For those who have joined in this madness over the last year, this is an annual event here in Curmudgeon Central. Demonstrating my inexhaustible capacity to absorb embarrassment, I try to make season-long predictions for the NFL. Oh, but I do not build in some cover when I do that by sticking to generalized predictions; rather, I will set out here NFL coaches I think are on the hot seat and could be coaching for their job this year and – in an even more reckless endeavor – I will predict the final record for all 32 teams in the NFL.
This would be fun if I just waited until about December 15th and then quietly took down all evidence of these predictions such that there could be no “day of reckoning” once the 2019 regular season ends on 29 December 2019. However, I do not take down the predictions; in fact, I will come back and give them grades once the regular season is over. Believe it or not, this is what I call fun and games…
One more bit of boilerplate needs explanation now. I do not love or hate any NFL team to the exclusion of any other team. There is no deep-seated hatred to be found in these predictions. When I inevitably underestimate one team’s record for 2019, that was not based on a longstanding grudge I have with that team or that city or the colors of its uniforms. I do not owe the team or its fans any apologies; what I owe them – and everyone – is the admission that I was wrong in my prediction(s). And, I shall do that…
I will begin with my list of NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat. Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches. I said one of them would be on a hot seat but ought not to be. He was fired anyway. Of the other 7 on my list, 5 lost their jobs. Am I a hex on the NFL coaches who make it to this list? If I were given to self-flattery, I might claim such a connection.
Anyway, here is my 2019 list of 8 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2019 – presented in alphabetical order lest someone infer much more to this screed that is intended:
- Jason Garrett (Cowboys): He was on the list last year; when the Cowboys went 10-6 and won the NFC East, his job was saved – – but he did not get a contract extension and his deal is finished at the end of this year. Garrett has been the Cowboys’ Head Coach since the middle of the 2010 season; over that period, his coaching record is 77-59. Here’s the rub; he has been the head coach for 8 full seasons; he has only made the playoffs 3 times and his playoff record is 2-3.
- Jay Gruden (Skins): Like Garrett, he too was on last year’s list and managed to survive despite failing to make the playoffs. Who knows; did the catastrophic leg injury to Alex Smith save his job? Gruden is on thinner ice that Garrett. He has been the head Coach of the Skins for 5 seasons; his cumulative record is 35-44-1; last season the Skins were 4-12; Gruden’s teams made the playoffs only one time and the playoff record is 0-1. I suspect that Jay Gruden needs to make the playoffs to keep his job at the end of this season.
- Doug Marrone (Jags): After the 2017 season, the Jags had the Patriots on the ropes in the 4th quarter of a playoff game; what happened was another miracle comeback by Tom Brady and the Jags went into a funk that lasted through all of 2018. After missing out on a real shot to play in the Super Bowl, the Jags laid a giant egg last year going 5-11.
- Bill O’Brien (Texans): He has made the playoffs in 3 of his 5 seasons in Houston but his playoff record is 1-3. Moreover, his overall regular season record is a not-so-hot 42-38. He could become a target of fans in Houston if the team is mediocre again in 2019.
- Matt Patricia (Lions): Year One in Detroit was an uninspiring 6-10. The Lions spent some serious money in the free agency market this offseason, so I suspect the expectation for Patricia – – and to a lesser degree for Matt Stafford – – is a playoff appearance and at least a competitive effort in the playoffs. That expectation is not likely to be fulfilled for the simple reason that the Lions are in a division with three teams with better rosters than the one in Detroit.
- Ron Rivera (Panthers): I put him here because the Panthers have a new owner and the new owner inherited Rivera; he did not select Rivera himself. Rivera has taken the Panthers to the Super Bowl – losing there to the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning – but in the “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere of the NFL, his Panthers have been 13-19 in the last two seasons.
