The 2017 NFL Preview, Part One

Welcome back NFL!  Instead of doing little corny pieces about this year’s biggest stories, I just decided to write a massive piece that individually looked at each team.    It would have been 10,000+ words, so I split it into AFC and NFC.

This year has a couple themes and trends:  1) Teams with good-to-great defenses and crappy-to-average quarterbacks.  What’s the balance?  2)  The contenders… there’s gonna be a lot of teams with good records!  Who’s the top dog?  3) How bad are the teams in QB hell gonna be?

Those will be answered here and in the NFC preview.

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills 

Strengths:  Backfield, Defense

Weaknesses: Weapons, Kicker, Right side of O-Line

The good news about the Bills this season is that, no matter how bad they might be, they certainly won’t be the worst team in their division.

The front office still hasn’t bought into Tyrod Taylor, giving him a weird contract that essentially pays him like a franchise guy if he has a good season or leaves him without a team if he doesn’t play well.

The Bills certainly haven’t put him in a good position to succeed though.  While LeSean McCoy can ground and pound barring health and regression from last season, the Bills are still in a pretty bad spot with their receivers.  The Sammy Watkins trade got them great value, but also left them without their No.1 receiver.  Anquan Boldin was supposed to pick up some of the bulk, but later found out just a week after signing that the NFL had caught up with him (I still love you Anquan!).  That leaves the Bills with Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones, a speedy 2nd round pick from East Carolina. The Bills need big things out of him.  Matthews is a nice 2nd option on any other team, but I have my concerns about him being a primary receiver.  I’m probably underrating Charles Clay, but you can’t totally count on him being healthy either.

Buffalo needs Oakland supplants Andre Holmes and Rod Streater to catch some balls this year, or else Tyrod Taylor won’t surpass 3,000 yards.

The Bills do have their defense to bail them out, which is thankfully under a new scheme this season.  The Reggie Ragland trade was a little confusing, especially since some mix of Ramon Humber and Sam Barrington is occupying one of their linebacker spots right now.  But, the defensive line is still menacing; Marcell Dareus is a beast.  I expect big things from Shaq Lawson after being hurt last year.  Kyle Williams is super underrated, and Jerry Hughes is incredibly fun to watch.  Lorenzo Alexander and Preston Brown provide some thumping in the middle, and Buffalo’s secondary improved even though the Ronald Darby trade bewildered me.

So how do the Bills fall apart?  LeSean McCoy gets hurt, the receiving core is brutal and the Bills become one of many teams with an average-to-bad offense and a good defense that’s always on the field.  Buffalo’s probably not a playoff team, but their worst case scenario isn’t as bad as you may think.

Projected record: 8-8

Miami Dolphins

Strengths: Weapons, Running back, Offensive line, D-Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Secondary

I was ready to put the Dolphins in the playoffs this season.

Now Jay Cutler is the starting quarterback.

The Ryan Tannehill injury is by far the most impactful out of any injury we’ve seen this preseason.  The Patriots will be fine without Julian Edelman.  The Bears were gonna be terrible even if Cameron Meredith was healthy.  Spencer Ware is more of a loss to fantasy football owners (Though he is important to KC’s offense…More on that later).  Tannehill’s injury absolutely sucks.  This was Miami’s year.

They could have salvaged it.

Look, you can understand and get over what Colin Kaepernick is doing without agreeing with it.  The black-ball that is being put on by NFL owners is disgusting and simply stupid.  They’re literally sacrificing their team because of their “political” views.  And you can definitely understand and realize that there are starting QBs worse than Kaepernick.  He wasn’t terrible last year; I think a lot of his struggles had to do with how bad his team was.  That being said, he’s probably not getting you into the playoffs, but you have more of a chance than you would with Cutler.

I understand the Adam Gase-Cutler connection.  Gase is a wizard; he was gonna have Ryan Tannehill looking like one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league this year.  But there’s certain QBs you just can’t help, and Cutler’s one of them.  He literally hasn’t been good in five years.  As I mentioned above, the average quarterback/good defensive team is half the league this season.  With Kaepernick or Matt Moore, you’re pushing the average mark (Defense is a big question mark).  With Tony Romo, you’re definitely a playoff team (Oh yeah!  I went there!).  With Cutler, you’re just bad.

