The old saying is that “hindsight is 20/20”, and sometimes hindsight can also be absolutely hilarious. There is a Facebook page called Freezing Cold Takes which posts old tweets & comments from talking heads about players, teams, games, & draft picks that turned out to be way wrong, which is great because I’ve always thought it terrible that no one holds those people accountable for some of the outrageous opinions that they spew in an effort to get attention and stir the pot. Here at The Manofesto I do reflect on stuff I’ve written in the past and often call myself out on things about which I’ve been off base, and in looking back at last year’s preview I just have to roll my eyes that I said “football is a uniter, not a divider”, since the NFL proceeded to spend the next few months dividing the nation with their idiotic anthem protests. I’d like to think that this season will be different, but between renewed debate about those protests in addition to new rules that turn what used to commonly be referred to as a tackle into a penalty, I’m not sure football fans will be any happier with the NFL in 2018. Atleast they loosened up and clarified exactly what a catch is, so I suppose that’s progress. And as far as hindsight goes, a year ago I did throw out a plea for someone to “give Jon Gruden a coaching job and get him off our TVs”, so a shout out to the Raiders for answering that prayer. As always the team’s record from the previous year is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. Enjoy.
Minnesota Vikings (13-3) 11-5
Chicago Bears (5-11) 8-8
Green Bay Packers (7-9) 8-8
Detroit Lions (9-7) 6-10
The Vikings swapped out Case Keenum for Kirk Cousins at QB, which theoretically should be an upgrade. The defense was already stellar, and they’ve now added defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and drafted cornerback Mike Hughes in the first round, so I see no reason to expect a dropoff. Minnesota won’t take anyone by surprise this year, but I still think they’ll win the division easily. The biggest surprise might be the Bears. I really like quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Jordan Howard & Tarik Cohen make for a great running back tandem, & I think wide receiver Kevin White (formerly of my WVU Mountaineers) will finally stay healthy and prove why he was a first round pick in 2015. My concern is with Chicago’s defense, and with this being new head coach Matt Nagy’s first season I think the playoffs are a bit much to expect. I feel like the Packers are leaning on their reputation but in reality aren’t that good. QB Aaron Rodgers has spent most of the offseason gallivanting around with new girlfriend Danica Patrick, and it wouldn’t be the first time that an athlete’s personal life has distracted them from their job. The Lions have a new coach too…former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was indicted for sexual assault back in his college days but not convicted, something he didn’t feel was important to mention to the powers-that-be in Detroit during the hiring process. I think Patricia will get the Lions over the hump someday…but not this year. The roster simply isn’t good enough and the division is too tough.
Carolina Panthers (11-5) 12-4
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) 7-9
New Orleans Saints (11-5) 6-10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) 2-14
The NFC South has been one of the most compelling & competitive divisions in the league the past few years, but I don’t believe that’ll be the case in 2018. Cam Newton is in his eighth season under center for the Panthers, and it feels like the time for hype is over and he actually needs to lead his team back to the Super Bowl, a height they reached in 2015 before getting throttled by the Denver Broncos. I’m just not feeling good vibes about the Falcons or Saints, although I’d love to see 39 year old Drew Brees end his career on a high note in the next couple of seasons. I foresee sharp declines for Atlanta and New Orleans this year. I’ve never been a huge fan of Bucs QB Jameis Winston…not because he lacks talent since he is actually quite capable, but because he seems like kind of a jackass. Once again he is being accused of improper conduct, this time for allegedly groping an Uber driver a couple of years ago. The NFL found enough merit in the charge that they suspended Winston for the first few games of the season, and I don’t think things will get much better for the team once he returns.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) 12-4
Washington Redskins (7-9) 9-7
Dallas Cowboys (9-7) 7-9
New York Giants (3-13) 6-10
A year ago I predicted that the Eagles would finish 5-11 and have the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. Instead they won 13 games & the division and went on to upset the Pats in the Super Bowl. Now starting QB Carson Wentz is returning from a torn ACL suffered late last season, and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is the backup, which seems unfair to the rest of the league. The Redskins lost Kirk Cousins but replaced him under center with Alex Smith, which feels like a lateral move. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott back as their quarterback, but I’m not sure he has anyone to thrown the ball to after the departure of Dez Bryant and the retirement of tight end Jason Witten. Sure they have RB Zeke Elliot, but what if defenses stack eight in the box and dare Prescott to beat them?? That won’t end well for Dallas. As much as some may disagree, I don’t believe the Giants are going to get back into the playoff hunt as long as Eli Manning is their quarterback. Eli has benefited from his family ties and a couple of really lucky Super Bowl wins, but in general I’ve always felt that he is overrated and now he is on the downside of his career. The Giants drafted running back Saquon Barkley second overall, and he will undoubtedly open up the offense allowing receiver Odell Beckham to catch his fair share of touchdowns, but I just don’t think it’ll be enough, especially if the defense doesn’t gel.
