The start of another NFL season is fast approaching, so it’s time for my annual predictions. Last year I did a horrid job. What can I say, it was a topsy-turvy season. The Bills and Jaguars both made the playoffs. The Eagles finally won a Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers went down with a major injury, sinking the Packers’ seasons. The Buccaneers didn’t live up to expectations. Seattle laid an egg. And the Giants were awful.

I did far better with the AFC last year, so let’s start there. As per usual, I will give a rundown of the entire division rather than an in depth breakdown of each team individually.

AFC East

The AFC East will be the most improved division in football. Of course the Patriots will run away with it, but after them it’s a dog fight for a potential wild card spot. The Jets’ season rests with who they decided to start at quarterback. Sam Darnold will be the Week 1 starter, but will he remain there the entire season and if so how well will he do? The Dolphins fate also lies with who is under center, with much of it dependent on Ryan Tannehill’s health. I don’t know what to make of Buffalo. They traded away a starting QB who took the team to the playoffs, replacing him with another team’s back up (then trading him after camp concluded) and drafting a high ceiling QB early in the first round only to have him lose the starting job to a guy who threw five interceptions in one quarter last season. Ultimately Buffalo’s defense will carry them, as I don’t think they have enough reliability at the skill positions on offense.

  1. New England – 13-3
  2. New York Jets – 7-9
  3. Miami – 6-10
  4. Buffalo 3-13

 

AFC North

This will probably be the worst division in the NFL. The Steelers will again win the division with ease, but after that it’s a real crapshoot. Baltimore somehow squeaked into the playoffs last season, and they have a very tough schedule this year. Lots of people are bullish on the Ravens, but I’m not one of them. The Browns, while improved, still won’t factor into anything. Cincinnati is a team caught in between a complete tear down and a playoff contender. Until Cincinnati gets rid of Marvin Lewis they won’t win a playoff game. And it will be a miracle they even reach the playoffs this season.

  1. Pittsburgh – 12-4
  2. Cincinnati – 5-11
  3. Baltimore – 4-12
  4. Cleveland – 2-14

 

AFC South

Last season this division went from one of the worst to one of the toughest. All the money being spent by Jacksonville finally paid off. Tennessee made it back to the playoffs for the first time since the late Steve McNair was a Titan. And Houston looked like a playoff team until breakout star DeShaun Watson blew out his knee. That knee injury is the only thing keeping me from tabbing Houston from winning the division, because for a dyamic QB like Watson, his legs will need to be 100%. And while medical advancements have come a long way, you’re never the same after destroying any major joint. It’s the same song in Indy, again, as the will he won’t he saga that is Andrew Luck is still playing out. Luck has resumed football activities, but has yet to strap on the pads and take a hit in a regular season game. And even if he gets back to where he was before the injury, there isn’t enough talent on that roster to get them anywhere close to .500. I’m slotting in Houston above Tennessee mainly because the Titans foolishly fired a playoff winning head coach to hire a first time head coach in Mike Vrabel.

  1. Jacksonville – 12-4
  2. Houston – 10-6
  3. Tennessee – 8-8
  4. Indianapolis – 2-14

 

AFC West

Once again this is the toughest division to predict. The AFC West has been a rollercoaster the past couple seasons, with three different teams winning it the past three seasons, all while producing at least one Wild Card team. I pretty much put all my eggs in one basket with the Raiders last year, having them reach the Super Bowl. Boy was I wrong. I have no clue what happened in Oakland last year. But this year, while better, won’t be as successful as the 2016 season. Trading away Khalil Mack can prove disastrous, and what will Jon Gruden bring to the table? Denver missed out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, and it will cost them. They have no running game, and their receiving corps is getting older. Their defense can only take them so far. Kansas City has put all their chips behind second year QB Patrick Maholmes, and I don’t see the hand paying out any time soon. The Chiefs’ one saving grace is that they have a dynamic offense with lots of talent at the skill positions. Their defense will let them down though.

I haven’t even touched on the Los Angeles Chargers yet, who are many people’s dark horse to reach the Super Bowl this year. They started off slow last year, likely due to the transition to LA from San Diego. But they finished strong. They have one of the best defenses in the league, and a good enough offense to the point where they can ride their defense into the playoffs. No team in this division has an easy schedule, which will keep all of their win totals on the lower side. They will also beat up on each other too, in typical AFC West fashion, so I have each team splitting their division schedule. Which while convenient, doesn’t actually help in making predictions.

  1. A. Chargers – 10-6
  2. Denver Broncos 8-8
  3. Oakland Raiders – 7-9
  4. Kansas City – 6-10

 

NFC East

After the Eagles the NFC East is awful. While dynamic, Dak Prescott has a deep receiving corps with some reliability issues. And Ezekiel Elliot can only do so much. Throw in a banged up offensive line and there could be some hiccups on the offensive side of the ball. Dallas’ defense is as bad as ever, but they will benefit slightly from an easy schedule. It seems like everyone is making a big deal about Saquan Barkley, and rightfully so. But he won’t be able to carry the Giants to the point many people seemingly expect him to. Yes, they have one of the best receivers in the league, but one of the most unreliable quarterbacks throwing the ball to him. Washington is just a big a mess as always, maybe even more so as they let a great (good at the worst) QB leave only to bring in a mediocre at best QB to replace him. They have no running game, even with the addition of Adrian Peterson, and no receivers to stretch the field. Stack the box against the Redskins and you will dominate them. Heck, you can even rush more often than not and have success that way too.

