New Orleans Saints 2017 Season Preview

The New Orleans Saints have failed to qualify for the postseason in three consecutive years, and it’s clear the team is desperate to make one final run with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. In a move that firmly illustrated the urgency the Saints organization is feeling, the team went out and signed veteran running back Adrian Peterson in free-agency, hoping the former Viking can re-establish himself as one of the top runners in the sport after several injury plagued campaigns. It remains to be seen how well the experiment will work, or how successful New Orleans can be in a difficult NFC South, but the team should no doubt be more interesting to watch than they were a year ago.

2016 Record: 7-9

Notable Additions: WR Ted Ginn Jr., RB Adrian Peterson, G Larry Warford, LB Manti Te’o, QB Chase Daniel, LB A.J. Klein

Notable Subtractions: WR Brandin Cooks, S Jairus Byrd, OL Tim Lelito, RB Tim Hightower, DL John Jenks

Notable Rookies: CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams

Analysis: Longtime Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards last season while his  37 touchdown passes finished behind only Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, and as mentioned above, New Orleans is cognizant that they are running out of time to win with their leader. The addition of Adrian Peterson is a low-risk/potentially high-reward answer at running back for an offense that will severely miss departed wide receiver, Brandin Cooks. The defense will determine just how good the Saints can be. For far too long Brees has had to attempt to win shootouts time and time again. The additions of linebackers Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein should help, especially against the run, and the team is counting on first round pick Marshon Lattimore to bring stability to the secondary.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 Season Preview

The Tampa Bay Bucs have been a young team on an upward trajectory since the day they drafted Jameis Winston number one overall, and after barely missing crashing the postseason party a year ago, the squad in southwest Florida believes the upcoming campaign will be a breakthrough season for them. Already armed with an elite wide receiver in Mike Evans, Winston has been given more toys to play with by Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht, with speed burner DeSean Jackson added on a free-agent pact, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard selected in the first round of the draft.

2016 Record: 9-7

Notable Additions: WR DeSean Jackson, T.J. Ward

Notable Subtractions: QB Mike Glennon

Notable Rookies: TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Goodwin

Analysis: The Bucs are a popular pick to take the next step in their ascension and seriously compete for a playoff spot in 2017, and whether they make it or not, they should be one of the more fun teams to watch. Adding DeSean Jackson makes this offense drastically more difficult to defend, as if opposing defense’s choose to try to take Mike Evans away, Winston has a legitimate deep threat that will be one on one against the other team’s number two corner. O.J. Howard was a matchup nightmare in college and his skill set as a big bodied tight end should make him a dangerous red zone target, while incumbent tight end Cameron Brate scored eight touchdowns in ’16. Doug Martin struggled last season and will miss the first game of the year due to a drug suspension, and for this team to go where they want to in the year ahead they’ll need him to rebound and provide a consistent running game. Gerald McCoy leads a bend-but-doesn’t-break defensive unit that shouldn’t have to try to win games on their own like Bucs’ teams of old, as this offense should in theory put up a lot of points.

Atlanta Falcons 2017 Season Preview

If you are the Atlanta Falcons, how do you pick up the pieces from last year’s Super Bowl? It’s been discussed more times than you can count: The Dirty Birds found a way to completely collapse in the 4th quarter and hand New England yet another Lombardi Trophy. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will lead a still stacked Falcons roster into training camp, but it remains to be seen if the hangover from last year’s disappointing conclusion will leave any lasting impact.

2016 Record: 11-5

Notable Additions: DE Jack Crawford, Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian, DT Dontari Poe,

Notable Subtractions: Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, DE Dwight Freeney, FB Patrick DiMarco

Notable Rookies: DE Takkarist McKinley, LB Duke Riley, G Sean Harlow

Analysis: When analyzing the Atlanta Falcons and their chances in the upcoming season, it isn’t even necessarily the physical talent you are assessing. If you’re going solely on that, you’d love this team, as QB Matt Ryan just won MVP, Julio Jones is the best wide receiver alive, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman form a lethal backfield combination, and their defense is better than you’d think. Two things stand out as potential hiccups for the Falcons. With Kyle Shanahan taking the reins in San Francisco, it remains to be seen how a change in offensive coordinator will affect the team. It won’t be apparent until the 2017 season really gets going that we’ll know just how much of a difference not having him here will be, but it certainly will not help in any way. In addition, will there be a mental after-effect of being so close to a Super Bowl title before letting Tom Brady and New England snatch it away? The Super Bowl disappointment will be a whole different animal, as while any athlete will tell you they are solely focused on the task at hand, it’s understood that the vast majority of football players never get to play for a Lombardi Trophy let alone win one. To control a game of that magnitude for three and a half quarters and let it slip away is something that will remain with these players for the rest of their lives.

