Football returns on Thursday night! OK, so it’s only the Hall of Fame Game, but still. Football! To celebrate its return, we asked For The Win‘s Luke Kerr-Dineen, Steven Ruiz and Charles Curtis 10 big questions that will shape the 2017 NFL season…
1. Will Colin Kaepernick sign with a team?
Kaepernick’s current situation doesn’t accurately reflect his current ability. In reality, he’s a below-average starter . Not the world beater he once was, but still one of the league’s better backup options. But that’s the problem: The old school NFL simply doesn’t want to risk an off-field “distraction” (*rolls eyes*) for a man who’s basically just a good backup option, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. – LKD
Sadly, no. The Ravens were really his last shot at landing with a team, but they seemed to be too scared to pull the trigger on a move for some reason. As were the Seahawks. These teams may fear that signing Kaepernick will affect their bottom line, but there’s no evidence to back that. In fact, Kaepernick remains in the top-50 in jersey sales despite not being on a team. There are plenty of NFL fans rooting for him. Owners don’t seem to care. – SR
No. Although he’s not the most talented QB out there, he would be a solid backup or reclamation project for an NFL team. But these are NFL teams we’re talking about here. And, sadly, franchises don’t like to take chances on players who make headlines for non-football reasons. – CC
2. Will Tom Brady start to decline?
I mean, he has to, right? Brady can eat all the Vegan food he wants, but he’s still 39, and age has to catch up with him at some point. I don’t think he’ll be bad next season — not at all — but has to be a little worse, right? RIGHT?! He’s 39! – LKD
A little worse? Maybe, but that’s only because he was sensational last year. Really, it was the best we’ve ever seen him play. He’s getting smarter every year, his arm is still intact and he’s somehow getting more mobile as he approaches 40. He’ll play at an MVP level once again in 2017. – SR
Not this year, and it’s not because he’s getting older. The Patriots have shrewdly surrounded him with perfect receiving weapons who can play with a QB who doesn’t have the arm strength that he once had. They’ll dink and dunk all day and cover up for any setbacks Brady might have from being 39. – CC
3. Will Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston have the better season?
Don’t let Steven spin you with his shameless pro-Winston agenda. I’m a little worried that people are glossing over Mariota’s pretty serious injury late last season, but assuming he sails through that OK, he should outperform Winston in 2017. His output was solid last season and he’s been handed some good weapons this offseason. He needs to step up this year; there’s nowhere for Mariota to hide. – LKD
I guess I’ll be the voice of reason for this one. and this is the year he proves it to the football world — including Mariota apologists like Luke. With DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard added to the roster, Winston will be working with one of the best supporting casts in the league. He’s going to take the leap, cut down on the turnovers and end this little debate. – SR
In this argument between Steven and Luke that will end only when the two QBs are retired, I’ve been Team Winston, only from the standpoint that his ceiling is higher than Mariota’s. But I might be coming to the other side this season only because I love what the Titans have surrounded Mariota with. This year, it’s Mariota who ends up with the better numbers, but not by much. – CC
4. Will Dak Prescott have a sophomore slump?
Dak is a smart, efficient, consistent if unspectacular quarterback, boasting the safety blanket of a good offensive line and running game. It’d be weird for a game-manager type like him to spiral into a slumps that isn’t injury-induced. I’m not expecting a big drop off, but there will be a slight regression from him and those around him. He won’t benefit from the element of surprise this time around. – LKD
No, not at all. Don’t let these two Dak truthers fool you: He is much more than a product of his supporting cast. . He’ll only get better, and, oh yeah, he still has that awesome supporting cast backing him up. There’s no reason to believe he’ll be worse than he was a year ago. – SR
It’s not going to be a “slump.” It’ll be more like a regression to what his mean is supposed to be. That doesn’t mean last season was a fluke, it just means that Prescott overachieved last season and will still be solid — but not spectacular — behind that incredible offensive line. – CC
