London, UK – NFL Season Preview 2019.
SuperBowl LIII in Atlanta wasn’t exactly a classic although the New England Patriots won’t care one bit. The new kids on the block, Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff could not defeat Tom Brady. The new flavour of the month (season! ) head coach, Sean McVay got, by his admission, outcoached in the biggest game of all. Something that was obvious to most of the watching audience.
This coming season should feature more great storylines on the path to Miami and SuperBowl LIV next February. Those will no doubt include, once again Patrick Mahomes, the new look and resurgent Cleveland Browns, Aaron Rodgers without Mike McCarthy, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are gone from Pittsburgh and then there is the new “Sean Payton Rule” that means pass interference is now reviewable.
Let’s just hope for a better finish.
NFC EAST– For so long the toughest division in football will consist of a two-team battle for top spot while the other two will likely get a top ten draft choice each. The Eagles have no security blanket in Nick Foles and future hall of famer, Jason Witten is back In Dallas for one last hurrah.
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
With Nick Foles gone, everything depends on the health of Carson Wentz who has failed to finish the last two seasons. The Eagles could get the best out of free agent acquisition Jordan Howard at RB they also have another deep threat with the addition of Desean Jackson. Although the defense looks good on paper it will need to improve from its rank of 23rd in total defense last year.
The Eagles are primed for another deep run but much depends on the health of Wentz.
Dallas Cowboys 10-6
It would appear that one and done in the playoffs is the current ceiling for the Cowboys under Jason Garrett. The one major change in Dallas is that Kellen Moore will replace Scott Linehan as OC.
The Cowboys will hope that the 30 year-old Moore is the next Sean McVay. The return of the previously retired Jason Witten will certainly help. The defense no longer relies on Sean Lee and will be top 10. A weak division will help their wild card cause.
Washington Redskins 5-11
With Alex Smith out for the season the camp battle for the QB spot will be an interesting one. Case Keenum and Colt McCoy will battle it out with first round draft pick Dwayne Haskins (Ohio St). It would appear that the main problem on offense will be at receiver which looks to be one the weakest groups in the entire league.
Defensively the Redskins are sound enough to keep the team in most games.
New York Giants 3-13
With OBJ gone and Eli Manning coming to the end of his career the rebuild for Big Blue is well and truly on. Expect to see rookie Daniel Jones at QB before Thanksgiving.
Saquon Barley is the star now. The defense has been revamped, with the Giants using 10 draft picks on that side of the ball. It’s hard to find anything positive about the Giants right now other than Barkley.
NFC NORTH – One potential SuperBowl champion and three teams that could go either way. Can the Bears go a few steps further? Will Aaron Rodgers return to form under Matt LeFluer? Will Matt Patricia be the next Belichick disciple to fail? Will Kirk Cousins earn that $84 million?
Chicago Bears 12-4
The Bears did better than expected in 2018 going 12-4, a tipped missed field goal cost them a home playoff win against the Eagles. This year the secret is out but another 12-4 type season is more than achievable. QB Mitch Trubisky must continue to improve if the Bears are going to go further than last year but the defense led by Khalil Mack is the team’s real strength. The addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could prove to be a shrewd one. Don’t be surprised if they lead the league in turnovers.
Minnesota Vikings 9-7
Kirk Cousins was supposed to push this team towards the SuperBowl, instead, he pushed them out of the playoffs altogether. He wasn’t helped by some poor O-line play, which has been addressed in the off-season. If Dalvin Cook can stay healthy he can be a huge difference maker for this offense. The defense that ranked 4th overall last season, will again be the strength of the team. A potentially difficult schedule won’t help their wild card chase.
Green Bay Packers 8-8
Mike McCarthy is gone, replaced by 39 year-old Matt LaFleur but as always this team will go as far as Aaron Rodgers will take them. The reality is Rodgers has not consistently performed at a high level since 2014 and injuries have certainly played there part. Aside from Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews who have departed, the roster is mostly the same as last year which should be a concern, especially under a first time head coach.
