2018 AFC Season Preview
Team: Baltimore Ravens
Projected Wins (Over/Under): 8 (-160/-130)
I’m writing this Ravens’ preview on August 3. Most of my “research” comes from a Google search of “[team] season preview.” My predictions are done from my gut and what I glean from the articles I read. As the great songwriter and poet Eddie Vedder said in Hail Hail, “I don’t wanna think, I wanna feel.” If you want in-depth analysis and lots of statistics, I recommend Bill Barnwell. If you want quick and somewhat interesting, I recommend myself. You don’t come here for in-depth analysis, so I’m not going to give it to you. Ha.
That said, the Ravens will be interesting this year. Joe Flacco has one more year to prove he is still an elite QB, but my guess is that by Week 3 the fans will be clamoring for rookie QB Lamar Jackson to get his chance to rectify this once-average offense. The once-dominant defense is even less dominant and fearsome than the Seahawks’ D was last year and has been trading on its reputation for half a decade now. No one expects anything from the Ravens this year, but Lamar could make things interesting. Based on nothing in particular, I see them at 7-9 or 8-8.
Why do I even have to write about the Bengals? Does anyone honestly care about this team? What does Marvin Lewis have to do to get fired? (Update after googling “is Marvin Lewis still the Bengals coach”: He just signed a two-year contract extension!) I bet he raced to sign that contract before the GM came to his senses and revoked it. He has never won a playoff game! Not even one. Seriously, this team is a joke.
I’ve never been to Cincinnati, but I’ve heard fairly good things. Seems to have some fun neighborhoods and is a bit underrated, like most Midwestern cities. What Cincinnati does not have is an interesting NFL team. Will the Bengals be good again? Who cares!? It’s not like they are going to win a playoff game. Coach Lewis will make sure of that. Andy Dalton will continue to be average. The defense will continue to play dirty. Vontaze Burfict will continue to be the dirtiest player in the league after he comes back from a 4-game suspension for taking banned prescription medication. The Bengals are one of the least relevant teams in the league and that will not change in 2018.
Speaking of ineffective head coaches, Browns head coach Hue Jackson has won just one game in his two years at Cleveland. Not one playoff game. One game. I don’t think he is a bad guy. I don’t even think he is a bad coach. He legitimately did the best he could with the dung heap of a team he had to work with. Joe Thomas, the all-world left tackle, retired after last season, so they have even more work than normal to do on offense.
But wait, who’s that coming out of the tunnel? Bah gawd it’s Baker Mayfield! The glory boy from Oklahoma, here to save the franchise. All he thinks about is Arby’s, Coors Light, Barstool Sports Instagram posts, and Winning! #1 overall was quite a stretch, but it wasn’t surprising that the Browns picked him. He is the next Johnny Manziel, and will probably play as well for the Browns as Manziel did a few years back. Let’s hope he doesn’t throw 4 INTs in the first half of his first game like Johnny did in his CFL debut. I wouldn’t put it past either one of them to do that.
But can the Browns even win 6 games? Can they win two? No and Yes. After watching one episode of Hard Knocks, I am now an expert on the Browns. I can say with confidence that WR Jarvis Landry is the best Brown in at least the past 20 years, if not since Jim Brown played in Cleveland. The Browns are so lucky that he signed with them in the off-season. That guy can play! Other than him it seems to be the same ol’ Browns, albeit with much more swagger. With all their draft picks finally maturing in to actual NFL players, they will be interesting this year, but they won’t get to 6 wins. 5-11.
God forbid, if the world ended, the only things left would be Twinkies, cockroaches, and the Steelers and Patriots in the AFC playoffs. I can’t think of a time when either team was not competing for the AFC title. Of course, the Steelers have missed the playoffs a few times in their history, but it doesn’t feel like very many (they have made the playoffs 30 times since 1970. *bangs head against wall). They are always good! That’s great if you are one of the many, many Steelers fans throughout North America, at least half of whom have never been to Pittsburgh. But for everyone else it’s nauseating that we have to watch the Steelers in the playoffs so often. I was surprised and thrilled when the Jaguars beat them in the Divisionals last season.
As for this year’s Steelers team, they will be very good AGAIN. Big Ben is back for another season and he still has Antonio Brown to throw to. For my money, AB is the best receiver in the game. Give me AB over OBJ any day. Le’Veon Bell will be awesome at RB again. Last year I thought Martavis Bryant would do very well at WR, but he did not (Note: if you need fantasy football or gambling advice, ask me what I think and do the opposite. The #oppositeofted theory of gambling is a proven winner). No matter, because JuJu Smith-Schuster was a tremendous rookie and will probably be even better this year, although maybe not because of my prediction of his success. The defense was pretty good last year but was not considered elite. This year they will be reliably good but not among the league’s best. Stability will be key to this team’s success. All the people, including coach Mike Tomlin/Omar Epps, that made last year’s team so good are back for another year. This team will easily win the AFC North. Look for them to get at least 11 wins and compete for a title. Blah.
