Is there a better time in the year than the start of football season?
The New England Patriots are back and ready to defend their Super Bowl title with a loaded roster that rivals the 2007 squad for potential dominance. Last year, I correctly predicted the Patriots in the Super Bowl – I even had the game going into overtime for the first time in history. But I had the Arizona Cardinals winning it all on a Larry Fitzgerald walkoff touchdown; in reality, the Cardinals didn’t even reach the postseason.
I had some other bad calls as well. I said the Gus Bus would receive a contract extension in Jacksonville. I said Carson Palmer would win league MVP and Kirk Cousins would receive a contract extension from Washington. And I said Todd Gurley would lead the league in rushing yards. Not my finest predictions.
But I also had David Johnson as the NFL’s best running back. I said Jadeveon Clowney would finally have his breakout season. I had LeGarrette Blount leading the league in rushing touchdowns. And I had Oakland finally reaching the playoffs again after a 14-year drought.
With that being said, below are my 50 bold predictions for this upcoming 2017 season.
To check out my predictions from previous years, click here:
15 quarterbacks pass for 4,000 yards. Three will reach 5,000.
Jameis Winston, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Carson Wentz, Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, and Brian Hoyer
It’s a passing league, and 13 quarterbacks will cruise to what was once an impressive 4,000-yard mark. Now it’s just average. Three of those will reach 5,000, with 2016 MVP candidate Jameis Winston putting up a league-high 5,129. Brian Hoyer is my surprise pick to start all 16 games and post respectable numbers.
Six players top the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
LeSean McCoy, David Johnson, Jay Ajayi, Leonard Fournette, Lamar Miller, Melvin Gordon
None of the names on this list should surprise you. In fact, they’ve all had 1,000-yard seasons before, except for Gordon, who missed by a mere three yards, and Fournette, who is a rookie.
LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in rushing yards.
There is widely considered a big three among NFL running backs – in whichever order you choose to put them, it’s Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott. But don’t overlook LeSean McCoy. McCoy is still just 29 years old and in the prime of his career, and he’s coming off a season in which he posted a single-season high 5.4 yards per carry. He plays in a run-first offense that finished last in pass attempts in 2016. Whether it’s Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman (!) taking snaps under center for Buffalo, McCoy is going to get his carries, and he’s going to have a strong HOF argument after the season.
McCoy prediction: 317 carries, 1,516 rushing yards, 4.78 YPC, 12 rushing TD
Joe Thomas makes it 11-for-11.
For the 11th straight season, Joe Thomas will play every snap of every game while earning his 11th consecutive Pro Bowl selection to start his career.
Here is the complete list of every NFL player to go 11-for-11 in Pro Bowls to start his career:
We’re getting to witness a first-ballot Hall of Fame career in Thomas, and hopefully, he gets to play in the postseason before he retires.
Patrick Peterson makes it 7-for-7.
For the seventh consecutive season, Patrick Peterson will start all 16 games and make the Pro Bowl. You know how many players have started their career by doing that in each of their first seven years? If Peterson does it, he’ll be just the second in league history – after the great Joe Thomas.
Matt Ryan finishes eighth in passer rating.
Your 2016 league MVP won’t repeat his magic. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a good quarterback; in fact, Ryan has been underrated his whole career. Despite losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, he still has Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman on his side. It’s reasonable to think Ryan will put up numbers similar to what he averaged in the five seasons prior to his MVP: a 65% completion rate, 4,500 yards, close to 30 touchdowns against 12-14 interceptions, and a passer rating around 95. Oh, and guess who’s due for a new contract soon? Ryan will cash in quite handsomely, a la Derek Carr or Matthew Stafford.
Le’Veon Bell averages 141 scrimmage yards in 13 games, missing three due to injury.
Le’Veon Bell hasn’t been shy in vocalizing his contract demands; he reportedly turned down a five-year deal worth over $12 million annually. Bell wants to be paid like a No. 1 RB and a No. 2 WR, and while his production may be worth that, Bell still hasn’t proven he can consistently stay on the field. Whether due to injuries or suspensions, Bell has suited up for all 16 games just once in four years, and he’s missed 17 of a possible 64 contests.
