In light of all the absurdity happening in the world these days it’s good to know that it won’t be long until we can spend hours upon hours every weekend curled up on the couch watching football and forgetting about life for awhile. Football is a uniter, not a divider. Oh sure everyone has their favorite teams & players and fans will good-naturedly debate each other over such issues, but at the end of the day football fans on opposite ends of even the most longstanding rivalries usually have no problem sitting down with a cold beverage and some tasty snacks to watch the game together. There is so much common ground. Raider Nation, Cheeseheads, & Philly Boo Birds can all agree on certain things…the Browns suck, Tom Brady is a douche canoe, RedZone rocks, and for the love of God & all that’s holy will some lowly team PLEASE give Jon Gruden a coaching job and get him off our TVs. So in preparation for that upcoming glorious day please sit back, relax, & look into the gridiron crystal ball to see what might be in store for the NFL over the next few months. Enjoy.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Sports media has spent the offseason fellatiating the Patriots even more than usual, including shoving Tom Brady’s 40th birthday down our throats like it was some sort of religious holiday. Look, I’m not an unreasonable man. Despite repeated instances of cheating their way to success I will begrudgingly concede that any team that wins five Super Bowls in 15 years deserves kudos, but numerous outlets predicting an undefeated season is just silly. This is a weak division that New England will win easily, but I think they’ll stumble a few times along the way. The loss of QB Ryan Tannehill to injury and the subsequent signing of the suddenly unretired Jay Cutler doesn’t move the meter either way for the Dolphins in my opinion. They might be in the wildcard conversation early on but aren’t a threat to be taken seriously. The Jets are going to get worse before they get better, and the Bills are just treading water, with new head coach Sean McDermott being the latest guy that’ll lead the team nowhere before getting canned in a couple of years.
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
The Raiders and Chiefs were neck & neck last season, but I think this is a year in which the future Vegas franchise establishes dominance while Kansas City takes a step backward. I really like Oakland QB Derek Carr, and with RB Marshawn Lynch coming out of retirement, WR Cordarrelle Patterson coming over from Minnesota looking for a fresh start, & Amari Cooper ready to emerge as one of the league’s premier receivers the offense will be difficult to stop. Khalil Mack & Bruce Irvin are a formidable pass rushing duo. The Chiefs feel like they’re in a transitional phase, with first round pick Patrick Mahomes biding his time until QB Alex Smith goes away, career backup Spencer Ware & third round pick Kareem Hunt vying to replace departed RB Jamaal Charles, and talented receivers Tyreek Hill & Chris Conley stepping up in the absence of the departed Jeremy Maclin. The defense will have to be the foundation for KC. Whether Trevor Semien or Paxton Lynch wins the quarterback battle in Denver their defense will also be the key to success. The Chargers have moved from San Diego to Los Angeles and will play in a stadium about the size of my apartment. I feel bad for QB Philip Rivers because I’m sure this isn’t how he’d prefer to see his career wind down. Anthony Lynn is an unproven head coach, although offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt & defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are former head coaches themselves. First round pick Mike Williams, a receiver out of Clemson, and second rounder Forrest Lamp, an offensive lineman from Western Kentucky, have already suffered injuries in training camp (Lamp is out for the season, Williams should return at some point), which isn’t a good omen.
I am normally very cautious when it comes to having high expectations for my Steelers, but I can’t deny the fact that they should clearly be the best team in the division. I’m sure everyone in Pittsburgh would deny it, but the truth is that the AFC North isn’t their true competition. The fact is that the only thing on anyone’s mind is overcoming the Patriots and getting to the Super Bowl. Having said that, this division is always a grind so I don’t expect the Steelers to run away with the crown. It’ll be a season long slog. I think the Bengals will be better than most expect, with AJ Green & first round pick John Ross forming an intimidating receiving duo and the much maligned Joe Mixon adding a dimension to the running game. Baltimore feels like they’re spinning their wheels. Perhaps they should crowd source their fans for solutions. The Browns are the Browns…a perpetual Factory of Sadness where talented players waste away valuable years of their career. They may show a small improvement this year, but really…who cares??
Much like the West, in which two teams that were even as they crossed the finish line last season seem to be headed on divergent paths, so it goes in the South, with Tennessee taking a leap forward and the Texans seeing their momentum stopped for now. I really like Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota, and he’s got some weapons…RBs DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry, TE Jace Amaro, and WRs Eric Decker & first round pick Corey Davis. The offensive line looks good too. I’m not quite sure about their defense though. Houston will once again rely heavily on their stout defense while they sort out the quarterback situation. Tom Savage will probably begin the season as the starter, but I really like Deshaun Watson and think he’ll be one of the league’s best QBs in a couple of years. Colts’ signal caller Andrew Luck was supposed to be the next Peyton Manning, but things don’t seem to be working out that way, and I don’t expect Indy to improve. I had been under the impression in recent years that the Jags were up n’ comers, but they’ve gone backward. Unlike most people I’m not that psyched about first round pick Leonard Fournette, and QB Blake Bortles inspires zero confidence.