Detroit Lions 6-10
With head coach Matt Patricia firmly on the hot seat the Lions need to come out firing. Several veteran’s including defensive end Trey Flowers have been added as the HC looks to win over the locker room. Don’t be surprised if OC Darrell Bevell is replaced sooner rather than later especially if the Lions don’t improve on the unit that ranked towards last in almost every major category on offense last season.
NFC SOUTH – Probably the toughest division in the NFL. Expect the Falcons to be contenders in the NFC again. Can the Saints recover from that NFC title game controversy? The Panthers will go where Cam takes them. With Arians at the helm, is the year the Bucs finally make the jump?
Atlanta Falcons 11-5
Injuries killed the Falcons in 2018 and it’s perhaps surprising that they still managed to win 7 games. The poor O-line was addressed in the draft and all those key Injured players are back. Question marks still surround the pass rush but the return of Adrian Claybourn will help. The only questionable departure was that of kicker Matt ‘Money’ Bryant but he did miss several games with an injury last year and Giorgio Tavecchio kicked well in his relief but has struggled in pre-season. Both co-ordinators have been replaced and with Dirk Koetter back with Matt Ryan this offense should be back to its high scoring best.
New Orleans Saints 10-6
The Saints simply have to forget the way their season ended otherwise it will eat them up in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. The loss of center Max Unger could be key. RB Mark Ingram has been replaced by the inconsistent Latavius Murray but the dynamic Alvin Kamara is still the main part of this offense. Two tough road games back to back early on could prove vital.
Carolina Panthers 8-8
Question marks remain over the health of Cam Newton who had shoulder surgery in January. Newton is expected to start week 1 but his aggressive running style will always put him in harm’s way. The offense will again lean on RB Christian McCaffrey and will hope for bigger things from second year receiver, DJ Moore. Despite his injury problems LB Thomas Davis will be missed on a defense that will struggle to rank higher than it did last year (15 th).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9
The Bucs are still waiting for QB Jameis Winston to ‘get it’, Winston is 21-33 as a starter and has thrown 58 interceptions in his 4 years in the league. Quarterback ‘whisperer’ Bruce Arians is now the man at the wheel and if Winston doesn’t improve he won’t be back in 2020. With Todd Bowles the new DC look for the Bucs to blitz a hell of a lot more than in previous years. It will likely be the same outcome in Tampa though.
NFC West – Can the Rams go one better? 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan could be under pressure if Jimmy G doesn’t respond. Seattle and Arizona are rebuilding.
L.A Rams 11-5
Will the Rams have a SuperBowl hangover? Has McVay’s offense been figured out? Two big questions for the Rams but, playing in what looks like a reasonably comfortable division could help although what happens in the post-season is another question. The Rams have a bunch of names on defense, including the league’s best in Aaron Donald. However, this unit underperformed in the most part with the obvious exception of the SuperBowl although Dante Fowler could break out. If McVay wants to continue his early success on offense then they might want to mix up the formation. The Rams used the 11 personnel (3 WR’s, 1RB & 1TE) 90% of the time and Belichick may have provided a blueprint that other teams will try to copy.
Seattle Seahawks 8-8
Seattle is rebuilding, luckily for them, Russell Wilson signed a new contract. The ‘Legion of Boom’ is most definitely gone with Earl Thomas the last to depart, DE Frank Clark also moved on. The Seahawks may have finally fixed their long standing running back problem with Chris Carson breaking out last season. Still, the team has several holes on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. An 8-8 season should probably be viewed as a step in the right direction.
San Francisco 49ers 7-9
The jury will be out on the 49ers until Jimmy Garoppolo can play something close to a full season. But when it comes to health concerns it doesn’t stop with the quarterback. RB Jerick McKinnon, rookie Nick Bosa, and free agent LB Kwon Alexander all missed considerable time in 2018 with significant injuries. The 49ers have made some nice additions though, RB Tevin Coleman once again teams up with his former OC in Atlanta, Kyle Shanahan. Dee Ford comes over after a career year in Kansas City and if Alexander can stay on the field he can be a real difference maker at linebacker. George Kittle could rival Travis Kelce for the NFL’s best tight end. Let’s see how the injuries pan out before jumping on the bandwagon.
