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2018 NFL Preview: Five Things About Each Team (with Playoff and Award Predictions)

I usually write up an NFL preview on Facebook, but I pay for this domain now and I stand with Eduardo Saverin so it’s happening here. Just a few notes on each team with an over/under bet, then postseason and awards predictions at the end.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

  • I know the Cowboys haven’t actually been “America’s Team” for years now, but it’s still pretty surreal to see them with one of the more random rosters in the league. There’s only one household name on that defense, and that’s only because Cris Collinsworth definitely has a crush on Sean Lee. (In fairness, DeMarcus Lawrence might be after this season too.)
  • I’m in the “Dak Prescott is good” camp, but my fellow members and I are undoubtedly going to catch flak for that during this season. His numbers will suffer because he is throwing to safely the worst group of targets in the league. Dez Bryant has been bad for a few years now, but he’d look like 2008 Larry Fitzgerald in this receiving corps. The top wideout is the fourth best receiver from last year’s Jaguars, and the starting tight end is some character named Geoff Swaim. Never trust a guy named Geoff.
  • Ezekiel Elliott needs to put up MVP-level numbers for this team to make the playoffs. They do have the best offensive lineman in the NFL at the moment in Zack Martin, but he’s already battling a preseason injury. Combine that with the autoimmune disease that Travis Frederick is dealing with, and I’m not exactly buying into Zeke’s MVP campaign.
  • I’ve thought the Cowboys defense would absolutely suck going into the past couple of seasons, and that was never the case more than last year. But yet again, they overperformed and turned out to be relatively average. I still think they should suck and I’m definitely not confident in a secondary that’s filled with a bunch of young, late-round picks, but who knows at this point?
  • Remind me again why they haven’t traded for Earl Thomas yet?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Giants

  • The Giants are putting A LOT of faith into a 37 year-old quarterback who hasn’t been good in three years. I’m one of the biggest Eli fans in the world and have gone to great lengths to defend his legacy, but this is a huge gamble by the front office. Yes, he was excellent in the one game he played with a healthy supporting cast last season. And the front office did everything possible to surround him with more talent. And the Giants upgraded at head coach from the literal worst offensive mind in the league to one of the best. So I think he’ll be better, but if Eli doesn’t rediscover at least his 2014-15 form, then a lot of fans will be wondering after only one year why the Giants didn’t draft a top college quarterback when they had the chance.
  • Giants fans should rightfully be psyched about Saquon Barkley, but they should do so with their feet over the brake pedals. His college tape is incredible and filled with highlights, but he also had three games last season where he averaged under 3.0 yards per carry against Big 10 opponents. He doesn’t have much history of breaking tackles and is dependent on his elusiveness, and that’s tough to bank on in the NFL. Not to mention, he’s running behind a still mediocre offensive line that people think is suddenly solid because the Giants broke the bank on a good-not-great left tackle. I think his final stats on the year will be good (probably great from a PPR fantasy perspective, considering he’ll catch 70+ balls), but I think he’ll have multiple games on the ground this season that are total duds.
  • Paying Odell Beckham all of the money in the world was 100% the correct decision. He’s safely one of the three best receivers in the league, and unlike the other two (Antonio Brown and Julio Jones), he’s not on an offense that is stacked at every unit. In other words, it’s easy to argue that he’s the most valuable non-quarterback offensive player in the league. (Yes, wide receivers are generally more valuable than running backs in 2018.)
  • Olivier Vernon is one of the biggest X-factors in the NFL this season. He’s the only surefire pass rusher on the Giants, and that’s with them switching to a 3-4 base defense this year. That sounds ominous, but Vernon is actually that good where he can singlehandedly make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The only thing that can stop him is his own body, and that should make Giants fans nervous considering his missed a lot of action last season and is already dealing with a high ankle sprain. The injury doesn’t appear to be that serious, but he really needs to be at 100% for this to be a good defense.
  • The secondary is probably going to be a major issue, and it seems like no one is talking about that nearly enough. Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are going to do their jobs, but it’s pretty tough to hide a gap in your secondary…and the Giants have a few. Free safety is just one big question mark, and Eli Apple is in line to play 90% of the snaps this season. Yikes.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Philadelphia Eagles

  • The reigning Super Bowl champs added reinforcements to what was already the best roster in the league. Sure.
  • It’s not exactly all pillows and rainbows in Philly though. Eagles fans are terrified about Carson Wentz, right? And that’s not as much a question of “if he will fully recover” as it is “when will he come back?” The Eagles have the most complete roster in the division, but that doesn’t exactly mean they can go for a few weeks without their starting quarterback and still cruise to the NFC East title. (Who am I kidding…Eagles fans think Nick Foles is the second coming of Tom Brady.)
  • The Mike Wallace signing was super underrated. Torrey Smith wasn’t able to hold defenses accountable over the top last year because he’s not good at football, but Wallace should do a better job of that.
  • It’s annoying how deep that offensive line is. And that defensive line. I’m annoyed.
  • I think this secondary will get a lot more exposed this year. The dominant pass rush and great safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will do a lot of heavy lifting, but you can’t hide cornerbacks, and I think this is a Bottom 10 group of corners. The Eagles hugely benefited from a career year out of nowhere from Patrick Robinson last year, but now he’s in New Orleans. Ronald Darby is a fine CB2, but I don’t think Jalen Mills is any good and a lot of faith has been put in Sidney Jones for a dude who’s played one game in his career.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Washington Redskins

