Training Camp has started and the 2018 NFL Season is right around the corner. Hype is building for some teams and for others, dysfunction is the name of the game. So I decided to take an early look at the teams that will live up to the hype and those that will fall flat. I also am going to throw in some predictions for teams that will live somewhere in between, exceed expectations, and disappoint.
The Good: New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints.
New England Patriots (2017: 13-3, 2018: 12-4): Have you read this blog? If so, you should have no surprise that New England makes it into the top teams of the new year. I suppose I could also ask if you have watched the NFL for the past 20 years.
The Patriots are one of the usual suspects to be seen at the top each year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are looking to make another run as their window is getting smaller. Amidst all the offseason rumors and distractions, the gang in Foxborough will be back to business as usual.
Not to mention, they get to play in the worst division in football which is always a plus.
Minnesota Vikings (2017: 13-3, 2018: 12-4): The Vikings had a great season last year off the back of a great defense and a rejuvenated Case Keenum. Unfortunately, it all came to a screeching halt when the Vikings got their doors blown off by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship.
Coming into 2018, the Vikings only look stronger. Their defense is going to be a top unit in the league and the offense looks to follow suit with the addition of Kirk Cousins and the return of promising runningback Dalvin Cook. With Cousins manning the offense, this Vikings squad can be very dangerous with already proven playmakers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on the outside.
Unlike last year, the Vikings will have Aaron Rodgers to worry about again which is never easy, but Rodgers will have his own hands full trying to keep a suspect Packers team afloat. But a tough schedule could affect the Vikings chances, but they should have the talent to keep rolling.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2017: 13-3, 2018: 11-5): The Pittsburgh Steelers are always a hard team to predict because they do not play pretty football. Despite having plenty of offensive firepower, this team never finds the consistency to keep the motor running for a complete season. Yet, the Steelers still remain in the top teams each year and were one botched call away from earning the AFC’s number one seed from New England.
This year, the Steelers will still struggle with that consistency early on but they will find their stride and become a force to be reckoned with. I felt the same way last year that the Steelers are due for a Super Bowl run and I have the gut feeling again. Big Ben wants to go out with a bang, and this could be the year.
Of course, if the boys in black and yellow start looking at games too far into the future before playing week to week, they could run into trouble. Yes, just like they were looking at New England in the AFC Championship as they lost to Jacksonville a week before. Stay modest, Pittsburgh.
Los Angeles Rams (2017: 11-5, 2018: 12-4): I’m buying into the Ram’s hype train. Usually, I’d be worried about all of the additions and contracts a team hands out after having their first successful year in a long time, but you know what, I think it’ll work out for now.
This is a team of a lot of chiefs and not many Indians, but as long as they win games then the train will keep rolling. The tape is out on Sean McVay now, and teams will know what to expect, but this 2018 team has more talent and more experience than last year’s edition. The defense is even scarier, Jared Goff broke off his bust label and is looking to keep it off, Todd Gurley rebounded, and they brought in Brandin Cooks which is an exciting improvement over Sammy Watkins.
If the Rams can rack up some wins early against their questionable division, and they should do just that, then watch out because this team will be a true contender. Of course, if they don’t rack up those wins, then watch out as those personalities so coming out of that locker room.
New Orleans Saints (2017: 11-5, 2018: 12-4): The Saints surprised a lot of people last year with a very strong playoff run. I can say I didn’t expect to see the Saints come one play away from making the NFC Championship but Drew Brees knows how to win games.
This year the Saints face a tough schedule, but they will be in the mix for a playoff run once again. Alvin Kamara looks to follow up a monster rookie season, the young defense should keep growing, and Drew Brees, well, will be Drew Brees.
It will be a duel in the NFC South between the Saints and the Falcons for the title, and with the way those two teams can put up points, it’ll be fun to watch.
Phiaadelphia Eagles (2017: 13-3, 2018: 12:4): The defending Super Bowl Champs will put together another strong season and will be at the top. The biggest question is how will the Bird Gang respond to success and will they be able to handle the target on their back?
Welcome back Carson Wentz!
Atlanta Falcons (2017: 10-6, 2018: 11-5): If Matt Ryan can find his groove, if the strong runningback tandem can get the ball moving, and if the scrappy defense can keep teams honest, then this team has all the pieces they need to make a run.
