Once again, I'm going to skip the wordy intro and just get to the meat and potatoes.
New York (Green)
Based on talent, Buffalo should easily win their division, and are rightfully considered as top contenders to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. My biggest concern about Buffalo is the health of their most valuable player, QB Josh Allen. Allen’s performance in the playoffs last season was otherworldly. When the defense faltered, when the offense needed a play, Allen delivered. He put the team on his shoulders, standing in the pocket, scrambling, running, and, critically, taking a lot of hits. He’s been praised to the moon for this, but it’s not a sustainable model for success. Allen may be big, strong, and fast, but he’s not invulnerable. And if he gets hurt, Buffalo, for all their talent, are going nowhere.
There are many who are predicting the demise of New England, but I wouldn’t be too quick to write them off. Last season, despite starting a rookie QB, and featuring a conservative, run-heavy offense, in the AFC, only Buffalo, KC, and Los Angeles managed to score more points than the Pats. Second year starter Mac Jones will benefit from the return of bruising RB Damien Harris and talented TE tandem Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, as well as the addition of wideout DeVante Parker. Also, only Buffalo gave up fewer points than New England last season, and that’s in the entire NFL. New England’s secondary will be without standout CB JC Jackson, but will be boosted by a deep and talented corps of Safeties, including Devin McCourty, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for having been such a great leader and stabilizing influence on the Pats’ perennially exceptional secondary.
Speed is the word on everyone’s lips when talking about Miami heading into this season. To an already fast offense, Miami added RB Raheem Mostert and a really fast WR (who shall not be named). Offensively, there are no more excuses for embattled QB Tua Tagovailoa. Defensively, the secondary is mostly solid, and the team added Melvin Ingram to hopefully improve the pass rush.
To be honest, I try not to pay too much attention to New York, the team that its fans have nicknamed “Gang Green,” but that I always refer to as “Gangrene,” because they’re rotten and they stink.
Last season, I wrote multiple times that I hoped that Matt Ryan would leave Atlanta and find a new team, including this from Week 11:
Matt Ryan still has plenty of good football left in him. Atlanta is a mess. I'd love to see him on another team, a team with a good supporting cast on offense, a good defense, and good coaching. I'd love to see Matt Ryan get another shot at glory.
Well, it looks like I got my wish. In Indianapolis, Ryan will play alongside star RB Jonathan Taylor, on a team with a good offense, and with Frank Reich as Head Coach. Granted, the team looks a bit thin at WR, but I still think that this is Indy’s division to lose.
Tennessee, through some kind of sorcery, managed to secure the top seed in the AFC last season. This team is not that team. The defense consists of two standout Safeties, and a lot of question marks. RB Derrick Henry is an absolute monster, but he proved to be mortal last season when he succumbed to injury. The passing game underperformed, and QB Ryan Tannehill will have to make do without star WR AJ Brown, who Tennessee inexplicably allowed to go to Philly.
Lancing the boil known as Urban Mayer should go a long way towards allowing Jacksonville to finally reap the benefits of having drafted a very talented QB last year. Call this Trevor Lawrence, Season 1, 2.0. Under new Head Coach Doug Pederson, it will be interesting to see what Lawrence can do.
Houston heads into this season with a mixed cast of youth and talented cast-offs. QB Davis Mills proved to be surprisingly competent as a starter last season. Area massage therapists breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Cincinnati was robbed! OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I will not be the least bit surprised when Cincy repeats at North champs. QB Joe Burrow is a special talent, cool under pressure. His main supporting cast, RB Joe Mixon, and wideouts Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd are about as good as it gets. The team took steps toward improving the OL, their main weakness. The defense is solid. They’ll be in the playoff mix again.
It's true that Baltimore suffered tremendously due to injuries last season. This season, questions abound regarding QB Lamar Jackson’s contract status and health. With a thin receiving corps (excepting TE Mark Andrews), Jackson will once again be called upon to do it all, thus exposing himself to more injuries.
It’s not every day that you see a professional sports franchise pay a guaranteed quarter-of-a-billion dollars to a serial sexual predator, but you did it, Cleveland. So, fuck Cleveland, the Browns, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Kevin Stefanski, misogynist Browns’ fans, and also fuck your racist baseball fans, LeBron James, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
About QB Mitch Trubisky I will say this: after years of shitty coaching in Chicago, and being constantly reminded that he was drafted ahead of Patrick Mahomes, playing in Pittsburgh should answer the question as to whether he can be a consistently capable starter. Though the OL might be a bit suspect, Trubisky will enjoy the benefits of playing with a quality RB in Najee Harris, and a talented receiving corps, led by Diontae Johnson. Besides, if Mike Tomlin can’t get something out of him, I doubt any other team can. If the offense improves, and the defense plays as well as it usually does, Pittsburgh could surprise people. Note: Although it’s still Pittsburgh, their hate-ability goes down a bit with the retirement of you-know-who.
