2017 SSG Pro Football Season Preview

AFC East

Division Synopsis

Last season, the AFC East sent 3 teams to the playoffs in 2016, including the eventual SSGPFL Superbowl Champion Buffalo Bills. Buffalo’s season surprised pundits and fans alike, as there was no reason to think this was a championship caliber team going into the season.  New England had far more buzz surrounding them, and they barely squeaked into the playoffs.  Some see the AFC East as the epitome of parity in today’s SSGPFL. Tyrod Taylor has a Superbowl Ring? That’s something the likes of Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers can’t claim for themselves. So, what are the chances the Bills become the first team to repeat as champions? Let’s take a peak.

Buffalo Bills

2016 Record: 12-4 regular season, AFC East Division Winner. Defeated Carolina in the 2nd Annual SSGPFL Superbowl.

2017 Outlook:

Offense

Tyrod Taylor has a ring? No offense to Tyrod or anyone associated with the Bills, but this is one of the most inexplicable occurrences in SSGPFL’s short History. Consider this stat line:

 

GP GS ATT CMP YARDS TD INT QBR
10 10 264 163 2140 11 10 85.4

Not exactly championship caliber by most measurements.  To be fair, this was only in 10 games, but this doesn’t inspire confidence, in and of itself, to predict a repeat. Fortunately for Bills fans, though, Tyrod has ample weapons at his disposal.

RB LeSean McCoy is the real deal. LeSean averaged 4.48 yards per carry while rushing for nearly 1300 yards in 2016. Add 53 catches for 368 yards, and this ranks McCoy as one of the best all-around backs in the league. The Bills also sport one of the best WR combos in the league, with Sammy Watson and Robert Woods. Throw in 1st round pick Maxwell Church, who looks like the complete package at TE, and the Bills certainly don’t lack for talent at the playmaker spots.

The concern is on the Offensive Line. The starting group is solid, but there’s little depth behind the first 5. Even worse, that depth is going to get tested early, as starting RG John Miller will miss the first few 2 or 3 week while recovering from a pre-season concussion. A rookie mans the other guard spot and, while talented, there will be growing pains.

Defense

DE Jerry Hughes had 11 sacks last year, and hopes to repeat that performance in 2017. Rookie DE Rich Rosado flashed in the pre-season and definitely has the potential to be a bookend on the other side, but there are legitimate concerns about his conditioning. The interior line is stout enough with Marcel Darius and Edward Kendall manning the tackle positions. A secondary that averaged better than an interception a game last season returns mostly intact, led by Strong Safety Aaron Williams.

Linebacker is the weakness with this group. Preston brown did notch 104 tackles in 2016, and SLB Jamie Collins is no slouch, but depth is once again an issue. If one of those two go down, the 2nd layer of this defense could have problems stopping the run and short pass game.

Special Teams

Dan Carpenter hit 26 of 27 FG’s last season. Doesn’t have a big leg, but if staying within his range he’s as accurate as they come. Punter Colton Schmidt is rarely going to tilt field position. In the return game, the Bills have a bevy of options, including Sammy Watkins should they choose to risk him in that capacity.

Summary:  While we wouldn’t call last year a season of smoke and mirrors, we would consider it a case of the stars perfectly aligning. This is a decent team, but not a great one, and we don’t see a repeat of last season in their future.

Prediction: 9-7, 2nd Place AFC East, potential wildcard

New York Jets

2016 Record: 11-5, 2nd Place AFC East. #5 seed. Lost 27-26 in a nail biter in Pittsburgh.

2017 Outlook:

Offense

QB Bryce Petty looks to get the starting duties, though Mason Williams posted statistically better numbers in 2016. Petty has the better upside, so we’d be surprised if Williams got the nod. Still, the Jets have been mum in this regard, so we’ll see on opening day. Neither inspires a great deal of confidence, but both probably have a poster of Tyrod Taylor in their lockers for personal inspiration.

At running back, Bilal Powell posted good numbers in 2015 and even better in 2016 but there is concern that the 28-year-old RB is in decline. 1st round pick Arturo Ellard shows good speed and power and may eventually develop, but he doesn’t look ready for prime time in his rookie season. The Jets interior run blocking is above average, which could make the backs look better than they are but pass blocking on the edges are a concern. This is another argument for Bryce Petty at QB, since whoever starts may be running for their life. Petty gets the nod in this category.

Devin Smith and Eric Decker provide a couple of decent receiver options, but the concern is still with  the QB entrusted to get them the ball. Jace Amaro has world class speed for a Tight End and is a capable blocker. He knows what to do with the ball when he gets it, but hands of stone can sometimes interfere with the ‘getting it’ at all.

Defense

Muhammed Wilkerson and Leonard Williams provide star power on a D-Line that features decent depth and a good rotation of pass rushers and run stoppers. Sheldon Richardson and Lorenzo Mauldin help fill out a formidable front 7 from their linebacking positions. On paper, this is as fine a group as there is in the league. There are concerns that they don’t always live up to their hype, though, especially when it comes to sack numbers. Pressure comes in other forms, though, as perhaps seen below.

In the secondary, Darrele Revis and Antonio Cromartie form one of the best CB tandems in the league, and with Calvin Pryor acting as a backstop, this is one of the premier secondary’s in the league. Revis gets the buzz, but Cromartie snagged 12 interceptions in the 2016 campaign. Some credit goes to the front 7 here. They may lack the sacks but QB pressures might help account for Cromartie’s opportunities.

From front to back, this is one of the better defenses around. Given the weakness on offense, if the Jets are to make any hay this season, it will come from this unit

Special Teams

The kicking game is adequate, but nothing special. The Jets will also want to improve their ST coverage from last season. The return game is one place that the rookie Arturo Ellard might make his presence felt in his initial SSGPF campaign.

Summary:  Defensively stout, but not enough offensive punch to carry them into the post season.

Prediction: 7-9, 3rd place AFC East.

 

New England

2016 Record: 9-7, third place finish. Stomped Houston 31-7 in the Wild Card round, then lost a close one to eventual Superbowl Champion Buffalo in the Divisional round.

2017 Outlook:

Offense

Derek Carr threw for nearly 5000 yards last season, staking his claim as one of the rising stars of the league. 29 TD’s accompanied those yards but, then again, so did 15 INT’s. This puts Carr in the Gunslinger category. He has no conscience when it comes to hurling the ball with abandon which, as history shows, has its pluses and minuses.

There is also good, complementary talent at the WR position with Julian Edelman and Kendall Wright, and at TE, Rob Gronkowski needs no introduction. Look up ‘beast’ in the dictionary, and that’s the picture you’ll see. With over 1200 receiving yards in 2016, Gronk is perhaps THE force at TE in this league.

Having this talent in the passing game is going to prove necessary, as the Patriots are running in place at RB. This is the definition of RBBC, and there may be no clear lead. The line is anchored by LT Nate Solder. He’ll be tasked with protecting Carr’s blindside as well as leading the way in the run game. The rest of the line is adequate, if not spectacular. The right side looks better suited for pass protection, but with the lack of a running game, that’s probably a better fit.

