FF-Winners.Com Releases 5 Shocking Predictions for the Coming NFL Season

The Cincinnati Bengals  Win the AFC North: We absolutely loved the Bengals draft class, they got two future stars in WR John Ross and RB Joe Mixon. The Bengals relied heavily on WR A.J. green early in the season and had no one step up when Green got injured late in the season. The Bengals went 6-9-1 last year basically relying on Green, a non-existent ground game and defense. Ross will take pressure off Green as he is a true deep threat that will force the defense to account for him. He can also take a slant or screen and use his blazing speed and quickness to score from anywhere on the field. Mixon would have been a top 15 pick if he had not punched a woman in 2014, he has kept his nose clean for 3 years and the Bengals took a chance on him. He was the 2nd best RB in the draft in our opinion behind Dalvin Cook as he is explosive, powerful and has great hands out of the backfield. The Bengals will bounce back and win the AFC North with a healthy Green, and two new stars to help him.

The Indianapolis Colts  Fail to Win the AFC South Again: The Colts drafted the best coverage safety in the draft in Malik Hooker, and also got a solid cover CB in Quincy Wilson to help their weak secondary, but they once again failed to upgrade their most pressing need. The Colts offensive line is a disaster and they still have not made the proper effort to upgrade it. Andrew Luck is overrated and a mediocre system QB  but not even Tom Brady could be successful with that offensive line. The combination of Luck’s mediocrity, the lack of run game and a horrible offensive line will result in yet another failed division crown. The Colts may even miss the playoffs because the Houston Texans drafted QB Deshaun Watson and the Tennessee Titans are on the rise. The Colts will once again fail to win the weakest division in professional football.

The New England Patriots  Win Yet Another Super Bowl:

The Patriots won the off-season, there is no question about that. They signed WR deep threat Brandon Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and signed shutdown CB Stephon Gilmore and power RB Mike Gillislee from the Buffalo Bills. They also drafted a solid edge rusher in Derek Rivers in the 3rd round. The Patriots are the overwhelming favorites to win it all again next year, and they will. The AFC is not as strong as the NFC and the only real challengers we see the Patriots having are the Oakland Raiders with a healthy Derek Carr and then probably the Pittsburgh Steelers as they are always dangerous in the postseason. The Patriots just came back down 25 at halftime to the red hot Atlanta Falcons and stunned the entire world to cap the most improbable super bowl victory last year. They actually improved this off-season with their first real deep threat since Randy Moss and a great CB to help their secondary. The Patriots will repeat as super bowl champs this year.

The New York Giants  Have The Best WR Corps:

The New York Giants will give opposing secondary’s nightmares as they already have one of the best three WRs in the NFL in Odell Beckham Jr. and a rising star in the slot in 2nd year Sterling Sheppard. They also added veteran WR Brandon Marshall, and with those three alone they would be one of the best WR corps in the NFL. Most people believed it could not get any better for QB Eli Manning, but that was before the 2017 NFL Draft. They got a steal with the 23rd pick in hybrid TE/WR Evan Engram, who is 6’3″ 215 Ibs and runs a 4.42 40 time. Engram will be a matchup nightmare for LBs and safeties, and then defenses will be scrambling to try and figure out who to cover and who to double. Marshall and Beckham both are stars and Sheppard and Engram are matchup problems down the seam and over the middle. Eli Manning will light up opposing defenses with all his new weapons and the Giants will win games because of the best WR corps in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys Do Not Win 10 Games :

The Dallas Cowboys shocked everyone by winning 13 games with two major rookie contributors last year with QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. What people forget is that they were 4-12 the previous season so they played a weak schedule. This season the Cowboys will play a first place schedule which will be much tougher, plus the division rival New York Giants will be a lot better and more explosive. The Cowboys must travel to the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders as well as play the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks at home. All of these games are potential losses especially because the Cowboys did not give their defense much help. They drafted DE Taco Charlton in the first round but passed on stud MLB Reuben Foster who was a top 5 talent in this class. Teams will have an entire off-season to plan for Dak Prescott, and if we add that to the fact that they play a much tougher schedule as well as did not upgrade their defense, the Dallas Cowboys will fail to win 10 plus games this year.

Three NFL Teams that Crushed Free Agency in 2017!

