Heading into the 2017 regular season, there’s a lot of stories around the NFL world. Each team opens the season with a new slate. The Cleveland Browns and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer have the same record as the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Over in the NFC, there’s renewed confidence in Carolina, New Orleans and San Francisco that last year’s struggles will be a thing of the past. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension hangs over the heads of the Dallas Cowboys as they look to repeat as NFC East champions.
These are among the top storylines for each NFL team heading into the 2017 season.
New England Patriots: How dominant can they be?
The loss of Julian Edelman for the season hurts. But the defending champs are better equipped than any other team in recent history to overcome an injury of that ilk. Adding Brandin Cooks to the mix in a trade with New Orleans magnifies this. He will team up with Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and a healthy Rob Gronkowski to form a solid pass-catching group for Tom Brady.
However, it’s not simply New England’s offense that leads us to believe this team can be historically dominant. Adding cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker David Harris from divisional opponents helps big time here. Gilmore will now team up with Malcolm Butler to form one of the best corner tandems in the game. Add in Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty, and the Pats’ secondary will be scary good. In reality, 16-0 is not out of the equation here. That’s how stacked the Patriots are. That’s also how bad the rest of the AFC East is.
Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler’s emergence
We have to be honest with ourselves here. Is Cutler even a downgrade from Ryan Tannehill? It seems absolutely ridiculous on the surface, but this veteran free agent signing from the Bears adds another dimension down the field for Miami. We saw it multiple times during the preseason. Cutler can stretch the field unlike anything we saw from Tannehill prior to his ACL injury.
That’s going to be absolutely huge now that Miami has a reliable running game with Jay Ajayi and a solid receiving group. While there are other issues on this team, it would not be a surprise to see the Dolphins match their win total from last season. That seemed to be a stretch once Tannehill went down with a season-ending injury earlier in the summer.
Buffalo Bills: Full-scale rebuild
At this point, why not? Buffalo has two picks in each of the first three rounds of next year’s draft. And as currently formed, this team is not going to break a playoff drought that has lasted since Hillary Clinton called the White House home. There’s just way too much working against the Bills from a talent and a practical level.
Tyrod Taylor was absolutely disastrous during the preseason prior to suffering a concussion. And after the team’s third exhibition game, it was down to one healthy quarterback. The receiving group leaves a lot to be desired after Sammy Watkins was traded and Anquan Boldin abruptly retired. Meanwhile, there are rumors that LeSean McCoy is on the block.
As if it holds any true ground, our recommendation is that the Bills blow this entire thing up. Trade every veteran that might be able to land a valuable pick. Tank in 2016, and look for high picks in each round. The alternative is another six-win season.
New York Jets: Looking to win one game
Move over Cleveland, you have just been replaced as the laughingstock of the NFL. New York was so hellbent on ridding itself of veterans during the offseason that it will form one of the least-talented teams we have seen in the league since the San Francisco 49ers almost went winless with Tim Rattay under center in 2004. Folks, that was a long time ago.
More than anything, it’s the Jets’ quarterback situation that’s laughable. Christian Hackenberg is simply not an NFL-caliber quarterback. Bryce Petty looked good for three drives before going down with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Veteran Josh McCown will be called on to start after posting a 2-20 record as a starter over the past three seasons. It’s going to be nothing less than a dumpster fire for New Jersey’s minor league football team in 2017.
Houston Texans: The quarterback situation
This has to be the major focus in Houston, right? Tom Savage is undoubtedly the starter after putting up a tremendous preseason performance. And after rookie Deshaun Watson struggled in the team’s third exhibition game, it became clear why Savage is being called on to be under center for Week 1.
But we still have to remember that Savage couldn’t even beat out Brock Osweiler to be the Texans’ starter until late in the season last year. Sure, money had something to do with that, but it’s still rather alarming. What if Savage struggles early in the season? Would Houston then turn to Watson? After all, outside of the quarterback situation, the Texans are a legitimate Super Bowl threat. They simply need plus-level play under center.