Maybe Gase can work some magic.  I mean, around Cutler is a pretty talented team.  Jarvis Landry is a great receiver.  DeVante Parker is a nice downfield threat; same with Kenny Stills!  Julius Thomas is solid, and the Dolphins can run the ball literally whenever they want; Jay Ajayi might have 25 carries a game this year!  And behind that offensive line?  Watch out.

Miami’s defense has always been incredibly inconsistent though.  They still have an extremely talented defensive line, but the rest is anyone’s guess.  I mean, I like their 2nd string secondary better than their first.  Alterraun Verner is fine.  T.J. McDonald will contribute after his suspension.  Cordrea Tankersley was a beast at Clemson.  Bryon Maxwell is incredibly overpaid and may not start.  Nate Allen can occasionally make plays.  Reshad Jones is the only guy we can trust back there.  Combine that with an offense that could be ruined by just one guy, and the Dolphins could be closer to the Jets rather than making a run at the postseason.

Projected record: 6-10

New England Patriots

Strengths: Literally everything

Weaknesses: Literally nothing

It just does not matter.  Bill Belichick should be president.

I mean look at this roster.  Every name just looks so much more valuable when you see “NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS DEPTH CHART” above it.  Put Matthew Slater on the Browns and see what happens!

The Patriots have another running back monster:  Dion Lewis, James White and Mike Gillislee are all multi-demenisonal and can all be envisioned scoring three touchdowns in a single game, though Gillislee is the perfect candidate to have way too much preseason hype (Which he does) and be cut by Week 5.  New England has Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandin Cooks, Gronk and Dwayne Allen all catching passes from Tom freaking Brady.  They still own a pretty good offensive line.  Yeah, nothing else to see here.

Their defense is just as good.  Trey Flowers is a young star.  I expect Malcolm Brown to breakout.  They have one of the best secondaries in the NFL, even though the Stephon Gilmore contract was a little too much for me.  Yeah, once again, nothing to see here.

So can the Patriots lose a game?  The three hardest games on their schedule are home vs. Atlanta, in Mexico City vs. Oakland, and @ Pittsburgh.  There’s also a Thursday night game vs. Tampa Bay in there too.  Take your pick.

Projected record: 15-1

New York Jets

Strengths: Defensive line, Um….

Weaknesses: Practically everything else

One of my July NFL hot takes was that the Browns actually weren’t as bad as everyone thought, and that New York was actually much worse.

Unfortunately thats not a secret now.

It seems clear that this the NFL’s first display of tanking.  The Jets have made no effort to upgrade their quarterback group, which right now is a putrid group of Josh McCown, the guy who let me down Bryce Petty, and never-really-was-an-NFL-quarterback Christian Hackenburg.  All three of them are bad enough to sabotage your team.  All three of them are on the roster.

It’s not like they have a running game to resort to.  Matt Forte is ancient.  Bilal Powell is not a lead back.

The receiver group isn’t worth mentioning when you have the quarterbacks New York does, but there are some interesting tid-bits.  Jermaine Kearse just became their best receiver.  ArDarius Stewart is lurking.  Jalin Marshall seemed likely to have a big role before his four game suspension.

The Jermaine Kearse-Sheldon Richardson-WTF is happening trade that occurred Friday was extremely intriguing.  I thought the Jets got excellent value: A 2nd round pick is huge for a troubled but talented defensive lineman.  Plus Kearse, who was very valuable to the Seahawks and is now New York’s best option at wide-out.  However, there’s a chance Richardson flourishes in Seattle with their scheme.  But the draft pick compensation is really all they care about.  Assets!

The other side of the ball is pretty weak as well.  Though, even with Richardson out the door, the Jets defensive line is still extremely scary.  Muhammed Wilkerson and Leonard Williams are beasts on the end.  Aside from that, I mean, Jamal Adams will be fun to watch in year one.  Yeah, it drops off pretty quickly.

We’re gonna ask the opposite question that we did above…  Can the Jets win a game?

