Wednesday 22 November 2017 / 11:40 PM

NFL 2017 PREVIEW: MOVERS AND SLIDERS

Kicking off CBS’s NFL opening week preview, BRAYDEN ISSA anticipates the 2016 records most likely to change – for better or worse

Climbers

Carolina Panthers

It’s fair to pause when talks of developing a quick-strike offence utilising Cam Newton as a power thrower materialise.

At the least, they are anticipating the inevitable blitz coverages that proved a nuisance last season. If they are able to open up more options in the backfield, opposing defences won’t have a shot at slowing down Cam.

They’ll also need to improve their defensive consistency before challenging for a Super Bowl even becomes a pipedream, but beating their bitterly disappointing six-win 2016 season shouldn’t prove too much trouble.

Cleveland Browns

This is essentially cheating, but progress is progress — the Browns might not be much better than last year’s incarnation, but they’ll be better. Osweiler is gone, so DeShone Kizer should have the keys going forward, a move that stands to have the biggest immediate impact on last year’s 1-15 record.

Whatever growing pains Kizer back-up Cody Kessler experience should be masked by what shapes to be one of the best O-lines in the conference, which will also help improve their stagnant running game.

The depth of improvement will be decided by the defence: Gregg Williams has hyped his unit on that end, with the feature piece Myles Garrett an exciting prospect. If he defies expectation and cracks the 14-sack mark, maybe we’re looking at 6+ wins. It’s not great, but it’s better!

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson feels primed to explode back to peak late-2015 form. To get the most out of Wilson, the offensive line will have to outperform expectations with a slew of starters that are all question marks.

The defence will take care of itself — Frank Clarke is a superstar in waiting, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the best safety duo in the league and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright make a run at being the best duo are their spots.

The athletic, versatile defensive unit will fancy their chances of containing the league’s elite offences, so if the offence gets moving, the Seahawks will quickly spring back into the Super Bowl conversation.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Another bad-team-gets-better story, carving out a more aptly fitting offence based around a play-action (and possibly ditching Blake Bortles for Chad Henne) and a still undecided running game.

The defence is the real selling point here: Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye are great additions to a growing unit, with expected developments of studs Jalen Ramsey (corner), Yannick Ngakoue (defensive end) and Myles Jack (middle linebacker), it’s fair to envision this team upping its forced turnovers and entering the top 10.

That’ll be enough to cover even Bortles’ struggles, and easily their abysmal 3-13 record of last season.

Sliders

New York Jets

A 5-11 record last season was rather bleak, which makes it disheartening to think that could be best-case scenario this year. Teams with issues at quarterback or offensive line are considered uncertainties. The Jets have serious questions in both departments.

How the Jets consistently score on their opposition shapes as a big problem with a rough schedule in a crowded division. This could go downhill, fast.

Indianapolis Colts

Trading for Jacoby Brissett gives pause as to the timeline of Andrew Luck, and that immediately should strike fear into those taking the over. This may be leaning on the side of pessimism, but without Luck, it’s tough to think they can crack the .500 mark.

If he misses time, it’ll be a mad dash to break into the playoff picture – and that is without factoring in rust. A creative scheme — a duel tight end set featuring Swoope is intriguing — and a hopefully improved defence will rescue their season, but it might go through some turbulence first.

Kansas City Chiefs

Depending on Alex Smith is a dubious option, especially as rookie QB Mahomes lingers as an alternative. A defensive structure that relies on picks could quickly dissipate and then the schedule, in which they play the NFC East three times, seems all the more difficult.

Falling out of the playoff picture probably isn’t on the cards, but failing to meet 2016-17’s 12-4 record seems very real.

Dallas Cowboys

This isn’t to say Dallas has really taken a step back in the contention hierarchy, just that the road to get there has gotten a fair bit murkier. They remain a dangerous dark horse, it’s just far easier to imagine a scenario where they come out of the blocks slow.

How they fare without Ezekiel Elliott (or how long that is) will come to define the early stage of their season, with at least four of their six opening games expected to be extremely tough – possibly heading into all four as outsiders. That slow of a start immediately puts last season’s 13-win campaign in the rearview.

Less experience in the defence could lead to a regression and then reaching last season’s mark feels like best-case scenario.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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