- Dan Quinn (Falcons): His team underwhelmed last year missing the playoffs and going 7-9 for the season. This year, Quinn has a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator (Quinn will call the defensive plays himself to start the season). He also changed out the special teams’ coach meaning that he is the last man standing in the coaching hierarchy. If that change produces another 7-9 season, look for the next obvious change to be made and for Quinn to be looking for work elsewhere.
- Mike Zimmer (Vikes): He is working on the final year of his contract and no extension was offered. The Vikes went 13-3 in 2017 and then spent big bucks to sign Kirk Cousins as their QB only to go 8-7-1 in 2018 and miss the playoffs. If anything like that happens again in 2019, Zimmer will be looking for work.
But that coaching stuff is merely the appetizer course here. From here on out things will stray from logic to wild extrapolation. It is time to go division-by-division through the NFL and to predict the exact record for every team. For no particular reason, I shall start with the AFC West. Based on my admittedly – – and proven over the long-term – – hazy crystal ball, this will be the best division in the NFL. I believe the cumulative record for the 4 teams here will be 35-29. Last year, the Chiefs and Chargers went toe-to-toe in the division until late December; both teams are back for this year with formidable talent. I think the most interesting part of this division is what the “other two teams” – – the Raiders and the Broncos – – do in 2019.
- I like the Chiefs to win the AFC West with a record of 13-3. I know that it is fashionable to pick division winners to “take a step back” or to “come back to the pack” in the next season; nonetheless, I don’t think the Chiefs are going to do that sort of thing. I say that while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect Patrick Mahomes to throw 50 TD passes again in 2019. Their Achilles Heel last year was the defense; they have made changes on that side of the ball – – and presumably they know what they are doing. Look … in their losses last year, the Chiefs scored an average of 39.7 points; NFL teams are not supposed to lose ANY games when they score that many points. Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu are in KC to see that no such thing happens again this year.
- I like the Chargers to finish second here with a record of 11-5. Last year, the Chiefs and the Chargers fought it out to the end of the season – – and that could happen again. I like the Chargers, but I am not thrilled by their WR corps. In addition, their “situation”/”relationship” with Melvyn Gordon is sub-optimal to say the least. Learning that Russel Okung will miss the first 6 weeks of the season – – at least – – is not a plus either. The Chargers very well may have been able to sneak up on a couple of opponents last year and should not have that luxury this year. I think they will take a minor step back this year and finish 11-5.
- I like the Raiders to finish 6-10. Before I am designated as persona non grata in the Black Hole – – where I would never choose to watch a game in the first place – – may I point out that this prediction represents a 50% improvement over last year’s 4-12 record. If the Raiders are to be even more improved than my 50% estimate they will need to upgrade significantly their pass rush and their OL. Adding Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs to the offense is a help – – but neither addition addresses either of those two glaring needs and that assumes that Antonio Brown does not go “’round the bend” between now and December 1. The Raiders host the Cincy Bengals in Week 11; that will allow Vontaze Burfict to renew acquaintances with his former teammates with Black Hole denizens looking on. Let the good times roll…
- I like the Broncos to bring up the rear in this division with a record of 5-11. John Elway may indeed be the best all-around QB ever in the NFL; nevertheless, his ability to look at other QBs and figure out which one(s) might also be semi-great is totally suspect. This year the Broncos will go with Joe Flacco at QB; Flacco is a Super Bowl winner whose career has been on a downslope since that victory in February 2013. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller give the defense elite pass rushers as bookends on the defensive line. Vic Fangio was a critical part of the top-rated Bears’ defense last year and he has some pieces to work with here in Denver… I think a most important element here is the ability of WR Emmanuel Sanders to return from his injury and play at full speed. If he cannot, I don’t know who will catch Joe Flacco’s throws.
