2017 NFL Season Predictions — Is this the year the Raiders finally take the West?

In a little over a week, the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will kick off the 2017 NFL season in a battle with the 2016 AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots come into the season as the heavy favorite to repeat as champions of the NFL, which would make them just the second team in history to win six Super Bowls. Arguably among the largest preseason Super Bowl favorites in recent memory, the pride of Foxborough will show off an ever-growing collection of championship banners and trophies in front of a national audience. The Chiefs are coming off a 12–4 season that ended with a close home loss to the Steelers in the Divisional Playoffs.

Even since last February, teams around the NFL have undergone changes that could greatly affect the postseason, but only a few appear to be in a good position to compete for a Super Bowl championship come late December. In a league built around parity, are the Patriots a lock to win their third title in four years, or will we see a new champion crowned in Minneapolis?

AFC Playoff Picture

1st seed: New England Patriots (15–1) — Easily the most complete team in the NFL, the Patriots are favored to win every game on their schedule in 2017. Despite the loss of Julian Edelman, new addition Brandin Cooks should fill the roll of the number one receiver well with his elite speed and route running. Rob Gronkowski is healthy and Belichick added more talent in the offseason with the likes of running back Mike Gillislee and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Don’t expect father time to hit Brady just yet.

2nd seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (13–3) — A healthy offense along with the return of Martavis Bryant should compliment Pittsburgh’s improving defense. The Steelers have major question marks going into the season though. Ben Roethlisberger, who considered retirement shortly after last January’s AFC title game, has only played all 16 regular season games three times in his 13 year NFL career. Le’Veon Bell has shown intentions of holding out, and Pittsburgh was decimated by injuries last season. Staying healthy will be a big factor for this team’s success in 2017.

3rd seed: Oakland Raiders (11–5) — The Raiders were led to seven comeback wins in 2016 under Derek Carr. The addition of running back Marshawn Lynch will make their offense even more dangerous. While I don’t expect them to get so lucky late in games, their offense should be good enough to carry a weak defense to Oakland’s first division title since 2002.

4th seed: Tennessee Titans (10–6) — Tennessee has finally given Marcus Mariota a team that can make the postseason in 2017. The Titans have a strong offensive line and running game, and a good defensive front has helped make up for a questionable secondary. They should be able to take advantage of a weak division.

5th seed: Denver Broncos (10–6) — While the 2016 Broncos showed that defense can only take a team so far, quarterback Trevor Siemian threw for 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while throwing for 3,401 in his first year as the Broncos starter. Expect Siemian to improve in 2017, which will lead to more wins. Unfortunately for Denver, their schedule is daunting, and their mediocre offense will not be good enough to beat out the Raiders in a tight division race.

6th seed: Houston Texans (10–6) — The Texans had the league’s best defense last season, but much like the Broncos, they showed that defense can only carry a team so far. Whether they start Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson, I’m not buying what the Texans are selling at quarterback. Once again, this team will be just good enough to make the postseason, but not good enough to make any noise in January.

NFC Playoff Picture

1st seed: Green Bay Packers (13–3) — The success of the Green Bay Packers will depend largely on how healthy their secondary stays this season. We saw how atrocious the defense was in Atlanta in the NFC Championship, but Aaron Rodgers showed that he can carry even the most injury-prone teams deep into the postseason. If they stay healthy, they should be able to take advantage of a week one home victory over Seattle and roll to the NFC’s number one seed.

2nd seed: Seattle Seahawks (13–3) — While many see the Seahawks’ championship window closing, Richard Sherman and company will still try to show that their defense is still among the best the game has ever seen. They should be able to win a suddenly weak NFC West division and take a first round bye. Russell Wilson should be fully healthy and the running game and defense both added depth. The main question mark going into the season for this team is how well the offensive line will be able to keep Russell Wilson on his feet.

3rd seed: Atlanta Falcons (12–4) — While the Buccaneers are poised for a breakthrough, the Falcons still appear to be the best team in the NFC South because of MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and the wide array of weapons at his disposal. Despite the loss of Kyle Shanahan in the offseason the offense shouldn’t miss a beat. In addition to a strong offense, Atlanta’s young defense finished strong towards the end of last season, showing signs that Dan Quinn may be replicating what he built in Seattle as their defensive coordinator.

4th seed: Dallas Cowboys (12–4) — The six game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott will likely slow the Cowboys down coming out of the gate this season, but this team is still the clear favorite to win the NFC East. The league’s best offensive line will get a chance to prove how good it really is without their star running back in the backfield.

5th seed: New York Giants (10–6) — The Giants made the postseason in 2016 largely due to their defense, which was tenth in yards per game and second in points per game allowed. They were held down at times by the play of quarterback Eli Manning, but the addition of veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall should take some of the pressure off of Odell Beckham Jr. and allow Manning to distribute the ball more.

6th seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10–6) — The additions of DeSean Jackson and rookie O.J. Howard will add some explosiveness to the offense for young quarterback Jameis Winston. The defense had some impressive performances in 2016, and if the entire team can progress effectively this season, the Buccaneers should be able to make a big leap forward and make their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Wild Card Playoffs

Raiders over Texans

Broncos over Titans

Cowboys over Lions

Falcons over Buccaneers

Divisional Playoffs

Patriots over Broncos

Raiders over Steelers

Packers over Cowboys

Seahawks over Falcons

Conference Championship

Patriots over Raiders

Packers over Seahawks

Super Bowl LII: Patriots over Packers — Bottom line, there isn’t a team in the NFL that has a better coaching staff or a better team than New England. 40 year old quarterback Tom Brady will have one of the richest rosters he’s seen in his career, and it should be enough to get the Patriots their sixth Super Bowl title.

Awards

MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots — A healthy Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and a dynamic group of running backs should be able to help Brady build off of his 28 touchdown, 2 interception campaign in 2016.

Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals — He can run and catch the ball as good as any running back in the NFL. The lack of talent on Arizona’s roster should force Johnson to take a higher amount of touches per game, which could lead to some big plays this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans — Don’t let his injury-plagued 2016 season fool you. JJ Watt is still the league’s best defensive player when healthy, and a healthy JJ Watt is worthy of Defensive Player of the Year almost every year.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers — McCaffrey is a solid fit in the Panthers offensive scheme, one that loves to run the football. Compared to fellow rookie running backs Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, McCaffrey appears to be in the best position to succeed early in his career.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles — Even early in the preseason, Barnett showed the Eagles how tenacious he can be when it comes to rushing the passer. While Miles Garrett will also make a strong case, the presence of Fletcher Cox on the Eagles defensive front will more teams to take their attention off of Barnett, which could lead to an impressive sack total.

Comeback Player of the Year: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders — After being lured out of a brief retirement by the Oakland Raiders, Marshawn Lynch will look to bring beast mode to his hometown. A solid offensive line will give Lynch good holes to run the football while elite quarterback play from Derek Carr will help make the Raiders unpredictable on offense.

Coach of the Year: Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans — Poised for a breakout year in 2017, Mularkey should take home an award that is frequently awarded to coaches that turn non-playoff teams into playoff contenders. In reality, Bill Belichick should win this award almost every season, but it’s unlikely the NFL will stray away from its usual tendencies here.