Time to finish up the season preview posts with my projected NFL playoff bracket for the coming season. I’ve determined what records I think every team will end up with this season and the subsequent playoff seedings. Here are my playoff predictions. Continue reading
Here are my predictions for how the 2017 NFL season will play out. I went through and picked who I think will win each game and these are the final records, standings and playoff seedings. Thanks to the NFL Playoff Predictor for making it easy to track everything. There were some changes in my thinking from wen I was writing the team previews through the summers based on signings, trades and other news items from recent weeks, as well as general changes in my opinions of some teams.
AFC Playoff Seeds
NFC Playoff Seeds
QB Russell Wilson had some injury issues that limited his rushing performance last season, but the Seahawks still finished with 10 wins and won the division for the third time in four years. Their big addition this offseason was signing free-agent RB Eddie Lacy, who is expected to be part of a running back by committee with RBs Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. And at the beginning of the month, they traded WR Jermaine Kearse to the Jets for DT Sheldon Richardson, who should help the defense. The team will be without RB Christine Michael, who was the Seahawks’ leading rusher last season.
Despite his injuries, Wilson played in all 16 games last season, though he didn’t finish all of them. He set a career high with 4,219 yards but threw for a career-low 21 touchdowns, with the 11 interceptions being the most he’s thrown in the first five seasons of his career. WR Doug Baldwin led the team with 94 receptions for 1,128 yards and 7 touchdowns. TE Jimmy Graham had 65 catches for 923 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Tyler Lockett added 41 receptions for 597 yards and 1 touchdown, and WR Paul Richardson caught 21 balls for 288 yards and 1 touchdown. Rawls had 109 carries for 349 yards and 9 touchdowns in nine games and Prosise ran the ball 30 times for 172 yards and 1 touchdown in six games. With the Packers, Lacy ran the ball 71 times for 360 yards, without a touchdown, in five games of an injury-plagued season. The Seahawks were tied for 18th in points scored last season, and the defense ranked third in the league in points allowed.
Assuming Wilson is healthy, he should be more productive this season as he is likely to return to his typical running game, which helped him get 6 rushing touchdowns in 2014 and more than 500 yards each season from 2013-2015. As for the rest of the running game, it’ll be a three-pronged attack with Lacy, Rawls and Prosise. Rawls is currently listed as the No. 1 back on the depth chart, which is an indication that he should see the bulk of the carries if his performance warrants it. If he can’t put up good numbers, though, the team probably won’t hesitate to increase the workload of the other running backs. And seventh-round draft pick RB Chris Carson is a dark-horse candidate to see an increased workload as the season progresses as the guys ahead of him on the depth chart don’t have a great history of staying healthy. Richardson is expected to see more work in the receiving game as the expected starter across from Baldwin, with Graham also continuing to be a big part of the passing game as long as he can stay on the field, as he was able to do last season after missing give games in 2015. The defense was already good last season and adding Richardson should solidify it further.
The schedule gives the Seahawks a tough road contest to begin the season, taking them to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Week 1. Things look to get easier in Week 2 when the Seahawks host the 49ers. A road game at the Titans follows in Week 3, with the Colts — potentially without QB Andrew Luck — coming to Seattle on Sunday night in Week 4. The Seahawks visit the Rams, then have a Week 6 bye, which leads into a road game with the Giants. The Seahawks host the Texans and Redskins in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, then they visit the Cardinals in Week 10’s Thursday night game. They host the Falcons on Monday Night Football in Week 11, then visit the 49ers in Week 12. After that, the Eagles come to town for another Sunday nighter, and the Seahawks visit the Jaguars in Week 14. A home game with the Rams is on tap in Week 15, followed by a Week 16 contest at the Cowboys, and the Seahawks host the Cardinals to finish out the regular season in Week 17. The Seahawks have a lot of tough games ahead of them, but with their offense and defense I see them potentially winning 10-11 games, possibly even 12.