Defense

Chandler Jones and Jabal Sheard can both get after the passer and both are equally adept as run stoppers. The interior line isn’t quite as strong, but should hold up fine over the course of the season. They’ll pretty much need to, as the weakness of this defense is at the LB position. If the line can’t keep the blockers occupied and notch some stops of their own, they could have backs running wild at the second level.

In the secondary, 1st round pick Glen McCormick looks like a promising rookie CB and the safety position is talented as well as deep. FS Devin McCourty roams the deep center, but isn’t afraid to get his hit on against the run. Speaking of hitting, he packs the best pop per pound in the SSGPFL. By the 3rd quarter, you may see some alligators playing for the opposing team.

Special Teams

Maybe the best kicking tandem in the league with Gostkoswki and Allen, though the former had a down year in 2016. Edelman returning kicks adds to the ST potential.

Summary: A potent offense and a more than capable defense makes this the team to beat in the AFC East.

Prediction: 11-5, 1st Place AFC East

 

Miami Dolphins

2016 Record: 7-9, 4th place finish, missed playoffs

2017 Outlook:

Offense

There were high hopes for Ryan Tannehill coming out of college but, really, he’s turned into JAG (Just a Guy). They could do worse, and many teams have, but he’s unlikely to carry a team to a championship any time soon. In the run game, Chris Thompson averaged 4.78 yards a carry in 2016 and rushed for nearly a thousand yards, but he’s undersized and unlikely to carry a full season load as a primary back. Unfortunately for Miami, there isn’t much else behind him.

Jordan Cameron is one of the most gifted TE’s in the league, but the rest of the receiving corps is mediocre at best. There are several deep threat options on the team, but the deep passing game isn’t really Tannehill’s forte and, without a solid running or short passing game, opposing defenses can play 3 deep all day long,

The best unit for the Miami offense is the offensive line. Anchored by all world center Mike Pouncey, they are solid to great from tackle to tackle. As history tells us, a good line in this league can cover up a lot of blemishes and make RB’s and QB’s look better than they are. If Miami is going to have any shot this season, this will have to be the case for them in 2017.

Defense

Ndamukong Suh sounds like a Star Trek universe nemesis, and plays the part in the SSGPFL quite aptly, as well. Unfortunately, it looks like he stomped on the rest of his defensive line. Without a villainous sidekick, he’s going to have to wreak havoc on his own.

There is decent talent and depth at LB, but no one ready to light the league on fire. Kyle Thomason is the future here, and may well be in the running for DROY, but rookies are rookies and they’ll only take you so far.

Brent grimes had 9 interceptions from the CB  position in 2016, second only to Antonio Cromartie league wide. Paired with Bobby McCain, this is one good looking secondary tandem. Ricardo Allen is a very promising young SS, as well. Still, with the weakness in the front 7, Grimes is going to need to match that or better for this defense to consistently stop opponents this season.

Special Teams

Jacob Henson is a better kicker than he appears, but the punting duties are falling to rookie Benjamin Vautour. Joshua Peters appears set to take both punt and kick return duties. He may take 1 or 2 to the house, and the offense could use all the help he can provide here.

Summary: An absence of playmakers will be this teams Achille’s Heel and keep the treading water in the 2017 season.

Prediction: 6-10, 4th place AFC East

 

AFC North

 

The AFC North was a very strong division last year with each team finishing .500 or better, though they only accounted for 1 playoff team. It looks like there should be less parity this year but it is likely that 2 teams will make the playoffs from this division. We will look at each team in the reverse order that I expect them to finish.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns had a surprising year last year improving by 4 wins to an 8-8 year. It wasn’t enough to save Head Coach Mike Pettine job though as he was replaced in the offseason by former Miami Assistant Head Coach Darren Rizzi. Rizzi spent 2 years as the Assistant Head Coach in Miami and is a defensive minded coach. Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo returns with his Smashmouth offense, and Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil is back running the True 3-4.

On offense, it’s the same story for a new year with questions at the QB position. Second year starter Wayne Jarrell will look to improve on his rookie year where he passed for 2869 yards 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a paltry 68 QB rating. The offensive line leader is 11th year Left Tackle Joe Thomas, although he’ll started the year slowed with a sprained ankle. The left side of the line is filled out with impressive 4th year Guard Joel Bitonio, but the rest of the line has question marks.

The Defense is led by 6th year Strong Safety Tashaun Gipson who will look to match his 103 tackles and 5 interceptions from last year. The strength of the defense is their defensive backfield, but the front 7 will be testing them on a regular basis as teams look to exploit their Linebacking corps.

Notable rookies that will be starting this year are:

First round pick Warren Teeter out of Boston College will look to lockdown the Left Cornerback spot.

Second round pick Wes Fortier Defensive End out of St. Francis PA will look to strengthen front seven.

Third round pick Mario Edwards out of Arizona will look to anchor the right side of the O-line from the RT spot.

Prediction: The Brown’s defense will not be able to match their +12 turnover rate and giving up 70 yards more than they gain will likely result in 2 more loss this year. Jarrell continues to struggle and with so much weight on his shoulders the team will be lucky to go 6-10. But hey at least they went 4-0 in the preaseason!

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers returned to their winning ways last year increasing their win total by 4 to 10-7 and the division title. It was Head Coach Ben Turnbull’s first year. He has brought in a new Offensive Coordinator Landon Skrepenek who will bring in a new spread offense and new Assistant Head Coach Scottie Boone will help with the defense. Third year Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler employs the 4-3 under.

The offense is led by Ben Roethlisberger who put an impressive 3989 yards while throwing 26 touchdowns and 19 interceptions for an 85.5 QB rating. Center Maurkice Pouncey anchors and is the only bright spot on underwhelming offensive line. Le’veon Bell was hampered by injury last year and has been replaced as starter by rookie third round pick, running back Liam Linquist out of Mississippi State. Antonio Brown had over 1000 yards receiving and 9 touchdown catches in 2016 and will look to keep his game elevated as Roethlisberger’s primary target.

Steelers’ defense is a far cry from the Steel Curtain days of the 70’s. Linebacker Brad Dupree struggled with injuries last season and will start the season with another hamstring injury. Ryan Shazier will have to step up to try to fill his role, he had 123 tackles last season. The defensive backfield is led by lockdown CB Patrick Robinson who had 6 interceptions last year. The defensive end Stephon Tuitt will look to match or beat his 9.5 sack total from last year.

Notable rookies starting besides running back Liam Linquist:

First Round pick Graham Williams from Rice will get the nod at Left Defensive Tackle

Fourth Round pick Rico Waas out of Notre Dame will be protecting Big Ben’s blind side as Left Tackle.

Prediction:

Roethlisberger will struggle in a spread offense game plan. He will see increased pressure and the weak offensive line will make it hard to establish any kind of running game. This will put extra pressure on the defense which seems to be down this year, especially the linebacking corps. Shouldn’t be a terrible year, but the Pittsburgh faithful will likely be disappointed and 8-8 year and a missed playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore finished with a 9-7 record which was 2 more than 2015, although they still missed the playoffs. New GM Marc Tolson looked to shake things up and put his stamp on the team by completely turning over all of the coaching staff. New Head Coach Geep Chryst is the former San Francisco Offensive Coordinator. He has brought in an experienced coach as Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly who espouses a Balanced Offensive philosophy. The new Defensive Coordinator is 36 year old Cullen Jenkins a 4-3 over disciple. Andre Taylor has been brought in as the Assistant Head Coach, he and Jenkins are in their first stints in the NFL.

