The NFL provided an appetizer to the main course that is kicking off Sunday morning with the Falcons at Eagles on Thursday night. In spite of the nail biting (unless you’ve watched the Falcons before, in which case it seemed like a forgone conclusion) finish, the game was right up Pepe Le Pew’s alley.
Hopefully the rest of the league can shake off the pre-season stink and put on a show resembling good football. To wet your beak a bit we’ve got some wacky, weird, worrisome, wholly unsubstantiated oddball predictions for this season, along with playoff picks. Just some bullet point thoughts to digest before you set your fantasy line ups and pop a top on that first beer tomorrow.
- The Bills defense will prove itself to be more than playoff worthy, but will be woefully off-set by the complete shit show on offense. If Shady McCoy ends up suspended, this could become a historically bad level offense.
- Miami’s defense will also be improved. With the return to health by Raekwon McMillian, the pass rushing prowess of Robert Quinn, and the playmaking ability of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Fish should hold their own on that side of the ball. Where they’ll fall flat is on offense. In Tannehill’s age 30 season, they’ll find out he simply isn’t the guy. They’ll give him one more shot in 2019 when cutting him would result in about $13 million in dead money, before cutting ties in 2020 when the dead money becomes more palatable.
- Josh McDaniels will find ways to incorporate Cordarelle Patterson into the offense in ways that will make people remember a healthy Percy Harvin. Think bubble screens, and Jet sweeps. Wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up with 60ish catches for 700ish yards along with another couple hundred on the ground.
- Todd Bowles leads the Jets to the promised land, and by promised land, I mean the playoffs. Darnold low key has some decent weapons on offense, while the defense will be lead by a very strong secondary. Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Jamal Adams, and Marcus Maye will gel into one of the more formidable position groups in the AFC.
- After announcing his presence with semi-authority last year in Baltimore, Alex Collins will regress. With Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon as the competition, I expect he’ll hang onto the job, but the Ravens will be very, very pedestrian on the ground.
- Last year’s first round pick, the raw but speedy John Ross has had a year to grow, Tyler Eifert is returning from an injury plagued campaign, but it’ll be 3rd year pro Tyler Boyd who emerges as the compliment to AJ Green that Andy Dalton (bless his missing ginger soul) has been looking for since Marvin Jones & Mohamed Sanu left the Queen City in search of greener bank accounts.
- In Cleveland I expect progress, though not nearly as much as some predict. They’ve added some jewels for sure. Garrett looks like a stud. Landry brings some consistency, hopefully Gordon can provide the glitz and glamour. Tyrod Taylor will be a solid veteran quarterback. Ultimately though I don’t think the development will come fast enough for some. Hue Jackson doesn’t finish the season as coach. The season will end with Baker Mayfield under center, and Todd Haley as the interim skipper.
- The talk in Pittsburgh is all about the cloudy backfield picture. Will Le’Veon Bell show up? If so, when? Will he be ready when he does (he will)? How good will Conner look? Can he be a workhorse? The local fans are well aware of Conner as he was a University of Pittsburgh product. They’re also aware of his medical history. The real story as the season progresses though will be the emergence of Jaylen Samuels, the swiss army knife back out of N.C. State. Think Keith Byers or Charles Clay. He’ll initially find snaps as a receiving back out of the backfield before he becomes the long term answer to who replaces Heath Miller.
- There are a lot of expectations in Houston with the return to health of Deshaun Watson. I love the addition of Tyrann Mathieu to the secondary, he just doesn’t give a duck. But with expectations, come pressure. I think Watson plays well, but not up to the hype. On top of that, I think the ravages of injury catch up with superhuman JJ Watt who will not come back as the JJ Watt everyone remembers. The Texans will show flashes, but overall will fail to make the playoffs, which will lead to this being coach O’Brien’s last season on the gulf coast.
- The Colts offense will be exponentially better in 2018 than it has been the last 2 years. All the praise will go to the return of Andrew Luck, and for sure that is a large contributing factor, but Marlon Mack will emerge as a feature back running through the gigantic holes that will be paved by former first rounder Ryan Kelly at center, and Quenton Nelson at left guard. Nelson’s impact on the line will be reminiscent of the Rams adding Orlando Pace.