For the AFC North, I project a weak showing in 2019. I think the division’s overall record will be 29-35 making then tied with the AFC South as the worst division in the NFL. Lots of folks are picking the Browns to win this division in 2019; for the record, the last time the Browns did such a thing was in 1989; and back then, there was no such thing as the AFC North. Oh, and by the way, the team that did that back in 1989 is now known as the Baltimore Ravens…
- I like the Steelers to win the division with a record of 10-6. I think the Steelers will benefit from the lowered level of drama enveloping the team now that Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are elsewhere. Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin are the “Steel City Survivors” of the controversy from the past year; if things do not quiet down, either or both might the next one with a ticket to “Anywhere Else, USA”. The Steelers were not a bad team last year; they simply underperformed to “Steelers-standards”. Yes, they limped home with a 9-7-1 record, but remember that they were also 7-2-1 in November last season. I do not do Fantasy Football; I do not like Fantasy Football. Nonetheless, if I were playing Fantasy Football, I would definitely want to have JuJu Smith-Shuster on my team this year.
- I like the Ravens to finish 8-8. For the first time in next to forever, the defense in Baltimore is something to question. Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosely, Eric Weddle and ZaDarious Smith are all missing from the Ravens’ defense in 2019. Make no mistake, none of those guys are youngsters; make no mistake, none of those guys are stumblebums either. The Ravens’ offense will be totally different this year with Lamar Jackson at the helm in place of Joe Flacco. Casting no aspersions on either QB, it might be difficult to identify two more different QBs in terms of style and versatility. Adding Mark Ingram cannot hurt the offense; adding Earl Thomas has to help the defense. Oh, by the way, in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football you can see Earl Thomas going against his former teammates and his former coach – – the folks he flipped off as he was motored off the field on a cart last season. Let the good times roll…
- I like the Browns to finish 8-8. I know that everyone has the Browns as their “bold pick” for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl next February. I do not share that euphoria. Yes, the Browns were significantly improved in 2018 with a final record of 7-8-1. However, recognize that the Browns were playing a “last-place schedule in 2018 and those 7 wins did not come against any of the NFL powerhouses. This year the schedule is more difficult; while I believe the team will improve over last year, I don’t think the record will improve significantly. The Browns’ defense gave up 5 yards per carry against the run last year; if that does not improve significantly, it will not matter how much the offense has improved. The team has more talent on offense than it did last year; the team added help on the DL (Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson). If it all blends seamlessly, the Browns may surprise me and win this division; if all those egos bubble to the top and rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is not able to tamp them down, the Browns could fall back to 5-11. We shall see…
- I like the Bengals to take up the rear in this division with a record of 3-13. I would say the offense here is “OK” with a fully functional AJ Green; if he is even 10% hobbled, the Bengals’ offense could be “scoring challenged”. The Bengals have a new head coach – Zac Taylor – and he has inherited a mess. The good news for Bengals’ fans is that their very high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will be worth a lot to some team that thinks it is a player or so away from playoff glory.
Next up, I’ll tackle the AFC South. This division prediction underwent a complete re-evaluation last week when Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the NFL. Until that moment, I blithely figured that his calf injury that then morphed into a bone/ankle injury was just an excuse to hold him out of harm’s way in the Exhibition Season and the early practice sessions. Perhaps that will give you an insight as to why Pollyanna is not a welcome visitor to Curmudgeon Central. As noted above, I think the overall record for this division will be 29-35.
- I like the Texans to win this division with a record of 10-6. No team in the NFL was happier to hear the Andrew Luck retirement announcement than the Houston Texans. Last year, the Texans’ OL surrendered 62 sacks; that must improve in 2019 for my prediction to come true and for Deshaun Watson to remain ambulatory and – perhaps – for Bill O’Brien to keep his job. The fact that they drafted two offensive tackles tells me that they recognize that they have a problem there. The Texans will also take the path less traveled this year by doing without a GM; they will do this by committee and wing it. The owner says this will be a leaner and flatter organization; 31 other NFL teams seem not to agree. Somehow, that “leaner and flatter organization” was not able to come to terms with Jadevon Clowney over the past six months and that is an indictment on that “leaner and flatter organization”; shipping him off to Seattle in late August meant they got pennies on the dollar for Clowney. Maybe the Front Office redeemed itself making a late trade to acquire Laremy Tunsil to play left tackle and – hopefully – provide some time and protection for DeShaun Watson. Lamar Miller is out for the year; it might be interesting to see how this “leaner and flatter organization” deals with that. The early schedule for the Texans is not going to be easy; they begin with at Saints, Jags, at Chargers, Panthers, Falcons, at Chiefs, at Colts. And that just gets them to Halloween…
- I like the Colts to finish second in the division with a 9-7 record. Before Andrew Luck retired, I had the Colts winning this division handily at 12-4. Since I have them only a game behind the Texans, they might still win the AFC South if they can sweep the two games with the Texans. [Those games are October 20 and November 21.] As they say on the TV show, The Price Is Right, Jacoby Brisset … come on down!
- I like the Titans to finish third in the division with a record of 6-10. I think we have come to the time when we need to ask a simple question. Is Marcus Mariota a franchise QB or not? Another burning question for the Titans as a team is this one. Why is it that they can rise-up and beat just about anyone on one week and then turn around and lose to a certified bottom-feeder the next week? New additions to the roster include Adam Humphries, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake; they will certainly not hurt the team, but I doubt they are the engine that propels the Titans to playoff contention in 2019.
- I like the Jags to bring up the rear in the division with a record of 4-12. I have no doubt that Nick Foles will be an upgrade at QB over Blake Bortles, but I do not think that Nick Foles can carry a team by himself and the WR corps in Jax is not going to scare many defensive coordinators. I know that the Jags have Leonard Fournette as a featured RB and that Fournette is plenty talented, but he is also one of the biggest meatheads in the league. I would not be surprised to learn that his nickname within the organization is “WTF”. The calling card for the Jags remains their defense which will be strong again in 2019.
[Aside: Bortles in with the Rams this year. Imagine if Jared Goff is injured and Bortles blossoms in Sean McVay’s “system”. That would make the Jags’ coaches look like the dunces of the western world and would elevate the perception of Sean McVay’s football acumen to the level of Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula.]
Last in the AFC, will be the AFC East. This division has been anything but inscrutable for the last decade-and-a-half. The Patriots have won the AFC East in the last 10 consecutive seasons and have won it 15 of the last 16 years. Last year, the Pats were 11-5 which was their worst record in 9 years – – and yet they managed to go on and win the Super Bowl. I think the cumulative record for this division will be 31-33.
- Absent a major disaster striking Foxboro MA, I like the Patriots to win the division with a record of 12-4. Tom Brady embodies this team in a way that transcends his leadership and QB play. Like the team itself, Brady is like Old Man River; he and the Pats don’t say nothing, they just keep rolling along. The only question mark for this year in my mind is the receiving corps for the Pats. Yes, they signed Julian Edelman to a contract extension and that is a good thing. However, after that, there are good players with question marks all over them. Is rookie N’Keal Harry the real deal? Can Philip Dorsett do anything other than run fly patterns? How long until Josh Gordon is suspended yet one more time? Notwithstanding all those questions, the Pats will have the answers they need to win the AFC East once again. Maybe the biggest question they will have to resolve is the sub for center David Andrews who will miss some/most/all of the season with blood clots in his lung.
- I like the Bills to finish second in the division with a record of 9-7. The Bills tried to upgrade their WRs in the offseason acquiring Cole Beasley and John Brown. The team would have had the oldest tandem of RBs in NFL history with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore sharing touches as the lead RBs. Their combined age is 67 as of this morning. However, McCoy’s advancing age in conjunction with his $6.3M pricetag for the year led the Bills to release him just last weekend. I expect QB Josh Allen to show improvement in Year 2 of his career as he learns to play QB in ways other than relying on his natural athletic abilities.
- I like the Jets to finish third in the division with a record of 8-8. I like what the Jets did by signing LeVeon Bell to take some of the pressure off Sam Darnold as he enters his second year as an NFL QB. Equally important, I think the addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator is a step in the right direction. Adam Gase and his staff need to clear the air in the organization; I believe the Jets are the only team in the NFL to lose 11 games in each of the last 3 seasons; that is a toxic atmosphere. I am counting on a significant change in the approach that the Jets have to the season because I think they will double their win total from last year to this year. Circle the Jets/Steelers game in Week 16 as an interesting one as LeVeon Bell and his former teammates get together…
[Aside: I believe the longest road trip for the Jets in 2019 will be to Jax and to Miami in successive weeks in late October/early November. The Jets never leave the Eastern Time Zone this year.]
- I like the Dolphins to bring up the rear in the division with a 2-14 record. With a QB tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen – in whatever order you prefer – the Dolphins will probably lead the NFL in IQ points at the QB position. Unfortunately for Dolphins’ fans, IQ points do not equate to scoreboard points. Fans need to resist the temptation to look at the world through “Rosen-colored glasses”; he must show that he can produce wins in whatever system Brian Flores installs for the team. The new coach in Miami, Brian Flores, exudes energy and optimism; I doubt he will have the same bearing come December. Yes, the Dolphins will be on the clock starting in early January 2020 with the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Moreover, they will be dominating in the draft for the next year or two having acquired multiple first round picks and a second round pick from the Texans in the trade for Laremy Tunsil. [Aside: With that trade, the Dolphins have given up any pretense that they are doing anything other than tanking 2019…]
To recap the AFC, here is my playoff picture:
- Chiefs – – BYE week and home field advantage in the playoffs
- Pats – – BYE week
- Steelers/Texans – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019
- Texans/Steelers – – depends on tie breakers … Is there an echo in here?
- Chargers – – first AFC wildcard team
- Colts/Bills – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019.
Moving over to the NFC, I will maintain geographic parallelism and begin with the NFC West. I think the total record for this division will be 33-31. There are two “new QBs” in the division this year if you count the returning Jimmy Garoppolo as a “newbie” since his tenure there last year was so short. The teams at the top of the division have a lot more “certainty” going for them under center.
- I like the Rams to win the division with a record of 12-4. I don’t care what the Rams say or what the Rams’ doctors say or even what Todd Gurley says, but Gurley was injured to the point where he was a liability not an asset at the end of last season. The Rams want/need him back to being Todd Gurley again and until he shows that in a real game, that is a significant question mark for the team. One other thing from last year is that the Rams missed Cooper Kupp as their possession receiver a whole lot after he went down. Presumably, he is back and ready to play at his normal level. I am not an advocate for the “Super Bowl Hangover” theories, but the fact is that the Pats de-pantsed the Rams in that game last February. If there is such a “curse”, it might take hold here… The additions of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the off season will provide veteran leadership to the defense.
- I like the Seahawks to finish second in the division with a record of 10-6. With the dissolution of the Legion of Boom, there were some questions on defense for the Seahawks including who will provide their pass rush [Answer: Jadevon Clowney acquired from the Texans at the 11th hour.] and who will be their shut-down cornerback [Still TBD…]. On the plus side, it appears that the team has assembled a competent OL after years of chaos there. If that is the case and the Seahawks can run the ball a bit and Russell Wilson can play without fearing for his life every third play, the Seahawks will be a tough out in 2019.
- I like the Niners to finish third in the division with a record of 7-9. The Niners will get Jimmy G back from injury and RB, Jerrick McKinnon back from injury this year; those are two big plusses for the offense. However, name the top 3 receivers on the team. OK, name 2 receivers on the team. How about any pass catchers? Therein lies the problem for the Niners. On defense, the team has clearly decided to focus on edge rushers trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa. The Niners won only 4 games in 2018; I think they make a big improvement in 2019.