On offense Blaine Gabbert takes over as the full time QB, replacing Joe Flacco. The workhorse of this offense though will be Justin Forsett, he was a 1000 yard rusher and is entering his 10th season. Forsett is running behind an excellent offensive line that is led by Left Guard Marshal Yanda.

On Defense Middle Linebacker CJ Mosely will captain a defense that should be much improved this year with a stellar defensive backfield and stout front seven. Early on the depth of the backfield will be tested by Eric Berry’s broken hand and backup Walt Aikens’ repetitive concussion syndrome.

Two Rookies starters are part of that stout front seven:

Second round pick Linebacker Monty Henson out of New Mexico State gets the nod as Strong Linebacker spot

Fifth round pick Clarence Harkness will look to wreak havoc from his defensive end position.

Prediction:

Baltimore’s impressive Offensive Line makes it very hard to pick against them. Forsett will help the offense control the clock and Gabbert should be able to manage the game to keep defenses from being able to just stack the box. This defense should be strong and would keep any offense in most games. They should win at least 9 maybe 10 games and win a wild card berth.

Cincinnati Bengals

First year GM Jim Grant takes over a talented Bengals program that lost 3 more games than the year before and missed the playoffs after making the postseason the prior year. Grant looks to keep continuity with the coaching staff by retaining the whole staff.

On offense veteran QB Andy Dalton will lead a talented offense that includes stud RB Jeremy Hill who piled up 1800 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016. Dalton’s main target will continue to be AJ Green who piled up over 1100 yards and 5 touchdowns.

On defense 9 year veteran Michael Johnson will look to match or improve his 14.5 sack total from 2016. Although two starters will be rookies, the Cincinnati defense should be able to slow defenses enough for the Bengals’ high powered offense to outscore them.

Three of the starters this year will be:

First round Marco Glover Left Tackle from Arkansas

Second round pick Shane Aiken out of Missouri Western will be one of the starting Defensive Tackles

Fourth round pick Richie Cineux from Freson State will get the start at Cornerback.

Prediction:

Cincinnati has the offense to outscore anyone. Andy Dalton has the arm and the targets to throw to. Jeremy Hill will continue to run wild over defenses even if he fails to replicate the 1800 yards he had the past year. The defense should be able to be at least average if not better than average. That offense alone should at least put them ahead of most of the division and should be good for at least 10 if not 12 wins and a division title.

 

AFC South

Division Synopsis

Certainly not the class of the league, as Houston won the division at 10-6 and got unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by the Wild Card Patriots in round 1. There are some good, even great, players in this division, but our crystal ball doesn’t see the South rising again any time soon.

Houston Texans

2016 Record: 10-6 regular season, AFC South Division Winner. Lost to New England in the Wild Card round.

2017 Outlook:

Offense

When the best QB on your roster is an undeveloped, rookie 3rd round draft pick with limited upside, you can pay odds that you’re in for a long season. We don’t see any reason not to give Ellis Springer the chance to develop this year, as TJ Yates and Joseph Clark aren’t the future, and shouldn’t be the present.

The running game fares a slight bit better here, but not much. Alfred Blue was a thousand-yard rusher last season, and rookie Conner Danner shows promise, especially with his speed to the hole. The line is built for the run game, so that should definitely be where they butter their bread.

DeAndre Hopkins is their most promising option on the outside, but they really don’t have the TE or slot receiver to keep the double teams off of him. Further argument for pounding the rock, especially if they go with the rookie at QB.

Defense

JJ Watt needs no introduction, and the addition of 1st round pick Gage Corson makes this a very formidable defensive line. The kid looks Pro-Ready out of the gate and simply adds to a line that was already talented and deep.

Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing return as stalwarts in the LB corps. They lead a cast that can stop the run, cover the 2nd level, and get after the passer, all very good things when running a 3-4 scheme.

The secondary is the biggest concern. FS Rahim Moore is suspended for the season, and there isn’t anyone else in the deep secondary to fill his shoes.  Kevin Johnson is a solid CB and rookie UDFA Cody Stargell is giving Kareem Jackson a run for his money on the right side.  Still, with the unfortunate circumstances around the safety position, the Texans will have to hope their pass rush limits the time for opposing QB’s to find receivers down field.

Special Teams

Average to decent. Nothing to write home about

Summary:  The defense will give opposing offenses headaches, and the offense will give their own OC aneurisms. Will keep games close, especially given the division, but probably won’t be revisiting the playoffs

Prediction: 6-10, 3rd Place AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

2016 Record: 7-9, 2nd Place AFC South

2017 Outlook:

Offense

Waiting for Andrew. Can we really say that? I mean, here’s a QB that threw for nearly 5000 yards last season, while completing 67% of his passes. And while 27 TD’s is nothing to sneeze at, throwing 21 INT’s with those is simply not a recipe for success. Perhaps it had more to do with the nagging injuries he seemed to battle last season. There’s no doubt that Luck is one of the most promising QB’s in this league, but he has yet to put it all together in a convincing way. Will this finally be the year?

Frankly, it’s going to have to be, as Indy goes into the season relying on relic Chris Johnson at RB. He still has impressive speed for a man in his 50’s, but he’s not going to run you into the playoffs. With no TE to speak of, TY Hilton will have to be the weapon of choice. With 101 catches in 2016, that’s not a bad choice to have. The rest of the receiving corps is competent, and Percy Harvin and Phillip Dorsett can both take the top off the defense, a DC fear which should boost the running game, as well.

The bad news is that the Offensive Line doesn’t look like it’s going to keep Luck upright, so he’s going to have to rely on his legendary mobility to do that himself. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.

Defense

The defense can best be described as average. There aren’t any gaping holes, but there also aren’t those one or two players that make you sit up and take notice. DT Nick Fairley is the spiritual leader of the D-Line, and Bjoern Werner is the closest thing to a star on this defense.

The secondary features a bunch of guys you wouldn’t be able to pick out in a police lineup. Again, given the division they will likely be adequate but they aren’t going to earn a household nickname by seasons end.

Special Teams

One of the best up and coming kickers in the league in John Barnes and punter Pat McAfee had an impressive 41.1 Net Avg in 2016 while pinning 30 kicks inside the 20. Tilting the field position may come up big for this team in 2017. While their punter may do that, I don’t see a returner on the roster that will.

Summary:  Might be just enough talent on offense and stability on defense to take the division by default, but there is a surprise team in their way.

Prediction: 10-6, 2nd Place AFC South, possible Wild Card

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

2016 Record: 3-13, 4th Place AFC South

2017 Outlook:

Offense

While Indy is waiting for Andrew, Jacksonville is waiting for whoever comes after Bortles. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be 2nd round pick Marlon Porter. He holds a mean placekick, but that’s about it.

They fare somewhat better at the RB position, with 3rd year player TJ Yeldon ready to come into his own. A rare combination of size, speed and power with great hands to boot, the Jaguars would do well to feature this all-around workhorse and ride him as far as he can take them. The line, featuring Luke Joekel, Sam Young and Zane Beadles should be a help in that regards, and WR Allen Robinson along with TE Julius Thomas can hopefully keep defenses from stacking the box play in, play out.

