The Best of the NFL

by Jim Feist

The pro football season kicks off this week when the defending champion Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff rematch from two years ago (27-20, Pats).  The AFC has won 13 of the last 20 Super Bowls and here’s a look at some of the best of the NFL.

Falcons: Atlanta has it all, a speedy young defense that won the NFC and a powerhouse offense behind QB Matt Ryan (38 TDs, 7 INTs) and star WR Julio Jones (1,409 yards). The balanced offense led the NFL in scoring (33.8 ppg). Re-signing RB Devonta Freeman last month was the final piece to keep this talented group going.
So what about a Super Bowl hangover? Teams that lose the Super Bowl often have a black cloud over them the following year. Carolina carried a 17-1 record into the Super Bowl two years ago, then after getting upset by Denver fell apart last fall in a 6-10 campaign. And the Falcons didn’t just lose any Super Bowl, but carry the added weight of suffering the biggest collapse of all time. They play five of their first eight on the road, including a rematch at New England.

Packers: Green Bay was fourth in the NFL in scoring (27 ppg) behind 33-year old QB Aaron Rodgers (40 TDs, 7 INTs) , while the defense was eighth at stuffing the run. The offense should give Atlanta a run, with three talented wide receivers (Nelson, Adams, Cobb) and new TE Martellus Bennett.
The defense was second worst against the pass, so they stocked up using their first four draft picks on defensive players. Green Bay also backed up the Brinks truck to keep Nick Perry (11 sacks) alongside Clay Matthews, so are we looking at a Packers/Falcons NFC title game rematch?

Seahawks: …Not if the talkative Seahawks have a say. Seattle is a force on defense, a physical, talented unit that was third in points allowed, seventh against the run.  QB Russell Wilson (21 TDs, 11 INTs) is in his prime on a passing attack that was Top 10 in yards, while newcomer RB Eddie Lacy could add better balance.
LSU guard Ethan Pocic hopes to help an offensive line that allowed 42 sacks — most of any playoff team. One downside is the early season schedule, opening with four of six on the road, including long trips to the Packers, Titans and Giants. But this is a veteran team that knows how to bounce back from slow starts — if they have one.

Raiders: The new kids on the block came out of nowhere to make the playoffs a year ago. QB Derek Carr (28 TDs, 6 INTs) leads an offense that was seventh in points, sixth in rushing and adds RB Marshawn Lynch from the retirement home.  The young offense certainly gelled faster than the young defense that finished #20 in yards allowed, #24 against the pass. So the front office used five off its first six draft picks to shore up the defense. Younger even still, but better?  We might not know until the playoffs as Oakland only faces a handful of good QBs (Eli Manning, Brady, Dak Prescott, Alex Smith). 

Patriots: After a nine-year Super Bowl title drought the Patriots have been back with a vengeance, taking two of the last three championships. QB Tom Brady (28 TDs, 2 INTs) shows no signs of slowing down at age 40 and is surrounded by an incredible array of talent. The offense was third in points scored despite missing Brady for four games and looks even better after adding speedy WR Brandon Cooks.  And don’t forget they won the Super Bowl without star TE Rob Gronkowski, who has been rehabbing.
Bill Belichick attacked the offseason as if the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to Atlanta, which they should have, adding speed on both sides of the lines. They spent money and traded away their first round pick, two things they rarely do. Brady began his career by winning three of four Super Bowls. He has a chance to do it again, so would that mean he hoists the Lombardi Trophy then walks off into the sunset?

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