their quarterback. The Colts made quarterback Andrew Luck the first overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft, but they have failed to put a quality team around which was also the case of his predecessor in Peyton Manning. Grant it that Luck has worked under a different general manager than Manning did, but during Ryan Grigson’s time as Colts GM, he never did right by Luck which led to his termination last season. Now former Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard has begun his tenure as Colts general manager by picking up right where Grigson left off from which included having a lackluster draft class come to Indianapolis. However for Ballard, his dilemma is a little bit bigger than initially thought.

Andrew Luck

The Colts inability to put a quality team around Luck which includes having a lackluster offensive line has led to injuries for him. Over the last two years Luck has missed a combined 10 games. And as the injuries are catching up to Luck, he underwent shoulder surgery during off-season which prevented him from participating in the team’s training camp. Now the Colts must deal with the reality that Luck will not be ready for start of the upcoming season. And even when Luck returns to action, how effective will he be coming off of the mend?

In order to offset Luck’s absence, the Colts acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett from the New England Patriots this summer. Brissett was a third-round pick of the Patriots last year, and in two starts with the team he was able to complete nearly 62% of his passes. However now that Brissett won’t have the luxury of having the talent around him on offense like he was accustomed to with the Patriots, how productive will he be in Indy?

Chuck Pagano

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, his offense was tenth in the National Football League in total offense in 2016. But with Luck on the shelf and a veteran running back in Frank Gore, how productive will the Colts offense be this year? Gore is coming off of a productive first year with the Colts as he was able to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth time in his National Football League career. Gore is 935 yards shy of becoming only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 14,000 career yards, but he is a 34-years of age, and at some point the other show has to drop.

The Colts passing offense which was fifth in the National Football League will more than likely take a hit without the services of Luck for all 16 games which means that wide receiver T.Y. Hilton won’t be as productive. Hilton has become one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL which included him leading the league in receiving yards last year with 1,448. And in spite of the fact that Hilton was able to lead the NFL in receiving last year, he is not a player who is considered as a typical top receiver which goes back to my point about Indianapolis failing to put talent around Luck.

Prior to Pagano becoming a head coach, his specialty was defensive football, however that has not transferred over to his time with the Colts. Last year Indianapolis was 30th in the National Football League in total defense And like the Colts offense, this organization has failed to find play makers on the defensive side of the football which has greatly inhibited their ability to stop opponents. Last season Colts opponents were able to convert on 41.5% of their third down conversions which was 25th in the National Football League and I expect that trend to continue here in 2017.

Only one of the Colts first eight opponents made the playoffs last year. But even an easy schedule to begin the season won’t prevent Indianapolis from struggling this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

The names on the back of the jerseys as well as that on the offices of the head coach and general manager may change, but the losing has continued for the Jacksonville Jaguars. You have to go back to the 2007 National Football League season to find the last time that the Jaguars had a winning season, while they’ve won no more than five games in a campaign since 2011. What has hurt the Jaguars the most is the ineptitude in their front office which has seen the organization consistently miss on their first-round picks as this is never a recipe for success.

After leading Jacksonville to a playoff appearance in four of the team’s first five years of existence as their head coach, Tom Coughlin has returned to the organization. This past January, Coughlin was named as the Jaguars executive vice president of football operations and he hopes to return the team to prominence, while brining with him some of the winning formula that helped him attain a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the New York Giants. Coughlin is a staunch disciplinarian who pays attention to detail. And if the young Jaguars won’t buy into what Coughlin is selling, he won’t have a problem helping them pack their bags to get out of town.

After replacing Gus Bradley who was fired as the Jags head coach with two games remaining in 2016, Doug Marrone was retained to be the Jaguars head coach. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Marrone was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014, and he appeared to be on the track to success until he opted out of his deal due to issues within the front office. But only time will tell if things will work out differently for Marrone in Jacksonville.

