2018 NFC Season Preview

NFC West
 
Team: Arizona Cardinals

Projected Wins (Over/Under): 5.5 (-180/+150)

Prediction: OVER               
 

Let’s talk about Sam Bradford for a moment. I know we have before, but it’s worth repeating that he may be the luckiest QB in history. He has made $134 million for doing almost nothing. He gets hurt every season! He has no playoff wins and has never made the Pro Bowl. For that he has earned about $3 million PER WIN. Teams can’t wait to sign him! He will make $20 million playing for the Cardinals even though they drafted Josh Rosen to be their future QB and also signed human neck Mike Glennon as a back-up. I don’t know how does Bradford does it. He must have one hell of an agent.

 

As for the Cardinals, they have one of the best RBs in David Johnson, who is healthy. Their WR core is non-existent and their Defense is average. I’m sure Bradford will get hurt early in the season so the team will throw its lot behind Rosen. They won’t be very good, but if David Johnson stays healthy 6-10 is doable.

 

Los Angeles Rams                         

10 (-125/-105)

OVER/PUSH

​Last season, the Rams had the best defensive player in the league (Aaron Donald), a top-3 RB (Todd Gurley), a very good QB (Jared Goff), and a rookie coach (Sean McVay) who was also the youngest coach in NFL history. They were supposed to be a team on the rise, but few expected the rise to happen so quickly. They were terrific last season, imposing their will on teams they formerly lost to (Seahawks). The torch had been passed from the Hawks to the Rams, and this year it remains firmly in the Rams’ hands.

 

This is the most talented NFL team of the past decade, on paper. That includes the Pats teams and the Seahawks in their prime. This team is better, on paper. It’s better because they took all the talent they already had and added Brandin Cooks (amazing WR), Marcus Peters (formerly the Chiefs best defensive player), Aqub Talib (teriffic Cornerback) and Ndamukong Suh (well-known dirty player but also very talented DT). Suh and Donald together will make any opposing QB want to get rid of the ball faster than Tom Brady.

 

Those off-season signings make this team a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl. But the question is whether all these big personalities can play together as teammates. Most Super Bowl-winning teams develop over several years and have cohesion. Rarely does an all-star-type team succeed in the NFL. I think this team will win 11-12 games because it already had talent before and will still do well even if these new guys underperform. Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley are amazing players, so any additions to a team with those two is just gravy. Plus WR Cooper Kupp is from Yakima, so I have to root for him even though he went to the other, lesser high school. There is little doubt in my mind that this team will make the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers                      

8.5 (+115/-145)

UNDER

​QB Jimmy G is the new savior in San Fran after winning 5 games last season to bring the team up from a dreadful 1-10 to a less-dreadful 6-10. Fans are convinced that he alone will carry the team back to the playoffs and respectability. He is clearly a talented QB, but let’s take a look at who else he has on offense: WRs Marquise Goodwin (pretty good), Pierre Garcon (pretty old), Dante Pettis (good because he is a Husky), and two unknown TEs.

 

Their running game went from terrible to unknown, mostly because they signed Jerick McKinnon to a $36.9 million contract. He started only 14 games in 4 seasons with Minnesota and he “comes with plenty of question marks,” which is how a girl’s friends would politely describe her ex-boyfriend to her face when she asks them if she should take him back. The offensive line is “unsettled,” which is always a good thing when you have a RB with “question marks.” The defense was catastrophic last year, so they will be better since they can’t be much worse. The 49ers think that adding former CB Seahawk Richard Sherman will help them improve. He will definitely help until he gets injured again in Week 2.

 

8.5 wins for this team? Garoppolo is very good, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick together couldn’t get this team to 9 wins. Take the Under all day long (*Certified Hot Take).

Seattle Seahawks!!                        

8 (+120/-150)

OVER/PUSH
 

Here we are, finally at the Seahawks preview. Gotta be patient to get to the good stuff. First off, I try to be as neutral as possible when discussing the Hawks, but I am, of course, a huge homer. That said, the ceiling for this team, in my opinion, is 9-7, and that is what I’m predicting. I think they will have a winning season because they always have to chance to win as long as Russell is healthy. That has been proven over and over, particularly last season when he willed the team to several victories after being let down by almost all his teammates. If he has a good season, which he will, they will compete in every game.

