Kansas City Chiefs – I’d like to start this preview with an anecdote from my preview last year; “A gunslinger in the true sense of the word, Mahomes might just have the strongest arm the league has seen. However he still is prone to errant decisions and I’m expecting this season to be a road of bumps and bruises…but the real question all season will be can Mahomes consistently play winning football while retaining the natural improvisation of his game.” I think we can all agree Mahomes managed to do just what I was skeptical of, his first full season as a starter was unprecedented and he was rightly awarded the MVP at seasons end. With Mahomes looking every part of a generational quarterback, the team surrounding him is improved entering 2019. The loss of Kareem Hunt proved insignificant with Damien Williams doing fine in his absence. Plus the additions of LeSean McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson round out an impressive group in the backfield. The addition of rookie speedster Mecole Hardman to Kelce, Hill, and Watkins seems to be an absolute embarrassment of riches. Defensively, Frank Clark is a significant upgrade over Dee Ford at edge rusher. Tyrann Matheiu and rookie Juan Thornhill are both upgrades in the secondary. Behind a lethal offense and a improved defense, the Chiefs have the most legitimate chance at dethroning the Patriots as the AFC’s top dog.
X Factor: Frank Clark EDGE; Clark has been one of the more underrated pass rushers in the NFL, consistently producing over the past five years in Seattle. If Clark can continue to hit double digit sacks, he paired with Chris Jones, can be one of the leagues most lethal pass rush duos.
Rookie To Watch: Juan Thornhill DB; While I’m tempted to put Mecole Hardman here due to his potential to put this offense over the edge, I’m going to go with second round pick Juan Thornhill. Thornhill is a versatile defensive back, that I expect to be placed all over the field in this chiefs defensive scheme. Whether he’s lined up at corner or next to Tyrann Mathieu, I see Thornhill as an instant impact player for a unit that needs dynamic playmakers.
Los Angeles Chargers – The BackJudge has collectively been pumping the Charger’s tires since it’s inception back in the spring of 2017. That being said, it’s hard not to see this teams super bowl window as being in the rearview. Despite the fact that they have everything you’d want in an elite football team on paper (outside of their offensive line), they simply don’t seem to have the intangibles. I’m still not completely sold on Phillip Rivers ability in big games, and I’m surely not sold on Anthony Lynn as a premier head coach. However, I do expect them to compete for a wild card spot after falling short of a division title, but when it comes to competing with the NFL’s elite the Chargers fall short.
X Factor: Hunter Henry TE; Henry was a burgeoning star at TE after recording 8 touchdowns as a rookie in 2016. His development has been curbed by injuries in 2017 and more notably an offseason ACL tear in 2018 forcing him to miss all of last year. If Henry can return to form, the Chargers add another dynamic pass catcher.
Rookie To Watch: Jerry Tillery DL and Nasir Adderly DB; I’m going to cheat here and put the Chargers first two picks. With Tilery, the Chargers add a versatile defensive lineman to a group that has zero presence in the middle. The Chargers were absolutely gutted by Sony Michel in their playoff loss in January. Tillery is a solid run defender with high pass rash upside. With Adderely, they’ve added a versatile defensive back who will be leaned on even more as a playmaker with Derwin James out for the foreseeable future.
Denver Broncos – The Broncos have been in a sort of purgatory since their super bowl win in 2015. Despite having an impressive defense behind the edge tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, this team has struggled to figure it out on offense. They made some strides last year with rookies Phillip Lindsay, Cortland Sutton, DeSean Hamilton, and Royce Freeman, but they have yet to figure out the quarterback situation. Case Keenum is out, Joe Flacco is in, with second round project Drew Lock behind him as the “future.” Vic Fangio is also in to replace the abysmal Vance Joesph. While Fangio has much more experience and success as a coordinator than Joesph, I still am skeptical of him being the head ball coach of the future. That being said, this team should be a tough out, with a solid roster and the infamous mile high home field advantage.
X Factor: Bradley Chubb EDGE; Chubb surprised no one last year as an instant impact player for the Broncos defense, recording 60 tackles and 12 sacks. Heading into his sophomore campaign, Chubb is a dark horse for sacks leader and will continue to give offenses nightmares with Von Miller.
Rookie To Watch: Dalton Risner G; Risner was a certified BJP boy this past draft cycle, as one of the safest picks out there. Risner will bring instant consistency to an improved unit.
