NFL – 2017 PREDICTIONS

MY PICKS – AFC:

AFC EAST WINNER – Patriots

AFC NORTH WINNER – Steelers

AFC SOUTH WINNER – Titans

AFC WEST WINNER – Chiefs

AFC WILD CARD 1 – Broncos

AFC WILD CARD 2 – Raiders

AFC CHAMPION – STEELERS

BOTTOMLINE FOR AFC:

Before this season commenced, many experts were convinced the 2017 Patriots would go undefeated and win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Well, I never believed New England would finish the year by shutting out their competition, but any NFL fan would be crazy if they didn’t think a team led by Bellichick and Brady (at any point in their careers) had a good chance to do either.

But, when I dug into the stats in the off-season and tried to get a sense of where all NFL teams are now, I arrived at the opinion that a few other teams from the AFC had a very good chance to rob the crown from the Patriots at the end of the regular season.

Those teams include the Steelers, Chiefs and Raiders.

Is it smart to bet against the Patriots, especially after what they did to Atlanta during Super Bowl 51?

Maybe not, but I’m going out on that limb, because I think if the Steelers escape with less injuries this season and thrive in a subpar division; the Chiefs continue to put all of the pieces together; and the fortified Raiders finally collect on the hype; these teams are legit contenders.

I don’t think Denver can do it without an elite quarterback (or even good, solid experienced one).  And, although the Titans are on the rise and an exciting team, I don’t think they are there yet.

So, which one of my AFC contenders will ultimately prevail?

On a very high level, I really like the Raiders to rise to the top especially after Marshawn Lynch decided to come out of retirement and play for his hometown team.  It felt like a key piece was filled if they were to make run at Super Bowl 52.

Pro Football Focus has also ranked the 2017 Black and Silver’s O-Line, QB, Backfield and WR crew as among the Top 10 in the league.  And, Oakland just upgraded their Tight End position with the acquisition of former Packer Jared Cook in free agency.

While the Raiders defense was among the worst in 2016, they still managed to help their team finish 2nd in their division with a 12-4 record, carried by that great offense.

During this year’s draft, they targeted their defensive weaknesses and made a few key moves in the offseason that may not put them at the top, but perhaps good enough for middle of the road.  It just may be enough to help that elite offense continue to carry the load and get the w’s.

The question is, does Oakland have it in them to get a SB for the Bay area before they vamoose to Vegas in 2020?  Many are thinking not this year with the current defense, but I like them an awful lot to go on a deep run.  At least far enough to make it into the playoffs, if not compete with the Chiefs for their first divisional title in 15 years.

But, with such a tough AFC West division compared to the Steelers who have an easy schedule and inferior division, Pittsburgh could manage to stay healthy and finally beat the Patriots at the end of the regular season.

Also, as a whole, this Pittsburgh team may be the most talented in the NFL.  Their offense is prolific and their defense is above average and improved.

Add onto that, Big Ben has hinted at retirement.  With the team he currently has surrounding him, this could be his year to get one for the Steel City before he heads off into the sunset.  It may prove to be a huge motivation for him.

We won’t know what the latter part of the season will hold, but it is looking great for the Steelers to win around 12 games and get a bye which could set them up for a nice run in the playoffs, if not dash towards the finish line.

As for Kansas City, with the loss of Safety Eric Berry during the first game of the season and not enough trust in QB Alex Smith to be that elite quarterback the team needs him to be, I’m going with Pittsburgh instead.

MY PICKS – NFC:

NFC EAST WINNER – Cowboys

NFC NORTH WINNER – Packers

NFC SOUTH WINNER – Falcons

NFC WEST WINNER – Seahawks

NFC WILD CARD 1 – Buccaneers

NFC WILD CARD 2 – Giants

NFC CHAMPION – FALCONS

BOTTOMLINE FOR NFC:

I struggled with forecasting the outcome for this conference, as I couldn’t get an overall sense of who would break out this season beyond the Falcons.

Personally, I really like the Eagles and Buccaneers to surprise, but I don’t think it’s their time yet.  But it will be soon.

Also, I think the Giants schedule will prove to be too tough for them to withstand a charge from the Cowboys.  New York may have one of the best defenses in the conference now, but 4 trips to the Pacific and Mountain time zones will make them the most traveled east coast team behind Jacksonville who play in London during the season.  I’m also not sold on that offense either, despite many bright spots.

As for Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle, they will be formidable opponents.

But on paper, Atlanta has it all going on from top to bottom, particularly on offense (as if that needed to be said).  Their defense has also improved.

The only real question marks surrounding the Falcons for me include how the offense will handle the loss of Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator, and a potential regression for QB Matt Ryan.  But, I think his Super Bowl loss will propel him forward.  That and a brand-new stadium should energize this team.

I smell Redemption.

SUPER BOWL 52:

STEELERS vs. FALCONS

Oh, a tough call.

This would be a great match-up and personally, a game I’d love to see.

Many emotions would drive both these quarterbacks and teams.

It would be a close one.

MY PICK:  Pittsburgh to win the whole enchilada.  It’ll be their first since 2008 and 7th overall Super Bowl win.

 

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