Will Tony Romo be a starter next season? Nine fearless NFL predictions for 2017

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2016: A year of upsets and unlikely history in sports
Thursday December 29th, 2016

As far as NFL predictions for next year go, some are checkdown throws. It doesn’t take Miss Cleo (RIP) to know that two teams in Los Angeles will be a disaster, or that the Browns will miss the playoffs with a losing record and play at least three quarterbacks in 2017. Or that Robert Griffin III will find some new mini-controversy to get involved with.

But then again, sometimes the NFL surprises you. Who knew the Dallas Cowboys could be the NFC’s No. 1 seed with two rookies in the backfield? Or that Denver and Carolina, the mighty teams who squared off in Super Bowl 50, would regress so badly that they wouldn’t even be in playoff contention in the last week of the season? Or that a top-10 draft talent would tumble after a video of him smoking weed out of a gas mask would emerge just as the draft began?

Somewhere in the middle of the obvious and the shocking, I made nine fearless predictions about how the 2017 NFL season will unfold.

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Jeff Fisher is coaching again

Jeff Fisher has been out of the NFL just one year (2011) since he joined the league as a player in 1981. He’s not going to make it two next year. The former Oilers/Titans/Rams coach, will return in a defensive coordinator role for the first time since 1994 in an attempt to rehabilitate his image and earn his third head coaching position by 2018.

Fisher spent all of this past season as a laughing stock across the league. His Hard Knocks rant was always going to come back to bite him and his feud with Eric Dickerson was bizarre. The Rams fired him just before he could become the losingest coach in NFL history (he’s tied with Dan Reeves at 165 losses).

As much as we all laughed at his expense, and as much as guys like Dickerson may dislike him, Fisher has a lot of friends in the NFL. When the requisite six-to-eight head coaching jobs open up and staffs shake up, Fisher will find himself as a top candidate for a defensive coordinator role.

The NFL, at least, properly enforces its domestic violence policy

Over the last three years, the most embarrassing mark for the country’s largest sports league has been its bungling of domestic violence issues. In 2017, the NFL will finally get it right.

In 2014, Ray Rice’s suspension for punching his then-fiancée shifted from two games to indefinite before being overturned in court. That same year Greg Hardy was allowed to play in one game following his domestic violence arrest before going on the commissioner’s bad list and drawing a 10-game suspension that was reduced to four. And finally in 2016, Giants kicker Josh Brown received a one-game suspension for domestic violence against his wife but hasn’t kicked again this season. The NFL is still investigating Ezekiel Elliott for claims against him in the summer.

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It’s been two years since the league introduced its revised domestic violence policy that suspends a player six games with no pay for a first offense. The league has had egg on its face since the Rice saga and hasn’t figured out how to properly implement a policy it spent so much time revising.

Let’s hope the NFL has learned from its mistakes of the past three seasons, and the next player who puts his hands on a woman gets his six-game suspension.

Patriots win the AFC East… again

Congratulations to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on winning their eighth consecutive AFC East title this year, and an early congrats to them on winning a ninth-straight division title in 2017.

That duo—the greatest coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history—has won 13 of the past 14 division titles, and their only hiccup came when Brady was out with a torn ACL in 2008. The Bills will have a new coach next season, and the Jets may have one, too. Only the Dolphins can compete with the Patriots in the AFC East, but Adam Gase won’t be able to wrest away the division title from the Pats in his second year.

Matt Patricia may take a new job. Josh McDaniels might, as well. Who knows who the Pats’ receivers will be in 2017. It doesn’t matter.

As long as Brady and Belichick are together, the AFC East is theirs to lose.

Despite being full-time, officials still make bad calls

You’ll want to sit down for this one. Just because the league is planning to make 17 officials full-time doesn’t mean bad calls will cease to happen. In fact, the bad calls will now be magnified because it is in fact the officials’ only job to get right.

For years the NFL hasn’t made its officials full-time. But Troy Vincent said earlier this month the league plans to hire 17 officials in 2017. Good for them. But what’s it going to solve? We still won’t know what a catch is. Intentional grounding is still improperly officiated. Defensive pass interference will keep granting offenses better field position. “Not enough video evidence to overturn the call” will remain the free space on your Sunday Bingo card.

As long as the officials remain human and as long as coaches can’t challenge more plays, bad calls will persist even though the guys in stripes are finally getting full vision and dental coverage.

