The NFL season is right around the corner, and will kick-off with the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs playing on Thursday night. With another crazy off-season in the books, oddsmakers have released their outlook on each team, giving sports fans an idea of who to bet on, but there very well could be some surprising team that beats the odds come February. The DC Sports Staff give their takes on which team will surprise us the most in the 2017 NFL season in this week’s edition of the Roundtable.
Matt Barresi – Staff Writer
Much like their Super Bowl run of two years ago, I think the Carolina Panthers have a chance to be a lot better than people think. The Falcons are defending NFC champs and everyone has a Hard Knocks built love for the Buccaneers, but both those teams have the glaring possibility of combusting apart this season in my opinion, giving the Panthers tremendous wiggle room in their division. They still have one of the premier defensive players in Luke Kuechly, a talented and experienced core, and an elite quarterback in Cam Newton. They are a Kelvin Benjamin or Devin Funchess-like return to form from having an elite offense around Newton. That deep threat will open things for Greg Olsen and rookie Christian McCaffrey to make some noise. McCaffrey’s very presence ought to help Benjamin and Funchess get more opportunities as well. That, along with a favorable opening two-week schedule, could allow them to get some momentum flowing and really make a push back to the top half of the league this year. I think they’re a playoff team.
Andrew Morrison – Staff Writer
The Tennessee Titans will make some noise this season. Last season, they narrowly missed the playoffs, beaten out via tiebreaker by a weaker Texans team. The Titans won a mediocre nine games, but five of those came against teams which went on to make the playoffs, including the Packers and Chiefs. In other words, this team has already shown the capacity to win big games, and they’ll only be better this season. Marcus Mariota will continue his inevitable path into the upper-echelon of quarterbacks. Running back Demarco Murray looked at home in Tennessee’s run-first offense last season, and if he can stay healthy, which is a big If, he’ll have a great season. They added some nice targets in Eric Decker and Corey Davis on top of an already promising young WR corps. If the subpar defense can improve even a little bit, this team is scary. I think the Titans will win the AFC South with ease, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them competing for the AFC title.
Brandon Carney – Campus Correspondent
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have everything they need to join the NFL’s elite this season. They narrowly missed the playoffs last season after compiling a 9-7 record, and while that same record could easily get them into the field this year, they’ll likely improve upon it. Many are projecting Jameis Winston to take another step forward as a quarterback, and with DeSean Jackson now joining Mike Evans in the receiving corps, he’ll have the weapons to make that happen. Plus, after Doug Martin returns from his 3-game suspension, their run game could improve as well since the muscle hamster is supposedly in his best shape since his rookie season. And then you have their defense. In 2016, the Bucs’ defense was 14th in the league in points allowed per game (22.1), 9th in sacks (38), and 4th in interceptions (17). They also just added Pro Bowl safety TJ Ward to their secondary and had no notable departures. The NFC South is always pretty wide open, and the Buccaneers could rise to the top in 2017.
Luke Swanson – Campus Correspondent
Hey, I’m here to get you all on the Tennessee Titans bandwagon, starting with QB Marcus Mariota, who has evolved from just being really fun to watch to being a legitimately great young quarterback in the NFL.
Mariota has made steady improvements in his game every year since entering the league, throwing for more yards, fewer interceptions, increasing his QB rating and taking fewer sacks even while rushing for more yards.
The Titans have wisely decided to go all-in on building around Mariota this year. They drafted wide receiver Corey Davis from Western Michigan, where he held NCAA record for career receiving yards with 5278 and added veteran receiver Eric Decker to the fold.
The Titans’ rushing attack will be exciting as well, as part-time bowling ball/full time running back Derrick Henry has his sights set on DeMarco Murray’s carries this year, all behind a top-five run-blocking offensive line in the country.
All this adds up to at least an AFC South championship for the Titans, and I think they can upset someone in the playoffs as well.
Kenny Beardsley – Campus Correspondent
Not too long ago the Seattle Seahawks were one play away from winning the Super Bowl. But as legend has it the best corner of all time and my personal messiah, Malcolm Butler saved the game and won the Patriots yet another Super Bowl. Since then the Seahawks have never really been the same, especially Richard Sherman who, in a report that came out this summer from ESPN was said to still be heavily affected by the loss. Ever since, the almost what-if dynasty has simmered and the franchise almost forgotten among the elite. The consensus among fans and media alike is that a three-headed monster is ahead of the pack in the NFC, the Falcons, Cowboys and Packers. The trend seemingly is that offense wins games and ultimately championships. All of this leads to one thing, everyone, possibly even the Seahawks themselves, is sleeping on the 12th man up in Seattle. With the addition of Sheldon Richardson and the health of Earl Thomas, the Seahawks again look to be one of if not the best defense in football. The mantra in the NFL has always been “defense wins championships” and while teams in the NFL are trying to use brute force to outscore their opponent the Seahawks are staying in character and trying to grind and bruise their way back to the super bowl behind their defense. Still led by Pete Carrol, Russel Wilson, with in addition the best home field advantage in the NFL and new recruit Eddie Lacy, the Seahawks are for real and by the time the NFL realizes it might be too late.