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1 New England Patriots AFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwe-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwe-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwe-03.png-0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 14-2 | Won: Super Bowl

Anything less than a Super Bowl repeat would be a disappointment for the Patriots. That reflects how high the bar is in New England and also how Bill Belichick loaded up this offseason with several headline-grabbing personnel moves, including the trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Tom Brady has plenty of weapons as he says goodbye to his 30s. How many starting quarterbacks continue to play at such a high level into their 40s? As owner Robert Kraft said in March, the list isn't long, but no one in New England is betting against Brady. -- MIKE REISS

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC East 93.7
Projected
wins
11.8
Strength of
schedule rank
27
Chance to win Super Bowl 32.3

Over/under: 11.8 wins?

Over. With a division void of any real challengers and roster seemingly improved over last year's Super Bowl team, don't be surprised at all if the Patriots rattle off another 13-plus-win season. -- MIKE REISS

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
1 2 4

Game-by-game projections

The Patriots are the only NFL team to be favored in all 16 of their games this season, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 7 vs. Chiefs
    73.9
  • Sept. 17 @ Saints
    65.7
  • Sept. 24 vs. Texans
    80.9
  • Oct. 1 vs. Panthers
    76.6
  • Oct. 5 @ Buccaneers
    60.2
  • Oct. 15 @ Jets
    86.2
  • Oct. 22 vs. Falcons
    72.7
  • Oct. 29 vs. Chargers
    83.4
  • Nov. 12 @ Broncos
    65.6
  • Nov. 19 vs. Raiders
    59.0
  • Nov. 26 vs. Dolphins
    81.8
  • Dec. 3 @ Bills
    72.5
  • Dec. 11 @ Dolphins
    67.7
  • Dec. 17 @ Steelers
    50.7
  • Dec. 24 vs. Bills
    85.6
  • Dec. 31 vs. Jets
    92.9
Mike Reiss predicts every Patriots game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They have new pieces that look good in fantasy football, but how are those new pieces going to integrate into the offense and the defense? That is the biggest thing for them. Stephon Gilmore has never done anything of substance. There has always been a lot of talent and ability, but not necessarily translating into 'I'm a shutdown guy,' which he was paid like." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

It is rare for a defending Super Bowl champion to have so many starters returning. Running back LeGarrette Blount (Eagles), tight end Martellus Bennett (Packers) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (injury) are the lone offensive players missing from last season. The addition of cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) helps make up for losing Logan Ryan to the Titans in free agency. -- MIKE REISS

Players:
Returning
New
1

QB depth chart ranking

Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
It says everything you need to know about Brady that a team with a 40-year-old starter could sit atop this list. But Brady just had one of his best seasons, and Garoppolo is regarded as perhaps the top backup quarterback in the entire league. New England turned down all overtures for Garoppolo trades this offseason, which tells you it was determined to keep its quarterback situation intact. And why not? A decision awaits following the season on what to do with pending free agent Garoppolo -- re-sign him, let him go, maybe franchise him? But the Patriots are in a position to evaluate Brady after another season and see what makes the most sense for 2018 and beyond. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Mike Gillislee
The 26-year-old has averaged 5.7 yards per carry each of the past two years, and is now the favorite to take over for Blount as New England's lead back. That role allowed Blount a league-best 18 rushing scores last year. Gillislee won't hit that mark, but he sports huge scoring upside in the Patriots' elite offense. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Patriots are the NFL's best offense at using running backs in the passing game, and this scheme allows Brady to find a favorable matchup in scoring situations. With James White (H) offset to the slot side of the formation, the Patriots send Chris Hogan (X) and Cooks (W) down the field on the double post concept to clear out the top of the secondary. That allows White, matched up against a linebacker, to stem up and the field and break to the 7 (corner) route. Working through traffic and already at a speed disadvantage, this is a tough route for the linebacker to cover with no help over the top. And that creates a situation in which Brady (Q) can target a true one on one to put more points on the board. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Talk of a potential undefeated season will end soon, as the Patriots will lose one of their early-season games, potentially as soon as Week 2 at New Orleans. Issues at defensive end and depth at left tackle will show up early before the team finds its groove. -- MIKE REISS

2 Pittsburgh Steelers AFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/pit-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/pit-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/pit-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 11-5 | Lost in AFC Championship

Stocked with high-level talent at every position, the Steelers might be the AFC's fiercest contender to New England's throne. The quartet of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant finally looks set to play a full season together. The offensive line is one of the league's best, and the defense is brimming with athletic first-round picks. But the championship window won't be cracked open for long, especially if Big Ben walks away after the season and Bell signs elsewhere in 2018. The Steelers' blueprint is simple: Get home-field advantage in the playoffs, and shake the Patriots for good. -- JEREMY FOWLER

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC North 62.7
Projected
wins
10.2
Strength of
schedule rank
22
Chance to win Super Bowl 9.5

Over/under: 10.2 wins?

Over. The Steelers escaped training camp without major injury and add Bryant to an already potent offense. On paper, the secondary has improved. At full tilt, Pittsburgh can hang with any team in the league and push for a fourth consecutive double-digit-win season. Eleven wins seems like a sweet spot given the occasional sluggish road performances. -- JEREMY FOWLER

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
4 12 15

Game-by-game projections

The Steelers are favored to win 14 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Browns
    74.4
  • Sept. 17 vs. Vikings
    70.0
  • Sept. 24 @ Bears
    67.7
  • Oct. 1 @ Ravens
    54.3
  • Oct. 8 vs. Jaguars
    81.4
  • Oct. 15 @ Chiefs
    43.8
  • Oct. 22 vs. Bengals
    67.9
  • Oct. 29 @ Lions
    51.9
  • Nov. 12 @ Colts
    61.5
  • Nov. 16 vs. Titans
    71.1
  • Nov. 26 vs. Packers
    61.3
  • Dec. 4 @ Bengals
    54.6
  • Dec. 10 vs. Ravens
    70.1
  • Dec. 17 vs. Patriots
    48.9
  • Dec. 25 @ Texans
    52.6
  • Dec. 31 vs. Browns
    85.6
Jeremy Fowler predicts every Steelers game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"The Steelers have the best offense in the league when all their guys are healthy. The biggest fear I have is Le'Veon Bell pulling his hammy because he is not going to be in game shape [after missing the preseason], and then you're going to miss him for 3-4 weeks. That's the thing with Pittsburgh. The only thing that is going to slow them down is themselves." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Linebacker Vince Williams (98) replaces Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker. He has 17 career starts in four seasons. The Steelers' defense is hoping for several Pro Bowl performances from high draft picks Ryan Shazier (50), Bud Dupree (48) and Stephon Tuitt (91), who have gained valuable starting experience the past three years. Pittsburgh also added veteran cornerback Joe Haden (21) late in the preseason. One of the league's best offensive lines spends a third season together, but the Steelers aren't relying on continuity to translate to easy wins. "We're not seeking comfort," coach Mike Tomlin said. -- JEREMY FOWLER

Players:
Returning
New
6

QB depth chart ranking

Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs
Roethlisberger is 35, publicly flirted with retirement this offseason and has played a full 16-game schedule just three times in his 13-year career. Jones has been a fair backup but isn't the long-term replacement, and while the team feels great about the rookie Dobbs, it's far too early to assess his long-term prospects. The Steelers' offense should hum as long as Roethlisberger is on the field, but he can't be counted on to stay there, and it's worth wondering how much longer he'll play. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant
The Clemson product has scored 17 touchdowns in 24 career games, but off-field troubles have derailed an extremely promising career. Bryant has been reinstated after missing all of last season and is still only 25 years old. The 6-foot-4 deep threat is penciled in as Roethlisberger's No. 2 target. Bryant has double-digit touchdown upside. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

This Steelers run-pass option is tough on defenses because it pairs a power scheme with the tight end releasing on the quick, inside pop pass to an area of the field that will be vacated by the linebackers. Here, Roethlisberger (Q) can read the conflict linebacker. If the linebacker sinks at the snap, he hands the ball off to Bell (H) with the tackle pulling to the run side. If the linebacker reads run and attacks downhill with the pull, Roethlisberger can quickly get the ball out of his hands to Jesse James (Y) on the pop pass. And based on what I've seen on tape, the pass is going to be there. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Steelers' defense will vault into the NFL's top five for the first time since 2012, when it ranked No. 1 overall in yards allowed. Since then, the Steelers haven't ranked higher than 12th. But the team has poured high draft picks into this side of the ball, and the investments should start to pay off. -- JEREMY FOWLER

3 Seattle Seahawks NFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sea-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sea-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sea-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
10-5-1 | Lost in Divisional Round

The Seahawks' 2016 season was largely defined by injuries to Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas and a running game that couldn't find its footing. But Wilson is healthy and seems primed for a bounce-back season, Thomas has looked like his All-Pro self this summer and the Seahawks brought in Eddie Lacy to pair with Thomas Rawls in their backfield. Plus, Richard Sherman seems fully engaged after a tumultuous season and Seattle's already-loaded defense got even stronger with the trade for Sheldon Richardson. This is no longer the young team that won the Super Bowl and nearly repeated the next year, but veteran players have refuted any notion that their championship window is closing. The Seahawks believe they're ready for another run at the Lombardi Trophy. -- BRADY HENDERSON

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC West 72.0
Projected
wins
10.3
Strength of
Schedule Rank
28
Chance to win Super Bowl 10.7

Over/under: 10.3 wins?

Over. The opener at Green Bay notwithstanding, the Seahawks have a very manageable schedule. Two teams in their division -- the Rams and 49ers -- are rebuilding. The Seahawks have won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. With a roster that still ranks among the NFL's best, they should be able to get 11 victories in 2017. That should be enough to secure a playoff game at home, where the Seahawks are tough to beat. -- BRADY HENDERSON

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
7 5 5

Game-by-game projections

The Seahawks are favored to win 13 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Packers
    38.5
  • Sept. 17 vs. 49ers
    87.0
  • Sept. 24 @ Titans
    50.7
  • Oct. 1 vs. Colts
    76.0
  • Oct. 8 @ Rams
    66.9
  • Oct. 22 @ Giants
    48.7
  • Oct. 29 vs. Texans
    70.3
  • Nov. 5 vs. Redskins
    75.8
  • Nov. 9 @ Cardinals
    52.9
  • Nov. 20 vs. Falcons
    66.6
  • Nov. 26 @ 49ers
    67.7
  • Dec. 3 vs. Eagles
    70.2
  • Dec. 10 @ Jaguars
    61.7
  • Dec. 17 vs. Rams
    82.2
  • Dec. 24 @ Cowboys
    41.8
  • Dec. 31 vs. Cardinals
    72.2
Sheil Kapadia predicts every Seahawks game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They seem to survive it, but their team dynamic with all the talking and the locker room and all that stuff is the concern for me. They are plenty good enough, their quarterback is good enough, they have a great coach. It's just keeping it together. How long can all that stuff go on and it not affect you on the field?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The biggest turnover from last season is on Seattle's offensive line, where the team signed left guard Luke Joeckel (78) in free agency and then lost starting left tackle George Fant due to a torn ACL in the preseason. That group has a chance to be better than its 2016 version even with Rees Odhiambo (70) stepping in at left tackle, but that's not a particularly high bar given the issues Seattle's offensive line has had in recent seasons. The addition of Richardson gives the Seahawks a defensive line reminiscent of what it had during its Super Bowl season in 2013. -- BRADY HENDERSON

Players:
Returning
New
9

QB depth chart ranking

Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
Where to start with Wilson? Well, we're feeling good at this point, so how about with the good. He never misses games. He plays hurt. He has won a Super Bowl, so they know he can do that. He's only 28 and he's signed for three more years. The bad? Well, this offseason came with revelations that he's not the best-loved fellow in his own locker room. One year after winning the Super Bowl, he threw one of the most devastating interceptions in the game's history to lose the Super Bowl. And the team's continued refusal to invest in the offensive line in any meaningful way means there's always going to be a strong chance that he continues to get hurt. The Seahawks looked at Colin Kaepernick but decided to go with far lower-ceiling options at backup quarterback, so if Wilson goes down, Davis is the next man up. And that's not good. Still, Wilson alone makes this a top-10 situation. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back C.J. Prosise
The Notre Dame product was nothing short of exceptional on 47 rookie-season touches, but injuries limited him to six games. Prosise will open the year as a change-of-pace option to Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy, but he's a 6-foot, 220-pound converted wide receiver with three-down ability. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a creative mind, and that shows here with the pre-snap movement and play action to generate an open window to hit Graham on the quick seam. With Baldwin (W) in the slot, the Seahawks use orbit motion behind the quarterback to draw the eyes of the defense and force an alert to an option scheme (Baldwin as the pitch man). That allows Wilson (Q) to ride Lacy (H) through the mesh point before pulling the ball to target Graham (Y). And with the middle linebacker running downhill and now removed from the inside hole, there is a clear window for Wilson to deliver a quick strike to Graham. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Wilson will be the league's MVP. He's slimmed down to 208 pounds and has regained the mobility he lost last season while dealing with ankle and knee sprains. Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett and C.J. Prosise give him what might be his best group of pass-catching weapons, and an improved running game should -- in theory -- open things up for Wilson down the field. Wilson played at an MVP level during the second half of the 2015 season, when he threw for 25 touchdowns and two interceptions over the final eight games. That production would be difficult to sustain over a full season, but Wilson has that level of efficiency in him. -- BRADY HENDERSON

4 Green Bay Packers NFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/gnb-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/gnb-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/gnb-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 10-6 | Lost in NFC Championship

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the Packers positioned for an NFL-record ninth consecutive playoff berth. He's in his prime and stocked with weapons such as new tight end Martellus Bennett, returning receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, and running back Ty Montgomery, who converted from receiver in 2016. But after last season's blowout loss to Atlanta in the NFC title game -- and two overtime playoff exits the previous two seasons -- there's a sense that anything short of a return to the Super Bowl would be a major disappointment for the Packers. -- ROB DEMOVSKY

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC North 58.5
Projected
wins
9.9
Strength of
schedule rank
15
Chance to win Super Bowl 8.6

Over/under: 9.9 wins?

Over. The Packers have won fewer than 10 games only twice in Rodgers' run as quarterback -- his first season (2008, 6-10) and the year he missed nearly half the season with a broken collarbone (2013, 8-7-1). A healthy Rodgers is worth 10 wins by himself, which makes FPI's 9.9 projection too low. -- ROB DEMOVSKY

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
2 18 16

Game-by-game projections

The Packers are favored to win 12 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Seahawks
    61.2
  • Sept. 17 @ Falcons
    43.1
  • Sept. 24 vs. Bengals
    70.9
  • Sept. 28 vs. Bears
    82.1
  • Oct. 8 @ Cowboys
    44.2
  • Oct. 15 @ Vikings
    51.4
  • Oct. 22 vs. Saints
    72.6
  • Nov. 6 vs. Lions
    76.9
  • Nov. 12 @ Bears
    62.5
  • Nov. 19 vs. Ravens
    67.4
  • Nov. 26 @ Steelers
    38.4
  • Dec. 3 vs. Buccaneers
    69.2
  • Dec. 10 @ Browns
    73.1
  • Dec. 17 @ Panthers
    47.7
  • Dec. 23 vs. Vikings
    67.3
  • Dec. 31 @ Lions
    56.2
Rob Demovsky predicts every Packers game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"Bennett is a clear upgrade for them at tight end and a great signing, but if you start slow and Martellus isn't getting the touches he feels he should, you know how it goes. I can almost see a moment during the season when Bennett and Rodgers get into it. I think with Tom Brady, he can tell you to shut the hell up and make you fall into line. Rodgers might give you that look and just kind of turn away and not say anything, and it keeps building until it ultimately blows up. How Rodgers handles that is my biggest question." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Packers lost TE Jared Cook and RG T.J. Lang on offense, replacing them with Bennett (80) and Jahri Evans (73), respectively. Former nickel defensive back Micah Hyde is now in Buffalo, and Green Bay looks like it will start two new cornerbacks, free agent Davon House (31) and rookie Kevin King (20). -- ROB DEMOVSKY

Players:
Returning
New
2

QB depth chart ranking

Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley
If there's a better quarterback in the league than Tom Brady, it's Rodgers, who put a substandard Packers offense on his back last season and carried it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Hundley is also well regarded, even though the only games we've really seen him play have been in the preseason. The thought around the league is that being coached by Mike McCarthy and his staff has to be good for a quarterback's development, and while Hundley is unproven, it's not out of the question that he generates interest on the trade market next offseason. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Ty Montgomery
Fun fact: Montgomery paced the NFL in yards per carry (5.9) and yards after contact per attempt (3.3) last season. And that came after converting to tailback during the season. Now a full-timer, Montgomery is positioned for a breakout in Green Bay's high-scoring offense. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

When the Packers align Jordy Nelson in the slot, coach Mike McCarthy can create opportunities for Rodgers to take a shot down the field. Here, Nelson (X) aligns as the No. 3 WR in a trips look with Bennett (Y) running the backside out route. That's going to hold the cornerback in a three-deep look, and it also opens up the deep hole in the coverage for Nelson to cross the face of the free safety. And with the arm strength and accuracy of Rodgers (Q), this is almost stealing. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Nelson will top the 100-catch mark for the first time in his career. In his past two healthy seasons (2014 and 2016), Nelson caught 98 and 97 passes, respectively. And last year, Nelson didn't even hit his stride until the second half of the season after coming back from his 2015 knee injury. -- ROB DEMOVSKY

5 Atlanta Falcons NFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/atl-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/atl-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/atl-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 11-5 | Lost in Super Bowl

The Falcons have all the tools to make a title run despite the talk of an extended Super Bowl hangover. The offense, led by reigning MVP Matt Ryan, All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, and two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman, should maintain a 30-point average with new coordinator Steve Sarkisian. And Dan Quinn's defense will be faster and more physical than ever with the return of top cornerback Desmond Trufant from a season-ending injury, the continued development of 2016 sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., and the addition of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe to a now-deep defensive line. -- VAUGHN MCCLURE

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC South 34.8
Projected
wins
9.3
Strength of
schedule rank
9
Chance to win Super Bowl 5.1

Over/under: 9.3 wins?