 

Secondly, the running game and offensive line will be better. Anyone who has listened to me talk about the 2018 Seahawks for more than 17 seconds knows that I am a BIG fan of LT Duane Brown. Signing him to a three-year deal was the best move the Hawks made this offeseason. He will do a great job anchoring the offensive line. That, in turn, will create more opportunities for the running game and will give Russell more options and time to create plays instead of running for his life in broken play after broken play. Things will be more stable on offense, even if the WR situation aside from Angry Doug Baldwin is shaky at best.

 

I’m more concerned about the defense, but not for reasons that you might think. I was not upset that the team let Sherman and Bennett go. Both were spectacular in their prime but do not have many good years left and were prone to injury when they were here. Let other teams pay their massive contracts. The Hawks will miss SS Kam Chancellor more than both of them. His retirement, while medically necessary, will hurt this team a lot. As will the prolonged absence of Earl. The Hawks are right to not sign him to a long-term deal this season, particularly because he is almost 30 and will likely slow down soon but also because it is evident to everyone that he is not happy here and wants to go to Dallas. While his holding out hurts the team, it is good in the long run because he will be a free agent next year and won’t be a Seahawk by then anyway.

 

This defense is shaping up to not be very good. The secondary, with many young players, is far from the elite level it was a few years back. If not for excellent DE Frank Clark, the pass rush would be among the league’s worst. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright are, of course, outstanding linebackers and the best players on defense, but they can’t do everything themselves. Even if Earl comes back, this is not going to be an elite defense.

 

Unlike many others, I don’t see this team being spectacularly bad, but I also can honestly say that I don’t think they will make the playoffs. I haven’t said that since 2010 or earlier, so it’s not easy to be pessimistic about my own team. But, aside from the new punter, Michael Dickson, who would be rookie of the year if the award was given to punters (*Certified Hot Take), the talent level just isn’t there. That said, I do believe they will be competitive this year and hope to be proven wrong about their talent level. As long as Russell is on the field and new kicker Sebastian Janikowski can make a few field goals, they have a chance.

NFC South

 

Atlanta Falcons

9 (-160/+130)

OVER/PUSH                         
 

Atlanta went 10-6 and made the Divisionals last year, beating the Rams in the Wild Card before losing to the Eagles. Matty Ice is healthy and still the highest-paid QB. Vegas thinks they will easily get to 10 wins, and it certainly is possible with superstar WRs Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu making up arguably the best WR tandem in the league.

 

Speaking of failing forward, look who’s the Falcons’ O Coordinator: none other than Steve Sarkisian, who parlayed getting fired by USC into a coaching position at Alabama and then the opportunity to run the Falcons’ offense. This guy has more luck than Josh McDaniels and Sam Bradford put together. The season preview I read says that Sark’s maturity into a capable play caller “could be what separates a good Falcons team from a great one.” Does that mean he wasn’t capable before? He certainly wasn’t a mature or capable head coach before. Overall, the Falcons will play well (with all that talent, how could they not?) and have a good chance to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team, but they won’t go much further than that.  

Carolina Panthers                        

9 (+130/-160)             

UNDER/PUSH                                            
​​
​Seeing Luke Keuchly cry as he was carted off the field after suffering a concussion during a prime-time game in 2016 was a poignant, sobering reminder of how rough the game of football is. Crying is a side effect of being concussed, and it was surprising to see such a tough guy cry as if his career was over. It impacted a lot of NFL fans, myself included. But he came back as soon as he could, and suffered another concussion in 2017 that caused him to miss additional games.

 

What drives someone to jeopardize their health like that? Keuchly has already made millions playing the game, so he is not driven by money anymore. He is driven by the desire to win and compete. But should he be playing at all? There are many hard questions in today’s NFL, and I’m not here to try to answer them. I personally believe that protocols and rules should be in place to protect players, but football is an inherently dangerous sport that people choose to play. I have not been turned off as a fan by the serious injuries suffered by many players, but it does make me wonder whether game has become too rough and whether more must be done to protect the players.

 

As far as the Panthers on the field, if Keuchly stays healthy he will be the best player on the Defense. They should be pretty good, especially if Cam has another proficient season. RB and WR are shaky, but the Defense is stout. 9-7 is doable, but I see them falling behind Atlanta and New Orleans early and struggling to make the playoffs.  

