While some division races are easier to predict than others (hello AFC East), any NFL season is sure to bring surprises. Let’s pick every playoff spot and make a few bold fantasy predictions along the way. FYI, we also did the same thing with our NFC predictions.
The defending champs should once again cruise to the No. 1 seed, thanks partly to playing in the NFL’s worst division by a long shot … The Patriots are 17-0 when Dion Lewis plays … Mike Gillislee scores 10 touchdowns but is bested by Rob Gronkowski, who scores a dozen … Brandin Cooks finishes as a top-five fantasy WR.
The Miami Dolphins dominated bad teams last year but take a major step back, although Jay Ajayi is the No. 3 fantasy RB, while DeVante Parker is a top-20 WR.
The Bills are in full rebuild mode after trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. They might have the ugliest secondary in the NFL … LeSean McCoy misses at least five games.
The Jets are yet another team tanking, as they have by far the worst passing attack in the league … After returning from suspension, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a top-15 fantasy tight end from there on out.
1. Cincinnati Bengals 10-6
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 (Wild Card)
3. Baltimore Ravens 8-8
4. Cleveland Browns 4-12
The Bengals won just six games last year despite a positive point differential (with A.J. Green missing six games), but thanks to one of the NFL’s easiest schedules, they win the division. Bet their over (8.5) … Andy Dalton, one season removed from getting 8.4 YPA, finishes as a top-12 fantasy QB.
Ben Roethlisberger’s extreme home/road splits mysteriously continue, while Antonio Brown (whose numbers have historically actually gone up with Martavis Bryant in the lineup) catches 130 balls.
The Ravens are well-coached and have the league’s best kicker, but they have an aging roster and have to deal with a couple of tough teams in their division … Terrance West finishes as a top-25 fantasy back.
The Browns struggle to win even four games, although DeShone Kizer has his moments…Corey Coleman breaks out and is a top-30 fantasy WR.
1. Tennessee Titans 10-6
2. Houston Texans 8-8
3. Indianapolis Colts 7-9
4. Jacksonville Jaguars 7-9
The Titans added weapons for the emerging Marcus Mariota and have arguably the best offensive line in football. Betting on them to win the division (+165) feels like free money … Rishard Matthews catches 12 touchdowns, while DeMarco Murray gets hurt, making Derrick Henry the biggest fantasy difference maker of 2017.
The Texans made the playoffs last year despite ranking 29th in DVOA, below even the 49ers (h/t Bill Barnwell). They are due for regression, although the idea of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney both healthy is terrifying defensively (and they should get better QB play) … Lamar Miller isn’t a top-20 fantasy RB, but DeAndre Hopkins bounces back in a big way.
The Colts’ season clearly rests on Andrew Luck’s health, but at least he’s off the PUP. Last year Indy tied for the fewest rushes of 20+ yards with four. Luck had three of them … I love Frank Gore, but I beg you not to draft a 34-year-old RB. He’s outside my top-45 fantasy backs.
The Jaguars are putting together a strong defense and have a favorable schedule, but Blake Bortles ultimately holds them back yet again. He posted a 5.9 YPA over the second half last year … Marqise Lee finishes a lot closer to Allen Robinson in fantasy value than their ADPs suggest … Leonard Fournette wins ROY.
1. Los Angeles Chargers 10-6
2. Denver Broncos 9-7 (Wild Card)
3. Kansas City Chiefs 9-7
4. Oakland Raiders 8-8
Philip Rivers completed a remarkable 112-of-122 passes intended to running backs last season. He should be treated as a top-10 fantasy QB … The Chargers need to stay healthy for once, but with an emerging defense, loaded offense, the best QB in the division and facing a last place schedule, they surprise and win the AFC West (a great bet at +400).
QB remains a question mark, but the Broncos’ defense carries them to the postseason. They actually had a higher point-differential than the 12-4 Raiders last year.
The Chiefs haven’t won a regular season game with a quarterback they drafted since 1987 (h/t Scott Kacsmar) … Kareem Hunt finishing as a top-10 fantasy back, while Chris Conley goes down as one of the bigger steals of the year.
The Raiders are favorites to win the division and have a strong offensive line, but they also allowed 7.9 YPA with an NFL-low 25 sacks last season. They face a much tougher schedule and are due for regression after going 8-1 in games decided by one TD or fewer. Bet the under (9.5) … Derek Carr, who got 6.8 YPA in the second half last year, goes down as the biggest fantasy QB bust, while Michael Crabtree isn’t a top-30 WR.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Rookie of the Year: Leonard Fournette
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa
AFC Championship: Patriots over Steelers
NFC Championship: Seahawks over Packers
Super Bowl: Patriots over Seahawks