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NFL Preseason Predictions: Where They Went Wrong

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

This NFL season has been incredibly unpredictable. What preseason predictions were way off base?

Preseason predictions are rarely spot on; there will always be unforeseen breakouts and disappointments across the league. However, rarely are expert predictions as wrong as they have been for the 2017 NFL season. It has been a roller-coaster, to say the least, and at the midway point of the season, some unexpected teams are at the top (and bottom) of the standings. 

Looking back on preseason expectations, here are some things most people got wrong about each team. 

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Preseason Consensus: The Bills are throwing in the towel for 2017 by trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. They’ll look to be competitive in 2018.

Reality: The Bills sit at 5-2, firmly in the AFC playoff picture. Their schedule hasn’t been a cakewalk, either, as they hold wins over preseason darlings such as the Falcons, Broncos, and Raiders. The defense has been Buffalo’s calling card, as they’re holding opponents to just 16.4 points per game. However, the offense has turned it on in recent weeks, with LeSean McCoy rumbling for 295 scrimmage yards the past two games. (Update: The Bills were thoroughly beaten by the Jets on Thursday night.)

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Miami Dolphins

Preseason Consensus: With Ryan Tannehill out for the year, Jay Ajayi will shoulder the load and continue his ascension into one of the league’s best running backs.

Reality: The Fins have certainly fed Ajayi with carries — 138 to be exact, the sixth most in the league. The issue has been what the former Pro Bowler has done with those touches. Ajayi has managed a meager 3.4 YPC, and he has yet to hit pay dirt on the season. He’ll have a chance to improve going forward in a new uniform, as he was traded to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick in a shocking deadline move.

New England Patriots

Preseason Consensus: The defending champs somehow managed to get even better in the offseason, and they’ll flirt with an undefeated season en route to another Lombardi trophy.

Reality: The Pats predictably sit atop the division at the midway point, but the #19-0 movement ended on the season’s opening night. Any team with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be a Super Bowl contender, but this team has looked much more beatable than expected. The defense has been the main issue, allowing a league-worst 417 yards per game.

New York Jets

Preseason Consensus: #TankMode is in full effect in New York; the Jets makeshift roster will struggle to win a game as they look to lock up the first pick in the draft. 

Reality: Gang Green has been surprisingly competitive this season, and they’re a couple of fourth quarter collapses away from being above .500. At 3-5, they may have already outplayed a top-five draft selection. (Update: the Jets picked up another win Thursday night, beating the Bills with ease.)


AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Preseason Consensus: The addition of Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead will help Joe Flacco and the Baltimore passing attack.

Reality: Woodhead has missed almost the entire season to this point, Maclin has largely been ineffective, and the aerial offense as a whole has been anemic. Joe Flacco and company have averaged a league-low 152.9 passing yards per game, and the former Super Bowl MVP has thrown for more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (6). That’s not the kind of production you expect from a guy making $22 million.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Preseason Consensus: Joe Mixon will seize the starting running back job, and he’ll seriously challenge for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Reality: Mixon leads Cincinnati in touches by a wide margin; his 85 carries are more than what Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill have combined. However, he has hardly taken the world by storm, averaging just 3 YPC in what has been an underwhelming rookie season. 

Cleveland Browns

Preseason Consensus: He’ll take his lumps, but Deshone Kizer will ultimately show he can be the franchise quarterback this team has desperately needed.

Reality: This one is more up for interpretation than most, as some believe Kizer has shown flashes of his potential. But there’s no denying that, for the most part, he has been abysmal in the starting role. He has 11 interceptions versus just three touchdowns, as well as a league-low 20.4 total QBR. There is a reason he’s already been benched on three separate occasions. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Preseason Consensus: In his return from suspension, Martavis Bryant will add a dynamic element to what should be one of the league’s most high-powered offenses.

Reality: Those who spent a mid-round fantasy pick on the high upside receiver got burned; Bryant has just 234 yards and a lone touchdown on the year. To make matters worse, his public complaints about his role in the offense earned the disgruntled wideout a spot on the bench and in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse. 


AFC South

Houston Texans

Preseason Consensus: The dominant Houston D will once again be held back by poor quarterback play on offense.

Reality: While the Texans’ defense has underperformed due to a plethora of injuries, the offense has been dynamic in 2017, averaging a league-best 30.7 points per game. The biggest story, of course, has been the play of rookie standout Deshaun Watson, who has accounted for 21 total touchdowns and a league-leading 81.9 total QBR(Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice and will miss the rest of the season.)

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Indianapolis Colts

Preseason Consensus: While Andrew Luck’s health is a concern, he’ll be back within the season’s first few weeks.

Reality: It is now Week 9, and we have yet to see Luck play a down of football. The team still hasn’t presented a timetable for his return, and the standout quarterback reportedly suffered a setback in the past couple weeks. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll see Luck play at all in 2017. (Update: Luck was put on the season-ending IR on Thursday.)

