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TOUCHDOWN - A LOOK AT THE 2017 NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE SEASON AND SUPER BOWL LII

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TOUCHDOWN - A LOOK AT THE 2017 NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE SEASON AND SUPER BOWL LII

By Howard T. Brody

On February 4, 2018, the best team from the American Football Conference (AFC) will take the field to take on the best team from the National Football Conference (NFC) in Super Bowl LII.

Between now and February 32 teams will vie for the right to play in that game seen by 100 million people worldwide. The big question is who is it going to be? Well, if we all knew that, then what fun would it be to even play the season?

You see the beautiful thing about football is that on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team.

Two years ago, during Super Bowl 50, we saw the heavily favored 15-1 Carolina Panthers lose to the 12-4 Denver Broncos with the score of 24-10.

And who could forget last year’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots?

Something like that is impossible to predict.

So now, with a new regular season scheduled to kick off on Thursday, September 7, as the defending World Champions The New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs, the big question is: can the Patriots do it again?

Realizing that spoilers will occur and that the unpredictable will indeed take place, STRIPLV has looked at what the Las Vegas oddsmakers have had to say, studied and analyzed the picks by some of the sport’s most accurate prognosticators, and listened to what some of the most successful bettors are saying about the upcoming season. And based on all that information and the research that has been presented before us, STRIPLV is going to try to defy the odds and attempt to predict the outcome of the 2017 NFL season and tell you who is going to go to Super Bowl LII and who is going to WIN IT ALL.

AFC East

New England Patriots – Some experts have predicted an undefeated season for the Pats. While that is a brave statement to make, considering that Tom Brady has taken his team 16-0 previously, and his Super Bowl performance last year possibly proved that he really is the greatest quarterback of all time, would it really be such a bad bet? In the last seven years, New England has had three trips to the Super Bowl and won two championships. As long as Brady can stay healthy, and taking into account that he looks to be surrounded by a better team than last year, (especially if Rob Gronkowski can come back to 100%) then New England should 

New England should easily win their 14th AFC East title in 15 years.

Miami Dolphins – A lot of stock has been put in Ryan Tannehill coming into this season, especially coming off last year’s playoff campaign for coach Adam Gase’s rookie season. But with Tannehill out until 2018 because of a knee injury and Jay Cutler coming in to take over the quarterback duties, the team may be good enough to finish second in the AFC East, but the Dolphins won’t have enough in them to make the playoffs. Even though Cutler knows the offense, this year’s schedule for Miami is not very friendly with trips to London, the West coast, a Thursday night game in Baltimore and trips to Buffalo and Kansas City during December.

Buffalo Bills – With a new regime in place under first-year coach Sean McDermott, this could be a long season for the Bills as they not only face a very tough schedule, but their last five games of the season include two games each against division rivals the Patriots and Dolphins. If Buffalo wants to be taken seriously this season, they need to win some games early on. If they can do that, then with a bye during week six of the season and week seven at home against Tampa Bay could make or break the season for them as the Buccaneers will be coming off two tough games— one at home against New England and one on the road against Arizona.

New York Jets – Although they won 10 games two years ago, the last time the Jets were in the playoffs was in 2010 when they lost the AFC Championship game to Pittsburgh. Considering that they may have the worst roster in the NFL and some prognosticators are predicting a winless season for the men in green and white, it’s not likely they will be playoff bound anytime soon. New York’s only saving grace might be the fact that in weeks four and five the Jets will face Jacksonville and Cleveland, two teams that will likely flounder at the bottom of their respective divisions.

AFC West

Oakland Raiders – Although they won’t be the Las Vegas Raiders until the 2020 season, there are a lot of people betting that the Raiders could be the team to usurp the Patriots in the AFC, especially if quarterback Derek Carr can return healthy after the broken leg he suffered. But those who are placing bets on Oakland better be thinking of placing an insurance bet. The Raiders are going to have a real dogfight on their hands with division rivals the Chiefs and Broncos, especially considering that they open the season with three of their first four games on the road, will be playing a game in Mexico City against New England and play three of their last four games on the road, including one against division rival Kansas City and one on a Monday night in Philadelphia.

Kansas City Chiefs – While coach Andy Reid has assembled a team that can score on offense (led by quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Tyreek Hill), 

Marcus Peters) and special teams, the Chiefs face a tough schedule this year as four of their five non-divisional road opponents were playoff teams last year (New England, Houston, Dallas and the New York Giants). If the Chiefs stay in the hunt through December, the fact that three of their last four games will be played at home can mean the difference between a division win, a wildcard spot or staying at home.

Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian has been called an extremely safe thrower who dinks and dunks and will take sacks while holding onto the ball too long. If he starts the season as their QB, for the Broncos’ sake he better be the player he was for the first half of last season and not the second half. But Siemian is not the only trouble spot on the team. Denver has major question marks at running back and on both offensive and defensive lines. Those issues, combined with a schedule that puts the Broncos on the road for seven of the last 11 weeks, paints a very bleak playoff picture. Still, Denver could see a wild card spot depending on how the Chiefs and cross-conference competitors Baltimore Ravens fare.

Los Angeles Chargers – If the team stays healthy, the Chargers could make a run for the playoffs, but there is a lot to overcome. First and foremost they play in arguably the toughest division in the NFL. Then there is the uncertainty of how the move to L.A. and playing in the smallest venue in the league, will affect them. If wide receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback Jason Verrett can play the way they did before their injuries and wide receiver Mike Williams can catch as he did at Clemson, then perhaps quarterback Philip Rivers can lead the Chargers to the promised land.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – It is possible the Steelers can go 5-0 before facing the Chiefs in Kansas City week six? To kick off the 2017 campaign, Pittsburgh plays Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Baltimore and Jacksonville. Of those games, the only one that shouldn’t be a walk is the one against division rival Baltimore. The Steelers boast perhaps the best offensive trio in the NFL with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers will not be challenged for the division title.

Baltimore Ravens – Coach John Harbaugh is going to have his work cut out for him. While the Ravens were active in free agency, it was mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Considering that wide receiver Mike Wallace isn’t getting any younger, running back Kenneth Dixon is suspended to start the season and wide receiver Breshad Perriman has a history of injuries, quarterback Joe Flacco needs more than running back Danny Woodhead to improve from last year’s 21st-ranked scoring offense in the league. Despite all the challenges, the Ravens should still have enough in them to make a playoff run.

Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals couldn’t catch a break last season, losing seven of nine games by a single possession. Despite having an offensive line that appears questionable and will most likely have an impact in early November when they play three consecutive strong defensive teams on the road in the Jaguars, Titans, and Broncos, the Bengals still have a pretty good chance of starting the season at 4-1 before their bye week as they face Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland and Buffalo.

Cleveland Browns – While there’s cause for optimism in Cleveland, even if the Browns win three more games than they did last year, their improvement won’t amount to very much. Yes, they strengthened their offensive line. Yes, they continued to add decent receivers. And yes, they made a good choice when picking the versatile Jabrill Peppers. Even with that optimism, it won’t take the Browns out of the AFC North cellar.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – It’s been nine years since the Titans have been in the playoffs and only a tiebreaker kept this team on the rise out of last year’s postseason. As long as quarterback Marcus Mariota can return to form at 100 percent from his broken leg, and with one of the top-three offensive lines protecting their franchise QB he should, the Titans will be a major force in the AFC. They will, however, face a major challenge late in the season as they play four of five games on the road, including a Thursday night game in Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis Colts – The big question for the Colts is how healthy will quarterback Andrew Luck be coming off a major shoulder surgery when the season starts? How much protection can he realistically expect from an offensive line that is questionable? And how much can they rely on their 34-year-old running back Frank Gore? Making two West coast trips in the first month to face some pretty physical defenses in the Rams and Seahawks could be the litmus test for their offense and set the pattern for the whole season. Nose tackle Johnathan Hankins reinforces their defensive front, but as a whole, their defense isn’t really strong enough to take them down the stretch. Do not expect Indianapolis to make a run for the playoffs.

Houston Texans – Some experts are thinking the Texans, who have won their division the last three seasons, will go 8-8 at best this season, while most think they will finish with seven or six wins tops. Considering that their top two quarterbacks (Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage) have two combined NFL starts between them, it’s easy to understand why 2017 will be a season of rebuilding for Houston. And even though the Texans defense, led by a healthy J.J. Watt, should have another stellar season, defenses can’t win championships; they can only keep teams in the hunt. Without an offense to put numbers up on the board, it looks like it is going to be a long season for the Texans.

Jacksonville Jaguars – There’s a great deal of excitement around Jacksonville heading into the season because of how active they were with free agency and because Tom Coughlin is back as their executive VP, overseeing all football operations. They have an upgraded offensive line, a potential superstar running back in rookie Leonard Fournette and a potentially dominant defense, all of which could restore this franchise to relevance. But the Jaguars’ big question mark is at quarterback. Unless Blake Bortles can get back on track and improve over last year, this will not be Jacksonville’s year.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys and division rival New York Giants will not only be physical with each other as they always are, but both will be playing against the AFC West, which will take its toll. Because of this, there are some people who doubt quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott can repeat their performance from last year, especially considering the Cowboys’ offensive line has two new starters. While their defense is still questionable, it does appear that they have improved at pass rushing over the last season. Still, the Cowboys admittedly have a ton of offensive firepower and play four of their five November games at home, putting them in a great position to take the division title once again.

