This offseason has been ruled by (supposedly) deflated footballs and players sitting down. Now it is time to get back into the real storylines of the NFL season. With so much of the spotlight on Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick there have been some teams and players flying under the radar. Fear not though, everyone gets their fair share in my world, let’s get right into it.
I have to say that I actually like the Oakland Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. No, that was not a typo. These two teams are headed in the right direction, and really show that a changing of the guard in this conference is coming in a few years. That is the future, however for this year it is more likely than not that the New England Patriots will once again be in the AFC Championship Game.
Other than that, there is a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the conference. Even the Pats will have to suffer through four games sans quarterback Tom Brady. The Denver Broncos are looking for a replacement to Peyton Manning, and they seem to have settled with Trevor Siemian, as we saw on Thursday. But of course, Paxton Lynch figures to take over the job at some point.
Then there are the other division leaders, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Texans. The Steelers will field one of the most dynamic offenses the league has seen in some time, yet their season will always be one play away from a disaster given quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s style of play coupled with his injury history.
The Texans certainly look better on paper, but paper championships are won in April and May, not in February. They are still a huge unknown given that both quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller will be expected to carry an offense for the first time in their respective careers.
And then you sprinkle in the uncertainty of the Kansas City Chiefs, who always seem to be good, but never quite great.
The Jags and Raiders are a bit too young to make much noise, and the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals are being hit with the injury bug already.
Nothing is ever a guarantee, but it is a safe bet that this conference will be a wild ride all year long. Even with that being said, expect the Patriots, behind a motivated Tom Brady, to face off against the Steelers in the AFC championship game, with the Pats advancing to the Super Bowl.
The NFC seems to be a bit clearer than its counterpart. The Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, and Carolina Panthers, return almost all of their starters. Sure, the Panthers did make a bold move in letting cornerback Josh Norman leave in free agency, but with their front seven they may not need elite corners.
The Redskins though saw this as an opportunity to make yet another free agency splash and signed Norman.
Both the Panthers and Redskins should be good teams, but the Cardinals and Seahawks will be the cream of the crop. The Seahawks feature the Legion of Boom, who also get a lot of help from their front seven, and the Cardinals still have a great offense starring running back David Johnson and have added defensive end Chandler Jones to hopefully be that missing piece on defense.
It would be easy to pick the Cards and Seahawks to go to the NFC Championship game, but the Green Bay Packers may just have a chance to dethrone one of them. Aaron Rodgers had a “down year” last year without wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
Yes, some experts do say that almost 4,000 passing yards with 31 touchdowns against eight interceptions is a down year. With Nelson back in the fold, Rodgers and the Pack should roll their way to a NFC Championship game appearance.
They will face the Cardinals and Carson Palmer will redeem himself for last year’s awful playoff game.
So, Patriots versus Cardinals in Super Bowl LI. As much as it pains me to say it, Palmer finally gets his Super Bowl ring and Arizona gets to erase the memories of Santonio Holmes’ tip-toe catch.