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders are improved in year two of John Gruden’s ten year reign. Mike Mayock played it safe in his first draft, opting for doubles instead of homers with EDGE Clelin Ferrel, RB Josh Jacobs, and S Jonathan Abrams. Despite not offering the high ceiling of some of their classmates, they all have relatively high floors and will be expected to be impact players from day one. Speaking of impact players, this team also added Antonio Brown this offseason. The future hall of famer has been a well chronicled headache for the team throughout offseason. Whether thats a sign of things to come or a ploy to avoid the dull drums of training camp has yet to be seen. Along with AB the team added solid veterans in Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyrell Williams, and Richie Incognito. While this team has made some improvements, they still are littered with holes, specifically on defense. And by in large, I don’t see Derek Carr as a franchise quarterback. Even if everything goes right for Oakland, it’ll be hard to breach divisions ceiling forged by Kansas City and Los Angeles.
X Factor: Derek Carr QB; As I alluded to, I’m not a Derek Carr believer. I view his 2016 “MVP” season as more fluke than tangible skill. If he can’t prove me wrong with Antonio Brown, Josh Jacobs, and an improved offensive line, I’m not sure he ever will.
Rookie To Watch: Clelin Ferrel EDGE; Considered a reach by the majority of NFL media, Ferrel will have a chance to make an instant impact on a porous defensive line. He should lead this team in sacks.
Houston Texans – Now that we live in a post Andrew Luck world (long sigh), the Texans have vaulted to the top of the AFC South. Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in this division, and the Texans clearly have the highest upside in the division. In acquiring LT Laremy Tunsil they gave up the farm in a ill-advised, yet honest attempt at protecting their young stud quarterback, which I respect. This offensive line as a unit should be better. De’Andre Hopkins will attempt to some how one up his fantastic year in 2018. While Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee round out an impressive supporting receiver group. Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde will supplement the loss of Lamar Miller well. As long as 4 is healthy the offense really isn’t a concern. I do think the defense is vulnerable, especially in the secondary. Overall, Houston deserves to be the division favorite, and anything less of a playoff berth would be a colossal failure.
X Factor: Laremy Tunsil LT; The newest Texan will have the lions-share of responsibility in finally giving Deshaun Watson the protection he needs. If he can lock down the left side and bring consistency to a unit that has never had it during Watson’s tenure, the sky’s the limit.
Rookie to Watch: Charles Omenihu DL; Omenihu is a guy I really liked coming out of Texas, he’s long and can play multiple positions. While the fifth round pick won’t start, I think he can be a valuable rotation piece to a unit that lacks depth.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles is no longer the Jaguars starting quarterback, which is a massive upgrade to this teams outlook. While I don’t expect Nick Foles to be the elite super bowl MVP quarterback he’s being paid to be, this team will be a tough out and should be in the conversation come December. Leonard Fournette should be better too after having an awful sophomore slump. If the defense can be somewhere close to their elite form of 2017, there is no question they’ll be in the conversation. Foles will be a steadying presence for this offense and if he can limit the turnovers, while pushing the ball downfield this team will find success.
X Factor: Jalen Ramsey CB; If Jalen Ramsey can curb his ego and let his play do the talking, he’s the best corner in the NFL. If he can return to that form, while retaining the contagious swagger he possesses, the Jags will be a playoff team.
Rookie to Watch: Jawan Taylor T; Taylor, a first round talent, fell into the Jags laps at the beginning of the second round. He’s a complete mauler who perfectly compliments this teams attitude. He should be a full time starter by seasons end.
Tennessee Titans – If this team had a quarterback I liked, they’d be a lock for my top team in the division. Marcus Mariota isn’t a viable option for this team. He lacks durability and high end play when he is healthy. I expect a rookie play caller in Nashville for 2020. That aside, this team is incredibly talented. It gave them the luxury of essentially redshirting Jeffery Simmons, a top 5 talent, the first pick of one of my more favorite drafts. I think Mike Vrabel is a good coach who has the potential to be great. It really does just come down to my lack of faith in Mariotta or Tannehill, whomever is under center.
X Factor: Derrick Henry RB; If Henry can build upon the performance we saw in the last quarter of 2018, this teams rushing attack could keep them in every game they play. The talents there, will he be given the required work load though.