- With Allen Robinson in Chicago, Mercedes Lewis in Green Bay, and Marqise Lee on the sidelines the Jaguars offense will have an altered look. (I know Robinson was essentially gone all of last year, but inputting Donte Moncrief into that spot wasn’t exactly a dramatic upgrade). Offensive coordinator will have the option of utilizing the skills of Blake Bortles or placing his fate in Leonard Fournette’s hands. The belief here is that the second year running back will go from a rookie of the year contender to challenging for the MVP. Between his skill and usage rate, this could be a big year for the former LSU Tiger.
- Most expect the AFC south to get 2 playoff spots, and they’ll be right. Only that second squad won’t be the current Houston team, it’ll be the former one. Marcus Mariota will have the offense performing respectably enough. The real improvement will be on the defensive side of the ball. While Malcolm Butler’s 2017 season was not nearly as good as his 2016 performance, he’ll be added to a secondary where Logan Ryan will have more comfort, and Kenny Vaccaro will be looking to prove he shouldn’t have been on the free agent clearance rack. The injection of youth in the front seven, highlighted by Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry will also help new coach Mike Vrabel leave a mark.
- DeMarcus Ware is retired. Aqib Talib is in Los Angeles with Wade Phillips. This should turn out to be an excellent draft haul for John Elway with Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, and Royce Freeman all poised to have big roles. But I believe they’ll come to the conclusion that these aren’t bridge players, but rather are future foundation players. Some veterans could be jettisoned by the trade deadline, including Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders.
- Anyone else remember the MLB ads during the late 90’s “Chics dig the long ball”? Well if you don’t, let me introduce your 2018 Kansas City Chiefs. Following an era of quietly efficient offense led by Alex Smith, Andy Reid is turning the reigns over the 2017 first round draft pick Patrick Mahomes. The result will be some spectacular plays. You can expect to see Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill haul in some absolute bombs. I also think you’ll see lots of 3 and outs. Overall the total points scored may not be that different from last season. Last year they averaged a shade under 26 points a game, 3rd in the AFC. But I think you’ll see a lot more variance. More games where they’re coming in around 10-13 points. Additionally, the 3 and outs will not help an aging defense. I see the Chiefs taking a step back this year.
- The step backs by the Broncos and Chiefs are to the benefit of the Chargers. Philip Rivers has to know he only has a couple more chances left to make his mark. The Bosa/Ingram duo up front makes a mediocre secondary look decent. The strength of the team though will be the offense. River’s doesn’t have a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, but the group including Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, and security blanket Antonio Gates isn’t anything to sneeze at. The Chargers should secure a playoff berth, where anything can then happen.
- Oakland is torn between being excited about the return of prodigal son Jon Gruden, and pissed off that the silver and black is getting ready to pack their bags and head to Vegas (VEGAS!). On the field, the immediate outlook isn’t great. Derek Carr has proven to be an NFL starting quarterback for sure, but the defense without stud Khalil Mack has more holes in it than Sony Corleone after trying to go through that toll booth. The bright spot will be the emergence of Amari Cooper into the upper echelon of wide receivers, but that will be dampened by the failure of Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin to provide a ground game. They’ll be wishing UDFA Chris Warren III hadn’t been place on IR.
- If you watched the Thursday night game, or the Superbowl you’ll notice that the announcers talked about the Eagles and the RPO (Run-Pass Option) no less than 4,232,847 times… per game. Well Scott Linehan is about to break out that RRO (Run-Run Option) because the Cowboys have the double edged sword of having a QB who is just an adequate thrower (he’s a great leader, and can run their “offense” but Prescott is easily in the bottom handful of actual throwers in the league) and no one to throw the ball too. If you’ve watched Georgia Tech play football you’ll be able to picture what this will look like.
- The knock on the New York Football Giants the last few years has been their atrocious offensive line play. I’m here to tell you they’re about to turn the corner in that regard. It may take a bit to generate the needed chemistry, as it often does with offensive line play, but when the second half of the season rolls around, they’ll be hitting on all cylinders. The credit will go to Saquon Barkley, and he’ll deserve a boatload of it. The real key though will be the addition of Nate Solder at left tackle, allowing the team to upgrade at right tackle by moving Ereck Flowers there, coupled with the drafting of Will Hernandez, whose is a mauler, in the second round. Given time to stand up, even Eli can’t screw up throwing the rock to Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. The Giants will lead the league in scoring.
