Well, here we are again with yet another NFL Season upon us. On September 7, 2017, the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will open the 2017-18 NFL Season at home against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium. The game will air on NBC. The Patriots will drop their fifth Super Bowl Banner, with all the pomp and circumstance, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be in attendence. This will be the first time Goodell will be at Gillette Stadium for a game that counts, since the now infamous 2014-15 AFC Championship Game against the Colts, which launched the investigation-turned-witch hunt, called “Deflategate.” Roger Goodell did appear at the Patriots’ first pre-season game this past summer, but that game doesn’t count. Regardless, I am sure this Thursday, the New England fans will give Mr. Goodell a warm and friendly welcome.
Before I get into making my predictions for the 32 teams, and such, I am going to briefly discuss some of the storylines going into the season. Let’s start by discussing the legal mess that is brewing between the NFLPA and the NFL over Dallas Cowboys star RB Ezekiel Elliott’s six game suspension for domestic violence. Elliott allegedly abused his girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, by attacking her three times near the Ohio State Campus. The NFL investigation took nearly a year, and came to the conclusion that Elliott should serve a six game suspension. I am not going to go into a ton of detail, but from what I have been reading, the evidence against Elliott appears to be pretty shaky. One of the NFL Investigators, Kia Roberts, recommended no suspension for Elliott, because she did not find Miss Thompson credible (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2017/08/31/report-nfl-lead-investigator-recommended-no-suspension-for-ezekiel-elliott/ ). This past week, there was a three day appeal hearing in front of Harold Henderson, who is acting as arbitrator. One of the objections from the NFLPA is that Miss Thompson, the alleged victim, was not called at the appeal hearing. This goes to the “fundamental fairness” of the process to unfairly suspend Elliott, as well as not having access to NFL attorney Jeff Pash’s notes.
If any of this sounds familiar to my readers, these arguments were used in front of the Second District Court judges in the Brady Case, during “Deflategate.” This was why Tom Brady was fighting his ridiculous suspension in court, so this kind of nonsense would not happen to ANOTHER FUTURE player. Well, here we are again. Ezekiel Elliott and NFLPA attorney Jeff Kessler, yes, the same attorney, who defended Brady, filed a suit in a Texas Court to block the suspension. What the NFLPA is doing is called, “Forum Shopping.” The NFL will be doing this, also, should Henderson, as expected, upholds the suspension. Ezekiel Elliott wants to avoid the Second District Courts, where the NFL eventually won its case against Brady. The reason is that a Second District judge is more likely to obey the Second Circuit’s ruling against Brady, and force Elliott to serve his six game suspension. As a reminder, the Second Circuit ruled in the Brady Case that per Article 46 in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which the players agreed to, even though the Commissioner may have the facts wrong, the Commissioner, as arbitrator, can still hand down punishment as he sees fit. My advice to Cowboy fans, who may be reading this, get used to hearing the terms, “Article 46,” “forum shopping,” and be prepared for a two year legal battle.
Another storyline is the issue of concussions, and player safety. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen made news this past Spring, when she revealed that her husband, Patriots QB Tom Brady suffered from concussions. Of course, being that it was the Patriots, the keyboard warriors were calling for suspensions, and all that nonsense. Concussions aren’t easy to diagnose. Did Brady likely hide concussions from the team? Sure. Is he the ONLY player to EVER hide a concussion from his team, like the Gary Meyers’ of the world were trying to make it sound? No. I think that perhaps we need to do away with some ideas, like “No pain. No gain.,” or how about not making fun of children, who play sports, boys, in particular, if they don’t want to play in pain. How about guaranteed contracts in the NFL? Guaranteed contracts, in my opinion, would help encourage players to report concussions, instead of feeling like they have to play through it.
There is also that latest study, where of 111 brains from deceased football players, 110 had C.T.E., or Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Despite all the research, and despite all the continuing research that connects the hits from football to diseases like CTE, dementia, Althemiers, and ALS, the NFL is still in denial. Commissioner Goodell, and many of the Owners completely ignore the science. I am not surprised, as they ignored the science of the Ideal Gas Law, which debunked Deflategate. Why should anyone be surprised that Goodell would ignore science connecting his sport to C.T.E? The NFL and their lawyers are giving families a hard time with the Concussion Settlement, as well. Here is a link to a story about former NFL player Rickey Dixon, and his wife’s struggle with collecting from the settlement: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/enterpriseNFLWives/wives-former-nfl-players-left-navigate-concussion-settlement
The NFL is pushing all these new safety rules, like Big Tobacco with the so-called “safer cigarette. The hypocrisy by the NFL. is when a dangerous player, like Cincinnati Bengal LB Vontaze Burfict’s five game suspension is reduced to three. Last year, thanks to his actions, he served a three game suspension. So, what is his serving another three game suspension going to teach him? His team doesn’t seem to care that he is a dangerous player. The NFL doesn’t seem to care, either. Yet, they talk about how they are making the game “safer.”
