Fry up the wings and fridge the brews; the 2017 NFL season is officially underway on Thursday, September 7th when the Chiefs come to Gillette Stadium. 4 days and 19 weeks from today Bob Kraft and the Patriots will unveil his 5th Lombardi Trophy since 2001, and their pursuit for consecutive championships begins. However, this first Thursday in September represents the first of 256 games of American football. Here’s the breakdown of the 2017-2018 NFL Schedule accompanied with predictions for each team’s regular season record.
New England, in pursuit of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s sixth ring together, have a comfortable schedule. No way Alex Smith and Spencer Ware come to Foxboro and ruin the ring ceremony. Roger Goodell, a missing face at Gillette Stadium since the 2015 AFC Championship game (also the start of Deflategate. Probably just a coincidence), will be in attendance witnessing a start of a string of wins. 15 in 16 games to be exact. Traveling to Denver always seems challenging on the schedule, but Belichick losing after a bye week isn’t too likely. The Falcons come to Gillette for a Super Bowl rematch in Week 7. This years Pats, especially with star TE Rob Gronkowski who was injured for Super Bowl 51, won’t struggle too much with Atlanta like they did in February. New England bulked up this offseason, signing the top cornerback on the market in Stephen Gilmore. Adding Michael Floyd late last season gave the Patriots a dangerous WR core, and they traded for Saints star wideout Brandin Cooks this spring. New England welcomes back defensive star Dont’a Hightower, as there was a possibility he would sign elsewhere. The defending champions, with a healthy Gronk, could possibly see a 16-0 season; odds are against perfection though, and I see a loss in Mexico City against the Raiders being the only blemish on the Pats record.
The Dolphins face a tough stretch of games from Week 8 through Week 14, playing New England twice overall, traveling to Baltimore and Carolina as well as hosting the Raiders and the Broncos in those six games. With a bye in Week 11, Miami could upset the odds and squeak out of that with a win, but they also travel to Atlanta to face the reigning NFC Champions in Week 6. Overall, I have the Dolphins finishing one game above .500.
Bad news, Jets fans. As if you needed any. Based on opponents winning percentage last season, the Jets have their hardest schedule since 2009. They open up the season with two road games for the first time since 1992. On paper, the Jets have nothing positive to look forward to for the 2017 season. Luckily for Jets fans, football isn’t played on paper.
Rex Ryan, the so called Messiah in Buffalo, just left them with a mess and no real starting quarterback. The Bills have one positive note in Shady McCoy, who is coming off of a good season, rushing north of 1200 yards. Sammy Watkins, who looked promising in his rookie year, has struggled with injuries since then. It doesn’t help that Buffalo sees Cam Newton and the Panthers, Denver’s defense, and Atlanta’s explosive offense in consecutive weeks. They also have both their games with New England toward the end of the season, as well as a trip to Kansas City, who won their division last year.
Pittsburgh’s offensive attack of Ben-Bell-Brown will lead them to another division title and into the AFC Playoffs. However, the Steelers have to worry about health issues, as has been a problem for their star players in several years. Martavius Bryant returns to play this season after his drug suspension sidelined him all of 2016. If Pittsburgh can stay relatively healthy through the late games of the season, which are the toughest, and into the playoffs, they have a shot at the Lombardi trophy. Urgency should be hitting the locker room soon, however, as Big Ben’s career clock is ticking.
Chances of Elite Flacco making a return in 2017 are slim, as are the Ravens chances to sneak into the AFC Playoffs via a wild card spot. They start the season with three wins against the Bengals, the Browns, and the Jaguars. Baltimore will also steal one win against the Steelers this year, but won’t do enough overall to knock them in the standings or take a wild card spot from the other impressive teams in the conference.
Cincinnati will be considered contenders- until they blow it in the last three games. Two of these games are on the road; I see Cincy losing at Minnesota in Week 15 and at Baltimore in Week 17. They’re going to see the Lions take a win away from them in Week 16, as well. The Bengals struggled last year, going 6-9-1, and they’re losing two of their offensive linemen. Andy Dalton isn’t quite what he used to be, but Eifert and Green will carry that offense to an improvement on the 2016 season.
They say love ain’t the same on the south side of town. You can look, but you ain’t gonna find it around. It’s the same old story, same old song and dance, my friend. Brock Osweiler won’t be much of an improvement from Robert Griffin III. The Terelle Pryor-Josh Gordon duo may be gone, but the Browns needed to rebuild and they have years to go before they become anything but a bottom-dweller.
Yes, they’re going to do it. The Colts will avoid finishing 8-8 for the third straight season. Chuck Pagano’s squad has the easiest schedule in the NFL this season, with seven of their first eight games against non-playoff teams. Indianapolis and the Texans will sit at 9-6 heading into a Week 17 showdown deciding the AFC South. With Andrew Luck hopefully done with shoulder surgery and an offense blessed with athletic wide receivers, Indianapolis should find its way into the playoffs for the first time in two years.