Over. The Falcons entered 2016 with the fourth-hardest projected schedule according to FPI and still made it to the Super Bowl. This season, some weak first-half opponents make Atlanta's schedule a little easier. That, combined with the energy from playing inside the new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, should propel the Falcons to 11 wins. -- VAUGHN MCCLURE

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
3 21 12

Game-by-game projections

The Falcons are favored to win 12 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Bears
    64.6
  • Sept. 17 vs. Packers
    56.6
  • Sept. 24 @ Lions
    53.5
  • Oct. 1 vs. Bills
    76.6
  • Oct. 15 vs. Dolphins
    77.3
  • Oct. 22 @ Patriots
    27.1
  • Oct. 29 @ Jets
    74.6
  • Nov. 5 @ Panthers
    46.1
  • Nov. 12 vs. Cowboys
    59.8
  • Nov. 20 @ Seahawks
    33.2
  • Nov. 26 vs. Buccaneers
    60.7
  • Dec. 3 vs. Vikings
    64.5
  • Dec. 7 vs. Saints
    69.5
  • Dec. 18 @ Buccaneers
    49.3
  • Dec. 24 @ Saints
    50.7
  • Dec. 31 vs. Panthers
    64.0
Vaughn McClure predicts every Falcons game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"Kyle Shanahan got on such a roll calling plays for that offense last season, and now he is gone. Can they duplicate what they had with a new coordinator [Steve Sarkisian] who has never called plays in the NFL? I mean, every play Shanahan called worked. It was crazy." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Falcons are loaded with returning talent on both sides of the ball, including a young, speedy back seven that has all of its starters returning from 2016. The offseason addition of Poe (92) gives Atlanta a disruptive dimension they lacked last season in the middle of the line. -- VAUGHN MCCLURE

Players:
Returning
New
3

QB depth chart ranking

Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
Ryan is the reigning league MVP at age 32, and even though former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has left to coach the 49ers, Ryan will be operating the same offense that scored 33.8 points per game in 2016. Schaub stayed on as Ryan's understudy instead of following Shanahan to San Francisco, so the Falcons have an experienced backup who knows the offense in case Ryan (who hasn't missed a game since 2009) were to go down. It's worth at least wondering whether the change of offensive coordinators to Steve Sarkisian will affect this offense's performance on game days. But big picture, this is a team supremely confident in what it has at the position. Ryan has two years left on his contract and will likely get a monster extension next summer. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Tight end Austin Hooper
The 22-year-old was Atlanta's third-round pick last year and is well positioned for a full-time role in 2017 with Jacob Tamme's departure. Hooper will be plenty involved in an offense that scored an NFL-high 58 touchdowns last season, 10 of which went to tight ends. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Kyle Shanahan has moved to San Francisco, but Sarkisian can continue to use Freeman and Tevin Coleman as weapons in the passing game. With the ball in the strike zone (20- to 35-yard line) and two tight ends on the field (Y, U), the Falcons shift Coleman (H) to create an empty set and a mismatch against a linebacker. With a QB like Ryan (Q) behind center, this is six points waiting to happen. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Jones becomes the first receiver in NFL history to top 2,000 yards and surpass Calvin Johnson's 1,964 (2012). Opposing defensive coordinators won't be able to focus as much attention on shutting down Jones with the Falcons' many offensive threats. -- VAUGHN MCCLURE

6 Dallas Cowboys NFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/dal-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/dal-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/dal-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 13-3 | Lost in Divisional Round

The Cowboys haven't played in a Super Bowl since 1995, but they believe they are close thanks to the way Dak Prescott burst onto the scene a year ago. Instead of struggling to find Tony Romo's heir, Prescott showed in 2016 he was ready to lead. Dallas will have to count on its offensive line if Ezekiel Elliott's court case isn't successful in reducing or eliminating his six-game suspension. The Cowboys are hoping Prescott can do what Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson did in their second seasons: win a Lombardi Trophy. -- TODD ARCHER

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC East 38.8
Projected
wins
9.2
Strength of
schedule rank
5
Chance to win Super Bowl 4.8

Over/under: 9.2 wins?

Over. The Cowboys surprised many with 13 wins last season after their 4-12 collapse in 2015. Expecting them to win 13 games this season is not wise, considering their history and with Elliott facing six-game suspension after Week 1. The NFC East looks improved and the schedule will be more difficult, but the Cowboys enter as the favorite and likely will need to top FPI's projected wins to secure a second consecutive division title. -- TODD ARCHER

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
5 16 10

Game-by-game projections

The Cowboys are favored to win 12 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Giants
    65.0
  • Sept. 17 @ Broncos
    50.7
  • Sept. 25 @ Cardinals
    50.7
  • Oct. 1 vs. Rams
    79.9
  • Oct. 8 vs. Packers
    55.4
  • Oct. 22 @ 49ers
    73.1
  • Oct. 29 @ Redskins
    52.2
  • Nov. 5 vs. Chiefs
    60.5
  • Nov. 12 @ Falcons
    39.8
  • Nov. 19 vs. Eagles
    61.5
  • Nov. 23 vs. Chargers
    71.0
  • Nov. 30 vs. Redskins
    71.3
  • Dec. 10 @ Giants
    43.8
  • Dec. 17 @ Raiders
    38.6
  • Dec. 24 vs. Seahawks
    57.8
  • Dec. 31 @ Eagles
    44.3
Todd Archer predicts every Cowboys game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They let a bunch of defensive guys walk. How talented are they on that side of the ball? Rod Marinelli will make the most of it, but I don't know if they have enough defense in the end. They are going to have to score points, but the offensive line is not as good, and Ezekiel Elliott is suspended. It is going to be a little more difficult for Dak [Prescott] this season." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

If Ezekiel Elliott's (21) suspension stays in place, the Cowboys would be down one starter away from an offense that returns almost in full with La'el Collins (71) moving from left guard to right tackle. On defense, the secondary will have new faces playing big roles in Nolan Carroll (24), Jeff Heath (38) and Chidobe Awuzie. Following Anthony Hitchens' injury, which could keep him out for eight or more weeks, Jaylon Smith (54) and Justin Durant will split time at middle linebacker. -- TODD ARCHER

Players:
Returning
New
15

QB depth chart ranking

Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
To be clear: The Cowboys are in love with Prescott, totally convinced he's their guy for the future and of the belief he will build on his historically impressive rookie season in Year 2 and beyond. There's nothing not to like about Prescott. But many who are reading (I know from experience) will think this is too low for the Cowboys. My answer is simple: It was only one season. As brilliant a year as Prescott had, you have to give me more than one before we can talk high-level confidence. And this is a confidence ranking, not a who-had-the-best-2016 ranking. Prescott looks as if he'll be without star running back Ezekiel Elliott for some period of time this season, which will be a major test for the Cowboys' young signal-caller. And undrafted rookie Cooper Rush as the backup is a total unknown, though Dallas is expected to bring back Kellen Moore after releasing him over the weekend. This situation appears to be on the rise, but it'd be crazy to think there's no chance it could break the other way. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Ryan Switzer
The Dallas offense isn't exactly flush with young, potential breakout players (Prescott and Elliott already busted out last year), leaving Switzer as the name to watch by default. The fourth-round slot receiver figures to see his workload increase as the year progresses. Keep him on your watch list.-- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Cowboys' ability to run the ball creates even more play-action opportunities for Prescott in the deep red zone. With a trips look to the open side of the field and Elliott or McFadden (H) aligned in the Pistol, Dallas pulls the backside guard. This sets the bait for the linebackers and forces those second-level defenders to play downhill. Now, Prescott (Q) can show the ball to the RB while getting his eyes back to Witten (Y). Here, Witten stems outside breaks back inside to the open window in the middle of the field. This is a high-percentage throw for Prescott and a clean target in the end zone for another six. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Dez Bryant will lead the league in touchdown catches after going through a full offseason program. He made it through training camp unscathed with the coaches not letting him ever participate in three consecutive padded practices. The last time Bryant entered a season healthy and in peak condition was in 2014, and he led the NFL in touchdown catches with 16. -- TODD ARCHER

7 Kansas City Chiefs AFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/kan-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/kan-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/kan-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 12-4 | Lost in Divisional Round

Last season, the Chiefs won 12 games and their first AFC West title since 2010. They also lost in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Chiefs are attempting deeper postseason run with largely the same cast as last season. They don't figure to get a lot of immediate help from their draft. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, their first-round draft pick, will back up starter Alex Smith. -- ADAM TEICHER

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC West 38.5
Projected
wins
9.2
Strength of
schedule rank
11
Chance to win Super Bowl 4.6

Over/under: 9.2 wins?

Over. The Chiefs have won at least 11 games in three of their four seasons while coached by Andy Reid, with nine wins being the low-water mark in 2014. -- ADAM TEICHER

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
9 9 1

Game-by-game projections

The Chiefs are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 7 @ Patriots
    25.8
  • Sept. 17 vs. Eagles
    67.3
  • Sept. 24 @ Chargers
    49.6
  • Oct. 2 vs. Redskins
    70.8
  • Oct. 8 @ Texans
    49.6
  • Oct. 15 vs. Steelers
    55.8
  • Oct. 19 @ Raiders
    38.7
  • Oct. 30 vs. Broncos
    69.3
  • Nov. 5 @ Cowboys
    39.2
  • Nov. 19 @ Giants
    47.0
  • Nov. 26 vs. Bills
    76.6
  • Dec. 3 @ Jets
    73.5
  • Dec. 10 vs. Raiders
    61.1
  • Dec. 16 vs. Chargers
    71.5
  • Dec. 24 vs. Dolphins
    74.3
  • Dec. 31 @ Broncos
    49.1
Adam Teicher predicts every Chiefs game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"Their receiving corps is really, really young and kind of a question mark. They are built on dink and dunk, and they just don't have anyone who threatens you in their receiving corps. They are hoping [Chris] Conley will become that guy, but he really hasn't." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Kansas City's continuity on defense is startling. Only nose tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Steven Nelson are gone from 2016's core, with Bennie Logan (96) and Phillip Gaines (23) replacing them. Running back Kareem Hunt (27) is the lone rookie projected to start. -- ADAM TEICHER

Players:
Returning
New
14

QB depth chart ranking

Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes II, Tyler Bray
Smith is another quarterback who offers a high floor but not much in the way of ceiling. He can run the offense the way coach Andy Reid wants it run, and he protects the ball as well as any quarterback this side of Foxborough. But we're at the point in Smith's career where it's fair to wonder if he'll ever have the ability to elevate a team beyond first- or second-round-of-the-playoffs type of success. The raw ability of rookie first-round pick Mahomes offers some excitement for the future, but he has a lot of developing to do before he becomes "the man." -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Kareem Hunt
The third-round rookie out of Toledo is exceptionally elusive and terrific after initial contact. He has three-down ability and is a natural fit in Reid's running-back-friendly offense. Spencer Ware's season-ending knee injury catapults Hunt into a full-time role. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Reid does an excellent job dressing up his basic concepts by using personnel and alignment to create issues for opposing defenses. In this example, the Chiefs bring 11 personnel on the field (2WR, 2TE, 1 RB), aligning in a diamond formation with receivers Tyreek Hill (Z) and De'Anthony Thomas (X) in the backfield. That sets off an immediate alert (and panic) for the defense. The Chiefs show the buck sweep scheme as both guards pull to the front side of the formation and Smith (Q) flashes the ball to Hill on the fake. That forces the linebackers to chase while Thomas releases to the weak side flat. Off the boot action, Smith can dump the ball to a wide-open Thomas for an easy score. And that's how you dress up a play at the pro level. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Chiefs will lose again in the divisional round at New England as they did two years ago. The Chiefs will hold the Patriots to 20 points but will continue their playoff struggles on offense. That will convince the Chiefs it's time to move on from Smith and begin the Mahomes era. -- ADAM TEICHER

8 Oakland Raiders AFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/oak-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/oak-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/oak-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 12-4 | Lost in Wild Card

#ReturnToGreatness may as well be stamped across coach Jack Del Rio's chest, emblazoned across the Oakland Raiders' facility and, dare we say it, stenciled on the Las Vegas Strip, which will be home to the Silver and Black soon enough. With quarterback Derek Carr recovered from his broken leg and defensive Khalil Mack looking for a second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award, expectations for the Raiders are at their highest in 15 years. That's what happens when you improve from an 0-10 start in 2014 to 7-9 in 2015 to 12-4 last season. Dust those hashtags off, indeed. -- PAUL GUTIERREZ

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC West 34.2
Projected
wins
9.1
Strength of
schedule rank
4
Chance to win Super Bowl 3.8

Over/under: 9.1 wins?

Over. Sure, the Raiders have FPI's fourth-toughest projected schedule. But they are also coming off a 12-win season and made improvements on offense and special teams with the additions of running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. -- PAUL GUTIERREZ

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
6 15 11

Game-by-game projections

The Raiders are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Titans
    46.5
  • Sept. 17 vs. Jets
    89.1
  • Sept. 24 @ Redskins
    48.3
  • Oct. 1 @ Broncos
    47.9
  • Oct. 8 vs. Ravens
    71.3
  • Oct. 15 vs. Chargers
    69.2
  • Oct. 19 vs. Chiefs
    61.0
  • Oct. 29 @ Bills
    57.4
  • Nov. 5 @ Dolphins
    49.7
  • Nov. 19 vs. Patriots
    40.6
  • Nov. 26 vs. Broncos
    68.3
  • Dec. 3 vs. Giants
    64.0
  • Dec. 10 @ Chiefs
    38.5
  • Dec. 17 vs. Cowboys
    61.0
  • Dec. 25 @ Eagles
    41.7
  • Dec. 31 @ Chargers
    51.5
Paul Gutierrez predicts every Raiders game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"The Raiders had three huge hits in terms of Carr, Mack and Amari Cooper. Those stars drive all the narratives, but people aren't paying that much attention to how poor their defense has been, and whether they've done enough to upgrade it, especially at middle linebacker. That is still the issue in Oakland." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Raiders should be able to win a lot of shootouts with their elite offense -- something we should see plenty of despite the presence of Mack (52). The defense will have two rookie starters: Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (94) and linebacker Marquel Lee (55). First-round cornerback Gareon Conley should also see plenty of playing time in the secondary. -- PAUL GUTIERREZ

Players:
Returning
New
10

QB depth chart ranking

Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook
There really aren't many questions about Carr, who just signed a massive contract extension this offseason and is clearly the Raiders' guy now and for the long term. It's really just sample size that keeps the Raiders from moving up this list into the realm of the more established veterans and Super Bowl champions above. Carr has played in just three seasons, improved in each one and established himself in 2016 as a tough fourth-quarter winner. But he has never played in a playoff game or reached 4,000 yards in a season (though he came just 63 yards short last season and missed the final game with a broken leg). All of the arrows point up for Carr, who just needs to keep building on what he has already done to move up. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Jalen Richard
The Raiders may have brought Lynch out of retirement, but Richard is a good bet to retain a change-of-pace role. After going undrafted last year, Richard took his first NFL carry 75 yards for a touchdown, and went on to average 5.9 yards per carry (second best among RBs with 75 or more carries last season), 2.7 of which came after contact (third best). -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

When Cooper gets into the open field, he can break defenders' ankles. That's why I would worry as an opposing coordinator about the tunnel screen to Cooper off play action. Here, the guard pulls and Carr (Q) shows the ball to Lynch (H). That's going to slow the pursuit of the linebackers (following the guard pull) with the left tackle and center releasing on the screen. Cooper (Z) comes back to the ball on the screen with two blockers at the point of attack. This is nothing more than a long hand-off for Carr. A quick and efficient play to get Cooper the rock. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

With Lynch bringing a certain attitude and toughness to Oakland, Carr will improve upon his 1-5 career mark against the Chiefs and the Raiders will win the AFC West -- even if they finish with a worse record than last season's 12-4. -- PAUL GUTIERREZ

9 New York Giants NFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyg-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyg-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyg-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 11-5 | Lost in Wild Card

The Giants added wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram this offseason to jumpstart an offense that struggled to score points last year even with Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning. But with a shaky offensive line, the focus should be on a defense that allowed the second-fewest points last season and returns nine of 11 starters. Behind that defense, there's a belief the Giants can overtake the Cowboys in the NFC East, and contend for a fifth Lombardi Trophy. -- JORDAN RAANAN

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC East 27.0
Projected
wins
8.6
Strength of
schedule rank
3
Chance to win Super Bowl 2.3

Over/under: 8.6 wins?

