On July 22, Nate Davis released USA Today’s predictions for the upcoming NFL season. I did a partial review of their predictions last year. To make up for last year’s review being incomplete, I’ve done a full review of their predictions for every division and the playoffs. I have included USA Today’s predicted records as well as some of my interpretations on how the 2019 season may play out.
USA Today predictably has the New England Patriots winning yet another division title. USA Today has New England finishing with an 11-5, the same record they predicted the team would have last year. The Buffalo Bills are predicted to finish second in the division at 8-8 while the New York Jets finish right behind them at 7-9. Both of these predictions, give or take a win, is right about where I expect these rebuilding teams to finish. The Miami Dolphins and Josh Rosen expected to continue to crumble and finish 3-13. Things in Miami will have to get worse before they can get better.
There’s not much to argue here. The division is pretty cut and dry at this point. New England will run away with everything while the Bills and Jets finish in that six to eight-win range.
Are the Dolphins still tanking for Tua?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are predicted to bounce back after a drama-filled season and finish the 2019 season with an 11-5 record and a division title. I’ve maintained this entire summer, despite losing some star players, the Steelers should still be the favorites to win the division.
Things get interesting behind Pittsburgh though. The Cleveland Browns are predicted to go 10-6 and just miss out on a wild card spot. The Browns will be the darling of the NFL this year. The team has quickly rebuilt itself over the last two years, but we’ve yet to see the current roster produce a playoff run. I think Cleveland could go one of two ways this year. Either they do make the playoffs, or they completely fold and remain the team we’ve always known they are.
With the Browns ascending, USA Today marked the Baltimore Ravens down as 8-8. If Lamar Jackson has not progressed since we last saw him and the Ravens run a similar offense to what they did last year, then 8-8 is very realistic. The offense Baltimore ran last season isn’t sustainable over a 16-game season because it becomes predictable.
The Cincinnati Bengals are in the basement of the division with a 3-13 record. The Bengals have added some interesting young pieces, but the team has refused to do a total rebuild. That’s a move that will keep them from surpassing the other teams in the AFC North.
The South is the most messed up division on the AFC side of the NFL. USA Today has the Indianapolis Colts winning the division at 10-6 with the Jacksonville Jaguars also going 10-6 and being a Wild Card team. The Tennessee Titans are predicted to go 9-7 and the Houston Texans plummeted down the rankings to 6-10. I know the Texans schedule is insane, but they’re not winning only six games.
If any team is going to suffer from a re-emergent Jaguars squad, it will be the Titans, not the Texans. Marcus Mariota is a middle of the pack quarterback and that team cannot compare to Houston. Did we just forget the Texans have DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, and J.J. Watt? Tennessee is finishing last in the AFC South this year.
As for Jacksonville, the team went 5-11 last season. I know Nick Foles just tends to fix everything, but can he get Leonard Fournette to stay healthy and play seriously? Can he convince Telvin Smith to not sit out the season? Can he make a Pro Bowl wide receiver emerge from the mediocrity that is Jacksonville’s wide receiving corps? The Jaguars do have a good number of easy games this season, but I don’t know if that will be enough for them to jump over Houston.
I do think the Colts will win the division. If things go well, they might even end up with 11 wins.
The AFC West is a top-heavy division and USA Today knows it. They have the Los Angeles Chargers winning the division at 12-4 while the Kansas City Chiefs snag a Wild Card spot with an 11-5 record. The Oakland Raiders are predicted to go 5-11 and the Denver Broncos will trail them at 4-12.
Notably, the Chargers were one of the few teams that beat the Chiefs during the regular season last year and were a dark horse Super Bowl candidate before running into the Patriots. A lot hinges on what Melvin Gordon decides to do. If he holds out, then I find it hard to believe Los Angeles will top Kansas City. Speaking of the Chiefs, we now know they’ll have Tyreek Hill for the entire season. Pairing him and Travis Kelce with Patrick Mahomes is bad news for every defense in the league. Even though the Chiefs lost some pass rushers in free agency, they added defensive pieces like Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu. It all evened out.
I think swapping Hill in and Gordon out turns the tables in Kansas City’s favor though.
The Raiders may have drafted a ton of Alabama and Clemson players this year and added Antonio Brown, but only time is going to fix that team. The young players need to develop, which means Oakland won’t be a threat in 2019. As for Denver, I imagine Joe Flacco will work out about as well as Case Keenum did.
The NFC East is always a tossup division and it seems like the division champ changes every season. The Philadelphia Eagles are predicted to go 11-5 and win the East, beating out the 9-7 Dallas Cowboys, 5-11 New York Giants, and 3-13 Washington Redskins. I don’t have any major problems with these rankings. The Eagles have a much easier schedule than the Cowboys so as long as they sweep the Redskins and Giants, they should win the division. Then again, it all comes down to how Carson Wentz plays. Foles isn’t around to bail the Eagles out down the stretch anymore, so Wentz needs to be healthy and playing well.