Bell’s talent is undeniable, and he’s going to produce in the Pittsburgh offense – when he’s on the field. My 2017 prediction has Bell being an All-Pro talent when he’s on the field but missing three games due to injuries, because, why not? That will lead Pittsburgh to have to make a difficult offseason decision regarding Bell’s future. I’m sure they will be able to work out a deal for Bell, because teams just don’t typically let players of Bell’s caliber leave via free agency.
Bell prediction: 224 carries, 995 rushing yards, 4.44 YPC, 8 rushing TD; 62 receptions, 838 rec yards, 5 rec TD; 286 touches, 1,833 scrimmage yards, 13 total TD
First-Time Pro Bowl Second-Year Players
The following players who were drafted in 2016 will earn their first Pro Bowl selection this year:
Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers: Last year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year had 10.5 sacks but still didn’t even make the Pro Bowl.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars: As a rookie, he showed signs he will be a standout defensive performer for years to come.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens: He had a solid rookie season in 2016 and will benefit from Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth leaving for the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins got a steal when he fell to the middle of Round 1, and he’s going to become one of the league’s six or seven best offensive tackles by 2017.
Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay: Primed for 10+ sacks in second season.
The New York football Jets will be simply unwatchable.
I think the term ‘tanking’ is overused in today’s modern sports world. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the New York Jets are tanking. In the last two years, they’ve ridded themselves of D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Ryan Clady, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris. Their quarterback situation is as dismal as any team’s in recent memory, and there’s a good chance they finish with just one or two wins. That will put them in prime position to grab whichever QB they want, whether it be Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, or Josh Rosen.
At 40 years old, Tom Brady throws for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, and wins his third NFL MVP award.
Whether you call him the #GOAT or merely a top-3 quarterback of all-time, Tom Brady is about to have the greatest season by a 40-year-old in NFL history. The team added playmaking wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the offseason, who will become Brady’s best downfield threat since Randy Moss. All-world tight end Rob Gronkowski is back, there’s a slew of underrated running backs, and Chris Hogan/Malcom Mitchell/Danny Amendola are each going to step up to replace Julian Edelman (torn ACL). Brady will put up his second 5,000-yard season, his second 40-touchdown campaign, and he’ll win his third MVP award. Football is just easy for Brady, and he’s going to prove it again in 2017.
Kirk Cousins puts up stellar numbers again, and is tagged and traded after the season.
For whatever reason, the Washington Redskins’ ownership refuses to accept the fact that Kirk Cousins is a good NFL quarterback. Cousins followed up a breakout 2015 season with another strong showing in 2016; over the last two seasons, there have been 36 quarterbacks to throw the ball at least 350 times. Here are Cousins’ ranks in key statistical categories: third in completion percentage (68.3), fifth in YPA (7.91), sixth in passer rating (99.3), and tied for ninth in QB wins (17). If you go by ANY/A, which factors in sacks, Cousins rises to fourth on the list.
Cousins did lose a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, but the franchise added Terrelle Pryor, and both Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed are still around. Cousins will probably throw for his usual 4,500 yards and at least 25 touchdowns, and I think the Redskins are going to tag him after the season and trade him to San Francisco for a pair of first-round picks. And then the 49ers will sign Cousins to an extension in the line of what Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr are making, one that makes Cousins a top-three paid QB in the game.
Don’t expect the Jacksonville Jaguars’ free agency haul to put them in the postseason.
I’ve been waiting for the Jacksonville Jaguars to become a good team for many years, and every time it seems like they’re close, something happens. This time, that something is Blake Bortles. Like numerous first-round quarterbacks before him (Josh Freeman, Robert Griffin III), Bortles appears to have flamed out after flashing early. You can’t expect to make the playoffs if you have shoddy QB play, and the Jaguars won’t come close in 2017. Despite adding Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye this past offseason and Malik Jackson the year before, Jacksonville will lose double-digit games for the seventh consecutive season. Bortles will start six games before being benched, and Chad Henne will take it from there. The team will be squarely in the QB market come next year’s draft.