Blake Bortles

For the past three years Blake Bortles has been the Jaguars starting quarterback and it has not gone well for him. In three years as the Jags starting quarterback, Bortles has led the National Football League in sacks twice and interceptions once. In total Bortles has been sacked 140 times, while also throwing 51 interceptions. And most importantly Bortles’ record as a starting quarterback with Jacksonville is only 11-34. Bortles does have solid wide receivers to get the football to in Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Marquise Lee, but he appears to be lacking the “it” factor. Bortles has heard his fair share of criticism in Northern Florida, and as the Jaguars have talent around him on offense, 2017 will be a make or break year for him.

During Coughlin’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars and Giants respectively, his teams always had a commitment to running the football which goes back to his days as a collegiate running back for the Syracuse Orangemen. And Coughlin’s first pick upon returning to the Jaguars organization was used on running back Leonard Fournette.

Leonard Fournette

Fournette comes into the National Football League with plenty of hype as he was the first running back that was selected from a very deep class of running backs this year. At 6’0″, 228 lbs., Fournette is a bruising runner who combines size with speed and he now gets an opportunity to shine on the big stage as he is an immediate upgrade to a Jaguars running attack that did not have one ball carrier tally at least 500 yards in 2016.

Jacksonville must get more competitive defensively and it begins with some of their recent early round draft picks stepping up. In 2015, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was the third overall pick of the National Football League Draft. However Fowler would suffer a torn ACL in his first practice with the Jaguars and he has yet to become the impact player that he was expected to be. Last year Jacksonville would use a second-round pick on middle linebacker Myles Jack who entered the NFL with knee issues. And any turnaround that Jacksonville wants to have defensively in 2017 begins with Fowler and Jack being able to live up the hype which was bestowed upon team heading into the NFL.

For Coughlin and Marrone, they are attempting to change the culture in the Jaguars locker room which isn’t a quick fix. There is a deep culture in regards to losing in Jacksonville, and until it is fixed which also includes making better draft decisions, this team will continue to finish near the bottom of the AFC South.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2017 Week 1 NFL Picks

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After letting a Super Bowl Championship slipped away from Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, the long journey back begins.

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2017 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 11-5

Six of the last seven years have seen the Seattle Seahawks make the playoffs, but after they lost the Super Bowl in February 2015, they’ve lacked the ability to be recognized as a strong Super Bowl contender. Since Seattle won the Super Bowl in February 2014, age, injuries, free agency, and the salary cap crunch have caught up to them. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have stuck to their guns which has seen them focus on drafting in the hopes of maintaining depth at each position. And as some players have been harder to replace than others, it has shown up in key regular season losses for Seattle as well as when they were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last two years. But as a new season is set to begin in the National Football League, will the Seahawks be able to put all of that behind them and make another push at winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson was the starting quarterback for the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl, but the heart and soul on offense for that championship team was running back Marshawn Lynch. Last year saw Lynch retire from the National Football League and in the process the Seahawks running game suffered. In 2016, the Seahawks were 25th in the NFL in rushing with their leading rusher being Christine Michael with only 469 yards.

In the off-season the Seahawks signed former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the hopes of giving their stagnant running game a boost. Lacy had a strong start to his National Football League career in 2013 with the Packers. That season saw Lacy gain 1,178 yards on the ground and in the process he was named as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. However weight issues have hampered Lacy ever since which led to him falling out of favor in Green Bay. But I do expect Lacy to have an impact with Seattle this year due to the fact that he has incentives in his contract to keep his weight down.

And a solid season be Lacy should benefit Wilson. In five years as the Seahawks starting quarterback, Wilson’s career record is 56-23-1. Wilson’s passing yardage has increased in each season, however when he has a big passing game the Seahawks generally lose. The Seahawks offense is predicated on balance and as good of a winner the Wilson is, he cannot carry the offense by his lonesome.

Doug Baldwin

Surprisingly the Seahawks traded veteran wide receiver Jermaine Kearse this off-season, but Wilson still has his “BFF” in wide receiver Doug Baldwin while after tight end Jimmy Graham dealt with injuries as well as trying to figure things out in Seattle in 2015 was able to bounce back last year for one of the most productive seasons of his career. And although that Graham is set to become 31-years of age in November, he can still get it down for the Seahawks; especially in the red zone.

