Cleveland Browns 2017 Season Preview

Nobody could reasonably have expected them to be any good last year but somebody probably expected them to win more than one game. This year count on improvement, and not just because the bar has been set so very low.

Last year: 1-15

Subtractions: WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Demario Davis, QB Robert Griffin III

Additions: WR Kenny Britt, RG Kevin Zeitler, C J.C. Tretter, S Calvin Pryor

Notable Rookies: DE Myles Garrett, TE David Njoku, S Jabrill Peppers, QB DeShone Kizer

Analysis: While many of their losses came in close games they were still losses, but that worked out for the Browns, who may soon begin to reap the rewards of years of early draft picks. One (of many) of the problems with last year’s team was that no quarterback emerged as a legitimate starter. They may have the same problem this year, as their quarterback room consists of 2nd round rookie DeShone Kizer, Houston salary dump Brock Osweiler, and utterly vanilla Cody Kessler. Plan A is for Kizer to emerge as a viable option by the end of the season, but Plan A rarely works out for the Cleveland Browns. The team lost its best receiver in years when Terrelle Pryor signed with Washington. Kenny Britt replaces him as the top option but on paper, it’s a clear downgrade. First round rookie tight end David Njoku and second-year receiver Corey Coleman are expected to step up in a big way. Defensive end Myles Garrett and jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers join the defense and should help to legitimize the unit. The team released its top cornerback Joe Haden, and his absence will mean more playing time for Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun which is likely a step-down. Second-year head coach Hue Jackson has a deeper, more talented roster this year which is far from contending but should be a great deal more watchable than last year’s iteration.

Cincinnati Bengals 2017 Season Preview

For fans accustomed to their team losing in the first round of the playoffs, last season was particularly disappointing as the team failed to even qualify for the postseason. This season, with their jobs on the line, head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton are looking to get back into the tournament.

Last season: 6-9-1

Subtractions: LT Andrew Whitworth, RG Kevin Zeitler

Additions: WR Brandon LaFell, LB Kevin Minter

Notable rookies: WR John Ross, RB Joe Mixon, LB Jordan Willis

Analysis: Football season must be upon us; Vontaze Burfict is being disciplined by the league. The talented, mercurial linebacker landed a dirty hit in the preseason and was hit with a five-game suspension. Burfict and star tight end Tyler Eifert are in contract years and need to produce when they’re on the field. Joining the Bengals offense are rookie speed demon John Ross and physical, explosive running back Joe Mixon, who fell in the draft because of a domestic violence incident caught on tape. He’s hardly the team’s only player who’s had character concerns. In the running back room, Mixon joins Giovani Bernard, who is coming off an ACL tear, and Jeremy Hill, who is in a contract year. All-world receiver AJ Green returns from a week 11 hamstring strain and slots into his old WR1 spot. The offensive line is in flux this season after the departures of Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth. Cedric Ogbuehi, who struggled at right tackle last season, will move to left tackle. The defense also has questions at defensive end and cornerback, where Adam Jones be the age of 34. While 2016 1st round pick William Jackson waits in the wings. Marvin Lewis has made the playoffs in seven of his fourteen seasons as head coach but has never won a playoff game. Emerging victorious in a playoff game may be the only thing that can extend Lewis’ tenure with the team.

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.

Baltimore Ravens 2017 Season Preview

Coming off a 2015 ACL/MCL tear in his left leg, quarterback Joe Flacco was back on the field for the 2016 season but never looked 100%. This season the Ravens are looking for better health and better results.

Last year: 8-8

Subtractions: WR Steve Smith Sr., TE Dennis Pitta, DT Timmy Jernigan, WR Kamar Aiken, DE Elvis Dumervil, LB Zachary Orr

Additions: WR Jeremy Maclin, RB Danny Woodhead, S Tony Jefferson, CB Brandon Carr, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg

Notable rookies: CB Marlon Humphrey, LB Tyus Bowser, LB Tim Williams

Analysis: They’ve missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and while ownership has publicly expressed support for coach John Harbaugh there is the sense that a tipping point is approaching. A rebound from franchise arm Flacco would go a long way for Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome. While Steve Smith Sr. has retired the Ravens picked up Jeremy Maclin after he was cut by Kansas City. Maclin’s health limited him to just 44 catches last season but if he can stay on the field he should be a talented option for Flacco. Dennis Pitta was cut during OTAs, which will open up opportunities for Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gilmore, Darren Waller, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was traded to the Eagles to move up in the third round of the draft. The Ravens invested in defense with their higher draft picks, grabbing cornerback Marlon Humphrey and linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. Those three have a chance to be part of a quality defensive core. Since the turn of the century, the Ravens have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL and Harbaugh, Newsome and Flacco have been a part of that tradition. If they can’t get the train back on the tracks this season it could lead to some changes further on down the road.