Rookie to Watch: AJ Brown WR; Brown is a guy I really liked as a high floor option at receiver in April. He’s a good athlete who does everything pretty well, reminds me a lot of a young Jarvis Landry.
Indianapolis Colts – The most unfortunate part about Andrew Luck’s retirement is that this Colts squad is prob the best its been since he was drafted. Their offense has pieces at every position and their defense showed it was much better than anticipated. So as the Jacoby Brissett era begins, this team’s fate is tied to his production. He’s been known as the arguably the best backup in the league, now it’s time to prove he’s a competent starter, something the Colts seem sure of.
X Factor: Jacoby Brissett QB; As I talked about above, this teams success hinges on Brissett. If he’s anything more than a quality starter, it’s not outrageous to see this team being a playoff team.
Rookie To Watch: Rock Ya Sin CB; Ya Sin is slotted as this teams starting nickel, a role he should thrive in. Ya Sin is a willing tackler and is impressive in coverage.
Cleveland Browns – I’m buying into the Browns hype. They finally have their quarterback, the best one in the division in my opinion. They have elite skill position players. They have an elite pass rush and a solid surrounding defense. They have a impressive management team lead by John Dorsey. And a rookie head coach that I have a gut feeling is just the man for the job. Their offensive line is a concern, but I think this team can over come that weakness. Other than that being their downfall, I can’t see another route to failure other than themselves. They will win the division for the first time since 1989.
X Factor: Myles Garrett EDGE; Garett has been very impressive in his first two NFL seasons, but this is the year he needs to breach the elite stratosphere. With a proven pass rusher in Olivier Vernon opposite him, Garrett should hit at least 15 sacks.
Rookie To Watch: Mack Wilson LB; Mack Wilson shined during the pre season, showing why he could be a potential steal in the 5th round. In a linebacker group that is solid, Wilson has a chance to elevate it.
Pittsburg Steelers – The Steelers are flying under the radar sans LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown, and I have a feeling thats just how Mike Tomlin likes it. The drama of years past should be gone and this team can get back to playing winning football. Big Ben has a surrounding cast of young hungry players; with James Connor looking to build upon his fantastic 2018 campaign and James Washington looking to fill the roll that JuJu filled the past two years. The defense should be better, the young secondary is a year older. 1st round pick Devin Bush is the consensus favorite for DROY, and TJ Watt continues to be an underrated threat from the EDGE. The steelers will be a playoff team, whether thats a pesky wild card team or division winners.
X Factor: Devin Bush LB; The rookie linebacker will have his hands full in year one as the young leader of this defense, and I’m sure he’d have it no other way. Bush is the prototypical modern MLB, and should finally fill the void left by Ryan Shazier.
Rookie To Watch: Justin Layne CB; Layne is a bit of a project at corner, but has all the physical tools to be a future impact player. He was a dawg at Michigan St. and had a great battle with N’Keal Harry down in Arizona.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens will be a tough matchup week in and week out due to their efficiency running the ball and stingy defense. That being said they lack the top end upside to compete with the top teams in their division and the league. This all really comes down to Lamar Jackson’s ability to improve as a passer. Will he be able to win games with his arm? If he can this team very well could win the division.
X Factor: Lamar Jackson QB; If Lamar can continue his development in an offense that is friendly to his ability, this team should have super bowl aspirations. If not, and he clearly cant win games with his arm, this will be a long couple of year(s) in Baltimore.
Rookie To Watch: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown WR; Hollywood was one of CFB’s most electric talents last year and has a skill set that every team covets. If he’s healthy and the Ravens can find ways to get him the ball in space he will make huge plays weekly.
Cincinnati Bengals – While this team has some nice young pieces in Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, William Jackson, and Jessie Bates, this will be another disappointing year in Cincy. I have no reason to believe Zac Taylor will be the offensive savant he’s being advertised as and even if I grant that he is, Andy Dalton aka “Mediocrity” is still the quarterback. This spells a potential tear down year in cincy, as they look to rebuild in 2020.
X Factor: Joe Mixon RB; Mixon had a good year in 2018 and flashed the talent that was advertised throughout the 2017 draft. He’s a do it all back who seems tailor made for a Sean McVey system. He has the talent to win the Bengals games they have no business being in.
Rookie To Watch: Germaine Pratt LB; Pratt is a former safety convert who was scooped up in third round. He’s got the measurables of a modern linebacker and should see playing time in a weak group.
