NFL Season Preview

I mean, this is what you’ve all been really waiting for, isn’t it?

Fair warning – that’s the last picture you’ll see in this article. If you came for the images, you’re about to be devastated.

We are just weeks away from football season and I CANNOT CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT. It helps when the team you cheer for is actually good for a change.

College football officially starts this weekend (sort of), though Labor Day is the big kickoff for the NCAA. Which means the NFL is so, so close. September 5th, opening night, Bears vs. Packers. Let’s. Go.

I painstakingly listed out the entire NFL schedule by hand and went through each team calculating wins and losses. In a 16-game season, with 32 teams, that means the overall record for the entire league by year’s end has to equal 256 wins and 256 losses.

My first go-around ended with 254 wins and 258 losses. Slight problem.

But! Problem solved. I just had two games where nobody won, that’s all. All squared away.

Let’s run through the divisions. I’m going to list each team’s record, in order I expect them to finish, and give their best win, worst loss, and either one big thing to watch or expect, or, in some cases, I might just rip into them for being terrible (looking at you, Miami).

NFC North

Chicago Bears, 11-5

Where else would we start but the NFC North? You should know by now if you know me, but I am a big time Bears fan. 12-4 last year was surprising, but I expect them to win the division again. Also, I cannot get over Matt Nagy wearing visors despite being bald. Such an alpha move.

Best win: Week 11 @ Los Angeles Rams

Worst loss: Week 15 @ Green Bay (which, in my opinion, isn’t a bad loss. I expect the Bears to lose the games they should lose, and win the games they should win).

One big thing: It’s all about Trubisky. How far can the Bears 3rd-year quarterback take them? The defense will still be top-tier. Can the offense keep up in Nagy’s second year as head coach?

Minnesota Vikings, 9-7

On a tiebreaker (win percentage among conference games), I have Minnesota finishing second in the NFC North. A 9-7 campaign barely gets them the six seed in the NFC playoff picture (on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Atlanta and the aforementioned case against Green Bay).

Best win: Week 6 vs. Philadelphia

Worst loss: Week 7 @ Detroit

One big thing: The Vikings could easily finish with double-digit victories if they can take care of business against the bad teams on their schedule. A lot of that falls on Kirk Cousins, who is the 2019 stock market of quarterbacks (the volatility part, not the all-time high part). But it will be interesting to see how Dalvin Cook responds coming off an ACL injury. If he can stay healthy and be an every-down running back, watch out.

Green Bay Packers, 9-7

I have the Packers improving to a winning season under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur, but unlike the Vikings above them, a 9-7 record does not get them into the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight had an article recently that asked if Aaron Rodgers was still elite. I (and you) would be a fool to think that he’s regressed, but I don’t think the Packers have the right pieces around him yet.

Best win: Week 15 vs. Chicago

Worst loss: Week 5 @ Dallas (only because I think Green Bay is overall a better team than Dallas)

One big thing: How will Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers get along this year? The great oaf Mike McCarthy is (sadly) no longer the head man in Green Bay, but anyone who thinks this is LaFleur’s team is out of their minds. Let Rodgers call the shots and watch it happen.

Detroit Lions, 5-11

In the basement we have Detroit. No real surprise here. I think they regress a bit under second-year coach Matt Patricia, and it may be the last time we see him on the sidelines in Detroit, which is sad because I like Patricia. This team has a lot of holes, and it can’t be fixed overnight.

Best win: Week 7 vs. Minnesota

Worst loss: Week 16 @ Denver

One big thing: I just don’t think Kerryon Johnson is your #1 running back in a league like this. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. are in a similar situation – good players, but if that’s your top-2 receiving corps, count me out.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints, 12-4

The Saints were literally one play away from the Super Bowl last year, and with the new pass-interference review/challenge rule in effect, they almost certainly give the Patriots a better run for their money than the Rams did. Not much has changed. I fully expect the Saints to get a first-round bye and play that first playoff game in front of the raucous New Orleans crowd.

