Rich gives us his 2017 NFL Preseason Predictions for the AFC. “Tasty Noodles” are the advantages for the team going into the season; conversely, the “Limp Noodles” are the potential problems the team may face in the season to come. Enjoy and let @RichLiebig know if you agree or disagree with his predictions!
AFC EAST: Do Not Disobey Lord Belichick…
1) New England Patriots (Last Year: 14-2, Won AFC East, Won Super Bowl)
- Tasty Noodles: Somehow, the Patriots kept essentially the core players from last year’s team, while ADDING star WR Brandon Cooks. Gronk should be ready to return to Gronk form after last season’s injury. Need we say more?
- Limp Noodles: The Madden Curse could strike Brady. Or, the Jets decide to put a bounty on all key Patriots players and take them out in their two division matchups.
- My Crispy Call It: 13-3, Easily Win AFC East. A tough stretch after their BYE week could give them a few losses, but it’s the Patriots. Bill Belichick has ritually sacrificed more innocents than we’ll ever know to achieve this greatness.
2) Miami Dolphins (Last Year: 10-6, Lost Wild Card Round)
- Tasty Noodles: Head Coach Adam Gase actually seems like he can win games for this team. They made it to the playoffs last year, somehow with the Patriots in the same division. They are deceptively tough to face at home in Miami (6-2 home record last year). Jay Ajayi is exciting to watch and takes pressure off average QB Ryan Tannenhill but…
- Limp Noodles: Ajayi might have sustained a concussion at practice, do they have enough depth behind him at RB? The Patriots are in their division, which casts a dark (fishing) net over them. Those two games could be the difference between 11-5 or 9-7. Ryan Tannenhill doesn’t seem capable of taking the next step, either.
- My Crispy Call It: 10-6, Wild Card Berth. Assuming Ajayi stays healthy, this offense can be potent. Also, they traditionally somehow find a way to provide trouble for the Patriots. I wouldn’t underestimate this team.
3) Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 7-9, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: TyGOD– er– Tyrod Taylor, is a dual-threat QB when healthy. Their fans may be even rowdier than Philly fans. LeSean McCoy doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon. Sammy Watkins is back and at 100%. Got rid of the inept Ryan brothers.
- Limp Noodles: Rumors were swirling that Tyrod may not be the Franchise QB the Bills were hoping for. Lost the Jeremy Maclin sweepstakes. Are atrocious in divisional games.
- My Crispy Call It: 6-10, No Playoffs. It’s this elephant in the room that prevents the Bills from making the postseason: You have to win games against your own division (1-5 last year). If their record doesn’t prevent them from making the playoffs, those tiebreakers will. Until they win against the Dolphins and Patriots, I’m not trusting the Bills to climb up in the division.
4) New York Jets (Last Year: 5-11, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: Cleaning house with a blowtorch. They play in the same stadium as the Giants… Maybe decent football skills are viral and can be transmitted via proximity?
- Limp Noodles: Have the worst assembled roster ever, as said by an NFL executive after the NFL Draft this year. Lost both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Darrelle Revis is done. Players can’t even say that this team isn’t tanking this season.
- My Crispy Call It: 1-15, May God Have Mercy On These Fans. It’s bad. There’s no sugar-coating it. I honestly don’t see them winning multiple games. They’ll win one at home versus Cleveland, because Cleveland is Cleveland. New York fans, I’ll save you the trouble of this misery: Just watch the Giants this year.
AFC NORTH: Division Must Go Through Pittsburgh.
1) Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 11-5, Won AFC North, Lost AFC Championship Game)
- Tasty Noodles: Still have the important trio of Big Ben, LeVeon Bell, & Antonio Brown. Mike Tomlin is one of the best Head Coaches in the league. Nobody wants to face the Steelers late in the season. Usually, every year is usually a good year to follow the Steelers.
- Limp Noodles: That 3-man nucleus is good but getting stale, especially Big Ben, who is one big hit away from the retirement home. After being Franchise Tag’ed, LeVeon Bell will have to think about contract negotiations, could this be a distraction? And did the defense improve? Meh.
- My Crispy Call It: 12-4, Easily Win AFC North. A relatively easy schedule plus a weak division should bode well for another successful Steelers season. Can they carry momentum in the playoffs and push past the Patriots? If they stay healthy, maybe.