New Orleans Saints                       

9.5 (-135/+105)

OVER

​Reading the 2018 season previews gets me excited all over again. I had totally forgotten that the Saints made it to the Divisionals last year and almost beat the Vikings. I was all set to write that this is the year they are going to compete for a title. Turns out that was last year! This is what happens when football is away from us for so long. We start to forget important details, like the fact that the Saints have a stellar defense and the best RB tandem the league. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are outstanding, but Ingram won’t be playing until October because of a 4-game PED suspension. Oops.

 

Drew Brees is still a Saint, and at 39 he doesn’t have a lot of time left to win another Super Bowl. The past few years he had been surrounded by sub-par talent and a dreadful defense, but all the pieces are in place for a playoff run in 2018. Few coaches draw up plays better than Sean Payton, and he will have a lot of talent to work with this year. The Saints are likely a playoff team, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they make it to the NFC Championship game. They are going to be fun to watch and will easily get to 10 or more wins if they are healthy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers                

6.5 (+120/-150)

UNDER

​Similar to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, one wonders what Jameis Winston has to do to get fired or benched by the Bucs. This guy was a juvenile creep at Florida State and hasn’t matured a bit. We all know about his college hijinks that led him to get suspended, and if you don’t know, trust me, it’s not worth going over at this point. Just Google it and see for yourself. More importantly to many, he won a title for FSU and was a first-round pick by the Bucs. As a more mature adult, he has been suspended for the first three (3) games of the 2018 season after being accused of groping a female Uber driver. He initially denied the allegations and tried to get his teammates to go along with his cover-up. All class.

 

If you can put his personal issues aside, which is a big ask, he does have a lot of raw talent. However, that talent has gone undeveloped, as he was just 3-10 as a starter last season before sitting out the final three games due to a shoulder injury. The Bucs suffered mightily last year, going a dreadful 5-11 and eating a lot of crow after their big talk on Hard Knocks. My guess is they won’t want to appear on that show anytime soon.

 

But how do they look this year? Seven wins looks attainable if Jameis can focus more on being a better QB, particularly because DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans are hugely talented WRs who rarely make mistakes, unlike their QB. LT Gerald McCoy was a joy to watch on Hard Knocks and is by far their best defensive player. He will do well this season. McCoy paired with the amazing rookie DT Vita Vea (amazing because he is a former Husky) will give the Bucs one of the best rushing duos this side of Philadelphia.

 

All that said, I am skeptical that this team will turn the corner in 2018. I’m taking the Under because I don’t trust Winston. If he overcomes his immaturity and develops into a good QB, they can win 7 or more games. That’s a big if.

NFC East

 

Dallas Cowboys                              

8.5 (-105/-125)

OVER

​Not much buzz surrounding the Cowboys this year. Star QB Dak Prescott and RB Zeke Elliott are back and healthy, but former WR Dez Bryant is gone, surprisingly released after becoming a free agent. I say surprising because letting him, his distractions, and his decreased productivity walk was a rational and thoughtful move, two adjectives rarely used to describe owner Jerry Jones.

 

The best O line in the league is back and intact aside from C Travis Frederick having to unfortunately miss the season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an auto-immune disease. The defense is fine: Taco Charlton has both the best name in the NFL and high expectations as a rotating Defensive End. Demarcus Lawrence will once again be a beast of a pass rusher, paired with hugely talented but troubled DE Randy Gregory, who has been suspended for part of the past two seasons but will be formidable if he plays this year. They did well last season, going 9-7, but apparently a little less is expected of them this year. I think they are going to make the most of their favorable schedule and win 9-10 games if Zeke and Dak stay healthy.

New York Giants                            

7 (-160/+130) 

UNDER/PUSH

The Giants certainly didn’t screw up their draft this year, quickly selecting once-in-a-generation talent RB Saquon Barkley after the Browns inexplicably passed him over in favor of the high-upside-but-volatile QB Baker Mayfield. Eli and Odell Beckham, Jr. are still on the team, and the addition of Barkley has gotten the people of New York (and Vegas) in a tizzy. Seven (7) is a ridiculous O/U after the terrible 3-13 season they had last year, and yet look at the numbers: money is streaming to the Over. Barkley is really good, but can he save this team with a new coach, average-at-best defense, a dreadful offensive line, a mistake-prone QB, and mercurial star WR? I say no when others say yes.

