2017 NFL PREDICTIONS
New England Patriots
So what did you expect? PATS coming off a SuperBowl victory as I said they would in June 2016. Although they went 14-2 instead of 13-3 which I predicted, they did beat teams up and had opponents wondering, “What just happened?” Tell me NE is not poised to win their 3rd Superbowl in 4 years. The player movements in the off-season by NE was one of the most transitional in the NE-Belichick era. TE Martellus Bennett left for GB & TE Dwayne Allen was signed. Gronk is still the #1 at TE and should be fully recovered from his back surgery but with Allen as #2, it should take pressure off Gronk. QB Tom Brady has stated that he should be able to play at full strength until his mid-forties which is not good news for the rest of the league. Backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo is in the last yr of his rookie contract but has shown great signs of leadership while Brady was serving his 4 game suspension in 2016. Brady didn’t show signs of slowing down in 2016 as he had 28tds & 2 INTS in the regular season on his way to his 5th SuperBowl win. The non signing of RB workhorse LeGarrette Blount led him to sign with PHILLY but hopefully James White, Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis & the rest can make up for the 18 tds Blount scored in 2016. PATS will find a way. At WR, is there anyone more reliable than Julian Edelman? He is by far Brady’s favorite target. Brandin Cook who was brought in from NO gives NE another explosive weapon. Malcolm Mitchell had a nice rookie campaign with Chris Hogan & Danny Amendola filling in nicely. Really, who is stopping this bunch? By the way, they rarely drop passes like some other clubs. The O-LINE has improved greatly from 2015 and probably prevented this team from going to the SuperBowl that yr. Brady was under constant pressure and was sacked 38x. In 2016 with adjustments to the left side NE QBs were sacked a total of 24x. This is a solid bunch and keeping Brady protected is their #1 goal. LT Nate Solder is a solid run blocker but struggles with speed rushers on the outside. LG Joe Thuney played all but 4 snaps in 2016 and was solid despite being a little undersized & inconsistent. C David Andrews has been very consistent in his two years. RG Shaq Mason is a great pulling guard & RT Marcus Cannon allowed one sack in 2016 and signed a 5yr extension. As the O-Line goes, so do the PATS. In the secondary CB Malcolm Butler was almost traded away but has returned. He is disgruntled about his contract but, look for him to put up big numbers. CB Stephon Gilmore was signed to a big contract from BUFF. He replaces CB Logan Ryan who signed with TENN. No loss in coverage there. FS Devin McCourty & SS Patrick Chung are very good against the run as well and can cover TEs in the open field. CB Duron Harmon is used as a nickel back and also is very reliable. No holes here. MLB Dont’a Hightower was signed to an extension in the off-season. He is an excellent blitzer, great in the run game and the leader on D who watches a lot of film and gets his teammates in the right places. SLB Shea McClellin is in his 2nd yr with the PATS and is great on the edge. WLB Rob Ninkovich has suddenly retired so look for LB Kyle Van Oy who was picked up after Jamie Collins was traded in 2016, to step up to the position and fill in any gaps. DE Trey Flowers is coming into his own with 7 sacks in the 2nd half of 2016. Hopefully he continues his upward progression in 2017. DE Jabaal Sheard left for INDY & DE Chris Long left for PHILLY. In their place are DE Kony Ealy from CAR & DL Lawrence Guy from BALT. Kony Ealy is in a contract yr, so look for him to have a big yr. DTs Malcolm Brown & Alan Branch are the starters but they will be helped out by Vincent Valentine, Geno Grissom & rookie Derek Rivers who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Youngstown State. Shouldn’t be any holes as long as Matt Patricia is the DC. This team is strong in every area and even stronger in 2017. With the additions that this team has made on both sides of the ball in the off-season, PATS will be hard to beat week in and week out. As long as they are healthy there is no stopping them. They do have a tougher schedule than in 2016 but the other teams facing NE have some big “Ifs”. After the PATS lose to ATL in late OCT at NE don’t look for NE to lose a game again this season. NE will be in Minnesota for SuperBowl 52 where Brady & CO will repeat as NFL champions.
PROJECTED 2016 (13-3), ACTUAL 2016 (14-2), PROJECTED 2017 (14-2)
Things didn’t go as planned in 2016 for BUFF. HC Rex Ryan didn’t even last the whole season and was fired after fifteen games. Anthony Lynn was HC for the last game vs NYJ and lost. Don’t feel bad for Rex, he’s still getting paid for the next two years from BUFF. BUFF also cleaned house with the players and the coaching staff. New HC Sean McDermott takes over. Previously he was the CAR DC from 2011-2016. Greg Roman is out at OC & Rick Dennison is in. Rick was previously the DEN OC. Dennis Thurman & Rob Ryan were sort of co-DCs and they are both out. Leslie Frazier is the new DC. At QB, Tyrod Taylor has the 2017 season to prove that BUFF didn’t make a mistake. He will be the starter and has to prove he deserves the job and a big contract that he may sign after 2017. You could say that Tyrod is definitely on the hot seat for 2017. Gone is QB Cardale Jones to the LA CHARGERS so T.J. Yates is definitely the backup. Also gone is QB EJ Manuel to OAK. At RB LeSean McCoy is the workhorse. But, he needs to stay healthy because behind him the pickings are slim. Mike Gillislee left for NE so that means Jonathan Williams needs to step up to be the #2 RB. Without a reliable #2, BUFF is in trouble if McCoy gets hurt or needs a breather. At FB, Jerome Felton wasn’t retained & Patrick DiMarco was picked up from ATL & Mike Tolbert was picked up from CAR. Tolbert is more of a blocker but, Patrick can block as well as catch. At WR, Sammy Watkins will have to prove he is worth any money past 2017 because his 5th yr option was not being picked up due to recurring injuries. WRs Robert Woods & Marquise Goodwin both bolted via FA. WR Zay Jones who was drafted in the 2nd round out of East Carolina has the big task of becoming a #2 WR in the NFL. He has the talent but does he have the mindset to make the jump? Philly Brown was picked up from CAR and is projected to be the receiver in the slot. Andre Holmes was picked up in the off season via FA and will make a big push for the #2 WR. He played the last four seasons in OAK and didn’t have too many passes thrown his way so he has a lot to prove. WR Anquan Boldin was just signed to a 1yr deal. He will compete with Holmes & Jones for that coveted #2 WR spot. At TE, Charles Clay needs to step his game up and show why he deserved the big money he received as a FA in 2015. As for the #2 TE, Nick O’Leary & Logan Thomas (converted from QB) could make for an interesting season at the position. The O-LINE going forward in 2017 looks almost the same as it did in 2016. The O-LINE allowed 46 sacks in 2016 up from 42 in 2015. The O-LINE needs to get much better to give the QB needed time for things to develop. At LT Cordy Glenn had a disappointing 2016 after signing a big deal. He certainly needs a big year here. LG Richie Incognito has been a choir boy in BUFF the last two years as opposed to his yrs in MIA. He has been a PRO-BOWLER both years and definitely is the best athlete on the O-LINE. Look for him to lead this coming yr and getting the sacks allowed number down. C Eric Wood was sidelined for the last seven games of 2016 with a broken leg and Ryan Groy filled in for him. Ryan is a valuable backup because he can play G too. Vlad Ducasse comes in via FA and offers depth at the Guard & Tackle positions. RG John Miller has had two nice seasons but needs to show more improvement. RT Jordan Mills did a terrible job in 2016 and will likely be pushed by OL Dion Dawksins who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Temple. In the secondary, CB Stepehen Gilmore was snatched away by NE. CB Ronald Darby had a so-so season in 2016 and will be asked to lead. DB Nickell Robey-Coleman also bolted, leaving for the LA RAMS. Gilmore & Coleman had 7 INTS that were more than 50% of BUFF’s total 12 INTS in 2016. They will be surely missed. At the other CB, Tre’Davious White who was drafted in the 1st round out of LSU has the inside track at the starting position. CB Kevon Seymour is a backup at the position and but will probably play slot. CBs Leonard Johnson, signed from CAR, & Shareece Wright, signed from BALT, bring experience and veteran leadership and are expected to provide depth and nickel coverage. At SS Micah Hyde was signed from GB & was brought in to provide leadership and hard hitting. FS Jordan Poyer was signed from CLEVE to upgrade from Corey Graham who wasn’t retained & Aaron Williams who didn’t bounce back from a neck injury. Jordan Poyer was limited to six games in 2016 due to injuries but should be ready for wk 1. On the D-LINE SE Shaq Lawson returns after a rookie season where he mostly played OLB. His numbers should be better in 2017. DT Kyle Williams was huge in 2016 with 5 sacks and provides all kinds of leadership entering his twelfth season. DT Marcell Dareus only played eight games in 2016 but still contributed 3.5 sacks. DE Adolphus Washington had a nice rookie season where he started eleven games and also contributed 2.5 sacks. He will definitely be prominent in 2017. DE Jerry Hughes was second on the team with 6 sacks in 2016. Look for him to flourish in the defense under Leslie Frazier. LB Ramon Humber will probably be the weak side starter with LB Matt Milano who was drafted in the 5th round out of Boston College being worked into the rotation. MLB Preston Brown started all sixteen games in 2016 but, will probably see a backup role in the new DEF under Frazier. OLB Lorenzo Alexander contributed 12.5 sacks as the starter after Reggie Ragland went down with ACL surgery. Alexander had a great yr after being a journeyman the last few years. Can Lorenzo repeat 2016? For BUFF, the pressure is on QB Tyrod Taylor to get this team in the right direction. There is really no one behind him on the depth chart so he should feel comfortable and focus on winning. The O-LINE needs to get focused and pass protect so that Tyrod can work his magic. The RB position is light at depth and McCoy will again carry a big load. Hopefully the new FBs can block and catch effectively. Watkins needs to stay healthy and the WRs have to catch more passes, not drop them in critical situations. There a lot of questions on defense as there are new guys coming in and many departed. The D-LINE has to achieve greatness as they were built to do so. The LB core needs to produce as well, not just Alexander. With guys adjusting to the new 4-3 DEF we’ll see what happens. BUFF has a tendency to lose focus but with the new coaching staff they should be headed in the right direction.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5), ACTUAL 2016 (7-9), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
HC Adam Gase did a nice job in his rookie campaign in 2016. After a rough 1-4 start MIA went 9-2 the rest of the way and even had a playoff game. The fan base even started getting excited after a long time of promises gone south. Gase needs to keep the momentum going. QB Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury after the 13th game it looked like MIA’s season was over but, Matt Moore came in and went 2-1 but lost in the wild card game at PITT. Going into training camp, Tannehill looks healthy for wk 1 and Moore will be his backup. Unfortunately, Tannehill suffered another injury to that knee in 2017 training and camp and is looking at surgery or long rehab. In any instance, MIA signed QB Jay Cutler formally of CHI & retirement to a 1yr deal. He will compete with Moore for the starting position until Tannehill is given the ok to play. Cutler comes in with experience but with a record of fumbles, turnovers and at times not giving his all. At RB, Jay Ajayi had a very nice season and Damien Williams is a very good backup who makes catches out of the backfield. Having Ajayi successful takes a lot of pressure off whoever the QB may be. With Damien Williams being very successful as a 3rd down back this also takes even more pressure off of the QB. Look for these two RBs to be even more a part of the OFF as the season progresses. Also look for Kenyon Drake to have a bigger role on the offense this yr as well. At WR, Jarvis Landry had a nice 2016 and looks to continue the trend. Kenny Stills was retained and is the #2 WR, which takes a lot of pressure of Landry. DeVante Parker is a tremendous talent but needs to stay healthy. Parker can be explosive in this OFF. At TE, Dion Sims signed with CHI. But, MIA went after guys that can both block and catch passes. Julius Thomas was signed from Jacksonville and had an injury plagued 2016. If he is healthy, he will certainly draw coverage from opposing defenses. The Anthony Fasano was signed from TENN. He is a great blocker and mid range receiver and will also see a lot of action with MIA in 2017.The third TE is MarQueis Gray who showed promise behind Sims and will be retained in case injuries get to the other TEs. He will see a lot of action on special teams. For years, the O-LINE has been a major concern for the DOLPHINS. Tannehill was getting pounded as the O-LINE would break down in protection. QBs for MIA were sacked 30x in 2016 as opposed to 45x in 2015 & 46x in 2014. Hopefully the trend continues. LG Laremy Tunsil moves to LT for Branden Albert who signed with Jacksonville. Laremy who started fourteen games in his rookie season of 2016 is a strong prospect and hopefully his talent moves with him to the outside. At LG Ted Larsen was signed from CHI to fill the hole, he brings veteran leadership. Mike Puncey is penciled in at C but only played five games in 2016 and is recuperating from a stem cell procedure for his hip injury. He is expected for wk 1 but, Kraig Urbick C/G & Anthony Steen served the position well while Pouncey was injured. Urbick & Steen may be battling for positions on the roster but would not be unemployed long if either of them is cut. G Isaac Asiata who was drafted in the 5th round out of Utah is regarded as a competent run blocker and may be battling for a job at LG. RG Jermon Bushrod started all sixteen games in 2016 at the position after coming over from CHI and looks to have a lock on the position. He is entering his eleventh year. At RT, Ju’Wuan James started all sixteen games after missing nine in 2015. He needs to take his run and pass blocking to a higher level. ON DEF, there is a new DC for MIA. Matt Burke is the new DC for 2017. He was the Linebackers coach. He replaces Vance Joseph who was the DC in 2016 and moved on to become the new DEN HC. Matt has some pretty big shoes to fill and must improve on a DEF that was #30 vs the Run. In the secondary CB Byron Maxwell was benched during the 2016. If he wants his starting job back he needs to compete for it and show he deserves to be on the field. PHILLY discarded him after what everyone knew, he is way overpaid for doing next to nothing. There will be stiff competition from Xavien Howard, & Bobby McCain. CB Tony Lippett led the team with 4INTS in 2016 so he will be in the mix as well. CB Cordrea Tankersley who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Clemson and has great man to man cover skills could give the rest of the CBs a run for their money. He will compete and may end up a starter. SS Reshad Jones was limited to six games in 2016 due to a shoulder injury and that’s where Michael Thomas may be competing for a starting spot. FS Nate Allen is the favorite to start at the position as he was signed from OAK. S T.J. McDonald was signed from the RAMS but will have to first serve an eight game suspension. When he comes back he is figured to start or get significant playing time. DE Cameron Wake led the team with 11.5 sacks and had his first career INT to boot. He continues to be very consistent and effective even though is 35 yrs old this season. DT Ndamukong Suh is also a fierce competitor but his sack total dipped to 5.0 in 2016. These two bring fear to opposing OFFs but the other two spots are a work in progress. DT Jordan Phillips replaces DT Earl Mitchell who signed with SF. Jordan should see his stats rise in 2017 knowing that he is penciled in as the starter. DE Mario Williams is gone on the other outside after an injury plagued season and DE William Hayes was signed from the RAMS to fill the void. Hayes had 5 sacks for LA in 2016 and should have more as Wake & SUH sometimes get double-teamed leaving an opening for Hayes. DT Davon Godchaux who was drafted in the 5th round out of LSU & DT Vincent Taylor who was drafted in the 6th round out of Oklahoma State need to work on their run stoppage to see time in the rotation. DE Andre Branch recorded 5.5 sacks in 2016 and did a reasonable job against the run and should see substantial time in the rotation and might even start. OLB Charles Harris who was drafted in the 1st round out Missouri is going to be used as an end. If he can run stop, he will find time in the rotation and give the D-LINE a breather. SLB Koa Misi is penciled in as the starter even though his 2016 season was cut short by a neck injury. MLB Lawrence Timmons was signed from PITT. He will shore yup the run defense. Kiko Alonso moves from MLB to WLB with the addition of Timmons. Kiko is better suited for the weak side. LB Neville Hewitt started five games in 2016 and played all season has a shot to win a starting job and is a very productive backup. OLB Raekwon McMillian who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Ohio State is a run stopper who will find time in the rotation. Anything that is successful on OFF that can take added pressure away from the QB will make the FISH successful. Adding two TEs will definitely give the OFF a wider field and have opposing defenses take notice. The O-LINE has to keep progressing upward and give whoever the QB is the time he needs and open up the running routes. On DEF, the secondary has some question marks and they need to be able to tackle and make stops. Also, can new DC Matt Burke keep the momentum going that Vance Joseph brought last yr into 2017? He must improve the Rush DEF if MIA is to be considered a legit playoff team. On the D-LINE, besides Wake & Suh, Phillips & Hayes need to step up to take pressure off the other two. The LB crew also needs to be attentive to what the line is doing and stay healthy. This team should do well and advance to the playoffs but probably will not get past NE.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8), ACTUAL 2016 (10-6), PROJECTED 2017 (10-6)
Talk about a team going in the opposite direction. Is this what Todd Bowles envisioned when he signed on as HC for the 2015 season? I thought it was a good hire for the JETS but a bad choice for Bowles. Good for the JETS in that they get a no-name coach who is learning and can take the hit when the team goes bad. Bad for Bowles because the JETS are a mess and if he does poorly, which is what he is doing, he will not get a second chance at HC in the NFL. In the off season JETS have had what looks like and amounts to a fire sale. They have waived or traded C Nick Mangold, LB David Harris (who has subsequently signed with NE), CB Darrelle Revis, K Nick Folk, S Calvin Pryor, G Breno Giacornini, WR Eric Decker, WR Brandon Marshall, CB Dee Milner, OT Ryan Clady & QB Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with TB. In return they have signed QB Josh McCown who is 2-20 in his last 22 starts. Also, signed was CB Morris Claiborne from DAL. On Offense, McCown is not a lock at QB as Bryce Petty & Christian Hackenberg will be battling in mini camp & training camp to get playing time during the season. Jets should give a serious look at Petty & Hackenberg to see if they have what it takes. At RB Matt Forte had his worst season as a pro & Bilal Powell has moved into the #1 RB spot. They will have a tough time with an O-Line that is untested. Three new starters on the line include LT Kelvin Beachum (replacing Ryan Clady), C Wesley Johnson (replacing Mangold) and RT Ben Ijalana (replacing Breno Giacomini). LG James Carpenter was the lone lineman to make all 16 starts for NYJ in 2016. RG Brian Winters was solid on a line that gave up 35 sacks. Brian signed a four year extension in the off-season. At WR since Marshall & Decker are gone, no one still on the roster is a true #1. They are a bunch of no-names with not a lot of experience. Don’t look for great expectations here. At TE, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was picked up in 2016 but starts the season with a 2-game suspension. Eric Tomlinson is not much of a pass catcher but is solid at blocking. On Defense, the NYJ were looking to shore up their secondary which had a total of 8 INTS in all of 2016. Safeties Jamal Adams was taken in the 1st round out of LSU & Marcus Maye was taken in the 2nd round out of Florida. We’ll see how they adjust to the pro-game. CB Buster Skrine will be in the slot as CB Marcus Williams will be teamed with oft injured CB Claiborne. Teams will definitely be throwing against this bunch. With the dead weight gone & Revis gone inexperience will have the JETS secondary looking at each other for help many times. On the D-Line this will be a big yr for DE Muhammed Wilkerson who signed a big contract before the 2016 season. Wilkerson didn’t deliver in 2016 because he was recovering from a broken leg sustained late in 2015. However, DE Leonard Williams looks like a Pro-Bowler for a long time and he is steady. DE Sheldon Richardson has been a malcontent and may either be dealt by training camp or stay and have a big year looking for a big payday, so Jets may get something out of him. DT Steve McLendon filled in nicely in his 1st yr for the departed Damon Harrison and looks to develop. At ILB, Darron Lee will probably take over leadership roles from the departed LB David Harris. OLBs Jordan Jenkins & Lorenzo Mauldin had solid a solid 2016 campaign but need to step up for a pass rush that has been depleted. JETS had 27 sacks in 2016 with not much pressure on opposing QBs. There a lot of question marks on this team and a lot of unproven talent along with some rookies in the secondary. The O-Line is inexperienced and could cause many headaches for whoever is playing QB. As for QB, that is a dead weight area that is looking for a savior in 2018. The WR corps is a bunch of guys that doesn’t have a #1 guy to go to. Many uncertainties on this team and not much to cheer for. A lot of empty seats will be masquerading as fans when this team has nothing to play for. Expect Todd Bowles to be fired the day after the season ends. As for GM Mike Maccagnan, he should be gone too. Woody Johnson should sell this team to someone who knows what they are doing and not just in it for the buck. This team will be lucky to go 2-14 but will have the #1 Pick in the 2018 draft.
