NFL for Beginners - 8 Teams to Watch out for in 2017
Week 3 of the NFL season is underway, which means that in one more week, we will be a quarter of the way through the NFL regular season. Today has been a crazy day throughout the league, starting this morning with the Ravens and Jaguars in London:
On a day in which a record 84,592 people crowded into Wembley Stadium, that touchdown run by Leonard Fournette put the Jaguars up 44-0 on their way to a 44-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The craziness didn't stop there, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles:
Or, in the unfortunate case, the Detroit Lions on their last play of the game:
Apparently the NFL didn't think so.
The NFL is a game of seconds and a game of inches. Things change very quickly and the unexpected happens every week (or multiple times a week). If you're new to football and are looking for fun, competitive and exciting entertainment, this is the league for you. But where should you start?
The NFL has 32 teams, divided into two conferences: the AFC and the NFC. Within each conference, teams are put in divisions of 4: the North, the South, the East and the West. In total, there are 8 divisions of 4 teams, thus 32 total teams. I've picked one team from each division to look out for this season, along with reasons why the team will be fun to watch. Let's start in the AFC.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are very likely to win the AFC North, and the season has just started. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his 14th year in the NFL, his team remains as strong as ever. Coming off a season in which the Steelers went 11-5 and won the division, the Steelers bring back the core of a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense. The return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant from a suspension for the entire 2016 season and the drafting of wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster will make this offense even more potent this season. Look for the Steelers to be one of the top 3 teams in the AFC.
AFC South: Tennessee Titans
The Titans are one of the more underrated teams on this list. They finished 9-7 last season (good for second in the division) but left a lot of reason for hope, reason that was capitalized on this offseason. The Tennessee offense finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing last year and the additions of Eric Decker and Corey Davis at the wide receiver position should help this passing game take the next leap into being very good. The question marks for Tennessee coming into the season were on the defensive end, as the unit finished 20th in the league in the 2016 season. These needs were addressed with the additions of safety Jonathan Cyprien and corner Logan Ryan. The team also drafted corner Adoree' Jackson in the first round. Look for Tennessee to make a leap this year and potentially win 10-11 games with an exciting offense and decent defense.
AFC East: New England Patriots
This is a no-brainer. The defending Super Bowl champions lost tight end Martellus Bennett and corner Logan Ryan this past offseason, but quickly recouped with the signings of Dwayne Allen and Stephon Gilmore. Not to mention that the third best offense in the NFL gains Brandin Cooks, one of the best deep ball threats in the NFL. Factor in a healthy Rob Gronkowski and a (still) amazing Tom Brady, and the Pats should be elite again. This isn't a popular pick but if you're looking for a dominant team with a proven track record, look no further than the Pats.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs finished 12-4 last season, a record good enough to win the AFC West. The team finished 13th in total offense and 7th in total defense. Despite losing running back Jamaal Charles and wideout Jeremy Maclin this offseason on offense, as well as Dontari Poe on defense, this team has looked like the class of the NFL three games into the season. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt has been taking the NFL by storm, mainly because of plays like this:
Quarterback Alex Smith is likely feeling the pressure of rookie Patrick Mahomes II breathing down his neck, as Smith looks very comfortable thus far in the year:
Look for a lot of this from the Chiefs this year. The offense appears to have taken a step forward, while the defense remains great. Expect a big year from Big Red. Moving on, let's take a look at the NFC.
NFC North: Detroit Lions
I am probably going out on a limb making this pick, but the Lions are a fun team to watch. They finished 9-7 last season and made the playoffs, losing in the Wild Card round. The team finished 20th in total offense and 13th in total defense. Does it look like a recipe for success? No. This team just looks magical when you watch it. Quarterback Matthew Stafford led an NFL-record eight 4th quarter comebacks last season:
The team signed offensive linemen Ricky Wagner and TJ Lane in the offseason, as well as drafting linebacker Jarrad Davis and wide receiver Kenny Golladay. These small additions, as well as the fact that the team has already came back once (nearly twice) in three games gives me reason to believe the magic is still there. If you like drama, go with the Lions and Matthew Stafford!
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are coming off a season in which they won 11 games, won their division and made it to the Super Bowl, where they infamously blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots. The Falcons had a quiet offseason, and I don't blame them for doing so. Not much, if any, was needed in terms of improving the best scoring offense in the NFL. Atlanta should rank at or near the top of the NFL in points scored this season again. Expect a lot more of this:
On defense, the Falcons ranked a remarkably low 27th in the league, allowing a plentiful amount of points. The run defense was addressed to a small degree with the offseason signings of Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford. Atlanta will be fine overall, expect another deep postseason from Matt Ryan and company.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are fresh off a rough, yet promising season in which then-rookie QB Carson Wentz led the team to a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs. There is a lot of reason to believe the Eagles will take a step forward this season. Wentz had a solid rookie season with a depleted offense, so the Eagles front office went out and added wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith as new toys for Wentz to play with. They also added running back LeGarrette Blount, and it looks like the signing is already paying off in Philly:
On defense, the Eagles signed defensive end Chris Long and drafted end Derek Barnett, along with corner Sidney Jones. The 12th-ranked unit should be even better this season. Look out for the Eagles in the NFC East.
NFC West: St. Louis Rams (yes, the St. Louis Rams)
These plays are why I'm picking the Rams as my team to watch in the NFC West this season. They went 4-12 last year and then-rookie QB Jared Goff looked bad, simply put. The Rams have a new, 31-year-old coach. Some of coach Sean McVay's players are older than him. This is not a recipe for success. What I've seen from the Rams thus far in the season, however, gives me reason for optimism.
The team signed offensive tackle Andrew Withworth this offseason, as well as signing WR Robert Woods and trading for star WR Sammy Watkins. Jared Goff has protection and some very good receivers to work with. This is without mentioning star running back Todd Gurley having tremendous success early this season. The defense added Kayvon Webster and Connor Barwin to a unit that was already talented. If the Rams continue to make plays and their division rival Seahawks continue to look flat, who knows what can happen. Keep an eye on the Rams and the NFC West this season. If you want a feel-good, underdog story, root for the Rams.
I hope this has helped some of you find a team to support this year. All of these teams have a unique trait, whether it be historic dominance, comeback tendencies, even youth that isn't supposed to succeed, but might. All eight of these teams should be fun to watch this year and if week 3 of the season has been any indication, the entire year will be full of surprises! Feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about it!
This is your daily reminder to put your "Best Foot(e) Forward" in everything you do. Whether it's a homework assignment, daily task at work or even work around the house: make sure you do your best! Stay positive and others will follow suit.
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