Over. The Giants won 11 games last year, and there is reason to believe their defense can be even better this year. All they need is the offense to improve, marginally. Even with a harder schedule, this should be a 10-win team. -- JORDAN RAANAN

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
21 1 7

Game-by-game projections

The Giants are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Cowboys
    34.7
  • Sept. 18 vs. Lions
    67.5
  • Sept. 24 @ Eagles
    42.9
  • Oct. 1 @ Buccaneers
    42.8
  • Oct. 8 vs. Chargers
    69.8
  • Oct. 15 @ Broncos
    39.5
  • Oct. 22 vs. Seahawks
    51.0
  • Nov. 5 vs. Rams
    80.0
  • Nov. 12 @ 49ers
    63.9
  • Nov. 19 vs. Chiefs
    52.6
  • Nov. 23 @ Redskins
    49.4
  • Dec. 3 @ Raiders
    35.8
  • Dec. 10 vs. Cowboys
    55.8
  • Dec. 17 vs. Eagles
    60.5
  • Dec. 24 @ Cardinals
    44.4
  • Dec. 31 vs. Redskins
    66.9
Jordan Raanan predicts every Giants game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"I think they are going to be good and they will contend with the Cowboys for the division, but what is their running game? The Giants have always been at their best when they could run the ball, too. It will come down to Eli not declining, and then, do they have the run game to help him out?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Giants parted ways with wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings this offseason. They found one replacement from outside (Marshall, 15) and the other from within (running back Paul Perkins, 28). Their biggest loss was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who signed as a free agent with the Colts. -- JORDAN RAANAN

Players:
Returning
New
7

QB depth chart ranking

Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
Manning is 36. He hasn't missed a game since becoming the Giants' starter in 2004, so it doesn't much matter that Smith is the backup. The Giants are not higher because Manning is heading into the tail end of his career, because his performance dipped a bit in 2016 and because they can't be sure about the plan if he were to get hurt or retire. They drafted Webb in the third round, and he fits what coach Ben McAdoo wants to do with his offense, but he's a project and they can't know for sure if he's the long-term answer. No team is more confident in its quarterback's durability than the Giants, but this isn't 2008 anymore, which is why they're not ranked higher. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Paul Perkins
The Giants' running game was dreadful last season, and Perkins' lack of efficiency and elusiveness was part of the problem. Of course, he's only 22 years old and enters his second season as New York's lead back. Perkins will have every opportunity to run away with the gig. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Beckham has the rare ability to take the ball to the house on a simple slant route, but I love the Giants' double-move. Sterling Shepard (W) running an over route occupies the free safety and sets up Beckham (X) in a one-on-one matchup on the double-move. And this thing isn't a simple stutter-and-go. Nope. Instead, Beckham sells the curl route (turns to the QB) and wheels back over the top with his rare burst, leaving the cornerback in the dust. That's a sure six points when Manning (Q) has time in the pocket for the route to develop. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Giants will finish as the league's top defense in yards and points allowed. It's the second year in the Steve Spagnuolo's system for Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul is another year removed from the fireworks accident and safety Darian Thompson and B.J. Goodson are upgrades from last year. Led by Landon Collins, this unit will take it to another level. -- JORDAN RAANAN

10 Carolina Panthers NFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/car-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/car-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/car-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 6-10 | 4th in NFC South

As Cam Newton goes, so go the Panthers. That has been the case for much of the past six seasons, but it's even more evident now as the 2015 NFL MVP tries to bounce back from offseason shoulder surgery. With a conscious effort to add more playmakers and speed, beginning with first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers' fate will come down to Newton's ability to play efficiently and adjust to being less involved in the running game. The defense should return to top-10 form, so if Newton rebounds from a disastrous 2016, the Panthers should make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. -- DAVID NEWTON

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC South 27.9
Projected
wins
8.8
Strength of
schedule rank
20
Chance to win Super Bowl 2.6

Over/under: 8.8 wins?

Over. Carolina lost six games by three points or less last season. The offensive line was decimated by injuries, Newton was a train wreck and Luke Kuechly missed six games. This won't be another 15-1 season like in 2015, but don't be surprised by 10 wins. -- DAVID NEWTON

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
13 10 27

Game-by-game projections

The Panthers are favored to win 11 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ 49ers
    63.5
  • Sept. 17 vs. Bills
    72.1
  • Sept. 24 vs. Saints
    64.9
  • Oct. 1 @ Patriots
    23.2
  • Oct. 8 @ Lions
    47.8
  • Oct. 12 vs. Eagles
    60.2
  • Oct. 22 @ Bears
    61.2
  • Oct. 29 @ Buccaneers
    42.2
  • Nov. 5 vs. Falcons
    53.5
  • Nov. 13 vs. Dolphins
    69.1
  • Nov. 26 @ Jets
    69.5
  • Dec. 3 @ Saints
    45.8
  • Dec. 10 vs. Vikings
    61.3
  • Dec. 17 vs. Packers
    51.9
  • Dec. 24 vs. Buccaneers
    61.7
  • Dec. 31 @ Falcons
    35.7
David Newton predicts every Panthers game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"I think Christian McCaffrey is going to change the landscape of that franchise. He is that special. The issue is going to be: Will Cam [Newton] be willing to throw him the ball frequently enough? I think jealousy could be a problem." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

With Newton (1) and Kuechly (59) among 18 returning starters, the nucleus of the 2015 team that finished 15-1 is back. Add in RB/slot receiver McCaffrey (22), safety Mike Adams (29) and reserve defensive end Julius Peppers, and this may be Ron Rivera's most talented roster as he enters his seventh season as Carolina's head coach. -- DAVID NEWTON

Players:
Returning
New
11

QB depth chart ranking

Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
A year ago, it would have been hard to find a team more confident in its quarterback situation than the Panthers. Newton was coming off an MVP season, and Anderson had shown an ability to operate the offense (albeit far less dynamically) when needed. But then Newton suffered through a terrible season that featured a career-low 52.9 completion percentage and 14 interceptions to go with just 19 passing touchdowns. He also got banged around so badly that he missed one game with a concussion and had shoulder surgery after the season was over. So now he's a 28-year-old enigma whose most recent season was lousy and is coming off surgery. The Panthers are confident they can reconfigure their offense to help protect Newton better. And Anderson remains as a fairly reliable backup. But 2016 did a bit of damage to the way Carolina should feel about its quarterback. Newton will have to bounce back to near-2015 levels to move back up this list. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Christian McCaffrey
Carolina selected McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick in April's draft, and history suggests he's ticketed for a massive rookie-season role. Expect the Stanford product to push past 200 touches, even with Jonathan Stewart in the mix on early downs and at the goal line. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Panthers can create a consistent numbers advantage using run-pass options that pair the inside zone with the quick passing game. Based on the numbers of defenders in the box, Newton has the option to hand off to McCaffrey (H), pull the ball on the QB keep or throw the quick game with tight end Greg Olsen (Y) bursting to the flat and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Z) running the slant. With five defenders in the box, the call is to hand the ball off to McCaffrey. Six in the box? Read the end man on the line of scrimmage for the dive/QB keep. And seven defenders tells Newton (Q) to target the quick game outside. The offense is always right when the quarterback makes the proper read in an RPO scheme. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The hype surrounding McCaffrey is legitimate. The former Stanford running back/wide receiver/kick returner will be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, rushing for more than 800 yards, catching more than 50 passes and returning Carolina near the top of the league in scoring, where it was in 2015. -- DAVID NEWTON

11 Philadelphia Eagles NFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/phi-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/phi-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/phi-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 7-9 | 4th in NFC East

The Eagles should be in contention for the NFC East crown now that quarterback Carson Wentz has some experience under his belt and additional weapons at his disposal. The front office brought in receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount this offseason, which should help lessen the load that was placed on Wentz's shoulders as a rookie. Publicly, the Eagles' brass is saying they want to see "incremental growth" out of Wentz in Year 2. Privately, they see immense potential. If he can take a significant step forward, the Eagles should be competitive both this season and for years to come. -- TIM MCMANUS

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC East 24.4
Projected
wins
8.5
Strength of
schedule rank
13
Chance to win Super Bowl 2.0

Over/under: 8.5 wins?

Over. Facing both the AFC West and NFC West this season, the Eagles' schedule has some rough spots, particularly at the start of the season. It will be a grind, but they have the talent to win nine or 10 games. -- TIM MCMANUS

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
19 6 6

Game-by-game projections

The Eagles are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Redskins
    46.6
  • Sept. 17 @ Chiefs
    32.5
  • Sept. 24 vs. Giants
    56.8
  • Oct. 1 @ Chargers
    42.3
  • Oct. 8 vs. Cardinals
    66.2
  • Oct. 12 @ Panthers
    39.5
  • Oct. 23 vs. Redskins
    66.1
  • Oct. 29 vs. 49ers
    82.5
  • Nov. 5 vs. Broncos
    65.1
  • Nov. 19 @ Cowboys
    38.2
  • Nov. 26 vs. Bears
    76.1
  • Dec. 3 @ Seahawks
    29.6
  • Dec. 10 @ Rams
    55.2
  • Dec. 17 @ Giants
    39.2
  • Dec. 25 vs. Raiders
    58.0
  • Dec. 31 vs. Cowboys
    55.3
Tim McManus predicts every Eagles game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"I'm concerned about their running back situation, but corner is still their No. 1 weakness, even after the trade [for Ronald Darby]. They are not going to be able to defend Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham Jr. in that division." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Four-fifths of the Eagles' offensive line remains intact, and the newcomer -- second-year guard Isaac Seumalo (73) -- is highly regarded by the coaching staff. Half of the starting defensive line is different, with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (93) and defensive end Vinny Curry (75) replacing Bennie Logan and Connor Barwin, who moved on to different teams this offseason. -- TIM MCMANUS

Players:
Returning
New
21

QB depth chart ranking

Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
Wentz has a chance to pull this ranking up as the season goes along, especially if the early reports of his more efficient throwing motion turn out to be legit. If Alshon Jeffery can stay on the field, Wentz has a No. 1 wide receiver, and the Eagles like their offensive line a lot. However, Wentz has to look more like he did the first three games of 2016 than he did in the last 13 in order to justify the optimism Eagles coaches, players and fans have about him. If he does, this ranking moves up quickly. Backup Foles has experience and knows the offense. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Quarterback Carson Wentz
His rookie campaign was nothing if not polarizing, but 31 drops and poor post-catch production were a big factor in Wentz's ugly 6.2 yards per attempt. With Jeffery, Smith and running back Donnel Pumphrey added to the mix, Wentz's targets are much improved over the 2016 group. Add Philly's terrific offensive line to the mix, and Wentz is well-positioned for a big step forward. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Pro offenses will dress up the same routes we see every week with different personnel groupings to get the exact matchup they want. That's what I see from the Eagles on this red zone bunch route with 13 personnel in the game (1WR, 3TE, 1 RB). With Jeffery (X) to the backside of the formation, Philadelphia creates a bunch look with three tight ends and clears out space for Zach Ertz. And this is where the matchup comes into play. With room to work, Ertz can stem to the outside, force the defender to over-play the release and gain leverage back to the ball at the break. It's a quick, high-percentage throw for Wentz (Q), who can use Ertz's size to get the ball into the end zone. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Wentz will out-play Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott this season. Year 1 went to Prescott, who far-exceeded expectations and helped guide Dallas to a 13-3 record. With Ezekiel Elliott facing a lengthy suspension, Prescott becomes more of a focal point for defenses and will face greater resistance. Wentz will experience the opposite effect now that he has some more playmakers. -- TIM MCMANUS

12 Minnesota Vikings NFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/min-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/min-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/min-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 8-8 | 3rd in NFC North

The Vikings will try to carve out a new offensive identity after parting ways with tailback Adrian Peterson, their best player in a generation. The future of general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer could count on it. The team has one of the league's best defenses, but it must elevate its offensive explosiveness to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in the four-year Spielman/Zimmer era. The key question: Can quarterback Sam Bradford do a better job at creating chunk plays down the field? Bradford averaged an NFL-low 6.24 air yards per throw in 2016. -- KEVIN SEIFERT

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC North 28.3
Projected
wins
8.8
Strength of
schedule rank
24
Chance to win Super Bowl 2.5

Over/under: 8.8 wins?

Under. It's fair to predict the Vikings will be an average to slightly-above-average team. They should have an elite-level defense, but it remains to be seen whether this offense can be any more explosive this season without Adrian Peterson. -- KEVIN SEIFERT

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
22 4 3

Game-by-game projections

The Vikings are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 11 vs. Saints
    63.6
  • Sept. 17 @ Steelers
    29.8
  • Sept. 24 vs. Buccaneers
    60.8
  • Oct. 1 vs. Lions
    64.9
  • Oct. 9 @ Bears
    56.5
  • Oct. 15 vs. Packers
    48.2
  • Oct. 22 vs. Ravens
    63.3
  • Oct. 29 vs. Browns
    72.9
  • Nov. 12 @ Redskins
    49.8
  • Nov. 19 vs. Rams
    76.6
  • Nov. 23 @ Lions
    46.3
  • Dec. 3 @ Falcons
    35.2
  • Dec. 10 @ Panthers
    38.4
  • Dec. 17 vs. Bengals
    63.7
  • Dec. 23 @ Packers
    32.5
  • Dec. 31 vs. Bears
    75.5
Kevin Seifert predicts every Vikings game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They paid the offensive line, but I don't know if they improved the offensive line. We will see Sam Bradford under pressure again, and he has not been the most durable guy." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Vikings like the core of their team, especially a defense that brings back nine starters. Four of them -- safety Harrison Smith (22), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29), defensive end Everson Griffen (97) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (98) -- have signed long-term extensions in the past year. Hope for an improved offense prompted four new starters on the offensive line, a fifth (Joe Berger, 61) who's changing positions, and a fresh start at running back, where rookie Dalvin Cook (33) replaces Peterson. -- KEVIN SEIFERT

Players:
Returning
New
20

QB depth chart ranking

Sam Bradford, Case Keenum
Bradford was just what the Vikings hoped he would be last season and maybe even more. He set an NFL single-season record for completion percentage while managing to stay healthy enough to play 15 games (all but the first, for which he was the backup because he'd just gotten there) behind one of the worst pass-protecting offensive lines in recent memory. Bradford averaged only 7.02 yards per attempt, which helps explain that 71.6 completion percentage, but that 7.02 was also a career high for Bradford. They know what he is. They know they have to protect him better or they can't win. They have no idea how healthy Teddy Bridgewater will be by the end of the season or whether they'll keep one, both or neither of them in 2018 and beyond. Lot of question marks here, and that's not even mentioning Keenum, who joined the team on a one-year deal in March. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Dalvin Cook
Minnesota signed Latavius Murray during free agency, but ankle surgery for the former Raider allowed Cook to stake his claim as the team's lead back during the summer. The explosive second-round pick is capable as both a rusher and receiver. He's a strong bet to pace the Vikings' backfield in touches as a rookie. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Vikings are going to lean on the quick passing game with Bradford in the West Coast playbook. However, Minnesota can also create some deep ball shots to Stefon Diggs off play-action looks. Here, the Vikings show the split-zone scheme out of the gun with the tight end (U) on the arc block and Cook (H) on the run action. That is going to hold the underneath defenders and open up pockets down the field for Diggs (X) and Adam Thielen (Z) to run the "speedo" concept (two deep crossing routes). With the time to work in the pocket off the play action, Bradford (Q) can wait for Diggs to separate on the crossing route to pick up a big gain. That's a long way for a cornerback to run in coverage. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Michael Floyd will be the most skilled receiver on the team this season, the one who makes the most difficult catches and probably the one who is targeted most in the red zone. Floyd is suspended for the first four games of the season, and you won't find him on many preseason lists for comeback player of the year. But he looked great in training camp and will resurrect his career in his home state. -- KEVIN SEIFERT

13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tam-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tam-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tam-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 9-7 | 2nd in NFC South

The Buccaneers, who have not made the playoffs since 2007, enter the season as actual postseason contenders. Third-year quarterback Jameis Winston is coming off back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons and has more weapons than ever. But running back Doug Martin's three-game suspension to open the season is a concern, as is an unstable kicking situation. On defense, the Bucs look to carry the momentum from the final eight games of the 2016 season when they allowed an impressive 32 percent third-down conversion rate and registered 18 takeaways, the most in the league. -- JENNA LAINE

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC South 19.3
Projected
wins
8.2
Strength of
schedule rank
7
Chance to win Super Bowl 1.5

Over/under: 8.2 wins?