And that concludes this year’s look at all 32 NFL teams. Tomorrow, we’ll have a preview of the Chiefs–Patriots season opener, with our Week 1 picks, and season and playoff predictions coming up through the weekend.
Kyle Shanahan is the new head coach in San Francisco as he replaces Chip Kelly, who lasted just one season at the helm of the 49ers, the team’s second straight head coach who was one-and-done. Kelly’s departure could have something to do with the team’s 2-14 record, which matched a franchise-worst mark that last happened in 2004. The new regime in San Francisco had a busy offseason, signing QB Brian Hoyer, WRs Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, RBs Tim Hightower and Kyle Juszczyk, and LB Elvis Dumervil, among other lesser players. Hoyer is expected to be the starter under center, with Garcon and Goodwin expected to lay big roles in the receiving game. Early in the offseason, the team waived WR Torrey Smith and recently traded TE Vance McDonald to the Steelers for a draft pick, making rookie TE George Kittle — the team’s fifth-round draft pick — the likely starter at the position.
Neither of last year’s quarterbacks — Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert — are on the roster this year. Hoyer played in six games with the Bears last season, throwing for 1,445 yards and 6 touchdowns, with no interceptions. QB Matt Barkley, who will serve as Hoyer’s backup, was also with the Bears in 2016 and played in seven games, totaling 1,611 passing yards and 8 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. WR Jeremy Kerley was the team’s leading pass-catcher with 64 receptions for 667 yards and 3 touchdowns. With the Redskins last year, Garcon had 79 receptions for 1,041 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Goodwin caught 29 passes for 431 yards and 3 touchdowns in 15 games in Buffalo. RB Carlos Hyde led the 49ers with 217 carries for 988 yards and 6 touchdowns in 13 games. With the Saints, Hightower ran the ball 133 times for 548 yards and 4 touchdowns. In all, the 49ers offense scored the sixth-fewest points in the league last season and the defense allowed opponents to score the most points in the NFL.
The offense should be improved this season. Hoyer isn’t going to get a team to a Super Bowl, but he’s a veteran who can put up decent stats and doesn’t throw many interceptions. The team gave him some nice offensive weapons in the offseason with Garcon and Goodwin, who should have significantly better numbers in this offense than he did with the Bills a year ago. When healthy Hyde is a good running back, but he’s never played a full season and is just two years removed from a 2015 season in which he played in just seven games. Given his history, he’s likely to miss at least a game or two, with Hightower having to carry the bulk of the rushing work in those games. Of course the defense is a major issue. Even though the 49ers offense should be better than last year, it won’t necessarily be good and it won’t be able to keep up in shootouts that are caused by the defense allowing teams 40-plus points, as they allowed four times last season.
The 49ers open the season with a home game against the Panthers, then head up the coast to take on the Seahawks in Seattle. Next on the schedule is a Thursday night home game with the Rams. Three road games follow that, beginning in Week 4 against the Cardinals and continuing with visits to the Colts and Redskins. In Week 7, the 49ers host the Cowboys, then take on the Eagles in Philadelphia. Weeks 9 and 10 have the 49ers taking on the Cardinals and Giants, respectively, both at home. Their bye comes in Week 11, and after that is a home game with the Seahawks. The 49ers visit the Bears in Week 13, then take on the Texans in Houston. Weeks 15 and 16 bring two more AFC South games as the Titans and Jaguars come to San Francisco. The 49ers finish their campaign in Los Angeles in Week 17 to take on the Rams. I expect the 49ers to win three or four games this season.
In their first year back in Los Angeles, the Rams went 4-12 and fired longtime head coach Jeff Fisher. This season, they’ve replaced him with former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay in his first head-coaching job. The Rams added a couple of former Bills receivers to their roster this offseason, signing free-agent Robert Woods and trading DB E.J. Gaines for Sammy Watkins. They also signed OT Andrew Whitworth and LB Connor Barwin. In the draft, they spent a third-round pick on Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp, who is expected to see quite a bit of action in his rookie season.