  • I wouldn’t necessarily say the Redskins upgraded at quarterback, but they definitely didn’t downgrade. Alex Smith is good, and Kirk Cousins has never been as good as his stats might indicate. Smith doesn’t have Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill anymore, but the ‘Skins have an underrated group of weapons, and their offensive line is better than Kansas City’s. I wouldn’t be shocked if he tears it up.
  • Not to be overdramatic about a rookie injury, but Derrius Guice’s torn ACL is so, so bad. I don’t watch too much college football or pretend to be a scout, but I thought Guice was one of the most impressive players in this draft and his north/south running style fit PERFECTLY with the Redskins. I know I just spoke glowingly of Alex Smith, but he’s not a carry-the-offense quarterback. They need a pure runner to balance the offense out. As for his replacements, the Bottom 2 running backs in the league last season in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) per Football Outsiders were…Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine. Again, I feel crazy saying this about a running back who’s never played a regular season down, but I think Guice is the difference between this team being a playoff contender instead of just middle-of-the-road.
  • The Redskins have had Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay as their offensive coordinator within the past five years. Dan Snyder gonna Dan Snyder.
  • The front seven is…um…kinda great? They have a bona fide superstar in Ryan Kerrigan, a very good edge rusher on the other side in Preston Smith, a tackling machine in Zach Brown, and a defensive line that’s young, deep, and talented. If this group gets the positive injury regression that it’s due for, no joke this could be a Top 5 front seven in the NFL.
  • …the same cannot be said about the secondary. It’s basically all of the same shit I said about the Giants’ secondary, except Josh Norman/D.J. Swearinger is a step down from Jenkins/Collins. The Redskins are gonna be dropping at least two people into coverage on any given play that I’ve literally never heard of.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Eagles – 11-5
  2. Giants – 9-7
  3. Redskins – 8-8
  4. Cowboys – 6-10

 

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

  • I won’t run that long for the rest of the divisions. I just know most people reading this will be a fan of NFC East teams, so provided some extra depth.
  • I’m sorry to any Bills fans reading this for wasting one of the five bullets with that anecdote. And I’m sorry for doing it again here.
  • But I’m doing it for a reason: quite simply, this is the worst team in the NFL.
  • They have Bottom 5 quarterback, receiver, and offensive line situations. The one threat in this offense is a 30 year-old running back who has a domestic violence black cloud hanging over him.
  • The defense is pretty bad too. But if you’re looking for a bright spot here, the Bills have a really good secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is an excellent safety combo, and Tre’Davious White was silently just as good as Marshon Lattimore last year.

OVER/UNDER 6 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Miami Dolphins

  • Nothing says “the NFL is back” like the Dolphins having the dumbest offseason in the league. No lie, it’s happened for at least five straight years now. It’s honestly amazing. I started to think things were changing when Miami picked up two draft picks for a glorified slot receiver that they were never going to sign long-term (Jarvis Landry). But lo and behold, they followed that up by handing out TWO big contracts to slot receivers that aren’t as good as Landry (Danny Amendola and ALBERT WILSON)!
  • The Dolphins definitely signed Frank Gore so they can tweet something when he passes Curtis Martin on the all-time rushing list, right? We’re all on the same page here?
  • I will give some credit to the Dolphins front office: the Josh Sitton signing makes a ton of sense to help out Laremy Tunsil. And while I can’t endorse any team voluntarily taking on Robert Quinn’s contract, he is a really interesting buy-low candidate. He’ll get a ton of chances playing opposite Cam Wake.
  • I understand the Dolphins moving on from Ndamukong Suh’s monster contract, but I’m still not sure that was the wisest move. Suh didn’t rack up big sack totals while he was in Miami, so naturally he flew under the radar even though he’s still an incredible player. And the Dolphins run defense looks absolutely hopeless without Suh playing up the middle. Free advice: this is the team you want to start your running backs against in fantasy.
  • I hope the Dolphins plan on playing Minkah Fitzpatrick at cornerback, only because that way I can tell people I’ve heard of one of the Dolphins cornerbacks.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

New England Patriots

  • What goddamn voodoo did Bill Belichick do to get this level of incompetency out of the AFC East for almost TWO DECADES now? I tweeted about how insane this stretch of mediocrity has been.
  • Look, the Pats are going to cruise to the division title again. And they’re probably going to have it clinched before November is over.
  • Here’s the thing about the Patriots this year though that hasn’t been the case in the past: the roster isn’t all that good. They’ve drafted like total shit the past couple of years. They’re probably still going to win 11+ games because they have Tom Brady, but I’m not sure this is a .500 team with an average quarterback behind center.
  • New England has one of the worst pass rushes in the league. It’s Trey Flowers and a bunch of nobodies. That’s not optimal when teams are throwing against you for most of the game.
  • The good news is…the secondary is strong, even without Malcolm Butler. The gamble on Stephon Gilmore is paying dividends, and Devin McCourty continues to be one of the most underrated football players of my lifetime. (A 31 year-old with two rings and three All-Pro selections…we’re usually having different conversations about players like that at this point in their careers.)