Justin Tucker won’t get a chance to attempt his 70-yard-field goal, but he will become the first kicker ever with two 60-yard field goals in the same game.
Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL, and he owns the league’s highest career field goal percentage. He’s made it known he wants to make a 70-yard field goal, a kick that would shatter the current record of 64 yards. A 70-yard field goal sounds improbable, but this is Tucker, after all. He’s made a 75-yarder in the Pro Bowl, a 79-yarder in practice, a 67-yarder in college, and he has kicked a 61-yard game-winner in regulation.
Having the opportunity to kick a 70-yarder doesn’t come along every day, and I don’t think it will this year, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Tucker will become the first kicker ever to make two 60-yard field goals in the same game. That would be an extremely rare occurrence for a normal kicker, but Tucker certainly isn’t a normal kicker.
Drew Brees sets single-season records with 500 completions and a 72.2 completion percentage.
Drew Brees is now 38 years old and just lost his best deep threat receiver in Brandin Cooks, so he’s going to decline, right? Not Brees. He’s as consistent as it gets, having averaged 428 completions, 4,888 passing yards, and 35 touchdowns since joining the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Last year, he quietly set an NFL record by completing 471 passes, breaking his own record of 468 in 2011. In fact, six of the top eight all-time seasons for completions are by Brees.
Reaching 500 completions means throwing the ball an incredible amount. Brees has topped 650 pass attempts seven times, leading the league on four occasions. He’s also the most accurate passer in league history with a career mark of 66.6, and he posted a 70.0 mark last year. If Brees throws the ball 692 times and completes 500, it will be a 72.2 completion percentage, which would also be a record. It’s tough, but I think it’s doable, especially in today’s modern NFL that frequently features shootouts and high-volume contests.
This would move Brees ahead of both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on the all-time completion list. In addition, 35 touchdown passes (likely, considering he’s averaged 36 over the last decade) would get Brees to 500, which would make him the third QB in history to reach that milestone.
Injuries plague Andrew Luck, as he suits up for just 11 of 16 games.
Injuries have taken their toll on Andrew Luck over the last two seasons, and he’s still struggling to return from offseason shoulder surgery. He’s on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and per ESPN’s Mike Wells, there’s still no timetable for Luck’s return.
It’s difficult to speculate when Luck will return from injury, but it’s not unreasonable to think injuries will affect him for the third straight season. It would be a shame, seeing as Luck is arguably a top-5 quarterback when healthy and a game-changer whose presence on the field means Indianapolis is never out of a game. With him injured, it’s shaping up to be a lost season for Indianapolis, and maybe it’s a message that the organization needs to surround him with better-caliber teammates.
Jameis Winston leads the NFL in passing yards.
The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft is already the only quarterback in history to pass for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and he’s about to put his name in the exclusive 5,000 club. Jameis Winston is a high-volume passer capable of putting up explosive numbers, and he’s going to benefit greatly from the addition of three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson to the receiving corps. He still has future All-Pro Mike Evans, a pair of good tight ends, and only a mediocre running game, which is actually going to help his passing yardage total.
By the way, wait until Winston is eligible for a contract extension. He’s going to blow the current record out of the water – expect a six-year deal worth $165 million and over $100 million guaranteed.
Mike Evans leads all wide receivers in PPR fantasy points.
Just how good is Mike Evans? He doesn’t get the attention of Odell Beckham, Jr., but look how similar their numbers were in 2016:
Evans soaked up a league-high 173 targets last season. New addition DeSean Jackson will actually help Evans’ targets; Jackson is an extraordinary playmaker but not a high-volume receiver, which means Evans could theoretically push for 190-200 targets if all goes right.
Evans prediction: 113 receptions, 1,657 receiving yards, 15 rec TD
DeShaun Watson leads Houston to an AFC South title and wins a playoff game.
