2017 NFC Divisional Previews

By Ryan Fowler @FreelanceFowler
NFC EAST



Ezekiel Elliott's six-game* suspension threw a wrench in the Cowboys (+190 to win division) plans to win the NFC East again. Zeke's 1,994 total yards accounted for 33 percent of the Cowboys offense as season ago. As it stands now, Prediction Machine projects 9-7 for America's Team. The New York Giants (+190) are often the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the NFL; on both sides of the ball. The tweaks made on defense over the past two seasons saw that unit improve from 27.6 points allowed per game to 17.8 in 2016. The Giants were also 2-0 against the Cowboys and 4-2 against the division last season. The G-men project at 8.4 wins and 7.6 losses in our season simulation, mainly because they have failed to address the weaknesses on the exterior of their offensive line. The work-in-progress Eagles (+250) lost seven of their final 10 games last season, but made notable offensive upgrades when they added Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount in the offseason. We project better than a one-win improvement year-over-year at 8.4 - 7.6. The Redskins 6-3-1 start and four-game win streak had Kirk Cousins truly wondering if “we liked that” in 2016. The 2-4 end to Washington's (7.4 – 8.6 projected record) season was not something fans enjoyed. However, only 1.6 projected wins separate the Cowboys and Redskins in our simulations. So,Washington's future bet (+600) to win the NFC East is at least something to ponder.

*Elliott is appealing his suspension and it could be reduced.


NFC North



Green Bay (-200 to win NFC North) finished 5-1 against the division last year. The Packers projected 9.8 – 6.2 record for 2017 would be nearly on par with where they finished last year. With Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and emergence of Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery, the only thing holding the Packers back from being on the Patriots' level is a consistent defense, although we do expect a slight improvement this season. The Vikings (+325) were the only division foe to beat the Packers last season – a three-point win in Week 2. Minnesota allowed fewer than 20 points per game for the second year in a row (19.2 PAPG) and ranked third in total defense in 2016. Our 8.9 – 7.1 projected record takes into account that defense along with life after Adrian Peterson, while rookie running back Dalvin Cook is expected to be the Vikes lead back with a dash of Latavius Murray around the goal line. We project the Lions (+600) will be one of the 2016 playoff teams to miss the cut in 2017. Detroit limped into the playoffs – losing three straight to end the season - and were waxed 26-6 by the Seahawks in the Wild Card. Plus, their fourth-quarter rallies last season came fully loaded with smoke and mirrors. They were great in-the-moment wins, but hard to match success under those circumstances year-over-year. We project a 6.6 – 9.4 record for the Lions in 2017. Like a lot of young teams, the Bears (+2000) are planning for the future. The loss of Cameron Meredith for the season (ACL) doesn't help that journey towards relevancy as Mike Glennon / Mitch Trubisky lost a top target. Chicago projected 5.7 – 10.3 in our season simulations, but they do have the potential to surprise if they get some good quarterback play.


NFC SOUTH



The Buccaneers are a sexy, under-the-radar pick to win the Super Bowl this season. They are looking at +3300 futures odds as of late-August, which could be just enough to push investors to the book. However, Prediction Machine projects an 8-8 record for Tampa Bay this season. That won't win them the division (+350) and would be a longshot to earn a Wild Card bid. Dating back to 2010, no NFC team has earned a Wild Card bid with an 8-8 record. The Falcons may have lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers, but they squeaked out the NFC South crown in our season simulations. Atlanta (+170 to win South) projects out at 9.3 – 6.7. Last year, the 33.8 points per game masked the 25.4 points allowed – sixth-most in the NFL. New OC Steve Sarkisian better hope Julio Jones can stay healthy most of the season. Our NFL simulation engine projects the Panthers to nip at the Falcons' heels in 2017. Carolina (+225) finished 9 – 7 in our season simulations, and despite a down year a season ago, they are a similar squad to the one that went 15-1 a couple of seasons back (minus Josh Norman, of course). Back in 2013, the Saints defense allowed 19.0 points per game. They've allowed more than 26 points per game in each of the past three seasons. So, until the defense improves, it's difficult to consider the Saints (+400) a viable favorite in the NFC South. Our NFL models projected 7.8 wins for New Orleans this season.


NFC WEST



It's a two-horse race in the NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals are 8-3-1 against the division over the past two seasons. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are getting a little long in the tooth, while David Johnson is a fantasy football favorite. If receiver John Brown is able to play through his sickle-cell health issues, the offense will have a viable deep threat. Speaking of health, when at full strength, the Cardinals defense is one of the best in the league, but injuries have bit the Cards in recent seasons, and their key to success this year simply remains staying healthy. Prediction Machine projects 9.1 – 6.9 for Arizona (+300 to win West). Over the past five seasons, the Seahawks are +701 in point differential. Seattle's (-275) 2016 pass offense ranked inside the top 10 for the first time in years as it evolved from a heavy ground game led by Marshawn Lynch. Prediction Machine projects 10.3 wins for the Seahawks and are our favorite to win the NFC West despite the fact that they still have not addressed offensive line concerns. Los Angeles Rams (+1200) first year head coach Sean McVay has a way to go to become a divisional threat. The franchise provided Jared Goff a top target in Sammy Watkins if he can stay healthy (foot), while many wonder if Todd Gurley can return to rookie form. The Rams running back averaged 4.8 YPR his rookie season, but saw it dip to 3.2 yards per attempt in 2016. Brian Hoyer's and Kyle Shanahan's 49ers (+1800) projected 4.9 wins in our season simulation.