Can you feel that? The hot summer weather is trailing away as we slowly move toward September, and we all know what that brings.
Yes, the long awaited NFL season is finally upon us. After weeks of being teased by training camp highlights and single drives by the starters in preseason matchups, the long awaited week one of the NFL season is finally here.
I have a feeling this year is going to be a special one for the NFL, not only because the Cleveland Browns are contenders for the first time in the span of my life, but also because this season brings with it a wild array of stories to follow, teams to watch and underdogs to root for.
With Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Le’Veon Bell leaving their former teams on bad terms, there is absolutely no shortage of drama to be monitored in the NFL. Unlike the NBA, in which free agency dispurses stars to new teams what feels like every summer, the amount of star power exchanged in the NFL seems very limited. That’s why this season will be an insane amount of fun for fans to tune into.
It doesn’t stop with star players switching up teams, leading up to week one there is still controversy surrounding some of the biggest names in the NFL.
Star running backs for their respective teams, Melvin Gordon and Ezeikel Elliot, are both in the midst of contract holdouts that are threatening their status for the opening slate of games. Coming off years in which the two running backs ranked top five in total production, it’s fair that they believe they are underpaid assets within their organizations. This storyline gives NFL fans yet another reason to look forward to the gauntlet that is the NFL season.
Drama is fun in the offseason, but as opening day games approach we all know that fans care about one thing and one thing only: winning games. So here is an extremely abbreviated version of my predictions on how this NFL season may play out. (Rather than delve into the inner workings of every NFL team, a rundown of potential AFC and NFC conference winners will suffice.)
New England Patriots: The AFC has clearly been dominated by one team over the past five years, with the New England Patriots and their ageless leader Tom Brady appearing in the past three Super Bowls. It’s impossible not to involve them in this discussion.
With the reinstatement of Josh Gordon, along with the selection of rookie N’Keal Harry, Tom Brady will be throwing to his best receiving core since Randy Moss lined up for the Pats. Of course, the loss of All-Pro tight end Rob Grownkowski will hurt the Patriots, but they should have no issues running through the weak AFC east on their way to a playoff berth.
Cleveland Browns: On the other end of the spectrum you have the Cleveland Browns, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 and haven’t won their respective division since 1989. This new Cleveland team headlined by Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett looks ready to prove to the rest of the AFC that they are a force to be reckoned with. Despite a history of losing and sadness, the Browns come in at the third best odds to win the AFC title.
Kansas City Chiefs: League MVP Patrick Mahomes will lead the Chiefs as he looks to avenge their AFC title loss last year at the hands of Tom Brady. The Chiefs will return many of the star players from last year including Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, maintaining their prolific offensive attack that averaged over 30 points per game last season.
However, their biggest offseason move came in the form of bolstering their struggling defense. With the addition of safety Tryann Mathieu and company, the Chiefs will look to match their offensive prowess on the other end of the ball. Kansas City is set up nicely to compete for the Super Bowl berth everyone expected last year.
Chicago Bears: If you paid attention last year, you’d know that this team is the real deal. With one of the best defensive units in the league, the Bears have the ability to neutralize even the most explosive offenses. Despite the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears’ defense, led by Khalil Mack, will look to maintain their reputation as the most feared in the league.
Not only is their defense potent, their offense is littered with budding potential. If Mitch Tribuisky can settle into his role as a franchise QB, the Bears have ample opportunity to claim the NFC crown and bring back the mantra of “Super Bears, Super Bowl,” as well as erase Cody Parkey’s infamous “double doink” from the memory of Bears fans.
New Orleans Saints: After last season’s heartbreaking NFC championship game loss, Drew Brees and company will be out for blood this season, as they will attempt to avenge the controversial pass interference call. Luckily for the Saints, they retained the vast majority of their talent from the past year. Even luckier, the rules surrounding pass interference have been altered in the offseason, ensuring that this season will not end as last years did.
Dallas Cowboys: Contrary to popular opinion, my selection for third contender in the NFC is NOT the Los Angeles Rams. Despite their Super Bowl berth a year ago, the team, aside from Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley, fails to impress. Instead, it’s looking like the Dallas Cowboys may finally be poised for long awaited playoff success. If Ezekiel Elliot can come to terms with a contract, the Cowboys will not only have a top running back, but a premier wide receiver too in Amari Cooper. With Dak Prescott in his fourth season, this may be the year that the Cowboys take advantage of their elite offensive and solid defensive unit to make a run at the NFC title.