Los Angeles Rams (11-5) 10-6
San Francisco 49ers (6-10) 10-6
Seattle Seahawks (9-7) 5-11
Arizona Cardinals (8-8) 3-13
Seattle’s Legion of Boom has been relegated to the dust bin of history and their once imposing defense looks totally decimated. But hey, atleast they still have Russell Wilson at quarterback, right?? That’s the only reason I’m picking the Seahawks to win more games than the Cardinals, because Arizona is going into the season with fragile Sam Bradford as their signal caller…unless first rounder Josh Rosen steals the job in the pre-season. The 49ers seemed like a completely different team after they traded for QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the latter stages of last season, and I think he’s the real deal. I’m not all that confident in the weapons Jimmy G. has surrounding him, but if the defense is as good as it looks to be on paper then ‘Frisco could pull out their fair share of tight, low scoring games. Conversely, the Rams should put plenty of points on the board as young QB Jared Goff gets in sync with receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Pharoah Cooper, & Brandin Cooks. Oh, and they have top flight running back Todd Gurley toting the rock. So if the defense is even slightly above average I think the Rams have to be the favorites by a nose over San Francisco.
Playoff Teams: Minnesota, Carolina, Philadelphia, L.A. Rams, Washington, San Francisco
NFC Championship: Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) 11-5
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) 8-8
Cleveland Browns (0-16) 6-10
Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) 5-11
It is a testament to how little regard I (and most of the football viewing public) give the Browns that I didn’t even realize that they went 0-16 last season. I thought they’d won atleast one game, but that was in 2016. I’m not all that enamored with #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield not because he doesn’t have potential but because I think Cleveland could’ve made some deals, improved their team, and still snagged Mayfield later in the first round. Actually he kind of gives me a Brett Favre vibe, and if that’s true then he could turn out to be the answer they’ve been searching for in The Factory of Sadness for many years. But for now winning more games than they’ve won in total over the past couple of seasons would be cause for optimism. If that actually happens then it could mean a last place finish for the Bengals, which I’d have to assume would bring an end to Marvin Lewis’ decade & a half long reign as Cincy’s head coach. I’m not at all impressed with quarterback Andy Dalton or any of his weapons, with the exception of receiver AJ Green, who has to be pondering an escape to a contender after eight seasons with a team going nowhere. Their defense might keep Cincinnati competitive in quite a few games, but I think they’ll fall short more often than not. There is a quarterback controversy brewing in Baltimore, with fans & sports media desperately wanting rookie Lamar Jackson (a former Heisman Trophy winner) to prove himself good enough to supplant veteran Joe Flacco. The problem is that neither quarterback has anyone noteworthy to throw to, and the running game is a triple threat of mediocrity. The defense is always stout in Baltimore though, which might be good enough to snag a wild card. The division is my Steelers’ to lose. A year ago I pointed out that “the AFC North isn’t their true competition” and that “the only thing on anyone’s mind is overcoming the Patriots and getting to the Super Bowl”. That is truer than ever after losing home field advantage to the Patriots on one of those stupid “was it a catch or wasn’t it” decisions and then not really showing up against the Jags in the playoffs. Much of the offseason in Pittsburgh has been spent dealing with RB Le’veon Bell’s contract demands, and it’s all but a foregone conclusion that this will be his final season wearing Black & Gold. That combined with Ben Roethlisberger’s advanced age makes 2018 feel like a make or break, all or nothing, all chips in the center of the table season for the Steelers.
