By Steve Silverman
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The 2017 season is supposed to belong to the New England Patriots, by acclimation.
There was talk of an undefeated season and a sixth Super Bowl championship for the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady partnership. That seemed a little much for a team that has made several dramatic changes since its miraculous Super Bowl victory in February.
Here are the factors that have to be taken into consideration. Brady is 40 years old and despite his conditioning routine, he cannot escape Father Time in his chosen profession. He loves throwing the ball to tight end Rob Gronkowski, but how many games will Gronk be on the field before he gets hit with another injury. Their best receiver is Julian Edelman, and he is out for the season with an ACL injury.
The Patriots allowed the fewest points in the NFL last year, but they were 10th in yards allowed per play and 18th in sacks. Are the Patriots going to be better on defense this year? Remember, they have lost a pair of game-changing players in the past two years in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, and Rob Ninkovich has retired. Who is going to put significant pressure on opposing passers besides Trey Flowers?
Is former Jet David Harris the answer at outside linebacker, or does the veteran simply have too many miles to be consistent? The Patriots are a team with questions, and while they usually find the right answers, it may not be so easy this season as the Kansas City Chiefs showed on opening night.
Just as we weren’t going to anoint the Patriots at the start of the season, we aren’t going to write them off after one bad loss.
Here’s our look at how the 2017 season will turn out.
- New England Patriots (12-4) — They will dominate their weak division, but this will be a tired team when the postseason begins.
- Miami Dolphins (8-8) — Head coach Adam Gase knows how to prepare a team, but Jay Cutler is not the answer at quarterback. Look for a second-half fade.
- Buffalo Bills (6-10) — One of these years, the Bills will figure it out and return to the playoffs. Curious trade of Sammy Watkins will hurt badly.
- New York Jets (4-12) — Some are predicting a winless season, but the Jets will find a way to win a few and play respectably in at least half their games.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) — Ben Roethlisberger returned for a reason, and this team will play its best football in the postseason.
- Baltimore Ravens (11-5) — John Harbaugh is one of the best head coaches in the business and Joe Flacco rebounds with an excellent year.
- Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) — Inconsistency is this team’s signature, and the Marvin Lewis-Andy Dalton era finally comes to an end.
- Cleveland Browns (5-11) — Finally some improvement from this hard-luck team as rookie DeShone Kizer finds a way to survive.
- Tennessee Titans (11-5) — Marcus Mariota continues to improve and Titans find their stride at midseason.
- Houston Texans (10-6) — The sooner the Texans turn the No. 1 QB position over to Deshaun Watson, the better.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) — Tom Coughlin’s second run in Jacksonville ruined by poor QB play.
- Indianapolis Colts (5-11) — Complete disarray in Indy. Who knows when Andrew Luck will finally return?
- Oakland Raiders (11-5) — Derek Carr stays healthy for a full season and Raiders make a season-long statement.
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-8) — If explosive wide out Tyreek Hill can’t stay in the lineup for 16 weeks, the Chiefs will go downhill. Andy Reid says goodbye after the season.
- Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) — Little team that calls Stub Hub Center its home will peter out in the second half of season.
- Denver Broncos (6-10) — Coach-QB combination of Vance Joseph-Trevor Siemian will not win many games.
- New York Giants (11-5) — Best wideout situation in the league and the defense gets even better.
- Dallas Cowboys (9-7) — Playing without Zeke will cause problems and Dak Prescott will have to deal with adversity after avoiding it as a rookie.
- Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) — If Carson Wentz can secure the ball, they could be much better.
- Washington Redskins (6-10) — Lack of running game and speed on defense will lead to unexpected problems.
- Green Bay Packers (12-4) — If the defense can improve just a little, watch out for the Pack.
- Detroit Lions (9-7) — Matthew Stafford gets his payday, but he can’t get a postseason victory.
- Minnesota Vikings (7-9) — When you don’t have an offense, even the best defensive teams will get worn down.
- Chicago Bears (3-13) — Stubborn John Fox gets walking papers after season after refusing to give Mitchell Trubisky starting assignment. Bears also have many other issues.
- Atlanta Falcons (10-6) — Dirty Birds will control the division, but it ends with first playoff game.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) — This should be Bucs’ year, but Dirk Koetter is not the kind of head coach who can keep team functioning at high level.
- Carolina Panthers (8-8) — Cam Newton has taken too many hits and magic of 2015 season is long gone.
- New Orleans Saints (7-9) — Too many close losses doom Drew Brees.
- Seattle Seahawks (12-4) — No coach prepares his team for the start of the season like Pete Carroll. Physical Seahawks get back to top form.
- Arizona Cardinals (8-8) — Age catches up with Carson Palmer, who should have retired after 2016 season.
- San Francisco 49ers (4-12) — Disappointing first season for Kyle Shanahan.
- Los Angeles Rams (3-13) — Jared Goff proves to be a failed draft pick, and the Rams are back to square one at the end of the season.
Wild Card round
- Ravens over Titans — Experienced Flacco finds a way.
- Raiders over Texans — With Carr at the helm, Raiders reverse last year’s playoff results.
- Cowboys over Falcons — Atlanta can’t escape another end-of-game collapse.
- Giants over Lions — Giants finish with roar and oust hard-luck Lions.
- Steelers over Ravens — Antonio Brown makes difference with the game on the line.
- Patriots over Raiders — Shaky Patriots find a way to outlast the Silver and Black
- Giants over Seahawks — Best game of the year ends with New York OT victory
- Packers over Cowboys — Rodgers torches Cowboys as Dallas suffers another painful playoff loss.
- Steelers over Patriots — Belichick finds a way to keep it close, but Steelers’ offense is too strong.
- Giants over Packers — We’ve seen this result before as Big Blue wins at Lambeau.
Super Bowl LII
Steelers over Giants — Great offensive show ends with Roethlisberger on top.
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