QB Case Keenum, who is now with the Vikings, got most of the reps at quarterback last season before rookie QB Jared Goff took over in Week 10. Goff completed just 54.6% of his passes for 1,089 yards and 5 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions in his seven games. WR Tavon Austin had 58 receptions for 509 yards and 3 touchdowns, which was second on the team behind now-departed WR Kenny Britt. With Buffalo last year, Watkins had 28 receptions for 430 yards and 2 touchdowns in eight games, and Woods caught 51 passes for 613 yards and 1 touchdown in 13 games. On the ground, RB Todd Gurley ran the ball 278 times for 885 yards and 6 touchdowns. The offense scored the fewest points in the NFL last season — thanks, in part, to five games in which they scored fewer than 10 points — and the defense ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed.
It goes without saying but the Rams need an improved offense to have any chance of winning many games this season, and I don’t think they’ll get it. Goff didn’t show many promising signs in the time he was on the field last season and they don’t have a clear-cut top receiver. Austin’s 58 receptions last season was a career high for him, Watkins tends to miss time with injuries and has only played a full 16 games in his rookie season, and Woods has never caught more than 65 passes in a season. If he comes out of the gate strong in his rookie year, Kupp could end the season as the team’s best receiver. And Gurley had a sharp decline in production from his rookie season in 2015 to last year, when he had fewer yards and touchdowns despite carrying the ball 49 times more than the previous year.
Looking at the Rams’ schedule, they start the season with home games against the Colts and Redskins. In Week 3, they head out on the road to take on the 49ers on Thursday night, then they take on the Cowboys in Arlington in Week 4. They host the Seahawks in Week 5 and visit the Jaguars in Week 6. After that, a home game with the Cardinals leads into a Week 8 bye. Coming off the bye, the Rams travel to take on the Giants before coming home to battle the Texans in Week 10. A road game with the Vikings is on tap in Week 11, then the Rams return home to take on the Saints. The Rams visit the Cardinals in Week 13 and host the Eagles in Week 14. The Rams have road games in Weeks 15 and 16 against the Seahawks and Titans, respectively, before finishing the season at home with the 49ers. With the poor offense the Rams have, I can’t see them winning more than about two or three games this year.
The NFC West is the final division in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, and the first team we’re previewing in the division is the Arizona Cardinals, who finished in second place in the division last season.
The Cardinals had a disappointing 7-8-1 record last season after winning a franchise-record 13 games in 2015. They didn’t have any significant injuries but QB Carson Palmer regressed a bit from his 2015 performance. The team didn’t make many moves of note this offseason, with the main signing being QB Blaine Gabbert, who sits at third on the depth chart behind Palmer and QB Drew Stanton. The team selected Temple LB Haason Reddick with its first-round draft pick, hoping he can help a defense that wasn’t overly impressive last season.
The veteran Palmer played in 15 games last season, throwing for 4,266 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. WR Larry Fitzgerald had 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and 6 touchdowns. RB David Johnson was the next best player in the receiving game, making 80 catches for 879 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR John Brown caught 39 balls for 517 yards and 2 touchdowns, with TE Jermaine Gresham adding 37 receptions for 391 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR JJ Nelson caught 34 passes for 568 yards and 6 touchdowns. In addition to his receiving work, Johnson ran the ball 293 times for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns, giving him one of the best performances among all players last season. The offense scored the sixth-most points in the NFL last season, but the defense was more middle-of-the-pack, giving up the 14th-most points in the league.
With all the key pieces of the offense returning this year, the Cardinals shouldn’t have a problem scoring points. The offensive unit may even get better if the likes of Brown and Nelson step up their game and are able to catch more passes from Palmer. One issue is age, with Palmer being 37 and Fitzgerald having just turned 34. As they get older, the likelihood of regression increases. The team can’t really rely on Johnson more than last year since he already carried the ball nearly 300 times in 2016 and put up more than 2,000 total yards between running and receiving. With that in mind, the defense needs to be better this year to give the team a better chance of winning games. Last year the Cardinals lost a game 48-41, which shouldn’t happen to a team that has playoff hopes, like they did last season.
