Now that training camp is officially upon us, we can begin counting down the days until the regular season begins. The 2017 NFL season has finally gotten "real", and we can finally begin to legitimately estimate as to how each team is going to fare. We're looking at one of the most entertaining overall landscapes of teams in the history of the league. Between established powerhouses, up-and-comers, and dark horse playoff candidates, there's no shortage of intrigue for most of the teams in the league right now. So, who's going to prosper in 2017, and who will falter early?
It's nearly impossible to accurately predict the trajectory of everything in the NFL, but there are distinct signs of success or failure already presented. Player regression, bad head coaches, dumpster fire of a front office? All of these things can spiral a team downward very quickly. So while there are going to be many teams who will continue their perennial success, there will be others that will be surprisingly disappointing. Combined with some under-the-radar rosters that could make some unexpected noise, it seems like we're in for an entertaining campaign. Let's take a look at the entire league, and see how they'll finish this year.
Ranked below is a projection of every NFL team's record for the 2017 season.
32 Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
This is a make-or-break year for the Cardinals, and will determine the future of Bruce Arians as the team's head coach. Their money players, such as receiver Larry Fitzgerald and starting quarterback Carson Palmer, are all on the wrong side of 30, and figure to be retiring soon. The offense will have the advent of star running back David Johnson, but inconsistent John Brown will be permanently bumped to the second wide receiver slot, which could prove to be a detriment in Arians' pass-heavy offense.
The defense, led by the likes of Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones should be a good unit, but it's a matter of getting both sides of the ball to click at the same time. The Cards should improve on their down year last season, but it will be a battle until the end to get them into the playoffs, even in a somewhat questionable NFC West.
31 Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Though the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan could hurt Atlanta, it won't be enough to derail what was one of the best teams in football last year. The fact is, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are all still there, and as long as they are, the offensive is likely to have massive success. Couple a good supporting cast, including one of the most underrated offensive lines in the league, and they'll be a top-5 offense once again in 2017.
Defensively, they'll be improved enough to make up for any perceived downgrades on offense. Deion Jones is one of the better up-and-coming linebackers in the league, and they'll get near-lockdown cornerback Desmond Trufant back for this season, who was out last year due to injury. The Falcons are favorites in the NFC South, and once against poised for a deep playoff run.
30 Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
The Ravens have been hit a barrage of injuries this offseason, including one to quarterback Joe Flacco which remains up in the air as far as when he'll return. There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding this group, but even with the bad luck, there's reason to expect a slight turnaround from last season.
For one, they're back to having established a guaranteed defensive presence, one that is led by interior lineman Brandon Williams and linebacker C.J. Moseley. The dominance up front will allow Eric Weddle and new acquisition Tony Jefferson to command the back end with authority. This will make up for any deficiencies on offense until Flacco gets back, and the addition of Jeremy Maclin should prove big here, as the Ravens will be a pass-first team in 2017. They'll do just enough to breech the .500 mark, despite the possible detriments on offense.
29 Buffalo Bills (6-10)
A rebuild is in order for the Bills, who have replaced Rex Ryan with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as their head coach. While there's still some semblance of a competitive, featuring the still-elite LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins on the offense, there just isn't enough depth here to be in contention for the 2017 season. Tyrod Taylor will again be under center, but he'll have to step up his game in order to keep his job for the long-term.
The defense is middling, and is a far cry from the dominant unit they were a few years ago. Though McDermott will eventually rebuild that unit back up again, they aren't there yet, and will struggle in 2017. Overall, it's going to be a down year in Buffalo, but the time put in now finding themselves with a new coaching regime could pay dividends down the road.
28 Carolina Panthers (8-8)
To everyone's surprise, the 2015 Super Bowl-appearing Panthers took a downturn last year. Cam Newton fell of a cliff, they suffered a massive amount of injuries, and took a big risk by starting a pair of rookie cornerbacks after losing Josh Norman in free agency. It wasn't so much of a rebuild, as it was the fact that nothing seemed to go right. They were able to land Christian McCaffrey in the 1st round of the draft, which may signify a scheme change on offense, but it's far from a sure thing to improve the team as a whole.
Newton should have at least a slightly better season, and the defense, anchored by Luke Kuechly will at least be serviceable if he's on the field. The issue is that there just wasn't enough upgrades to turn this team from a 6-win end product, to one in playoff contention. Carolina will have a better season than last year, but ultimately not enough to make the postseason.