PROJECTED 2016 (9-7), ACTUAL 2016 (5-11), PROJECTED 2017 (2-14)
In 2016 PITT went deep into the playoffs and lost again to the NE PATRIOTS. The PATS are the biggest obstacle to PITT going to and winning the SuperBowl. But, PITT brass believes that only a few areas need to be fine tuned to get them to the promised land. Also, staying healthy wouldn’t hurt either as many injuries all over stopped PITT in their minds, from reaching the SuperBowl. Also, QB Ben Roethlisberger has stated that he can’t really say if he is committed past the 2017 season. That’s fair because he has certainly taken a pounding as the Steelers QB. BIG BEN has only played three full seasons because of various injuries. Landry Jones was re-signed as the backup and has struggled at times. Joshua Dobbs who was drafted in the 4th round out of Tennessee could be the long term successor to BIG BEN but, he needs to up his accuracy. At RB, Le’Veon Bell can do it all but he wants to be paid accordingly and has had a rash of injuries. He was unavailable for the title game vs PATS and that cost PITT. He had groin surgery in March and his timetable for return has not been announced. RB James Connor was drafted in the 3rd round out of PITT and has the size and quickness that would complement a healthy Bell. RB DeAngelo Williams was not re-signed and is currently looking for employment. That decision I believe, will haunt PITT this season as Williams was a very capable replacement when Bell was not in the lineup. He surely will be missed. RB Knile Davis was signed from KC to take the backup role but at times has a tendency to fumble. Fitzgerald Toussaint has been the #3 RB and will have to fight hard for a roster spot. FB Roosevelt Nix has only one job and that is to block, which he does. At WR, Antonio Brown is ALL-PRO. Markus Wheaton moved on to CHI and Justin Hunter was signed from BUFF. WR Martavis Bryant was out all of 2016 on suspension and as of right now there is no word on his reinstatement being finalized. Eli Rogers had a nice rookie season catching 48 passes as the slot receiver. Darius Heyward-Bey saw limited action but has very fast speed. WR JuJu Smith- Schuster was drafted in the 2nd round out of USC comes from a pro-style OFF so he should be ready to go. Cobi Hamilton and Sammy Coates are also on board in limited play but also must have a great training camp to stick around. All should see more passes their way if Bryant is not fully reinstated for wk 1. Also, this is a chance for guys on the bubble to show what they have. However, if Bryant comes back, guys will be cut. At TE, Jesse James has emerged as the #1 while Ladarius Green battled a concussion and headaches which make him a question mark for the upcoming season. Xavier Gamble filled in as #2 but looks like he needs to fight to stay on the roster. On the O-LINE, LT Alejandro Villanueva is solid at the position. LG Ramon Foster has started for PITT since the middle of 2010. He is the dean of the O-LINE. C Maurkice Pouncey has been a starter in every game he has played. RG David DeCastro earned a new contract in the offseason and his second PRO-BOWL. RT Marcus Gilbert is solid and rarely gets beaten for sacks. OL B.J. Finney is a valuable backup because he is versatile and can play the three interior positions. He played in thirteen games in his rookie season of 2016 and started in three. C/G Chris Hubbard is also a valuable backup as he started four games in 2016 while playing in fifteen. In the secondary, CB William Gay lost his starting job to Artie Burns. Gay will fill the slot or play at S. CB Artie Burns tied the team lead with 3INTS. CB Ross Cockrell will start again unless someone unseats him. CB Cameron Sutton was drafted in the 3rd round out of Tennessee and will be used on man coverage which he played in college. CB Brian Allen who was drafted in the 5th round out of Utah will try to play the nickel. FA CB Coty Sensabaugh is also trying to make the team after being cut by LA RAMS. At SS Sean Davis made a name for himself in his rookie yr and will start again. FS Mike Mitchell has been a starter for four years and has a lock on the position. S Robert Golden who normally plays special teams, started two games but is mostly a backup. S Jordan Dangerfield who also plays mostly on special teams also saw two starts at S. The DEF for PITT is a 3-4 as it has been for quite some time. DE Cameron Heyward was limited to seven games in 2016 because of a torn pec muscle. DE Ricardo Mathews who played all season and started five games was not retained. DE Tyson Alualu was signed from the JAGS to give depth at DE/DT. NT Javon Hargrave had a nice rookie season in 2016 and contributed 2 sacks while starting thirteen games. DE Stephon Tuit is solid at the position, can stop the run, and contributed 4 sacks in 2016. NT Daniel McCullers & DE L.T. Walton must up their games if they want to stay on the roster. At OLB Bud Dupree was limited to seven games due to abdominal surgery but was phenomenal down the stretch with 4.5 sacks. ILB Ryan Shazier had his first PRO-BOWL season with 3INTS & 3.5 sacks. ILB starter Lawrence Timmons bolted for MIA which means Vince Williams who has proved himself with 2 sacks and is a run stopper will start at the position. The OLB had Jarvis Jones who signed with ARZ which put James Harrison who seems to be getting younger at the starting position for 2017. James contributed 4 sacks. He will have the task of schooling OLB T.J. Watt who was drafted in the 1st round out of Wisconsin. And yes, this is J.J.’s younger brother. Backup ILB L.J. Fort saw action in fourteen games in 2016 and will look to fill in any gaps and also play on special teams. OLBs Arthur Moats & Anthony Chickillo will continue to provide depth to the LBs while they also contributed 3.5 & 2.5 sacks respectively in 2016. This team didn’t make too many changes on OFF for 2017. But, they are waiting to see what happens with WR Martavis Bryant. If he is not reinstated, they have capable guys that can fill in slots and get the job done. They will not be as flashy but they can catch and block. RB Le’Veon Bell cannot do it alone and is prone to injuries so, a reliable backup is mandatory for PITT, otherwise the OFF just rests on BIG BEN’s shoulders. On DEF it is a great unit on paper but, if there are more big injuries like in 2016, the STEELERS will not go far in the playoffs. Every game in the AFC NORTH is a tough one and PITT can’t afford to lose players. As long as NE has retooled, they will be tough to beat and I don’t see them getting past NE. However, they will see NE @HOME on DEC 17th. This team will go deep into the playoffs but not the SuperBowl.
PROJECTED 2015 (10-6)√, PROJECTED 2016 (11-5), ACTUAL 2016 (11-5)√,
PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
BALT has missed the playoffs in three of the last four years. HC John Harbaugh got a vote of confidence from owner Steve Bisciotti but never the less, if things go south for BALT and they don’t make the playoffs again, Harbaugh may be out as HC and there may be a rebuilding of this team in the off season. At QB, Joe Flacco is solid at the position but will look to have a better season and get BALT into the playoffs. Ryan Mallet was retained to have a veteran presence at backup. At RB, All-Purpose guy Danny Woodhead was signed from SD to give opposing defenses all kinds of problems. Danny needs to stay healthy as he only played in two games in 2016. He replaces all purpose FB Kyle Juszcyk who bolted for SF. RB Terrence West will be given the opportunity to be the starter after showing great signs as a starter in 2016. RB Kenneth Dixon had a nice rookie yr in 2016 but, will start the 2017 season with a four game suspension. At WR, Mike Wallace is the #1 receiver and has explosive speed. Breshad Perriman looks to be fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his rookie campaign of 2015 before it started. Both will see more passes as future HOF WR Steve Smith retired. WRs Michael Campanaro & Chris Moore will see more action but need to work on their games. At TE, Crockett Gilmore tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in 2017 training camp and will be out for the 2017 season. Dennis Pitta continues to be the go to guy at the position even after missing some time in previous seasons due to two hip injuries. TE Benjamin Watson was signed but is coming back from a torn Achilles in the preseason of 2016. If healthy, he can definitely add a lot to this OFF. On the O-LINE, rookie LT Ronnie Stanley started twelve games and will look to start again at the position. LG Alex Lewis was having a nice rookie season until a high ankle sprain ended his season. RT Rick Wagner bolted for DET and LT/RT James Hurst has played in all 48 games in his career and will look to get a starting position on the line in 2017. C John Urschel suddenly retired right before training camp which leaves the door open for versatile OL Ryan Jensen at a shot at C. OL Nico Siragusa who was drafted in the 4th round out of San Diego State has stated that he is also open to the idea of playing C. RG Marshal Yanda is a mainstay at the position and an anchor on the O-LINE. Jermaine Eluemunor who was drafted in the 5th round out of Texas A & M should get a chance to prove what he has, due to the retirement and injuries to the line. If anything he adds a healthy body to the depth chart and should see action during the season. On DEF, in the secondary, CB Brandon Carr was signed from DAL to replace Shareece Wright who signed with BUFF. I was never impressed with Carr because at times with DAL he was nowhere near the ball, basically a horizontal replacement. CB Jimmy Smith was limited to eleven games in 2016 due to back and ankle injuries but should be ready to go for 2017. CB Tavon Young had a nice season where he started eleven games and contributed 2 INTS. If Jimmy Smith has any problems, Young can fill the void very easily. CB Marion Humphrey was drafted in the 1st round out of Alabama and should be a big contributor to the secondary in this, his rookie season. FS Eric Weddle is the leader of the secondary and co-led the team with 4INTS and started all sixteen games. SS Tony Jefferson was signed from ARZ and is slated to start over SS Lardarius Webb. Lardarius took a pay cut for cap reasons and signed a new three yr deal but needs to get his production up. The Defensive scheme for BALT is the 3-4 as it has been for quite some time. On the D-LINE DE Bronson Kaufusi broke his ankle during training camp 2016 and was out for the whole season. He will get a big look at the position this yr. DE Chris Wormley who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Michigan could get a chance to start as a replacement for Lawrence Guy who left for NE or if Bronson doesn’t work out. NT Brandon Williams started all sixteen games in 2016 and received a five yr extension in the off season. DT Michael Pierce also appeared in all the games and likely will take over for Timmy Jernigan who left for PHILLY. OLB Terrrell Suggs who is always a force, led the team with eight sacks but will be 35 yrs old. OLB Tim Williams who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Alabama will look to learn as much as possible and try to see some action. BALT cut ties with LB Elvis Dumervil & LB Zachary Orr, only 24, had to retire due to a congenial neck and spine condition. MLB C.J. Mosley is a perennial all-star who also had 4INTS in 2016 and is the leader of the LB corps. WLB has Kamalei Correa, who ended the yr on injured reserve and Patrick Onwuasor who has been a backup both battling it out to see who will start at the position. OLB Mathew Judon who had four sacks in 2016 is penciled in as the starter but, he will get a lot of pressure from Tyus Bowser who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Houston and will look to make an impression. The OFF didn’t make too many changes in the off season but the O-LINE needs to stay healthy and gel as a unit otherwise Flacco will be scrambling for his life. There will be some new guys on the O-LINE and they need to adjust quickly. The addition of RB Danny Woodhead is a plus, as long as he stays healthy. He is a safety net option for Flacco when he gets in trouble. WR Mike Wallace needs to stop dropping passes and stay on the same page as everyone else. He needs to stay focused. The secondary for BALT could be lethal but needs to stay healthy. Some nice additions but, they need to show that they are worth it. On the D-LINE, some guys left and the subs will need to step up which leaves the depth chart is a little thin. Also a little change in the LB core with some question marks as the unit gets a little older. BALT never has any easy schedule and a fast start is what this team needs to take some pressure off of HC Harbaugh.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6), ACTUAL 2016 (8-8), PROJECTED 2017 (10-6)
HC Marvin Lewis is definitely on the hotseat. He doesn’t have a contract for past the 2017 season. He is basically a lame duck coach. In 2016, CINNCY missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. Plus, he’s 0-7 in seven trips to the playoffs, not good. In 2016 the BENGALS were hit hard by injuries but in the NFL, everyone has to deal with injuries. If Marvin Lewis & CO don’t turn it around in 2017 there will be major turnover on the roster and with the coaching staff. At QB, Andy Dalton had a down yr and was sacked 41x. Behind Andy, A.J. McCarron is a capable backup and could be traded for the right price. At RB, in 2016 it was by committee which led to all those sacks on Dalton. Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard & Rex Burkhead did the running. Burkhead signed with NE in the offseason and CINNCY drafted Joe Mixon in the 2nd round out of Oklahoma. Joe has had his off the field issues but Marvin feels that Joe will be on the straight and narrow. Giovani Bernard is recovering from a torn ACL which ended his 2016 and his status for wk 1 is up in the air. This may open the door for what Joe Mixon can bring to the table. Bernard is a dual threat and when he is not in there, the opposing defenses can focus more on Dalton. At WR, Brandon LaFell has become a solid #2 after having mixed reviews during his stay at NE. He took plenty of defensive pressure off #1 A.J. Green in 2016. A.J. missed the final five weeks with a hamstring injury. Tyler Boyd enjoyed a nice rookie season with 54 catches and 603 yd receiving. WR/KR John Ross was drafted in the 1st round out of WASH and will be used as the deep threat for CINNCY also to take coverage away from others. At TE, Tyler Eifert was limited due to ankle and back injuries in 2016 but, C.J. Uzomah stepped up nicely and will be back. The O-LINE will look very different for CINNCY in 2017 due to the fact that they gave up so many sacks and could not get any consistency with the run game. At LT, Andrew Whitworth signed with the RAMS so now Cedric Ogbuehi who has struggled somewhat, will be on the outside. Cedric moves from the RT to LT. LG Clint Boling who missed two games in 2016 with a shoulder injury is otherwise solid at the position. C Russell Bodine is another solid performer who hasn’t missed a game in his three seasons. At RG, Andre Smith was signed from MINN for Kevin Zeitler who signed with CLEVE. Smith who normally plays T will play G for CINNCY. Smith had an injury plagued yr in 2016 where he was limited to four games. Jake Fisher, who has had two receptions, takes over at RT. OL J.J. Dielman who was drafted in the 5th round out of Utah could see action in the rotation and may even start if injuries take to the O-LINE. The PASS DEF went from #20 in 2015 to #11 in 2016. In the secondary RCB Adam Jones will be suspended wk 1 but shouldn’t alter his season. He has played well in CINNCY but is getting up there in age. LCB Dre Kirkpatrick tied Jones with 3INTS and is poised to have a better season in 2017. SS George Iloka is a consistent performer and also had 3INTS in 2016. FS Shawn Williams started 15 games in 2016 and had 3INTS. CB William Jackson III is expected back in the rotation after missing his rookie season (2016) with a torn pectoral muscle. CINNCy had big plans for Jackson and he will get every opportunity come training camp. S Deron Smith plays nickel and has played in 28 games in two seasons. S Josh Shaw started twelve games in 2016 and can play anywhere in the secondary. CB Darqueze Dennard was a projected starter when he was drafted in the 1st round in 2014 but has dropped off and is in danger of losing a spot in this already crowded secondary. He needs to show a lot in the upcoming training camp. On the D-LINE, DE Carlos Dunlap is a solid performer and had eight sacks in 2016. DT Geno Atkins contributed nine sacks. These two had more than half of the 33 sacks by CINNCY in 2016. The rest of the team must do better. DT Andrew Billings had a meniscus tear in preseason that killed his whole 2016 season. He has recovered and should be ready to show what he can do. He replaces Domata Peko who left for DEN. DE Michael Johnson is another solid performer who had 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks. DE Jordan Willis who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Kansas State is big and fast and should see action in the rotation. DE Margus Hunt who played in fifteen games in 2016 as a backup signed with INDY. DE Will Clarke played very well in a backup role and contributed four sacks. SLB Nick Vigil played 2016 as a backup and got rave reviews. He will start in the position as Karlos Dansby signed with ARZ. MLB Kevin Minter was signed to replace Rey Maualuga who was a FA and not picked up by CINNCY. WLB Vontaze Burfict is a very talented but, for CINNCY to be successful must stay suspension free. He was suspended for five games in 2016 which hurt CINNCY on DEF. MLB Vincent Rey finished fourth on the team in tackles and will see plenty of action. LB Marquis Flowers played all sixteen games in 2016 but had only seven tackles. He needs to find the ball more often. LB Carl Lawson who was drafted in the 4th round out of Auburn is expected to play nickel. Many questions arise for this team in 2017 and HC Marvin Lewis has to answer all of them. The O-LINE needs to gel and perform solidly to protect Dalton and establish a consistent run game otherwise CINNCY will be playing catchup in many of their games. On DEF, the secondary has a lot of solid performers but upfront there are still some question marks as to how they will stop opposing runners. Many new faces up front need to gel and they have to stay focused. Unfortunately for this team HC Marvin Lewis will be gone on Black Monday. Fortunately for him, he will not be unemployed long. He will have multiple offers and be somewhere in 2018. This team will go through a modest makeover but will keep its best parts. I don’t see them making the playoffs in 2017 as PITT and BALT are always tough and CLEVE is starting to make some moves towards actually being a better team.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5), ACTUAL 2016 (6-9-1), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
Ok, so we knew that the BROWNS were bad but, did anyone think they would go 1-15 in 2016? HC Hue Jackson probably didn’t think 2016 would be so bad but it was. They went through five QBs and they were sacked 65x. That’s not a misprint. RG III tried to resurrect his career in CLEVE and suffered a concussion and some other injuries, came back and actually beat SD. RG III was 1-4. Cody Kessler was 0-8 as a rookie. Josh McCown started three games and he went 0-3. He is now with the JETS. Anyway, CLEVE cleaned house on their roster in the off-season. At QB, CLEVE made a trade for HOU’s Brock Osweiler. He was a big disappointment in his first yr as the HOU starter. He comes to CLEVE with a big guarantee for 2017 and he will compete with Cody Kessler for the starting spot. QB DeShone Kizer who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Notre Dame needs work with his mechanics will be given time to grow but, probably will not see game time in 2017. At RB, Isaiah Crowell has led the BROWNS in rushing the last two years and will be expected to lead again. RB Duke Johnson can run and catch and is a great safety net for a QB in trouble. FB Danny Vitale is a very good run blocker and is working on his pass catching abilities for 2017. AT WR, Terrelle Pryor was CLEVE #1 and he signed with WASH in the off-season. That is a big loss. Kenny Britt was signed from the RAMS but he doesn’t fill Pryor’s shoes. WR Corey Coleman had a nice little rookie season in 2016 and probably see more passes in 2017 now that big target Pryor is gone. At TE, solid Gary Barnidge was cut after TE David Njoku was drafted in the 1st round out of University of Miami. David is a big target and should see a lot of action in 2017. TE Seth Devalve will also see more playing time as Njoku learns the NFL game. The O-LINE gave up an enormous amount of sacks and something had to be done on the depleted right side. However, LT Joe Thomas has never missed a snap and has either been a PRO-Bowler or ALL-PRO every year of his ten yr career. LG Joel Bitonio is recuperating from a Lisfranc injury that ended his 2016 season after 5 games and it is unknown if he will be ready for wk 1. G Spencer Drango is the next man up if Joel is not ready. C JC Tretter was signed from GB to help stabilize the O-LINE. However, he has missed 33 games in four yrs with the PACK due to injuries. C Marcus Martin was signed from SF and is a viable backup who can play all five positions on the O-LINE. RG Kevin Zeitler was signed from CINNCY who is both proficient on run blocking & pass blocking. LT Shon Coleman played sparingly in 2016 but is penciled in to start the season. On DEF, DC Greg Williams replaces DC Ray Horton. Plus, the DEF goes from a 3-4 to 4-3 Scheme. CLEVE DEF was #31 TOT, #21 PASS DEF & #31 RUN DEF. Only place to go is up. DE Myles Garrett was drafted #1 in the 1st round out of Texas A&M and CLEVE hopes he develops into a top-tier pass rusher. He replaces Desmond Bryant who was CLEVE’s 2015 sack leader but, was out all of 2016 with injuries. He will try to play as a backup. DE Emmanuel Ogbah led the team in sacks in 2016 with six as he moved from LB to DE. DT Danny Shelton is solid and dependable. DT Xavier Cooper needs to pick up his game in the 4-3 scheme. DE Carl Nassib had a nice rookie campaign in 2016 with 2.5 sacks and will see more action this season. OLB Jamie Collins was traded for in mid season 2016 and signed an extension in the off season. He has been known to freelance but, you can’t deny that he makes big plays. MLB Christian Kirksey led the team in tackles in 2016 and CLEVE wants to sign him long term. LB DeMario Davis will see a lot of action as he is rotated in. LCB Joe Haden is coming off two injury plagued seasons and wants to prove that he‘s still got it. He is a leader on this team. RCB Jamar Taylor had 3 INTS in 2016 and is a heavy hitter. CB Jason McCourty joined the team from TENN and should add some leadership to the secondary. S Jabril Peppers was drafted in the 1st round out of Michigan and will also be the PR. He is very versatile and should make an impact right away. Derrick Kindred and Ed Reynolds will be competing for the starting spot at the other safety position. In the nickel back spot, Brian Boddy-Calhoun will get a challenge from CB Howard Wilson who was drafted in the 4th round out of Houston. This team has a lot of question marks going forward but they did have a good draft at least on paper. Who will be the QB coming out of training camp? Who will step up for the departed WR Terrelle Pryor? Except for LT Joe Thomas the rest of the O-Line is being sewn up with a lot of guys that were either sparingly used or coming back from injuries. This makes for a lot of questions with the guys up front and in the secondary. The DEF needs to make stops when needed and have got to stop the run. CLEVE has a tough schedule as usual and there’s no room for error. I see improvement in this team but not enough to jump to the playoffs. If they can make some positive gains in 2017 they will position themselves for a healthy 2018 where a playoff berth may be waiting. 2017 will hopefully be laying the groundwork for that. Some close losses.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11), ACTUAL 2016 (1-15), PROJECTED 2017 (5-11)
