By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear me out...The most courageous 2017-18 NFL season predictions

 

September 8, 2017

COURTESY/ MGN

My favorite column of the year is back and if you're looking for the most courageous, half-heartedly researched, shooting from the hip NFL season predictions look no further. Not only will you get a prediction for each NFL team but also the number of Kaepernick kneels. Basically, it boils down to which teams need him on their roster.

Let's not waste any more time here are my predictions/insights for all 32 teams, first up the NFC teams.

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS

The Cowboys were a fun team to watch last year, the two rookies Dak Prescott (Tony Romo-lite) and Ezekiel Elliott proved to be cornerstones for the franchise. Of course it helps when you have one of the most dominate offensive lines in NFL history, but still this team could have made the Super Bowl if not for Aaron Rodgers playing at god-mode during their divisional playoff matchup. 

There's a lot of hype and Super Bowl talk surrounding this team for 2017-18 season. I don't think it's going to happen. The Cowboys look to be a prime candidate for the "Playoff teams that regresses." Their entire offseason was one bad headline after another. Right tackle Doug Free retired, the off-field issues which included the release of WR Lucky Whitehead and all the Ezekiel Elliott incidents.

The level of sanctimony for Jerry Jones was off the charts too. When they released Whitehead, Jones rambled about how they can't have players like Whitehead representing the Cowboys organization. Meanwhile, Elliott is free to hit women, DJs and pull down a woman's shirt in public, because that's the true way to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

By the end of the season the Cowboys will be everyone's most disappointing team, Jason Garrett will get canned and I will 100 percent enjoy every shot of the owner's booth to a visibly agitated Jerry Jones during each Dallas loss.

Prediction: 8-8, Miss the playoffs, in the ultimate power move Jones fires Cowboys coaching staff while getting a facelift.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0 – Kellen Moore is a serviceable backup.

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants are tricky, on one hand they pulled some moves in the offseason that I liked, signing WR Brandon Marshall, but on the other, they're the Giants.

Marshall is going to help this offense a ton. He and slot WR Sterling Shepard will be seeing a lot of single coverage or softer zones, since defenses will shift to contain Beckham. The success of the Giants will come down to Manning, as it always has. When he's playing at an above average-level he can lead them to the Super Bowl. But when he's average Eli there's a lot of bad throws, poor decisions and Twitter is flooded with mouth-breather memes.

Then there are the allegations that Eli and the Giants were involved in a memorable scam. And not surprisingly the spineless NFL commissioner has been nowhere to be found as one of the NFL team's rips off their fans with fake signatures. 

You know what I'm out on the Giants, this season has bad mojo written all over it.

Prediction: 6-10, miss the playoffs and the mouth-breather memes take on a new life when it's revealed that Eli was well aware that he was ripping off people with fake memorabilia. 

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0 – Not going to lie I'm a little intrigued by a yoked up Geno Smith.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

I really like this Philly team. They had that surprising start last season and Carson Wentz showed he can play, even if he hit the rookie wall during the second half, the only problem was there weren't any offensive weapons around him. During the offseason they went and got Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and improved their backfield by signing LeGarette Blount. Although Blount doesn't play as well when he's not in a Patriot jersey, I think this will be a better outing for him. He's going to be asked to do one thing, be an effective short-yardage back, which is right in his wheel house.

Philly is going to win the NFC East and do it fairly easy. 

Prediction: 11-5, win the division, No. 3-seed in the playoffs. 

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 1 – We've all seen Nick Foles play.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS 

How awkward is this Kirk Cousins-Washington management beef? They're like that married couple that clearly hates one another and wants a divorce, but are waiting on the other person to make the move, that way they can generate early support among the friends and family.  

Washington without Cousins is a top 5 pick in the NFL draft, and Cousin without Washington is an average to below average QB. 

Washington with Cousins is a fringe playoff team and Cousins with Washington is an above average QB. 

Basically this team is in the Jeff Fisher Zone which is 9 to 7 wins a season. Can't tank because they're good enough to beat most teams in the NFL, but not good enough to be a legit contender.

