2019 NFL Conference Previews

AFC

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Offense: For the first time in eleven seasons, the Ravens will not have Joe Flacco as their opening day starting quarterback. Flacco was traded away to the Denver Broncos this offseason for a 4th rd pick as the Ravens have turned things over to last year’s 1st rd pick Lamar Jackson. While showing improvements this preseason, Jackson struggled passing the ball last season and looked completely overwhelmed in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Chargers. However, the Ravens will be installing a run-heavy offense that features free agent acquisition RB Mark Ingram, last year’s leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie Justice Hill. And second-year TE Mark Andrews has impressed this preseason and poised to take a step forward. He could be a big help to Jackson in the passing game and might need to as the Ravens have one of the weakest receiving corps in the league.  Perhaps the biggest question on offense is in fact the line where they are thin in the interior. If they struggle to block in the running game it will be a long season.

Defense: Last year’s defense allowed the fewest yards and points per game but lost a lot of key players. Pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, Safety Eric Weddle, and linebacker C.J. Mosley. They also put their top nickleback, Tavon Young, on injured reserve. The signing of Earl Thomas will help the loss of Weddle (its actually an improvement) but the team did not do much to add pass rushers this offseason.  I do not see how this defense as currently constructed can once again lead the league in the aforementioned categories.

Prediction: This team is going to struggle to get back to the playoffs. For that to happen Jackson is going to have to take a giant step forward and with minimal help in terms of pass catchers I do not know how that is supposed to happen. The defense will continue to be the heart of the team but they do not have the same depth as they did last season. I think they end up finishing in the middle of the pack in the AFC.

BUFFALO BILLS

Offense: Josh Allen, who struggled with accuracy in college, put up a 52% completion rate along with just 10 touchdowns and 12 INT’s. Bringing in Cole Beasley as a reliable slot receiver should in theory help out Allen’s percentage, who like Lamar Jackson, needs to do more than just scramble. The team released LeSean McCoy and seem poised to give rookie Devin Singletary some of the workload along with the newly signed Frank Gore and TJ Yeldon. Besides Beasley, the team also signed deep threat John Brown at receiver to give Allen another weapon. The Bills also revamped their offensive line and made Mitch Morse the highest paid center in the league. However, Morse has struggled with concussion issues this offseason and although cleared to play now its certainly a situation worth monitoring.

Defense: Longtime defensive tackle Kyle Williams retired after last season but has been replaced by first round pick Ed Oliver. The weakness on defense is at pass rusher where they have Jerry Hughes and mediocre depth behind him. The team also has young talent at linebacker led by Tremaine Edmunds and cornerback Tre’Davious White. And the safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are one of the best in the league.

Prediction: The Bills acquired some skill players in the offseason but still do not seem to have enough there. However, with a strong defense and an easy schedule there is a chance this team could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team. Josh Allen needs to show marked improvement in the passing game though and if he doesn’t then it will be another long season for the Bills Mafia.

CINCINNTATI BENGALS

Offense: New head coach Zac Taylor is primed for a tough first season. Star receiver A.J. Green is hurt and will miss at least the first few games of the season. Plus, first round pick tackle Jonah Williams tore his labrum before minicamp and is out for the season. Their other projected starting tackle, Cordy Glenn, is in concussion protocol and does not appear to be starting week 1 and who knows when he will clear. And this is a team that lacks depth across their entire offensive line. The offense will have to rely on running back Joe Mixon and to have Tyler Boyd step up in Green’s absence as they will go on the road against some tough defenses in September (Seattle, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh).

Defense: The team went ahead and got Lou Anarumo to become their new defensive coordinator after the team allowed the most yards in the entire NFL this past season. However, they did not do much this past offseason to improve, especially at linebacker where they have one of the weakest corps in the league. Their secondary is solid at least and will have to play at a high level once again in order for this team to compete.

Prediction: This defense is terrible and QB Andy Dalton has been declining over the past few seasons. This is a team trying to compete in the future and does not have the talent to get out of the AFC North basement this season and likely have their eyes on one of the top quarterbacks in the 2020 draft.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Offense: Last year’s offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens got the promotion to head coach this offseason. And the team went out and acquired star receiver Odell Beckham to go along with Jarvis Landry, running back Nick Chubb and tight end David Njoku to give quarterback Baker Mayfield an arsenal of weapons. Plus, the team will get receiver Antonio Callaway back after week 5 and running back Kareem Hunt week 9. The only question on the offensive side of the ball is the line where depth is an issue and the fact they traded away star guard Kevin Zeitler as part of the Beckham deal.

Defense: Steve Wilks, after being fired just one season into his tenure as the Arizona Cardinals head coach, is now the team’s new defensive coordinator. He has what should be a dominant defensive line with Myles Garrett plus the newly acquired Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. Denzel Ward could take the next step this season into becoming an elite cornerback and second-round draft pick Greedy Williams has impressed in the preseason. Linebacker is the position of weakness on this team.