New England Patriots – The twenty year reign continues! Despite losing “key” players in Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, Malcom Brown, Eric Rowe ect. The Patriots collect the compensatory pick if adjudicated, draft studs, rinse and repeat. I have no reason to think this team is on the decline, because they’ve lost more integral pieces and never declined. Brady and Belichick are still in place and this team will continue to contend for a championship.
X Factor: Isiah Wynn OT; Last years 23rd overall selection Isiah Wynn is back after tearing his achilles in OTA’s last summer. Wynn was a stud as a senior at Georgia, and should be an upgrade at left tackle.
Rookie To Watch: Chase Winovich EDGE; Winovich is the definition of an effort player with the skill to boot. He terrorized offenses as a senior at Michigan and will look to do the same in New England.
New York Jets – The New York Jets are on the come up. Joe Douglas is a hot shot young GM. New coach Adam Gase should be reinvigorated with a new team and a twenty one year old franchise quarterback. While spending big money on Le’Veon Bell isn’t my forte, it’s much more acceptable with Sam Darnold on a rookie deal. Jamison Crowder, Kelechi Osemele, and Ryan Khalil are talented veterans who should be huge for this young team. And while losing Avery Williamson hurts at linebacker, CJ Mosley is more than talented enough to take more onto his plate. Overall, this team should be in the playoff conversation behind a improved year two Sam Darnold.
X Factor: Sam Darnold QB; It’s no secret I’m a huge Darnold guy (fight on!), that being said objectively he has all the weapons you could want for a young QB outside of an elite alpha wide receiver. The Jets success will hinge on Darnold’s development in year two.
Rookie To Watch: Quinnen Williams DL; The third overall pick is a complete game wrecker. I’m not concerned with his single year of production, chalking that up to lack of opportunity not lack of talent. Paired with Leonard Williams, this combo has lethal potential.
Buffalo Bills – The Bills are very similar to their down state division foe in the Jets. A good offseason has the infrastructure of this team looking nice. Im a fan of adding John Brown and Cole Beasley to the group of pass catchers. The offensive line should improve behind Mitch Mose and rookie Cody “F 150” Ford. The defense is one of the leagues more underrated unit’s and I expect Ed Oliver to be an absolute force from the inside from day one. Like the Jets, this will come down to Josh Allen’s development in year two. Unlike Darnold, Allen is wildly inaccurate and seems to rely to much on his physical gifts. If Allen can play winning football, this can be a wild card team.
X Factor: Josh Allen QB; Josh Allen needs to prove he’s this teams future in year two. If he takes that next step, the Bills will be a force to be reckoned with.
Rookie To Watch: Ed Oliver DL; This time last year Oliver seemed to be the consensus #1 pick. I think he’ll make the league pay for passing on him, dominating in a feisty Bills front seven.
Miami Dolphins – Miami is doing their best to tank as an NFL team. Ryan Fitzpatrick/Josh Rosen will be exposed behind the worst offensive line in recent memory. Their skill positions are lacking any real skill and their defense is mediocre behind some nice burgeoning talent. While I do like Brian Flores’ potential as a head coach, I will be pleasantly surprised if they aren’t picking #1 in April.
X Factor: Brian Flores HC; If this team some how manages to eclipse 4 wins, it’s hard for that not be a direct result of Flores culture and infrastructure.
Rookie To Watch: Christian Wilkins DL; The Dolphins first round pick is great talent and a transcendent leader. He can be a young bright spot on a team that lacks talent from top to bottom.
Los Angeles Rams – The Rams are fresh off a super bowl berth and have officially ascended into the NFL’s elite, winning the NFC West decisively the past two years. Sean McVey has crafted the modern NFL offense, with copy cats being issued throughout the league (Bengals, Cardinals, Packers). Despite having an elite coach that elevates this team really regardless of talent, there are some major questions facing the Rams. Jared “ The Boy King” Goff was just awarded the richest extension for a quarterback in NFL history. Something that I believe with hamper this teams ability to acquire the surrounding talent they have been able to enjoy the past two years. Goff is a system quarterback, a good one at that. He can make all the throws in the book, but needs the guidance of McVey and struggles when his game plan falls apart (see Super Bowl 53). Goff, Gurley, Cooks, and Donald account for 91 million dollars against the cap starting in 2020. Les Snead will need to prove his worth as a quality general manager to continue this run the Rams have enjoyed. But for 2019, this Rams team is reared to go and is the top dog in the West.
