Kickoff's almost here. We made it. And, this week, right up until gametime Thursday for the Chiefs and Patriots, you'll hear plenty of predictions for the NFL season. I wanted to get in on the act as well, although some of mine will be a little different than the standard categories you may see elsewhere. Here are seven big stories I think will happen in the 2017-18 campaign.
This is Tom Brady's last season in New England. It's hard for me to believe as well, but my former teammate -- who also happens to be unquestionably the best quarterback to ever live -- will find himself in a unique situation after this season in which he has to decide whether or not he wants to retire or play somewhere else. I don't anticipate a major drop off in his play, but I do think the loss of Julian Edelman will have an impact.
The Patriots decision to keep Jimmy Garoppolo, even though they could've gotten a ton of compensation in a trade for him this offseason, tells us a lot. Their decision to trade Jacoby Brissett over the weekend and have no backup for Brady in the wings is the next clue. I think Belichick finally believes he has the next guy who can keep him in title contention for the foreseeable future and cement his status as the best coach of all time, and he doesn't want to lose him.
The Browns have finally found their quarterback. No really. I distinctly remember being thoroughly impressed when I met DeShone Kizer while calling the 2016 Blue Gold game at Notre Dame for NBC. He is physically imposing, smart, poised and impressive in just about every way. Even his audibles and how he handled himself in our production meeting made me believe he had the look of a future NFL franchise quarterback. I'm not exactly sure what happened last year in Notre Dame's lost season, but the combination of what I saw in person and what he did this preseason in Cleveland has me sold that the Browns have their guy … and a tremendous value at that.
Colin Kaepernick will start some games at quarterback this season. It's not looking real likely considering he's not even on a roster right now, but given the number of injuries that take place every season I still think there will be a team that suffers a couple of injuries at the quarterback position and decides to see what Kaepernick can do.
The Saints' defense will be among the most improved units in the NFL. Considering how bad they've been, this probably isn't saying much but I love the revamped linebacking corps of Manti Te'o, A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone, plus they really looked much more competitive this preseason. Look, you have to start somewhere and the Saints have been so bad on that side of the ball in recent years that even a modest improvement would be significant in both the defensive rankings and division standings.
Carson Wentz will prove to be the real deal. Everybody in Philadelphia already believes this, as do some experts around the league, but there's still a group of doubters that aren't really buying what the Eagles are selling with last year's No. 2 overall pick. Considering the Eagles had the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL last year and major offensive line issues that led to protection woes and a nonexistent running game I would expect Wentz to look and be much more comfortable in Year Two than he was at the tail end of Year One.
The Cowboys will not have one of the 5 best offensive lines in the NFL. That's not a small statement considering Dallas has the best offensive lineman in the game in Zach Martin as well as the best center (Travis Frederick) and left tackle (Tyron Smith). Still, that's only 60 percent of the line, and there are still two more spots that need to be filled. Lael Collins will be adequate at right tackle but may not even play as well as the much-maligned Doug Free in his first year outside and on the right. Then you have the left guard position that they still haven't sorted out, even though the first game is a few days away. No matter who they throw in there, it's a problem ... whether Cowboys fans want to admit that or not.
There will be no hangover in Atlanta. There is no disputing the awful track record of Super Bowl losers the following year in the NFL. It's a large sample size and it's not good. Also, as far as hangovers go, the Falcons must have a bigger one than most given the way they lost that game to the Patriots in February. I'm undeterred. I think the Falcons took a long cold shower, chugged a couple of bottles of Pedialyte and are now feeling much better after eating a big meal at the diner and are ready to go. They are too talented and too young on defense for me to expect them to take a step back. If they do, my guess is the loss of Kyle Shanahan will be by far the biggest reason why.