Green Bay Packers
The Packers are looking to bounce back after an underwhelming 2015-16 campaign. With receiver Jordy Nelson back from a season-ending ACL surgery and a leaner Eddie Lacy in the backfield, Green Bay’s offence should return to top form. As long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is at the helm, the Packers should be serious Super Bowl contenders in 2017.
The 2015-16 season looked bright for the Vikings, who surpassed expectations last year. Unfortunately, a gruesome knee injury to their blossoming young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has all but ended any playoff hopes. Even with the addition of quarterback Sam Bradford, Minnesota will rely heavily on running back Adrian Peterson. Expect their first season in U.S. Bank Stadium to be a disappointment.
The Bears are hoping to turn it around after undergoing significant changes to their roster in the past few years. Chicago is banking on big seasons from sophomores Kevin White and Jeremy Langford. If their defence can hold, their offence should be able to score points, but expect the Bears to be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
After an abysmal 1-7 start last season, Detroit bounced back to finish the year 7-9. The Lions will look different in 2016 after the unexpected retirement of star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Ameer Abdullah looks like a breakout candidate, but expect this team of misfits to once again finish near the bottom of the league.
New York Giants
Rookie Head Coach Ben McAdoo will lead an improved Giants team, with receiver Victor Cruz returning to give quarterback Eli Manning another explosive pass catcher. The defence looks better than last year with the addition of defensive end Olivier Vernon. Look for New York to improve from last season and make it out of a weak division.
On paper, the Redskins have the best team in this dysfunctional division; nonetheless, they face the ninth hardest schedule in the NFL. Cornerback Josh Norman performed poorly in the pre-season, raising questions about how much he can improve Washington’s defence. With solid receiving options, Kirk Cousins could be an effective quarterback. However, the Redskins should underperform this season, likely relinquishing the top spot in the division to the Giants.
The Eagles look like a trainwreck this year. With Chip Kelly out, Head Coach Doug Pederson hopes to make something out of Philadelphia’s mess. With essentially nothing to cheer for this year, the always-disgruntled Eagles fans can only hope that second overall pick Carson Wentz shows promise as he begins the year as Philly’s starting quarterback.
With quarterback Tony Romo breaking his back in the preseason, the Cowboys are banking on rookies Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott to lead the offence this year. Although both are exciting prospects, leading ‘America’s Team’ bears a lot of pressure. Luckily, the O-line is still the best in the league and the defence has solid playmakers. However, expect a disappointing season punctuated by some exciting flashes from Dallas’ rookie quarterback-running back tandem.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is coming off a career year, and with a horde of stud wide receivers, Arizona’s offence should be just as explosive. The team has high expectations for sophomore running back David Johnson, and with one of the league’s deepest defences, the Cardinals are poised to be Super Bowl contenders in 2017.
With quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm, anything is possible for Seattle. The team said goodbye to their beast running back Marshawn Lynch this season, but Thomas Rawls looks poised to take over and produce big numbers in Seahawks colours. They once again boast one of the league’s strongest defences and will be serious Super Bowl contenders, but a weak offensive line will be Seattle’s Achilles heel.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams will be a blast from the past, returning to the City of Angels after a 22 year absence. First overall pick Jared Goff has struggled in the preseason and expects to start the year as the third string quarterback. Even with an outstanding defence and star running back Todd Gurley, a tough division and weak quarterback play should leave the Rams as a playoff outsider.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The team will likely be basement dwellers and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick ruffled feathers when he refused to stand for the American national anthem. Head Coach Chip Kelly joins the team and hopes to fix this roster of misfits, but expect the 49ers to be in contention for the first overall pick come draft time.
Last season’s NFC champions blew away the division, only losing one game the entire season. Although that season ended in a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, there’s plenty for Panthers’ fans to be excited about this season. Quarterback Cam Newton will have his top offensive weapon Kelvin Benjamin back, after the wide receiver missed last season due to injuries. The Panthers should easily capture top spot in the division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The playoffs might be an unattainable goal for the Buccaneers this season, but at the very least, with former first overall pick Jameis Winston under centre, they should finish with a winning record. The offensive-focused, Head Coach Dirk Koetter was brought in last season as offensive coordinator to help nurture Winston and other young players in his unit, presaging bigger and better things for this team in just a few years time.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints spent three of their four draft picks on their defence, trying to bolster a unit that came second-to-last in 2015. Superstar quarterback Drew Brees continues to lead a stellar offence that could not be more opposite compared to the other side of the ball. However, an ageing Brees will have a difficult time carrying his team in this division again, and the Saints are likely to finish towards the bottom this season.
Atlanta has posted a losing record each season since winning the division in 2012. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, this year doesn’t look like it will be much different. Quarterback Matt Ryan is nowhere near as talented as Brees or Newton. Look for Atlanta to depend heavily on running back Devonta Freeman to complement receiver Julio Jones and the Falcons’ aerial assault.
Even without star running back Le’Veon Bell at the start of the season, the Steelers boast one of the league’s most lethal offences. With a young defensive core, the Steelers look fast and furious, and are expected to spend plenty of time in their opponent’s backfield. If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy, look for the Steelers to be in the mix for Super Bowl 51.