Best win: Week 7 @ Chicago

Worst loss: Week 6 @ Jacksonville (I think this is just going to be one of those quirky games; there are more of these coming.)

One big thing: How long can Drew Brees be this good? He has to be in the conversation for top-5 quarterbacks of all-time at this point, right? I certainly think so.

Carolina Panthers, 11-5

Carolina has a similar problem as Detroit at the wide receiver position. They lost Devin Funchess to the Colts, and their top two receivers are now Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore. Uh, what? If it wasn’t for Christian McCaffrey (who essentially single-handedly won me my fantasy championship last year, thank you), the Panthers would miss the playoffs. Though if Cam Newton isn’t able to play the full year, Carolina won’t get close to this record.

Best win: Week 17 vs. New Orleans

Worst loss: Week 6 @ Tampa Bay

One big thing: Cam Newton’s health. Can he stay healthy all season? He takes a lot of shots as a big, running quarterback. I don’t think the Panthers can afford any stretch with Kyle Allen at QB.

Atlanta Falcons, 9-7

Atlanta misses the playoffs on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Minnesota, who I have them losing to in week one. But it’s a slight step forward from last season for Matt Ryan and crew, who could very easily prove me wrong and make some noise in the playoffs.

Best win: Week 2 vs. Philadelphia

Worst loss: Week 6 @ Arizona

One big thing: How many yards can Julio Jones get this year? He’s talked about aiming for 3,000 yards this offseason, which is obviously a stretch, but if anyone has a chance, it’s hard to bet against Jones.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 5-11

The Bucs inch forward this year after finishing one game worse in 2018, but like Detroit, there are just too many holes on this team to be a serious contender. That, and the fact that they play in one of the strongest divisions in football. That doesn’t help.

Best win: Week 6 vs. Carolina

Worst loss: Week 10 @ Arizona

One big thing: I hate to keep focusing on the quarterbacks, but what version of Jameis Winston will Tampa get this year? If it’s the version that throws as many (or more) interceptions as touchdowns, this might be his last season in Florida (at least with Tampa Bay).

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams, 11-5

I don’t think the Rams have quite the same season as last year (13-3 and a Super Bowl appearance), but I think they’ll still be happy with a division title. They’re as good as anyone in the NFC, so we’ll see if Sean McVay can keep doing whatever it is he’s doing out there.

Best win: Week 1 @ Carolina

Worst loss: Week 16 @ San Francisco

One big thing: The Rams offense was dynamite last season, and now they get Cooper Kupp back at wide receiver. Even if Todd Gurley cools off a bit from last year, Kupp’s presence will give another talented target for Jared Goff to aim for.

Seattle Seahawks, 8-8

I have seen some NFL preview pieces that have the Seahawks as high as 13-3, but I just don’t see it happening. I don’t love this team. The defense isn’t what it used to be, and Russell Wilson can be wildly inconsistent. I think this is a disappointing year for Seattle.

Best win: Week 3 vs. New Orleans

Worst loss: Week 10 @ San Francisco

One big thing: The receiving corps for Russell Wilson probably isn’t what he dreamed of when signing his massive contract. David Moore and Tyler Lockett are a decent top-two, but Ed Dickson as a number one tight end isn’t the most frightening thing in the world.

San Francisco 49ers, 7-9

Obviously a step forward from last year with a healthy quarterback, but I’m not convinced the 49ers are as ready to leap forward as some analysts think they are. Then again, they’re getting paid for their opinions. I do this out of the goodness of my heart.

Best win: Week 5 vs. Cleveland

Worst loss: Week 1 @ Tampa Bay

One big thing: It can’t be anyone other than Jimmy G, right? How will Garoppolo fare in a full season, if he can stay healthy? His first preseason appearance was…less than stellar.

