McGon’s Picks: 2017 NFL Season Preview

Football season is finally here! After one of the most brutal offseasons ever for NFL fans due to all the off the field issues, protests, etc., the games are finally here. Every week this season, I’ll be giving my picks against the spread for NFL gambling tips. Don’t come crying to me if you bet my picks and do poorly- you’re the idiot who sat here and believed a college-kid sports blogger. But to start things off, here are my predictions for this coming NFL season.

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots: 13-3 (AFC #2 seed)

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Don’t expect much different than a normal Patriots season this year. Although a Tom Brady decline could happen any year now as he is at age 40, I don’t think this will be the year. The Patriots will run the table in the AFC East as per usual, however, their spot at the top of the AFC will be a fight to the finish.

2. Miami Dolphins: 5-11

The Dolphins put together a great run to grab the AFC’s second wild card spot last season, but this season may not be as easy. And that doesn’t have much to do with Jay Cutler being their starting QB. Adam Gase’s squad won against some easier opponents at the end of last season, and now have the 6th hardest schedule in the league this year. The Dolphins won’t be a bad team to watch, but I don’t like them in the majority of their matchups this season.

3. Buffalo Bills: 5-11

The tough schedule is going to bring the Bills down this season too. While I wouldn’t expect them to be more than a 9-7 team anyway, this is not going to be a great year in Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor does not appear to be the QB of this franchise’s future, so you have to wonder if the front office and coaches will not mind a weak season considering the surplus at QB talent in next year’s draft.

4. New York Jets 3-13

This year’s Jets team may best the worst of the bad Jets teams we’ve seen this century. While the Jets can’t intentionally lose football games, they seem, even more than the Bills, to be set on taking a QB at the top of next years draft. It’s not crazy for a team this bad to win 3 games though, so I’ll give them a 3-13 finish (and Adam Schefter will get to be called Pee Boy by Big Cat).

AFC North

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5 (AFC #3 seed)

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Expect this Steelers team to similar to last year’s. Dominant at times, but not on the same level as the Patriots. The Steelers should be dominant on offense and win the division again, but it’s going to take an upset of at the hands of another team against New England for the Steelers to win the AFC this year.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7

The Bengals will be back to competing in the division and for the Wild Card this season. They still have much of the core and the same head coach that got them to the playoffs 5 seasons in a row. However, don’t expect much more out of this team than a Wild Card berth. Their biggest chance in the division is if a key Steeler goes down, but their are still too many better teams in the AFC this season for the Bengals to have a legit shot.

3. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8

I feel that the Ravens have a higher upside than the Bengals, but with questions about Joe Flacco’s back, I see this team falling more towards .500. As a Cowboys fan, I’ve seen what back injuries can do to a QB. Flacco will see success if he is healthy, but I don’t think he will play 16 games this season.

4. Cleveland Browns: 4-12

I like what the Browns have done, and I definitely see a win improvement. Myles Garrett will have a stellar rookie season, and look for Jabrill Peppers to have a chip on his shoulder after sliding from a top-5 pick at one point all the way to 25th. The Browns obviously have a ways to go still, but with two first round rookies on defense and a rookie at QB, I like the direction in which they are moving.

AFC South

  1. Tennessee Titans: 11-5 (AFC #4 seed)

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Look for the Titans to be a team on the rise this season. Marcus Mariota will be in his 3rd season as QB for the Titans, and Demarco Murray saw success this past season similar to the success he had in his last season in Dallas. I don’t they are an elite team in the AFC yet, but look for them to make this playoffs this season, probably as a division winner but potentially as a Wild Card as well.

2. Houston Texans: 10-6 (AFC #6 seed)

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Even though they may not win the division like they did last year, the Texans will be a better team for sure. Their defense, one of the best in the NFL last year, has it’s best piece coming back. There are undoubtedly questions at QB, but I like the chances of rookie DeShaun Watson taking over at some point in the season. I picked the Titans to win the division, but I think the ceiling is higher for the Texans if the right pieces fall into place.