Tennessee Titans: Taking that next step
The talent on this Titans team stands above the rest in the AFC South. It all now needs to come together. Can Marcus Mariota finish a full 16-game season without suffering an injury? It’s something we haven’t seen in his first two years in the NFL. How will new acquisitions Eric Decker and Corey Davis work with Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe at receiver? It’s a talented group, one that didn’t work together at all during the preseason.
Though, for the Titans, it’s more about how the defense performs. With widespread issues in the secondary, this team will be relying on Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo to continue providing consistent pressure. Should that happen, the Titans’ defense will be fine. Coming off a surprising nine-win season, the talent is most definitely here. Now, can all these pieces come together to form a playoff team?
Indianapolis Colts: Complete dumpster fire
Andrew Luck is unlikely to play Week 1. Scott Tolzien is a complete disaster under center. The Colts’ offensive line stunk it up big time in the preseason. And defensively, Indy’s revamped front was eaten alive. If it sounds like things are bleak for the horseshoe, that’s because they are.
First-year general manager Chris Ballard took over a sinking ship from former GM Ryan Grigson. It’s a process that’s going to last much more than one season. But more than anything else, we don’t see a real commitment to handle the Andrew Luck situation. That’s been magnified by conflicting stories within the Colts’ organization. And with one of the least-talented supporting casts in the NFL, 2017 could go down as a complete dumpster fire for head coach Chuck Pagano and Co.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Lack of a general direction
It’s pretty evident the Jaguars lack any type of direction at quarterback. Blake Bortles performed miserably through the first two preseason games, only to be benched in favor of career backup Chad Henne.
Once both performed at a decent level in the team’s third preseason game, Jacksonville then went back to Bortles as the Week 1 starter. All this while not one, but two, Jaguars players showed outward frustration with Bortles’ performance.
In general, it’s just a disastrous situation here. That’s primarily because the Jaguars have done a tremendous job building up skill-position talent on offense and a potentially elite-level defense. Unless this quarterback situation is settled, that won’t matter.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben’s swan song
It’s looking more and more like 2017 will be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season in the NFL. And good for him. Hanging on a couple extra years is not worth risking his long-term health any further. That means this year’s Steelers team has one final chance to get past the Patriots and earn Big Ben’s third trip to the Super Bowl.
No longer the focal point on offense, Roethlisberger is aided by an elite dual-threat running back in Le’Veon Bell who put up nearly 1,900 total yards in 12 games last season. He also put up 75 receptions for an absurd 80 percent catch rate. Add in Antonio Brown’s dynamic performance on the outside and the return of Martavis Bryant from suspension, and this offense promises to be great.
Though, for the Steelers, it’s really all about the defense. Can rookie T.J. Watt provide the pass-rush ability former first-round picks Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones were not able to give the team? If so, will that help a pedestrian secondary rebound? This will be the Steelers’ biggest key in the AFC in 2017.
Baltimore Ravens: Defensive domination?
The Ravens’ offense is going to be pedestrian at best this season. Losing wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta to retirement hurts. As does seeing second-year running back Kenneth Dixon go down with a season-ending injury. Baltimore also lost right tackle Rick Wagner to free agency and guard Alex Lewis for the season to injury. It’s not going to go swimmingly for the Ravens’ offense in 2017.
That’s where a potentially elite-level defense comes into play. General manager Ozzie Newsome did a tremendous job adding talent to this unit through the draft. It started with corner Marlon Humphrey in the first round and continued with the likes of edge rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams on Day 2. All three should make an immediate impact for a unit that also added Pro Bowl caliber safety Tony Jefferson to go with All Pro Eric Weddle. With the holdovers Baltimore had here, this could potentially be a top-five defense in 2017. It’s something the Ravens desperately need to compete in the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals: Make-or-break season
Cincinnati decided against extending head coach Marvin Lewis in the offseason, meaning that he is now a lame duck. The same can be said for quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals can get out from under his contract following the 2017 campaign with a minimal $2.4 million dead cap hit. It’s likely one of the reasons Cincinnati turned down overtures for backup A.J. McCarron.