Prediction: As long as Kitchens can manage the personalities on offense and they defense improves then this team could really make a deep run in the playoffs. Their schedule is easier than last season too. However, if they start off slow out the gate and the stronger personalities on the team start to clash then it could get ugly. I think there is too much talent not to at least get a wild card birth especially given the amount of mediocre teams in the conference.

DENVER BRONCOS

Offense: Joe Flacco is the team’s new quarterback as the franchise tries to correct it’s woes at that position. Although Flacco lost his job in the middle of last season to rookie Lamar Jackson, he has looked better this preseason and still an improvement over what the team had at the position last season. And he will not have to worry about a rookie stealing his job since second-round pick Drew Lock (who struggled mightily this preseason) was placed on injured reserve. The team will also have to bank on second-year receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton along with first-round pick TE Noah Fant to step up since their most reliable veteran, Emmanuel Sanders, is coming off of a torn ACL. Hopefully the new offensive line coach and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Munchak can help stabilize the line to get a running game going with backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.

Defense: New head coach Vic Fangio inherits a strong defense with elite pass rusher Von Miller and another pass rusher on his way to achieve that status in Bradley Chubb. Chris Harris Jr. is still one of the top cornerbacks in the league and the team signed Bryce Callahan to play the slot, who last season was under Fangio in Chicago. Inside linebacker is the weak link for the defense.

Prediction: The defense will be the heart of the team and while Flacco is an improvement over Keenum, its still probably not enough to get the team into the playoffs given their overall inexperience at receiver. They will be competitive at least but most likely a near .500 team.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Offense: It has been an eventful preseason for the Texans. Starting running back Lamar Miller tore his ACL and will miss the season. The team also addressed their offensive line woes by drafting both Tytus Howard and Max Scharping in the first two rounds this season while trading for tackle Laremy Tunsil. This of course after they waived free agent signing Matt Kalil in a move that was a mistake to begin with. And they acquired running back Duke Johnson from the Browns who might end up being the starter for this team while also trading for Carlos Hyde. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the league. They also have Will Fuller V and Keke Coutee who are both talented but frequently hurt. Adding Kenny Stills in the Tunsil trade will help provide depth.

Defense: The team traded away 2014 #1 overall pick Jadevon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for pennies on the dollar that leaves a glaring hole at outside linebacker. The team also revamped their secondary, which collapsed at the end of last season, by adding Bradley Roby, Tashaun Gipson, and drafting CB Lonnie Johnson Jr. in the second round this season. JJ Watt returned to form last season and the rest of the defensive line is strong against the run.

Prediction: Questionable trades aside, the offensive line woes were addressed but they do not have anyone to replace Miller so expect QB Deshaun Watson to air it out all season long. I don’t know how they will be able to replace Clowney but I still think they are the most talented team in their division and should get into the playoffs on the strength of their passing game.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Offense: The sudden retirement of QB Andrew Luck has tempered this team’s expectations after they surprised everyone and made the playoffs. Jacoby Brissett is now the team’s starter with Brian Hoyer just added to back him up. The team’s entire starting offensive line returns and the only key free agent addition on offense was WR Devin Funchess. They did however draft speedy WR Parris Campbell in the second-round. The running back combination of Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins are returning and will need to step up their game and help take pressure off of Brissett. When Brissett started for the Colts in 2017, TE Jack Doyle made the Pro Bowl and could be a security blanket of sorts for Brissett this season as well.

Defense: The big free agent acquisition this season was pass rusher Justin Houston and he fills an immediate need for this team that will need to have their entire defense take a step forward in order to compete. Most of their secondary and linebackers are returning with CB Pierre Desir earning himself a three-year/$25 million dollar contract this past offseason.

Prediction: After exceeding all expectations last year they will have to deal with the sudden retirement of Luck. And they do not have the benefit of playing one of the easiest schedules in the league. The running game will have to be able to take the pressure off of Brissett and the defense to be able to consistently get to the QB in order for them to have a shot at the playoffs. I think they are going to come up short.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Offense: The team has moved on from QB Blake Bortels and gave Nick Foles a four-year/$88 million dollar contract this offseason to become the new franchise QB. This offense averaged a pathetic 15.3 points per game this past season and need more than a new QB to improve. RB Leonard Fournette was a massive disappointment last season and with nothing behind him at his position he needs to not only remain healthy but to produce. It should be noted that he has had a good preseason.  Dede Westbrook is returning as the top receiver and if Marqise Lee can return to where he was before an ACL tear that cost him last season then it might not be so bad but this is certainly not a position of strength. And unlike in Philadelphia, Foles will not have the luxury to throw to a tight end the caliber of Zach Ertz.

Defense: This team’s defense took a hit when linebacker Telvin Smith announced he was sitting out for the season due to personal and family concerns. However, it did add to its already dominant defensive line by drafting Josh Allen in the first round this season. Jalen Ramsey will need to become a shutdown corner again this season especially since the team lost both starting safeties and replaced then with Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson, who have a combined 10 NFL starts.