HC Bill O’Brien is on the hotseast in 2017. Bill O’Brien has been the HC here for three seasons and has gone 9-7 each of those three seasons. That’s no big deal in the weak AFC SOUTH, more is expected. Bill O’Brien will also be calling the Offensive plays after OC George Godsey was forced out. The OFF for HOU went from #19 in 2015 to #29 in 2016. If the OFF doesn’t improve in 2017 and the TEXANS do not go further in the playoffs, O’Brien is out, mark my words. So, the QB Brock Osweiler experiment for 2016 didn’t work. It seems like there is always a new QB leading this team. Tom Savage will lead the team & Deshaun Watson who was drafted in the 1st round out of Clemson will be learning as best he can so he can be ready for the future. Right now Savage is the starter but, if things get bad for the HOU, veteran Brandon Weeden will be inserted to help HOU find its way. Savage is entering the last year of his rookie deal and has been given the reins but, look for him to have a good yr so that he can continue his career in the NFL. He hasn’t played much and was out all of 2015 with an injury sustained in training camp. At RB Lamar Miller was worth every penny of his FA contract rushing for over 1,000 yds while missing the last two games with an ankle injury. Alfred Blue is a viable backup but HOU drafted D’Onta Foreman in the 3rd round out of Texas to give the running game some more unff. AT WR, DeAndre Hopkins is the #1 guy. His production slipped in 2016 due to Osweiler not being able to get him the ball. Will Fuller is fast but has been known to drop a few. Will just broke his collarbone and will be out indefinitely. Looks like Braxton or someone else will be stepping up for #2. Braxton Miller is a great slot receiver but was injured early in the season. Now, someone definitely will need to step up as the #2 to take pressure off Hopkins. At TE, C.J. Fiedorowicz can catch and block which is a rare combination. Look for him to have bigger numbers in 2017. Ryan Griffin is also big and strong and has been learning a lot from C J to improve his game. The O-LINE gave up 32 sacks in 2016. It will look much of the same for 2017 as it did in 2016 barring injuries. At LT Duane Brown is the anchor of the line despite only playing 12 games in 2016 due to leg injuries. LG Xavier Su’a-Filo played all sixteen games in 2016 but needs to play better. He is better at run blocking than pass blocking. With an immobile QB like Savage Xavier definitely needs to step up his game. C Nick Martin spent his whole 2016 rookie campaign on injured reserve and Greg Mancz filled in nicely and played all sixteen games. We’ll see who starts at this position come wk 1 but either way, it will be covered well. RG Jeff Allen was a disappointment in 2016 after signing as a FA over from KC. Look for Allen to have a better yr or he will be gone. RT Kendall Lamm should start at the position until Julien Davenport who was drafted in the 4th round out of Bucknell is ready. Lamm is a versatile player in that he can play the blocking TE as well. RT Derek Newton went down with ruptured quad tendons in both legs ad will not be back anytime soon. Chris Clark was forced to start and by many was the worst lineman HOU had. The DEF went from #3 in 2015 to #1 in 2016. LB coach Mike Vrabel did such a good job that he was promoted to DC and Romeo Crennel was promoted to Assistant HC. But TEXANS DEF stats are misleading because they beat up the bad teams and lost to the good ones, hence the 9-7 record. DE J J Watt comes back after two back surgeries that limited him to three games in 2016. He is motivated to regain his ALL-PRO status. At NT Vince Wilfork has retired & D. J. Reader will fill the slot. Reader also can play DE when needed and should fill this role nicely after playing in all sixteen games in 2016. DE Jadeveon Clowney played fourteen games in 2016 and finally showed why HOU drafted him #1 overall in 2014. He had six sacks and disrupted many an opposing offense. DE Christian Covington is used mostly on run downs but is durable and has only missed one game in two years. OLB Whitney Mercilus had 7.5 sacks in 2016 but with Watt returning that should free him up for more sacks. Look for a big year from Mercilus. ILB Brian Cushing has been hurt by injuries in his career and is not as fast and durability is his main factor on this team. ILB Max Bullough plays backup and starter when others are sidelined. The other ILB, Benardrick McKinney can get to the QB and should improve on his five sacks in 2016. McKinney is just getting better. OLB Brennan Scarlett takes over for John Simon who signed with INDY via FA. Scarlett made the team as a undrafted rookie and flashed pass rushing skills. LB Zach Cunningham was drafted in the 2nd round out of Vanderbilt and can play all LB positions. He will be groomed to play where there needs replacing. At LCB, Johnathan Joseph shows no signs of slowing down and covers receivers like a shadow. RCB Kareem Jackson will have to step up his game now that A.J. Bouye signed with Jacksonville via FA. Kareem has been known to get picked on by opposing QBs. CB Kevin Johnson comes back from a broken foot and may end up starting this yr, we’ll see in training camp. CB Treston Decoud who was drafted in the 5th round out of Oregon State has the size and will probably start as a nickel back. At SS Quintin Demps signed with CHI. This team will certainly miss Demps and his 6 INTS. Corey Moore will probably step into the spot where he is sound tackler at run and support and was a fine backup. We’ll see how he is if he starts. FS Andre Hal lost his starting job, then regained it and was second on the team with 2 INTS. DB Kevin Johnson is coming back from foot surgery and all reports show that he will start the season on the PUP list. But HOU would love to see him come all the way back and start for this team. He has all the qualities of a great DB. HC Bill O’Brien needs to make better decisions and get some big wins if he wants to coach HOU past the 2017 season. He did not get an extension in the offseason and must go deep into the playoffs to return for 2018. Otherwise Mike Vrabel could be a candidate for the position. The OFF for this team is a big question mark because Tom Savage is really untested. He hasn’t played too many real games so we’ll see early what he’s made of as the schedule at the beginning isn’t easy for HOU. We know what the rest of the OFF can do if they are given the ball. Lamar Miller should have a bigger yr than 2017 as he takes some pressure off Savage as Savage gets used to being the starting QB. The DEF has to play better against better teams, not just the lousy ones. They can’t disappear against the likes of NE, KC, CINNCY, SEA, etc. With J J Watt coming back at full strength that should make the DEF better and other guys need to step up when Watt is double & triple teamed. That means Jadeveon Clowney should be right in there. But because of Bill O’Brien & the question mark at QB, this team will be average as usual and maybe fall backwards into the playoffs. Bill O’Brien will be gone after the season.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6), ACTUAL 2016 (9-7), PROJECTED 2017 (9-7)
HC Chuck Pagano is definitely on the hotseat in 2017. The farthest he has gone with this team is the AFC Championship. GM Ryan Grigson was let go and Chris Ballard was brought on. QB Andrew Luck has admitted that he was injured in 2015 and he has not fully recovered. He had shoulder surgery in the off season after 2016 and should be ready to go for 2017. If he is not ready to go Scott Tolzien will fill in and Stephen Morris is waiting in the wings. The future of the COLTS is on Luck with his big contract but at times Luck tries to make something out of nothing and gets himself into trouble. Instead of eating the ball, he will try to force something that is not there and hope for the best. He has a gunslinger’s attitude. As Luck goes, so do the COLTS. At RB, Frank Gore is the mainstay and he showed that in 2016 by rushing for over 1,000 yards. He is very durable and hasn’t missed a game since 2010. He shows no signs of slowing down. Robert Turbin is the backup who gives Gore needed rest but is great in short yardage and red zone situations. RB Marlon Mack was drafted in the 4th round out of University of South Florida and will be given every chance to earn playing time. At WR, Donte Moncrief has developed into the #1 red zone option for INDY. Moncrief only played nine games in 2016 due to injuries. T.Y. Hilton is the #1 WR for INDY & their big play option. Phillip Dorsett came on stronger in his second season than his first and should see more passes his way in 2017. If Dorsett doesn’t work harder his football career could go by the wayside. At TE, INDY traded Dwayne Allen to NE along with his big contract. Dwayne always seemed to be battling injuries. Jack Doyle was the backup but has improved to be the starter now that Allen is gone. Erik Swoope has worked hard at football when he was a basketball player first. He definitely will see more action and passes in 2017. The O-LINE has always been a problem for INDY. The O-LINE gave up 37 sacks in 2015 while blocking for five different QBs. But in 2016 they gave up 44 sacks blocking for two, not good. There really hasn’t been any consistency with this group because of injuries. LT Anthony Castonzo has not played well the last two seasons and needs to be better in 2017. LG Jack Mewhort is the starter even though he misses six games to injuries in 2016. When he is in there, Jack is a solid offensive lineman. C Ryan Kelly is coming off a strong rookie yr in 2016 and didn’t miss a game. He was the team’s 1st round draft choice and proved his worth. RG Denzelle Good moved over from RT where he is better suited but must stay injury free. He took over the position from Hugh Thornton who was injured all of 2016 and released after the 2016 season. RT Joe Haeg is very versatile and can play the RT & RG positions and because of this is the starter. OT Le’Raven Clark struggled in his rookie season but should show improvement to see more game time in 2017. OT Zach Banner was drafted in the 4th round out of USC and has impressive size to make the starting lineup. We’ll see what he does in training camp but should also see significant playing time during the season. The DEF for INDY has been terrible. In 2015 they were #26 TOT DEF with #24 vs the Pass & #25 vs the Run. In 2016 INDY was #30 TOT DEF with #27 vs the Pass & 325 vs the Run. Defense for INDY only had 8 INTS. DC Ted Monachino is on the hot seat to get the defense better. There was a lot of shakeup in the off season as a lot of defensive players were shipped out. New ones were signed to replace them and most of the players drafted by INDY in 2017 were on the defensive side of the ball. LCB Rashaan Melvin will start for the departed Patrick Robinson. Rashaan was a backup in 2016 but played very well and earned the starting spot. RCB Vontae Davis is a top one on one corner but needs to be a little more consistent. CB Qunicy Wilson who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Florida will push to be a starter on this team. Wilson is very good at press coverage. Darius Butler who played CB in 2016 and led the team with 3 INTS moves to S and will be used in nickel situations. S Malik Hooker who was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State has been penciled in as the starter even though he is coming off hip surgery. He replaces Mike Adams who signed with PHILLY in the off season. FS Clayton Geathers is recovering from offseason neck surgery and right now there is no timetable for his return. That may open up the door for 2nd yr player T.J. Green who has the skills to compete at the position but may still be a little raw. On the D-LINE, DE Kendall Langford played only seven games in 2016 and had offseason knee surgery. His status for opening day is cloudy. DE Henry Anderson plays the position well and both Langford & Anderson could be rotating at the position since both are coming of injuries. NT Jonathan Hankins was signed from NYG to shore up the position. INDY looks for Hankins to be the anchor of the D-LINE. DT/DE Margus Hunt was signed from CINNCY to bring much needed pass attacking skills. NT David Parry was a solid starter who contributed 3 sacks. DE Hasan Ridgeway developed into a reliable backup who played all sixteen games in 2016. NT T.Y. McGill will be backing up but looking to break into the starting lineup, so expect some big performances from him. OLB Jabaal Sheard was signed from NE and is penciled in to start at the position. Jaball Sheard had five sacks last yr at NE. He takes over the position from Erik Walden who had 11 sacks in 2016 and declared FA but has not been signed. ILB Antonio Morrision who was a backup in his rookie season of 2016 is penciled in as the starter for D’Qwell Jackson who also left via FA but has yet to find a team. Sean Spence was signed from TENN and he takes over the other ILB Position. LB Robert Mathis who contributed 5 sacks and was second on INDY in fourteen games played, retired. OLB John Simon was signed from HOU and takes over Trent Cole who also was not retained. LB Tarell Basham was drafted in the 3rd round out of Ohio and will be rotated in. LB John Bostic was signed from DET to also give leadership to the LB core. There has been a shakeup on DEF for INDY and all will get opportunities to show what they’ve got come wk 1. HC Chuck Pagano must get this team deeper into the playoffs if he wants to keep his job. Unfortunately that won’t be likely and he will be gone on Black Monday. The O-LINE must do a better job protecting Luck and show some consistency while giving up less sacks. INDY can’t afford to have Luck go down for any extended time period again. However, Luck will continue to try to make something out of nothing and get into trouble. On DEF, a lot of new faces are being brought in to improve a DEF that at times looked like they couldn’t stop anyone. INDY may have gone a little overboard in reshuffling this group. It will be up to DC Ted Monachino to make sure that all the new pieces to the Defense gel and improve their game to help INDY contend again in the AFC SOUTH. Otherwise he will be gone along with Chuck. Unfortunately for INDY they will not fool anyone and the DEF will continue to suffer. Look for Pagano & DC Monachino to be gone on Black Monday.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8)√, ACTUAL 2016 (8-8), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
HC Mike Mularkey certainly had a lot of people shaking their heads last season as the TITANS finished above .500 for the first time since 2011. Maybe this team is finally going in the right direction. However, for this team to be successful, they must keep QB Marcus Mariota healthy. He suffered a broken right fibula in a Christmas Eve loss at the JAGS and his season & the TITANS shot at a playoff berth were over. Matt Cassel, the perennial backup filled in and was re-signed for another two years. Marcus had a better second yr than his rookie yr and so did the TITANS. At RB, you have to like the tandem of DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry. Murray re-found his stride to rush for almost 1,300 yds and catch 53 passes. Derrick had a nice rookie yr as the backup and still ran for almost 500 yds. FB Jalson Fowler is a great blocker but doesn’t see a lot of action in the TE set. At WR, Rishard Matthews blossomed in his first yr with the TITANS after four yrs in MIA. WR Corey Davis who was drafted in the 1st round out of Western Michigan will probably start just because of draft status. WR Taywan Taylor who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Western Kentucky has speed that is perfect for the slot position. WR Tajae Sharpe who had a nice rookie season is on the PUP list with a foot injury. He probably would have been listed at WR #4. At TE, Delanie Walker was solid catching 65 passes & 7Tds. TE Phillip Supernaw could step in as a blocking TE now that Anthony Fasano signed with MIA. TE Jonnu Smith who was drafted in the 3rd round out of FIU will be used in the rotation and taking lessons from Delanie. The O-LINE did a much better job of protecting the QBs in 2016. TITAN QBs were sacked 28x in 2016 as compared to 54x in 2015. This definitely contributed to the winning in TENN. At LT Taylor Lewan finally lived up to his 1st round expectations and started all sixteen games and went to the PRO-BOWL. He even caught a pass for a td. Undrafted LG Quinton Spain started thirteen games and became a physical presence. G/C/TE Dennis Kelly is a versatile OL who played all year and started six games. He adds great depth. G/C Corey Levin who was drafted in the 6th round out of Chatttanooga was drafted for his versatility but will be learning a lot before getting into the rotation. C Ben Jones had a solid yr after four yrs with HOU. G/C Tim Lelito was signed for his versatility from NO to replace Brian Schwenke who signed with INDY. RG Josh Kline was a waiver claim from NE after 2015 and played well at the position starting fourteen games. Josh took over for Chance Warmack who only started two games and signed with PHILLY in the off season. G Sebastian Tretola sat out in 2016 learning the position, now they want him to challenge and get into the rotation. RT Jack Conklin had a great rookie yr as ALL-PRO and should be there a long time. The O-LINE should be even better in 2017 and sacks allowed should go down even further. ON DEF, the secondary has gone through a major overhaul and might take some time to get adjusted. Longtime CB Jason McCourty signed with CLEVE. To replace him, TENN signed CB Logan Ryan to some big money to make an impact. Also CB Perish Cox who wasn’t retained, signed with SEA. CB Adoree’ Jackson who was drafted in the 1st round out of USC is projected as the other starter at CB. CB Brice McCain is the nickel back who played all season and started ten games, he also contributed 2INTS. CB LeShaun Sims had a good rookie yr and showed enough to keep him in the rotation. At FS, Kevin Byard had a nice rookie season and is penciled in as the starter. SS Jonanthan Cyprien was signed from the JAGS and is also looked as a starter. S Da’Norris Searcy took a pay cut and stayed and is now looking at a backup role. S Brynden Trawick was signed from OAK to give depth to the position. S Daimion Stafford signed with PITT & CB Antwon Blake signed with NYG. On the D-LINE DE Jurrell Casey is solid and started fifteen games and contributed five sacks. DE Karl Klug is coming off a late season Achilles injury and is a rusher in the nickel package. At DT, Al Woods left for INDY so TENN signed Sylvester Williams from DEN to fill the slot. DT Austin Johnson got into the rotation as a rookie and could push for a starting spot in 2017. DE DaQuan Jones is solid against the run and started all sixteen games in 2016. DT Angelo Blackson is destined for a backup role unless he ups his game. On the surface TENN is keeping the same starters at LB for 2017 as they did in 2016. OLB Derrick Morgan started fifteen games and contributed 9.0 sacks. ILB Wesley Woodyard played in every game and contributed two sacks. ILB Avery Williamson started every game and contributed two sacks. OLB Brian Orakpo started every game and led the team with 10.5 sacks. LB Sean Spence who started five games and contributed 3 sacks signed with INDY. Backup LB Aaron Wallace got into the rotation by showing that he can play inside and outside. ILB Jayon Brown who was drafted in the 5th round out of UCLA could end up with a role in the nickel package. Backup ILB Nate Palmer was in fourteen games but, was re-signed because of his play on special teams. LB Darren Bates was signed from OAK to bring depth to the position. The OFF for the TITANS looks pretty solid as the O-LINE cut down on sacks allowed in 2016. That total should go down as they gel again for a second yr. Mariota is only getting better. For the DEF, there are some questions in the secondary and we’ll find out early if the new guys were worth it. The LB crew is solid, only problem there may be on depth. All in all, TENN should improve on last yr and should get to double digit wins in the weak AFC SOUTH. They should see a playoff berth at the end of the season as this team is only getting better.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9), ACTUAL 2016 (9-7), PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
Tom Coughlin makes a return to Jacksonville, this time as the GM. HC Doug Marrone who coached the last two games in 2016 and went 1-1 after Gus Bradley was fired after going 14-48 was signed to a contract. OC Nathaniel Hackett was retained after OC Greg Olson was fired nine games into 2016. We’ll see how things turn out on OFF now that the OFF has a full training camp to work with Hackett. At QB, this is the make or break yr for QB Blake Bortles. There is no one in camp to challenge him so, he should be focused on the task at hand. For Bortles though, a lot of his stats have been accomplished in garbage time because the JAGS get so far behind early that the opposing Defenses let up and don’t play as hard. If Bortles and the JAGS don’t show improvement in 2017 you know Coughlin is going to blow this team up. At RB, JAGS took Leonard Fournette in the 1st round out of LSU. You can guarantee that Leonard will be a workhorse to gain yards any way he can and take a huge amount of pressure off of Bortles. T.J. Yeldon will then be used more as a 3rd down back. He can catch as well as run. RB Chris Ivory will be the backup at times giving Fournette fresh legs. FB Tommy Bohanon was signed from NYJ and his main purpose is going to be blocking for Fournette. At WR, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee & Allen Hurns are very capable receivers. But they have all had their problems with dropped balls. They are all looking to get back on track in 2017 after having a down yr in 2016. With the JAGS committed to a better run game, this will open up the passing game. At TE, Mychal Rivera was signed form OAK to replace Julius Thomas who bolted for MIA. TE Marcedes Lewis is used mostly as a blocker and finished 2016 on IR. The O-LINE did a better job of protecting JAG QBs in 2016 with 34 sacks allowed as opposed to 51 in 2015 and 71 sacks in 2014. That’s not a misprint. On the O-LINE LT Branden Albert retired which puts the position a little bit in flux. OT Cam Robinson who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Alabama may be forced into learning the position on the fly. LG Patrick Omameh will start at this position even after finishing 2016 on IR. C Brandon Linder was solid at the position, starting fourteen games in 2016 and will start again at C. RG A.J. Cann & RT Jeremy Parnell were solid at their positions starting all sixteen games in 2016, they will be back at their respective positions. G Earl Watford was signed as a FA from ARZ to provide depth on the O-LINE. G/C Tyler Shately is also a valuable backup because he can play both positions. This group needs to play better with pass protection and certainly their run blocking now that the JAGS are focused on a run game. In the secondary, the signing of CB A.J. Bouye from HOU combined with CB Jalen Ramsey should stop opposing OFFs from taking the JAGS for granted. A.J. replaces Devon House who signed with GB. Also departing was CB Prince Amukamara who signed with CHI. At SS, Barry Church was signed from DAL. He replaces Jonathan Cyprien who started all sixteen games in 2016 and signed with TENN. At FS Tashaun Gipson will be back after starting all sixteen games at the position. Peyton Thmpson & James Sample are penciled in as backups and nickel DBs. This group has to do a better job at INTS because JAGS were terrible and only intercepted seven passes all season. On the D-LINE DE Yannick Ngakoue had eight sacks as a rookie in 2016 and should improve on that number. DE Donte Fowler was a backup on the outside and contributed four sacks. He will continue to see increased playing time. DT Malik Jackson started all sixteen games and had 6.5 sacks. DT Stefan Charles was signed from DET to compete for a roster spot and add depth. DT Abry Jones got a new contract in the off season and should settle in nicely as the starter. DT Sheldon Day played in all sixteen games in 2016 as a backup and will be looking in at more playing time in 2017. DE Calais Campbell was signed from ARZ and he will certainly be the starter on the strong side. He had eight sacks last yr for ARZ and should contribute mightily for the JAGS. DE Dawuane Smoot was drafted in the 3rd round out of Illinois and will look to learn a lot form Calais while getting into the rotation. WLB Telvin is a solid starter who has only missed two games in three years. He takes over for Myles Jack who moves to MLB. Paul Posluszny moves from MLB to SLB. LBs Josh McNary was signed from INDY & Audie Cole was signed from MINN to give the LB crew some depth. LB Blair Brown was drafted in the 5th round out of Ohio will play on special teams and find time backing up Telvin Smith on the weakside. QB Blake Bortles is definitely on the hotseat and the job is his to lose. If the revamped O-LINE can give him time and run block for Fournette, Bortles will be able to make things happen and will not look to bolster his stats through garbage time. The DEF has had some nice additions and we’ll see how the LB core adjusts but, the guys on the D-Line need to keep putting the pressure on so that the secondary can make some plays. A lot of ifs here but, hopefully some improvement. Is five wins asking too much?
