The preseason is complete, and we are finally ready to start the regular season. In the past few weeks, several surprising incidents have occurred from injuries devastating playoff hopefuls to the shocking retirement of a team—and city—with Super Bowl dreams. With this new information in mind, here is my updated season predictions.
NFC East— We get started with an interesting division in the NFC East. Off the bat, it’s fair to say that the Giants and Redskins will be non-factors competing for the division title with the Giants lacking in discernable talent and the Redskins needing to break-in some players. The division will come down to the Cowboys and Eagles. More importantly the division title could potentially rest on the shoulders of two players: Carson Wentz and Ezekiel Elliot. If Carson Wentz is unable to stay healthy this season, the Eagles do not have veteran quarterback Nick Foles to fall back on anymore. If Wentz is able to recapture the type of play he had a couple of years ago, the Eagles will not only become a playoff contender, but they will become a Super Bowl contender. The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, are waiting to see how Ezekiel Elliot’s holdout may affect his play early in the season. They have veteran running back Alfred Morris and rookie Tony Pollard ready to fill-in if Elliot is not ready to carry the load. I think what really settles this division is the defense, and now Dallas appears to have a better defense.
Winner- Dallas Cowboys
NFC North— This is another interesting division to talk about. There are three teams in this division that could legitimately win it. Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions are not one of those teams. Detroit will be competitive; however, they will not have enough talent to stand up for the entire season. That leaves the Bears, Vikings, and Packers. The Bears come in with a top three defense. But their season hinges upon the progression of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. If Trubisky keeps improving and leads this offense efficiently, the Bears will be clear favorites to win the division. The Vikings will be in for a bounce back season after a disappointing 2018 campaign. Their defense is still loaded, and the offense is bringing back most of their players from last year, including what appears to be a fully healed Dalvin Cook. If the Vikings can establish a run game and Kirk Cousins can make better decisions, then the Vikings will be hard to beat. The Packers appear to be the wildcards in the division. After seeing almost no action from starters in the preseason, it’s hard to gauge what product they will put on the field. They have a rebuilt defense and a new offensive scheme as well as brand new head coach, Matt LaFleur. However, anytime you have Aaron Rodgers, you have a shot to win football games.
Winner— Chicago Bears
NFC South— The NFC South might very well have the most potential of any division in the NFL. With the NFC North, we have a good idea of what we are getting with the division. The South, however, is a big wild card with a lot of factors. The heavy favorites are the Saints. They have a top three offense on paper, and the defense appears to be improved over last season. As everyone knows, they were only one terrible missed call away from the Super Bowl. They do not appear to have regressed in any facet of the game. Next up are the Carolina Panthers. Before the shoulder injury to Cam Newton last season, the Panthers were rolling, and Newton was having a potential MVP season. If Newton stays healthy this season, the Panthers will be a team to keep an eye on. However, if Newton is injured or suffers from lingering issues, it could potentially derail the team’s entire season. In my opinion, the biggest wild card of the division is the Atlanta Falcons. This is a team that has an elite offense and an underrated defense—if they manage to stay healthy. Last season, the Falcons still had a top ten offense, despite running back Devonte Freeman being in and out of the line-up. With the progression of wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Freeman appearing to be healthy, the offense should be even more dangerous. Last season, the defense suffered devastating injuries and the results were obvious on the field. The defense appears to be healthy and ready to go now. I do not believe they are a top ten defense; however, I think that with their offense, they only need a top fifteen or maybe even top twenty defense to get into the playoffs. They will be able to rush the passer and that should create turnovers. I believe the Falcons are in for a big bounce back year. If I had to choose a non-factor in the division, it would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are clearly in a rebuild. Head coach Bruce Arians will help Jameis Winston hit his potential; but at this time, it doesn’t appear they have enough talent on either side of the ball to compete with the other teams.