New York has Miami, Cleveland and Jacksonville in three straight weeks.  I’d go as far to say that they have the least chance of beating the Browns.  I feel like they get a win in there, and maybe get lucky against the Bills later in the year?  New York’s wins are gonna have to come from major choke jobs by their opponents.

Projected record: 2-14

AFC North:


Baltimore Ravens

Strengths: Defense, Kicker

Weaknesses: Lead running back, Offensive line

The Ravens find themselves in the same spot as usual: Average.

When Joe Flacco is your quarterback, it’s kinda hard to escape that.

I’d be much higher on the Ravens if their running backs were in better shape.  That way, you’re relying less on Flacco to make things happen.  But with Lorenzo Taliefeiro seeing most of the carries as Danny Woodhead and Terrance West are used more out of the backfield, Flacco will have to throw a terrifying amount of times.  And throwing to these receivers makes that thought even more frightening if you’re a Ravens fan.  Jeremy Maclin is huge for them though.  If he’s not cut by the Chiefs Baltimore is in panic mode.  However, he’s not really a primary target.  Mike Wallace is average.  Breshad Perriman is always hurt.  Tight end could be a strong suit; Benjamin Watson is a health concern but is a great pass catcher when healthy, and Crockett Gillmore could be a nice find over the middle once in awhile.

The problem with all of this?  Their offensive line is terrible and you never know what kind of throw Flacco will make.

Maybe the defense can bail them out.

This defensive group could be dominant.  Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams and C.J. Mosley are all really good football players.  Their secondary is loaded; I was so sad to see Tony Jefferson leave Arizona, but he’s part of a ball-hawking group now.  Eric Weddle is great in coverage, and Brandon Carr is a good one-on-one cornerback.

Flacco is not one of the quarterbacks whose so bad that he can throw you out of games, but his mistakes will cost them dearly at times this season.  Without a defense this good, Baltimore is looking at 5-11.  But talent can check out, and this defensive group is not getting enough attention.  They’ll be the backbone of this team.

Projected record: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals

Strengths: Multi-demensional running backs, Defense, Downfield receivers

Weaknesses: Offensive line, Receiver depth

The Bengals and Ravens are stunningly close and it’s making people lose their minds.  I’ve seen 8-8, 11-5, and 5-11 for the Bengals this season.  It’s a mess.

I can’t blame the projections though.  This team is really confusing.  Their offensive line is terrible.  Their defense could be top seven or bottom five.  They have a lot of really talented skill position players, but I’m not sure how they all totally fit together.

Let’s run through it.  Andy Dalton is smarter than Joe Flacco.  I trust him more, but that flips once the postseason hits.  Dalton has A.J. Green, John Ross and Brandon LaFell to throw to.  Tyler Eifert is a great target too.  Ross is already hurt, a devastating blow to an extremely limited group of receivers.  Reports have him out likely through Week 2.  I have no idea how Cincy is gonna make up for a guy like him, even though he hasn’t played a down yet.

The receiving core could be helped out by the running back trio of Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon, all guys who can carry the ball and catch it.  I see Mixon as the lead back: Bernard is always hurt and Hill isn’t great overall.  Mixon is a great receiver too; he could see 40 receptions this season.

Where does it go wrong on the offensive front?  The offensive line buys Dalton no time, leading to frequent bad throws.  Another one of their weapons goes down, forcing those bad throws to go to someone who’s not AJ Green, and the Bengals have to rely on banged up Bernard and lackluster Hill.  Joe Mixon is a huge x-factor for Cincy.

I think their defense is better than people are giving it credit for.  Their secondary isn’t terrible; Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka are good.  Adam Jones is suspended again, but will contribute when he returns in Week 2.  Their linebacking core is in bad shape expect for Kevin Minter, another Arizona guy who’s underrated.  I thought the Vontaze Burfict suspension was ridiculous.  It’s now three games, but even that seems unnecessary.  He led with his shoulder, not head.  Yes it was on a defenseless receiver in a preseason game, but it wasn’t a dangerous hit.  The defensive line is fine.  Carlos Dunlap can still be effective.