- I like the Cardinals to end up looking up at the rest of the division with a 4-12 record. There is a chance that Kliff Kingsbury’s offense rattles NFL defensive coordinators for the first year the same way Chip Kelly’s unusual offense did. However, I don’t know that the Cards have the same talent level that Kelly’s Eagles did. With Patrick Peterson suspended for 6 games, you can add “defensive backfield” to the list of weaknesses for this team. That is a bad thing because last year the Cards gave up an NFL high of 154.9 yards per game on the ground. Lest anyone think I am banging on the Cardinals unnecessarily, please note that I project them to have more wins this year (4) than they did last year (3).
[Aside: The Cards spent a lot of draft capital to get Josh Rosen last year and then jettisoned him for dimes on the dollar to take Kyler Murray this year. If that works the Cards’ braintrust will be “NFL made men” for a decade or so; if it sinks like a lead turd, they will be looking for new jobs at a local Applebee’s. Stay tuned…]
In the NFC North, the Bears are the defending champions and they relied heavily on an inordinate number of takeaways last year to propel them to that division title. The tendency is for teams that stand out like that in a single season to regress to the mean in the next year. Two other teams have significant question marks – – and then there are the Lions. This was a most difficult division to analyze; I project its cumulative record to be 34-30.
- I like the Bears to repeat as division champs with an 11-5 record. I mentioned above how important takeaways were to the Bears last year. They had 36 of them; most teams were in the low to mid-20s. The Bears have a new defensive coordinator as Vic Fangio took over the top job in Denver; Chuck Pagano has been a successful DC before… The Bears do have a “kicking problem”. Their season ended in the playoffs against the Eagles on the famous “double-doink” field goal try. The Bears had 8 kickers in camp at one point trying to find a new one. It’s too easy to rain on the Bears for that “problem” but when that is a team’s biggest problem in August, that means things are looking pretty good. Here is another geeky stat to think about … In 2018, the Bears never trailed in 9 of their 16 games. It is much more difficult to “play from behind” and the Bears and Mitch Trubisky rarely had to do that. Can that sort of situation continue to obtain in 2019?
- I like the Packers to finish “second” in the division with a 9-7 record. There will be serious scrutiny on the Matt LaFleur/Aaron Rodgers “relationship” as the season unfolds. Based on last year’s results, the Packers’ defense needed a whole lot more pass rushing so they went out and acquired “the Smith Brothers” – Preston and ZaDarius – in addition to drafting Rashan Gary with their first-round pick. Hopefully, that will produce some positive results there. The team lost two of its long-term assets in Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb in the offseason. With Matthews and Cobb gone, Aaron Rodgers will need to find new partners for his State Farm commercials…
- I like the Vikings to finish “third” in the division with a 9-7 record. The Vikes and the Packers play each other twice; if one team sweeps that series, that team will finish “second in this division”. If it is a split, then the tiebreakers get way too difficult to forecast. This should be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Kirk Cousins, and it will lean toward the “put-up” side of that scale if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season.
- I like the Lions to chase the rest of the division across the finish line in 2019 with a 5-11 record. I said this was the most difficult division to analyze. There is one thing that is reliably consistent here from year to year: The Lions will be … the Lions. Believe it or not, this will be Matthew Stafford’s 10th year in the NFL; he has had the Lions in the playoffs 3 times in that span and the Lions have exited the playoffs in their first game all 3 times. Notwithstanding Coach Matt Patricia’s defensive pedigree, the Lions defense was hugely inconsistent last year, and it does not look a whole lot better to me this year. That defensive pedigree comes from Patricia’s time with the Patriots; but historically, time with the Pats as a coordinator has not translated into success as a head coach. See Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weiss …
Before moving on to the next set of predictions, the 2019 NFL season – – the 100th such regular season – – will start with a classic NFC North match-up. The Bears and Packers have played each other 198 times over the past 99 seasons; the Packers lead the overall series 97-95-6. The teams split their games last year. This is a fitting way for the NFL to start its centennial season.
Moving on to the NFC South, both the Falcons and the Panthers were bitten badly by the injury bugs last season and both waddled to the finish line with 7-9 records. Surely, the football gods will not inflict the same plague on these teams again in 2019 – – right? I have the cumulative record for this division at 34-30.
- I like the Saints to win the division with a 12-4 record. People talk about Super Bowl Hangovers for teams that lost in that game but if there is going to be any “hangover” team in the NFC, it would have to be the Saints who were the victims of such a bad call by the officials that the single play caused a massive rule change for the entire league. Actually, the Saints have been eliminated from the playoffs for 2 years in a row on bizarre plays; remember in 2017 it was the “Minneapolis Miracle” that sent the Saints home. Even with Mark Ingram gone in free agency, the Saints have what they need to have on offense; if the defense plays well, this is a team to fear in January.
- I like the Falcons to finish second in the division with a 10-6 record. The Falcons must improve their pass rush; they allowed QBs last year to sit in the picket and pick apart the secondary to the tune of 259.6 yards per game. The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and Dan Quinn is squarely on the hot seat this year. Let me say here that I think Calvin Ridley is a top-shelf WR who is overlooked to some extent because Julio Jones is on the same team. I think the Falcons home game on October 27 (Week 8) is a critical game for them. That game will welcome the Seattle Seahawks to Atlanta, and I have both teams pegged at 10-6 for the season and – a tad of foreshadowing here – I think 10-6 is the record for the 2nd and final NFC wildcard slot. So, the winner of that game in October will have the tiebreaker…
- I like the Panthers to finish third in the division with an 8-8 record. Cam Newton’s shoulder must be better than it was at the end of last year when he could not throw the ball more than about 35 yards in the air; that alone is a big improvement for the team. With Norv Turner designing and running the offense, the QB must be able to throw the ball downfield; that is a major feature of Turner’s offensive philosophy. The question for the big thinkers in Carolina is this: Has Cam Newton reached – or even passed – the peak of his prime? In addition, the team now needs to find some pass rush pressure from their defensive linemen… Head coach Ron Rivera will take over the defensive play-calling duties this year.
- I think the Bucs will finish last in the division with a 4-12 record. Bruce Arians may have tired quickly of his color analyst job on TV last year but with this team to coach, he may want to rethink his re-entry into NFL coaching. [Aside: I hope he stays where he is because I thought he was miserable as a color analyst; but that’s just me…] The burning question in Tampa is the same one that is smoldering in Tennessee: Is Jameis Winston an NFL franchise QB? He has been around since 2015; last year was his best year statistically and yet the Bucs went 5-11. Bruce Arians has helped more than a few NFL QBs move their games up to much higher planes of existence in the past so, can he be the guy to make Jameis Winston look like a bona fide overall #1 pick in the draft?
Last but not least, here is the skinny on the NFC East. The four teams here split nicely into two “Haves” and two “Have-Nots”. Overall, I think this division’s total record will be 31-33. I think the Cowboys and the Eagles will dominate the division and will both finish with the same record. They will meet twice (Week 7 in Dallas on Sunday Night Football and then again in Week 16 in Philly). Those will be the two most important games on the calendar for both teams; a sweep by either one will make them the division champ and relegate the other one to the #1 wildcard slot.
- I pick the Eagles to win the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5. I think the Eagles and Cowboys will split their games head-to-head meaning that the tiebreaker will have to get down to scheduling minutiae. Looking at the schedules for the Eagles and the Cowboys, I think the Eagles have an easier one, so I’ll give them the tiebreaker somewhere down the line – – like Conference record. [Aside: The early schedule with road games at the Vikes, Packers and Falcons is not a piece of cake!] The Eagles must have Carson Wentz stay healthy and play the whole season – something he has not done for the last 2 seasons. The addition of DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a viable downfield threat – – something they have not had for a while. I think the addition of Malik Jackson to the defensive line was a positive move for the team.