Houston Texans (4-12) 10-6
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) 9-7
Tennessee Titans (9-7) 8-8
Indianapolis Colts (4-12) 7-9
I really like QB Deshaun Watson. He may have been on his way to being named NFL Rookie of the Year until a knee injury took him out midway thru the season. Assuming that he is healthy & ready to go I have to believe that the Texans are the team to beat in the South. Philanthropic defensive tackle JJ Watt also had his 2017 season torpedoed by injury, but he’ll be back on the field as well leading a stout defense. There is a lot to like about Houston. I suppose most “experts” will be picking Jacksonville to win the division again and maybe even make it to the Super Bowl…but I’m not convinced. Obviously their defense is quite impressive, but I am stunned that they stuck with Blake Bortles under center, and the rest of the offense is just as prosaic with the exception of RB Leonard Fournette, who is an injury waiting to happen. The Colts’ entire season rests on the health of QB Andrew Luck, and judging by the past two years that’s not at all comforting. If Luck is back then the question is can he live up to the Peyton Manning comparisons that were prevalent when he first entered the league, and I just don’t see that happening this season. I’ve got to see more from receiver TY Hilton, tight end Jack Doyle, & running back Marlon Mack…not to mention the offensive line, and I’m really not sure what to expect from the defense. First year head coach Frank Reich really has his work cut out for him in Indy. I feel like the Titans will be about the same as last year, perhaps a bit improved defensively. I like QB Marcus Mariota, and Corey Davis should emerge as a legit top flight receiver, but with Houston rebounding from a season that I believe was an anomaly it feels like Tennessee will be on the outside looking in.
New England Patriots (13-3) 11-5
New York Jets (5-11) 7-9
Buffalo Bills (9-7) 6-10
Miami Dolphins (6-10) 5-11
Ugh. I hate this part. The Patriots are like a damn cockroach that no one can seem to destroy. Credit where credit is due though…they have been resilient in fending off the competition for over a decade. Whether you attribute that to skill, luck, cheating, or something else is a matter of opinion. At any rate, I won’t predict their demise until I actually see proof of impending doom, and though I’ve been looking & hoping for that for a few years now it hasn’t happened yet. Everybody else in the division is just there to provide the façade of competition. The Jets have yet another new quarterback, although it is possible that veteran journeyman Josh McCown will start ahead of rookie Sam Darnold for a few weeks. Buffalo had a decent season a year ago, but I think they’ll fall back a bit in 2018. AJ McCarron is penciled in to start ahead of first round draft pick Josh Allen under center, and I suppose it is possible that either could emerge as a pleasant surprise. On paper the Bills defense seems like it should be good, so we’ll see. Ryan Tannehill returns from injury to quarterback the Dolphins, while Jay Cutler has re-retired and is doing reality TV. God help us all. There are some decent weapons available to Tannehill, but the fact that Cutler only got Miami six wins a year ago and Tannehill isn’t as good as Cutler doesn’t bode well. The defense has potential, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to win very many games.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) 9-7
Oakland Raiders (6-10) 8-8
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) 7-9
Denver Broncos (5-11) 2-14
Thanks again to the Raiders for bringing Gruden back to coach, which means that ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew will consist of Joe Tessitore, retired players Booger McFarland & Jason Witten, and Lisa Salters reporting from the field. Sounds good to me. I don’t believe that the Raiders will be back in the playoffs just yet, but they’ll improve slightly and Derek Carr might get back to being the talented quarterback he was a couple of years ago. Amari Cooper and Packers’ refugee Jordy Nelson make for an impressive receiving tandem, and Marshawn Lynch & former Buccaneer Doug Martin should solidify the ground game. The defense seems like it has some questions, which is why I’m hesitant to make Oakland more than a .500 team. I really sense a decline coming from Kansas City. Second year quarterback Patrick Mahomes takes over for the departed Alex Smith, and it might take some time for the young man to figure things out. He’s got some fantastic weapons at his disposal, so perhaps the learning curve won’t be as steep as I’m predicting. The Broncos feel like they’re on the edge of the cliff. Case Keenum is the new quarterback, and we’ll find out fairly fast if he’s the talented guy that won 11 out of 14 games with the Vikings last season or the pedestrian backup everyone always believed him to be. If Denver’s defense gets back to being as great as they were when winning the Super Bowl a few years ago that’ll help a lot, but I feel like they were pretty good last season and the team only won five games. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is amiss in the Mile High City, and it might get worse before it gets better.
Playoff Teams: Pittsburgh, Houston, New England, L.A. Chargers, Jacksonville, Baltimore
AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Houston Texans
Top 5 Picks in 2019 Draft:
1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2 Denver Broncos
3 Arizona Cardinals
4 Seattle Seahawks
5 Cincinnati Bengals