LEIGH’S 2018 NFL PREVIEW

The season has finally come, here is my 2018 forecast. All of these takes are my opinions.

 

AFC WEST

 

1.Los Angeles Chargers

The only thing stopping the Chargers is themselves. They have the best pass rush in football and a poised, savvy veteran QB who is hungry as ever for a ring and knows he has the assets to take his shot this year. Anthony Lynn’s second year at the helm in LA must come with wisdom, maturity and better ball security.

Wins: 12

2. Denver Broncos

The Broncos consistently have one of the best defensive units in the NFL. The drafting of Bradley Chubb will supply some more freak pass rush ability to their already dangerous defense. Case Keenum is better than any signal caller this team has had since the last year Peyton Manning was a capable NFL QB. If Royce Freeman can make steady contributions in the run game and Keenum can game-manage the same way he did under Shurmur last year, this defense can do the rest. I like Denver.

Wins: 9

3. (it feels wrong) Raiders

My heart says Gruden and Carr can gel to the point where Oakland can somewhat control their own destiny in the AFC, but my brain says this team could be an absolute wreck this year. So that leaves me stuck in the middle. I guess i’ll go with Carr and Amari can make it work and the Raiders can Gruden Grind their way to 8 wins this year.

Wins: 8

4. Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid is a proven high end NFL coach and Pat Mahomes’ arm can make for a super explosive Chiefs offense, but I am not on board. Mahomes is known for his powerful arm and ability to deliver the ball down the field. The transition from gunslinging at a high level in the Big 12 compared to the AFC West will show in year one on the turnover sheet. I am gonna go out on an island here and sell on KC in this division.

Wins: 7

AFC SOUTH

1.Jacksonville Jaguars

This is the hardest division to predict in football. The Colts have the best quarterback and the worst team and the Jags have the worst quarterback and the best team. I have the Jags slated at 1 because I believe they are the safest bet, in other words, they have the highest floor. The Jags have arguably the best defensive unit in football, combined with a highly productive, bell-cow running back in Leonard Fournette. Bortles is not anywhere near elite but has shown he can play well enough for this team to sniff a Super Bowl birth.

Wins: 10

2. Houston Texans

The Texans are an interesting team for many reasons. They have absolute superstar talent on their offense and their defense, but injuries and mediocre management have muted this teams ability to reach their full potential. In a hopeful reality where the Texans do stay healthy, they are a playoff lock in the AFC. I really like the addition of veteran safety Tyrann Matheiu, he will bring his skillset to a much needed Texans secondary. J.J Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus are a nightmare to scheme around, Deshaun Watson is a superstar, his O-line is bottom 10 in the league and he will have to evade pressure all season. The good thing is that he has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks at evading defensive pressure and he has 2 great receivers to throw to (Fuller/Hopkins). Health is wealth in Houston.

Wins: 9

3. Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck can carry this team to a playoff birth, this division is too good top to bottom for me to buy in this year. The Colts offense should be nothing short of solid, Luck will spread the ball around but Indy lacks the weapons the really take the top off of teams. Frank Reich is a 1st year HC will have to implement an offense that is consistent and methodical, I am interested to see where the majority of carries go as the season goes on. Their season comes down to how many wins can Luck will them to?

Wins: 8

4. Tennessee Titans

I like the hiring of Mike Vrabel and I do not have many bad things to say about the Titans, they just don’t really stand out to me. Marcus Mariota has been mostly average in his NFL career and I believe this team will always go as he goes. Vrabel brings a defensive focus with his regime and I can see this group over performing defensively, but I think the Titans lack the ability to pass the ball down the field when it matters and count on Mariota’s arm, and it ultimately limits them.

Wins: 7

AFC NORTH

1.Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco must channel some 2011/12 energy this year because this division is up for the taking and the Ravens have the best chance of taking it. Alex Collins has proven to be a powerful and effective runner and the offseason additions of the crop of veteran receivers in Snead IV, Crabtree, and John Brown are all moves in the right direction. The defense has high level talent and great rotational depth. The window is closing for Flacco and co. and the excuses are gone, it’s time to produce.

