Tag Archives: NFC

NFL 2019: NFC Preview

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If Carson Wentz is healthy, the Eagles could be serious contenders in the NFC this season.

 

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC EAST

It seems like things will never change in the NFL’s “glamour” division. The NFC East hasn’t seen a repeat champion in 15 seasons and I think that tradition will remain the same in 2019. The Dallas Cowboys have come the closest to bucking that trend as they have won the division three times in the last six seasons. But if you’ve been paying attention to that franchise, you should know that they usually disappoint after a successful season. Usually. If you look on paper, the Philadelphia Eagles probably has the most talent in the division from top to bottom. A lot is going to depend on the play of the QB. Nick Foles almost lifted Philadelphia again in the 2018 postseason, winning on the road in Chicago and almost upsetting New Orleans. With Foles now in Jacksonville, Philly will be depending on Carson Wentz to return to his 2017 form where he was a MVP candidate. He’ll have plenty of help this season as the Eagles are deep at the skill positions. At WR, DeSean Jackson returns to Philly joining Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. The Eagles should have an improved backfield this season as well. They acquired RB Jordan Howard from Chicago and drafted speedster Miles Sanders from Penn State. On defense, DT Fletcher Cox leads a loaded group on the defensive line. Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins also returns though Philly’s secondary seems to always be a weakness year in and year out. The defending champion Cowboys also return with a talented roster in 2019. A lot of the talk during the offseason with Dallas has been about the contract situations of QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, and star RB Ezekiel Elliott. I’m sure all three will get their deals, respectfully, especially Elliott who is easily the most important player on the roster. Despite all the talk about the offensive side of the ball, the real reason why Dallas made a run to the postseason last year was their defense. I think Dallas will be strong defensively again in 2019. LB’s Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the cornerstones for this defense right now and for the future. The Cowboys should be able to get after QB’s this season with DE’s Demarcus Lawrence and newcomer Robert Quinn. Dallas needs to find an answer in the middle of their run defense as they absolutely killed them in their playoff loss against the Rams. In the secondary, they have promising young talent. Safety Xavier Woods could have a breakout season. CB Byron Jones made the Pro Bowl last season but he gives up big plays in crucial situations. I don’t see Dallas extending his contract unless his interception numbers improve. He has 2 in four seasons as a pro. If Washington didn’t get derailed by injuries on both sides of the ball last year, they probably would have won the division. They enter the 2019 campaign with holes in their roster due to injuries and losses in free agency. The QB position is still reeling after injuries last season to Alex Smith and Colt McCoy. They may have to lean on Case Keenum to start this season but if he’s shaky, the cries for rookie Dwayne Haskins will get louder. What else might not help is the absence of OT Trent Williams. Without him, it may not even matter who Washington starts at QB. I really liked Washington’s defense at the beginning of last season. I think losing LB Preston Smith will hurt them this year though they did draft a possible replacement in Montez Sweat. Washington has young talent on their defensive line but that unit has to stay healthy this year. The secondary already has CB Josh Norman but they should receive a boost with the addition of safety Landon Collins. No one is expecting much out of the New York Football Giants this year as they lost Collins and Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason. Surprisingly, QB Eli Manning returns in what should be his swan song. The Giants used their top pick in the draft on QB Daniel Jones from DOOK and I expect that they do plan to play him. The leash on Manning this year should be short. If trading away OBJ wasn’t bad enough, the WR core turned into a complete dumpster fire right as training camp began. Injuries and suspensions will leave the QB’s with not a lot of reliable options in the passing game. RB Saquon Barkley will be tasked with literally carrying this offense. The Giants defense is in full rebuild mode. They could surprise some teams but they have a lot of young and unproven talent. Rookies CB Deandre Baker and DT Dexter Lawrence will have to grow up quickly in their first seasons. Projected Finish: 1) Eagles, 2) Cowboys, 3) Washington, 4) Giants

