Week 1 is in the bag and the anticipation for this NFL season is boiling over across the country. The best thing about an underdog winning the Super Bowl last February is that everyone has a different opinion on who’s taking the Lombardi Trophy this year. With football already underway, there’s no time to waste as I throw my two cents out there. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the 2018 NFL season.
- New England Patriots (#1 seed)
- Miami Dolphins
- Buffalo Bills
- New York Jets
This is the easiest division winner out of all of them. The Patriots have only missed out on the AFC East crown once since 2003, and they have made seven straight AFC Championship Game appearances. I have no reason to expect anything different from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this year.
Elsewhere, no one is taking any steps to threaten New England’s reign. The Dolphins are the same old average 8-8 team, the Bills traded away not one but two starting quarterbacks (the one they went with barely got past halftime before getting pulled), and the Jets are going to run Sam Darnold into the ground by starting him way too early. With that, I see the Patriots getting close to another perfect season, but ultimately getting upset a couple times to finish a league-best 14-2.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (#2 Seed)
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cleveland Browns
- Cincinnati Bengals
Another easy choice for me is seeing Pittsburgh three-peat as AFC North champions. As the rest of the division apart from Cleveland failed to make any improvements, the Steelers just need to take care of business against their rivals in order to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs.
I’m sure the Ravens will have a similarly tough defense as in years past, even without names like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in the secondary. I see them making a push for the postseason, but when you play as physical as Baltimore, you’re prone to some injuries and emotional loses. So, I have them falling just one game short of the Wild Card Round.
The Bengals are about the same as last year as well, with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Joe Mixon forming their offensive trio. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee any success a long as Marvin Lewis is still at the helm allowing his team to be among the most undisciplined in the NFL.
I’m believing in the Browns this year. Now I’m not saying they’ll make the playoffs or even hit .500, but I’ve got them at six or seven wins to officially mark the turnaround of the franchise. I love their new-look offense behind Todd Haley, and their defense has been top-15 in the NFL in years past, even with a 1-32 record. Don’t get too excited, but here comes Cleveland.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (#4 seed)
- Indianapolis Colts
- Houston Texans
- Tennessee Titans
There is a lot of parity in the AFC South which makes for a lot of meaningful Sundays throughout the regular season. I’ve gone with the defending Division Champions again, if only by means of a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Jags’ defense aims to be as stout as last year, and even with a young offense, some fearless attacks can pay dividends.
Just behind the Jaguars I have the Colts and the Texans with returning quarterbacks. The Texans have one of the most imposing defenses in the NFL, but I’ve put them in third for fear of a sophomore slump from Deshaun Watson. I hope not, but I see another Robert Griffin III situation where he has had a tremendous rookie season, but an ACL tear last year could derail this season and hurt his confidence for the remainder of his career. Worse, it’s now his second torn ACL in the last three years, so durability could be an issue anyway.
With that, even with Andrew Luck also recovering from injury for Indianapolis, I trust his veteran leadership and knowledge to dissect Houston in big games and come close to a Wild Card spot in January. I was a believer in the Titans last year and they put up a strong showing in the playoffs, but I’m just not excited about anyone on that roster anymore. Especially with the luxury of knowing about a few injuries yesterday, I’m a little more comfortable pegging them at 6-10 and a tough-luck last place this year.
- Los Angeles Chargers (#3 seed)
- Kansas City Chiefs (#5 seed)
- Oakland Raiders (#6 seed)
- Denver Broncos
The Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009, and this year they have as good a chance as ever. Even with stiff competition across the division, the Chargers look strong with a veteran quarterback, an extremely athletic running back, and an underrated but talented receiving core. Furthermore, a physical defensive line and quick set of defensive backs gets me excited to see L.A. play.
With the Broncos unable to address any of their offseason concerns, it’s pretty easy for me to put them towards the bottom of the entire AFC, even with a competitive defense. The issue is that the Chiefs and Raiders can flat-out score. Derek Carr has a cannon, and he’s a hard guy to bring down when he’s healthy. Without Michael Crabtree the offense could struggle at first, but they’re definitely in the playoff picture towards the season’s end.
I’m really not a fan of Patrick Mahomes yet. Longtime readers may recall my displeasure with the trade for the Texas Tech product when a much more talented Deshaun Watson was still on the board. However, he has every weapon he could ask for with Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill surrounding him. Even if he falls short as a leader of this group, a hungry defense should always keep Kansas City in tight ball games. With that, and a hostile crowd in Arrowhead Stadium, it’s just enough for the Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs again.
- New York Giants (#3 seed)
- Philadelphia Eagles (#5 seed)
- Washington Redskins
- Dallas Cowboys
My bold prediction of the year: The Giants go from worst to first in the NFC East. Riddled by injuries last year, the Giants managed just three wins and were rewarded with a gifted Saquon Barkley. Not only is he a perfect fit in the Giants’ system, he takes some pressure away from franchise quarterback Eli Manning. Now with a fully-healthy receiving core and an consistent above-average defense, I am undeterred by an opening week loss to the Jaguars. The Giants win the NFC East. You heard it here first.
Of course, the defending World Champions get the short side of the stick with that prediction, but I see them having another strong season and drawing a relatively favorable matchup on the road in the Wild Card Round. I’m rarely a fan of repeat champions, especially when a team wins their first title like the Eagles did. A lack of hunger and drive, in addition to some injuries before the season has even started, results in a small step back for the time being.
Besides the fact that the Redskins can’t catch a break with the injury bug, I think Alex Smith can reel in a couple more W’s for the District. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson are a strong duo that compliment each other, and Smith spreads the field very well. If the defense is half as strong as it was last year, the ‘Skins should be heading in the right direction.