Still, that only works if the QB can deliver the goods, and that will be the biggest question for this offense going into this season.

Defense

The front 7 features to stud defensive linemen in Josh Boyd and Sen’Derrick Marks. Outside of that, it’s patchwork all the way through the LB corps. Rookie LB Ernest Covingon is going to have to develop in a hurry if this unit is to have any chance this season.

I wish I could say the secondary was better, but they’re not. In fact, you might pick them out of a police lineup so that you could take a chance with a street FA while they’re serving their time in the slammer. The best news for the Jacksonville defense is that the field is only 100 yards long, so they will get off it every now and then.

Special Teams

What’s it say when your kicker is the fan favorite? Especially when he made just 25 of 31 the year before, with none of them beyond 50 yards. Anger is a great name for a football player, but when it’s your punter sporting it, you’ve got plenty to be mad about.

Summary: If they play half their home games in London they’ll likely triple their attendance and at least get frequent flyer miles.

Prediction: 2-14, 4th Place AFC South, 1st Pick in the 2018 Draft

Tennessee Titans

2016 Record: 2-14, 4th place finish AFC South

2017 Outlook:

Offense

Code Name Enigma. That’s what we’re calling QB Marcus Mariota. This kid has all the talent in the world, but has thrown 48 interceptions vs 28 TD’s in the last two seasons. It’s not unusual for QB’s to take time to develop, and maybe the fault lies with the previous staff throwing him to the wolves, but we’re really perplexed as to Mariota’s lack of success so far in the Bigs. Perhaps this is the year that changes.

One piece of good news in support of that is that WR Jarius Wright now has a year under his belt with Mariota, and they’ve shown signs of developing good rapport. TE Heath Miller was signed in FA. He’s getting up there in years, but still appears to have some tread on the tires. Michael Rivera is another solid option at TE, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in 122 sets often this season.

One place where Mariota has a leg up on Andrew Luck is with his offensive line. While Luck might take a pounding this season, Mariota might benefit from cleaner pockets. There really isn’t a weakness here, and Taylor Lewan is as good as they come at LT. This will also allow the Titan’s RBBC to support what should be a very good passing game. Bishop Sankey has some talent as a semi-workhorse, but he’ll definitely split carries with Isaih Crowell.

Defense

The Titan’s defense entered last season as a good defense on paper. Injuries, perhaps, prevented them from reaching their potential. In any case, new additions in FA, and some great draft picks filled in the gaps in the off season and give them the depth they didn’t have last season.

On the front lines, this team is stacked. DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey are top notch 3-4 DE’s, and Tennessee boasts 3 quality nose tackles, all of whom would start for most teams in the league. Even better, rookie Kristopher Petelle may be the best of the bunch, long term.

The Linebacking corps is unspectacular at the individual level, but deep. From left to right, it looks like a ‘next man up’ kind of group. We all like splash players and stars but, truth be told, depth is sometimes superior to a stud or two once the injuries start coming, as they always do.

Rookies Tanner Schultz and Andre Hodges are two welcome additions to a secondary that already featured Brandon Carr and Jason McCourty. Schultz, especially, looks ready for the pro game. This should be a unit that can defend the pass, especially in the AFC South.

Special Teams

The weakest link on an otherwise very talented team. Punting and Kicking projects as just average, and nothing in the return game to suggest game changing ability.

Summary: It’s a mystery how this team finished 2-14 last season. Even before the off-season upgrades in FA and the draft, this looked like a team that should have competed for the division title. Given the quality of their off-season work and the anticipated growth from Marcus Mariota, I’m calling it now. Worst to First in the AFC South

Prediction: 12-4,  1st Place AFC South

 

AFC West

 

Oakland Raiders

7 wins in 2 seasons

Picked 1st in both seasons, all about the first round picks Chris Beach and Charles Wallace. Wallace has not had a great training camp and appears to have regressed. For now he looks like the starter but with Leonard Wright due back soon Wallace may miss out. 2017 rookie Alan Luster offers an alternative but if they need to start Luster, their chances are probably done.

Fans in Oakland are excited about RB Chris Beach. Oakland brought in 1000 yard runner Arian Foster from Houston last year but he couldn’t get anything going averaging just 3.23 ypc. Foster could be solid behind a big line but Beach has breakaway speed, can get outside and significantly for the health of Wallace, Wright or Luster, can pick-up blitzes. Offensive captain FB Marcel Reece is very solid and may get a few more carries if Oakland looks to run more.

There is a lot to like about FL Amari Cooper who really had a good 2016 and looks well placed to go even better in 2017. He has solid support particularly from rookie TE Angel Curtis who is already a fan favourite in Oakland – expect plenty of flying related clichés if he has a good season.

Oakland’s Achilles heel is their relative lack of depth up front. The front 5 are solid but there isn’t much behind them. If they were to lose LT Andrew Whitworth they could be in trouble despite their talented skill players.

Defensively they favour a 3-4 D but much of their success will depend on the health of SS Eric Weddle who missed the final 7 games of 2016 with a shoulder injury. He is healthy and he can elevate the Raider D from average to good. They are strong at LB but there are questions as to whether they can stop teams pounding on them.

In 2016 they lost 5 games by a TD or less and look to have improved suggesting .500 record is within their grasp and if they get off to a decent start, who knows they may be able to challenge the Broncos dominance in the West.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

15 wins in 2 seasons

Kansas is coach-less and it shows. QB Ward is above average but will likely miss the season opener leaving Tyler Bray as the man to try and spark the Chief offence. Bray has some decent targets including TE Travis Kelce who is a prime-time receiver and blocker – someone you could build an O around. The receivers are pretty good – Chris Conlin had a good off-season and looks a really good player though whether you want your top receiver returning kicks and punts is questionable. The drop-off behind him is enough to worry a head coach.

The Chiefs applied the franchise tag to LT Eric Fisher who’ll cost them $11m this season. He looks to be worth it and leads a fairly modest line which will need to play well if they are to give rookie RB Roger West any room to run. Chandarick West will probably get a lot of snaps but both will struggle to get anywhere near 1000 yards unless that line plays well.

The Chiefs should be tough to run on in 2017 and they can really punish a ball carrier. Both starting corners are physical and read the game well but do they mask a slightly weak right side of the defence? The Chiefs are hoping rookie RDE Derek Zorich can step up but the star of the D is SLB Justin Houston, the highly paid defensive captain. Houston was everywhere in 2016 with 9.5 sacks and 100 tackles.

Overall the Chiefs look improved from 2016 during which they went 7-9. Can they get to the playoffs? Possibly, though they’ll need Ward back and firing at QB and big contributions from the rookies. I suspect another .500 season is about their limit.