NFC NORTH

The Chicago Bears had zero buzz entering the 2018 season until they made an acquisition that completely turned their franchise around. Trading for edge rusher Khalil Mack made Chicago into a contender in the NFC and he’s a difference maker that could keep Chicago atop this division for a couple years. Chicago’s defense really didn’t have an identity since Brian Urlacher retired. Now, they feature one of the top front sevens in the league that specializes in getting to the QB. On offense, the Bears will be looking for QB Mitch Trubisky to continue to improve as a down the field passer. The backfield will look different this year, as Jordan Howard was send away to Philly. RB Tarik Cohen could have a breakout season and rookie RB David Montgomery has impressed so far in the preseason. Minnesota will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 2018. QB Kirk Cousins will be forever criticized in the media because of his contract but I believe he’s a much better player than people let on. The emergence of WR Adam Thielen has been a huge help for Cousins and the passing offense. Thielen and Stephon Diggs form one of the top 1-2 punches at receiver in the league. Minnesota is still waiting for RB Dalvin Cook to breakout as he has a ton of ability. The Vikings defense took a step back last season. They’ll be looking to bounce back in 2019 with many returning starters including LB Anthony Barr who almost left in free agency. I think Green Bay is going to go through some growing pains this season as they are rebuilding. Replacing familiar names with young talent could actually workout for them in the long run especially on the defensive side. LB Clay Matthews is gone but free agent signing, LB Preston Smith, is a younger, talented replacement. On offense, everything will be tied to all-world QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is still the top passer in the league but the Packers need to do a better job at protecting him, as he isn’t getting younger. WR Davante Adams has solidified himself as one of the best WR in the league and as Rodgers’ top target. Every year it seems like Green Bay will be waiting for somebody to breakout at the RB position. Maybe it will be RB Aaron Jones who scored 9 times last season. In Detroit, it’s looking more and more like the Matt Patricia experiment will be ending soon. This could be a make or break season for him as Detroit has a roster than shouldn’t be in the NFC North basement. I feel bad for QB Matt Stafford who is on his way to being the latest star player to have his career wasted at Ford Field. If Detroit doesn’t have a great season, I wonder if he would try to force his way outta there though it would be hard because of his massive contract. Stafford will have decent talent around him this year. WR Kenny Golladay had a breakout 2018 season and RB’s Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson should be a formable duo in the backfield. I think Detroit’s defense could be good enough to keep the Lions in games this season. They had a top 10 secondary last year and upfront, they added DE Trey Flowers from New England and DT Mike Daniels from Green Bay. I’m not sure what Daniels has left in the tank but I love the revenge factor of him signing with Detroit after being cut by the Packers. Projected Finish: 1) Bears, 2) Vikings, 3) Packers, 4) Lions

NFC SOUTH

In recent years, I have picked the Saints to come out of the NFC because on paper, they appear to have the best or one of the best rosters in the league. The same could be said again going into 2019. The way the Saints’ season ended last year should serve as enough motivation to see the team atop this division again. On offense, they return elite talent at the QB, RB, and WR positions. RB Alvin Kamara will have a new partner in the backfield this year in Latavius Murray. Drew Brees will also have a new weapon in the passing game, TE Jared Cook. New Orleans’ defense was pretty decent last year and I think the addition of DT Malcolm Brown from New England will make them stronger. I think the Carolina Panthers had a great offseason but their success will be tied to the health of QB Cam Newton. If Newton is back to 100%, Carolina could be a sleeper in the NFC. I still think Newton doesn’t have enough help on the offensive side of the ball. RB Christian McCaffrey proved himself to be a legit threat behind the tackles as a runner and as a receiver. WR D.J. Moore needs to have a similar breakout season in 2019. I really like how Carolina improved their defense in the offseason. They have a nice mix of young talent (rookie DE Brian Burns) and veteran leadership (DT Gerald McCoy). The LB group will miss Thomas Davis but they still have Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, and newly acquired veteran Bruce Irvin. The Atlanta Falcons did reach the Super Bowl a few seasons ago but they seem to reach expectations. As long as they have QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, they are going to put up big numbers. But Ryan isn’t getting enough help from his offensive line. Atlanta addressed that in this past draft but those young blockers are going to have to grow up fast. RB Devonta Freeman returns to the backfield for Atlanta but without Tevin Coleman who left in free agency. Atlanta defense has been seen as a weak point on this team but they do have great individual talents in LB Deion Jones and edge rusher Vic Beasley. Tampa Bay has a long way to go in order to be competitive in this division again. But I really like the hiring of new head coach Bruce Arians. Him and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be tasked with saving the career of QB Jameis Winston who is running out of favor in the organization. Winston still has the tools to be a successful QB in this league but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Hopefully, the coaching change will help.  The reliable WR Mike Evans returns to provide big plays in the passing game. Tampa also resigned OT Donovan Smith to help keep Winston upright. Tampa’s defense is going through a transition, marked by the sudden release of long time Buccaneer, Gerald McCoy. They added veteran Ndamukong Suh to the defensive line but the real newcomer to look for will be rookie LB Devin White. I would be surprised if this Tampa team won a lot in 2019 but this season will be really all about fixing Jameis Winston. Because if they are picking high in next year’s draft, they probably be looking for a new QB. Projected Finish: 1) Saints, 2) Panthers, 3) Falcons, 4) Buccaneers

