Metro’s sports editors in Boston (Matt Burke), Philly (Evan Macy) and New York (Joe Pantorno) made their predictions and went back and forth on what will transpire in the NFL in 2017.
Football is back! And here is what to expect:
Burke AFC winner: Patriots. The Pats’ best competition in the AFC is Oakland and Pittsburgh. Despite the presence of Khalil Mack, the Raiders finished 20th in defensive PPG last season. They’re not ready yet. The Patriots absolutely own the Steelers and there’s no way Pittsburgh is going into Gillette in January and coming out victorious.
Macy AFC winner: Steelers. Hear me out. The Patriots’ success rides on the right arm of a 40-year-old QB, an oft-injured and hard partying tight end, an offense already devoid of its top wide receiver, and a defense built on the backs of mercenary free agents unfamiliar with Bill Belichick’s culture and ways. All good things come to an end. The Pats will fall short in the AFC title game. BOOM.
Pantorno AFC winner: Patriots. Why are we even talking about this? The only way this doesn’t happen is if Tom Brady goes down. And that man drinks magical green beverages that are going to let him play until he’s 73. I could be his No. 1 wide receiver and they’d still win 13 games.
Burke NFC winner: Panthers. I’m a firm believer in bounceback years in the NFL. The Panthers were shooting for an undefeated season just 19 months ago and Cam Newton was the MVP that year. He’s just entering his prime.
Macy NFC winner: Buccaneers. Okay, it’s possible I enjoyed Hard Knocks too much, but the Bucs really do have the recipe for success in today’s NFL. A dynamic and elusive QB with a mega arm. Three insanely potent weapons to pass the ball to, and a much-improved defense. It helps that their division is relatively weak and the NFL really has no other standouts. I’m on board the pirate ship.
Pantorno NFC winner: Cardinals. David Johnson has the promise to be the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Year as an explosive dual-threat out of the backfield. Carson Palmer has thrown for 4,000-plus yards in each of his last four FULL seasons and is two years removed from a 35-touchdown 2015. Oh, and he’s still throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. Put that together with a top-10 defense and you never know.
Super Bowl winner
Burke Super Bowl winner: Panthers. Every Super Bowl the Pats play in is unbelievably close. They’re due to lose one of these tight ones after last season’s miracle OT win and the Malcolm Butler/Seahawks game in 2015.
Macy Super Bowl winner: Steelers: Finally, Burke falls back to Earth. The 19-0 Patriots nonsense is nonsense (though Metro Boston’s Wednesday cover was incredible). I think the Steelers, boisterous after ending the Pats season early, ride a healthy Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to a Super Bowl victory over the no-show, youthful Bucs.
Pantorno Super Bowl winner: Patriots. If everyone (read that as Brady) stays healthy this team goes 19-0 or 18-1 even without Julian Edelman as one final “up yours” to Roger Goodell and the NFL.
Burke MVP: Rob Gronkowski. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and whichever QB turns out to be this year’s Matt Ryan will have excellent but similar years. It will open the door for the NFL’s first non-QB or RB to win MVP since Lawrence Taylor won it in 1986. Gronk’s 2017 contract is laced with incentives and the dude needs money to go to Vegas 88 times a year. He’s still only 28-years-old, and if healthy (I realize that’s the IF of all IFs), he’s the most dominant force in pro football.
Macy MVP: Jameis Winston. Remember how I picked the Bucs to win the NFC and everyone yelled at me? Well bring on the Winston hate because he has everything a future MVP needs. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard, Doug Martin and some experience to back up the hype is a recipe for an MVP season. I watched him on Hard Knocks and was so inspired I wanted to throw a helmet on and block for him.
Pantorno MVP: Aaron Rodgers. A QB has won the MVP in nine of the last 10 years. That’s not changing this year. This guy is coming off a 40-TD, seven-INT season and has a chip the size of Alaska on his shoulder. Jordy Nelson will be healthy and he’ll be supported by Davante Adams, Randall Cobb AND newly-acquired Martellus Bennett. Expect enormously huge numbers.
Surprise NFL team
Burke surprise team: Dolphins. I’m an Adam Gase believer. He might be the best non-Belichick AFC East coach since Marv Levy. He’s the only Jay Cutler-whisperer known to man. The Dolphins also have a wicked pass rush that gives even the Patriots fits. No one had the Falcons getting far last year at this time and while I don’t expect Miami to be in Minnesota in February, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get to the divisional round or even the AFC title game.
Macy surprise team: Cowboys. The Cowboys overachieved last season (13-3) in the NFC East on a down year. Dak Prescott will not be an elite QB again in 2017, Ezekiel Elliott will only be eligible for 10 games, Dez Bryant always gets hurt, the defense did very little to improve this past offseason and the off-field distractions could derail a team with otherwise high potential. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish below .500 and miss the playoffs.
Pantorno surprise team: Browns. Cleveland will be respectable this year. You heard it here first. Myles Garrett will win Defensive Rookie of the Year, DeShone Kizer will show flashes of becoming a serviceable QB and Isaiah Crowell will rush for over 1,000 yards. They could go 6-10, at best.