The surest sign that Christmas is just around the corner is the opening Sunday of the NFL season. I say it every year, but as soon as the NFL starts for real, the weeks between September and Christmas melt away quicker than an ice cube in Arizona.
It seems that the anticipation of that first weekend of contest was just a few short moments ago, but here we are, with Week 8 in the books and Christmas themed cups in branches of Costa already. So what has 2017 taught us?
You’d better have two good Quarterbacks
QB injuries have been frequent and get added to each week. Green Bay have lost Rodgers for the year and have been forced to do something called ‘running the ball’ while new starter Brett Hundley learns how to perform the Aaron-esque miracles that the Pack have come to rely on.
The Dolphins lost Tannehill before August was over, replaced him with TV-bound Jay Cutler and promptly lost him to a set of cracked ribs. Step forward Matt Moore in Miami. Andrew Luck is out with a shoulder. Carson Palmer picked up a broken left arm in London. The Vikings go through QB’s faster than the Kardashian’s go through the NBA, with Bridgewater and Bradford both rehabbing knee injuries.
…but Brady keeps on rolling
I don’t know how. But Tom Brady, at the age of 40, is having a year. The ageless one has also given the Patriots enough confidence in his longevity to cash in on the hottest bench prospect in the league – sending Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers. I have a theory that Belicheck actually cloned the original Brady sometime around 2008 in a secret bunker laboratory (don’t tell me you’d put this past the Patriots?). What we’re seeing now is actually Brady 2.0, with the original pensioned off to the North Californian countryside. How else do you explain it? Avocado ice-cream? Do me a favour…
Jacksonville’s defense is (almost) legit
The assembled talent on the defensive side of the ball in Jacksonville is pretty impressive. It’s also pretty young – Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr, Dawuane Smoot and Telvin Smith are all in their first four years as professionals.
Add A.J Boyue, Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson in their prime and then top it off with productive vets such as Calais Campbell and Paul Posluszny and you’ve got the potential for an elite defense. At the time of writing, they are the number one ranked team against the pass… but number 32 against the run. Let’s not get overly excited about this unit just yet… but they will be very good, very soon.
Speaking of potential…
The league is littered with young talent at the QB position – Dak in Dallas continues to impress, Carson Wentz is playing at an MVP level and Jared Goff is so much better under new HC Sean McVay in 2017. This years rookie class has Trubisky flashing poise and athleticism in Chicago (even if he still has the training wheels on) and Deshaun Watson was throwing scores for fun (19 TD’s in six starts) until the ACL injury. And we haven’t even seen Josh Dobbs or Patrick Mahomes yet. As long as they stay healthy – and there’s no guarantee of that (see the first point in this article, and apologies for jinxing DW4) – the young QB’s in the league should make for some nice matchups over the next few years.
Cleveland always find a way to be Cleveland
I like the Browns. I really do. I’m not a fan per se, but I really want this organisation to get back to where it used to be under Schottenheimer with Kosar, Mack and Byner. However, Cleveland just can’t get out of their own way at times – by that, I mean the last twenty years or so (remember, this is the team that fired Bill Belicheck back in the mid-nineties).
On the upside, they have a hot rookie class with QB in Kizer and the two playmakers on defense in Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers. Coach Hue Jackson is well respected and given time, will do a good job: It’s just whether he gets that time. This is after all, the Browns, who have made an art form of shooting themselves in the foot – most recently with the failed trade for Bengals backup QB A.J. McCarron – the hot take on this one is that the Browns front office were too busy slapping themselves on the back to notice the trade deadline whizz past before they had registered the trade with the league office. Classic Cleveland.
Next years (possible divisional) champions
There’s a crop of half a dozen or so teams in the league which are going to be good over the next couple of years. The Jets, Bears and Jaguars are all teams with good to great defenses and running games. All with different QB issues to straighten out – McCown is a journeyman, Trubisky a rookie and Bortles in danger of the ‘bust’ label – but these three are headed in the right direction, if not quite there yet. Joining them as teams with their arrow pointing up are the Rams, Eagles and Texans who will (brave prediction) win their divisions in 2018 – the Eagles have exceeded all expectations and have a great shot at that this year.
Watson’s ACL injury has postponed Houston’s rise for another season, and the Rams may just fall short in the NFC West to a more experienced Seattle team. Six teams to keep an eye on – not yet perfect, each with their own development areas, but definitely teams to watch out for.
Arizona’s window just slammed shut
You could argue that the season long loss of RB David Johnson in Week 1 was an omen. They’ve limped to a 3-4 record and now lost Carson Palmer for the year with a broken left arm. They looked great at times (the first half against the Bucs) and awful at others (the second half against the Bucs and the entire game in London). Salvage-job Adrian Peterson was brought in from the Saints and had instant success in that Tampa game, but is not a long-term solution. Johnson will be back, and is as good as they come – but the Cards are staring down the barrel of a rebuilding period.
Palmer will celebrate his 38th birthday with one arm in plaster and WR Larry Fitzgerald turns 35 before the 2018 campaign begins. Want more? Head Coach Bruce Arians has had to refute various claims that he will step down after 2017 is out. The Cards could be looking for a new HC, QB and WR next springtime.
The Texans should trade J.J. Watt
Here’s why… J.J. Watt has been the dominant defender over the last few seasons in the league, but he is also worn down and hasn’t finished a season since 2015 and has played in eight games in the past two. He is currently 28 years old – so in his prime age-wise – but there’s an awful lot of mileage on the clock. Major injuries include a broken hand, two torn abs, three torn adductor muscles, a twice-herniated disc and now a broken leg. Watt will hold some nice trade value and be tempting for a team on the cusp of a championship. Think Dallas or Kansas City. The Texans could still command multiple picks and fill and surround Deshaun Watson with even more talent. In Houston at this point Watson is clearly the future of the franchise!
If I’m GM Rick Smith I’d be tempted before Watt wears down any further and the inevitable happens: Houston cut Watt for cap room, the Patriots pick him up and beat Houston in the playoffs on their way to another world championship.
Follow Marc White on Twitter, @MarcWhite5
8 Takeaways NFL..