We made our picks last night for division winners and playoffs. There’s a lot of chalk. This post, though, is about going outside that comfort zone. We know the NFL will surprise us. We’ve seen two straight first-time MVPs (Newton and Ryan) and teams that came from out of the playoffs to go to the Super Bowl. Here is our attempt to pick some of those longer shots and see who has the best crystal ball.
The MVP Will Be …
Lisk: Russell Wilson. Two years ago, Wilson threw 34 TD passes and led the league in passer rating, but didn’t get MVP consideration as the Seahawks went 10-6. Last year, his numbers dipped, he battled injuries but played through them, and had only 5 TD passes through the first 7 weeks, and did not rush for more than 20 yards in a game until Thanksgiving week. He’ll be healthy, productive, and the Seahawks are going to be a Super Bowl contender in 2017.
Koster: Dak Prescott. We’re about to find out how good Dak Prescott is without Ezekiel Elliott, should the six-game suspension hold. All indications are that he’ll still be an above-average NFL quarterback. His 5.25 TD/INT ration proves he’s judicious with the ball. Despite his youth, Prescott showed remarkable praise. Losing Elliott will hurt, but playmakers still abound in Dallas. Now’s his time to really shine.
Glasspiegel: Ezekiel Elliott, whose suspension won’t wind up happening until next year.
Douglas: Jay Cutler. Dolphins win AFC East, Cutler finally reaches potential.
McIntyre: Marcus Mariota. He turns 24 in October. Laughed at the sophomore slump (26 TDs, 3,426 yards passing). Titans add WR Corey Davis in the first round, and Eric Decker in free agency. Great offensive line, above average running backs … why can’t Mariota throw for 4,000 yards, 35 TDs, and the Titans win 11 or 12 games?
This Sad Sack Franchise Will Surprise in 2017 …
Lisk: Bears. Turnaround teams tend to have new QBs, and of the teams considered in the basement, the Bears have the most pieces that make me think, if things break right (and Glennon either has a decent year or Trubisky comes in) they can surprise people.
Koster: Buffalo. Look, let’s not get crazy here. The Bills are likely in for another losing season. But playing in the AFC East affords them four games against the Jets and Dolphins, who have their own messes to address. LeSean McCoy averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year and Tyrod Taylor is a dynamic weapon under center. Shaq Lawson joins a rather competent defensive line. Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Indianapolis are all in Orchard Park. All three are winnable. A 7-9 campaign isn’t out of the question.
Glasspiegel: The 49ers aren’t gonna be good or anything but they’re gonna show signs of improvement under Kyle Shanahan.
Douglas: Go Bills! I mean, it has to happen eventually right? Maybe they’ll win the AFC East!
This Super Bowl Contender Will Miss the Playoffs:
Lisk: Oakland. Toughest division, and Oakland relied on an excellent close game record a year ago, before their injury luck came crashing down with Derek Carr’s injury.
Koster: Kansas City. The Alex Smith experience is not a thrill ride. The AFC West is not cupcake-laden. The Chiefs are a team that wins because they avoid mistakes, not because they are so talented. Always a risky recipe.
Glasspiegel: I was gonna say Dallas, but that would contradict my Ezekiel Elliott MVP thing so let’s roll with the Falcons.
Douglas: Oakland. What if I told you that Derek was really David?
McIntyre: Raiders. I went in-depth on why I took the season wins total under on Oakland.
This Veteran Star QB Will Crash Down to Earth in 2017 …
Lisk: Drew Brees. Tough to see the dropoff until it comes, and it could hit anyone. I’ll go with 38-year-old Brees, who has led the NFL in passing yards 5 of the last 6 years. This is about the age that guys like Marino became mortal. The team traded Brandin Cooks. Willie Snead is suspended to start the year. Adrian Peterson was brought in as a veteran move, but he’s not exactly passing-friendly, and this may be the worst pass receiving group for the backs if Alvin Kamara does not emerge.