Arizona Cardinals, 4-12

Listen, I like Kyler Murray. I think he has a chance to be good in the league. And I like Kliff Kingsbury as a coach. But this just isn’t the year for them. If they keep drafting well and Larry Fitzgerald continues to not age, they could make a run in a few years. Until then….

Best win: Week 15 vs. Cleveland (another quirky one; don’t worry, Browns fans)

Worst loss: Week 5 @ Cincinnati

One big thing: Seriously, how much longer can Larry Fitzgerald be awesome in this league? 35 is not old by any stretch, but with what he’s done at the level that he’s done it for as long as he’s done it – did you follow that? – wow.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles, 13-3

I hate to say this after the double doink disaster of last year’s playoffs, but man, I love this Philly team. They have a real shot at getting back to the Super Bowl this year. I will be shocked if they don’t win the NFC East and a little less shocked if they aren’t the #1 overall seed, but still. Watch out.

Best win: Week 11 vs. New England

Worst loss: Week 7 @ Dallas (only because I’m making myself choose)

One big thing: I think the entire defense is loaded. If Carson Wentz stays healthy and has a big year, even if the defense struggles from time-to-time (which I don’t really see happening), the Eagles can win a shootout against anyone.

Dallas Cowboys, 8-8

Looooots of locker room and offseason drama. Some people are due some big paychecks in the Cowboys organization (Congrats, Fort Wayne’s own Jaylon Smith!). It remains to be seen whether one of them will even play this year without a new contract. Regardless, I don’t think Dallas is good enough to compete for the division title.

Best win: Week 7 vs. Philadelphia

Worst loss: Week 17 @ Washington

One big thing: Ezekiel Elliott of course. Will he play without a new contract? If not, how long will he sit out? He doesn’t really have a lot of leverage in this situation. What’s he going to do, sit out for two years for a new contract? Not a chance.

Washington Redskins, 3-13

I am not impressed with this team. Which is a shame, because they have some really good players on defense, like Josh Norman and Landon Collins and even Ryan Kerrigan. I just don’t trust the offense, and I don’t find the defense to be good enough to win them multiple games.

Best win: Week 17 @ Dallas

Worst loss: Week 6 @ Miami

One big thing: Who’s going to be the quarterback? Alex Smith had a setback in his recovery from a gruesome leg injury (look it up if you dare). Colt McCoy? Case Keenum? Rookie Dwayne Haskins, the 17th overall pick? Nobody knows. But I do think a healthy Derrius Guice could kickstart the offense.

New York Giants, 3-13

Gross. Speaking of “nobody knows what’s going on here,” it’s the Giants! But seriously, what are they doing? Besides Saquon, what is happening in the Meadowlands?

Best win: Week 2 vs. Buffalo

Worst loss: Week 16 @ Washington

One big thing: Do I have to do one here? How long will Eli Manning be under center in the Big Apple? The Giants spent the #6 pick on Duke’s Daniel Jones, who didn’t even have a winning record against the ACC. Maybe everyone (almost literally) will be wrong about Jones and he’ll save the Giants. But other than Saquon Barkley, who could be the league’s best running back by season’s end, the Giants have a whole lot of nothin’.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns, 11-5

That just feels weird to write, you know? But Cleveland has a ton of talent and a very favorable schedule. They’re a trendy pick, and I’m hopping on board.

Best win: Week 3 vs. Los Angeles Rams

Worst loss: Week 15 @ Arizona

One big thing: The Baker to Beckham connection. How lethal can it be? Mayfield impressed in his rookie season, and OBJ is a perennial All-Pro (and staple on my fantasy team). And while the optics may not look great, Cleveland’s signing of Kareem Hunt gives them a devastating 1-2 punch with him and Nick Chubb in the backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-5

By virtue of the conference winning percentage tiebreaker, the Steelers will concede the division title to Cleveland this year. I still think Pittsburgh will be good enough to make the playoffs as the six seed, but the window is closing, and this might be their last big shot at making a run.