Prediction: The defense should be good but there is still a lot of questions about the offense despite an upgrade at QB. If Fournette puts up a repeat performance of last season then expect the defense to spend a lot of time on the field. They have a chance to compete in the maligned AFC South but I personally think this team will finish last and head coach Doug Marrone is a candidate to get fired midseason.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Offense: Reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes will look to get his team deep into another playoff run this season. Tyreek Hill has avoided any disciplinary action by the league and will be ready to go for week 1. He pairs with receiver Sammy Watkins and TE Travis Kelce to give Mahomes a productive pass catching trio. Running back is different however as Damien Williams will be the starter and LeSean McCoy was signed after being waived by Buffalo to be the backup and likely in the game during passing downs. The offensive line lost center Mitch Morse in the offseason but last year’s waiver wire steal Austin Reiter should be able to take his place.

Defense: Bob Sutton was fired as defensive coordinator and the team replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo and with that will be switching to his 4-3 scheme which is why they got rid of Justin Houston and Dee Ford then traded for Frank Clark. However, the team still has problems at inside linebacker and depth at cornerback especially since Morris Claiborne will miss the first four games of the season due to violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. They have upgraded at safety however with Tyrann Mathieu and second-round draft pick Juan Thornhill impressing so far this preseason.

Prediction: With a high-powered offense and a facelift on defense this team is expected to make a deep playoff run with anything short of a Super Bowl appearance a disappointment. Whether or not the defense can improve remains to be seen but they have a high chance at being the #1 seed in the AFC.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Offense: With the Chargers publically stating they have given holdout RB Melvin Gordon the permission to seek a trade its safe to say we will not be seeing him play for the team this season. That means Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will have to split the load. Keenan Allen remains the team’s top receiver and they let Tyrell Williams walk in free agency so 2017 first-round pick Mike Williams can take his place in the starting lineup. The team is also hopeful that TE Hunter Henry can bounce back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. And the team was also dealt another blow when starting tackle Russell Okung was diagnosed with a Pulmonary Embolism, putting his season in jeopardy, and do not appear to have an adequate replacement on their current roster.

Defense: Safety Derwin James will miss a good chunk of the season after undergoing surgery to fix a stress fracture in his foot, another huge blow to the team. While the team hopes first-round pick Jerry Tillery can help the interior of the line, they boast a great duo on the ends in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Their linebacking corps by signing Thomas Davis and are hopeful that Denzel Perryman can stay healthy. Cornerback is a position of strength on this team.

Prediction: With key injuries to Okung and James plus Gordon holding out the beginning of the season is going to be tough. They need Allen and Henry to stay healthy on offense and find a way to replace Gordon to once again become a playoff team. Their defense, even with James injured, is still strong and I do believe they really should become a wild card team once again.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Offense: Offensive-minded head coach Adam Gase is now with the Jets and QB Ryan Tannehill also gone. The team now has journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as their opening day starter and traded for Josh Rosen, who at least makes for an intriguing backup option. They also traded OT Laremy Tunsil, lost OT Ja’Wuan James via free agency and waived G Josh Sitton and now boast one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The offense will have to rely more on the ground with Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, who has not shown much heading into his second season.

Defense: New head coach Brian Flores will look to improve a defense that finished second worst in the league in both sacks and rushing defense. And do so after getting rid of their top three pass rushers as the team is looking for players that can play both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. The strength of the defense is in the safety led by Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard.

Prediction: Arguably the least talented team in the league. Anything more than a couple of wins will be exceeding expectations as this team is focused on the future and not field a competitive team for this season.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Offense: The defending Super Bowl Champions will have to deal with the retirement of star TE Rob Gronkowski. Given the shallow depth at the position on the roster expect the team to run the ball more with Sony Michel leading the way. Josh Gordon staying active all season long will also help the blow of Gronkowski leaving but that is certainly not a guarantee. Plus, first-round pick WR N’Keal Harry will begin the year on injured reserve. The team will also have to deal with starting C David Andrews missing the season due to a blood clot. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia will have his work cut out for him this season. 

Defense: Brian Flores is now the head coach in Miami and after Greg Schiano quit shortly after being named the defensive coordinator, head coach Bill Belichick will now call the plays. This defense returns most of the starters from last year and replaced Trey Flowers with Michael Bennett. The strength of this team is in the secondary with elite CB Stephon Gilmore leading the way. There is also depth at linebacker too and the defensive line is strong against the run but there is not a stud pass rusher on the team.

Prediction: The team should easily win the division as they play one of the easiest schedules in the league. However, in order to make a deep playoff run, they will need to figure out how to make up for the production lost by Gronkowski’s retirement and figure out who will replace Andrews at center. Edelman will need to stay healthy and Gordon has to stay active otherwise there just isn’t enough weapons in the passing game for this team to succeed deep into the playoffs.