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8), ACTUAL 2016 (3-13), PROJECTED 2017 (5-11)
Kansas City Chiefs
HC Andy Reid is a snake oil salesman. In his last 5 trips to the playoffs he has gone 4x 1 and done. The only time he went further in the playoffs was beating out a Brian Hoyer led HOU team in the wild card then losing at NE. KC just fired their GM John Dorsey and gave an extension to Andy Reid. Should have been the other way around. He wouldn’t even let his former OC Doug Pederson call the plays until Doug was being considered for an HC position. Andy Reid is a control freak that doesn’t see the big picture. Plus, he has a habit of getting rid of people that disagree with him. He has everyone conned in KC and they are going nowhere. They let RB Jamaal Charles go after two injury seasons and then they let WR Jeremy Maclin go after he followed Reid to KC. Maclin had a down yr in 2016 because Smith doesn’t have the arm to throw the ball consistently over 10 yards. Way to limit the OFF. KC already plays small ball and their OFF doesn’t score a lot. In 2016 they beat up a lot of bad teams and pulled off a defensive win @ATL. But seriously, do you think this team can get to the SuperBowl? Not a chance. QB Alex Smith’s days may be numbered in KC because KC traded away their 2018 1st round draft choice to move up and draft QB Patrick Mahomes in the 1st round out of Texas Tech. Patrick isn’t ready for the pros, so barring injury or a complete breakdown by Smith, Mahones will probably only see mop up duty at best in his rookie yr. With RB Jamaal Charles gone, Spencer Ware moves into the starting spot. He ran for 921 yds in 2016 but will definitely see more carries in 2017. Charcandrick West is the backup and doesn’t see too many touches and only averages 3.3 yds a carry. KC drafted RB Kareem Hunt in the 3rd round out of Toledo and hopefully he can spark the KC running game. Anthony Sherman is the FB and is a solid blocker who should be able to open some holes for whoever is carrying the ball. RB C.J. Spiller was signed as a guy who can run and catch but we will see how much he has left in the tank after injuries the last four years and at age 29. WR/PR/KR specialist Tyreek Hill had an explosive rookie campaign but he can’t do it alone. WR Chris Conley needs to improve his production going into his third yr. Besides those two, not much else to say at the WR position. TE Travis Kelce is a bona fide star of this offense and caught 85 passes in 2016. But his immaturity at times definitely hurt this team as in the case in the playoffs vs the Steelers. He needs to lead this team better because he is an integral part of the offense. The O-Line is now pretty solid barring injuries. There was a big improvement in the allowed sacks category. With the addition of RT Mitchell Schwartz in 2016, KC only allowed 32 sacks after giving up 49 in 2014 and 46 in 2015. Along with Schwartz, LT Eric Fisher & C Mitch Morse played every game. RG Laurent Duvernay –Tradif started 14 games and LG Zach Fulton started 12 games after replacing rookie Parker Ehinger who tore his ACL early in the season. On DEF, the secondary is solid at SS with Eric Berry who just signed a 6yr, $78 million dollar contract He is a leader in the locker room and certainly leads by example on the field after having another All-Pro year in 2016 just 27 months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. FS Ron Parker is solid having started all 16 games in 2016 with 61 tackles & 1 INT. All-Pro LCB Marcus Peters had 6INTs in 2016. The weak link in the secondary for KC is at RCB where Phillip Gaines, Steve Nelson & Terrance Mitchell play CB by committee. OLB Justin Houston has missed 16 games the last two seasons and returned early in Feb 2016 from an ACL repair. KC expects him to return to his 2014 form when he had 22 sacks. OLB Tamba Hali has sore knees which keep him limited going into his 12th season. Dee Ford has taken the starter’s job there with Hali backing up. ILB Derrick Johnson is coming back from a second ruptured Achilles in 3 years so we’ll see how & if he is ready for wk 1. Ramik Wilson is the other ILB and was 3rd on the team in tackles. Going forward for 2017 the lineman crew has been shaken up a bit as DT Dontari Poe left for ATL via FA & DE Jaye Howard was released & signed by CHI. However, DT Bennie Logan was signed away from PHILLY via FA & will start while DE Chris Jones comes off a nice rookie yr where he will start as well. Allen Bailey is the other DE who missed 11 games with a shoulder injury but DE Tanoh Kpassagnon who was drafted in the 2nd round in 2017 out of Villanova will get a lot of looks in training camp and hopefully will be useful during the season. The OFF for KC is very conservative and doesn’t score a lot of points. They are lucky they have a very good scoring defense (Top 10, 19.4 ppg) and led the NFL in 2016 with 33 turnovers. Will their DEF be as good as it’s been? Who knows? There hasn’t been much turnover on the defensive unit. But, one and done in the playoffs is not going to cut it for KC and Andy Reid. If that happens again there may be some guys on the chopping block including Andy Reid. OAK is only getting better in the division. I don’t see this team challenging NE for the SuperBowl or getting past a PITT team. Their 2017 schedule is not that tough and they should end up with a nice record but again they will NOT go deep into the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8), ACTUAL 2016 (12-4), PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
I wasn’t far off with my DEN prediction for 2016. In 2016, DEN was 8-4 and looking ahead to a possible playoff spot and the roof caved in. They lost three straight and it was over. Granted they lost to TENN, NE & KC. They probably would have lost to OAK in the finale but, OAK was without QB Derek Carr. Anyway, is just goes to show you that without a proven reliable QB, a team is going nowhere. HC Gary Kubiak stepped down after the season basically due to medical reasons, he was burnt out. Vance Joseph was named the new HC. He was the DC of the Miami Dolphins in 2016. What he brings is more of a defensive style since he has always worked on that side of the ball. Rick Dennison is out at OC and the new OC is Mike McCoy. He was the SD HC from 2013-2016 with a record of 27-37. Wade Phillips left as DC to join the RAMS and the new DC is Joe Woods. He was the team’s secondary coach. At QB, Siemian played the yr with multiple injuries and Lynch started two games as well. Then they went and drafted Jim Kelly’s nephew Chad with the last pick in the draft out of Ole Miss. Chad suffered a torn ACL late in his senior season and has had plenty of off the field issues as well. For DEN, it is an inexpensive look at a QB that needs to prove something and can be a bargaining chip down the road. Right now Siemian is the starter. At RB, C.J. Anderson suffered a torn meniscus which cost him nine games in 2016. Without C.J. the running game for DEN was basically non-existent. Devontae Booker had a nice yr but he was the backup and not suited for starter. But, should see more action under new OC. RB Jamaal Charles was signed to an incentive laden contract where he needs to prove he has recovered from his knee problems. If he does that, the OFF for DEN will be explosive. D’Angelo Henderson was drafted in the 6th round out of Coastal Carolina and will be used as a 3rd down back. At FB, Juwan Thompson & Andy Janovich will share the role. At WR, Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders are solid receivers with both having over 1,000 yards receiving in 2016. WR Carlos Henderson who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Louisiana Tech will be used primarily as a slot receiver and this will leave Sanders & Thomas single coverage to catch more passes. At TE, Virgil Green is used primarily for blocking & AJ Derby is going to be used more for pass catching. On the O-LINE, they gave up 40 sacks between Siemian & Lynch. More protection is needed if they want the ball to fly more. The O-LINE is in a flux and right now only C Matt Paradis is expected to return to his position and he has to recover from tow offseason hip surgeries. C James Ferentz will likely play the position until Paradis is ready. At LT, Russell Okung left for LAC. Garett Bolles who was drafted in the 1st round out of FSU is penciled in to start but was heavily flagged in his time at FSU. He needs to adjust to the pro game and cut down on his penalties. At LG, Max Garcia will move to RG where he has played because Ron Leary who signed via FA from DAL and who didn’t allow a sack in 2016 will take over at LG. At RT, Menelik Watson, who was signed from OAK and who has had three injury prone years in the NFL came to DEN. Hopefully for DEN he will be injury free. Connor McGovern & Michael Schofield have experience playing every spot on the line and could be valuable replacements if the current O-Line doesn’t pan out. In the secondary, CBs Aqib Talib & Chris Harris are ALL-PROs. Aqib missed three games in 2016 due to a back issue but continues to find the endzone. SS Darian Stewart made his first PRO-BOWL and tied for team lead with 3 INTS. FS T.J. Ward is heading into a contract yr so expect big things from him all season long. CB Brandon Langley who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Lamar could push to be the nickel back and is slotted to be the KR. On the D-LINE DE Derek Wolfe is solid with 5.5 sacks but always seems to have nagging injuries. DT Domata Peko was signed from CINNCY to replace departing DT Sylvester Williams who signed with TENN. Domata’s cousin Kyle is probably going to back him up. Domata was team captain at CINNCY and DEN expects him to lead too. DE Jared Crick & DE Zach Kerr who was signed from INDY will be battling for the spot. DE DeMarcus Walker who was drafted in the 2nd round out of FSU will get a serious look and will look for playing time once the season get started. OLB Von Miller had another great season with 13.5 sacks. ILB Brandon Marshall didn’t have as good a season as he did in 2015 & only played in eleven games due to ankle injuries, so look for him to get back on track in 2017. ILB Todd Davis is also solid at his position and should be there for years to come. At OLB, DeMarcus Ware retired and Shane Ray who had eight sacks in 2016 will move to the starting position. This will also give OLB Shaquil Barrett an opportunity to get more playing time as well. Also, 2016 rookie Vontarrius Dora who looked good in preseason will look to get more playing time in 2017. This team has an entirely new coaching staff in the three most important positions, HC, OC & DC. They all have different ideas than the past regime so it will take some time to work itself out. At QB Siemian has the edge but you know Lynch is waiting in the wings. Plus, Kelly will want to play too. DEN must get more out of the QB position if it wants to go to the playoffs. The DEF was the reason that this team was in contention for the playoffs but couldn’t do it alone down the stretch. It will again produce big plays but will be out on the field longer than the OFF. That will be the difference here as DEN doesn’t go back to the playoffs.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8), ACTUAL 2016 (9-7), PROJECTED 2017 (9-7)
You have to love what HC Jack Del Rio has done with the Oakland Raiders. He’s got the faithful believing in this team even if in a few years they will be known as the Las Vegas Raiders. This team was going to go far in the 2016 playoffs had it not been for QB Derek Carr’s broken leg in Wk 16. Then the roof caved in. OAK lost the last game of the season and then lost the wild card at HOU. As Derek Carr goes, so do the RAIDERS. The backup QB Connor Cook did not look good in the last game or the playoff game. But for insurance, OAK signed discarded BUFF QB EJ Manuel. Manuel is good in mop up but not as a starter. AT RB, OAK was able to convince Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement and made a deal with SEA. In 2015 Lynch only played in seven games due to injuries and sat out 2016. We’ll see how much game shape Lynch has come wk 1. He won’t be expected to run for 1,200 yds because he has two explosive guys in the lineup behind him, DeAndre Washington & Jalen Richard who combined for 958 yds rushing in 2016. Latavius Murray then signed with MINN after Lynch was secured. The FB is Jamize Olawale and he can run and catch just as well. At WR, OAK has Amari Cooper & Michael Crabtree who both had over 1,000 yds receiving. However, these guys need to hold on to more thrown balls. OAK signed WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson to open the field even more. At TE OAK signed former GB Jared Cook who is the one who made that almost impossible catch vs DAL in the playoffs. OAK needed a catching TE that could take some pressure of its WRs. Lee Smith is a ferocious blocking TE who can catch a pass as well but is used primarily as a blocker. The O-LINE for OAK is one of the best in the NFL. In 2016 they only gave up 18 sacks. In 2015the O-LINE gave up 33 sacks, big difference. The O-LINE returns intact with LT Donald Penn who resigned at 34 after a Pro-Bowl season in 2016. ALL-PRO Kelchi Osemele returns at LG. C Rodney Hudson had a Pro-Bowl yr in 2016. RG Gabe Jackson was drafted along with Carr and is solid. RT will be a competition between Austin Howard who is recuperating from offseason surgery to fix a torn labrum & rotator cuff & FA signnee Marshall Newhouse from NYG. On DEF, OAK must do better than #24 PASS DEF & #23 RUSH DEF if they want to go deep in the playoffs. DC Ken Norton Jr is on the hotseat. In the secondary CB Sean Smith, SS Karl Joseph & FS Reggie Nelson were three news starters for OAK in 2016. How did it work out? They gave up big plays and had problems with communication all season. David Amerson is the other CB who is nothing to write home about. Reggie Nelson had 5 INTS and made the Pro-Bowl, Big Deal. No on else on the team had more than 2 INTS. OAK drafted CB Gareon Conley in the 1st round out of Ohio State & S Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round out of Connecticut to help out in the secondary. Conley will start as a nickel corner & Melifonwu will attend to opposing TEs that tore up OAK. Hopefully the rest of the secondary returns to better form. On the D-LINE, what can’t you say about ALL-PRO DE Khalil Mack? He’s everywhere. But he can’t do it alone. DT Justin Ellis was known as “jelly” because he gave up more than he held. DT Darius Latham faded as the season went on & DE Mario Edwards washed out 2016 with injuries. DE Denico Autry had 3 sacks and is fighting for a starting position. DT Eddie Vanderdoes was drafted in the 3rd round out of UCLA and wants to prove he can play in this league. He is two years removed from an ACL tear so we’ll see what he’s got. SLB Bruce Irvin was 2nd on the team with 7 sacks. OAK signed WLB Jelani Jenkins to replace the departed Malcom Smith who went to SF. The MLB will be rookie Marquel Lee who was drafted in the 5th round out of Wake Forest who replaces Ben Heeney who broke his ankle after four games in 2016 and is battling back. A bunch of perennial backups pan out the rest of the LB core for OAK but, some of these guys need to step up big. Carr is expected to be ready for wk 1 but the schedule for 2017 is tougher than 2016. Only five games in 2017 are against below .500 teams. Opponents will be looking to knock off the RAIDERS. No surprises here. If the DEF doesn’t pick it up for the Raiders, they are not going deep into the playoffs. They will be a wild card and maybe win a 1st round and that’s it. They have a tougher schedule this yr and teams will be looking at the OAK secondary. DE Khalil Mack can’t do it alone. More guys on the DEF need to step it up for this team to be a force. We’ll see what happens.
PROJECTED 2015(7-9)√, PROJECTED 2016 (10-6) ACTUAL 2016 (12-4)
PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
Los Angeles Chargers
In the off-season the CHARGERS decided that they are moving to LA instead of finding a new home in SAN DIEGO. Unfortunately, they will be playing in Stubhub stadium in LA that holds only 30,000 people until they can move into the new RAMS stadium. HC Mike McCoy is gone after four disappointing seasons. The loss against the winless BROWNS in wk 15 didn’t help his cause either. New HC Anthony Lynn has had no NFL HC experience except for the one game at the end of 2016 when he took over for fired Rex Ryan in BUFF. BUFF subsequently lost to the NY JETS. At BUFF Lynn was the ASST HC/RB coach who only was a contributor to the OFF. This is a big leap for him and a gamble for the CHARGERS. By the way, am I the only one who thinks QB Philip Rivers is overrated? He may throw for a lot of yards but, in today’s game he throws a lot of INTS. The book on him is that if you pressure him, he will make mistakes. He also fumbles a lot. Anyway, if he goes down Kellen Clemens is the backup and that’s it. RB Melvin had a much better than 2nd season than rookie season and should improve his production numbers under OC Ken Whisenhunt. Brandon Oliver is the backup but he is very reliable and can get the physical yards when needed. Derek Watt is the reliable FB that opens up the running lanes for Gordon. But the biggest loss for this crew is RB Danny Woodhead who signed with BALT. He bailed Rivers out on many 3rd down plays and he will be irreplaceable. At WR, Travis Benjamin had a down yr in his 1st yr over from CLEV including punt returns. Tyrell Williams had a nice 1,000 yd season in his 2nd yr. Mike Williams was drafted in the 1st round out of Clemson. He is 6’4” and fast. Keenan Allen hurt his knee game 1 and was out the rest of 2016. Hopefully he has recovered and is 100%. At TE Antonio Gates will be in the HOF. He is Rivers favorite target and can catch anything. Hunter Henry is being groomed to be Gates’s replacement and is filling in nicely. The O-LINE was again atrocious in 2016 giving up 36 sacks. LT King Dunlap & RG D.J Fluker were released. LT Russell Okung was signed via FA from DEN. He knows the AFC WEST but is prone to penalties. C Chris Watt is also gone. C Matt Slauson is solid and may move to G if there is a further shakeup. Max Turek may move into the C position if Slauson moves to G. LG Dan Feeney was drafted in the 3rd round out of Indiana and is slated to start because LG Orlando Franklin has not held his own but, we’ll see what happens in training camp. RG Forrest Lamp who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Western Kentucky is looking to unseat Spencer Pulley at the position. RT Joe Barksdale has to play better against quicker pass rushers. This line has some adjustments that need to be made to protect Rivers and give him the time he needs to get the ball down field otherwise it again will be a long season for the BOLTS. The DEF moves from a 3-4 under DC John Pagano to a 4-3 under new DC Gus Bradley. Gus Bradley comes from a disastrous tenure as JAG HC where he was 14-48 in 4yrs. On DEF, DE Joey Bosa is a force. He had 10 ½ sacks in 12 games. He was out for training camp with a contract dispute then he pulled a hamstring which caused him to miss the first four games. SD is a different team on DEF with Bosa in there. NT Brandon Mebane is in his 10th season but is a leader on this team. DT Corey Liuget didn’t get any sacks in 2016, his first season without any. He needs to step it up. DE Melvin Ingram would like to improve upon his eight sacks in 2016. OLB Jatavis Brown had 3.5 sacks in 12 games in his rookie campaign and should improve upon those numbers for 2017. MLB Denzel Perryman played so well that Manti Te’o became indispensable. OLB Melvin Ingram was second on the team with 8 sacks but, is talented enough to improve on that number. In the secondary, CHARGERS were 20th vs the PASS and need to do better. CB Jason Verrett was only available for four games due to injuries. CB Casey Hayward came over from GB and made an immediate impact with seven INTS and made the PRO-BOWL. FS Dwight Lowry is a veteran and a leader in the secondary. SS Jahleel Addae plays hard and hits hard but needs to stay healthy. DB Desmond King broke up 20 passes the last two seasons is mostly used in the nickel situation and gets plenty of playing time. S Rayshawn Jenkins who was drafted in the 4th round out of MIA will compete heavily for playing time. Chargers have the third toughest schedule in 2017 and the team needs to stay healthy, especially the O-LINE. Everything will be new for this team in LA and Rivers needs to play well, not just against the bad teams. This team is not making the playoffs in 2017 but if healthy, they will play some teams tight and tough. They may lose some squeakers. We’ll see what happens.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11),√ ACTUAL 2016 (5-11), PROJECTED 2017 (7-9)
New York Giants
HC Bob McAdoo had a nice rookie season. They should have beaten GB but didn’t take advantage of certain situations that could have led to an upset win. They will certainly learn from that game. At QB, Eli Manning is still the man and looking for ring #3. He didn’t have a great 2016 but he doesn’t have to do it all on this team. In credibly, with a weak O-LINE and almost no running game in 2016 he was only sacked 21x. Behind him will be Geno Smith, yes, not a typo and Davis Webb who was drafted in the 3rd round out of California. Geno is recovering from an ACL tear and Josh Johnson who returns for his 2nd yr with the G-Men is slated for the primary backup. At RB, the GIANTS were 29th in rushing and didn’t add anyone that is a breakout runner for 2017. Paul Perkins will likely be the starter with Wayne Gallman who was drafted in the 4th round out of Clemson as his backup. Shane Vereen, who is recovering from late season triceps injury, will be part of the GIANTS running game as well. At WR, Odell Beckham Jr. is the #1 go to guy for NY. But, he can’t do it alone so they added well traveled Brandon Marshall who played 2016 with the JETS. This should take some pressure and attention away from Beckham. Sterling Shepard was the slot receiver and had a nice rookie yr in 2016. Popular WR, Victor Cruz was cut and signed with CHI. Will Tye emerged as the go to guy at TE and had a nice yr but GIANTS went out and drafted TE Evan Engram in the 1st round out of OLE MISS. He’s a big TE and will probably take away passes from other receivers including Sterling Shepard. Will Tye will probably see a reduced pass catching role as a result of GIANTS drafting Engram. The O-LINE was very inconsistent in 2016 and needed a shakeup for 2017. Even though Eli wasn’t sacked a lot, they did not open running lanes and the GIANTS were #29 in rushing in 2016. LT Ereck Flowers is definitely on the hot seat in 2017. He has led the team twice in penalties since being drafted 9th overall in 2015. He spent the offseason at the GIANTS facility working on his game and should have a much better 2017. LG Justin Pugh suffered a knee injury in 2016 which he returned from but was limited to eleven games. He will return at the position. C Weston Richburg suffered a season long hand injury that affected his play. He didn’t miss any games but didn’t play the same. Weston is slotted to start at C. RG DJ Fluker was signed for big money from SD to anchor this position. He replaces John Jerry who started at the position for all sixteen games in 2016 but is going to have to fight for a starting position in 2017, otherwise he will back the line up. RT Bobby Hart is penciled in for the position as starter after Marshall Newhouse signed with OAK in the offseason. C/G Brett Jones will also continue to backup the line wherever needed. In the secondary, RCB Janoris Jenkins became a shutdown corner with 3INTS & 1 sack after being signed for big money in the offseason after 2015. LCB Eli Apple had a nice rookie yr in 2016 and got better as the yr went on. LCB/RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led the G-MEN with 6INTS but battled injuries all season. SS Landon Collins was second on the GIANTS with 5INTS. He also had 4 sacks and was named ALL-PRO. This guy can only get better. FS Darian Thompson looks to regain the starting position after a foot injury canceled his 2016 season after two games. S Nat Berhe suffered two concussions within four weeks of each other and was limited to seven games. Plus, GIANTS may pass on him on the future because of the concussions. Undrafted S Andrew Adams started fourteen games and had a nice rookie 2016 season. He will be competing to hang on to a job. On the D-LINE DE Jason Pierre-Paul looks like he adjusted to having four fingers on his left hand. He had hernia surgery and played twelve games in 2016. Looking to play a full season and get back on track. In twelve games, Jason was second in sacks on the team with seven. DT Damon Harrison was a force against the run and earned All-PRO honors. DT Dalvin Tomlinson was drafted in the 2nd round out of Alabama and is looking to take the spot of vacated DT Jonathan Hawkins who signed with INDY. DE Olivier Vernon signed with NYG after the 2015 season for big bucks and he delivered. Vernon led the GIANTS with 8.5 sacks and participated in more than 90% of the team’s defensive snaps. He will certainly look to build on 2016’s stats. DE Romeo Okwara filled in for Pierre-Paul nicely and should see more time in the rotation in 2017. DT Jay Bromley also played fifteen games in 2016 and continues to be a valuable part of the D-LINE rotation. Robert Thomas will see more time in the rotation as all three each recorded sacks in 2016. DE Avery Moss who was drafted in the 5th round out of Youngstown State is someone that the GIANTS hope can give relief to Pierre-Paul & Vernon on the outside. The LB crew is definitely not set going into camp and is shaky at best. OLB Devon Kennard saw his playing time go down and only started nine games. MLB B. J. Goodson could work the middle or outside LB position. B.J. was in 15 games in 2016 and will look to make a stronger push in 2017. MLB Keenan Robinson was resigned and will look to start at the position. OLB Jonathan Casillas had his best yr as a pro in 2016 where he started 15 games. A lot of questions arise here as to how the GIANTS will go forward and as of right now no one has been added to give strength to this crew. The O-LINE needs to gel and play consistent if GIANTS are going to do some damage. Without a dependable running game, NYG futures will depend mostly on Eli’s arm and Defenses will key on that. O-LINE needs to get going in training camp and come out strong so that the running game has a chance. Otherwise it will be the same uncertainty going into games as in 2016. On DEF, except for the secondary, the LBS & D-LINE is not deep at all. That’s why the starters had to play 90% of the snaps. If guys go down, GIANTS do not have guys that will take their place. Also, GIANTS need a pass rush if they want to compete on DEF. Letting opposing QBs have all day to throw just ends up being disastrous for a defensive secondary. Eventually someone gets open. This team will have some nice wins and Eli will lead the charge. The window on another SupBowl for Eli may be closing but they will get into the playoffs. As other teams in the NFC EAST get better the GIANTS schedule only gets tougher. Playoffs yes, SuperBowl no.