Over. For a team that went 9-7 last year and upgraded on both sides of the ball, FPI's projection seems low. Having the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots on the schedule shouldn't make that much of an impact. Plus, four of their seven losses last season came by seven points or less. -- JENNA LAINE

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
14 13 21

Game-by-game projections

The Buccaneers are favored to win seven of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 17 vs. Bears
    75.9
  • Sept. 24 @ Vikings
    38.9
  • Oct. 1 vs. Giants
    56.9
  • Oct. 5 vs. Patriots
    39.5
  • Oct. 15 @ Cardinals
    43.4
  • Oct. 22 @ Bills
    46.7
  • Oct. 29 vs. Panthers
    57.5
  • Nov. 5 @ Saints
    44.1
  • Nov. 12 vs. Jets
    82.8
  • Nov. 19 @ Dolphins
    49.5
  • Nov. 26 @ Falcons
    39.0
  • Dec. 3 @ Packers
    30.6
  • Dec. 10 vs. Lions
    65.5
  • Dec. 18 vs. Falcons
    50.3
  • Dec. 24 @ Panthers
    38.0
  • Dec. 31 vs. Saints
    63.1
Jenna Laine predicts every Buccaneers game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They have good weapons on offense and I think they will be good on defense. Maybe for them, it is just their running game. If it is not Doug Martin, then who is going to step up and carry them on the ground? Is it going to just be on Jameis [Winston] to throw it every down?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The interior of the Bucs' defensive line got an upgrade with Chris Baker (90). They got younger at the strongside linebacker spot, with rookie Kendell Beckwith (51) expected to start, and added safety T.J. Ward late in the preseason (43). Offensively, wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) gives them the speedy deep threat they've been missing. J.R. Sweezy (73) steps in at guard after missing all of last year with a back injury. Rookie tight end O.J. Howard (80) is an upgrade as a run-blocker and pass-catcher. -- JENNA LAINE

Players:
Returning
New
17

QB depth chart ranking

Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
Winston is the star of "Hard Knocks" and a revered figure already in the Buccaneers' building at age 23. He was a big-time winner as a college player, and Tampa Bay's 9-7 record in his sophomore season was one of the league's bigger surprises. Winston is another "arrow-up" guy, and the team has complete confidence that he's their guy for the long term. But he has also thrown 33 interceptions in just two NFL seasons, and he has to get his turnover issues under control if the Bucs' confidence in their quarterback situation is to elevate. Fitzpatrick could be a steadying presence if something were to happen to Winston, but his track record indicates he wouldn't help much with the interception problem. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Quarterback Jameis Winston
The top pick in the 2015 draft has yet to post a top-12 fantasy campaign, but Winston is positioned for a step forward in 2017. The Buccaneers added Jackson and Howard to an offense that already includes Mike Evans and Cameron Brate. Winston's accuracy remains an issue, but improved weapons will help his cause. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

This is a great 3-deep beater in the Bucs' playbook, and I like it even more with Howard's freakish skill set. With Evans (X) running the out route to hold the backside cornerback and Brate (U) working up the seam to occupy the free safety, Howard (Y) can stretch the field on the deep over route. This will force a linebacker/hook defender to match the 4.5 speed of Howard with Winston (Q) in a position to deliver the ball over the top. And with no immediate help, this is going to play out like a one-on-one matchup. I'll take the rookie to win that one. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Bucs will win the NFC South for the first time since 2007. They've beaten the Atlanta Falcons three out of the last four times, and they get them on Nov. 26 fresh off a Monday night game at Seattle. The Bucs' bid for an NFC South title will be put to the test when they play three consecutive divisional opponents to close out the season. -- JENNA LAINE

14 Denver Broncos AFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/den-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/den-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/den-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 9-7 | 3rd in AFC West

The Broncos missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, but chief decision-maker John Elway is quick to point out "we've got a chance to be a pretty good football team.'' Despite a run game that was simply ornamental, shaky play from the offensive line, shoddy run defense and a coach in Gary Kubiak who was fighting health issues, the Broncos were still 7-3 in mid-November last season before going 2-6 down the stretch. Denver still has an elite defense led by Von Miller, and when asked about middle-of-the-road preseason predictions, Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib says, "Hell no, we don't agree." -- JEFF LEGWOLD

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC West 14.0
Projected
wins
7.7
Strength of
schedule rank
2
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.9

Over/under: 7.7 wins?

Over. Their schedule is tougher with seven of their last 11 games of the season on the road, including three consecutive road games as October turns to November. But this team won nine games last season with an inferior roster and still has an elite defense. -- JEFF LEGWOLD

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
23 7 14

Game-by-game projections

The Broncos are favored to win six of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 11 vs. Chargers
    61.8
  • Sept. 17 vs. Cowboys
    48.9
  • Sept. 24 @ Bills
    48.3
  • Oct. 1 vs. Raiders
    51.7
  • Oct. 15 vs. Giants
    60.1
  • Oct. 22 @ Chargers
    42.1
  • Oct. 30 @ Chiefs
    30.5
  • Nov. 5 @ Eagles
    34.6
  • Nov. 12 vs. Patriots
    34.1
  • Nov. 19 vs. Bengals
    61.9
  • Nov. 26 @ Raiders
    31.5
  • Dec. 3 @ Dolphins
    44.1
  • Dec. 10 vs. Jets
    83.1
  • Dec. 14 @ Colts
    43.9
  • Dec. 24 @ Redskins
    43.3
  • Dec. 31 vs. Chiefs
    50.5
Jeff Legwold predicts every Broncos game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"The fear for Denver is that they are wasting the final years with a great, aging defense because they haven't been able to shore up the quarterback position. [Trevor] Siemian is clearly the better QB over Paxton Lynch and they will ride with Siemian, but he will not take them all the way to where they want to go. It's a little bit like Green Bay. Green Bay has wasted some prime years of Aaron Rodgers by failing to shore up their defense. Denver is wasting some prime years of a great defense by failing to shore up the QB spot." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Here's why Broncos consider themselves an undervalued team: They have eight players returning to a defense that has ranked as a top-four unit in four of the past five years. And they consider one of their new starters, nose tackle Domata Peko (94), a substantial upgrade. The team has retooled an offensive line that will include three new starters, with center Matt Paradis (61) and left guard Max Garcia (76) as the only returners. -- JEFF LEGWOLD

Players:
Returning
New
24

QB depth chart ranking

Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch
How long can the defense carry this team? We may be about to find out. Siemian won the job this summer after Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick, failed to take it from him. Lynch is now hurt, and Osweiler is back to try to rebuild his career while backing up Siemian. The Broncos like Siemian (and Osweiler) more than many on the outside do, but there's a worthwhile question to be asked about how much confidence they should have in this arrangement for the long term. For the short, Siemian will be asked to keep things under control and not turn the ball over while they run it and keep the other team from scoring. He handled that assignment just fine last season. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back DeAngelo Henderson
Denver's 2017 sixth-round pick is a name to monitor after he posted 129 yards on 28 preseason carries. C.J. Anderson has never played a full 16-game season, Jamaal Charles has missed 24 games over the past two years and Devontae Booker is already out with a wrist injury. It may take a few weeks, but Henderson seems likely to see the field often this year. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Broncos are going to lean heavily on the ground game and play action this season, but that sets up opportunities for Denver to isolate Sanders and his silky smooth footwork in the red zone. Here, the Broncos run the "hide" boot off the run action with fullback Andy Janovich (F) releasing behind the line of scrimmage to the flat. This allows quarterback Trevor Siemian to work to the edge of the pocket with an immediate read underneath and Thomas (X) on the crossing route. However, the matchup Siemian wants is Sanders (Z) on the pivot route. That's a tough route to cover in the red zone. And it creates an open target for Siemian (Q) to put points on the board. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

If the Broncos' run defense is better than average, Miller will get the pass-rush opportunities he needs to finally break through and win the league's Defensive Player of the Year honor. -- JEFF LEGWOLD

15 Tennessee Titans AFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ten-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ten-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ten-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 9-7 | 2nd on AFC South

The Titans jumped from 3-13 in 2015 to 9-7 last season, and they're primed to make another leap in 2017. The acquisitions of wide receivers Corey Davis and Eric Decker should make the Titans more balanced to offset Tennessee's exotic smash-mouth running game led by DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Titans' season will go as far as Marcus Mariota takes it as he comes off a season-ending leg injury. The AFC South is ripe for the taking, but as coach Mike Mularkey says, it'll be up to them to handle those expectations. -- CAMERON WOLFE

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC South 38.0
Projected
wins
8.6
Strength of
schedule rank
31
Chance to win Super Bowl 1.6

Over/under: 8.6 wins?

Over. It would be quite the disappointment if the Titans didn't surpass FPI's projection given a weak AFC South and the talent added to their roster. The Titans look like a 10-win team, and at least a good bet to match their 9-7 record from a year ago. -- CAMERON WOLFE

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
11 20 30

Game-by-game projections

The Titans are favored to win 10 of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Raiders
    53.2
  • Sept. 17 @ Jaguars
    53.3
  • Sept. 24 vs. Seahawks
    49.0
  • Oct. 1 @ Texans
    41.5
  • Oct. 8 @ Dolphins
    45.6
  • Oct. 16 vs. Colts
    62.3
  • Oct. 22 @ Browns
    61.4
  • Nov. 5 vs. Ravens
    62.7
  • Nov. 12 vs. Bengals
    60.2
  • Nov. 16 @ Steelers
    28.7
  • Nov. 26 @ Colts
    41.7
  • Dec. 3 vs. Texans
    61.3
  • Dec. 10 @ Cardinals
    39.6
  • Dec. 17 @ 49ers
    58.5
  • Dec. 24 vs. Rams
    73.9
  • Dec. 31 vs. Jaguars
    70.9
Cameron Wolfe predicts every Titans game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"The health of the quarterback [Marcus Mariota], and then, is he going to take that next step? They gave him some weapons. He is coming off an injury. You have to put together consistency in the passing game because they are going to have a running game that could be top-five, and top-10 at the worst." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Tennessee was built the right way with a strong, young quarterback, a nasty offensive line and a power run game, all of which are returning in 2017. Newcomers Corey Davis (84) and Eric Decker will add another starting receiver and much-needed depth. Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey (99) leads a front seven that returns six starters. The biggest turnover will come in the secondary, where the Titans put serious money into this offseason, adding Logan Ryan (26) and Johnathan Cyprien (37). -- CAMERON WOLFE

Players:
Returning
New
19

QB depth chart ranking

Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel
The Titans have complete confidence in Mariota long term, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full 16 games in either of his NFL seasons. That's a small sample size, and we might someday look back on it as a blip on the road to a brilliant, durable career. But until Mariota proves able to hold up physically for a whole season, it chips away at the confidence you can have in his ability to do so. Cassel fits the mold of a veteran backup who can probably keep from steering the whole thing into a ditch, but the Titans don't necessarily want to find out. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Corey Davis
The Titans selected Davis fifth overall in April's draft. During the past decade, the five wide receivers selected in the top five averaged a 26th-place finish in fantasy points as rookies. He'll need to fend off Decker and Rishard Matthews for snaps, but Davis is too good to keep off the field. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The zone-read will always be a part of the Titans' game plan with Mariota, but I picked this play because of the personnel in the game and the blocking at the point of attack. With three tight ends on the field -- and an extra offensive tackle -- the Titans dress it up. Before the snap, Delanie Walker (F) comes in motion to the core of the formation and wraps to the play side. Walker can block the first defensive threat off the down block and the arc release (Y). With Mariota (Q) riding Murray (H) through the mesh point and pulling the ball, he now has a clear road map to get vertical through the open lane. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Titans will not only make the playoffs and win the AFC South for the first time since 2008, but they'll also win a playoff game for the first time since 2003. A strong offensive line and powerful run game has the Titans built to win close games and ugly winter matchups in January. -- CAMERON WOLFE

16 Baltimore Ravens AFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/bal-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/bal-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/bal-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 8-8 | 2nd in AFC North

The Ravens are looking to avoid missing out on the playoffs for a third straight year -- which hasn't happened to this franchise in 18 years -- after what has been a challenging summer. No team has had a more painful three months than the Ravens. Since June 1, 10 players have been lost for the season because of injury, suspension or retirement, including four starters from a year ago (leading receiver Dennis Pitta, left guard Alex Lewis, linebacker Albert McClellan and cornerback Tavon Young). Plus, quarterback Joe Flacco didn't play one snap in the preseason because of a back injury. Flacco remains the team's X factor entering his 10th NFL season. Baltimore is 48-10 (.827) when Flacco produces a passer rating higher than 94. -- JAMISON HENSLEY

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC North 18.8
Projected
wins
8.4
Strength of
schedule rank
26
Chance to win Super Bowl 1.1

Over/under: 8.4 wins?

Over. No one should be surprised if the Ravens produce their first winning record since 2014. Baltimore finished 8-8 last season, and the Ravens believe they'll improve on that because of how they bulked up on defense. Three of Baltimore's losses last year were the result of the Ravens giving up the lead in the final 2½ minutes of games. -- JAMISON HENSLEY

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
24 8 8

Game-by-game projections

The Ravens are favored to win nine of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Bengals
    41.4
  • Sept. 17 vs. Browns
    77.8
  • Sept. 24 vs. Jaguars
    62.9
  • Oct. 1 vs. Steelers
    45.4
  • Oct. 8 @ Raiders
    28.5
  • Oct. 15 vs. Bears
    73.2
  • Oct. 22 @ Vikings
    36.4
  • Oct. 26 vs. Dolphins
    65.1
  • Nov. 5 @ Titans
    37.0
  • Nov. 19 @ Packers
    32.4
  • Nov. 27 vs. Texans
    61.3
  • Dec. 3 vs. Lions
    59.0
  • Dec. 10 @ Steelers
    29.7
  • Dec. 17 @ Browns
    61.9
  • Dec. 23 vs. Colts
    61.3
  • Dec. 31 vs. Bengals
    60.8
Mike Reiss predicts every Patriots game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"I might rather be in the Browns' situation than be in Baltimore's situation. Baltimore is just stuck. They are paying Jimmy Smith like he is a top-five corner, but he is not. They are paying Joe Flacco like he is a top-five QB, but he is not. You have some old parts like Terrell Suggs getting phased out, and then they just have so many injuries. At least Cleveland has some flexibility." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The biggest question mark on the team is the offensive line, where only left tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (73) return. Baltimore must also replace three of Flacco's top four targets from last year. Defensively, the Ravens are excited about their revamped secondary, which added Tony Jefferson (23), veteran cornerback Brandon Carr (24) and Marlon Humphrey. -- JAMISON HENSLEY

Players:
Returning
New
22

QB depth chart ranking

Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
It appears Flacco will be healed from his back issue in time to start Week 1, which is great, because Mallett is not an acceptable fallback, and this is the one team that has gone on the record as being too scared to sign Colin Kaepernick. Flacco is what he is at this point in his career, and that incredible Super Bowl run that made him so very rich is now five seasons ago. The Ravens are a team that has to win in spite of their offense. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman
The Ravens' 2015 first-rounder will begin this season behind Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace, but he shouldn't struggle for targets in the offense that led the NFL in pass attempts last year. Perriman is only 23 years old, and sports 4.24-speed wheels at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds. The upside here is massive. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Ravens don't have an exotic offensive playbook, but I like this red zone route out of two-TE personnel to create an inside throwing window for Flacco. From a 2x2 alignment, the Ravens motion Benjamin Watson (U) to the strong side of the formation. At the snap, tight end Nick Boyle (Y) runs the shallow drag route to occupy the inside defenders. That opens the window for Wallace (Z) to run the slant route with Watson carrying the wheel up the field. Flacco (Q) can either target Wallace on the quick throw or Watson as he works to the back of the end zone with a defender now stuck in a trail position. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Ravens will finish with the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Baltimore put most of its offseason resources into a defense that was the best in the NFL for the first 13 weeks of 2016, spending $56.75 million guaranteed. Baltimore used its first four draft picks on defensive players, including Humphrey with the No. 16 overall selection. Defense has always been the Ravens' calling card, and this one is fast, aggressive and confident. Jefferson said this group has the potential to be "legendary." -- JAMISON HENSLEY

17 Arizona Cardinals NFC West http://a.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ari-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ari-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ari-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 7-8-1 | 2nd in NFC West

Arizona's season is all about the defense, which could be the best in Bruce Arians' era. With DT Robert Nkemdiche up front, linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden off the edge, cornerback Patrick Peterson on the opposing team's No. 1 receiver and safety Tyrann Mathieu always around the ball, the Cardinals should put last season's underachieving 7-8-1 record behind them and qualify for the playoffs. -- JOSH WEINFUSS

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC West 23.3
Projected
wins
8.5
Strength of
schedule rank
29
Chance to win Super Bowl 1.2

Over/under: 8.5 wins?