- In all fairness, the Eagles have already played a game, so this isn’t so much a peak into the future as much as an evaluation of what I saw. Nick Foles isn’t as bad as he looked Thursday (and he looked better in the 2nd half when they actually established a running game), but isn’t as good as he looked in his playoff run. The truth lies somewhere in between. He is what he is, as a back up, he is towards the top of the back up quarterback rankings. As a starter, he is towards the bottom half of starters. Luckily, he’s only needed until Carson Wentz is back. On defense, the team got a little deeper with the addition of Haloti Ngata, and Michael Bennett, but they also got a little older. The development of Derek Barnett, and Sydney Jones IV should help, but I expect by the end of the year they’ll be disappointed by how much they got out of Bennett, and pleasantly surprised by how much Ngata had in the tank.
- The move that could save Jay Gruden’s job. The Redskins seem destined for a 3rd place finish in the NFC East. That speaks more to the quality of the division than the level of play you’ll see out of Washington this season. Alex Smith will be an upgrade over Kirk Cousins. Maybe not to fantasy owners as Cousins tended to put up some hollow numbers, but as far as on the field production, Alex Smith will outshine Cousins. The primary beneficiary of Smith’s arrival should be Jamison Crowder. If healthy, Jordan Reed could have a monster season. And if I looked like Ashton Kutcher I may be dating Mila Kunis, roughly the same odds. In the end this could be a year that sees Crowder haul in 100+ balls, and break the 1,000 yard plateau.
- Soldier Field is full of optimism this year. A young linebacker corps that looks like it could be devastating. Solid talent on the D-Line, along with nice young pieces like Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller in the secondary. If Mitch (I refuse to call him Mitchell) Trubisky can develop beyond the care taker he was last year, the Bears could have something. I think the addition of Matt Nagy will result in Tarik Cohen looking a lot like Alvin Kamara did last year. Electric with the ball in his hands, I think you’ll see a little less of Jordan Howard, and more of Cohen (not that Howard will be dismissed, just having a slightly lessened impact).
- Detroit is a mess on offense. Good wide receivers in Jones, Tate, and Golladay. A decent, but not good tight end in Luke Willson. And a collection of also ran running backs. Kerryon Johnson COULD emerge, based upon his 2nd round pedigree. The end result though will be a lot of Matt Stafford between the 20’s. Once in the redzone, it’ll be LeGarrette Blount. Blount could very well end up with over 10 touchdowns, while coming in under 600 yards on the ground. This year begins the re-build of the offense, but 2019 the only men standing could be Matt Stafford, and Kenny Golladay.
- No defensive grouping in the league was helped more in the draft than the Packer’s secondary. They’ll be eased in thanks to the presence of vets like Tramon Williams and Devon House, but 2018 draft picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are absolute ball hawks. Add 2017 2nd round pick Kevin King to the equation and what has long been an achilles heal for the cheeseheads should become a great strength. The trickle down from having a strengthened back end will be tangible, Clay Matthews will look more like a III than a Jr.
- Its a given that the strength of the Vikings is their defense. What is assumed is that after spending two boatloads of guaranteed cash on Kirk Cousins that the offense will emerge to compliment the defense. I’m here to say that it won’t. The passing game under Cousins will actually regress. Luckily Dalvin Cook is back from injury and they’ll be able to put the ball in his capable hands. 2018 should be a replay of 2017 for the Vikings. A very good team, just not good enough.
- Like the Eagles notes, this is a bit of a cheat as we’ve already seen the Falcons. That being said, lets get into it. There is something physically wrong with Matt Ryan. Aside from the god awful red zone play calling. His passes lacked zip, and he looked labored throwing the ball. It reminded me of Peyton Manning in his last season, where he was replaced by Brock Oswieler. Now Matt Ryan is too young to have that kind of physical regression, which leads me to believe that we’ll find out by week 4 or 5 that he is injured, and we’ll see Matt Schaub the rest of the way. I also believe, that this is a season that you’ll see the work load balance shift from mostly Freeman with a healthy dose of Coleman, to by the end of the year, it’ll be mostly Coleman with a healthy dose of Freeman. That is partially because I think they’ll be looking for that home run play more from Coleman with Ryan out than they normally would.
- The Panthers are what they are. An offense that goes as Cam Newton goes, and a defense led by their front seven. As long as that holds true, and as long as Riverboat Ron is in charge the Panthers will always be pretty good, but not great. That being said, you could see a little more explosion than in recent years. Christian McCaffrey is poised for a break out performance, and by years end D.J. Moore will have established himself as the true #1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin always though Cam Newton wouldn’t let him be. Additionally, Luke Kuechly will “emerge” to win the defensive MVP over more well paid peers Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.