There’s a tried and true saying in the NFL: “championships aren’t won in the offseason.”  Year after year, there are numerous teams who go out and “break the bank” in free agency, only to see mediocre results in the regular season, with some of those high-priced acquisitions failing to live up to the fat paychecks they’re earning. But at the same time, those teams who make the right combination of moves, by balancing the high-priced free agent acquisitions with the moderately-priced role players or young players with upside, can quickly change the trajectory of a given side of their football team, if not their football team as a whole.

Taking a look at the 2017 NFL offseason to date, three teams appear to have positioned themselves for significant improvements this upcoming season, thanks to both the quality, and quantity, of moves that they’ve made:

3. Philadelphia — After two straight seasons of finishing with a 7-9 record, the Philadelphia Eagles have positioned themselves to take a sizable step forward this offseason, given some of the additions they made. For anyone who watched the Eagles for any period of time last season, their biggest need — at least on offense — was painfully clear: they desperately needed reliable weapons to whom Carson Wentz could throw the football. The Eagles decisively addressed said need by adding wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, formerly of the Chicago Bears, and wide receiver Torrey Smith, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Jeffrey provides Wentz with the tall, reliable receiver who can go up over cornerbacks to catch the ball, whereas Smith provides the vertical threat that Wentz can use to attack defenses vertically. On defense, the unit looked like it would mostly stay the same, save for any badly needed upgrades they would make at the cornerback position. But, they were prepared to lose the services of defensive tackle Bennie Logan to free agency. That became a reality when Logan signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Eagles actually may have ended up with a better player in the long run, after acquiring defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan from the Baltimore Ravens, for nothing more than a swap of third round picks. Such a price is nothing short of a steal for Philadelphia, as they acquire the rights to one of the young, talented, and unheralded defensive linemen in the NFL. That essentially means that if the Eagles were to make any upgrades at cornerback and running back in the 2017 NFL Draft, this could be a profoundly different — and profoundly better — team next season.

2. New England — It might seem silly to include the reigning Super Bowl champions on a list of teams that have improved themselves this offseason, but that is actually the case with the Patriots (as scary as that may seem). New England, under Bill Belichick, usually won’t make any overtures towards free agents sure to garner lucrative contracts. That’s why it came as a surprise to many people when the Patriots quickly inked cornerback Stephon Gillmore to a five-year deal with $65 million, on the first day of free agency. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Gillmore gives New England a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks, alongside Malcolm Butler. Their other big move in free agency wasn’t actually an acquisition, but rather the retention of Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Hightower opted to return to New England on a four-year, $35.5 million deal. As the middle linebacker for New England (and a favorite of the coaching staff), Hightower was an integral part of the Patriots defense. Being able to retain his services was a huge win for them. On offense, New England gave future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady yet another weapon, in the form of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Patriots sent the #32 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft to New Orleans for the rights to Cook, who will provide Brady with a deep threat that was sorely lacking last year. Add in the acquisitions of defensive end Kony Ealy from Carolina (an underrated pass rusher) and tight end Dwayne Allen (who has shown the ability to be a dominant red zone option), and it’s not hard to see why New England should be the favorites in the AFC yet again.

1. Jacksonville — For the second straight year, Jacksonville has gone out and spent liberally in free agency, enhancing the young and talented foundation of players they’ve taken via the NFL Draft with veteran players at key positions. This year, the Jaguars were able to secure the services of one of the true crown jewels of the 2017 Free Agency period: defensive end Calais Campbell, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. The Jaguars only had one player finish with eight more sacks last season — rookie defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue — whereas Campbell himself has recorded  56.5 sacks over his nine seasons in the league. Jacksonville also went out and signed cornerback A.J. Bouye to a five-year, $67.5 million deal.  As one of the breakout stars of 2016, not only does Bouye give the Jaguars one of the very best tandems of cornerbacks in the NFL (alongside uber-talented rookie Jalen Ramsey), but it also makes a key division rival — the Houston Texans — weaker in the process. Finally, the Jaguars also went out and upgraded what could’ve been their biggest position of need heading into this offseason at left tackle, acquiring veteran tackle Branden Albert from the Miami Dolphins through a trade. Albert has struggled with injuries recently, but he’s less than two seasons removed from a Pro Bowl appearance. With his acquisition, it not only affords quarterback Blake Bortles more protection next season, but it also allows Jacksonville to continue to upgrade their team, by taking the best available player with their first round pick (#4 overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft.