PROJECTED 2016 (10-6), ACTUAL 2016 (11-5), PROJECTED 2017 (10-6)
No one expected this team to do as well as it did in 2016. When QB Tony Romo went down, untested 4th round draft choice rookie Dak Prescott led the COWBOYS to a 13-3 record that basically called for Tony Romo to retire at the end of the season. Romo didn’t want to go through another training camp and then find out he would be traded. Also, who knew that RB Ezekiel Elliott would be this good? Dak cannot have a sophomore jinx in 2017 because this team cannot go backwards. Romo was unable to get the BOYS to the promised land but the consensus is that Dak can do it. It won’t be easy. Having a healthy Ezekiel Elliott who had a great rookie yr in 2016 will take pressure off Dak. Elliott exploded for 1631 yds in the regular season. Odds are that he won’t duplicate this many rushing yards as defenses will look to stop him. But having him healthy keeps defenses on their toes. Darren McFadden has proven to be a reliable backup to give needed rests to Elliott as long as he is healthy. Alfred Morris is also a reliable backup but may not want that role going into the regular season. He may be moved before the season starts. At WR Dez Bryant is a premiere receiver as long as he stays focused. If he gets distracted his game and the team suffers. Dez has not played a full season since 2014 due to injuries but should be healthy going into this season. Cole Beasley has stepped up as a great slot receiver for Dak when he needs to drop the ball off. Cole has sure hands and always seems to find a way to get open. Also, he needs to stay healthy for BOYS to win. Terrence Williams got the contract extension he was looking for, now needs to show he deserved it. Ryan Switzer was drafted in the 4th round out of North Carolina to be the return man instead of Lucky Whitehead who was surprisingly a disappointment in 2016. Ryan will also serve as a 4th WR. At TE, Jason Whitten is as reliable as ever. He may not be the force he was in his younger years but he is still ol’ reliable and helps Dak when he is in trouble. Jason always seems to get that 1st down when the BOYS need it most. The O-LINE for the BOYS is what makes this OFF work so well. They gave up a total of 28 sacks in 2016 down from 33 in 2015. This is definitely the best O-LINE in the NFL. They open running lanes and pass block with supreme efficiency. LT Tyron Smith was ALL-PRO even though he only played 13 games due to injuries. LG Jonathan Cooper was signed from CLEVE. He has bounced around after being drafted in the 1st round by ARZ in the 2013 draft out of North Carolina. LG La’el Collins moves over to RT where Doug Free unexpectedly retired. Collins played only three games in 2016 due to a foot injury. C Travis Frederick was ALL-PRO in 2016 and is a mainstay and a leader on the O-LINE. RG Zack Martin was also ALL-PRO in 2016 and is considered the best O-Linesman on the COWBOYS. On DEF, the team saw a lot of guys leave the team via FA. The secondary will certainly have a different look as CBs Brando Carr & Morris Claiborne will be elsewhere. They were certainly disappointments in their tenure with DAL. CB Anthony Brown had a fine rookie season as a nickel back but not comes into 2017 as a starter. On the other side Orlando Scandrick starter/nickel/backup to a full starter and the veteran of the secondary. But he will get some challenges from CB Chidobe Auzie who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Colorado, CB Jourdan Lewis who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Michigan, CB Marquez White who was drafted in the 6th round out of FSU and S Xavier Woods who was drafted in the 5th round out of Lousiana Tech. All will be trying to make an impact on this roster come wk 1. FS Byron Jones will continue to be in the center but should pick up more INTs. At SS Jeff Heath take over Barry church who signed with the JAGS. Jeff was a backup but knows the scheme having been with DAL for four seasons. The Front seven have no problem getting to the QB in 2016 with 32 sacks. But, there really wasn’t anyone that was dominant. DE Tyrone Crawford has been at DT as well but has been a disappointment at either position. He needs to have a big year in 2017 or he will be gone. DT Maliek Collins had five sacks in his rookie yr and should continue to grow at the position. DT Cedric Thornton had a slow 2016 adjusting to DC Rod Marinelli’s style. He should step it up in 2017. DE DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off back surgery for the second straight off season and was limited in 2016. DE Benson Mayowa led the team in sacks with 6 but looks like will still be a backup. DE Taco Charlton was drafted in the 1st round out of Michigan and is going to give this group a run for their money. He wants to be in the starting lineup and will put pressure on this group to produce. WLB Sean Lee is the best in the business when he is healthy and had his 1st ALL-PRO season in 2016. MLB Anthony Hitchens has played all three LB positions and played all sixteen games in 2016. MLB Jaylon Smith who was drafted in 2016 sat out all of 2016 because of a knee injury and a nerve issue but is expected to return wk 1 of 2017. SLB Damien Wilson is penciled in for the starting spot but needs a big training camp to show that he is ready. The pressure is on Dak Prescott this season because he is the starter, no questions asked. Romo is gone so Dak doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. But, he needs to keep it going. In 2016 he was the 2nd guy, so if he messed up Romo was back in. Prescott needs to show everyone that he can sustain his success. This is a young team and they should be able to beat people like they did in 2016. Also, the O-LINE needs to stay healthy to protect Dak & open holes for Elliott. There has been a little re-shuffling but it should be worked out in training camp. In the secondary there will be some new names and some guys looking to earn their stripes. They will be tested early to see if they stand up. The PASS DEF needs to do a better job than #26 in 2016. The whole Defense needs to do their jobs to make sure there are no nail biter comebacks like the one vs GB in the playoffs. This team will do well and win a playoff game but will not make the SuperBowl in 2017.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9), ACTUAL 2016 (13-3), PROJECTED 2017 (12-4)
OK, so the Redskins are one of those teams that are very hard to figure out. Six weeks before the draft they fire their GM Scott McCloughan. Jay Gruden enters his 4th season as HC and has two winning seasons and a playoff berth. But going forward things are very uncertain. OC Sean McVay left for the HC of the LA RAMS. That has Matt Cavanaugh moving from QB coach to OC. At QB, Kirk Cousins was given the Franchise Tag for a second year in a row and is still looking for a long term deal. Don’t know what’s going to happen after the season but WASH would be crazy to let him get away for nothing. Backup QB Colt McCoy has been there for four years, knows the system and has the trust of the coaching staff. At RB undrafted FA Robert Kelley started in place for benched Matt Jones in the middle of the season and didn’t look back. He will most probably be the starter. RB Chris Thompson who can catch passes out the backfield and caught 49 in 2016 will be used mostly on 3rd downs but can run the ball well too. RB Samaje Perine who was drafted in the 4th round out of Oklahoma will have every chance to work his way into the rotation. At WR, WASH lost DeSean Jackson to TB & Pierre Garcon to SF but signed Terrelle Pryor for a 1-yr tryout and Brian Quick from the LA RAMS. WR Jamison Crowder will be in as the slot receiver and can run the out rout as well. WR Ryan Grant is more of a blocker and only caught nine passes in 2016. WR Josh Doctson should have a bigger yr and should be healthy for wk 1. The WR core should definitely see more action now that guys are gone. Those that have been in WASH know the QB and should also step up their game to be noticed. At TE, Jordan Reed & Vernon Davis keep opposing defenses guessing because they are both great blockers and pass catchers. On the O-LINE this bunch won’t see too many changes going into 2017 barring injury. LT Trent Williams started twelve games in 2016 and has been a PRO-BOWLER five straight seasons but was suspended for the last four games. Ty Nsekhe filled in nicely as the starter for Trent while he was on suspension and saw action in all sixteen games. LT Shawn Lauvao was solid at this position after being limited in 2015 to three games with foot & ankle injuries. C Spencer Long adjusted well in moving from LG to C and is the starter going forward. RG Brandon Scherff is a PRO-BOWLER in his two seasons and hasn’t missed a game. OL Arie Kouandijo started two games in 2016 and provides depth to the O-LINE. RT Morgan Moses signed a five yr extension in April and has started 32 straight games. C Chase Roullier who was drafted in the 6th round out of Wyoming could make this team because he is versatile on the line and could play G too. OL Vinston Painter also gives depth to the O-LINE and appeared in five games in 2016. On DEF there is also a new DC. DC Joe Barry was fired and Greg Manusky OLB coach moved into the DC position. For the last two seasons the WASH DEF has been ranked #28 TOT DEF with both the RUN DEF & PASS DEF also ranked near the bottom of the NFL, something had to be done. That’s why the 2017 draft was focused on DEF and five of their seven signings were on Defense as well. CB Josh Norman can’t do it alone and didn’t have the All-Pro yr like he did the yr before at CAR. Look for him to come back strong in 2017. He is a great shutdown corner. CB Bashaud Breeland is in the final yr of his rookie contract and needs to show that he has improved. CB Fabian Moreau who was drafted in the 3rd round out of UCLA has a torn pectoral muscle but when he comes back will look to make an impact. Look for him in nickel coverage. Also in the nickel is CB Kendall Fuller who played thirteen games in 2016. At SS DeAngelo Hall was a salary cap casualty and has missed 31 games in threes seasons due to injuries, so he’s gone. Su’a Cravens played dime LB as a rookie but is switching to SS. Su’a had 1 sack and 1INT in eleven games in 2016. FS D.J. Swearinger was signed from ARZ to replace Duke Ihenocho who signed with NYG. On the D-LINE DE Terrell McClain was signed from DAL. He will replace Chris Baker who left for TB. DT Matt Ioannidis was cut out of 2016 camp then came back to play ten games as a backup. He should see more time in the rotation in 2017. NT Stacy McGee was signed from OAK. He will replace NT Kedric Golston who wasn’t retained by WASH and only played two games in 2016 due to injuries. DE/NT Evander “Ziggy” Hood played in all sixteen games and started fourteen. He was a valuable backup for the revamped D-LINE and will be competing to see action in the rotation. DT/DE Jonathan Allen who was drafted in the 1st round out of Alabama should see immediate action either in the rotation or as a starter. DLs Phil Taylor & Anthony Lanier will also be competing to get into the rotation and see some action. At OLB, Ryan Kerrigan started all sixteen games, led the team with eleven sacks and went to the PRO-BOWL. He’s not going anywhere. OLB Ryan Anderson who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Alabama will be pushing to get into the rotation. ILB Zach Brown was signed from BUFF. He was a PRO-BOWLER in his only yr at BUFF but should show immediate results. ILB Will Compton who started fifteen games at the position was the play caller and will see plenty of action in the rotation. ILB Mason Foster is very consistent playing all sixteen games and starting thirteen. He also contributed a sack. DE Preston Smith played and started all sixteen games in 2016 but didn’t have the same type of yr he had in 2015. He had 4.5 sacks in 2016 as opposed to 8 sacks in 2015. He needs to get better if he wants to keep his job. OLB Trent Murphy had a breakout yr in 2016 with nine sacks but will start 2017 with a four game suspension. LB Martrell Spaight is a viable backup playing in fourteen games in 2016 and should be competition for action in 2017. The OFF looks good on paper but they need to keep moving the ball. The DEF has to improve dramatically or there will be no playoffs in the foreseeable future for WASH. Plus, QB Cousins is playing for a contract so WASH should be able to get the most out of him. The secondary, besides Norman, needs to step up and make plays. Everyone else doing their job would take a lot of pressure off CB Norman. The D-LINE has been improved and needs to show that they can stop the run. It seems like in past yrs, the D-LINE for WASH couldn’t stop anyone on 3rd & short. The LB crew needs to continue to make plays. They have been the only consistent core on the DEF. This team is definitely better on paper and should challenge for the top of the NFC EAST. WASH needs to prepare itself for any opponent. A ten win season is not out of the question.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5), ACTUAL 2016 (8-7-1), PROJECTED 2017 (10-6)
The 2016 Eagles started out nicely, had some bumps, went on a 5game skid and ended the season with two wins. No one expected them to finish close to .500 and the roster is going through a transformation to get QB Carson Wentz some playmakers around him. A young QB cannot be expected to carry the load alone. Doug Pederson did make some rookie mistakes as a first yr HC but hopefully he has learned from his mistakes. OC Frank Reich & DC Jim Schwartz have been retained so hopefully decisions are made collectively and progress is made with the team going forward. Wentz had a decent rookie yr that was supposed to have been holding a clipboard for Sam Bradford. Bradford was traded eight days before the start of the season and Wentz played the entire season as the PHILLY QB. He had a decent season but threw over 600 passes. He goes into 2017 a lot smarter and more experienced. He connected with sixteen different receivers during the season. That means that he scans the whole field for the best opportunity before throwing, shows he is patient. Look for him to have another decent yr with less passes. At the backup QB position, Chase Daniels was not retained and Nick Foles was signed. Nick having been with the EAGLES before and played as the starter is a competent backup in case Wentz goes down. At RB, LeGarrette Blount signed a contract with PHILLY after NE didn’t sign him and he scored a career high 18tds with NE in 2016. Blount had his best yr in 2016 and probably wants to show everyone that it was not a fluke. If he has a productive yr that will certainly take a lot of pressure off of Wentz. RB Ryan Mathews who was limited to thirteen games because of a neck injury would help make a great 1-2 RB punch for PHILLY. If he is fully recovered the tandem would be hard to stop. RB Wendell Smallwood had a nice 2016 rookie campaign and should be the 3rd RB if he returns from a knee injury that he suffered late in the season. Darren Sproles who is Mr. Everything, creates havoc for opposing defenses, lines up as a RB or WR and returns punts as well. He is a QB’s best friend when they are desperate for yardage. At WR, in 2016, PHILLY made some trades to bolster their WR corps and give some targets for Wentz. This season they went further in signing some proven veterans that would make it even easier for Wentz. Alshon Jeffery was acquired from CHI via FA but has missed eleven games the last two years due to injuries. Jeffery signed a 1yr deal to prove that he still has it. WR Torrey Smith was also signed via FA from SF. Smith had great production in 4yrs at BALT but then was mostly invisible in the OFF-lacking SF. Smith is also coming off an injury plagued yr that limited him to just twelve games. Jordan Matthews is mostly a slot receiver and probably will be the #3 after Jeffery & Smith. Josh Huff signed with TB. Nelson Agholor is a 1st round pick from USC in 2015 but is just holding on. He has had 59 catches in two seasons. He better have a good yr or he probably will be gone. Dorian Green-Bekham was brought in to be a big target for Wentz but wasn’t as effective as PHILLY would have liked. He needs to have a big camp. WR Mack Hollins who was drafted in the 4th round out of North Carolina will probably see a lot of action on special teams but also has some speed. At TE, Zach Ertz had a solid yr and can catch a lot of passes. Behind Ertz, you have Brent Celek who is very good at blocking and Trey Burton who also plays on special teams. The O-LINE seems to be gelling better for PHILLY as they reduced their sacks allowed from 37 in 2015 to 33 in 2016. LT Jason Peters is solid at the position and received another invite to the PRO-BOWL. Jason is still looking good at 35 yrs old. At LG, Allen Barbre has started twenty eight games in the last two seasons. G/T Isaac Seumalo is a versatile backup as he played three different line positions in 2016. He gives PHILLY reliable depth. C Jason Kelce is very athletic and is very good at pass protection but, sometimes has trouble with bigger tacklers. OL Stefen Wisniewski came over as a starter but has been a reliable backup because he can play all over the line. He may look to challenge for a starting position in 2017. RG Brandon Brooks was solid in 2016 starting fourteen games after coming over from HOU where he started the last three years. OG Chance Warmack was signed from TENN and he was the only OL that PHILLY signed in FA or drafted in 2017. He is looking to compete at starting LG but if not gives the line that veteran depth. Warmack was limited to two games in 2016 due to injuries but should be ready to go. RT Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games in 2016 due to PEDs and is treading on thin ice but is one of the best when not in trouble. Backing him up and starting in Lane’s absence is RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai who started six games and did a decent job. But, not too much movement for the PHILLY line and hopefully they can pass protect and open up running lanes for RB Blount. On DEF in the secondary, starting CBs Nolan Carroll signed with DAL & Leodis McKelvin was released. CB Jalen Mills who played in 65% of the defensive snaps as a rookie in 2016 has a chance to start even though he lacks long speed. CB Sidney Jones who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Washington ruptured his Achilles before the draft and probably will not see much action in 2017. Rasul Douglas who was drafted in the 3rd round out of West Virginia, had 8INTS in 2016 in college, could challenge to start. CB Patrick Robinson who signed via FA from INDY is also in the mix but did not have a good year and is coming off injured reserve. At FS Malcolm Jenkins & SD Rodney McLeod both started sixteen games and are back at the positions. Each had 3INTS. S Jaylen Watkins had done the CB/S shuffle and has found a home as a solid S backup for PHILLY. At DE, Chris Long was signed from NE. He will take over for Connor Barwin who signed with the LA RAMS. DE Vinny Curry who has a BIG cap number will be playing backup on either end but also contributed 2.5 sacks in 2016. DT Fletcher Cox started all sixteen games and contributed a team high 6.5 sacks. He also was PRO-BOWL invitee. DT Elijah Qualls who was drafted in the 6th round out of Washington should see some action in the rotation because DT Beau Allen tore a pectoral muscle in April and his return date is not definite. DT Timmy Jernigan was signed in a trade with BALT and they let Bennie Logan go and sign with KC. Backup DT Destiny Vaeao played in every game in 2016 and contributed 2.5 sacks. He should see more action in 2017 as Beau Allen recovers. DE Brandon Graham was solid, starting all sixteen games and contributing 5.5 sacks. DT Steven Means played in eight games as a backup after being signed off of HOU’s practice squad. DE Derek Barnett who was drafted in the 1st round out of Tennessee is a great pass rusher and will definitely see time in the rotation especially in pass rush situations. At OLB Nigel Bradham started all sixteen games and contributed two sacks. LB Najee Goode is a reliable backup who can play all three LB positions. MLB Jordan Hicks is a defensive leader, started all sixteen games and contributed one sack. MLB Joe Walker is looked upon as the backup here after tearing an ACL in 2016 training camp. Hopefully he will be ready to see action in the rotation. The other OLB is Mychal Kendricks who played less than 1/3 of the team’s defensive snaps because the team was mostly in two-LB sub-packages. Kendricks isn’t great in coverage and was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason. Nate Gerry who was drafted in the 5th round out of Nebrasks played S but is being converted to LB by PHILLY should see time in the rotation. LB Steven Daniels was claimed off WASH waivers in May and will be used for depth at the position of LB. The OFF for PHILLY is looking more solid and QB Wentz will certainly be making better decisions now that he has a full yr under his belt. The addition of RB LeGarrette Blount will give an extra weapon on OFF so Wentz doesn’t have to carry the load. On DEF, the secondary is still a big question with backups and unproven talent. The front four must put a lot of pressure upfront so that opposing QBs don’t notice the no-talented secondary. The LBs have some depth and should make a splash. All in all, this team has improved its personnel and should do some damage in the talented NFC EAST. Look for them to battle.
