New NFL season sure to set up exciting divisional races

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New NFL season sure to set up exciting divisional races

Jackson Bezdek, Sports Editor

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Finally, football season has arrived. After an underwhelming Super Bowl with the Patriots winning yet again, fans are eager for this season to get underway. A tremendous amount of drama occurred during the offseason, highlighted by the circus act of Anotinio Brown, holdouts of star running backs Ezekiel Elliot and Melvin Gordon and sudden retirement of Andrew Luck. Many of the questions that came up last year will hopefully be answered this year. Are the Chiefs for real? Who will come out on top in the loaded NFC? How good are the Browns actually? Is Tom Brady eternal? This season is sure to provide many awesome storylines and should end with an exciting playoff race in both conferences.

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (13-3)– The Patriots dynasty has to end at some point. Unfortunately for the NFL, they may have a better roster this year than last year, which means it won’t be this year. They will easily win their division and reach double digit wins for the ninth year in a row. They drafted well, picked up Demaryius Thomas, and still retained their very solid defense and offensive line. On paper this a very good team, and I still haven’t mentioned the greatest quarterback of all time. Tom Brady is getting up there in age, but he has proven time and time again that betting against him is a bad bet, and that he’s still a top five QB in the league. I don’t see them going less than 11-5 unless Brady or Belichik literally die during the season. Thirteen wins may be a stretch, but their road schedule is one of the easiest in the league, and they haven’t lost at home since 2017.

2. New York Jets (8-8)– Jets fans finally have a sliver of hope. Sam Darnold is undoubtedly talented, and Le’Veon Bell is still capable of being one of the leagues’ best running backs. They also have playmakers on the defensive side, highlighted by first-year Pro Bowl safety Jamaal Adams. The Jets will no doubt be a fun team to watch, and I think their season will be highlighted with a win late in the season against Pittsburgh where Bell rushes for 150 yards and two touchdowns to stick it to his former team. There is a world where the Jets go 9-7 and have a great year, but I think an eight win season in this transition for them would be a great success.

3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)– Buffalo really has nothing going for them other than their second-year QB, Josh Allen. With a below average defense and the loss of LeSean McCoy, the Bills have yet another rebuilding year ahead of them. They could possibly steal a couple of wins in New York or Miami, but I couldn’t see them winning more than five games, six at the very most.

4. Miami Dolphins (2-14)– Miami could very well be the worst team in the league, along with the Arizona Cardinals. They have no elite weapons on either side of the ball, and have a lose-lose quarterback controversy between Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can be fun for a few weeks but won’t win you any games, and Josh Rosen, a top 10 draft pick who got traded after his rookie season from one terrible team to another. They could get a couple of trap game wins early in the season against Baltimore or New England with Fitzpatrick showing off some of his “Fitzmagic”, but the likelihood of them winning more than four games is very low.

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)– Pittsburgh fans can now breath somewhat easy. All of the drama and non-football baggage is gone. Le’Veon is in New York and Antonio is in Oakland. Even with these two gone, Pittsburgh still has one of the best rosters in the league. Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner will help Ben Roethlesberger make their offense very scary, and with a good o-line and defense, the Steelers should be back on top in the North.

2. Cleveland Browns (10-6)– The Browns have been making a lot of noise since Baker Mayfield won his first game last year, leading a second half comeback against the Jets. Their future is undoubtedly bright, especially with the pickup of superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. They’re not going to go far in the playoffs this year, but I do think they have the offensive firepower to get there. Their defense is young and inexperienced, but talented. They will be a very fun and exciting regular season team with enough confidence to win some tough games. They will probably give the Steelers a scare for the divisional crown. I could see them struggling against some of the better defenses in the league, but I think they’ll be competitive in almost every game this year.

3. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)– Baltimore is coming off of a great season, winning their division with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson at the helm. However, they did this while taking advantage of a transitioning Browns team, and a Steelers team that was dealing with an absurd amount of drama within the locker room. The Ravens do not have an easy schedule highlighted with road games in Kansas City, Seattle, facing the Rams in Los Angeles, and hosting the Patriots in a Sunday night matchup. They also have to face Pittsburgh and Cleveland twice. A lot of people are high on this team because of the high potential of Lamar Jackson, but I still think he’s a year or two away from leading a team to the playoffs. He has elite athleticism, but he hasn’t shown his ability to throw the ball and read defenses at that level yet, and he also doesn’t have a ton of weapons. They also lost C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle, two anchors for their stellar defense last year, which will take a hit this year. Even with this, they, along with Cleveland, will be sure to make the AFC North race an exciting one this season.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)– The Bengals really have no future. Their defense is not good, A.J. Green’s injuries may be so bad he might retire, and Andy Dalton is on his way to becoming a below average quarterback. There really isn’t a huge bright spot on this team besides running back Joe Mixon, who isn’t quite good enough to just will his team to some victories. Their schedule could allow them to maybe squeak out five wins, but I see them facing a similar fate as the Dolphins and the Raiders.

