Your favorite beat writer has likely already predicted your team’s win-loss record for the coming season in the weeks since the 2017 schedule came out. And more than likely, that record has a few more wins than what your team will finish with on New Year’s Eve. During my years as a beat guy, I was wrong more times than I was right when it came to predicting the games five months into the future.
Such is the nature of early predictions. Optimism is so high that at times it can warp reality.
Take, for example, ESPN’s NFL beat reporters, several of whom are friends of mine. Out of 32 writers, only six predicted the teams they cover will finish below .500 in 2017. This would be a mathematical impossibility, but picking just 16 games as opposed to all 256 can easily lead to more 10–6s and 11–5s than 4–12s.
In my first year of picking all 256 games for SI.com, I learned just how difficult it is to predict the future, and I reserve the right to be wrong. I made these picks with a few universal truths in mind before dissecting the schedule:
I believe the Patriots, Steelers and Packers are among the best teams in the NFL, and that they will profit from weaker divisions from top to bottom. They are the only teams I could give at least 12 wins.
One of the biggest reasons I couldn’t give the Raiders, Broncos, Chiefs, Cowboys or Giants more wins is because the NFC East plays the AFC West this year. I believe all five of those teams can be as good—if not better—than they were in 2016, but they’re going to beat up on each other throughout the season (which should better prepare the winners of each division for postseason play).
And finally, there’s great parity in the AFC South and NFC South. Both divisions have dealt with their share of jokes in recent years, but the AFC South appears to be a three-team race, and the NFC South has the past two NFC champs, in addition to future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and a Buccaneers team that’s ready to turn the corner.
All that said, here’s a look at how I see the 2017 NFL regular season playing out for all 32 teams, including a look at the one game on the schedule that could determine each club’s fate.