Sal's Crystal Ball: 2018 NFL Predictions

September 06, 2018 - 12:35 am
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OTAs, minicamps, rookie minicamps, mandatory minicamps, and training camps.  They’re all done.  It’s finally time to play football.  For real.  And, as tradition, because everyone just has to do it, and because you love making fun of my yearly predictions, here they are in all their glory.  Division winners, wild card teams, Super Bowl LIII, and all the award winners.  Feel free to laugh, cry, praise, or question.  But praising is always mostly encouraged:

AFC East - Patriots

As long as Tom Brady is playing and Bill Belichick is coaching how can anyone not pick the Patriots to win the East, until they give us a reason not to?  OK, who am I fooling?  As long s Brady is under center is really all that matters here.  I do think the Pats will take a step back.  They’ve downgraded at wide receiver and offensive line and the defense wasn’t very consistent last year.  But the rest of the division is just too void of talent on each roster to make a serious push.  The Bills and Jets will both be “in the hunt” in December, and you never know where that can lead.  For the Bills, that got them into the playoffs last year.  I think the Dolphins are going to be one of the worst teams in the league.  They are really dependent on Ryan Tannehill at QB for a lot of what they’ll be doing, and that’s a pretty shaky proposition.

AFC North - Bengals

I know it was only preseason, but I really loved what I saw from the Bengals and what’s on their roster when they came to Orchard Park in August.  They have a boatload of talent at the offensive skill positions and also on the defensive line.  If their offensive line can hold up and keep that running game moving, they will be a hard out in this division.  The Steelers still have issues on defense, especially in the back seven.  RB Le’Veon Bell will play, but indications are he’s going to want to limit his own use so he can stay healthy for a big payday next offseason.  And when will he even report?  How many games will he miss?  The Ravens upgraded at wide receiver, but who knows what they’ll get from QB Joe Flacco?  The Browns will be better and certainly win some games.  Maybe even creep towards .500.  But they’re still at least a year away from threatening for the postseason.

AFC South - Jaguars

This might be the toughest division to predict 1-4.  So I’ll stay with the defending champs, but a little reluctantly.  Blake Bortles is still the Jaguars QB and that’s a guaranteed roller coaster ride.  But luckily for head coach Doug Marrone, they have incredible defensive talent and should be able to run the ball well enough to not force him to have to win games.  A huge swing of success or lack thereof for the Texans this season boils down to one person and his health - QB DeShaun Watson.  The Titans are a tough team to figure out.  A lot will depend on if QB Marcus Mariota takes the next step or not.  The organization doesn’t seem to think he’s come along as well as they had hoped by now.  But the Titans have talent.  Can Mike Vrabel make it all work in his first season?  A lot to ask a rookie head coach.  Quarterback Andrew Luck returning is great for both the Colts and NFL, and that will improve their chances, but not enough to get to the playoffs.  Indy still has plenty of other holes on their roster.  

AFC West - Chiefs

So much talent in Kansas City.  The Chiefs are loaded on offense, and they have one of the game’s best coaches in Andy Reid, at least in the regular season.  The questions with the Chiefs will be ‘can QB Patrick Mahomes be everything they think he is already and limit his mistakes?’  and ‘how will they stop other teams’ passing attacks?’  KC might win a bunch of high scoring games, but they should do plenty of winning.  The Chargers might have the best overall roster, from top to bottom, in the AFC, but they always seem to find a way to underachieve and suffer yearly key injuries, which has already happened this training camp and preseason.  QB Philip Rivers doesn’t have many years left, but he’s still playing at a high level.  The Broncos aren’t as good as they think they are.  QB Case Keenum will be an upgrade for the offense, but they still have plenty of questions on offensive line and in the running game, even though they’ll have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL.  Jon Gruden and the Raiders are in a for a rude awakening.  He’s been out of the game so long, the last time he coached was under the old CBA.  A lot of things have changed on and off the field and Gruden is still operating as if it’s 2001.  They won’t be very good.

NFC East - Eagles

So I really debated not having the Eagles win this division, because I do think they’ll suffer from a little complacency and no one is really sure when QB Carson Wentz will start or how effective he will be once he does.  So I believe they’ll take a step back.  But it shouldn’t be enough to lose out to the teams chasing them.  The Giants should be one of the most improved teams in the league after drafting RB Saquon Barkley and, maybe more importantly, changing their head coach.  But QB Eli Manning isn’t getting any younger and their defense is still a question mark.  Running and stopping the run were both issues for the Redskins last year and are again after first round running back Darrius Guise suffered a season-ending knee injury.  The vaunted Cowboys offensive line suddenly has cracks, and that’s on top of having an average at best wide receiver group.  

NFC North - Vikings

The Vikings have everything it takes to win a Super Bowl.  Offense, defense, special teams, coaching.  There’s not an area they aren’t strong.  And they go from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins at quarterback which, as well as Keenum played last year, should be an upgrade and help that passing attack even more.  I like the Lions roster….but that’s a theme every year and every year they disappoint.  Now it’s Matt Patricia’s turn to see if he can get the most out of this team and finally get to a place many thought they already should have gone.  Aaron Rodgers of course automatically and immediately makes the Packers contenders as soon as he steps on the field, but who are the skill players surrounding him and can the Packers defense ever stop the pass?  It’s been an issue for years.  The Bears traded for arguably the league’s best overall defensive players in LB Khalil Mack and that will help a pass rush that needed a severe upgrade, but QB Mitchell Trubisky needs to take a huge leap forward in his young career if this team is to contend with the other three in the division.

NFC South - Falcons

The only thing I’m pretty sure about in this division is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to finish last.  Their quarterback, Jameis Winston, is suspended the first three games of the season and there isn’t enough talent on the team to overcome that.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons, Saints, or Panthers finished in any particular order.  All have a lot to like at quarterback and as a whole on offense.  The pick here is the Falcons because they are the most stable of the bunch headed into the season.  Their defense was a lot better than most realized last year, too.  The Saints have tremendous talent but will their young studs be able to back it up again this year?  Cam Newton can be All-World but in this division and against the other QBs the Panthers will be playing his inconsistencies are magnified.

NFC West - Rams

I guess I’ll go chalk and take the same team pretty much everyone else is for this division.  But I do think the Rams might have a slower start this year after not playing some of their major starters in the preseason.  That shouldn’t be enough to knock them off their perch with all that talent head coach Sean McVay has to work with.  After the Rams I see only one team able to challenge - the 49ers, and that’s mainly because of their coach/QB combo in Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo.  The Cardinals and Seahawks will be battling for third and fourth, however you look at it.  The windows for both teams have passed and it’s time for each to start looking towards the future.

AFC Wild Cards -  Chargers, Steelers
NFC Wild Cards -  Saints, 49ers

AFC Championship - Chargers over Bengals
NFC Championship - Vikings over Falcons

Super Bowl LIII - Minnesota Vikings over Los Angeles Chargers
 

NFL MVP - Matt Ryan - QB - Falcons
Offensive Player of the Year - Aaron Rodgers - QB - Packers
Defensive Player of the Year - Khalil Mack - LB/DE - Bears
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Saquon Barkley - RB - NY Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year - Bradley Chubb - DE - Broncos
Coach of the Year - Marvin Lewis - Bengals
Comeback Player of Year - Andrew Luck - QB - Colts



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