- I like the Cowboys to finish second in the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5. Obviously, this gaze into the crystal ball assumes that Ezekiel Elliott will be in a Cowboys’ uniform for most if not all the games in 2019; Zeke is the key to that offense not the QB or any of the pass catchers. The weak link in the Cowboys roster last year seemed to be the defensive backfield and whatever changes were made there over this offseason seem to me to be cosmetic as opposed to transformational. The late schedule for the Cowboys is no picnic. After the Pats come to town on Thanksgiving Day, the schedule reads Bills, at Bears, Rams, at Eagles. If my vision for the Bills is accurate, this schedule could evoke a comment along the lines of “Great googly-moogly, get me outta here…” [h/t Stranded in the Jungle by the Jay Hawks]
- I think the Skins are the better of the two “Have Not” teams and will finish third in the NFC East with a record of 6-10. The absence of Trent Williams at left tackle on offense is more important than it might be to the casual observer. The fact is that Trent Williams was the single best player on the team simply because he is one of the five or six best offensive left tackles in the NFL – – and no other member of the Skins’ roster can even pretend to make that claim. We now know that the Skins will go with Case Keenum as the starting QB at the beginning of the season. That is the rational decision meaning that it was probably taken over the objection of Danny Boy Snyder who has seemingly attached his lips to the buttocks of Dwayne Haskins as the QB of the future for this franchise. The Skins have a ton of question marks in addition to the ones implied above to include… Is Darius Guice for real? He was out for all last year and the Skins relied on 34-year old Adrian Peterson to be the lead back. Before the 2019 season even starts, Peterson already has 2825 carries in his NFL career. Who is going to catch the passes thrown by Case Keenum and/or Dwayne Haskins and/or Joe Flabeetz? Jordan Reed is injured again in the exhibition season; the Skins were trying to trade Josh Doctson and when that did not work they cut him; Jameson Crowder left in free agency…
[Aside: Skins’ and Vikes’ fans need to circle Week 8 on their calendars. That is when the Skins go to Minnesota for a game that will feature former Skins’ QB – – Kirk Cousins – – against former Vikes’ QB – – Case Keenum. My suspicion is that neither fanbase will be happy with their incumbent QB by that time in the 2019 NFL season.]
- I think the Giants will be in the caboose of the division with a record of 3-13. This team needs upgrades no matter where you look – – except for running back where Saquon Barkley is an unusual talent. The Giants had two high draft picks in this year’s NFL Draft; they are going to get another one next year; they need to make sure all those high draft picks turn into impact players sooner than later. The Giants traded Odell Beckham, Jr. in the off season and are probably happy to be relieved of his “drama”. Their problem is that they cannot be happy to be relieved of his talent. Sterling Shepard broke his thumb in training camp; Golden Tate will serve a 4-game suspension; Corey Coleman will miss the entire year with an ACL injury. The healthy WR roster is mediocre at best. The early schedule for the Giants is not so horrific, but in November the schedule reads Cowboys, at Jets, BYE WEEK, at Bears, Packers, at Eagles. Ouch!
So, here is my playoff prediction picture for the NFC:
- Saints/Rams – – tie breaker determined by the winner of the head-to-head game on Sept 15. Winner gets a BYE week and home field advantage throughout the playoffs
- Rams/Saints – – tie breaker determined by the loser of the head-to head game on Sept 15. Loser gets a BYE week in the playoffs.
- Bears – – tie breaker over Eagles
- Eagles – – loser of tie breaker to Bears
- Falcons/Seahawks – – winner of the head-to head game on October 27.
So, there you have it. That is how the NFL season will unfold between now and January 2020. If you fall into a coma tomorrow, you can rely – – sort of – – on these projections to get you up to speed quickly once you wake up on New Year’s Day.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago that seems pertinent to the upcoming NFL season in 2019:
“Students in Oregon can now take ‘mental health days’ as excused absences, just like sick days.
“Arizonans had something similar last year — better known as the Mondays following Cardinals games.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………