The 2016 NFL season ended with a familiar face on top; the New England Patriots. The franchise has been the gold standard in the NFL, winning 221 games (including postseason) and five Super Bowl titles. That is a historical run that will likely look to continue full steam ahead in 2017. At the head of the Patriots success is quarterback Tom Brady. Every player in the league wants the success that Brady has had in his career, but for a handful of those players, this upcoming season is one of urgency to perform to a high degree.
Eli Manning (Quarterback- New York Giants)
While Eli already has two championships, this season is going to be do or die for him. Manning has been extremely streaky over the years, but has gotten passes for having subpar teams in the past. That’s all over now, as the Giants have built a terrific team that should contend in the loaded NFC East.
In 2016, the defense only gave up 17.8 points per game, which was enough for second in the league. If the defense alone isn’t enough to win some games, the weapons around Eli should sure help. Odell Beckham Jr. is a top three wide receiver in this league, and he’s supported by his #2 from last year, Sterling Shepard, as well as offseason acquisitions in Brandon Marshall and first round tight end Evan Engram.
The bottom line is that Manning has to perform this year with a team as good as this one, or the Giants may look to move on from their starter of the past twelve years.
Blake Bortles (Quarterback- Jacksonville Jaguars)
Jacksonville hasn’t seen a winning season or playoff berth since 2007, and QB struggles have been a big roadblock on their way back to the postseason. In 2014, the Jags selected Bortles third overall, and expected big things from the University of Central Florida product.
While his sophomore season numbers were solid, Bortles just doesn’t seem to be the guy that is going to put the Jaguars on the right track. The team the Jags have right now is super talented, and a new coach in Doug Marrone with Tom Coughlin around doesn’t hurt either. Bortles needs to step up in 2017, or he’ll likely lose his job in a hurry.
Dak Prescott (Quarterback- Dallas Cowboys)
How is there so much pressure on a fifth round pick from a year ago? Simple, the Dallas Cowboys are a brand, meaning that the quarterback for “America’s Team” is like having two jobs, on and off the field.
To raise the pressure on the youngster, Prescott is now the official replacement for potential future Hall of Fame candidate Tony Romo. Romo slid into the broadcast booth this offseason, which means Dak will have to be the leader of the reigning NFC East champions. Dallas lost a couple pieces off of their outstanding offensive line, but they still have a lot of depth, and they should be one of the top offensive units in football once again in 2017.
Prescott will be under pressure as long as he is the QB1 for the Cowboys, but I fully expect him to have a successful 2017 season.
Alex Smith (Quarterback- Kansas City Chiefs)
The jokes about Alex Smith being the “Game Manager” aren’t exactly wrong, but Smith is still a very capable QB in the National Football League. There is now a very murky future in Kansas City for Smith, as the franchise traded up to the 10th pick to select Patrick Mahomes, the raw gunslinger from Texas Tech.
Smith has stated that he’s only guaranteed the 2017 season in KC, so he’ll need to make it a rememberable one if he wants to start again in the NFL. Smith has weapons, but the Chiefs did release former Pro-Bowl receiver Jeremy Maclin in an effort to save cap space.
The defense will be sharp as always, so it will be up to Smith to get at least to the AFC Championship to give him another year to start for the Chiefs.
J.J. Watt (Defensive End- Houston Texans)
Watt is one of the most dominant players to ever touch a football field. In my opinion, he’s the most impactful non-quarterback player in the NFL. As good as Watt is, he is still going to expire eventually, and that expiration may be accelerated with his recent injury struggles.
Watt tried to come back early from a back surgery, which is every bit as dangerous as it sounds, and was re-injured. He wants to win as bad as anyone, and for his Texans, that time is now. The franchise has a dangerous team that went on to win a playoff game last year, and even drafted NCAA National Champion quarterback Deshaun Watson.
In order for the Texans to succeed, J.J. Watt has to stay healthy and continue to dominate. The pressure is certainly on for the defensive star.
Aaron Rodgers (Quarterback- Green Bay Packers)
I’ll close with Aaron Rodgers, only because he has more pressure than anybody in the NFL. He has spent the last few seasons carrying the Packers to two NFC championship games in the past three seasons, but he needs some help if he’s going to make it any further.
Rodgers is going to need a couple more rings to put himself into the GOAT conversation, even though he’s arguably one of the most talented QBs ever. The Packers got some solid defensive pieces, but also lost safety/corner utility player Mycah Hyde.
On the other hand, Rodgers now has Martellus Bennett to throw to, along with his already-elite receivers. The offensive line will be solid as usual, but no matter what, this team will only go as far as Rodgers will carry them.
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