Best win: Week 13 vs. Cleveland

Worst loss: None, but if I have to pick, Week 17 @ Baltimore

One big thing: JuJu Smith-Schuster can be every bit as good as Antonio Brown was with Ben Roethlisberger. I think Pittsburgh’s success is going to ride on the back of running back James Conner, who was outstanding last season in Le’Veon Bell’s absence.

Baltimore Ravens, 10-6

In the first Flacco-less season in Baltimore since 2008, I think the Ravens will be good enough to hit double digit victories, but not quite good enough to make the playoffs in a stacked AFC.

Best win: Week 4 vs. Cleveland

Worst loss: None, but again, if I have to, Week 7 @ Seattle

One big thing: The receiving just isn’t there for Lamar Jackson. He’ll be able to make things happen with his legs, and I think Mark Ingram will have a big year as Baltimore’s offensive line is one of the best in football, but I don’t think a run-heavy offense wins enough in the pass-dominant era that we’re currently in.

Cincinnati Bengals, 5-11

I think the Bengals have a lot of young talent on offense, but I don’t think their defense is good enough to keep up with the rest of the AFC North. When you have three teams hitting double digit wins, someone’s gotta be the loser.

Best win: Week 13 vs. New York Jets

Worst loss: Week 3 @ Buffalo

One big thing: I really think this team is just a couple of players on defense and a consistently good Andy Dalton away from being a playoff team. Joe Mixon should have a pretty big year out of the backfield for Cincinnati. I like him as a pass-catcher too, especially if you’re in a PPR fantasy format.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts, 12-4*

*Subject to change based on Andrew Luck’s health. But this Colts team is scary good when everyone is healthy, and I’m here for it. If you’ve known me for a long time, you know I used to be a huge Colts hater. No longer. I love this Colts team and I want to see them win (unless they play Chicago in the Super Bowl, then they can go…you know what, fill in the blanks yourself).

Best win: Week 5 @ Kansas City

Worst loss: Week 17 @ Jacksonville

One big thing: It has to be Andrew Luck and his health. It’s been an ongoing story over the last several seasons, but when he’s on, he’s a top-tier quarterback in the league. Darius Leonard is one of the scariest men on Earth, and the Colts defense is going to feed off of him this year. Look. Out.

Houston Texans, 10-6

While I was filling out my predictions, Houston’s schedule ended up looking a lot like last season did, as far as results go. I have them starting slow (2-5 through seven games) and going 8-1 the rest of the way (including winning their last six games). But like Baltimore, a 10-6 record doesn’t get you into the playoffs in a year like this one in the AFC. If Luck misses an extended period of time, however, Houston can run away with the division.

Best win: Week 3 @ Los Angeles Chargers or Week 13 vs. New England

Worst loss: None; it’s just a tough schedule. But I’ll say Week 5 vs. Atlanta

One big thing: The running back position leaves a little to be desired since I think Lamar Miller is pretty inconsistent, but DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the league, so it makes up for the backfield issues. Hopkins and Deshaun Watson’s ability to connect makes this team fun to watch.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 5-11

I know that they have a pretty good defense and now they have Nick Foles at quarterback, but I don’t think Foles is going to be the savior that Jags fans want him to be. Plus, Leonard Fournette is basically Trent Richardson 2.0, which is not a good thing.

Best win: Week 6 vs. New Orleans

Worst loss: Week 12 @ Tennessee

One big thing: Fournette is more inconsistent than Lamar Miller, and if the Jaguars can’t get a solid run game established, they’re out of luck. Foles can’t throw for 400 yards each game, though I’m sure he’ll try.

Tennessee Titans, 5-11

I read one prediction piece that had the Titans going 11-5 and winning the division. I had to stop and think about whether we were talking about the same Titans team. Very good defense, but I have no faith in this team. I have no faith in Marcus Mariota at quarterback anymore, and I have less faith in Ryan Tannehill. Not a chance this team even sniffs .500 this year. Book it.