- New Orleans is a trendy Superbowl as they’ve finally acknowledged the last few off season that there is in fact a defensive side of the football. I do think that those who believe Alvin Kamara will make a large leap in his second year will be disappointed. Maybe not in his actual abilities, but I don’t see a large leap in his usage. I think he’ll still be their big play guy, and still be incredibly productive when given the ball, but won’t turn into an every down back, even with the early season suspension of Mark Ingram. The star to really emerge this season will be in their secondary as 2nd year corner Marshon Lattimore will make a leap into the upper echelon of corners in the league.
- Jameis Winston probably felt he was ready to make a big leap this year. Well, me too. Unfortunately it’ll be delayed until he returns from suspension. The running game will be adequate. Peyton Barber may very well fend off Ronald Jones II for the main gig in the backfield. The real improvement though will come on the defensive side where the front seven was drastically improved in the offseason. Jason Pierre Paul, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen arriving from the NFC East, along with the drafting of Vita Vea to relieve from pressure from Gerald McCoy will work wonders. Unfortunately in this division, it won’t be enough.
- The Cardinals will be in a real dog fight all season.. with Buffalo for who gets the #1 pick in 2019. You’ll see the redbirds try and make a go of it with Larry Fitzgerald and Sam Bradford propping up an offense led by David Johnson. By the end of the season though we’ll be catching a glimpse of the future as the reigns are handed off to Josh Rosen and Christian Kirk, both of whom will flash in November/December enough to have Zona fans thinking of a 2019 worst to first bounce back.
- San Fran caught a tough break with prized free agent acquisition Jerrick McKinnon going down in the pre-season. They’ll still have some reason for optimism as the offensive line was solidified with the first round selection of Mike McGlinchey, coupled with the addition of Weston Richburg. That solidification, hand in hand with Kyle Shanahan’s skills as offensive coordinator will lead us to the revival of Alfred Morris. It’ll likely be a short lived, one season revival, as is the nature of life as a running back in the NFL, but Morris should emerge to top the 1,000 mark, and have more than his share of touchdowns. And oh, yeah, that Jimmy G kid will show that he’s the real deal. He’s poised to spend the next 10 years making New England fans think “what if”.
- Welcome to Pete Carroll’s swan song. The offense has long just gotten by thanks to the defense. Well, the legion of boom is no more. Earl Thomas is the last man standing, and he’s hitting the road just as soon as he can. Russell Wilson has emerged beyond the game manager roll he once had, and is now legitimately in the top handful of quarterbacks in the league, but is really devoid of any accompanying talent. This will be a long season in Seattle, and I don’t see Carroll surviving black Monday.
- And where once stood the mighty Seahawks at the top of the mountain, now stand the Rams. Man oh man do they have a collection of talent on defense. Starting with Wade Phillips the man calling the plays. A very mediocre head coach, Phillips is an outstanding defensive play caller. I think Robert Quinn’s presence on the outside will be missed, but it’ll be off-set by the ball skills of Talib and Peters. Aaron Donald is getting paid, so he should be happy, while also having an easier go of it with Ndamukong Suh paired next to him. On offense they lost Watkins while adding Brandin Cooks. Add in the development of Cooper Kupp, and Jared Goff, and the offense should be improved, plus its always nice for the offense to start around mid-field every possession. The big question mark is can all these personalities co-exist? Because for every major talent the Rams have added, they’ve also added a big personality. Sean McVay has his work cut out for him, but the bet here is that he makes it work.
2018 OFFENSIVE MVP: Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
2018 DEFENSIVE MVP: Luke Kuechly – Carolina Panthers
2018 OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
2018 DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Josh Jackson – Green Bay Packers
2018 NFL COACH OF THE YEAR: Sean McVay – Los Angles Rams
NFC EAST: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC NORTH: Green Bay Packers
NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints
NFC WEST: Los Angles Rams
WILD CARD: Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers
AFC EAST: New England Patriots
AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC SOUTH: Jacksonville Jaguars
AFC WEST: Los Angles Chargers
WILD CARD: Tennessee Titans, New York Jets
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Los Angeles Rams over Green Bay Packers
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: New England Patriots over Los Angles Chargers
SUPERBOWL: LOS ANGLES RAMS OVER NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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