After an offseason of dull and inane non-stories, controversies and mindless talk of the Patriots going 16-0, the new NFL season is upon us. At long last, we can talk about controversies and mindless non-stories on the field instead of off it. We can obsess over the minutae of our fantasy teams (except me, because I have no friends and no league), marvel at how good some of the league's standard bearers are, and laugh at the dumpster fires once again instead of saying how we're going to do these thing. So, below you'll find this blog's official NFL season predictions for the eighth consecutive season. Let's get down to business:
1. Patriots 13-3
2. Dolphins 7-9
3. Bills 5-11
4. Jets 3-13
There should not be any surprises here. Though the Patriots have lost Julian Edelman for the season, they are still insanely deep and have Tom Brady. The talk of 16-0 was premature and ridiculous, but this team is dynastic for a reason. They go into the season as favorites to repeat for good reason. What the Dolphins did last season to make the playoffs was impressive, but to pull off the same feat with the injuries they've suffered, playing 16 straight weeks and yes, Jay Cutler would be a testament to Adam Gase and that front office that just isn't there.
In Buffalo, they're looking towards a future with Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold and not with Tyrod Taylor after their bizarre training camp trades, and Sean McDermott's comments that LeSean McCoy could play every snap this season don't inspire much confidence. 1999 will still be a halcyon year for Bills fans. And as for the Jets... the less said, the better (I don't predict records better than 13-3 or 3-13, for the record).
1. Cowboys 11-5
2. Giants 10-6
3. Eagles 8-8
4. Washington 7-9
The NFC's toughest division looks at this point to shape up much the same way it did a season ago, with the Cowboys as standard bearers and everyone else following suit. While Dallas won't be quite as good a year ago thanks to a talent drain on the offensive line and on defense, they have Dak, Zeke, Dez and the league's best offensive line anyway. The Giants defense figures to be impressive, even though their best player is not one of their big free agent signings of past years. Their offensive issues remain basically the same as in past years, but they should have enough to contend for a wild card spot regardless.
In Philadelphia, Carson Wentz should improve, as should the Eagles defense, especially the secondary. But they still have more room to grow, which will become apparent multiple times this season. But this team has good upside and it wouldn't be a shock to see them contending in December. Washington, two years removed from winning the NFC East, have the major Kirk Cousins questions hanging over the head, uncertainty at the skill positions after all the transition there and the nagging feeling that the franchise is on the edge of falling off the tracks. That derails what could be a playoff contending season for them.
1. Pittsburgh 12-4
2. Cincinnati 9-7
3. Baltimore 7-9
4. Cleveland 4-12
These aren't your father's Steelers. Suspect on defense in spots, but home to potentially the league's most dynamic offense, the Steelers were AFC runners up last season and figure to be major contenders again; perhaps New England's toughest test. The schedule is favorable too. If the defense takes the next step, and that's a big if, they could pip the Pats to the AFC post. In Cincy, Marvin Lewis still has his job, and the Bengals have been reloading through the draft as best they can. In John Ross and Joe Mixon, they have potential impact rookies to join with their established core, and the schedule is also favorable. But there are offensive line questions and the lingering doubts about whether Lewis is long in the tooth as a head coach remain. They won't be as bad as they were a season ago, but the playoffs may be just out of reach.
Joe Flacco is healthy enough for Week 1, which is great news for the Ravens, but their offense still leaves a whole lot to be desired. While the defense may be enough to keep them in contention for a while, it can't carry an offensively challenged team to the playoffs. There simply hasn't been enough investment and talent identification on that side of the ball. And in Cleveland, there is hope, but a lot of it won't be seen this season. They'll have their moments, but the best they can hope for by Lake Erie is that this rebuild will at long last be the successful one.
1. Green Bay 12-4
2. Minnesota 8-8
3. Detroit 7-9
4. Chicago 5-11
The Packers are the Packers, and whether they can make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 falls on their defense. Aaron Rodgers makes everyone around him better, but can his play elevate Green Bay's somewhat suspect defense? With Sam Bradford at QB, the Vikings are the definition of OK. With Teddy Bridgewater they had upward momentum, but that all slammed shut last year. They have decent playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and a solid defense, but nothing that stands out in a competitive NFC.
Detroit has the highest paid QB in NFL history and... not much else. They made the playoffs last year but that came because they were preposterously good in close games, and if there isn't a sure sign of regression, that may be the closest there is. And in Chicago, Mitchell Trubisky will be starting by the end of November, which isn't going to be bad for a team in transition that will rely heavily on Jordan Howard to shoulder the offensive load with Cameron Meredith shelved for the season.
1. Tennessee 11-5
2. Houston 9-7
3. Indianapolis 7-9
4. Jacksonville 4-12
This is the time for the Titans to wrest control of the AFC South. They have the best (and healthiest) QB in the division, an offensive identity and style and an improving defense. Mariota's week 16 injury only temporarily stopped their momentum. It's hard to see them not winning this division this year. Houston will be motivated by Hurricane Harvey's devastating impact on their city, and with J.J Watt healthy, they will certainly have the defense to back it up. But because of starting Tom Savage, and Lamar Miller showing signs of wear and tear, they won't have enough to beat Tennessee, but will be a wild card contender.
