An in-depth analysis of the upcoming season, including post-season predictions and the 2019 Super Bowl champion.
AFC East: For literally as long as I can remember, God the Father and the Son (commonly referred to by the lamestream media as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) have dominated this sorry excuse for a division. And while it’s only a matter of time before they recede into Heaven and leave the rest of us mortals to play football again, 2018 is not the end. Even with their age, depleted roster and locker room drama, how could you pick against the Pats when they’re competing against the likes of the Jets and the Bills, which are probably the two least talented teams in all of football? Apologies to Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Shady McCoy, but two are rookies playing the most difficult position in sports and the other is a 30-year-old, high-mileage RB. Don’t be surprised if their squads combine for something like six wins. Don’t sleep on Miami, however, who are just a year removed from a 10-win season and getting their starting QB back. I won’t go as far as to predict a Wild Card appearance, not with that skimpy receiving corps, but the ‘Phins won’t be bottom-feeders either.
AFC North: The Steelers are the obvious pick in the North, and if everything goes right, still hold the potential to be an absolute juggernaut. Even so, that’s a lot to ask of a team helmed by an aging QB who still eats sugar and whose star running back could very well end up holding out the entire season. If Big Ben falters and Le’Veon continues to be a petulant child/health-conscious businessman, they would open the door for another team to step up and fill the void. Your best bet should be the Ravens, who bring back most of the core of a nine-win team that actually underperformed by their point differential, as well as an improved O-line. Whether it’s Joe “Elite QB” Flacco or former Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson under center, Baltimore could be a real sleeper team in 2018. Meanwhile, the Bengals offer a rock-solid defensive line and a slew of dynamic skill position players, while even the Browns seem to be more than pushovers. Cleveland won’t scare anybody a year after going 0-16, but the complete overhaul of their offense should mean at least a five-game improvement, even if Tyrod Taylor manages to hold off first overall draft pick Baker Mayfield in year one.
AFC South: Count me as a believer in Deshaun Watson. After a too-good-to be-true start to his professional career, Watson was felled by a torn ACL, an injury that tanked what was already shaping up to be a difficult season in Houston. This year, many an expert has the Clemson product set up to be a bust, citing his weak arm and the Texans’ porous offensive line. I say phooey to that and believe that Watson’s generational instincts and mobility, along with the return of J.J. Watt to an imposing defensive line, will lead Houston to 10 wins and the division crown. They will be neck-and-neck with Jacksonville, who returns the best defensive unit in all of football. Why pick the Texans between the two? Defenses have historically failed to deliver equal returns from year to year as injuries occur and opposing schemes change, and the Jaguars will still trot out Blake Bortles and a questionable crew of wideouts to lead their offense. Tennessee is a bit of a forgotten contender a year after earning the first Wild Card, but I think this injury-riddled and forgettable roster takes a step back. As for the Colts, things remain completely uncertain. On the one hand, Andrew Luck could storm back onto the scene and win the MVP with his repaired shoulder and offensive line. On the other, he could get hurt again, and Indy’s joke of a secondary could give up four touchdowns a game on deep balls.
AFC West: In what could very well be the worst division in football, or at least the only one without the potential of producing an elite team, the title is up for grabs. My pick is the Chargers, with Kansas City hot on their heels. LA comes into the new season bringing back most of a group that underperformed their point differential last year, which is good news when your competitors have regressed. Aside from their dominant pass rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, their biggest advantage could ultimately be experience at the helm, something the perennially underrated Philip Rivers will certainly provide over rookie Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. In Denver, Case Keenum represents the best QB in town since Peyton Manning left. If 2017 wasn’t a fluke, he and fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb could be the difference-makers in sparking a run at the Wild Card. Only the Oakland Raiders seem to be out of the running completely, stuck hoping for their talented secondary to hold down the fort, and that Amari Cooper isn’t on track to be a complete bust.
Playoff Teams: Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Chargers, Ravens, Jaguars
NFC East: Coming off a miraculous season in which they won their first Super Bowl while relying on their backup QB throughout the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles are primed for another strong showing in 2018. A terrific defense and excellent line will allow the team to bide its time and allow Carson Wentz to regain his full strength before returning to action. There isn’t a lot of competition to be had in the division. The Antichrist Eli Manning has unbelievable weapons at his disposal (should everyone stay healthy), but a line made out of tissue paper, a weak defense and his own age should hold back the Giants’ considerable potential. Dallas will have Zeke Elliott for a full season, though this development is probably offset by the evaporation of the Cowboys’ receivers and center Travis Frederick’s battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Washington may have some sleeper potential, coming off a seven win season despite being wracked with injuries, though it seems unlikely that new acquisitions Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson are going to be enough to put them over the top.
NFC North: Prepare for what will be the best division race in football, as the hated rival Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will go head-to-head. A healthy and hungry Aaron Rodgers with a new red zone toy in Jimmy Graham is nothing to sneeze at, but I think Green Bay will ultimately be playing second-fiddle to a Minnesota squad that just upgraded at QB, gets Dalvin Cook back from injury and boasts one of the league’s elite defenses. Neither Detroit nor Chicago will stand much of a chance. The lions bolstered their offensive line, which they hope will bolster their long-time putrid running game and help compensate for their brutal schedule. Were the Bears in any other division, they might stand a chance at making some noise after a major overhaul to their roster; Khalil Mack’s addition alone purportedly tipled their Super Bowl odds (which still sit at less than one percent by the way). Look out for them as a late-season disruptor and a possible contender in 2019 and beyond.
NFC South: The South won’t repeat its 2017 performance and produce three playoff teams, though it should still be a heated fight to the finish. At the front of the pack will be the Atlanta Falcons, who should experience some positive regression for their high-powered offense. If their defense can perform as well in the regular season as they have shown themselves capable in the postseason, Atlanta could prove legitimate contender. Close on their heels will be the New Orleans Saints, equipped with the best defense they’ve had in years and a multifaceted attack that can beat you on the ground or in the air. Drew Brees’s age is the only question mark. Expect a regression from the Carolina Panthers, whose depleted offensive line is going to lead to tough times for Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Tampa Bay won’t finish anywhere near the leaders and could struggle to win three games. The Buccaneers are the least talented team in the NFC, armed with a terrible defense and notoriously inconsistent special teams.
NFC West: The Los Angeles Rams look poised to run away with the West led by imposing running back Todd Gurley, who could be the first non-quarterback since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to win MVP. From top to bottom, the Rams are easily the best team in the division and a legit Super Bowl contender. Below them is a miasma of mediocrity. The Legion of Boom is dead in Seattle, leaving Russell Wilson and revolving door in the backfield to attempt to salvage the season. Arizona should improve with David Johnson’s return and Sam Bradford taking over at QB, and they still have one of the best secondaries in the league. But they had no absolutely no business finishing .500 last year and would need to get similarly lucky to improve in a meaningful way. And the 49ers? Maybe Jimmy G and George Kittle really are the second coming of Brady and Gronk and will take the league by storm. Or maybe everyone needs to pump the brakes and accept that after the league makes some adjustments, San Francisco will finish with closer to six wins than 16.
Playoff Teams: Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, Rams, Packers, Saints
Super Bowl: Vikings over Patriots