NFC WEST

The LA Rams made a surprise run to the Super Bowl last season and they could be in line for a return visit. QB Jared Goff will look to keep improving and the return of WR Cooper Kupp from injury should help. Kupp will return to an already talented group at WR that includes Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. RB Todd Gurley is the real engine that keeps this Rams offense running. His health has been concerning recently but if healthy, he’s the best back in football. The Rams have the best defensive lineman in football in DT Aaron Donald. On the edge, they traded for DE Dante Fowler late last season and that move paid off greatly for LA. He returns to a Rams defensive line that should be the tops in the NFC. The Rams also added a pair of veterans on defense looking to prove that they still got it: LB Clay Matthews and safety Eric Weddle. Last season, we learned that no matter how many faces change on both sides of the ball in Seattle, they’ll always have a chance with QB Russell Wilson behind center. Wilson will be without reliable target Doug Baldwin this year but he will be expecting big things from rookie WR DK Metcalf. Outside of Metcalf, WR Tyler Lockett proved to be a playmaker in the offense last season. On defense, Seattle traded away their best pass rusher in the offseason. They’re going to need someone on the defensive line to step up. The strength of Seattle’s defense is still intact as long as they have LB Bobby Wagner in the middle. San Francisco has accumulated so much young talent in recent years, I feel like they could be a surprise team this season. A lot is going to depend on the play of QB Jimmy Garoppolo who has not looked great so far in preseason. San Fran is also really missing a big play WR. In the backfield, they are loaded with returning starter Matt Breida and free agent signee Tevin Coleman. I think this 49ers team has promise because of their defense. They acquired DE Dee Ford from Kansas City and picked up the top pass rusher in the draft, Nick Bosa. If the 49ers do one thing well this year on defense, it will be getting after the QB. San Fran also signed LB Kwon Alexander who was a playmaker in Tampa Bay. I’m not sure what CB Richard Sherman has left in the tank but it would be nice if this defense saw contributions from him in the secondary this season. Arizona is starting back at square one this season after firing their head coach after one year. They brought in Kliff Kingsbury to coach the team despite having zero NFL experience and they drafted a talented young QB first overall who will be tasked with fixing an offense that was pretty bad last season. This experiment in Arizona is going to be a great success or a great disaster. QB Kyler Murray will have enough veteran help around him in WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson. Great pass rushers, Chandler Jones and newcomer Terrell Suggs will headline Arizona’s defense. I like the addition of LB Jordan Hicks who made a lot of big plays in Philadelphia. CB Patrick Peterson returns to the secondary, which was one of the best in football a season ago. Arizona will be hurt without Peterson as he will be suspended for the first 6 games of the season. Projected Finish: 1) Rams, 2) Seahawks, 3) 49ers, 4) Cardinals