The Cowboys won’t be terrible this year, but after winning the NFC Conference regular-season title two years ago, Dallas was quickly ousted by the Packers after a disappointing 9-7 season. Granted, now that the off-the-field issues are out of the way, the Cowboys could do better without distractions, but again, I see a lack of hunger that results in a sub .500 campaign.
- Minnesota Vikings (#1 seed)
- Green Bay Packers
- Chicago Bears
- Detroit Lions
I’m a huge fan of the Vikings this year. They filled a huge hole with a stable contract of Kirk Cousins behind the center, and the athletic Dalvin Cook returns to provide more depth in the backfield. So, what was already a high-powered offense just became even more lethal. Not to mention, the duo of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith lead a highly-touted Minnesota defense. It’s another tough division, but I have the Vikings on top by two or three games.
It’s tough for me to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers out of the playoffs for the second straight year, but only six teams can make it from the NFC. I don’t have any complaints apart from their unproven secondary, but even that isn’t a hurdle Rodgers can’t match touchdown-for-touchdown. I guess it comes down to how much one man can do for a city.
I LOVE the Bears this year, but there is just one problem: Mitchell Trubisky. Again, you may recall my disdain for this pick in 2017, and I stand by it. Their defense is among the toughest (and most disciplined) in the NFL by tradition, and the offense is reloaded around their “future” quarterback. It’s just too bad that Trubisky hasn’t won a truly meaningful game in his life since high school. Sunday night proved it, as he watched Chicago blow a 20-0 lead and failed twice in his two-minute drill to simply get a field goal. Trubisky is a liability and until he is out as the Bears QB, they will not win big games.
- Atlanta Falcons (#4 seed)
- New Orleans Saints (#6 seed)
- Carolina Panthers
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is another hard division for me to predict, not only because the top three teams are so evenly matched (Sorry Tampa Bay, after last year you’re dead to me), but because they have each taken three of the last nine division titles, often as a preseason underdog pick.
I’ve decided to go back to the well with the Falcons. Their lethal offense is well documented, and their athletic corners should hang with other elite receivers in the NFC South. The Saints will give them the most competition, as Brees is sure to be among the League’s best in passing yards again. That leaves the Panthers who are again a huge question mark. Are they more like the NFC Champions from 2016, or the massive disappointment of 2017? I presume the latter.
- Los Angeles Rams (#2 seed)
- Seattle Seahawks
- San Francisco 49ers
- Arizona Cardinals
We end in the NFC West where the youthful Rams have come out of nowhere to take a stranglehold on the division. Jared Goff isn’t anything special, but he is smart. His talented receivers are incredibly hard to stop due to their height and soft hands. Aaron Donald scored a huge contract on the defensive line and he looks to prove that he’s worth it, while Todd Gurley continues to dominate the run game. Look forward to another great year for L.A.
The Seahawks are another tough team to leave out, but they’ve lost some pieces in their secondary, Russell Wilson’s receivers are already banged up, and their are still question marks in their backfield. That’s not a recipe for success in Seattle. The 49ers are going to be much different with Jimmy Garoppolo behind the center, but they can only turn so much around. The problems are that the defense is still sketchy, the receivers are good when they want to be, but I can’t rely on them week in and week out, they lost Carlos Hyde, and an injury to Jerrick McKinnon has them on the off foot to start the season, too. It won’t be a total loss, but the rebuild will take more than just one season.
AFC Wild Card
(6) Oakland Raiders at (3) Los Angeles Chargers – Both teams can move the ball well, but L.A.’s defense is significantly better. Chargers advance 35-24.
(5) Kansas City Chiefs at (4) Jacksonville Jaguars – Complete opposite from above. I don’t trust either quarterback, but both defenses are going to make this one a slugfest. Jaguars survive 16-14.
NFC Wild Card
(6) New Orleans Saints at (3) New York Giants – Assuming they are healthy at this point, the Giants can handle the Saints’ attack, and put up points of their own, but New Orleans is just too good down the stretch. Saints march on, 31-24.
(5) Philadelphia Eagles at (4) Atlanta Falcons – Easily the most anticipated matchup of the first round, a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional clash that saw Philadelphia move towards Minnesota. Falcons are hungrier, win 27-17.
AFC Divisional Round
(3) Los Angeles Chargers at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers – These teams will meet in 13 in what what should be an exciting preview of this one. They match up well together, but Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have the experience to move on. Steelers coast 34-20.
(4) Jacksonville Jaguars at (1) New England Patriots – Another thrilling rematch that saw David nearly take down Goliath. in the AFC Championship last year. Patriots should be ready again. Goliath triumphs 21-10.
NFC Divisional Round
(6) New Orleans Saints at (2) Los Angeles Rams – In what is sure to be a classic in the Rose Bowl Coliseum, the game will be decided by Drew Brees’ arm against the Rams’ pass rush. Rams escape 30-28.
(4) Atlanta Falcons at (1) Minnesota Vikings – Two mighty offenses meet in Minnesota for an exciting battle of the League’s best. The difference is the Vikings equally elite defense. Vikings win the shootout 42-38.
AFC Championship Game – (2) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) New England Patriots – It’s the classic meeting between big brother and little brother once again. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, this one again goes to big brother. Patriots move on 24-17.
NFC Championship Game – (2) Los Angeles Rams at (1) Minnesota Vikings – It might not work out this way, but since I seeded my teams based on how good I thought think they are, it makes sense to have a lot of chalk in the playoffs. So don’t be surprised that the Vikings win 28-21.
Super Bowl LIII Prediction: Vikings beat Patriots 35-24.