By Brien O’Donal
Well, if you read today’s update you know it’s time for the NFL to kick off the 2017 season. Like all good fans, I have my thoughts about how things should wind up when it’s all said and done. I realize that many of you will have a different opinion than mine and want you to feel free to tell me about it in the weekly NFL Q&A column that will appear on this site next week.
Let’s start with the AFC Playoffs
AFC East Winner–Patriots
No shocker here. The Pats are still the class of the AFC and only the Dolphins did anything to keep pace. I believe 16 consecutive games will stall Miami at the end of the season, ensuring another Tom Brady Division Championship.
AFC North Winner–Steelers
Pittsburgh takes this one only because there is still some dysfunction with the Bengals and Ravens. Don’t get me wrong, I think those teams will compete hard this year but I think their talent has shifted around so much that they will lose just enough games to let the Steelers walk away Division Champs.
AFC South Winner–Titans
This is not the most popular answer in Houston, but neither is Tom Savage. The Titans have taken the rights steps to add more playmakers to their offense and that will be the difference. Their defense will be improved simply because their offense did so. I think Mariota will really have a break out season and the Titans will win this division. In my mind, the only thing standing in their way would be Deshaun Watson becoming this year’s Dak Prescott.
AFC West Winner–Raiders
I thought the Raiders would have won the division last year had it not been for Carr’s injury. The Oakland front office made sure they didn’t take a step back in the offseason and in fact might have gotten a little bit better. The West will be the most competitive division but I look to Oakland to secure the crown in week 17.
And now the NFC Playoffs.
NFC East Winner–Giants
I may eat my words on this one. Year after year this division provides the most drama. Each team plays each other so well that it’s hard to pick a winner before week 14. But I think the Giants defense will be in the top of the rankings and the wide receiver group of Beckham Jr., Marshall, and Shepard will keep the offense scoring points. The Cowboys could still spoil the party and I wouldn’t count out the Redskins or Eagles winning some division games either.
NFC North Winner–Packers
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and one of the best pass catching groups in the league. The Vikings have a great defense but I don’t trust their offense to do what’s necessary to win close games. The Lions aren’t bad, but they still need help on defense and someone on offense to really go crazy.
NFC South Winner–Panthers
I really wanted to pick Tampa Bay to win this, but like the Dolphins, I think 16 games in a row will kill their chances at the end of the season. I think the Panthers will have a bounce back year and Cam Newton will rediscover his MVP form. The Saints are still lurking as well, but we all know their defense is still in need of improvement.
NFC South Winner–Seahawks
Between the Cardinals and the Seahawks I think Seattle’s defense is the big difference. They are loaded up front and still have one of the best secondaries. Russell Wilson should be healed up and ready to get his name in serious MVP consideration.
Let’s not forget the Wild Cards.
AFC Wild Card Winners–Chiefs, Texans
I don’t think it’s a shock at all to pick the Chiefs here. They are so well balanced that their offense will be able to control the clock and put up enough points to win a lot of games. And that defense? C’mon! That’s a talented group. The Texans however, I have them just barely sneaking into the playoffs by virtue of tie-breakers. The offense needs work but if Bill O’Brien can get just a little bit better than last year (and that shouldn’t be difficult) then I think Houston can make another trip to the postseason.
NFC Wild Card Winners–Cowboys, Buccaneers
These are two teams that I think will come up just a hair shy of winning their divisions and will go into the playoffs ready to work. The Cowboys might even wind up a favorite in their wild card game. The Bucs will still be trying to rest and get healthy but I think they will win enough games early in the season to get them into the playoffs despite a few tough losses late in the season.
And here’s my big winner!
Super Bowl Winner–Packers defeat Patriots
I know not everyone sees this happening but I believe the Packers have done enough on defense to help the offense. We all know Aaron Rodgers is great and has great weapons. Defense has seemed to be their Achilles heel. They added a lot to the secondary and have developed the defensive line to hold the point. That’s why I think if they stay healthy this is their year.
Let’s hand out some awards, shall we?
NFL MVP–Aaron Rodgers
This is pretty much a quarterback award, right? And the quarterback usually wins mostly based on his stats. I think the addition of Martellus Bennett, and having so many good wide receivers to throw to will make Aaron Rodgers have the most eye-popping numbers. You add that to what he can already do when the games get tough and you have an MVP winning recipe.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year–Jadeveon Clowney
I had to really think hard about this one. Khalil Mack and Von Miller are the other guys I was considering. But I think the Texans will be one of the best run defenses in the league this year and will J.J. Watt back, his reputation will probably command more attention that Clowney, allowing him to tee off on opposing quarterbacks. Not to mention he has a lot of speed to make big plays on the edge in that stout run defense.
NFL Rookie of the Year–Dalvin Cook
Talk about a guy getting drafted into the ideal situation, right? Minnesota loves the short passes and his ability to catch in space will make him extremely valuable to that offense. He has the quickness to run the ball between the tackles as well. He won’t be Ezekiel Elliott, but his versatility will be talked about all season and with only the middling Latavius Murray as competition it’s not difficult to think that after only 2 or 3 games Cook becomes the undisputed lead back.
Ok, folks! That’s all I have on this subject. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ODonalsVanguard and send me or @HOUSportsStuff your comments or questions about anything football for the NFL Q&A column next week.