 

Of course, QB Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls, so he isn’t exactly a slouch at his position. If he does have a late-career revival behind an improved offensive line, they can definitely win 7 or more games. But I’m predicting that Saquon will be good this year, OBJ will be good, and no one else will step up. Opposing teams will just have to stuff the box, double-team OBJ, and wait for Eli to make a mistake. Easy! While they will win up to twice as many games as last year (6), it will be another year before the Giants compete for the NFC East title.

Philadelphia Eagles                      

10.5 (-105/-125)

UNDER

​Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I really wanted the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, for two reasons: 1. Head Coach Doug Peterson is from Ferndale, WA; and 2. They had never won a title before. Every Seahawks fan remembers what it felt like when the team won their first and only title. The feeling instantly wipes away years and even decades of disappointment. There is nothing like it. Now that the Eagles and their fans know what that feeling is like, the question now becomes what they are going to do to get back to the Super Bowl and win another championship.

 

Do they have what it takes? The answer is clearly yes. They are as talented today as they were in February, if not more so because star QB Carson Wentz will soon be healthy. Even though Nick Foles won the SB for the Eagles and was even named MVP, Wentz is still the 2018 starter when he is healthy enough to play. That’s how much they believe in him. WR, TE, and RB are all solid. Their offense is ready to go, especially when Wentz comes back. The defense was spectacular last season and should be very good again this year. The team is going to have another successful season. Then why am I picking the Under? Because I believe in the Super Bowl hangover.

 

It’s hard enough to win in the NFL. It’s even harder to win consistently. Yes, the Seahawks went back to the Super Bowl after winning their first and even had a chance to win (that’s all I’m going to say about that game). But they had a favorable schedule and an amazing defense in its prime. The Eagles have pretty much the opposite of a favorable schedule. They have to play the AFC South and NFC South teams in addition to the Vikings and Rams. That’s eight (8!) playoff contenders right there. Plus they have to play their division opponents twice each, which is never easy. I think the Eagles will go 10-6 and will make the playoffs. Heck, I even think they will win their division. But if I have to pick 11 or 10, I’m picking 10 based on that brutal schedule.

Washington Deadskins                

7 (-110/-120)

UNDER

At last, we come to the Deadskins. Fitting that we end with the most divisive team in the league. As a former DC resident, I have seen and attended many Redskins games and understand the culture there. Most die-hard Skins fans reside in the suburbs, and they have no problem with the logo and team name. I for one think they should change their name to the DC RedTails because RedTails was a nickname for the Tuskegee Airmen, a famous African-American flight squadron. It would fit well and be appreciated by the region’s large black population, many of whom are Redskins fans. Anyway, that’s just my $.02. The Redskins name remains this season and will remain as long as the divisive owner, Daniel Snider, runs the team.

 

There is way too much dysfunction in the Redskins organization to get into. Suffice to say this is not a well-run team. But it’s still one of the most prominent teams, and the team matters to the league. Whether fans still want to actually attend the games is another issue. The game day experience is just short of dreadful, from the suburban location a mile from the Metro to the cramped seats to the rude, drunken fans. Skins games are best taken in from a luxury box far away from the hoi polloi. My friend Warren is one of the biggest Skins fan I know. He excitedly told me the other day that he is now a season-ticket holder and that his tickets are on the 30-yard line. They were also buy-one-get-one free. That’s how far this team has fallen.

 

So what will my friend see from his great and affordable seats? He won’t see former franchise QB Kirk Cousins, who is now a Minnesota Viking. Replacing him is former Chiefs QB Alex Smith, an older, slower version of Cousins. He should have some gas left in the tank, though, and will not be the reason this team and its fans suffer another long season. TE Jordan Reed will probably get a lot of passes thrown his way, as will free agent pick-up Paul Richardson, whom Seattle got rid of but probably should have kept. On a sad note, promising rookie RB Derrius Guice shredded his ACL in practice and will not play a down this season. He was their big hope at RB, and the signing of has-been Adrian Peterson does not portend greatness for their running game.

 

The defense should be pretty good this season with an improved pass rush and a talented secondary featuring all-pro CB Josh Norman. However, he has been there for two seasons now, and the team has still averaged just 8 wins the past three seasons. There is little reason to believe Smith or Norman will be the ones to change that. Irrelevance and 6-10 looks likely.

