‘Tis the season.

Welcome to another year of NFL predictions. I’ll be your insignificant prognosticator, yet optimistic reporter. The following are my thoughts on who will survive a season packed with exciting rookies, [im]mortal quarterbacks, and surefire collapses. Forget about the off-the-field drama. Everyone will get over it. I’m over it. To use a Rossism for those familiar with Friends, I was never “under” the offseason theater.

Enough about that nonsense.

“But it’s not nonsense!”

Shuh-huh-huuud up. Let’s focus on the real story going into the 2017 season: the 2017 NFL season. To help further your focus, the latest episode of MattyLovesPodcast provides you with a deeper dive into my 2017 NFL predictions. I’m joined by Grant Sawyer, who, like me, lives for this time of the year. So sit back, throw on the show and follow along as I take you through each division and share my thoughts on who’s got “the juice” in 2017.

As Casey Kasem used to say, “Now, on with the countdown.”

There weren’t many notable injuries coming out of the NFL Preseason–but man, were they not thematic? Julian Edelman’s injury will cost the Pats a game or two. Maybe. Ryan Tannehill is done for the year, but the Fins managed to lure Kristin Cavallari to Miami, so Jay went too. Outside of the AFC East hopefuls losing key ingredients, the rest of the major injuries hurt teams like the Bears and the JetsLet’s be real, where are those teams headed anyway? Third place in their respective divisions? The Dolphins chances may have improved. It’s why they play the game, folks.

So, let’s get started. The AFC’s top teams are superior to their conference counterparts. However, the sum of the division can’t stand up to the NFC teams “on the rise.” In a year or two, the NFC will once again be the power conference. We’ll talk about that later. In the meantime, let’s take a trip out West, shall we?

AFCWEST

Remember when the AFC West was an absolute joke a few years back? (See: current NFC West.) We can’t say that anymore. Since this was the first division I broke down while figuring where which team finished where, deciding my West predictions proved to be tasking. Look, everyone loves the Raiders in 2017. The NFL is “better” when the Raiders succeed. They’re tasked to battle through a wicked NFC East on top of a “1st/2nd place schedule.”

That said, don’t discredit the Chiefs. They’re not too far away from being considered a clear-cut favorite as well. I’m looking forward to seeing how soon Andy Reid pulls the plug on an aging Alex SmithReid loves his quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes waits in the wings.

The now-and-forever-Los Angeles Chargers is another team that isn’t too far off from being considered Playoff-worthy on paper. My thing is this: Philip Rivers’s best years are way behind him. Why hasn’t the Bolts’ front office made moves? Please don’t tell me it’s because they’re waiting on a new stadium. Those plans are stupid. If so, fire everyone.

The Broncos continue to reel from Peyton Manning’s retirement. Last week, the news broke that the recently-released Brock Osweiler returned to Denver as the new back-up for Trevor Siemian. The Broncos are likely entering “the lean years.” Remember when “Ossie” signed a four-year contract with the Texans for $72 million? That was one year ago. Since then, he’s been traded to Cleveland, then cut, and now he’s back in Denver (while the Browns pay him $16 mil this year, ouch). 

AFCNORTH

From the toughest division, to Angel Soft, I really tried to stay away from picking any players from the AFC North in my one and only fantasy football team this year. When Antonio Brown is available, ya gots ta do it. Other than “Ronald,” I weathered a potential storm of mediocrity. I predict that the Steelers will do the same. Only, instead of avoiding players in a fantasy draft, guys like AB-84, LeVeon Bell, and a hobbled but promising JuJu Smith-Schuster will avoid the rest of their division’s crumbum defenses on their way to a division title.

The Bengals and Ravens are interchangeable. Both teams’ head coaches are in trouble if they have unsuccessful seasons that border on disastrous. The Browns have DeShone Kizer at the helm, who hopefully embraces a leadership role and doesn’t embarrass the pants off the remaining Browns diehards who haven’t had their pants embarrassed off of their laps yet. I honestly think they could potentially win more than four or five games. As in… six. “Six is good.”

AFCSOUTH

Yawn. How about this? I want Marcus Mariota to do well because I like his style of play. Therefore, I predict the Titans win the AFC South. It could be the Texans’ division to win. Hell, 2017 could be the Colts’ year to regain the title. Take your pick, honestly. No one’s “tuning in” to this division in 2017. I really don’t have anymore to write about regarding the AFC South. Oh, yeah I do. Big shout out to Corey Davis, the Titans rookie wide receiver who must remain healthy and perform this season. I have rookie cards and a fantasy bench spot Davis currently occupies. Don’t let me down.

