With the first week of the NFL season rolling around, I will go ahead and talk a bit about my predictions and such while seeing who I think will be in Atlanta hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 53. It is an interesting year as while I do think the Patriots are the perennial favorites to take the AFC, the NFC is a little more open with more than a few teams believing they have an amazing shot at a Super Bowl berth.
So let’s get into the look-back on my picks (remember, I have dropped Buffalo to 6-10 in part because of their questions with LeSean McCoy) and see who I have winning divisions and taking playoff spots.
AFC (Division Champs): New England-East, Pittsburgh-North, Jacksonville-South, Los Angeles Chargers West.
AFC: (Wild Cards): Tennessee, Houston
AFC (Byes): Pittsburgh (1st seed), New England (2nd seed)
NFC (Division Champs): Philadelphia-East, Minnesota-North, Atlanta-South, San Francisco West
NFC (Wild Cards): New Orleans, Detroit
NFC (Byes): Atlanta (1st Seed), Philadelphia (2nd Seed)
WILD CARD WEEKEND: Houston at Jacksonville, Tennessee at Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans at San Francisco, Detroit at Minnesota
Texans vs. Jaguars: A fun playoff game is a divisional rivalry playoff game. It seems chippier than before and on top of that you have a good chance of seeing the AFC South take both playoff spots this year. The Jags will have the boastful, arrogant defense somewhat reminiscent of what we saw with the Sapp/Brooks/Barber/Lynch Bucs when they got their Super Bowl in 2002. On the other side, the Texans will have DeShaun Watson who can really harass even the toughest defenses. The biggest question will be if the Texans defense is actually healthy and what we remembered them (though the analytics say they weren’t as good as what the basic stats made them out to be). And that means can JJ Watt stay on the football field? If so, I’m not sold on their defense and I think Jacksonville’s offense is only getting better thanks to the running game. JAGUARS 27, TEXANS 17
Titans vs. Chargers: Tennessee will somewhat repeat their 2017 performance I believe with being up and down, but with a little bit more focused on the run game and their defense to get them. However, the Chargers pass rush is sick and can give Mariota fits all day long as sometimes Mariota is too much of a streak QB. If the Titans passing game spikes up, Tennessee could be further ahead than this. But if the passing game continues to be sketchy, it will be a problem and I think despite the concerns of depth on San Diego thanks to injury already they will hold the passing attack down. On the flip-side, I don’t know if Tennessee has all the answers to stop the Charger attack on offense. CHARGERS 34, TITANS 10
Saints vs. 49ers: I originally had San Francisco hold the best record in the NFC with a 1st-round bye, but Jerick McKinnon’s injury admittedly scared me to the point that the Niners rushing game may be slightly problematic to the point of being knocked down a game or two. This may be one of those games that could resemble 2011 again for New Orleans and San Francisco. The Saints defense is getting sharper and sharper while the 49ers defense is going to show growth all year. But Kyle Shanahan will have schemes ready even on one of the better defenses. It will be which team can make the bigger plays and get key turnovers. New Orleans will somewhat wanting to exact revenge on the 49ers for their playoff run in 2011. Again, don’t doubt Brees. And after the Jerick McKinnon injury (and honestly I thought he would have had an All-Pro caliber year too), San Francisco may have a difficulty running the ball all. Even though this game is away from the Superdome and it is outdoors, which is an albatross for the Saints time after time. SAINTS 31, 49ERS 28
Lions vs. Vikings: A NFC North tilt in the playoffs which means it will be chippier than before. While I think the Lions secondary is underrated and one of the better groups in the NFL, I feel the run defense may take a hit and the Vikings runners will have a huge game against Detroit. And again, the Lions will be battling those playoff demons like they had in 2011, 2014, and 2016 with Stafford. Now to be fair, Stafford hasn’t played bad in two of those games and Detroit’s defense fell apart on him, but the Lions still need some playmakers on both sides to really make an impact in January. But if Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount have a good year this year, this will be close, but I have to give the Vikings the win here (despite Detroit having yet to lose in Minnesota’s new stadium). VIKINGS 23, LIONS 20
Jacksonville at New England, Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh, New Orleans at Atlanta, Minnesota at Philadelphia
Jaguars vs. Patriots: Rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. This one has a bit of a coin-flip feel. Nobody can argue that how the Jags played last year in New England wasn’t a springboard of momentum for this year. The Patriots, there’s a vibe to me at least that something isn’t clicking right in New England, even with Brady and I never doubt that guy. But I also am very concerned on the Patriots defense. I don’t think they have the guys to make the big stops anymore. And I think Jacksonville does. If Jalen Ramsey is what he believes and the Jags have that stellar defense, then I’m all in on them. All Blake Bortles needs to do is to manage the game and keep from making mistakes. It is how teams that are able to beat the Patriots do (see Eli Manning and even Joe Flacco). So there’s my shocker pick. And maybe, just maybe Patriots haters may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel of the Patriots dynasty. JAGUARS 21, PATRIOTS 20
Chargers vs. Steelers: The king of the hill vs. the contender to the throne, at least on the offensive side. But the one question is can the Steelers have a harmonious squad as it always seems like there are a lot of egos and such on the team that I think has hurt Pittsburgh from bouncing ahead of New England for so long. Los Angeles is somewhat of that team up and coming on offense if all things are clicking and healthy for the Chargers. And again, I don’t see the Steelers defense being that Steel Curtain defense or the ones in the past with Polamalu, Harrison, etc. They showed they had issues last year and I don’t see an upgrade this year. On the other side, the Chargers may have no answer for Antonio Brown but if they can get after Big Ben, his mind will wander elsewhere I think and that may decide the outcome. CHARGERS 31, STEELERS 28