27 Chicago Bears (7-9)
The Bears are going to be better than people think. They suffered a massively disappointing 3-win season for numerous reasons, but one of them was that it the majority of their front-7 on defense was injured in some way for at least a partial amount of the season. The secondary may still be in flux, but they're a tough team up front if healthy, and have numerous effective pass-rushers.
Mike Glennon may figure to be a stopgap at quarterback while they attempt to get Mitch Trubisky ready, but he's probably one of the better ones in the league. They inked a bunch of veteran receivers (Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz) to pair with Cameron Meredith, and combined with the emergence of Jordan Howard as a top-flight running back, the offense could be decent as well. Chicago won't make the playoffs, but they'll hover around the .500 mark.
26 Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)
It was a flashy draft for the Bengals, who took speedster John Ross in the 1st round, and dynamic runner Joe Mixon in 2nd, despite his off-field concerns. Putting these two in an offense that already features the elite A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert could prove to be devastating to opposing defenses. The one thing they'll have to overcome in clutch situations is the presence of Andy Dalton under center, who always seems to come up short when the stakes are high.
The defense is really unpredictable, and it could actually take a step back, as it saw little to no significant upgrades during the offseason. It all adds up to another middling team that doesn't really have an identity right now. There's a likely chance that the Bengals could miss the playoffs, and if they do, it could be the last straw for Marvin Lewis as head coach.
25 Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Finally, there seems to be some kind of a plan in place for the Browns' long-term future. That won't materialize this season, but Cleveland fans have to be feeling more optimistic than they have in years past. The quarterback situation is still yet to be figured out, but at least there are numerous young options now (DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler), along with a possible reclamation project in Brock Osweiler.
Elsewhere, the defensive line doesn't look half-bad, and the linebacking corps is decent as well. In fact, there's an outside chance that the Browns defense could actually be pretty decent this year. Not good enough to make up for the deficiencies on offense, but solid nonetheless. This is the year where Hue Jackson's rebuild begins to come to fruition on the field, showing glimpses of hope, they'll take that outcome at this point.
24 Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
There's absolute reason to believe in the Cowboys' offense. They're returning all of their dominant players, including the likes of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant. The line is still mostly intact, and so is the coaching staff. Make no mistake; Dallas will still have a juggernaut of an offense, and their bread and butter will continue to be force-feeding Elliott the ball, wearing defenses out with the run.
The defense on the other hand, projects to be a real problem. The pass-rush is one of the worst in the league, the secondary suffered a turnover of four significant contributors, and perhaps the only truly good player on the unit is injury-prone linebacker Sean Lee. The Cowboys are confident that their offense can win them games regardless, but the lack of quality defensive personnel signals a clear regression, and not just a marginal one. Yet again, there won't be a repeat winner of the NFC East.
23 Denver Broncos (7-9)
Until the Broncos get their quarterback situation figured out for good, there's going to be a cap on how successful this team can be. The defense is good, but it's not the world-beating unit that almost single-handedly got them to the Super Bowl in 2015. It's not good enough to overcome Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian at quarterback, no matter how good the receivers are around them.
Couple that with the fact they're entering a new regime with head coach Anthony Lynn, and that they play in the very difficult AFC West, and it looks like another down year for the Broncos in 2017. They show flashes of being a good team once again, but that will have to wait for at least another year.
22 Detroit Lions (9-7)
Don't look now, but the Lions actually have a half-decent team entering the 2017 season. Running back Ameer Abdullah is back and healthy, the receiving corps retains Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, and the offensive line was serviced with several upgrades during the offseason. The Lions are going to score points with Matt Stafford throwing the ball, there's no question about that.
The defense remains somewhat of a question mark, but the presence of players like Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay should promise at least a decent unit that can be serviceable enough to not lose a ton of games. If that happens, the Lions will at least be a winning team, and have a chance at a playoff berth depending on how the rest of the NFC shakes out, though they probably won't win the NFC North.
21 Green Bay Packers (10-6)
The Packers' formula has been a simple one for the last few years or so. Just get into the playoffs on the back of Aaron Rodgers, and let everything take care of itself. Their defensive was underwhelming last year to say the least, but a strong second-half of the season allowed them to sneak into the playoffs, where they won multiple games before losing in the NFC Championship.
With Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson back catching passes from Rodgers, this is likely to be the case again this year. Martellus Bennett was added to the mix at tight end, and overall there's enough weapons for A-Rod to carry the team once again. They aren't good enough on defense to win more than 10 games, but with a generational talent at QB, they're a near-lock for a postseason berth.