AFCEAST

This was easy. Although the aforementioned Julian Edelman will miss a spot of the Super Bowl favorites’ cast of characters, experts in Las Vegas recently reported the Patriots would still be the favorites without Tom Brady. (Yeah, okay.) Still, who’s better than the Patriots with or without Brady? The Pats are deep. They have arguably the greatest head coach in the history of the NFL. Bill will find a way. When I originally laid out my picks, Edelman was still around. That cost them one game in my mind. See you in Minnesota.

As I stated earlier, the NFC has a large crop of “so-so” teams that have way more upside than most of the mediocre teams in the AFC. If you’re a squad that finishes third in your respective division in 2017, that might not be a bad thing. It could be that “whatever-team” failed to beat that other “whatever-team” to snag a playoff spot and/or second place.

This season, to succeed in the NFC teams will have

  1. healthy and foreboding defenses.
  2. an easier road paved by their schedules.
  3. tough-as-nails quarterbacks.

Go down the list of NFC quarterbacks. About ten teams have steady QBs. Half of the teams QBs are proven winners. Only three have Super Bowl rings. Figure it out while I give my predictions on who’s making it out of the NFC alive.

NFCWEST

I’m going to fire a few shots here. Firstly, the Seahawks are going to be a winning team because they can easily go 6-0 in their division. They also play through the boring-ass AFC South. That’s ten possible wins right there. I give the Cards and Rams a win or two based on their out-of-conference opponents. Is Russell Wilson a proven winner? Absolutely. At 100%, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, time has shown that if you can get to Russ, he doesn’t play at Playoff-winning level hurt. Who does, right? The Seattle defense isn’t as young as springtime anymore. They can still win eleven-ish.

Arizona needs a new QB and young, talented receivers that go along with a new leader. Bruce Arians is an excellent coach. The NFL should allow him to wear his “newsboy” hats on the sidelines–which are now on sale. (You can sell them but he can’t… wear… them?) Anyway, I hope the Cards come out on the winning end this season. Or, at least, without enough wins to keep certain teams out of the Playoffs.

The Rams and 49ers are a collective mess. Let’s press on.

NFCNORTH

“Can’t wait to see what ‘A-A-Ron’ does now that he doesn’t have that actress distracting him,” said the Green Bay Packers fan to the clerk at the sausage factory in Shlemoba, Wisconsin.

“Shlemoba” is not the name of a small town in Wisconsin, but it could be! The previous excerpt stereotypes Packers fans across the country. (But I love you all!)  Did you know all Packers fans have a stake in the “ownership” of the team? Okay, not all of them do. But I know one! Or two. What does this have to do with the Packers this season? Everything! Olivia Munn is reportedly out of Aaron Rodgers life! He can move on to win a championship! Right? Wait, remember what I said about formidable defenses? Green Bay hasn’t had one in a few years. Points must be a premium, which is why Rodgers will hopefully provide the proper care to secure wins. It would also be nice if a decent running back emerges.

Matthew Stafford makes more money than any other player in the NFL. Think about that. It’s not like Eli Manning getting a contract that big. At least he’s won a pair of Super Bowls. Stafford hasn’t won a Playoff game in three attempts. Three years ago, he had the Cowboys on their heels, but ended up throwing a pick and fumbling twice while Dallas scored 17 unanswered points and won their second Playoff game in 20 years. Offensively, I know Stafford can turn the wheels, but he’s limited when it comes to an arsenal. The Lions managed to make the postseason after Calvin Johnson retired before the 2016 season. I’m not saying a Wildcard spot is out of the question. They’re one of those “whatever-teams” that need to be the other “whatever-teams” on the cusp of a 5th or 6th seed in January.

I’m waiting on Mitchell Trubisky’s debut. Out of all the quarterbacks drafted this past year, he’s the one to watch out for. Sure, you and I were scratching our heads when the Bears picked him second overall this past May. He’s not a starting quarterback yet, but he will be soon. The Bears are going to have a rough year. Let the kid dive in the deep waters sooner than later.

NFCSOUTH

What are the Falcons going to do for some atonement? You have to at least get back to the NFC Championship, right? No. The Falcons are going to need to win it all in 2017, but guess what? The Panthers got better, as did the Buccaneers. The Falcons lured Dontari Poe away from KC to shore up their D-line, but I feel as if they didn’t have as successful of an offseason as some experts reported.