 

San Diego Chargers

12 wins in 2 seasons

Problems abound for San Diego. Top tackler from 2016 Manti Te’o looks like he’ll miss all of 2017 which is a significant loss. They look to have a rookie at NT with 2017 2nd round pick Geoff Steinhorst edging out Stan Mayes. WLB Attochu’s 6.5 sacks and SLB Kyle Emmanuel’s 4 sacks aside the D recorded very little pressure. Another 2017 rookie LDE Norman Ballard has been brought in to get pressure on opposing passers and they’ll need something from him if they are to keep the pressure off the secondary. Another rookie and 4th pick overall in 2017, Leroy Schneider looks a fantastic prospect and a future Pro-Bowler. On the other side RCB Jason Verrett could have a bounce back year to his 2015 form. If those 2 can keep opposing WRs quiet, the Chargers could have a chance.

QB Rivers is one of the elite passers in the league and will need to be to give SD any hope in chasing down the Broncos. Not enough top quality skill players and a below average offensive line appear the reason Rivers has a 12-20 record. To be fair to the Chargers, they have filled a lot of holes in the recent draft and you can only do so much in one off-season. They focused on D in the draft and it may be Rivers to Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen will again be one of the league’s top combinations. Certainly, they could use the 2015 version of former Jet Brandon Marshall at the 3rd WR spot. The trouble for SD starts up front – their RBs averaged less than 3 yards per carry in 2016 forcing Rivers to try and carry the team, which lead to defences keying on him. No-one expects them to come out as a run-first team but a bit of balance would really help.

I struggle to see the Chargers over .500 unless they can get a running game going.

Denver Broncos

21 wins in 2 seasons, Bowl winners in 2015 and reached AFC Championship game in 2016, Denver is one of the elite teams in SSG. They have a couple of superstars in a really strong defence. Von Miller is a headline grabber but SS TJ Ward is the guy you have to account for in both pass and run defence. Ward has 240 tackles in 2 seasons and is part of arguably the best secondary in the league. Defensive captain LCB Chris Harris had a down season by his high standards yet remains one of the elite corners while Brad Roby and Ty Mathieu round out a formidable foursome. One mystery is how the Broncos barely made any interceptions in 2016. You’ve really got to wonder if they get a few more turnovers quite how good they could be in 2017. Could it be teams worked out the Broncos in 2016 and put themselves into fewer situations where they were behind and chasing against the Broncos pass D?

On offence, the feeling you get is solid. Benny Cunningham has 2500 yards in 2 seasons despite being less lauded than rival RBs. In 2016 he averaged over 5 yards per carry which is always going to put you into a good position. QB Ostweiler was very tidy with the ball (15 TDs v 8 INTs) but rarely threw deep and this allowed teams to play read and react defences against Denver, partly explaining the success of Cunningham. If FL Thomas could stretch defences out a bit it may create a bit more room for the excellent Zach Ertz. Course Denver could go to a 1-2 punch with rookie RB Sullivan and Cunningham though with the depth and quality of the OL, either could be a 1000 yard + runner in 2017.

My expectation is the Broncos will win the AL West and will at times look imperious. They have the voodoo sign over Oakland and Kansas City (8-0 combined) but inexplicably have a 1-3 record vs SD. It seems likely whoever wants to win the AFC will need to go through Denver and it would be no surprise if they were the AFC representative come Superbowl time.

 

NFC East

 

The past two seasons have seen the Cowboys and the Redtails slug it out for divisional honours.  This year looks no different, with Dallas the slight on-paper favourite, while the Eagles and the Giants look like they will struggle to stay in touch.

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

The Cowboys are the all-round favourites.  There’s no single outstanding aspect to their roster: it’s just that they do everything reasonably well.  It’s hard to spot a weakness.  Veteran Tony Romo has fifteen year’s experience from which to lead a campaign for post-season honours.  The main question around Romo is whether his ageing body will stay healthy.  The chances of that are helped enormously by the Dallas offensive line: Zack Martin and Tyron Smith will look after Romo’s blind side better than any other LG-LT pair in the NFL.  While the offense is competent, the real strength of the Cowboys’ outfit is the defense, and in particular the secondary.  CB Morris Claiborne and SS Byron Jones will shut down options in the backfield, while DT Tyrone Crawford (54 tackles, 20 assists, 8 sacks in 2016) will ensure that opposing QBs have no time at all to consider those options.

 

Washington Redtails

 

Washington looks most likely candidate to challenge, but to do so some development is needed at QB.  Starting will be erratic journeyman Johnny Manziel.  The Redtails are Maziel’s fourth team in three seasons, and he looks likely to simply be a placeholder.  The big question is when rookie QB Jaren Chrisman, first-round pick out of Stanford, will move into the picture.  reports out of training camp suggest Chrisman is the real deal: a genuine dual-threat play-maker that insiders are already comparing to Randall Cunningham at his prime.  Chrisman is not  there yet, but will he play a part this season?  If so, with wideouts like DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon as targets, the sky will be the limit for the crew from the capital.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

 

Philadelphia looks to be in the “close, but no cigar” category.  And, to be honest, when has it been otherwise?  DeMarco Murray is a talented running back whose stats never quite live up to his physical potential.  To be fair, the O-line doesn’t give him much help: apart from RT Lane Johnson it’s a talentless bunch.  Second-round draft pick LT Dwayne Mathis might be the exception; while he clearly has future potential, he’s going to be on a steep learning curve.  The Eagles’ best player, DE Fletcher Cox, has only played 11 games  over the past two seasons, so his first objective is to stay healthy.

 

New York Giants 

 

The Giants are going to struggle not to be cellar-dwellers.  When Ryan Nassib is your best option under center, how is it going to be otherwise?  Andre Williams leads the ground attack ( 145 attempts for 613 yards and 6 TDs in 2016.  Meh.)  Even Odell Beckam only managed 49 receptions for 562 yards and 4 TDs in 2016 (Why?  Ref. Nassib, above).  Seriously, if you are in New York this season and want some football excitement, make sure you visit MetLife stadium on one of its green days; the blue will be best avoided.

 

NFC North

 

CHICAGO BEARS

2016 record: 8-8, 4th place

There is a lot to like about the 2017 Bears team, but without QB Jay Cutler to lead the offense (out the next 17 weeks with a torn quadriceps muscle), it will be tough to improve on last season’s 8-8 record.  They have a good enough defense to scratch out close games though, and there is hope for 3rd-year QB Hayden Marsh can make use of his offensive weapons to make the NFC North competitive top to bottom once again.

Offense
It appears QB Hayden Marsh has won the starting job from 13-year pro QB Matt Cassell, but his leash may be short if the Bears get off to a slow start.  Chicago signed free agent RB Giovani Bernard in the offseason to help solidify the running game.  He and RB Jeremy Langford should both see a lot of playing time and provide a strong 1-2 punch.  The Bears also have a pair of excellent WRs in Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery and a playmaking TE Martellus Bennett.  The offensive line is young and has a lot of potential , but it may suffer from growing pains during the season.  For example first round pick LT Ed Beck will be great someday, but is very raw right now.  Basically all the tools for a good offense are there (including reliable K Robbie Gould), but so much will depend on how Marsh or Cassell perform.
Defense
Chicago’s defense is solid throughout led by outside LB Lamarr Houston, CB Kyle Fuller and SS Adrain Amos.  Third round 2017 draft pick LB Leonard Walton has had a solid camp, and is looking like a steal.  They must improve on their 27th ranked rushing defense from 2016, so maybe 2nd round pick DE Brock Thiessen can help.  Overall this unit should provide some headaches to opponent offenses, and keep the Bears in most games.
Summary
Chicago has all the tools to surprise teams this year, but their biggest problem is they are in one of the most competitive divisions in SSG Pro Football.  It may be tough to finish any higher this year, but with some breaks and good QB play, they may push for a wild card spot this season.

