2017 NFL Football Preview

By Demarco Williams

Early rumors have Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z as the frontrunners to co-headline the halftime show for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis' sparkling new US. Bank Stadium. If this proves true, the performance should deliver a solid mix of smooth pop hits and street-savvy hip hop. It'll be the best of both words, kind of like the NFL's best team this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown anchoring the offensive charge and a better-than-advertised defense, the Steel Curtain will be akin to a JT/Jigga halftime performance — hitting all the right notes come February.

AFC
1. Pittsburgh
Jay-Z and JT collaborated on a Grammy-winning song called "Holy Grail" back in 2013. It's no coincidence that we're forecasting that these Steelers will reach their holy grail this season with the aforementioned offensive forces, solid linebackers (Ryan Shazier) and steady coaching (Mike Tomlin).

2. New England
There's so much talk about the great QB (Tom Brady), great coach (Bill Bellichick) and great acquisitions (Brandin Cooks, Mike Gillislee) that few speak on how great the defense is (NFL-low 15.63 points against in '16).

3. Oakland
The franchise's pending move to Las Vegas still doesn't sit well with us. But we have to say that we like the direction that players like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack have the team going on the field.

4. Kansas City
The (likely) season-ending injury to RB Spencer Ware certainly hurts, but these confident Chiefs still have the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and explosive rookie Kareem Hunt getting the ball up the field.

5. Denver
If the Broncos had a little more certainty under center (Trevor Siemian, 23rd in passer rating in '16), they could compete with the Raiders in the AFC West. But with the Von Miller-led D, they'll still battle for a Wild Card spot.

6. Houston
A city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey will find something to cheer about in the form of a young, talented team (DeAndre Hopkins, JJ Watt) that will be playing for pride and the playoffs all year.

7. Baltimore
The Ravens have lost 10 players to injuries, suspensions or retirement, including TE Dennis Pitta and LB Albert McClellan. Know who will be back, though? Head coach John Harbaugh, who just signed a contract extension through 2019.

8. Miami
We're not particularly fond of the recently unretired Jay Cutler's mannerisms either, but it doesn't take a Mr. Congeniality to hand it off to Jay Ajayi (1,272 rushing yards) or drop a 15-yard pass to Jarvis Landry (1,136 receiving yards).

9. Tennessee
The Titans went 9-7 a season ago, so they aren't far off. To build on that mild success, they'll need major performances from QB Marcus Mariota, RB DeMarco Murray and underrated wideout Rishard Matthews.

10. Cincinnati
If the Bengals, who haven't won a playoff game since 1990, don't win a postseason contest this year, that has to spell the end for head coach Marvin Lewis, right? A heady Andy Dalton and healthy A.J. Green are keys to his job security.

11. Indianapolis
Scott Tolzien (216 passing yards in '16) is taking the snaps until Andrew Luck's shoulder heals. We have to hand it to receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief — they're putting on a good face in the midst of all the QB uncertainty.

12. L.A. Chargers
The team may have relocated up Interstate 405 from San Diego, put they won't move up in the standings until linebackers Joey Bossa and Melvin Ingram have spent a little more time together.

13. Buffalo
The Bills have the talent — RB LeSean McCoy, LB Lorenzo Alexander, QB Tyrod Taylor — to put up a fight in most games. But then again, this is Buffalo, so they'll probably be knocked out of contention by Week 6.

14. Cleveland
Browns fans, we have good news and bad news. First, the bad: your team won't win more than five games this season. The good: rookies Deshone Kizer, Jabril Peppers and Myles Garrett could all be stars in five years.

15. Jacksonville
It's easy to see why so many are fixated with gifted RB Leonard Fournette. But if he doesn't shut up — he said the NFL is "a lot slower than I really thought" in early August — he'll be making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

16. New York Jets
Polarizing QB Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a job but sad New York arms Josh McCown (6 TDs, 6 INTs in '16) and Bryce Petty (3 TDs, 7 INTs) do? Yeah, the J-E-T-S deserve to be in their current M-E-S-S.

NFC
1. Seattle
The Seahawks went a quiet 10-5-1 a season ago. We heard rumbles of a rift between Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman over the summer. We're confident the D can regain its swag, allowing the team to cancel all the exterior noise.

2. Atlanta
The Birds, who return much of the offense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points per game and No. 2 in yards per game in 2016, have an interesting stretch in October where they play every AFC East team in consecutive weeks. For some odd reason, most have the October 22 tilt with New England circled.

3. Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers turns 34 on December 8. The wise old owl knows that if the offensive line doesn't shore up quickly, he'll suffer too many post-sack aches to lead the Pack to its ninth straight postseason appearance.

4. Dallas
Dak Prescott looks good and ready to follow-up an unbelievable rookie campaign. We still don't know if we'll have to wait until Week 5, 6 or 7 to look at the suspended Ezekiel Elliott in a Cowboys uniform again.

5. Carolina
Every word we're hearing out of the Panthers' camp is that rookie spark plug Christian McCaffrey is fantastic, and QB Cam Newton and WR Kelvin Benjamin have forgotten about their subpar '16 showing.

6. Minnesota
We get really excited when Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon and Kyle Rudolph have the ball, but it's deflating that the way-too-conservative Sam Bradford is the one getting it to them.

7. New York Giants
Yes, we're mildly concerned with Odell Beckham Jr.'s ankle, but it's not nearly to the level of worry we have for the team's nearly nonexistent running game.

8. Arizona
We still don't know what's scarier, seeing the Cardinals' four-WR/one-RB sets on offense or watching their two stud DBs, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, give zero chances to opposing offenses in the secondary.

9. Tampa Bay
Gunslingers like QB Jameis Winston need weapons, and in the mighty Michael Evans, merciless DeSean Jackson and man-child O.J. Howard, he is fully loaded.

10. Philadelphia
The addition of speedster Alshon Jeffery should help slow the chances of Carson Wentz suffering much of a sophomore slump.

11. Detroit
If the Lions don't do something about the gaping holes in the defensive line, it won't matter how many times QB Matthew Stafford finds Golden Tate and Marvin Jones in space.

12. New Orleans
We've talked to a few NOLA locals lately and they feel that Drew Brees' age (38) may start being a hindrance for the Saints. Adrian Peterson, 32, will use the doubters as motivation as he works his way up the backfield depth chart.

13. Chicago
The serious ACL injury to wideout Cameron Meredith hurts, but c'mon, were you really expecting Mike Glennon or rookie Mitch Trubisky to get him the ball much anyway?

14. Washington
Though this franchise is surrounded by questions — Where are they going to find linebacker depth? Who'll Kirk Cousins throw it to? Why do people like Kirk Cousins? — it may have found its running back answer in Rob Kelley.

15. LA Rams
While Todd Gurley's 2016 numbers (885 yards, six TDs) pale in comparison to his 2015 effort (1,106 yards, 10 TDs), we still believe in the guy. As for the QB (Jared Goff) and just about everything else, we're not sure what to believe.

16. San Francisco
When a head coach hire (Kyle Shanahan) is the only encouraging thing to write about a team, you can put a 2-14 or 3-13 record down in Sharpie.

Super Bowl LII:
Pittsburgh over Seattle, 27-21

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