OVER/UNDER 11 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Jets

  • I’ve been seeing a lot of the Jets as a trendy dark horse pick, and while I don’t agree with it, I kinda get the rationale. We’ve already covered how the Bills and Dolphins don’t look any good. But I’m pretty sure it’s more of a Sam Darnold thing. The kid has looked awesome in preseason, and it’s not typical for the third overall pick in the draft to be called a “steal.” For 7 of the past 8 seasons now, at least one rookie QB has succeeded right away (Watson, Prescott, Winston, Carr, Luck and Griffin and Wilson, Newton, Bradford). Makes sense that people are betting on Darnold to join that list after this season.
  • Darnold has some weapons at his disposal, but there’s not a true playmaker on this offense. Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell are fine. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse are fine. They’re fine.
  • This offensive line is not fine though. It is bad. Expect a lot of sacks and interceptions for Darnold.
  • The secondary might be the strength of this team. Trumaine Johnson is bound to become one of the worst contracts in the league in a few years, but for now he’s still a solid player. Buster Skrine is one of the better slot corners in the league, and Jamal Adams seems on his way to superstardom. They’re all going to need to be at their best, because the Jets might not have a sack all season. (Leonard Williams is great, but he’s more of a run stuffer.)
  • Todd Bowles is a good coach, right? Because I think Todd Bowles is a good coach. I know the Jets only went 5-11 last year, but he still did an incredible job. They were universally picked to be the worst team in the league going into the season, and yet they won 5 games and lost 7 games that were within 10 points.

OVER/UNDER 6 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Patriots – 12-4
  2. Jets – 7-9
  3. Dolphins – 5-11
  4. Bills – 2-14

 

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

  • I really loved the Bears’ offseason. They hired a head coach who will actually spend a minute developing Mitchell Trubisky. They bought low on Allen Robinson and took a chance on Trey Burton. I loved the picks of Roquan Smith and Anthony Miller. And now they just got Khalil fucking Mack. Good things going on in Chicago.
  • Kinda just hinted at it, but I’d be excited about Trubisky this season as a Bears fan. He was far from special last year, but he had some of the worst coaching in the league and absolutely nobody to throw to. Now he has weapons everywhere and a reinforced offensive line that should be solid if healthy. I wouldn’t expect a Carson Wentz sophomore jump, but I could definitely see him turning into an above-average QB this year.
  • I love fantasy football, but I also hate fantasy football. I say this because it convinced the public that Jordan Howard had a disappointing sophomore season. But this was a 22 year-old who rushed for over 1,100 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry on a bad offense. Yet people think he stunk because he didn’t have much PPR value.
  • Did you miss the Bears having one of the better defenses in the league last year? Because I bet you did. Granted, they got breakout years from Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, but this defense still has good players in every unit with a good combination of youth and experience. You could have called the pass rush a weakness, but now the Bears have addressed that by trading for one of the 15 best players in the NFL. Sure. Throw in Roquan Smith and the potential for fellow Top 10 pick Leonard Floyd to finally record double-digit sacks playing opposite Mack, and this is probably one of the five best defenses in the league.
  • I’m sure you’re guessing that I like the Bears a lot this season. Well, I do. I’d pegged them as one of my sleeper playoff teams BEFORE the Khalil Mack trade, but now you can remove sleeper. I’m not worried about them playing in the best division in football. This team is too talented.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Detroit Lions

  • This is the most “meh” team in the league this year. It’s such a boring roster. I can’t think of one good reason to tune into Lions games this year as a neutral fan, unless you’re one of those weirdos who’s obsessed with Matt Stafford. Speaking of which…
  • I’ve been seeing a lot of “Stafford is a top tier QB” takes. Well, he isn’t. Zero career playoff wins in nine seasons, and that’s with a Top 10 receiver of all time for seven of them and an excellent duo of receivers for the past two. Yes, I’m comfortable calling the duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones excellent. They both catch anything thrown within their vicinity.
  • The Lions have four running backs on the roster with fantasy football relevancy. I don’t have much insight about that. It’s just weird.
  • I enjoy watching Darius Slay play football. That’s literally all I have to say about this defense.
  • I couldn’t be more out on Matt Patricia. There’s something to be said about the previous two defensive coordinators under Belichick to get hired as head coaches (Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini) quickly flaming out. And I was never impressed with Patricia’s in-game abilities. You’re telling me he couldn’t figure out a single adjustment to slow down NICK FOLES in the Super Bowl?

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Green Bay Packers

  • The NFL QB landscape is in somewhat of a strange place right now. There are more good quarterbacks than usual, but there are only two “if he’s playing, they’re in the playoffs” quarterbacks. Tom Brady is one. Aaron Rodgers is the other.
  • I don’t think Davante Adams is one of the Top 10 receivers in the league, but he’s going to have Top 5 production. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t score at least 12 touchdowns.
  • I wouldn’t have advised the Jimmy Graham signing, but I get it. He’ll score at least 10 touchdowns too, but that might be on 50 catches for 500 yards. He’s essentially filling the Jordy Nelson red zone role. (You might think that’s harsh towards Jordy, but he has not been good since tearing his ACL three years ago. No, I haven’t forgotten about his 2016 season with 97 catches and 1257 yards. Playing with Aaron Rodgers is just that chill.)
  • Hey Green Bay, turns out good things can happen when you don’t voluntarily sit out of free agency! The Mo Wilkerson signing was just silly. He fits like a glove into a front seven that is going to be impossible to run on. Jake Ryan missing the entire season sucks, but Clay Matthews is versatile enough so they should be fine.
  • I’m not ready to call the Packers secondary good yet, but I think it could be? I was praying the Giants would somehow end up with Jaire Alexander or Josh Jackson in the draft. Welp, the Packers got both of them.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Minnesota Vikings