X Factor: Brian Allen C; Allen a fourth round pick from 2018 will be thrust into the starting lineup, replacing John Sullivan. The center is huge in this zone run scheme and if Allen struggles to set the run game for Gurley, Brown, Henderson, or Kelly, the effects will be felt throughout the offense.
Rookie To Watch: Darrel Henderson RB; Henderson could be a dynamic option out of the backfield if Gurley’s knee concerns are for real and he’s placed on a snap count. The run game dictates the success of this whole offense by setting up the play action and taking pressure off Goff, if Henderson can be three fourths the back Gurley is, this team should survive.
San Fransisco 49rs – The 49rs have been an offseason darling of mine for the past two off-seasons, picking them to win the division last year. They looked the part to start the year, before Jimmy G tore his ACL in a shootout with the Chiefs week 3. Despite losing their franchise quarterback, Kyle Shanahan has shown his ability to craft an enticing offense around minimal talent. UDFA Nick Mullens surprised in Garoppolo absence, something I attribute more the Shanahan’s offensive mind. Now barring catastrophic injury, this team has the pieces in place to compete. If sophomore Dante Pettis and rookie Debby Samuel are able to join George Kittle as legit weapons this offense can be electric. The defense looks the part, if Nick Bosa and Dee Ford can stay healthy coming off the edge. Something that will do wonders for a secondary lacking in elite talent and depth. Overall, I am biased with this team. I see the potential and I’m not willing to jump ship yet. The 49rs should be in the conversation come December.
X Factor: Jason Verrett CB; Verrett enjoyed being one of the NFL’s best young corners before knee injuries decimated the majority of his past couple seasons. Still only 28 years old, if Verrett can stay healthy, a huge IF, Richard Sherman will have a more than competent corner across from him. Giving this team a dynamic they’ve lack for a long time.
Rookie To Watch: Nick Bosa EDGE; Bosa a consensus elite talent coming into the draft was a perfect fit to San Fransisco at #2. Talent isn’t the concern with Bosa, he’s dealt with a variety of injuries dating back to Ohio State. If he’s healthy he should be the favorite for DROY, giving this team a lethal defensive line.
Seattle Seahawks – Despite awful drafting and BJP certified “organizational hubris” plaguing the Seahawks for the past couple years (Rashad Penny, Ignoring glaring holes on offensive line) this team will have a high floor as long as Russel Wilson is under center. They over performed last year behind brilliant play from Wilson and that isn’t a sustainable formula year in and year out. I do think rookie DK Metcalf will perfectly compliment Tyler Lockett, forming an imposing duo for opposing secondaries. The recent addition of Jadeveon Clowney is nice replacement for Frank Clark although they probably are losing some sack production. All in all, this team will compete weekly, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are a wild card team, or even a division winner.
X Factor: Russell Wilson QB; Wilson is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL and this teams current and future success will alway predicate on him. Any regression whether thats due to injury or surrounding talent, will decimate this franchise.
Rookie To Watch: DK Metcalf WR; DeKaylin Zecharius Metcalf is a physical specimen, the likes of we haven’t seen since Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson. He’s in the perfect situation to develop under Russell Wilson and at the very least be one the leagues best deep threats. He will shed the “Lab King” label thrust upon him by my little brother Leigh.
Arizona Cardinals – Ah man, I really want to put this team as a wild card threat but their personnel, and more precisely depth, isn’t there. Leigh and I have both been very vocal about our faith in Kyler Murray’s (no relation) ability to transcend the quarterback position. After selecting Kyler, they had a draft that was straight outta my book; CB Byron Murphy, WR Andy Isabella, DL Zac Allen, WR Hakeem Butler, and S Deionte Thompson. While I have my reservations about Kliff Kingsbury, I completely respect the move to go out and get your guy. All in all this team is trending upwards and is my way too early pick to win the division next year. That being said this should be a fun, but ultimately unsuccessful season.
X Factor: David Johnson RB; Johnson has quietly lost the label of an elite running back due to all the new young exciting players at the position and poor team play in 2018. Johnson is a do it all back who should be relied upon heavily in Kyler/Kliffs year one. I expect him to have a year that reminds us all of his immense talent.