Bill O’Brien can’t possibly think Tom Savage is the best quarterback for his offense, can he? After years of subpar veterans like Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum taking snaps under center for the Houston Texans, O’Brien finally has a legitimate franchise-caliber quarterback. Watson won a national championship in college and offers significantly higher upside than Savage. He’ll take the reigns for the starting job by mid-September and he’ll be the one under center for the playoff game.
Combined sacks for the AFC West’s four premier pass rushers: 61
Khalil Mack: 20.5
Von Miller: 17.0
Joey Bosa: 13.0
Justin Houston: 10.5
This is the best pass-rushing division in the NFL, and arguably of all-time. Every player on this list is a franchise defensive player who requires double teams on every snap.
Jay Cutler starts all 16 games, throws for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, and earns a two-year contract extension to remain Miami’s quarterback. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill is released after the season.
This is a long shot, and imagine how ridiculous this would have seemed in July. But Jay Cutler is a better quarterback than we all pretend. He’s an easy target to criticize, but he’s at least a league-average quarterback with a significantly higher upside than Ryan Tannehill. He’s worked with Adam Gase before, he has a solid running back in Jay Ajayi, and he’s flanked by two good receivers in DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry. Cutler is going to parlay his $10 million deal into a two-year, $35 million extension, and he’s going to make Tannehill expendable.
Aaron Donald ends his holdout prior after Week 1, wins the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and earns the richest contract for a defensive player in league history.
A case could be made that Aaron Donald is already the league’s finest defensive player, especially with J.J. Watt having missed nearly all of 2016 due to injuries. Donald registers interior pressure that makes him one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the game, and he’s going to cash in after a phenomenal 2017 campaign.
Donald has averaged nine sacks per year from a three-technique defensive tackle role, and he’s the only defensive tackle since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to accumulate three Pro Bowl selections and two First-Team AP All-Pro nominations in his first three seasons. How about 13.5 sacks for Donald this year, plus four forced fumbles and countless more quarterback hurries – in just 15 games? That’s going to give him a name-your-price contract, which I’ll predict at six years, $125 million with $75 million guaranteed.
Here’s how the rest of the DPOY race will fare.
1) Aaron Donald
2) Khalil Mack
3) Marcus Peters
4) J.J. Watt
5) Von Miller
6) Jalen Ramsey
7) Malcolm Butler
8) Joey Bosa
9) Jadeveon Clowney
10) Fletcher Cox
After another stellar season in 2017, Aaron Rodgers signs a five-year extension worth $148 million – with $100 million in guaranteed money.
Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford upped the market for quarterbacks, with each signing a $125 million deal that included a new record in guaranteed money, and Kirk Cousins will be right the mix for that after the season. But they’re not Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers’ deal technically runs through 2019, but there’s no guaranteed money after this year. That means he and his agent will want a new long-term deal – and Rodgers will get whatever he wants. He’s a 33-year-old player in a league where quarterbacks can thrive well into their upper thirties. Rodgers is arguably the best player in the game and he’s rewriting the record books. No player has ever signed a deal with nine figures of guaranteed money, but then again, if anyone deserves it, it’s Rodgers.
Rushing yards for the old running backs:
Adrian Peterson: 804
Marshawn Lynch: 658
Jamaal Charles: 135
I have a hard time getting on board with running backs over the age of 30, especially those who have suffered serious injuries or even retired. AP has defied his doubters before, but he’s also 32 years old now, and 804 yards would still be an impressive total at that age. I think Lynch will miss a handful of games due to injury, and while I love Charles’ career, I think his impact days are over.
Julio Jones clears the 1,000-yard mark by the seventh game and ends at a league-best 1,811.
Julio Jones is an athletic freak who seems to get better every season. He’s averaged a 108/1,624/7 statline the last three seasons, and he’s even made his injuries a thing of the past. After missing 14 games due to injury from 2011-’13, Julio has missed just three games the last three years. He’s going to start this coming season with a bang; after a 211-yard receiving output against the New York Jets in the seventh game, he’ll be over the 1,000-yard mark. He’ll cruise to a league-best 1,811 yards.