  • I know I’ve already thrown some backhanded shade at Kirk Cousins in the Redskins section. I’m not a fan of his, but it’s not like I think he’s bad by any means. He’s solid, but the Vikings basically gave him all of that guaranteed money to consistently play as well as Case Keenum did last year during his miracle season. If you’re expecting Kirk to take things to a much higher level, I’m not sure you’ve watched him play before. (His stats are probably gonna be awesome, and I’ll undoubtedly get chirped about them. But c’mon, the Vikings might have the best group of weapons in the league.)
  • I do think there’s a chance the Vikings offense is even better this season, which seems crazy to say considering they finished 2017 ranked fifth in DVOA per Football Outsiders. But that has less to do with Cousins than it does with Dalvin Cook. I think he could explode in this offense if he stays on the field for 16 games.
  • More so than the Bears or Packers, two other teams in this division with great rosters, I think the Vikings might have a fatal flaw. That offensive line really sketches me out. They were actually solid last year, but they stayed relatively healthy and wildly overperformed as a unit. But I think there’s a good chance they crash down to earth hard this year, especially with Nick Easton already done for the season and Pat Elflein doubtful for the start of the season as well.
  • I don’t feel the need to write too much about the Vikings defense. It’s great at every level. I mean, they added Sheldon Richardson to an already loaded defensive line. There’s almost no scenario where this isn’t a Top 10 D.
  • They are choosing to roll with a rookie kicker. Good things the Vikings have never had kicking issues before.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Packers – 13-3
  2. Bears – 12-4
  3. Vikings – 11-5
  4. Lions – 6-10

 

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

  • I don’t have a damn clue about this team. Will Joe Flacco play better with better surroundings? I don’t know. Will Lamar Jackson take over the starting job? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they won’t be awful, but I’m also pretty sure they won’t be great. I just don’t know.
  • Wild move by the Ravens to sign like 17 receivers this offseason. “Bold strategy, Ron Burgundy. Let’s see how this escalates quickly.” – Trey Wingo.
  • Just as a fan of football, I hope Marshal Yanda gets back to dominating again. He’s probably already a Hall of Famer, but a few more Pro Bowl seasons would seal that.
  • I’m pretty sure Terrell Suggs is made out of vibranium, but if this is the season that he finally slows down, then I have no idea who’s gonna rush the quarterback on this team.
  • ^That might not matter though, because this secondary is GOOD. Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension isn’t ideal, but they have crazy depth at cornerback so they’ll be fine.

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence) ((I’d go 0/3 Confidence if I could.))

 

Cincinnati Bengals

  • This is the most overlooked team in the NFL. Look, I don’t think the Bengals are going to light the league on fire. But they have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. If Andy Dalton plays ok, then I see no reason for them not to be a .500 team. If he plays anything like he did in 2015, then I think this is a playoff team.
  • I’m not on the Joe Mixon train like a ton of other people seemingly are, but I’ll concede there’s a chance I’m wrong there. Either way, the Bengals running game will be fine. Gio Bernard continues to be one of the most underappreciated players in the league. He does everything he’s asked to do well year after year, and he’s somehow still only 26.
  • AJ Green is still the fourth or fifth best receiver in football. He’s coming off his worst 16 game season, but I’m betting on the big rebound. Like All-Pro rebound.
  • I thought the Bengals had the worst offensive line in football going into last season, and they definitely were in that conversation. It’s still not a good unit, but they made a serious effort towards improvement by drafting Billy Price in the first round and trading for Cordy Glenn.
  • This team is going to be freakin’ tough to throw against. Geno Atkins/Carlos Dunlap/Carl Lawson is a terrifying pass rush, and I expect William Jackson to make the All-Pro jump this season. Jackson was one of my favorite college prospects in recent memory coming out of Houston, and the Bengals “stole” him with the 24th overall pick. People forgot about him because he tore his ACL and missed his rookie year, but he returned last year and immediately dominated. He was the fifth highest graded cornerback in the entire league by Pro Football Focus. If you’re not a believer in PFF, then here’s a simpler Jackson metric. The number of catches Antonio Brown had while covered by Jackson: zero.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Cleveland Browns

  • Ah, our beloved Browns. Look guys, the roster doesn’t totally suck anymore. But this team still isn’t good. Six-win improvements from one season to the next are incredible. So 6-10 should be the dream, not the expectation.
  • I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, and I can’t come up with any worse leadership going into a season in recent memory than Hue Jackson/Todd Haley/Gregg Williams. Even before the Hard Knocks exposure, this had disaster written all over it. Pretty sure Hue needs to go like 15-1 to keep his job next season. And seriously, HOW is Gregg Williams still getting a Defensive Coordinator opportunity in 2018? He’s basically the answer to the question of, “what if Urban Meyer didn’t know shit about football?”
  • I don’t really have any strong opinions about Baker Mayfield. He wasn’t my favorite QB in this class, but I get the logic behind picking him first and think he can be really good. That all being said, I just haven’t liked what I’ve seen from him leading into this season. He really seems to already think he’s hot shit for someone who’s never played a professional down. Maybe it’s just insane confidence, but I don’t really want my rookie QB doing underwear ads. And yeah, I know I sound like an old fart radio host right now, but I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets all pissy sitting behind Tyrod Taylor, who’s likely better than him right now. (No, Baker does not remind me of Manziel at all.)
  • There are few players across the league that I’m more intrigued by this season than Jarvis Landry. I think Landry should be a great player. He’s got amazing hands and physicality. I just don’t think he is one. Last season, he caught 112 balls for 987 yards. Maybe that was just a product of Miami’s play-calling, but 8.8 yards/catch is so shitty. That’s like a baseball player getting 200 hits with 180 of them being bunt singles.
  • Myles Garrett needs at least 15 sacks for this even to be decent defense.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • I couldn’t have possibly been less impressed with a 13-3 team than I was with the 2017 Steelers. They won an improbable amount of close games, including three-point wins over the Colts, Browns, and Rodgers-less Packers.
  • I’m so sick of hearing people fawn over Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he can still play. But he’s totally immobile, an injury risk on any given down, and has lost more than a few ticks off his fastball. And if he was still (or ever) an elite quarterback like people insinuate, don’t you think he would have otherworldly numbers playing in an offense with a great line AND the best running back AND the best receiver in the league? Because he doesn’t.
  • Speaking of the best running back in the league…we’re days away from their season opener and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported. And now his offensive linemen are openly talking shit about him. I’m not sure if you’ve watched a Steelers game before, but he usually gets the ball about 40 times a game. Totally nothing to worry about here!
  • And speaking of the best receiver in the league…Antonio Brown has been putting on a Jerry Rice clinic for the past five seasons and some of you morons have the audacity to debate between who’s tops in the game. 116/1570/10. That’s AB’s AVERAGE stat line over the past half decade. Case closed.
  • Uhhh I think the Steelers D is super average. I’m not going to blame them for a second for falling apart after the Ryan Shazier injury, but the truth is this group was overperforming even with him in the lineup. They gave up 45 points to Blake Bortles in their playoff game. Forty. Five.