Prediction: 8-8, miss the playoffs, Cousins leaves in the offseason, and Washington falls apart.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0 – Colt McCoy can hang for a few games.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS

How do you recover from the most crushing loss in NFL history? Seriously, how do you recover? That was the most devastating loss in Super Bowl history, there were six different moments, which is a conservative number, in that game had it gone the Falcons way they're the champs.

Super Bowl losers have a tough time making the playoffs and the NFL season is such a slog, the idea of starting over when you didn't win is a challenge. Now compound that with Atlanta's soul-crushing loss and it's tough imagining them back in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

The Falcons are certainly talented but, the emotional baggage from that loss, plus competing in what looks to be the one of the best divisions in the NFL, the road to the playoffs seems unlikely. 

Prediction: 7-9, things start out fine but the wheels fall off midseason.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed:  1 – Matt Ryan is a tier off from the Bradys' and Rodgers', but his backup, Matt Schaub, is terrible.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

After years of neglect the Panthers have finally started surrounding Cam Newton with lethal weapons. Christian McCaffrey is going to be a stud, Kelvin Benjamin is going to have a big year, rookie WR Curtis Samuel can be a dangerous slot receiver and Jonathan Stewart will be that solid back to pick up the tough yards.  

The only question with the Panthers will be is their line going to protect Newton?

The Panthers first seven games are at San Francisco, vs. Buffalo, vs. New Orleans, at New England, at Detroit, vs. Philadelphia and at Chicago. That's a nice start to the season. The Pats, Saints and Eagles will be their toughest games. So going 4-3 during that stretch isn't ideal but would be understandable. Anything less than that and Ron Rivera's seat is going to heat up.

Rivera is my dark horse pick to be the first coach fired this season. The Super Bowl run is beginning to wear off and the Panthers fired their GM during the offseason. Whether they keep interim GM Marty Hurney or find someone else, their loyalty to Rivera won't be there. 

Prediction: 10-6, Cam takes the leap into the elite QB tier, McCaffrey is every bit the versatile threat he was promised to be and the Panthers make the playoffs as a five-seed.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 1 – Guys can you believe Derrick Andersen is still in the league?

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 

Saints are that good team that's going to be a pain in the ass for anyone on their schedule but not good enough to be a playoff team. Now if the Panthers or Bucs falter this season the Saints will stand to benefit and could sneak into the playoffs.

I get the Brandin Cooks trade because they had to free up some salary cap space, but did they really need to send him to New England? The one thing the Pats have struggled to find since the departure of Randy Moss is a player that can stretch the field and in come the Saints offering Cooks. It would be like if Frodo handed the One Ring over to Sauron.

Still, with Drew Brees under center this offense is going to scare a lot of people and if they can get anything out of Adrian Peterson, it will add to their potency. 

Prediction: 8-8, miss the playoffs, but I'm hedging and saying if the Panthers or Bucs slip up this season the Saints are in.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0- Chase Daniels is a competent backup

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS  

I thought the Bucs were going to breakout last season and earn a playoff berth and they were close, but they lost their final two games and let the smelly Detroit Lions in instead. This year after everyone has jumped on the bandwagon they're going to do it.

I hope. There's so much hype surrounding them it feels like a letdown is in play.

Say what you will about Jameis Winston's past, the man is a charismatic leader. There isn't one player in that locker room that doesn't believe he is the guy to lead them to the playoffs. Just watch one episode of Hard Knocks and it's hard not to be impressed by him.

The Bucs offense is better with the DeSean Jackson signing and rookie OJ Howard. Winston will throw a handful of dumb interceptions this season, bringing out the Mariota-zealots and FS1 goons to claim he's overrated, but still I'm all in. Their defense is underrated and the addition of TJ Ward makes them even scary, Winston and Mike Evans will be the hot QB-WR duo and the Bucs will make the playoffs.

Prediction: 10-6, NFC South Champs, No. 4-seed in the playoffs.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 3 – Ryan Fitzpatrick is a turnover machine and needs to be on a broadcast team instead.