Carolina Panthers 2017 Season Preview

Following a dominant 2015 regular season that ultimately ended in a Super Bowl appearance, the Carolina Panthers were feeling pretty good about themselves this time last year. Unfortunately for Ron Rivera, Cam Newton and company, over the course of the next four months the Panthers accumulated only six wins, finishing dead last in the NFC South, and while their arch rivals in Atlanta were cruising through the NFC playoffs, Carolina was left wondering where it all went wrong. On paper Carolina’s talent is undeniable and more than one Panther has boasted confidence they can turn in a strong bounce back season. However, wins in this league aren’t easy to come by, and talk can only get you so far.

2016 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: LB Julius Peppers

Notable Subtractions: Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott, S Tre Boston, WR Philly Brown, WR Ted Ginn

Notable Rookies: RB Christian McCaffrey, OL Taylor Morton, WR Curtis Samuel

Analysis: If the Panthers are going to turn in the type of rebound campaign they believe they are capable of, they’ll need a serious bounce back from star quarterback Cam Newton, who struggled a year ago after winning the MVP award the prior season. In an effort to give the face of their franchise every opportunity to succeed, Carolina drafted dynamic playmaker Christian McAffrey in the first round, a speed burner from Stanford who can line up everywhere on offense, and should be a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. For the most part the Panthers’ defense remained intact over the offseason, but they did add a familiar face: pass rusher Julius Peppers, who enjoyed the best years of his career during his first stint in Charlotte.  

San Francisco 49ers 2017 Season Preview

The once-proud San Francisco 49ers franchise was literally the worst team in the NFC in 2016, but with new men steering the ship, the organization feels they are not far from returning to respectability. Kyle Shanahan has been a successful coordinator in this league for several years, and he was finally given his first opportunity to run his own team immediately following the Falcons’ loss in last February’s Super Bowl. Former Pro Bowl safety John Lynch also joined San Francisco as the new GM. Together, the two men with immense football lineage will set their sights on turning the tide in the Bay Area.

2016 Record: 2-14

Notable Additions: GM John Lynch, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, WR Pierre Garcon, LB Brock Coyle, RB Kapri Bibbs, QB Matt Barkley, OT Garry Gilliam, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE Logan Paulson, WR Aldrick Robinson, DT Earl Mitchell, RB Tim Hightower, K Robbie Gould, FB Kyle Juszczyk, LB Malcolm Smith, QB Brian Hoyer

Notable Subtractions: GM Trent Baalke, Head Coach Chip Kelly, S Antoine Bethea, CB Tramaine Brock, RB Shaun Draughn, QB Colin Kaepernick, K Phil Dawson, OL Marcus Martin, WR Torrey Smith, WR Quinton Patton, LB Gerald Hodges

Notable Rookies: DL Solomon Adams, LB Reuben Foster, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, QB C.J. Beathard, RB Joe Williams, TE George Kittle, WR Trent Taylor

Analysis: While the 49ers’ 2016 campaign was an unmitigated disaster, most would agree the organization had a tremendous offseason. The new GM/Head coach combination of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan brings instant credibility to this franchise, and you have to give the pair credit for what they were able to accomplish in just a few short months. Starting with a brilliant draft day trade with the Bears to slide down just one pick, while acquiring several future selections, and still getting the man they wanted (defensive lineman Solomon Adams), Lynch and Shanahan have set this team up to be much better moving forward. Like Adams, second round pick Reuben Foster is believed to be a cornerstone defensive player that can be a perennial pro bowler. Shanahan had wide receiver Pierre Garcon in Washington and was thrilled to bring the playmaker west, while Malcolm Smith and Earl Mitchell will join the rookies on defense to in all likelihood make that unit the strength of this team. The one thing missing from San Francisco’s offseason was a legit quarterback, as the Niners are set to go with a combination of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley behind center. That could have been strategic, though, as Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins is set to hit free-agency this offseason. Given his ties to both Shanahan and Garcon, it would make sense to assume San Francisco is planning to make a run at the former Michigan State Spartan.