NFC North

Chicago Bears                                 

6.5 (-160/+130)          

UNDER                                 

​Lots of optimism in Chicago these days. The Bears have a great RB in Jordan Howard, whom I forgot to mention last year and was mildly chastised by a reader (thanks for the feedback!). The reader was right: Howard is a great RB and will again be the star on this offense. Mitchell Trubisky is the QB and many see him as having a breakout season, a la 2017 Jared Goff. Don’t bet on it. At least Trubisky will have former Jags WR Allen Robinson to throw to and Howard to hand it off to several dozen times a game.

 

The defense is average and has been since Andy Urlacher’s prime. That will continue this year, but they won’t be terrible. Just average. Vegas thinks this team can get 7 wins, but I don’t. Trubisky won’t have a breakout season, Howard will be great, and the defense will be average. 6-10.

Detroit Lions                                  

7.5 (-130/EVEN)

OVER

​Seriously, does anyone use pencils anymore? Do you even own a pencil? I think I have one somewhere in my den, but I would have to try to find it. Not worth it. You know who uses pencils? New Lions head coach Matt Patricia, that’s who. You remember him from all the nationally televised Patriots games that you are forced to watch. He is the big guy with the huge beard and the backward cap who always has a pencil above his ear. How can you write in pencil on a laminated board? I think it’s part of his brand. He is the Guy With The Pencil.

 

Matt and his pencils got a big break and now are coaching the Lions. He is obviously a talented defensive coach, but is he a good head coach? One decision he made was to keep Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who has a career as an SEC coach once his NFL coaching days are over. Because he has a southern name, he can coach a southern team. Keep up with me here.

 

Pencil Matt also has Matt Stafford, who is back for his 10th (?!) season. He has been a very proficient QB and should have another solid season. The Lions have been pretty good lately, and I think they will be pretty good this year. They seem to be ready for a 9-7 or 8-8 season, mostly because they added two ex-Seahawks, DeShawn Shead and Luke Willson, in free agency. The Lions will stick around and play a lot of close games, but they won’t keep up with the Packers or Vikings and will miss the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers                      

10 (-125/-105)

OVER

​If I were GM for a day and had to pick one QB, it would be Aaron Rodgers. He is the best in the league and now is the richest player in the league after signing a record, $134 million contract, $100 million of which is guaranteed. That's a lot of cheddar. This season, just like last season, I would want Rodgers as the QB of my theoretical team. Last year, like so many others, I predicted great things for the Packers. Then Rodgers got hurt and they fell off a cliff, going 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the first time in 8 seasons. Not surprising that they weren’t great without their best player, but their lackluster performance did show how important a great QB is in today’s NFL.

 

Rodgers is back and healthy and the Packers are excited. 10 wins is easily achievable with him at QB even if they jettisoned his favorite target, WR Jordy Nelson. The offensive line will be a problem, but Rodgers is a great improviser, so I don’t think he will be all that affected. Former Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham is now a Packer, and I’m sure the coaches there will know how to properly utilize his immense talent (unlike the Seahawks), so I expect a lot of Rodgers TD passes to Graham, his new favorite target. The defense should be fine but this team will win or lose with Rodgers, and I expect a lot of winning. 11-5 or 12-4.

Minnesota Vikings                        

10 (-130/EVEN)

OVER/PUSH

​Minnesota shocked everyone by going 13-3 and making it to the NFC Championship game. It was not a surprise that QB Sam Bradford got hurt AGAIN and missed the season. What was very surprising was that backup Case Keenum played out of his mind, resulting in him being shipped to the Broncos as a free agent. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were the best WR duo in the league last year, and they will be just as good this season, along with traffic TE Kyle Rudolph.

 

Kirk Cousins is the big news in Minnesota this season, signing a huge, $84 million contract with the Vikings. The Redskins will miss him, but he probably won’t miss playing for them. He never quite fit in there, but he will definitely fit in as a Viking with Thielen and Diggs to throw to. Look for him to have an outstanding season. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray will have lots of holes to run through because of the talented offensive line blocking in front of them. I remember what it was like to have a talented offensive line. Sigh.

 

Anyway, this is a terrific team that will for sure be in the playoff hunt. Will they overtake the Packers and win the NFC North? They are talented enough to do so, but I think they will come up just short (10-6 or 11-5) and end up winning a playoff game as a Wild Card team. Whatever happens, the Vikings will be a fun team to watch.