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears will pay QB Mike Glennon, a career backup, $16 million this season to be their starter for four games. After that fourth game Glennon will have been so bad that they'll be forced to start their first-round, and second overall, draft pick Mitch Trubisky.

The hype around Trubisky is a bit unreasonable, he looked competent in the preseason against second-stringers and vanilla defenses. You know another highly drafted QB who also looked great in the preseason, Blake Bortles.

Bortles and Trubisky have a lot of similarities, both barely played in college and rather than focusing on what they did in college scouts were more in love with their potential. Trubisky is going to be a bust but the Bears, with the second worst QB track record in league history, won't realize it until the 2020-21 season.

So drink up Bears fans it's going to be a long, long three seasons.

Prediction: 3-13, top five draft pick. 

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 2 – It feels like this should be higher but the Bears are beginning their rebuilding process and adding Kaepernick might screw up their draft picks.

DETROIT LIONS 

The Lions way, way, way over performed last season, essentially making the playoffs was their Super Bowl. This year they're another prime candidate for "playoff team that regresses."

Re-signing Matthew Stafford was a must for the Lions, there just aren't many competent QBs in the league, but to make him the highest-paid QB is a massive mistake. Stafford's career record against winning teams is 5-43. 5 wins and 43 losses. If I'm shelling out top dollar for a QB, being in the ballpark of .500 against winning teams would be a must.

We've seen big contracts like this cripple teams before and the Lions will be joining the list of teams offering too much money to an above-average QBs. This season will mark the beginning of the end for the Matthew Stafford era.

Prediction: 5-11, miss playoffs and they're two seasons away from ripping it all down.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0 – Only because they blew all their money on Stafford.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

When Packers coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson time comes and Saint Peter waits for their arrival at the pearly gates, the first question asked of them isn't going to be how they lived their life. It's going to be, "How did you only win one Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers? God gave you one of the greatest QBs in NFL history and all you have to show for it is one Super Bowl."

Sure there's still time for them to add more rings, Rodgers is only 33, but still to only have one ring when he's been the best QB this decade is going to be a black mark on McCarthy's and Thompson's career. 

I don't get why NFL teams won't take the NBA contenders mentality. In the NBA when you have a chance to win a title you go win a title, whether that's making aggressive moves in free agency or with trades. Yes there's the potential that things will blowup but the window for winning a title doesn't stay open long.

I get the Packers like building through the draft but when you have a transcendent superstar like Rodgers you have the green light to spend money in free agency or look for trades. Why weren't the Packers aggressively going after Brandin Cooks when the Saints made him available? A Nelson, Cooks, Adams and Cobb receiver corps would have been terrifying, then throw in their free agent pickup of Martellus Bennett, that could have been an all-time great offense.

Still the Packers should be able to run through the North without a hitch and the Seahawks look to be their only equal in the NFC. 

Prediction: 13-3, No. 2-seed in the playoffs and Rodgers wins the MVP.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0- Brett Hundley is a promising prospect.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

I don't know what to make of the Vikings. On one hand their defense is a top five defense, but on the other Sam Bradford is their QB. During Bradford's pro career I don't think he's ever struck fear into the opposing defense or kept the defensive coordinator up at night. In fact I'm sure most coordinators get the best sleep of the year when game planning for Bradford. 

Bradford is the new king of the check down, some of it could be due to his offensive line being the worst in the league, but even in his stints in Philly and St. Louis he was throwing the check down often. Then again that's probably the best play for Bradford you don't want him slinging it all over the field, that's when bad things happen.

Even for Bradford's shortcomings, the Vikings defense is good enough to carry them into the playoffs. If you remember from last season they were carrying the team until safety Harrison Smith got hurt and the team began to fall apart after that.

If the defense can return to their top form and Bradford take care of the ball, the Vikings can sneak into the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7, make the playoffs as the No. 6-seed, will be that team that if they get down by 10 it's over.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: .5 – It depends on the health of Teddy Bridgewater, if he's still a year from being productive the number of kneels goes up.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS

I know there's a lot of love for the Cardinals this season and some are predicting a bounce back season, but I don't see it. Yes, David Johnson is probably the best running back in the league, Larry Fitzgerald is an ageless wonder, Bruce Arians wears the kangol better than any other coach and their defense is still strong even with taking a step back, but Carson Palmer is still their QB.