Carson Wentz becomes the first Philadelphia Eagles quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards.
As a rookie in 2016, Carson Wentz’s numbers were more pedestrian than franchise-worthy. Then again, he was playing with the NFL’s worst group of wide receivers, and there were still some positive signs. He started all 16 games, showed impressive escapability in the pocket, and was fortunate enough to have two productive wide receivers – Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith – added to his arsenal this offseason. Even with the trade of Jordan Matthews, Wentz is going to take that next step to proving he’s a legitimate franchise signal-caller. No Philadelphia Eagles QB has ever passed for 4,000 yards in a season – not Donovan McNabb, not Randall Cunningham, not Nick Foles, not Michael Vick, and not Sam Bradford. Wentz is about to become the franchise’s first-such 4K passer.
Wentz prediction: 589 pass attempts, 368 completions, 62.0 comp%, 4,287 passing yards, 7.28 YPA, 30 TD, 15 INT, 90.8 passer rating
Dak Prescott’s efficiency numbers drop (how could they not?) but he starts all 16 games again and wins some high-volume shootouts.
Dak Prescott will be tested in 2017. Ezekiel Elliott is already suspended for the first six games of the campaign (although this could be reduced), and the Dallas offensive line lost two starters in the offseason. Prescott won’t be able to win football games by throwing the ball just 25 times per contest; he’s going to have to win some high-volume shootouts. Prescott will see a drop in his efficiency numbers – if you’re looking for him to duplicate a nearly 6:1 TD:INT ratio, you’re going to be disappointed. But he’s going to solidify himself in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
Prescott prediction: 545 pass attempts, 332 completions, 60.9 comp%, 3,907 passing yards, 7.17 YPA, 26 TD, 10 INT, 91.0 passer rating
Darrell Revis signs with Dallas in early September.
A certain NFL quarterback has gained national headlines for not being employed, but don’t overlook the fact that Darrelle Revis doesn’t yet have a team. Once the league’s premier shutdown corner, Revis saw a sharp decline in his production in 2016. He was too often a liability in pass coverage and the New York Jets released him just two seasons into a five-year, $70 million contract. Revis can make $6 million just by sitting out this campaign, but he’s too much of a gamer to want that. Dallas will come calling in September and Revis will go on to start 14 games for the Cowboys, registering two interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
Leonard Fournette wins Offensive Rookie of the Year after a 1,248-rushing yard performance.
It’s not going to be easy to run the ball in Jacksonville, considering opposing defenses have little reason to worry about Blake Bortles/Chad Henne at the quarterback position. But it’s an improved offensive line, and rookie fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette is a special talent who is primed for a big season.
Head coach Doug Marrone has made no secret of his intent to utilize Fournette heavily, even saying in an ideal world, Bortles doesn’t throw the ball at all. Fournette should easily average 20 carries a game, at least assuming the Jaguars aren’t down by 17 at halftime in every contest. A high-volume runner like Fournette probably won’t average much over 4.0 yards per carry, but still, he’s the favorite to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Quarterback problems push Denver to 7-9 and last place in the competitive AFC West.
Barring a sudden turnaround, I think we’re all seeing that Paxton Lynch just isn’t set to be an NFL starting quarterback. If he was, he would be able to beat out 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian with ease. Lynch will probably get his chance to play because of his stock as a first-round draft pick, but the results won’t be pretty. Siemian isn’t a bad option – he’ll probably have a 10-to-12 year career as a backup and fringe starter – but he doesn’t have the ceiling you would like from a starting quarterback on a team just two years removed from a Super Bowl championship.
Travis Kelce sets the single-season tight end record with 1,409 receiving yards.
Rob Gronkowski is the most-talented tight end in the NFL, and Greg Olsen has put up the best numbers over the last three seasons. But Travis Kelce is about to have the best season – maybe ever. The record for receiving yards by a tight end is Rob Gronkowski’s 1,327 in 2011, followed by Jimmy Graham’s 1,310 the same year. Kelce flashed his potential down the stretch in ’16, exceeding 100 yards in four straight games. With no proven No. 1 wide receiver on the team – following the surprise release of Jeremy Maclin – Kelce becomes the go-to target for the Kansas City offense. He’s athletic enough to line up out wide as well as a traditional in-line tight end, and he’s going to dominate from Week 1 on.