AFC South
1. Houston Texans (10-6)– Deshaun Watson to Deandre Hopkins is one of the most fun quarterback to wide receiver combos to watch in the league. There is no question that the Texans’ offense is playoff caliber, especially after upgrading their offensive line in the offseason. However, their defense was questionable last year, which was the cause of their first round exit. They won the division last year behind the easiest strength of schedule in the league. Luckily for them, their roster got better, and their schedule did not get that much harder. If Houston takes care of business at home this year, they will win the division once again.

2. Tennessee Titans (9-7)– The Titans have been the definition of mediocrity for the past couple of seasons. They do not have a lot of superstars, but they do have some really solid players. Their defense is among the best in the league, and Derrick Henry should be primed for a breakout season. Their x-factor for a good season is easily Marcus Mariota. If he plays like a top 10 quarterback, this team could get up to 11 wins, but he won’t, which is why they will stay mediocre.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)– The Jags were one of the biggest disappointments of the 2018 season. After almost beating the Patriots two years ago in the AFC title game, we all thought they were primed to win the division for years to come. However, Blake Bortles had a bad year and the defense could not live up to the expectations put on them. Now with Nick Foles at the helm and still a pretty good defense, they will most certainly have a better season this year. Unfortunately for them, their schedule is quite difficult. They have to visit Atlanta, Denver, and Carolina, as well as play host to the Saints and Chiefs. Nick Foles could mess around and lead them to a nine win season, but I think this year being a transition one for the Jags is the right prediction, putting them in a good place for next season.

4. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)– The Colts had the most gut-wrenching offseason in the entire league. Two weeks before the season their quarterback, Andrew Luck, suddenly retired. Luck was most definitely a top 10 QB, with potential to be top 5. With his retirement happening so suddenly, the Colts are probably pretty rattled by this decision. Jacoby Brisset will now be the leader of this Colts offense. Luckily for him, the Colts have a very good roster even without Luck. Behind T.Y. Hilton, a good offensive line, and a great defense, Brisset should have no trouble leading this team to a few victories. I don’t think it’s likely that they make the playoffs, but just like the Jags, don’t be surprised if they sneak up to nine wins. For me though, Jacoby Brisset is not Andrew Luck and the Colts just won’t be as dangerous without him.

AFC West
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-3)– What more needs to be said about the Chiefs? They have the best quarterback in the league, a great receiving core, and a much improved defense. Their road schedule is not difficult, and they’re not losing a home game. They could run into some problems in Denver and in Jacksonville in week 1, but I think they’re a shoe-in for the division, even with a solid Chargers team.

2. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)– The Chargers are quietly coming off of a very good season. They were one game away from having the one seed instead of the Chiefs. Everyone was so excited about the Chiefs last year, that the Chargers just somewhat stayed under the radar and went 12-4. Their schedule is a bit harder this season, and the probable loss of Melvin Gordon will hurt them. Their defense is still very good and Phillip Rivers is an elite quarterback. They will enjoy another good season, and are pretty likely to return to the playoffs.

3. Denver Broncos (8-8)– Dever was another disappointing team last year, but that did include the breakout of now stud running back Phillip Lindsay. Their defense is getting older, but is still solid. Joe Flacco is definitely an upgrade from Case Keenum, and their o-line isn’t terrible. Their biggest problem is that they have to play the Chiefs and Chargers two tomes each and also travel to Minnesota, Green Bay and Houston. So with the upgrade of their roster and their brutal schedule, eight wins seems like a fair estimate for their season.

4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)– The Raiders are a complete disaster. The rest of the league is taking them as a complete joke, which they are. Antonio Brown is a very talented wide receiver, but he is also a very big clown. Derek Carr is an average quarterback, and their defense just isn’t good. They will be lucky to get to five wins, but it’s not impossible if Brown and Carr develop a good chemistry. I just don’t see that happening.