PROJECTED 2016 (5-11), ACTUAL 2016 (7-9), PROJECTED 2017 (9-7)
Green Bay Packers
2016 was a season of two parts for GB. They started out 4-6 and Rodgers proclaimed that they would run the tables. They did, all the way to the NFC Championship game where they lost at ATL. But what a run it was. I never thought they would be 4-6 but that can’t happen again if GB wants to go further in the playoffs. Anyway, at QB, not many do it better than Rodgers. Does anyone throw the Hail-Mary better than this guy? He also was the PACK’s second leading rusher. He also knows how to stay elusive and fool defenses into thinking he’s throwing the ball when he is running for a first down. As long as he stays healthy, GB is in the SuperBowl conversation. This is the yr they do it. Backup QB Brett Hundley needs to show that he is ready to step up in case something happens and wasn’t able to do that because of an ankle injury last August. He needs to show that he is capable of leading. At RB, the Eddie Lacy experiment is over and he signed with SEA. Eddie seemed to have nagging injuries and problems with his weight that had him in McCarthy’s doghouse. James Starks who was a backup is also gone and signed with BUFF. Ty Montgomery who played emergency RB and did quite well while the RB core was plagued with injuries, comes out as #1 RB for 2017. He will inevitably have to change his number from 88. Baking up Ty will be Jamaal Williams who was drafted in the 4th round out of BYU. He will hopefully give Ty some needed rest and add some explosiveness to the position. At FB, Aaron Ripkowski showed that he can certainly run block and also carry the ball. At WR, everyone knows that Jordy Nelson is Rodger’s #1 but, Randall Cobb & Davante Adams need to get open so that Nelson is not double teamed. Adams had a nice bounceback yr with 12tds & Nelson showed that he came all the way back from the torn ACL in 2015. Geronimo Allison is the 4th WR on this team who was undrafted in 2016 but played surprisingly well. At TE, GB & Jared Cook couldn’t come to terms so he left for OAK but, Martellus Bennett, fresh off his SB win with NE signed with GB so they will not miss a beat there. TE Lance Kendricks was also signed give the TE position they best duo it’s had in a long time. They should be able to keep opposing secondaries busy. Also, TE Richard Rodgers is no slouch to catching the ball and proved himself big time in 2016. The O-LINE for GB has been characterized as one of the best in the NFL. As Rodgers seems to scramble forever looking for that open receiver, the O-LINE protects him in many ways and lets him work his magic. At LT David Bakhtiari has become an elite blind side blocker for the ever scrambling Rodgers. At LG Lane Taylor took over in 2016 for the departing Josh Sitton and fit right in. C Corey Linsley has been a starter for three years but missed time in 2016 with a hamstring injury. RG Jahri Evans was signed from NO to replace T.J. Lang who signed with DET in the offseason. At RT, Brain Bulaga started all sixteen games and was another solid linesman for GB in 2016. ON DEF, the PASS DEF went from #6 in 2015 to #31 in 2016. You can’t win championships if you can’t stop the ball. AT CB Kevin King who was drafted in the 1st round out of WASH is penciled in as the starter for GB. He is 6’3” 200 lbs and has the size for a CB that many would like. Because of so many GB secondary insufficiencies there is pressure on Kevin to get a crash course and be the opening day starter. At the LCB, Damrius Randall who has been with GB for two seasons is penciled in as the other starter. CB Sam Shields retired due to multiple concussions. CB Davon House was signed to help bolster the CB core and give veteran leadership. CB Ladarius Gunter is an up and comer and probably will be used in nickel schemes as well as Josh Jones who was drafted in the 2nd round out of NC State. At FS, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix led the team with 5 INTS. SS Morgan Burnett had 2INTS and led the team at tackles. The S position is solid for GB. DB Micah Hyde who was second on the team with 3INTS left for BUFF. His leadership will be missed. At DE Datone Jones left for MINN & Ricky Jean Francois was picked up from WASH. DE Dean Lowry who had a nice rookie season in 2016 with 2 sacks will rotate in. NT Kenny Clark will be the starter as Letroy Guion will start the season with a four game suspension. The other DE Mike Daniels, is a three yr starter and had 4 sacks. Montravius Adams who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Auburn will definitely be getting his shot at playing time. At OLB, Clay Matthews plays on the edge as well as the inside. He was limited to twelve games in 2016 but still contributed five sacks. The DEF plays better when Clay is on the inside so you may see him there more in 2017. Clay can play all over and disrupt the opposing OFF at any time. Vince Biegel who was drafted in the 4th round out of Wisconsin will learn from Clay and will hopefully see action so Clay can take a breather. ILB Jake Ryan is GB’s best LB vs the run as Joe Thomas was GB’s best LB vs coverage. ILB Blake Martinez was having a fine rookie season but suffered a knee injury late. Should be ready for wk 1. OLB Nick Perry is a force who had eleven sacks in 14 games in 2016 and signed a nice big extension in the offseason looks to build on his sacks in 2017. OLB Julius Peppers who had 7.5 sacks in 2016 and left for CAR will surely be missed. With the departure of Peppers look for LBs Jayrone Elliott & Kyle Fackrell to see more playing time. The early schedule for the PACK will tell the tale of the 2017 season. The first seven weeks are a brutal tale through the league and should set the tone for how tough GB is. HC Mike McCarthy knows that the pressure is on him and he needs to get this team to the SuperBowl. The DEF cannot give up the big play and the OFF, besides Rodgers, needs to do their jobs. Most of the early draft picks were on the defensive side of the ball, so we’ll see how they pan out. For GB it needs to be sooner than later. The CB position is a big question mark as a rookie and a backup are penciled in as starters. This team has the talent and should march its way to the SuperBowl vs NE in Minnesota. Unfortunately they will lose but, at least they will have made it back for the first time since 2010.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4), ACTUAL 2016 (10-6), PROJECTED 2017 (12-4)
2016 didn’t turn out like anyone had predicted. First, QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a career threatening knee injury in August of 2016 and is still not ready to take the field. Then, RB Adrian Peterson gets injured in the second game tries to come back in the fourteenth game but, to no avail. Also, MINN OC Norv Turner suddenly resigns after the ninth game. So MINN traded for QB Sam Bradford from PHILLY eight days before wk 1 and it was RB by Jerick McKinnon & Matt Asiata. Even though MINN started out 5-0, they ended up 8-8 due to a string of injuries. Also, they were terrible on the road, 3-5. This season Bradford will have a full string of OTAs and training camp to work with OC Pat Shurmur. Case Keenum will be the backup as opposed to Shaun Hill. Adrian Peterson was not retained at $18 million and later signed a small deal with NO. RB Latavius Murray was signed via FA from OAK. He can also catch passes out of the backfield which is a great safety net for Bradford. RB Dalvin Cook was drafted in the 2nd round out of FSU and will be the backup. Mckinnon will still be there but reliable and tough Asiata signed with DET. The O-LINE for MINN was riddled with injuries in 2016. Bradford was able to sustain his best completion percentage and passer rating in his career. The O-LINE went through 12 players that were shuffled through with a band aid. At LT, five different guys were used to no effect. LT Riley Reiff was signed from DET and will start at the position. His normal position is RT but he should adjust nicely. LG Alex Boone played fourteen games but should improve as the rest of the line improves. Rookie C Pat Elflein was drafted in the 3rd round out of Ohio State and is penciled in as the starter but can also play RG as well. RG Joe Berger is durable and can play multiple positions on the line. RT Mike Remmers was signed via FA from CAR and hasn’t missed a game since 2014. At WR, Stefon Diggs has made the jump from 5th round draft choice in 2015 to the #1 WR on MINN. He has become very reliable. On the flipside, 1st round draft choice in 2016 Laquon Treadwell battled injuries and had one catch in 2016. He better make 2017 a great yr or he may be out. WR Adam Thielen wasn’t even drafted when he came into the league and has turned himself into a bona fide star. WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson who improved his pass catching skills and is a dangerous KR man signed with OAK. Also at WR Michael Floyd has been added but will be suspended for the first four games due to a substance abuse violation. He is a low risk sign but could result in high rewards as Floyd tries to bring his career back from the dead. At TE, Kyle Rudolph had a career yr with receptions and is improving his blocking skills. TE David Morgan has replaced Rhett Ellison(who signed with NYG) as the lead blocking TE. WR/KR Rodney Adams who was drafted in the 5th round out of South Florida is quick and fast, will handle kickoff returns. On DEF, DE Everson Griffen had eight sacks in 2016 and is great at a pass blocker and run stopper. DT Datone Jones was signed from GB and replaces Shariff Floyd who played one game in 2016 and is recuperating from complications from meniscus surgery that may be career threatening. NT Linval Joseph leads the defensive line for MINN and is great at controlling opposing lineman. DE Brian Robison closes out the front four with 7.5 sacks he had in 2016. DE Danielle Hunter led the team with 12.5 sacks in 2016 and could break the starting lineup while becoming a superstar. SLB Anthony Barr had a flat 2016 and needs to show he is a star. MLB Eric Kendricks has lead the team in tackles two straight seasons. WLB Emmanuel Lamur replaces Chad Greenway who retired. In the secondary CB Terence Newman starts his 19th season. Trae Wayans will be ready when Newman retires. CB Xavier Rhodes should become ALL-PRO after being a PRO BOWLER in 2016, he led the team with 5 INTs. Nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn who signed with CAR could be missed in definite passing situations. Look for CB Mackensie Alexander to step up and fill that role. SS Andrew Sendejo is a heavy hitter who gets the nod. FS Harrison Smith also has ALL-PRO potential with speed and great instincts. The VIKINGS have the fifth easiest schedule in 2017 and are home for five of their first seven games. The O-LINE needs to gel and Bradford needs to stay on target and not get rattled as he is prone to do. The DEF hasn’t changed much since 2016 but they need to improve their #20 vs the run. The NFC NORTH is always tough but it should be interesting.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4), ACTUAL 2016 (8-8), PROJECTED 2017 (9-7)
Jim Caldwell is heading into a 4th season as the DET HC. Some say he shouldn’t be here. I’m one of those people. DET was 9-4 in 2016 then, they lost three straight and backed into the playoffs where they were beaten badly @SEA in the wildcard. DET is a very inconsistent team. Jim Caldwell is not a very good coach. DET can’t seem to put two consecutive winning seasons together. Everytime they have a winning season, they lose the next year. Caldwell is definitely on the hotseat. If DET does not do well in 2017 he is gone. At QB, Matthew Stafford did just fine without WR Calvin Johnson in 2016. Stafford is a fine QB but gets down on himself and doesn’t win big games. He is also 0-3 in the playoffs. Someone needs to mentor this guy about the belief that regular season games are important but, playoff games are where the glory is. Without getting to the next level and winning, you are just average. AT RB, DET was ranked #30 RUSH OFFF but didn’t make any FA moves or drafted anyone to help the position. RB Ameer Abdullah missed fourteen games because of a foot issue and Theo Riddick missed another six because of a rash of injuries. Zach Zenner is the third RB on the depth chart and he is a solid back but doesn’t have blazing speed. RB/KR Dwayne Washington has great speed and will be used as a return man. At WR, Golden Tate emerged as DET’s #1 WR after Megatron retired. Marvin Jones is #2. Anquan Boldin was the slot guy but wasn’t retained and is still out there. WR Kenny Golladay was drafted in the 3rd round out of Northern Illinois and should see some action if Boldin decides to sign somewhere else. TE Eric Ebron started thirteen games in 2016 and is looking more and more like a first round draft choice they took in 2014. Look for him to have bigger yr in 2017 as DET will use more two TE sets. TE Darren Fells was signed from ARZ to take blocking off Ebron’s plate. Also, TE Michael Roberts was drafted in the 4th round out of Toledo to help with the blocking and pass catching. On the O-LINE, LT Taylor Decker had a solid rookie yr where he started all sixteen games. Graham Glasgow spent his rookie yr between LG & C. He should be the favorite to start at LG. OL Cornelius Lucas provides depth on the line but not looked upon to start. LG/LT Laken Tomlinson has played all 32 games since being drafted in 2015 and has started 24 but, he lost his starting job in 2016 and is fighting for a roster spot. C Travis Swanson has improved greatly but was limited to twelve games because of a concussion. RG T.J. Lang was signed from GB and didn’t allow a QB hit all of 2016. He immediately upgraded the O-LINE for DET. He replaces RG Larry Wolford who signed with NO. RT Rick Wagner was signed from BALT and is now the NFL’s top paid RT. He is solid at the position. On the DEF, DET allowed the worst completion percentage in the history of the NFL in 2016. In the secondary, CB D.J. Hayden who never panned out in OAK was signed to give some competition to the position. He will probably cover receivers in the slot. CB Jamal Agnew was drafted in the 5th round out of San Diego will also give competition to CB Quandre Diggs who had a disappointing 2016 in the slot and was limited to twelve games due to injury. CB Teez Tabor was drafted in the 2nd round out of Florida will look to give depth and possible challenge CB Nevin Lawson for the starting position and ultimately playing time. CB Darius Slay had a great season after signing a hefty contract after the 2015 season. FS Glover Quin is the secondary leader and never misses a play. Also, he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2009. SS Tavon Wilson was originally signed to play special teams and wound up starting fourteen games at SS. Tavon is solid in run support. DB Don Carey plays a lot on punt returns but can play the secondary as well. Miles Killebrew played a S/LB role as a rookie in 2016 and could compete for the S position opposite Quin. On the D-LINE DE Kerry Hyder had a great preseason in 2016 and then made the roster. He had eight sacks in 2016 and led the team. Should be the starter on the outside and numbers should go up in 2017. DE Devin Taylor who signed with the NYG had 4.5 sacks in 2016. DT Haloti Ngata had an off yr in 2016 and is now 33 yrs old. Could be a twilight season for Ngata. DT Khyri Thornton who had a nice season in 2016 as a solid backup and starting six games will be suspended for the first six games in 2017 by the NFL for substance abuse, will not be eligible to return until Oct 29th. DE Jeremiah Ledbetter who was drafted in the 6th round out of Arkansas & Pat O’Connor who was drafted in the 7th round out of Eastern Michigan will probably get better looks in training camp because of the Thornton suspension. If they impress, could see action in rotation at DE & DT. DT A’Shawn Robinson had a solid rookie yr playing in every game and contributing 2 sacks and seven knocked down passes. He will be the starter as he takes over for DT Tyrunn Walker who left for the LA RAMS. At the other DE, Ezekiel Ansah had a season that was marred by injury & Anthony Zettel had a quiet rookie yr. Both will find stiff competition from the draft and FAs that show up to camp. In 2016 the LB core recorded 0 sacks, 0 INTS & 0 forced fumbles. A shakeup was needed because this group had the worst passer rating of any in the NFL. OLB DeAndre Levy was not retained and Tahir Whitehead who started fifteen games in 2016 is penciled in where Levy left off. Whitehead racked up a lot of tackles but has to improve his pass coverage. At MLB Jarrad Davis who was drafted in the 1st round out of Florida has all the tools to be successful at the position. Whitehead played MLB in 2016 but with Davis coming in, Whitehead gets kicked to OLB. LB Paul Worrilow was signed from ATL to add depth to the crew. OLB Antwione Williams played in fourteen games in his rookie season of 2016 and is penciled in as the other starter on the outside. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin was drafted in the 4th round out of Tennessee and will compete for the OLB spot as well as give depth to the core. The upgrade of the O-LINE should definitely reduce the number of sacks Stafford has to endure. This will give him more time to look down the field and will hopefully open up more running lanes that will certainly take pressure off of Stafford’s arm. The DET running game was one of the worst in the NFL in 2016 and does not transform into winning. Big yr for RB Ameer Abdullah, as he needs to up his game to get this team more in a position of winning. Can’t rely solely on Stafford’s arm. The secondary has definitely made some changes so that there is depth in case of injury but they must stop opposing OFFs from completing so many passes. Besides FS Quin, we’ll see if changes in personnel transpire into improvements. The shakeup at the LB group should improve the results, otherwise the DEF will again be picked apart. The NFC NORTH is always a tough division DET has a tough schedule early on. There are some nice upgrades on paper and the draft hopefully filled some voids. However, I don’t see this team beating GB and making the playoffs. HC Jim Caldwell will likely be out as HC and so will DC Teryl Austin.
PROJECTED 2016 (8-8), ACTUAL 2016 (9-7), PROJECTED 2017 (7-9)
HC John Fox is definitely on the hotseat here. His record with this team is 9-23 and this season doesn’t look promising. QB Jay Cutler retired after being cut because of his big salary. WR Alshon Jeffery signed with PHILLY & CB Tracy Porter is a FA yet to be signed but certainly will not be retained by CHI. Also, the first four weeks of the season read like this, ATL, @TB, PITT & @GB. They could be 0-4 and the season would already be a wash. On OFF QB Mike Glennon was signed to a ridiculous contract to be the starter in CHI for the time being. Mike was the starter in TB in 2013 before TB drafted Jameis Winston and then Mike took a seat on the bench for two years. Then CHI signed perennial backup Mark Sanchez. But CHI basically gave away the farm for drafting Mitch Trubisky #2 in the 1st round out of NC. CHI was at #3 but traded with SF(who weren’t drafting a QB), and was at #2, draft spots plus a load of future picks just to be able to pick Trubisky. Trubisky has played one full year at NC and is not ready for the quick and furious NFL. The only way this guy sees playing time is if Glennon & Sanchez go down or CHI is so bad, they can’t do worse. At RB, CHI has a stable of backs that will hopefully take some of the load off of Glennon. Jordan Howard who had a very nice 2016 rookie campaign will get most of the carries and can catch passes coming out of the backfield. Jeremy Langford will be in the second spot to give Howard a needed a break. He’s no slouch either. Then there’s the backups. Benny Cunningham was signed from LA to return kicks and is a tough runner. Ka’Deem Carey when healthy can battle for the #2 spot with Langford. Plus, Tarik Cohen who was drafted in the 4th round out of NC A&T in 2017 who is already being compared to Darren Sproles. At WR, Alshon Jeffery is big blow because there is really no #1 WR on this team. Eddie Royal was supposed to be paired with Jeffery is also gone. That leaves a lot of part-time guys looking to step up their game. Cameron Meredith had a very nice 2nd yr with 888 yds receiving but, will he just as productive being a #1? Kevin White only played four games in 2016 so he has not really proven himself just yet. Markus Wheaton was signed from PITT but needs to remain healthy if he is going to be a big contributor. Kendall Wright was signed from TENN & has not played a full season since 2013. At TE Zach Miller is a great receiver but does little in the run blocking area. TE Dion Sims was signed from MIA to be used primarily as a run blocker but, can catch the ball as well. The O-Line will depend on how well RG Kyle Long comes back from his severe ankle injury that sidelined him eight games in 2016. Also we’ll see how his shoulder holds up as well. LG Josh Sitton is very dependable and can run block too. C Cody Whitehair is a blitz stopper. But with these three healthy, Glennon will be able to step up in the pocket and hopefully find someone to throw to. LT Charles Leno & RT Bobby Massie continue to have pass blocking issues and need to step it up if CHI is going to do nay damage in 2017. OL Bradley Sowell was signed from SEA to add depth but, can pas block better than run block. On DEF, DE Akiem Hicks was the MVP who works well against the run and the pass and is perfect for the 3-4 Defense that DC Vic Fangio runs. NT Eddie Goldman was limited to six games in 2016 and the D-Line struggled when he wasn’t in there. Hopefully for CHI he is injury free. John Jenkins was signed FA from Seattle to play the other DE as Ego Furgeson missed all of 2016 after suffering a knee injury in 2015 and then signed with DET for 2017. ILB Danny Travathan is penciled in as the starter but suffered a patella injury so severe in 2016 he might be ready for 2017. Nick Kwiatkowski filled in for Travathan as Nick’s specialty is against the pass. OLB Pernell McPhee is a consistent pass rusher but only played nine games in 2016 due to a knee injury. ILB Jerrell Freeman missed four games due to a PED suspension but plays well in the nickel. OLB Leonard Floyd played well in 2016 with seven sacks in only 12 games. OLB Willie Young had 7.5 sacks in 2016 and is best in the pass rush. He had six sacks in the first six games. DE-LB Lamarr Houston still seems to be on the shelf due to a second ACL tear so we’ll see if he makes it back. CB Prince Amukamara was signed from JAGS to bolster the man coverage. Marcus Cooper was signed from ARZ to be the other CB. Bryce Callahan is penciled in as the nickel back. SS Quintin Demps was signed from HOU. He brings leadership & some playoff experience to CHI. Eddie Jackson was drafted out of the 4th round out of Alabama and he is penciled in at FS. He will get a lot of schooling from the other veterans in the secondary. On paper CHI secondary looks good. We’ll see if they mesh and stay healthy. On OFF, this team has major what ifs and no real #1 WR. Plus, QB Glennon knows that it is only a matter of time before Trubisky is given the reins. Will the O-Line hold up to give Glennon protection or will CHI go down in a flurry of flames. The DEF needs to stay healthy to give CHI the slightest chance. The secondary did get stronger with the extra additions and we’ll see how the season starts out, other wise CHI will be in a hole very early. HC John Fox is on the hotseat and knows that he needs improvement from 2016 no matter what or CHI will be in total rebuild come 2018.