 

NFL 2018: Ten Things I’m Sure of Before the 2018 Regular Season

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By: Elias McMillan

10. I’m pretty sure that Jon Gruden will be an utter failure in his second stint as Raiders Head Coach – It’s no mystery why Gruden has been romanticized over for the last couple years. He was a popular personality on ESPN for years and before that he coached successful teams in Oakland and in Tampa Bay. During his time as a media personality, he has painted as this ultimate “X’s and O’s” guy who is also a master at coaching QBs. But there was a reason why he was ran out of Tampa Bay in the first place. All of that yelling, screaming, and funny sound bites can be entertaining but they are not necessarily needed to be a successful NFL coach. It’s starting to look like maybe his past successes maybe had more to do with teams loaded with veteran talent and being in the right situation rather than just his leadership. Now, he will have an uphill battle in the locker room with the trade of Khalil Mack. Gruden was hired again and given a $100 million dollar contract to distract Oaklanders from the fact that their team is leaving them soon. But I’m sure when that time comes, the team may not be as competitive as they once were. It was only a few seasons ago where it looked like the Raiders were looking like they were getting ready to turn the corner. Those draft picks they got for Mack better play well early in their careers.

9. I’m sure the new helmet rule will make things even more chaotic. – The quest to make football “safer” has come to this. Policing lowing your helmet while making a legal tackle creates such a tough job for the officials that seem to be under fire year after year. I’m going to have to assume refs will have to swallow their whistles this year especially in contests were the final may still be in question. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has said that this rule could potentially knock teams from contention and cost coaches jobs. The rule will may also affect scoring. Don’t be shocked if penalty yardage and overall scoring to be up this year.

8. I’m sure one of these QB’s will NOT make it to 2019: Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, and Eli Manning. – You can’t play forever. These guys are one blindside hit or one scramble gone wrong away from being on the self for good. Or maybe, one of these guys can have a post-season run that will allow them to have a swan song ending in the Super Bowl.

7. I’m sure that the Dallas Cowboys will NOT make the playoffs but Jason Garrett will remain head coach in 2019. – The Cowboys will not suck enough that will warrant Jason Garrett getting the axe. But really, Jason Garrett isn’t the reason for the Cowboys woes. People act like Jason Garrett was suppose to be the reason for this team being great. Garrett, at the least, is supposed to keep the locker room together and lead from there. The bottom line is that the players need to perform better. They might have a tough time without Dez Bryant in the passing game. Jason Witten and Dan Bailey are also gone. Despite those things, I don’t see Garrett being on the hot seat unless this team really starts to underperform. Plus, I’m afraid of who Jerry Jones would bring in if Garrett is indeed fired.

6. I’m sure that the New York Giants will regret not moving on from Eli Manning. – Eli Manning stunk last season and I have no reason to believe that won’t continue in 2018. When you have the chance to grab a top college QB prospect, you should do it. Ask Cleveland about Carson Wentz. The Giants did work to improve at their skill positions and offensive line in the offseason. But it won’t work unless the QB does.

5. I’m sure that the conversation surrounding Colin Kaepernick will not go away. – The NFL has set a dangerous precedent with how they have treated Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. While Reid might still have a shot at playing again, Kaepernick’s career is probably over and the list of QB’s that have been signed since his free agency provides enough proof that his absence from a team roster isn’t football related. Though he will not be on a roster, what he stood (knelt) for will have affects on the league for years to come. More and more players will follow his lead and they will not cave in to the fear of having their career taken away from them for making a stand.

4. I’m sure that Aaron Rodgers will be the league MVP if he plays all 16 regular season games. – Rodgers is the top guy in the league at his position. And his team’s success is directly linked to him. Especially this year as Green Bay does not look very strong on paper. If Rodgers is himself and is able to stay healthy, he’ll lift this team to the postseason with his spectacular play.