The Colts have so badly bungled Andrew Luck's health, new GM or not that its frankly insulting to a player of his caliber. The offensive line, a huge area of concern, looks no better than it did last season meaning that when Luck comes back, he won't be able to stand upright and find a bevy of impressive weapons. As for the Jaguars, Blake Bortles is a bust and his ineptitude will overshadow how good the defense could be and how much Leonard Fournette will run the ball.
1. Atlanta 11-5
2. Tampa Bay 10-6
3. Carolina 8-8
4. New Orleans 6-10
Can Atlanta overcome the usual Super Bowl hangover and then all of the 28-3 jokes to get back to the promised land? They're saying all the right things, and they certainly have the offense to do it, but the defense looks to be solid as well. In a division with many other question marks, they seem to be the most sure thing. After watching Hard Knocks, how can you not be excited to drink the Bucs Kool-aid? Jameis Winston and his offensive weapons look to be primed to take the next step, and the defense is no slouch either. They're a for sure playoff contender, and they could easily get there too and win the division.
Carolina and their new run focused offense has a chance to be successful, but this is not the team that went 15-1 two seasons ago. They have a chance to recapture some of that magic perhaps, but some of that momentum feels a bit left in the pages of history. And in New Orleans, its up to Drew Brees to keep a team with a sinking offense and a horrendous defense afloat, and this may be the season when the Saints run out of gas.
1. Oakland 11-5
2. Kansas City 11-5
3. LA Chargers 8-8
4. Denver 7-9
So many think that the Raiders won't have the luck or the guile to win the AFC West, but I disagree. Derek Carr will be more motivated than ever, and the defense while having some holes, is coached by Jack Del Rio who is quite the defense coach. Their schedule is a major impediment, and being a lame duck team also doesn't help. Kansas City has the stability of Andy Reid, Alex Smith and a ferocious defense to overcome the loss of Spencer Ware, but perhaps not quite enough to win the division.
Many think this is finally the year for the Chargers to be healthy and live up to their potential under Anthony Lynn, but the team has some unfortunate injury luck that never seems to leave them and some units that leave a lot to be desired, particularly their linebacking group without Denzel Perryman. And they're playing in a MLS stadium. They should not be allowed to host a NFL playoff game at StubHub Center. As for the Super Bowl 50 champions, they are feeling the squeeze of the salary cap and age curves, as well as Paxton Lynch not panning out the way so many hoped he would. Trevor Siemian is not inspiring. A lack of Wade Phillips calling the defensive plays will also hurt, as will a brutal schedule.
1. Seattle 12-4
2. Arizona 9-7
3. LA Rams 6-10
4. San Francisco 4-12
Adding Sheldon Richardson to that fearsome defensive line only makes the Seahawks even better, but much of this season falls on the shoulders, legs and arms of Russell Wilson, and he seems ready to take control once again, that is, if his offensive line keeps him upright. They have all the tools to be incredibly competitive in a wide open NFC. Arizona is going with a old west last chance saloon season for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and company, and in the wild west, anything can happen. In this case, it means the Cardinals fall just short of the playoffs thanks to Carson Palmer showing his age. David Johnson can't do it all.
The Rams will improve this season, but not a whole lot. Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins will be a big part of that, but Jared Goff is still a major question mark, and the Aaron Donald holdout will loom over them all season. The 49ers have a good plan in place, and seemingly the right people to execute it, but no players yet to do so.
1. New England 13-3
2. Pittsburgh 12-4
3. Tennessee 11-5
4. Oakland 11-5
5. Kansas City 11-5
6. Cincinnati 9-7 (beats Houston in Week 2)
AFC Wild Cards: 3. Tennessee over 6. Cincinnati
5. Kansas City over 4. Oakland
AFC Divisional Round: 1. New England over 5. Kansas City
2. Pittsburgh over 3. Tennessee
AFC Championship: 1. New England over 2. Pittsburgh
1. Green Bay 12-4
2. Seattle 12-4
3. Atlanta 11-5
4. Dallas 11-5
5. New York Giants 10-6
6. Tampa Bay 10-6
NFC Wild Cards: 3. Atlanta over 6. Tampa Bay
5. New York Giants over 4. Dallas
NFC Divisional Round: 1. Green Bay over 5. New York Giants
2. Seattle over 3. Atlanta
NFC Championship Game: 2. Seattle over 1. Green Bay
Super Bowl 52: New England over Seattle, 27-20.
MVP: Tom Brady (NE)
OPOY: Le'Veon Bell (PIT)
DPOY: J.J Watt (HOU)
Coach: Dirk Koetter (TB)
Offensive Rookie: Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
Defensive Rookie: Myles Garrett (CLE, hope he's healthy)
Comeback: J.J Watt (HOU, could it be anyone else?)
Most of my season predictions don't go so well, but the league feels so stratified now that I'm more confident than ever in these picks. That will be my demise come January, inevitably.
Let's stop talking about football, and instead, let's watch football.