Best win: Week 7 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Worst loss: Week 14 @ Oakland

One big thing: The quarterback play. I loved Mariota when he was at Oregon. There have been flashes of greatness in his play in the NFL. I want to like him. But he’s so wildly inconsistent, and Tannehill, while a very good player to have as a backup quarterback comparatively speaking, doesn’t do much for me either. I just don’t like this team.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs, 13-3

Hard to think that the Chiefs are anything other than Super Bowl favorites entering this season. With the reigning MVP in Patrick Mahomes and weapons like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to throw to, KC could have their best shot in recent memory to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

Best win: Week 17 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Worst loss: None; I have them losing to New England, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles, all 12-4.

One big thing: Of course we can talk about Mahomes, but I’m more interested in the backfield. Kareem Hunt was very good last year until…he wasn’t there anymore. Can Damien Williams and Carlos Hyde provide a similar output to take some pressure off Mahomes? Also interested to see how Tyrann Mathieu performs in his first season in KC in a defense that needs some help.

Los Angeles Chargers, 12-4

Like last season, I think the Chargers are right there with Kansas City at the top of the division. And, like last season, I think they come up a game short and settle for another Wild Card berth. Philip Rivers was a revelation last year, and his receiving corps is among the best in football. This team could make a deep run.

Best win: I have them splitting with Kansas City, but Week 8 @ Chicago is no joke.

Worst loss: Week 7 @ Tennessee (one of those fluky games)

One big thing: The Chargers need Joey Bosa to stay healthy up front on defense. Another player returning from injury is tight end Hunter Henry, who adds another weapon to Rivers’s arsenal.

Oakland Raiders, 4-12

The Hard Knocks Curse? David Carr is overrated, and it’s not like the Raiders have any other options with Nathan Peterman and Mike Glennon behind him. Not even Antonio Brown can save this team, although who knows if he’ll play. That helmet situation is wild.

Best win: Week 9 vs. Detroit

Worst loss: Week 15 vs. Jacksonville

One big thing: Seriously, what is going on with Antonio Brown? Is he really not going to play because he doesn’t get to wear his preferred helmet this season? I don’t think he’s going to pass up $15 million, but who knows with him.

Denver Broncos, 3-13

Denver still has a pretty good defense. Their wide receivers aren’t bad (Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton are the top two). Phillip Lindsay in the backfield could be a nice surprise. So why are they so low? We’ll get to that.

Best win: Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Worst loss: Week 17 vs. Oakland

One big thing: Joe Flacco seems poised to be the starting quarterback after he was run out of Baltimore last season. I don’t think he’ll be what John Elway wants him to be in Denver, although he is really good at throwing the ball up and getting a pass interference penalty called in his favor. The thin air in Denver could help that.

NFC East

New England Patriots, 12-4

No surprises in this division. Tom Brady, in his 47th season in the NFL, will lead the Pats to another division title. Even without Rob Gronkowski, I don’t think this train slows down any time soon. Brady and Belichick might be looking for a few more rings before they ride off into the proverbial sunset of retirement.

Best win: Week 14 vs. Kansas City

Worst loss: Week 4 @ Buffalo

One big thing: Which running back will Belichick feature this season? Sony Michel, the power back from Georgia is currently listed at number one on the depth chart. But he also has former Super Bowl stud James White, James Develin, and Rex Burkhead behind him.

New York Jets, 8-8

The Jets are a much better team than they were a year ago, but it isn’t quite good enough for the playoffs and pushes them out of a prime draft spot. Le’Veon Bell should be a big help for their offense, but it’ll really be about Sam Darnold under center.

Best win: Week 7 vs. New England

Worst loss: Week 11 @ Washington

One big thing: There’s been a lot of hype about Quinnen Williams, the defensive lineman who was this year’s number three overall pick. How will he fit in with the defense in New York, and what impact will he have?

