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2017 NFL Preview: 5 Bold Predictions

Posted on September 09, 2017 by Dean Hybl
One big question for 2017 is whether Marshawn Lynch can regain his past Beast Mode greatness after sitting out 2016.

One big question for 2017 is whether Marshawn Lynch can regain his past Beast Mode greatness after sitting out 2016.

The 2017 NFL season got off to an interesting start on Thursday night when the defending champion New England Patriots gave up three fourth quarter touchdowns in a 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

As we kickoff the full schedule Sunday, below are five bold predictions for the season as well as my picks for the playoffs and Super Bowl.

1. The 1972 Miami Dolphins Can Pop The Champagne Now – Based on some of their off-season moves, some thought that ten years after their undefeated regular season the New England Patriots might be poised for another run at perfection.

Well, that thought didn’t last long. The Chiefs exposed the New England defense and the offense showed that the losses of receiver Julian Edelman to injury and running back LeGarrette Blount to the Philadelphia Eagles are harder to replace than might have been expected.

While there are several other teams with talented rosters, including the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, no team looks good enough to be a legitimate threat to perfection.

What may be in jeopardy this season is the 0-16 mark that has been achieved only once, by the Detroit Lions in 2008. While the Cleveland Browns, who went 1-15 last season, appear to be better and will probably win 3-4 games, the New York Jets could be a threat for dubious perfection. They have unloaded a number of talented veterans from their 5-11 team from last season and could struggle every week in 2017.

2. Ezekiel Elliott Will Struggle – After a Federal Judge granted the request by the NFLPA for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of a six-game suspension for running back Ezekiel Elliott, it looks like the second year running back for the Dallas Cowboys could play the entire 2017 season.

Last year Elliott took the NFL by storm as he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards while helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record.

His off-season has not been as smooth. Elliott has been involved in a number of off-the-field incidents during his brief career and that culminated with a six game suspension from the NFL in August.

Though Elliott may avoid missing time due to the suspension in 2017, it doesn’t mean that the off-the-field issues will not be a distraction. Many players throughout NFL history have been unable to repeat great rookie seasons without the added pressure of the national media spotlight that Elliott has endured in recent weeks and will likely see throughout the season.

While having the great Dallas offensive line will certainly help, it would not be a surprise to see Elliott’s numbers decline a bit in 2017.

3. Marshawn Lynch Will Out-Rush Eddie Lacy – There are quite a few running backs who will be carrying the ball for new teams in 2017. That group includes Adrian Peterson in New Orleans, Blount in Philadelphia and LaTavius Murray in Minnesota.

Two other backs with new teams in 2017 are former Seattle Seahawks runner Marshawn Lynch with the Raiders and former Packers standout Eddie lacy with Lynch’s former team in Seattle.

After sitting out the 2016 season, Lynch is returning not only to the NFL, but to his hometown of Oakland. Though he struggled with injuries while gaining only 417 yards in 2015, the 31-year-old Lynch gained more than 1,200 yards in each of the four previous seasons. He may not get back to those numbers, but he will be given every chance to be the workhorse back for the Raiders and if the year off helped heal his body you could see Lynch have a great season for the silver and black.

On the other hand, new Seattle running back Eddie Lacy is coming off a 2016 season in which he played only five games. He did, however, gain 301 yards in those games and averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per carry. However, Lacy’s statistics have declined in each of his four seasons. Staying within suitable weight has always been a challenge for Lacy and word is he has not looked great during preseason in Seattle. The Seahawks also have several other talented runners, so if Lacy doesn’t perform well early he could get buried on the bench for the talented Seahawks.

Can Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons recover from their collapse during Super Bowl LI?

Can Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons recover from their collapse during Super Bowl LI?

4. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons Will Not Have a Super Bowl Hangover – For many years in the 1990s and 2000s, it was common for the team coming off a Super Bowl loss to take a huge step back the following season. However, with the exception of the Carolina Panthers last year, in recent years the Super Bowl loser has at the very least made the playoffs the next season.

If there was ever a team that could be excused for having a Super Bowl hangover it would be the Atlanta Falcons. After leading Super Bowl LI 28-3 before the Patriots monumental comeback, the Falcons could perhaps be excused for having a tough time moving on.

However, unlike some past Super Bowl losers, I think the fact that the Falcons were so close to winning will actually work in their favor. I expect they will spend the 2017 season on a mission and determined to erase the memory from 2016.

I do not think the Falcons will be back in the Super Bowl next February (my full predictions are below), but I do expect that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons will have a good season and make it back to the playoffs.

5. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota Will Shine – As the first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will forever be linked. Both have shown flashes of greatness during their first two seasons, but this could be the year that both players become NFL stars.

The 6-foot-4 Winston has the size and physical ability to be a star in the mold of Cam Newton. He has been the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since day one and after going 6-10 as a rookie led them to a 9-7 record in 2016. The Buccaneers are a popular pick to take another step and make the playoffs in 2017. Winston completed 60.8 percent of his passes last year for 4,090 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Look for him to have an even better season in 2017 in part due to the addition of deep threat receiver DeSean Jackson.

Injuries have played a little more of a role for Mariota during his two NFL seasons, but he has also illustrated the ability to lead his team to success. Last year the Tennessee Titans were also 9-7 and they could also be poised for a playoff run this year. Mariota has been a threat running and passing for the Titans. He has shown the capability of being a top-level passer as he completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last season. If Mariota is able to stay healthy, look for him to continuing to improve in 2017.

Fearless Predictions: Even after their loss on Thursday, it is difficult to dismiss the New England Patriots as they look to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions since they won back to back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. They are still easily the class of the weak AFC East, but I do not expect them to be back in the Super Bowl this season. Below are my fearless predictions:

NFC:

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys; NFC North: Green Bay Packers; NFC South: Atlanta Falcons; NFC West: Seattle Seahawks; Wild Cards: New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals

NFC Champion: Seattle Seahawks

AFC:

AFC East: New England Patriots; AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals; AFC South: Tennessee Titans; AFC West: Oakland Raiders; Wild Cards: Kansas City Chiefs; Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Champions: Oakland Raiders

Super Bowl LII: Seattle Seahawks 27, Oakland Raiders 17

 

 

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