20 Houston Texans (7-9)
They'll be starting rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, and there's never a guarantee for success when such a young player is forced into a starting role. There's a lot of talk about the defensive line being able to anchor the entire defense, but the fact is that J.J. Watt is injury-prone at this point, and Jadeveon Clowney has to prove that he can be dominant on a consistent basis. It's not a unit that's a surefire bet to be elite again.
In all, Houston is due for a regression. Watson may be the answer at quarterback over the long-term, but his accuracy issues will come to the forefront during his rookie season, that will hurt the offense as a whole. With an improving division, the Texans will falter this year, looking to get back on track in 2018.
19 Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
If Andrew Luck is on the field, the Colts have a good chance to win the AFC South. They've built an offense around him that can have success on a consistent basis, led by skill players T.Y. Hilton and Frank Gore. The additions on defense (Jonathan Hankins, Malik Hooker), should at least begin the rebuild on that side of the ball. But it's the offense that is going to be the saving grace this season. They need to keep Luck on the field. If they do, they'll have a winning record.
Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and the Colts have one of the best in the league. Whatever they lack on defense will be overcome by a great offense that can score at will against many defenses in the league. Indy is one of the best dark-horse picks this year to make some noise, potentially earning a Wild Card berth in the AFC.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Doug Marrone is now in as head coach, and the Jags have a good chance to improve this year, from what were some truly dismal seasons under Gus Bradley. There's talent to be seen all over the field; Jalen Ramsey, Allen Robinson, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Leonard Fournette, etc. The biggest question mark comes in the form of quarterback Blake Bortles. If he can take the next step, they could be a dangerous team in 2017.
More likely, however, Bortles will continue to struggle at times, which will dampen the overall progress the team can make this year. The Jags need to make a decision as to whether he's the franchise quarterback for the long-term. A benefits of a talented surrounding roster are mitigated if the quarterback position isn't figured out. They'll improve, but still miss the playoffs.
17 Kansas City Chiefs (6-10)
One of the biggest regressions in the league with be seen by the Chiefs, who are getting older on defense, and less dynamic on offense. Alex Smith is dead weight as a boring, risk-averse quarterback, and there's not much to throw the ball to, barring second-year gadget player Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The defense, despite their age, should be solid, but not outwardly great enough to overcome a stifled offense.
The status of the AFC West should only make this season more difficult for the Chiefs. It's a bit of a risk saying that an Andy Reid-coached team has the potential for such an underwhelming regular season, but this is looking like a year where the wheels could fall off for KC. The sooner they can acclimate Patrick Mahomes to the starting quarterback spot, the better.
16 Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)
Despite suffering some tough injuries in the offseason (including a pair to 1st and 2nd round picks Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp), the Chargers are in a good position to show why they are one of the most underrated teams in the league. The defense in particular, sporting talent at all three levels (Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett) is going to shock the NFL world with a stellar performance. Couple that with Philip Rivers returning for another season under center, and the Chargers should be in business this season.
Perhaps this is the ultimate dark-horse candidate for 2017, but the Chargers have a real chance to excel on both sides of the ball. The window for opportunity grows shorter with each passing year, and with Rivers now in his mid-30s, this is the ideal time to make a run. They'll be in contention this year, and have the opportunity for a playoff run if the chips fall their way.
15 Los Angeles Rams (7-9)
Unfortunately, it looks like the Rams are going to continue having problems at quarterback, unless Jared Goff somehow looks entirely different than he did during his rookie campaign in 2016. The former 1st overall pick was disastrous last year, and couldn't even get on the field for an entire season. There's little reason to expect some kind of drastic improvement, and it's going to be an uphill battle. He'll get little help from an offense that has Todd Gurley running the ball, but little else to speak of.
It's good that they've finally rid themselves of the perennially mediocre Jeff Fisher, but the Rams are still a long way from establishing themselves as a true contender in the NFC. This is another subpar season they'll be looking at, and definitely a worrisome one, considering Goff's likely struggles.
14 Miami Dolphins (10-6)
The recent injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill may put a degree of uncertainty into what was otherwise a very optimistic offseason for Miami. It's no guarantee that Tannehill will miss the entire season, but it also doesn't look promising for him to be on the field for a majority of it. It remains to be see whether newly-signed veteran Jay Cutler can fill in for Tannehill at quarterback, but the rest of their roster is very good otherwise.