AFC Divisional Playoff Forecast

Houston Texans at New England Patriots: Texans QB Brock Osweiler surprised a lot of people in a win over the Oakland Raiders a week ago. Osweiler was 14 of 25 for 168 yards with 1 TD and no INTs, he also ran for a score. The conservative, do not make mistakes mentality allowed the Texans to score just enough points to get the win in the wild card round. The Raiders were without their star QB Derek Carr and the Texans defense, which ranked 1st in total defense, shut down the Raiders offense. This week, Osweiler will have to continue to not turn the football over as he faces his toughest challenge yet, the red hot New England Patriots and their 8th ranked total defense. We expect the Texans to try and run the ball and keep Tom Brady off the field, but eventually Osweiler will have to hit some big plays downfield if the Texans want a chance for a massive upset. We think the key will be how the Texans defense will play against the league’s 4th ranked offense. They can rush the QB with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus off the edge, and if you can continue to harass Tom Brady you give your defense a chance to get stops. I believe it will be closer than people expect, as the Texans defense will keep them in the game but eventually the Patriots will force Osweiler into mistakes and too many 3rd and longs which will ultimately decide the game. The Texans inability to hit big plays on offense will wear the defense down as they will be on the field for too long and the Patriots should run away with it in the 4th quarter.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: These are the two teams with the chance to upset the New England Patriots this postseason. This is the first time the Steelers have had a fully healthy “big three” in QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, so that will definitely be a major factor. The Dolphins could not stop Brown as he had 5 catches for 124 yards and two TDs in their win last week. We believe the Chiefs star CB Marcus Peters will do a much better job of limiting what Brown can do in the pass game, and force other WRs to beat them. The Chiefs defense has been susceptible this season, as they rank 24th in total defense, but they make up for it with a league leading +16 in turnover differential. The Chiefs defense forces you into mistakes and their offense does not make very many mistakes. The Chiefs are a completely different team with an emerging star in WR Tyreek Hill, who led the league in 60 plus yard TDs this year. He is explosive and a great complement to WR Jeremy Maclin and the All-Pro TE Travis Kelce over the middle. RB Spencer Ware has done a nice job filling in for the injured Jamaal Charles, and we believe the Chiefs will have great balance on offense. The biggest key to this game is QB Alex Smith, he has been called a game manger in the past but he has the ability to rip it downfield. The key will be his legs, which are vastly underrated. Smith runs the read-option and is far more athletic than people think, he can convert big third downs on the ground if the defense plays man across the board which will be a huge factor in sustaining drives. This game is a toss up, but I think that the Chiefs defense will get enough stops, force some turnovers and allow the offense to manage the game, while hitting a few big plays. The Chiefs should get the win with the help of their home-field advantage, but it will be a great game!

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]

AFC Wildcard Round Forecast

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans: If you love great offensive football, you probably should not watch this game. The Oakland Raiders already lost starting QB Derek Carr for the postseason, and may be without backup QB Matt McGloin as he injured his shoulder in week 17. That means rookie 3rd string QB Conner Cook will start if McGloin cannot play, and that is just not a story with a great ending. The Texans, however, have QB issues of their own as QB Brock Osweiler was benched earlier this year for his poor performance, and backup Tom Savage did not impress so Osweiler is now the starter again. Brock Osweiler is a big QB with a strong arm but he struggles under pressure and is mistake prone. The only thing we like about this move is that he has the arm to stretch the ball downfield to star WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Raiders defense has improved throughout the year but they were helped out a lot by a very explosive offense that could score points with Carr under center. The Raiders offense will struggle and the Texans defense will create turnovers to allow their offense to have short fields and that will be the reason that the Texans win a low scoring, defensive battle at home.

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: The Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in Miami earlier this year, but Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was injured. This game has a very different feel to it, as all of the Steelers offensive weapons are healthy. Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and star WR Antonio Brown will all be ready to play. The Dolphins will most likely start backup QB Matt Moore as Ryan Tannehill has not practiced this week. That is a huge advantage to the Steelers despite their defense being susceptible throughout most of the year. The Dolphins must run the football with Jay Ajayi and do their best to keep the Steelers offense off the field. We think the Dolphins can score and keep it close early, but their downfall will be Matt Moore’s inability to hit big plays when they matter most and the Steelers offense exposing the Dolphins defense that ranks 29th in total defense. The Steelers and their explosive offense will eventually run away with the game as the Dolphins will struggle to keep up offensively and their defense will not be able to stop Roethlisberger and company and the Steelers will get the win at home.    Enjoy!