Two seasons ago Palmer had a career year and last season he came back down to his normal self. He's just not that good and expecting him to lead the way to the playoffs is foolish. It would be like giving General Custer the same army and telling him to go win the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The problem isn't the army it's the guy quarterbacking the army.

This season's draft has several promising QB prospects and teams tanking will come into play. While the Cards might not start out with a tanking mindset by midseason they'll have a change of heart. 

Prediction: 6-10, miss the playoffs and try to tank but far too late.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 10 – They signed Blaine Gabbert who Kaepernick beat out of a job in San Francisco, and Gabbert can't even beat out Drew Stanton for the second string role. 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 

Hey remember when we all thought the Niners were going to dominate the decade? That feels like an eternity ago, this team looks like the ancient ruins of the Inca Empire, an empire that had a lot of potential but flamed out rather quickly.

Kyle Shanahan caught a lot of heat for the Falcons Super Bowl collapse but he is the right guy for turning around this franchise. They'll pick up two to three more wins than last season but they're in full rebuilding mode. 

The key to Shanahan's long-term success will be if ownership, Jed York, can keep from meddling, something York hasn't shown the ability to do. This is why the Niners will be in a permanent rebuilding mode.

Prediction: 4-12, in the offseason York will begin to undermine Shanahan.  

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 0 – It was time for a change.

L.A. RAMS

Jeff Fisher and his mediocracy are gone and has been replaced with offensive guru Sean McVay. McVay turned Kirk Cousins into a competent NFL QB which is a damn impressive feat, so the man is a legit talent. Now will he be able to take on an even harder challenge of making Jared Goff into a respectable NFL QB? 

Possibly?

If you had a mulligan on the 2016 draft class would Goff go in the first four rounds? He didn't show a whole lot last season and seems to be charisma-deficit, not a good thing from your franchise QB. But maybe, just maybe McVay can work his magic because last year's Rams offense was awful and very predictable. There's a reason stud RB Todd Gurley called it a "middle school offense."

I want to say the Rams are a tanking candidate, but their defense is too good and their first eight games are manageable. They open against the Luck-less Colts, then vs. Washington, at San Francisco, at Dallas, vs. Seattle, at Jacksonville, vs. Arizona and at the N.Y. Giants. Those are all winnable games even against the Seahawks, because they always steal one game from them. Realistically, they could be 5-3 or 6-2 by the midseason point.

Prediction: 8-8, while Jeff Fisher is gone his spirit lives on with another 8-8 finish.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 6 – Even with McVay, Goff isn't a starting caliber QB. With Kaepernick, who needs a strong defense behind him, this is a playoff team.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks were bound to have an excellent season but with the addition of Sheldon Richardson they're my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. We've seen the formula time and time again; if you want to bother an elite QB you have to get to them without blitzing. The Bradys and Rodgers pick blitzing defenses clean but when it's just four dudes rushing effectively and the other seven back in coverage they often times get thrown off their game.

The Seahawks have that formula this year and with a healthy Earl Thomas III, their best player on defense, it's Super Bowl or bust for them. The offensive line will still be a problem but it always has been and Russell Wilson has made it work. Eddie Lacy should be an interesting addition to the team and gives them that power back they missed last season.

The only thing that will derail this team is injuries, other than that I don't see an NFC team who can beat them in the playoffs when things tend to slow down.

On a random note, I did enjoy that story about how the Seahawks D doesn't care for Wilson and is still scarred from the Super Bowl loss to the Pats. What was even better was Richard Sherman denying the story but then tiptoeing around the fact that he doesn't care for Wilson. It was a tough spot for Sherman to be in but still entertaining nonetheless.

Prediction: 14-2, NFC West Champs, No. 1-seed in the playoffs even with the whole team resenting Russell Wilson.

Number of Kaepernick kneels needed: 2 – Should have signed him rather than Austin Davis.

Look for part II of "The most courageous 2017-18 NFL season predictions" in tomorrow's paper.

 
 

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