2) Cincinnati Bengals (Last Year: 6-9-1, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: Andy Dalton is a good season QB and will still have A.J. Green to throw to. 1st round draft pick John Ross should be a great complimentary WR to Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd; they may light up the sky this year. Also got a Week 6 BYE before facing off against hated division rival Steelers this season.
- Limp Noodles: They went 6-9-1 last season and seem to be in a free fall from when they were contending for a playoff win, which they STILL haven’t done since 1990. Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat and may get fired if he doesn’t meet expectations this season.
- My Crispy Call It: 7-9, No Playoffs. A workable schedule will prevent them from being in the basement of the division, but I don’t believe they aren’t sniffing the playoffs this year, especially if A.J. Green goes down on another injury again.
3) Baltimore Ravens (Last Year: 8-8, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: John Harbaugh is a smart guy and a Super Bowl winning head coach; I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to win a couple of games. Shored up CB spots with FA and Draft. Landed Jeremy Maclin to replace Steve Smith Sr. Yeah, sure that’s good enough?
- Limp Noodles: Joe Flacco injury, even while being better than initial reports, puts a dark cloud over the beginning of the season. What does this team do again? They don’t run the ball, and they’re not gonna pass as well with an injured Flacco. Harbaugh will keep them competitive, but this team doesn’t seem like a winning combination to me.
- My Crispy Call It: 5-11, No Playoffs. They have a couple of nice home games to help pad the record, but I don’t see them avoiding a double-digit loss total, unless Flacco returns to “elite” playing form sooner than expected. Or Kaepernick steps in?
4) Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 1-15; Worst Record in NFL)
- Tasty Noodles: Actually, things are looking up for the Browns after doing some work during the Draft to rebuild. (3 first-round picks will do that.)
- Limp Noodles: Still Cleveland. This song. Are currently paying Brock Osweiler (Lobsterhead)’s incredibly stupid contract.
- My Crispy Call It: 4-12, No Playoffs, But They Actually Play Football Now! They have home games against the Bengals, Jets, and Jaguars? I think there’s some winnable games for them. Good for you guys! At least you won’t be dead last in the NFL this year.
AFC SOUTH: Hey, This Division Is Actually Decent Now!
1) Tennessee Titans (Last Year: 9-7, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: This offense was a force to be reckoned with last year. And now add WRs Eric Decker and 1st-round pick Corey Davis? This could be a big year for Marcus Mariota and the Titans. DeMarco Murray is enjoying his true 2nd career in Tennessee.
- Limp Noodles: The defense really hasn’t seen much improvement. Maybe 1st-round pick Adoree Jackson becomes a shutdown CB, but there’s gonna be some time before he develops into a good CB. Mariota is coming off a broken leg; hopefully, he doesn’t take the saying literally again this year.
- My Crispy Call It: 11-5, Win AFC South in Close Contest. The Titans have been steadily building their offense to be one of the best in the AFC. If they stay healthy this year and the defense is serviceable, I don’t see why they would not win this division.
2) Houston Texans (Last Year: 9-7, “Won” AFC South, Lost Divisional Round)
- Tasty Noodles: They jettisoned Brock Lobsterhead and drafted Deshaun Watson. Still have studs WR DeAndre Hopkins & RB Lamar Miller. The defense is a Top 5 squad, led by J.J. Watt & Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney. Texans defend their home turf well (7-1).
- Limp Noodles: Lost shutdown CB A.J. Bouye in Free Agency. How good will Deshaun Watson be in the NFL? Will Tom Savage have to step in again to lead the team in the middle of the season? How is Alfred Blue still on this team? (Pro Tip: He’s a horrible pickup in fantasy, even if Lamar Miller goes down.)
- My Crispy Call It: 10-6, Wild Card Berth. If the Texans find quality QB play in either Savage or Watson, this version of the Texans could be vastly different from the one last year that fell ass-backwards into the playoffs. It’s doable.
3) Indianapolis Colts (Last Year: 8-8, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: Invested in their defense at the Draft — S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, LB Tarell Basham. Greatest Eagle ever, RB Frank Gore, still looking good.
- Limp Noodles: WHERE THE HELL IS ANDREW LUCK? Seriously. the Colts are just treating his injury as no big deal, even though he still has been reported to not be throwing in training camp. If there’s no Luck, this team falls apart at the wheels, it’s that simple.