3. Indianapolis Colts: 5-11

Any chance the Colts have this season relies on Andrew Luck being healthy. And right now, that’s clearly not the case, as he hasn’t begun practicing and is out for Week 1 (and probably many more weeks to come). Look for them to play better in the second half, but with the only thing that keeps this team relevant in question, this is not going to be a very good year in Indy.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14

Any year could be the year that the Jaguars finally play better, but I don’t think it’s happening until they get a new QB. Jalen Ramsey had a great rookie season, and they drafted Leonard Fournette in the same spot the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott last year, so there are definitely positives. However, I don’t like them in many of their matchups this year. The Jaguars should look forward to next’s years QB class to move on from Blake Bortles.

AFC West

  1. Oakland Raiders: 14-2 (AFC #1 seed)

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The team that the Raiders will be sending out this year is going to be fun to watch. Derek Carr is rising to become one of the league’s better QBs, Marshawn Lynch should still be able to rush through defensive lines like he was able to in Seattle, and Khalil Mack will have a chance to win Defensive Player of the Year this season. The Raiders are still young, so success is not guaranteed, but I love them in the majority of their matchups this year. Carr will have a chip on his shoulder knowing the Raiders had a legit shot to make the Super Bowl last season if it weren’t for his late season injury. Just win, baby.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 (AFC #5 seed)

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With a changing of the guards potentially on the way, Alex Smith will definitely be under a lot of pressure. If he starts bad, the Chiefs may make the switch to Patrick Mahomes. Even if Mahomes is the QB of the future, a switch to him this season may be bad for the Chiefs in terms of this season’s wins and losses. However, I think Smith survives the season, and the Chiefs make the playoffs once again.

3. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-8

Well, that felt weird to type. Last season’s San Diego Chargers were a strange team, very gritty at times (OT win in Atlanta) but also very dysfunctional at times (only team to lose to the Browns). Put those two forces together? I see an 8-8 team this year playing in front of 30,000 fans. Phillip Rivers can still sling it, and Joey Bosa will look to rise entering his second year, but the Chargers won’t be any better than a Wild Card team in 2017.

4. Denver Broncos: 6-10

If things go well in Denver this season, their record could easily be reversed. They still have many of the defensive pieces that won them Super Bowl 50. However, they have way too many questions at the QB position. Trevor Siemian was manageable early last season, but the team went 5-7 after starting 4-0. The backup situation (Brock Osweiler and a currently injured Paxton Lynch) does not look much better, so I expect a decline in Denver this year.

NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 12-4 (NFC #3 seed)

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Obviously I could write a lot more about this team than any other, so I’ll try and keep it short. If Ezekiel Elliott is suspended for all 6 games, the Cowboys offense combined with their backups are serviceable enough to go at least 3-3. There are questions on defense, but Rod Marinelli has proven to overachieve with defenses that are weak on paper. Based on what we’ve seen in preseason, and the rest of the team he has around him, Dak Prescott will not have a sophomore slump. Prescott also mentioned that Dez Bryant has been to him the most improved player in this year’s training camp. The potential Elliott suspension along with a tougher schedule will probably knock a win or 2 off of last season’s total, but if this squad is healthy, another years experience will make them a better team come playoff time than they were last year.

2. New York Giants: 9-7

The Giants ceiling this season is definitely as high as the Cowboys. They have one of the best receiving corps in the league as well as one of the best defenses. So where do I see problems coming with the Giants? That’s easy, the center of everything: Eli Manning, the offensive line, and running back play. The run game is definitely less of an issue when you have a receiving corps like the Giants have. But their offensive line is not improved, and the Tight End they drafted, Evan Engram, is much more of a receiver than a blocker. And lastly, I’ll be straight up as possible, I don’t think Eli Manning is a good QB. Sure he’s won 2 Super Bowls, he’ll have some good games, and has a great receiving corps. But he still throws way to many ducks and makes many bad decisions. Even though he has won the Super Bowl twice, I don’t think a team with him at center in 2017 is capable of doing so.