Over. After last season, it would be easy to buy into the belief that the Cardinals will continue their slide, especially with aging stars Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. But suspensions and injuries to early-season opponents (Sept. 25 vs. Dallas) break in the Cardinals' favor. -- JOSH WEINFUSS

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
17 17 28

Game-by-game projections

The Cardinals are favored to win eight of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Lions
    40.1
  • Sept. 17 @ Colts
    47.2
  • Sept. 25 vs. Cowboys
    48.9
  • Oct. 1 vs. 49ers
    75.6
  • Oct. 8 @ Eagles
    33.5
  • Oct. 15 vs. Buccaneers
    56.2
  • Oct. 22 vs. Rams
    63.8
  • Nov. 5 @ 49ers
    64.8
  • Nov. 9 vs. Seahawks
    46.7
  • Nov. 19 @ Texans
    41.5
  • Nov. 26 vs. Jaguars
    72.2
  • Dec. 3 vs. Rams
    71.4
  • Dec. 10 vs. Titans
    60.1
  • Dec. 17 @ Redskins
    39.4
  • Dec. 24 vs. Giants
    55.2
  • Dec. 31 @ Seahawks
    27.6
Josh Weinfuss predicts every Cardinals game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They have [D.J.] Humphries starting at tackle, and that is a scary situation. They have had O-line issues in the past and still do. Humphries has never been consistent, and protecting a 36-year-old quarterback with a left tackle who has been inconsistent and hurt is an issue, especially when you know they are going to throw it a lot." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Cardinals' offense will stay relatively intact for another season with just right guard Evan Boehm (70) and tight end Troy Niklas (87) joining the starting lineup. Arizona has two new starters at each level of the defense, including defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (92), rookie linebacker Haason Reddick (43) and veteran free-agent safety Antoine Bethea (41). -- JOSH WEINFUSS

Players:
Returning
New
16

QB depth chart ranking

Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
Talk about a situation that could break either way. Palmer was a reasonable runner-up candidate to Cam Newton in the 2015 MVP race, but last year he saw his Total QBR drop from 79.3 to 60.4. He turns 38 in December and has a long history of physical ailments, and it's fair to wonder how much longer he can hold up. If he can't make it through the season, an Arizona team that has declined to select his potential replacement in either of the past two drafts would turn to Gabbert or Stanton. Palmer is likely done after this year, and he has the talent and the coaching staff to deliver a big finish. But if he doesn't have one more great year left in him, the Cardinals' season could go right off a cliff. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Chad Williams
Fitzgerald just turned 34, Brown has dealt with sickle cell anemia and hamstring issues, and 160-pound J.J. Nelson is a situational deep threat. Enter Williams, this year's third-round pick, who is positioned to play a big role in an offense that is heavy on three- and four-WR sets. The Arizona offense has somewhat quietly ranked sixth in touchdowns each of the past two years. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Cardinals can use false run keys and pre-snap movement to create an explosive gain off play action. With Fitzgerald (Z) motioning down to a blocking alignment (false run key), and Palmer (Q) showing the ball to David Johnson (H) on the run action, the Cardinals pull the second-level defenders to the line of scrimmage. That allows Fitzgerald to release inside of the tight end (Y) as Nelson (X) clears out the top of the secondary with his 4.2 speed on the post route. This creates an open throwing window for Palmer to target Fitzgerald on the deep over route for a big play. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Johnson took the NFL by storm last season, finishing with 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards. Not only will he become the third player in NFL history to hit 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in a season, Johnson will be the named the NFL MVP. -- JOSH WEINFUSS

18 New Orleans Saints NFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwo-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwo-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nwo-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 7-9 | 3rd in NFC South

New Orleans is stuck in neutral with three consecutive 7-9 seasons, and it's fair to say the Saints will have to overachieve to get back into the playoffs. The Saints should still have one of the NFL's elite offenses, which lost Brandin Cooks in a trade to New England but gained Adrian Peterson. However, they need their embattled defense to finally escape the NFL's cellar after three rough years, and the offseason loss of Nick Fairley to a heart issue won't help. Coach Sean Payton isn't necessarily on the "hot seat" after signing an extension last year, but a fourth consecutive losing season might force some radical change. -- MIKE TRIPLETT

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC South 14.5
Projected
wins
7.9
Strength of
schedule rank
18
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.6

Over/under: 7.9 wins?

Over. The Saints have the potential for more wins with Drew Brees still playing at a high level. Their window is probably eight to 10 wins, depending on whether they can finally field a solid defense and win more of the coin-flip games. -- MIKE TRIPLETT

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
8 29 23

Game-by-game projections

The Saints are favored to win eight of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 11 @ Vikings
    36.1
  • Sept. 17 vs. Patriots
    34.1
  • Sept. 24 @ Panthers
    34.8
  • Oct. 1 vs. Dolphins
    54.4
  • Oct. 15 vs. Lions
    66.4
  • Oct. 22 @ Packers
    27.2
  • Oct. 29 vs. Bears
    72.5
  • Nov. 5 vs. Buccaneers
    55.6
  • Nov. 12 @ Bills
    45.8
  • Nov. 19 vs. Redskins
    61.3
  • Nov. 26 @ Rams
    51.4
  • Dec. 3 vs. Panthers
    53.8
  • Dec. 7 @ Falcons
    30.3
  • Dec. 17 vs. Jets
    82.5
  • Dec. 24 vs. Falcons
    48.9
  • Dec. 31 @ Buccaneers
    36.6
Mike Triplett predicts every Saints game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"It is the same old story with the Saints, being unable to fix their defense as much as they need to fix it. They drafted the corner from Ohio State [Marshon Lattimore] who has been hurt his whole career. You worry about that spot and that guy's longevity and what he is going to be able to provide for them." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Saints will have at least one new starter on every level of their defense as they continue to try to revamp that side of the ball. Free-agent linebacker A.J. Klein (53) should be the biggest difference-maker as the quarterback of the defense, and Lattimore (23) could provide a huge boost if he proves ready to start as a rookie. Left tackle Terron Armstead (72) is still recovering from a shoulder injury, but he's only expected to miss a month or so of action. First-round rookie Ryan Ramczyk will hold down the left tackle spot until Armstead is healthy enough to return. -- MIKE TRIPLETT

Players:
Returning
New
5

QB depth chart ranking

Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
Not only are the Saints confident that Brees will be their quarterback this season, they're the only team in the league that can be reasonably confident their quarterback will throw for 5,000 yards. Brees has done this five times in his career, most recently last season (with a completion percentage of 70.0, by the way). The rest of the NFL has done it four times ever -- no single quarterback other than Brees has done it more than once. The Saints feel good about Daniel as their backup, and the only reasons the Saints don't rank higher on this list are Brees' age (38) and the fact that he's not signed beyond 2017. There's no indication Brees wants to go anywhere else, and he's likely to stick around through at least 2018 in order to pass Peyton Manning atop the NFL's career-passing-yardage list. But the fact that Brees is so much closer to the end than to the beginning -- and that there's no Jimmy Garoppolo-like backup behind him -- leaves the Saints out of the top tier. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Alvin Kamara
Mark Ingram and Peterson will soak up most of the carries, but Kamara is positioned for a passing-down role that allowed the inferior Travaris Cadet 50 targets last year. Kamara, a third-round pick in April's draft, is quick, elusive and has three-down ability. Target him in PPR leagues. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

This route would give me nightmares as an opposing defensive coordinator because of the spacing down the field and the vertical options for Brees. Out of a bunch look, Ted Ginn (X) stems to the middle of the field with his 4.2 speed, crossing the face of the free safety. That holds the top of the secondary as Michael Thomas (Z) widens the cornerback on the outside vertical with Willie Snead (W) pushing up the seam. The result is an inside window for Brees to target the seam. He also has the option of looking backside to Kamara (H) on the rail route. Nasty stuff here -- and a big play waiting to happen. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Peterson won't run for 1,000 yards, and Ingram will lead the Saints in total yards from scrimmage. But AD will generate some buzz with a breakout performance in Week 1 on Monday Night Football against his former team in Minnesota. Peterson, 32, has been healthy and motivated all summer -- and Sean Payton should figure out a way to make creative use of his newest toy in a game that means a lot to him.-- MIKE TRIPLETT

19 Houston Texans AFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tex-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tex-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/tex-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 9-7 | Lost in Divisional Round

The Texans have the defense to be a playoff contender -- last season the unit ranked No. 1 in yards allowed and that was without J.J. Watt. The determining factor for the Texans depends on the starting quarterback -- either Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson -- and which can find the consistency the offense lacked in 2016. The Texans have won the AFC South in back-to-back years, but their road to a third division title might be more challenging given how the division has improved around them. -- SARAH BARSHOP

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC South 28.3
Projected
wins
8.1
Strength of
schedule rank
23
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.9

Over/under: 8.1 wins?

Over. I have the Texans winning nine games, which would mark the fourth consecutive season Houston has done that under Bill O'Brien. A key factor for the Texans will be how they do against the AFC South. In 2016, Houston went 5-1 against division opponents, ultimately the difference in them making the playoffs in 2016 as they beat the Tennessee Titans on a divisional record tiebreaker. -- SARAH BARSHOP

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
25 3 29

Game-by-game projections

The Texans are favored to win eight of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Jaguars
    70.4
  • Sept. 14 @ Bengals
    39.9
  • Sept. 24 @ Patriots
    19.0
  • Oct. 1 vs. Titans
    58.2
  • Oct. 8 vs. Chiefs
    50.0
  • Oct. 15 vs. Browns
    78.2
  • Oct. 29 @ Seahawks
    29.5
  • Nov. 5 vs. Colts
    62.3
  • Nov. 12 @ Rams
    52.3
  • Nov. 19 vs. Cardinals
    58.2
  • Nov. 27 @ Ravens
    38.4
  • Dec. 3 @ Titans
    38.4
  • Dec. 10 vs. 49ers
    78.5
  • Dec. 17 @ Jaguars
    51.5
  • Dec. 25 vs. Steelers
    47.0
  • Dec. 31 @ Colts
    41.8
Sarah Barshop predicts every Texans game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"Their tackle situation on their offensive line is pretty bad right now, and how deep are their backs? Because they are going to have to rely on their line and their backs. Otherwise, the quarterback will not work out. That is going to be their downfall on offense." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Texans lost four defensive contributors -- cornerback A.J. Bouye, linebacker John Simon, safety Quintin Demps and nose tackle Vince Wilfork -- to free agency or retirement, but feel their defense should still be one of the best in the league, especially with the return of Watt (99). The offense will feature a new Week 1 starting QB (Tom Savage, 3) and center (Nick Martin, 66). -- SARAH BARSHOP

Players:
Returning
New
23

QB depth chart ranking

Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson
Savage has the confidence of the coaching staff and of top wideout DeAndre Hopkins. He has had some issues staying healthy, though, and with first-round pick and national college champion Watson waiting in the wings, this situation is going to be tricky for Houston to navigate. Add in coach Bill O'Brien's propensity to switch quarterbacks on a hair-trigger whim and you have a situation that could have fallen into the "volatile" category if the players involved ranked with those in that tier in terms of ability. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back D'Onta Foreman
The big man out of Texas racked up an astounding 2,028 yards on 323 carries in Austin last season. Though he's unlikely to add much as a receiver, the third-round rookie should quickly become a threat to Lamar Miller on early downs. Miller struggled with efficiency last year and is a strong bet for a reduced role in 2017. Foreman will start the year slowly, but he's an intriguing handcuff. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

When the Texans have the ball in the strike zone (opponent's 20-35-yard line), defensive backs must alert to the alignment of Hopkins -- because he's going to be the primary target on throws over the top. Here, the Texans align Hopkins (X) at the No. 2 WR spot in a stack look. This creates a ton of room to the boundary for Hopkins to run the fade from an inside alignment -- the toughest route to cover in football. With Braxton Miller (W) on the pivot route, Savage (Q) also has an underneath option. But the throw should go to Hopkins in a one-on-one matchup. Look-off the free safety and give Hopkins an opportunity to use his body control and catch radius to finish for the score. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Watt will lead the NFL in sacks. The Texans don't know what they're going to get from three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year after his recovery from a pair of back surgeries in 2016. But even in limited action during training camp, Watt showed flashes of his old self. The Texans' defense stepped up last year in his absence, and now Watt will benefit from playing alongside Whitney Mercilus and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney, who is coming off the best season of his career. -- SARAH BARSHOP

20 Cincinnati Bengals AFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cin-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cin-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cin-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 6-9-1 | 3rd in AFC North

The Bengals are trying to remold themselves into a playoff contender with an offense overflowing with playmakers. Tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard all return from injuries, while rookies John Ross and Joe Mixon should add a spark. It's a contract year for longtime coach Marvin Lewis, who is 0-7 in the playoffs. No pressure, right? -- KATHERINE TERRELL

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC North 17.7
Projected
wins
8.2
Strength of
schedule rank
25
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.8

Over/under: 8.2 wins?