Last year the Seahawks were fifth in the National Football League in total defense and this unit is at its best when all 11 players are flying around the football. For the longest time Seattle has had a stout defensive line with pass rushers such as Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and Michael Bennett set to have an impact this season. But the rich got richer when the Seahawks were able to acquire defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets this summer.

Richardson was able to burst onto the scene with the Jets in 2013 as he was named as the National Football League’s Rookie of the Year, while making the Pro Bowl in 2014. The best way to describe Richardson is that he is a disruptor on the defensive line and when he is on top of his game, he is one of the top defensive tackles in the game. However the downside is that Richardson can take plays off and lose focus. But if there is an organization that can bring out the best in Richardson, it would be the Seahawks.

Bobby Wagner

Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the National Football League in tackles last year with 167, while outside linebacker K.J. Wright is one of the most underrated players at his position. The Seahawks secondary is still home to some of the top alpha males in the NFL in cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor. Thomas is looking to bounce back after he suffered a broken leg last year and the Seahawks secondary simply wasn’t the same without him. But overall this unit could be ready to once again be dominant this season.

In 2015, Blair Walsh was one of the most accurate kickers in the National Football League as he connected on more than 87% of his kicks as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But Walsh will only be remembered for missing a 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a wild card loss to the Seahawks. Walsh would have a hard time getting over the miss which led to the Vikings releasing him last year. However Walsh has now been presented with the chance to get back on track as a member of the Seahawks, and whereas Carroll has been known to coach his guys up, Walsh could be ready to bounce back in a big way this season.

The beginning and the end of the Seahawks schedule will be the toughest portion as they’ll open on the road against the Packers, while they will finish up with the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. But when it is all said and done, Seattle should be in line to claim another NFC West Title.

Arizona Cardinals 10-6

At the start of the 2016 National Football League season, the expectations were high for the Arizona Cardinals. The previous season had seen the Cardinals reach the NFC Championship Game for just the second time in franchise history. However the Cardinals would be up and down last season which began in their first game when they lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champions in the New England Patriots who didn’t have the services of quarterback Tom Brady. And as the Cards finished with a record of 7-8-1, they have still failed to make the postseason in three consecutive years. But as the Cards finished 2016 by winning their final two games which included knocking off the Seattle Seahawks on the road for the second consecutive year, maybe they can carry that momentum over into the new season.

Bruce Arians

Since Bruce Arians has been the head coach of the Cardinals, he has relied on Carson Palmer to be his starting quarterback. Palmer is entering his 13th years in the National Football League and as he is set to be 38-years of age in December, it will paramount for Arizona’s offensive line to keep him protected due to the fact that he is not that mobile.

Palmer isn’t the only veteran who is a key component to the Cardinals. The last 13 years have seen wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald morph into one of the best pass catchers that the National Football League has ever seen. And the age of 34, Fitzgerald isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions last season with 107, while he still commands a double team.

But the Cardinals cannot solely rely on Fitzgerald in their passing game which means that wide receiver John Brown needs to have a bounce back season. After Brown gained 1,003 receiving yards in 2015, he struggled at times last year and in the process he fell out of favor with Arians as he was only able to tally 517 yards.

David Johnson

Very rapidly running back David Johnson has emerged as one of the better all-purpose backs in the National Football League and his 1,239 rushing yards were seventh in the league last season. But what set Johnson apart was his ability at the goal line as he had 16 touchdowns on the ground. And if the Cardinals are able to get some consistency from their wide receivers who are not named Fitzgerald, Johnson could be even more dangerous with defenses being unable to solely focus on him.

For Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, it is all about “organized chaos” with his unit. The Cards defense is all about putting as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses and it also good that the players in Arizona can rely on some former National Football League players as assistant coaches. Kevin Ross played in the NFL for 14 years and now he serves as the Cardinals defensive backs coach. Larry Foote spent 13 years in the NFL which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and now he serves as Arizona’s inside linebackers coach. Brenston Buckner spent 12 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle and now he is coaching the defensive line for Arizona.