OVER/UNDER 10.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Bengals – 10-6
  2. Steelers – 8-8
  3. Ravens – 7-9
  4. Browns – 5-11

 

NFC SOUTH

 Atlanta Falcons

  • Yeahhh…this roster is amazing. I know it’s really similar to the one they had last season that lost in the Divisional Round. But they were coming off the biggest Super Bowl heartbreak of all time and had a brand new playbook to learn. Not to mention, they still managed to go 10-6 in a season that everyone labeled a disappointment. That’s usually a good sign to me that big things are in store.
  • I’m a functioning human being with a heartbeat and two eyeballs, so naturally I’m concerned about Steve Sarkisian calling the plays. There’s some concern about Matt Ryan too, to a lesser extent. But if this offense clicks, they should average 30 points per game.
  • If you’re like me and think the first 2000-yard receiver is going to happen within the next few years, then Julio Jones this season wouldn’t be a bad bet.
  • I know this wasn’t a great draft for tight ends, but not one stood out for the Falcons? A first or second round talent at tight end would be lethal in this offense.
  • Cue the “the NFL is a copycat league” cliché, but it’s true that when a team develops an innovation that works in a big way, the other 31 teams will install it ASAP. And sacrificing size for speed on defense, like the Falcons have done, feels right up that alley.

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Carolina Panthers

  • I feel really bad for Cam Newton. I’m a huge fan of his, as in I think he’s one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. I just do not think this season is going to go well for him whatsoever. The Panthers finally fired Mike Shula, and who do they bring in to call plays for one of the most gifted quarterbacks to ever play the position? You called it…Norv Turner!
  • Have I mentioned how much fantasy football sways our perception of players? Because Christian McCaffrey was total dogshit running the ball last season. He’s essentially Wes Welker with running back eligibility. (He got 113 targets!) That’s sweet if you’re trying to win your PPR league. It’s not if you’re trying to establish a balanced offense in the NFL.
  • This offensive line is going to be SUCH a problem. First, they lost All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. Then All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams mangled his knee in training camp. Then the Kalil brothers…oh who cares they both suck anyway. Basically, what I’m saying is…good luck Cam!
  • Good news for Panthers fans is this team will still cover tight ends and shut down the run as well as anyone. God bless Luke Kuechly.
  • Bad news for Panthers fans is that might not matter, because teams should learn to throw deep against this defense every single play. The pass rush is deep but without a difference maker on the edge, and that secondary is rough. And it was rough before Ross Cockrell, one of my favorite offseason signings, broke his leg in training camp.

OVER/UNDER 9 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New Orleans Saints

  • The Saints might be the most hyped team going into this season, and as much as I like to play contrarian…this roster is nice.
  • I’m not sure what else there is to be said about Drew Brees. He’s a consensus Hall of Famer and still feels like the most underrated player in NFL history. The wheels are going to fall off eventually, but it won’t be this year.
  • Alvin Kamara could experience some significant statistical regression and still be one of the five most productive running backs in the league. That’s how incredible he was last season.
  • You might not know much about Cameron Jordan if you casually play fantasy and watch RedZone, but he’s one of the 25 best players in the league. He had 13 sacks last year, and honestly that feels low for how often he was in the backfield. Jordan led the league in batted passes too. That’s some JJ Watt in-his-prime shit.
  • Man, that linebacker corps is baaaaad. Like, “set back a defense that had its first good year in almost a decade last season” baaaaad.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Please don’t make me write about this team. You just know this is going to be a miserable season for everyone involved.
  • I think we’ve gone a little far with the Jameis Winston hate. If you wanna write him off for his off-the-field behavior, that’s fine. Hell, I’ve done it. But he doesn’t completely suck as a football player. I’ve given up hope that he’ll ever be great, but can still make things happen.
  • Mike Evans might be better with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center than Jameis. I have nothing concrete to back up this claim. Just feels right.
  • You know what, serious props to the Bucs front office for the goddamn Queer Eye-level makeover they did to the front seven. JPP is past his prime and Vinny Curry has something to prove outside of Philly, but pairing them with Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and first-rounder Vita Vea is some nice work.
  • ^Who cares though, because this secondary could absolutely be the worst in the NFL this season. HOW is Chris Conte still a starter?