  1. Philadelphia – 13-3
  2. Dallas – 8-8
  3. New York Giants – 6-10
  4. Washington – 3-13

 

NFC North

The NFC North has been dominated by Green Bay pretty much since Aaron Rodgers took over at QB. Those times are long gone. Rodgers’ injury aside last year, the Packers’ roster building approach has been catching up to them more and more every year. For a franchise that is Super Bowl or bust, they sure seem to bust more often than not. Here is my bold prediction for this season; the Packers will finish in last place in the division. Their defense is as bad, if not worse than ever this season as they let yet more key players leave via free agency while brining in only two veterans to bolster the squad. One of which has work ethic issues and the other is 35. Their pass defense has been porous at best, and what does Green Bay do? Draft two more rookies on top of the two drafted last season who put in piss poor efforts. Yup, that will plug the leaks. Letting Morgan Burnett leave via free agency will haunt them, and that is not even the worst thing. They cut Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target in Jordy Nelson, so now he has nobody reliable to throw the ball too. It’s such a worrisome fact that after the first pre-season game Rodgers called out most of the receiving corps (then cut the one youngster he exempted from his comment on cut down day). And their offensive line has gone steadily downhill the past couple years for the aforementioned reasons.

Green Bay also has a very difficult schedule, even with Seattle (who they seem to play every season) being a shell of their former selves. All this is not even taking into account the inevitable injury plague (not even bug) that will beset the Packers locker room at some point. It already started to rear its ugly head in training camp. Saddest part is they just made Rodgers the highest paid player in the NFL with his new contract extension, so expect more of the same roster building until Rodgers retires.

Minnesota will easily win the division, again, with Detroit finishing a distant second and Chicago even further back in third. Don’t be fooled, the Bears are greatly improved, even more so with the addition of Khalil Mack. The fact that Detroit has a new head coach is not too worrisome for me. I wouldn’t have them making the playoffs had they not fired  Jim Caldwell anyway, and in this division finishing in second place requires an average record. And bear in mind (no pun intended) I had this division pegged before the Mack trade.

  1. Minnesota – 13-3
  2. Detroit – 7-9
  3. Chicago – 6-11
  4. Green Bay – 5-11

 

NFC South

The NFC South was the most improved division last year, even with the Bucs taking a step (or two) back in 2017. Three teams made the playoffs out of this division, and that will likely happen again. I think the Falcons will leap frog both the Saints and Panthers to win the division. The addition of Calvin Ridley makes them that much better. If it wasn’t for the Panthers fast start last season, Atlanta would have finished ahead of them. I think with a year of tape on Christian McCaffrey, the rest of the league will have ample time to game plan. While the addition of DJ Moore is great, Cam Newton still has to get rid of the me first attitude in order for the offense to really be successful.

While still one of the best QBs in the league, Drew Brees is not getting any younger. He has accomplished the most with the least for most of his career, and it will be another challenge for him and the Saints this season. And just like in Carolina, more tape on Alvin Kamarra will only benefit the rest of the league. Tampa Bay is a mess, and it’s only a matter of time before Dirk Koetter is fired.

  1. Atlanta – 12-4
  2. New Orleans – 9-7
  3. Carolina – 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay – 3-13

 

NFC West

The past several season Seattle has been to team to beat in the NFC as a whole, not just the NFC West. Those days appear to be over as the legion of boom is slowly being dismantled, and Seattle’s offense is losing what little talent they had as well. The Rams announced their presence last year, and will continue to progress this year. They’re going all in this year after running ruckshot through the division last year. On paper they have the best defense in the league. Don’t sleep on the 49ers, as the doom and gloom appears to be in the rear view mirror. I won’t say it’s out of view, but it’s getting close. Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be the savior on the bay, and the front office gave him more protection by drafting Mike McGlincey in the first round of the draft. The only problem areas are who does he throw the ball to and who does he hand the ball off to? Yes, he went 6-0 as a starter after being traded, but he can only do so much with so little talent around him. Arizona appears to be in rebuild mode, but still foolishly gave Sam Bradford a boatload of money for what amounts to being a mentor for Josh Rosen.

  1. L.A. Rams 13-3
  2. San Francisco – 8-8
  3. Seattle – 5-11
  4. Arizona – 3-13

 

Playoffs

 

AFC Wild Card

Jacksonville vs. Tennessee

L.A. Chargers vs. Houston

 

AFC Divisional

New England vs. L.A. Chargers

Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville

 

AFC Championship

New England vs. Pittsburgh

 

NFC Wild Card

Minnesota vs. Carolina

Atlanta vs. New Orleans

 

NFC Divisional

L.A. Rams vs. New Orleans

Philadelphia vs. Minnesota

 

NFC Championship

L.A. Rams vs. Minnesota

 

Super Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota

 

The playoffs are tough to predict this year. I can’t see the Steelers losing to the Jaguars again after being embarrassed by them last season in the Divisional round. And they will ride that momentum past New England in the AFC Championship. And just for the same reasons I can’t see Minnesota slipping up again, not with Kirk Cousins and all the weapons he has at his disposal. Though the Eagles Vikings matchup in the divisional round will likely be a one possession game. Lots of hype around the Rams, but I’m still not convinced by Jared Goff.

Not to be sentimental, emotional or in a lame attempt to write a fairy tale, but I expect to see Big Ben will ride off into the sunset with his second Super Bowl ring.

 

 

 

The NFC is stacked this year. The Eagles have a Super Bowl winning quarterback who will be their backup entering the season. And they didn’t lose any key pieces from the team that took the Cheatriots… oops… I mean the Patriots to school in the Super Bowl.

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