NEW YORK JETS

Offense: New head coach Adam Gase was brought in to develop second-year QB Sam Darnold, who struggled at the end of the season. The good news is that Darnold has had a terrific preseason.  They also signed stud RB Le’Veon Bell and slot WR Jamison Crowder as weapons but still lack a #1 pass catcher. Plus, TE Chris Herndon will miss the first four games due to suspension but he could be poised for a breakout when he returns. C Ryan Kalil came out of retirement and will be the starter while the team also traded for G Kelechi Osemele as this team has greatly improved their line this offseason but still lack depth.

Defense: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for an aggressive defense but inherits a team with a lack of a pass rush and nothing at cornerback. At least they should be good at stopping the run and have one of the best young safety duos in the league in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye but it appears this team will struggle mightily against the pass.

Prediction: With the front office disaster this offseason in the rear view mirror the focus is now on the development of Darnold. As long as Gase can maximize his potential this team can build to something. If they start coming together as the season continues the fact they play one of the easiest schedules in the league (especially in the second half) then there is a slim chance they could grab a wild card spot but the lack of a pass rush and poor depth at cornerback is very likely going to prevent that from happening. They should be around .500.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Offense: This team made a splash in the offseason by trading for WR Antonio Brown. He will receive plenty of targets this season. They also went out and signed WR Tyrell Williams and OT Trent Brown while drafting RB Josh Jacobs in the first round. This side of the ball is much improved from last season although they will struggle early on in the season with guards Gabe Jackson (knee injury) and Richie Incognito (suspension) missing time.

Defense: The team shocked the world by drafting Clemson DE Clelin Farrell with the 4th overall pick this season. He will need to produce as a rookie since this team was dead last in the league last season in both sacks and QB hits. They also drafted hard-hitting safety Johnathan Abram in the first round to pair with free agent pickup LaMarcus Joyner at safety. While the team’s secondary appears to be stabilizing the front seven is still very much a work in progress.

Prediction: The offense should be better this season but the defense is still a liability as this team is not expected to make the playoffs. And with the news that Brown will be facing possible suspension from the team it appears that relationship might never recover and who knows if/when he returns. It is shaping up to be another long season in Oakland.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Offense: Antonio Brown’s departure leaves the door open for JuJu Smith-Schuster to become the #1 receiver. In Brown’s absence the team will need free agent pickup Donte Moncrief, last year’s second-round pick James Washington and this year’s third-round pick Diontae Johnson to step up their game and become a reliable #2 receiver. James Conner will be in his second-year as the featured back with Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell as his backups. The team also returns one of the best offensive lines in the game.

Defense: The team traded up to draft ILB Devin Bush to fill their biggest need. They also signed CB Steve Nelson to pair with Joe Haden, giving the team a formidable duo but Haden has not played a full season since he was a rookie in 2010 and the team has little depth behind him. One safety position is locked up by last year’s first-round Tremaine Edmunds but are set to have AAF castoff Kameron Kelly start the season with Sean Davis injured. The front seven is led by Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt. Its key they continue to get to the QB with a questionable secondary.

Prediction: This team should make the playoffs but depending on how their receivers step up and secondary improves will determine how far they can go. I think losing Brown and Bell will turn out to be an addition by subtraction but others will have to step up in their absence.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Offense: QB Marcus Mariota is in the final year of his rookie contract and will have to prove he can not only stay healthy but also produce in order to stay with the team. If he should falter, the team can turn to Ryan Tannehill who they acquired from the Dolphins. The team signed Rodger Saffold to play guard but will lose OT Taylor Lewan the first four games of the season due to PED suspension but their O-Line should be improved with all the starters playing together. Besides the line, the team signed slot WR Adam Humphries and drafted AJ Brown in the second round as another target. The team will be focused on the run and hopes Derrick Henry can build off of how he finished last season (786 yards, 11 TD’s in his final 9 games).

Defense: This defense allowed the third fewest yards in the league last season. Jurell Casey will anchor the defensive line again and the team might also get first-round pick Jeffery Simmons back by mid-season. Their secondary is also a deep group but despite the addition of Cameron Wake they are still lacking at outside linebacker. Hopefully last year’s second-round pick Harold Landry can step up and replace what the team lost in Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan when both retired following last season.

Prediction: Unless the defense turns into one of the best in the league and Henry runs all season long the way he did to close out the season I do not see how this team can make the playoffs. Mariota is playing under another new offensive coordinator and has yet to show that he can be a franchise QB in now his fifth season. This is another team that should hover around the .500 mark but lacks the offensive firepower to make the playoffs.

NFC

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Offense: Kliff Kingsbury is taking over to instill his Air Raid offense with this year’s #1 overall pick Kyler Murray at QB. However, it remains to be seen whether or not this offense can hold up in the NFL and Murray will be playing behind a terrible offensive line. They at least have weapons on RB David Johnson and WR Larry Fitzgerald with the hope Christian Kirk can make a step forward in his second season as a receiver but beyond that there is not much depth.