I know that some readers may think that I am a hypocrite in making some of these criticisms of the NFL and doing a prediction column. However, I love this sport, and the players that play it. I care about the safety of these men, and I just want the NFL brass to be transparent with the general public and fans concerning concussions and player safety. The NFL would have a lot more credibility with the general public, if they delved into player safety and concussions with the same fervor they had concerning PSI levels in footballs.
My final note, before we get onto my predictions for the upcoming season concerns Tom Brady, and his age. This will be a story-line throughout the season, because it is Tom Brady, and ESPN, and other outlets have to have something to discuss about the Patriots. Before I continue, I do not think the Patriots, or ANY OTHER team for that matter, are going undefeated, so let’s get the 19-0 talk out of the way. I don’t know, if it is just my observation, or what it is, but I grew up with always admiring greatness, and wanting to see greatness last as long as possible. I notice “experts,” like ESPN’s Max Kellerman trying to make a name for himself, by saying earlier last season, “Tom Brady’s going to fall off a cliff when he is 41.” I see former QBs like Chris Simms constantly taking shots at Brady, and so on, and so forth.
Why can’t we admire greatness, and enjoy it while it lasts? Yes, I know Father Time is undefeated. Everyone knows that. See Peyton Manning, Brett Farve, and many other top athletes. Who knows how long Brady will play, despite his wanting to play until 45. God/Fate only knows. I think people should just enjoy the ride, while this lasts. I think it will be very interesting to see if Brady can win another Super Bowl, and play at a high level at age 40 and beyond. His playing at a high level at his age has inspired others, such as Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers and New York Giants QB Eli Manning, who both had said they want to play at 40. I think Brady’s playing at 40 at a high level is good for the sport.
Now, that I have discussed several of the main story-lines for the 2017-18 NFL Season, it is time for my predictions for each team’s records, Division winners, Wild Cards, AFC Champions, and Super Bowl winner. I hope you have enjoyed this blog, and will enjoy my picks.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE:
Prediction: Well, this division is not the hardest to call. The defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots have won this division 9 straight times, including last year. That joke of a scandal, called “Deflategate” failed to stop them, as the NFL hoped it would. The defending AFC Champs made some good moves in the offseason, like trading for WR Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, the Patriots lost WR Julian Edelman, due to an ACL tear, and that is huge. A huge part of their offense is gone, but I am sure that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and coach Bill Bellichick will have some sort of plan. As for the rest of the AFC. let’s see. The New York Jets are in rebuilding mode. They traded away Sheldon Richardson, arguably their best defender. Josh McKown is going to be their quarterback. Is Christian Hackenberg ever going to get a start? He could not even get the backup role. The Buffalo Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, and have an entire new GM and Coach. Miami Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase got former Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler out of mothballs, as QB Ryan Tannehill had to have surgery for his partially torn ACL, that he should have had a long while ago. Miami does have some playmakers on both sides of the ball, but I think they overachieved last year.
Division Winner: New England Patriots.
- New England Patriots: 14-2
- Miami Dolphins: 8-8
- Buffalo Bills: 6-10
- New York Jets: 2-14
Prediction: This has been a topsy-turvy division, to say the least. I can only see two teams winning this division, the defending division winners, the Houston Texans, or the up and coming Tennessee Titans. The returning DE J.J. Watt gives Houston’s already formidable defense a huge boost. Before I continue, the NFL needs to give its Walter Payton Man of the Year to J.J. Watt right now. He has been a godsend to the people of Houston, during Hurricane Harvey. Watt has now raised upwards of $18 million dollars for those affected by the flooding. I am certainly glad he didn’t “stick to sports.” As for the effect of Harvey on the team itself, that will be hard to predict, as many of the players and staff were adversely affected by Harvey. Will local fans want to come to home games after dealing with the aftermath themselves? Will the stadium be in shape to host the opener? Harvey could either inspire the team, or discourage them. I do think that this team has enough talent, and leadership in head coach Bill O’Brien, and J.J. Watt to overcome adversity, as the rest of the division is in a bit of disarray. I do admit that I am not too crazy about Tom Savage as QB, but the Texans have WR DeAndre Hopkins, as a great weapon, and that excellent defense to carry them through.