Check it out: The NFC South functions similarly, but not as clumsily, as the AFC South in a lot of ways. Each team has a proven quarterback. Three teams have QBs that are known for winning. Two have failed in the spotlight. One didn’t, and remains a top-tier threat–at the age of 38. Speaking of Drew Brees, how long will his tenure in New Orleans last? The Saints need to resign him, or do they? The Saints and Chargers are in similar (sinking) boats. I think both teams need new quarterbacks, maybe not to start now, but in a year or two. The question is: do the Saints deal with this situation now or do they let this become an elephant in the room? Is this situation relevant to the outcome of the 2017 season? Lots of questions in New Orleans. By the way, the answer to the latter of the previous rhetorical questions is, “No. No, the contract situation is not relevant to the outcome of the 2017 season. The Saints won’t contend. Distractions, or nah. Adrian Peterson, or nah. The Saints won’t have a winning record. They need more talent.”

After last seasonCam Newton attacks the field with a chip on his shoulder in 2017. Another player I want to watch succeed due to selfish reasons (i.e. Corey Davis) is rookie running back Christian McCaffery. He’s not only a possible answer to solving Cam’s quick-thinking issues, McCaffery could be the guy Cam needs to get back to the Super Bowl. The Stanford standout has tremendous upside. If the projections pay off, the Cats win their division.

I don’t watch Hard Knocks. It’s hard for me to watch “reality” television and not search for what is and isn’t contrived. I grew up with pro-wrestling. Once I knew how it all really worked, I have a hard time watching wrestling today to look for the “realness.” I’m often disappointed, hence, “No Hard Knocks for Matty.” Down here in Orlando, the Tampa Bay Bucs faithful let me know how “good” the show is and that all the players are just “normal people.”

I rest my case. Jameis Winston will soon be a perennial Playoff quarterback, but then again, his time could be now. The Bucs offense will be exciting. Listening to everyday conversation from their fanbase will not be (for me). Like the AFC South, one of three teams could win the division. Tampa Bay needs to beat some “whatever-teams.”

NFCEAST

No, you shut up. Alright, fine. The Giants could win the division too, okay? By Week 17, there could potentially be three 9-6/8-7 NFC East teams–“whatever-teams”–that could still make the Playoffs. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension won’t play into a slow start for the Cowboys. They’ll find ways to win a few of their first six games. The rhythm of the offense will take a slight hit once Elliott exits, then returns. How Dallas deals with that could be an interesting story around the midway point. I think the true test of a young player in the NFL comes in his second season. Dak Prescott faces his, as does Elliott. Will there be a sophomore slump?

Speaking of, yes, I picked the Eagles to win the division. No, I don’t think there will be a regression when it comes to the play of Carson Wentz, who also faces his second campaign as an NFL starter. I don’t think it’s quarterback play that will frustrate the lovely Philadelphians as much as the lack of a running game. Wentz threw the ball over 600 times last season. Only four other quarterbacks had more throwing attempts, but only one–Aaron Rodgers–made the Playoffs. (And that’s because he’s a freak of nature.)

The Birds signed a Super Bowl Champion running back, LeGarrett Blount, in the offseason, but he played for the Patriots. This guy isn’t the answer for the Eagles nonexistent rushing attack. They give the Bills WR Jordan Matthews in exchange for CB Ronald Darby. As an Eagles fan, good riddance, “J-Matt.” However, it’ll be interesting how this affects Carson Wentz moving forward. It’s also going to be interesting to see if Darby can help the other corners establish a sustainable defense in all aspects. If that happens, the Birds can win the division.

Don’t sleep on the weapons Eli now has in New York. Holy geez. The receiving core is a mix of young and old. Brandon Marshall will mentor Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Sheppard a great deal. If they, like the Eagles, can get a running game going, the Giants will be tough to beat in ’17.

I feel strongly that three teams could represent the NFC East in the postseason. It’s just getting by those “whatever-teams”…

…and the Redskins are bums. You have to beat them. (That goes for the entire NFL, by the way.)

So, there you have it. Moving forward, the Playoffs could look something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 4.40.37 PM

Now, I’m not going to too in-depth about how the Playoffs will shake down. I do know who I think will play in Minnesota at Super Bowl LII in February, though.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 10.47.25 PM

You have to consider how ridiculously stacked the Patriots are. The Packers are made up of a few more “survivors” that will provide veteran leadership in the postseason. Plus, Brady vs. Rodgers in 2017 would be rather apropos.

Enjoy the season, gang.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 1.34.59 AM

 

 

Follow Matt de Simone on Twitter and Instagram.

He’s got a swank podcast as well.

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