Rookie To Watch: Byron Murphy CB; While I expect Kyler to have a successful rookie campaign, CB Byron Murphy is my rookie to watch. With Patrick Peterson suspended and Robert Alford hurt, Murphy will be thrust into a prime roll immediately. What he lacks in size he makes up for is tenacity and scheme versatility, he’ll be a joy to watch.
New Orleans Saints – This is the Saints, and more specifically Drew Brees’ last shot at a Super Bowl. The division remains competitive and Brees’ window of elite play is dwindling. However, I still believe him to be the best quarterback in this division and this team, the best team in the division. Alvin Kamara will have the brunt of the workload with Mark Ingram now in Baltimore, Latavius Murray should fill that void well. Despite a limited number of picks this team mended their wounds quite well. Rookie Eric McCoy should fill in well at center for the recently retired Max Unger and fourth round pick Chauncey Gardiner-Johnson is a versatile defensive back who can play all over the defensive backfield. I’d be lying if I didn’t make the contention that the result of last years NFC championship is a major factor in my faith in this team.
X Factor: Drew Brees QB; If the hype surrounding Brees’ diminishing arm strength and overall regression are valid, then the Saints could sink to the bottom of this division. Brees is forty years old and if he’s not up to snuff, the team will suffer.
Rookie To Watch: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson DB; I hope CGJ gets a chance to show his ability this year in a crowded saints defensive backfield. He was all over the field at Florida last year and I think can be a valuable rover piece for Dennis Allen and his defense.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons are hot on the Saints tail and its easy to see why. Last year they underperformed, and where depleted by crucial injuries to their defense. This year they are healthy and Steve “The Sieve” Sarkisian is out of the building, which I think is HUGE for this offense. They drafted OG Chris Lindstrom and OT Khaleb McGary to try and improve their awful line play from 2018. Matt Ryan quietly had a phenomenal season last year, despite all of the struggles the team had. All in all, this team presents the highest floor of the division and should be a lock for a wild card, if not the division.
X Factor: Isiah Oliver CB; My rookie to watch from last year is primed for a breakout year starting opposite Desmond Trufant. Oliver was a steal in round 2 and fits the mold for a long cover corner with lockdown potential.
Rookie To Watch: Chris Lindstrom G; This guy just mauls and he’s a BC eagle (shout out Tom Sr.) He was one of the safer picks in the draft and should be an instant ten year starter at guard, with Pro Bowl potential.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers are on the decline. Cam has always been an inconsistent passer and now his long term health is a legit concern. They were world beaters starting last season off 6-0 before being derailed, losing 7 straight, finishing 7-9. While I expect the Panthers to be more consistent week to week this year, I think they are clearly the third best team in the division with Tampa not too far behind. They do present the higher floor right now, which is why I have them slotted for third.
X Factor: Cam Newton QB; What Cam will we see this year? He’s got great weapons around him in McCaffrey, Moore, and Samuel. Will their talent be cohesive will Cam’s game? If this team wants to make a run, Cam will need to be close to his MVP form of 2015
Rookie To Watch: Brian Burns EDGE; I was the only BJP guy who was high on Burns. While his frame isn’t ideal for a future menace off the edge, his production and pass rush ability is enticing. I like Burns as a dark horse for sack leaders among rookies.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs are a very enticing team this year. Bruce Arians has retuned to the sideline with his guys; DC Todd Bowles and OC Byron Leftwich. I really like what this team is building. That being said their are two major factors that are holding me back from completely buying the hype; QB Jameis Winston and this Defensive unit. While I expect to see improvements on both fronts due to Arians and Bowles stepping in, it’s not enough to propel this team into the playoff race, let alone their division. Like the Cardinals I see this team as being very entertaining, but ultimately setting the foundation for the future.
X Factor: Chris Godwin WR; The early returns from camp have Godwin slotted for a breakout year. With Bruce Arians stating “I think Chris Godwin is going to be close to a 100-catch guy, especially because I think he can play in the slot…He’s never coming off the field.” If Arians is indeed right, Godwin will take this offense over the edge.
Rookie To Watch: Devin White LB; Much like fellow rookie Devin Bush, Devin White is an explosive playmaker at linebacker. You pop on his film at LSU its easy to see why he was the fifth overall pick. He’s a fantastic athlete with coverage upside and is a heat seeking missile in every other facet of the game.