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]

Preview: Oakland versus Kansas City

Coming off a win against Buffalo, the Oakland Raiders have continued their hot streak and look to catch up to New England for the number one seed in the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs on the other hand hold a wildcard spot and hope to hold on to it and make a good postseason run. This is a big game for both teams, and it could play a pivotal role in deciding each team’s playoff rankings.
Derek Carr’s injured finger didn’t seem to play a role in last week’s win against the Bills, as he was able to fight it off and have a great game. He moved the ball efficiently and the Oakland defense eventually got its act together to get him out onto the field as much as they could. However, Oakland overall still has a very poor defense, and Andy Reidâ’s West Coast scheme that he runs with the Chiefs is built to destroy the type of defense Oakland has. Oakland’s main weaknesses on defense are against the run and their linebackers, so not only will running the ball be effective, but short, quick passes will stop Raiders defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack from putting their pass rushing skills to good use. Khalil Mack had another big game against Buffalo, forcing the hit that led to Tyrod Taylor’s interception, and also the strip sack that sealed the game for the Raiders. He can be used all over the field, and coach Jack Del Rio will want to use his versatility in defending against the Kansas City Chiefs style of offense.
On defense the Chiefs have good players all around. An interesting player to watch will be Justin Houston, who has been a monster since he came back from injury. While the Raiders have given up the least sacks in the league, they have a noticeable weakness on the right side. The Chiefs may want to put Houston there to do the most damage, but they can switch it up due to teammate Tamba Hali being a very good pass rusher himself. An interesting matchup to watch will be Raiders wideout Amari Cooper against Chiefs corner Marcus Peters. Peters has a knack for being boom or bust at the corner position, and Amari Cooper is known to make great plays on deep routes. Do not be surprised if Peters gets an interception but also lets Cooper have a big game as well. It is also possible that Peters may protect one side and line up against Michael Crabtree on occasion, who is quite good as well. Just another story to watch this week, and it makes for a very exciting game.

On paper the Raiders have the better team, but the Chiefs are no pushovers. This should be a very competitive game, and both teams have their case for a win.

  • Analysis by NFL artificial  intelligence!

Future Isn’t Looking Bright for the Bills and Browns

After the first week of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns are trying to regroup after losing their first games of the year. While some might think it’s too early to panic, fans in both cities are starting to entertain the idea that this is going to be another long season without a playoff appearance for their beloved teams. Neither the Bills nor Browns covered the NFL predictions against the spread last week, and they probably won’t cover again this week.

Before the season began, fans in Buffalo had a little hope for their team after coming close to making the playoffs last year. The team resigned promising quarterback Tyrod Taylor and head coach Rex Ryan promised the team would be more disciplined and cut back on the penalties that hurt them last year, but things apparently haven’t changed because the Bills were very undisciplined on Sunday and didn’t provide a lot of protection for their quarterback.

In the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bills were outgained 114-2 at one point, which isn’t going to cut it if you’re trying to win games. The secondary, which was supposed to be one of their biggest strengths, looked bad and blew a lot of coverage’s during the game.

In the second half, the Bills tried to mount a comeback and got close, but the team eventually imploded, making a lot of bad choices and getting penalized for them. At one point in the second half, the Bills had cut the lead to 10-7, and had the Ravens backed up deep in their territory. Instead of forcing Baltimore to punt the ball, the Bills committed two personal fouls in three plays, and gave Baltimore great position at midfield, which they converted into a field goal.

The Cleveland Browns have known more misery than most NFL franchises, but fans still fill the Dawg Pound every season, hoping this is the year the team turns things around. However, after the overhaul the team went through in the offseason, fans knew the Browns aren’t a playoff team, but remained cautiously optimistic the Browns would have a good season.

Cleveland signed former Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to compete for the quarterback position during the offseason. Since new head coach Hue Jackson has had a lot of success reviving the careers of quarterbacks, many felt it was a good fit.