Kelce prediction: 104 catches, 1,409 yards, 8 TD
David Johnson becomes the first running back ever with 150 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in the same game.
Arguably the NFL’s best all-around playmaker, there’s nothing David Johnson can’t do on the field. He’s a workhorse ball carrier and a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, and Bruce Arians hasn’t been shy about giving Johnson a full workload. Remember the tie against Seattle last year? Johnson touched the ball 41 times and gained 171 scrimmage yards in that game.
There’s going to be a game next year where he blows those numbers away. How about 159 rushing yards, 151 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns on 40 total touches? That would make Johnson the first running back since Adrian Peterson a decade earlier to gain 300 scrimmage yards, and it would make Johnson the first running back ever to gain 150 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in the same game.
Alex Smith posts the best numbers of his career, but when he misses two games due to injury, Patrick Mahomes is even better – and starts the playoff games.
The book on Alex Smith is that he’s an efficient game manager, one capable of taking a team to the playoffs but not good enough to win a championship. Since he joined Kansas City in 2013, Smith’s numbers reflect his caretaking nature – he’s posted the third-lowest interception percentage (1.45) among 36 passers with at least 750 attempts. He’s also just 19th in ANY/A, a stat that incorporates passer rating and sacks, putting him behind mediocre passers like Brian Hoyer and Tyrod Taylor.
Smith knows he’s on the hot seat, and he’s seen this before. Remember when Colin Kaepernick beat out Smith down the stretch in 2011? Smith was coming off a game in which he literally completed 18 of his 19 pass attempts. This year, he’s going to take Kansas City to a 10-4 start, throw 23 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and post a career-high 104.5 passer rating.
But when he misses the Week 16 game due to a concussion, Patrick Mahomes will be even better. Mahomes will beat Miami handily, lead a 20-point comeback against Denver, and Andy Reid will shock the football world when he announces that Mahomes – not Smith – will start the playoff games.
Your best offensive free agent acquisition: DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you can’t tell, I’m liking the Tampa Bay passing offense this season. 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston is about to take that next step at quarterback, becoming a league MVP candidate. Mike Evans is already a bonafide stud capable of coming down with easy 50-50 balls (as noted on Hard Knocks, they’re more like 80-20 balls with Evans). And speedy playmaker DeSean Jackson will open up the field opposite Evans.
Jackson is 30 years old and a one-trick pony entering his 10th NFL season, but he’s still going strong. He’s fresh off his third different year leading the league in yards per reception. Jackson has 498 career catches; just five receivers in league history with at least 500 career catches have a higher lifetime yards-per-catch average than Jackson’s 17.7. No player who debuted in the last 30 years can top Jackson’s average.
Jackson isn’t a high-volume receiver – he’s topped 65 receptions just once (82 in 2013). But he’s going to put up a 70/1,237/8 line in 2017, which would be right on par with his 17.7 yards per catch average.
Your best defensive free agent acquisition: Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
Not only did Bill Belichick not trade Pro Bowl corner Malcolm Butler this offseason, but he also managed to snag Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore from within the division. Gilmore is a 2012 first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s a 26-year-old coming off his best season (five interceptions), and he plays a premium position. If Belichick was able to turn an undrafted corner like Butler into a franchise defensive player, what can he do with a player of Gilmore’s natural talent? Add in ballhawking safety Devin McCourty, and this could be the league’s best secondary.
Your worst offensive free agent acquisition: Matt Kalil, OT, Carolina Panthers & Mike Glennon, QB, Chicago Bears
It’s shocking that a team still believes Matt Kalil can be a franchise left tackle, and even more shocking that Carolina GM Dave Gettleman offered Kalil a ridiculous $55 million over a five-year contract, with nearly half of that guaranteed. Kalil was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2012, but since then has been an extreme liability at one of the league’s most pivotal positions.