Koster: Carson Palmer. In a way, one could argue Palmer crashed back to Earth last season. His QBR dropped 19 points and his rating 17. He’ll turn 38 in-season and there’s only so much left in his tank. Bruce Arians is smart in giving him opportunities to succeed. His 2015 season, though, really was an outlier. Don’t see him approaching that high-water mark again.
Glasspiegel: I dunno if he’s gonna thud down to Earth or anything, but I believe this is Tom Brady‘s last year in New England. The question then becomes whether he would finish his career in a different uniform.
Douglas: Ben Roethlisberger will still be good, but he’ll only be able to play through 12 of his 15 injuries this year.
McIntyre: Eli Manning has the best group of receivers he’s ever had. But remember, two of them are massive divas. Odell Beckham didn’t get the ball last year; he ended up proposing to a kicking net. He’s thinking about his brand and getting paid. Brandon Marshall, as talented as he is, has never been to the playoffs and worn out his welcome in Miami, Denver, Chicago, and with the Jets. Most importantly, that offensive line remains a dumpster fire.
This Team That Had a Losing Record in 2016 Will Reach the Super Bowl …
Lisk: Cincinnati. Yeah, I know, Andy Dalton. Marvin Lewis has never won a playoff game. This team was 8th in points allowed (315) a year ago while going 6-9-1. The problem was the offense collapsed.
Well, AJ Green missed 6 games, Giovani Bernard missed 6 games, Tyler Eifert missed half the season and was never quite right, and Jeremy Hill was terrible. The team made major upgrades with additions of Joe Mixon and John Ross and should be healthier. They will improve on the 1-6-1 in games decided by 8 or less. Just two years ago, they were on track for a #1 seed until Dalton got hurt.
Koster: Philadelphia. It can’t be any AFC team thanks to New England. The Eagles. Carson Wentz takes a huge leap forward while Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson both get injured. Stranger things have happened.
Glasspiegel: Carolina. Big bounceback year coming from Cam Newton.
McIntyre: Legitimately think a healthy LA Chargers team could make a run; I believe the Eagles will be a contender, as well. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers, who bounce-back strong and win the division and make a run on the strength of the defense and Cam Newton’s offensive weapons.
The Surprise Running Back Who Will Surge to 1,500+ Yards From Scrimmage Will Be …
Lisk: Ameer Abdullah. People think he’s in a time share and that he’s injury-prone after missing most of last year, which is why he’s being drafted later. But he’ll be a clear difference maker and put together a monster season in Detroit.
Koster: Tevin Coleman. Flirted with 1,000 last year. Very explosive and the Falcons’ offense should continue to soar.
Glasspiegel: Eddie Lacy in a prove it year in Seattle.
Douglas: Isaiah Crowell and he’ll do it without the help of the Cleveland police.
Colin Kaepernick Will …
Lisk: Not Be Signed by a NFL Team at any point during the season.
Koster: Join the Patriots, become a third-down wingback, and win a Super Bowl.
Glasspiegel: Sign somewhere by Halloween.
Douglas: Continue to do charity work while less capable quarterbacks get signed all over the league.
McIntyre: I thought for months he’d join an NFL team after the preseason, so his arrival would mean less of a distraction with the media, but I’m starting to wonder if that will even happen. I guess put me down for the Raiders if Derek Carr goes down?
This Team/Player Will Be Embroiled in the Next Roger Goodell Controversy …
Lisk: The Seahawks, and it will involve something with the reporting of injuries.
Koster: The Pittsburgh Steelers, and it will involve Le’Veon Bell.
Glasspiegel: The Bengals because they are on the Cowboys’ wavelength of taking a lot of personnel risks.
Douglas: Green Bay Packers have had it too good for too long. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t know when to keep his opinion to himself. And they ruined Pitch Perfect 2. Do it Roger. Do it.
McIntyre: The Jets will be accused of tanking. They’ll laugh and say, “we did it, what are you gonna do?” Roger will fine them an undisclosed amount.