With training camp just a week away (finally!), it's finally football season again! With that in mind, here are five early predictions from all around the league for the upcoming year. Some are more out-there than others, but all of them are fairly realistic. Enjoy!
1. The Patriots will lead the league in interceptions
While this might seem a bit over-the-top considering the Pats only recorded 12 interceptions last year, if you look a bit deeper, it's not as improbable as it may seem. They racked up 81 passes defensed, and added ballhawking cornerback Cyrus Jones in the draft. With an improved pass rush, the Patriots will force opposing quarterbacks to get the ball out quicker, resulting in more picks for the secondary, and a high-octane offense should score more quickly, giving the defense more time to accumulate interceptions. While they're definitely not a lock to lead the league, it's more possible than you might think. At the very least, they should finish in the top-10.
2. Todd Gurley will lead the league in rushing yards
After Le'Veon Bell's recent suspension, it's almost certain he won't lead the league in rushing. So who will? Some popular candidates are David Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, or Jamaal Charles. However, one second-year stud seems poised to make a run at the title this year: Todd Gurley of the LA Rams. Last season, he rushed for 1,110 yards and 10 TDs in only thirteen games, and in this season he should only do better. After Los Angeles traded up to select QB Jared Goff first overall, Gurley shouldn't have to deal with as many stacked boxes as opposing defenses spread out to stop Goff. And outside of their rough divisional schedule, they don't play many teams with good defensive lines (e.g. Tampa Bay, Miami, New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco twice). With Gurley's talent and these aiding factors, this could be an encore performance for the ages.
3. Kevin White will win Comeback Player of the Year
While there were certainly a lot of top-flight speedsters selected in the NFL Draft this year, one that has been receiving substantially less hype is the Bears' Kevin White. Selected #7 overall in the 2015 Draft, he missed his entire rookie season because of a shin injury. This year, though, the deep-ball thread out of West Virginia is ready to go, and he'll have the luxury of facing mostly single coverage, with Alshon Jeffrey on the other side of the field. Standing 6'3" with a 4.35 40 yard dash, White has the rare combination of post-up size and blazing speed that GMs dream about. There are always complications coming back from leg injuries as a wideout, but don't be surprised if White takes the league by storm this year.
4. The Jaguars will win the AFC South
This one is the most outrageous of my predictions by far, but it's not as crazy as it seems. With one of the best offenses in the league, boasting its top young WR tandem (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns), a top-5 young quarterback (Blake Bortles), a thunder-and-lighting RB duo (Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon), and a revamped offensive line, the Jaguars will put up points, even against the leagues toughest defenses. And speaking of defense, their D will gain three first round talents this year: corner Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, and last year's #3 pick, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. . Aside from the draft talent infusion, the Jags also lured away Pro Bowlers Malik Jackson (DE, Broncos) and Tashaun Gipson (FS, Browns), and picked up CB Prince Amukamara from the Giants. Especially in the weak AFC South, this defense has the potential to impress. With six dates against the Colts, Titans, and Texans (all winnable), and matchups with the Ravens, Bears, Lions, Chargers, and Chiefs, they can take advantage of a softer schedule to pull through and win the division.
5. The Patriots will win Super Bowl LI
I have to say, this one seems the most reasonable out of all five. If Jimmy Garoppolo can perform as a game manager, we all know Tom Brady will return fired up in Week 5. From there on out, the new-look offensive combo of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, along with mainstay Julian Edelman, outside threat Chris Hogan, and shifty Dion Lewis, will dominate en route to the top seed in the AFC. The defense, with the best young linebacker tandem in the NFL (Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins), a fierce D-Line (Chris Long, Malcolm Brown, Terrance Knighton, Rob Ninkovich), and a lockdown secondary (Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, Patrick Chung) should be able to shut down opponents at will. And fortunately for the Pats, their only real tests should be away dates with Arizona and Pittsburgh, and a home matchup with Seattle. Aside from that trio and their divisional rivals, they play the Texans, Browns, 49ers, Ravens, Rams, and Broncos (led by Marky Mark Sanchez)--not exactly scary teams. From there, it's an easy path to the AFC Championship, and to Houston for Super Bowl LI--maybe a rematch with the Cardinals from Week 1--where Brady will finally put that ring on his thumb, and show that New England still rules the league. The only question is, what will Roger Goodell say?
Photos courtesy ESPN.com
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