Defense: Star CB Patrick Peterson will miss the first six games due to PED suspension while the other slated starter, Robert Alford, went on injured reserve. The team will have to rely on second-round pick Byron Murphy until they come back. The Cardinals also released free agent acquisition Darius Philon after being arrested on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was going to be their starting defensive end. The team does have Chandler Jones as an edge rusher and signed veteran Terrell Suggs to play opposite of him. Safeties Budda Baker and DJ Swearinger are solid.

Prediction: A rookie head coach and QB with a poor offensive line is not a recipe for success. Murray will be running for his life this season and with his small frame he has a legitimate shot to get hurt. Add to that there are questions as to whether or not this offense can work to go with problems at cornerback and the defensive line and its likely this is going to be one of the worst teams in the league.  

ATLANTA FALCONS

Offense: WR Julio Jones still does not have a new contract and could end up holding out. With the first two games of the season against Minnesota and Philadelphia, two projected playoff teams, its imperative they have Jones out there otherwise it’s a very good chance they are starting the season 0-2. If he does hold out then Calvin Ridley will be receiving more targets. potential holdout is The team focused on rebuilding the offensive line as they drafted G Chris Lindstrom and OT Kaleb McGary in the first round and signed G’s Jamon Brown and James Carpenter. They also hope Devonta Freeman only played two games last season and no longer has Tevin Coleman as a backup. Last year’s third-round pick Ito Smith will have to become more consistent this season.

Defense: Head Coach Dan Quinn will take over defensive playcalling duties after the firing of Marquand Manuel. Last season they lost both starting safeties for the season and ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in getting to the QB. The hope is that Quinn can devise plays to allow Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley to get to the QB as this team did not do much to add on defense but having Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen at safety should be a huge help.

Prediction: Provided Jones does not hold out this should be a team competing for a playoff spot. The offensive line has improved and if Quinn can get more production out of his defense then the team has a shot to win the division.  

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Offense: Cam Newton’s status for week one is still in doubt with a foot sprain and having Kyle Allen take his place against the Rams is certainly not ideal. Christian McCaffrey is a threat on the ground and in the passing game but if he were ever to go down to injury there is minimal depth behind him with the #2 option at the moment last year’s practice squad member Reggie Bonnafon. The team lost Devin Funchess in free agency and waived Torrey Smith so last year’s rookie D.J. Moore is now the #1 option with Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, and Chris Hogan behind him on the depth chart. Certainly not the strongest group in the league. After playing just 16 games combined the past two seasons the team hopes that TE Greg Olsen can stay healthy this season. Matt Paradis will replace Ryan Kalil at Center but other than that the teams still lacks depth across the offensive line.

Defense: The team is no switching to the 3-4 defense for the first time under head coach Ron Rivera. Their defensive line among the best in the league with Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and Gerald McCoy. They also added pass rusher Bruce Irvin in free agency while first-round pick Brian Burns has impressed this preseason but they need to improve on their pass rush that produced just 35 sacks last season. The position of weakness is at cornerback and they do not have an adequate replacement for last year’s nickel back Captain Munnerlyn.

Prediction: Newton’s health is vital to the team’s success. If the young receivers take a step forward this season and McCaffrey continues to produce at a high level then there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to compete for a playoff spot as long as the secondary can show signs of improvement.

CHICAGO BEARS

Offense: QB Mitch Trubisky will need to once again improve in order for this team to return to the playoffs. In his second season of head coach Matt Nagy’s offense he should have a better command of things but must improve his awareness and stop throwing into coverage. The team traded RB Jordan Howard but drafted his replacement, David Montgomery, in the third-round to pair with Tarik Cohen.  They also added WR Cordarrelle Patterson who can be used in the utility role like he was this past season in New England. There are a lot of creative pieces for Nagy to use but he does lack a true #1 receiver.

Defense: Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio left to coach the Broncos and was replaced by former head coach Chuck Pagano, who will be keeping the 3-4 defense intact. Pagano will also become more aggressive with the blitz. Their front seven remains strong with Khalil Mack as arguably the best pass rusher in the game and a dominant defensive line. However, they did lose two starters in the secondary in Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos. They still have two Pro Bowl players in S Eddie Jackson and CB Kyle Fuller but Callahan and Amos were replaced by lesser talents.

Prediction: The running game should be improved but the defense will take a step back and the team has one of the toughest schedules in the league. The secondary has the potential to get burnt when they blitz and again, Trubisky needs to improve his decision making. It will be really tough to win the division again but they also should be competing for a playoff spot.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Offense: RB Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout just ended which not only is a huge to the running game but also the passing game where he caught 77 balls last season. QB Dak Prescott has never missed a start in his three seasons and boasts a 32-16 regular season record. The team replaced slot WR Cole Beasley with veteran Randall Cobb and had TE Jason Witten come out of retirement to rejoin the team but the focal point of the passing game will be WR Amari Cooper and the hope is that Michael Gallup can produce as the other starting receiver. Former Pro Bowler C Travis Frederick returns after missing last season to bolster one of the best lines in the league. Kellen Moore is in his first season as the offensive coordinator though and there could very well be some growing pains.