Simply put, this is a make-or-break season for both Lewis and Dalton. The latter boasts a 0-4 postseason record and has thrown one touchdown compared to six interceptions during that span. Meanwhile, Lewis has lost all seven postseason games in which he’s coached. Now coming off a disastrous 2016 season, it’s time for both to prove they can help lead Cincinnati to late-January football. If that doesn’t happen both men will likely be calling a new city home in 2018.
Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer, franchise quarterback?
That’s pretty much where it’s at right now. Kizer has been named Cleveland’s starting quarterback after a strong preseason performance. There’s no reason to believe he will lead the team to playoff contention. Heck, the Browns are still likely going to finish this season as cellar dwellers.
In reality, that doesn’t matter all too much in the grand scheme of things. General manager Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson know this is going to be a long-term rebuild. The 2017 season will be defined by Kizer’s progression under center and whether the brass thinks he can be the franchise quarterback. With five picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft, how Kizer performs under center will dictate the Browns’ rebuild process moving forward.
Kansas City Chiefs: Replacing Alex
It sure does look like this is Alex Smith’s final season in Kansas City. The Chiefs didn’t exhaust a first-round pick in next year’s draft for Patrick Mahomes in order to sit the talented young quarterback for more than one season. And with the potential of competing for a conference title, Smith has an opportunity to etch his name in the Chiefs’ record books as a winning signal caller.
But that could all be thrown out the window should Smith himself struggle out of the gate. Mahomes more than proved himself capable of being a dynamic early-career starter in the NFL. Here’s a guy that completed 66 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first three preseason games.
If the Chiefs feel Mahomes gives them that extra dynamic on offense, it could be very similar to when Smith was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco back in 2012. Wouldn’t that just stink for a quarterback in Smith who has done a great job since moving to Kansas City?
Oakland Raiders: Legitimate Super Bowl contenders
As we witnessed in the Raiders’ third presason game against Dallas, their offense is going to be absolutely dynamic this season. The Derek Carr to Amari Cooper connection is already one of the best in the game. And it promises to only get better. Michael Crabtree has matured into one of the best No. 2 receivers in the game. Meanwhile, Oakland added Cordarrelle Patterson, Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch to an offense that ranked sixth last season.
Really, there’s no reason to believe this unit can’t be top three in 2017. Carr is a franchise quarterback. He has one of the league’s best offensive lines ahead of him. Lynch also joins a pair of young running backs in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington who went for over 1,200 total yards while averaging nearly six yards per touch last season.
It will, however, be the Raiders’ defense that decides whether this team can one-up New England in the AFC. There are still major issues in the secondary, as evidenced by its horrendous preseason play. Can rookies Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu make enough of an impact to improve a pass defense that ranked in the bottom eight last season? If so, the Raiders could very well be playing in Minnesota this upcoming February.
Denver Broncos: John Elway’s failures
As respected of a football mind as he was during a Hall of Fame career as a quarterback, the legend is starting to wear off for Elway as Denver’s general manager. More than anything, it’s about the offensive side of the ball. Trevor Siemian will start under center after Paxton Lynch bombed out during the summer. It leads us to wonder whether Lynch himself is a bust, potentially coming to the conclusion that Elway himself made a major mistake in trading up for the quarterback back in 2016.
At running back, the Broncos are also seemingly a mess. Injury-plagued veterans C.J Anderson and Jamaal Charles will share duties in the backfield. The two combined to play in 10 games last season. Meanwhile, 2016 fourth-round pick Devontae Booker has been injured following an up-and-down rookie campaign.
Denver still boasts one of the top defenses in the NFL. It has been absolutely dominant over the past three seasons. But now, it looks like the Broncos are in the midst of wasting the prime years of Von Miller and Chris Harris. That’s on Elway.
Los Angeles Chargers: Will relocation be a disaster?
If the Chargers’ first preseason game at StubHub is any indication, the team will be in for a rude awakening come the regular year. Always a controversial figure, Chargers owner Dean Spanish decided to move the team from San Diego to Los Angeles without a legitimate venue to play in over the short term. And it’s been a complete disaster since.
The city of Los Angeles has too many entertainment attractions for a losing team to draw large crowds, even if said team is the newest biggest thing in the metropolitan area. And for a Chargers team that’s coming off a last-place finish, there’s not much hope of improvement in 2017. This could lead to the Chargers’ existence in Carson for the next three years to be sad before the team becomes tenants of the Rams in Inglewood. That’s the reality of the situation.
Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott vs the NFL
The NFL is unlikely to grant Elliott’s appeal of the six-game suspension handed down to him for his alleged role in multiple domestic violence situations. In no way does this mean that the situation will be over. Instead, we can fully expect the starting Cowboys’ running back and the NFLPA to take this thing to the courts. It could lead to a long, drawn-out process, akin to what we saw with the Tom Brady situation.
On the field, this could also have wide-ranging ramifications. Let’s say the court offers an immediate injunction, reversing Elliott’s suspension and he plays all 16 games. Dallas would then be odds-on favorites to come out of the NFC. Then, let’s say the injunction is overturned, thus reinstating said suspension midway through the season. That, too, would have wide-ranging ramifications.
This situation is definitely interesting from a collective bargaining and legal standpoint. Has NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally overstepped his bounds in the eyes of the court? Though, it’s even more interesting on the field. Elliott’s situation could doom the Cowboys to second-tier status, opening up the NFC for the likes of the Packers, Falcons and Giants. It’s something to most definitely pay attention to.
New York Giants: Needing improvement from Eli and Co.
It’s an interesting situation in New Jersey. After the Giants’ defense struggled for so many years to create some type of balance for the team, it came through big time last year. Led by NFL Defensive Player fo the Year candidate Landon Collins, this unit ranked 10th in total yards, third against the run and yielded the second-fewest points in the league.
Even as the Giants were winning 11 games, their offense wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Eli Manning regressed from previous seasons en route to leading the 26th-best scoring offense. Meanwhile, New York’s rushing attack finished 29th in the NFL.
We’re not too sure how a questionable run game will improve in 2017, but the Giants’ passing attack should be near elite level. The team added veteran receiver Brandon Marshall to go with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. It also picked up a potentially dominant tight end in Evan Engram in the first round of April’s draft. How this unit performs will dictate whether the Giants go from playoff contenders to Super Bowl contenders.
Washington Redskins: Continued Kirk Cousins drama?
Now that Matthew Stafford has topped the quarterback market, other signal callers will want to get paid big time. That’s an unfortunate situation for the Redskins, who have been dead set against the idea of Cousins setting the market himself.
We already know what’s happened here. Cousins is playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, after which point he will become a free agent next March. Of course, that could all be dependent on Washington deciding to give him the tag for a third consecutive season — a decision that would cost the team $35 million in 2018. If not, look for Cousins to receive a deal on the open market starting at $30 million per season. Based on what we’ve seen from the Redskins they would likely let him walk. This makes Cousins’ 2017 performance that much more important.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz looking to take team over
Can Wentz prove to be the franchise guy in Philadelphia? Following an up-and-down rookie season, this is most definitely not etched in stone. Remember, Wentz started his debut season by throwing seven touchdowns compared to one interception in his first four starts. He followed that up with a 9-to-13 split to close out the season.
Philadelphia surely has given Wentz everything he needs to succeed. Alshon Jeffery was a huge get in free agency. And Wentz has already built a solid relationship with fellow newcomer Torrey Smith. In reality, how Wentz performance as a sophomore in 2017 will dictate whether the Eagles make a run in the NFC East. It could very well be a career-defining season for the youngster.
Atlanta Falcons: Super Bowl hangover?
We saw it with the Carolina Panthers last season. Super Bowl hangovers for teams that lost that big game the previous season are real. No one anticipated Carolina following up a 15-1 season by winning six games this past year. It really didn’t seem to be in the cards.
At this point, the same can be said for an ultra-talented Falcons team that boasts reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the richest running back in the NFL in the form of Devonta Freeman. Add in Julio Jones’ domination on the outside and a talented young defense, and there’s no reason to believe Atlanta can’t come out of the NFC for a second consecutive season. But with games against New England and Green Bay before the calendar hits November, this team will be challenged early on.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis’ time to shine
It’s now time for Winston to take that next step from promising young quarterback to team leader and franchise-caliber player. Enough of the young mistakes and turnover proneness that we saw define Winston’s sophomore campaign. That has to be replaced with a man that can be the reason his team takes the next step from playoff contender to division champion in the ultra competitive NFC South.