3. Washington Redskins: 7-9

The Redskins will definitely be competitive this season, but I don’t see them as a playoff team. The Redskins late season play last year showed they’re not good enough to be a legit contender. Terelle Pryor Sr. was not a bad signing, but he’s not an upgrade over the departed DeSean Jackson. So expect the Redskins to make some noise, but not enough.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: 7-9

The Eagles are another team with a high upside, but still may be a year away. Look for Carson Wentz to continue to rise in his sophomore season. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were not bad signings, but they are not the same receivers they once were. The Eagles showed last year in certain games that they’re capable of playing with some of the best teams, but the also showed the exact opposite as well. Expect the Eagles to compete in a tough division, but fall short of the playoffs this year.

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers: 11-5 (NFC #4 seed)

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The Packers success this season will go based on the success of #12, who on his best days is the best QB in the league in my mind. The Packers won’t be as dominant this season as they were in the second half of last season, but they’ll lean closer to that team than the one that was 4-6 through 10 games last season. The Packers will celebrate their 6th division title in 7 years in 2017.

2. Minnesota Vikings: 9-7

If the Vikings defense plays as expected and Sam Bradford plays like he does on his best days, I think the Vikings can win this division. However, I don’t think the latter will be the case most weeks. Sam Bradford stayed healthy last season, but it still wasn’t enough to make the playoffs as Bradford and the Vikes faltered down the stretch. Latavius Murray was a great signing, but I see the Vikings being in a very similar scenario that they found themselves last year.

3. Detroit Lions: 6-10

I’m a fan of Matt Stafford, and his payday this offseason was earned. However, I think the Lions will struggle this season like they did at the end of last season, in which they lost their last 5 games (including playoffs). This will be a down year in Detroit, and the Lions may be better than 6-10, but I still have them missing the playoffs either way.

4. Chicago Bears: 4-12

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the QB situation in Chicago this season. On one hand, they signed Mike Glennon, who despite not having much experience, seemed to be a sought out QB this offseason. And then there’s #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky, who was a sought out QB in the draft, but many were shocked the move the Bears made to get him. Overall, the Bears may scrap out a few wins, but this is not going to be a good season in Chicago.

NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons: 12-4 (NFC #1 seed)

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While the Falcons absolutely collapsed in last season’s Super Bowl, it’s important to not forget that they completely dominated the NFL’s best team for the majority of that game. That’s why I have them finding similar success this season. Kyle Shanahan will certainly be missed, but the Falcons will be one of the NFC’s best teams once again. I have them winning the division after a Week 17 win over the Panthers.

2. Carolina Panthers: 12-4 (NFC #5 seed)

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The Panthers won’t be nearly as dominant as the team that went to them Super Bowl two years ago, but I have them looking much more like that than last season’s 6-10 squad. There are real questions about Cam Newton’s health, but I like him to bounce back this season and for Christian McCaffrey to have a huge impact on their offense. The Panthers had a lot of bad luck last season when they lost a lot of close games, but this year they will catch some of those breaks and have a bounce back season.

3. New Orelans Saints: 9-7

With Drew Brees under center, the Saints can score against anyone and will put up enough points to wins games this season. However, that’s how many teams will feel going up against their defense every week. Adrian Peterson was a good signing, but in a tough division, the Saints won’t be a double-digit win team this year and will miss out on the playoffs.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-10

The Bucs have a higher upside than the Saints, so don’t be surprised if they are a Wild Card team or competing for a playoff spot. Expect big seasons out of Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, as well as new signing DeSean Jackson. But in a division this tough and with a team this young, the Bucs are still a year away. They’ll be a fun team to watch, but are not there quite yet.

NFC West

  1. Arizona Cardinals: 12-4 (NFC #2 seed)

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Similar to the Panthers, expect the Cardinals to look more like their 2015 selves. I think David Johnson is going to breakout this year, and while Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are only getting older, I like this team to win a lot of games this year. Those forces combined with an easy schedule will bring the Cardinals back to the playoffs this season.