I love the Bills and their fans. I am so glad that they made the playoffs last year. I wish I knew more Bills fans because any time I had a free moment and wanted to go check out a brewery, I could call them and they would show up in an old brown Chevy Astro minivan and chug Fireball in the parking lot before going inside and immediately breaking several glasses and possibly a growler.
Of course, every NFL team has its share of meathead fans, but the Bills put the fun in being a meathead fan. Their wrestling antics, obsession with covering themselves with mustard, and tendency to light themselves on fire bring their tailgate game to unparalleled heights. They aren’t the asshole Eagles or Raiders types who want to beat up opposing fans. I’m confident that if I saw the Seahawks play there I would have a great time and meet some very interesting and nice, if drunk, people.
Josh Allen will end up being the best QB in the 2018 draft class (*Certified Hot Take), but he won’t be able to win more than 7 games for the Bills. So the question is whether to go Over or Under? I was going to take the Over to honor their amazing fans, but then I saw them in a preseason game and they did not look very good. Additionally, star rookie QB Josh Allen hit his head on the turf and had to leave the game, which may be a sign that he will not be well-protected by his offensive line. I'm going against my heart and taking the Under.
I still can’t believe the Dolphins made the playoffs in 2016. They had an average level of talent but were largely forgettable, which pretty much describes every Dolphins team in the post-Marino era. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill got hurt and missed all of last season, and since he was/is their best player, they went 6-10. Not much else to say about this team. They got rid of Suh, who is now the Rams’ problem, and their coach looks like a management consultant. Star WR Jarvis Landry is now a Cleveland Brown, but former Patriot Danny Amendola is now playing for his old rival. The running game will be fine but not great. Tannehill will play well but he is not the superstar answer at QB that the Dolphins have been searching for since Dan Marino left those many years ago. The defense will be neither good nor great. This is not a talented team. Another 6-10 season, and coach Adam Gase’s ouster, look likely.
New York Jets
Oh, the Jets. This team doesn’t even know how to fail successfully. Last season the Jets were predicted to be one of the least-talented and worst teams in recent NFL history. Fans were almost excited because if they really were that bad, they would get the #1 pick and start to improve. But in the Jetsiest of Jets moves, they were just good enough to not be the worst team, going 5-11 in another forgettable season. As such, they didn’t get the #1 pick, instead settling for drafting QB Sam Darnold at #3, whom many, myself included, thought would be a revelation at USC. He certainly had flashes of brilliance, but overall he wasn’t the next-level QB that many predicted he would be. No matter. He is a Jet now and will be the Week 1 starter. Jets fans are excited for him to save their team, but even if he plays well he alone will not be enough to get this team to 7 wins.
I just read a Jets season preview and have been more impressed with the menu at a Red Robin. They have no great players, which is not surprising, but many bad teams still have one or two talented and memorable players. They have none. And won’t have any this season. 5-11 is calling again. We will talk about a possible winning season next year when this young team has developed some talent.
New England Patriots
The Patriots will be 12-4 or 11-5 again and will win the AFC East again. I will say that every year until Brady retires. How can you say that they won’t? I don’t even need to know who is still playing on the team. If Brady and Belichick are there, they will be good. They are the Alabama of the NFL. You don’t need to know anything about them to know they will be good. And I don’t know much about them, nor do I care to. Just pencil them in for 12 wins and the AFC East title and move on to the next team.
But if you do want to know a little more about the Pats, you are either from New England or you like Manchester United, the Lakers, and the Yankees as well. In other words, you are a front-runner, is what I’m saying. Try to keep up. WR Julian Edelman is back from an ACL injury, and he will be the best Pats WR and also one of the top WRs in the NFL. Gronk is back and will make lots of TD catches when he isn’t diving into pools of mayonnaise and drinking entire bottles of ketchup on a dare (Note: I don’t know if he has done those things, but don’t you think he has?). Sony Michel will be the every-down RB. The Defense will be pretty good but not great. None of this really matters because Brady is healthy and still QB, so they will contend for another title.
Houston is a trendy playoff pick, with BIG things expected of rising star QB Deshaun Watson. Last year as a rookie he started six games before getting injured and averaged 34.7 points per game. He is going to be the most entertaining QB in the league this season (*Certified Hot Take). But if he slumps or gets hurt, expect things to go south in a hurry. This team is built around him, so he will take them far if he is healthy and performing at a high level. WR DeAndre Hopkins is a terrific receiver, but he will be regularly double-teamed, so the other guys will have to step up.
One player who will have no problem stepping up is J.J. Watt, who is back this year after yet another injury ended his 2017 season. He could be elected mayor of Houston for all his humanitarian work, but will he be productive on the field after only starting eight games the past two seasons? In some ways it doesn’t matter if he is great; his mere presence will do a great deal to motivate the team. I don’t think he will have a great season but he should boost the Texans’ output through sheer determination and leadership. This year they don’t have an easy path to the AFC South title, which is Jacksonville’s for the taking, but I do think they will have a winning record and will be close to a Wild Card team.
Will Andrew Luck be healthy? Will Andrew Luck play this season? The number one question of the offseason will soon be answered. My guess is that yes, he will play. But will that alone give the Colts enough to get to 7 wins and earn a coveted OVER? No! No it will not, and I’ll tell you why. New coach Frank Reich probably won’t do much different than fired coach Chuck Pagano. The reason that they will be 6-10 or worse is that the league-worst offensive line (even worse than Seattle’s offensive line) won’t be much better. Last season that O Line gave up 56 sacks. Since I don’t do math, Google tells me that 56 sacks/16 games is 3.5 sacks per game! To their credit, the Colts did draft some linemen, so they could show improvement. But without a running game or receiving game besides T.Y. Hilton they are at least a year away from competing for a playoff spot.
Remember when the Seahawks had a young Legion of Boom? Sherman, Browner, Kam, Bobby, and Earl were young, brash, and knew how good they were. They were IT. 2012-2015 were halcyon days for the Seahawks, but especially the defense. Teams feared them and it all worked because they were young and still on their rookie contracts. You know what happens after 7 years? People get older and want to get paid. They lose their hunger, even a little bit. They may still have the swagger, but the chemistry frays. All those extra playoff games add up. That’s why it’s so hard to stay dominant in today’s NFL.
This Jaguars D is every bit as good as the Seahawks were in their prime. And they definitely have all the swagger. Last year they allowed the fewest yards per game and were second in sacks, takeaways, and fewest points allowed. And all the guys are back this year! Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is as good as Sherman ever was, and has the same attitude and chip on his shoulder. He is going to have a great season. They all will. The defense will take this team to at least 10 wins and back to the playoffs.
But what about the offense? It seemed that the Jaguars won many games in spite of QB Blake Bortles, who was an effective game manager last season but was not spectacular. They didn’t need him to be with their monster running game and shut-down Defense (sound familiar?). RB Leonard Fournette is as dominant as Marshawn was in his prime, and is poised for another great season. With him and a better offensive line, Bortles can be average and this team can still win up to 12 games. The only problem with the Jags is that, unfortunately, star WR Marquise Lee hurt his knee and will miss the entire season. His loss will be hard to overcome, but I am still confident that this team will be 10-6 or better.
The Titans have a new uniform scheme to celebrate their 20th year in the league and a new head coach to lead the players wearing those uniforms. Head Coach Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowls as a Patriots linebacker and was offensive coordinator for the Texans last season. This could lead to new creativity on offense but probably won’t determine the trajectory of this team, which should go back to the playoffs after last year’s surprising Divisional appearance.
QB Marcus Mariota will have a good season, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Never fear, because former WSU Cougar superstar QB Luke Falk will be there to back up the backup. Exciting for Falk, who was great at WSU, but let’s just say that Mariota’s job is secure as long as he is healthy. I thought the Titans would be very good last season, mostly because of Mariota and RB Derrick Henry. Both underperformed, but the offensive line did not. They are among the league’s best units and will be even better this year. Both Mariota and Henry are hoping to rebound this year, and they will need to do so because the WR/TE core is nothing exceptional.
The defense was very good last year. Bereft of superstars, they did their job unnoticed but not unappreciated. With the addition of former Patriot Malcolm Butler in the off-season, they should be just fine again this year. All in all this team should get to 9-7 no problem. They have enough talent at every position to make it back to the playoffs, although with Jacksonville and Houston also looking very strong, it will be challenging for the Titans to get out of their own division. I think all three teams make the playoffs, proving that the divisional games will be the biggest tests for everyone in the AFC South.
The Broncos were dreadful last year. It shouldn’t have been surprising since their Week 1 QBs were Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch and their WRs were old and slow. That was last year. This year, their QBs are…Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, and maybe Chad Kelly (if he makes the team). Case Keenum was paid $2 million by the Vikings last year and led them to the NFC Championship game. He played well and definitely over-played his contract. So the Broncos signed him in free agency for…$36 million over two years, $7 million of it guaranteed NEXT YEAR. He gets paid next year whether he is on the team or not. What a deal! This is a perfect example of the premium placed on QBs in today’s NFL. Case Keenum is a good QB but few would call him a great one. He won’t make the Hall of Fame unless he wins a heck of a lot more games and a few Super Bowls. Yet the Broncos are willing to pay him $18 million per year and even giving him $7 million to go away if he is so bad that he is cut after this season. Teams without franchise QBs are desperate to find one. It is certainly a good time to be a proficient NFL-caliber QB, or the agent or relative of one. Guaranteed money!