Winner— New Orleans Saints
NFC West— The NFC West should be a fun and competitive division to watch. There is a lot of talent between the top teams in the division. The favorites heading into the season are the defending NFC champion, the Los Angeles Rams. They are loaded on the offensive side of the ball, and they still have elite players on the defensive side. The offense should see a boost with wide receiver Cooper Kupp back in the lineup. And the addition of Clay Matthews on defense should add to an already formidable pass rush. The Seattle Seahawks are an interesting team to watch. They did lose wide receiver Doug Baldwin to retirement; however, they did replace him with the physical monster D.K. Metcalf. If Russell Wilson and Metcalf can find their rhythm, that could spell danger to opposing teams. The Seahawks also have wide receiver Tyler Lockett on the other side assuming the number one wide receiver role. On defense, they lost defensive end Frank Clark; however, they gained defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Jadaveon Clowney. The defense should be top tier this season. The San Francisco 49ers finally have something to be excited about. They have their presumed franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, coming back from a knee injury. The team signed running back Tevin Coleman and paired him with returning running back Matt Breida who had over 1000 all-purpose yards last season. Also returning is tight end George Kittle, who is coming off a season in which he set the single season receiving yards record for a tight end. On defense they added number two overall pick defensive end Nick Bosa along with cornerback Jason Verrett through free agency. I think the team will be improved; however, I do not believe they have enough talent to win the division. I think the 49ers are looking at an 8-8 season overall. And lastly, the Arizona Cardinals are bringing a lot of new pieces to the table. They added offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury, number one overall pick Kyler Murray, and pass rush specialist Terrell Suggs. I think this team will show flashes at times and will be a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, they just do not have the overall talent to compete on a weekly basis.
Winner— Seattle Seahawks
AFC East— Let’s be honest—this is the easiest division of all to pick. The New England Patriots are the heavy favorites to win the division. Despite the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots reloaded with fresh faces on offense and defense. Bill Belichick always finds a way to work new pieces into places of need. I think the Buffalo Bills will make it interesting early. They added some key pieces around franchise quarterback Josh Allen. They were able to add deep threat John Brown and slot specialist Cole Beasley. Both players will be invaluable to Allen’s development. The New York Jets came out and added perhaps the best overall player in free agency: running back Le’Veon Bell. Adding such a valuable weapon to the offense around quarterback Sam Darnold will provide highlight plays for sure. They still have a gaping need at wide receiver that they haven’t addressed enough. On defense, however, they managed to add CJ Mosley at linebacker. The Jets do have a potentially elite defense that should keep them in some games— just not enough offense to take advantage of it. Lastly, the Miami Dolphins—I honestly do not even know how to address them. They are clearly already tanking this season by trading any valuable player for future draft picks. Obviously, the Dolphins will not factor into the division this season and may very well go winless.
Winner— New England Patriots
AFC North— As you read these predictions, sit back and realize that we are going into a shocking and unprecedented football season where the Cleveland Browns are not only playoff contenders, they might even be Super Bowl contenders. The Browns are loaded on both sides of the ball. Led on offense by second-year quarterback Backer Mayfield. They had a top offense last season, and all they did was go out and add players like wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., and running back Kareem Hunt. The defense has a lot of young, but talented players. If they can progress, the defense will be a formidable unit. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in tricky position. They are right on the line of being a playoff contender and slight rebuild. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are now both gone. The question will be if James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster can keep playing at the level they did last season. The defense added Mark Barron and Devin Bush at linebacker and Steven Nelson at cornerback. While they may not be an elite defense, they will certainly be improved over last season. The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a playoff season, yet they still have a lot of questions. The biggest is perhaps the progression of Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Jackson can clearly run, but what we need to see is if he can pass the ball on a consistent basis. The Ravens did add depth and stability at running back with the addition of Mark Ingram. The defense was top in the league last year but lost a lot of talent including Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle. They did add Earl Thomas who, if healthy, is an upgrade over Weddle. The defense will be solid, but not as good as last year. The final team is the Cincinnati Bengals. This is a team I am personally optimistic about. If you break them down, they have a good amount of talent on offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton was on pace for one of his best seasons in 2018 before injury ended it early. Joe Mixon is a top ten running back. They have Tyler Boyd and AJ Green at wide receiver and Tyler Eifert at tight end. Adding to their talent, they have one of the fastest players in the NFL in John Ross at wide receiver. The key for this team is staying healthy and some sort of defensive improvement. If they get both of those, they could be the surprise team in the NFL.
Winner— Cleveland Browns.