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Falcons – 12-4
  2. Saints – 11-5
  3. Panthers – 7-9
  4. Buccaneers – 4-12

 

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

  • The Texans are where I differ the most from my fellow NFL prognosticators heading into this season. I’ve seen a good amount of people penciling them into the AFC Championship Game. I think they’re going to stink.
  • I love Deshaun Watson. I think he’s special and already one of the three most fun players to watch in the league. I still can’t believe 11 people were drafted in front of him. (If you think this is some revisionist history, peep my tweets on the matter.) But even with all of that, I’m not high on him this year. For starters, as electrifying as he was last year, he did not take care of the football whatsoever. In just seven games, he threw eight picks and put the ball of the turf three times. And that doesn’t even include the high number of risky passes that either fell to the ground or were miraculously caught by DeAndre Hopkins. The sophomore slump can be very real for quarterbacks, and I just see it happening to Deshaun. I really hope I’m wrong, but there’s a ton of red flags.
  • One of those red flags being the offensive line. It’s so bad. Like worst in the league bad. Like “holy shit on who’s watch did this happen?” bad.
  • This isn’t providing any incredible insight, but it’s true that the hopes and dreams of this defense all rely on the health of JJ Watt. If he gets back on the fast track to becoming one of the greatest players of all time, then yeah this is suddenly a Top 10 defense. But this is two years and two major injuries later. I’m not sure we’ll ever see that level of game wrecking from Watt again.
  • Watt aside, there are a ton of wild cards in this Texans defense. Jadaveon Clowney has gone from “overrated in his first few seasons” to “wait I actually think he’s underrated now.” Whitney Mercilus is back after missing most of 2017. Jonathan Joseph is ancient but still somehow the top cornerback on the team. And I have no idea what to expect from Tyrann Mathieu, but I know teams don’t just cut 25 year-old superstars. Considering he wasn’t great in either of the past two seasons, maybe we should all lower our expectations here?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Indianapolis Colts

  • The catastrophic damage that Ryan Grigson did to this roster as the GM is truly unbelievable. The new regime has started to turn things in the right direction over the past two years, but there is still such a lack of talent and experience on this team.
  • I’m really rooting for Andrew Luck. He’s so easy to make fun of that I think a lot of people conveniently forget how great he was. Good thing is there’s actually some reason for optimism on the offensive line this time around. Just keeping him in one piece would be an upgrade.
  • What in the name of Edgerrin James does Luck need to do to get a quality running back???
  • Maybe the most anonymous defense I have ever seen heading into a NFL season. I’m familiar with three players.
  • I’m excited to see what Malik Hooker can do in a full season. He was such a baller at Ohio State and had a three-game interception streak last year before tearing his ACL in Week 7. Could be a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • The Jags are one of the toughest teams to peg going into 2018. On one hand, they led the Patriots late in the AFC Championship Game before they went conservative and had calls go against them. On the other hand, last year was kinda a perfect storm with everything going right for the defense. They should be good, but how good is the question.
  • Blake Bortles’ ceiling is about as low as it gets for a NFL starting quarterback. But I liked the way he played in the playoffs. This offense can at least be effective if he just takes care of the football and scrambles a few times a game. The less he puts the ball in the air, the better. (Let’s be real…even if he had any accuracy, these receivers wouldn’t do shit to help out.)
  • ^Going off that point, Leonard Fournette might carry the ball 350 times this season if he plays 16 games. I think that’s a good strategy? As in, I think that Fournette is good? No doubt he’s a freak of nature, but he only averaged 3.9 yards/carry last year and didn’t contribute much in the passing game. His impact definitely goes beyond the stats, but it would be comforting for Jags fans to see them improve a bit.
  • I mentioned it earlier, but last year was a too-good-to-be-true season for the Jags D. They stayed healthy for 16 games across the board, which is practically unheard of. They also had over half of the starters have career years. That’s not exactly a coincidence, since this defense is a mix of huge contracts and high draft picks. But you can probably bank on slight regression from some of the stars, and there’s just no way they’re going to avoid injuries at the same rate.
  • That’s not to say this defense won’t be elite again. Oh, it will be. Is having the best pass rush AND the best cornerback duo good?

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tennessee Titans

  • There are very few others rosters in the league that look better than this one on paper. There is talent in every single unit on both sides of the ball. If there’s a real weakness here, not sure what it is. I wrote this earlier about the Falcons, but I love teams that are coming off “disappointing seasons” that were actually successful, all things considered. The Titans fit that bill too.
  • I’m not entirely sure what Mike Vrabel did to earn a head-coaching gig, but he gets points just for not being Mike Mularkey.
  • I’m excited to put this in writing this year, because now I’ll have something to look back on when I inevitably think about making this prediction again next season: THIS is going to be the year for Marcus Mariota. I just can’t quit him, and I genuinely don’t think I should yet. High hopes for what he can do with a playbook that doesn’t resemble the 1950s Packers.
  • I couldn’t have loved Dion Lewis the signing more for the Titans. One of my favorites of the offseason. A four-year deal to a 27 year-old running back goes against just about everything I believe in, but I just think Lewis is that good and has that much left to give. He was one of the ten best running backs in the league last season, albeit in limited action. I think he’s better than Derrick Henry, and I think he’ll see a lot more than just third-down work.
  • The Titans D was incredibly average last year, and they didn’t do a complete overhaul of it this offseason, but I still think it might be awesome this year? Jurrell Casey is one of the ten best defensive linemen in football. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo is a great edge-rushing duo, and in relief they have rookie Harold Landry, who somehow fell to the second round. They have a thumping pair of inside linebackers. And then Malcom Butler was added to an already solid secondary. There’s a ton of injury history among this group, but that’s really all I can see derailing them.