The good news here is that Tampa Bay did everything possible in the offseason to help the former No. 1 pick out. It added a down-field threat in DeSean Jackson to team up with Mike Evans at receiver. The team also exhausted its first-round pick on tight end O.J. Howard, who will now form a solid duo with holdover Cameron Brate. Should Winston continue to struggle with mistakes behind a tremendous supporting cast, red flags will surely be raised. And in the process, Tampa Bay’s surprising 2016 performance will give in to mediocrity this season.
New Orleans Saints: Defensive failures continue
The Saints’ defense has definitely looked better this summer. That much isn’t even in question. In fact, New Orleans yielded an average of nine points in its first three preseason games. Regardless of these games remaining meaningless, that’s definitely a step in the right direction. But seeing this translate to the regular season is a completely different question.
It’s really going to be all about a young secondary led by rookie corner Marshon Lattimore and second-year safety Vonn Bell. These two need to step up from a coverage standpoint in order for the Saints’ defense to improve off its No. 28 ranking from last season. With what promises to be an elite-level offense, that could be the difference between another mediocre season and a playoff appearance in the Bayou.
Carolina Panthers: Finally, some help for Cam
We can argue until we’re blue in the face whether Matt Kalil is an actual upgrade at left tackle. What we do know is that Carolina finally invested a ton of cash (we mean a ton) in addressing the team’s offensive line. In the past, this had been a complete organization-wide failure on their part.
More than that, the Panthers decided to finally add more skill-position talent to go with Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. It came in the form of the dynamic Christian McCaffrey in the first round of April’s draft. The Stanford product will be a huge help for Newton, both in the passing game and on the ground. Speaking of, rookie second-round pick Curtis Samuel will also help out in this category.
Cam Newton finally has the talent he needs around him in order to take the Panthers’ offense to that next level. It’s now all about him remaining healthy and the Panthers’ offensive line protecting the former NFL MVP.
Green Bay Packers: Wasting Aaron Rodgers’ prime years
Ted Thompson should be ashamed of himself. With a quarterback that’s in the midst of the greatest stretch in the history of the game, he’s failed in surrounding Rodgers with the talent he needs to win the Super Bowl. One wonders just how bad this team would be without Rodgers’ presence on the field. Here’s a guy that’s put up 109 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions over the past three seasons. Green Bay has exactly two NFC Championship Game appearances to show for it.
Whether it’s relying on a former wide receiver to play running back or setting up Clay Matthews to fail out of position, the rest of the Packers’ roster has been a disaster. That’s only magnified in the secondary, where five first or second-round picks over the past four drafts led to a No. 31 ranking against the pass last season. Should none of this change, Rodgers’ prime years will continue to be wasted. And that’s a crying shame.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, NFL’s richest
Now that the Lions have made Stafford the richest player in NFL history, it’s up to the franchise signal caller to lead the team to an NFC North title and a deep run in the playoffs. Last season saw Stafford put up the best performance of his career en route to leading the Lions to nine wins and a wild card spot. But he will definitely have to do more in 2017.
A total of 24 touchdown passes and the league’s 20th-ranked scoring offense simply won’t cut it this season. With a questionable defense and an unproven starting running back in Ameer Abdullah, the pressure is squarely on Stafford here. Can he build a better connection with receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones as well as talented tight end Eric Ebron? If not, the $135 million deal Stafford signed will be seen as a major mistake from the Lions’ perspective down the road.
Minnesota Vikings: Relying on Sam Bradford
The Vikings have built up quite the powerhouse on defense. It promises to be one of the top-three units this upcoming season with rising stars at all levels. Danielle Hunter has proven himself to be an elite-level pass rusher. Meanwhile, the combination of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith in the secondary is absolutely dynamite.
None of this will matter if the Vikings don’t get better all-around production on offense, starting with Bradford under center. Sure he led the NFL with a 71.6 completion percentage last season. But Bradford also led an offense that ranked in the bottom 10 in scoring and put up 17 points or less seven times. That’s just not good.