Somehow, the Texans made the playoffs after the worst deal in recent NFL history to a quarterback last offseason. The Brock Osweiler era ended after one year as Houston shipped him out along with a few draft picks to Cleveland, if they would pay his contract. With the reset button at the quarterback position the offense may struggle to put up points in a lot of close games. With J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive side, the Texans will have enough to get them the second wild card spot.
Tennessee’s offense, lead by Marcus Mariota and Demarco Murray, is a fun unit to watch. The Titans, a young time on the rise, who won all of their home games in the second half of the season, will start out slow before catching their groove. They will perform, however, and leave Titans fans with a lot to look forward to.
Blake Bortles has 63 turnovers since entering the league in 2014. Last year, the Jaguars defense allowed 25 points per game. They added a few defensive weapons in the offseason, but the offense won’t undergo any drastic transformations to turn Jacksonville into contenders.
Despite the Raiders fielding a better football team than last year, they have the fourth toughest schedule in the NFL. So, yes; Oakland will be better with a worse record. They technically have one less actual home game this year, being written in as home for a Mexico City matchup against New England- which Oakland will win. With a legit running threat in the possibility of bringing Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch out of retirement, Oakland has all the pieces to be contenders: tough defense, good spread of wide receivers, an accurate arm under center, and a few running tools. This is the Raider’s division, and it will be for a while.
The Chiefs, without Jamaal Charles, were able to win the AFC’s toughest division last year. TE Travis Kelce and rookie WR Tyreek Hill helped Alex Smith move the ball last year, while Eric Berry and the Chiefs defense took care of things on the other side. The Chiefs necessarily will not be worse this year, but they face the second hardest schedule in the league. The Chiefs were 6-0 in their division last year, but a strengthened Raiders team will prevent that from happening again. Kansas City will wind up with the first AFC Wild Card spot.
Based on 2016 records, Broncos 2017 opponents have the highest cumulative win percentage going into this season (.578). This gives them the hardest schedule in the NFL, all while under a new coach. Vance Joseph’s squad hosts the reigning champs and has to play in the toughest division in the league. While the Broncos still pose a very threatening defense, the teams in their division have also increased their strength on that side of the ball. The Broncos problem, since Peyton Manning retired and C.J Anderson started battling injuries, has been their offense. Denver will be one of the league’s better teams- don’t get me wrong. But with Oakland and Kansas City in their division, the Broncos will be left out of the playoff party for the second straight year.
The Los Angeles Chargers: 7-9
New logo, new stadium, new city. New team- sike. Phillip Rivers will throw the ball for a large number of yards this year. One of their star players will probably find himself on the Injured Reserve at one point, and the Chargers defense will give up a lot of points. The Chargers will improve to 7 wins this year, after winning 9 combined over their past two seasons, but still not enough to bring anything home to Los Angeles.
The Cowboys shocked everyone last season by only losing three games in the regular season with a rookie under center and a rookie behind him. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot will lead Dallas to another division title this year, despite games against the Packers, who defeated Dallas in the playoffs, and Atlanta. The Cowboys have back to back Thursday night games in Weeks 12 and 13, as well as 3 out of four closing games on the road. Their one home game in this stretch is against the Seahawks, and they travel to Oakland, New York for the Giants, and Philadelphia- all difficult games. Dallas will survive, however, and win the NFC East in consecutive years for the first time since the Eagles did it in ’03/’04.
The Giants impressed last season, seeing some playoff football for the first time since they won the whole thing in 2011. Their defense comes into the start of the season with some momentum, as they allowed an average of 15 points per game for the second half of 2016. The offseason benefitted New York, as they resigned defensive lineman Justin Pierre-Paul and partnered star wideout O’dell Beckham Jr. with the veteran star Brandon Marshall from the Jets. So, while being better than they were last year, the Giants will fall a game short of repeating their 11 win season. However, Eli and crew will get to play a few more downs this postseason as a wild card team.
With the loss of Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon on the offensive side of the ball, the Skins won’t be as close to playoff berth as they were in 2016. Kirk Cousins, amidst uncertainty regarding his future, will have a fire under his seat propelling the offense to much better than they should be. If the defensive side of the ball can pull its weight, Washington could see some opportunity to make the big stage, but they will just miss as they did last year.
Carson Wentz has a year under his belt and a new target in Alshon Jeffery. Philadelphia should impress this year, with a pass attack that can make a lot of noise. However, the other explosive offenses in their division and conference are going to exploit Philly’s weaker defense, and the Eagles will finish the year at .500 despite offensive improvements.