Arizona Cardinals 5-11
Another year and yet more change in Arizona. The Cardinals have another new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, who is one of 16 coaching changes. First round pick in 2018, Josh Rosen is replaced by 2019 first round pick Kyler Murray. There are also several changes to the roster, some good, some not so much. The Cardinals simply need the David Johnson of 2016 if they are going to be successful on offense, especially with a rookie QB for the second straight year. The Cards offense ranked dead last in 2018 so the only way is up.
– The worst division in football gives the Patriots a shot at homefield advantage. 8-8 for the Jets would be progress but the other two can forget the season before it starts.
New England Patriots 12-4
As long as Belichick and Brady are around and the rest of the division is as bad as ever the Patriots will have a cakewalk to the post season. DE Trey Flowers is a huge loss but the addition of Michael Bennett could be a shrewd one. Gronk has retired although in truth he has missed a decent amount of time over the last few years. Sony Michel could be the real star of the offense moving forward. The defense will likely be solid and well coached although not much more than that.
New York Jets 6-10
If the Jets came good then we probably wouldn’t be too surprised, if the Jets suck we also wouldn’t be surprised and maybe this is the problem, who are the Jets exactly? Gang Green has improved the roster, signing free agents Le’Veon Bell (RB) and CJ Mosley (LB). The Jets hired Adam Gase to help push second year QB Sam Darnold, who was steady during his rookie year. Simply put, their schedule doesn’t look favourable, so 6 wins looks like the best they can do unless Darnold lights it up.
Buffalo Bills 6-10
Josh Allen went 5-6 as a starter with most of his success coming from his legs, 631 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. RB LeSean McCoy had his worst season yet with only 514 yards and 3 TD’s which is why the Bills drafted Devin Singletary who had 56 rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons. The loss of the retired Kyle Williams will hurt both on and off the field. The secondary could be sneaky good but the problems lie on offense where the Bills ranked close to last in most categories in 2018.
Miami Dolphins 3-13
Former Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores is the new HC who stands very little chance of having a successful first season. The Dolphins have cleared the decks with the likes of Tannehill, Wake, Quinn, Gore and, Amendola all gone. Josh Rosen and journey-man Ryan Fitzpatrick are the QB’s but the Dolphins should have a high draft choice to go with all that salary cap space in 2020.
AFC NORTH – Perhaps the most intriguing division in the league, mainly because of the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers will be less of a soap opera which will help. Can Lamar Jackson buck the trend of running quarterbacks? The Bengals have a new head coach for the first time in 16 years.
Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5
Messrs Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are gone so it’s the Ju Ju Smith Shuster and James Conner show on offense and both are more than capable however the depth at those positions could be an issue. Despite an indifferent year in 2018 the Steelers still went 9-6-1 but with only 2 playoff wins since 2011 Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin could be in trouble even though the Steelers don’t often replace head coaches. The defense looks like a top 10 unit again but that said the pass D needs to improve.
Cleveland Browns 10-6
The most intriguing team in the NFL has so many questions to answer. OBJ didn’t want to be traded so will he be a leader or a distraction? Can first time head coach Freddie Kitchens manage expectations? Can Kareem Hunt reproduce after missing the first 8 games through suspension? Is this whole team a ticking time bomb or the next contender in the AFC? Is going to be a fun ride.
Baltimore Ravens 7-9
Joe Flacco is gone so it’s Lamar Jackson’s team now but history tells us that running quarterbacks don’t last too long in this league. Once opposing defense’s start to scheme against Jackson’s running will he be able to throw the ball effectively enough, especially with what looks like a below average receiving core? The Ravens suffered some key losses on the defense with CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith all leaving in free agency.
Cincinnati Bengals 5-11
Marvin Lewis is out and 35 year-old former Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor is in. This brings a new system on offense but a lot will depend on Andy Dalton. The receiving group is good as are the backs so it could work. The real problem is the defense that ranked last in total defense in 2018. Several veterans have left and have not been replaced.
AFC SOUTH – The Colts are an under the radar team to watch out for. The Texans season could rest on protecting DeShaun Watson. Can Nick Foles re-produce his SuperBowl run form and push the Jags back into the playoffs? It’s a make or break season for Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.