3. I’m sure that the AFC representative in the Super Bowl this year will be: the Pittsburgh Steelers. – Here’s how I see it:

1) Patriots, 2) Steelers, 3) Texans, 4) Chargers, 5) Jaguars, 6) Titans.

Wild Card Round: Texans over Titans, Chargers over Jaguars

Divisional Round: Chargers over Patriots, Steelers over Texans

Championship Game: Steelers over Chargers

The Steelers have to figure it out this year because it will likely be the final season with Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh’s defense might hold them back again this season but you could say the same for New England. For a while, I thought Jacksonville would be able to be back in the championship picture again in 2018 but I’m not buying into their decision to stick with Blake Bortles. Pittsburgh isn’t perfect but all that talent has to amount to something more than just another playoff appearance.

2. I’m sure that the NFC representative in the Super Bowl this year will be: the New Orleans Saints. – Here’s how I see it:

1) Saints, 2) Vikings, 3) Rams, 4) Eagles, 5) Falcons, 6) Packers.

Wild Card Round: Rams over Packers, Falcons over Eagles

Divisional Round Saints over Falcons, Vikings over Rams

Championship Game: Saints over Vikings

I think the two best teams in the conference are in the same division: the Saints and the Falcons. Their matchups in the regular season and eventually the playoffs will provide for some great drama. Atlanta has just as much talent as New Orleans does but it seems like their coaching and decision-making holds them back. Minnesota will be a tough out this season as well but I don’t see the transition into Kirk Cousins running the offense to go as smoothly as some may think.

1. I’m pretty sure that the Super Bowl Champions this season will be: the New Orleans Saints. – Drew Brees gets his swan song moment, hands over the franchise to Teddy Bridgewater, and lifts Lombardi one last time in his rival’s home stadium.

 

NFL 2018: NFC Season Preview

NFC EAST

Will the Eagles suffer a Super Bowl hangover? Probably. The health of QB Carson Wentz will be a concern. The guy played at a MVP level last season before his major leg injury. I think he can return and be the same player but circumstances have changed from last season. The Eagles lost pieces at the RB and WR position in the offseason. I think Philly still could win this division because their defense will once again be really good. But then again, it’s a tough road to become back-to-back champions in this division. The Cowboys did not help QB Dak Prescott in this offseason. They unceremoniously cut WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, who wasn’t a difference maker any more anyways, suddenly retired. Dak Prescott and the passing game in Dallas as a whole struggled last season and you can’t just blame that on one player. You can blame it on the awful play calling but also this: Prescott just has to play better. I think he can have a bounce back season but who knows. He’s going to have to prove it. But the bottom line is that this offense is reliant on RB Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. The Cowboys do not have a reliable big play target in the passing game and that is going to hurt them. On the bright side, for the first time in a while, there is real optimism surrounding this defense. They brought back DE Demarcus Lawrence on the franchise tag and he was a terror on the edge last season. Also, things are looking up in the secondary with the young corners they have. Dallas is one “Earl Thomas trade” away from maybe having an elite defense. I think the Giants made a mistake placing their faith into QB Eli Manning again this offseason. QB’s don’t grow on tree and Manning has the look of someone who is done in the league. But the draft pick of RB Saquon Barkley has many optimistic in New York. The Giants made an effort to improve their offensive line and they return a talented receiver core led by recently contract extended Odell Beckham Jr. New York will have concerns on defense. They traded away Jason Pierre-Paul and replaced him with no one. I like the trade for ILB Alec Ogletree though. Washington chose trading for Alex Smith over re-signing Kirk Cousins. That is such a Dan Synder move. So, vanilla. I mean, Alex Smith can be go but he isn’t nearly as dynamic as Cousins. At least, when it counts. Washington has many issues before the season has even started. Injuries at RB mean they may have to lean on an aging RB Adrian Peterson. The WR group is really average. TE Jordan Reed is really good but he can’t stay healthy. Washington desperately needs to improve their defense, which they have tried through the draft. They have plenty of young talent on that side of the ball but they need to start paying dividends sooner than later. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Eagles, 2) Cowboys, 3) Giants, 4) Washington