- My Crispy Call It: 6-10, No Playoffs, Only GM Jim Irsay Knows This Team. With the Titans and the Texans actually stepping up their game, I don’t see the Colts contending, especially if the Andrew Luck injury is more serious than the Colts is letting on. Damn you, Jim Irsay.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Year: 3-13, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: Their CB core got stronger with the signing of A. J. Bouye, who should complement Jalen Ramsey well. 4th overall draft pick Leonard Fournette is a beast, and should become a star RB in the league. GM Tom Coughlin is a wise mastermind to have.
- Limp Noodles: Blake Bortles just threw 5 interceptions in practice. If he has another bad season, he’s done. He’s hanging on to the QB job by a thread after regressing last season.
- My Crispy Call It: 6-10, No Playoffs, But Promising Future. There’s going to be some time before the pieces come together here. I’m having a feeling Bortles won’t be one of them. But with Tom Coughlin at the helm, things should be brighter for the Jags.
AFC WEST: Can Beast Mode Lead His Hometown Raiders To A Super Bowl?
1) Oakland Raiders (Last Year: 12-4, Lost Wild Card Round)
- Tasty Noodles: Beast Mode. If he’s 75% of what he was before he retired, he’ll be a perfect fit for this team. Marshawn Lynch won’t be just good, he’ll be determined to bring his hometown team a Super Bowl win before the Raiders move to Vegas. Watch out.
- Limp Noodles: Can Derek Carr stay healthy this season? How many Skittles will be needed for Marshawn to keep going? Will the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum fall apart before the season ends?
- My Crispy Call It: 11-5, Win AFC West in Close Contest. This division is packed with talent, so there’s going to be a few losses against rivals. But with the same 2016 team back again with a healthy Carr and Beast Mode, this team could challenge the Patriots.
2) Kansas City Chiefs (Last Year: 12-4, Won AFC West, Lost Divisional Round)
- Tasty Noodles: Re-signed safety Eric Berry to mega-deal, stout defense still seems in place from last year; Tyreek Hill should continue to blossom into star WR this year.
- Limp Noodles: Lost Jeremy Maclin & Jamaal Charles. How far can Alex Smith take this team, especially with 1st-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings? How will Andy Reid survive without BBQ during his away games?
- My Crispy Call It: 10-6, No Playoffs in A Close Effort. The Chiefs have a tough schedule to begin with before their Week 10 BYE. A meeting at Houston may be the tiebreaker that costs them a playoff spot. It will be a difficult challenge to duplicate their success from 2016.
3) Denver Broncos (Last Year: 9-7, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: RB Jamaal Charles should add to the running firepower alongside Devontae Booker and C.J. Anderson. Going old school with a solid run game and a stout defense. In 5 years of John Elway being the GM, Broncos have not had a losing season.
- Limp Noodles: Who’s the QB of this team? Trevor Siemian? Paxton Lynch? Doesn’t sound too promising. I honestly can’t believe this hasn’t been addressed by Elway.
- My Crispy Call It: 9-7, No Playoffs. Broncos have an easy start to the season, but then they have an early Week 5 BYE. Remember the Eagles’ hot 3-0 start last year and then cooling off? I foresee a similar pattern. 3 straight away games also won’t help, either. I don’t see them pushing through to the playoffs in this very competitive division.
4) Los Angeles Chargers (Last Year: 5-11, Did Not Make Playoffs)
- Tasty Noodles: Still got Philip Rivers and an easy schedule against other AFC basement teams since they finished last in the AFC West division last year. You’d think 1st round pick WR Mike Williams would continue to elevate Rivers’ passing statistics, but…
- Limp Noodles: Mike Williams suffered a back injury in training camp; now, he may not actually play this season. Philip Rivers is a great QB, but his talents are being wasted with the Chargers. This organization continues to find new ways of losing games.
- My Crispy Call It: 7-9, No Playoffs. Don’t lump them into the other AFC basement dwellers, though. The offense should continue to score and provide some excitement to Chargers fans. And then the defense and special teams will blow it.
Thanks for reading Rich’s AFC Preseason Predictions. To see his NFC Preseason Predictions, click here!