After choking again in last years’ playoffs, the Bengals look to prove that they can make it to the divisional round after four consecutive first round eliminations. Cincinnati has a strong two-man punch at running back, but they lack a number two receiver behind A.J. Green. However, the Bengals strong defence should be good enough to lift Cincinnati to another wildcard spot.
The Ravens will have six starters returning from injury this year after an injury-ridden and disappointing 2015 campaign. With question marks scattered across the field, Baltimore is hoping the return of receiver Steve Smith and improvement from third-year running back Terrance West can help solve their offensive woes. But, still finding themselves in a tough division and with an ageing defence, the Ravens' playoff chances are slim this season.
With the addition of quarterback Robert Griffin III, Cleveland is hoping to find stability under centre for the first time in over two decades. With a bevy of new receivers and a young running back tandem, their offensive production should increase. However, with a weak defensive front and a miserable defensive backfield, the Browns should be on the clock at the top of next year’s draft.
New England Patriots
Even if the season starts flat with second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo under centre, Patriots fans should be pumped for Tom Brady’s week five return from his Deflategate suspension. While New England’s defence is hoping veteran defensive end Chris Long can make up for the loss of Chandler Jones, the offence looks to have a lethal tight-end combo with the addition of Martellus Bennett to flank Rob Gronkowski. It’s safe to say the Patriots are a lock for another division title.
New York Jets
The New York Jets had a surprisingly successful 2015-16 season, but choked at the end of the year to miss the playoffs. The addition of veteran running back Matt Forte, coupled with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, make up a talented offensive core to go alongside quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The defence remains intact and is expected to show improvement, making a wildcard spot very possible.
The Dolphins are coming off a rather disappointing year—even after picking up Ndamukong Suh in free agency. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still looking for his breakout season, while receiver Jarvis Landry has become a dangerous weapon and veteran running back Arian Foster should have an immediate impact both on and off the field. If new Head Coach Adam Gase can push the right buttons, the Dolphins have slim but plausible playoff hopes.
Led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and top offensive weapons LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, Buffalo has finally put together a stable and respectable offence. The Bills shouldn’t be as reliant on their defence this year after a mediocre 2015 season. Losing defensive tackle Mario Williams hurts, but Head Coach Rex Ryan is more than capable of making readjustments. However, even with the optimism, this team is set for another average season in the NFL basement.
For the first time in 14 years, the Raiders could be playing football in January. Oakland is the only team in the AFC West that should improve on their 2015-16 record. They had a fantastic off-season, making key additions that will certainly augment their young core. Quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper make a dangerous offensive duo, while the additions of cornerback Sean Smith and linebacker Bruce Irvin bolster the defence.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chief’s oft-injured star running back Jamaal Charles will not be ready for week one and the offence will struggle until his return. The defence, though expect to be stolid, will not be as strong as last year. With Marcus Peters taking over the number one cornerback position after the Chiefs lost Sean Smith in a trade and Justin Houston to a knee injury, Kansas City should regress in 2016-17.
The reigning Super Bowl champions had a pretty underwhelming offseason. Starting quarterback Peyton Manning retired and starters Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, and Brock Osweiler departed in free agency. Denver still expects to field one of the best defences in the league and should win at least 9 games. Yes, it’s a far cry from their magical 2015 campaign, but the Broncos are looking to the future with first round pick Paxton Lynch developing.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers will restore their respectability in 2016. The team improved in crucial areas with the addition of youthful players in key positions. Defensive end Joey Bosa looks like the next J.J. Watt, and wideout Travis Benjamin gives the offence versatility and the ability to stretch the field. These additions give the San Diego a nucleus of players that should allow them to eventually return to the playoffs in quarterback Phillip Rivers’ career.
With J.J. Watt continuing to anchor the defence, the Texans expect to be at the top of a weak division. The quarterback carousel should end this year with Brock Osweiler winning the starting job. However, Houston may struggle, given the major improvements by Jacksonville and Indianapolis. They should compete for a division title, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have an outstanding squad.
Jacksonville has their best team in years with Blake Bortles at quarterback and Allen Robinson catching passes. The defence is solid, marking a significant improvement from last year. Cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson will bring much needed experience to a very strong secondary. The Jaguars could reach their first postseason since 2007, and Head Coach Gus Bradley could finally get just reward for his efforts over the past four years.
The Titans expect to have a strong backfield with Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, winner of the Heisman trophy, rushing behind mobile sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tennesse are a wild-card; they could easily suffer another losing season. Tennessee’s offensive line needs to protect Mariota better if they want to win the division. However, they should produce a number of exciting performances behind their explosive rushing attack.
Can quarterback Andrew Luck redeem himself following a poor 2015/16 season? Have the Colts improved sufficiently on defence? These questions hang over the 2016/17 season. Indianapolis still has a poor offensive line, a fairly unspectacular receiving corp, and there is little reason to believe they will markedly improve on last year. Expect Andrew Luck to throw a lot of yards inefficiently and with a number of turnovers.