New York Giants – Like their division rival Dallas Cowboys, the Giants’ season will be physically demanding, and even though quarterback Eli Manning can close his eyes and hit wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, or Sterling Shepard, there are still plenty of question marks that could keep the Giants from 

making the playoffs. By opening the season with four of six games on the road, if they do not survive that stretch and in the process do not establish some ground game to balance their offense, the Giants could be sitting at home come January.

Philadelphia Eagles – Simply put, this is going to be a long season for the Eagles. They play 13 games against teams with reasonable playoff chances. They also get undesirable back-to-back games in December on the West coast, where they face the Seahawks and then stay on Pacific Time to play the Rams. While the offensive line has remained intact, and quarterback Carson Wentz has shown improvement, it will be up to the defense to keep the Eagles close. By all accounts, if their defensive line does not dominate their opponents, their weak secondary will be exposed, allowing the score to be run up on them.

Washington Redskins – Although they have a roster coming off two consecutive 

winning seasons, there are a lot of questions about the team’s leadership with former General Manager Scot McCloughan gone and after what has been described as a “clown show” being presented around the combine. Also, quarterback Kirk Cousins’ future is in question too. It has been said that he is not too happy having lost two 1,000-yard receivers in DeSean Jackson (who went to Tampa Bay) and Pierre Garcon (who went to San Francisco).

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – With quarterback Russell Wilson and free safety Earl Thomas playing healthy again, the Seahawks are the division front-runners. Nevertheless, a very tough non-divisional road schedule could make life miserable for Seattle as they travel to Green Bay, Tennessee, Dallas and New York to play the Giants. Even a 1 p.m. ET start in Jacksonville could spell trouble for the Seahawks.

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals’ schedule looks to be in their favor as they start the season with two games on the road against Detroit and Indianapolis, they get a bye after a trip to London to play the Rams, and they play three in a row at home in late November - early December. On the field, they’ve got an exceptional player, a legit superstar, in running back David Johnson. The question marks come with quarterback Carson Palmer and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Are their best years behind them or can they continue to play at the level they have been as they continue to age? And how long can 34-year-old wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who led the NFL with 107 catches, be the workhorse of their offense? Arizona has all the ingredients to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams are a young team that is undergoing major changes on both offense and defense thanks to their millennial first-year coach Sean McVay, who at the age of 30, became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is bringing a 3–4 defense to Los Angeles and is moving Robert Quinn to linebacker. Quarterback Jared Goff can only improve from last season. After L.A. opens with two winnable games at home against Indianapolis and Washington, they play five of the next six games on the road, including a “home” game in London and East coast games in Jacksonville and New York against the Giants.

San Francisco 49ers – When the most encouraging thing you can talk about is the new GM and head coach, both with six-year contracts to rebuild a once thriving team, you know it is going to be a long season. Last year under head coach Chip Kelly the Niners went 2-14. This year under Kyle Shanahan, who will also serve as offensive coordinator – a bold move for any head coach let alone a rookie – their record shouldn’t be any better, but they should have some better players on the field. GM John Lynch did a bang up job in his first draft. First, he traded down with Chicago to get the #3 pick where he nabbed Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas; then he grabbed Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster with the 31st pick overall.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – The Packers open at home against the Seahawks and on the road against the Falcons and only play at home twice after Thanksgiving against the Vikings and Buccaneers. While Atlanta’s offense will be different without Kyle Shanahan calling the plays, and Green Bay are notoriously slow starters, the second game of the season could set the tone for the whole Packers season. Even so, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing to tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, they should once again outclass their opponents and take the division title.

Minnesota Vikings – Overall, this year’s Vikings don’t appear much different than last year’s version. The big question is whether or not quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be able to return or if Sam Bradford will lead the offense. With the Vikes declining to pick up Bridgewater’s fifth-year option, speculation is high he will sit on the sidelines. Regardless of who will be running the offense, with newcomers Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray stabilizing their offensive line, not only will there be better pass protection, but it could ensure that Minnesota doesn’t repeat as having the league’s worst rushing game. Their defense should again be strong enough to keep them close in games, and by playing five of the first seven at home, there will be a good indication if the Vikings can make a playoff run.

Detroit Lions – Under head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions have had two winning seasons in three years. And while Caldwell made some questionable decisions in late-game situations during last year’s campaign that probably cost Detroit some wins but not a playoff spot, a repeat of that mindset will likely catch up with him this year. The bigger questions heading into the season are will defensive end Ziggy Ansah rebound from last season? Can running back Ameer Abdullah live up to his potential? And what about quarterback Matt Stafford? Can he improve on or at least equal last year’s performance which was the best year of his career? Stay tuned.

