2017 NFL Schedule: W-L Predictions for Every Team
Predictions are never an easy task for us football writers.
Not only are we guaranteed to be wrong in some way, but people yell at us—yeah, I'm talking about you!
"You idiot! There's no way (insert favorite team here) goes (insert bad record here)!"
That was the PG version, but it's bound to happen, and I already look forward to it after this slideshow (bring it on). But keep this in mind before you yell at me: This is all on paper and also before the NFL draft.
Things could change.
In addition to predicting the records of every team, I've pegged the toughest game and also the contest(s) that should be considered "prove-it" games for each team.
As we all know, the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders are good, the New York Jets stink (and are fun to laugh at) and, also, the Cleveland Browns stink.
To be honest, it was just as hard to pick a Jets win as it was to pick a Patriots loss.
It's probably never a good idea to predict an undefeated or a totally defeated team, but both are possible.
So let's get this out of the way now and ahead of time: I'm probably (well, definitely) going to be wrong on some (most) stuff. New teams emerge every season that we never see coming.
In the meantime, get ready for the draft and see where your team stands now that the NFL schedule has finally been released and plan all your trips to stadiums accordingly.
Happy Schedule Release Day!
Arizona Cardinals (2016 Record: 7-8-1)
The key to a productive Arizona Cardinals season rests almost primarily on the shoulders of their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer. Sure, there are other holes that need to be filled, but Palmer is key.
In 2015, Palmer was an MVP candidate. In 2016, Palmer had some solid numbers but was far from his 2015 form.
With running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald still around, the Cardinals have the pieces to be a playoff-caliber team—we're just not sure which team we're going to get.
This could be the final season for Palmer, and he'll look to make it a success.
Putting Andre Ellington at wide receiver is going to be interesting, too.
Johnson can try to carry this team to victory, but it ultimately comes down to Palmer and the defense showing up.
Palmer coming back to form, the offensive line staying healthy and addressing the inside linebacker, cornerback and receiver positions in the draft will help the Cardinals be a threat again in 2017.
Toughest game: vs. New York Giants (Week 16)
Spoiler alert: The NFC East is going to belong to the New York Giants in 2017, thus making them the toughest opponent for the Cardinals this season.
Yeah, they play against the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, but my gut feeling is that the Giants are going to be a team to be reckoned with in 2017.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, the game is at home, but New York is going to be a tough out for anyone.
It will be interesting to see where these teams are late in the season.
Prove-it games: both Seahawks games (Weeks 10 and 17), at Detroit Lions (Week 1)
The NFC West seemingly belongs to the Seattle Seahawks every season, but the Seahawks are not unfamiliar territory to the Cardinals.
The Cardinals were only 7-8-1 in 2016, but they didn't lose to the Seahawks. They won on the road and tied at home—damn you, Chandler Catanzaro.
With that said, the Seahawks are still the Seahawks, and while division games are different than any others, taking it to the Seahawks once again this season is a must—even though one of the games is their last of the season.
Next up, on the road against the Detroit Lions—a team that is of similar strength to the Cardinals.
Quality road wins are what define a team's overall success. The Cardinals already have, essentially, four easy wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
They'll be tested on the road against teams like the Lions, Houston Texans and Washington Redskins.
2017 record prediction: 9-7
Atlanta Falcons (2016 Record: 11-5)
What can one even say about the Atlanta Falcons?
They had perhaps the most crushing, agonizing, gut-wrenching loss we've ever seen in a Super Bowl.
Barring any long-term hangovers, the Falcons should be right back in the saddle as an NFC contender.
They're virtually the same team as last year. However, they did add nose tackle Dontari Poe to an already talented front seven, and they made the right call by extending cornerback Desmond Trufant's contract.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 7)
This is just some cruel and unusual punishment, @nflcommish.
After that loss on that stage, you want to send the Falcons into Foxborough to take on the Patriots?
At least let them have them at home!
This may be the most-watched game of the season. The story writes itself here, folks.
Prove-it game: vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 10)
The Dallas Cowboys were top dogs in the NFC last season, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers at home in their opening round.
Will the Cowboys be in their similar dominating form in 2017? Who knows.
At home, the Falcons get to do battle with them, which sets up for the ultimate prove-it game.
The Cowboys could end up being the Falcons' biggest enemy when it comes to securing a No. 1 seed (assuming my New York Giants take is awful). The Falcons are also good enough to hang with the fellow heavyweights (as evidenced by, you know, making the Super Bowl).
If the Falcons can get it done, this game will reaffirm our belief in them.
Hopefully, for their sake, they're never up 28-3 on a team ever again.
2017 record prediction: 12-4
Baltimore Ravens (2016 Record: 8-8)
For many years, the Baltimore Ravens have been a dark horse in the AFC playoff picture.
They remain competitive against teams such as the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, but they come up short more often than not.
It's no secret that the offense is one of the most boring units in football, and with Steve Smith retiring and Kamar Aiken gone, it looks even more pedestrian on paper.
However, their defense is setting up to be quite stingy in 2017 with the additions of cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson.
No, Carr isn't a superstar, but he's an upgrade over whoever the heck was opposite Jimmy Smith in 2016.
Speaking of defense, the Ravens did trade away defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, so his shoes will need to be filled.
The Ravens are somewhere in the middle this season—to apply a football term, they're a tweener. They're not a bad team, but they don't come off as a serious threat to create any noise either.
Of course, this is all ahead of the draft, so things could change, but the Ravens appear to be headed in the right direction even though they lost a few weapons—remember, they did add running back Danny Woodhead.
Staying healthy and adding pass-rushers and a receiver in the draft should pay huge dividends.
Toughest game: at Oakland Raiders (Week 5)
The game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11 was considered, but staying within the same conference, the Oakland Raiders are the toughest opponent on the Baltimore Ravens schedule.
Not only will the Ravens have to do battle against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and his myriad weapons, but the Raiders and Ravens could end up duking it out for wild-card spots in the end (this is, of course, assuming the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs remain good football teams).
On paper, the Ravens offensive line is average at best, so going up against a defense led by Raiders superhuman (and, oh, defensive end) Khalil Mack will be quite the test.
After losing Carr late last season, the Raiders will be back this season with a vengeance.
Oakland's talent might be too much for the Ravens to overcome.
Prove-it games: at Green Bay Packers (Week 11), vs. Detroit Lions (Week 13), both games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Weeks 4 and 14)
We'll get this out of the way: Any game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Ravens is a big game, especially in what should become quite the finish in the AFC North.
Now we'll move to the NFC North opponents the Ravens will face this year in the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
As mentioned, the Ravens are in a tweener area when it comes to what kind of football team they are. They aren't bad by any stretch, but they haven't been good lately.
With additions like safety Tony Jefferson, it's clear the Ravens want to move on from that narrative, and that's why a game in Green Bay is a prove-it one. If they can get it done there, look out.
From there, the Lions are a slight notch below the Packers but still a quality football team nonetheless. A game in Lambeau is a different animal, but beating a quality team in the Lions at home will be telling. If they are able to do so, we will know the Ravens are capable beating a good opponent.