Jacksonville Jaguars

Preseason Consensus: Blake Bortles’ play will once again prevent a talented Jaguars team from competing for a playoff spot. 

Reality: While Bortles has yet to show he can be even an average NFL starting quarterback, that hasn’t stopped the Jaguars from winning. Behind the league’s best rushing attack (169 YPG) as well as the league’s best defense (15.7 opponent PPG), Jacksonville has proven themselves to be a legitimate playoff contender. 

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Tennessee Titans

Preseason Consensus: The young and improving Titans will be this year’s breakout team, and they’ll run away with the AFC South.

Reality: At the midway point, the 4-3 Titans do sit atop the division, although they haven’t exactly had the breakout season many expected. Marcus Mariota, a trendy preseason MVP dark horse, has significantly underwhelmed, throwing for just four touchdowns and four interceptions thus far.  


AFC West

Denver Broncos

Preseason Consensus: Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Denver defense alone will be good enough to lock up a playoff spot.

Reality: As the season has gone on, starting quarterback Trevor Siemian has become more of an issue. Since Week 3, he has the NFL’s lowest total QBR, and Denver has now dropped three straight. The defense remains one of the league’s best, but the offense needs to improve if this team is going to return to the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Preseason Consensus: The decision to cut Jeremy Maclin will hurt the Kansas City offense, especially as Alex Smith continues his decline.

Reality: In theory, there’s no real way of knowing if Jeremy Maclin would have helped the Kansas City offense this season. All we know is that the attack hasn’t exactly been hurting. Thanks to a trio of dynamic playmakers in Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have averaged 29.5 points per game and 378 yards per game, the third-best marks in the league.

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Oakland Raiders

Preseason Consensus: Derek Carr and the up-and-coming Raiders will once again be one of the league’s best teams and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Reality: The Raiders have been one of this season’s biggest disappointments, as they are currently tied for last place in the division with a 3-5 record. Surprisingly, it’s been the offense that has underwhelmed, and the addition of Marshawn Lynch hasn’t provided the stability at running back this team was looking for. 

Los Angeles Chargers

Preseason Consensus: A healthy Keenan Allen, combined with Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin, will be one of the league’s best receiving corps.

Reality: The Chargers wide receivers have largely disappointed in 2017. Allen has been solid, but he hasn’t lived up to the potential he flashed pre-injury the past two seasons. Mike Williams has been a non-factor, catching just two passes in three appearances. Tyrell Williams and Benjamin have been incredibly inconsistent. The passing attack as a whole has underperformed.


NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Preseason Consensus: Ezekiel Elliott will miss the season’s first six games due to suspension.

Reality: Probably the weirdest consensus on this list, most people assumed Zeke would miss the Cowboys first six contests due to his domestic abuse investigation. After several flip-flops and legal maneuvers, we still don’t know if or when he’ll serve his suspension.

New York Giants

Preseason Consensus: The Giants’ offense will be one of the league’s best, and New York will find themselves in the playoffs once again.

Reality: As disappointing as the Raiders have been this year, the Giants have to take the cake as the league’s biggest flop. Predicted by many to win the NFC East, or at the very least claim a wild-card spot, Eli Manning and company instead have just a single win to their names. Injuries to OBJ and Brandon Marshall certainly didn’t help, but their season looked sunk beforehand. 

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Philadelphia Eagles

Preseason Consensus: Carson Wentz will continue his development, although he remains a few years away from reaching his potential. 

Reality: Wentz has been perhaps this year’s biggest breakout, proving himself to be a full-fledged superstar. He’s thrown for a league-leading 19 TD passes to go along with 2,063 yards and a 70.8 total QBR. The sophomore has led the Eagles to a 7-1 record thus far, and they look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Washington Redskins

Preseason Consensus: Terrelle Pryor will have a dynamic season as Kirk Cousins’ favorite target, earning himself a huge offseason payday.

Reality: A popular preseason fantasy sleeper, Pryor has seen his stock plummet in recent weeks. His playing time has taken a huge hit; he was on the field for just 19 snaps against the Cowboys, and he failed to catch his only target. With only 18 receptions for 223 yards on the season, he’s certainly been one of the league’s biggest busts. 


NFC North

Chicago Bears

Preseason Consensus: The 18-million-dollar man Mike Glennon will at least hold on to the starting gig for the first half of the season.

Reality: Welp, that didn’t last long. While the head-scratching contract given to Glennon looked even worse after the selection of Mitchell Trubisky, most assumed it would at least give the rookie a chance to learn from the sidelines.  Alas, the pricey offseason addition was benched in Week 5, and Trubisky was thrust into the starting lineup. Thus far, results have been mixed, at best. 