Buffalo Bills, 5-11

I really like Josh Allen, and I really enjoy Bills Mafia breaking tables in new, creative, and dangerous ways each week, but I don’t think the Bills can compete this year. I liked their first round pick this year (Ed Oliver, defensive tackle from Houston), but they’re a handful of key players away from another playoff run.

Best win: Week 4 vs. New England

Worst loss: Week 11 @ Miami

One big thing: I don’t hate the acquisition of Cole Beasley, and I hope he becomes Buffalo’s version of Julian Edelman (for Allen’s sake). But the receivers don’t scare me, and they have an aging backfield in LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore. Those names don’t strike the same fear they used to.

Miami Dolphins, 2-14

Yikes. On the bright side, my predictions mean that Miami gets next year’s #1 overall pick. Is #TankForTua a thing yet? The Dolphins really need a franchise quarterback. Fitzpatrick isn’t it, and I don’t think Josh Rosen is either. That, and I don’t think the defense will be very good this year.

Best win: Week 11 vs. Buffalo, I guess

Worst loss: Week 15 @ New York Giants

One big thing: Miami has some really talented young guys! I like Devante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Albert Wilson at receiver! I like Kenyan Drake out of the backfield! But the defense is not good (they did attempt to remedy this by drafting Clemson’s Christian Wilkins this year) and the quarterback situation is among the worst in the league (toss-up between the Dolphins and Giants). Just suck it up and go get your franchise QB in 2020.

Trevor Lawrence is definitely going to the Packers

By: Jesse

Trevor Lawrence throws a pass during the 2018-19 season (Getty Images)

Don’t say I didn’t warn you when it happens.

Look, I’ve been a Bears fan for basically my whole life (there was a stint early on when I was a Colts guy). This past regular season was great. The Bears way over achieved, Trubisky was fantastic, and Matt Nagy…what a hire. That guy is something else. Plus, being bald and wearing a visor is an extremely bold move.

Bald + Visor = Not a single care to give (Getty Images)

But, I want to prepare you, fellow Bears fans (and I guess everyone else in the NFC North). There’s absolutely no way this doesn’t end poorly for all of us.

Lawrence still has two years left until he can enter the NFL Draft, so the Bears window to win a Super Bowl and keep Green Bay in the cellar is pretty short.

I literally had a nightmare about this a few weeks ago. Here’s the scenario:

In 2019, the NFC North is going to be a two-team race between the Bears and the Packers. The Lions are a laughingstock, and the Vikings paid Kirk Cousins way too much money to be the mediocre QB that he is. Rodgers could have a comeback year, and I think both of these teams make the playoffs next year.

In 2020, one of two things happens:

  1. The Bears and Packers duke it out for the second straight season, or
  2. Rodgers gets hurt early on, the Packers tank, and lock up the #1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

If #2 happens…it’s over. The Packers will take Lawrence, let him learn behind Rodgers, one of the all-time greats, and when A-a-ron is ready to retire, Lawrence will lead another 15 year campaign of misery and hell for Bears fans everywhere. Does that sound familiar? It hurt me to write that.

Aug 29, 2018; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks on during the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce Welcome Back Packers Luncheon at Lambeau Field. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY NETWORK

I mean, gross. Look at him.

If the Packers don’t tank and Rodgers stays healthy, I think Ted Thompson is (unfortunately) savvy enough to realize the kind of talent Trevor Lawrence is, and I think he’ll offer up three or four future first round picks in exchange for the 2021 #1 overall selection. The only hope we (I’m mostly writing this for Bears fans, but it applies to all other NFL teams, I guess) have here is that whoever has the #1 pick in 2021 – probably the Jets, Browns, or Jaguars – doesn’t give in to Thompson.

I have never, ever wanted to be more wrong about something than this. But the experience of being a nearly-lifelong Bears fan – and Cubs fan, and growing up a Pacers fan during the Jordan era – well, I know how to prepare for disappointment.

Good thing the Cubs won in 2016, otherwise I might have just quit by now.