Quality wins are key. I'd like to move away from having mediocre teams that squeeze into the playoffs because of easy schedules.
2017 record prediction: 9-7
Buffalo Bills (2016 Record: 7-9)
Why don't we start off by saying this: Thank goodness the Buffalo Bills brought quarterback Tyrod Taylor back—even if it is for essentially only one year.
Not only did they bring Taylor back, but they signed one of the more underrated free agents this offseason in defensive back Micah Hyde.
Sure, they lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to those damn New England Patriots, but they were expected to lose him given what he was looking for money-wise and after they didn't franchise-tag him.
Two other under-the-radar moves the Bills did to help out their offense were the signings of both Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert—that's right, fullbacks!
Though they are "just fullbacks," these guys will help out running back LeSean McCoy in terms of blocking and creating space.
The wide receiver position is a bit of a concern for the Bills, who lost Robert Woods to the Los Angeles Rams, but the Bills could address the issue by spending their first-round pick on a wide receiver or tight end O.J. Howard.
Taylor is a fun, dynamic player, but the AFC East is still run by the Patriots.
Toughest game: at Atlanta Falcons (Week 4)
Tempting to put their annual meetings with the New England Patriots here, but the Atlanta Falcons game will get the nod because of divisional familiarity.
The one plus side for the Bills against the Falcons is that at least they'll be indoors and not out in the frigid Buffalo temperatures.
Other than that, this is going to be a tall mountain to climb for any team this season—going into Atlanta.
The Falcons should take this one.
Prove-it games: both games against the Miami Dolphins (Week 15 and 17), vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 7)
Are the Bills a playoff team? Eh, probably not.
However, the Miami Dolphins are assumed to be the second-best team in the AFC East, so wins against them would prove otherwise.
Who knows? The Bills could have an outside chance at a playoff run, but getting through the Dolphins, at least once, will be key. The games are toward the end of the season, so this series could turn into one that proves who the second-best team in the AFC East is.
As far as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Buffalo goes, we all know Buffalo can be a tough place to play in.
A win over the Buccaneers would prove to everyone that the Bills are an improving team—not quite playoff material, but they'd be showing that they're getting there.
They have other tough games this season against the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, but those aren't exactly the proper games to target here.
Of course, a win over either of those teams would also be nice if the Bills hope to push the envelope for a playoff appearance.
2017 record prediction: 7-9
Carolina Panthers (2016 Record: 6-10)
The Carolina Panthers had an atrocious 2016 after appearing in Super Bowl 50, going 6-10.
Quarterback Cam Newton wasn't his MVP self, the offensive line was inconsistent, the cornerbacks were both rookies and inexperienced, their first-round pick, defensive tackle Vernon Butler, didn't play a ton—the list goes on and on.
There are bright spots, however.
The Panthers did lose six games by three or fewer points. Newton is still a dynamic player. They have tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and linebacker Luke Kuechly—the list goes on and on because this isn't a bad football team.
Bringing in offensive tackle Matt Kalil and, even in his advanced age, linebacker Julius Peppers (who should have nice sack totals) should help.
This is still a double-digit-win team on paper, but translating that to the field is a different story.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 4)
From now on (if you hadn't already received the hint), if you see "Toughest game: at New England Patriots," I don't really a see a point in explaining why it's a team's most difficult game.
Prove-it games: divisional games (Weeks 3, 8, 9, 13, 16, 17), vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 15)
The Packers game is tough, regardless of location, but the focal point for the Panthers this season needs to be wins in the NFC South.
In a division consisting of the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints, they must pick up head-to-head victories.
A win over the Packers would launch the Panthers into another echelon. I don't believe the 2016 Panthers could have hung with them.
2017 record prediction: 10-6
Chicago Bears (2016 Record: 3-13)
Overall, the Chicago Bears had a fairly nice offseason when it came to free agency.
Although they lost both Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley at quarterback and Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, the added safety Quintin Demps, cornerback Prince Amukamara and wide receivers Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton.
Their most controversial signing, though, was quarterback Mike Glennon.
The contract in and of itself is OK (though he'll be getting paid $15 million in 2017), but I'm still not sure why they went in this direction when they could have just deployed Barkley for another year, assuming they select a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
Glennon doesn't feel like enough of an upgrade.
The Bears should be in line for another top-five pick in the 2018 draft. 2017 will be another cellar-dweller season in the Windy City.
Drafting Ohio State safety Malik Hooker would give the Bears a playmaker who can turn the ball over. However, he does have issues when it comes to tackling.
Toughest game: vs. Atlanta Falcons (Week 1)
Welcome to 2017, Chicago. You draw the Falcons in Week 1—yippee.
A bona fide bottom-three team in the league versus a team that was very close to a Super Bowl title the previous season? Yeah, a game against the Atlanta Falcons is the toughest game for the Bears and Glennon this season.
The Bears did get a couple of pieces in the secondary, but they're going to get throttled by this offense.
Prove-it games: vs. Cleveland Browns (Week 16), vs. San Francisco 49ers (Week 13)
When it comes to prove-it games for the Bears, they're simply going to be trying to prove they aren't the worst team in the NFL.
Hence their prove-it games being against the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.
Barkley/Hoyer revenge game and the Browns.
Out of their three projected wins, these could be two of them.
2017 record prediction: 3-13
Cincinnati Bengals (2016 Record: 6-9-1)
While they still have wide receiver A.J. Green, the Cincinnati Bengals once again lost some key free agents this offseason—most importantly along the offensive line, which is a position they should address in the draft.
Yes, I'm referring to Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, who fled to the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns, respectively.
Sure, they brought in offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker Kevin Minter, but come on, people—those moves won't make up for the loss of Whitworth and Zeitler.
Now the Bengals employ an offensive line that is projected to have Jake Fisher as their starting offensive tackle—he played in just 300 snaps in 2016 and was ranked 136th at the offensive tackle position, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2016, the Bengals went 6-9-1.
Turn that tie into a loss, and that's where they're finishing this year, if not worse given the loss of two key offensive linemen.
The Bengals better hope Green stays healthy for all 16 games, or this could get uglier.
Toughest game: at Green Bay Packers (Week 3)
Not to cop out, but this one kind of writes itself, no?
The Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field are a different animal.
Keeping that in mind with what I expect out of the Bengals in 2017, hopefully the Bengals can manage to walk away from this game without getting shellacked too hard.
Give the Bengals an "L" here.
Prove-it game: at Denver Broncos (Week 11)
If the Bengals want to show the football world they mean business (well, the business of not being totally terrible), winning on the road against the Denver Broncos would be a nice way to do it.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian throw for four touchdowns against the Bengals in 2016?
I know, in Denver might be asking a lot out of a prove-it game, but how they play on the road against a tough opponent will give us an idea of what to expect from this team.
Another good pick would be at home against the Detroit Lions.
2017 record prediction: 6-10
Cleveland Browns (2016 Record: 1-15)
I cannot wait until the Cleveland Browns are a good football team. I really can't.