Wins: 11

2. Cincinnati Bengals

The combination of my pessimistic view of the Steelers and my belief in A.J Green and Joe Mixon has lead to my cementing of the Bengals at 2 in this division. On offense, Andy Dalton needs to prove he has enough juice to utilize his weapons effectively. The O-line is suspect but improved and the Mixon/Green RB/WR combo is amongst the best in the league. On defense, the Bengals have holes but did a very good job of patching up in the draft. Jesse Bates III, Sam Hubbard and Malik Jefferson are all dudes who will see action early and I believe Marvin Lewis is coming into this season with a new staff and a different mindset.

Wins: 9

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers suspect defense and loss of Leveon Bell will result in a drop in success in 2018. Ben Roethlisberger is a bit overrated at this point and this team did not do much in the draft to fix the issues at hand. Juju has been discovered and the division is catching up to the Steelers. I will reference my full schpeil of the AFC North Preview Pod.

Wins: 7

4. Cleveland Browns

Coaching is the main reason I have this little faith in the Browns. This team has improved through the additions of Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor and Damarious Randall but I don’t believe in the Browns as a cohesive unit in 2018. Winning is something the Browns are not familiar with and it may take a few years. Myles Garett should be a game wrecker on defense and the offense should show massive improvement.

Wins: 5

AFC EAST

1.New England Patriots

Do I need to go through the rigamaroo? the Edleman suspension may hurt this team early because they do not have many options are receiver. That being said, the lack of competition in this division mixed with the sustained success of Bill and Tom leads to wins.

Wins: 12

2. New York Jets

The messiah has arrived. Samuel Darnold ladies and gentlemen, get to know him. There is a buzz in the Big Apple and the Jets may be on to something. I love Jamal Adams at safety and believe Darnold has elite potential. Todd Bowles is a phenomenal coach and will have this team prepared defensively every game. The Jets will play disciplined football and will be fun to watch in the years to come.

Wins: 8

3. Miami Dolphins

With Ryan Tannehill returning from injury, the Dolphins have high hopes for this season, but they may crash early. Adam Gase has been unable to get the ball steadily rolling during his tenure in Miami and the pressure is on this year. I don’t see Kenyan Drake filling the role they think he can and Devante Parker has been a disappointment. Defensively, the fins have exciting pieces but nothing about this group screams better than average. Tannehill is average, Gase is average, their receivers have been average and the culture in Miami needs to change. Will Grier anyone?

Wins: 5

4. Buffalo Bills

Nathan Peterman is the starting QB for this team week 1. Even if 2nd year coach Sean McDermott gets all his ducks in a row on defense, they still will not be able to score points. The Bills have playoff infrastructure on defense, but they have nobody to throw the ball to on offense and nobody to throw the ball. That will prove to be a huge issue in Buffalo.

Wins: 3

AFC PLAYOFFS

WILD CARD

3.RAVENS v. 6.BRONCOS

4.JAGS v. 5.TEXANS

DIVY

1.PATRIOTS v. 4.JAGS

2.CHARGERS v. 3. RAVENS

AFC CHIP

1.PATRIOTS v 2.CHARGERS

LAC 29 NE 28

NFC WEST

1.San Fransisco 49ers

Bringing Richard Sherman in the offseason established a culture in the bay that will be pivotal to this teams success in 2018. With a proven capable starter at quarterback, Kyle Shanahan will be able to go into attack mode in year 2. The sudden loss of Jerrick McKinnon will be a blow for this team but Matt Bredia proved he could be a reliable ball-carrier in his rookie campaign. All around, this team is poised to compete with anyone in 2018 and I would be surprised if they don’t win at least 8 games.

Wins: 10

2. Seattle Seahawks

The L.O.B era is over, only few leftovers remain of what was once a dynasty of the ages. All things considered, you still have Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, and the 12th man lives on. This Seahawks team will be a rag-tag group in 2018 that will execute the fundamentals defensively to compete. After losing a lot of their core players in the secondary, Seattle did their best to fill holes in the draft and free agency. Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson can elevate this team with a punishing ground game this year, but Wilson will carry this team with his legs and head, which are not bad assets to rely on.

Wins: 9

3. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams may be the most publicized team coming into the 2018 season and rightfully so, Sean McVay turned the NFL world on it’s head last year essentially turning a cellar team into an NFL juggernaut, beating some of the leagues best competition. But last year was last year, and Jared Goff, The Boy King, is still your quarterback. The offseason acquisitions of 30+ year olds Ndomukongh Suh and Aquib Talib and superstar hissy-fit-man Marcus Peters may prove to be major stabilizers for this team and result in wins. They also may prove to not really end up meshing well and with the 1st place schedule LA is set to play, trouble may find its way to paradise. I am not sold on the Rams this year.