Over. The Bengals lost six games last season by less than a touchdown and tied once, with three of those contests not helped by kicking problems. The Bengals seem capable of winning at least nine games with the offensive weapons they have this year. -- -- KATHERINE TERRELL

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
16 22 13

Game-by-game projections

The Bengals are favored to win eight of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Ravens
    58.3
  • Sept. 14 vs. Texans
    59.8
  • Sept. 24 @ Packers
    28.8
  • Oct. 1 @ Browns
    61.0
  • Oct. 8 vs. Bills
    66.5
  • Oct. 22 @ Steelers
    31.8
  • Oct. 29 vs. Colts
    60.7
  • Nov. 5 @ Jaguars
    46.7
  • Nov. 12 @ Titans
    39.5
  • Nov. 19 @ Broncos
    37.8
  • Nov. 26 vs. Browns
    76.9
  • Dec. 4 vs. Steelers
    45.0
  • Dec. 10 vs. Bears
    70.6
  • Dec. 17 @ Vikings
    36.0
  • Dec. 24 vs. Lions
    60.1
  • Dec. 31 @ Ravens
    38.9
Katherine Terrell predicts every Bengals game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"You lose [Domata] Peko up front on the defensive line, and then those other guys are getting older, and your defense did not perform as well as it had in the past, so are you getting too old up front, and who do you got? I know Geno [Atkins] is a guy, but are you lacking on that side of the ball?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Bengals' core remains intact. The biggest question is the offensive line, with Pro Bowlers Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler now in new uniforms. Cincy will be breaking in a new right tackle (Jake Fisher, 74) and right guard (Trey Hopkins, 66), and moving struggling right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (70) to the left side. The Bengals signed Kevin Minter (51) to replace Rey Maualuga at MLB and promoted Nick Vigil (59) to a starting role at SLB. -- KATHERINE TERRELL

Players:
Returning
New
13

QB depth chart ranking

Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
The Bengals know exactly what they have in Dalton. And in 2015, when the group around him was healthy for almost the whole season, they saw him be extremely productive. But the health of that group is key to getting the most out of Dalton -- a capable NFL passer who hasn't really shown the ability to elevate those around him the way some others higher on this list have. The Bengals' ranking also gets a bit of a boost from McCarron, a player whose value they deemed high enough to turn away trade offers for him even though he only has one year left on his contract. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Joe Mixon
He's arguably the most talented all-around tailback in this year's rookie class, but Mixon fell to the second round of April's draft due to his off-field transgression. Jeremy Hill is averaging 3.7 yards per carry during the past two years and Bernard is a situational player. Mixon has three-down ability and is a strong bet to dominate the touches in Cincinnati. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Counter Trey (or Counter GT) isn't something new, but I want to see more of it in Cincinnati. There is no window dressing here with the Z receiver, Brandon LaFell, aligned tight to the backside of the formation so he can cut down the defensive end with both the backside tackle and guard pulling at the snap. The idea? Block down on the edge (Y, F) and lead with the big boys as they kick out and wrap to the second-level. This creates a clean running lane for Mixon (H) to take the ball off counter action and get vertical up the field. Remember, you don't have to get ultra creative with the run game if you move people off the ball and win at the point of attack. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Mixon ends the season as the Bengals' starting running back. The Bengals like to lean on their veterans, so Hill likely will be the go-to guy at first. But Mixon's talent, which has been evident in training camp, eventually will win out. -- KATHERINE TERRELL

21 Los Angeles Chargers AFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/lac-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/lac-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/lac-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 5-11 | 4th in AFC West

New head coach Anthony Lynn has brought discipline and accountability as he attempts to establish a new culture for the Chargers. However, the Chargers need to win games to carve out a fan base in the ultra-competitive Los Angeles market. If impact players such as Keenan Allen and Jason Verrett can stay on the field and the Chargers improve in close games (7-17 in one-score contests since 2015), this team has a chance to compete for an AFC wild card spot. -- ERIC D. WILLIAMS

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC West 13.3
Projected
wins
7.8
Strength of
schedule rank
16
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.6

Over/under: 7.8 wins?

Over. The Chargers have playmakers on both sides of the football, a franchise quarterback leading them in Philip Rivers, and experienced coordinators (OC Ken Whisenhunt and DC Gus Bradley). If the Chargers can stay healthy, they should complete the team's first winning season since 2014. -- ERIC D. WILLIAMS

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
18 19 19

Game-by-game projections

The Chargers are favored to win eight of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 11 @ Broncos
    37.9
  • Sept. 17 vs. Dolphins
    65.5
  • Sept. 24 vs. Chiefs
    50.0
  • Oct. 1 vs. Eagles
    57.3
  • Oct. 8 @ Giants
    29.9
  • Oct. 15 @ Raiders
    30.5
  • Oct. 22 vs. Broncos
    57.6
  • Oct. 29 @ Patriots
    16.5
  • Nov. 12 @ Jaguars
    52.7
  • Nov. 19 vs. Bills
    69.0
  • Nov. 23 @ Cowboys
    28.8
  • Dec. 3 vs. Browns
    80.0
  • Dec. 10 vs. Redskins
    60.7
  • Dec. 16 @ Chiefs
    28.3
  • Dec. 24 @ Jets
    61.0
  • Dec. 31 vs. Raiders
    48.1
Eric D. Williams predicts every Chargers game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"They have always had trouble protecting Philip [Rivers]. They have to get that fixed, but now they've lost their rookie guard [Forrest Lamp] for the season, which hits at the thing they should be most worried about: all the injuries. I don't know that I can recall seeing a team lose so many guys so quickly, and it's the same old story. They are basically the same team they were last year and they were counting on better luck with injuries, but it looks like the same situation." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Chargers will have three new starters along the offensive line: Russell Okung (76), Spencer Pulley (73) and Kenny Wiggins (79). How the O-line jells during the regular season likely will determine how well Rivers (17) and Melvin Gordon (28) perform on offense. Defensively, the Chargers return all but one starter. They have a chance to be a top-10 unit with two talented edge-rushers, Joey Bosa (99) and Melvin Ingram (54), along with Casey Hayward (26) and Verrett (22) at cornerback. -- ERIC D. WILLIAMS

Players:
Returning
New
8

QB depth chart ranking

Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
Rivers turns 36 in December. He has been an iron man, playing in every game since becoming the Chargers' starter in 2006, but the Chargers can't have any idea what the replacement plan is if he decided to leave in the next few years. It's not Kellen Clemens -- who the Chargers are expected to bring back this week after he was cut over the weekend -- and there's no way to know if it could be Jones. Add in Rivers' 21 interceptions and 7 fumbles from last season and the Chargers sit nicely in the tier of teams that have more confidence in their QB situation than most but at least some level of short- and long-term concern. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Tight end Hunter Henry
Henry seemingly broke out as a rookie, but his top-20 fantasy campaign was fueled by an unsustainable eight touchdowns on 36 receptions. He was on the field for just 54 percent of the team's snaps -- a mark that will increase at 37-year-old Antonio Gates' expense in 2017. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Chargers have a nice play-action scheme (with max protection) that gives Rivers plenty of time to find Allen in open space. With two wide receivers aligned in a slot look, the Chargers fake the Counter OF scheme (pull the guard and tight end off the ball). This creates a safe pocket for Rivers (Q) off the play action to Gordon (H) and gives Allen (Z) time to stem hard inside before breaking back toward the boundary. And with the speed of Travis Benjamin (X) pushing the outside cornerback down the field and occupying the free safety, Rivers has a clean window to deliver the ball to Allen for a big gain. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Verrett finally will play to his potential, playing a 16-game season and leading the league in interceptions. A first-round selection for the Chargers in the 2014 draft, the TCU product has missed 24 games during his three seasons. But with Hayward leading the NFL in interceptions last year, Verrett will follow suit in 2017 and finally put a top-notch season together. -- ERIC D. WILLIAMS

22 Washington Redskins NFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/was-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/was-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/was-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 8-7-1 | 3rd in NFC East

Coach Jay Gruden is calling plays instead of Sean McVay. Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder are the top wideouts instead of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. But the biggest -- and most necessary -- changes are on defense, where the Redskins have a new coordinator (Greg Manusky) and will have five new starters. If the defense can be in the top half of the league, the Redskins will contend for the NFC East title. If not? See the past two seasons. -- JOHN KEIM

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC East 9.9
Projected
wins
7.4
Strength of
schedule rank
1
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.5

Over/under: 7.4 wins?

Over. It's understandable why the Redskins are viewed this way after some of their offseason losses and changes on both sides of the ball. The Redskins must prove the changes helped, but they do have reason to feel they can win nine games. -- JOHN KEIM

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
12 25 20

Game-by-game projections

The Redskins are favored to win seven of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Eagles
    53.0
  • Sept. 17 @ Rams
    50.1
  • Sept. 24 vs. Raiders
    51.3
  • Oct. 2 @ Chiefs
    29.0
  • Oct. 15 vs. 49ers
    81.4
  • Oct. 23 @ Eagles
    33.6
  • Oct. 29 vs. Cowboys
    47.5
  • Nov. 5 @ Seahawks
    24.0
  • Nov. 12 vs. Vikings
    49.8
  • Nov. 19 @ Saints
    38.4
  • Nov. 23 vs. Giants
    50.2
  • Nov. 30 @ Cowboys
    28.4
  • Dec. 10 @ Chargers
    38.9
  • Dec. 17 vs. Cardinals
    60.2
  • Dec. 24 vs. Broncos
    56.3
  • Dec. 31 @ Giants
    32.8
John Keim predicts every Redskins game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"Even though I think [Kirk] Cousins is a good quarterback, they could end up having the fourth-best quarterback in the division. It could happen this season with Carson Wentz developing, and then it could explode in the offseason with Cousins' price tag becoming basically prohibitive, and him possibly leaving." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The front seven will feature three new starters: DEs Stacey McGee (92) and Jonathan Allen (95), along with ILB Zach Brown (53). Safety D.J. Swearinger (36) is one potential impact newcomer in the lineup. Offensively, receivers Pryor (11) and Doctson (18) both have talent, but they're still working on their rapport with Cousins (8). -- JOHN KEIM

Players:
Returning
New
12

QB depth chart ranking

Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
This team is confident Cousins can perform in spite of the continued absence of a long-term contract, because he has exceeded 4,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons while in that exact situation. But Washington (A) has no idea whether it will have Cousins for more than one more year, (B) lost its top two receivers to free agency, and (C) former offensive coordinator Sean McVay, with whom Cousins had an excellent rapport, left to go coach the Rams. The situation around Cousins is the reason for Washington to question its confidence in its quarterback situation. The team feels better about McCoy than most people do, but if Cousins gets hurt this season or signs elsewhere next March, this could fall apart quickly. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Josh Doctson
The TCU product was the 22nd overall pick in last year's draft, but an Achilles' tendon injury cost him nearly his entire rookie season. Doctson (6-2, 202) dominated at the NFL combine and sports massive upside as a downfield playmaker. He'll compete for targets with Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and Pryor. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Former offensive coordinator Sean McVay is now out in L.A., but the Redskins can still use the same offensive principles to isolate Reed in specific red zone matchups. With Reed to the backside of a 3x1 formation (called a "Dakota" set), Crowder (X) runs a shallow drag route to hold the underneath defenders. Reed (Y) can use his size to beat a cornerback or his smooth route running skills to separate from a safety on this inside-breaking cut. Cousins (Q) should have a clear window to target Reed once he gains leverage at the break for the score. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Redskins will finish with two receivers surpassing 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season. One year after it was Garcon and Jackson, it'll be Pryor and Crowder. Pryor topped that mark in Cleveland last season while Crowder fell 153 yards shy. The Redskins accomplished this three times between 1986 and '91, but only twice since then (including 1999). -- JOHN KEIM

23 Detroit Lions NFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/det-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/det-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/det-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 9-7 | Lost in Wild Card

Jim Caldwell enters his fourth season without a contract beyond this year. The Lions have made the postseason two of the past three seasons, a significant sign of progress under Caldwell. And yet the team has yet to win a playoff game since the 1991 season and hasn't won a division crown since 1993. Detroit has positive momentum with general manager Bob Quinn and team president Rod Wood showing competent management (somewhat of a rarity with the Lions), but they have to build on it. -- MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC North 11.2
Projected
wins
7.3
Strength of
schedule rank
6
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.5

Over/under: 7.3 wins?

Over. As long as left tackle Taylor Decker is on the sidelines and until the franchise can display an improved pass rush, exceeding FPI's 7.3 projected wins could be challenging. But the schedule, Matthew Stafford and other talent should boost the Lions into the 8-10-win range. -- MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
10 30 9

Game-by-game projections

The Lions are favored to win six of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Cardinals
    59.5
  • Sept. 18 @ Giants
    32.3
  • Sept. 24 vs. Falcons
    46.1
  • Oct. 1 @ Vikings
    34.9
  • Oct. 8 vs. Panthers
    51.8
  • Oct. 15 @ Saints
    33.3
  • Oct. 29 vs. Steelers
    47.7
  • Nov. 6 @ Packers
    22.9
  • Nov. 12 vs. Browns
    70.9
  • Nov. 19 @ Bears
    52.5
  • Nov. 23 vs. Vikings
    53.4
  • Dec. 3 @ Ravens
    40.7
  • Dec. 10 @ Buccaneers
    34.2
  • Dec. 16 vs. Bears
    69.7
  • Dec. 24 @ Bengals
    39.6
  • Dec. 31 vs. Packers
    43.4
Michael Rothstein predicts every Lions game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"They have not done anything to address the running back position, where Ameer Abdullah has not proved he can stay healthy. It is inevitable that this guy is going to get hurt again. That and their lack of pass-rushers means they will again ask too much from their quarterback. Stafford pulled out a ton of come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter last season. Can they really do that again?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Tight end Eric Ebron (85) returns for his fourth season and Abdullah (21) is back from injury, giving the Lions a solid returning skill position core. Detroit rebuilt its offensive line, with Rick Wagner (71) and T.J. Lang (76) acquired through free agency and Greg Robinson (73) filling in for the injured Decker. And while the secondary is strong, the front seven has a lot of question marks as rookies and others shift to new roles, including Tahir Whitehead (59) at weakside linebacker and Cornelius Washington (90) at defensive end. -- MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN

Players:
Returning
New
4

QB depth chart ranking

Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
If you had any doubt about the way the Lions feel about Stafford, the $27 million-a-year contract extension they gave him last week should have scrubbed that right away. He's the guy there, for the long term, and he's coming off a 2016 season in which he led eight fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins. Rudock is an unproven backup who'd be a major downgrade, but the fact that Stafford is still just 29 and hasn't missed a game since 2010 makes that less of a concern. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Ameer Abdullah
Detroit's 2015 second-round pick suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 2 last year, but has been impressive on 191 career touches. Abdullah is only 24 years old, and even with Theo Riddick in the mix, he should eclipse 200 touches as Detroit's primary early-down back. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

When Riddick comes in the huddle, it's an automatic pass alert for the defense. That's his game. But Detroit has shown the ability to move the sticks and create explosive runs with Riddick on the trap scheme against nickel fronts. With the center blocking down and the guard on the quick pull, the Lions can kick out the defensive tackle. That opens up a clear inside running lane for Riddick to come straight downhill. The left tackle blocking to the second level can help spring Riddick for a big play when the defense rolls a six-man front onto the field. And there is nothing better than seeing a trap scheme executed the proper way. That's good football. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Abdullah will stay healthy, play 16 games and eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. It doesn't mean the Lions will be more successful, but the upgrades on the right side of the offensive line and the burst he showed in a small sample size last season before his foot injury are both positives. -- MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN

24 Indianapolis Colts AFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ind-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ind-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/ind-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 8-8 | 3rd in AFC South

Quarterback Andrew Luck's recovery from right shoulder surgery likely will dictate how much success the Colts have this season -- and coach Chuck Pagano's future with the team. Pagano has survived back-to-back 8-8 seasons, and this is essentially an audition season for Pagano under new general manager Chris Ballard. Owner Jim Irsay has yet to commit to Pagano beyond this season. -- MIKE WELLS

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC South 24.1
Projected
wins
7.9
Strength of
schedule rank
32
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.6

Over/under: 7.9 wins?

Under. It's hard to pick the Colts to finish .500 or above with all the uncertainty surrounding the health Luck, who will at least miss Week 1. A rebuilt defense will also need time to mesh. -- MIKE WELLS

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
15 31 2

Game-by-game projections

The Colts are favored to win seven of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Rams
    40.9
  • Sept. 17 vs. Cardinals
    52.4
  • Sept. 24 vs. Browns
    73.0
  • Oct. 1 @ Seahawks
    23.8
  • Oct. 8 vs. 49ers
    77.4
  • Oct. 16 @ Titans
    37.4
  • Oct. 22 vs. Jaguars
    67.6
  • Oct. 29 @ Bengals
    39.0
  • Nov. 5 @ Texans
    37.4
  • Nov. 12 vs. Steelers
    38.2
  • Nov. 26 vs. Titans
    57.9
  • Dec. 3 @ Jaguars
    48.8
  • Dec. 10 @ Bills
    46.1
  • Dec. 14 vs. Broncos
    55.8
  • Dec. 23 @ Ravens
    38.4
  • Dec. 31 vs. Texans
    57.9
Mike Wells predicts every Colts game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"They do not know if Andrew Luck will be healthy or stay healthy. I watched their preseason game against Detroit, and man, did they look bad. Beyond the quarterback's health, who is their other receiving threat besides T.Y. Hilton?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Ballard immediately made sweeping changes to a defense that finished 30th in the NFL last season, cutting ties with aging veterans and bringing in eight new starters. Ballard targeted younger, more physical players while also putting a premium on guys who can force turnovers. -- MIKE WELLS

Players:
Returning
New
18

QB depth chart ranking

Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
Luck hasn't practiced with his team since December, is coming off offseason shoulder surgery and could miss the first couple of games of the season. The good news is that the team expects a full recovery and a return to full strength for Luck at some point. The bad news is that the Colts haven't been able to protect him and that the backups are Tolzien and Brissett, who the Colts acquired over the weekend from the Patriots. Even if Luck is back in Week 3, another injury would spell doom for the Colts. And they can't be sure that's avoidable. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Donte Moncrief
He has yet to finish a season better than 36th among wide receivers in fantasy points, but Moncrief found the end zone seven times in nine games last year. The 2014 third-round pick is only 24 years old and remains Luck's clear No. 2 target. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Colts have a smooth crack-toss scheme in the red zone that mixes in the jet sweep to throw some eye candy at the defense. With the Colts aligned in a tight bunch look to the front side of the formation (crack alert), Luck (Q) shows the ball to Moncrief (W) on the jet sweep action. That forces the linebackers to hesitate and limits the inside pursuit to the ball. The Colts block down on the edge and pull the tackle to take out the cornerback attempting to fill the lane. That's a matchup advantage for the Colts and it clears a path for Gore (H) to take the pitch and walk into the end zone. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Luck will suffer the first losing season in his six-year NFL career. The Colts are in rebuilding mode, especially on defense, which means Luck will have to carry the team more than normal. That's a lot to ask a QB who's still not 100 percent. -- MIKE WELLS

25 Miami Dolphins AFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/mia-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/mia-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/mia-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 10-6 | Lost in Wild Card

Coaxed out of retirement, quarterback Jay Cutler takes over for Ryan Tannehill, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Cutler, 34, has plenty of weapons on offense, including Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi, tight end Julius Thomas and receivers Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. And Cutler's familiarity with Adam Gase's offense will be important early in the season. -- JAMES WALKER

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC East 3.7
Projected
wins
7.0
Strength of
schedule rank
8
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.2

Over/under: 7.0 wins?

