Now that two days have passed since the confetti fell on the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, we can, as a nation, stop looking behind at a Patriots victory and instead look ahead to 2017, when every team has a fresh slate and harbors realistic hopes of making the 12-team playoffs that begin next January.(Except you, Jacksonville.) So, even with the duckboats still roaming Boston, we move ahead with 11 fearless predictions for the 2017 NFL season.
Getty ImagesJustin K. Aller
Tony Romo's new team will finish with a better record than the Dallas Cowboys
Though Houston seems like the most obvious host for Tony Romo's last stand, the (soon-to-be former) Dallas Cowboys quarterback could go to Arizona, Denver or Kansas City, or maybe to a mystery suitor that comes out of nowhere to stun the NFL world by banking its near future on a 37-year-old with major back problems who has no real playoff experience. Either way, Romo will stay upright in 2017, and given that the team he's likely to sign with is one that can, and needs to, win now, look for Tony to be playing in the postseason.
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Kirk Cousins will be in Washington playing the first year of a long-term deal
Oh, those silly Redskins. Here's a franchise that will throw $75 million at a cornerback (Josh Norman) less than 48 hours after he surprisingly hits the market but when presented with a choice on their own quarterback who played excellent football for the past two years (something the franchise hasn't seen in 33 years) they hem, haw and make bizarre statements to the media instead of wrapping him up with the long-term deal that's in the best interests of both parties. Though you can never rely on the Redskins to do anything right, I think Cousins is back in Washington with the long-term deal he's seeking. But if the Redskins lowball him badly enough he has no choice but to take the franchise tag year and play it out (or sit out, which I'd seriously consider), then bolt at the first opportunity next March. It's clear why the Redskins need Cousins, but it might be less so on why he needs them. He does, though. Because ...
... Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson will not be there with him
As part of the Redskins impressively bold attempt to alienate every player not currently under contract, their lack of control over their top two receivers will result in those two receivers going somewhere else. (Jackson to Philly is the hot rumor, but what about going to San Francisco to play with Kyle Shanahan?) Does this push Cousins into a corner? The 'Skins offense was fundamentally better with both Garçon and Jackson on the field. With them gone and offensive wunderkind Sean McVay out in L.A., Cousins will be taking play calls from Jay Gruden (who wasn't hired by GM Scot McCloughan) and looking at last year's first-round pick Josh Doctson (who dressed less in 2016 than Tony Romo did) as his No. 1 target. Cousins is being unintentionally set up for failure. Take the money, bro.
Other players on the move this offseason along with Jackson and Garçon (the latter of which won't be a huge name this offseason but will end up being a huge signing if he goes to a contender): Dontari Poe, Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Alshon Jeffery, Jason Pierre-Paul, A.J. Bouye and Martellus Bennett. That would mean Le'Veon Bell, Eric Berry, Chandler Jones, Kawann Short, Melvin Ingram and Kevin Zeitler are staying where they are (the first three are almost certain to).
James LangJames Lang-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys won't make the playoffs
With Romo already in our planned 2017 playoffs, any hopes for a Romo Bowl in Minnesota next February will sadly end when the Cowboys lose in Week 17 to fall out of the NFC East title race. Ezekiel Elliott will post eye-popping numbers that'll serve as anchors for his yearly stats in the future, but Dak Prescott will fade a little as the injury bug finally catches up with Dallas and turns it from an OK 13-3 team into a good 9-7 team.
Neither will the Dolphins, Raiders, Giants, Lions or Falcons
Half 0f 2016's playoff field sitting out 2017? That's just about average -- six of 12 made it back this year. Giving the boot to the Dolphins, who snuck into the playoffs while every team around them imploded, should come as no surprise. The Giants and Lions are two of those ping-pong teams that go 10-6 one year and 6-10 the next without much improvement or dip in their quality of play. The Raiders will revert back to the mean (the mean being about 9-7), even with Derek Carr and Khalik Mack continuing their rapid ascensions in the NFL hierarchy. As for the Falcons? Forget about the so-called "Super Bowl curse," which says the losing team has trouble getting back to the playoffs, let alone the NFL title game. Up until Carolina brought it back this season, the loser of the Super Bowl made it back to the playoffs the next year in seven straight seasons. No, the Falcons will miss out for the same reason Carolina did in 2016: hype, attention and turnover isn't a recipe for playoff stability.
They'll be replaced by the Ravens, Chargers, Redskins, Eagles and Bucs
No real surprises here, unless you count the Bucs, who lost out on a wild-card bid in 2016 via the "winning percentage in common games" tiebreaker. Baltimore is like the Giants and Lions -- 2017 will be their "up" year. The Chargers will stay healthy and give Philip Rivers maybe one final playoff run in the debut of their much-maligned move to LA (though the move may actually do the Chargers well with their 30,000-seat stadium becoming a sneaky-tough place to play). As for the Redskins, if neither the Cowboys nor Giants wins the NFC East, that leaves Washington and Philadelphia. Make your pick.
Oh, yeah, the Rams will make it, too
The Rams? The Los Angeles Rams. One team is going to shock the NFL and make it to the playoffs. How about the team with a young core, a new coach and a division that has its leader fading, it second-best team plummeting and the 49ers being the 49ers. Throw in a schedule that includes four games against the AFC South and why not?
Cleveland will do its best to mess up the slam-dunk No. 1 pick of Myles Garrett but eventually will fall backwards into the right selection, for once
The Browns will look toward trading their two No. 1 selections in a package for an established quarterback or attempt to trade down to get more picks to build around 2017 starter Colin Kaepernick (count that as a half-fearless prediction) or ponder taking a QB at No. 1 who doesn't have the pedigree to be taken so high. In the end, though, the Browns will win out in spite of themselves as all their deals go nowhere and they end up with the player they need: Texas A&M linebacker/end Myles Garrett.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
A new kickoff rule will be in place
Moving touchbacks out to the 25 didn't have the intended effect on kickoffs. Things only slightly changed from the year before, and half of all kickoffs are still being returned. The NFL still doesn't want to part with the traditional kickoff just yet (it can't even officially throw away the idea of the 18-game schedule, even though that idea has been dead in the water for years). Tinkering with the kickoff spot (teams will have even more accuracy in pooch kicking inside the 5) or touchback placement (going out to the 30 is something out of the Arena League) isn't going to happen, so it'll have to be a move as drastic as the one that "saved" extra points. Maybe they make it more like a punt to eliminate guys sprinting down field into stationary targets? Maybe allow guys to call fair catches inside the 10 that'll move the ball out to the 20? Hey, don't look at me. I'm not on the rules committee.
Getty ImagesJohn Grieshop
Bill Belichick being five weeks behind the competition won't matter
Belichick hilariously said the Pats were "five weeks behind" on 2017 due to their lengthy 2016. (Better be five weeks behind with a ring than without one, Bill.) Somehow I doubt it'll matter. However:
Kirby LeeKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots will not repeat
Though any such prediction will surely embolden Pats fans who like to claim that nobody believes in them (what does that even mean -- it's a football team, not the Easter Bunny) it's the least fearless of the predictions on here. Even with the Patriots having won five Super Bowls and playing in seven this century, the team hasn't won back-to-back in 12 years nor played in back-to-back Super Bowls over the same time span. In fact, only one team (Seattle in 2013 and 2014) has gone to back-to-back Super Bowls since 2005. Expect another AFC East win (duh) for New England, but any 40-year-old magic from Brady will have to wait until he's 41. That should give the Patriots plenty of time to become embroiled in another scandal and for their fans to unite against a common enemy.