I do think that the Redskins will win more than three games. Keenum was able to win six games last season and I think he and/or Dwayne Haskins will get Washington to at least five wins. The Giants will probably win more along the line of seven games rather than five.
USA Today has the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings and 11-5 Chicago Bears coming out of the NFC North. They also have the Green Bay Packers going 9-7 and the Detroit Lions floundering at 3-13. The Vikings were supposed to be great last year, and they ended up going 8-7-1. I’m not buying into them suddenly jumping to the top of the division. The North still belongs to Chicago.
The Bears had three First Team All-Pros on their defense in 2018 and all of those players are returning this season. The team also produced another Pro Bowler on the defense and three on the offense. Sure, the Vikings have a nasty defense of their own, but I trust Chicago to fulfill their potential more.
I don’t believe the Packers will win nine games either. This is a team that went 6-9-1 last year and that just changed coaches. Not even Aaron Rodgers can get that team to the playoffs at this point. I don’t doubt that Detroit could go 3-13. It would fit with everything they’ve in the past couple of seasons.
In fairness, I don’t know how the Atlanta Falcons went 7-9 last season. They had the roster to win more games than that, but I’m not on board with USA Today’s prediction that Atlanta will win the division over the New Orleans Saints. The predictions have the Falcons going 11-5 and the Saints finishing 10-6. If not for one of the worst no-calls in history, the Saints would have been in the Super Bowl last year. Their team is stacked too, so I don’t see the Falcons claiming the division title over them.
I do think the Falcons will find a way into the postseason this year, but there’s a talent difference between them and the Saints. New Orleans was viewed as one of the titans of the league last season and Drew Brees was an MVP candidate. For that to all be washed away in one offseason would be tragic for Saints fans. Luckily, that’s unlikely to happen.
The predictions also put the Carolina Panthers at 8-8 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 5-11. My first thought: five wins is extremely generous for the Buccaneers and Jameis Winston. As for the Panthers, I think it’s more likely they finish with the same record they did last season, 7-9. Carolina is good, they just don’t have enough around their star players to compete with teams like New Orleans though.
Did the San Francisco 49ers do something this offseason that I missed? USA Today has the 49ers going 10-6 and winning the division over the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams, 9-7 Seattle Seahawks, and 3-13 Arizona Cardinals. Sure, San Francisco got better by adding Kwon Alexander, Nick Bosa, Tevin Coleman, and Dee Ford, but does that suddenly make them the best team in the division? We still haven’t even seen Jimmy Garoppolo play a full season! Pump the breaks.
I have to give the edge in the West to the reigning NFC champs. The Rams lost some players this offseason, especially along the offensive line, but the team is still the most talented in the division. The Seahawks have continued to methodically retool their team and could easily win nine or ten games this season as well. While the 49ers might be on the come-up, it’ll be at least another year before they’re ready to contend. Also, in what world do both the Rams and the Seahawks miss the playoffs this season?
The Cardinals will win six games at most this season, but three isn’t an unrealistic number. Patrick Peterson is suspended for six games and the team is putting a rookie quarterback behind a bad offensive line. We also don’t know if the real David Johnson will show up this year or not.
If you want to know the full playoff scenario, go check out USA Today’s original article. For this article, I’m just focusing on the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. Both predicted Championship games are rematches from the playoffs last year.
On the AFC side, USA Today has the Chargers beating the Patriots in the Conference Championship. The Patriots beat the Chargers in the Divisional round last season. A dominant first half from New England let them cakewalk to the Conference Championship. Picking against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has never gone well for me, but I like the Chargers in the rematch, assuming that Gordon is playing. Without Gordon on the field, New England has the edge.
On the NFC side, the Eagles defeat the Bears to move on to the Super Bowl. The Eagles beat the Bears in the Wild Card round last year. A lot of the leading actors in that game, such as Michael Bennett, Foles, Jordan Howard, Cody Parkey, and Golden Tate, are in new places this season. I don’t think a double-doink will save the Eagles in the rematch. Then again, I’m not sure I would pick either of those teams to get that far in the first place.
In Super Bowl LIV, USA Today predicts that the Chargers will beat the Eagles. I would agree if that was the matchup, but I can almost guarantee it won’t be. I’m 99.99% sure that we’ll be watching some other game. I can guarantee the halftime show will disappoint though.
Before we get into my biggest issues with the projected playoffs, I do want to say that I agree with the Patriots making it to the AFC Championship. I completely disagree with everything else. USA Today doesn’t even have the Rams in the playoffs. They have the 49ers as a number one seed in the NFC and have the Colts beating the Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card round. They also have the Eagles beating the Saints in the NFC Wild Card round. Last year, the Saints defeated the Eagles in the playoffs (20-14) and the regular season (48-7).
There’s so much more that I could say, but this article is long enough already, and you can draw your conclusions about USA Today’s predictions. We’re all probably going to be wrong anyway.