It’s a very average team, but they’re more talented on the offensive end when healthy than Baltimore, and I trust Dalton a little more.  The offensive line could completely derail them, but AJ Green and hopefully John Ross are good enough that they could provide the help needed to Dalton.

Projected record: 9-7

Cleveland Browns

Strengths: Offensive line, Running back, Defensive line

Weaknesses: Receivers, Secondary, Linebacking core

I’m still deciding whether the Browns are just bad or terrible.  If you piece together a best case scenario, there’s six wins and maybe even seven wins in there.

DeShone Kizer is the x-factor with the Browns, but there are some reliabilities.  Isaiah Crowell is secretly a really good running back, and the Browns made a heavy investment in their offensive line this offseason.  If they can ground and pound, that takes a ton of pressure of Kizer, who’s dealing with a limited supply of weapons anyways.  I think Corey Coleman will figure it out, and Kenny Britt, though overpaid, can make things happen downfield.  Sammie Coates is a rejuvenation project (A project I would be willing to work on, by the way).  That’s about it receiver wise.  Ricardo Louis was awesome in college and might turn into something, but you can’t count on that.  We’ll see what David Njoku is; I have my doubts.

The problem with the Browns is that they can’t rely on their defense.  It, like the rest of the team, is still being built.  They have a nice defensive line; Myles Garrett being the highest commodity.  Danny Shelton is too talented to be a bust, and Emmanuel Ogbah is still young.  Besides, the rest is shaky.  Jamie Collins provides some leadership and playmaking at linebacker.  Jabril Peppers is exciting but is a wait-and-see.  This group will be near the bottom of the league, but they do have some intriguing players.

The worst case is obvious: Kizer struggles in his rookie and the only thing they can do reasonably well is run the ball.

The best is complicated: I’m intrigued by Kizer but think he’s a little bit of a project. An immediate impact seems unlikely, but if Kenny Britt and Coleman can make plays after the catch and this defense can be average, the Browns could surprise some people.

Projected record: 5-11

Pittsburgh Steelers

Strengths: Offense, Defense

Weaknesses: Um…

This team is incredibly good.  They have an endless supply of weapons.  Martavis Bryant is back.  They added JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s a human lightning rod.  The defense projects to be much better.  Pittsburgh isn’t New England, but man, somehow Pittsburgh has become underrated.

Their skills position players are the best by far in the league.  They have the best receiver, best running back and a top five quarterback.  They have Martavis Bryant, who yes hasn’t played football in awhile, but is also incredibly talented.  Eli Rogers came on last year as a target.  Darrius Heyward-Bey is a nice target in the right offense (FYI:  This is the right offense).  Even Justin Hunter might be able to get some action.  In this offense, anything is possible.

It helps that they have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL too. Maurkice Pouncey is awesome when healthy.  David DeCastro is criminally underrated.  If Le’Veon Bell wasn’t scary enough, him behind this offensive line is a reality that no defense will be able to stop.

Pittsburgh’s defense has been iffy the past few years, but their defensive roster looks much better than year’s past.  Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier is a dynamic duo lurking in the middle of the field.  The Joe Haden signing was absolutely huge and extremely cheap ($9 million a year?  I know he’s been hurt lately and has declined a bit, but give me a break.  Especially for how valuable he’s gonna be to them).  The Steelers are low-key deep in the secondary now, with William Gay and Coty Sensabaugh at the 3rd and 4th corner spots.  They’re actually not gonna blow coverages anymore!

I’m really looking forward to Steelers-Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Projected record: 14-2

AFC South

Houston Texans

Strengths: Weapons, Defense

Weaknesses: Offensive line, Quarterback (For now)

I’ve said this before and I’m gonna say it again: If you take a quarterback in the first round, he should be your starter.

Especially when you have a guy as talented as DeShaun Watson, the rookie quarterback from Clemson who was my QB No.1 in the April’s draft.

With Tom Savage being named the starter, the Texans are essentially guaranteeing themselves a loss in every game he takes the majority of snaps in.  Savage may not be on the tier of Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer or Josh McCown, but he’s not taking you anywhere, even with a roster as talented as this one.  This division is good for once. 8-8 is not gonna cut it, and that’s Savage’s ceiling.  You’re wasting a really good roster with him.  With Watson, you’re maximizing it.