Seattle Seahawks 2017 Season Preview

Last season the majority of outsiders viewed the Seattle Seahawks as “good, but not as good as they used to be,” which was probably a fair assessment. Despite a slow start, and thanks in large part to playing in a relatively easy division, the Seahawks were able to reach double digits in wins and even win a playoff contest with the Lions. Seattle enters the 2017 campaign, again, not as frightening as they once were. However, playing in an NFC West than includes both the Rams and 49ers, they have to be the favorite to take home yet another division crown.

2016 Record: 10-5-1

Notable Additions: RB Eddie Lacy, DE David Bass, OT Oday Aboushi, LB Arthur Brown, RB Mike Davis, OT Luke Joeckel, DE Dion Jordan, S Bradley McDougald, K Blair Walsh

Notable Subtractions: LB Brock Coyle, K Steven Hauschka, RT John Jenkins, TE Brandon Williams, OT Garry Gilliam, RB Marshawn Lynch’s rights

Notable Rookies: DT Malik McDowell, OL Ethan Pocic, CB Shaquill Griffin, S Delano Hill

Analysis: The thing that stands out most about the Seahawks’ offseason is the addition of former Packer Eddie Lacy, who will allow Seattle to play the smash mouth type of football they were able to utilize when Marshawn Lynch was taking handoffs from Russell Wilson. Speaking of Wilson, his ability to be a prolific dual threat quarterback will always create problems for opposing defenses. While he’s proven over and over again he can beat you with his legs, his arm can be just as lethal, with weapons like Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin at his disposal. The Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary is not as terrifying as it was when they made it to back to back Super Bowl – there were even rumors of Richard Sherman potentially being traded leading up to the draft – Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will continue providing this team with a strong defensive backfield. Linebacker Bobby Wagner led the NFL in tackles last season, and led by defensive end Michael Bennett, Seattle’s front four should be able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals 2017 Season Preview

After winning the NFC West in 2015, the Arizona Cardinals were a popular pick to return to the postseason a year ago, but that was just not in the cards (pun intended). Bruce Arians’ team struggled through a 7-8-1 campaign, although with a +56 point differential you could make a case for them being unlucky. Led by star running back David Johnson and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s offense should continue to put up points. That, combined with a defense loaded with playmakers, this team could be in line for a significant rebound in 2017.

2016 Record: 7-8-1

Notable Additions: S Antoine Bethea, OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Karlos Dansby, K Phil Dawson, QB Blaine Gabbert

Notable Subtractions: DE Calais Campbell, S Tony Jefferson, TE Darren Fells, LB Alex Okafor, S D.J. Swearinger, LB Daryl Washington, G Earl Watford, LB Kevin Minter

Notable Rookies: LB Haasan Reddick, S Budda Baker, WR Chad Williams, G Dorian Johnson

Analysis: The Cardinals believe they have the capability to compete with the Seahawks for the NFC West division crown in the upcoming season, and they have good reason for their confidence. Quarterback Carson Palmer is still a competent gunslinger, and multi-purpose back David Johnson is a match-up nightmare both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Arizona’s defense will miss Calais Campbell, D.J. Swearinger, and Tony Jefferson tremendously, but Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon give them two elite defenders at premium positions. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson is one of the more successful specialists in NFL history, and his addition should help improve a special teams unit that left something to be desired a year ago.

Los Angeles Rams 2017 Season Preview

The Rams much hyped return to Los Angeles got off to a strong start but by year’s end, head coach Jeff Fisher had been fired, number one overall pick Jared Goff had disappointed, and GM Les Snead was left wondering what had gone wrong. New coach Sean McVay brings with him a strong offensive reputation, and much of the Rams’ future success will depend on whether or not the former Redskins’ coordinator can bring out the best in the aforementioned Goff, a particularly interesting dynamic given he did not draft the former University of California QB.