The Mike Glennon contract was equally perplexing. A former third-round pick, Glennon was paid $15 million per year to possibly be a backup for a Chicago team that then traded up for Mitchell Trubisky. If Trubisky is a stud, no one will remember or care about Glennon, but for now, it’s certainly unusual.
Your worst defensive free agent acquisition: A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been your offseason winners for a handful of offseasons in a row, but it hasn’t so much resulted in even a seven-win season. They paid cornerback A.J. Bouye $67 million over five years, a move that theoretically should give them the game’s top corner duo in Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. The problem is that Bouye really only had one year of standout play, meaning $13-plus million per year is a lot of money for essentially an unproven player.
Chuck Pagano will be the first head coach fired. Three other head coaches will be fired during or after 2017.
Chuck Pagano has seemingly been on the hot seat for years, but 2017 will mark his last opportunity to coach the Indianapolis Colts. Three other coaches will be fired: Todd Bowles (New York Jets), John Fox (Chicago Bears), and finally, Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals).
Your 2017 AP All-Pro selections:
QB: Tom Brady
RB: David Johnson
WR: Julio Jones, Mike Evans
TE: Travis Kelce
OT: Tyron Smith, David Bakhtiari
G: Zack Martin, Gabe Jackson
C: Travis Frederick
FLEX: Odell Beckham, Jr.
DE: Khalil Mack, Brandon Graham
DT: Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox
OLB: Von Miller, Thomas Davis
ILB: Bobby Wagner
CB: Marcus Peters, Malcolm Butler
S: Landon Collins, Eric Berry
FLEX: Jalen Ramsey
K: Justin Tucker
P: Johnny Hekker
KR: Chris Thompson
PR: Tyreek Hill
David Johnson is the NFL’s best workhorse running back. A crowded wide receiver class sees Antonio Brown missing an All-Pro spot because of the dominance of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham, Jr. And there’s no room for league rushing champ LeSean McCoy or multidimensional back Le’Veon Bell.
There are no surprises on the offensive line, but Brandon Graham is the breakout defensive player. Jalen Ramsey takes the defensive flex spot over Tyrann Mathieu.
Your 2017 MVP order:
1) Tom Brady
2) Jameis Winston
3) Aaron Rodgers
4) David Johnson
5) Julio Jones
6) Le’Veon Bell
7) Drew Brees
8) Mike Evans
9) LeSean McCoy
10) Aaron Donald
Your AFC division champions: NE, PIT, HOU, KC
These four division winners shouldn’t shock you. The AFC South will be the closest race, but all four division winners will win at least 10 games. New England wins its eighth straight AFC East title. Pittsburgh repeats as AFC North champion. Houston wins its fourth consecutive division title, an unbelievable achievement for Bill O’Brien considering the instability he’s had at the quarterback position. Kansas City gets the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a 12-win season.
Your AFC wild card teams: OAK, TEN
Oakland is a popular favorite to win the AFC West, but they’re not on par with the level of Kansas City. Still, a core of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack should get this roster double-digit victories. Tennessee is a smash-mouth ground-and-pound team that is suited well for January football.
Your NFC division champions: NYG, GB, TB, SEA
The NFC East is the toughest division to decide. I don’t think the Eagles are ready yet, and Dallas will face a brutal schedule with Ezekiel Elliott already suspended for six games. That means the Giants – with their underrated defense – win this division.
Tampa Bay edges out reigning Super Bowl finalist Atlanta for the NFC South division title, and Seattle’s dominant defense gives them another NFC West crown.
Your NFC wild card teams: ATL, ARI
Five NFC teams (Minnesota, Atlanta, Dallas, Arizona, and Philadelphia) will heavily vie for wild card spots. Atlanta is too loaded on offense to miss the postseason, and a final hurrah from Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald gets Arizona into January ball.