With Cody Kessler set to be the team's starting quarterback come Week 1 (barring their drafting a quarterback and starting him foolishly), the Browns are still going to be in the basement in the AFC North.
Give them props, though—they did sign guard Kevin Zeitler, center JC Tretter and wide receiver Kenny Britt to replace Terrelle Pryor.
I'm hoping we are able to see a more competitive Browns season, but they are still destined for a low win total.
Good news, though: They likely won't have the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 (or is that actually bad news?).
Toughest game: vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 14)
Dear Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers,
Please go easy on the Browns. They have families.
Everyone. Especially Browns fans.
Prove-it games: at Chicago Bears (Week 16), vs. New York Jets (Week 5)
Overall, the Chicago Bears and New York Jets are mediocre opponents, but they are the perfect measuring stick for the Browns.
This is essentially measuring how bad the team is. If the Browns take out the Jets at home and/or the Bears on the road, it will be clear that this team is moving toward not being the worst team in the NFL.
Not all that exciting, but the Browns nearly went winless in 2016. Give them a break.
2017 record prediction: 2-14
Dallas Cowboys (2016 Record: 13-3)
With quarterback Tony Romo now off the roster and those potential distractions out of the way, the Dallas Cowboys have officially entered the Era of Dak Prescott (if they didn't already last season).
Though Prescott looks like he's the answer for America's Team, they did lose a considerable amount of talent this offseason.
Here are most of the names: cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, running back Lance Dunbar, guard Ronald Leary and defensive tackle Terrell McClain—not to mention tackle Doug Free retiring.
Right now, the Cowboys have Anthony Brown and Nolan Carroll slated to be the Week 1 starters at the cornerback position.
Carroll, on the other hand, is coming off the worst season of his career, serving as a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles.
In a recent mock draft, my colleague Matt Miller predicted LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White to the Cowboys. He (or any other first-round cornerback) could be the solution to an ailing cornerback group.
Led by Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys will once again be an NFC favorite despite being one-and-done in the 2016 postseason.
Toughest game: at Atlanta Falcons (Week 10)
This was a close call between the Atlanta Falcons on the road and the Oakland Raiders on the road—both are exceedingly tough matchups, but the Falcons defense and their offense are a tad more complete than those of the Raiders.
The Falcons have a fearsome front seven and a proven, top-tier cornerback in Desmond Truant.
It could come down to these two teams for who will be the king of the NFC, so buckle up and get ready.
Prove-it games: both games vs. New York Giants (Weeks 1 and 14), vs. Seattle Seahawks (Week 16)
2017 is shaping up to be the year of the New York Giants in terms of the NFC East crown, so wins against them are going to be important for the Cowboys.
The Giants have a legitimate offense, especially after adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and their defense is one of the better units in the league.
It should be a given that games against a potential division-leading foe are in the "prove-it" territory.
Next up: the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cowboys have the luxury of facing them at home, but they will not be an easy out.
A quarterback duel of Prescott and Russell Wilson writes itself—another exciting contest the Cowboys need to win to prove they're still among the NFC elite.
2017 record prediction: 11-5
Denver Broncos (2016 Record: 9-7)
Like the Houston Texans, the Denver Broncos were also connected to the Tony Romo rumors.
Now that we know that isn't going to work out, the Broncos are left with the same duo as last season at the position: Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
The Broncos somewhat caught lightning in a bottle with Siemian. He wasn't great by any means, but he didn't kill them.
The biggest issue for the Broncos in 2016 was the offensive line. This offseason, the Broncos addressed that by adding offensive tackle Menelik Watson and guard Ronald Leary.
This defense is still one of the better units in the league despite recent losses in free agency, and there's no reason to believe it will be slowing down.
Although Siemian is proficient at managing a game, he has limitations.
The Broncos are a borderline double-digit-win team.
Toughest game: vs. New England Patriots (Week 10)
You know the deal.
Prove-it games: divisional games against the Kansas City Chiefs (Weeks 8 and 17) and Oakland Raiders (Weeks 4 and 12)
It's simple, really: The Broncos have two opponents in their own division that are legitimate threats in the AFC.
Their contests against the Raiders and Chiefs will dictate most of what we need to know about them.
2017 record prediction: 9-7
Detroit Lions (2016 Record: 9-7)
I'd like to see the Detroit Lions succeed.
They're always one of those teams that have "fun" pieces, but they always get stuck against tough opponents when/if they make the playoffs.
For example, in 2016, they had to travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks.
An issue for the Lions as of late has been the lack of a productive running game—quarterback Matthew Stafford can only throw so much (which he tends to more than most other quarterbacks in the league).
With Calvin Johnson retiring before the 2016 season, the Lions were assumed to take a hit, but they made the playoffs anyway.
Speaking of big hits, Stafford took quite a few of those last season, but after the additions of right tackle Ricky Wagner and guard T.J. Lang, the Lions offensive line is shaping up to be a better unit.
As mentioned earlier about Miller's mock, he has the team taking Miami tight end David Njoku. That would be a fun marriage.
The Lions will once again be a wild-card contender in 2017.
Toughest game: at New York Giants (Week 2)
I've been an advocate for the New York Giants throughout this entire slideshow, so this shouldn't come as a surprise.
On the road against the Giants is going to be no easy task for any team this season.
Prove-it games: at Baltimore Ravens (Week 13), at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14), both games vs. Green Bay Packers (Weeks 9 and 17)
The Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are two teams that seem to be around the level of the Lions in terms of wins and losses.
The Bucs are another potential low playoff seed the Lions could need to fend off, and the Ravens will be a good measuring stick for the quality of the team the Lions have, especially on the road.
The Lions have games against the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, but those are more so "tough" games rather than "prove-it" games.
While beating competition that is universally expected to be ahead of you is important, the Bucs and Ravens are two teams that fit in the same tier as the Lions heading into 2017.
Lastly, the Packers finished with a slightly better record than Detroit in 2016, so beating up on them could prove that they are the leaders of the NFC North.
2017 record prediction: 10-6
Green Bay Packers (2016 Record: 10-6)
With everything squarely on his shoulders, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers still managed to reach the NFC Championship Game despite a porous secondary and little help from his wide receivers.
In the offseason, the Packers lost two key offensive linemen, guard T.J. Lang and center JC Tretter, and defensive back Micah Hyde.
With that comes some good, though, as the Packers signed tight end Martellus Bennett to add to a receiving group that consists of wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb—not to mention running back Ty Montgomery.
Regardless of their weaknesses, Rodgers will have the Packers exceeding expectations; without him who knows where they would be?
The NFC North will always be the Packers' for the taking as long as Rodgers is around.
Toughest game: at Atlanta Falcons (Week 2)
The site of the team's crushing defeat in the NFC Championship Game.
Yes, this will be the Packers' toughest game of the season.
Although Rodgers will do his best to stay in this one, their defense needs to figure out some kind of game plan for containing both wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman.
Is that possible, though? It may not be.
Prove-it games: at Dallas Cowboys (Week 5) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 12), vs. Seattle Seahawks (Week 1)
Hosting the Seattle Seahawks will be one of those games that shows us where the NFC is. The Packers may have a slight edge, but they'll need their defense to perform at a high level.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are somewhat like the Packers in terms of a productive offense led by an elite quarterback (though Rodgers carries his offense) and a defense that could use some work. This could potentially be a high-scoring affair. The game will show if the Packers can hang with some of the top teams in the AFC.
Lastly, in Dallas. The Packers are familiar with this territory. Remember when they knocked out the No. 1-seeded Cowboys this past postseason? Why can't they do it again?
2017 record prediction: 13-3
Houston Texans (2016 Record: 9-7)
Let's start with something we can all agree on: Good job by the Houston Texans for getting rid of quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Regardless of how they finish this season, that is a move that will allow them to hold their head up high for a while.
With Osweiler leaving, that opened up door for the Texans to seduce Tony Romo if/when the Dallas Cowboys released him.
Well, that didn't exactly go to plan.
You see, Romo instead signed with CBS. I didn't even know there was a football team called "CBS."
But in all seriousness, the Texans need a quarterback. Sorry, but Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden don't do it for me.
Picking at 25 in this year's draft, the Texans may not be able to get that quarterback they so desire, but they could always sign Colin Kaepernick—unlikely, though.
The Texans were carried by a quality defense last season.
Although defensive end J.J. Watt will be back, the Texans did lose cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Quintin Demps and linebacker John Simon—some tough losses to say the least.
Not making any moves in free agency, the Texans are left with a lateral move at quarterback, a shoddy offensive line and a defense that lost some pieces.
This could end up being a tough season for the Texans.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 3)
If you need me to go into great detail on this, you may be an alien (or you skipped several of the slides before this one).
Didn't the Texans get shut out last season in New England? Yeah, thought so.
Prove-it games: at Tennessee Titans (Week 13)
Staying within the division, the Tennessee Titans seem to be the cream of the crop in the AFC South.
If the Texans are able to go into Tennessee and take the win, it will make me (and should make you) look at the Texans differently.
This is a game I have them losing.
2017 record prediction: 8-8
Indianapolis Colts (2016 Record: 8-8)
The Indianapolis Colts have seemingly been stuck in purgatory for the past couple of seasons.
By purgatory, I mean stuck at 8-8 in both 2015 and 2016.
We're all pretty sure Andrew Luck is a pretty good quarterback (though he's had some injuries recently).
This needs to be noted because the Colts have had a relatively bad defense recently—not to mention some of the worst draft classes in what seems like forever.
This offseason, they cut ties with their former general manager Ryan Grigson, who has been responsible for poor transactional decisions such as drafting defensive end Bjoern Werner in 2013, drafting wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in 2015, trading a first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson and so on.
After parting ways with Grigson, the Colts moved on to free agency, and they made quality moves. They signed linebacker John Simon, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, wide receiver Kamar Aiken, linebacker Barkevious Mingo, nose tackle Al Woods, linebacker Sean Spence, defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins and the re-signed defensive back Darius Butler.
This is the Tennessee Titans' year, though. They have all the pieces to lead the AFC South, but the Colts aren't far behind because of Luck.
In 2016, the Colts had one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the sport, according to PFF—that doesn't exactly help to keep Luck upright.
The Colts still have some work to do, but with Grigson out of the picture, they are trending back toward their 11-5 form from 2014.
Toughest game: at Seattle Seahawks (Week 4)
Going into Seattle is always a tough task.
This is right up there with going into Foxborough in terms of environment—of course, the level of play from the home team is different.
It doesn't matter who you are, or what team you play for—going into CenturyLink Field is no small task.
Need I say more?
Prove-it games: at Baltimore Ravens (Week 16), at Tennessee Titans (Week 6)
If the Colts are able to go into Tennessee and beat my presumed favorite in the AFC South—the Titans—they could potentially push them for the division crown.
The Titans are a solid team heading into 2017 with wide receiver being the only real concern. If they're able to address that in the draft (which they should and most likely will), this will be a tough game for the Colts.
Looking at the Ravens, they're a lot like the Colts this year in terms of where they are in the football landscape. They're both likely the second-best team in their respective division and should be in the playoff hunt.
A win in Baltimore will make the Colts look like a more serious contender for a wild-card spot.
2017 record prediction: 9-7
Jacksonville Jaguars (2016 Record: 3-13)
Another offseason of heavy spending is setting up the Jacksonville Jaguars to be one of the most interesting teams heading into the season for the second year in a row.
This year, the Jags splurged heavily on cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church.
Their defense is set up to be one of the better units on paper, but as we saw in the 2016 season, that didn't translate totally.
On the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line has been a concern, and it appears it will remain that way after it lost offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Luke Joeckel. No, neither one of those guys were anything to rave about, but there is no little reason to think the line will be much better. The Jags are set to roll with Branden Albert, Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann and Jeremy Parnell (left tackle to right tackle, respectively). Albert will hopefully provide a boost.
At the skill positions, the Jaguars have some exciting receivers in Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns. However, their tight end group—Marcedes Lewis, Neal Sterling, Ben Koyack and Mychal Rivera—leaves much to be desired. Running back is a bit of a concern in terms of consistent production, but there have been plenty of mock drafts placing LSU's Leonard Fournette here, so that would be an exceptional add for the squad.
My issue lies with quarterback Blake Bortles, though. I'm almost convinced he's not the answer in Jacksonville. Because of him, the team may be held back.
Hopefully Bortles is able to prove me wrong, because football would be a lot more fun if teams like the Jags were competitive. Their defense is certainly poised to be a good one.
Toughest game: at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 5)
Prove-it games: every game against divisional opponents (Weeks 1, 2, 7, 13, 15, 17)
The AFC South is perhaps the most mediocre division in football. Sure, the teams are up-and-coming, but this division should once again be up for grabs.
It's simple: If the Jaguars can beat their division opponents, they'll prove me and my projected 6-10 record wrong.
2017 record prediction: 6-10
Kansas City Chiefs (2016 Record: 12-4)
Whatever your opinion is of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, this team continues to win ballgames.
After a two-point loss in the playoffs, the Chiefs head into 2017 as one of the premier teams in the AFC.
Consistently rockin', Arrowhead will continue to be one of the most daunting places in the world for visiting teams to play in.
Not a lot went on this offseason for the Chiefs in terms of additions and losses, though they did finally cut ties with running back Jamaal Charles.
The most notable loss was nose tackle Dontari Poe, but Poe had been struggling as of late. Still, he's a loss nonetheless.
In a division with the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs may not be division champs this year, but a wild-card spot is theirs for the taking.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 1)
New England alert.
Prove-it games: games against the Raiders (Weeks 7 and 14), vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 6)
As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs will be competing for the division crown against the Raiders.
Beating them could ultimately mean the difference between being No. 5 or 6 seed versus a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed. These are important games for the Chiefs.
Beyond the division, a rematch with the Steelers is a prove-it game. Not only for a potential "W," but also for some revenge on the team that beat them last season. A win against the Steelers would be a confidence booster. And hey, who knows? Maybe we'll see Chiefs and Steelers Round 2 in the postseason.
2017 record prediction: 11-5
Los Angeles Chargers (2016 Record: 5-11)
In their first season away from good ol' Qualcomm Stadium, the newly branded Los Angeles Chargers will have the luxury of playing at—a soccer stadium?
Yeah, the Chargers will be using the LA Galaxy's field for the 2017 season, which should be interesting.
The Chargers have some difficult games this season. Outside of their own division, they take on teams like the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
The Chargers kicked off the offseason by releasing cornerback Brandon Flowers, guard D.J. Fluker and wide receiver Stevie Johnson.
As the offseason went on, they eventually parted with offensive tackle King Dunlap.
Beyond that, the Chargers re-signed safety Jahleel Addae, brought in offensive tackle Russell Okung and watched running back Danny Woodhead head to Baltimore.
The biggest issue with the Chargers has always been in the trenches, which is still an issue, especially on the offensive side.
However, with quarterback Philip Rivers, wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Keenan Allen (assuming he's healthy), running back Melvin Gordon and the defensive phenom Joey Bosa, the Chargers could be a tough out in 2017.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 8)
You know the deal.
Prove-it games: all division games (Weeks 1, 3, 6, 7, 15, 17)
The AFC West is going to be loaded with teams that finish with winning records. The division also holds two of the best teams in the AFC (the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs). The Chargers could put their imprint on this season by taking out their own divisional foes.
The Bolts have a pretty good team, but their division could be what ultimately holds them back.
2017 record prediction: 8-8
Los Angeles Rams (2016 Record: 4-12)
2017 is shaping up to be another snooze-fest for the Los Angeles Rams, but let me say this: They did a nice job signing offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth—a veteran presence to protect the blindside of young quarterback Jared Goff.
Outside of that, I'm not sure what else to say about the team.
They lost their best wide receiver in Kenny Britt, but they did bring in former Buffalo Bills wideout Robert Woods.
Still, not enough.
This offense is shaping up to be one of the worst in the league, barring a resurgence from running back Todd Gurley.
Let's just get this over with—the Rams are screwed. And bad.
Toughest game: at New York Giants (Week 9)
Almost on par with their road trip to Dallas, the Giants take the cake for the same reason I've been preaching throughout this slideshow: They're my favorite to win the NFC East.
Their defense should gobble up Goff and stop any momentum Gurley could possibly have.
Prove-it games: both games against San Francisco 49ers (Weeks 3 and 17)
These games will be to simply prove which team is worse. That's it.
2017 record prediction: 3-13
Miami Dolphins (2016 Record: 10-6)
As a truther of Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, I'd love for the Dolphins to do well in 2017.
One problem, though: Their schedule is quite difficult.
With that said, the Dolphins did make believers out of a lot of people before quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury that left the Dolphins to use backup quarterback and veteran Matt Moore against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.
The Dolphins did a nice job in free agency overall, though, bringing back wide receiver Kenny Stills and bringing in safety T.J. McDonald and linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
The offensive line is still an issue that the Dolphins need to address, but the rest of the offense is looking competitive with Tannehill, Ajayi, wide receivers Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Stills—not to mention they brought in tight end Julius Thomas.
Hopefully the Dolphins can build off of their 2016 momentum, but their schedule is far from a cake walk.
Toughest game: at Atlanta Falcons (Week 6)
The only reason their games against New England aren't here is because they play in the same division—same deal as the Buffalo Bills. In some respects, it's easier to prepare for a team you play two times a year.
So, instead, they're hardest opponent will be that other Super Bowl team, the Atlanta Falcons, who they will play on the road.
Between the Falcons offense and the Falcons front seven against this pedestrian offensive line the Dolphins have, it's setting up to be a long day at the office for Tannehill and company.
Prove-it games: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 1), vs. Denver Broncos (Week 13)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos are two teams that are close in terms of where they could land in 2017.
Sure, I'm projecting the Dolphins to be worse than both of those teams, but only because their schedule is tougher.
Looking at the Bucs, not only are they also in Florida, but they'll be a nice challenge for the Dolphins. Knocking off a potential wild-card team in the NFC would pay huge dividends for the Dolphins.
The same logic kind of applies to the Broncos here, too. Not only will they have a rematch against their former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but the Broncos and Dolphins are two teams that could make their way into the sixth seed in the AFC. Knocking off the Broncos could end up being the difference between the Dolphins making the playoffs or not, even though I'm projecting a 7-9 record.
2017 record prediction: 7-9
Minnesota Vikings (2016 Record: 8-8)
After starting off 2016 with a 5-0 record, the Minnesota Vikings totally plummeted, losing eight of their next 11 games.
What was the catalyst for the Vikings' failures? Offensive line woes.
Sure, Sam Bradford isn't the greatest quarterback in the league (though he did have an otherworldly completion percentage in 2016), but the Vikings offensive line was awful. It seemed like they used 18 million different combinations, and none of them were any good.
It's clear the Vikings brass noticed, as the team brought in two offensive tackles: Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.
2016 was also the final season of the Adrian Peterson era.
As a result, the Vikings picked up former Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray to fill the void.
With additions, there are subtractions, of course, but for the Vikings, they didn't lose anyone all that important—all replaceable.
The Vikings are an average team in a pretty tough division headed by the Green Bay Packers with the Detroit Lions right there, too.
Fortunately, the Chicago Bears are in the same division.
Toughest game: at Atlanta Falcons (Week 13)
This was a tough call between the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Falcons have just as good an offense (if not better) than the Steelers and a better defense.
The defending NFC champs will give this Vikings new-look offensive line all it can handle while Matt Ryan and Julio Jones obliterate this Vikings defense.
Prove-it games: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 3)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home is a game the Minnesota Vikings can win, but the Bucs present an interesting challenge.
With a stout secondary, the Vikings should be able to create some issues for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.
However, the Bucs pass rush consisting of Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, William Gholston and Robert Ayers (among others) will likely give the Vikings trouble—their offensive line is still far from perfect.
It's always big to beat a team that's of similar quality.
2017 record prediction: 7-9
New England Patriots (2016 Record: 14-2)
What can one say about the New England Patriots at this point? They're just not stoppable.
Just when you think they can't get any better, they acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks, sign cornerback Stephon Gilmore, trade for tight end Dwayne Allen and re-sign linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Not only that, but there have been some rumors surrounding the Patriots acquiring Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, those were later walked back a little bit, according to Tom Curran of CSNNE.com. But you never know—if the Patriots part ways with cornerback Malcolm Butler, I wouldn't count them out of anything at this point.
Brady is the GOAT, and the Pats are the favorites. I have them at 14-2, but I won't be surprised at all if they go 16-0.
Toughest game: "at" Oakland Raiders (Week 13)
We haven't seen this matchup yet—the Raiders and Patriots. The only thing that would make this even more difficult would be if it took place in Oakland, but instead this game will be played in Mexico City in the high altitude. With that said, the Patriots will still be tested by the Raiders and their young stud at quarterback in Derek Carr.
If all goes according to plan, the Raiders should be sporting Marshawn Lynch at running back in 2017, so that will be a tough train to stop—in case you needed any reminder of how nasty a running back Lynch is, watch this.
The Patriots also have a tough game against Pittsburgh, but they're a bit more familiar with them than they are the Raiders.
This is a game the Patriots could lose.
Prove-it games: None
What do they have to prove?
2017 record prediction: 14-2
New Orleans Saints (2016 Record: 7-9)
Oh, the New Orleans Saints.
Seems to be the same thing every season, am I right?
Great offense, quarterback Drew Brees, poor defense.
2017 is shaping up to be the same way, but there are a few new twists.
Starting with the offense, the Saints traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots. As a result, the Saints now sport a core of receivers that consists of Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman, Willie Snead and a new member, Ted Ginn Jr.
Sticking with the offense, the Saints upgraded their offensive line by signing guard Larry Warford.
On defense, the Saints are relatively the same—headlined by defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins (who we need to see a complete year from), Cameron Jordan and the newly re-signed Nick Fairley. The Saints did, however, add linebackers Manti Te'o and A.J. Klein. Te'o is a depth piece, but Klein has a shot at starting.
Te'o and Klein may not be the only new acquisitions on defense, though.
With Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler signing his restricted free-agent tag, the Patriots and Saints can now work out a trade—this would definitely, definitely, definitely help the Saints' porous secondary.
In the secondary, the Saints have safeties Vonn Bell, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush (welcome back), and P.J. Williams and Delvin Breaux at cornerback.
In all fairness, the Saints defense did improve somewhat as the year went on, as John Hendrix of the Sun Herald notes.
For the Saints to improve on defense, they'll need to get more out of Bell and address their cornerbacks in some way.
Otherwise, who's to say the Saints won't suffer a similar fate as in 2016 when they lost six games even when scoring 20 or more points?
On the bright side, they probably won't lose so many games to blocked kicks.
Toughest game: vs. New England Patriots (Week 2)
The good news is this game is at home.
The bad news is it doesn't matter. New England alert.
Prove-it games: vs. Detroit Lions (Week 6), at Green Bay Packers (Week 7), division games (Weeks 3, 9, 13, 14, 16, 17)
This may seem like a strange list, and it is.
What makes the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers games marked as "prove-it" contests for a team projected to go 7-9 is that these are going to come down to whoever can score more points.
I'd project that the Saints don't win either of these games, but they very well could.
As mentioned before, the Saints lost six games in 2016 scoring 20 or more points.
Essentially every bad team on their schedule is a prove-it game since the Saints will go as far as this offense takes them.
If their defense can maybe force a three-and-out every now and again, that'd be nice.
2017 record prediction: 7-9
New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)
As my favorite to win the NFC East, the Giants have all the pieces (outside of an offensive line maybe) for a Super Bowl run.
During this offseason, the Giants haven't made plenty of moves, but by far the most notable was the acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
A squad consisting of Marshall, Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard is enough to make anyone's mouth water.
With Eli Manning at quarterback, all of these guys should be properly fed.
The offensive line is a concern, but there are two good pieces in Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg.
To solve this, the Giants first need to get rid of left tackle Ereck Flowers—he's just not good at this whole left tackle thing. Second, they need to address this in the draft. The Giants did sign guard D.J. Fluker, but that shouldn't necessarily excite anyone.
Looking at the defense, New York lost nose tackle Johnathan Hankins, but the rest of the defense is rock solid.
The Giants winning the division after what we saw from Dallas last season? That might seem unlikely, but guess what? They're winning it. Vault me.
Your new NFC East champs, the Giants.
P.S.: No, I'm not a Giants fan, so back off.
Toughest game: at Oakland Raiders (Week 13)
Playing out of the division, against a team they play every four years, the Giants will have quite the task when they take on the Oakland Raiders on the road.
Both teams have solid offenses, though the Giants have the better defense (though the Raiders do have Khalil Mack).
This will be a hard-fought game until the end with two teams that we could see in the Super Bowl.
Prove-it games: games against Dallas Cowboys (Weeks 1 and 14), vs. Seattle Seahawks (Week 7) and Kansas City Chiefs (Week 11)
One thing all the teams listed above have in common? They're all perennial playoff teams.
Winning games against teams like the Cowboys, Chiefs and Seahawks will prove that the Giants are a force to be reckoned with—like I think they are.
Beating Dallas also gives them a better shot at winning the division, too.
2017 record prediction: 13-3
New York Jets (2016 Record: 5-11)
Where. To. Begin.
Look, the New York Jets are awful. Probably worse than the Browns in all honesty.
This past offseason they cut ties with wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Not only that, but they're most likely going to try to trade defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, too.
Outside of Eric Decker, the wide receiver position is below-average.
The tight end position has been nonexistent for what feels like 10 years.
The running game is OK with Matt Forte, but he's getting older.
On defense, they have some solid players in cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams and linebacker Darron Lee (who struggled a good deal in 2016), but it will not be shocking if these guys just end up giving up. They're not going to win many games (if any) led by quarterback Josh McCown.
All the credit in the world to the guy, but he's aging, he gets beat up, and he's just a game manager, if that.
Toughest game: at New England Patriots (Week 17)
The Jets might be able to move the ball past midfield against most other teams.
This is going to be ugly.
Prove-it games: at Cleveland Browns (Week 5)
This game will be to show that they have a pulse. That's all.
Please be on prime time.
2017 record prediction: 1-15 (but probably 0-16)
Oakland Raiders (2016 Record: 12-4)
After a devastating end that was the broken leg of quarterback Derek Carr, the Oakland Raiders hope to regroup and maintain the success from a year ago.
The whole crew is basically back together, but there was some movement in free agency.
On the departing end, the Raiders said goodbye to notable players like linebacker Malcolm Smith, Latavius Murray, Menelik Watson and Nate Allen.
But on the receiving end, the Raiders welcomed tight end Jared Cook, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Pretty soon, we'll be able to add running back Marshawn Lynch's name to the additions list, barring any unforeseen potholes in talks between the Seattle Seahawks and Raiders.
Not much else to say besides "just win, baby."
Toughest game: vs. New England Patriots (Week 11)
New England alert, but it should surprise no one if the Raiders win. We'll finally get the game we were all hoping for in the AFC Championship when these two teams collide.
Prove-it games: games against the Kansas City Chiefs (Weeks 7 and 14), vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 15)
The Raiders don't have much to prove besides who the better team in the AFC West is.
If Carr is able to stay healthy the entire season, the Raiders should win their division with no issue—though they will need to do better in 2017 against the Chiefs than they did in 2016.
I threw in the Cowboys for the fun of it simply because beating good teams is a sign of "proving it."
The Raiders don't have much else to prove—they're a great team.
2017 record prediction: 12-4
Philadelphia Eagles (2016 Record: 7-9)
A potential sneaky team in 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles have a decent roster.
During this offseason, the Eagles made it a point to upgrade their wide receivers and did so in signing former San Francisco 49er Torrey Smith and former Chicago Bear Alshon Jeffery.
Now, at quarterback Carson Wentz's disposal will be Jeffery, Smith, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz and running backs Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles.
The offensive line is no different from last season's, and according to PFF, it ranked in the top nine in both run and pass blocking. Philly also signed guard Chance Warmack this offseason to improve its depth.
Two other moves the Eagles made this offseason came on the defensive side of the ball in acquiring defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan from the Baltimore Ravens and signing defensive end Chris Long.
While the Eagles' front seven looks appealing, their secondary—comprised of cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson and safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins—does need some work.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they're in a division with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants—two teams I expect to be right in the thick of things in the NFC playoff hunt.
On paper, the Eagles have the potential to surprise a lot of us, but a lot of it will fall on the shoulders of their North Dakota State product in this second season in the NFL.
It would be fun if the Eagles were good (like the first three games of 2016 win/loss wise), but can they beat the Cowboys and/or Giants?
Targeting a cornerback or maybe even former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (if he's still available) in the first round is the way to go for Philly.
Toughest game: at Seattle Seahawks (Week 13)
The Seattle Seahawks may not be the most difficult opponent on the schedule in terms of projected win-loss records (they're at home against the Oakland Raiders), but the environment is what is going to make this game more difficult than that one.
Seattle is still one of the most difficult places to play, so this question shouldn't come as a surprise whatsoever—how will Wentz deal with the noise? North Dakota was never this loud, I assure you.
Prove-it games: vs. Denver Broncos (Week 9) and Arizona Cardinals (Week 5), games against the Cowboys (Weeks 11 and 17) and Giants (Weeks 3 and 15)
For the Eagles to prove they are in a class higher than what is projected here, taking care of business at home against teams like the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals will do that.
Both the Broncos and Cardinals are second-place/borderline second-place teams in their respective divisions and have multiple pieces that can lead a playoff run.
The Eagles aren't quite there for me yet. Splitting the games would be nice, though.
Maybe the Eagles can get off to a similar start like last year and maintain it.
With the Cowboys and Giants projected to be the leaders of this division, wins over them would be telling in terms of where this division could be headed.
2017 record prediction: 8-8
Pittsburgh Steelers (2016 Record: 11-5)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have some issues defensively. We know that.
Nonetheless, their offense is dynamite.
Sporting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers and also tight ends Jesse James and Ladarius Green, the Steelers managed an 11-5 record.
In 2017, the Steelers will re-add an old friend: wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
The Steelers didn't lose or gain much in free agency, though they did strike out on signing a cornerback.
With Bryant back in the fold, the Steelers should win 10-plus games again.
Toughest game: vs. New England Patriots (Week 15)
It's the damn Patriots again—they're everywhere, killing everyone.
And who knows, by the time this game rolls around, they could have running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman, and hell, maybe even wide receiver Calvin Johnson will un-retire.
Joking, of course.
They already have a stacked roster, but this game is winnable for the Steelers, as their offense can go toe-to-toe with the Patriots'.
Show us what you got, Big Ben.
Prove-it games: vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 12)
While Tom Brady and the Patriots may be the cream of the crop, the Green Bay Packers are not too far behind.
We all know the Steelers are on the fringe of being an elite football team, but for the football world to truly take them seriously, a win over the Green Bay Packers, an NFC opponent, would help legitimize their image.
Of course, a win over the Patriots would do the same thing, so one could argue both are prove-it games.
2017 record prediction: 11-5
San Francisco 49ers (2016 Record: 2-14)
After he served just one season as head coach, the San Francisco 49ers gave Chip Kelly the boot and brought in Kyle Shanahan to take over at the same position.
In addition to Shanahan, the 49ers also brought in former Fox Sports analyst John Lynch as their new general manager, replacing Trent Baalke.
The 49ers are turning over a new leaf, and they are in great hands with Shanahan at the helm, as he has made pretty much every stop in his career a success.
With quarterback Colin Kaepernick declining his team option, the 49ers are (still) searching for a new franchise quarterback, but in the meantime, they did bring in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
With the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the 49ers could take a quarterback. Assuming Cleveland goes with Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, the 49ers have their pick of anyone in the draft. Or will they wait and get a guy like Patrick Mahomes or DeShone Kizer later?
Another potential move is drafting a defensive player such as Alabama's Jonathan Allen or Stanford's Solomon Thomas.
In free agency, the 49ers managed to snag wide receiver Pierre Garçon, who should be a valuable target for whoever is the team's quarterback in 2017 after the team cut Torrey Smith.
Also, who can forget about running back Carlos Hyde?
This is a team that needs a lot of work, but with Shanahan running the show, the 49ers' direction can only go in a positive way.
I mean, can it really get any worse?
Toughest game: vs. New York Giants (Week 10)
Hosting both the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants this season, the 49ers already have two losses on the schedule right there.
The Giants defense is simply going to manhandle whoever the 49ers throw out there at quarterback.
This is going to be a slobber-knocker.
Prove-it games: both games vs. Los Angeles Rams (Weeks 3 and 17), at Chicago Bears (Week 13)
Which of these three is the worst team? Find out in 2017!
(Oh wait, it's probably the New York Jets.)
2017 record prediction: 4-12
Seattle Seahawks (2016 Record: 10-5-1)
It's impossible to talk about the Seattle Seahawks without addressing this seemingly odd situation surrounding star cornerback Richard Sherman.
If you're not familiar, the Seahawks have publicly stated that they have been listening to offers for the 29-year-old.
Isn't that odd? It's not often we hear a franchise come out and publicly state that it is shopping who some would consider the catalyst for a lot of the Seahawks success in recent years.
After Sherman, the Seahawks seem prepared and likely to trade running back Marshawn Lynch to the Oakland Raiders.
Speaking of running backs, the Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, to join a backfield that consists of Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins.
After a season-ending injury, the Seahawks also brought back cornerback DeShawn Shead.
The biggest issue with the Seahawks has been and still is the offensive line.
With all the success and pedigree surrounding the Seahawks recently, it's so odd that their offensive line consists of players like Luke Joeckel (recently added), Mark Glowinski, Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi (well actually, he's OK) and Oday Aboushi—yes I had to look up some of these names. Remember last year when George Fant was their left tackle? The hell is going on?
Seahawks, get some offensive linemen. We know quarterback Russell Wilson can run, but for the love of God, make it so he's running to make a play and not for his life!
With Wilson, though, the Seahawks should be another contender in 2017 (draft a lineman!).
Toughest game: at New York Giants (Week 7)
The Seahawks have three other opponents that could be listed here outside the Giants (Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons).
Combining the road trip with projected wins and losses makes the Giants the correct pick.
Not only that, but they have the toughest defense among the four teams and have the best chance at chasing down Wilson.
Furthermore, passing against guys like cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins is difficult to do.
Giants on the road is set up the be a difficult game, but on the road against Dallas is a close second.
Prove-it games: at Green Bay Packers (Week 1), vs. Atlanta Falcons (Week 11)
Games against two of the NFC's elite will demonstrate how good a Seahawks team it is.
With the Sherman rumors fluttering, it's easy to point the finger on locker room turmoil if things go south.
These are two games the Seahawks could very well win, but they will have to be at their best.
The Falcons have to play in Seattle, and while Seattle is on the road in Lambeau Field, the Packers defense stinks.
These three teams will likely all land in the playoffs. Taking them out proves who in the NFC is among the most powerful.
2017 record prediction: 11-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2016 Record: 9-7)
We are entering the third year of the Jameis Winston experience as the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and so far it's been a healthy evolution, with the team going from 6-10 his rookie season to 9-7 in his sophomore year.
The Bucs have an exciting roster, especially with the additions of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive end Chris Baker and safety J.J. Wilcox.
Fortunately, the Bucs didn't lose a ton this offseason, but backup quarterback Mike Glennon did flee to the Chicago Bears for quite the payday and a chance to start.
With Jackson joining fellow receiver Mike Evans, tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries, Tampa has the makings of what could be a somewhat high-powered offense. Jackson's deep-threat ability will make opposing defenses move away from doubling Evans, giving him more one-on-one matchups.
Adding Baker to a defensive line that includes William Gholston, Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers should also excite Bucs fans.
The biggest issue the Bucs have—like most teams—is their offensive line.
No, it's not Seattle Seahawks-bad, but they need more consistency from guys like Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Joe Hawley.
Drafting another tight end to pair with Brate is also another good idea.
The Bucs are arguably the second-best team in the NFC South behind the Falcons, and with the additions of Jackson and Baker, Tampa could be a tough out down the stretch and especially at home.
Toughest game: vs. New England Patriots (Week 5)
Seeing Winston go up against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be exciting.
The Patriots should most definitely win this game, but let's at least hope it's entertaining.
Prove-it games: contests against the Carolina Panthers (Weeks 8 and 16) and vs. Detroit Lions (Week 14)
The Panthers should be an improved ballclub in 2017, so holding them at bay is a must in a division expected to be run by the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs need to make the wild card at least.
The Lions present a fun challenge, too, as the Bucs' pass rush going against a newly formed Lions offensive line should be an interesting battle.
On offense, the Bucs have a slight edge, but Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can throw and throw and throw until his arm falls off. If after or during the draft the Lions select someone to establish a real running game, this contest could be even closer.
2017 record prediction: 10-6
Tennessee Titans (2016 Record: 9-7)
This is it. This is finally it.
This is the year the Tennessee Titans return to the playoffs. Not only that, but they're going to win double-digit games.
They have plenty of quality pieces—from their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, to linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
However, the Titans did just cut ties with veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, so that will be a need they will have to address in the draft.
Speaking of the draft, the Titans hold two picks in the first round: fifth and 18th overall. With their fifth pick, guys like Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore and teammate Gareon Conley could be options—maybe even Kevin King from Washington? After that, we could see options like Marlon Humphrey out of Alabama, or they could take the injured Sidney Jones later. There are plenty of cornerback options.
The biggest need for the Titans appears to be at wide receiver, which they can address with the 18th overall selection.
Call me crazy, but the Titans could be a legitimate threat this season. Get excited.
Toughest game: at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 11)
Though the Titans have a few tough opponents this year (just look at the "prove-it games" section), going to Pittsburgh is no easy task.
For those other games, the Titans have the luxury of being at home.
The Steelers offense is one of the more feared units in the game.
It's time for the Titans to hang with the big guns this season.
Prove-it games: vs. Seattle Seahawks (Week 3), vs. Oakland Raiders (Week 1)
Both of these games are within two weeks of one another—a tough start for the Titans.
In 2016, they fell at home to the Oakland Raiders by a touchdown.
This year, they'll need to at least split against the Raiders and Seahawks at home.
Those opponents are far from slouches, but the Titans had wins over the Green Bay Packers at home and the Kansas City Chiefs on the road last season.
To be taken seriously in a conference that is simply run by the New England Patriots, knocking off the Seahawks and/or Raiders will show that the Titans are a serious threat.
2017 record prediction: 10-6
Washington Redskins (2016 Record: 8-7-1)
In terms of top free agents this offseason, the Washington Redskins were involved with many of them one way or another.
On the departing end, the Redskins lost defensive end Chris Baker and wide receiver DeSean Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and wide receiver Pierre Garcon to the San Francisco 49ers.
On the acquiring end, the Redskins brought in wide receiver Terrelle Pryor on a one-year deal to pair with second-year receiver Josh Doctson. The team also signed linebacker Zach Brown, who was second in the league in tackles for the Buffalo Bills in 2016 with 149.
However, the biggest storyline surrounding the Redskins this offseason was the Kirk Cousins saga.
After the team franchise-tagged Cousins, there were multiple reports, including one from ESPN's Chris Mortensen, that the quarterback asked owner Dan Snyder directly about a trade, though Cousins later came out and said that those reports were never true, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
We can all figure it out: Barring a miracle, we will not see Cousins on the Redskins in 2018, and who knows? He could very well be traded at the draft. If he does remain with the team in 2017, though, this is likely it for the Cousins era.
A year ago, the Redskins went 8-7-1. Say what you want, but this apparent controversy could play a role in the regression of the team, whether it be in the locker room on the field. Not only that, but the Redskins do have quite a tough slate of opponents.
Perhaps the most obvious are those in their division: the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. That sounds like quite a few losses.
Beyond that, they play against teams like the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. They'll also play the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans—all tough matchups.
Don't be surprised if the Redskins to have a tougher go of it in 2017 than in 2016.
Toughest game: at Seattle Seahawks (Week 9)
Given that the Redskins are in the same division as the Giants and Cowboys, I've tried to limit teams' hardest games during a season that come against a division rival due to an increased familiarity.
With that said, traveling to Seattle is not easy.
Sure, they're set to face the Raiders, who we've projected to have a better record than Seattle, but at least the Redskins are at home for that one.
The Seahawks may not have the same team as their Super Bowl-winning squads, but that stadium is still difficult to play in.
Prove-it games: Division games (Weeks 1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17), vs. Denver Broncos (Week 16)
A big part of my projected demise for the Redskins has to do with the division they play in. It's no joke.
But who knows, the Redskins could rise to the challenge and be a fine team, as they have some pieces and playmakers on the roster. To prove themselves in what is probably Cousins' final year with the club, they need to win in the division—bottom line.
At home against the Broncos will be a nice barometer for the Redskins, as they have a slightly better offense than the Broncos, but definitely have the inferior defense.
Though Washington has the benefit of being at home, a win over the Broncos will make people take the Redskins a bit more seriously.
The important thing here is to recognize that their projected record has a lot to do with their division and not so much the drama involving Cousins. Their schedule is tough, and they have holes. Plain and simple.
2017 record prediction: 6-10