2016 Record: 4-12

Notable Additions: WR Sammy Watkins, RB Lance Dunbar, DE Connor Barwin, CB Nikell Robey-Coleman, DT Tyrunn Walker, QB Aaron Murray, C John Sullivan, CB Kayvon Webster, OT Andrew Whitworth, WR Robert Woods

Notable Subtractions: WR Kenny Britt, C Tim Barnes, DE Eugene Sims, S T.J. McDonald

Notable Rookies: TE Gerald Everett, WR Cooper Kupp, S John Johnson, WR Josh Reynolds

Analysis: The Rams’ return to Los Angeles was much celebrated in southern California, but it didn’t take all that long for fans to turn on the team, particularly the aforementioned Goff. Los Angeles traded a boatload of picks during the 2016 draft to select the local boy, who quite frankly turned out to be the least successful of a deep quarterback class. The addition of former Bills’ speed burner Sammy Watkins should give Goff a dynamic downfield weapon, while top pick Gerald Everett will attempt to create mismatches in the middle of the field. Running back Todd Gurley regressed last season after a dominant rookie year in ’15, but if this team can prove they can get the ball downfield in the passing game, it should help open up running lanes. Veterans Nikell Robey-Coleman and Connor Barwin should, in theory, bring leadership and stability to a defensive unit that struggled for much of last season. While the Rams are unlikely to seriously compete for a playoff spot in the year ahead, they should be markedly better than they were a year ago.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Season Preview

With some of the best skill players in football at his disposal, Mike Tomlin’s Steelers won their division but couldn’t get by the Patriots in the conference championship. This season, gray beards Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison are suiting up for what could be their final campaign together.

Last year: 11-5

Subtractions: RB DeAngelo Williams, TE Ladarius Green, WR Markus Wheaton, LB Lawrence Timmons

Additions: WR Justin Hunter

Notable rookies: RB James Conner, WR Juju Smith Schuster, CB Cameron Smith, QB Joshua Dobbs

Analysis: He’s a bandaged, banged-up Frankenstein’s Monster of a man but Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s 35 now and he didn’t announce he would be playing this season until April leading some to wonder how much longer he’s going to keep coming back. Helping to make that decision easier for him are his starting running back and top wide receiver: Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown respectively. These two are arguably the best in the game at their positions and they’re currently right in the prime of their careers. Receiver Martavis Bryant stretches the field giving Brown room to work underneath, while Bell has become famous for his patience as he waits for his hole to open up. Pittsburgh added offensive depth in the draft, selecting WR Juju Smith Schuster and power running back James Conner. the offensive line returns this year intact, anchored by center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro. On defense thirty-nine-year-old, James Harrison is the elder statesman. His unit is balanced but lacks the star power of the offense. Defensive backs are one of the team’s weaker units, but the same group returns from last year so what they lack in talent they theoretically have in continuity. The other question on defense is who lines up at inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons gone. Even with questions on defense the Steelers have the firepower to hang with any team in football and are the odds-on favorites to win the AFC North this season.

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Season Preview

Led by two dynamic rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, America’s team cruised to their 2nd NFC East title in three seasons before losing to Green Bay in the divisional round. Most of their talented roster returns intact; however, with expectations through the roof in the upcoming campaign, merely making the playoffs won’t be good enough.

2016 Record: 13-3

Notable Additions: QB Luke McCown, DE Demontre Moore, DT Stephen Paea, CB Nolan Carroll

Notable Subtractions: CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, S J.J. Wilcox, RT Doug Free, LG Ronald Leary, WR/KR Lucky Whitehead

Notable Rookies: DE Taco Charlton, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, WR/KR Ryan Switzer

Analysis:

When Dallas lost QB Tony Romo during the preseason, many wrote off their chances in 2016, but thanks to an incredible rookie duo the Cowboys drastically outplayed expectations. Prescott and Elliott will be unable to surprise people in ’17, however, as the cat is out of the bag. All eyes will be on the pair to see if they can duplicate their success, especially Elliott, who will miss the early portion of the season because of a domestic violence suspension. Offensively the Cowboys are stacked on paper, with wide outs Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams joining the future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten to provide plenty of weapons for Prescott, and an offensive line led by three all-pros paving the way for Elliott.

Defense is what will determine just how good this Dallas team can be. While their pass rush has long been a cause for concern, losing three starters in the secondary certainly complicates matters. Linebacker Sean Lee is one of the premier defenders in football and is a tremendous leader, but he’ll need surprise contributions across the defense to prevent the unit from being a liability. All in all, barring serious injuries the Cowboys should again be one of the better teams in the NFC. They’ll be the favorites to hold on to the NFC East title, but the division is much improved, and may actually be the toughest in the league.