Defense: The strength of the defense is at linebacker with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith leading the way. And their pass rush will be better once Robert Quinn returns from a two-game suspension and if Randy Gregory ever gets reinstated by the league. Demarcus Lawrence was re-signed and had led the team in sacks last season. The team has depth at cornerback led by Pro Bowler Byron Jones but do not have another safety to pair with Xavier Woods as Jeff Heath will likely remain the starter.

Prediction: With a fairly easy schedule to start the season they against teams they match up well against they should rack up enough wins to make the playoffs. And if this defense can create more turnovers they can really become dangerous. They could even surprise and get a first-round bye but they need the offense to click under their new coordinator for that to happen.

DETROIT LIONS

Offense: The team hired Darrell Bevell to become their new offensive coordinator and he plans to focus on the running game. That means second-year RB Kerryon Johnson should see a substantial workload increase. Behind him are veteran CJ Anderson and rookie sixth-round pick Ty Johnson. QB Matthew Stafford pass for fewer than 4,000 yards for the first time since 2010 but is fully recovered from a lingering back injury suffered last season. The team signed WR Danny Amendola and TE Jesse James then drafted TE TJ Hockenson with the 8th overall pick in the draft to help out Stafford. Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay remain the starting receivers. Most of the team’s offensive line is returning and they are solid starting group but does lack depth.

Defense: The team made a big free agent splash in signing DE Trey Flowers and he pairs with Damon Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson to form one of the better lines in the league. However, their linebacking corps leaves a lot to be desired and they are lacking on the edge. CB Darius Slay is excellent and the team signed nickel back Justin Coleman this offseason. Tracy Walker, last year’s third-round pick, will replace the departed Glover Quin Jr. at safety.

Prediction: They’ve made improvements on both sides of the ball but still lack elite playmakers. This is not a playoff team and there is a chance the team could implode under coach Matt Patricia and Stafford might struggle under Bevell’s offense. I don’t think they are going to win more than 6-7 games and if the defense regresses then Patricia might find himself in the unemployment line this coming offseason.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Offense: Mike McCarthy was fired as head coach and replaced by Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. Expect more running from this team with RB Aaron Jones poised to have a huge season. Rodgers was dealt a blow when WR Equanimous St. Brown went on IR for the season as they are not deep at the position. Star WR Davante Adams’ health is key for this team to have any chance at a playoff birth. The team did bolster their offensive line by signing OT Billy Turner and drafting G Elgton Jenkins in the second-round for the team’s new zone running scheme. The scheme might also help remedy last season’s problem where the line gave up the third most sacks in the league.

Defense: Most of the offseason focus this season was on the defense. The team signed LB’s Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith who can play the edge. It also signed S Adrian Amos from division rival Chicago and spent two first-round picks on defense in DE Rashan Gary and S Darnell Savage. The team also hopes CB Kevin King can remain healthy as he has shown loads of potential when on the field. The team still boasts a strong defensive line.

Prediction: Rodgers had a poor relationship with McCarthy last season and if he gets off on the wrong foot with a rookie head coach in Lafleur then it can get ugly really fast. The team will have to succeed at running with Rodgers lacking in pass catchers other than Adams. The defense is upgraded and much faster but they will all have to succeed expectations in order to make the playoffs. I think they are going to be a .500 team.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Offense: After disappointing in the Super Bowl, QB Jared Goff hopes to rebound this season. Having WR Cooper Kupp back and healthy and gives the team arguably the best receiving corps in the league. And the team thinks last year’s second-round pick, TE Gerald Everett, can be ready for a bigger workload this season. However, there are questions about RB Todd Gurley having arthritis and he will be on a reduced workload which is why the team went ahead and drafted Darrell Henderson in the third-round. Plus, the team starters Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan on their offensive line and replaced them with a pair of first-time starters.

Defense: Wade Phillips is back as the defensive coordinator as the team did not make many changes this offseason. Ndamukong Suh is gone after a disappointing season and they will look to replace him with a combination of players. The team also added veterans LB Clay Matthews and S Eric Weddle while still boasting one of the best cornerback groups in the league. They still lack a threat on the edge and half of their sacks last season came from Aaron Donald.

Prediction: There are some questions on offense as to how much Gurley can hold up and the departures on the line can be replaced but having Kupp healthy is extremely beneficial to Goff. The defense should remain strong and this team is poised to make another deep playoff run and should win the division.  