The Bad: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017: 5-11, 2018: 2-14): The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look destined for an abysmal season. Already looking at last in the NFC South, this team has question marks on both sides of the ball including quarterback. The suspended Jameis Winston hasn’t done anything to help his team earn some wins and that isn’t changing this year.
Unless Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton all decide to call it quits, then Tampa you may be looking at drafting your next franchise QB with that first overall pick in 2019.
Indianapolis Colts (2017: 4-12, 2018: 4-12): Andrew Luck has let a lot of Colts fans down last year but he will be back this year and I do believe he will be ready to play. But how much can Luck do?
This Colts team is ugly. Andrew Luck willed them to wins by himself when he was healthy, but management didn’t know how to put a team around their young cornerstone before he got hurt. Now that he’s coming back, Luck still doesn’t have the pieces he needs to make this team threatening. Not to mention, the rest of the division has gotten much stronger since the last time Andrew Luck was on the field.
Good luck Andy, you’re going to need it.
The AFC East:
New York Jets (2017: 5-11, 2018: 3-13): The rebuild continues in New York. Josh McCown did more than expected with this squad last year, but it won’t happen again. The three QB carousel will start early for the Jets and it will be hard to watch. There just isn’t enough talent to work with on offense.
Todd Bowels, I like you and I don’t totally blame you for this team’s lack of success, but the writing is on the wall. Bring in new Head Coach for 2019, Matt LeFleur.
Buffalo Bills: (2017: 9-7, 2018: 5-11): The Bills snuck into the playoffs last year but it won’t happen again. Anytime your best offensive player goes down or gets in trouble, you’re going to have issues. With LeSean McCoy’s availability up in the air and zero proven quarterbacks are on the roster, things look a little dicey.
Tyrod Taylor made up for a lot of the Bills inadequacies and recieved little appreciation for it. So now it’s up to AJ McCarron, Josh Allen, or Nathan Peterman to try and do the same. Another AFC East team, another QB carousel.
Miami Dolphins (2017: 6-10, 2018: 3-13): Disfuction will be the name of the game in Miami. I like some of the pieces that the Dolphins have on defense, and even on offense, but it won’t be enough. This team will struggle to find consistency all year. Ryan Tannehill, you better pull a rabbit out of a hat because you will need to work some magic for this team.
Arizona Cardinals (2017: 8-8, 2018: 5-11): Tough division and uncertainty at QB put the Cardinals in a tough situation. This squad has potential with a strong defense, the return of David Johnson, and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, but I don’t think they muster up enough strength to get the wins they need.
Josh Rosen will get his shot when Sam Bradford inevitably gets hurt and I think he will have the best NFL career out of the quarterbacks in this rookie class.
Washington Redskins (2017: 7-9, 2018: 5-11): If Kirk Cousins couldn’t get this team some wins, then Alex Smith won’t do them any favors. I am a big Alex Smith fan, but the pieces just aren’t in Washington for him to succeed. Redskins fans can bash Cousins all they want, but he made something out of nothing with what he had.
When your best playmaker lives on the bench with injuries (Jordon Reed), you have no run game, mediocre at best wide receivers, and have to rely on a washed-up Vernon Davis for big plays, your offense has some issue. Oh, and the defense is poor as well.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2017: 10-6, 2018: 9-7): The hype train is rolling for the Jags after a successful 2017 season that almost saw a Super Bowl appearance. Though this is a team that I can see falling short of expectations.
Too much hype can often be the death of teams, and despite having possibly the NFL’s top defense, I cannot see them carrying Blake Bortles as far as they did last year again.
It will be a three-team race in the AFC South between the Jaguars, Titans, and Texans. Don’t be surprised if you see another team at the top of the division at the end of 2018 (I’m looking at you Tennessee).
Cleveland Browns (2017: 0-16, 2018: 4-12): That’s right, 4 wins for the Browns. I think this team has done enough to crawl out of the basement and into 4 or maybe, MAYBE even 5 wins. They won’t be pretty, and they will struggle, but they will win some games this year.
Los Angeles Chargers (2017: 9-7, 2018: 11-5): It seems like every year that the Chargers are a dark horse playoff team, though I think this is the year they do it. The rest of the AFC West is questionable with the Broncos aging defense, the Jay Gruden experiment (which I think will fail) in Oakland, and the Patrick Mahomes taking the reigns in Kansas City, so this could be the Bolts year.
Green Bay Packers (2017: 7-9, 2018: 10-6): Welcome back Aaron Rodgers, watch out NFL. As long as that man is under center then you have to watch out for Green Bay.