NFC NORTH

Minnesota is great shape in 2018 because once again, they will be strong defensively. The Vikings were the big winners in the offseason, signing the top QB available in Kirk Cousins. If history can serve as a reminder, signing that the big name free agent QB can back fire or not exactly work out as planned. I don’t expect Minnesota being able to plug in Cousins and have a real dynamic passing attack. But Cousins doesn’t have the bar set high for him. He was really has to run the offense and not make mistakes. Minnesota has talented receivers but they are really more suited to run the ball. So, needless to say, I’m excited about RB Dalvin Cook who had his season cut short last year due to injury. Again, Minnesota should be pretty tough on defense. They are solid across the board on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Green Bay’s success will once again be tied to the health of QB Aaron Rogers. Green Bay is not a good football team on paper but Rodgers just seems to lift this team out of mediocrity time and time again. The Packers don’t have consistency at RB or at the WR position. TE Jimmy Graham might prove to be a huge addition though. Green Bay’s front seven on defense looks old and not nearly as good as they once were. There is hope in the secondary though. 2018 draft picks, CB’s Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, have looked really good in preseason. Detroit was mighty neutral in the offseason. They really didn’t do much to improve. This tells me that new head coach Matt Patricia is in the process of starting a massive rebuild. And that kinda stinks for QB Matt Stafford because he’s really good but his team is in no shape to compete. I think RB LeGarrette Blount will provide some stability at that position if he stays healthy. Two extremely under rated guys in Golden Tate and the emerging Kenny Golladay leads the Lions at WR. Detroit actually has a decent defense but they aren’t good enough to close out games. I feel like Stafford usually has to blame this team out a lot, much like Rodgers in Green Bay. I think the Bears could be on the verge of turning their franchise around but a lot is going to depend on QB Mitch Trubisky. He is going to have to show some sizable improves in his second year. The Bears have great talent at the skill positions on offense. RB’s Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen should form a great duo in the backfield. Chicago made efforts to improve the WR position in the offseason with the additions of Allen Robinson and rookie Anthony Miller. It will be even greater if WR Kevin White can finally stay healthy. The Bears might be held back by their defense in 2018 as they are still a work in progress. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Vikings, 2) Packers, 3) Lions, 4) Bears

NFC SOUTH

The New Orleans Saints are legit Super Bowl contenders in my eyes. It’s amazing how fast they were able to turn around their defense. Now, it looks like they may be able to give QB Drew Brees a farewell swan song that he deserves. He will once again lead an explosive offense. RB Alvin Kamara is special player from out the backfield and WR Michael Thomas is one of the better receivers in the league that no one talks about. I also like how the Saints did not rest on their laurels during the draft and traded up to grab one of the best pass rushers. From top to bottom, the Atlanta Falcons probably have one of the best rosters in the entire league. It was true last season and it may be true again in 2018. That tells me their coaching stinks or the players are really lacking in the area of execution. Let me just run of some names from the top of my head: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. That’s a solid group of talent to have on offense. Atlanta’s defense has plenty of talent as well especially at the LB position with Deion Jones and Vic Beasley. I’m afraid that Carolina’s window is slowly closing. Since the Super Bowl lose, they have refused to improve their offensive line and I think that will bite them again this season. Cam Newton can’t be Cam Newton if he is running for his life or worse, injured. I never was a believer in RB Christian McCaffrey as an every down back but he has looked the part early during this pre-season. Carolina is also missing a big play WR. Maybe WR Devin Funchess can be that guy or maybe newcomer D.J. Moore. Carolina’s defensive front seven will be solid this season as look as they stay healthy. Their secondary remains to be a weak spot. Tampa Bay is in a tough spot thanks to the Jameis Winston suspension. He is going to have to come back and perform at a high level if he hopes to stay in the team’s future. The Bucs have a lot of unproven talent at the RB position this year but that could prove to be a good thing. WR Mike Evans is one thing Tampa can count on offensively. Tampa has a chance to be really good up front on defense with the addition of DE Jason Pierre-Paul. They made an effort to improve their defensive line in the offseason and they may see that pay off sooner than later. Tampa also has a good group at LB. Their secondary needs work as they lack playmakers at corner. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Saints, 2) Falcons, 3) Panthers, 4) Buccaneers