5. Who will be the 5 worst teams by season’s end?
Jets, 49ers, Browns are my worst three, in order. Jaguars and Bears are slightly better, but still dreadful. The better question is how many combined wins those three teams will have. My guess? 17. – LKD
The Jets belong in their own category of bad. The 49ers will be right behind them as Kyle Shanahan learns life isn’t so easy without Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The Browns are still a year away from being any good. And I guess I’ll go with the Bears, who could be a little better than people think if they manage to stay healthy for once. Finally I’ll go with the Bengals. The offensive line could be a disaster and the defense has regressed since the days of Mike Zimmer. – SR
The Jets will own next year’s No. 1 pick, followed by the Bears, Niners, Jags and the Browns, which means Cleveland will win at least four games. Not bad! – CC
6. Who will be the first coach to be fired?
He won’t deserve it, but Todd Bowles will get shoved out the door by midseason. This team is so bad, New York fans will want to see somebody’s head roll. – LKD
Bowles is the easy choice, but the Jets know they are going to be bad, so expectations are already super low. If the Bengals are as bad as I think they’ll be, Marvin Lewis will be the first to go. – SR
Bowles is a good call, but I’ll make a slightly outlandish prediction: The Bengals underachieve this season and Marvin Lewis — who’s been there since 2003 — is finally let go. – CC
7. Which playoff team will not make it back this year?
I’d say the Dolphins if I had any faith in the Jets and Bills. I’m expecting Oakland to regress, but I’m virtually certain the Lions will drop out of that wild card spot this year. Take it to the bank. – LKD
The Texans. The Titans are better. The Colts are better. The Jaguars are even better. Houston’s 2016 point differential suggests it is due for some serious regression to the mean in 2017. – SR
I’m with Luke here. The Lions are an absolute lock to be left out. – CC
8. Who’s the favorite in the NFC?
Seahawks. Seattle had a weird season in 2016, mostly because of an underreported injury to Russell Wilson at the beginning of the year. But a new season dawns, and they’ll be back to their best this time around. – LKD
It’s the Seahawks every year until their core is broken up. They are still the most talented team in the conference; injuries have caused this team to underachieve the last two seasons. – SR
Aaron Rodgers will go back to being an MVP every week and lead Green Bay to the top spot in the NFC by season’s end. – CC
9. Which team has best shot at beating the Pats in the AFC?
In reality, probably the Steelers. This is a well-built team and if Big Ben can stay healthy, they should easily surpass their 11 wins last season. One AFC franchise I want to see have a good season, though, is the Texans. A Super Bowl caliber team everywhere on the field, except the one place they need it most: At quarterback. If (a big if, admittedly) Deshaun Watson can pull something close to a Dak Prescott, this team is good enough to make a Super Bowl run. – LKD
The Steelers are the obvious pick. New England travels to Pittsburgh late in the season. But I’m going to go with a bit of a shocker — — and picking the Dolphins in Miami. The Pats always seem to have trouble winning in South Beach. – SR
It’s the Steelers and nobody else comes close, though I’d really love to see Andy Reid and the Chiefs somehow make a run at beating Brady. – CC
10. Who’s your playoff sleeper?
Much to the delight of Charles, I like the Giants to make a run this year. Eli Manning has two very good receiving options in OBJ and Marshall, along with a solid unit on the defensive side of the ball. Eli is prone to his customary bouts of ‘uh wut was that’, but there’s enough here for Giants fans to expect a good season. – LKD
Are you ready for this? I’m picking the Rams. Yes, the same team quarterbacked by Jared Goff. He’ll be better in Year 2 with a better offensive line in front of him and a better coach, Sean McVay, calling the plays. And Wade Phillips will have that defense playing at a high level, although the injuries on the defensive line are worrisome. – SR
I’d be biased to say the Giants (thanks for the support, Luke!), so I will continue to jump on the Titans’ bandwagon and pick them to win one more game than last year for an even 10, good enough for a Wild Card spot. – CC