Aaron Rodgers Throws 5 TD Passes vs. Legion of Boom Secondary in NFC Divisional Game
Aaron Rodgers has had quite the history with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2012, he lost on a last-second Fail Mary touchdown catch by Golden Tate. In the 2014 NFC Championship Game, his team blew a 19-7 lead with two minutes left. This time though? It’s all Rodgers. He throws five touchdown passes in a shellacking of the Seattle secondary, leading the Pack to a 38-20 victory.
Your AFC Championship Game: New England over Kansas City
Just like the Thursday night Week 1 game, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will play host to Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, although this time Patrick Mahomes will be under center for Kansas City, not Alex Smith. Mahomes adds that extra dimension to the Chiefs’ offense, notably the ability to engage in a high-volume shootout.
This is admittedly a bold prediction that Mahomes will be starting the AFC Championship Game in his fourth-ever NFL game, but Reid clearly saw something in Mahomes before the draft, and Mahomes lit it up in preseason. This year’s Chiefs squad is loaded – even with the surprise release of Jeremy Maclin and the injury to Spencer Ware, the offense has Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and a solid offensive line. Hill will take a punt to the house, Eric Berry will pick-six Tom Brady, and it’s going to be a 27-27 game heading into overtime before Dont’a Hightower strip sacks Mahomes and sets up a Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal.
Your NFC Championship Game: Tampa Bay over Green Bay
In a battle of the Bays, Jameis Winston edges Aaron Rodgers in a thrilling 40-34 finish. Rodgers has underachieved in NFC Championship Games over his career, but four touchdown passes in this one means he can’t be blamed for the loss. Winston is a fine passer, a threat as a runner, and he’s capable of putting a team on his back. This will be his coming out party.
The Super Bowl is the first Super Bowl ever between two 5,000-yard passers.
How much fun would this be to watch? We’ve seen some high-powered shootouts in the NFL’s biggest stage. Last year brought us league MVP Matt Ryan vs. two-time MVP Tom Brady, and we nearly saw a pair of 5,000-yard passers when Eli Manning (4,933 yards) faced Brady (5,235) the second time. This will be a pair of 5K passers going head to head for 60 minutes.
Jameis Winston has a chance to become the face of the NFL, and Bill Belichick will have his hands full trying to contain Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, two extremely different receivers whose skills complement each other well. Tampa Bay takes a 20-17 halftime lead but New England pulls away to take a 38-35 lead late in the fourth quarter. With 90 seconds left on the clock, a Brady-to-Mike Gillislee third-down conversion seals the game and gives the Patriots an unprecedented sixth title.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick bring a sixth Super Bowl championship home to New England, completing an 18-1 season.
In the end, Tom Brady & Co. will just be too much for Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s no shame to lose to Brady in the Super Bowl, and Winston will become the sixth such non-Eli Manning QB to lose to Brady at the Super Bowl level.
This would duplicate what the New England Patriots did in the early 2000s – three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. It would also give Brady strong ammunition to be considered the sport’s greatest player ever, and it would put Bill Belichick squarely in the discussion as the greatest coach in American sports history.
Super Bowl MVP: Who else?
Five Super Bowl MVP awards and six rings – not a bad career for any NFL player, especially one who – if you haven’t heard – was a former sixth-round draft choice. Brady is the game’s best player, and a regular season MVP award to go with a Super Bowl MVP award is a remarkable achievement for a 40-year-old quarterback.
Brady prediction: 40 pass attempts, 27 completions, 68.8 comp%, 331 passing yards, 2 TD, no INT, 109.5 passer rating
After taking zero regular season snaps, Jimmy Garoppolo is franchise tagged and traded somewhere for two first-round picks and a second-round pick.
At some point, the Tom Brady era has to end in New England, right? Well, not anytime soon. Following a fourth straight season learning behind arguably the greatest QB of all-time, teams come calling for Jimmy Garoppolo. Faced with losing him in free agency, Bill Belichick does what he did with Matt Cassel back in 2008 – he places the franchise tag on Garoppolo and then sends him somewhere for two first-round picks and a second-round pick. It’s an impressive haul for a player who has started just two games since being drafted in 2014. And it gives New England serious draft ammunition to grab a franchise player or two in next year’s NFL draft.