Under. It's clear the Dolphins are playing for second place in the AFC East behind the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Miami has the fourth-toughest strength of schedule according to FPI, and the Tannehill loss will prove to be too much for the Dolphins to overcome. -- JAMES WALKER

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
27 11 18

Game-by-game projections

The Dolphins are favored to win six of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 17 @ Chargers
    34.2
  • Sept. 24 @ Jets
    60.4
  • Oct. 1 vs. Saints
    45.3
  • Oct. 8 vs. Titans
    54.1
  • Oct. 15 @ Falcons
    22.5
  • Oct. 22 vs. Jets
    78.6
  • Oct. 26 @ Ravens
    34.7
  • Nov. 5 vs. Raiders
    49.9
  • Nov. 13 @ Panthers
    30.6
  • Nov. 19 vs. Buccaneers
    50.1
  • Nov. 26 @ Patriots
    18.1
  • Dec. 3 vs. Broncos
    55.6
  • Dec. 11 vs. Patriots
    32.1
  • Dec. 17 @ Bills
    42.5
  • Dec. 24 @ Chiefs
    25.5
  • Dec. 31 vs. Bills
    64.6
James Walker predicts every Dolphins game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"What's funny is Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill are really about the same guy. What people don't realize is that Cutler is a lot like Tony Romo if you look at how many games they've missed in the last several years. Essentially, it is going to be Matt Moore being the quarterback for Miami at some point during the season." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Outside of signing Cutler (6) following Tannehill's injury, Miami also traded for former Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas (89) after getting little production at the position last year. Additions at linebacker (Timmons, 94) and safety (Allen, 29) were badly needed for the Dolphins' 29th-ranked defensive unit. -- JAMES WALKER

Players:
Returning
New
25

QB depth chart ranking

Jay Cutler, Matt Moore
Ryan Tannehill blew out his knee and Cutler came out of retirement to run Adam Gase's offense. Can the duo recapture the magic of the 2015 Bears' offense? Was it really all that magical? Cutler's surprise unretirement could be one of the blindside stories of the season if he and Gase can put points on the board. More likely, the Dolphins will try to do what they can to minimize turnovers with a quarterback who has always seemed prone to them while running the ball with Jay Ajayi and hoping the defense holds up on the back end. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver DeVante Parker
The 24-year-old Parker failed to emerge into a viable fantasy asset despite a 19 percent target share last year, but it's hard to ignore the overwhelming number of glowing offseason reports. While Miami's run-heavy offense is a roadblock, the 2015 first-round pick appears primed for a third-year breakout. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

With Cutler and Gase back together, the duo can use a familiar scheme -- the triple-option RPO (run-pass option) -- to create stress for opposing defenses while also featuring the Dolphins' top skill-position players. Out of a trips bunch alignment, Cutler (Q) can hand off to Jay Ajayi (H) on the inside zone or pull the ball to "option" the conflict linebacker. If the linebacker widens, Cutler will keep the ball and get up the field. If the linebacker closes to Cutler, he can throw the screen outside to Landry (Z), who has two blockers in front. Tough to stop. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Dolphins won't get their $10 million worth out of Cutler, who has a below-.500 record as a starter, including a 6-9 record in Gase's offense with the Bears in 2015. Gase will prevent this from being a total disaster, but Miami will not make the playoffs. -- JAMES WALKER

26 Buffalo Bills AFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/buf-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/buf-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/buf-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 7-9 | 3rd in AFC East

First-year coach Sean McDermott doesn't want to use the word rebuilding to describe his team, and first-year general manager Brandon Beane was annoyed that some believed his team is "tanking" after Buffalo abruptly traded top receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby in August. Even so, it is fair to say the Bills -- who now own six picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft -- have shifted toward more of a long-term approach in building their roster. There are still a number of accomplished veterans on the squad who could make things interesting at times this season, but the most probable outcome is an 18th consecutive year out of the playoffs. -- MIKE RODAK

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC East 2.5
Projected
wins
6.6
Strength of
schedule rank
14
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 6.6 wins?

Under. Buffalo's FPI projection is generous given sweeping changes at receiver and a completely new secondary. The Bills will not bottom out with three or four wins as long as Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy are healthy, but I see them more in the five- or six-win range. -- MIKE RODAK

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
20 27 24

Game-by-game projections

The Bills are favored to win seven of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Jets
    75.1
  • Sept. 17 @ Panthers
    27.6
  • Sept. 24 vs. Broncos
    51.3
  • Oct. 1 @ Falcons
    23.2
  • Oct. 8 @ Bengals
    33.2
  • Oct. 22 vs. Buccaneers
    53.0
  • Oct. 29 vs. Raiders
    42.3
  • Nov. 2 @ Jets
    57.9
  • Nov. 12 vs. Saints
    53.8
  • Nov. 19 @ Chargers
    30.8
  • Nov. 26 @ Chiefs
    23.2
  • Dec. 3 vs. Patriots
    27.3
  • Dec. 10 vs. Colts
    53.5
  • Dec. 17 vs. Dolphins
    57.1
  • Dec. 24 @ Patriots
    14.3
  • Dec. 31 @ Dolphins
    35.2
Mike Rodak predicts every Bills game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"They traded away their most explosive receiver [Watkins] and even though he was often hurt, when you get rid of that guy, who is your guy? You don't have Robert Woods, you don't have Watkins. Jordan Matthews is not an explosive guy. He is just a smart, tough, possession receiver. Where do they get chunk yardage from in the passing game?" -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Bills have almost completely turned over three positions since last season: wide receiver, cornerback and safety. Gone are last year's starting receivers -- Watkins (traded to Rams) and Woods (signed with Rams) -- as well as starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (signed with Patriots) and Darby (traded to Eagles). In contrast, Buffalo returns its entire starting offensive line from last season, and while the alignment of the defensive front seven is different in 2017, the personnel is basically unchanged. -- MIKE RODAK

Players:
Returning
New
28

QB depth chart ranking

Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, Joe Webb
Taylor is, I continue to insist, better than you think he is. But he needs a good group around him in order to succeed, and the Bills have spent the offseason losing good players from their offense. No more Sammy Watkins and no Anquan Boldin (we hardly knew ye!) means rookie Zay Jones has to carry a lot of the load for Taylor, and that checkdowns to LeSean McCoy become a huge part of the offensive game plan. Taylor's revised contract, which allows Buffalo to get out of it after this year, doesn't scream confidence. Peterman is an unproven rookie, and both Taylor and Yates were nursing concussions with a week to go before the season. Not a great situation here. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Zay Jones
The Bills addressed a massive void at wide receiver by scooping up Jones in the second round of April's draft. The versatile East Carolina product holds the FBS record for most career receptions (he had 158 last year alone) and dominated at the NFL combine. Jones is ticketed for an every-down role as a rookie. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison can cater to the skill set of Taylor with old school option schemes when the Bills have the ball deep inside the red zone. With the tight end (Y) cracking inside to block the linebacker and the fullback (F) clearing out the safety filling the alley, Taylor (Q) can "option" the defensive end. If the DE stays up the field, Taylor keeps the ball and cuts to the end zone. If the end closes to the QB, Taylor can make a simple pitch to McCoy (H) -- with blockers in front. This is a proven scheme that creates stress for defensive coordinators because of Taylor's running ability. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

McCoy will exceed his career high of 1,607 rushing yards (2013 with the Eagles). Who else will provide offense for the Bills? With Watkins and former No. 2 running back Mike Gillislee gone, McCoy will be the focal point both of the Bills' backfield and their offense as a whole. -- MIKE RODAK

27 Jacksonville Jaguars AFC South http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/jac-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/jac-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/jac-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 3-13 | 4th in AFC South

The return of Tom Coughlin, this time as executive VP of football operations, means discipline, accountability and toughness -- as well as being five minutes early to everything -- are back in vogue for the Jaguars. Players have said they love the culture shift under Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone because they're tired of losing: The Jaguars have won just 17 games in the past five seasons. For that to change, QB Blake Bortles must cut down on his turnovers (NFL-high 63 since he joined the league in 2014) and rookie RB Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick, has to be a major factor. -- MICHAEL DIROCCO

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC South 9.6
Projected
wins
6.7
Strength of
schedule rank
30
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 6.7 wins?

Under. The Jaguars haven't had solid QB play in a long time. Bortles still hasn't shown that he can avoid disastrous mistakes, and the Jaguars won't give him much leeway. But are they much better with backup Chad Henne, who has 58 TDs and 63 interceptions in 53 career starts? -- MICHAEL DIROCCO

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
26 26 17

Game-by-game projections

The Jaguars are favored to win four of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Texans
    29.4
  • Sept. 17 vs. Titans
    46.3
  • Sept. 24 vs. Ravens
    36.8
  • Oct. 1 @ Jets
    54.0
  • Oct. 8 @ Steelers
    18.5
  • Oct. 15 vs. Rams
    64.2
  • Oct. 22 @ Colts
    32.1
  • Nov. 5 vs. Bengals
    52.9
  • Nov. 12 vs. Chargers
    46.9
  • Nov. 19 @ Browns
    49.0
  • Nov. 26 @ Cardinals
    27.5
  • Dec. 3 vs. Colts
    50.8
  • Dec. 10 vs. Seahawks
    38.0
  • Dec. 17 vs. Texans
    48.2
  • Dec. 24 @ 49ers
    45.4
  • Dec. 31 @ Titans
    28.9
Michael DiRocco predicts every Jaguars game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"They will run the ball well, they will play decent defense, they will win more games than they have in the last few years, but Bortles is not accurate and he has never been and never will be, and when you put pressure on him, he just freaks out. It is the Blaine Gabbert effect." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Jaguars potentially have a top-10 defense thanks to the additions of DE Calais Campbell (93), CB A.J. Bouye (21) and SS Barry Church (42) to a unit that already includes CB Jalen Ramsey (20), DT Malik Jackson (97), LB Telvin Smith (50) and young pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue (91). Offensively, the Jaguars return three starters to an offensive line that wasn't very good in the run game in 2016. -- MICHAEL DIROCCO

Players:
Returning
New
31

QB depth chart ranking

Blake Bortles, Chad Henne
Bortles just about lost his job to Henne a couple of weeks ago, then miraculously got it back before the fourth preseason game. But, come on. It's clear this new regime in Jacksonville has no confidence in Bortles and that he'll have to play better than he ever has in order to stay around in 2018. He also carries a $19 million option for 2018 that's guaranteed only against injury, so if they decide once and for all he's not their guy for the long haul, they have to make sure he doesn't get hurt, or they're on the hook for that money. Expect the Jags to be in the QB market next year. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Running back Leonard Fournette
A much-improved defense and shaky quarterback situation figures to lead to a run-first offense in Jacksonville this year. Enter Fournette, who the Jaguars selected fourth overall in April's draft. The 6-foot, 230-pound workhorse will push for 300 carries and double-digit touchdowns as a rookie. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Jags aren't going to be a flashy team on offense under Marrone, but they don't have to be because of Fournette's rare combination of size, speed and power. Along with the traditional zone and power schemes out of two-back sets, the Jags can also put Fournette in situations in which he can use his bruising running style to attack nickel defenses. With three wide receivers on the field, the Jags run the "G-Lead" scheme here. Block down on the edge and pull the front-side guard to kick out the edge support. This opens a lane for Fournette (H) to get up the field and drop his pads versus defensive backs. Don't make the game complicated when you have a back like Fournette. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

Fournette won't surpass 1,000 yards. The rookie RB might get 250-plus carries, but the Jaguars didn't do much to address an offensive line that has not been very good in the run game over the past two seasons (22nd in rushing in 2016). As good as Fournette might be, he won't have success if the line struggles. -- MICHAEL DIROCCO

28 Los Angeles Rams NFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/stl-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/stl-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/stl-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 4-12 | 3rd in NFC West

The Rams made Sean McVay the youngest head coach in modern NFL history and surrounded 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff with more talent. They signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth, added possession receiver Robert Woods and traded for vertical threat Sammy Watkins, all in an effort to improve an offense that has ranked dead last in the NFL in yards each of the past two seasons. Their hope is that it can catch up with a defense that is now led by legendary coordinator Wade Phillips. -- ALDEN GONZALEZ

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC West 3.5
Projected
wins
6.0
Strength of
schedule rank
19
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 6.0 wins?

Over. The Rams play the flawed AFC South this year, and their schedule looks favorable early. The Rams' defense will be good, their special teams are elite, and their offense should be better (it can't possibly be worse). Look for them to finish closer to the .500 mark this year. -- ALDEN GONZALEZ

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
29 14 22

Game-by-game projections

The Rams are favored to win just two of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Colts
    58.7
  • Sept. 17 vs. Redskins
    49.5
  • Sept. 21 @ 49ers
    47.0
  • Oct. 1 @ Cowboys
    20.0
  • Oct. 8 vs. Seahawks
    32.8
  • Oct. 15 @ Jaguars
    35.5
  • Oct. 22 vs. Cardinals
    35.9
  • Nov. 5 @ Giants
    19.8
  • Nov. 12 vs. Texans
    47.4
  • Nov. 19 @ Vikings
    23.3
  • Nov. 26 vs. Saints
    48.2
  • Dec. 3 @ Cardinals
    28.3
  • Dec. 10 vs. Eagles
    44.5
  • Dec. 17 @ Seahawks
    17.7
  • Dec. 24 @ Titans
    25.9
  • Dec. 31 vs. 49ers
    65.7
Alden Gonzalez predicts every Rams game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"They've had distractions on defense with Trumaine Johnson making $17 million and Aaron Donald holding out. Getting that stuff nipped in the bud is important because you don't need those distractions. You're in a new city, you're trying to fight for respectability and you have a first pick [Jared Goff] who needs to grow. How is that going to work? Get the distractions out of the way." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

The Rams, under an entirely new coaching staff, rebuilt their offense in hopes of finally getting something going on that side of the ball. Will notable additions Whitworth (77) and Watkins (2) make a tangible difference? Most of the defensive personnel remains the same. The Rams signed outside linebacker Connor Barwin (98) and Kayvon Webster (21) this offseason as they transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. -- ALDEN GONZALEZ

Players:
Returning
New
29

QB depth chart ranking

Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. It's just that the current Rams coaching staff wasn't there when the team drafted him, so there's no way to know yet how they'll all click. Rams coaches seem more impressed with Goff than maybe they expected to be, and they have reason to believe they've constructed a decent group around him, trading for Sammy Watkins and signing a couple of veteran offensive linemen. Goff's development under new coach Sean McVay and his staff is a story to watch, especially since McVay and Kirk Cousins had a good thing together in Washington too. Mannion, a former third-round pick, is the backup. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp
At 24, Kupp is one of this year's oldest incoming rookies, but the third-rounder out of Eastern Washington has generated plenty of offseason hype. A capable receiver, ball carrier and returner, Kupp is a good bet to play a big rookie-season role on a team in need of playmakers. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

McVay can use the "sucker" route to clear out space for Watkins, his new No. 1 target, on a deep, inside cut. Out of a trips formation, Woods (W) releases down the field to occupy the free safety while tight end Gerald Everett (Y) sits down on the curl to hold the underneath linebacker. That creates an inside pocket for Watkins (Z) to separate on the dig route. And with the middle of the field now open, Goff (Q) can rip this ball inside of the numbers to move the sticks or create an opportunity for Watkins to run after the catch. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Rams' offense will end up somewhere within the top 20 in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. Not bold? Well, the Rams have finished outside the top 20 in this popular, all-encompassing statistic every season over the past decade and ranked 32nd in 2016. But McVay will get more out of this offense. The receivers are better, the offensive line is improved and Todd Gurley should bounce back. I'm also counting on the natural Year 2 leap from Goff. -- ALDEN GONZALEZ

29 Chicago Bears NFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/chi-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/chi-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/chi-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 3-13 | 4th in NFC North

After three consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC North, the Bears need to show substantial improvement for head coach John Fox to stick around beyond 2017. The Bears believe they have their future franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, drafted second overall. But veteran Mike Glennon is the starter -- for now. The Bears are expected to lean heavily on running back Jordan Howard -- the NFL's second leading rusher as a rookie -- but the rest of the offense (except for the revamped tight end position) is a question mark. Chicago also doesn't have a single player on defense that's ever been to the Pro Bowl. -- JEFF DICKERSON

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC North 2.0
Projected
wins
5.6
Strength of
schedule rank
12
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 5.6 wins?