Philadelphia Eagles 2017 Season Preview

The Philadelphia Eagles got off to a red hot start last season, winning their first three contests. As the season progressed, their deficiencies, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, became too much to overcome. Philly struggled with the inconsistent (at best) play from their receiving corps, had difficulty maintaining any sort of a running game, and injuries and a suspension wrecked havoc along their offensive line. The Eagles went out and completely overhauled their skill positions over the offseason and are no doubt better on paper than they were this time last year, but it remains to be seen how successful they can actually be in arguably the best division in the NFL.

2016 Record: 7-9

Notable Additions: WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Chris Long, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Ronald Darby

Notable Subtractions: DE Connor Barwin, DT Bennie Logan, CB Nolan Carroll, CB Leodis McKelvin, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Dorial Green-Beckham

Notable Rookies: DE Derek Barnett, CB Sidney Jones, RB Donnel Pumphrey, CB Rasul Douglas

Analysis:

It is no secret the Eagles’ biggest issue last season was the play of their wide receivers, where Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and first round bust Nelson Agholor formed arguably the worst pass catching trio in the entire league. General Manager Howie Roseman completely revamped his receiving corps over the offseason, bringing in veterans Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, trading Matthews to the Rams, while cutting Green-Beckham, and bringing in power running back LeGarrette Blount to help generate more man-coverage. With a new array of weapons, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz will find himself under quite a bit of pressure to succeed. While he did have some positive moments as a rookie (Eagles fans will try to convince you he was the greatest thing to come to the City of Brotherly Love since cheese whiz), the fact remains that the North Dakota State product put up pedestrian numbers at best. Wentz finished with a worse QB rating than guys like Cody Kessler and Tom Savage. It was obvious at points in 2016 that some of Wentz’s struggles came from him attempting to force the ball downfield with a lackluster receiving group not doing much to help him, but that excuse simply won’t fly moving forward.

 

New York Giants 2017 Season Preview

The New York Football Giants are coming off a season that watched them earn a Wild Card berth in the NFC before running into a red hot Aaron Rodgers and falling to Green Bay in the first round of the postseason. While they were obviously good last year, New York feels they improved over the offseason and are ready to challenge Dallas for a division title in the year ahead.

2016 Record: 11-5

Notable Additions: WR Brandon Marshall, OL D.J. Fluker, TE Rhett Ellison, QB Geno Smith, RB Shaun Draughn

Notable Subtractions: WR Victor Cruz, CB Coty Sensabaugh, DT Johnathan Hankins, K Robbie Gould

Notable Rookies: TE Evan Engram, QB Davis Webb, DT Dalvin Tomlinson

Analysis:

Despite having significant offensive firepower the Giants’ offense was actually a relative weakness a year ago, and without the play of a dominant defense led by superstar safety Landon Collins, New York would never have sniffed the postseason. In 2017, the Giants will need to be much better on the offensive side of the ball to achieve the lofty expectations they’ve set for themselves. They’re confident the addition of big receiver Brandon Marshall will provide a lethal red zone target for Eli Manning and help open lanes for the mercurial Odell Beckham Jr. New York struggled mightily to maintain any type of running game a year ago, and after cutting veteran running back Rashad Jennings, the organization is putting immense faith in young Paul Perkins. In summary, the Giants unquestionably have the talent to compete for a postseason berth and even a division title, but there are several areas they’ll have to be much better in ’17 than they were a year ago. Any type of regression could cost them in what should be a highly competitive NFC East.

Washington Redskins 2017 Season Preview

Any conversation about the Washington Redskins right now likely centers around quarterback Kirk Cousins, who, after failing to agree to a long term contract extension for the second consecutive summer, will play under the franchise tag again in 2017 – the first time in NFL history a quarterback has done so in back to back years. In a league where it is so difficult to develop franchise QBs, it’s quite shocking the Redskins have not made enough of an effort to lock Cousins up long term. With former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now the leading man in San Francisco, don’t be surprised if Cousins finds himself heading west as an unrestricted free-agent next spring. In the present, what to expect from Washington is unclear. They’ve lost two dynamic playmaking receivers since last season, but they’ve also got a very motivated man under center.