Tony Romo is the starting quarterback of the Broncos

Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct answer. In this case, Tony Romo to Denver in an offseason trade makes all the sense in the world.

Another Super Bowl run in 2016 for the Broncos was sabotaged by their offense, which is No. 27 overall and managed just 20.6 points per game this year. Maybe Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will both become good quarterbacks down the road, but the Broncos are built to win now and can’t waste time. Denver has about $3 million in salary tied to the most important position on the field in 2017 and can afford to upgrade there.

Enter Romo, who knows as well as all of us that he will be in another uniform for the first time in his NFL career in 2017. Denver can trade some draft picks to Dallas and absorb Romo’s $24.7 million cap hit (with some massaging). With a veteran quarterback, a capable backup and a top defense, Denver will be ready to go to its third Super Bowl in five years.

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Thursday Night Football gets re-upped

What Richard Sherman called a poopfest and what nearly NFL player loves to hate, Thursday Night Football is likely here to stay beyond 2017. The current contract with the NFL, CBS and NBC runs through 2017, so nothing was going to change for next season. But if the trend continues, the NFL will probably look to extend its deal for Thursday night games.

Those games turned in about 18 million people each week for the TV broadcast, which endured a dip in ratings pre-election before rebounding in November. The NBC/NFL Network collaboration was the second most-watched show on TV this fall behind NBC’s Sunday Night Football, according to NBC.

The NFL and its owners don’t want to give up the deal that reportedly pays about $45 million per game. The league can’t make up that kind of money anywhere else but in broadcast rights. One solution is to make the season longer and introduce a second bye week for Thursday night games, but that idea may not coexist with the NFL’s wishes to expand its international footprint and send teams overseas. Plus, a longer season could dilute a great product that saw its ratings dip, in part and in theory, due to dilution.

The players won’t like it, but Thursday Night Football is here to stay.

Aaron Rodgers struggles early, Brett Favre comments on it and Rodgers bounces back

For the third time in four years next season, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is going to get off to a slow start. In 2014, Rodgers famously told fans to R-E-L-A-X when the Packers started 1–2, and in 2016 pundits had all but written off Green Bay when the team was 4–6; we also all learned that there may be more to Rodgers’ personal life than we knew.

One of the hottest teams in football right now, the Packers will again start slowly in 2017. And this will bring Favre, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers’ Ring of Honor, to a microphone to offer his thoughts on his successor.

The two aren’t exactly friends, and Favre will make some comment that riles up the Green Bay fan base and gets an eye-roll from Rodgers before he goes on to wipe the floor with the remaining competition and win the NFL MVP award.

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Colin Kaepernick’s protest continues

Whether Kaepernick is the 49ers’ starter next season can be debated or predicted elsewhere. I believe Kap will be on an NFL roster at the start of the 2017 season, and that means that he will continue to take a knee during the national anthem.

This is the shortest limb I have to go out on when making these predictions, and earlier I said the Pats would win the AFC East again. He is not going to stand for a flag of “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” and that oppression is highly unlikely to stop just because we’ve turned the calendar to 2017.

Disagree with Kaerpernick if you want on why or how he’s protesting, but there is no arguing that he’s not committed to his cause. It’s probable that Kaepernick will take a knee during the national anthem for the rest of his playing career.

Kirk Cousins becomes a top-five-paid quarterback

Cousins is not a top-five quarterback when it comes to skill. He’s not even a top-10 quarterback. But when it comes to money, Cousins is about to make more than most everyone in the league.

It’s possible that Cousins becomes the NFL’s first $25 million a year man. That’s tough to fathom, but with the salary cap ready to go up another $10 million (at least) in 2017, the price of a franchise quarterback will continue to increase.

Franchise tagged this season at $19.9 million, Cousins has done enough to earn a long-term deal in Washington whether he leads the squad to the playoffs a second-straight year or not. In terms of money per year, Cousins ranked No. 13 in 2016 among quarterbacks, and he’s about to rocket past guys like Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Cam Newton on the list.

Russell Wilson is fifth in money per year at $21.9 million, and Cousins is sure to get a raise of more than $2 million per year. Even though he doesn’t do anything particularly well, and even though he has a career record of 19-20-1, Cousins is a competent quarterback capable of starting and winning a team games. There aren’t 32 quarterbacks who can do that, and it’s arguable there are no more than 20–25 people in the world that can do that.

Don’t be surprised when you see those contract numbers in the offseason.

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