But even with all of that experience on the sidelines, it is the Cardinals players who have to go out on the field and make it happen, however they have the people to do so. Defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and Frostee Rucker can provide pressure up front, while the Cardinals could have one of the best linebacking cores in the National Football League. Outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have become one of the bookend pass rushing tandems in the NFL which should compliment rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby who is set to begin his third stint with the club.

The Cardinals secondary is home to a wealth of play makers as well. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the business in regards to one-on-one coverage, while free safety Tyrann Mathieu has rapidly developed into arguably the top all-around safety in the National Football League due to his ability to play both the run and the pass. The Cards have depth in their secondary which includes strong safety Tyvon Branch and cornerback Tramon Williams. And this depth has allowed the Cardinals to play Deone Bucannon at linebacker as opposed to his natural position of safety.

Special teams were an issue last year for Arizona as well, but the acquisition of kicker Phil Dawson should remedy that being that he is one of the most accurate kickers in National Football League history. And it will also help the veteran kicker in Dawson that all of Arizona’s home games will be played indoors.

Only one of Arizona’s first nine games will be played against a team that made the playoffs last season. And a fast start for Arians and his team could be just what they need to make it back to the postseason.

Los Angeles Rams 6-10

The 2016 National Football League season saw the Rams return to the City of Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. And although that the Rams were initially welcomed with excitement for their return to Southern California, it waned rather quickly. The Rams went 4-12 last year for their tenth consecutive losing season. In the process the Rams went through two different head coaches as Jeff Fisher was fired after the team’s 4-9 start. The Rams finished with the fifth worst record in the National Football League, but they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their inefficiency due to a trade in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans. 31-year old Sean McVay has been hired to be the Rams new head coach. And as critics will attempt to use McVay’s age against him, will he be the guy to get things turned around in Los Angeles?

McVay was given the Rams job on the premise that he would be able to develop quarterback Jared Goff into a quality National Football League quarterback. The Rams used the first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on Goff and in the process they mortgaged the future by giving up multiple first-round picks in order to obtain him.

Jared Goff

Last year Goff began his National Football League career by watching from the sidelines. Goff would go on to start seven games for the Rams, but he was never able to lead them to a victory. As expected Goff struggled as he only completed 54.6% of his passes, while throwing 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Overall the Rams offense was last in the NFL in total offense, but the entire blame cannot be placed on Goff.

After being the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, running back Todd Gurley regressed last season. Gurley only gained 885 yards on the ground last season as he wilted in the Hollywood spotlight. But if the Rams want to have any success on offense this year, Gurley will need to run like he did when the team still called St. Louis home.

Sammy Watkins

The Rams passing game should receive a boost this year as the team acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. After the Bills moved up in the first round of the 2014 National Football League Draft to select Watkins, he was never able to live up to the hype as he has constantly been injured. And it hasn’t helped Watkins that wide receivers who were selected after him such as New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are consistently Pro Bowlers. But now Watkins has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean with the Rams as he needs to get on the same page with the young Goff.

Defensively the Rams were ninth in the National Football League in total defense last year, but at times they were a very undisciplined bunch. The Rams were the fifth most penalized team in the NFL last year with the defense accounting for their fair share. The Rams have talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but they’ve simply been unable to make it all come together consistently.

Aaron Donald

It has not taken defensive tackle Aaron Donald that long to become one of the best players at his position in the National Football League. In just three years Donald has tallied 28 sacks which is an incredible number for a player who spends the majority of his time on the interior of the defensive line. This off-season has seen Donald attempt to be compensated like one of the top players in the league, but to no avail. And as Donald and the Rams have been unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he sat out for the entire off-season which has cast some doubt over his availability for the regular season.

The Rams defense will look different without Donald on defense, but they still have a strong group of linebackers which includes outside linebacker Robert Quinn, along with inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. Quinn has spent his entire National Football League career as a defensive end, but with Wade Phillips taking over as the Rams defensive coordinator, Quinn’s role has changed. Phillips is a proponent of the 3-4 defense as opposed to the 4-3 as it is all about supplying as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses. However Phillips knows how to get results with his defenses which included his most recent stint as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos which led to a Super Bowl Championship to culminate the 2015 National Football League season.