Wins: 8

4. Arizona Cardinals

This team has pieces here and there to compete, but lacks the true balance to win more than 6 games. Sam Bradford will start the season as the quarterback but I have a feeling we will see Rosen before Thanksgiving and simply put, this O-line is lacking the necessary skill and depth to block for either immobile and fragile quarterback they have. David Johnson may be one of the best football players the NFL has to offer but the overall dysfunction in Arizona is too prevalent for me to take them seriously in this division. 1st year HC Steve Wilkes and his crew are fit to fix the problems for the Cardinals but the results won’t come this year.

Wins: 5

NFC SOUTH

  1. Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta is a team that is competitive on every level offensively and defensively. Dan Quinn is one of the better coaches in the league but there is pressure on Steve Sarkisian to become a more comfortable play caller and offensive co-ordinator in his 2nd year on the job. Matt Ryan will deliver but never to the extent he did in 2016, the good thing is he does not necessarily have to. Atlanta has shown much more stability defensively and made solid picks in the draft to shore up their defense and their tandem of running backs (Freeman/Coleman) have been able to carry a lot of the load the past few seasons. Look for sustained success in ATL.

Wins: 12

2. New Orleans Saints

The Saints should have had their shot at the Lombardi trophy last season, but it was stripped of them by one mistake. We all know how good Drew Brees is and how high octane this offense can be when it is clicking. Frankly, the Saints defense over performed last year and relied heavily on then rookie CB Marshon Lattimore to lock down elite wideouts regularly, which he did. In 2018, I would not be surprised to find a slight dip in production from the Saints. Mark Ingram is suspended for the first 4 weeks of the season and I believe their defense may take a dip in stability and cohesiveness this year.

Wins: 9

3. Carolina Panthers

Putting the Panthers in 4th crossed my mind, I did it in my first on air preview, and although Cam Newton may be wildly inaccurate and unreliable on a week to week basis, they have been successful in the past and they have Luke Kuelchy. Kuelchy is the heart of the Panthers defense, without him on the field they are significantly less competitive. D.J Moore will have to step into a WR1 role as a rookie because Devin Funchess has not really proven he be anything other than a somewhat reliable red zone target and a decent WR2. The O-line is not in good shape and I still do not believe in Christian McCafferrey as a full time, 20 to 28 positive touches a game guy. Sneaky hot seat warning for Ron Rivera if things go south in Charlotte.

Wins: 7

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With Jameis Winston suspended, the Bucs will have to find a way to compete in a tough first 3 games. From what I can tell, Dirk Koetter is not a very good coach, Jason Licht should be managing a Bed Bath and Beyond in Omaha, and their Mr.Franchise, Jameis Winston, acts like a hardly parented 6th grade boy on a regular basis. Mike Evans is a freak and the O-line is somewhere below average. The D-line could actually wreak some havoc and make games exciting with the additions of Jason Pierre Paul and Vinny Curry. The Bucs could stick in some games, and I am really hoping Jameis cleans up his act and starts playing to his potential as a QB. This season seems quite hopeless.

Wins: 6

NFC NORTH

1. Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins has come to bring rings to the Vikings. Minnesota has an all around great football team with solid groups at every level and a very reliable coach in Mike Zimmer. Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen very well may be the best wideout duo in the NFL and Dalvin Cook is going to be a nightmare to stop on the ground. The Vikings will continue to assert themselves as one of the best teams on the league with an elite defense.

Wins: 12

2. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is back, and he got paid, the Packers have got 3 young boul cornerbacks in the reigns, and they are playing a 3rd place schedule due to last years disappointing record. I am hoping to see Jamaal Williams run away with the starting RB job in Green Bay and believe he will have his shot to. Rodgers just wins down the stretch and will be absolutely shocked if this team does not make the playoffs.

Wins: 10

3. Detroit Lions

Although it won’t be sexy, Lions fans will have to come to terms with 7 wins this season. It is a transition year and you are in the best division in football. The defense really does not match up well with anyone with the holes they have on their defensive line and the inconsistent linebacker play. The offense is locked and loaded with Stafford, a re-tooled O-line, and the trio of wideouts they have, but I do not trust this team to consistently be better than their opponents.