For the meantime, Cutler will have the benefit of throwing to DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, which forms one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. Factor in one of the league's leading rushers in Jay Ajayi, and a solid offensive line, and there's reason to believe that they could overcome a Tannehill injury to earn a Wild Card berth out of the relatively weak AFC East. They won't improve upon last season, but they can certainly make the playoffs again.
13 Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
After a torrid 5-0 start to last season, the Vikings fell off quick due to the limitations of Sam Bradford at quarterback, and an offense that didn't have the firepower to sustain itself for an entire season. This is likely to be the case again this year, despite the presence of Dalvin Cook, who figures to have a nice rookie season in the backfield. The receivers are mediocre and the offensive line is porous, which doesn't help Bradford's risk-averse play.
The defense is undoubtedly the strength of Mike Zimmer's team, but it's also getting older, and the sheer dominance that they've shown at times hasn't been enough to make them a perennial playoff team. The talent on this unit is going to go to waste if the offense doesn't improve in a hurry, and Minnesota is probably looking at a playoff absence because of it.
12 New England Patriots (13-3)
It's boring, but it always turns out to be correct. The Patriots will have yet another 10-plus win season on their way to another deep playoff run. Belichick, Brady and the usual cast of characters remain, ensuring success during a typical. The additions of Brandin Cooks to the receiving corps, and Stephon Gillmore to the cornerback unit only make this team even more frightening. The roster is simply too good to ignore.
At age 40, Brady is nearing the end of his rope, however. No matter how much he says he'll be able to play for X-amount of years, the trend hasn't been bucked yet for quarterbacks playing well into their 40s. The Patriots may still be the best team in the league, but their reign of success is coming to an end, which everybody outside of New England is thankful of. Still, this year they'll remain a juggernaut.
11 New Orleans Saints (7-9)
The Saints will have a great offense this year, but that's been the case nearly every season that they've had Drew Brees. The question is whether their defense is able to take the next step, and that remains to be seen. They've certainly added pieces, and Cameron Jordan is one of the best edge rushers in the league, but there's still no indication that it will definitively improve.
This is the key to New Orleans breaking their 7-9 streak, and forced to choose right now, it probably doesn't happen. We can talk about adding Adrian Peterson on the offense, and the emergence of Michael Thomas at receiver, but they've always been strong with Brees under center. Unless they're able to significantly improve the defense, this is a team that's destined to be watching football in January.
10 New York Giants (11-5)
Concerns about the offensive line and running game aside, the Giants have retained their playoff team from last year, and seem poised to make it back. The defense is strong on the front-4, as well as the secondary, and the offense is going to be able to throw the ball with authority. The additions of Brandon Marshall and 1st-round pick Evan Engram ensure a strong passing offense, even if they're one-dimensional on that side of the ball.
Perhaps the window of opportunity is shrinking with Eli Manning entering the twilight of his career, but as far as the 2017 season is concerned, the Giants are still the biggest threat out of the NFC East. With a dynamic receiving corps and tough defense, they're well rounded enough to come out on top.
9 New York Jets (2-14)
Yikes. The Jets are probably going to be the worst team in the league this year. At least it's by design. They're obviously tanking for more draft picks, with no answer at quarterback, and having just sold off just about every productive player on their team. This is the start of a complete rebuild, and there's just next to no chance that they'll be anywhere close to competitive this season.
The defensive line may be the only positive aspect to the entire team. Other than Leonard Williams continuing to dominate, however, there's not much room for quality football to be played here. There's really not much more to say. The Jets are going to be horrific this season, and most likely end up with the 1st-overall pick in the 2018 draft, which is what they're hoping for anyway.
8 Oakland Raiders (12-4)
Oakland figures to be one of the biggest contenders to win the AFC this year. With Derek Carr back and healthy, a dominating offensive line, stellar receiving corps highlighted by Amari Cooper, and the return of Marshawn Lynch to the NFL, the offense looks poised to be one of the best units in the league. There's hardly any weak spot at all, and that alone will carry them to double-digit wins this year.
The defense is rapidly improving as well, and can lay claim to one of the league's best pass-rushers in Khalil Mack. If they can take the next step, then the Raiders are looking at the possibility of winning it all. This is a complete team that was hamstrung by their loss of Carr for the playoffs last season. That likely won't happen this time around. Floor? They win the AFC West. Ceiling? They win the Super Bowl.
7 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
No team improved more on the offensive side of the ball than the Eagles did this offseason, bringing in elite receiver Alshon Jeffery, and solid complimentary option Torrey Smith in free agency. The offensive line is back and healthy, and LeGarrette Blount comes over from New England to run behind it. Carson Wentz is poised to take the next step, and become one of the game's best young quarterbacks.