Their offensive line is concerning no matter who the quarterback is.  Watson at least has the athleticism to avoid pass rushers and scramble.  Lamar Miller is a decent back, but isn’t the most skilled runner and isn’t truck-sticking dudes.  Ground and pound won’t be an option.  Couple that with Savage, and this is a stagnant offense.

There is the defense to back it up though.  A terrifying group, the Texans have the best defensive line in football with J.J. Watt, Jadaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.  They’re gonna cause absolute chaos for opposing offensive lines.

Houston is deep in the secondary too.  Jonathan Joseph is a skilled cover corner.  Kevin Johnson is only gonna get better, and if Kareem Jackson is your 3rd corner, then you’re in good shape.

Houston’s record is completely dependent on who’s playing quarterback.  If Savage theoretically starts all 16 games (Which I can guarantee you will not happen), their ceiling is 8-8.  Their defense is too good to let that number drop.  Once Watson takes over, armed with an arsenal that includes Deandre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller, the Texans will be a nice little 20-1 Super Bowl bet.

Projected record: 10-6

Indianapolis Colts

Strengths: Quarterback (Not at the moment), Um…

Weaknesses: Everything else

Similar to Houston, the Colts are losing every game if the current quarterback is starting.

Unlike Houston, it’s not their fault.  Andrew Luck’s shoulder is still screwed up from last year, and it’ll keep him out through at least Week 1.  They say it’s week-to-week, which sucks compared to having an actual timetable, because with a timetable, the Colts will know when they’ll stop losing.

Indianapolis is bad even with Luck (That pun was not intended and is a true statement whether you capitalize the “L” or not).  Frank Gore is still their running back.  The offensive line didn’t get any better; Ryan Kelly is the only competent dude up front.  Their defense added some talent (Jabaal Sheard is a talented linebacker who can help in coverage, and John Simon was another good signing), but it’s not good enough to keep them in games that Luck is out of.  Vontae Davis is solid, and I’m really excited to see Malik Hooker debut, but still, this defense is not taking them anywhere.

It’s hard to project the Colts due to the lack of knowledge about Luck’s return.  Luck is incredible, let’s not forget that.  I’ve heard some incredibly stupid takes this Summer about his ranking among QBs and whether he’s a franchise guy or not.  Luck is one of the seven best quarterbacks in the league.  Stop with the madness.  It’s not his fault Ryan Grigson was the architect of last year’s roster.  Luck’s in one of the few situations where the quarterback can do absolutely nothing.  Usually it’s the opposite, where no matter how good the roster/defense is, the quarterback throws the game away (Ahem, Jacksonville.  More on them next).  Luck can’t help it, and analysts have to stop throwing him under the bus.  Once he returns, watch out.  There will be a chip on his shoulder.

Projected record: 8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars

Strengths: Running back, Defense

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive line

Can you name four quarterbacks worse than Blake Bortles starting in Week 1?  Scott Tolzien, Josh McCown, Jay Cutler (?), Brian Hoyer?  Is Culter worse?  Is Hoyer worse?

This where we’re at with this Jacksonville team.  As I said above, the Jaguars are in the situation where the quarterback can just kill anything positive the defense has going for the team.  They are 8-8 with Sam Bradford or Colin Kaepernick, guys who aren’t great, but won’t murder you down the stretch.

Bortles is probably benched (And hopefully released) by Week 6, which leads to Chad Henne.  If Bortles is terrible, then Henne is bad.  It’s an upgrade without any value.

The Jaguars do have some bright spots.  Leonard Fournette is in store for a ton of carries, and even with a poor offensive line, he’ll make the most of them.  Defenses are not gonna be thrilled to tackle him.

The Jags defense is perhaps the greatest casualty of the quarterback situation.  A defensive line containing Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. is as terrifying as any in the league.  Their linebacking core is in good shape, with Myles Jack ready to make a big leap.  And that secondary…  have fun scoring points against this team.

