INSIDER'S SCOOP FROM BEN GRAHAM - THE 2018 NFL Pre-season PReview!
From the desk of Ben Graham
It’s been another busy off-season since the Philadelphia Eagles lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy way back in February. The Draft will see many new faces in the NFL, many will have an immediate impact, namely Cleveland Browns’ new QB Baker Mayfield and the New York Giants’ RB Saquon Barkley but others, unfortunately, won’t make the roster.
Free agency has seen many key players change teams, none more than star QB Kirk Cousins from Washington Redskins to the Minnesota Vikings and there has also been a number of Head Coaching changes, 7 to be exact however there could’ve been 7 more if some of the more disappointing teams of last season had given their man their marching orders. It’ll be a long way back for Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns to turn around an 0-16 season.
Good luck to your team in the 2018 NFL season, let’s take a quick look division by division and a predicted win/loss record for each team:
Philadelphia Eagles: Who would’ve thought at the start of last season that we’d be talking about the Eagles going to back to back but let’s give them credit particularly due to the injury to QB Carson Wentz leaving Nick Foles to lead Philadelphia to its first-ever Super Bowl victory. The Eagles have a great chance to repeat given the injuries they had last season and should win the NFC East with a strong roster in all positions particularly the offensive and defensive lines and at quarterback with the only the linebacking corps a question mark.
Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC East)
Washington Redskins: The Redskins dropped off late last year due to a number of injuries to key players after a fast start and being really competitive. QB Kirk Cousins is a big loss but I rate Alex Smith a game manager and should be able to fill the Cousins shoes without taking unnecessary risks. With a bit of luck, the Redskins can push for a Wildcard spot.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC East)
New York Giants: The Giants 3-13 record last season probably wasn’t a true reflection of their year as they showed some promise throughout the season without any luck whatsoever. They remain strong in defense with a stout defensive line with plenty of playmakers on offense including pick #2 RB Saquon Barkley but will again rely on QB Eli Manning to lead the charge in what looks to be a tough schedule.
Projection: 6-10 (3rd in NFC East)
Dallas Cowboys: There’s not much to look forward to with the Cowboys, RB Ezekiel Elliot the exception. Head Jason Garrett is lucky to still have his job but he has had personnel and injury challenges. They will rely on the defense (if it remains healthy) to be competitive but questions remain who will cover the loss of WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Whitten. It looks to be struggle for the Cowboys this season in a tough division.
Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC East)
Los Angeles Rams: I loved what the Rams did last year with a young and exciting team led by QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley III but the expectations are even higher now given the big name additions to the roster in the off-season, WR Brandin Cooks from the Patriots and DT Ndamukong Suh from Miami to name a few. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can play as a team but I’m expecting big things from the Rams this season.
Projection: 11-5 (1st in NFC West)
San Francisco 49ers: The Rams took the NFC West by surprise last season leaving the 49ers languishing in last place. There were some promising signs though, winning the last 5 games under QB Jimmy Garoppolo that will give them all the confidence heading into the 2018 season. I’m expecting a big improvement in San Fran and should push the Rams all the way.
Projection: 9-7 (2nd in NFC West)
Seattle Seahawks: It has been interesting to watch the slow demise of the Seahawks with QB Russell Wilson the only bright spot. The previously vaunted Seahawks defense is a shell of its former self. With the emergence of the 49ers and the Rams, it could be a long year for the Seahawks.
Projection: 6-10 (3rd in NFC West)
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals might be treading water at the moment but there are big hopes that QB Josh Rosen will be the answer even though injury-riddled Sam Bradford will start. Add stars RB David Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson and WR Larry Fitzgerald, they will remain a threat, but without a strong defensive or offensive line, they may get owned at the line of scrimmage. Not this year but I hope we see a glimpse of the future with Rosen.
Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC West)
New Orleans Saints: I’ve always been a fan of the Saints particularly thanks to QB Drew Brees but they have become a strong team without a glaring weakness at any position. Head Coach Sean Payton has done a great job building this roster. I’m expecting them to be have an impact in the Play-offs but they have to win the division first.
Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC South)
Carolina Panthers: It was tight at the top of the NFC South last season and I expect it to be close again. A healthy Panthers are awesome to watch and if QB Cam Newton can return to his best, the Panthers may just return to the SuperBowl. They may not win the division but a Wildcard spot is predicted.
Projection: 11-5 (2nd in NFC South)
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons disappointed last season after such a superb 2016. QB Matt Ryan is legit and so are his weapons at RB and WR. They were in the hunt last year in a close NFC South but my love for the Saints and Panthers might see the Falcons missing out again.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in NFC South)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I missed the mark last season predicting the Bucs to rise up the ranks but no such feeling this season. A 3-game suspension to QB Jameis Winston won’t help their cause and I don’t think they can recover from a predicted slow start. No love for the Bucs this year.
Projection: 2-14 (4th in NFC South)
Green Bay Packers: There probably isn’t a team in the NFL that is so reliant on its quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is a difference maker and if he stays healthy, the Packers can make yet another run, if not, we could see a repeat of 2017. The defense has been bolstered in a bid to reduce the oppositions’ ability to score which in turn will alleviate some pressure off the shoulders of Rodgers.