The Tennessee Titans have a very good team, but I will be keeping my eye on QB Marcus Mariotta, who is coming off a broken tibia suffered near the end of last season, when the team was making a playoff push. Will he be the same player? If he can return to that level, I think the Titans can possibly challenge the Texans for the division. The Indianapolis Colts are a total mess. QB Andrew Luck is not quite ready, due to his shoulder surgery, hence QB Scott Tozien likely getting the start, and the trade for New England Patriots QB Jacoby Brissett in exchange for WR Phillip Dorsett. The Colts fired GM Ryan Grigson, famous for getting the Deflategate ball rolling. The team is in total rebuilding mode, pretty much thanks to Grigson’s mistakes in drafting, and dealing. I really don’t expect much from the team. Perhaps the team should stop being the land of excuses, and accept a 38 point beatdown, next time. The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be a dumpster fire. Do they even have a quarterback? Blake Bortles has been a disaster in pre-season. The man has thrown INT after INT. The problem is that Chad Henne was not much better. Even though Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan would have no objections to hiring the blackballed and unemployed QB Colin Kaepernick, Tom Coughlin, Executive Vice President of Football Operations, said he would not hire him, with no explanations. This is like the Titanic refusing help. I don’t see many wins for the Jaguars. Rookie Leonard Fournette may be a bright spot, but that’s it.
Division Winner: Houston Texans
- Houston Texans: 10-6
- Tennessee Titans: 9-7
- Indianapolis Colts: 7-9
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
Prediction: There’s a ton of intriguing story lines in this division. Can Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr bounce back from his broken leg, that derailed a potential deep playoff run for the team? Will the team be distracted by their eventual move to Las Vegas? Can the Kansas City Chiefs make a deep playoff run with Alex Smith as quarterback, or will it be time for the rookie Patrick Mahomes? The team has an excellent defense, lead by LB John Houston and DB Eric Berry. Tight End Travis Kelce is the main weapon on offense. Alex Smith is very good, but he doesn’t put the fear of God in anyone as a quarterback.
Can the Denver Broncos regain their dominance with Trevor Simien as quarterback, along with their excellent defense? Backup QB Paxton Lynch, who’s a first round pick, will be out a few weeks, due to injury, evidently could not beat Simien out for the starting job. Former Broncos QB Brock Osweiller took a circuitous route back the Broncos via the Texans and the Cleveland Browns. The Broncos also cut defender T. J. Ward, which did not go over well with the locker room. Ward, now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, called the move, “unprofessional.” Funny how a player like Ward, who knocked out Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski for the year with a low and late hit, and cost his Broncos team a possible win against the Patriots with a late hit that was flagged, has a nerve to call anyone “unprofessional.” Vance Joseph is the new head coach for the Broncos. The now Los Angeles Chargers are dealing with a name change and a relocation. They have a new coach, Anthony Lynn. Team stalwarts QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates are still looking for that elusive Super Bowl.
Division Winner: Oakland Raiders.
- Oakland Raiders: 11-5
- Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5
- Denver Broncos: 8-8
- Los Angeles Chargers: 7-9
Prediction: This is one of my favorite divisions in the NFL. The four teams are the toughest in the league, in that they pretty much beat each other up. The rivalries between division foes are the best, even among the fans. That being said, the most intriguing team is the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the contract extension, will coach John Harbaugh be on the hot seat, if the team falters again? Will QB Joe Flacco’s back injury suffered during the preseason flare up during the season? Will the team have enough players, as so many players have been lost during training camp?
As for the rest of the AFC North, can the Cincinnati Bengals bounce back from their poor season last year? Will coach Marvin Lewis still have his job? The Cleveland Browns are going with DeShone Kizer, their first round pick as starting quarterback. They have a young team, so good luck to coach Hue Jackson. The defending division winner, the Pittsburgh Steelers, may or may not be playing with QB Ben Roethlisberger in his final season. Right after the loss to the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship Game, Roethlisberger seriously thought about retiring. Well, he returned this year, and it appears that he is taking it year by year, as he “wants to be able to play with his kids,” when he retires. The Steelers have a forbidable offense, with wide receivers Antonio Brown, and Martavius Bryant, and RB Le’Veon Bell, who returned to team practice, after a contract dispute. The key will be the defense.