Playoff Teams: New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Kansas City, Cincinnati
AFC Championship: New England vs. Pittsburgh
New York Giants
The suspension of RB Zeke Elliott isn’t a good beginning for the Cowboys. Whether he’s out six games or has the punishment reduced a bit I think Dallas loses atleast a couple contests that they otherwise may have won. That opens the door for the Giants, who enter season two of the Ben McAdoo era having done rather well last year and now switch out receiver Victor Cruz (now with the Bears) for Brandon Marshall (formerly of the Jets) & add first round pick Evan Engram at tight end. This is a tough division, but New York has to be the heavy favorite. The Redskins have spent the offseason in a pissing contest with quarterback Kirk Cousins, but also added free agent receiver Terrelle Pryor, defensive end & first round draft pick Jonathan Allen, and fourth round RB Samaje Perine. Still though, they feel like a team on the negative side of transformation until the likely departure of Cousins and the drafting of a new quarterback next year. I love Eagles’ QB Carson Wentz, but Philly is a team with too many moving parts & youngsters to really gel into anything good at this point. Maybe next year.
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle had, by their standards, a pretty mediocre season in 2016, lowlighted by a surprising loss to the lowly Rams in week two. However, they did make the playoffs before being beaten by the Atlanta Falcons. RB Eddie Lacy has moved to the northwest from Green Bay, and I expect him to be in shape & a significant contributor. The Cardinals are looking to rebound from a tough year and get back to the team they were in 2015 when they played in the NFC title game. It’s all about QB Carson Palmer. At 37 years old can he summon up one last great season, or will the oft injured signal caller just kind of fade away?? The Niners & Rams keep adding pieces in free agency & thru the draft, but it doesn’t seem like either team is closer to turning things around. This is the Seahawks’ division to lose, and I don’t think it’ll even be competitive.
Green Bay Packers
Much like Seattle the Packers just felt a bit off last season, even though they made it to the NFC title game. I think there was a lot of drama in the personal life of QB Aaron Rodgers that affected him negatively, though we’ll never really know for sure. At any rate, keep an eye on the backfield, where converted receiver Ty Montgomery will get some stiff competition from hardnosed runner Jamaal Williams, a 4th round draft choice from BYU. Otherwise I assume Rodgers will pass the ball a lot to an array of talented receivers and the defense will be overlooked & underrated. In Minnesota Adrian Peterson has taken his child beating ways down south to The Big Easy and it’ll be up to former Raider Latavius Murray and/or rookie RB Dalvin Cook to replace him. The receiving corps is…okay…but I expect QB Sam Bradford to be handing the ball off much of the time. Good ol’ smashmouth football for the Vikings. The defense will be alright, but might have to be better than that in some low scoring slugfests. The Bears will allegedly try to get thru the season with QBs Mike Glennon & Mark Sanchez, with first round pick Mitch Trubisky essentially redshirting his rookie season to learn the ropes. It’s a bold strategy…let’s see if it pays off for them (or even if they stick to that plan). There are some talented offensive weapons in Chicago…receivers Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, & Reuben Randle, RB Jordan Howard, rookie tight end & 2nd round draft pick Adam Shaheen…but none of that matters if the quarterback is subpar. The defense in the Windy City has potential but is, on paper, underwhelming. I am predicting that the Lions take a big step backward after a career year from QB Matthew Stafford in 2016. Their defense has been upgraded, but I don’t think Stafford can repeat last season’s success, and I’m not all that enamored with the weapons he has to work with. The Packers will win the North, and it won’t be close.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
All anyone will remember about the Falcons’ 2016 season is their epic collapse in the Super Bowl, which is a shame, but also can be used as motivation. They’ll be almost as good this year, but other teams will step up to compete. The Panthers’ putrid season was probably an anomaly, and I expect them to flip the script this year behind new offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey, who’ll line up in the backfield but can be a receiver as well. I like Tampa and believe we’ll see the continued maturation of QB Jameis Winston, especially since he now has a really good tight end in first round pick OJ Howard and a talented group of receivers, including free agent signee DeSean Jackson. The Bucs will be in the playoff hunt. I am rather sentimental, so I’d like to see QB Drew Brees lead the Saints back to the playoffs as he winds down his brilliant career, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Signing free agent RB Adrian Peterson won’t be a difference maker since he’s way past his prime. Actually it’ll probably be Mark Ingram & third round choice Alvin Kamara getting most of the work in the backfield by the mid-point of the season.
Playoff Teams: NY Giants, Green Bay, Seattle, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay
NFC Championship: NY Giants vs. Green Bay
Pittsburgh Steelers 41
Green Bay Packers 38
Top 5 Picks in 2018 Draft:
1 New York Jets
2 Cleveland Browns
3 Philadelphia Eagles
4 San Francisco 49ers
5 Detroit Lions