Projection: 11-5 (1st in NFC North)
Chicago Bears: The Bears were very competitive last year, and I do like the look of QB Mitchell Trubisky and look forward to the Coaches opening up the play book for him. I’m expecting the Bears to be one of the big improvers and push the Vikings for a play-off berth.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC North)
Minnesota Vikings: With Aaron Rodgers healthy and the Bears on the rise, this could be an interesting year for the Vikings. The Vikings have always had a great defense and the addition of QB Kirk Cousins may help but this might be a year where they are the best team that miss out on the play-offs.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in NFC North)
Detroit Lions: The Lions are a fun team to watch but can also frustrate like no other. QB Matthew Stafford needs to continue to mature but holes in the running game and defense and one of the NFL’s toughest schedules leave them vulnerable
Projection: 6-10 (4th in NFC North)
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers look to return to the play-offs for a 5th straight year mainly due to playing in an average division any winning most divisional games. QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell are stars and the defense is always super competitive. Lock them in.
Projection: 9-7 (1st in AFC North)
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have always shown some promise but it’s been a while since they’ve delivered on that promise. QB Andy Dalton still leads the team since the last time they visited the play-offs but the roster isn’t as strong any more with TE Tyler Eiffert arguably the most important player on the team. If he remains healthy and the game plan is based around their defense, they are a sneaky chance to challenge the Steelers.
Projection: 6-9 (2nd in AFC North)
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are a bit stale and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is QB Joe Flacco’s last season in Baltimore. Not too much to get excited for but it will be interesting to see if and how they find a way.
Projection: 5-11 (3rd in AFC North)
Cleveland Browns: I can’t see the Browns going winless again this season and hopefully, for their fans sake, they show some excitement in 2018 as it can’t get any worse (1 win in 2 years). Head Coach Hue Jackson saved his job and they’ve strengthened their roster on both sides of the ball so I expect them to upset a few teams this year.
Projection: 4-12 (4th in AFC North)
New England Patriots: The Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC and even though Tom Brady is now 41 years old he works harder than anyone to stay at the top of his game. The question is, how long can he sustain it. Bill Belichick is the best Head Coach in the league and given they are in one of the weaker divisions, they should be a shoe-in to play deep in the play-offs for the 10th season in a row.
Projection: 13-3 (1st in AFC East)
New York Jets: The Jets have had a good off-season after a dismal season last year and I’m sure Jets fans will be asking how early they will see newly drafted QB Sam Darnold. Head Coach Todd Bowles looks to be building a much-improved roster in New York but they’ll have their work cut out for them to pass the Patriots at the top of the AFC East
Projection: 7-9 (2nd in AFC East)
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are re-building in a big way after they’ve lost a number of key players but do get back QB Ryan Tannehill from a torn ACL. Not much to look forward to this year but they’d be excited by the prospect of the SuperBowl in Miami next season.
Projection: 4-12 (3rd in AFC East)
Buffalo Bills: The Bills are another team in re-build mode and we all look forward to what number 7 pick QB Josh Allen can do to excite Buffalo fans but be patient as it may take a few years for them to re-emerge, right as Patriots QB Tom Brady retires.
Projection: 3-13 (4th in AFC East)
Kansas City Chiefs: The race for the AFC West title could be the closest of all NFL divisions. The Chiefs are well placed this season after second year QB Patrick Mahomes has proven to be NFL quality and the return of Safety Eric Berry is key to their chances.
Projection: 10-6 (1st in AFC West)
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders were cut down last year with injuries to key players after starting the season as one of the teams predicted to rise in the AFC. With most of them back and a few new additions including WR Martavis Bryant from the Steelers, they should challenge the Chiefs.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in AFC West)
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are the perennial hard luck story whether it be injuries or missed field goals but are always around the mark. They were in the hunt last season on the back of a great year defensively, but they are too heavily guided by the emotion of QB Philip Rivers who continually wears his heart on his sleeve. For the Chargers sake, they need a bit of luck and they may push for a play-off berth.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
Denver Broncos: The Broncos have been up and down of late and will be looking to rise back up to be in contention. They had a great draft, have upgraded most positions but no more importantly than at quarterback with the signing of QB Case Keenum from the Vikings. If he manages the offense effectively and the defense dominate as predicted, it could be a quick rise for the Broncos and become the team that surprises.
Projection: 8-8 (4th in AFC West)
Houston Texans: The AFC South was the worst division in the NFL last season but also one of the most unpredictable. The Texans are stocked full of talent including the talented QB DeShaun Watson. If they all stay healthy and will the easiest schedule, they may not only win the AFC South but push the Patriots to be the best team in the AFC.
Projection: 12-4 (1st in AFC South)
Tennessee Titans: The Titans were my wild card pick last year and whilst they ended up securing a wildcard berth in the play-offs, I’m not sure they can make the same impact this season. Their success rests on the shoulders of QB Marcus Mariota but need solid output from the running game and defense.
Projection: 7-9 (2nd in AFC South)
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars were the luckiest team in the NFL last season but deserved to make the play-offs even though no one gave them a chance. It will be interesting to see of the young team can handle the extra pressure after playing in the AFC Championship game. I’m predicting them to slide and miss out on the play-offs this year.
Projection: 5-11 (3rd in AFC South)
Indianapolis Colts: Like the Titans, the Colts’ fortunes are predicated on the health of their quarterback, QB Andrew Luck. Even still, I don’t think they have the roster to trouble too many teams this season.
Projection: 4-12 (4th in AFC South)