As promised, here’s part two of my 2019 season preview. Before we get to the picks, I wanted to use some space to acknowledge the passing of one of my favourite sports writers.
Rest in Peace, Don Banks, one of the few football writers I actually liked. He was a favourite of mine for years when he was at Sports Illustrated. After that rag canned him in favour of younger, less talented writers, I was pleased when he started writing for patriots.com. His “Snap Judgements” columns were essential reading for me. The season after he correctly predicted (in the preseason) a Seattle/Denver Superb Owl, I tweeted to him, asking if he had any inside info on who’d be in the next big game, and was pleasantly surprised when he replied privately via a direct message. He was a good guy, and a fantastic writer. I will miss him.
Here’s a link to my AFC preview, in case you missed it.
As always, teams in order of predicted finish.
New York (Blue) (7/5)
Jerry Jones is as vile an owner as it gets, so it pains me to say that this year’s version of his team seems set up to succeed. Their young defence was one of the league’s best last year, and I expect them to be at least as good this season. The addition of WR Amari Cooper last year added a much-needed spark to the passing attack. Jason Witten is back, providing stability and familiarity (and robbing the football-watching public of his scintillating commentary). Dak Prescott isn’t the best QB in the league, but he doesn’t have to be with so much talent surrounding him. The main impediment to Dallas’s success this season might just be Jones himself. He’s so insufferably self-congratulatory, smarmy, and slimy, that it must be excruciating to work for him. He undermines the coaching staff. And he won’t stop dicking-around with Ezekiel Elliot, and the team won’t win without him. (Update: Just as I was getting ready to post this, news was just breaking of Elliot's big contract.)
A lot of people are picking Philly over Dallas in this division. I was tempted. I still insist that the team should have kept Nick Foles and traded Carson Wentz to restock the team with talent. I have no faith in Wentz, who can’t seem to stay on the field. Also, he enjoys killing animals and seems like a dink. Defence is middle-of-the-pack. City is a dump. To call the fans morons would be an insult to morons (really, just pick a sport). Offence looks pretty potent, though, if Wentz stays in one piece and Jordan Howard shines.
I might be in the minority, but I liked the Daniel Jones pick. The team desperately needs to move on from Eli, and at least this is a step. They don’t need someone right now, but someone they can develop. Trading OBJ could be a case of addition-by-subtraction. Mostly, though, what I see is subtraction. Right now, after this latest offseason purge, the only legitimate star on the team is Saquon Barkley, who is phenomenal. I just hope he survives this rebuilding effort.
Washington. Garbage franchise. Garbage owner. The less said, the better.
Green Bay (11/9)
Last season was a weird one for Minnesota. Injuries. Mental illness. Defensive malaise. Inability to protect the QB. They were one of the biggest disappointments in the entire league. The talent is there on defence, so I expect them to bounce back. Kirk Cousins has one of the best complements of receiving talent in the league. The team brought in Gary Kubiak, so expect more things like increased play-action and other schemes designed to take some of the pressure off Cousins. Oh, and to Adam Thielen: Coach Belichick called: Shut the fuck up!
Defence looks to be solid again this season. Khalil Mack, and a deep and talented LB corps will be this unit’s strength. Lost a bit of depth at DB, and the loss of DC Vic Fangio might result in some defensive regression. Offence might be a problem. Lost Jordan Howard. Not a lot of depth at WR. Mitch Trubisky is inconsistent. Could slip to third if Green Bay surges.
Hard to know what to make of Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers’s contract is a cap-killer. Years under Mike McCarthy turned Rodgers from a QB into a “playmaker,” often running for his life and trying to make things happen. Maybe the coaching change is just what the offence needs to get things going again. Whatever happens there, it’s undeniable that this franchise has wasted the best years of a singular talent (not to mention turning him into a selfish, unlikable dick). Defence is another question mark. After a number of seasons admirably putting team first and sacrificing stats on putrid defences, Clay Matthews was shown the door. Another defensive stalwart, HaHa Clinton-Dix hit the road. I’m not going to lie; I have no clue what to expect here.
