The kids are back in school, the bad baseball teams are playing out the string, and the networks have programmed their new lineups. Yes, at long last, the summer is over. Of course, a quick look at a weather map shows that it doesn't feel like the summer is over for most of the country. But the NFL is back! Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Amazon box season (A.K.A. Christmas) are just around the corner.
For an in-depth look at our thoughts and predictions on the NFL season, listen to our podcast here. Below are fifteen things I think will happen this NFL season.
1) I think for the first time in nearly two decades of dominance, the New England Patriots have a few chinks in their armor. There was the Jimmy Garrapolo trade, the Alex Guerrero banishment, and the Malcolm Butler benching in the Super Bowl that have opened cracks in the once impenetrable New England fortress. But, the Patriots still have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And in a weak AFC East, I think that'll be more than enough.
2) I hope that the worry I've heard about the Philadephia Eagles is only coming from a small percentage of the Philly Faithful. Carson Wentz shouldn't be rushed. The Eagles want him for the long haul. And in the meantime, Nick Foles is an incredible insurance policy to have. Once the team is healthy, Philadelphia will return 19 of 22 starters from their Super Bowl winning team. And among their key additions are DE Michael Bennett and WR Mike Wallace. So Philly fans, relax. It's a sixteen game marathon, not a sprint.
3) I think the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders made a big mistake when they traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Jon Gruden has said that Mack was one of the reasons he came back to coaching, but also said that he wasn't involved in the negotiations during his holdout. Huh? Granted, the Raiders received two first round picks from Chicago, but they haven't exactly done much with the ones they had before. After selecting Mack in 2014, Oakland's first round picks have been Amari Cooper, Karl Joseph, Gareon Conley, and Kolton Miller. And in the years before taking Mack, they selected Rolando McClain, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Darren McFadden, and Jamarcus Russell. It's one thing to get draft picks, but you have to make good selections when you pick.
4) I think the New York Jets are doing Sam Darnold a disservice by giving him the starting job. Darnold has a lot of talent and has shown flashes of his potential in the preseason, but most quarterbacks in the NFL aren't ready to start as rookies. Not every rookie QB can be Dan Marino or Peyton Manning right from jump street. The Jets have already done this with with the last USC quarterback they drafted (Mark Sanchez) so why are they are rushing things? Josh McCown is there to stabilize the offense and the team isn't ready for contention yet. The Jets need a few more drafts before they can make the next step.
5) think the Pittsburgh Steelers' championship window is closing. Le'veon Bell will be gone after this season and they will undoubtedly find another back to keep that legacy going. But what the Steelers have prided themselves in, defense, has been inconsistent. Jacksonville exposed their weakness against the run and illustrated how big a loss Ryan Shazier truly was. And for a usually tightened ship as the Steelers have been, they’ve been quite loose in all the wrong ways. They’ve underestimated opponents and too many distractions off of it. Pittsburgh is still the best team in a weak division and should be playoff bound, but there are young teams on the rise in the AFC that could push them aside in the next few seasons.
6) I think I'm okay with what Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said in the GQ article where he called out nearly every quarterback in the NFL. Of course, he failed to mention the much-maligned Blake Bortles in the article, but that's just being a good teammate. I also think Jacksonville will be in the playoffs again. That defense is one of the top units in football and with Leonard Fournette running the ball, the "old school" way of winning still works.
7) I know that in fourteen of the last fifteen NFL seasons, there has been at least one worst-to-first team. And I think that the best candidate to continue that trend are the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Will Fuller V are just four of the fifteen players that ended the season on the IR. Even if Watt's back isn't all the way...well, back, having 75% of him is better than nothing. And before his injury, Watson showed that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney might've been right when he suggested if any NFL team passed on drafting him, "They’re passing on Michael Jordan."
8) I think the division to watch will be the old "black and blue" division, the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings have the most talented roster in the NFL and now have the one piece they needed, a quarterback, to get them over the hump. Washington may not have valued what Kirk Cousins can do, but he's accurate, a competitor, and a perfect fit for the offense. And the Viking defense just might be the league's best. But Green Bay has a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Detroit has high hopes that Matt Patricia brought that Patriot winning culture with him, and Chicago has some nice young talent in Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, rookie Roquan Smith, and brand new pass rusher Khalil Mack. Minnesota's Super Bowl hopes could be derailed by their division rivals.
9) I think the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, and yes, the Cleveland Browns are on the way up. I like Jimmy Garappolo and I think he can be something special and I think the Browns are finally on the righ track. But of those three teams, I think the Titans are most ready to make a splash. They are solid at every position, but not spectacular anywhere. Marcus Marriota could be. He's starting the year with his fourth offensive coordinator in the last three seasons. If he can elevate his game, Tennesee could be a dark horse contender.
10) I think Washington, Indianapolis, and Denver are in for a world of hurt. The Redskins are old in all the wrong places, the Colts don't have enough talent surrounding Andrew Luck and his surgical repaired shoulder, and the Broncos' best quarterback in the organization is John Elway.
11) I think New England, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Chargers will win their divisions and Houston and Kansas City will win the Wild Card spot in the AFC.
12) I think Philadelphia, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans will win their divisions with Green Bay and Atlanta winning the Wild Cards in the NFC.
13) I think New England will face Minnesota in Super Bowl LIII in Miami.
14) I think there'll finally be a purple reign in Minnesota.
15) I think that by week eight, I'll regret making all these predictions when some team I never thought of is 7-1.