NFC East
1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)– I think the Eagles are one of the better teams in the league, especially with a healthy Carson Wentz. There are really no big weaknesses on this team. They don’t have a ton of pro bowl skill players, but they are really solid at every position on the field. Their schedule is not tough, and I think they can easily get to 11 wins if Wentz plays at the high level we’ve seen him play at before.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)– The Cowboys have a solid roster, but their schedule is tough. Also, Dak Prescott is not worth $40 million, and that should not be a conversation their front office has. However, I think they need Ezekiel Elliot back if they want to make some noise in the playoffs. Without Zeke, I think they’re just an above average team with a tough schedule, especially with road games against New Orleans, Chicago, and New England. I know a lot of people are high on them this year, but I don’t know where in their schedule you can find more than 10 wins. Maybe, with Zeke back, they can make a run at Philadelphia for the division, but I don’t see that happening.

3. Washington Redskins (5-11)– The Redskins are in a similar situation as the Dolphins: a quarterback controversy that involves two not good quarterbacks. Case Keenum was fun for that year on the Vikings, but was extremely disappointing in Denver last year. Dwayne Haskins may one day be a good NFL quarterback, but he’s not ready yet. Unlike the Dolphins, the Redskins have some players on the other side of the ball, and it’s not unrealistic that they could win six games. But they could also face a similar fate as their division rivals in New York.

4. New York Giants (4-12)– The Giants are going to be bad… again. Saquon Barkley may win MVP, but other than him, I don’t see how a Giants fan can get excited about this team this season. Barkley could absolutely take over some games, and the G-Men finish with a six win season, but I don’t think their defense is good enough to sustain that. I also don’t think it matters if they go with Eli Manning or Daniel Jones, because neither of them are good enough to make their team good.

NFC North
1. Chicago Bears (11-5)– The Bears are coming off of a surprisingly good season. Their ingredients for a successful season last year will be the same for this season. Mitch Trubisky just needs to be a slightly above average quarterback, and the defense needs to continue to play at a high level. These are some pretty high demands, but I think this team is capable of it. They are extra motivated after their upset loss against the Eagles in the playoffs last season, and don’t have a hard enough schedule to where they would take a step back. Trubisky could take a step back to where they don’t win their division, but he could also take a huge step forward to another 12 win season. I think they are plenty talented to win 11 games, but facing Minnesota and Green Bay two times each will take a toll on them, and make for hopefully the most exciting and fun to watch divisional race in the league.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)– A lot of people are underrating the Vikings because of their tough season last year, but I think they are extremely talented all over the field. Kirk Cousins may not be a star, but he is a good quarterback, and definitely capable of taking a team with both Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs to the playoffs. Their defense is also filled with playmakers, with linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes leading the way. They will struggle in their divisional games, but don’t have many tough road games outside of that.

3. Green Bay Packers (9-7)– The Packers were another disappointing team last year, that was capped off with another Aaron Rodgers injury in their last game. Rodgers is back and healthy, but I don’t think he can lead this team to the playoffs, especially in this division. I think the NFC North is the hardest division in the league, and that is what will keep the Packers away from the playoffs. The Rodgers to Davante Adams connection will no doubt cause some problems for defenses, but I don’t think their own defense is going to stop anybody either. Rodgers could possibly guide this team to double digit wins, but this would require him to really take a leadership position on this squad, something he failed to do last year.

4. Detroit Lions (4-12)– The Lions are going to be disappointing once again. Matthew Stafford, while a talented quarterback, wasn’t able to take his team to playoff victories with a solid roser around him, so why would he be able to with a below average roster? They play in the toughest division in the league, and also have to play in Philadelphia and Denver. I can’t see Detroit winning more than 6 games based off of having no real stars on the team other than cornerback Darius Slay, possibly the only bright spot on this team.

NFC South
1. New Orleans Saints (12-4)– New Orleans Saints organization and fans, I have some advice for you.  Stop complaining about last year! It was a blown call, no question about it, but you also choked the game away in overtime. And after all of this backlash, you still have one of the best teams in the league. Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Kamara will be unstoppable, and the defense is good enough to hold its own against good teams. Other than a few tough road games in LA and Chicago, the Saints should be near the top of the NFC once again. If they let last year affect them, then they could be in danger of missing the playoffs. If Brees plays at the caliber he did last year like I think he will, then 12 wins shouldn’t be a problem for them with the weapons they have.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)– Atlanta was also disappointing last year. Matt Ryan seemed to forget to be good when he wasn’t playing indoors. The Falcons have plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball, including one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones. I think that Ryan will have a better year than he did last year and Devonte Freeman will play like the top 10 back he is capable of being. They do have a tough road schedule, but I think that they are too confident playing at home to lose any home games. If the Falcons don’t get the home-field version of Matt Ryan for at least three road games, then they could be in danger of another mediocre season. But I think Matty-Ice is going to play like a top 10 QB this year, and their defense will feed off the success of their offense.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-9)– Carolina has been in a rut. I really can’t see them getting out of this subpar trap that they’re in. Cam Newton is no longer an elite quarterback after all of his injuries, and their defense is getting old. However, Christian McCaffrey is really good at football and will win them a couple of games they’re probably not supposed to. Receiver D.J. Moore has also shown promise, but their roster just isn’t that good anymore. Even with their schedule not being too bad, they’re not winning more than nine games, and could maybe even drop to six wins.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)– Jameis Winston is a good quarterback. Mike Evans is a really good receiver, and their front seven is not bad. Yet, I can’t find more than seven wins on their schedule. I do think they can get to five wins easily if Jameis plays like the talented QB everyone wants him to be, but this roster is just not ready to compete in this division.

NFC West
1. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)– The Rams are coming off of a Super Bowl loss against the greatest dynasty of all time, the New England Patriots. This was a very talented team last year, but their offense lacked experience. Jared Goff will be good once again this year, and with the receiving core of Robert Woods, Brandon Cooks, and Cooper Kupp, he should have pretty good odds to win MVP this year. Their defense will be pretty solid once again, but their schedule is a bit tough. There is a chance they could drop to 11 wins, but I think they’re too talented all around to lose more than 4 games. Nobody really knows what’s wrong with Todd Gurley, but it’s probably safe to say he won’t be as great as he was last year. Even with Gurley taking a step back, this is still one of the best rosters in the league.

2. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)– In the past, Seattle has only gone as far as Russell Wilson could take them. Fortunately for them, that has resulted in a lot of playoff success over the years. Yet, I think this success has run out on them. They will still be a decent team because Wilson is a top seven, maybe top 5 QB in this league, but he’s all they’ve got now. Their defense keeps losing talent left and right, especially with the departure of Kam Chancellor. Not only did they lose Kam, but they lost Wilson’s best and most reliable target, Doug Baldwin, to another sudden retirement. I still like this team because they are still tough to beat at home, and they still have Russell Wilson behind center. Don’t expect them to be any better than possibly 10 wins, but also not much worse than seven.

3. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)– San Francisco is another team a lot of people are excited for. I really don’t know what to think of this team. Jimmy Garropolo could lead this team to double digit victories, or he could not be very good and win five games. I know this is a very broad way of looking at this, but nobody knows if this squad is good or not. A lot of people want them to be because a lot of people really like Jimmy G as a QB. I don’t think this team has the offensive weapons or the firepower on defense to compete in this division, but I do think they will be competitive in a lot of games, just not talented enough to win all of them. They also don’t have the most favorable schedule, having to travel to face Baltimore and New Orleans, and play the Seahawks and Rams twice each.

4. Arizona Cardinals (2-14)– The Cardinals were abysmal last year and you should expect them to be terrible this year, too. Do not get caught up in the Kyler Murray/Kliff Kingsbury hype train. Kingsbury was a .500 coach at Texas Tech, who couldn’t win more than six games with Patrick Mahomes and he is now expected to lead this Cardinals team to a six or seven win season? Not happening. And while Kyler is super fun to watch, he needs a year to get his feet wet and acclimated to the NFL. This team will not be good. Maybe running back David Johnson wills them to four wins, but don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this team.

Playoff Predictions
AFC Wild Card- Steelers (3) defeat Chargers (6), Texans (4) defeat Browns (5)
AFC Divisional- Patriots (1) defeat Texans (4), Chiefs (2) defeat Steelers (3)
AFC Championship- Chiefs (2) defeat Patriots (1)
NFC Wild Card- Saints (3) defeat Falcons (6), Bears (4) defeat Vikings (5)
NFC Divisional- Rams (1) defeat Bears (4), Eagles (2) defeat Saints (3)
NFC Championship- Eagles (2) defeat Rams (1)
Super Bowl- Chiefs defeat Eagles
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
Finally, Andy Reid gets a Super Bowl, and who else better to do it against than his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles. I think Mahomes is just too talented and confident to not at least make it to the Super Bowl after he should’ve made it last year. He will outduel Wentz, who will also play well, in a super fun game to watch. But at the end of the day, Mahomes to Tyreke Hill is way better to have than Wentz to Alshon Jefferey, and Kansas City finally gets their first Super Bowl ring in 50 years.