The 2016-17 NFL season kicks off with a lot of changes from last year. Some were expected in advance, while some were not expected until the last fortnight. Take a look at some of the key changes.
Peyton Manning retired, and Brock Osweiler left Super Bowl Champion Denver. The Broncos added Mark Sanchez and then released him, leaving Trevor Siemian as the opening night starter. Siemian suffered a torn ACL in 2015. He comes from the Spread Formation at Northwestern, and he has never taken a snap in a regular season NFL game. Normally, when a team goes with a raw talent, they have a graybeard in reserve, but the number two man will be rookie Paxton Lynch from the University of Memphis.
Tom Brady will be a spectator for four weeks, leaving the New England Patriots about a touchdown to 10 points weaker for their first four games. Our ratings reflect this deduction, and in week five, New England’s rating will rise by several points.
Philadelphia begins anew with a new coach in Doug Pederson, and a new quarterback. Carson Wentz, a rookie from FCS North Dakota State, will eventually become the starter when he is healthy, so for now the Eagles must get by with Chase Daniel.
The Rams have returned to Los Angeles, and until their new palace is constructed, they will be playing once again at the venerable, archaic Los Angeles Coliseum, where they once ruled the West Coast with stars like Roman Gabriel, Dick Bass, Jack Snow, and the renowned Fearsome Foursome defensive line that led the universe in quarterback sacks. When the Rams last played a real game at the Coliseum, they won the NFC Championship and lost the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh. That was the 1979 season, 37 years ago. According to Pro Football Reference, The Rams are 143-77-8 in the old stadium, one of the best home field advantages in NFL history.
There are four new head coaches in the league this year. Besides the previously mentioned Pederson with Philadelphia, Dirk Koetter takes over at Tampa Bay, Adam Gase assumed command in Miami, and Ben McAdoo inherits the perpetual hot seat with the New York Giants. Koetter has a nice track record as a college head coach and long time offensive coordinator at both the collegiate and professional levels. Gase brings the utmost endorsement of Peyton Manning, after his offense led the Broncos to all sorts of records in 2013. McAdoo is another offensive guru and has the endorsement of Eli Manning. Pederson also comes from the attack side of the ball, where he was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator at Kansas City.
Now for the two major late developments. Injuries to Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota and Tony Romo in Dallas, have led to us adjusting our ratings at the 11th hour. The Vikings plucked Sam Bradford from Philly, and thus their rating does not suffer much. However, combining Romo’s injury with numerous other injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys saw their rating drop by almost as many points as the Pats without Brady. The late signing of Sanchez does not swing the pendulum much, since rookie Dak Prescott will be the starter.
The opening ratings for this season indicate to us that this will be a season with a lot more parity than in recent years. We could foresee many teams still in the playoff hunt in Mid-December with a lengthy list of playoff possibilities heading into the final week. In seasons like this, a last place or third place team from the previous year could take advantage of the weak schedule and sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team with an 8-8 or 9-7 record.
The sexy pick this year is Oakland, where the Raiders have a powerful offense and improving defense, but the AFC West is really competitive this year. Denver’s offense will backslide, and we see a pattern in the defenses led by Wade Phillips, where the teams he has led in the past do not sustain the same defensive strength the year after they dominated. San Diego is capable of challenging in this division, so all four teams could be in a two or three win window at the end.
The Giants went 6-10 last year, and in a weaker division, it is not impossible for Eli and Company to go 9-7 this year and make the playoffs. Tampa Bay and New Orleans both have just enough talent to eke out a possible 9-7 season, but Atlanta is also capable of going 10-6 or better and even challenge Carolina for the NFC South.
There are a couple of teams that appear to have all the pieces in place to go far this year. In the AFC, after Brady’s return, the Patriots could go 10-2 or better and enter the playoffs as the team to beat in the conference. Cincinnati is looking at a do or die season to make hay. A team cannot stay consistently good for that many years without a Manning or Brady. The Bengals were much closer to winning a playoff game last year than they have since they played in the Super Bowl in 1989. This should be the year where Cinti finally advances to the next round of the playoffs, if the Bengals stay healthy.
The AFC South appears to be the weakest division in the NFL. Houston will be a bit weaker this year, even if Osweiler puts up good numbers. The Texans have a lot of issues on the defensive side, especially if J.J. Watt cannot play at full speed. Indianapolis has a lot of holes, but the Colts have the return of Andrew Luck. Jacksonville is all enthused over a great draft class and an improved roster, but the Jaguars are still at least a year away. As for Tennessee, the Titans could possibly be looking at the top pick in the draft for the second year in a row.
The NFC’s stength lies in the West, where Arizona and Seattle both have Super Bowl caliber squads, and Los Angeles has the material to challenge for an 8-8 or 9-7 record. San Francisco should challenge Tennessee and Cleveland for the worst overall record.
In the North, the Vikings still have a lot of talent, but we doubt Adrian Peterson will have the same or even similar season on the ground as he did last year. The mobile Bridgewater had to be accounted for as a possible bootleg runner when Peterson was the lone back in the backfield. Bradford is not a threat to run a counter away from the expected flow. We expect the Vikings to settle around the .500 mark. Green Bay should waltz to the division title, but keep an eye on Detroit. The Lions were 6-2 in the second half of the season after a horrendous 1-7 start, and we believe they are closer to a 10-6 team than a 6-10 team. As for the Bears, if things don’t go well in September, then the Midway Monsters may be more like mice and fall into the 10-12 loss area, where the next coach will choose a new quarterback.
We will debut our playoff projections in October. Here are our beginning PiRate Ratings for 2016. Remember, these ratings reflect Brady, Romo, and Bridgewater not playing. They also reflect Watt playing at about 70% effectiveness, as our ratings have algorithms for starting players not playing or playing at less than full strength.
You will also notice that we have added an offense and defense rating this year, and we will issue both predicted spreads and predicted totals. And, unlike many other ratings, our home field advantages vary by the game. Seattle’s advantage can be a couple points different when they host Miami as opposed to San Francisco. Distance, weather, and playing field play an important part, as well as things like consecutive road games and playing on a Thursday or Saturday as opposed to Sunday or Monday.
|Current NFL PiRate Ratings|
|A F C|
|N. Y. Jets||103.5||101.0||104.7||103.1||61||42|
|N F C|
Spreads for Week 1
|Kansas City||San Diego||8.6||6.7||10.4||30-21|
|N. Y. Jets||Cincinnati||-1.0||-2.9||-0.7||19-22|
|Dallas||N. Y. Giants||-2.7||-1.3||-3.0||19-21|
|San Francisco||Los Angeles||-2.7||-2.8||-3.3||17-20|