Picking the eight divisions:
1. Vikings, 11-12 wins
Kirk Cousins is the $85 million man and he’s expected to play like one. With Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen back as a top wide receiver duo in the league and running back Dalvin Cook returning from an ACL injury, the Vikings will be hard to stop. Plus, they boast a top-three defense.
2. Packers, 9-10 wins
Aaron Rodgers is back. It may be enough to compete for a wild-card spot but with consistent issues in the running game and a young secondary, you’re asking Rodgers to do a lot.
3. Lions, 8 wins
Lack of a decent running game has hurt the Lions. LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson will aid the rushing attack but won’t cure it. With a pass rush that’s nonexistent besides defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, it looks like Matthew Stafford will be in fourth-quarter comeback mode.
4. Bears, 5-6 wins
Head coach Matt Nagy is bringing a different culture to Chicago. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky should have a better year two especially with wide receiver Allen Robinson now a part of the team. But there will be growing pains in this new transition.
1. Saints, 11-12 wins
Running back Alvin Kamara is expected to be a workhorse back with Mark Ingram sidelined due to a suspension. Based on the way Kamara produced last season, that should be no problem. Mix that together with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and a potential top-10 defense, and it’s kind of hard to count out the Saints as the favorites to win the division back-to-back.
2. Panthers, 11-12 wins
Quarterback Cam Newton has plenty of weapons to use this season and it starts with tight end Greg Olsen. If Olsen stays healthy, this could be a great season for the Panthers. They also drafted receiver D.J. Moore to go along with Torrey Smith and Devin Funchess. Not to mention running backs Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson will be able to share the load. This can be a bounce-back season for Newton if everything clicks.
3. Falcons, 10 wins
A five-year, $150 million deal is a hefty price to pay for a quarterback that played subpar during his 2017 campaign. Matt Ryan threw 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. Play-calling has been another issue. Talent alone could get them into the playoffs but play-calling and coaching could have the Falcons advancing far.
4. Bucs, 1-3 wins
Quarterback Jameis Winston is suspended for three games and wide receiver Mike Evans is suspended for one. Mix that together with a defensive unit that was last in the NFL in total defense last year, and it’s not going to be pretty.
1. Eagles, 11 wins
Quarterback Carson Wentz was an MVP candidate before tearing his ACL in Week 14 against the Rams last year, and the Eagles still went on to win the Super Bowl. Wentz is scheduled to return Week 1 of this season. The Eagles are probably the most well-rounded team in the NFC East and should have no problem claiming the NFC’s No. 1 seed again.
2. Giants, 11-10 wins
Swamped with injuries, the Giants ended last season with one of the worst records in the NFL, setting them up to select possibly the best prospect in the draft in running back Saquon Barkley. Not only do the Giants have a strong promise in Barkley, but they get wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back as well. A balanced, scary offense could land the Giants a playoff berth this year.
3. Redskins, 7-8 wins
Quarterback Alex Smith won’t lose games but he won’t necessarily win them either. He’ll keep the Redskins in the hunt of things. Health at the skill positions may be more of a detriment than anything.
4. Cowboys, 5-6 wins
The Cowboys have the most baggage coming into the 2018 season. The departure of wide receiver Dez Bryant isn’t the only problem. Tight end Jason Witten retired as well. Now you have a predominately young wide receiver corps. Running back Zeke Elliott will get his touches but for this team to be a playoff contender quarterback Dak Prescott has to step up to the plate this year.
1. Rams, 12-13 wins
Head coach Sean McVay is a quarterback whisperer. He made Jared Goff look like Tom Brady at times and that shouldn’t change much. Todd Gurley will continue to serve as a workhorse back. Add that to a potential top-five defense and you’ve got something special.
2. 49ers, 8-9 wins
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has never lost a game that he’s started. That’s great. But now, can he capitalize on that? The 49ers are a good team but not a playoff team. They had four first-round draft picks in their front seven last season and still ranked in the bottom half of the league in total defense. Defensive linemen Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster, collectively, haven’t been getting it done. But a veteran presence like cornerback Richard Sherman could help them this season.
3. Seahawks, 7 wins
With a semi-rebuild taking place, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to gauge in a winning season. Quarterback Russell Wilson can do some magical things but with a subpar defense and a below-average offensive line, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to get anything going without asking Wilson to come up with things on the fly.
4. Cardinals, 4-5 wins
It’ll only be a matter of time before Cardinals fans see their franchise quarterback play in Josh Rosen. With a bye week placed in the middle of the season, new head coach Steve Wilks might make the transition to get Rosen in the game early and often, to get some regular-season games under his belt so the Cardinals can come out fresh in 2019.
1. Steelers, 11-12 wins
One of the most electrifying offenses in the league is back to settle business. As long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are on the same team, they will always be favorites to win the division.
2. Ravens, 10-11 wins
The Ravens are always in the mix to field a top-10 defense, and that’s why they stay competitive. But the offensive side is where they struggle. This season the Ravens switched up their whole wide receiver corps. Michael Crabtree is expectedly be the anchor of the Ravens’ passing attack, while guys like Willie Snead and John Brown are expected to take the top off of defenses and be respectable second options. Quarterback Joe Flacco has slight pressure on him to perform up to his past accomplishments and with the updated wide receiver corps and a healthier offense line, the Ravens can have a strong 2018 season.