OVER/UNDER 8 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Titans – 11-5
  2. Jaguars – 10-6
  3. Texans – 6-10
  4. Colts – 5-11

 

NFC WEST 

Arizona Cardinals

  • I don’t like the looks of the team, but man, I don’t think they’re going to be picking Top 3 in the 2019 Draft like a lot of other people apparently do.
  • Do you think a bridge quarterback with 8-8 upside who’s going to be done for the season by Week 4 is worth $20 million? Because I don’t!
  • David Johnson’s 2016 was one of the best running back seasons of the past decade, but I’d be surprised to see him regain that level of production. Nothing to do with his health…that season just happened in Bruce Arians’ high-octane offense with a lot more talent around him. This Cardinals offense will be night-and-day from that one.
  • The funny thing about this offensive line is it might be Top 5 in the NFL in terms of name recognition, but it also might be considered a Bottom 5 unit by season’s end. Most of the linemen are either overrated or past their primes, and each one of them carries major injury risk. Starting center AQ Shipley is already out for the reason. Please don’t put Josh Rosen out there to die.
  • This defense is fine! They lost their coordinator and some marginal talent, but this group finished fourth in DVOA last season. Chandler Jones is still there. Patrick Peterson is still there. The Cardinals’ main problems won’t be on this side of the ball.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Rams

  • Part me of thinks it’s an oversimplification to call this the “Dream Team 2.0,” but it really does remind me a lot of that 2011 Eagles team. I just think acquiring as much talent as possible without regard for culture and scheme is bound to backfire. I’d love to fade this team altogether, but I’m really not a fan of this NFC West, so I’ll begrudgingly pencil them in to win the division.
  • I wasn’t that impressed by Jared Goff last year. His numbers were good, but he didn’t take control of that offense or every really “wow” me. And that’s with an offensive genius calling the plays and the Offensive Player of the Year in the backfield. He really sucked in that playoff game too. I just don’t see him becoming an elite QB any time soon.
  • This was one of the best offensive lines in football last year, but I think they might collapse this season. I’m not adding up the ages of all 32 lines, but I gotta imagine this one is the oldest. They all stayed healthy last year too, and that shit just doesn’t happen twice in a row.
  • I’d say I’m nervous about the Rams pass rush because they have absolutely no edge presence…but Aaron Donald. So yeah, the pass rush will be great. Just because of Donald.
  • This secondary has stupid depth, but I’m not exactly wild about it. The Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib starting duo is beyond worrisome. You just never know with Peters, and Talib is already 32. Plus they’re both shitheads. The Rams will probably be among the league leaders in interceptions, but I don’t think this is going to be the shutdown unit that a lot of people are expecting.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

San Francisco 49ers

  • I’m in on Jimmy G. I think the 49ers have something. I’d just exercise a little bit of patience here. I feel pressure to either be all-in or all-out on him this season, and I just think he’ll be pretty good? I will say…I’d be really surprised if he sucks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets MVP votes.
  • This feels mean, but I think the 49ers are better off with the Alfred Morris/Matt Breida backfield combo than Jerick McKinnon as the prominent three-down back. I didn’t understand the McKinnon love this offseason whatsoever. He’s been in the league four years now…and he’s been pretty bad the entire time. He averaged 3.4 and 3.8 yards per carry in the past two seasons with 150+ carries in both of them. Like, what was I missing here?
  • Whatever the Marquise Goodwin yardage over/under is, give me the over.
  • For a defensive line that has three guys drafted within the first 17 picks over the past four years, this unit should be way better. DeForest Buckner is a beast by all accounts (I admittedly haven’t watched him much), but that’s about it. Solomon Thomas had about as silent of a rookie year as a third overall pick can possibly have.
  • I’d be psyched if Kyle Shanahan was a coach on my team, but for god’s sake let’s hesitate on declaring him the next Bill Walsh.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Seattle Seahawks

  • I know everyone outside of Seattle is excited for the Seahawks’ downfall. But I just can’t see it drastically happening this year, barring a Russell Wilson injury. I have basically the same exact outlook for this team as I do for the Panthers, but no one seems to be talking about how Carolina is doomed like they are with Seattle. Teams with Top 5 quarterbacks will always stay at least mildly competitive. Wilson is a Top 5 quarterback.
  • That said…this roster is terrible. By my count, the Seahawks have EIGHT good players, and that’s including no-show Earl Thomas and the rookie punter who was the preseason MVP.
  • Even ignoring the reports that Rashaad Penny is a fatso now, the Seahawks could be tried in court for drafting a running back in the first round with the amount of holes they have all over the depth chart.
  • The game-changing middle linebacker is an endangered species, but the Seahawks have one of the few in Bobby Wagner. Everything I said about the team not falling apart because of Wilson can also be applied to the defense and Wagner.
  • I’m not gonna throw the t-word around, but Russell Wilson missing the season and the Seahawks subsequently going 2-14 might be the best way to make this team really good again in the near future. (OK, they should tank.)