Green Bay Packers – This will be a monumental year in the Packers illustrious history. Aaron Rodgers for my money is still the best quarterback in the NFL. The mediocrity of Mike McCarthy is gone. Their defense should be improved bringing in some nice vets and solid young players. The offensive line added some much needed depth and I’m expecting the young receivers behind Devante Adams to step up. In my opinion this year is all on Rodgers if he’s healthy, unlike years past. If the Packers continue to be mediocre, falling behind superior teams on paper like Minnesota and Chicago, this will be Rodgers’ last year in Green Bay.
X Factor: Jaire Alexander CB; My rookie to watch from last year did not disappoint. He was an immediate impact and is on the fringe of being one of the leagues best corners. I expect him to step up and give the Packers something they haven’t had since Charles Woodson and Al Harris.
Rookie To Watch: Darnell Savage S; Savage is a guy who I really like late into the draft process. He’s rangy as all heck and is a sure tackler. He’s an Eddie Jackson esque playmaker who I expect to have an immediate impact.
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings had a forgettable 2018. Despite having one of the league’s better rosters they under performed, mostly due to a porous offensive line. They addressed that in the first round with Garrett Bradbury, a perfect fit for Gary Kubiack’s zone run scheme. I don’t expect Kirk Cousins to do anything he hasn’t done throughout his career. He’ll keep them competitive, especially with his two top receivers and a rejuvenated Dalvin Cook. The defense should also be better too, although I do think they will need Mike Hughes to step up with Xaiver Rhodes declining. To conclude, the Vikings floor should be in the hunt come week 14, that being said I think they lack the elite ceiling to compete with the cream of the crop.
X Factor: Dalvin Cook RB; Dalvin’s health has robbed him of getting a chance to be in the elite RB conversation. While health is a concern, especially at his position, Dalvin has all the talent to lead this team offensively.
Rookie To Watch: Irv Smith Jr TE; Smith is a interesting wrinkle to this offense. He’s an athletic matchup weapon, who is a plus blocker in the run game. He lacks real weaknesses, and I would expect him to over take Kyle Rudolph at some point this season.
Chicago Bears – The Bears have the best team in the division on paper, Mitchell Trubisky is their quarterback. While the Bears had no problem winning the division last year with Trubisky, they were unusually healthy and I expect some regression with Nagy’s system with the league having a year of tape on them. Despite struggling at quarterback, this defense should still be elite. Khalil Mack can get 16 sacks in his sleep. They’ll keep them in every game they play. Trubisky ultimately spoils the Bears attempt at another division title.
X Factor: Mitchell Trubisky QB; For the second straight year Mitchell is this team’s X Factor. If he does the impossible and marketably improves, this team should be the clear favorite to repeat as division champs.
Rookie To Watch: David Montgomery RB; My RB2 behind Josh Jacobs, Montgomery is a stud. He can catch, block, and is nearly impossible to bring down on first contact. He should take the load off of Tarik Cohen and is a clear impact player for the future.
Detroit Lions – The Lions should be improved off their abysmal 2018 campaign. Why Matthew Stafford was playing last year with a broken back is beyond me. If he’s fully healed, this offense should be better under Darell Bevell. Kerryon Johnson is ready to be a three down workhorse, and Kenny Golladay is ready to take the mantle of WR1. On Defense, the addition of Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels gives this team strength and depth on their front four that they haven’t had since the Suh-Fairley days. TJ Hockenson is a future stud, but passing on Ed Oliver and Devin Bush will come back to bite this team in the butt. While there is reason for optimism in Detroit, I simply am not a fan of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn. That combined with the competition in this division, spells another fourth place finish in Detroit.
X Factor: Kerryon Johnson RB; Kerryon showed glimpses last year of what type of ability he has as a true dynamic back. In a world where the Lions are a competitive playoff contender, Johnson has to be their MVP offensively.
Rookie To Watch: Jahlani Tavai LB; Tavai was universally seen as a reach in round 2 this past April. Hell have to prove those doubters wrong quite quickly, with Jaraad Davis injured for the first part of this year.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles for my money are the best team in the NFL. Their roster is near impeccable, this all comes down to Carson Wentz. If Wentz returns to his MVP form this team is clearly the NFL’s top dog. If not, and he looks like he did last year, they’re still the NFC East’s favorite. Their offensive line and defensive line not only elite, but have great depth. Their receivers are deep and talented, their corners are deep and talented. This team is flawlessly designed and managed, and Doug Pederson is one of the leagues best coaches. Anything short of a playoff berth would be a colossal failure.