Case Keenum is NOT the long-term answer the Broncos are looking for. He will not do well this year. Their WRs are still Demarius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, though they do apparently have former WSU Cougar great River Cracraft on the roster. Who knew? Not like it matters. No one believes in this receiving corps, but they could come up with an answer at RB like they have so many times before (Clinton Portis, Terrell Davis, CJ Anderson). Royce Freeman was terrific at Oregon and should be good in the NFL. But he will have to unseat Devonate Booker at #1 RB to get the most carries. Long story short, with another average-at-best Defense and a thin WR corps, this team will stink again, going 6-10 tops.
Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith had one heck of a run in Kansas City. He led the team to four playoff appearances and even won the AFC West the past two seasons. Of course, no one recognizes him as a great QB because of the Chiefs’ unprecedented playoff failures and general lack of buzz surrounding the team and, really, the entire city of Kansas City. Two years ago this team was 12-4! Do you even remember that? I barely do. I don’t know much about the team besides the fact that Eric Berry always challenges Earl Thomas for best free safety in the NFL. Other than that my only memories of the Chiefs are when Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare, was terrorizing the Seahawks back in the 1980s and early 90s. Man he was good.
This year’s Chiefs team has gone all-in on second-year QB Patrick Mahomes after shipping aging QB Alex Smith to the Redskins. Hard to say whether Mahomes is the next great Chiefs QB, but the team certainly thinks he is ready to be their leader. After throwing the ball 68 yards in the air during a preseason game, it is clear that he has the arm strength of an NFL QB. The Chiefs also got rid of Marcus Peters, formerly their best defensive player. This defense is not going to be very good, but if Mahomes really is ready to shine, he will have some receiving talent with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins at WR and Travis Kelce at TE. I don’t know much about Mahomes or the Chiefs to say with confidence that they will be good or bad, but they don’t have the feel of a great team. 8-8 or 7-9.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were 9-7 last year. It’s true! Lost in all the controversy surrounding their move to Los Angeles was the fact that the team actually put together a winning season. I bet you didn’t know that. They are still playing in a soccer stadium and are still largely irrelevant in the Los Angeles market, but they have some real talent and are the favorites to win the AFC West. How did that happen? QB Philip Rivers and WR Keenan Allen are genuine NFL stars, and both played very well last year. Not much else to talk about on offense, with a non-existent running game and average O Line. They got to 9 wins last year and will get to 10 or more this year by relying on the arm of Rivers and the hands of Allen. Joey Bosa was Defensive Rookie of the Year last year and should be even better this year. Their kicking game cost them several wins last year, so they signed free agent kicker Caleb Sturgis to shore up the special teams. If the team does better than its 0-4 start in 2017, they could easily get to 10 wins and win the AFC West for the first time since 2009. Whether anyone will care is a different question.
I was really high on the Raiders next year, and I had reason to be. They were 12-4 the season prior. Raider DE Khalil Mack was and still is the second-best defensive player in the NFL behind Aaron Donald, and the fabulous QB-WR combination of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper seemed to portend great things for the team. All that combined with Marshawn’s homecoming indicated that this was a team on the rise. 2017 was going to be the year that they began to be consistently good. Then the season began. They went 6-10 and looked bad doing it.
But ho, who yonder beckons this season? Jon Gruden, he of Monday Night Football and Hooters fame. Human pencil eraser and Raiders owner Mark Davis pried open his checkbook and gave Gruden $100 million (not a typo) to coach this team for 10 years. In many ways they are made for each other. Gruden is a pitchman for Hooters; most Raiders fans go to Hooters or would if one were closer to Oakland. Gruden was great once, winning the Super Bowl in 2000, but hasn’t done much since. The Raiders were great in the 70s and 80s, winning 3 Super Bowls, but haven’t done much since. And they are both moving to Las Vegas in two years. Perfect!
Eight (8) seems like an accurate win total for this team, but only if Khalil Mack returns to the team. He is still holding out and doesn’t seem to want to be a Raider. They need him, because the Defense is average with him and won’t be very good if he isn’t there. The offense should be pretty good, with Carr and Cooper back and healthy, but I said that last year and was proven very wrong. I’m not saying it again. This team has the talent to get to 9-7, and will certainly have a lot of buzz with Gruden on the sidelines, but I’m not convinced that they will get there. 8-8 tops.