DETROIT LIONS

2016 record: 9-7, 3rd place, wild card

The Lions were among the elite in the first two-thirds of the 2016 season, but hit a wall down the stretch before losing to Dallas in the playoffs 22-10.  Most of their key players are back this season, and are ready to see if they can push through that wall in November and December.
Offense
QB Matthew Stafford will once again lead the Detroit offense this season, and is expected to be his usual elite-self.  Last season he led the Lions to the #5 passing offense.  Stafford still has his weapons in WR Calvin Johnson, TE Eric Ebron and RB Ameer Abdullah, and the team is depending on that trio to be consistently productive and keep the offense moving.  All that talent will be depending on a newly revamped offensive line to quickly learn, develop, gel and form a solid unit for this team to succeed.  If the offense stalls, they can depend on top-notch K Matt Prater to points on the board.

Defense
The Lions are looking to improve on their middle-of-the-road defense from last season.  They have an elite talent in CB Darius Slay who will look to take the other team’s top WR out of the game.  Detroit has a solid defensive line led by DE Ezekiel Ansah.  Given those two strengths, the Lions are hoping to slow their opponent’s running and passing enough to keep their offense in every game.

Summary
The key to the Lions season will be the play of their offensive line.  If they can keep Stafford standing and give him time to work, the Lions will be looking for a playoff birth for the third season in a row.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

2016 record: 12-4, 2nd place, wild card

The Packers had an excellent 2016 regular season only to miss winning the division on a tie breaker, then getting crushed in the wild card round to the 49ers 49-24.  It seems that crash down to Earth has carried over to the 2017 season since they’ve lost their two all-pro lineman for the majority of the season (G Josh Sitton and T Bryan Balaga).  The team is saying all the right things, but we shall see if the leadership can keep this team truely thinking positive.
Offense
One thing that can keep a team positive is to have an elite QB in Aaron Rodgers as your leader.  Rodgers can scramble and keep plays alive if the offensive line struggles, and can pick apart most defenses when given a chance.  He has several favorite capable targets in WR Davante Adams, WR Randall Cobb and TE Richard Rodgers.  They also have undrafted WR Eduardo Gay who has made the team with his impressive preseason.  RB Eddie Lacy will look to have another 1,200 yard rushing season to help balance the offense, but that will depend on the line play.
Defense
The Packers have some elite talent on defense in LB Clay Matthews and CB Damarious Randall, but star S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is still holding out for a contract.  They have a good defensive line, but are weak in all other positions.  The Packers may struggle to keep teams at bay this season.
Summary
It will be difficult for Green Bay to match their 12-4 record from last season.  Without Sitton and Balaga, the offensive line will struggle with its limited talent.  Rodgers and company will have to find a way to generate offense one way or another if they plan on playing in the post season.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

2016 record: 12-4, 1st place, NFC Championship

The Minnesota Vikings are among the elite teams in SSG Pro Football, and show no signs of having any kind of let down in 2017.  Their loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship game has left them hangry, and they look to take it out on everyone in their path.
Offense
On offense, the Vikings are strong at every position except center.  Four-tear pro Teddy Bridgewater has progressed to a top tier QB.  They have two very capable RBs in Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon (Peterson has looked like his old self in the preseason).  Bridgewater has several nice options to throw to in WRs Cordarelle Patterson, Mike Wallace and Stefan Diggs.  Kyle Rudolph is a top tier TE.  The offensive line is a good unit.  The Viking offense is primed and ready for 2017.
Defense
The Minnesota defense was #29 against the run, #3 against the pass in 2016.  The latter was due to an excellent seconday unit featuring S Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes.  2017 first round pick S Les Kubus should also compliment that passing defense.  They also have impact players LB Anthony Barr and DE Everson Griffen, but are fairly average on the front seven.  All in all the defense should be solid though – enough to let their offense win games.
Summary
It’s SSG Super Bowl or bust for the Vikings this season.  The only thing that could hold them back is if they would lose QB Bridgewater to any injury time because raw 2nd year pro Lewis Brooks is the only other QB on the roster (currently).

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

2016 Record: 5-11

New GM Andrew Sietz

Key Offensive players:

QB Matt Ryan 4130 passing yards 28 Touchdowns 13 Interceptions 93.7 Rating

WR Julio Jones 1411 receiving yards 7 Touchdowns

LT Jake Matthews Missed most of 2016 with a Groin Injury

Key Defensive players:

DE Vic Beasley 8.5 Sacks, 23 Hurries and knocked down the QB 15 times

CB Desmond Trufant missed half the season with an Ankle Injury 2 interceptions 9 passed defended

LB Courtney Upshaw 82 tackles 1 sack 2 interceptions

Rookie Starters:

1st Round pick LB Roman Shumann New Mexico State

2nd Round pick WR Kaleb Mueller – Michigan

3rd Round pick FB Collin Covington – Temple

4th Round pick C Bart Karl – Michigan

5th Round pick RG Kris Gaylor Georgia Tech

Undrafted SS Eugene Garibay Texas A&M

Undrafted LG Brad Vasquez – Michigan

Team summary in one word: Rookies!

Overview: This Atlanta team is loaded with talent at the skill positions on offense. The offensive line is anchored by veteran tackles Matthews and Volmer, but the guard position may be an adventure. Two rookies will start in 5th round pick Kris Gaylor and undrafted rookie Brad Vasquez. They both have a ton of upside, but year one may be shaky.

On defense, it all starts up front. Beasley and Hageman are studs, but just like on the offensive line, we have two question marks next to them. Bill Harris is all upside, and probably shouldn’t see a lot of game action to start. Corey Wootton gives them a nice situational pass rusher, but literally cannot play the run. JJ Warren looks like the other starting DT, and should do a good enough job to stay on the field, especially with Al Woods and Amos Sherrill as the other options. I harped on the defensive line for a bit longer than necessary because the rest of this defense looks legit.

The player I plan on watching closely is undrafted safety Eugene Garibay. That kid could be a huge surprise.

 

Carolina Panthers

 

2016 Record: 14-2, Conference Champion

3rd year GM Armando Trejo

Key Offensive Players:

QB Cam Newton 3188 passing yards 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions

LT Jahri Evans 14 pancakes 5 sacks allowed

TE Greg Olsen 728 yards 8 Touchdowns

Key Defensive Players:

MLB Luke Kuechly 67 tackles 3.5 sacks 4 interceptions hampered by a leg injury

DT Star Lotulelei 32 tackles 3 sacks 7 hurries

DT Kawann Short 16 tackles 2 sacks 11 hurries in 12 games hampered by various injuries

Rookie Starters:

1st round pick CB Emmitt Anthony Missouri

2nd round pick RB Amos Doleman Oklahoma State

Team summary in one word: Continuity

Overview: The Panthers could be an offensive juggernaut. With Cam running the offense and rookie RB Amos Doleman getting the bulk of the carries behind a superb offensive line, the only question is whether this group of receivers can make plays when needed. None of them are bad, but they don’t have that clear-cut number one option.