X Factor: Miles Sanders RB; The rookie Sanders looks to break out of this running back committee as the clear lead back. He’s the most talented one and if he reaches his potential in year one he’d push the Eagles offense over the edge.
Rookie To Watch: JJ Arcegia Whiteside WR; Arcegia Whiteside is the clear successor to Alshon Jeffrey and should at the very least be a red zone nightmare in year one. He’s a jump ball magician and has a complete game to go with it, winning in a multitude of ways.
Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have one of the NFL’s better rosters behind a stout defense, lead by DeMarcus Lawerence, Jaylon Smith, LVE, and Byron Jones. Their offense runs through Zeke Elliot. Dak Prescott is tasked with limiting turnovers and succeeding on third down. That formula was struggling to find success until Amari Cooper was acquired mid season, catapulting this offense into the playoffs. And while I’d like to think last year was a preview of things to come, I’m having trouble seeing Dallas playing meaningful football in January. I hope I’m wrong, but I still have little to no faith in Jason Garett as an in-game manager, and hope this is his last season at the helm of the Cowboys regardless of result. (Hi Lincoln Riley:) I am optimistic that Kellen Moore will be the shot in the arm this offense needs after Scott Linehan’s awful tenure as Offensive Coordinator. And while I’ll never be able to thank Dak Prescott enough for what he’s brought this franchise these past 3 years; he’s not a top tier quarterback and should be paid like one. Regardless of how this season ends, I’d let Dak hit the open market and margate whatever future assets I need to acquire a quarterback of the future.
X Factor: Byron Jones CB; If Byron Jones continues his play from last year, the Cowboys will have no choice but to pay him as one of the leagues best corners. He shutdown the oppositions number one receiver week in and week out.
Rookie To Watch: Tony Pollard RB; I didn’t know a lot about Pollard when he was drafted on day three, after focusing mostly on his teammate Darrel Henderson. It didn’t take long for me to become a believer. Not only is he a great backup to Zeke, but a offensive weapon that I expect Kellen Moore to use heavily in a variety of ways.
Washington Redskins – While most people have the Redskins destined for a top five draft pick, I see this team having some nice upside. I think their roster is impressive enough to present a certain floor weekly. I expect Derrius Guice to have a great first year as the starting running back with Chris Thompson and Adrian Peterson providing a nice complements. Their defense is good enough to play bend don’t break, giving their offense a chance to compete. I’m a Dwayne Haskins believer, and think he can be a big time player in this league. Why he isn’t starting week 1 is beyond me, he should be the starter week 4 against Daniel Jones in the “revenge game.”
X Factor: Jonathan Allen DL; Allen has been good when he’s available but has struggled to remain healthy. If he can play a full 16 this year, this Washington D line could be a sneaky top unit.
Rookie To Watch: Terry McLaurin WR; McLaurin has been uber impressive since he tore up the senior bowl and rocketed his stock in the draft. He already has a fantastic report with Haskins from their college days, and I expect him to be an impact player no matter the QB.
New York Giants – The Giants are a dumpster fire with an decrepit quarterback five years past his prime and Saquon Barkely, the best running back I’ve ever seen. They took Daniel Jones at six, which I’m fine with if he’s your guy. Yet they still start Manning who is awful and has been awful. Pat Shurmur is meh. Dave Gettleman is a horrid general manager who’s philosophy is stuck in 1985. They traded Odell after signing him and committing to him. Just writing this is infuriating and confusing. This team is a mess, who’s absolute ceiling is third in the division.
X Factor: Daniel Jones QB; The only way I see this team being relatively successful is if Jones comes in and sets the world on fire. I realize this is near impossible, but he’s the only variable that could push this team into relevance.
Rookie To Watch: DeAndre Baker and Julian Love CBs; While i disagreed with their first two picks, I think the Giants did well with Baker and Love. Baker had the highest floor in my opinion of the rookie corners and should be an upgrade across from Janoris Jenkins. Love I expect to play well if called upon, but as a developmental corner for the future, I think has a good chance to be starting across from Baker in a years time.
Chiefs @ Patriots
Saints @ Eagles