WITH each new season comes a new batch of questions about every NFL team. And while we don’t know exactly how new teams will look on the field, the paper version of teams can shed some light on how they will perform in 2017. The formula of ‘good teams usually get worse and bad teams usually get better’ fits the mould most seasons and the rise and fall of some of the teams below should indicate who’s win column is due for an increase and who will trend in the opposite direction.
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Carolina Panthers (6-10 last year)
ONE of the teams everyone is expecting to get back to their best in 2017 is the Carolina Panthers. They suffered a massive decline from 2015 turning in a 6-10 season after going 15-1 en route to a SuperBowl appearance a year before. A large part of their drop off was due to Cam Newton’s drop in performance. Going from a clear cut MVP to an injured, inconsistent play caller. Newton wasn’t the only one to blame, with the defense dropping off from the 2nd best defensive DVOA to the 10th in 2016. While the Panthers still ranked pretty high in the league the defensive slide coupled with their offensive woes was the reason that Carolina fell down the standings. With a healthy Cam under center and a revamped defense hungry to redeem themselves, expect the Panthers to churn in a double digit win season.
Cleveland Browns (1-15 last year)
IT’S hard not to see the one win Browns improving from a season ago. Even though quarterback still remains a serious question mark, the rest of their team has improved across the board. Instead of stocking up on more draft picks Cleveland went out and added a few key pieces as well as adding another talented group of rooks. Headlined by the one man wrecking ball that is Myles Garrett the influx of talent will start to swing the pendulum the right way. Don’t be buying you SuperBowl LII tickets Browns fans, but you will be able to watch your team in 2017 without grimacing every time they take to the field……for most of the game.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13 last year)
A lot of the Jaguars success hinges on their quarterback Blake Bortles. Then again we’ve been expecting them to make the leap for the last few seasons, so in order for their win collum to rise, the whole Jags team needs to deliver. Even though their record might not suggest it their defense was much better in 2016 than it was in 2015 and if their turnover happy offense can at least produce at a mediocre level then Jacksonville may finally turn the corner. The AFC South isn’t exactly the toughest division to churn out wins in as well so maybe this will finally be the year Jacksonville can move up the standings to help me avoid being in the same spot next year saying ‘maybe this will finally be the year Jacksonville moves up the standings’.
Image from si.com
Los Angeles Chargers (5-11 last year)
LOSING close games can murder a team’s chance of being successful. That was largely what happened to the Chargers last year, who blew lead after lead against what seemed like inferior competition. With a pretty tough draw, a loaded division then and an MLS stadium for their home games 2017 could be a flip of a coin year. Injury clouds hang over their rookies too with WR Mike Williams unlikely to see the field during training camp and OL Forrest Lamp out for the year after suffering an ACL tear. They will get Keenan Allen back and hopefully, Melvin Gordon should bounce back from a down year and Philip Rivers is still their QB. It will be hard, but if healthy the Chargers could make a surprising run at a wild card spot, which is saying something considering the dominance of the AFC West.
Image from sfchronicle.com
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9 last year)
IN the somewhat puzzling NFC East the Eagles have a sneaky chance at making some noise. After adding Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery for Carson Wentz to throw to the Eagles are in a much better place offensively and hopefully, that will translate to a few more wins than in seasons past. Philadelphia surprisingly had a positive point difference even though they finished with a losing record last season and if they are to convert those points to W’s then a lot will fall on Wentz’s shoulders and a lot of their success will hinge on his 2nd-year output too. The Eagles aren’t exactly SuperBowl contenders, but if they win a handful of their first games and then upset the Giants or Cowboys they could put everyone on notice.
Image from theeagleswire.usatoday.com
Dallas Cowboys (13-3 last year)
EVERYONE is watching the Cowboys and Dak Prescott to see what they have in store for an encore performance. Most, if not everyone, is predicting them to fall off slightly after a monstrous 2016 regular season coupled with a postseason failure. Their dominant run game might not be as good with changes in the offseason to their makeup allowing little room for injury concerns. Dallas was also elite at taking care of the ball last season, which was astonishing considering two rookies were the focal point of their attack. Many believed that the defense wasn’t good enough to see them go on a deep run in January/February and they were right as they gave up 34 points to Green Bay and were eliminated. Considering the makeup of the Giants, Eagles and Redskins, three teams that look likely to score a lot of points, the horizon isn’t as bright for Dallas this season.
Image from hiveminer.com
Houston Texans (9-7 last year)
NOW that J.J. Watt is back in uniform many people expect them to make the leap and claim the AFC South as theirs. With questions marks at quarterback and the rest of their division improving on paper, things might not be as clear cut as some think though. The Jags, Colts and Titans could all make a run at the division title as well and the once cruisy South will be harder to dominate than ever. Don’t be fooled into thinking last years Texans team was great as they will probably go down as one of the weirdest and worst division winners in NFL history. Houston didn’t make too many additions to their 2017 squad either and even though Deshaun Watson may be the QB of the future, he can’t be expected to dominate in his rookie year. My prediction is they finish around .500 if they can stay healthy. I don’t have full faith in Watt’s ability to play out the whole season, and if that’s the case the L’s could pile up for the Texans.
Miami Dolphins (10-6 last year)
I low key like some of the Dolphins personnel, which pains me to put them on this list. Their 10-6 record from a season ago doesn’t tell the whole story though, with seven of those wins coming against the likes of the Browns, Jets, Rams, 49ers and Bills (who combined to go 19-61). According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, their 2017 campaign will be much harder with the Dolphins slated to go up against the second toughest group of opponents. Fans will be hoping they can build on their performance from a season ago, but let’s be honest looking at their schedule replicating another double digit win season would be a massive ask. Especially for a team that faces New England twice every season.
Image from thephinsider.com
New York Jets ( 5-11 last year)
A team that won just five games last year can’t get much worse right? You only need to hear three names to understand why they are the last team in this bracket. Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. The three are competing for the starting job as quarterback of the New York Jets and to be honest I have very little faith in any of them. In camp recently Todd Bowles said that the QB’s looked sloppy, which A) is no surprise and B) might be the nicest thing he says about his play callers this season. The team as a whole doesn’t look much better with an ageing running back in Matt Forte and a mediocre defense. Operation tanka-palooza is alive and well at the Jets, but that means you can pencil them in for a 15/16 loss season.
Oakland Raiders (12-4 last year)
BEFORE everyone overreacts I still think that the Raiders are a legit SuperBowl threat in 2017, but I also wouldn’t be shocked to see them fall off a cliff. Adding Marshawn Lynch, albeit an exciting move, isn’t exactly going to deliver them the Lombardi trophy straight away, with no one sure what to expect from the 31-year-old after a year in retirement. The Raiders also relied on Derek Carr to bail them out WAY too much last year and I find it hard to believe that he will replicate those late game heroics so often this year. They are playing in the aforementioned talent crowded AFC West as well going up against the likes of the Charger, Broncos and Chiefs twice. A playoff berth is still theirs for the taking, but they could very well slide slightly and produce a 10-6 season, but either way, I think they are being too overhyped for my liking.
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