Well, ladies and gentlemen, we made it. Several months without football finally come to an end tomorrow with the Bears and the Packers on Thursday Night Football. The 2019 NFL season is 24 hours away from officially being underway.
Of course, the offseason and preseason has provided plenty of drama. Key players getting injured or retiring, positional battles being fought all across the league, and debates about who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February. Soon, the season will show who will be vindicated, and who will be disappointed.
In this segment, every team from every division will be ranked with a small description of how their season should go. Then it becomes a matter of who will go through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. Consider this the receipt for my predictions. Feel free to laugh if/when these go horribly awry.
- New England Patriots (predicted record: 14-2): Love them or hate them, no one can bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. This statement will not change until further notice.
- Buffalo Bills (8-8): One of the more underrated teams in the league, to be honest. They have the defense to be competitive, but all eyes will be on Josh Allen and his development.
- New York Jets (6-10): The Jets made a lot of noise in the offseason, signing guys like Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley. That said, that does not overshadow Adam Gase being a not-so-inspiring coaching hire, Bell’s potential rust, the lack of a true number 1 receiver, and the offensive line and defense being works in progress. Better luck next time.
- Miami Dolphins (3-13): The Laremy Tunsil trade basically confirmed the Dolphins plan on tanking the season. The real intrigue will be who is traded next and who they draft in April. Decisions, decisions.
- Cleveland Browns (11-5): A revamped offense led by a cavalcade of young talent to pair with an overall solid defense. The Browns are selling themselves as a competitor, and it is easy to buy in.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6): Will losing the off-field antics of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown be equal to losing their on-field production? On the flip side, here’s to hoping Devin Bush can be the field-stretching linebacker the Steelers have lacked since Ryan Shazier.
- Baltimore Ravens (9-7): Losing C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs will hurt, but the defense is still stout and looking for young stars to break out. The plan on offense is obviously to have Lamar Jackson pass more, but this is still a run-first scheme. If the offense stays as dynamic as when Lamar first started, there is a chance to get back in the postseason.
- Cincinnati Bengals (3-13): The wheels had to fall off this dilapidated bus at some point. With the Bengals finally ready to embrace a much-needed culture change, this seems to be the year that it finally happens.
- Indianapolis Colts (9-7): This will probably be the boldest prediction on this. Sure, losing a franchise quarterback like Andrew Luck hurts, but the team amassed by GM Chris Ballard should embrace the “sum is better than its parts” philosophy. Don’t be shocked if somehow the Colts eke into the playoffs.
- Houston Texans (7-9): The Texans opened the Columbus Blue Jackets’ playbook of desperation, trading Jadeveon Clowney for scraps while massively overpaying for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. This team is still Watson, Hopkins, Watt, and few others. The used car salesman of the NFL is hard at work.
- Tennessee Titans (6-10): A good defense will probably be wasted under a tepid offense. Marcus Mariota is on his last chance, the receiving game isn’t exactly a strength, and a declining offensive line will be without its top player for a little while. Yikes.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): The Super Bowl window closed pretty tight last year. Nick Foles’s track record outside of Philadelphia isn’t pretty, the offense is a work in progress, and the addition of Josh Allen has been balanced out by the disgruntlement of Yannick Ngakoue and the season-long departure of Telvin Smith. These guys just can’t have nice things…
- Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): Once again, wunderkind Patrick Mahomes and the offense will be tasked with carrying this team to the promised land. The Chiefs are an okay defense away from being a serious Super Bowl contender. Will Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu help lead them there?
- Los Angeles Chargers (10-6): The most cursed team in the NFL besides the Browns has been struck by the football gods once more, with Derwin James and Russell Okung likely going to miss time and Melvin Gordon likely playing his last down as a Charger. That said, the team is still deep enough to go on a decent run, and the promising play of rookies like Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley should help ease the pain.
- Denver Broncos (6-10): See the Titans. Expect Drew Lock to finally take over at the end of the season to see where he’s at. John Elway’s job could depend on Lock’s development.
- Oakland Raiders (5-11): With the drama-laden offseason finally done, the Raiders can focus on football. With the stacked divison, however, the Raiders’ final season in Oakland looks to be forgettable at best. Who knows if Derek Carr will be joining the team in Vegas?
Playoff Seeding: 1. New England Patriots 2. Kansas City Chiefs 3. Cleveland Browns 4. Indianapolis Colts 5. Pittsburgh Steelers 6. Los Angeles Chargers
- Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): The Eagles’ season is on the shoulders of Carson Wentz. If he plays like the MVP candidate in 2017, they are a dark horse for the Super Bowl. If he seems to have lost a step or gets injured again, it could be a disappointing year. No team may be as volatile.