During the first half of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Browns offense didn’t look very good, but Griffin seemed like he was comfortable in the offense. As the game progressed, the Eagles figured out Cleveland’s offense and essentially shut them down.

The Browns receivers had a really rough go of it in Sunday because the ball was either being overthrown by Griffin, who struggled in the second half, or they were dropping passes thrown at them. The running game was slightly better but not by much, which made it an easy victory for the Eagles.

To make matters worse for the Browns, Griffin was hurt late in the game, and on Monday, the team placed him on IR, which means he won’t be back on the field before week 10. The good news for Cleveland Browns is that the loss of Griffin all but guarantees they will have the first pick in the draft next year, hopefully they finally find their quarterback of the future.

FF-Winners.Com Reveals 2017 Superbowl Champion!

The countdown to the 2016-7  NFL Season is just a few days away as the opening kickoff is set for September 8th. This season should provide us all with a ton of big time hits, spectacular plays and fireworks to keep us all on the edge of our seat till the final whistle at Super Bowl LI.

Now before we can crown a Super Bowl Champion, the 32 NFL teams must fight a grueling 16 game schedule before earning a chance to compete in the NFL Playoffs. That being said we take a look at both conferences to determine which team has what it takes to take home the Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.

Starting in the NFC: this Conference may be the weaker of the two as we can see two teams walking away with their respective divisions while the other two divisions being a battle between just two teams. The only question is whether or not we could see a sleeper team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Detroit Lions sneak into contention.

Meanwhile in the AFC: this should be a battle to the final whistle in every division as we could see as many as 10 teams take home playoff spots. This includes a new top team in the AFC East when it all closes out snapping the New England Patriots run of division crowns.

Here is how our experts and artificial intelligence computer see the AFC and NFC conferences shaping out in 2016:

NFC Champion – Green Bay Packers: As you look around the NFC the question marks arise for nearly every team in the division. The NFC East has no real favorite as it will come down to the quarterback position and how they play. The NFC South has the potential to be a four team race with the New Orleans Saints as our top team in the division. Then there is the NFC West as we see the Seattle Seahawks taking the division but don’t expect their defense to be as good as they once were.

Then there is the NFC North where just a week ago we could see the Packers fighting for the division with the Minnesota Vikings. Than a key injury to Teddy Bridgewater now leaves the Packers with a chance to walk a way with an easy path to the NFC North crown.

In the end the Packers offense will be too much for opposing defenses with the return of Jordy Nelson, the addition of Jared Cook and the newly shaped Eddie Lacy running the football. Add that with having one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL and you have your NFC Conference Champions.

AFC Champion – New England Patriots: Yes we expect the Patriots to land in the second spot in the AFC East but still expect them to be the team to beat when it comes playoff time. Now that being said we wouldn’t be surprised if they won the division but we do like the Miami Dolphins at this point simply based on the fact the Patriots will be without Tom Brady for the first four games. A four game stretch against teams that are all built around defense including the Arizona Cardinals and the Houston Texans.
The good news for Patriots fans is all you need is a trip to the playoffs as wild card team and you can find a way to make it to the Super Bowl. Since 2000, the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers have each won the title as wild cards!

Super Bowl Champion – New England Patriots: In the end the Patriots will find a way to win it again as Bill Belichick continues to find ways to win in the NFL. Add that with the fact Brady will have a big time chip on his shoulder once returning from his suspension and that will be all the team needs to win.

Now looking a little deeper: this Patriots team has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball including a very deep running back crew. While their receiving corps lacks the big name star they still have guys that can make a big play while having possibly the best tight end duo in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.
On the defensive side of the ball the team added a playmaker to their secondary in Cyrus Gray through the draft as well as Chris Long through free agency. The team also added former first round pick Barkevious Mingo to add another threat to the teams pass rush.

The end result should be another Super Bowl title and possibly the last of the Belichick/Brady era!

Broncos May Dominate the AFC West Again In 2016

Mark Sanchez’s future with the Denver Broncos was decided when he fumbled, not once, but twice inside the San Francisco 15-yard line on August 20th. But that is unlikely to rattle the Broncos whose dazzling defense allowed them to come out ahead as Super Bowl champions last year, this explaining why they hold such favorable ground in the NFL Betting lines.