The Rams are going to need some luck in order to be a playoff team in 2017, and they’ll have to take advantage of the early portion of their schedule which will see them host the Indianapolis Colts who won’t have the services of quarterback Andrew Luck, and the Dallas Cowboys who won’t have running back Ezekiel Elliot.

San Francisco 49ers 1-15

It’s hard to believe, but it was less than five years ago that the San Francisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl and they were one play away from winning it all. Since then the championship caliber team that had been built by former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been rapidly destroyed with only three players who were on San Francisco’s roster during their Super Bowl run currently still there. And after San Francisco has only been able to win a combined seven games over the last two years, Niners owner Jed York has decided to push the reset button and start over as he has welcomed in a new general manager and head coach to his organization.

York hired John Lynch to be San Francisco’s new general manager. Lynch doesn’t have any prior front office experience in the National Football League, but most notably he was a standout free safety for 15 years which included appearing in nine Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl Title as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lynch gave up a cushy job as a color analyst for FOX Sports to join the 49ers, but as he brings the same passion and intensity that he played with to the front office, things could be turned around in San Francisco sooner rather than later.

Lynch’s first order of business was to hire Kyle Shanahan as the 21st head coach in 49ers franchise history. Shanahan learned the ins and outs of the coaching profession from his father Mike who won a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. The younger Shanahan has been the offensive coordinator for several teams in the National Football League with his most recent stint being with the Atlanta Falcons.

However Shanahan’s stint with the 49ers will begin under a cloud of controversy as his last game with the Falcons was Super Bowl 51 where his offense could not maintain a 28-3 lead versus the New England Patriots. And now Shanahan must redeem himself as he looks to make San Francisco a contender.

It’s tough to get overly excited for the Niners this season once you look at their quarterbacking situation. The two quarterbacks who are currently on the 49ers roster are veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard. In eight years in the National Football League, Hoyer has a career record of 16-15 with a completion percentage of 59.5%, while Beathard has never attempted a pass in the league.

Overall San Francisco is lacking play makers on the offensive side of the football. Each of the last two years have seen the Niners fail to produce a 1,000-yard running back, while the only bright spot for the offense is left tackle Joe Staley who is a five-time Pro Bowler.

With Lynch leading the way, he is going to attempt to rebuild the defense; more than likely in the variation of the Cover 2 defense that he is most familiar with which is the “Tampa 2”. The strength of the Cover 2 is right up the middle of the defense which is currently a huge weakness for the Niners. And as San Francisco was dead last in the National Football League last year in total defense which included surrendering at least 35 points in a contest five times, there still isn’t that much to get that excited about in regards to this group.

The only two victories that the 49ers were able to attain last year were over the Los Angeles Rams. And as this year appears to be a throw away for the Niners, victories will once again be few and far between.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2017 NFC South Projections

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X-Carolina Panthers 10-6

In 2015, the Carolina Panthers could do no wrong as they went 15-1 to earn their second NFC Championship in franchise history. But as good as 2015 was for the Panthers, 2016 was equally as difficult. The Panthers got off to a 1-5 start and were never able to recover as the team that was finding a way each week to win games in the previous year, was now going out of their way to lose. But in spite of going 6-10 last season, the Panthers appear ready to put all of that behind them and get back to being one of the better teams in the NFC.

Cam Newton

It’s very simple for the Panthers as quarterback Cam Newton goes, so does the rest of the team goes. In 2015, Newton was the National Football League’s MVP as he accounted for 45 touchdowns. But last year saw Panthers opponents be able to keep Newton in the pocket more, and he was not as effective. Now as Newton is set to begin his seventh National Football League season, he has another obstacle to overcome. During the off-season Newton underwent shoulder surgery and the jury is still out on whether or not that he’ll be able to have the same zip on his throws.

But even with Newton under center, the Panthers bread and butter on offense is their rushing attack. Carolina made a stride by using their first-round pick in this April’s National Football League Draft on running back Christian McCaffrey. During McCaffrey’s collegiate career with the Stanford Cardinal, he was always a step away from making a big play. As a sophomore in 2015, McCaffrey set a single-season Football Bowl Subdivision record for all-purpose yards with 3,864. McCaffrey is the ultimate home run hitter as aside from being a dynamic runner, he can be a solid pass catcher coming out of the backfield, while also contributing on special teams with punt and kick returns. And Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula should have a field day in regards to finding ways to get McCaffrey the football as much as possible.