Los Angeles Bolts
Before I break down the most interesting division in the league, this would be a good time to remind my regular readers, and to inform any new ones, that the picks, predictions, opinions, observations, analyses, etc., that you read here are my very own. I work for no one. I am beholding to no one. I have no team loyalties. I AM NOT I cheerleader for the league, and I abhor those who are. Also, I am honest about my biases, against the league, as well as certain teams, coaches, players, media personalities, fans, and so forth.
Got it? Good.
Man, did Los Angeles hit the jackpot when they drafted QB Justin Herbert. Every time I watched a Bolts’ game last season, I found myself saying multiple times that in 3 to 5 years, Herbert will be the best QB in football. He has all the tools, and he’s surrounded by talent. I had the team pegged as a playoff team last season, but a poor defensive performance and some very questionable (to put it mildly) coaching decisions doomed them. To a defense that already fields elite pass rusher Joey Bosa and S Derwin James, LA has added another top QB chaser in Khalil Mack, and standout CB JC Jackson. From a talent standpoint, the Bolts might have the best roster in football. It’s time for them to make the leap.
Las Vegas is a gut pick for me. I like QB Derek Carr, his attitude, ability, and leadership. He’s proven himself to be a top QB under some insanely difficult circumstances. Vegas already had some standout talent on offense, in WR Hunter Renfrow, RB Josh Jacobs, and especially TE Darren Waller. To this mix, they have added WR Davante Adams, one of the top wideouts in the league. With new Head Coach Josh McDaniels running the show, this offense is poised to make a huge jump in production. Vegas also went out and got pass rusher Chandler Jones to play opposite standout Maxx Crosby. If the defense, which also features some young talent with potential in the secondary, can improve, then Vegas will surprise people.
Denver has done an excellent job over the past few seasons in amassing a stockpile of bright, young talent. The only thing that has been missing has been a QB to bring it all together. Enter Russell Wilson. This team has top talent at all the skill positions, and now has a proven winner at QB. There’s every reason to believe that they are a playoff calibre team.
The majority of my voluminous criticism of the KC team over the years centres around a general amorality with which they conduct business. The team collects and rewards violent, misogynist assholes, and refuses to discipline them if they can help the team win. The result of this is that the players in question continue to be unrepentant shitbags. Head Coach Andy Reid is largely responsible for the lack of accountability that plagues this organization. Reid has a huge say in personnel decisions, including what players stay, go, and play. Such is Reid’s influence that he was able to hire his son, Britt, as an assistant coach, despite his son having an extensive criminal background for drug, driving, and firearms offences. Britt Reid is no longer with the team, having been dismissed after crashing his speeding truck into two stopped vehicles while drunk. This asocial ethos even includes the fans, who insist on performing a racist chant during games, which the organization encourages. At any rate, the team also has Patrick Mahomes at QB, and is good enough to make the playoffs or even win the division. I just hope that they accomplish neither.
AFC Wild Cards: Las Vegas, Denver, New England
Now for the rest of this week’s picks. I’ve already said a lot about all of these teams, so I’m just going to run through these games quick like a bunny.
(For those of you who missed my NFC Preview, I’m once again beginning the season 1-0, after correctly picking Buffalo in the Thursday Night kickoff game.)
Week One Picks
Winners in Bold:
New Orleans at Atlanta
New Orleans’s defense will be a tough test for the new-look Atlanta offense.
Cleveland at Carolina
Upset special #1: Jacoby Brissett’s lacklustre effort opens the door for a close Carolina victory.
San Francisco at Chicago
George Kittle is expected to miss this one. It shouldn’t matter this week, but San Fran needs him.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Opening the season with a win against hated Pittsburgh will be a great way to start the season for Cincy.
Philadelphia at Detroit
I’ll be interested in this game to see how much both teams have improved.
Indianapolis at Houston
Indy has to show that they’re all business as they open against a division rival that they’re expected to beat.
New England at Miami
The Pats have faltered many times in Miami, but there are outsize expectations for the home team, and I don’t think they’re up to it.
Baltimore at New York (Green)
Until I see otherwise, I’m just going to assume that Gangrene stinks.
Jacksonville at Washington
Upset special #2: Trevor Lawrence, finally free of Urban Mayer, propels Jax to an opening day victory.
New York (Blue) at Tennessee
Upset special #3: Big Blue gets off to a fast start, and holds on for a close win.
KC at Arizona
Fun fact: With all the faults I’ve found with KC over the years, I can’t believe I only recently discovered that their Kicker is an anti-choice asshole.
Las Vegas at Los Angeles (Bolts)
This is the game I’m most looking forward to. Vegas’s stacked offense will be a good test for LA’s revamped defense.
Green Bay at Minnesota
Upset special #4: Green Bay’s offense sputters just enough for Kirk Cousins and Co. to pull out a late victory.
Tampa at Dallas
Both defenses are very good. Tampa’s offense should be better.
Denver at Seattle
Big first game for Russell Wilson as he leads his new team against his former team.