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2017 NFL Season Preview

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Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year?

Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year?

Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year?

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The NFL offseason always feels like an eternity. However, school has just begun, which means Week 1 of the NFL is almost here!

This year is loaded with interesting story lines. Can New England, after the loss of star receiver Julian Edelman, repeat as champions this year? How will the Falcons respond to their epic Super Bowl LI collapse? Will the Cowboys  assert themselves as the favorites in the NFC? Can Aaron Rodgers cement his legacy as one of the all-time great quarterbacks by earning Green Bay another title? What kind of impact will highly touted draft picks like DeShaun Watson and Leonard Fournette have on their teams?

There are so many questions to tackle (pun intended), so let’s start The Neersyde’s NFL preview by looking at the reals contenders in each conference:

AFC

Photo courtesy of https://www.nbcnews.com.
Will Tom Brady lead the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl title?

 The New England Patriots:  Despite the loss of super tough slot receiver Julian Edelman, the Pats are still the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.  In the off-season, New England also acquired running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, along with tight end Dwayne Allen. However, their most significant acquisition may have been speedy wideout Brandin Cooks, acquired from the New Orleans Saints.  That’s a lot of firepower for future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. However, if the Patriots have one weakness, it may be their pass rush as they lost defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich to retirement and they released disappointing defensive end Kony Ealy, for whom they traded a second-round pick. We’ll see if that chink in the armor be enough to derail the defending champs.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Another contender in the AFC is the Steelers. During the offseason last year, they lost one of their best assets in Martavis Bryant, a talented wide receiver who was banned for violating the league’s substance abuse

Photo courtesy of http://www.steeleraddicts.com.
Le’Veon Bell hopes to lead a potent Pittsburgh offense to another championship.

policy. His addition will be a boost for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a receiving corps led by Antonio Brown, arguably the best receiver in the NFL. Running back Le’Veon Bell, now healthy after dealing with a groin injury last year, just reported to Steelers’ camp this week after holding for more money. That’s good news for a team who needs all the help it can get to topple the favored Patriots.

Oakland Raiders:  The Raiders may have been the AFC favorites last year if it weren’t for the broken leg suffered by quarterback Derek Carr in Week 16. Now fully healthy, the young quarterback leads a hungry offense which was able to lure bruising back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. Amari Cooper and  Michael Crabtree are also dangerous threats at wide receiver. The Raiders also acquired return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson from the Vikings and tight end Jared Cook from the Green Bay Packers. The team’s defense is also stout as it features defensive end Khalil Mack, cornerback Sean Smith, and former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Kansas City Chiefs:  Rounding out the cast of contenders in the AFC, the Chiefs have made the playoffs three times in the past four years, their most successful showing in 20 years. Although they are solid at quarterback with Alex Smith, the franchise drafted Patrick Mahomes this past offseason as a backup. The Texas Tech star enters the league as the recipient of the Sammy Baugh Award given to the nation’s top college passer each year.  They also have second-year receiver and return specialist Tyreek Hill who was named an All-Pro as a rookie and scored 12 touchdowns in his first NFL season, three of them on kick returns.

However, the Chiefs may find winning the division more difficult this year as they released former Pro Bowl receiver Jeremy Maclin and lost starting running back Spencer Ware to a torn PCL during the preseason. Tyreek Hill, the next “Flash”, after coming of his rookie season is expected to become a star in Kansas City after coming of his rookie season.

NFC

Green Bay Packers:  A top contender in the NFC, the Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. His arsenal of weapons includes receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Jordy Nelson.  The Pack also added Super Bowl champion Martellus Bennett at tight end, and, to bolster their secondary, drafted University of Washington standout Kevin King to play cornerback. Seattle Seahawks: Looking to recapture their mojo which landed them in two straight Super Bowls only a few short years ago, the Seahawks are hungry to return to their former glory. They still have one of the best defenses in the league with cornerback Richard Sherman, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and defensive end Michael Bennett. The Seahawks also upgraded at running back by adding former Packer  Eddie Lacy from the Packers.  With a healthy Russell Wilson at quarterback, Seattle could once again be on the road to the Super Bowl.

Photo courtesy of http://www.sportingnews.com.
Ezekiel Elliott hopes to avoid suspension to lead the Cowboys to a second consecutive division title.

