Miss Cleo has nothing on Miss Pio. Here are five bold predictions for the Packers and the NFC in the upcoming season.
The Cowboys Bandwagon Will Have a Flat Tire
It’s my fault that I didn’t bring this up earlier, since this is becoming a popular prediction. I was saying as far back as last year that the Cowboys were anything but a remake of the 90s dynasty. They were media darlings. Now that Ezekiel Elliott is continuing to do really smart things, along with the “Sophomore Slump” talk with Prescott coming up, everyone is jumping off the bandwagon. I knew this was coming months ago, but failed to mention it. A lesson has been learned.
When the Packers and Cowboys played in the playoffs last year, I received a few texts from the most analytical, objective friend I have when it comes to watching the NFL. He hadn’t seen the Cowboys play a ton during the season, but wasn’t living under a rock and was fully aware of the Dak Prescott hype. It didn’t take him long to start texting about how he couldn’t believe how overblown the Prescott hype was. The Cowboys had wrecking crew for an offensive line and a rookie sensation at running back. Any QB is going to benefit greatly from this. Prescott certainly has the potential to be a high-caliber QB, but he has much to prove. Ask yourself this: If Aaron Rodgers was kidnapped by Ray Finkle , would you take Dak Prescott or Tony Romo to replace him on the Packers?
The NFC South Will Field 3 Playoff Teams
This division has quickly gone from one of the worst in recent memory, where the division champion in 2014 was 7-8-1, to fielding the last two NFC representatives in the Super Bowl. This is currently the best division in football.
The Falcons put it all together in 2016, much like the Panthers did in 2015. However, the Falcons have a much more dynamic offense and didn’t let their top defensive player walk after a Super Bowl appearance like the Panthers did with Josh Norman after the 2015 season. Going into this season, Kelvin Benjamin is having weight issues of Eddie Lacy proportions, but at an even worse position to encounter weight problems. Chances are that the 2015 NFC Champions, the Carolina Panthers, will be the odd team out.
The sexiest team in the division is undoubtedly the Buccaneers. They have an uber-talented QB who now has more than enough money to buy seafood from Publix. He only has to avoid doing incredibly stupid things to stay his course. They gambled on DeSean Jackson, who could easily pay dividends for their offensive attack. They have their best defense since the Tony Dungy/Warren Sapp years with top tier players in LaVonte David and Gerald McCoy. They brought in Brent Grimes and his insane wife to bolster their corps even more. They also drafted a monster TE in O.J. Howard from Alabama. Add these to Muscle Hamster at running back and Mike Evans, and this team could make a serious splash in 2017.
Josh Jones will be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion
Many signs are pointing to this draft pick being a Ted Thompson gem. As reliable as Micah Hyde was, Jones is more talented and should instantly contribute to the 31st ranked secondary from 2016. His minicamp performance immediately turned heads. He has the instincts and athleticism to plug in to multiple roles and contribute immediately. In a perfect world, he develops under the tutelage of Morgan Burnett and continues to develop into a versatile defender that the team desperately needs.
Clay Matthews is Playing His Final Season in Green Bay
If there’s something I hope to be wrong about, it’s certainly this. After wreaking havoc on QBs as a rookie in 2009 and getting shafted in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2010, Matthews has shown glimpses of elite play that have been marred by pedestrian play as the years go by. Yes, he shifted to the inside when the team needed it and filled in admirably. In fact, this versatility has been the one underrated part of his game. Few men have been able to plug into different linebacker roles as seamlessly as Matthews has. His bloodline is purer when it comes to football more than any family this side of the Mannings.
His position in the holy rankings of Pro Football Focus has fallen over time. He has been known to get burned on play fakes and sometimes appears to be avoiding contact in hopes of not adding to his laundry list of injuries. He was on the sidelines in critical moments of the NFC Championship game against Seattle, and the details behind that seem to have been swept under the rug.
Ultimately, the Packers have seen this man perform at elite levels and paid him because of it. On the north side of 30 years, there is little chance he will garner a handsome payday from the Packers again. In the distant future, he will be one of the more beloved Packers because of his pivotal play in Super Bowl XLV and years of terrorizing QBs. But, the NFL is a business. It’s a younger man’s game, and Clay will not play the final year of his current contract unless he puts in an All-Pro performance this year.
The Super Bowl Will Not Include the Team Based in the Host City
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.