2016 Record: 8-7-1

Notable Additions: WR Terrelle Pryor, DT Terrell McClain, S D.J. Swearinger, DL Stacy McGee, LB Zach Brown

Notable Subtractions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker

Notable Rookies: DE Jonathan Allen, LB Ryan Anderson, CB Fabian Moreau, RB Samaje Perine

Analysis:

Only two quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Matt Ryan) threw for more yards than Washington’s Kirk Cousins last season, and after two straight dominant campaigns it’s downright shocking the team hasn’t bent over backwards to secure their leader to a long-term contract. Cousins has nothing left to prove to the organization, and he’s become one of the best players at his position in the entire sport. By failing to recognize that, owner Dan Snyder and company may find themselves attempting to start from scratch at the most important position in sports next spring. Cousins’ determination cannot be questioned, but expecting him to lead this team to the playoffs in 2017 may be asking too much. Washington watched two 1,000 yard receivers walk out the door while replacing the production only with talented but raw receiver Terrelle Pryor, and arguably their most productive pass catcher, tight end Jordan Reed, has been limited all preseason by a toe injury. Rob Kelley played well in spurts last season but has never been a number one back in this league so it will be interesting to see how consistent the ‘Skins running game can be. On defense, Josh Norman will have to prove his legs can move just as fast as his mouth, as he’ll be asked to cover receivers like Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and Alshon Jeffery in the difficult NFC East.

 

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.

Oakland Raiders 2017 Season Preview

They had perhaps the NFL’s most exciting passing attack last season with two thousand-yard receivers, but a broken leg suffered by franchise quarterback Derek Carr harpooned any hopes they had for an extended postseason run, and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. This year, with a fresh-out-of-retirement Marshawn Lynch and a defense-heavy draft class the Raiders are looking to bring a title to Oakland before they move to their new home in Las Vegas.

2016 Record: 12-4

Subtractions: RB Latavius Murray, LBs Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley, RT Menelik Watson, DTs Dan Williams and Stacy McGee

Additions: RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Jared Cook, KR Cordarelle Patterson

Notable Rookies: CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, DT Eddie Vanderdoes

Analysis:

After inking a five-year, $125-million contract this offseason, Derek Carr is the Raiders’ franchise cornerstone and he’ll be looking to replicate or improve upon last year’s 28-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, with a little help from wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. It’s a real pick-your-poison situation for defenses, as double teaming one of these dynamic receivers runs the risk of leaving the other one open. After spending a season in Green Bay veteran tight end Jared Cook is coming to Oakland to help bolster the passing game. Reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack returns for his fourth season. He’ll be joined by a draft class in which six of the Raiders nine picks were spent on defensive players. On special teams Cordarelle Patterson was signed to return kicks and kicker Sebastian Janikowski returns for his 1000th 18th NFL season.

Los Angeles Chargers 2017 Season Preview

With San Diego in their rear view mirror, the Chargers took their show up the freeway to Los Angeles. Now fans are hoping the change of scenery coupled with a  new coaching staff can change the fortunes of the franchise that has gone 9-23 over their last two seasons.

2016 Record: 5-11

Subtractions: G DJ Fluker, WR Stevie Johnson, OT King Dunlap, CB Brandon Flowers

Additions: Head Coach Anthony Lynn, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley, OT Russell Okung, S Tre Boston

Notable Rookies: WR Mike Williams, G Forrest Lamp, CB Desmond King

Analysis:

Their 5-11 finish last season was a game better than the previous year, but it wasn’t enough progress for Mike McCoy to keep his job as head coach. Anthony Lynn, a Bill Parcells disciple with an old-school, no-nonsense reputation is the next man up. He’s brought in Gus Bradley (who flamed out as head coach in Jacksonville) to be his defensive coordinator. Bradley will switch the defense’s scheme from 3-4 to 4-3, so it’s worth following to see how last year’s first round pick, stud pass-rusher Joey Bosa, will respond. This year’s first round pick, receiver Mike Williams will begin the season on the PUP list. The team was bit hard by the injury bug during the first half of last season so the team is hoping for improved health this year.  Philip Rivers is inked in as the starting quarterback so they’ve always got a shot, but expecting a rookie head coach to win the AFC West with this roster might be asking a lot.