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Offense: This team overhauled their offensive philosophy by naming Kevin Stefanski the new offensive coordinator with Gary Kubiak as the assistant head coach/offensive advisor and plans to run a similar system Kirk Cousins used under Mike Shanahan in Washington. Dalvin Cook is a talented running back but can never stay on the field. Drafting Alexander Mattison in the third-round as his backup is a better insurance policy than Latavius Murray was last season. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen remain one of the top receiving duos in the league but there is little depth behind them. TE Irv Smith was drafted in the second-round and can pair up with Kyle Rudolph this season and likely become his replacement in the future. The team also drafted C Garrett Bradbury in the first-round as the team needs to improve their blocking as Cousins was the second most hurried QB last season.

Defense: LB Anthony Barr had a change of heart and returned to the team after originally accepting an offer from the Jets as that would have left a gaping hole at linebacker, a position where the team does not have much depth. DE Danielle Hunter had 14.5 sacks last season and the team hopes Everson Griffen can overcome his issues that caused him to miss time last season and return to form. Starting cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are solid but they will be without nickel back Mike Hughes (IR for minimum 8 weeks) and Holton Hill (4 game suspension). Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris return as the starting safeties.

Prediction: If the new offense can click and they overcome the lack of cornerback depth at the start of then they have a legitimate shot at the division. I also expect Cousins to bounce back from last season. Regardless, anything short of a playoff appearance would be a disappointment.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Offense: Drew Brees is back and hoping to get his team deep into another playoff run. He boasts weapons RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas but the team needs to develop a solid third option and it might not be recently signed TE Jared Cook. The team also downgraded at running back by replacing Mark Ingram with Latavius Murray. They do boast one of the best offensive lines in football but will have to replace Pro Bowl C Max Unger with either free agnet signing Nick Easton or rookie Erik McCoy.

Defense: Cameron Jordan is one of the best defensive ends in the league but the team needs last year’s first-round pick Marcus Davenport to replace the departed Alex Okafor. DT Malcom Brown was signed this offseason to help the interior line. The linebackers are a solid group with Demario Davis, A.J. Klein, and Craig Robertson. The team needs to improve their pass defense, which ranked 29th last season, and hopes CB Marshon Lattimore and S Marcus Williams can bounce back after their sophomore slumps from last season.

Prediction: Brees could very well regress this season and the lack of a third playmaker on offense will be a major concern if either Thomas or Kamara get injured. However, if their young secondary improves and the offense at least maintains then there is no reason for them not to make another deep playoff run.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Offense: Despite shocking (and angering) fans by drafting QB Daniel Jones with the 6th overall pick, Eli Manning remains the starter. However, expect pressure to play Jones if/when Manning struggles. RB Saquon Barkley had a great rookie season and is going to be the focal point of the offense. Odell Beckham Jr. was traded away and the team replaced him with Golden Tate, who is going to miss the first four games due to PED suspension, leaving Sterling Shepard as the only dependable receiver in his absence. TE Evan Engram is another reliable target at least and the team did make improvements along their offensive line by adding G Kevin Zeitler in the Beckham trade.

Defense: This defense fell apart in the second half of last season and addressed their needs in the draft. They took DT Dexter Lawrence and CB Deandre Baker in the first-round and also took slot CB Julian Love in the fourth-round. The team also signed S Antoine Bethea, OLB Markus Golden, and acquired S Jabril Peppers in the Beckham trade but even still it’s a lot to expect from this many rookies and none of these free agent signings are impact players. The defensive line is the strongest position here and CB Janoris Jenkins is easily the best out of a weak secondary.

Prediction: This team will go as far as Saquon Barkley can take them as their passing game remains a question mark and the defense is mostly young and unproven. I don’t see this team winning more than 6 games. The real question is how soon Jones replaces Manning as the starter.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Offense: Nick Foles is now on the Jaguars so the team needs Carson Wentz not only to return to form but also stay healthy. If he goes down the team will turn to Josh McCown. The team also revamped their running back position by trading for Jordan Howard and drafting Miles Sanders in the second-round. WR Alshon Jeffery starts off the season healthy and is joined by free agent signing DeSean Jackson and another second-round pick in JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The team also plans to get second-year TE Dallas Goedert on the field more in two TE sets with Zach Ertz. There are plenty of targets for Wentz on this team. The offensive line remains intact from last season and added OT Andre Dillard in the draft as their first-round pick.

Defense: The defensive line as undergone a lot of changes from last season. DE Michael Bennett was traded and DE Chris Long retired. They also signed DT Malik Jackson and DE Vinny Curry, who left the team as a free agent in 2017. DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham remain as starters to give the team a strong front four. The team has little depth and linebacker and already has injury concerns with Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill. The team needs 2017 second-round pick CB Sidney Jones to perform and for CB Ronald Darby to return to form after tearing his ACL in November because of little depth at the position. S Mike Jenkins remains a leader on defense.