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Rams – 10-6
  2. 49ers – 8-8
  3. Seahawks – 8-8
  4. Cardinals – 6-10

 

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

  • No team made me more money against the spread last season than the Broncos. I thought they were transparently terrible from the get-go but it took the betting public until about Week 13 to catch on. I do not expect that to be the case again this season. This could be a sleeper playoff team if a few things break right.
  • I laughed out loud when the news broke that Case Keenum got a 2 year/$36 million contract. But the more I think about it, the more I get it. Would I be psyched if my team planned to start a 30 year-old journeyman QB with only one season in his career that didn’t completely suck? No. But there’s no getting around how awesome Keenum was last year, fluky as it seemed and probably was. You could justify the contract on the gamble alone that he’ll play that well again. But when you consider that the gap between an average QB and the Broncos QB situation last year is about the same as the gap between an average QB and Tom Brady, it makes even more sense to pay him.
  • Wanna bet that Demaryius Thomas puts up a line of at least 80/1000/8 again?
  • 20 sacks seems in play for Von Miller this season, especially with Bradley Chubb on the other edge.
  • Vance Joseph has to be the least inspiring head coach in the league, obviously excluding Hue Jackson. You can tell Elway is already pretty out on him. If this team doesn’t have a winning record by Week 8, I could definitely see him getting canned.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Just about every season in the modern NFL, there’s an offensive phenomenon that no one sees coming. Last year it was the Rams. Before them it was the Falcons. And before them it was the Panthers. This year, I’m all in on it being the Chiefs.
  • There’s nothing in particular that Pat Mahomes has even done to get me on the bandwagon. I just think Andy Reid will be the premier offensive mind in the NFL until the day he retires, and if he’s willing to trade away Alex Smith after the best season of his career for this kid, then yeah I’m gonna guess that they know they have something. I think the Chiefs coaches have spent all offseason giggling behind closed doors.
  • Some other teams have amazing groups of weapons, but no one’s sniffs the Chiefs. They’re elite at running back, receiver, AND tight end. Throw in an offensive line that isn’t spectacular but has a high floor, and I seriously think this is going to be the highest scoring team in the league.
  • The defense has sooooo many question marks. It was one of the worst in the league last year, and the best player from that group is now in LA (Marcus Peters). They were the literal worst team against the run by DVOA, and all they did to address that was sign a career-average linebacker in Anthony Hitchens. So yeah, expect some shootouts.
  • I think there’s more reason for optimism on D than people are giving them though. Eric Berry and Justin Houston are both back, and I’m not ever going to count out either of them. And I think the gamble on trading for Kendall Fuller, a slot corner coming off the first full season of his career, to play outside will pay off.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Can someone tell me when and why Philip Rivers became the muse of NFL writers? I get that he’s still crazy efficient for his age, but seriously people like Philip Rivers now?!?! IT’S PHILIP RIVERS!!!
  • ^That was all about Rivers as a person, but let’s talk about him as a QB too. He hasn’t been to the playoffs in five years. He hasn’t helmed a 10-win team since 2009. As much yardage as he’s put up lately, this is the same guy who has led the league in INTs twice within the past four years. And he almost always has weapons at his disposal. I cannot get over the Rivers fascination. It’s truly confounding to me. (And do NOT even get me started on Philip Rivers, the Hall of Fame candidate.)
  • Hunter Henry’s ACL injury really blows. He was going to catch 80+ balls in this offense, and now his replacement is the ghost of Antonio Gates. But hey, that just means more targets for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
  • As you can tell…I’m pretty out on Rivers, the person and quarterback. But I’m not out on this Chargers team. I am super in on this defense. They are going to be fairly easy to run against, but DAMN they are going to tough to throw against. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are going to hit opposing quarterbacks on every single dropback. And Casey Heyward is the best cornerback in football – stop writing him off.
  • No joke, I feel like I have to dock this team at least one projected win for playing in a soccer stadium that’s regularly filled with 90% visiting fans. People talk about a Chargers curse as if this all isn’t total karma for quitting on San Diego.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Oakland Raiders

  • I know I wrote earlier that the Dolphins had the dumbest offseason. They were neck-and-neck with the Raiders for most of the offseason, but then Gruden and Co. dramatically swooped in at the final hour with the Khalil Mack trade to take home the title!
  • It’s never a good sign when my first reaction to a team’s offseason is a gut feeling that foul play is involved. That’s how much I hate what the Raiders did to a roster that I already didn’t really like. It’s old and lacking talent. Winning combo!
  • I seriously think this team is going to be so, so bad. I know that isn’t bold. But however bad other people are guessing, I’ll go 2-3 wins lower.
  • I don’t think Derek Carr is good. Honestly, I’m not even sure he’s average. That magical 2016 season he had, where his numbers weren’t as great as I remember them being, is just starting to feel more and more like a flash in the pan.
  • This is the worst defense is the NFL. The secondary doesn’t suck, but there was one great (let alone good) player on the entire defense and now he plays in Chicago.

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence) ((Sorry for making you wait until the end for the easiest bet of the season.))

 

  1. Chiefs – 12-4
  2. Chargers – 9-7
  3. Broncos – 9-7
  4. Raiders – 3-13

 

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Packers
  2. Falcons
  3. Eagles
  4. Rams
  5. Bears
  6. Saints

NFC Championship Game – Falcons over Packers

 

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Chiefs
  2. Patriots
  3. Titans
  4. Bengals
  5. Jaguars
  6. Chargers

AFC Championship Game – Chiefs over Jaguars

 

SUPER BOWL

Falcons over Chiefs

matt-ryan-julio-jones

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive Player of the Year: Pat Mahomes

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Jackson

Coach of the Year: Matt Nagy

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Benjamin Watson

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