Vikings vs. Eagles: A rematch of last year’s NFC Championship where Philadelphia obliterated Minnesota. Will it be the same this go around? If Minnesota is healthy, no. Dalvin Cook could be a top-end running back with Latavius Murray being another stud as well. The Vikings offense is a very underrated one and could have a great year, but can Cousins find that go-to guy in Diggs, Thielen, or Rudolph for those big plays? Perhaps, but Philadelphia’s defense is super tough and we are also talking mid-January where it is about 20 degrees outside and freezing in Philadelphia, not a dome climate like Minnesota. The Eagles would be too much for Minnesota again, but not necessarily another blowout like last time, regardless of quarterback for the Eagles. I think Philly’s defense will capitalize on a few turnovers. EAGLES 33, VIKINGS 21
Saints vs. Falcons: I would dream of this match-up for game between these two as the winner would go to the Super Bowl (and actually did have one a couple of nights ago), but this may be one where it is a winner goes to NFC Championship, which is still big for both, given this rivalry. Now sometimes my actual dreams have come true over time (mostly sports dreams). But I remembered in this one Brees throws another INT to Deion Jones late in the game as the Saints were driving (Jones already has 3 INT’s on Brees in his 2-year career). And Bryant kicked a 40-yard FG at the end of regulation. To be quite honest, the Saints and Falcons I believe are strongly evenly matched. Saints slightly stronger on offense and the Falcons slightly stronger on defense. And that says something on both sides because of how well the Falcons offense and the Saints defense are. Game could go either way (and I think whoever wins this game will be the NFC rep in the Super Bowl), but I think Atlanta’s home crowd takes over and it has a back and forth feel all the way. But I believe Atlanta would hold bragging rights on New Orleans for the off-season and the Saints fans would be miserable for the next 8 months afterward, losing to their hated rival when it mattered most. FALCONS 27, SAINTS 24
AFC Championship: Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville
NFC Championship: Philadelphia at Atlanta
Chargers vs. Jaguars: I think this would be a knock-down drag out, but again, I like what the Jags defense can really do against opposing teams, even some of the better offenses. And I think this would be no different and continues the “Philip Rivers can’t win the big one” mentality. The game would also be a drag-out fight as well with teams going back and forth. But I think the Jags ground game will keep the Chargers slightly at bay and Bortles will make enough passes to keep them on their feet. It may be close for a score, but it will feel like Jacksonville would control the game beginning to end. JAGUARS 17, CHARGERS 10
Eagles vs. Falcons: Another rematch from last year but this time in the ATL. Many felt Atlanta SHOULD have won. But poor play-calling, players on the offense not stepping up, and perhaps the homefield in Philadelphia in the cold played into the Eagles win en route to their Super Bowl. This time, it would be in Atlanta where the weather is controlled and takes any sting out as well as the fans would be for the red and black instead of the green. Like last time I think the game would be a fight and they would go tooth and nail, but I think the Falcons defense would get a few big stops keeping the Eagles from getting TD’s and keeping drives alive while Atlanta will have a few more plays made and better play-calling. FALCONS 20, EAGLES 17
SUPER BOWL 53
Falcons vs. Jaguars: Yes, I believe the Falcons will be the first NFL team to play the Super Bowl in their home (yes, I’m probably very rosy this year so I apologize, but I just think they are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, if not the most balanced). Honestly, I don’t think that’s a good thing. The added pressure for them to win it in their house would be immense. And secondly, there will be that knock of “well, you can only win the trophy in your house so you have all the advantage” assuming the Falcons finish it off. Of course while people will go “yuck, a Falcons/Jaguars Super Bowl?” one storyline will be Jalen Ramsey vs. Matt Ryan. Ramsey’s comments of Ryan being overrated and only good because of Shanahan and Julio struck loud in Atlanta. And given how Atlanta fans have a love/hate relationship with Ryan, it was a lot of talk this past month and there was debate. Now, I think you’ll see how well the Falcons defense plays this season with pass-rushers of Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley, and a linebacker in Deion Jones who has superstar potential while a secondary that could be tops in the league. Jacksonville would not be nervous or scared of them or the pressure itself and that would be a scarier thing for a team like the Falcons to go against than save even the Patriots or Steelers. While I am probably being a rosy Falcons fan right now on my prediction, I see this game coming down to the final seconds. It is hard to really figure it out because it is Blake Bortles after all, but he didn’t make any dumb mistakes last year and if he doesn’t make any dumb mistakes, the Jags will be going home with the Lombardi. If he does, the Falcons stay home with the trophy. But it would be so hard. I think the Jags would get enough pressure for Ryan that the Falcons would be out of rhythm and it would ultimately have Atlanta as a cursed city with their sports teams. JAGUARS 20, FALCONS 17
NFL MVP: ANTONIO BROWN, STEELERS: I think for the first time since Jerry Rice, we see a WR win the MVP. Brown probably could have won it last year as he was that good. I think many would vote Brady as a default method and I don’t know if they want to give an MVP to a team that either doesn’t make the playoffs or didn’t finish winning their division (I would say Brees if the Saints win the NFC South, which is possible). But the field is wide open for that. Brown is just unreal of the things he can do.
