My wife and I were out for a drive last week. She suggested we get coffee. Our usual place was closed, so we decided to try a new place.
When we arrived, the shop was empty, save for the lone barista. We ordered and sat down at a table.
After a few minutes, our drinks arrived. As the barista set them down, my wife and I both started laughing. In a place we’d never been, a barista I had never met had decorated the foam on my drink with a football helmet design. I asked him about it, and he said a machine does it, and he’d picked that one because he thought I’d like it. I told him that we were huge football fans, and that he had good instincts.
After he’d left, my wife and I talked. I told her that with football season fast approaching, I was getting the urge to write about football again, but still hadn’t decided.
“Oh, you’re doing it!”
My wife, folks.
Last year was a really strange year for me. Bad strange. Doing my football column was extremely difficult.
This year has been worse than last year. It started with a family tragedy. I was in a dark place for months. My illness got really bad. Dangerously bad.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve turned a corner. My health has improved. I’m seeing a way forward.
I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not sure what I want this football column to be. I only know that I’m doing it because I want to do it. The column will be whatever I want it to be.
I still love watching football.
I still hate the NFL.
I want to do this. My wife wants me to do it. Baristas I’ve never met want me to do it.
So yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.
Open yourself up to the universe, and the universe will open itself up to you.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for the regular season. Teams appear in order of predicted finish…
Last season, I said that this was Buffalo’s division “to win or lose,” and after their performance last season, I see no reason to think they won’t repeat as East champs. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs were magic together, turning a very good passing attack into one of the league’s best. Don’t be surprised to see this team among the final four again this season. The only thing that could derail them is if stupid is as contagious as Covid (Looking at you, Beasley!)
Provided they can get some decent QB play from rookie Mac Jones, this looks like it will be a bounce-back year for New England. The Pats made a big splash in the offseason, acquiring some new talent, and will be welcoming back a few key players who opted out last season sue to Covid.
Miami added WR Will Fuller in hopes of boosting the offense. Fuller is a dangerous deep threat, but he’s had trouble with injuries in the past, and is more of a number two receiver than a number one. Defense, particularly the secondary, looks to be solid again.
Just getting rid of the stink of Adam Gase should improve New York’s fortunes. New HC Robert Salah’s presence should help with the defense. Offense looks a bit thin, but there’s a lot of buzz around first round QB Zach Wilson. Gangrene might surprise a few teams.
Since taking over as Tennessee’s starting QB, Ryan Tannehill has excelled, in large part due to having Derrick Henry in the backfield, whose rushing prowess nicely sets up the play action passing game. With AJ Brown and Julio Jones at wideout, this offense should be among the most efficient in the league. They should win their division comfortably, but they will need a much better defensive effort if they are to make a deep playoff run.
Indianapolis has top-tier defensive talent, and its offense boasts a solid offensive line, and depth at RB. I have no faith in Carson Wentz’s ability to play well or stay healthy. That’s a big problem.
Lots’ of excitement in Jacksonville due to the arrival of Trevor Lawrence, who by all accounts is a can’t-miss talent at QB. Big-time college coaches tend to struggle in the pros, so that’s an area of concern. The main focus for this team should be keeping Lawrence healthy as the franchise rebuilds.
I’ve long since lost count of how many times I said that Bill O’Brien was a terrible coach. Well, he’s finally gone, but not before ruining Houston for years to come due to his coaching and personnel ineptitude. Deshaun Watson won’t play, doesn’t want to play, and probably shouldn’t play (here or anywhere) until his very credible sexual misconduct-related legal troubles can be tested in court.
Cleveland has the talent to win this division comfortably. Baker Mayfield has the luxury of having a wealth of weapons at wideout, plus one of the best RB tandems behind him. Their excellent defense, meanwhile, added Jadeveon Clowney to play opposite Myles Garrett.
I struggled with whether to put Pittsburgh or Baltimore second in the North. I believe Pittsburgh will be the better team, but Baltimore has an easier schedule, as well as nine home games due to the new 17-game season (Pittsburgh plays nine road games). The deciding factor for me was some recent injuries to key Baltimore players, particularly the season-ending injuries to Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters.
Hopefully Cincinnati can keep Joe Burrow healthy for the entire season. Burrow has plenty of offensive support at the skill positions, but the OL is still suspect.
KC learned the hard way last season that even with Patrick Mahomes at QB, a good defense will get to him if the OL is subpar. In the offseason, they took steps to shore up the OL, in hopes of making another championship run. This is one of my most-loathed franchises. It’s a haven for players who violently abuse women and hoard illegal guns, drunken, child-maiming coaches, and racist-shitbag-asshole fans, and the franchise abets, protects, encourages, and rewards reprehensible behaviour. I actively hope for bad things to happen to this team.