All signs point to Trevor Siemian taking the reins at this point, though, the future undoubtedly belongs to Paxton Lynch. The comparisons between Lynch and Siemian are quite curious. The problem with Lynch is this: all he has to show at the present is potential.

On the other hand, Siemian’s power, poise, and precision are on display for all to see. The Broncos managed to survive last year’s quarterback conundrum because of the spectacular performance of an amazing supporting cast.

It is because of this supporting cast that the Broncos are still favorites to win despite their quarterback issues; though, they cannot afford to take their eye off the goal, not with Kansas City and Oakland so close to their heels.

The Broncos couldn’t have so easily forgotten their losses against the Raiders and Chiefs, and it took the efforts of players like Manning to stem the tide of a San Diego Chargers assault.

With the departure of Osweiler and Manning, GM John Elway was looking to Colin Kaepernick as a potential solution to the Broncos problems, however, that is no longer a viable option. The fact that the team will face Carolina in September with a pair of quarterbacks that have never thrown a notable pass in the NFL should worry them.

Fortunately for Denver, they have shown time and again that they have what it takes to navigate adversity. The loss of DE Malik Johnson and MLB Danny Trevathan to free agency is unlikely to have hurt them in any way that matters.

And pass rushers like DeMarcus Ware, Shaq Barret, and Von Miller should adequately compensate for the team’s injury issues. Miller, in particular, looked amazing in the limited action he saw this summer.

The Broncos are undoubtedly the team to beat in the new season. Oakland, on the other hand, could do with a helping hand, though they are legitimate contenders for the playoffs.

In signing players like CB Sean Smith and S Reggie Nelson, and drafting the likes of DL Jihad Ward, Oakland hopes to rebuild its defense into something formidable.

Derek Carr will carry the weight of Oakland’s offense; Carr struggled in the second half of the previous season, though, his failings could be imputed to injuries to C Rodney Hudson and WR Amari Cooper.

Kansas City is more than likely preoccupied with LB Justin Houston’s recovery from a surgical procedure to repair a non-functioning ACL. Along with LB Tamba Hali and RB Jamaal Charles’ surgeries, the Chiefs’ injury issues are a cause for concern.

That being said, the Chiefs have never had as much talent under their belt as they do today; and, at the very least, they do not have to deal with the Chargers contractual dispute complications.

Having missed the playoffs last season, the Chargers cannot afford their conflict with Joey Bosa, not when they need him to more effectively compete against their rivals.

FF-Winners.Com Reveals Sleeper Team of the Year 2016

One of the most under-the-radar storylines in the NFL is the way that Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Pace has gone about renovating this roster over the last two years. They’re one of the rare teams who has set out to build a team the “right” way — building the foundation of the team through the draft, and then supplementing those building blocks with smart free agent acquisitions — and has actually stuck to the plan (at least so far).

Pace has absolutely aced his last two drafts. The Bears had one of my favorite overall crops in 2015 — they could have as many as five starters from that group: wide receiver Kevin White, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, center Hroniss Grasu, running back Jeremy Langford, and safety Adrian Amos — and they followed that up by putting together one hell of a class this year. I’m admittedly getting a little “Vernon Gholston déjà vu” when it comes to their first round pick Leonard Floyd — people falling in love with the physical tools more than his actual football skills — but the raw tools are certainly there. The rest of the class, though, is absolutely money.

Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair (out of Kansas State) and defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (out of the University of Florida), taken in the late second and early third rounds, will contribute right away. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (4th round pick out of West Virginia University) is an undersized but athletic and rangy; at the least, he’ll provide great depth and standout special teams play. Running back Jordan Howard (5th round pick out of Indiana) is a “thunder” running back with serious pop, and could provide a really nice tag team partner to Jeremy Langford. Defensive back Deandre Houston-Carson (6th round out of William & Mary) is a small school gem that could’ve gone a couple of rounds higher. And finally, wide receiver Daniel Braverman (7th round pick out of Western Michigan) is a feisty Julian Edelman-type receiver who was crazy productive in college.