NFL DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JOEY BOSA, CHARGERS: I do not like Bosa at all, but I have mad respect for him on what he’s done in the NFL. He just abuses offensive linemen and if the Chargers make it far into the playoffs and even get to the Super Bowl, I would say that he would be the key reason why and may steal some MVP votes too. I can also see him net 20 sacks this year as well. That’s how high I think this guy can be this year.
NFL COACH OF THE YEAR: DOUG MARRONE, JAGUARS: Maybe a year overdue. But you may be looking at a team that has a top notch defense and one that can be talked about similar to some of the other great defenses. Say what you will about them, but they have that swag about them and can back it up. Jacksonville will be a very tough out this go around and he is a darn good coach, regardless of what people say about him.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: SAQUON BARKLEY, GIANTS: Him or Mayfield. I think Barkley could net 1,200-1,500 yards this season and at least get the Giants back to the thick of things in the NFC. It wouldn’t be out of the realm they win the NFC East either.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: ROQUAN SMITH, BEARS: Chicago just picked up Khalil Mack, which makes the Bears a team to keep an eye on (assuming Trubisky can actually play). But Chicago’s defense will not be a pushover with that group anymore. He could have a monster season as he is now somewhat hidden in what they can do. Oh boy.
FIRST GUY FIRED AWARD: HUE JACKSON, BROWNS: If Cleveland starts 0-3 or 0-4, that’s it. He probably should have netted his walking papers last year. He isn’t a good coach and looks lost 90% of the time when he is there. Keep an eye on Dirk Koetter from Tampa Bay too.
SURPRISE COACHING CHANGE: MIKE TOMLIN, STEELERS: Tomlin’s record is nice and I think he is a great coach, but however, the Steelers aren’t the same Steelers we’ve come to know and it just seems like they aren’t that team that will be seriously considered for a Super Bowl anymore. And if they take another home loss in the playoffs, Pittsburgh would have to consider it. I’ve already said if Seattle has a way down year, they may look at a change as it just has that feel that the Seahawks have a mess too.
FIRST TEAM THAT NEEDS A NEW QUARTERBACK AWARD: DENVER BRONCOS/TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Since the QB situation is at least solved in San Francisco, New York Jets, Arizona, and Cleveland (for now), it feels like teams like their quarterbacks. However, the Case Keenum signing in Denver is shaky at best and the Bucs are trying to find an exit plan to get Jameis Winston out of there. Talk of the Giants getting Eli’s successor has spiked after last year, but I think he stays around for another season or two. So look at the Broncos going for Justin Herbert from Oregon and the Bucs trying to get Jarrett Stidham from Auburn. Makes sense for both teams actually.
CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR: Tackling rule. Last year it was the whole Zeke Elliott bit. I think this time you will see teams get hosed on calls that were clean tackles that refs will throw flags at. And it may cost a team a playoff spot or playoff positioning.
RIVALRY TO WATCH IN 2018: FALCONS/SAINTS: This is becoming nastier and nastier. Now it wouldn’t surprise me that both teams could see each other 3 times and the third one decides who will go to the Super Bowl. But Atlanta fans and New Orleans fans bring out really the worst in each other and the teams are two of the best the NFC has to offer so you have that and both just want to stick it to the other any chance they get.
Of course, this is all a crap-shoot and my picks may drop dead come Week 1 as I noticed 7 of the 8 teams that made it to the 2nd round last year are in my picks this year to get back to the 2nd round (uh-oh). I can see a lot of teams hoisting the trophy this year (Patriots, Jaguars, Chargers, Eagles, Giants, Vikings, Falcons, Saints) as they are all well-rounded teams and/or have great coaching. So anything is possible. I just look forward to a great season.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat