NFL 2017 predictions: our writers call the winners, losers and also-rans

Will the Patriots repeat? Are the Jets destined to lose every game? Can anyone stop David Johnson? Guardian writers on whats coming up this season

Best team that wont make the playoffs

The NFC South has produced the last two NFC Super Bowl representatives in the Falcons and Panthers and, along with the Buccaneers and Saints, the division has four teams capable of winning 10 games this year. But predicting the last place team in the NFC South is a bit of a cop out. So lets go with the Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Ellotts absence, poor pass defense and a sophomore slump by Dak Prescott could leave Dallas at home in January. DG

The Carolina Panthers are not that far removed from the team that made a run at 16-0, roared through the NFC playoffs before falling to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. Then came last years 6-10 disaster, when injuries and a difficult schedule conspired for one hell of a Super Bowl hangover. Theyve given Cam Newton added protection with a dependable check-down option (first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey) and a new left tackle (free-agent signee Matt Kalil), but it wont quite be enough to overtake the Falcons or the glut of second-tier contenders vying for the two wild-card spots. BAG

Tampa Bay. Quietly Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is doing a good job developing quarterback Jameis Winston, creating plays that best use his skills. DeSean Jackson made Kirk Cousins better and he will do the same for Winston. An improved defense puts Tampa Bay on the doorstep … but not over it just yet. LC

The Giants passing game got a lot scarier with the addition of Brandon Marshall, who will exploit the single coverage opposite Odell Beckham Jr. But they play in the NFLs most competitive division and, outside of that, their schedule includes the Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos, Seahawks and Cardinals. Im not convinced you win consistently against those teams without being able to run the ball as well. PB

Non-playoff team from last year that will make the postseason

The Tennessee Titans just missed out on the postseason last year, going 9-7 and winning four of their last five. Marcus Mariota should continue to progress in Year 3 and now has more weapons in new receivers Corey Davis and Eric Decker. And with Andrew Luck out indefinitely, Mariota is the best QB in the division. In fact, he may prove to be the best in the division this year even when Luck returns. DG

The Titans just missed the cut at 9-7 last year with one of the NFLs worst pass defenses and a deficient receiving corps, addressing both areas in the draft and free agency. With Mariota one year older and the bruising ground tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry toiling behind one of the leagues best offensive lines, Mike Mularkeys bunch should rise to the top of a middling division and make the playoffs for the first year since 2008. BAG

Much like Jameis Winston has continued to improve so has the player drafted right behind him. Marcus Mariota is developing into a solid quarterback especially when the Titans spread out their offense in a style more familiar to the one he ran in college. Tennessee have a great chance to steal the leagues weakest division. LC

In 2016, the Cardinals lost at least three games (and tied another) as a direct result of special teams snafus. Calais Campbell is gone, Carson Palmer is fading, and it still isnt clear that this team has a reliable receiving option outside of 34-year-old Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson, but this is still a playoff team if it can simply stop shooting itself in the foot. PB

Team youre most looking forward to watching

Marshawn Lynch is making a return to the Raiders. Photograph: Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports

Atlanta Falcons. Is it exciting to watch a potent offense with talents like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman? It sure is. But I mainly just want to see if the Falcons can overcome the emotional wreckage from losing the Super Bowl seven months ago in one of the biggest choke jobs in sports history. They may just take the field 16 times to quietly weep. And no one could blame them. DG

Besides whichever team signs Colin Kaepernick? Late-period Philip Rivers, sophomore rusher Melvin Gordon, Ohio State great Joey Bosa and Feeva Island denizen Jason Verrett will be plying their trade in the 30,000-seat StubHub center, by far the smallest home stadium for an NFL team. The Chargers first year in Los Angeles should be … interesting. BAG

Oaklands slow rebuild has definitely been worth the wait. A franchise that too often has wallowed in dysfunction now has one of the best young quarterbacks in Derek Carr, a talented offensive line, a good young receiver in Amari Cooper and a fleet of promising defensive backs who can thrive in a passing division. Plus they have Marshawn Lynch. Whats more fun than that? LC

So, the real answer is Oakland – not least for Beast Modes return. But, against my better judgement, I am also intrigued to see the new-look Cleveland, with Myles Garrett the headline act in a dynamic new defensive scheme and fellow rookie DeShone Kizer taking the snaps from week one. PB


Rob Gronkowski. Sure. If he can stay healthy for a full season, he could easily catch 20 TDs this year and get the credit for the Patriots not missing a stride without Julian Edelman. DG


Aaron Rodgers. Brady is Brady and Arizonas David Johnson is capable of the sort of eye-popping numbers required to wrest this award from a quarterback, but the Packers addition of a premier tight end in Martellus Bennett will lift Rodgers already exemplary game see: last years league-best 40 passing touchdowns to another level completely. BAG

Tom Brady. It is a boring pick, yet on a team that may only lose two or three games this season how can you not favor the quarterback who appears as good at 40 as he was at 30? LC

At 40 years old, its probably about time that Tom Brady finally caught up with Brett Favre, Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas. PB

Johnny Manziel Disaster Waiting To Happen Dept

This isnt on the scale of Johnny Manziel, but it is something that would create a disaster of takes: Colin Kaepernick finally gets a chance to suit up for a QB-desperate team and plays … OK. Not so well he gets flooded with job offers. Not poorly enough that theres a case he shoudnt have a job. Just … OK. Both sides are validated and neither side is validated. DG

A series of Odell Beckham Jr in-game tirades amid the Giants slow start prompts a benching, turning the tabloids against him for good and greasing the skids for a move out of New York. BAG

In this case this isnt a player but a team. Washington. On paper, they shouldnt be bad. Kirk Cousins has proven a solid system quarterback and they have some talented players. But drama forever follows Dan Snyders franchise and if Washington fall behind in a strong division things could fall apart fast. See: Mike Shanahans final season in Washington. LC

The New York Jets, ladies and gentlemen. PB

One bold prediction

The Jets could be an entertainingly woeful team this season. Photograph: Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports

Tom Brady starts regressing. (Ill keep predicting this every year until it actually happens and eventually maybe? it will come true.) Brady is 40 now and there is no list of quarterbacks who have played well at that age. Its just one name: Brett Favre in 2009 and then he became an old man by 41. Brady wont suddenly become awful, but his passes will lose some zip that theyll never get back. It will happen. Maybe even this year. DG

Jameis Winston enters the MVP discussion. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has passed for more than 4,000 yards in both of his NFL seasons but a bevy of turnovers including 18 interceptions and six lost fumbles last year have spoken to a lack of weapons. General manager Jason Licht responded by adding playmaking wideouts DeSean Jackson (in free agency) and Chris Godwin (a third-round draft pick) to a corps that already included Mike Evans, who caught for 1,321 yards last year and ranked second in the league in touchdown catches. With tight ends Cameron Brate and OJ Howard expected to chip in, a leap-forward season looms. BAG

The New York Jets go 0-16. Actually this may not be that bold. With no serviceable quarterback, no playmakers, a lousy secondary, a flimsy offensive line and two games against the Patriots the Jets are in the worst position in the league. Their only strength is a defensive line now weakened with the trade of Sheldon Richardson. LC

Keenan Allen finally stays healthy for a full season, and leads the NFL with more than 1,500 yards receiving. Despite this, the Chargers still finish no better than 9-7, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. PB

Offensive player of the year

LeVeon Bell. Imagine for a moment, if you dare, an NFL season in which LeVeon Bell goes uninjured and unsuspended. He would pass 2,500 yards from scrimmage with ease and in an even more unlikely scenario in which Ben Roethlisberger also doesnt get hurt could get within sight of 3,000. DG

David Johnson. The 25-year-old dual-threat running back deserved the honor last year, when he paced the NFL in touchdowns (20) and yards from scrimmage (1,239 rushing, 879 receiving). Were it not for an MCL sprain in the season finale, the small-college product might have become only the third player in NFL history to post a 1,000/1,000 season. This year he will.