I would love to pick Jacksonville as an 8+ win team, but the quarterback situation is too brutal.  You’re three Bortles picks away from losing every game, and you’re back-to-back-to-back Chad Henne-led three-and-outs away from scoring 10 points and still losing every game.  Without an upgrade, Jacksonville is going nowhere.

Projected record: 5-11

Tennessee Titans

Strengths: Quarterback, Weapons, Secondary

Weaknesses: Receiver depth

Tennessee is the team that really sets this division apart from the rest.  Though it probably doesn’t possess any real Super Bowl contenders, there’s a lot of fun stuff happening here.  I mean, the Titans might actually be relevant this year!

Tennessee has put the pieces around quarterback Marcus Mariota.  Eric Decker was a huge, cheap addition to a receiving core that was very lacking.  Corey Davis is a terrifying downfield threat.  Rishard Matthews is a nice slot guy.  Delanie Walker is a consistent tight end who’s good in the red zone.

The problem is that, with one injury, Tennessee could be in trouble on the offensive end.  They have no depth with only four receivers on the roster.  Mariota’s good, but he’s also young, and needs as much help around him as he can get to eliminate potential bad decisions.

The Titans defense figures to improve with offseason additions Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien; it’ll be hard for them to be worst that last year after finishing 24th in defensive DVOA.  Jurell Casey is a beast in the trenches, and they have decent linebacker depth with Derrick Morgan, Brian Orapko, Wesley Woodward and Erik Walden.

Tennessee can be really good.  They’re going as far as Mariota takes them, which, given the fan bases’ torture over the years, will be as high as ever before.  The defense won’t win them games, so Mariota must step up.  He will.

Projected record: 9-7

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Strengths: Defense, Receiver reliability 

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running game, Impact

Denver fits the mediocre description perfectly.   One of many teams who’s defense will carry them, the Broncos would be much more interesting if they had an above average QB or a workhorse running back.  C.J. Anderson is hurt too often, and Devonate Booker has issues holding onto the football.  Trevor Siemian is a game-manager at best; someone who you can have make easy throws or check-down for yards, but won’t lead you down the field at the end of a game.  The weapons around him may help, but Denver can’t rely on their offense to win them games this season.  I think we need to see if Paxton Lynch is really that bad before Denver makes any defining decision at quarterback.

Their defense, however, is still just as good as it was in their Super Bowl winning year.  Von Miller is one of the best defensive players the NFL has ever seen.  Derek Wolfe is nobody I would want to guard.  Their secondary, even after the incredibly confusing release of T.J. Ward, is still in good shape with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.  If Denver sneaks into the playoffs, their defense will be the only reason why.

Projected record: 9-7

Kansas City Chiefs

Strengths: Defense, Offensive line

Weaknesses: Running game, Weapons

It’s literally the same thing every year with the Chiefs:  Great defense, average offense, average team due to stupid coaching, tough schedules and God knows whatever else makes the Chiefs lose.

This year is no different, and maybe even worse.

Spencer Ware’s season-ending ACL injury was a huge blow to their offense.  Kansas City likes to pound guys up the middle with their offensive line, slide guys out of the backfield via screens and flares, or get creative with Tyreek Hill.  With Ware out, it takes away their 2nd most valuable weapon.  Charcandrick West isn’t much of a downgrade, but he’s a worse runner and has trouble staying healthy.  Hill will always be making plays, but KC’s offense has to revolve around him breaking out of slant routes, because it’s not like Alex Smith is throwing a ball more than eight yards.  The Chiefs offense reminds of the Giants’ last season, where the whole offense is dependent on one dude making a play.  It’s not bad enough to keep them out of games, but will put immense pressure on their defense to hold the fort.

The Chiefs defense is still very good.  Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Dee Ford, Marcus Peters and Eric Berry are all studs.  Derrick Johnson is still kicking it at 34. Ron Parker is fine.  The Chiefs defense will be tough to run and pass on, but opposing teams can rely on not having to score many points to beat KC since the offense won’t be lighting up the scoreboard.

As we’ve seen quite a bit, a good defense can make you at least average.  A poor offense and/or tough schedule can make you worse.  The Chiefs are a perfect example of that.

Projected record: 8-8

Oakland Raiders

Strengths:  Offense

Weaknesses: Front seven

The AFC has three really freaking good teams.

Oakland’s high powered offense only got better in the offseason, adding Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch.  Lynch is a wait-and-see.  He hasn’t played football in almost two years, so there could be some rust when you couple that with his age.  At the same time, Lynch could be right back into Beast Mode, which would be a devastating blow to any defense that thought they had this team stopped.

Cook is a great addition to an offense already loaded with receivers.  He’s solid pass catcher who’s always open along the sidelines or in the middle of the field.  The Raiders have Amari Cooper going deep and Michael Crabtree for speed, along with Cordarrelle Patterson, because, with this offense, why not.

Derek Carr also has Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to throw to, two backup running backs who are excellent out of the backfield.  The Raiders’ supply of weapons is totally ridiculous.  Carr’s numbers will be off the charts.

Oakland’s defense has been the issue the past two seasons.  Kahlil Mack is incredible, but besides him they really only have one other good player (Bruce Irvin).  Sure, their secondary isn’t bad with Karl Joseph, David Amerson and Gareon Conley, but that’s putting a lot of trust into youth and guys taking steps forward.  Maybe Mack and those guys are enough, but it will be a tall task.

The defense may not even matter.  Oakland’s gonna be scoring so many points that the other team(s) just won’t be able to catch up.

Projected record: 13-3

Los Angeles Chargers

Strengths: Front seven, Secondary, Weapons

Weaknesses: Linebacking core, Offensive line

Not gonna lie, in the first draft of this column, the team name said “San Diego Chargers”.

Los Angeles is gonna have a good football team!  The Chargers are the team no one is talking about.  For them, it’s really a matter of staying healthy.

Last year was rough.  Everyone got hurt.  Philip Rivers had no receivers and no offensive line.  The defense blew games.  It was a mess.

Now, their stocked with receivers, the defense looks very scary, and there’s a fresh start for those who were hurt.  The offensive line is still kinda weak; Joe Barksdale and Matt Slauson are the only guys I can count on.  I’m not sure we should expect much from Russell Okung.

But Melvin Gordon is the type of running back who doesn’t really need a great offensive line.  The guy is a baller, and should be just as good this season.  That’d help out Rivers greatly, who’s most definitely capable of putting massive numbers with this supply of weapons, but just for age’s sake (He’s 35!) would be a nice benefit.

Their front seven is terrifying.  I’ll pass on blocking Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the same d-line.  Throw in Brandon Mebane who creates chaos up the middle, and the Chargers should have one of the best run defenses in the NFL.  Their linebackers are a little concerning, but a ball-hawking secondary makes up for it.  Jason Verrett really came on last season, and Casey Hayward is super underrated.

The Chargers and Raiders aren’t far apart.  I think Oakland is a touch more explosive on offense with their higher quality receivers, but the Chargers will shock some people this season.

Projected record: 11-5

AFC Playoff Standings

  1. New England Patriots, 15-1
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 14-2
  3. Oakland Raiders, 13-3
  4. Houston Texans, 10-6
  5. Los Angeles Chargers, 11-5
  6. Tennesse Titans, 9-7

Three teams finished with 9-7 record in the AFC.  I didn’t go schedule-by-schedule to check the head-to-heads (predicting a game in Week 10 right now is incredibly stupid, especially when that game would determine who gets the playoff spot).  I chose Tennessee because I think they’re the best team out of Denver, Cincinnati and themselves.

AFC Division Standings


  1. New England Patriots, 15-1
  2. Buffalo Bills, 8-8
  3. Miami Dolphins, 6-10
  4. New York Jets, 2-14


  1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 14-2
  2. Cincinnati Bengals, 9-7
  3. Baltimore Ravens, 8-8
  4. Cleveland Browns, 5-11


  1. Houston Texans, 10-6
  2. Tennessee Titans, 9-7
  3. Indianapolis Colts, 8-8
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars, 5-11


  1. Oakland Raiders, 13-3
  2. San Diego Chargers, 11-5
  3. Denver Broncos, 8-8
  4. Kansas City Chiefs, 8-8

NFC Preview coming soon…