Greg Olsen

At 32-years of age, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen continues to chug along. Olsen is set to begin his seventh season with the Panthers, while he is coming off of his third consecutive campaign in which is he was able to gain at least 1,000 receiving yards. Olsen has also made the Pro Bowl in each of his last three years, while he has also developed into a leader for Carolina. Olsen can still split the seams with the best of them and the presence of McCaffrey should help him out as far as getting more single coverage.

And with McCaffrey on board, Panthers wide receivers Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin should have productive seasons as well as just like Olsen, they should see more single coverage. The Panthers also have a veteran offensive line which includes the Kalil Brothers of center Matt and his younger brother in left tackle Ryan who signed with Carolina this off-season after spending the first five years of his National Football League career with the Minnesota Vikings.

For Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, Steve Wilks has been on his staff since 2012, but now he gets his first chance to be the Carolina’s defensive coordinator and he inherits a veteran unit that is seeking to get back on track. The Panthers were 21st in the National Football League in total defense least year in spite of the fact that they were able to record 47 sacks and generate 27 turnovers.

The Panthers are happy to welcome back a familiar face who is seeking to finish his playing career in Charlotte. In 2002, the Panthers made defensive end Julius Peppers the second overall pick of the draft and he was seen as a building block for the franchise. Peppers spent the first eight years of his National Football League career with the Panthers which included him becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 81, while he helped them reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. And after Peppers split time over the last seven years with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, he is back now with the Packers to add to his 143.5 career sacks with are the fifth most in NFL history.

The return of Peppers will give the Panthers more depth on their defensive line as he’ll team with defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison. And as Wilks should be able to rotate his defensive ends more this year, it will give him the opportunity to keep his veteran pass rushers such as Peppers fresh.

Carolina also has one of the best linebacking cores in the National Football League as long as they are able to remain healthy. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is the best at what he does which is evident by him being named the National Football League’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. However several concussions have forced Kuechly to miss time over the last two seasons and this is something that the Panthers medical staff should monitor. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis has spent his entire NFL career with the Panthers, and as he is set to begin his 13th season in Carolina, he is the heart and soul of this team. And then there is case for outside linebacker Shaq Thompson who is entering his third NFL as he is just scratching the surface on his athleticism which will keep him on the field due to his ability to play both the run and pass.

The Panthers secondary still has some question marks as this unit has not yet recovered after the organization parted with cornerback Josh Norman. And because of that the Panthers secondary will be relying on their front seven to generate enough pressure in order to give them the opportunity to make more plays.

The Panthers will enter this season with several “what ifs” which includes seeing how Newton will rebound after having off-season shoulder surgery. But Carolina should be able to benefit from the early portion of their schedule where six of their first eight opponents failed to make the playoffs in 2016. However second half of the season will see Carolina have two meetings with the Atlanta Falcons which should go a long way in decided who’ll win the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons 9-7

The Atlanta Falcons are set to begin their 52nd year of existence and this could be the toughest one in the history of the franchise. After going 11-5 in the regular season in 2016, the Falcons scored a combined 80 points in two playoff games en route to winning their second NFC Championship in franchise history. The Falcons would then keep that momentum going in the Super Bowl as they built a 28-3 lead in the third quarter over the New England Patriots.

However as the Falcons appeared to be on cruise control to win their first Super Bowl Championship, the wheels began to come off as not only would they not score again, but they allowed the Patriots to storm back, force overtime, and ultimately steal the game. In the process the Falcons became only the third team in Super Bowl history to blow a 10-point lead and lose; however they were the first team to give up a double-digit lead in the second half more/less a 25-point advantage. And after Falcons owner Arthur Blank was on the sideline celebrating an expected victory, how will he and his organization rebound after being so close to football’s holy grail?

