The NFL season is here and I think everyone is ready for some football(pun intended). Going into the season, fans are always hype about their team prospects this season. This is my favorite time of the year in all sports because fans are blinded by hype and do not have realistic expectations, but we are not here for that. Every analyst has an interesting take every year to get their viewers/readers hype and I have a few of them. These are my unpopular opinions for the upcoming season. I call them unpopular because most fans will not agree, but they are mine.
1. Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC East and lead the league in sacks:
The Eagles have a very interesting team this year. Carson Wentz is entering his second season after having an up and down rookie season. The addition of Blount, Jeffrey, and Smith to their offense will help his progression. Especially coming off of the lack of talent they had at their skill positions last year. The Eagles offensive line performed very well with Lane Johnson but were really bad while he was suspended. Offensive line play is very pivotal to the progression of a young player and with him being there for the entire season, it will help Wentz take the next step. Last year they were extremely competitive until the middle part of the season where they went on a five game losing streak. The Eagles had the the worst WR core last year and that contributed to them having many passes dropped. The Eagles had the 4th most passes dropped last year as a team, and that should change this year. Alshon Jeffrey is a stud talent and pairing him with Torrey Smith, who two years ago led the league in Pass Interference yards should be great. Jordan Matthews can go back to his natural role as a number 2 slot receiver.
Many reasons why teams improve after a bad seasons is contributed to their schedule the following season. The Eagles will be playing a last place schedule and talent wise they are better than most of the last place team in the NFC(Bears and 49ers). Those are two easy wins for a team that has a great defense. That front seven is ridiculous and I love that they drafted Derek Barnett and to pair him with Brandon Graham will be great. Fletcher Cox is a baller and a great front line can really improve a team’s defense. Profootballfocus.com rated their front seven as the 2nd best after the Seahawks last year. Their ability to get after the quarterback was prevalent last year because they were 2nd in the league in hurries, but they were 16th in sacks. This year they will have another year under Jim Schwartz and the defense will take that next step.
2. Cleveland will win 7 games and have a 3-3 record in their division:
I am very bullish on what the Browns are doing with their team. You should not punish a current regime for the action of their predecessors. That is a phrase i believe in and feel many are doing to this Browns current staff. They have acquired many young prospects on both sides of the ball and they will be hungry. Last year they were competitive in many games in the beginning of the season, but they could not finish. In week 2 they were up on the Ravens going into the fourth quarter. In week 3 they went to OT with the Dolphins and had a chance to win but missed the FG at the end of regulation. They had many misfortunes, but they are a different team this year. They stocked up on their Offensive Line and a great OL really helps a young QB like I stated before. Also their have been nine teams who have gone 1-15(not including the Browns) and out of those teams, 7 out of 9 won at least 6 games the following season. The contribution of playing a last place schedule and also low expectations contribute to how teams play the following year. Also the addition of Myles Garrett and Jabril Peppers will boost this teams young defense. Gregg Williams attacking defense along with this young core will be interesting to watch. Playing in division is also always tough and the Bengals are in a bad spot with their team and could give up a few games to the Browns this year. The Browns should be looked at closely this year as they start to grow from their rebuild.
3. Jameis Winston will lead the league in Passing yards and Touchdowns:
Jameis Winston is a very special talent and in year three of his career, he should make that breakthrough as a top quarterback. In Winston’s first couple years he has shown flashes of how talented he actually is, especially in week 1 last year against the Atlanta Falcons. Winston made a beautiful pass to his tight end in the 3rd quarter for a touchdown and I was scared for my Falcons. As the year progress, the lack of depth at WR, RB, and TE showed that Winston needed help. Mike Evans was and is a stud Receiver, but he was forced fed the ball last year. A heavy targeted WR helps a player’s stats, but it shows a lack of depth. A defense can key in on that specific receiver and make it harder for him to get the ball, or they can focus on stopping everyone else and force the QB to make decisions. When Jameis had to make those decisions, he threw many bad passes and Interceptions. This year will be different for Jameis because they have one of the most promising receiving cores in the league. The addition of DeSean Jackson frees up the short to intermediate passes for Evans because defenses will have to have a safety over top to protect the deep throws. Many yards will be gained because of this addition. Lastly OJ Howard is a stud and he will be an impact player immediately. At Alabama he was able to make his name on the biggest stages, and the combine he distinguished himself as the best TE in this class. He posted top numbers in every drill besides the vertical jump. A quarterback’s best friends in the red zone are a tight end and a big receiver, and Jameis has both. Dirk Koetter also is a great offensive coach and he is entering his third year with Jameis, so the pressure to perform will be their and Jameis welcomes pressure.
4. Dallas will not have a winning record:
Dallas had a great season last year, and I love their future but it is hard for me to believe that season will carry over to this year. They will be fighting an uphill battle for multiple reason. First they have one of the toughest schedules, in contrary to them having one of the weakest schedules last season. Tougher competition means they will have to play more wire to wire games this year and it is not guaranteed you will win them. When you examine the teams they have to play this year, it is hard to pull out many obvious wins. Taking away their divisional games the Cowboys in the first ten weeks have to play: @Denver, @Arizona, Rams, Packers, @49ers, Chiefs, and @Falcons. That is a tough start, and the Cowboys will have to start fast. Second reason is Dak is coming into the season as the starter and defenses had an entire offseason to watch him: what he likes to do on offense, where he likes to go, and what he is uncomfortable with. Dak is a great young talent and he had a great situation last year with minimal pressure, but people are expecting him to be great this year. He is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and that means something. Also if he fails early, people will be wondering if sticking with him was a good idea. Lastly, the Dallas defense is very sketchy and has many holes in it. Jerry and Stephen Jones let four guys go from their secondary: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and JJ Wilcox with the first three being key members and they are going into this season with a young inexperience secondary. It is extremely hard to transition from college to the pros at corner and safety, but the Cowboys are trying to bet on their pass rush to be improve. It is the wrong time to bet on that because many of their top guys are coming up on age or are injury prone. Sean Lee stayed healthy the entire season and his presence helps stabilize that front seven, but his injury issues are something to worry about.
5. San Francisco will have a top 15 defense this year: The 49ers were really bad from a talent standpoint last year. From their offensive line to their skill position, they did not have the talent last year to be a contending team. Their defense though was competent last year, but injuries failed them during the year. Navorro Bowman going down to a season ending Achilles injury and he will be back this year. Last year the 49ers were abysmal on defense and basically gave up at the end of the season. During the first 8 games of the season you could see the inconsistencies. Their defense stayed on the field constantly because the offense was last in time of possession. I believe that when a defense is on the field constantly, it would break down over time. The Vikings are a testament to that. I believe that the 49ers make great strides in this area because of their recent first round picks. Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, and DeForest Buckner on the DL is a great young core. Behind them they will have Bowman and Reuben Foster commanding the team’s defense. Armstead and Buckner are entering their 2nd and 3rd years, which are usually breakout years for defensive lineman. They can also teach Thomas and free him up for one on one matchups and make his rookie season easier. The secondary will be the main worry because they have many guys who have not proved themselves, but Eric Reid is only a few years removed from a Pro Bowl season and he is still a young Safety who can lead his teammates in the secondary.