The defense is stout up front, but outside of Keuchly this linebacker corps is most likely going to struggle. Emmitt Anthony, 1st round pick out of Mizzou, is worth watching. He’s a bit raw in coverage, but he’s an exciting cornerback prospect. He’ll start opposite Josh Norman in this man heavy coverage scheme. As of right now Oscar Barnes is starting at FS, but I highly doubt they’ll be able to keep Tre Boston off the field for long.

 

New Orleans Saints

2016 Record: 8-8

New GM Leteef Streets

Key Offensive players:

C Max Unger 20 pancakes 3 sacks allowed

WR Marquise Goodwin new addition 763 receiving yards 6 touchdowns with Bills and Patriots

WR Brandin Cooks 823 yards 5 touchdowns. 12 starts hampered by injury

Key Defensive players:

DE Cameron Jordan 55 tackles 12 sacks 23 hurries and knocked down the QB 15 times

SS Kenny Vaccaro 92 tackles 3 interceptions

FS Jairus Byrd 68 tackles 2 interceptions

Rookie Starters:

1st round pick CB Grant Kosier North Carolina

2nd round pick DT Desmond Mendez Davidson

3rd round pick DE Brant Bensen Tulsa

4th round pick RB Logan Bills Auburn

6th round pick CB Oliver Hudson Arizona

Undrafted CB Ed Israelson Eastern Michigan

Undrafted TE Dave Brown Kentucky

Undrafted LT Daquan Giles Wisconsin

Team summary in one word: Offense?

Overview: This Saints offense might be in for a very rough season. Garrett Grayson finds himself the starter going into his 3rd season, and outside of Max Unger and Tim Lelito I do not trust this offensive line to keep him upright. Making things worse, Garrett’s #2 receiver TJ Graham is going to miss most of the season with a compound leg fracture.

On the defensive side of the ball, the word is upside. They are incredibly young on that side of the ball, and while there’s a ton of upside at every level, this unit may not peak until next season.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 Record: 7-9

New GM Ryan Masey

Key Offensive players:

RB Doug Martin 911 yards rushing 11 touchdowns in 14 games

WR Mike Evans 847 yards receiving 4 touchdowns in 14 games

QB Jameis Winston 3349 yards passing 15 touchdowns 19 interceptions

Key Defensive players:

MLB Lavonte David 92 tackles 3 sacks 7 interceptions

DT Gerald McCoy 42 tackles 8 sacks 11 hurries and knocked the QB down 17 times

DT Clinton McDonald 36 tackles 2 sacks 4 hurries and knocked the QB down 4 times

Rookie Starters:

Undrafted FS Max Shannon South Carolina

Undrafted RG Brian Redmond Auburn

Undrafted CB Thurman Rossum Wofford

Team Summary in one word: Jameis

Overview: This team will go as far as the offense takes them. Jameis, Doug Martin, and Mike Evans are enough to terrify opponents. The big question mark is can the offensive line allow them to do their thing. LT Donovan Smith may never play football again with concussion symptoms; exciting young C Lee Hughes is out 9 weeks with a compound leg fracture. It’s still a decent unit led by Ali Marpet, but any unit starting Donald Stephenson at LT scares me.

The front 4 on defense is 7 players deep, led by established superstar Gerald McCoy and future superstar DE Billy Kok. Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, and Aldon Smith are everything you could hope for out of your linebacker corps. Chris Conte and Marcus Gilchrist are good enough at safety to not feel like a liability. The weakness is at corner. Verner and Logan Ryan are good enough sitting in zone to get the job done, but there is not much behind them on the depth chart. This really feels like nitpicking though, because the Bucs front 7 is elite.

 

NFC WEST

 

How the West Finished 2016

 San Francisco 49ers        9-7-0           Division Champions

Arizona Cardinals           8-8-0

Seattle Seahawks           8-8-0

St. Louis Rams                 2-14-0

A tightly fought Division Battle saw the 49ers squeek past both the Cardinals and the Seahawks to win the Division. The Cardinals and Seahawks would fair better within the Division as the 49ers would go 3-3 against other West opponents.

In the playoffs the 49ers would have an impressive home victory against the Green Bay Packers 49-24 in the Wild Card game to advance to the Divisional Round. Here they would lose a defensive battle at the Carolina Panthers 13-9.

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

 OFF-SEASON

The offseason saw the retirement of RB Reggie Bush and some new faces on the Coaching staff. On the Offensive side of things, Steven Lofton was brought in as the new Offensive Coordinator, Lofton with no experience as a coordinator is green but the 49ers Front Office loved what they got from him in the interview process and think his offensive mind and philosophy are just what they need. A new Assistant Coach Sedrick Walsh was also signed.

In Free Agency the biggest addition to the team was OLB Dont’a Hightower who was signed from New England to a 4 year $32.84 million contract. They received no major losses in Free Agency.

In the 2017 Draft they looked to replace the retired Bush with their first pick of the draft picking up RB Dennis Simmons out of Kansas. He did not impress in training camp and got barely any playing time in pre-season. It looks as though their first round pick will not pan out. They did get a steal in the 4th round with LT Cesar Rison who looks to be the real deal and will be the starting LT for many years to come in San Francisco and will be a great replacement for Staley once he retires.

 OFFENSE

With a new inexperienced OC it will be interesting to see how the 49ers perform this season. Hyde will once again be the starting Running Back and will get most of his yards to the outside where he will utilize his strength and the strength of his Offsensive line running behind Staley and rookie Canty. On the passing side of things they will hope Kaepernick can build on an impressive 2016 season. He certainly has the weapons to help him with the likes of Wide Receiver Torrey Smith and Tight End Vance McDonald. Between the two of them they accounted for almost half of the passing yards.

DEFENSE

The 49ers could not stop the run last season as they ranked 30th against the run and gave up more yards per carry (5.13) than any other team. During the offseason they worked to correct this with the addition of OLB Don’t’a Hightower and 3rd round Draft pick NT Alex Reidl. These two additions will certainly help defend the run but is it enough. They were that bad last year. Against the pass they were solid and the personell remain in place for that unit to remain strong against the pass in 2017. Their success will be based on the run defense.

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

OLB Dont’a Hightower – Great addition that will help against the run but also brings the ability to add some extra pass rush to the defense. They stuggled to get to the QB last season and this addition will certainly help.

FL Torrey Smith – Has all the tools you would want in a receiver. He can catch it short and break it for a big gain, he can be your deep threat also downfield. If Kaepernick can get him in the game as often as he did last season he can have an even bigger year this year.

2017 OUTLOOK

The reigning NFC Champions have their work cut out for them to retain the Division title. I don’t see them being better than the 9-7 team they were last season but I don’t believe that will be enough to win this very competitive NFC West. They did not loses much in the offseason but I don’t think the additions will be enough. I think the weakest link will be their inexperienced OC. If they can improve on defending the run maybe they can re-peat. I just don’t see it happening.