PROJECTED 2016 (9-7), ACTUAL 2016 (3-13) PROJECTED 2017 (7-9)
New Orleans Saints
2009 seems like a lifetime ago when the SAINTS won the SuperBowl. HC Sean Payton is definitely on the hotseat for 2017. NO has finished 7-9 the last three seasons and have not started out well in all three seasons On OFF, Drew Brees is not getting any younger. He’s 38 yrs old and as Brees goes, so go the SAINTS. They do not have a viable backup that can carry this team. At the RB Position, Mark Ingram was the lead runner but then they went out and got Adrian Peterson who was let go by MINN. Peterson is 32 yrs old and has only played 20 games in the last three seasons. RB Tim Hightower left via FA and Alvin Kamara was drafted in the 2nd round out of Tennessee to give the unit some more speed. John Kuhn is the FB that is used on short yardage, goal line and sometimes catch out of the backfield. At WR, Brandin Cooks was traded to NE but the speedy second yr pro Michael Thomas will step up and fill that role. Willie Snead will be back to after having a solid yr. Ted Ginn Jr was signed to fill in Cooks deep threat routes and also serve as the return man. Ted looks good on paper but is an overpaid underachiever. TE Coby Fleener only caught 50 passes in 2016 but will probably need to step up his performance now that Josh Hill & Michael Hoomanawanui are coming back from injuries. On the O-Line C Max Unger suffered a foot injury in the off-season and may miss the start of the regular season. If that happens, undrafted FA Jack Allen will have to take over at the position and will be tested early. RG Larry Worford was signed from DET to replace Jahri Evans who left for GB and be the lead in the SAINTS running game. RT Zach Strief has been a solid run blocker & pass blocker for 12 years. Andrus Peat is the starter at LG but can help out at LT in a pinch. Terron Armstead was limited to seven games at LT in 2016 because of a knee injury but hopefully he will be back at full strength for 2017. OT Ryan Ramczyk was drafted in the 1st round out of Wisconsin and work on either the left side of the line or the right so he will see significant playing time in his rookie season. He was picked to be groomed as the next RT. On DEF, Dennis Allen took over in 2016 as the DC for Rob Ryan and the DEF went from 31st to 27th. But the biggest improvement was in the area of the RUN DEF that went from 31st in 2015 to 14th in 2016. The PASS DEF stayed abysmal but, CB Marshon Lattimore was drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State and is slated to start alongside Delvin Breaux. Two injuries in 2016 limited Delvin to six games but they are expecting big things from this duo. CB P.J. Williams will back up these guys as he recovers from a concussion sustained in wk 2. At S, Vonn Bell started 14 games as a rookie in 2016 and finished second on the team with 98 tackles. Kenny Vaccaro is the other S can deliver big hits and is known for his versatility. S Rafael Bush was signed after a yr at DET and will probably push Bell for the starting job. On paper the secondary looks solid but we’ll see how they mesh. The loss of DT Nick Fairley is a big one for NO as he delivered 6 ½ sacks in 2016 but, will be ending his career with the diagnosis of an enlarged heart. He will definitely be out for 2017 and beyond that, who knows. In his wake NO has Sheldon Rankins who had a fractured ankle but managed four sacks in nine games in 2016 and David Onyemata who played collegiately in Canada. NO also added veteran DT Tony McDaniel who started ten games for Seattle in 2016. Tyler Davison is the other starter at DT who was drafted in 2015 and started 15 games in 2016 and is a strong presence against the run. At DE, Alex Okafor was signed from ARZ and hopefully will stay healthy. The other DE is Cameron Jordan, who has developed as one of the NFL’s best ends and is the anchor on the right side. The LB core was a disappointment in 2016. A .J. Klein was signed from CAR as he played replacement to Luke Kuechly. Klein will be slotted at SLB. Manti Te’o was signed from SD where he will play MLB and Dannell Ellerbe who has hopefully got over his injury problems is slotted in at WLB. The SAINTS have great depth at this position in Craig Robertson who came in early mid-season and had 131 tackles. Nathan Stupar will be on the strong side and Stephone Anthony will fill in when needed. LB Alex Anzalone was drafted in the 3rd round out of Florida to provide depth and competition to the LB corps. The SAINTS aren’t going anywhere because their Defense has not improved enough to make a difference in the standings but, we’ll see with their off-season moves. The teams in their own division are better and they are familiar with NO’s strengths and weaknesses. The test will come in the first four games of the season which doesn’t look easy. DT Nick Fairly is a big loss for the D & not getting CB Malcolm Butler from NE will haunt them. Overall, the D for the SAINTS will have gotten better but not enough to contend in the NFC SOUTH and save Payton’s job. HC Sean Payton will have a “mutual” parting of the ways with NO shortly after the season ends. The team will go into a semi rebuild as whoever takes over will look to build on what has been started as an upward climb.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9)√, ACTUAL 2016 (7-9), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
What a difference a year makes. Late in the offseason, GM Dave Gettleman was fired and CAR is searching for a new GM. In 2015, CAM & CO were a confident bunch and on their way to the SuperBowl. But something changed in that SuperBowl and CAR never recovered. HC Ron Rivera is not a great HC & does not make the necessary adjustments during the week or during the games. At times he looks clueless on the sidelines. Something also changed for Cam Newton. He did not look like his confident self in that SuperBowl and has not recovered. He made a lot of bad decisions in 2016 and it showed. Plus in the offseason he had rotator cuff surgery. He is scheduled ready for wk 1 but unless he reverts back to the bravado and an A game he had before the SuperBowl, CAR is in trouble. Plus, Derek Anderson is a capable backup but, he is not a starter if CAM gets injured and misses any time. At RB, Jonathan Stewart ran for 824 yds in 13 games but he also is approaching 30 years of age. Fozzy Whitaker is a 3rd down back at most, not a full timer. RB/WR/KR Christian McCaffrey who was drafted in the 1st round out Stanford will need to get some carries to take the load off this aging backfield. FB Darrel Young was signed via FA to take over for Mike Tolbert who departed to BUFF. At WR, Ted Ginn Jr & Philly Brown left via FA. This took away speed from CAR’s receiving corps. They countered with the signing of Charles Johnson from MINN who is fast but has never reached his potential. Christian McCaffrey who will definitely be in the slot and Curtis Samuel who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Ohio State should help out with the speed factor. Kelvin Benjamin is coming back from an ACL tear and needs to step up his game. Delvin Funchess also needs to get his game going and get open more often. At TE, what do you need to say? Greg Olsen is Mr. Reliable. He has had three straight 1,000 yd receiving seasons and seems to be CAM’s favorite target. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down but is looking for a new contract. With a new GM on the way, Olsen’s days in CAR may be numbered. TE Ed Dickson doesn’t catch a lot of balls but has great blocking abilities. The O-LINE needs to improve and give CAM more time. It seemed like CAM was batted around like a pinball by opposing lineman in 2016. CAR can’t be successful if CAM is injured and not 100%. At LT, Matt Kalil was signed for big money via FA from MINN to replace Michael Oher who suffered a concussion and was out 13 games. Michael will switch to RT for Mike Remmers who signed with MINN in the offseason. Matt needs to rebound from struggles he had in MINN and capture the form he had as a rookie. T/G Daryl Williams could start at RT or Taylor Moton who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Western Michigan will either backup Oher or rotate while Oher is out. LG Andrew Norwell was an undrafted FA in 2014 and has become very dependable at the position. C Ryan Kalil missed eight games in 2016 with a shoulder injury. C Gino Gradkowski is a serviceable backup to Ryan but definitely not a starter. CAR needs Ryan to be healthy. RG Trai Turner is coming of two PRO-BOWL seasons and can also play the RT position. Tyler Larsen & Chris Scott are the most versatile backup lineman and can play any position on the O-LINE for CAR. But the key here is giving CAM the protection he needs and opening hole for RBs. At DE, Mario Addison worked his way into a starting spot and a new three yr contract with 9.5 sacks in 2016. Look for him to have a better yr in 2017. He took over for DE Kony Ealy who signed with NE. DT Kawann Short signed a big contract in the offseason and needs to show everyone in 2017 why he deserved the big money. DT Vernon Butler was slowed by an ankle injury in his rookie season of 2016 which limited him to ten games but, he has unlimited upside potential. Look for more of him in 2017. DT Star Ltulelei is entering the final yr of his rookie contract, so look for big things from him in 2017 as well. DE Clarles Johnson has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons but is a leader on this team. 37 yr old DE Julius Peppers was signed in the offseason and he still finds ways at getting it done. Mostly used on passing downs, Julius had 25 sacks in three seasons at GB. DE Wes Horton is great on the edge and as a run stopper. SLB Shaq Thompson has become dependable but is definitely overshadowed by Thomas Davis & Luke Kuechly. This should be the yr Shaq breaks out. WLB Thomas Davis is still going strong at 34, whether it’s intercepting passing, sacks or tackling. MLB Luke Kuechly had a serious concussion in 2016 and was shut down for six games and is looking to get back on track. MLB David Mayo has become the team’s best backup as LB A.J. Klein left for NO via FA. In the secondary, the departure of CB Josh Norman in 2016 left the secondary scratching their heads until they could get on the same page. RCB Daryl Worley played well as a rookie in 2016 and will be the starter in 2017. CB Bene Bewikere who was injured most of the yr signed with CINNCY. LCB James Bradberry who also was a rookie in 2016 had a fine season and is also looking for a better start. CN Caotain Munnerlyn returns to CAR after a season in MINN as the team’s leader at nickel back. CB Corn Elder who was drafted in the 5th round out of University of Miami will play the slot and play special teams. Kurt Coleman will switch to FS where he had 7INTS in 2015. CAR signed 37 yr old SS Mike Adams after playing for INDY the last three seasons. FS Tre Boston was cut after the draft and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. SS Colin Jones will probably move up on the depth chart now that Boston is gone. This team is in serious trouble. HC Riverboat Ron will be gone on Black Monday and CAM is not the same guy he was before the SuperBowl. If he doesn’t find his mojo, there will be big changes in every section of this team. WR/KR Christian McCaffrey will find out that the NFL is not college and will have to alter his game if he wants to stay in the NFL. If CAM struggles, the whole team will struggle. The secondary should be better in 2017 now that they have figured it out. But the guys up front need to keep putting pressure on the opposing QBs. But again, it will come down to CAM, and I don’t think he will return to 2015 form. Should be interesting.
PROJECTED 2016 (12-4), ACTUAL 2016 (6-10), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
HC Dan Quinn did a fine job in his first two years going from 8-8 to 12-4 and a SuperBowl berth. But can he keep the winning up? ATL has a tendency to rest on their laurels even though they have the personnel to do better. Complacency can not set in. Consistency however, has not been a part of ATL football. The last time ATL went deep into the playoffs, which was 2012 and the NFC Championship, the next yr they won four games. The bottom fell out. Ok, so ATL goes to the SuperBowl, has a 28-3 lead and loses to NE. Now that is over, will ATL get back to the SuperBowl? Knowing their past history, I think not. That said, they will make the playoffs but, not the SuperBowl. The OC will be Steve Sarkisian who replaces Kyle Shanahan who departed for SF to be the HC. Recently Steve was the Alabama OC. Welcome back to the NFL Steve! Steve’s only other NFL experience was the QB coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2014, otherwise all his experience has been in the college ranks. There will be an adjustment period here but it shouldn’t hinder the explosiveness of the ATL OFF. At QB, Matt Ryan had a great 2016 and was an ALL-PRO for the first time. He threw td passes to 13 different receivers, an NFL record. We’ll see if he can do it again in 2017. He will be backed up by Matt Schaub who was there in 2016. At RB, Devonta Freeman had another nice season rushing for over 1,000 yds. Devonta can also catch passes out of the backfield which makes him a double threat. Tevin Coleman is the viable backup who gives Devonta a breather and is a double threat as well. FB Derrick Coleman was signed from SEA to replace Patrick DiMarco who signed with BUFF. Derrick will be the lead blocker while he can run too. At WR, is anyone better than Julio Jones? He seems to be always open. Julio has some problematic foot and toe ailments. This can be excruciatingly painful. If he is healthy and 100%, no one can stop him. If Julio is double teamed, this opens the door for many other receivers to see the ball. Mahammed Sanu is the #2 and does most of his damage on 3rd down and in the red zone. Taylor Gabriel had a nice yr after coming over from CLEVE and fit right in. At TE, Austin Hooper has been promoted to #1 TE as mostly a pass catcher. Jacob Tamme was not retained and is currently a FA. D.J. Tialavea is mostly used for run blocking and Levine Toilolo is a big target and also a good blocker. The O-LINE needs to continue to do a good job in protection and opening up running routes. However, there was a jump in QB sacks of Ryan in 2015 of 30 to 37 in 216. Ryan is a pocket QB and protection is a key to his success. Not much is changed on the O-LINE for 2017. LT Jake Matthews is solid at the position having only missed one game in three seasons. LT Will Freeman was acquired as a FA to give depth to the O-LINE. LG Andy Levitre is also solid at his position, never missing a game. OG Sean Harlow who was drafted in the 4th round out of Oregon State is being converted from Guard to Tackle and should see some time in the rotation. C Alex Mack played all season and then in the SuperBowl with a broken fibula. Now that’s dedication. RG Wes Schweitzer takes over for Chris Chester who retired. But, Ben Garland will also be fighting for the position. Wes didn’t even play in 2016 while Ben did see action in every game sometimes on DEF & OFF. At RT, Ryan Schraeder was rewarded with a big contract and is not going anywhere. He is durable and also started all sixteen games. ROL Kevin Graf was signed as an insurance policy on the right side because of his size and strength. Except for the RG position all the OL have played together and started together and should find a way to cut down on sacks allowed. This will increase the proficiency of the OFF and keep Ryan from becoming horizontal. On DEF there is a new DC. Richard Smith is out and Marquand Manuel is in as DC. Marquand was formerly the Secondary/Senior Defensive assistant for ATL in 2016. In the secondary, CB Desmond Trufant was limited to nine games due to a torn pectoral but, was rewarded with a big contract in the off season. CB Jalen Collins stepped up for Trumant when he went down and CB Robert Alford moved over to the left side. However, CB Jalen Collins served a four game suspension for performance enhancing substances in 2016 and now is hit with a 10 game suspension in 2017. Robert Alford is solid and started all sixteen games in 2016. CB Brian Poole played all sixteen and started nine as a nickel back and blitzes well off the corner. Brian recorded a sack in 2016. CB C.J. Goodwin has great man coverage abilities and should see time in the rotation. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson was signed from TENN to give depth to the rotation and should see a lot of action. With the Collins suspension we will see how the secondary moves around. At SS Keanu Neal has the ability to cover TEs. He started fourteen games in 2016 and his partner FS Ricardo Allen started all sixteen. Ricardo is a converted CB and is become well adjusted to FS. Damontae Kazee who was drafted in the 5th round out of San Diego State is being groomed to cover slot receivers. On the D-LINE, DE Takk McKinley who was drafted in the 1st round out of UCLA is penciled in as the starter on the outside. DE Derrick Shelby who was the penciled in starter in 2016 suffered an Achilles injury and hopes to make it back. DT Grady Jarrett who got his shot to start in 2016 contributed 3 sacks and 3 sacks in the SuperBowl. DT/DE Ra’Shede Hageman has played well as a backup and contributed 2 sacks while playing in twelve games. He provides depth on the D-LINE. DT Jonanthan Babineaux who has been with the team since 2004 is a FA and is not currently on the roster. DE Dwight Freeney, 3 sacks & DE/DT Tyson Jackson who were both used extensively in the rotation are also currently FAs and not on the roster. DT Dontari Poe was signed from KC where he is looking to revive his career. DE Jack Crawford was signed from DAL to give the D-LINE depth. DE Brooks Reed played well in fifteen games/started seven and contributed 2 sacks. DE/DT Adrian Clayborn also contributed 4.5 sacks while playing in thirteen games and started seven. DT Courtney Upshaw gives good depth to the line. DE/OLB Vic Beasley was named ALL-PRO with 15.5 sacks to lead the team. He is smart and fast and also plays in the nickel. One drawback was that in the 2016 playoffs he was invisible. He has to show up in the big games as well as the little ones. At SLB, De’Vondre Campbell has great potential and started ten games. MLB Deion Jones played in fifteen games, started thirteen and led the team with 3 INTS & returned two of them for tds. How this guy was overlooked for the PRO-BOWL is beyond me. MLB Paul Worrilow became expendable and signed with DET. WLB Duke Riley who was drafted in the 3rd round out of LSU is penciled in as the starter with Josh Keyes and LB/DB Kemal Ishmael providing depth. On OFF, the O-LINE must gel and stay healthy because there are only unproven guys at OL depth positions. Most of them have not played much because of the durability of the starters. Also, the O-LINE needs to cut down on sacks allowed as Ryan is not a mobile QB and will stay in the pocket until something opens up. The D-LINE is solid but at the LB crew there isn’t really any depth because guys were not retained. This could be a problem if injuries pop up. Also in the secondary this could be one of the best and teams will have a tough time passing against this crew. ATL looks good but with different OC & DC it may take time adjusting. If there is no letdown, this team should go deep into the playoffs but not back to the SuperBowl.
PROJECTED 2015 (8-8)√, PROJECTED 2016 (7-9), ACTUAL 2016 (11-5) PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dirk Koetter had a fine season in his first season as TB HC and a fine season for a guy that never was a HC before. QB Jameis Winston had a decent 2nd yr and didn’t fall into the sophomore jinx. In fact his completion percentage increased by a little but, he did increase his INTS from 15 to 18. It is imperative that Winston stay healthy and productive because there really isn’t another decent QB on the roster backing him up. QB Mike Glennon signed a lucrative deal, to say the least, with CHI. Ryan Griffin & Sean Renfree are the backups and have virtually no NFL playing experience. So it’s all on Winston. At RB, TB doesn’t have that breakout guy as the position has been played by committee due to injuries and suspensions. Doug Martin will be out the first three games of 2017 with a continued drug suspension. This goes with his injury that he sustained in 2016 and being in the coach’s doghouse. In 2015 Martin had a great season and was ALL-PRO. He better be in the straight line now because he may not have a job with TB when he comes back. In Martin’s absences, Jacquizz Rodgers had his best season and will probably start the season while Martin sits out. If he plays well Martin could be expendable. In the mix behind Rodgers and Martin are Charles Sims, who was limited to seven games because of injuries and Peyton Barber who should see more looks after impressing late in 2016. At WR, DeSean Jackson was the biggest addition after Vincent Jackson was not retained after he had an injury filled yr that limited him to five games. Mike Evans had a great yr where he caught 96 passes for over 1,300 yds and had an invite to the PRO-BOWL. Depending on DeSean, this tandem could be very dangerous as it would be difficult to double cover both, leaving one extremely open. WR Adam Humphries has developed into a nice slot receiver. He should definitely see more passes in 2017. Chris Goodwin who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Penn State will give Humphries some competition for passes in the slot. Josh Huff who signed with TB last NOV, knows he needs a good camp to stick around. At TE, Cameron Brate has great hands and catches almost everything Winston throws. TE O.J. Howard who was drafted in the 1st round out of Alabama will be used more of a blocking TE in a two TE set. TE Luke Stocker doesn’t catch many balls but because he is a great blocker has been with TB since 2011. TE Alan Cross is there for depth at the position and knows the TB system. The O-LINE increased their sacks allowed from 27 in 2015 to 35 in 2016. This is not good and shows a break down in protection. This also has probably contributed to Winston’s increased INTS. The O-LINE needs to protect so that Winston can see what is available. LT Donovan Smith has been solid at the position in his two years, just needs to be more consistent. RG Ali Marpet is being asked to move to C after two yrs at RG & no experience at C, Ali started all sixteen games at RG in 2016. His switch means that C Joe Hawley who was the starter at C for the last two seasons will probably be in a backup role. Also, J.R. Sweezy who was signed in 2016 to play LG and had 2016 wiped out because of a bad back will hopefully be ready at RG where he played at SEA for four seasons. LG Kevin Pamphile was solid at the position and had a fine season. RT Demar Dotson has been a starter at the position since 2011 and is the anchor but has to cut down on penalties. C/G Evan Smith had proven to be a quality backup with his versatility but signed with MIA in the off-season. Caleb Benenoch can play OG/T but should be polished more in training camp and ready to go. On the D-LINE, DE William Gholston was given a new contract. He is great at the run stuffing but needs help at pass rushing. In fourteen starts in 2016 Gholston contributed three sacks. DT Gerald McCoy started fifteen games and contributed seven sacks while being invited to his fifth PRO-BOWL. DT Chris Baker was acquired from WASH where he was a starter and should be an upgrade from DT Akeem Spence who signed with DET. DE Noah Spence played all sixteen games and was heavily in the rotation as a situational pass rusher contributing 5.5 sacks. DE Robert Ayers who had an ankle injury that kept him out of the first four games came back nicely and contributed 6.5 sacks. DT Clinton McDonald started twelve games in 2016 and contributed 3.5 sacks but may see a reduced role in an overcrowded D-LINE. DE DeVonte Lambert played in eleven games and started five. He gives the D-LINE depth. DE Jaquies Smith was out for all of 2016 after suffering a knee injury in wk 1 and right now his status is unclear. NT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu who was drafted in the 7th round out of USC is good at stopping the run and should see time in the rotation. DLs Ryan Russell & Sealver Siliga both give TB depth on the D-LINE and both contributed 1 sack each in 2016. At WLB, Lavonte David started all sixteen games and contributed 5 sacks. He is versatile and has great pass rushing skills. MLB Kwon Alexander also started all sixteen games and contributed 3 sacks. He is the leader on the defense. LB Kendall Beckwith who was drafted in the 3rd round out of LSU is penciled in as the starter at SLB replacing Daryl Smith who wasn’t retained. In the secondary CBs Vernon Hargreaves & Brent Grimes both started all sixteen games. Grimes had 4INTS & Hargreaves had 1 INT. They are both solid and not going anywhere. Backup CB Jude Adjei-Barimah had a four game suspension in 2016 but should see more action if he stays healthy. Ryan Smith who plays a lot of special teams will make a move from S to CB to give depth. S Bradley McDougald who started all sixteen games signed with SEA. SS J.J. Wilcox was signed at the position from DAL. Chris Conte moves over from SS to FS. CB Robert McClain was signed in the off-season to give the secondary more depth. S Justin Evans who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Texas A & M needs to work on his tackling skills but will see time in the rotation. S Keith Tandy who tied the team lead with 4INTS in 2016 will give the secondary that needed depth and veteran leadership. The Offensive pieces are looking good even though the RB corps look a little thin. No one really stands out as the breakaway RB. The O-LINE needs to do a better job with protection and opening up rushing lanes. Also, the O-LINE has been reshuffled and the depth could be a very big problem if someone gets hurt. They need to gel and stay healthy otherwise they will have some major problems winning games and Winston will be open to injury. On the D-LINE there is some good depth and the starters should be doing their jobs but at the LB crew there isn’t any depth. If one of them gets injured there isn’t anyone proven who could step up. That may be a problem in a long and tough season. In the secondary they have some good depth and reliable CBs but need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. TB has a tough schedule and there are no gimmee games except maybe the NYJ before their bye. But, that may be a trap game. If everyone stays healthy and the O-LINE does their job, this team could win eleven games and maybe have a playoff game.