David Johnson

Brady is the MVP but just for the diversity of choosing someone else here, expect more late-game, late-season heroics from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He still has his favorite pass targets and Green Bays line is as good as always. LC

Well if my bold prediction comes in, then it might be Allen. But a more likely candidate is Arizonas David Johnson, who will be seeing an awful lot of the ball as both a running back and a receiver. PB

Defensive player of the year

JJ Watt. Assuming the three-time Defensive Player of the Year can be at least close to the player he was before back problems and post double-digit sack numbers, hell be an easy name for voters to write down, especially after his efforts in Houston with Harvey recovery. DG

JJ Watt. The Texans one-man destruction crew is coming off a pair of back surgeries that limited him to just three games last year. But the 28-year-old will benefit from playing alongside an improved Jadeveon Clowney and pair a record fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy with Comeback Player of the Year honors. BAG

JJ Watt is back and healthy and ready to resume blowing through offensive lines and throwing quarterbacks to the ground. Yes, he is older and elite defensive players dont remain elite for long in todays NFL but Watt has a lot to prove after last year. Hes got at least one more truly dominating season left in him. LC

JJ Watt won this award in three out of four years prior to his back surgery. Now he returns to a defense that has only gotten stronger in his absence. Opposing offenses can hardly triple team Watt every play when they also have Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus to contend with. PB

Rookie of the year

Christian McCaffreys elusiveness will make an impact for the Panthers. Photograph: Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports

Offensive: Christian McCaffrey will make an immediate impact in Carolina running and receiving, helping turn Carolina back into contenders in the NFC. Defensive: Steelers rookie TJ Watt has name recognition and now plays for one of the leagues marquee teams. If he gets 10 sacks, the award is his. DG

Christian McCaffrey. The eighth overall pick in the draft brings a versatility and explosiveness that lends itself to the highlight reel. The 5ft 11in, 205lb running back can line up anywhere on the field in the backfield, in the slot, even under center in the Wildcat formation or on special teams as a punt returner and will be given every opportunity for a Panthers side that lacked creative brio amid their Super Bowl hangover. BAG

Christian McCaffrey. While quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and DeShaun Watson should have chances to make immediate impacts in Cleveland and Houston, the lack of talent around them will hold back their development. The Panthers, with their run-first offense, are set up for McCaffrey to succeed. LC

Maybe Im just getting swept along with the preseason hype, but the glimpses weve seen of Myles Garrett so far have been pretty exciting (if he can stay fit). PB

AFC East champion

Its impossible to conceive a scenario in which the Patriots dont win this division for the 14th time in 15 seasons. In fact, look for New England to have the AFC East clinched by the end of the first week of December. DG

The Patriots managed to improve on both sides of the ball, adding speedy wideout Brandin Cooks to a deep receiving crop and lockdown corner Stephon Gilmore to a defense that surrendered the fewest points in the NFL last year. Julian Edelmans season-ending injury is a concern, but few teams have a better depth of personnel to deal with it. Oh, and Gronk returns … to a team that went 17-2 and won the Super Bowl without him. The only real question is whether they will go undefeated. (They wont.) BAG

New England. The only real question is whether the Patriots will go undefeated or not. The answer is probably no, given a tough first month but 14-2 is very much a possibility here. LC

The Patriots lost their No1 wideout to a season-ending injury and I still have zero doubt that they retain their division crown. (Even if Im not quite prepared to go along with the perfect season hype.)

AFC North champ

Pittsburgh. The Bengals will give the Steelers a run in the AFC North thanks to Andy Dalton having all of his offensive weapons healthy again. But Pittsburghs soft early schedule and the return of LeVeon Bell and Martavis Bryant should guarantee the Steelers at least 11 wins. DG

The division is competitive but the Steelers remain a class above. A star-studded offense featuring Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown was already the NFLs best even before the return of Martavis Bryant. An improved defense should ensure another deep January run. BAG

Pittsburgh. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says retirement is an option after this season. Its hard to believe he will walk away from a team with Leveonn Bell, Antonio Brown and another formidable offensive line. If anyone can keep the Pats from the Super Bowl its Pittsburgh. LC