Prediction: If Wentz can return to form then this team becomes a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If that does not happen then the team will have to rely on the back end of the defense to really step up huge and pick up the slack, something I do not see happening. Still, there is too much talent to not at least obtain a wild card birth.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Offense: QB Jimmy Garopollo is going to be counted upon showing what he gave the team in 2017 rather than the few games he played last season before tearing his ACL. The team signed RB Tevin Coleman and good thing since Jerick McKinnon will require season-ending surgery. They drafted WR Deebo Samuel in the second-round and he has big play ability and might be counted upon sooner than later as Marquise Goodwin has been inconsistent and last year’s rookie Dante Pettis seems to have fallen out of favor with this coaching staff. TE George Kittle though is their top target and one of the best at his position in the entire league. Their offense line is decent enough with last year’s first-round pick OT Mike McGlinchey possibly taking the next step into becoming a Pro Bowl caliber player.

Defense: This team focused on the pass rush after making DE Nick Bosa the #2 overall pick in the draft and trading for DE Dee Ford. They join DT DeForest Buckner and could become a real force rushing the passer. The team has less depth at linebacker especially if Kwon Alexander is unable to bounce back after tearing his ACL this past October. And there is not much depth at cornerback but the team hopes that free agent signing Jason Verrett can stay healthy and give them something as Akhello Witherspoon struggled badly last season.

Prediction: It remains to be seen as to whether or not Garopollo can hold up for an entire season or if he can be the long-term answer regardless of his contract. He does not have much help besides Kittle but the team’s defense should be improved and the schedule is easy enough to where they could be able to become a .500 team or even sneak in as the final wild card team if everything goes right. Personally, I think this is a 6-10 team.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Offense: Russell Wilson returns and comes off a season where he threw 35 touchdowns and just 7 Interceptions. Chris Carson will be the top running back but C.J. Prosise has looked great this preseason and could even supplant last season’s second-round pick Rashaad Penny as the backup. WR Doug Baldwin retired and leaves Tyler Lockett as the only proven receiver on the roster. D.K. Metcalf was drafted in the second-round but will miss at least the first week of the season. Their offensive line remains largely intact from last season and was much improved from 2017.

Defense: The team pulled off a blockbuster trade for DE Jadevon Clowney where they paid just pennies on the dollar. They also bolstered their pass rush by signing DE Ezekiel Ansah and drafted DE L.J. Collier in the first round. They also traded away DE Frank Clark in the offseason. Their starting linebacker trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Mychal Kendricks are the heart of the team’s defense. The team lost S Earl Thomas in the offseason and is really shaky in the secondary, especially at cornerback.

Prediction: This team’s defensive front seven should be enough to become a playoff team and make up for the shortcomings in the secondary. As long as the running game improves and someone else can help Wilson as a pass-catching target this team could be a Super Bowl contender.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Offense: New head coach Bruce Arians is hoping to resurrect Jameis Winston’s career. However, he will have to do it with a feeble running game with Peyton Barber and last year’s second-round pick Ronald Jones, who had a disastrous rookie season. Mike Evans is a great receiver and Arians believes Chris Godwin can become a productive receiver for him so expect him to get more targets especially with DeSean Jackson no longer with the team. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are a both good pass catchers. The offensive line was a problem last season and the team did not do much to change their personnel in the offseason.

Defense: Todd Bowles is now the defensive coordinator. The team also got rid of DT Gerald McCoy and DE Jason Pierre-Paul will miss time after getting into a car accident in the offseason. They did draft ILB Devin White with the 5th overall pick and he joins Lavonte David and Deone Buchanon to form a soild trio. The team’s Achilles heel is the secondary. They are very young and hopefully one or two players can stand out but it’s a stretch to ask much from them this season.

Prediction: This team will go as far as the offense takes them. If Arians is able to get Winston to reach his potential then they could be a .500 team. However, there is not enough talent on defense and lack of running game with a questionable offensive line plus playing one of the toughest schedules in the league to me says this team is finishing last in the NFC South and will draft in the top 10 in the 2020 draft.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Offense: Case Keenum is set to open the season at quarterback after a disappointing season in Denver. Behind him are Colt McCoy and first-round pick Dwayne Haskins who I’m sure the fans would love to see start. They have depth at running back with Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, and Chris Thompson but receiver is a real weakness with Paul Richardson as their current #1. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are a decent enough tight end duo. The main concern on offense, however, is the holdout of OT Trent Williams. It does not appear like it will end anytime soon and the hope for the team is they can work out a trade.

Defense: The team has a good young line with Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen but really need first-round pick Montez Sweat to develop into a pass rusher alongside Ryan Kerrigan. There is a weakness at inside linebacker though and the team brought in veterans Landon Collins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to help with their secondary, which is also not an area of strength.

Prediction: This offense is going to have to rely on two running backs with knee injury histories as they have arguably the worst passing game in the league and the holdout of their top offensive lineman. The defense is not strong enough to win games by themselves and I think this adds up to the team being one of the worst in the league.

Author: Brian Bayless

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