In the 2016 free agency period, the Bears might’ve made three of the shrewdest and most strategic free agent signings out of anyone. They shored shore up the middle of their defense by (very quietly) signing two of the better inside linebackers in football: Danny Trevathan (formerly of Denver) and Jerrell Freeman (formerly of Indianapolis) That just adds to a group of linebackers that already had Pernell McPhee (a fantastic free agent pickup from Baltimore last season), Lamarr Houston, and the aforementioned Floyd. Then, they signed right tackle Bobby Massie (formerly of Arizona), allowing Kyle Long to move back inside to guard, where he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player; that one signing effectively shored them up in two positions. So, the Bears’ offensive line and the middle linebackers — two of their weaker position groups last season — could very well end up being two of their strengths.

We think they still have a few big questions that need to be answered, like whether new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains — who was promoted from quarterbacks coach — can carry on the offense that Adam Gase so masterfully ran for Chicago last season; who is going to emerge from their logjam at running back (between Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey, and rookie Jordan Howard have their strengths, but none of those guys are anything close to what Matt Forte was last season); and if their secondary can hold up (Kyle Fuller had an up-and-down year last year, and they’ve basically got nothing at cornerback behind him, nor at safety next to Amos).

Still, if things break correctly for them, this team has the potential to be dangerous. And if they continue to build this team the way they have been over the last couple of years, We think they’re a really good running back and one starting cornerback away from being a legitimate contender in the NFC.

[Analysis by NFL expert Rajan Nanavati]

EARLY ANALYSIS: NFC NORTH 2016-7 Forecast

NFC North Predictions

Detroit Lions: The Lions lost a huge piece of their recent success when star WR Calvin Johnson announced his retirement. Matthew Stafford will have to find ways to move the ball without Johnson. Stafford threw for 4,262 yards and 32 TDs but also had 13 INTs. Young receivers must step up if they want to score points against QBs Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater and their offenses. The defense must also step up and improve as they were 18th in total defense last year and 19th in rushing defense, that is not a formula for success against RBs Eddie Lacy and Adrian Peterson. They drafted Ohio State OT Taylor Decker in the first round to help protect Stafford, but they must also address the receivers and run defense if they want to compete in this very competitive division.

Chicago Bears: The Bears can never seem to have success on both sides of the ball at the same time. Under Lovie Smith their defense was one of the best every year, but their offense was lacking and it cost them a Super Bowl in 2006. Marc Trestman improved the offense but the defense was awful, so they brought in John Fox. Fox has brought balance but must see improvement from QB Jay Cutler who threw for over 3,600 yards but also had a mere 21 TDs to 11 INTs. They lost versatile RB Matt Forte in free agency but will have one of the best young WR duos in Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, a former first round pick. The passing defense ranked 4th in the league last year, but they ranked 22nd in rush defense. They must sure up that front 7 to stop the great RBs in that division. They drafted OLB Leonard Floyd to help improve both the pass rush and their ability to stop the run. The Bears season depends on how much Jay Cutler and the defense improve, the talent is there for a playoff run.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers were one of the most peculiar teams last year. QB Aaron Rodgers lost WR Jordy Nelson for the season and it affected their offense more than people initially believed it would. Nelson was the true #1, which allowed Randall Cobb to play in the slot creating mismatches. Rodgers had a “down year” but still managed to throw for 3,821 yards, 31 TDs and only 8 INTs, which quite frankly shows that Rodgers is still great in down years. The offense was, however, inconsistent and went three and out a lot. RB Eddie Lacy seemed nonexistent down the stretch but has said he has gotten back into shape. The defense is much like the Bears in that they were great in the secondary, but were bad against the run as they ranked 6th and 21st. WR Jordy Nelson will be back healthy which will open up the offense a lot more, and with a QB in Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are always a deep playoff run contender.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are the reigning NFC North champions, and they have improved this off-season. They ranked 29th in total offense and 31st in passing offense last year, so they went and drafted the best WR in the draft in my opinion in Laquon Treadwell. This will help QB Teddy Bridgewater develop and improve from his 3,231 yards with just 14 TDs and 9 INTs a year ago. Treadwell, along with versatile playmaker Stefon Diggs, will take the pressure off star RB Adrian Peterson to carry the load of the offense. The defense ranked 13th in total defense and 12th in pass defense, but went out and drafted CB Mackensie Alexander from Clemson. Alexander is a great all-around CB, but to me he excels in zone coverage and making plays on the ball, which will be critical against the QBs in this division. The Vikings won the division with a weak offense, but they went out and got a lot better on that side of the ball so they should compete in the NFC North this year as well.

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]