Now that me and Pat D recorded our NFC podcast, I wanted to get my thoughts down in writing before the start of the season. I’ll do the same for the AFC after the podcast this Thursday.
I’ll follow the same format as the podcast for simplicity sake. First, let’s discuss last year’s playoff teams and whether or not they’ll return to the postseason.
- The Cowboys play in one of the most competitive divisions, and they’re relying on a lot of young players to give them big contributions. They haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2007. I think that streak ends this season, as Dak Prescott takes a jump forward and the defense is better than expected.
- The Falcons had a historical season offensively, and they return pretty much everyone besides OC Kyle Shanahan. While I don’t think that’s going to be that huge of a factor, I’m not sure I trust Matt Ryan to repeat last season’s success. I think the NFC South is the best division in football — they went 5-1 last year in the division. I think that changes this year, and the Falcons just miss the playoffs.
- The Seahawks weren’t the same last year, especially after Earl Thomas was injured. Their offense never got in a groove — they really missed Marshawn Lynch, and the offensive line was predictably abysmal. It’s tough to imagine it will be that much better this year, but I think a healthy Russell Wilson will be enough to overcome it. I expect another 10+ win season from Seattle, even if they’re not as dominant as they were just a couple seasons ago.
- The Packers have won 10 or more games in 7 of the last 8 seasons, and the only season they didn’t was in 2013 when Rodgers missed seven games. That’s simply an incredible streak. Their defense needs to be better for them to make that Super Bowl appearance, but regardless, the Packers will always be in the mix as long as Rodgers is at the helm. I expect an MVP season from the bad man.
- The Giants are my second team that won’t be returning to the postseason in 2017. They simply didn’t do enough to improve their weakness on offense: the offensive line. Eli Manning can only do so much, and running isn’t one of them — he can have 100 receivers to throw to, if he doesn’t have enough time to throw the ball, the Giants are going to be in trouble. They went 8-3 in one-score games and 4-1 in field goal games last season. I think that changes this season, and I’m predicting a disappointing season.
- The Lions are my third team who won’t return to the postseason, and I don’t think I’m alone here. Eight of their nine wins came on miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks. Matthew Stafford just got paid; he’s 5-46 in his career against .500 or better teams. I just can’t take them serious.
Teams on the brink of playoffs/bounce back candidates
- The Bucs, Vikings and Redskins were all a game away from playoff contention in 2016, while the Cardinals and Panthers are prime “bounce back candidates.” I also add in the Eagles to this discussion considering they started the year 3-0 and then fell apart.
- If my predictions pan out, there are three spots open for the playoffs. I expect the Vikings and Eagles to make the playoffs, while the Panthers and Bucs fight it out for the third spot.
- The Eagles are ready to explode in my opinion, as long as Carson Wentz takes that step forward and his receivers help him out (they were awful last year). Their defense is playoff-ready.
- The Vikings started 5-0 last season, but then injuries killed them. Like the Eagles, their defense is playoff-caliber. The offense just needs to join them.
- The Panthers and Bucs are interesting because of their quarterbacks, Winston and Newton. Whoever plays better in 2017 will make the playoffs.
- I think the Cardinals may have missed the boat. I think the window in Arizona is closing, and I expect them to miss the playoffs for the second time in Bruce Arians coaching career.