Wins: 7

4. Chicago Bears

The Bears proved to be going all in when GM Ryan Pace traded 2 1st round picks for superstar EDGE Khalil Mack. There is a lot of buzz in the Windy City about the Bears and rightfully so, they brought in a young, exciting, offensive head coach and made several splash moves in the draft and free agency. The Bears are going all in and I like the move I just don’t think Mitch Trubisky is ready to lead this group to a winning season. Bears will play everyone tough but that won’t result in a playoff birth.

Wins: 7

NFC EAST

1.New York Giants

I am going all in on the Giants after they crushed my preseason predictions last year. Saquon Barkley will step in and immediately be one of the best players in the NFL with the ball in his hands and Odell Beckham Jr. will prove why the Giants are paying him the $95 million deal. All the chips are in for Eli Manning and he holds the key to the Giants success. They addressed the O-line, they upgraded their defense, and the team will be ready to compete with a high powered offense this year. Will Eli?….Just throw it at Saqouns hands, not feet.

Wins: 11

2. Philadelphia Eagles

With reports that Carson Wentz may be out up to 5 weeks this year, my opinions on the Eagles are drifting slowly downhill. They have talent on every level as they proved last year, but things change year to year. If Nick Foles is unable to win games early in the year, there could be a decline in production in Philly. With a new look offensive coaching staff, and limited options at wideout Philly could endure a super bowl hangover in 2018. Just in time for Carson Wentz to come back and save the season.

Wins: 9

3. Washington Redskins

Alex Smith always starts out the season playing at a very high level and it will be interesting to see how the passing game is distributed in D.C this season under possible hot seat candidate Jay Gruden. Sad news that Derrius Guice went down with and ACL, the Skins have a stable of backs now with the addition of A.P. Washington has a solid defense that I can see playing to a very high level due to its cornerstones in the form of D.J Swearinger, Josh Norman, and Ryan Kerrigan not to mention the high potential D Tackles they have in D’Aron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Although, I have a feeling that once it gets cold and games start to matter, things will get frustrating in D.C.

Wins: 8

4. Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott exposed his accuracy issues last season and they will not magically disappear in 2018. It does not help that his 2 most reliable pass catchers are no longer on the team and the “Captain America” O-Line in Dallas has kinks and bruises that are lingering far too long for Jerry’s liking. Jeff Heath will be playing safety for the Cowboys and Geoff Swaim will be playing Tight End. Their corners may be skilled but are still young and this team does not have the all around capability to overwhelm opponents like it did 2 years ago. Jason Garrett will not be on the Cowboys sideline after this season and Dak just may have to find a new home too.

Wins: 6

NFC PLAYOFFS

WILD CARD

3.GIANTS v. 6.EAGLES

4.49ERS v. 5.PACKERS

DIVY

1.VIKINGS v. 5.PACKERS

2.FALCONS v. 3.GIANTS

NFC CHIP

2.FALCONS v. 5.PACKERS

GB 31 ATL 24

SUPER BOWL

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS 18

GREEN BAY PACKERS 23

LINES I LIKE

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 10W UNDER (+120)

DALLAS COWBOYS 8W UNDER (+135)

NEW YORK JETS 6W OVER (+105)

LOS ANGELES RAMS 9.5W UNDER (+135)

NEW YORK GIANTS 7W OVER (-145)

MY PRESEASON AWARDS

COACH-1.Anthony Lynn (LAC) 2.Dan Quinn (ATL) 3.Kyle Shanahan (SF)

MVP-1.Aaron Rodgers (GB) 2.Phillip Rivers (LAC) 3. Kirk Cousins (MIN)

OPOY (no QB)-1.Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG) 2.Joe Mixon (CIN) 3.Dalvin Cook (MIN)

DPOY-1.Myles Garrett (CLE) 2.Tyrann Matheiu (HOU) 3.Von Miller (DEN)

OROY-1.SaQuon Barkley (NYG) 2.Sam Darnold (NYJ) 3. Quentin Nelson (IND)

DROY-1.Jaire Alexander (GB) 2.Bradley Chubb (DEN) 3.Lorenzo Carter (NYG)

CELLAR TEAMS

1.BUFFALO BILLS 3W

2.ARIZONA CARDINALS 5W

3.CLEVELAND BROWNS 5W

4.MIAMI DOLPHINS 5W

5.TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6W

6.DALLAS COWBOYS 6W

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