Over. Barely. The Bears lack star power, plain and simple, and their first-half schedule is brutal, but an impressive rookie class will help get Chicago to six wins. -- JEFF DICKERSON

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
28 28 26

Game-by-game projections

The Bears are favored to win just two of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Falcons
    35.1
  • Sept. 17 @ Buccaneers
    24.0
  • Sept. 24 vs. Steelers
    32.0
  • Sept. 28 @ Packers
    17.8
  • Oct. 9 vs. Vikings
    43.2
  • Oct. 15 @ Ravens
    26.6
  • Oct. 22 vs. Panthers
    38.5
  • Oct. 29 @ Saints
    27.3
  • Nov. 12 vs. Packers
    37.2
  • Nov. 19 vs. Lions
    47.1
  • Nov. 26 @ Eagles
    23.7
  • Dec. 3 vs. 49ers
    67.6
  • Dec. 10 @ Bengals
    29.2
  • Dec. 16 @ Lions
    30.1
  • Dec. 24 vs. Browns
    66.2
  • Dec. 31 @ Vikings
    24.3
Jeff Dickerson predicts every Bears game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"Their receiving corps is bad. I actually think Mike Glennon can be decent for them in the short term, but they clearly don't have the horses to help around him, and that is ultimately the downfall." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Chicago will have three new starters in the secondary, including free-agents Marcus Cooper (25) and Quintin Demps (21). The Bears return their entire offensive line, but Chicago overhauled quarterback (Mike Glennon, 8; Mark Sanchez; Mitchell Trubisky) and tight end (Dion Sims, 88; Adam Shaheen). -- JEFF DICKERSON

Players:
Returning
New
27

QB depth chart ranking

Mike Glennon, Mitchell Trubisky, Mark Sanchez
Should they be confident in Glennon as the starter? Maybe not, but they liked him enough to sign him to an eight-figure salary. Can they know yet about Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick? Of course not. It's too soon. But Trubisky showed enough this summer to offer hope, and while the 2017 Bears aren't expected to do much, they have earned the right to feel more confident about their quarterback situation than they did six months ago. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Kevin White
The West Virginia product has missed 28 of 32 games to begin his career, so it's easy to forget he was the seventh overall pick back in 2015. The 25-year-old stands 6-foot-3 with 4.35 wheels, and averaged a massive 8.75 targets per game when active last year. Durability is a concern, but White will play a big role and has big upside. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

The Bears can use a simple, yet effective play-action scheme in the red zone to open up a throwing lane and hit the backside slant. Out of a 3x1 alignment, Glennon (Q) fakes Howard (H) on the inside zone look, which grabs the eyes of the safety walked down or the Will linebacker. This puts Glennon is a position to pull the ball, set his feet and deliver a strike to White (X) breaking inside on the slant. That's six all day if White can create separation at the top of the route to win inside. And the free safety doesn't have the angle to make this play, given White's wide split inside the red zone. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The smart money is on Chicago scrapping its plan of redshirting Trubisky by mid-to-late season. He's a better all-around athlete than Glennon, but Trubisky is still learning the nuances of playing quarterback in the NFL. Once Trubisky figures it out -- and the Bears believe he eventually will -- there's no point having him on the bench. -- JEFF DICKERSON

30 Cleveland Browns AFC North http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cle-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cle-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/cle-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 1-15 | 4th in AFC North

Another year, another "building season" in Cleveland. The Browns have improved their talent in some areas -- most notably on the defensive line -- and coach Hue Jackson will try to win this season by running the ball with the underrated Isaiah Crowell and playing aggressive defense. But the opening four games are brutal, and without a dependable quarterback and receivers who can make plays and get in the end zone, the team will struggle. Even owner Jimmy Haslam conceded early in training camp that the long rebuild he started a year ago will probably not bear fruition until 2018. -- PAT MCMANAMON

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC North 0.9
Projected
wins
5.0
Strength of
schedule rank
21
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 5.0 wins?

Under. A team that doubles its win total from one season to the next has achieved something. For Cleveland, that would mean winning two games in 2017. The Browns may feel better about the overall talent level when this season ends, but they won't reach the five wins projected by FPI. -- PAT MCMANAMON

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
31 23 25

Game-by-game projections

The Browns are favored to win just two of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Steelers
    25.4
  • Sept. 17 @ Ravens
    22.1
  • Sept. 24 @ Colts
    26.8
  • Oct. 1 vs. Bengals
    38.7
  • Oct. 8 vs. Jets
    63.9
  • Oct. 15 @ Texans
    21.6
  • Oct. 22 vs. Titans
    38.3
  • Oct. 29 vs. Vikings
    26.9
  • Nov. 12 @ Lions
    28.9
  • Nov. 19 vs. Jaguars
    50.7
  • Nov. 26 @ Bengals
    22.9
  • Dec. 3 @ Chargers
    19.9
  • Dec. 10 vs. Packers
    26.6
  • Dec. 17 vs. Ravens
    37.8
  • Dec. 24 @ Bears
    33.5
  • Dec. 31 @ Steelers
    14.3
Pat McManamon predicts every Browns game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"I just don't know where they want to hang their hat on offense or on defense, but their biggest weakness, besides quarterback, is in their secondary. They don't have any safeties outside of Jabrill Peppers." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

A one-win team should have turnover, and the Browns have plenty. There will be four new starters on defense, most notably first overall draft pick Myles Garrett (95) at right end. Offensively there will be a new starter at receiver, three new starters on the offensive line, a new tight end and, naturally, a new quarterback. With rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer (7) named the Week 1 starter, the Browns will have their 27th starter since 1999 and their fifth opening-day starter in the past five years. -- PAT MCMANAMON

Players:
Returning
New
30

QB depth chart ranking

DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
In early May, how many of you had Kizer, a second-round pick, starting the Browns' opener? Liars. Put your hands down. A couple of talent evaluators told me this summer that Kizer was the young QB to watch, since he played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame and was making NFL throws the others weren't being asked to make in college. We'll see. The Browns like their offensive line and their run game and will give Kizer a long leash. It's worth wondering who he's going to throw it to, but the coaching staff believes in him. Kessler is the backup, and they used him a few times last season without it being a complete disaster. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver Corey Coleman
Coleman's rookie campaign was a disappointment after he missed six games with a hand injury and was limited to 33 receptions. Still, he's only 23 years old and was the first wide receiver selected in the 2016 draft. With Terrelle Pryor Sr. gone, Coleman has an opportunity to pace the Browns in targets this year. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Given Johnson's receiving skills, coach Hue Jackson can create matchups in the three-step passing game. Here, the Browns bring "pony" personnel (two tailbacks) into the game with Johnson (H) aligned out wide to draw a linebacker in coverage and Crowell (R) offset to the weak side of the formation. This is a quick read for the Kizer (Q), and it gives the Browns an opportunity to win the matchup in a critical down-and-distance situation. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

This will be the fifth consecutive season the Browns have three different starters at the game's most important position. Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer and Kessler all figure to be in the mix at quarterback in 2017. -- PAT MCMANAMON

31 San Francisco 49ers NFC West http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sfo-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sfo-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/sfo-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 2-14 | 4th in NFC West

A new era of 49ers football is underway with coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch leading the way. The overhauled roster is better than it was a year ago, but that probably won't manifest into a push for the playoffs. Wins and losses might not be as important this year as simply seeing the type of progress that can lay a foundation for future success. -- NICK WAGONER

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win NFC West 1.3
Projected
wins
5.0
Strength of
schedule rank
17
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 5.0 wins?

Push. The 49ers have a better roster than a season ago when they only won twice and the schedule, at least right now, looks a bit more manageable particularly on the back end. Still, this is a long-term rebuilding project. -- NICK WAGONER

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
30 24 32

Game-by-game projections

The 49ers are favored to win just two of their 16 games, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 vs. Panthers
    36.2
  • Sept. 17 @ Seahawks
    12.9
  • Sept. 21 vs. Rams
    52.6
  • Oct. 1 @ Cardinals
    24.2
  • Oct. 8 @ Colts
    22.4
  • Oct. 15 @ Redskins
    18.4
  • Oct. 22 vs. Cowboys
    26.7
  • Oct. 29 @ Eagles
    17.3
  • Nov. 5 vs. Cardinals
    34.9
  • Nov. 12 vs. Giants
    35.8
  • Nov. 26 vs. Seahawks
    32.0
  • Dec. 3 @ Bears
    32.1
  • Dec. 10 @ Texans
    21.3
  • Dec. 17 vs. Titans
    41.2
  • Dec. 24 vs. Jaguars
    54.2
  • Dec. 31 @ Rams
    34.0
Nick Wagoner predicts every 49ers game »
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NFL exec picks top worry

"You worry about how quickly they can build the right culture after having a revolving door in that organization for several years. With [Jim] Harbaugh, it was a different type of culture, different type of play. You saw that change over the years to where they are now. They have some veteran guys in key spots to help with that, but that is the biggest thing, especially in that division they are in." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

As you'd expect from a team that went through sweeping changes across the board, the Niners have plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball. Even some of the returning starters, such as defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) and free safety Jimmie Ward (25), are playing new positions in the schemes brought by coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. All of which means it will take a while for the pieces to come together. -- NICK WAGONER

Players:
Returning
New
26

QB depth chart ranking

Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard
Offensive coaches don't come a lot more confident than Kyle Shanahan. He built the Falcons' offense into a historic scoring machine and helped get it to the brink of a Super Bowl title. If he says Brian Hoyer can run his offense, then you have to believe Brian Hoyer can run his offense. The problems are that Hoyer has a history of getting hurt and that the Niners are personnel-deficient in too many other areas of their team to expect much in the terms of first-year magic from Shanahan. The rookie Beathard is an unknown, and many people think this is the team waiting out the free agency of Kirk Cousins, whose first NFL coordinator was Shanahan. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Tight end George Kittle
The 49ers aren't built for much success in 2017, but Kittle is a name to watch in a wide-open battle at tight end. The fifth-round pick ran an impressive 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and his blocking chops will keep him on the field. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

This is the same concept -- cross-country dagger -- that Shanahan ran with much success in Atlanta last season. With three tight ends in the game (run alert) and quarterback Brian Hoyer (Q) showing the ball to Carlos Hyde (H) on the stretch/zone action, the 49ers can clear the second level of the defense. Tight end George Kittle (Y) stems to the middle of the field, removing the free safety and generating an open throwing lane for Pierre Garcon (Z) to lean on his top-tier route running skills. Make the cut, separate and work back inside of the numbers to finish the play with room to run after the catch. Easy money. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Niners not only will improve against the run but finish in the top half of the league a season after giving up 166 rushing yards per game. The 49ers made sweeping changes to the scheme and added a pair of impact rookies in defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster. -- NICK WAGONER

32 New York Jets AFC East http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyj-01.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyj-02.png0.0 http://a2.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20170904_nflPreview/images/marquee/nyj-03.png0.0
2016 SEASON
Record: 5-11 | 4th in AFC East

Stealing a line from Clubber Lang in "Rocky III," the prediction for the 2017 New York Jets is pain. Their offseason purge left them with one of the league's worst rosters, including an offense incapable of competing in the high-scoring NFL. This is the start of a long rebuilding process. By constructing a team filled with young, unproven players, the brain trust has sacrificed 2017 for the good of the future, which could mean the top draft pick next year. The good news is that, unlike last year, it'll be a hungry, unified team. The franchise is selling hope. Right now, you can buy it at a discount. -- RICH CIMINI

Football Power Index projections

Chance to win AFC East 0.2
Projected
wins
4.1
Strength of
schedule rank
10
Chance to win Super Bowl 0.1

Over/under: 4.1 wins?

Under. They should be able to steal a game or two in the watered-down AFC East and they can pick off the Cleveland Browns and/or Jacksonville Jaguars, but what other opponents can they beat? Hello, Sam Darnold (or Josh Allen). -- RICH CIMINI

Unit-by-unit projections

Offense
Defense
Special Teams
32 32 31

Game-by-game projections

The Jets are the only NFL team to not be favored in a single game this season, according to FPI.

  • Sept. 10 @ Bills
    24.7
  • Sept. 17 @ Raiders
    10.8
  • Sept. 24 vs. Dolphins
    39.3
  • Oct. 1 vs. Jaguars
    45.6
  • Oct. 8 @ Browns
    35.8
  • Oct. 15 vs. Patriots
    13.7
  • Oct. 22 @ Dolphins
    21.2
  • Oct. 29 vs. Falcons
    25.2
  • Nov. 2 vs. Bills
    41.8
  • Nov. 12 @ Buccaneers
    17.0
  • Nov. 26 vs. Panthers
    30.2
  • Dec. 3 vs. Chiefs
    26.2
  • Dec. 10 @ Broncos
    16.7
  • Dec. 17 @ Saints
    17.4
  • Dec. 24 vs. Chargers
    38.7
  • Dec. 31 @ Patriots
    7.0
Rich Cimini predicts every Jets game »
Expand

NFL exec picks top worry

"Who are their receivers? I just don't know where the offensive firepower comes from. Brandon Marshall is not there. Eric Decker is not there. And then the guy they planned on hanging their hats on [Quincy Enunwa] gets hurt." -- As told to MIKE SANDO

Returning starters

Basically, the Jets unloaded almost every player over 30 without a guaranteed salary for 2017. The strength of the team is the defensive line, with Leonard Williams (92) and Muhammad Wilkerson (96). Rookie safeties Jamal Adams (33) and Marcus Maye (26) are promising, but the Jets still have questions at linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, tight end and, of course, quarterback. The offense will run through Matt Forte (22) and Bilal Powell, a pair of steady running backs. -- RICH CIMINI

Players:
Returning
New
32

QB depth chart ranking

Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
A team that absolutely needs to get a look at 2016 second-rounder Hackenberg to see what it has in him is instead starting the veteran McCown in Week 1. Petty doesn't seem to be a part of the picture in the short term or long. We'll see Hackenberg at some point, surely, but the fact that he couldn't beat out McCown's lackluster summer says a lot about where this team is at quarterback right now. Which is basically nowhere. -- DAN GRAZIANO

Breakout fantasy player

Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart
Following the release of both Decker and Marshall, the Jets are going young at wide receiver this season. Stewart was selected in the third round of April's draft, and although the team's dreadful QB situation limits his upside, Stewart is a good bet to land a near-every-down gig at some point this year. -- MIKE CLAY

Run this play more, coach

Given the Jets' roster -- and QB situation -- I looked for high-percentage plays that put the offense in a situation in which it can pick up chunk yardage. And that's why I really like the shoot screen to Forte off play action and movement. With the Jets in a run set (wide receiver tight to the core of the formation) and the guard pulling away from the play action, Forte (H) can settle inside on the screen look. This means the quarterback (Q) can dump the ball off quickly to Forte with blockers out in front. Get him out in space. -- MATT BOWEN

Bold prediction

The Jets will break the franchise record for fewest points scored in a season. The 16-game mark is 220 points (13.8 per game) in 1992, when they were doomed by bad quarterback play. Twenty-five years later, their current quarterback situation (McCown, Petty and Hackenberg) isn't much better, and the receiving corps is comprised of former late-round draft picks and college free agents. The Jets scored only 275 points last year, so, yes, 220 is frighteningly within reach. -- RICH CIMINI

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