Chicago Bears – Coming off a franchise record-tying 13 losses last season, neither Mike Glennon nor Mitch Trubisky at quarterback for the Bears will do much damage against NFL defenses, especially with their subpar receivers. And unfortunately, their opponents won’t be afraid of throwing against them due to their lack of depth in the secondary. Chicago has finished in last in the NFC North the last three years, and this year they will probably do so again during John Fox’s third year as coach. None of their first six opponents finished below .500 last season, and to make matters worse they open against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

NFC
South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Some experts seem to think this team looks and feels like the Carolina Panthers did just before their breakout season, poised to make their first playoff appearance in a decade after diversifying an unbalanced offense. Last season the Bucs were mathematically in playoff contention heading into the last Sunday of the season but just missed out. Now, with a young, aggressive defense, and a third-year quarterback in Jameis Winston about to come into his own, along with having the best receiving tandem in the division in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, not to mention rookie tight end O.J. Howard and running back Doug Martin on offense, this Tampa Bay team will win the division for the first time since 2007.

Atlanta Falcons – While the Falcons may arguably have the most talented locker room in the league (quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman, offensive left tackle Jake Matthews, nose Dontari Poe, and cornerback Desmond Trufant to name a few) and should be heading into the season as the defending World Champions, they are not and their big Super Bowl loss could have a drastic effect on how they play this year. Even though they will get a much-needed jolt of energy with a new stadium, will it be enough to overcome also losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan?  A midseason stretch of four road games in five weeks that includes trips to New England and Seattle will certainly be a challenge for Atlanta.

Carolina Panthers – Just as the Dolphins put too much stock in Ryan Tannehill, so the Panthers do in Cam Newton. How Newton rehabs from shoulder surgery and avoids, re-injury will be the key to Carolina’s success. Some of that will come from his protection on the offensive line as Michael Oher should move back to right tackle once he passes concussion protocols, and Matt Kalil must get better against the rush if he is to be effective on Newton’s blind side. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey could be dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. While 37-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers won’t make much of an impact for the team, it’s nice to see him back in a Panthers uniform to most likely close out his career. He played for Carolina from 2002-09 before going to Chicago (2010-13) and Green Bay (2014-16).

New Orleans Saints – Adding 32-year-old future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson to the backfield might provide great intrigue for the Saints, but it won’t dramatically change their outcome this season. Losing a top wide receiver like Brandin Cooks to New England hurt their offense. While Drew Brees is still the phenomenal quarterback he is, he has not taken New Orleans any better than 7-9 for the past three seasons, and there’s little reason to think this season will be any different. The Saints have a tough opening schedule with three of their first four games on the road, with their only home game during that stretch will be against the Patriots.

AFC Projected Finish

East

New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills

New York Jets

West

Oakland Raiders

Kansas City Chiefs*

Denver Broncos

Los Angeles Chargers

North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Baltimore Ravens*

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

South

Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis Colts

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC Projected Finish

East

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Red Skins

West

Seattle Seahawks

Arizona Cardinals*

Los Angeles Rams

San Francisco 49ers

North

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

Detroit Lions

Chicago Bears

South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Atlanta Falcons*

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Seeding the field

Each year the four division winners in each conference are seeded one through four based on their record, head-to-head competition, etc. to determine who gets home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The two wild card teams in each conference, selected from all other teams in the conference, are seeded fifth and sixth respectively, also based on their winning records, etc. The top two seeds get a bye during the first week of the playoffs. With this in mind, here is how we are predicting the 1-6 seeds in each conference.

 

AFC:
#1
New
England,
#2
Pittsburgh,
#3
Oakland,
#4
Tennessee,
#5
Kansas
City,
#6
Baltimore.

 

NFC:
#1
Green
Bay,
#2
Seattle,
#3
Tampa
Bay,
#4
Dallas,
#5
Atlanta,
#6
Arizona

 

The Playoffs

In the AFC Wild Card round, the #4 seed Tennessee Titans will defeat the #5 seed Kansas City Chiefs, while the #3 seed Oakland Raiders will beat the #6 seed Baltimore Ravens. In the NFC Wild Card round, the #5 seed Atlanta Falcons will upset the #4 seed Dallas Cowboys, as the #3 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers upend the #6 seed Arizona Cardinals.

In the AFC Divisional title round, the #2 seed Pittsburgh Steelers will top the Raiders, while the #1 seeded New England Patriots defeat the Titans. In the NFC, the Buccaneers will upset the #2 seed Seattle Seahawks, while the Falcons fall to the #1 seed Green Bay Packers.

In the Conference Championships games, New England will return to the Super Bowl as they topple Pittsburgh in AFC, while Tampa Bay falls to Green Bay, sending the Packers back to the big game for the first time since 2011 when they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

 

The Super Bowl

In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21, Super Bowl LII will have a much different result. Expect the Tom Brady-led Pats to beat the Pack, winning their third World Championship in four years and their first back-to-back world titles since they did it for the 2003 and 2004 seasons winning Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX, respectively defeating the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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