Every NFL season opens with significant question marks: will the hyped rookies step in and contribute? Will last year’s Cinderella’s hold off midnight? Will comeback bids from aging superstars end in glory?
The 2017 season is rife with all of the above. Edge rusher Myles Garrett (Cleveland) and QB Deshaun Watson (Houston) will likely be counted on to perform from day one. The Cowboys, who improved by nine wins last year, are looking to solidify their place at the top of the league. And geriatric running backs Adrian Peterson (New Orleans) and Marshawn Lynch (Oakland) are hoping there’s a little vivacity left in their legs.
With the draft in the books and almost all the free-agents of import signed, we have a good idea what Week 1 rosters will look like and can start to really prognosticate and pontificate on the coming season.
Bring me my miter!
2017 NFL STORYLINES: THE ODDS
OLD-A** RUNNING BACKS
Over/Under rushing yards for Adrian Peterson (New Orleans): 999.5
The Saints had a weird offseason. They added AP and Alvin Kamara to a backfield that already featured ostensible lead-back Mark Ingram. Ingram has a history of landing in Sean Payton’s dog-house, so it’s kind of anyone’s guess which RB will see the bulk of the touches.
It’s kind of anyone’s guess whether AP still has juice in his 32-year-old gams. He averaged just 1.9 yards on 37 carries last year, but that was behind a brutal Minnesota o-line. He’s never been held under 1,000 when he’s gotten at least 210 carries. If he’s running like the AP of old, he’s going to smash 1,000 yards behind an underrated New Orleans front. If he’s finally looking his age, he won’t get the touches to come close.
Over/Under rushing yards for Marshawn Lynch (Oakland): 1,050.5
The Raider backfield is almost as crowded as the New Orleans backfield. Coming out of a one-year retirement, Lynch will be competing with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington for carries. Unlike the Saints, though, neither of the incumbents has proven capable of being a bell-cow. In his four healthy seasons with the Seahawks, Beast Mode had at least 280 carries and 1,200 rushing yards.
LOOK ALIVE, ROOK
Over/Under sacks for Myles Garrett (Cleveland): 6.5
This year’s first-overall pick has double-digit sack potential. The problem is that he’s going to be the most feared person in an anemic Browns pass rush (26 sacks in 2016, second-last in the NFL) from the outset, meaning offenses will key on him.
Over/Under starts for DeShaun Watson (Houston): 13.5
Watson only needs to beat out Tom Savage to earn the starting role in Houston. So yeah, I’m penciling the rookie in as starter.
Odds Houston makes the 2017 playoffs: 4/3
Not a lot of rookie QBs lead their teams to the playoffs. On the other hand, not a lot of teams would make the postseason with Brock Osweiler under center and JJ Watt sidelined. Watson is stepping into a great situation and has a real chance to succeed in his first year. And even if he’s awful, there’s always the “mental toughness” of Tom Savage!
But the AFC South might not be the league’s punching bag anymore. Tennessee and Indy should both be better than last year, and Jacksonville … well they’re still starting Blake Bortles, so no worries on that front.
Odds to lead rookie RBs in rushing
- Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville): 7/2
- Dalvin Cook (Minnesota): 4/1
- Joe Mixon (Cincinnati): 9/2
- Kareem Hunt (Kansas City): 9/1
- FIELD: 7/3
Fournette is going to be the Jaguars’ work-horse from the outset. You can say the same about Dalvin Cook with the Vikings, but this is the rare instance when the Jacksonville 0-line has the edge. Minnesota’s front is awful.
Joe Mixon is probably a collosal piece of garbage, as a human. That doesn’t change the fact that he has freak athleticism. Without seeing him play a down in the league, I can already tell you he’s a better option than Jeremy Hill for early down work.
The FIELD has some talented runners left in it, but it’s not clear that any of them will get enough touches to win this race. Christian McCaffrey figures to be more a satellite back in Carolina, and Jamaal Williams will likely start the year behind converted receiver Ty Montgomery on the Packer depth chart.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Over/Under interceptions for Tom Brady (New England): 6.5
It’s tough to pick the best stat to measure Tom Brady’s brilliance. Passing yards and touchdowns often don’t do him justice. The Patriots will lean on the run game when it makes sense to do so. My favorite metric for Brady is interceptions. After throwing 11 in 2013, he’s been in the single-digits every year since. He only threw two last year. Yes, he missed the first four games of the season, but he still had 432 attempts.
By way of comparison, Ryan Fitzpatrick had 17 interceptions on 402 attempts. Even Alex Smith, who protects the ball like it’s his first-born, had eight picks on fewer than 500 passes.
Over/Under sacks for JJ Watt (Houston): 17.5
Watt miss almost all of last season with a back injury. He’s healthy now and ready to wreak havoc. And havoc there shall be in Houston. Watt now has pass-rush help from Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, meaning he should see fewer double teams. Those guys might pilfer a few sacks from JJ, but overall, their presence is a good thing for his sack numbers.
Watt’s hit 20 twice in his career, and if he stays on the field, will be well into the double digits when December ends.
Over/Under touchdowns for David Johnson (Arizona): 17.5
Johnson led the NFL with 20 majors last season after putting up 12 as a rookie. That was the most since Shady McCoy hit 20 back in 2011. Johnson was Mr. Everything for the Cardinals’ offense, averaging 132 total yards per game. His ability to contribute in both the running game and passing game guarantees a lot of touches. His ability to make guys miss guarantees more than a few trips to paydirt.
There are concerns about QB Carson Palmer being over the hill, but he should be at least as good as last year, and you don’t have to be all that stellar to complete a dump off. Expect another big year from Johnson as he continues to be the focal point of the Arizona attack. It’s incredibly difficult to average over a touchdown per game in NFL, but Johnson should be able to.
Over/Under wins for the Dallas Cowboys: 10.5
Vegas has the Boys’ win total at 9.5. Take the over! This team won 13 games last year with a rookie under center. The o-line lost Doug Free and Ronald Leary and the secondary is down Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and JJ Wilcox, but the pass rush (which added Taco Charlton) should be better, and Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will only be more comfortable in their second years.
Free and Leary aren’t such significant losses that the Dallas o-line won’t still be among the best units in the league. It still has three All Pros, after all (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick). This team is going to push people around again and become the first repeat champs of the NFC East since the 2004 Eagles.