Will this be Roethlisbergers last hurrah? Or just another year of getting hurt (argh!)? Only twice in the last eight seasons has the Steelers signal caller played all 16 games. As long as he can go for most of them, then Pittsburgh should have enough firepower to stay ahead. PB

AFC South champ

Marcus Mariotas Titans are tipped to be an improved team. Photograph: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

Tennessee Titans. The Titans finished tied with the division champ Texans last year at 9-7, but lost the tiebreaker and missed the playoffs. This is their division to lose this season. And probably for the next five seasons, too. DG

Houstons ravenous defense makes the Texans a player, but Tennessees stout running game and rising star at quarterback will be enough to end their nine-year postseason drought with Mularkey taking Coach of the Year honors for the turnaround. BAG

Tennessee should prevail in another underwhelming year for the AFC South. Houston have too many questions on offense, Indianapolis have too many questions on defense an Jacksonville have too many questions everywhere. LC

All aboard the Tennessee bandwagon. Yes, the Texans defense will be scary – with Watt restored to a group that gave up the fewest yards in the league despite missing him for most of last season. But the offense may be no better with Tom Savage or DeShaun Watson. For the Titans Marcus Mariotas personal development can only be served by the additions of Eric Decker and Corey Davis. PB

AFC West champ

Everyone is so quick to kick the Chiefs to the curb and anoint the Raiders as the new king of the AFC West. But Kansas City still went 12-4 last year and have big-time players on both sides of the ball. Sure, Alex Smith may not ever win you a Super Bowl by himself, but hes steady enough to win a division. DG

The Raiders will shine with quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr, whose late-season injury cost Oakland the division last year. The addition of Marshawn Lynch behind one of the NFLs best offensive lines will only benefit the ace receiving tandem of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. BAG

Its a pity that after so many dreary seasons in Oakland, the Raiders are set up to be good for several years just as they wind down toward Las Vegas. At least Oakland fans will be treated to a playoff team that can make a big January run if some things break right. LC

This is the Raiders division to lose, right? Were they not Super Bowl contenders until Derek Carr broke his leg? And have they not improved since, upgrading their secondary and adding Marshawn Lynch? Indeed, but it is also true that Oakland had the worst scoring differential (+31) of any 12-4 team ever. The Raiders were good in 2016, and will be again in 2017. Just not as good as the Chiefs. PB

NFC East champ

Dak Prescott had a wonderful rookie season with the Cowboys. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

Its easy to see any team in the NFC East winning the division … or any team finishing last at 4-12 … or all of them going 8-8. Its a division with some very good players playing on teams with very clear flaws. A dartboard toss here says … Washington, thanks to the track record Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins have so far together. DG

No shortage of strengths or weaknesses for each of these four clubs. The Cowboys were prime candidates for a regression even before Ezekiel Elliotts six-game suspension and the Giants porous offensive line cancels out a formidable D. Lets go with the Eagles, who should put up enough points after surrounding promising second-year quarterback Carson Wentz with an improved array of weapons to overcome a shrug-emoji-like secondary that will be aided by an underrated front seven. BAG

Dallas. Depending on how the Ezekiel Elliott situation plays out, quarterback Dak Prescott will be tested this year. Last season he could ride a run-first team with a great offensive line. Now he will have to make more plays to win games. But even when Elliott is out, Prescott has plenty of weapons. LC

For all the focus on Zeke and Dak, the true star of the Cowboys offense in 2016 was the offensive line. Two out of five starters departed this offseason (admittedly, the non-Pro Bowlers) and I wonder about the impact of those losses. If diminished blocking should cause Dallass sophomore backfield to slump, then the Eagles are my dark horse to sneak in. PB

NFC North champ

Only the AFC East looks more top heavy than the NFC North this year. The Packers closed last year winning six in a row and 10 wins all season this year should be enough to hold off the Vikings and Lions, while a single win might be enough to eliminate the Bears. DG

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers needed a six-game win streak to make the playoffs, where they made the divisional round for a sixth time in seven years. No late-season surge will be needed this time out, and the home-field advantage will behoove them well in January. BAG