Division Winner: The Pittsburgh Steelers
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4
- Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7
- Baltimore Ravens: 8-8
- Cleveland Browns: 5-11
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Prediction: The availability of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott for the team is up in the air. All this depends on when Harold Henderson makes his decision concerning Elliott’s appeal of his six game suspension. As of this writing, Henderson has until 4pm, EST on Tuesday to rule. If he fails to rule, Elliott is eligible to play against the New York Giants. If he rules to uphold the suspension, then the NFLPA has to try for a restraining order from the court in Texas.
All this will effect the race for the division crown. Can QB Dak Prescott improve from last year? Will the loss if key players on defense hurt Dallas? Will fighting a scandal in court exhaust Elliott, like it eventually did Tom Brady in 2015?
The New York Giants appear to be the best challenger to Dallas. They have an improved defense. Hopefully, they can keep QB Eli Manning upright. Washington is a mess. QB Kirk Cousins has virtually no weapons. The defense doesn’t look great, either. The Philadelphia Eagles did look good in preseason. Eagles QB Carson Wentz looked like the Next Big Thing during the first part of last season, but when the second half of the season rolled around, he took a nose dive. There are high expectations for Wentz and WR Alshon Jeffery, but I am not too crazy about the Eagles either.
Division Winner: Dallas Cowboys
- Dallas Cowboys: 12-4
- New York Giants: 10-6
- Philadelphia Eagles: 8-8
- Washington: 7-9
Prediction: This is the division, where the teams take turns winning. I know that the “wise guy” team, that the experts are picking, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I just do not trust QB Jameis Winston. He keeps making that back breaking interception too many times for my liking. RB Doug Martin is suspended for a few games. I know the team just added T. J. Ward on defense, but count me out.
Can the defending division winner, and NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons recover from the Super Bowl collapse? This will be a real test. I don’t trust the Carolina Panthers to do much, as QB Cam Newton only threw two passes in preseason games, due to off-season shoulder surgery. I will say this. The officials need to protect large QBs like Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, just like they do guys like Brady, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Saints QB Drew Brees, etc. In speaking of the New Orleans Saints, the team needs a more balanced attack, with the newly acquired RB Adrian Peterson, and not depend on Brees to bail them out.
Division Winner: Atlanta Falcons
- Atlanta Falcons: 11-5
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-7
- New Orleans Saints: 7-9
- Carolina Panthers: 6-10
Prediction: Much like the AFC East, this division is an easy call. The Seattle Seahawks have owned this division, pretty much, and I don’t see anyone beating them this year. Yes, much has been written about their not getting over the loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 49. However, I think they are focused, and ready to go. With QB Russ Wilson healthy, and the “legion of boom” ready, I am expecting a deep run in the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Rams are a mess. They can’t even make a deal with their top defender, Aaron Donald, so he will get back to practice. QB Jared Goff is not near ready. The once mighty San Francisco 49ers have a new coach and GM. Did I mention that they’re also rebuilding? Can the Arizona Cardinals bounce back from their subpar 2016 year? Will this be WR Larry Fitzgerald’s last season? Can the aging QB Carson Palmer have a great season?
Division Winner: Seattle Seahawks.
- Seattle Seahawks: 12-4
- Arizona Cardinals: 9-7
- San Francisco 49ers: 5-11
- Los Angeles Rams: 4-12
Prediction: This is another easy call. The Green Bay Packers have been improving their secondary through the draft. They fortified their defense by signing free agent LB Ahmad Brooks. Of course, they have QB Aaron Rodgers, and that high powered offense. The Minnesota Vikings are still without QB Teddy Bridgewater, and I am not all that crazy about their team from looking at them, this preseason, either. The Chicago Bears will have QB Mike Glennon starting, even though their 2017 first round pick Mitchell Trubisky showed some potential during preseason games. I don’t see anything special about the Bears. The Detroit Lions signed QB Matthew Stafford to the NFL’s largest contract for a QB. Will that translate to the Lions going to the playoffs? We will see.
Division Winner: Green Bay Packers.
- Green Bay Packers: 11-5
- Detroit Lions: 8-8
- Minnesota Vikings: 7-9
- Chicago Bears: 6-10
Playoff Seedings and Wild Cards (WC):
- New England Patriots
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Oakland Raiders
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Houston Texans (WC)
- Tennesse Titans (WC)
- Seattle Seahawks
- Dallas Cowboys
- Green Bay Packers
- Atlanta Falcons
- New York Giants (WC)
- Arizona Cardinals (WC)
Super Bowl 52 Match-Up:
New England Patriots vs. The Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl 52 Winner: The New England Patriots
Regular Season MVP: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
Super Bowl MVP: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt.
Hope you enjoyed this. Feedback is welcome.