3. Bengals, 6-7 wins
When offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over Week 3 of the 2017 season he improved the offense. This year, Lazor has had a whole offseason to work with his offensive skill positions. So the offense should perform a little bit better, but they may suffer setbacks on defense. Cornerback Adam Jones was lost in free agency and starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict is serving a four-game suspension. The Bengals may be sitting at a crossroads again with head coach Marvin Lewis.
4. Browns, 6-7 wins
The most improved team on paper. The Browns upgraded their whole offense this offseason. They acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the Bills. They also made a big splash in free agency by signing former Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry and former 49ers running back Carlos Hyde. During the draft, they selected cornerback Denzel Ward and running back Nick Chubb, who will both see action this season. To top it off, they selected quarterback Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall. They are hopeful to secure a winning future and they’re definitely better than another winless season.
1. Texans, 10-11 wins
Two key injuries hindered the Texans from possibly make the playoffs last season. Now, with defensive end J.J. Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson back, they instantly become the favorite to win the AFC South. If you add in defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to the Texans defense, you have a nice group to win and compete.
2. Jaguars, 10 wins
Arguably the best defense in the NFL combined with running back Leonard Fournette got the Jaguars to where they’re respected and almost feared by the rest of the league. But this go around may not go over so smooth. The key is quarterback Blake Bortles. If he plays conservative like he did last year, the Jaguars may not only be a No. 2 seed this year but their Super Bowl window may close as well.
3. Titans, 7 wins
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has to transcend expectations this year. Last season, he ended the year with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Those stats ranked him 26th out of 30 quarterbacks in total touchdowns. That won’t get it done in the regular season and especially not in the playoffs. He’s been banged up quite a bit in the past couple of seasons, but he definitely has to up his performance or the Titans will easily miss the playoffs.
4. Colts, 3-4 wins
Andrew Luck is an elite quarterback and could be in the running for winning comeback player of the year, but it’s not enough to overcome a young and inexperienced team on both sides of the ball. The Colts should just be happy to get their franchise quarterback back. Keeping him healthy should be almost as important as winning games at this point.
1. Patriots, 13 wins
Tom Brady is now entering his 19th season, and the Patriots have won the division 15 times in that span, including the last nine. So, it’s unlikely to change, especially with all the youthfulness in the AFC East.
2. Dolphins, 8 wins
Getting your franchise quarterback hurt has a lot to do with how your season will go. When Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL during Organized Team Activities last year, the Dolphins tried to salvage their season by signing Jay Cutler. It didn’t go as planned. The Dolphins still finished under .500, and they placed bottom five in turnover margin. Tannehill is a better option than Cutler. So, the Dolphins are slightly a better team than last season.
3. Jets, 7 wins
At some point in time the Jets are going to want to see what they have in quarterback Sam Darnold, drafted out of USC. They’re not close to being a playoff contending team yet. So sooner or later, head coach Todd Bowles will make that switch to see what the future could hold with Darnold under center.
4. Bills, 3 wins
Talented on defense but unpredictable on offense. Outside of LeSean McCoy, there won’t be a guy that will just put fear in a defense. This could be a long road for the Bills. They have a tough first-half schedule. We could be seeing quarterback Josh Allen early. It could be a much-needed learning year for the Wyoming product.
1. Chargers, 10-11 wins
The last time the Chargers won the division was 2009. It also was running back LaDainian Tomlinson’s last season with the team. Running back Melvin Gordon has increased his production every year and is looking to expand on that this season as well. The Chargers are by far the most talented team in the AFC West. Last season the Chargers were ranked No. 1 in passing offense and were top 5 in total offense, along with having a deadly pass rush with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. This could be a special year for the Chargers.
2. Broncos, 8 wins
All the Broncos need is consistent quarterback play. Case Keenum is now under center for the Broncos, which is an instant upgrade. This also could mean wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are back to being a respectable duo. Their defense is perceived to be on the decline but other than losing cornerback Aqib Talib in the offseason to the Rams their defense should play fairly well. Drafting Bradley Chubb was just a bonus.
3. Raiders, 7 wins
The $100 million man himself, Jon Gruden, won’t even be able to fix the problem in his first season back coaching. The Raiders’ defense is woeful, and it didn’t really get any better in the draft. Also, they’re having a contract dispute with All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, which is not good with just a few weeks before the regular season starts. They’re taking a chance on defensive end Arden Key from LSU. He would have to have a monster year to have any impact. So, unless quarterback Derek Carr can string together a great year this season, it’s doubtful Gruden’s coaching style can dial up a big year.
4. Chiefs, 6 wins
Having a young quarterback under center always has had its bumps and bruises and this experience shouldn’t be expected to be any different. Pat Mahomes is a certified gunslinger, and he has the wide receiver corps, running game and coach to be great at what he does. But that doesn’t mean it will just happen. Not to mention injuries and key players on defense going elsewhere through free agency. This will definitely be a competitive team but they will have a learning curve to adapt to.
AFC Championship Game
L.A. Chargers beat the Patriots: Have a young but stellar defense. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram can take advantage of an offensive line without Nate Solder and pressure Tom Brady.
NFC Championship Game
L.A. Rams beat the Vikings: There is no weakness that the Vikings would be able to expose. If they try to throw it you taking a chance of a interception by Aqib Talib or Marcus Peters and if you run it you have Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. Impenetrable!
Rams beat the Chargers: In the Battle of Los Angeles, Philip Rivers is a great QB and the only thing holding him back of being a solidified Hall of Famer is a Super Bowl win. But Rivers’ spotty play and interception rating could spell disaster for the Chargers in the biggest game of his life.