On defense, the Eagles had one of the more underrated units in the league last year. Outside of shoddy cornerbacks, it's a unit that has real talent at all three levels. Fletcher Cox is one of the league's best interior lineman, and Jordan Hicks is a playmaking linebacker.
While Philly still hasn't hit their peak under Doug Pederson, this should be their first winning season since 2014.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Perhaps the most "win now" team in the league. Ben Roethlisberger has made it clear that his time in the league is capped, and this year could be his last. The injuries he's suffered over the past several seasons have just become too much to ignore. Luckily, he has a bevy of talented skill players on offense, highlighted by Antonio Brown, and should be able to put up his usually great numbers.
Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason remains the future of Le'Veon Bell, currently holding out of camp, and refusing to sign his franchise tender. There's little doubt that he'll miss much in the way regular season game-time, but it still is a distraction that isn't helping right now. Beyond that, with the help of a solid defense, the Steelers should emerge victorious in the AFC North yet again.
5 San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
The 49ers may be rebuilding, but they're well on their way to eventually fielding a quality team. There's tons of young talent along the defensive front-7, and new head coach Kyle Shanahan figures to whip the offense into shape in short order, even with Brian Hoyer as a stopgap quarterback this season. Pierre Garcon and Carlos Hyde should put up nice numbers in the offense this year.
This isn't a winning team yet, but it's still going to be a marked improvement from the past several years. The Niners stand a decent chance of landing Kirk Cousins next offseason, and his ties with Shanahan could make him a juggernaut with another year of acquisitions. Expect San Francisco to struggle again this year, but with a silver lining attached.
4 Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
It may not be the "Legion Of Boom" anymore, but it's still a very good defense that Pete Carroll has on his team. That has always been the catalyst to the Seahawks' success, and it won't change much this year. Russell Wilson is still there under center, and so are the majority of his offensive skill players (Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin). If Seattle has been formidable the past few years, they will be again this year, especially in a weak NFC West.
Their chances in the playoffs will vary greatly depending on who they're playing, but the opportunity will be there in the end. You can expect Seattle to hit double-digit wins once again en route to a solid 2017 campaign. One of the easier calls in the league right now.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Look out for the Bucs this year, who figure to be one of the most improved teams in the league. There's reason to believe that they'll be good on both sides of the ball. Jameis Winston heads up and offense that returns Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, and brings in burner DeSean Jackson, and elite college tight end O.J. Howard. This should be one of the premier passing offenses in the league next year just by stepping on the field.
The defense lays claim to Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves and LaVonte Davis; all of whom will be significant playmakers this year. Tampa also brought in Chris Baker, who proved himself as the best defensive lineman on the Redskins last year.
There's a good chance that the Bucs can take the NFC South if they stay away from injuries. Best case scenario? They make a run at the conference title, leaving the football world completely shocked.
2 Tennessee Titans (9-7)
It's really tempting to include the Titans as a top team in the league this year. The trajectory says that they should be; improving every year, young franchise quarterback in Mariota, dynamic running game, and a handful of playmakers on defense. Instead, while Tennessee probably won't take a step back, it's hard to see how they'll be able to improve to the point of making noise in the playoffs.
Mike Mularkey has hardly shown the ability to elevate any of the teams he's coached in the past, and it's probably going to be the same end result here. The difference is, the Titans have more inherent talent than those other teams, and can only be so bad. The likes of Jurrell Casey, DeMarco Murray, rookie Corey Davis, Delanie Walker, Logan Ryan and Mariota will carry them to a solid record, but are unlikely to be the truly elite teams in the AFC.
1 Washington Redskins (5-11)
Coming off one of the most tumultuous offseason for any team in recent memory, the Redskins are a ticking time bomb. The contract negotiations with Kirk Cousins have fallen completely flat, and general manager Scott McLaughlin, who had actually started to build up Washington's roster for once, was fired under the guise of a drinking problem. President Bruce Allen and owner Dan Snyder are looking at a disaster of interpersonal relations right now.
NFL teams just aren't likely to come out of the other side in situations like this. Optics matter, and so do the inner workings of a franchise. There's a distinct lack of the team leadership being able to control either of those things right now.
The Redskins made some decent draft picks, and signed Terrelle Pryor (to replace the departed DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon), but it's small potatoes when you consider every other crisis going on with the team right now. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire, and Washington will suffer a last place finish in 2017.
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