- Dallas Cowboys (10-6): Well, at least the Zeke situation is all over and dealt with. Now it’s a matter of getting to Dak and Amari, but who knows how much money they will command? At least the outlook for this season is alright, and it may be enough to have Jason Garrett stick around for another year. Praise be upon the immortal clap.
- Washington Redskins (5-11): Trent Williams’s holdout has killed any optimism about this team. Case Keenum will be thrown to the wolves until Dwayne Haskins comes in after the team is eliminated from playoff contention. Seems to be a way of life around there.
- New York Giants (4-12): At least Daniel Jones is starting to gain the trust of Giants fans. It’s a far cry from the reactions when he was first drafted. He’s probably in the same boat as Haskins and Lock are, but at least Jones will have Saquon Barkley to hand the ball off to. Small consolation.
- Chicago Bears (12-4): If there was a present-day team that would justify the mantra “defense wins championships,” this is it. Mitch Trubisky should develop further and David Montgomery has the look of a solid running back at this level, but the star of the show in the Windy City will be Khalil Mack and the new Monsters of the Midway.
- Green Bay Packers (12-4): So this ranking might be a bit generous, but Aaron Rodgers needs to be given at least some semblance of faith. The defense looks revamped after a surprising offseason splurge, Aaron Jones will be given a full season as the workhorse back, and the young receivers behind Davante Adams now have a full season under their belts. All we need is an anecdote from AR-12 telling fans to be confident in the team and the ritual will be complete.
- Minnesota Vikings (9-7): No one will be fooled by the Vikings as Super Bowl contenders this time around, but there are still things to build off of. If the defense returns to form, depth players emerge at the skill positions, and the offensive line proves it can stop something, they could steal a playoff spot.
- Detroit Lions (4-12): Trying to emulate the Patriots is not a very good idea. No one is being fooled. This is the omega of a cutthroat division, usually a sign of getting a high draft pick. Matt Stafford may be playing for his job security.
- New Orleans Saints (12-4): After two straight heartbreaking playoff losses, the Saints need to make good on the championship window. Father Time can take down Drew Brees at any moment, and the defense can be improved upon. At least Michael Thomas got his well-deserved extension, so kudos to them for getting the important details out of the way.
- Atlanta Falcons (9-7): It’s easy to forget that the Falcons were the walking infirmary of last season. With its defensive playmakers healthy at last, a return to form should be expected. The only problem is the NFC may be too loaded for a spot in the playoffs.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Jameis Winston is on his last shot. If he can’t gel in a Bruce Arians offense, he probably isn’t going to develop into an NFL starter. Unfortunately, the running game, offensive line, and defense won’t exactly do him many favors.
- Carolina Panthers (6-10): Cam Newton’s shoulder is key to how the Panthers will do. If the arm strength isn’t coming back, there may be serious issues for the team to address. This is the only team to expect to give a call to Colin Kaepernick. Just thinking out loud on that one.
- Los Angeles Rams (12-4): Jared Goff’s extension should keep the window open for quite a while. Aaron Donald’s extension will also help matters. The only real question is whether Todd Gurley will ever be one hundred percent again. They didn’t draft a running back in the third round for no reason.
- Seattle Seahawks (9-7): With Russell Wilson in tow for the foreseeable future, the Seahawks are now working to re-establish themselves in the league’s upper echelon. Grabbing Jadeveon Clowney and extending Bobby Wagner should help. Now, how to recreate the Legion of Boom?
- San Francisco 49ers (7-9): Early season reports of Jimmy Garoppolo struggling and John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan not being on the same page were concerning, but it seems those have started to lose steam. Here is hoping the offense only loses Jerick McKinnon and the defensive line can hide a back seven with some concerns.
- Arizona Cardinals (3-13): Another year of Larry Fitzgerald being wasted saddens everyone. The Cardinals are now trying to find their identity once again, and are hoping the long-term recruitment of Kyler Murray by Kliff Kingsbury helps them find it. The top pick is a real possibility once again.
Playoff seeding: 1. Los Angeles Rams 2. Chicago Bears 3. New Orleans Saints 4. Philadelphia Eagles 5. Green Bay Packers 6. Dallas Cowboys
Wild Card Round: (A5) Steelers def. (A4) Colts, (A6) Chargers def. (A3) Browns, (N5) Packers def. (N4) Eagles, (N3) Saints def. (N6) Cowboys
Divisional Round: (A1) Patriots def. (A6) Chargers, (A2) Chiefs def. (A5) Steelers, (N1) Rams def. (N5) Packers, (N3) Saints def. (N2) Bears
Divisonal Championship: (A1) Patriots def. (A2) Chiefs, (N3) Saints def. (N1) Rams
Super Bowl: Saints def. Patriots.
Good luck to the teams and their fans. Enjoy another roller coaster season.