A brand new NFL season kicks off this week, starting with the defending champion, Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night. With that being the case, the time is as good as any to present my annual NFL predictions.
- The Washington Redskins will miss Kirk Cousins
I have never been a big Alex Smith fan, primarily due to the limitations of his arm. I’ve always considered him a QB who was good enough to keep your team competitive, but not one capable of leading one to a Super Bowl. On the flipside, Kirk Cousins may be one of the more underrated and underappreciated players in the NFL. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy to suggest a player who cashed in the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history is underappreciated. But, with how seemingly desperate the Redskins were to get rid of Cousins, you’d think he was Tim Tebow.
The Redskins were decimated with injuries last season and Cousins still threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Despite his performance, Washington made it clear they were ready to move on from him. The Minnesota Vikings, the beneficiary of the Washington fallout, filled a major void on an already loaded roster. Sure, Case Keenum played very well in 2017. However, the Vikings knew they needed to upgrade at QB in order to have a realistic shot of winning the Super Bowl. And that is exactly what they did.
- Jon Gruden will be a massive failure in Oakland
For the past decade, the rumors of Gruden returning to coaching have become an annual tradition. As we know, the rumor finally became reality when he left the Monday Night Football booth to return to the Oakland Raiders for an unprecedented $100 million contract. Gruden has made waves this offseason with very questionable roster moves, but none had been as puzzling as jettisoning Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears this past weekend.
It’s hard not to be concerned about a new coach who seemed to make such a little effort to get along with the team’s best player and determine a solution to keep him. One side may argue that the move will send “a message to the locker room”. But will that be the right message? My hunch says no. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a player on a team that traded away the best player a week before the season in exchange for nothing that will help them in 2018. While the Raiders are yet to play a game, I cannot be too optimistic based off his first offseason.
- NFC North will be the best division
There is a clear hierarchy of divisions across the league. But, I genuinely believe the NFC North is the strongest from top to bottom. The Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They have a truly elite defense devoid of weaknesses. On the offensive side of the ball, Kirk Cousins takes over as the new signal caller and joins a potent passing attack and promising running game. Shift to the Packers, who get Aaron Rodgers back healthy. Unlike most Green Bay teams of the recent past, they appear to finally have a stable running game and enough play-makers on defense to prevent that side of the ball from being a liability. Like Minnesota, they’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
By looking to the “bottom half” of the division, the Lions and Bears do not look to be your typical bottom dwellers. The Lions should have an improved offensive line, recent additions to hopefully stabilize their running game to compliment an already strong passing game, and a good enough defense to keep them in every game this season. Last we turn to the Bears, who fortified their defense after acquiring Khalil Mack. The offense will go as far as second-year QB, Mitch Trubisky can take them, but he has enough weapons to lead a very effective offense.
- The Philadelphia Eagles will (eventually) be better in 2018
The defending champs enter the regular season very banged up, and most notably without Carson Wentz. Wentz was on his way to winning the NFL MVP before tearing his ACL in Los Angeles last December. As expected, it has been a long recovery and he is yet to be cleared by the doctors. With his status in addition to a handful of other players slated to miss the beginning of the season, I anticipate a bumpy start, even with the first quarter arguably being the easiest part of the schedule.
But, the Eagles will get healthy and I anticipate them getting their stride between October and November. I am also very encouraged by the offseason additions as well as the returning players who missed the Super Bowl run. Once healthy, an argument can be made for this roster being even stronger than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last February. I truly believe that the team will be fueled by those players who missed out on the triumph and will be extremely motivated to experience it for themselves. I don’t anticipate a Super Bowl hangover.
- Dak Prescott will continue to regress
I was alone by thinking a lot of Prescott’s rookie season was a fluke. For most of the season, he was working with ideal conditions that typically leads to a high level of performance. The offensive line and running game were elite and he had several very good options in the passing game. But now as we are entering his third NFL season, the Cowboys’ line looks in disarray and with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, it won’t get any easier.
A lot of pressure comes with being the QB of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite an impressive rookie campaign, I remain extremely skeptical about his long-term potential. He had a down year in 2017 and while a lot of Cowboys supporters assume it was an anomaly, I’m more likely to believe it’s a sign of things to come. Sorry Dallas fans, Dak is a lot closer to Quincy Carter than he is to Troy Aikman or even Tony Romo.
New England 11-5
New York Jets 6-10
Los Angeles Chargers 10-6
Kansas City 8-8
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
New York Giants 7-9
Green Bay 10-6
New Orleans 10-6
Tampa Bay 6-10
Los Angeles Rams 11-5
San Francisco 8-8
Los Angeles over Pittsburgh
Atlanta over Minnesota
Atlanta over Los Angeles
Source Credit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2018/09/05/nfl-power-rankings-week-1-eagles-patriots-khalil-mack/1197206002/
Author: Casey Gillespie
Editor in Chief, Eye off the Ball.