AFC South— This was a division I was excited for when we originally revealed our predictions on the podcast. As we all know by now, quarterback Andrew Luck has retired from the NFL. His retirement not only changes the season outlook for the Indianapolis Colts, but it also changes the landscape of the entire NFL. The Colts have publicly shown confidence in Jacoby Brissett, and I personally think he is an adequate NFL quarterback. But let’s be real—he is not Andrew Luck. I think the Colts have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and I believe they will be competitive in a lot of games. But an 8-8 season is the best they can hope for at this point. The Tennessee Titans are a team that, despite never wowing us, are always in the hunt for a playoff spot. I think the key for the Titans this year rests in the health and progression of franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. Similar to Cam Newton, Mariota always seems to be hurt; however, when he is on the field and healthy, he is a winner and this team is better for it. With the return of safety blanket Delanie Walker and the progression of some key pieces on both sides of the ball, the Titans should once again be in the hunt. The Houston Texans have been one of the most talked about teams in the entire NFL over the past week or so. They have essentially mortgaged their long-term future to win now. Overall, they have roughly the same amount of talent as before—it is just more focused on the offensive side of the ball. After trading Jadaveon Clowney and a multitude of future picks, they brought back Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, Carlos Hyde, and a mix of a few role players and draft picks. The talent level is the same, but it’s just heavily focused on offense. Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil will be the most important piece of the trades. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson was battered and beaten last year, and Tunsil will add protection immediately. Wide receiver Kenny Stills adds depth to an already deep position, and running back Carlos Hyde is a nice security blanket at a weak position. Despite sounding critical, I do believe the Texans are in for a huge season. The Jacksonville Jaguars were easily the most disappointing team in the league last season. Coming off an AFC Championship game appearance, the Jaguars regressed in all areas last season. The eventual outcome was a dead-last finish in the division. But there is renewed hope this season. The team signed Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Chris Conley to help stabilize the offense. They also have a healthy Leonard Fournette returning. On paper the offense should see an improvement. The biggest issue for the defense last season was the offense put them in a lot of bad spots. With the added talent, that issue should be resolved. With superstars like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack returning, the defense to return to form. The Jaguars will be the surprise team of the NFL again this season—but it just won’t be enough to win the division.
Winner— Houston Texans
AFC West— Heading into the season, the AFC west was one of the most intriguing divisions in football. The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers tied for the division lead last season. And the Chiefs took the division crown via a tiebreaker over the Chargers. Many were expecting the same type of battle this season. But with Melvin Gordon holding out and the injury to Derwin James, I do not see that happening again. The Chiefs had the best offense in the NFL last season, and all they did was go out and add more weapons with the additions of Mecole Hardman and Lesean McCoy. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs defense was abysmal last year, finishing near the bottom of the NFL in most defensive categories. The one thing the Chiefs did do well was rush the passer, and they decided to axe two of their top pass rushers. The team did manage to reload on all levels of defense though. They added Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Darron Lee, Damien Wilson, Juan Thornhill, and Bashaud Breeland. The overall talent of the defense is only slightly better than last year, but it appears to be more balanced this year. These additions should lead to an improved defense overall. The Chargers are still a very talented overall team, despite missing Gordon and James. Led by quarterback Phillip Rivers and wide receiver Keenan Allen, the offense should still be high-powered and able to put up a lot of points. On defense they are led by pass-rush specialists Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. At the very least, they will be able cause havoc in the passing game. The Denver Broncos added defensive coach Vic Fangio to lead what they hope will be a defensive resurgence in Denver. There is no doubt the Broncos have talent on the defensive side of the ball—likely to be a top-ten defense. The biggest question in Denver is the offense. They have talent in the right places. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of the talent. The addition of quarterback Joe Flacco should stabilize the offense. They also have a pair of good, young running backs in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, along with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. What the Broncos must do is allow Flacco to throw the ball down the field and open up the offense. We’ll see if that happens. The Oakland Raiders have been one of the most talked about teams of the preseason for mostly the wrong reasons. Antonio Brown has been the circus most people thought he would be. If he isn’t freezing his feet, then he is complaining about his helmet or fighting with general manager Mike Mayock. This should be a big year for the Raiders, though. They are entering year two of Jon Gruden’s return, and I expect the offense to be much better overall. The team added running back Josh Jacobs and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Jacobs should be a workhorse type of player for the team and, despite his issues, Brown is still an elite receiver. On defense the Raiders added Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram in the first round of the draft and Vontaze Burfict in free agency. Similar to the Chiefs defense, a huge improvement shouldn’t be expected, but perhaps slight improvement overall. The Raiders will be an improved team this season, but I feel like they are still a year away.
Winner— Kansas City Chiefs
That’s it for the regular season predictions. On Episode 3 of the podcast, Keith and I made our season projections and playoff projections. Obviously with injuries, trades, and sudden retirements, those predictions have changed a little. On that episode, I chose the Saints to beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But with the Chiefs’ addition of Lesean McCoy, I am going totally flip that prediction and pick the Chiefs over the Saints. At the end of the day, the Chiefs have an unstoppable offense and an improved defense overall. I think they will be too much for anybody to handle. That’s all I have for you on this one. Let’s go out and enjoy another amazing season of NFL football!