Aaron Rodgers dropped thousands of jaws this postseason with a miraculous effort, practically carrying his team. With a healthy Jordy Nelson, we saw how good the Packers offense really is when they are clicking. Not only is Nelson returning from injury, Green Bay was also able to bring in Free Agent TE Martellus Bennett, who shined in New England’s offense in the absence of Rob Gronkowski. Their 22nd ranked defense last year was also eye opening, as well, and the Packers play their first two games against good offenses (vs. Seattle and at Atlanta). Green Bay had the 31st ranked passing defense in the league last year, but despite these struggles will be able to ride their offensive attack to another division title.
The Lions will start the season slow with a tough opening stretch against Arizona, the Giants, Atlanta, Carolina, and a tough divisional opponent in the Vikings. Detroit then closes the season with 3 of 4 on the road, with the one home game against the Packers. Matt Stafford didn’t miss a beat with the loss of Calvin Johnson, and this season he’ll better utilize Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin to send Detroit to a 9-7 record on the season.
Minnesota started hot last season despite losing Teddy Bridgewater in a non-contact injury. Without Bridgewater again this year, the Vikings should be able to continue scoring through their passing attack. Star WR Stefon Diggs had another impressive season and will carry it into 2017. Perhaps the most impressive part of the 2016 Vikings was their defense, lead by young cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The offensive-defensive balance of this team plus an early bulk of home games should lead them to a 9-7 overall record- just missing out on the playoffs after a tough second half schedule. In Weeks 12, 13, 14, and 16, the Vikings go to Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina, and Green Bay, respectively.
The Bears finally parted ways with Jay Cutler, and that might not be a good thing. They finished 3-13 last year, and failed to resign star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Not only that, but they start the year with games against Atlanta in Week 1, followed by Tampa Bay, the Steelers, and Green Bay. Not looking good for Da Bears.
Atlanta’s last memory of a gridiron probably isn’t too pleasant- watching Tom Brady and the Patriots tear down a 25 point lead in 17 minutes to steal a Super Bowl victory- but that won’t stop Matty Ice and the Falcons from picking up where they left off. In a division with defenses like New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Atlanta’s offensive juggernaut should be able to coast to another division title and playoff berth for a second straight year.
Breaking: The New Orleans Saints have just signed Adrian Peterson. With Drew Brees still under center, the Saints offense looks poised enough to explode onto the scene and win a few football games- but their defense is still very spotty. Even if Malcom Butler does go to New Orleans, they still will have trouble stopping the offensive machines on their schedule. If the Saints can steal a close game or two from Atlanta and Carolina, they have a realistic shot at the division and the wild card. Expect a lot of shootouts, high scoring games, and a lot of Brees this year from New Orleans.
SuperCam took a year off from duties last year, even with star WR Kelvin Benjamin returning. The absence of Josh Norman really showed in Carolina’s defense last year, as they had trouble winning games they would’ve easily won in 2015. With an increased talent in their division, the Panthers are going to upset this year, as well, and miss the playoffs for a second straight time following their run to the Super Bowl.
All of Tampa Bay’s games against fellow NFC South teams come in the second half of the season- as does the Buccaneers’ most difficult games, including a trip to Green Bay to see Aaron Rodgers. The Bucks, looking to improve on last season’s 9-7 mark, will fall short, and fail to make the playoffs again for an eleventh straight year.
The Seahawks only play 5 games against teams who were granted playoff berth last season. While they have showed signs of drop off from the group previously lead by Beast Mode and the Legion of Boom, Russel Wilson has generated into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Along with Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and now Eddie Lacy, the Hawks look to repeat as division champs again and push far into the playoffs as they have done every year.
Four of seven games on the road in the middle of the season, along with two cross-country trips and a game in London could tire out the predominantly veteran locker room in Arizona. Running back David Johnson is coming off a spectacular year and an injury that was a lot less serious than it looks, but other than that Arizona does not have much young talent on their offense. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald look to put together another decent year despite age being heavily against them. If Tyrann Matheiu can return to full strength and the Cardinals defense can be what it once was, Arizone may have a shot to be one of the better teams again. However, age and their schedule are against them this season, as they start off with two games on the road and end with two of three away from home.
The offense for Los Angeles can’t get much worse, so we’re going to go out on a limb here and say they’ll have an improvement this year. Somewhat. The schedule for Los Angeles isn’t too challenging, but the team is young and not quite at the winning level yet. A decent year for Los Angeles will leave them at 6-10 and hopeful for the next season.
It’s no secret that this team is in complete rebuild, with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch looking to have some success in the Blaine Gabbert/Christian Ponder offense. A bright spot for San Francisco comes in the form of running back Carlos Hyde, who had an above average season last year and is looking to improve upon that. Overall, with a new system and scheme, San Francisco shouldn’t be too worried with a sub .500 record this season.