The nights are drawing in and the leaves are beginning to turn. It can only mean one thing; put the coffee on because we are staying up late on Sunday nights for some gridiron action!
Last season saw the Philadelphia Eagles claim their first-ever Vince Lombardi trophy as they came from nowhere to topple the mighty New England Patriots in, arguably, the greatest Super Bowl of all time.
The Eagles will have their work cut out to retain their crown, not least because of how hot the competition in the NFC is with at least five other teams having genuine aspirations of reaching next February’s showpiece game.
In the AFC, it is likely to be the same old faces battling it out, alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars, who certainly believe they can follow in the Eagles’ footsteps by winning a maiden Super Bowl.
The NFC South was the most high-quality division in football last season, three of the four sides reaching the play-offs. The eventual division winners though were the Saints, who embarked on an eight-game winning streak, steering them into the post-season.
Had it not been for the ‘Miracle in Minneapolis’, this is a team who would have been lining up in the NFC Championship game and it is safe to say they can build on their near miss this time around.
New Orleans finished the regular season with the second best offence in the league thanks to the two-headed running-back monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara won Offensive Rookie of the Year for racking up over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns, and will be leaned on heavily during the early part of the season with Ingram suspended for four games.
Quarter-back Drew Brees shows no signs of slowing down at 39, throwing for over 4,000 yards for the 12th successive season in 2017. He is 9/2 to have the most regular season passing yards.
The Saints have added to the weapons at Brees’ disposal but it is the defence, which finished last season ranked 17th, that they needed to address. First round draft pick Marcus Davenport should add to the pass rush, while corner back Marshon Lattimore will be better in his second year.
They look to have enough on both sides of the ball to go all the way and spark a party capable of topping mardi gras in New Orleans.
So who will be losing to the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3? It is always dangerous to bet against the New England Patriots in the AFC but surely the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick dynasty is close to coming to an end!
The Steelers have been heirs to the throne for several years and having so far failed to topple the Pats, Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl window is closing fast. This is likely to be the final year of the Killer Bs – Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell – with the latter set to leave at the end of the season.
Brown had the most receiving yards of any wide receiver in the regular season, while running-back Bell was third in rushing and quarter-back Roethlisberger fifth in passing yards. With a new attacking co-ordinator appointed who looks to be more open to Big Ben’s ideas, this is a Steelers offence poised to replace the Pats as the best in the league.
On the other side of the ball, this is a defence who looked championship calibre before Ryan Shazier went down with a major back injury. Although he hasn’t recovered, this defence is ready to start again and put the memory of their mauling by Jacksonville behind them.
A Pittsburgh against New Orleans Super Bowl is currently priced at 50/1.
One of the most competitive divisions in the NFL this year is likely to be the AFC West, which the Kansas City Chiefs narrowly won last season. The Chiefs beat out the LA Chargers to top spot but are undergoing a major overhaul with Patrick Mahomes installed as the new quarter-back.
Kansas City aren’t the only team rebuilding with the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos in a similar position. That should leave the door open for the Chargers, who would have made the play-offs last term had it now been for an 0-4 start.
They finished the season like a train as they posted a winning record for the first time since 2014 as they went 9-7. Anthony Lynn’s men had the fourth best offence in the regular season and an improving defence which they added to via the draft. That should give them enough weapons to claim a first AFC West title since 2009.
With the NFC so competitive, it is easier to stick with picking divisional winners from the AFC. The Jags seem like a big price given how well they did last season, a wrongly overturned interception proving to be the difference between them and a place in the Super Bowl.
Their defence was the best in the AFC last season and they have largely kept the same group, who earned the nickname ‘Sacksonville’, together.
The only concerns are on offence, where the unpredictable Blake Bortles remains under centre. They have also lost exciting wide receiver Marqise Lee for the season.
Despite all the offensive deficiencies, they still have more than enough to win the AFC South, which is made up of teams who are either on a downward trajectory or, in the case of the Tennessee Titans, have yet to convince they are ready to take the next step.
It is tough to look beyond the Bills when it comes to thinking about who might get the No.1 pick in next year’s draft. They might have made the play-offs last year but have lost several key pieces during the off-season, while workhorse running back LeSean McCoy faces an uncertain future given off-field indiscretions.
One team who may challenge them for the No.1 pick is the Indianapolis Colts (25/1) who are banking on a fit-again Andrew Luck saving them. However, Luck will be lucky to avoid injury given the porous offensive line he’s playing behind, while he has a worrying lack of options to choose from when throwing the ball.
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