2. Seattle Seahawks: 10-6 (NFC #6 seed)

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The Seahawks are still a very good team, but I don’t see this team having nearly the year they did in their two recent trips to the Super Bowl. Their defense and QB Russell Wilson are still elite, but there are undoubtedly questions about their offensive line that struggled last season. The Seahawks are good enough to make the playoffs and even win the division, but I don’t like their chances at making it to the Super Bowl in Minnesota.

3. Los Angeles Rams: 3-13

The Rams will be interesting to follow this season, but they won’t be very good. If Jared Goff can rise to what was expected of him after he was drafted #1 overall in 2016, then expect the Rams to be a much improved team. However, if he plays like he did during his rookie campaign, the Rams will struggle and the direction of the franchise will definitely be in question moving forward.

4. San Francisco 49ers: 2-14

The 49ers made a great coaching change by bringing in Kyle Shanahan, but I don’t see them doing any better than Chip Kelly’s squad this season. Don’t be shocked if the 49ers are better based on this coaching change, but the talent still isn’t there yet and the Niners will be one of a handful of teams looking to take a QB in the 2018 draft.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card- #3 Steelers def. #6 Texans, #5 Chiefs def. #4 Titans

  • The Texans could be a tough matchup for the Steelers as one of the leagues best defenses will take on one of the best offenses, but the Steelers are the much better team and even if it’s close, they’ll find a way to win.
  • Playoff experience will play to be a huge advantage for the Chiefs in this one, as that and their talent will lead them to the Divional round for a 3rd straight year

Divisional- #1 Raiders def. #5 Chiefs, #2 Patriots def. #3 Steelers

  • The Raiders will continue their dominance from the regular season. MVP candidate Derek Carr will shine in his first playoff game and the Raiders will advance to their first AFC Championship since 2002.
  • Expect this game to be no different than last seasons AFC Championship. The Patriots will do as expected and head to their 7th consecutive AFC Championship Game.

AFC Championship- #1 Raiders def. #2 Patriots

  • Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 7-4 in AFC Championship games together, but 2-3 in those games which were on the road, losing in each of those last 3 occasions. Derek Carr and the Raiders will win a close contest and move onto Super Bowl LII

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card- #3 Cowboys def. #6 Seahawks, #5 Panthers def. #4 Packers

  • Similar to the Steelers-Texans matchup, one team who has been a great offensive team all year will have a large defensive test. These two teams will know each other well since they will have played just two weeks prior, and I think the Cowboys will defend their home turf and win a close contest over the Seahawks.
  • The Panthers will be out to prove they mean business during this playoff run, as they’ve been going downhill ever since they landed in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50. The Panthers will beat the Packers in a great game and earn a trip to Atlanta.

Divisional- #1 Falcons def. #5 Panthers, #3 Cowboys def. #2 Cardinals

  • In a matchup of the past two Super Bowl runner-ups, and division rivals, expect nothing less than an incredible contest. This game will end the same way Week 17 did, and the Falcons will host the NFC Championship Game once again.
  • After a regular season loss to the Cardinals in which the Cowboys will likely be without the services of Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys will be looking for revenge and to prove how much better they are with #21 on the field. The Cowboys will show they are the better team this time and finally head to an NFC Championship for the first time since 1995.

NFC Championship- #3 Cowboys def. #1 Falcons

  • While they will have Ezekiel Elliott (health pending) for their regular season matchup against the Falcons, the Cowboys will also be coming into Atlanta looking to avenge a regular season loss. In a shootout, the Cowboys will show why they have one of the best late game offenses in all of football and head to the Super Bowl after a late score seals the victory.

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Super Bowl LII from Minneapolis, MN- Cowboys 31, Raiders 28

  • The Cowboys will be avenging regular season losses against the Cardinals and Falcons, so don’t expect the script to change here, as they will have played in Oakland in Week 15. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr will put on a battle for the ages, but the Cowboys best player will be the difference maker in the end. After being suspended earlier in the season, Ezekiel Elliott will take home MVP honors, scoring 2 TDs and helping the Cowboys seal the game late in the 4th by running out the clock.

I’ll be back Thursday with picks against the spread for this weekends games. Football is back, folks.

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