Minnesota did do a solid job upgrading its offensive line with Riley Reiff at left tackle and Mike Remmers at right tackle. It also boasts a potential generational running back in Dalvin Cook. It’s now up to Bradford to stretch the field through the air and lead an average offense. Should that not happen, a repeat of last season’s mediocre performance is likely.
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky
Despite looking good during the preseason, Trubisky couldn’t even beat out Mark Sanchez for the primary backup spot behind a struggling Mike Glennon. Maybe this is John Fox’s way of saying the rookie No. 2 pick needs to earn his keep. But it also tells us a story of a Bears team that falsely believes it can contend for a playoff spot this season.
Likely to finish in the NFC North’s cellar once again, it will be interesting to see if the Bears actually give Trubisky some action as a rookie. He has a solid running game in Jordan Howard, but nothing else outside of that. Cameron Meredith is lost for the season with a devastating knee injury, while the team lost Alshon Jeffery in free agency.
Maybe it just makes sense to have Trubisky avoid playing with such a questionable supporting vast. But if the team finds itself completely out of the race come November, it will be interesting to see if the North Carolina product gets a shot.
Seattle Seahawks: Any help for Russell Wilson?
We saw an improved performance from Seattle’s offensive line during the preseason. But there’s absolutely no telling whether that will translate to Week 1 and beyond. Starting left tackle George Fant was lost for the season to injury, meaning that second-year player Rees Odhiambo has taken over to protect Wilson’s blindside.
Meanwhile, former Jaguars first-round bust Luke Joeckel is at left guard and Oday Aboushi is slated to play right tackle. That’s the changes from a unit that was one of the worst in the NFL last season. It will be interesting to see how this group performs in front of Wilson, who has continued to impress during the summer. Should it play at a better-than-expected level, there’s no real reason to believe Seattle can’t contend for a conference title in 2017. If not, a repeat of last year’s early playoff exit should be expected.
Arizona Cardinals: Swan song for Carson and Larry
It’s looking more and more like this will be the last season for both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer flirted with retirement following the 2016 campaign, while Fitzgerald has indicated there’s not going to be any warning from him on an impending retirement.
Without a real replacement for either player, this is pretty much Arizona’s last best chance of contention with its current core of players. Sure David Johnson is one of the most-dynamic running backs in the game. Arizona also has a tremendous trio in the defensive backfield in the form of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and rookie Budda Baker. But there’s a lot of other issues that can’t be masked.
The Cardinals’ offensive line remains one of the worst among contenders in the NFL. That’s only going to come up in six games against NFC West opponents, where defensive line play is the name of the game. How will the Cardinals and an immobile Palmer handle the Aaron Donalds, Michael Bennetts and Solomon Thomas’ of the world? This could dictate whether Arizona earns a playoff spot after a year hiatus.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff’s team
Prior to struggling big time in the team’s third preseason game, Goff looked extremely sharp in Sean McVay’s newly-installed offense. He seemed to find a comfort zone with rookie Cooper Kupp and was given a reinforment in the Sammy Watkins’ trade.
But in that third preseason outing, Goff looked much more like the rookie quarterback that struggled so horribly last season. He was incredibly inaccurate, struggled with pocket awareness and failed to do anything of substance down field. For a Rams team that boasts surprising talent on offense, this just isn’t acceptable.
Should Goff’s struggles continue into the regular season, questions will be raised about his ability to be a true franchise quarterback. He has everything he needs to succeed. It’s now up to the former CAL standout to up his game on the field.
San Francisco 49ers: New regime, new team
As evidenced in the first half of San Francisco’s preseason game against Minnesota, first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have done a tremendous job building up the talent of this roster. It was a complete roster upheaval for the team in the offseason, with as many as 30 new players set to make the final 53-man roster.
While the 49ers’ offense will likely struggle in 2017, it has a ton of untapped talent on defense. That includes youngsters Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Reuben Foster in the front seven. Each one of these players have Pro Bowl ability. The same can be said for Rashard Robinson, Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid in the secondary. If San Francisco is going to challenge for a .500 record in 2017, it will be due to the maturation of this talented young defense.