Dan Quinn

Dan Quinn is set to begin his third season as the Falcons head coach, but his staff will look very different heading into the new season. The Falcons will have a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian who replaces Kyle Shanahan as he moved on to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Sarkisian is best known for his respective tenures collegiately as the head football coach of the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans with his only previous venture into the National Football League being as the quarterbacks coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2004. But now Sarkisian must get up to speed with the Falcons offense.

The Falcons still have quarterback Matt Ryan who enters the campaign as the National Football League’s MVP. Ryan completed nearly 70% of his passes, while he threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2016. Ryan is the Falcons all-time passer and his career record is 85-57. But what haunts Ryan is the fact that he has been unable to get it done in the postseason. Ryan is 3-5 in the playoffs, but more importantly he has lost twice in January while having home-field advantage, and he’ll now have last season’s collapse in the Super Bowl attached to him. Ryan is still one of the game’s best quarterbacks which will make him a fantasy football owners dream, however the Falcons will need his leadership skills more than ever this season.

Ryan also has the luxury of throwing the football to one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League in Julio Jones. In 2015, Jones led the NFL in receptions with 136 as well as receiving yards with 1,871. And at 6’3″, Jones is one of the most physical pass catchers in the game as he’ll continue to torment defensive backs.

But as good as the combination of Ryan and Jones can be, in order for the Falcons to once again be a force in the NFC, they must focus on rushing the football. Atlanta was fifth in the National Football League in regards to rushing the football. And in the Super Bowl, the Patriots didn’t have an answer for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman who averaged 6.8 yards per carry. However when it mattered the most, the Falcons went away from running the football which would ultimately lead to their demise.

Devonta Freeman

Freeman is a durable ball carrier who is always one step away from making a big play. And although that Freeman has combined to carry the football 492 times over the last two years, he is still a guy that the Falcons need to feature in order to provide balance for their offense as well as taking some of the offensive burden off of Ryan; especially since Atlanta has an experienced offensive line that includes center Alex Mack.

Defensively the Falcons ran out of gas in the fourth quarter versus the Patriots and it showed as they were unable to generate a pass rush. The collapse in the Super Bowl would cost defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox their jobs as three quarters of the way through the game they each appeared to be on their way to getting promotions. Smith has been replaced by Marquand Manuel who after spending eight years as a defensive back in the National Football League, and the last five years as an assistant coach will now have his opportunity to be a play caller.

The Falcons had a solid pass rush in 2016, but they have improved by signing free agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe as well as drafting defensive end Takkarist McKinley. Poe spent the last five years as the anchor on the defensive line of the Kansas City Chiefs. Poe was a two-time Pro Bowl selection as a nose tackle, and now he will team with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to give Atlanta a stout interior defensive line that should be able to free up rushing lanes for the Falcon linebackers.

Vic Beasley Jr.

After a subpar rookie campaign in 2015, there were some people who felt that outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. would be a bust. In 16 games with the Falcons in 2015, Beasley was only able to record 4 sacks. But when Atlanta allowed Beasley to be an outside linebacker in 2016 as opposed to a defensive end, he was able to flourish which saw him lead the National Football League in sacks with 15.5. It will be tough for Beasley to follow 2016 up with another season like that, however his presence should free up other Falcons pass rushers such as defensive end Courtney Upshaw and McKinley.

The Falcons first three games of the upcoming season will be versus the NFC North which includes an NFC Championship Game rematch in Week 2 at home versus the Green Bay Packers. Weeks 7-9 will see Atlanta have a three-game road trip which includes a Super Bowl rematch versus the Patriots, while they’ll be in Charlotte in Week 9 to face the Carolina Panthers in a meeting that’ll go a long way to determine who will win the NFC South.

The Falcons have talent, but the stench of their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss still sits with this team.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7

It’s hard to believe, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the longest current playoff droughts in the National Football League. You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time in which the Bucs made the postseason, while they have not won a playoff game since Super Bowl 37 which was in January 2003. Since 2008, the Buccaneers have employed five different head coaches which is a sign of turmoil for any franchise. Dirk Koetter has one year under his belt as the head coach of the Bucs, and in the process he was able to guide Tampa Bay to their first winning season since 2010. However will Koetter be able to do something that hasn’t been done in Western Florida for a long time which is to lead the Buccaneers to the postseason?

