The 2016 NFL season ended in dramatic fashion a few weeks ago, when the New England Patriots rallied from an incredible 25 point 3rd quarter deficit to come back and defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Tom Brady hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the 5th time in his career, and the Patriots, overcome with controversy for most of the year, managed to end the season with the perfect result. While the Super Bowl was just as exciting as we hoped, we now look ahead to a brutal, torturous 7 months without football.
With a long road ahead, here are my bias free “Way Too Early” predictions for the next season in the NFL.
AFC East: New England Patriots
How much is there to say? Thinking that the Pats won’t win another AFC East title next season is like saying the sun won’t rise tomorrow morning. With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm, I don’t see any reasonable threat for them not to win the AFC East for the 15th time since Brady took over.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders
This one is tough. The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off as the number 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs last season, finishing with a stellar 12-4 record. However, the Oakland Raiders are coming off of their best season in ages, with young quarterback Derek Carr looking extremely promising. The Raiders finished with the same record as the Chiefs last season, but Derek Carr’s year ended tragically with a broken leg. I expect Carr to be hungry for victories next year, and come back even stronger than before.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers offense is absolutely explosive. Led by the “Killer B’s” (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell), I don’t see any other AFC North opponents challenging the Steelers. Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco don’t have the offensive weapons necessary to conquer the Steelers in this division. And then there’s the Browns…
AFC South: Houston Texans
Yeah, Brock Osweiler sucks. But from early reports, it looks like the Texans may nab a quality free-agent quarterback this offseason (maybe Romo?) to replace him. The only shining light for the Texans last season was their defense, the top-ranked in the league even without their best player, J.J. Watt. With Watt coming back and a better quarterback in the near future, I can definitely see the Texans repeating as AFC South champs.
NFC East: New York Giants
Not going to lie, this is my prediction almost every year. I just think the Giants have the right pieces to prevail over their divisional opponents. While they aren’t the best offense in the league, their defense is great, and they did manage to beat the Cowboys twice this year. Also, I think the Cowboys’ run is going to be short-lived. Their expectations will be too high, and they’ll be flustered early on. With Odell reaching his prime and the defense staying strong, the Giants are my pick to win the competitive division.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson. Larry Fitzgerald. Carson Palmer. Patrick Peterson. Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals have it all on both sides of the ball. While they struggled a bit last year due to injury and a tough schedule, I think the Cardinals are a very dangerous team. While they didn’t win their division last year, they led the NFC West in PPG, showing the strength of their offense. With a bit of defensive improvement, I think that the Cardinals are fully capable of taking the NFC West crown from the Seahawks.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
The Packers are good. Like, really good. They ended the season with a six game winning streak, with the whole team finding its groove. Their offense has the ability to propel them to the top of the division again, as Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and more continue to prosper. The Vikings, their next closest competition in my opinion, are close to losing their star running back, Adrian Peterson, who has been plagued by injury as of late. Teddy Bridgewater is coming back, but he doesn’t even stack up close to Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers’ defense can get a bit better, then they’ll be absolutely unstoppable, and a real threat to win it all.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
After one of the most dominant offensive seasons in history, the Falcons still look pretty scary, although they lost OC Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons just seem to have everything going for them offensively. Their two-back offense works spectacularly, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both producing quality numbers. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones connect like two peas in a pod. Their offensive dominance and explosiveness will lead them to another NFC South title next year, and potentially another deep run in the playoffs.
Super Bowl Prediction: Patriots vs. Packers, Patriots go back-to-back
Brady vs. Rodgers. The matchup all NFL fans have wanted in the big game since they both exhibited their dominance. The battle between two of the all-time greats on the biggest stage. However, in this game, the Pats will once again come out victorious. Last season, at 39 years old, he put up one of his best seasons yet. The scarier part: Tom’s quote that he posted to Facebook the other day, saying that he “won’t stop as long as he’s able”. With the greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time, the Pats are definitely my favorites to win Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Also, for the superstitious fan, the Pats won in 2001, 2003, and 2004. They also won in 2014 and 2016 and maybe 2017? If you recognize the pattern, 2017 could be the year again for the Pats. May these next 7 months pass by quickly, and may this next season be as great as all us fans hope it will be.