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Four bold predictions for the 2017 NFL season

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The top two picks from the 2015 NFL draft will both lead their team to the playoffs

The top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft were both quarterbacks, and both will take their teams to the playoffs for the first time in their respective careers in the 2017 season. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were the top two picks respectively in that draft.

Winston had strong season in 2016, and I believe he will be even better in 2017. One of the biggest reasons why the Buccaneers will improve this year was their excellent draft. With its first two picks, Tampa Bay selected O.J. Howard, the best tight end and possibly even the best overall pass catcher available in the draft, and Justin Evans, a talented safety that shows a lot of potential. The Buccaneers also added weapons on offense such as Chris Godwin in the draft, and on top of that, Tampa Bay signed DeSean Jackson. Adding all those pieces to relieve pressure off of Mike Evans will be huge for this Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. The defense was already one of the NFL’s better units last year, and it’s core returns in 2017. The Falcons are still the team to beat in the NFC South, but the Buccaneers should be able to reach the playoffs as a wild card team.

I believe the Tennessee Titans will make the playoffs as well, but not as a wild card team. Instead, I am picking the Titans to win the AFC South division in 2017. The Titans boast the NFL’s best offensive line, per Pro Football Focus, and have a strong running game behind DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. What the Titans needed to do this offseason is add weapons for Marcus Mariota in the passing game. That’s exactly what the Titans did, drafting Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, as well as signing Eric Decker. On defense, the Titans needed help in the secondary, and after signing Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien, as well as drafting Adoree’ Jackson, the question mark is now removed. The much improved defense, as well as the added weapons on offense should be enough to get this team to the AFC South title, but that won’t be the only thing Mariota will win in 2017.

Marcus Mariota will win the NFL MVP award

Maybe I’m a bit bullish on the Titans, but the weapons that they added on offense really should be enough for Marcus Mariota to put up MVP caliber numbers. Mariota threw for 3,426 yards in the 2016, and ran for 349, and that was with Rishard Matthews and Kendall Wright as the top receiving options. The Titans keep the production of those two, and add Corey Davis, Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor to the fray. On top of that, the Titans have one of the NFL’s best tight ends in Delanie Walker. With one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to keep him upright, a potent and reliable running game and a mass stable of receivers to throw to, Marcus Mariota has everything in place for him to produce an MVP caliber season as he leads his team to its first division title since 2008.

The Dallas Cowboys will miss the playoffs

The Cowboys were the top seed in the NFC last year, as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott emerged as superstars. However, a lot has changed since.

First Ezekiel Elliott is reportedly expecting to receive a suspension from the NFL for a domestic violence incident. While it is unknown how long that suspension could be, or even if it will in fact happen, the Cowboys will dearly miss its star running back while he is gone.

The Cowboys lost three starters in its secondary: cornerbacks Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr as well as safety Barry Church. The replacements for these players look like they could all be rookies. Having rookies in big roles worked for the Cowboys last year, but throwing two rookies out as the starting corners, without much experienced safety help at all, could be a damaging situation.

In my eyes, the NFC East looks like a division where the teams could all beat up on each other, similar to the AFC North. While the Cowboys secondary has regressed, other NFC East teams have loaded up at the wide receiver position. The Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor, the Giants paired Brandon Marshall with Odell Beckham Jr., and the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery. The Cowboys will struggle to defend those players, and it could cost them dearly as I believe an 8-8 season looms on the horizon, a record that will not be enough to reach the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Rams will go 8-8

While 8-8 would be a massive disappointment for the Cowboys, it would be cause for celebration for the Rams. I think the improvements that the Rams made over the offseason will pay huge dividends, and that starts will new head coach Sean McVay. I think he is a great higher for the Rams, and will prove to be exactly what they needed, adding energy to this team, and a more modern system to fit Jared Goff as opposed to what Jeff Fisher provided.

The Rams front office added talent for McVay to work with this offseason, headlined by offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth has been one of the NFL’s best tackles for many years now, and he will be a huge improvement to the Rams offensive line. The Rams did a good job in the draft adding weapons to help Jared Goff. In fact, reports are showing that the Rams seem to really like what wide receiver Cooper Kupp has shown so far. Plus, with an improved offensive line anchored by Whitworth, Todd Gurley should have more room to run in 2017.

The Rams also added former Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to coach the defense. This means that the team will be moving to a 3-4 style instead of a 4-3. However, the Rams boast the NFL’s best interior defensive lineman, Aaron Donald, who will play a key role yet again.

In a weak NFC West division, outside of the Seahawks, the Rams improvements should be enough for the team to surprise in 2017, and boost the Rams win total by four games over their dismal 2016 season.

What are your bold predictions for the NFL in 2017?