PREDICTION – 8-8

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS

 OFF-SEASON

A big shake up for the Coaching staff in Arizona as Head Coach Bruce Arians was fired and inexperienced Emmanuel Griffiths was brought in as his replacement. The new Headh Coach Griffiths would bring in a completely new look coaching staff. Jeremy Doyle was brought in as the new OC, Griffin Pritchett was brought in as the new DC and Brett Branch as the new Assistant Head Coach. Not a single game between them for NFL Experience making this one of the most inexperienced coaching staff in the league.

Very quite in the Free Agency market meant they more than made up for it in the draft. What an impressive draft for the Cardinals, starting with their 1st Round pick RB Alfred Mozart. They followed that with a great 2nd round pick in SILB Mark Foley. They also got a steal in the 6th round with SE James Schlesinger.

OFFENSE

A team that was strong running the ball last season just upgraded in a big way. RB Johnson led the team with 1377 rushing yards behind a talented offensive line. First round Draft pick Mozart is going to be one of the most talented Running Backs in the league and will take advantage of the talent on the right side of the line behind RG Cooper and RT Massie. The Passing game is led by 15 year veteran QB Carson Palmer, his performance definitely declined last year and his age is certainly becoming an issue. They drafted QB Gus Walker in the 3rd round who looks to take over from Palmer, question will be when. There are decent receivers on the roster but not a star wideout. Floyd and Nelson get the job done and can be productive in this offense. New 6th round pick SE Schlesinger looks to be a promising option for Palmer this season.

DEFENSE

The #1 ranked Pass Defense returns pretty much in tack except for FS Bucannon recovering from a compound leg fracture. If he can come back and perform to the level he did before this will be a tough team to pass on. CB Peterson is one of the best Corners in the league and CB Russell had a great season last year also and looks to build on that this year. The addition of 2nd round pick SILB Foley will help in the run defense area that struggled last season. This defense is stacked with talent and has the potentialt to be one of the best in the league. This defense will get at the QB like they did last year and potentially even better, they added another talented rookie in DE Dollinger who will get pressure on the QB but he can also defend the run.

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

RB Alfred Mozart – The rookie comes into a team that already excells at running the ball and behind the talent on this line, the skills Mozart has could lead him to rookie of the year honors.

FS Deone Bucannon – A leader on this Defense and the defenses success will depend on how well he recovers from his serious leg injury last season. He is young and if he has recovered he could have a monster season.

2017 OUTLOOK

This team will be tough to defend as they strengthed an area of their team that was already strong in their running game. This will open up opportunities in their pass attack and will be a team that will score a lot of points in 2017. They will also be a team that will be tough to score on, so look out for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017. If there is a reason that they do not perform to their talent it will be due to an entirely new Coaching staff and might be a year or two away from dominating.

PREDICTION – 10-6

  

ST LOUIS RAMS

 OFF-SEASON

The biggest Free Agent signing was QB Luke McCown who was brought in to challenge QB Mannion for the starters job.  The Rams with the 2nd pick in the draft would grab LB Austin Russell who is strong against the run and in pass coverage. With their 2nd round pick they would get a very talented Tight End in Vernon Meusey.

OFFENSE

The success on offense this season like last will rely heavily on the runnin game. RB Todd Gurley in his 3rd year is one of the most talent running backs in the league. He will get the bulk of the offensive load but he does not have the most talented run blocking offensive line. The line has been built around pass protecting the QB and will struggle to open up holes for Gurley and he will need to do a lot of it on his own. Mannion appears to have done enough in pre-season to get the starters job. The addition of TE Meusey will be a welcome weapon to go with SE Austin, but this pass attack will struggle because of the QB situation.

DEFENSE

This Defense is stacked with talent but it finds itself on the field way too often to make an impact. The lack of ability in its pass attack puts a lot of pressure on this Defense. The front seven will be tough to run the ball on and will be able to get pressure on the QB and force turnovers. If they can put the offense in great field position they can have a successful season. Rookie CB Rodgers will be a nice addition to work alongside CB Jenkins that will strengthen the corner situation. Linebacker is a weak unit for the Rams but was helped with the drafting of Russell in the 1st Round but they need more help on this unit.

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

LDE Robert Quinn – One of the leagues best Defensive End is great at defending the run but his ability to get to the QB and force turnovers is where he can make the biggest difference. He is a dominating force and will get the Rams 10+ sacks this season.

RB Todd Gurley – He is the key to the Rams Offense, He is an all round back as he will give them more than 1000 yards rushing but also has the ability to be a weapon in the passing game also. He can get the short yardage runs but also can find the hole and break a big gain with his explosive ability. Look for him to have a big year.

2017 OUTLOOK

They will improve on the 2-14 record of last seaosn but there is such a big weakness at Quarterback they will struggle to make too much progress. If Mannion can manage the game and not make mistakes they can surprise some people with the talent they have on defense but in a league that is dependent on a great QB it will be a long year for the Rams.

PREDICTION – 4-12

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

 OFF-SEASON

The Head Coach and his coordinators return. Only a new strength and conditioning coach and Assistant Coach were brought in. In Free Agency it was very quite with no big names being brought in, a big focus was on resigning some of the current players to long term contracts. OL Leader G Justin Britt for instance being signed to a 4 year $28m contract. No big losses in Free Agency either, so from a standpoint of keeping their stars this was a productive Free Agency. The draft they would excel in as they picked up some quality players, 1st Round pick CB Tanner will start from day one alongside veteran star Richard Sherman. They also strengthened their DLine with 2nd round pick DE Pierce and 3rd Round pick DT Riley for just a few higlights from a very productive draft.

OFFENSE

Watch out for this offense in 2017, they had a heavy focus on running the ball last season due to season ending injury to WR Lockett. He returns healthy for Wilson who struggled without having his star WR. They added weapons with some talented rookie WR like undrafted Fite and 5th round pick Booker. Either one of these will fight for the slot receiver position and might even push Givens for the starting SE Position.  The offensive line is not spectacular but they are quality guys and have a good balance between run blocking and pass protection. With veteran Lynch as the featured back and with a healthy pass attack this can be a potent offense in 2017.

DEFENSE

The Seahawks improved an already strong pass defense with the addition of rookie Tanner, giving you one of the best corners in the league and one of the best young talents at his position. With this on top of two of the better safeties in the league, good luck having success passing against this defense. They struggled last year to stop the run, they were not horrible but it was a weak area that teams found success. They also addressed that with DE Pierce and DT Riley adding some run stopping ability but also guys that can pressure the QB also. The strengthening of the pass defense will open up areas for the talented pass rushing ability on this Defense to be successful forcing turnovers as QBs will have dificulty finding open receivers.

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

FL Tyler Locket – Coming back from injury he will be like a new addition to this offense. They were one win from winning the Division last season and Locket could make all the difference as Wilson now has more options at his disposal. Locket will open up the ability for Lynch to be more explosive in the running game also as they will not be so one dimensional.

DE Michael Bennett – With some of the exciting additions made on defense Bennet will benefit the most from it and could have a monster year and would not be surprised to see him with 10-15 sacks in 2017.

2017 OUTLOOK

They keep the core in tact and made some very nice young additions to an already talented roster. The Seahawks are geared up to take the NFC West Division this year and can go deep into the playoffs and are certainly a Super Bowl contender this year.

PREDICTION – 12-4 DIVISION CHAMPIONS.

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