Matt Patricia continues the experiment of trying to change the culture of losing in Detroit. Acquired Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola, in hopes that their Pats-winning-stink will rub off on the rest of the team. Lost Ezekiel Ansah. Added depth at RB with CJ Anderson. WR position looks thin. I’d be willing to bet that Matt Stafford is getting pretty tired of losing; he looks like a prime candidate for the “Luck Goodbye,” sooner rather than later.
New Orleans (13/11)
WAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!! Seriously, New Orleans; SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! Yes, it was PI. Yes, it was a bad call. I said it then, and I’ll say it now: the officiating in the NFC Championship game was atrocious, but the majority of the worst calls were in your favour. That particular call got more attention because of when it happened, but it wasn’t any more or less important than the calls where LA got hosed. Now, thanks to your whiny bullshit (and the media’s complicity) PI is reviewable (seriously… what’s next…? HOLDING?!?) and we’re in for some nightmare delays this season.
On the football front, New Orleans looks about as good as last season. Defence returns most of its starters. Offence still has Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, two of the league’s best their respective positions. Swapped out Mark Ingram for Latavius Murray. TE Jared Cook has never lived up to his massive potential. Drew Brees is Drew Brees (great player, but seriously, am I the only one who can’t stand this phony?). Maybe if the team goes all the way this year, Sean Payton will stop eating his feelings.
Atlanta’s slide in the standings was precipitous, but I think it was an aberration. They had some key injuries last season, the most devastating being the loss of LB Deion Jones, the heart of the defence. Jones returned to finish out the season, and looked spectacular, so there’s hope for better things from the defence this season. On offence, barring injuries, the pieces are all in place. Atlanta should be in the thick of the playoff race. If not, heads could, and should, roll.
Carolina returns with a strong defence, to which was added Gerald McCoy. As always, the questions around this team concern the offence. Christian McCaffery is a standout, and Greg Olsen is steady, as long as he’s healthy. WR looks like a “who’s-who” of “who’s that?” Cam Newton is coming off surgery, and got banged-up in the preseason, so he’s a huge question mark.
Tampa swapped out good guy Gerald McCoy for serial asshole Ndamukong Suh, which says it all about this franchise as far as I’m concerned. Brought in Bruce Arians in a last-ditch effort to prove that they did not make a huge mistake drafting/continuing to employ terrible QB/groper/thief/(alleged)rapist/waste-of-space Jameis Winston.
Los Angeles (Horn) (13/11)
San Francisco (7/5)
To an already talented defence, LA added Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews, the latter of whom could very well experience a resurgence now that he’s free to rush the QB (and with Aaron Donald in front of him, and with loads of talent surrounding him). Offence should be potent, with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp returning. Jared Goff should be fine, as long as he’s protected. Unfortunately, Goff folds under pressure, as Chicago and New England proved last season. Keep and eye on Todd Gurley; something doesn’t seem right about him, as evidenced by his playoff disappearing act.
You have to hand it to Seattle; a lot of folks wrote them off last season, but they overachieved. This season, they actually look like they’ve improved, at least on defence. Lost Frank Clark, but added Ezekiel Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney, so the pass rush looks fierce. The offence will miss Doug Baldwin’s production (and dedication). The team morphed into a power-running offence in Baldwin’s absence last year, and had success. Russell Wilson, as annoying as he is, is an elite QB, and he makes things happen.
Projections of San Francisco making the playoffs are pure fantasy. They might have a decent pass rush, if acquiring Dee Ford and drafting MAGA-idiot Nick Bosa pans out. On offence, no one knows yet if Jimmy Garoppolo is any good, RB Jerick McKinnon is on IR AGAIN, and the unit’s best players might be the TE and the FB. That’s it. That’s reality.
Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, and I feel sorry for both of them. Team hired a college coach with a losing record as their HC, then drafted a tiny QB with the first-overall pick. Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games. Should battle Miami for first-overall pick in next year’s draft.