PROJECTED 2016 (6-10), ACTUAL 2016 (9-7), PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
Los Angeles Rams
The Jeff Fisher era is officially over in LA, thank god. This team was going nowhere with him at the helm. Jim Fassel coached the last three games after Fisher was fired but unfortunately, didn’t come out with a win. There was even self-destruction in the game vs SF where LA was winning in the 4th qtr and eventually lost. In comes Sean McVay, the youngest NFL head coach in NFL history at 31 yrs young. On OFF the RAMS are all in with QB Jared Goff and right now he is better situated than he was under Fisher. Sean Mannion is the backup to Goff and Case Keenum has signed with MINN. Goff will have the benefit of all OTAs, mini-camps & training camp as the #1 QB. This should definitely get him ready for 2017. The O-Line went through a restructuring in the off-season. RAM QBs were sacked 49x in 2016 and that is just too much. The left side of the O-Line was very troubling for LA so they went out and signed Pro-Bowler LT Andrew Whitworth from CINNCY to help Goff with his blind side. Rodger Saffold who had been shuffling between G & T will be slotted next to Whitford at LT. C John Sullivan was signed for the SKINS to start and will take over for the underperforming Tim Barnes. Rob Havenstein will play RG after two years at RT. Greg Robinson who has been a disappointment at LT will move over and play RT. This revamped O-LINE should gave new life to RB Todd Gurley. After a nice rookie season in 2015, Todd had a disappointing 2016 campaign, (as did the rest of the RAMS) but with this revamped O-LINE we should see Gurley back to rookie form. A healthy and successful Gurley will certainly take a lot of pressure off Goff to do it all. At WR, Tavon Austin will be used primarily as a pass catcher, no longer a return man. Robert Woods was signed from BUFF to give the receiver corps some veteran leadership. Cooper Kupp was drafted in the 3rd round out of Eastern Washington to give help in the slot routes. Josh Reynolds who was drafted in the 4th round out of Texas A&M is expected to give LA a deep route threat. At TE, Tyler Higbee had some injuries in 2016 and is looking to bounce back in a big way. Gerald Everett was drafted in the 2nd round out of South Alabama and will share time with Higbee in McVay’s tight end heavy schemes. On DEF, there was a definite coup in getting Wade Phillips to be the new DC. He brings in great knowledge and experience and right away has uplifted the LA Defense to new heights. You will definitely see improvements and new defensive schemes for LA in 2017. LA DEF was ranked #10 vs the PASS & #16 vs the RUN. Even with these respectable numbers RAMS were awful. This Defense gave up a lot of points in 2016. With Phillips as the DC RAMS will go from a 4-3 DEF to 3-4 DEF. But that doesn’t mean that he will not take advantage of some of the great players he has upfront. DT Aaron Donald is probably the best interior Lineman in the league and he will be moving all over the place to confuse opposing offensive schemes. He has been ALL-Pro the last two years and should be excited about this yr. NT Michael Brockers is steady at the position and earned an extension in the off-season. Ethan Westbrooks is slotted to start at DE while Matt Longacre, Dominic Easley, Tyrun Walker signed from DET & Tanzel Smart, drafted in the 6th round out of Tulane, will all be rotated in to give LA extra protection up front. Dominic Easley will be out for 2017 with a torn ACL. Former DE Robert Quinn makes the move to OLB but this is a big season for him after two injury prone yrs. He has something to prove. Connor Barwin is the other OLB who was signed from PHILLY to give extra leadership. ILB Alec Ogletree led the team with 171 tackles in 2016 and is in a contract yr so look for him to have a great season. Mark Barron is the other ILB who was second on the team in tackles in 2016 with 147. LCB Trumaine Johnson was franchised tagged for a second season and under Phillips will be a man coverage where Trumaine may struggle. RCB Kayvon Webster was signed from DEN to start but never has been a starter before. S T. J. McDonald signing with MIA is a big loss but he also will be out for the first 8 games due to a drug suspension. Lamarcus Joyner will take over there at SS. Muarice Alexander will play the SS position as John Johnson (R), Cody Davis, EJ Gaines & Nickell Robey-Coleman will fill in for nickel slots and backup. The secondary is questionable and the upfront guys need to put enough pressure on so that the secondary is not exposed. The DEF played well in 2016 but they were on the field a lot more than the OFF which made them overworked. The DEF will be even better in 2017 with the addition of DC Phillips. But the O-LINE must do their job and Goff has to take the next step as the QB for the RAMS to make any impact. The OFF has to score points and take a load off the DEF. HC McVay is going to make mistakes but at least he has some veteran coaches to help him with his decisions. This team can start to look good if Goff has taken that next step. Hopefully we won’t hear any more interviews with Eric Dickerson criticizing this team, only compliments. LOL Maybe I’m being optimistic with my prediction, but looking at their schedule I think they can win seven games.
PROJECTED 2016 (7-9), ACTUAL 2016 (4-12), PROJECTED 2017 (7-9)
A window of opportunity for a team only lasts a while. If SEA wants to continue with their winning ways, they must always replenish the talent that they have with new and upcoming talent otherwise the team will go back to losing. After having the RB Marshawn Lynch and a dominant running attack for some years, Lynch was not there in 2016 and the RUSH OFF went from #3 in 2015 to #25 in 2016. This can definitely put a lot of pressure on a QB and end up in situations that he was never in before. The burden of winning becomes more on the shoulders of the QB and that only leads to disaster. Most of the pieces of the team that has SEA winning are still there but the depth behind them is thin. At QB, Russell Wilson is a veteran QB that threw for the most yds in his career and most attempts in 2016. He is also sacked an average of 40+xs every yr. That is not good. Hopefully, that won’t happen in 2017. At RB, Christine Michael was released in November when they thought C.J. Proise was ready to take over. Problem was, Proise lasted only six games due to injuries and Michael ended up being the SEA leading rusher not even on the team. Thomas Rawls filled in but, he got injured too. In the offseason, SEA signed RB Eddie Lacy. Eddie lost favor in GB with weight and according to HC Mike McCarthy, his work ethic. Eddie signed with SEA on a 1 yr deal to prove to everyone he is deserving of a job in the NFL. The contract has a weight clause as well as other clauses. In camp it will be Lacy vs Rawls. If Lacy is able to return to form that will take a lot of pressure off of Wilson and SEA can return to being an OFF force. The RB situation is between Rawls, Proise & Lacy going into camp. Beyond that it’s a crap shoot. At WR, Doug Baldwin has emerged as the go to guy for Wilson. Then Paul Richardson & Jermaine Kearse make up #2 & #3. Tyler Locket who was always in the mix broke his fibula & tibula and his status for wk 1 is uncertain. SEA would love to have him back because he serves as the return man as well. Looking to bolster their WR core, SEA drafted Amara Darboh in the 3rd round out of Michigan & David Moore in the 7th round out of East Central OK. They will get a look in training camp and hopefully be added to the roster. At TE, Jimmy Graham is entering the last yr of his contract and has showed that he made it all the way back from his knee injury in 2015. TE Luke Wilson came back to SEA for a 1 yr deal after testing the FA waters. Luke is better blocker than Jimmy which is what SEA needs when Eddie Lacy is in the backfield. The O-LINE is going through another transformation which is not good for SEA. In the past, the O-LINE has been great at opening up rushing lanes but when it comes to protecting the QB, they have been terrible. Hence the fact that Wilson get sacked and average of 40+x a yr. Many could attribute this to his scrambling ways and receivers not getting open but, pass protection is crucial and they have not been doing their job. At LT, Luke Joeckel was signed from JACKSONVILLE. Luke had ACL surgery in OCT and was limited to four games. He is penciled in as the starter even though rookie George Fant played there and started ten games. Fant will probably be the backup. At LG, Mark Glowinski emerged as the starter, playing and starting all sixteen games at the position. Mark may get competition from Rees Odhiambo who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Boise St in 2016 and played eight games in a backup role. Justin Britt made the move from LG to C and is very good at pass rushers up the middle than coming off the sides. C Joey Hunt expects to be Britt’s backup however, as he did start at the position for one game. At RG Germain Ifeldi was there in 2016 and is expected to move to RT. Ifeldi started thirteen games. For RG, SEA signed Oday Aboushi to win the job. He will get some competition from G/C Ethan Pocic who was drafted in the 2nd round out of LSU. He will battle Oday and certainly see some action in the rotation. OL Justin Senior was drafted in the 6th round out of Miss State and likely will compete at LT. If he is ready will see action, otherwise may not make the roster. On DEF in the secondary there were CB Richard Sherman trade rumors all off season. Obviously something internal was going on. But for now he is the starting LCB. He led the SEAHAWKS with 4INTS in 2016. No one else even had 3INTS. He’s ALL-PRO & headed to the HOF. RCB DeShawn Shead suffered an ACL in the playoffs and might not be ready for wk 1. CB Jeremy Lane who usually plays nickel will start at RCB until DeShawn is ready to go. With the uncertainty with Shead, CB Neiko Thorpe was retained for depth. CB Shaquil Griffin who was drafted in the 3rd round out of UCF could earn a starting position or could see action through the rotation. Mike Tyson who was a safety at Cincinnati and was drafted in the 6th round will get a look at CB. CBs Demetrius McCray & DeAndre Elliott will look to make the team in the depth dept. At SS Kam Chancellor missed four games with an injury but he has a lock on the position because he is just that good. Kelcie McCray started for Kam in his absence but was not retained. S Delano Hill who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Michigan is being groomed to be Kam’s heir apparent. FS Earl Thomas was sidelined for five games down the stretch and Steven Terrell filled in nicely for him. However, Terrell signed with KC in the off season. SEA went out and signed S Bradley McDougald from TB who can play FS or SS. S Tedric Thompson was drafted in the 4th round out of Colorado and will be groomed for FS of the future. S Pierre Desir was signed from SD to give the S position depth. DB Perish Cox comes over from TENN to give the secondary even more depth. On the D-LINE there won’t be too many changes as the front four will pretty much look the same except for some backup. DE Michael Bennett started eleven games and contributed five sacks. He needs to get that sack number up. He had ten sacks in 2015. DE Frank Clark played in fifteen games, started five and contributed 10 sacks. He could be pushing for more action. DT Ahtyba Rubin is entrenched as the starter here. DT Malik McDowell who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Michigan State will be called upon to add to the interior pass rush. DT Tony McDaniel who saw action in every game and started eleven signed with NO. DT Jaran Reed needs to be more consistent in his run stuffing abilities. DT Nazir Jones who was drafted in the 3rd round out of North Carolina should be able to step right into the rotation to help stop the run. DE Cliff Avril had a great yr and led the team with 11.5 sacks. Cassius March played all yr and contributed 3 sacks but, could be in a battle for a spot in the rotation. DE Quinton Jefferson who battled injuries all season and only played three games is looking to make it back and give the D-LINE some more depth. OLB Michael Wilhoite was signed from SF to bring leadership to the LB crew and fill in the position that was shared by Mike Morgan & Brock Coyle. Coyle signed with SF in the off season. MLB Bobby Wagner is an All-PRO contributing 4.5 sacks with 1INT. MLB Terrence Garvin was signed from WASH to give the MLB some depth and Wagner a breather from time to time. OLB K.J. Wright hasn’t missed a game since 2013 and contributed four sacks. LB Kevin Pierre-Louis needs to step it up if he wants stay with the team. LBs Dewey McDonald & Ronald Powell are in a competition for time at SLB. SEA needs to make sure that they are replenishing the talent. For SEA, the revamped O-LINE needs to make sure they pass protect because Wilson cannot take the pounding. The run game needs to get going and Lacy needs to show everyone that he is back to his reliable self. If there’s no running game for SEA and the O-LINE can’t do its job, SEA will go nowhere and Wilson will be asked to carry a bigger burden, a recipe for disaster for any team, not just SEA. On DEF, the secondary is solid and as long there isn’t any injuries there should be enough action to go around. A lot of young guys can learn from the best veterans in the business and can grow and maintain the Legion of Doom. This team will have no problem with their Defense, it’s the O-LINE and other parts of the OFF that are a question. SEA will make the playoffs but will not get to the SuperBowl.
PROJECTED 2016 (11-5)√, ACTUAL 2016 (10-5-1), PROJECTED 2017 (11-5)
2016 was a major setback for ARZ. After their strong showing in 2015, I and probably many others had them going further into the playoffs. I had them going to the SuperBowl. What a disappointment 2016 was. They didn’t have major injuries just that the rest of the team didn’t live up to expectations. Was 2015 a fluke? HC Bruce Arians is on the hotseat for 2017. If this team doesn’t get back on track like he had them those first three years, he’s gone on Black Monday and ARZ will clean house. At QB, Carson Palmer is not getting any younger. He is 37 yrs old and has won one playoff game in four. He also took quite a pounding in 2016, having been sacked 40x. Palmer also took an NFL high 117 hits. This is a big season for him to show that he’s still got it. The #2 spot behind Carson will be a little bit of a battle. Blaine Gabbert was signed in the offseason and Drew Stanton, who has filled in nicely at times for Palmer, will battle it out in training camp. At RB, David Johnson can do it all. He was ALL-PRO in 2016 which takes a lot of pressure off of Palmer. Johnson scored 20tds with rushing and catching passes which will have opposing defenses trying to double cover him on certain offensive schemes. Backing up Johnson are Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson who has been fighting injuries the last two seasons. All of the backups need to get more involved in the offense to take pressure off Palmer and needed rest for David Johnson. At WR, Larry Fitzgerald is going to the HOF but needs to show he hasn’t lost a step. He caught 107 passes in 2016 but for his lowest average of 9.6 yds per catch. Jaron Brown is coming off a torn ACL and should be ready for wk 1. John Brown who is an ARZ deep threat is dealing with a sickle cell trait but has it under control. J J Nelson had a bigger role in 2016 with more catches is also a deep threat that should be utilized more in 2017. WR Chad Williams who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Grambling will also be given a chance to show what he can do. At TE, Jermaine Gresham signed a four yr extension in the offseason. He has the size for run blocking and ARZ should use him more in the passing game. TE Troy Niklas is the backup right now coming off an injury. ARZ nees to get their TEs more involved in the offense. The O-LINE needs to do a better job in pass protection if they have any hope of making the playoffs. Palmer cannot be knocked around like he was in 2016. D.J. Humphries who was at RT in his rookie season in 2016 moves to LT where Jared Veldheer will move to RT. Veldheer is coming off an injury that limited him to eight games in 2016. LG Mike Iupati needs to be a better pass blocker and even though he played through injuries in 2016. At C, A.Q. Shipley played all sixteen games in 2016 and is solid at the position. RG Dorian Johnson who was drafted out of the 4th round out of Pittsburgh is penciled in as the starter and takes over for a position that was manned by committee in 2016. G/C Evan Boehm played all sixteen games in his rookie season in 2016 and should continue to see a lot of action in 2017. C/G Tony Bergstrom was signed in the offseason from HOU and also adds needed depth to O-LINE. In the secondary FS Tyrann Mathieu has not been healthy in four season in the NFL. ARZ is a different team with Mathieu out on the field but, without Mathieu, forget about the playoffs. If Mathieu is injured again for a long period of time, look for ARZ to move him in the offseason. He needs to stay healthy and continue to make big plays. At SS Antoine Bethea was signed over from SF. He is a consistent pro and a big tackler. He replaces D.J. Swearinger who signed with WASH. LCB Patrick Peterson was second on the team in 2016 with 3INTs. He has been very consistent and seems to know where the ball is at all times. At RCB it has been by committee and no one has stepped up as the leader at the position. Justin Bethel took a pay cut and could be the starter wk 1. Brandon Williams had problems in 2016 learning the position and Harlan Miller who played sparingly in 2016 can play the S/CB will see a lot more action in 2017. S Budda Baker who was drafted in the 2nd round out of Washington should also see a lot of action as he learns the pro game. RCB Marcus Cooper who led the team with 4INTS signed with CHI in the offseason. DT Robert Nkemdiche had a very disappointing rookie campaign in 2016 with a high ankle sprain that limited him to five games. He makes the move to DE and hopefully a much better 2017. He replaces Calais Campbell who signed with Jacksonville. DT Corey Peters who was slotted in as a backup last yr started 14 games in 2016 but has been solid and should have a better 2017. DE Josh Mauro who stepped up as a starter in 2016 will look to hold on to the position in 2017. Rodney Gunter, Frostee Rucker, Xavier Williams and Ed Stinson will all be rotated in to keep the line fresh and ready. The LBs on ARZ get most of the glory and recognition. OLB Chandler Jones was a force on the outside with 11 sacks in 2016. ILB Karlos Dansby was signed from CINNCY who replaced Kevin Minter who signed with CINNCY. ILB Deone Bucannon is questionable for wk 1 because of surgery in the offseason to repair an ankle injury. OLB Marcus Golden is the force on the other side as he led ARZ with 12.5 sacks in 2016. LB Jarvis Jones was from PITT to give the LB corps more depth but, he will definitely see a lot of playing time as a contributor. LB Kareem Martin who was penciled in as a starter provides depth at OLB. LB Hasson Reddick who was drafted in the 1st round out of Temple can play inside or out and look for him to contribute during the season. HC Bruce Arians is on the hot seat. If this team doesn’t make the playoffs he could be gone on Black Monday. If ARZ is not even near the playoffs, Arians could be gone sooner. The team has to buy into the program. ARZ rides on Palmer’s shoulders. If he is healthy the team and all things are right, ARZ should be in the playoffs. But everyone needs to step up. The DEF was absent at times and gave up big plays when they needed a stop the most. That can’t happen. Besides the OLBs, everyone on DEF has to be accountable. There are questions in the secondary as well as the D-LINE. The O-LINE needs to protect Palmer and opening up the running lanes. The window of opportunity for this bunch is getting smaller. ARZ doesn’t have a particularly tough schedule but that’s what I said in 2016. I don’t see the bounceback and unfortunately Arians will get the ax.
PROJECTED 2016 (13-3), ACTUAL 2016 (7-8-1), PROJECTED 2017 (8-8)
San Francisco 49ers
This team is going through its 3rd rebuild in three seasons. When HC Jim Harbaugh took this team to the SuperBowl after the 2012 season, it seems a lot longer than that. GM Trent Baalke is out, John Lynch is in. Yes, the John Lynch who played S for TB & DEN. HC Chi Kelly is gone and former OC of ATL Kyle Shanahan is in as HC. He will also serve as the OC. DC Jim O’Neil is also out and Robert Saleh is in as DC. AT QB, Colin Kaepernick is not returning and Brian Hoyer will hold the reins. Hoyer has been around but worked with Kyle Shanahan in CLEVE. His backup will be Matt Barkley. QB Blaine Gabbert is also not returning, he signed with ARZ. At RB, Carlos Hyde has missed fifteen games in three seasons due to injuries. Carlos suffered a knee injury Christmas Eve that prevented him from getting 1,000 yds rushing. He will be backed up by journeyman Tim Hightower and recently dealt Kapri Bibbs. RB Joe Williams was drafted in the 4th round out of Utah for his speed and production. FB Kyle Juszczyk was signed from BALT to help block whoever is in the backfield for SF. At WR, Quinton Patton & Torrey Smith departed. WR Pierre Garcon was signed from WASH & Marquise Goodwin was signed from BUFF. In 2016 the leading WR was Jeremy Kerley who is still with the team and will continue to return punts. WR Aldrick Robinson also was signed from ATL where he caught twenty passes under Shanahan’s OFF. WR Trent Taylor who was drafted in the 5th round out of Louisiana Tech is perfect in the slot. At TE, Garrett Celek & Vance McDonald were a nice 1-2 punch at the position. TE Logan Paulsen was signed from CHI to give more depth and blocking capability to the position. The O-LINE has gone through some ups and downs, mostly downs. Even though 49ers were 4th RUSH OFF, they were #32 PASS OFF & #1 TOT OFF in 2016. The O-LINE also gave up 47 sacks. In 2015 SF was #31 TOT OFF with #29 PASS OFF & #21 RUSH OFF. The O-LINE gave up 53 sacks in 2015. The O-LINE needs to be set by wk 1 so that the 49ers have a chance of moving forward. LT Joe Staley is the anchor of the O-LINE. He’s been with SF since 2007. He missed three games in 2016 with a hamstring injury. LG Zane Beadles started all sixteen games after signing as a FA in 2016. He is versatile and can play anywhere on the line. OL Daniel Kilgore started 13 games at C/LG. C Jeremy Zuttah signed with SF after three seasons at BALT. His signing gives more stability to the O-LINE. C Tim Barnes joined SF after the 2017 draft. He played the last two seasons as the RAMS starting C and gives the SF O-LINE depth. RG Joshua Garnett played in fifteen games in his rookie season, starting eleven. Garnett could move to another position on the O-Line because he struggled at times. RT Trent Brown started all sixteen games at RT but is not a sure bet to start at the position come wk 1. OL Garry Gilliam was picked up from SEA and could battle for a starting spot on the right side. He started 30 games the last two seasons for SEA. On DEF, a new DC usually means a new alignment with a new philosophy. SF is switching to a 4-3 DEF from the 3-4 that SF has had for years. Also, a lot of SF’s draft picks in 2017 were focused on strengthening the DEF. On the D-LINE DE Solomon Thomas who was drafted in the 1st round out of Stanford will be penciled in as the starter on the outside. He will also be used in the interior on passing downs. DE Ronald Blair will definitely be in the rotation as he played in all sixteen games and contributed 3 sacks in his rookie campaign of 2016. DT Earl Mitchell was signed from MIA to help with the Run Def. DT D.J. Jones who was drafted in the 6th round out of Ole Miss will likely back up the interior. DT DeForest Buckner also had a nice rookie season in 2016 by starting fifteen games and contributing six sacks. DT Quinton Dial served in the rotation well playing in fourteen games and starting eleven. He gives the D-LINE depth and a breather. DE Arik Armstead had a shoulder injury in training camp 2016 which limited him to eight games but he is expected to make a full recovery and get turned loose for wk 1. NT/DT Chris Jones missed the 2015 seasonwith a calf injury but gave the SF team a late 2016 boost with six starts in six games. SLB Ahmad Brooks is solid at the position and contributed six sacks in 2016. MLB NaVorro Bowman was limited to four games in 2016 due to an Achilles tear. This perennial ALL-PRO will get every opportunity to comeback and be a starter. LB Eli Harold played in all sixteen games/ starting thirteen and contributed three sacks. He will be looked upon to contribute more in 2017. LB Aaron Lynch has the tools to be very successful but suspensions and injuries kept him to seven games in 2016. He needs to prove himself once again. WLB Reuben Foster who was drafted in the 1st round out of Alabama is penciled in at the position as the starter as long as his shoulder is ok. LB Malcolm Smith comes over from OAK via FA to give the LB crew some more depth. LB Pita Taumoepenu who was drafted in the 6th round out of Utah had nine sacks in his senior season and shoulder bolster the pass rush. LB Dekoda Watson, a journeyman will also add depth to an area that has seen its share of injuries as of late. In the secondary at CB Tramaine Brock was released after a domestic violence arrest which opened the door for Dontae Johnson & Ankello Witherspoon who was drafted in the 3rd round out of Colorado to compete for the job. CB Rashard Robinson showed promise in 2016 with fourteen games played/started six. At SS, Antoine Bethea left for ARZ so Eric Reid who was the FS will move over. Eric was limited to ten games in 2016 due to a torn biceps muscle. At FS, Jimmie Ward converts from CB to roam the field. He was also limited in 2016 due to injuries. Jaquiski Tartt & Don Jones will get long looks as the secondary corps have been badly injured and in need of some depth. S Vinnie Sunseri will also get a look at FS but mostly plays on special teams. For SF, new coaches mean new schemes and an adjustment period. On OFF the O-LINE needs to protect, stay healthy and open up some running lanes. Hoyer has some receivers to throw to and should find them if he gets the protection needed. On DEF a lot of questions persist in the secondary and two starters are gone and role players and guys coming back from injuries will fill in where needed. In the LB crew there is nice depth but the starters are getting older. The D-LINE needs to put pressure on guys and the rookies need to show why they were drafted. All in all, a lot of questions surrounding this team going into 2017.
PROJECTED 2016 (4-12), ACTUAL 2016 (2-14), PROJECTED 2017 (5-11)