Justin Herbert looks like the real deal at QB, and he’s surrounded by loads of complementary talent. If S Derwin James can stay healthy, The Bolts should find themselves in the playoffs.
Las Vegas has a wealth of talent on offense, and will be a handful for any opponent. Their defense, however, is shockingly bad.
Denver looks to have a very good defense this season. If Teddy Bridgewater can regain some semblance of his pre-injury form, Denver could be this season’s surprise team.
Wild Cards: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New England
I initially wanted to put Dallas second, but when I compared their schedule to Washington’s, I reconsidered. Having said that, even a healthy Dak Prescott will not be enough. Lots of people have mentioned the hot start that Prescott had last season before his gruesome injury in Week 5 (courtesy of the dastardly Giants), and the numbers bear this out. In his first four games last season, Prescott AVERAGED over 400 yards per game. What these people fail to mention is that Dallas was 1-3 in those games, with their lone victory coming courtesy of a stunning collapse by Atlanta (stunning, but for the fact that it was Atlanta), which included a memorable onside kick recovery by Dallas where Atlanta’s players seemingly didn’t know the rules and failed to even attempt to recover the ball. Dallas’s defense has got to be better this year, or they will find themselves on the wrong end of a bunch of shootouts.
Washington should have one of the top defenses in the league this season. They’ll need to get a lot more production out of their offense, though, and I doubt that “Fitzmagic” is the answer. Perhaps they should snag Cam Newton, and “ground-and-pound” their way to the playoffs courtesy of some low-scoring wins.
New York is a tough team to gauge. I still think that Daniel Jones has what it takes to be a successful QB in this league, but he needs serious help, and a little luck. A healthy Saquon Barkley will go a long way, as will the wealth of receiving talent at his disposal. None of this will matter if they can’t protect him, however. If the OL plays well, Big Blue could surprise some teams.
Hard to believe that Philadelphia won a championship a few short years ago, as the team is a mere shell of what it was then.
For those of you who forgot, Tampa won it all last season. They’re still loaded with talent, and the division has gotten weaker.
Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans all look like 4-to-7-win teams to me. I’ve ordered them they way I did because:
- I hope Sam Darnold bounces back after being freed from the Jets, and with the return of Christian McCaffrey, he might just do it.
- I think that Carolina and Atlanta have slightly easier schedules than New Orleans.
- It’s boring to just make the same picks as everyone else.
- I hate New Orleans, and I actively hope for bad things to happen to the team.
Green Bay will win this division again. They will promptly flame-out in the playoffs again. Aaron Rodgers will be unhappy. Nothing new to see here.
In last season’s preview, I said that Kirk Cousins is “fucking stupid.” Has he said or done ANYTHING since then that indicates that I was incorrect in my assessment?
Chicago’s defense is getting older. Chicago’s offense isn’t getting much better. Not enough, any way. Besides, anyone who boos Andy Dalton doesn’t deserve a winner.
Detroit swapped Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. Oh, Detroit; never change. (As if they could.)
I’m predicting that all four of these teams will make to playoffs.
With the addition of Matthew Stafford, LA has immediately placed themselves in title contention. Stafford is a significant upgrade at QB. Defensively, they lost a few players, but they still have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, so they’ll be just fine.
I expect San Francisco to bounce back after a season marred by injuries. They’ve retained much of the talent that had them in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, and they’re well coached. They should challenge LA for the division title.
Is it just me, or does it seem like every year there are serious questions concerning Seattle’s offensive line? The talent is certainly there on offense. Defense is just ok. Still better than most teams in the conference.
Arizona’s offense should do very well this season, especially with the addition of AJ Green. The running game will need to improve. Defensively, Arizona is counting on healthy campaigns from Chandler Jones and JJ Watt to spur the defense to a better performance, and the team to the playoffs.
Wild Cards: San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona
Week One Picks
Winners in Bold:
Jacksonville at Houston
LAC at Washington
Seattle at Indianapolis
NYJ at Carolina
Minnesota at Cincinnati
Arizona at Tennessee
San Francisco at Detroit
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Cleveland at Kansas City
Green Bay at New Orleans
Denver at NYG
Miami at New England
Chicago at LAR
Baltimore at Las Vegas
Covid is still around. The stands are full. Fans are packed together and maskless. The league is big on performative gestures, but not so big on meaningful change. The new 17-game schedule means that some teams will have more home games than others.
It should be another weird season. Be ready for anything.
I know I will be. Ready, and then some.