The Cardinals are on the road for the first two weeks of the season, with games at the Lions and Colts. The Cowboys come to Arizona in Week 3 for the Cardinals’ home opener on that Monday night, with the 49ers coming to Glendale in Week 4. The schedule sends the Cardinals on the road again in Week 5, visiting the Eagles. A Week 6 home game with the Buccaneers leads into a game in Los Angeles against the Rams. The Cardinals have their bye in Week 8, then visit the 49ers in Week 9. Next up is a home Thursday night game against the Seahawks, then a road tilt at the Texans in Week 11. The Cardinals host the Jaguars in Week 12, followed by more home games with the Rams and Titans. The Cardinals visit the Redskins in Week 15, host the Giants in week 16 and end the regular season in Seattle for a final battle with the Seahawks. I think the Cardinals could win 10 or 11 games this season, putting them in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Raiders made the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2002 season, but a late-season injury to QB Derek Carr ended any realistic shot they had of making it out of the first round. The biggest addition the Raiders made this season was acquiring RB Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks as he comes out of his one-year “retirement” to play for his hometown team. Other additions this offseason including signing WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Jared Cook and QB EJ Manuel to serve as Carr’s backup. RB Latavius Murray left the Raiders and signed with the Vikings.
In the 15 games he played before his injury, Carr completed just under 64% of his passes for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just 6 interceptions. WR Michael Crabtree had 89 receptions for 1,003 yards and 8 touchdowns, and WR Amari Cooper had 83 catches for 1,153 yards and 5 touchdowns. With the Packers last season, Cook had 30 catches for 377 yards and 1 touchdown, and Patterson had 52 receptions for 453 yards and 2 touchdowns with the Vikings. Murray was the team’s leading rusher last year, but backup RBs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard had decent numbers in limited work. Washington had 87 carries for 467 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Richard had 83 rushes for 491 yards and 1 touchdown. In his last season with the Seahawks in 2015, Lynch had 111 carries for 417 yards and 3 touchdowns in seven games. The Raiders’ offense scored the seventh-most points in the league last season, but the defense was 20th in the NFL in points allowed.
The passing attack should be the best part of the offense with a good quarterback in Carr and some solid receiving options. Cook should help give the team more production at tight end, as the Raiders didn’t get much out of the position last year. The running game, on the other hand, isn’t as clear-cut as the passing game. Lynch took last season off and played less than half of the season in 2015. Will he play up to the standards people are used to from him after the long layoff? If given the opportunity to play, I actually think one of Washington or Richard could play better than Lynch, who is likely to be given the bulk of the running workload as long as he stays healthy.
The Raiders open the season on the road at the Titans in Week 1 before coming home to play the Jets in Week 2. Next, the schedule takes them on two road games, visiting the Redskins for the Sunday night game in Week 3 and then playing at the Broncos in Week 4. The Raiders host the Ravens and Chargers in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively, then host the Chiefs on Thursday night in Week 7. The Raiders visit the Bills in Week 8, then take their talents to South Beach when they play the Dolphins in Week 9’s Sunday nighter. After a Week 10 bye, the Raiders are the designated home team when they play the Patriots in Mexico City, the second straight year the Raiders are playing there. Upon returning to the States in Week 12, the Raiders host the Broncos, then they host the Giants in Week 13. A game at the Chiefs follows, then the Raiders play the Cowboys at home on Sunday night in Week 15. A Christmas night game at the Eagles follows that, and a visit to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in Week 17 ends the Raiders’ regular season. I think the Raiders could win 11 or 12 games this year, potentially matching last season’s 12-win total. Whether they win the division or not, the Raiders should make a return trip to the postseason.