Detroit Lions

Preseason Consensus: The NFL’s King of the Fourth, Matthew Stafford will continue to bail out the Lions with his play late in games.

Reality: While we’ve seen the occasional bit of fourth quarter magic from Stafford this season, the Lions have been unable to pull out miracle wins like they did last year. Quite the opposite, in fact; three of their four losses have been by less than a touchdown. 

Green Bay Packers

Preseason Consensus: Aaron Rodgers will further add to his legacy by leading the Packers to a ninth straight playoff appearance.

Reality: After three consecutive seasons without missing a game, the injury bug caught up to Rodgers in Week 6 when he suffered a broken clavicle. The future Hall-of-Famer was off to another promising start, and without him the Green Bay offense has looked lost. Rodgers could potentially return in Week 15, but the Packers’ season may be all but over at that point. 

Minnesota Vikings

Preseason Consensus: Quarterback uncertainty will once again leave the Vikings stuck in mediocrity. 

Reality: The first half of this consensus remains true — Sam Bradford has hardly been the pinnacle of health in his career, Teddy Bridgewater is a giant question mark, and Case Keenum is a career journeyman. But despite average play from Keenum, who has been the primary quarterback in all but one game, the 6-2 Vikings haven’t stopped winning.

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NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Preseason Consensus: The defending NFC champs will be hurt by the loss of OC Kyle Shanahan, but they’ll still have one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses.

Reality: With the reigning MVP, a true number one receiver, and a workhorse running back, you would think the Falcons could survive the loss of their offensive coordinator. But Matt Ryan and company haven’t looked the same this year, averaging a middle-of-the-pack 21.9 points per game after averaging 34.1 PPG last season. 

Carolina Panthers

Preseason Consensus: With a reported playbook dedicated just to him, Christian McCaffrey will be a dynamic playmaker as he challenges for Rookie of the Year.

Reality: McCaffery has been heavily involved in the offense this season, but that hasn’t exactly led to production. On the ground, he’s gained just 117 yards on 2.4 YPC. He’s had more success through the air, catching 49 passes for 378, but the team was certainly hoping for more well-rounded production out of their first round pick.

New Orleans Saints

Preseason Consensus: The defense is simply too big of a liability for the Saints to seriously compete for a playoff spot in what is perhaps the best division in football.

Reality: Believe it or not, the Saints defense has actually been pretty good this season, checking in as PFF’s 15th best defense. That’s quite the achievement for a unit that has been the laughingstock of the league in recent years. Marshon Lattimore has had a great rookie year, and Cameron Jordan grades out as the NFL’s best edge defender.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Preseason Consensus: With a plethora of playmakers, the Tampa Bay offense will be one of the league’s best en route to the Bucs’ first playoff appearance in 10 years.

Reality: It certainly hasn’t been the season Tampa Bay was hoping for. The offense as a whole has surprisingly struggled, averaging just over 21 points per game, good for 18th best in the league. Turnovers have been a big issue, as they’ve turned the ball over an average of 1.7 times per game.


NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Preseason Consensus: David Johnson will once again top 2,000 yards from scrimmage as a dark-horse contender for MVP.

Reality: Johnson’s season ended before it really began. The talented young back dislocated his wrist in Week 1, and he’s had to watch from the sidelines since. He could theoretically return sometime in December, but if Arizona’s season is sunk at that point, don’t expect him to suit up.

Los Angeles Rams

Preseason Consensus: The Rams will make marginal improvements in head coach Sean McVay’s first season, but this is a team a year or two away from contending.

Reality: Heading into the season, most people expected the Rams defense to continue its impressive play, while the offense would continue to struggle. Instead, the opposite has been true, as the defense grades out as 27th best in the league, while the offense has put up over 30 points per game. 

AP Photo/Ben Margot

San Francisco 49ers

Preseason Consensus: Under Kyle Shanahan’s tutelage, Brian Hoyer will be a serviceable stopgap quarterback for the season.

Reality: The Brian Hoyer era in San Francisco was a short one, as the veteran journeyman was benched in Week 6 before being released this past Monday. The 49ers have turned to C.J. Beathard as their starter for now, although they may have found their quarterback of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they acquired in a deadline deal.

Seattle Seahawks

Preseason Consensus: With Russell Wilson looking great and the Legion of Boom in full health, the Seahawks will coast towards another NFC West title.

Reality: The Seahawks have done their part thus far, sitting atop the division at 5-2. But it looks increasingly likely that the division crown won’t be given to them without a fight. Despite their record Seattle has looked awfully beatable, and the upstart Rams have an identical record. The race for the NFC West looks like it will come down to the wire.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
According the PFF, who has been this season's best wide receiver?
Created 11/3/17
  1. A.J. Green
  2. Deandre Hopkins
  3. Tyreek Hill
  4. Antonio Brown

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