Welcome, and welcome back.
I've been battling all day with my 16-week-old Corgi puppy, who wants all of my attention and does not want me to get any writing done, so I'll dispense with the preamble and get right to the preview. It's a long season, and there will be plenty of time for hate.
New York Blue
Philadelphia had success last year as a power running team that played solid defense, but it was QB Jaylen Hurts’s improvement as a passer that made them a playoff team. With that in mind no doubt, the team went out and swung a deal for WR AJ Brown, a big-time playmaker in the passing game. Philly boasts one of the best OLs in the league, and adding Brown to the offensive mix should pay huge dividends in Hurts’s development. This, coupled with some regression in Dallas, could help Philly supplant Dallas as division champs.
Now, about that regression. Dallas bid adieu to WR Amari Cooper, RB Ezekiel Elliot is in decline, and the team has problems with their OL. Oh, and Mike McCarthy is still the Head Coach, which doesn’t bode well. What Dallas does have going for it is a fine collection of talent on defense. LB Micah Parsons has been touted as a potential DPOY. This is both conceivable and necessary if Dallas hopes to make the playoffs this season.
Say what you will about Carson Wentz (I’ve said plenty, most of it bad), but he will have a solid collection of offensive talent to work with this season with Washington. The defense will lean heavily on its talented DL. There’s not much else to say, and the less said about this wretched franchise the better.
With the stench of Joe Judge gone, and with the arrival of new Head Coach Brian Daboll (last seen running Buffalo’s offense), and with some better luck with injuries this season, and if the OL and pass-catchers play to their potential (that’s a lot of ‘ands’), embattled QB Daniel Jones might make New York regret not picking up his fifth-year option. Even if the offense is fun to watch, the defense will likely doom this team to the East basement.
Tom Brady retired after enjoying yet another stellar offensive season, leaving Tampa to replace him with- Tom Brady (does this make him a rookie?). All the pieces are still in place for Brady and Tampa to be one of the top contenders in the NFC. Brady is surrounded by premiere talent at the skill positions. And don’t make too much of Tampa’s OL woes; Brady is the all-time leader in making O-Linemen look good. There’s still plenty of talent on defense. Plus, there are only three or four teams that are serious contenders in the NFC, so why not give it another go?
New Orleans will be a team to be reckoned with mostly due to the fact that they should have one of the best defensive units in the league, with elite players at all three levels. The offense is a big question mark. Will the starting QB (who shall not be named) be able to bounce back from a blown ACL? Will Michael Thomas become an elite WR again, or will he remain the injury-prone, toxic teammate he’s been for the past few seasons? Will RB Alvin Kamara crack under the strain of having to carry the offense again?
Newly-anointed starting QB Baker Mayfield will have plenty of offensive talent to work with as he attempts to re-ignite his career in with Carolina. With the likes of RB Christian McCaffrey, and wideouts DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, and Rashard Higgins, plus an upgraded OL, there will be no excuses. Just shut up and play, Baker.
It will be interesting to see what kind of offense Atlanta operates, with mobile Marcus Mariota at QB, versatile Cordarrelle Patterson at RB, and a decent OL. Add uber-talented TE Kyle Pitts to the mix, and this offense could surprise a few teams.
Really Smart Person Aaron Rodgers (just ask him), reluctantly returns to a Green Bay squad that will once again boast an excellent defense, a talented tandem of RBs, and a solid OL. Star wideout Davante Adams has taken his talents to Sin City, Nevada, leaving questions as to how the offense will compensate for the loss of Adams’s considerable contributions to the passing game. Barring an injury to Rodgers (which has happened when he’s tried to do too much), this should be a cookie-cutter season for Green Bay; division champs, followed by playoff failure.
Kirk Cousins might be dumb as dirt, but he’s a pretty good QB, and he’s not what’s holding back Minnesota. That albatross would be the defense. Any improvement here could be what boosts the Vikes into the playoffs. Cousins, along with the stellar trio of RB Dalvin Cook and wideouts Justin Jefferson and red-zone TD machine Adam Thielen should be able to hold up their end of the bargain.
At the risk of being presumptuous, congratulations to Detroit on not finishing in last place in the North this season. I expect to see marked improvement in Jared Goff in year two with Detroit, as he is surrounded by plenty of young talent, and will play behind a solid OL. With a solid defensive effort, I would not at all be surprised to see Detroit challenge Minnesota for second place should the Vikes’ falter.
Chicago has been touted by many as having the worst team in the entire league this season. Looking at their roster, it’s tough to argue with this. QB Justin Fields is unproven, and his potential pass catchers are nothing to get excited about. On the defensive side, there’s not much better to report; the team lost Khalil Mack, and the unit’s best remaining player, LB Roquan Smith, doesn’t want to be there.
Los Angeles Horn
Defending champs Los Angeles (ugh… don’t get me started) won’t be as good as last season, but none of the other teams in the division will be either. Pass rusher-for-hire Von Miller is gone, as are OT Andrew Whitworth and WR Odell Beckham, jr. Star LB Bobby Wagner adds some defensive depth. Questions surround QB Matthew Stafford, who apparently had a bum elbow at the end of last season and had surgery in the offseason.
San Francisco boasts a solid defense and has some of the best pass-catching talent in the league in WR Deebo Samuel and TE George Kittle. They could very easily win this division but for two big concerns. The first is the OL, which lost C Alex Mack to retirement and RG Laken Tomlinson to free agency. The second is the ascension of QB Trey Lance to starter. Lance is strong-armed and mobile, but still unproven. Compounding this is the decision of Jimmy Garoppolo to restructure his contract to stay with the team. Will the pressure of having Garoppolo around derail Lance’s development?
It's hard to see Arizona making much progress this season. Their best player, WR DeAndre Hopkins, will miss the first six games due to a PED violation. QB Kyler Murray’s play will suffer without his (overwhelmingly) favourite target. He’ll be forced to scramble more, taxing his already suspect OL, and eventually leading to Murray getting banged-up. RB James Conner is a hammer, but not really productive enough to be a featured back. The defense isn’t nearly talented enough to hang with the big dogs in the NFC.
Gone from Seattle are QB Russell Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner, which means that Seattle isn’t relevant to any discussion regarding playoff teams.
NFC Wild Cards: San Francisco, Minnesota, Dallas
Thursday Night Kickoff
Buffalo at Los Angeles (Horn)
In what could be a preview of the coming Super Bowl, two teams with good defenses, great passing attacks, and running games which are an afterthought, I'm taking the QB that can do it all over the QB who might still be nursing a bum elbow.
Buffalo 34, LA 24
Thanks for reading. Check back later in the week for the AFC Preview and the rest of my Week 1 Picks.
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