The Eagles and Falcons opened the NFL regular season with a bang on Thursday. Every play from the Philly Special to the final play of the game, where Matt Ryan and Julio Jones failed to connect in the end zone as time expired, had fans sitting on the edge of their seats. The beginning of every season brings predictions, and here are my predictions for the winner of each division.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
This is pretty easy. The Steelers have some of the best players in the league on their offense. How far they go depends on their defense and how well they fill the void left at inside linebacker. The Ravens are in rebuilding mode and put pressure on Joe Flacco to stay healthy by drafting Lamar Jackson. It’s hard to be successful though when their best player is kicker Justin Tucker. The Browns could easily win five or six games just by the talent they added this offseason with Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor. It also helps that Josh Gordon is back and seems to be on the right track. John Dorsey is a genius at GM, but Hue Jackson and that coaching staff are holding the team back. The Bengals are a mess. Yes, they have one of the best receivers in the league with AJ Green, but everyone else is average, and average doesn’t win championships. Coach Marvin Lewis, who has never won a playoff game in the 15 years he’s been in Cincinnati, needs to go. He was getting ready to finally step down after last season and then suddenly had a new deal to stay.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
This is a toss up. A healthy Houston Texans team with Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt could easily be at the top, but health is not on either player’s side. Jacksonville’s defense is one to be reckoned with. Defense travels, and it wins championships. The Colts are rebuilding. Andrew Luck is finally back, but they are still missing a few pieces in the defense and on the offensive line. Tennessee Titans have a new coach, and every player is average.
AFC East: New England Patriots
This is very obvious. It’s the Brady and Belichick. They win, and calls go in their favor more times than not.
AFC West: LA Chargers
The Chargers could’ve easily been a playoff team if they had started last year with a good kicker, but it could be anyone’s division. Denver always has a solid defense, and they upgraded the quarterback position by signing Chase Keenum, who took Minnesota to the NFC Championship last season. Pat Mahomes is the wild card for Kansas City. The Chiefs believed in him enough to trade Alex Smith, but every player has growing pains. The Raiders brought back John Gruden as the head coach, but they also traded Khalil Mack. I believe the expectations for Oakland are just too high.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
They made it to the NFC Championship last year and upgraded the one position they felt was weakest – quarterback. It’s basically Super Bowl or bust for Cousins this year. Chicago Bears got a new coach and beefed up that defense with Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack. These are major steps taken to win the division, but they still need a year or two to be competitive. The Packers have arguably the best quarterback in football with Aaron Rodgers, but their secondary is weak. Even with a few new coaches, I still stand by that statement until proven otherwise. Detroit also has a new coach, one who was a defensive coordinator. He did not look comfortable in the preseason, and the defense looked even worse.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
This may be the toughest division again this year. Three NFC South teams could make the playoffs, but I believe my pick for MVP, Drew Brees, is the difference. They were one play away from the NFC Championship last year and had the offensive and defensive rookies of the year. Look for them to build off this. The Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills last year, and they haven’t had a solid receiver since. Maybe DJ Moore is the answer. The Atlanta Falcons took a major blow on Thursday with Keanu Neal tearing his ACL. Tampa Bay took a chance drafting Jameis Winston, and it has not paid off. It also doesn’t help that they start the season facing three playoff teams from last year, and Winston is suspended for those games.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The Super Bowl champs have done nothing but acquire more depth this offseason. They should be able to win a relatively weak conference. The New York Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the number two overall pick this year. Barkley’s ability to run, block, and catch out of the backfield, along with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., will really prove whether or not Eli Manning’s best days are behind him. The Washington Redskins did acquire a solid quarterback in Alex Smith this offseason, but their receivers will need to prove themselves. The Cowboys are missing a defense that can come up with the big stops and give Dak and Zeke a chance on offense.
NFC West: LA Rams
Two names: Gurley and Donald. They were respectfully offensive and defensive players of the year, and the team paid them big money to keep it going. They also added some big names on defense and Brandin Cooks at receiver. The Legion of Boom is gone in Seattle, and they haven’t done anything to protect their franchise guy, Russel Wilson. The 49ers just don’t have the defensive line to apply consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Arizona has three brand new quarterbacks on their roster, and two of them, Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen, aren’t known for staying healthy. The real question for the Cardinals is when Rosen gets his chance.