Dallas Cowboys:  We cannot forget about the #1 seed team from last year in the NFC.  Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott look to improve even more after their very impressive rookie seasons. A negative, though, is that Elliott looks like he will be suspended for the first 6 games for domestic abuse, although he did appeal the suspension. Before the draft, the Cowboys were looking to drastically improve their defense, especially the secondary. They picked up defensive end Taco Charlton in the first round who, in the preseason, played all four games and had two sacks. Dallas also drafted Chidobe Awuzie, a promising cornerback from Colorado who will add depth to their defensive backs. They also picked up Ryan Switzer from North Carolina in the fourth round who will be a wide receiver and a return specialist.

Photo courtesy of https://www.si.com.
Can Matt Ryan and the Falcons rebound from their collapse in Super Bowl LI?

Atlanta Falcons:  Last but not least, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons do this year. On paper, they should be a force yet again, but will the demons from Super Bowl LI carry over into this year? It may be tough to mentally overcome blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl and refocus on making it back to the big dance once again.

Their high-powered offense returns much of the same cast as last year, including last year’s league MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback, All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, and running back Devonta Freeman. In addition, the defense beefed up by adding defensive lineman Dontari Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler who began his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. They also drafted defensive end Takkarist McKinley out of UCLA who had 10 sacks as a senior for the Bruins.

Players to Watch:  Quarterback Deshaun Watson looks to help the Houston Texans after capping off his stellar collegiate career by leading the Clemson Tigers to their first national championship since 1983. The number 12 pick on the 2017 NFL draft, Watson should be a stellar addition to an already strong playoff team.

Another rookie to watch is running back who was great coming out of college was Leonard Fournette who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. from the for the LSU Tigers. The former LSU running back He had 3,830 yards on the ground during his college career,  and averages 6.2 yards a carry. He also racked up got 40 touchdowns to go along with that. He is a power running back, which is a great trait in the NFL. His stats may have been even more impressive if not for an ankle injury he suffered last year.e would have had a lot better stats, but he injured his ankle. That is a big question going into the pros: is that will he be able stay healthy?

Switcheroo:  There are a few big-name players who switched teams this year. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore went from the Bills to the Patriots, defensive end Julius Peppers went from the Packers to the Panthers, quarterback Mike Glennon went from Buccaneers to the Bears, wide receiver Pierre Garcon went from the Redskins to the 49ers, A.J. Bouye went from the Texans to the Jaguars, quarterback Brock Osweiler went from the Texans to the Browns, and receiver Brandon Marshall went from the Jets to the Giants.

But what do the students think? In a poll of 74 middle school students, most (35%) chose the Patriots to defend their title. New England was followed by the New York Giants (15%) and the Miami Dolphins (8%)

“I am very excited to see how Eli Manning will use all of the weapons he has, said eighth grader Will DiMaio. “I think that we will run away with the division because we have a great defense and now two great wide receivers.” Seventh grader Zach Smith, a Dolphins fan, thinks Miami can upset the Patriots this year.

“I think the Dolphins will beat the Patriots one out of the two times we play them,” he said. “I also think the Patriots will not be as good as last year because they will not have a great running game as last year after losing Legarrette Blount. The Dolphins will end up running away with the division because the Dolphins acquired Jay Cutler and they have a beast running back [in Jay Ajayi] and receiving corps.”

Others think New England is just too good. “In my opinion, I think it will be the Patriots and Packers in the Super Bowl this year,” said seventh grader Hunter Krieger. “And I think the final score will be 27-23 Patriots as [they will be] back-to-back champions.”  As for us – here’s what we think:

Predictions: We think the playoff teams in the AFC will be the (1) Patriots, (2) Steelers, (3) Raiders (4) Texans, (5) Chiefs, and (6) Titans. The first round will be Raiders vs. Titans and  Texans vs. Chiefs with the Patriots and Steelers on byes. I think the Raiders and Chiefs will advance to the second round. Then it will be the Patriots vs. Raiders and Steelers vs. Chiefs. The AFC Championship will be the Patriots vs. Steelers and the Patriots will advance to Super Bowl LII.

As for the NFC playoffs, we think it will be the (1) Packers, (2) Seahawks, (3) Falcons, (4) Cowboys, (5) Giants, and (6) Eagles. The Packers and Seahawks will have a bye. In the first round, it will be the Falcons vs. Eagles and the Giants vs. Cowboys. We think the Giants and Falcons will advance. Then the Packers will play the Giants and the Seahawks will play the Falcons. We have the Packers and Falcons advancing, with the Packers winning to take on the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Super Bowl Pick: The Patriots will edge the Packers 27-23 in Super Bowl LII.

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2017 NFL Season Preview