Green Bay. With Rodgers and so many weapons the Packers will outlast challenges from Minnesota and Detroit in a strong division. The Vikings have a strong defense and Detroits Matt Stafford has proven he can win games, but it wont be enough to overcome Rodgers. LC

For the sixth time in seven years, Aaron Rodgers carries (and flings) the Packers to a division title. PB

NFC South champ

Its hard to remember in the ashes of 28-3 how good the Atlanta Falcons looked before that happened. If they can just be a reflection of that first-half team this year, they can win the division again and take another stab at the postseason … if they dare. DG

Hard to pick against the Falcons, Super Bowl hangover notwithstanding. Look for the Falcons young defense to chart improvement and their high-scoring offense to pick up where it left off in February. (Until the fourth quarter, anyway.) BAG

Atlanta. There appears to be something to the phrase Super Bowl hangover and for a team that lost last years title game the way the Falcons did the fear of a drop-off is real. But Atlanta are loaded with gifted players on both offense and defense. No one in the NFC might have better balance. LC

Yes, yes, weve all heard of Super Bowl hangovers for losing teams. And Atlantas offense may look a little different now without Kyle Shanahan at the helm. But the Falcons still boast the strongest roster in this division. Its not just about Matt Ryan and company, but a young defense that improved sharply toward the end of last season. PB

NFC West champ

The 49ers and Rams are in full-on rebuilding mode, which means the NFC West comes down to the Seahawks and Cardinals again. If the options are Russell Wilson or 37-year old Carson Palmer coming off another injury, Seattle is the easy pick. DG

A healthy, prime Russell Wilson and one of the leagues best defensive units should be more than enough to carry the Seahawks in a division where only the Cardinals are capable of mounting a serious challenge. BAG

Seattle do an excellent job of reinventing themselves, rolling out old stars and bringing in new players who can thrive. The secondary may not be as great as it was in 2013 but its still very good, the front is outstanding and Russell Wilson should benefit from a more experienced offensive line. LC

If the Cardinals can achieve modest competence on special teams, they might be contenders in the NFC. But if the Seahawks can achieve modest competence on the offensive line, they ought to be front-runners. PB

AFC wildcards

Bengals, Raiders. DG

Bengals, Texans. BAG

Chiefs, Ravens. LC

Raiders, Texans. PB

NFC wildcards

Buccaneers, Cardinals. DG

Cowboys, Vikings. BAG

Vikings, Giants. LC

Cowboys, Cardinals. PB

NFC championship game

Packers over Seahawks. DG

Packers over Seahawks. BAG

Seahawks over Falcons. LC

Packers over Seahawks. PB

AFC championship game

Patriots over Steelers. DG

Steelers over Patriots. BAG

Patriots over Steelers. LC

Titans over Steelers. PB

Super Bowl LII

Our panel tip the Packers to come out on top. Photograph: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports

Packers over Patriots. The NFL gets the Super Bowl matchup it has long wanted: Brady v Rodgers. A high-scoring, back-and-forth game comes down to the wire and – why not – Rodgers wins it on his latest walk-off Hail Mary. DG

Packers over Steelers. Aaron Rodgers punctuates a sterling MVP campaign with a second Super Bowl title, cementing his place among the sports all-time greats. BAG

Once more, the Patriots and Seahawks slug their way to one final chance for Seattle, down four to the Pats. On New Englands one-yard line, Wilson tries to fire a quick pass on the goal line. Wait, havent we seen this before? Winner: New England. LC

Packers over Titans. I dont really think that the Titans are the best team in the AFC, but the best teams are not always the ones that make the big game. As good as the Patriots look, (and as certain as I am to feel foolish when I look back on this prediction in five months time) I think this might finally be the year when those 40 years start to show on Tom Brady, opening the door for a postseason upset. The Packers, by contrast, might well be the best team in the NFC, boasting the best quarterback in the NFL today. PB

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/sep/08/nfl-2017-predictions-new-england-patriots-packers-nfl

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