Jameis Winston

A big reason why Koetter was named as the head coach of the Bucs last year was due to his relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston. As a rookie in 2015, Winston passed for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdown passes to be named as the National Football league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year with Koetter as his offensive coordinator. And under the tutelage of Koetter, Winston continued to grow as a quarterback last year as Tampa Bay was on the cusp of making the playoffs. Now as Winston is set to begin his third year in the NFL, he could be on the verge of doing some big things which not only means helping the Buccaneers make the postseason, but his strong arm and emerging leadership could put him in the conversation to be the league’s MVP.

Winston will have a bevy of quality pass catchers to throw the football to which includes wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans as well as tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. However Tampa Bay will need more out of their running game that was only 24th in the National Football League last year. Injuries are beginning to take their toll on veteran running back Doug Martin, while he’ll also miss the first three games of the upcoming season after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. However in the past NFL Draft, the Bucs did use a fifth-round pick on running back Jeremy McNichols who should split carries with Jacquizz Rodgers in Tampa’s backfield.

Defensively the Buccaneers were 23rd in the National Football League in total defense last year and they still need to find some semblance of order on that side of the football. And until they do, they are going to continue to rely on Winston and the offense to bail them out.

Three of Tampa Bay’s first five games in 2017 will be against playoff teams from last season which includes home meetings with the New York Giants as well as the New England Patriots who are the defending Super Bowl Champions. And as fast start for the young Bucs will be paramount if they are going to end their playoff drought, it won’t be easy.

New Orleans Saints 8-8

Four of the last five years have resulted in the New Orleans Saints failing to make the playoffs, and a big reason for that is their best player. In 2012, quarterback Drew Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal to remain with the Saints, but in the process he hamstrung the team in regards to maintaining a quality team around him as his deal ate up a ton of salary cap space. And just when it appeared that the Saints were beginning to put it together once again, they traded one of their best players this off-season in wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots. But whereas the combo of Brees, general manager Mickey Loomis, and head coach Sean Payton have meant so much to the Saints for a very long time, will they be able to turn around the fortunes of this franchise and get back to the playoffs?

Drew Brees

Brees continues to put up video game like numbers as he has led the National Football League in passing yardage in five of the last six seasons which includes the previous three. Brees is 38-years of age, but he is not showing any signs of slowing down as the Superdome is the perfect spot for him to sling the football around.

As far as not having a quality team around Brees, one thing that has hurt the Saints has been their inability to effectively run the football. 2016 marked the first time since 2006 that New Orleans had a running back gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground, and better things appear to be on the horizon. Since 2007, Adrian Peterson has been the best running back that the National Football has had to offer. Peterson’s 11,747 career rushing yards are the 16th most in NFL history and his 97 rushing touchdowns are tenth. However at the age of 32, the Minnesota Vikings thought that Peterson was done; especially since he was only able to appear in three games last year due to a bum knee.

But Peterson has always been a player who rises to the occasion. And the idea of Peterson playing in the same backfield with Brees, while also being able to split carries with running back Mark Ingram should spark him to give it one more push in regards to winning a Super Bowl Title.

Willie Snead

The Saints will undoubtedly miss the contributions of Cooks which means that wide receivers Willie Snead and Michael Thomas will have bigger roles in the offense for New Orleans. However Brees is one of the better quarterbacks in the National Football League in regards to not only spreading the football around, but also making his receivers step up their game.

The Saints are coming off of another bad year on defense in the National Football League as they were 27th in total defense which included them only being able to tally 30 sacks. The Saints also surrendered 30 points on six occasions, and unless play makers such as strong safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Cam Jordan can consistently step up, it once again won’t matter if Brees passes for at 5,000 yards if the New Orleans defense cannot stop their opponents from scoring at will.

Three of the Saints first four games will be on the road which includes them beginning the season versus Peterson’s old team in the Vikings. The Saints must find a way to get off to a fast start; especially on defense if they want to make a postseason berth this year a reality.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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