Houston Texans 8-8
Keeping Deshaun Watson upright should be the Texans main objective. Watson was sacked a league high 62 times last season, not good for a QB that has had Injuries in the past. JJ Watt had an injury free 2018 and was back to his disruptive best. The schedule looks tough (4th hardest by Strength of schedule) so they will need to hit the ground running but it looks like it could be a long year in Houston.
Indianapolis Colts 6-10
Andrew Luck’s shock retirement changes everything. The Colts were primed for a playoff run but that seems unlikely with Jacoby Brissett the next man up. On the plus side the offensive line could be the best in the NFL. The Colts used 7 draft picks on the defense and they also added DE Justin Houston in free agency to improve an inconsistent pass rush. Unless Brissett surprises the Colts will have a disappointing year that promised much more.
Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10
The Jags have basically swapped Blake Bortles for Nick Foles but still have no receivers of note and a questionable running game. The defense is still the strength of this team but that unit underperformed in 2018 and will need to get back to the kind of production that took the Jags to the AFC title game in 2017. Like the Texans the S.O.S is also tough, 3rd hardest to be exact.
Tennessee Titans 5-11
Not too much change to the roster but it’s a big year for Marcus Mariota who has had injuries and been inconsistent. Derrick Henry looks to have broken out at RB but there is not much optimism that the offense can improve much on its ranking of 25th overall in 2018. On the plus side, the defense can be sneaky good and they have replaced the diminishing Brian Orakpo with former Dolphin Cameron Wake. In the end, the Titans will be in a good spot to take their quarterback of the future.
AFC West – If you want to survive in this division then you better be able to protect the QB and score some points. Can Patrick Mahomes go one step further last year? Will Phillip Rivers finally get to a SuperBowl? Who will finish the season at QB for Denver? Can Chucky inspire the Raiders?
Kansas City Chiefs 13-3
In 2018 the offense ranked 1st overall but the defense was 31st, that’s quite a big discrepancy. If the offense that is now missing Kareem Hunt can reproduce those numbers then they only need the defense to be middle of the road but this wasn’t properly addressed in the draft. Dee Ford and Justin Houston were lost in free agency, Frank Clark (DE) and Tyrann Mathieu (S) were added. There could be a drop off at the running back position with Damien Williams replacing Hunt. Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns last season, 15 more than anyone else and there is no reason to expect a significant drop off.
L.A Chargers 12-4
The Chargers looked to have finally figured things out last season posting a 12-4 record however, the season ended in a very surprising one sided loss to the Patriots in the post season. The Chargers haven’t lost anyone of note although team legend Antonio Gates was let go. They will get a healthy Joey Bosa from the start this year and TE Hunter Henry returns from a torn ACL. Melvin Gordon could be the best RB in the NFL. Add Philip Rivers Rivers and Kennan Allen and you wonder why the offense ranked as low as eleventh overall in 2018. On defense, Bosa and Ingram will reak havoc up front and third year safety Derwin James is an absolute star. Picking up LB Thomas Davis in free agency could prove to be a key addition. What’s not to like?
Denver Broncos 4-12
The quarterback carousel in Denver continues, Joe Flacco is now the guy but for how long no-one knows. QB Drew Lock (Missouri) was drafted in the second round. The roster looks no better or worse than it did last year when the Broncos went 5-11. Emmanuel Sanders returns after injury and that will help the offense, but the best players are on the defense. Guys like Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris Jr could help keep some games close but that’s about it.
Oakland Raiders 4-12
The Raiders have the toughest schedule of all 32 teams which certainly won’t help a team in transition that only won 4 games in 2018. It’s all change, in what is expected to be their last year in Oakland. John Gruden is back after a nine year hiatus and NFL draft expert Mike Mayock is the GM. Antonio Brown brings his baggage over from Pittsburgh but TE Jared Cook is gone. The roster has been significantly revamped, or at least that’s what the Raiders hope but only time will tell.
NFC Division Winners: Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, L.A Rams
Wildcard: New Orleans, Dallas
AFC Division Winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, Kansas City.
Wildcard: Cleveland, L.A Chargers
I’m a sports writer specialising in feature articles although will write shorter pieces. I write mainly about the NFL and the Premier League.
Diploma in Freelance Journalism
Follow me on Twitter @davefalconUK