NFC WEST

The LA Rams were the offseason champs of 2018. That’s usually bad news but the NFC West isn’t as tough as it use to be. In recent history, this division was led by tough defenses in Seattle and San Francisco. Now, it looks like Los Angeles has turned into a haven for defensive talent. The defensive line was already good with Aaron Donald but they went ahead and added Ndamukong Suh. The Rams will also added a pair of playmakers in the secondary in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The Rams were let down in the playoffs by their offense so I think the pressure will be on that side of the ball to continue to get better. RB Todd Gurley will continue to be the tone setter for the offense. QB Jared Goff had a decent second season in 2017. He must show that he can continue to improve. The Rams bring with them in 2018 a talented collection of receivers led by Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Arizona is starting anew at head coach in 2018. They started the offseason with a clean slate at QB and they decided to go with the often-injured Sam Bradford. That decision may come back to bite them though they were able to draft Josh Rosen who may be the QB for the future. Whoever is at QB, they will be able to lean on RB David Johnson. Arizona is lacking a young playmaker at WR though Larry Fitzgerald is still capable at his age. On defense, the Cardinals will be tough to deal with up front. DE Chandler Jones led the league in sacks a season ago. Arizona has a good group at LB and the secondary could be better this year despite losing safety Tyrann Mathieu. There’s a lot of hype surrounding San Francisco this year but I don’t think they are ready to return to the playoffs. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has created most of that optimism around the franchise but they still need to add more pieces around him if they hope to be successful with him. I’m not sold on Jerick McKinnon as a led back in this offense and they are also in the market for a big play wide receiver. I like the collection of young talent they have in their defensive front seven. CB Richard Sherman is going to learn this season how hard life is without playing with the Legion of Boom. Thinking of the Legion of Boom, Seattle might stink this season. It might get so bad that coach Pete Carroll might be a guy who could be looking for an escape by the end of the season. QB Russell Wilson will be carrying this offense again with a lack of a running game and protection from his offensive line. The Seahawks will look mighty thin at receiver this season outside of Doug Baldwin and Brandon Marshall. The biggest difference for Seattle this season will be on defense, as they will look entirely different. Meaning, that they won’t be really good. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Rams, 2) Cardinals, 3) 49ers, 4) Seahawks

NFL Playoffs: 2018 Conference Championship Sunday Predictions!

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In the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to “steal the show”.

By Elias McMillan

 

Divisional Round: 2-2

Playoffs: 3-5

Conference Championship Sunday

AFC Championship Game

Jacksonville @ New England – The Jacksonville Jaguars are looking like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens right now. The Jaguars went into Pittsburgh last Sunday and punked a Steeler team that may have been over looking them. Jacksonville took it too Pittsburgh and didn’t let up. I was impressed with how QB Blake Bortles ran the offense against a shorthanded Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers scored 42 points and their QB threw for a bunch of yards but don’t buy into those numbers. Jacksonville got off to a 21-0 start and Pittsburgh was just playing catch up for the entire game. I don’t think the stat sheet tells the story of how good the Jaguars defense is. The Jaguars have one more hurdle in their Cinderella Super Bowl run: the New England Patriots. New England survived a sort of slow start against Tennessee last Saturday and was able to put their opponent away in the 2nd half. The Patriots will be hosting yet another AFC Championship game but this one could be a much greater challenge in comparison to past recent years. The Patriots are great again this season for all the same reasons. They have QB Tom Brady. He leads an offense that can score a lot of points when called upon. No one can cover TE Rob Gronkowski. The defense isn’t great but they over achieve at times. And they are lead by a master football mind in Bill Belichick. Despite all of this, like in season’s past, I still feel that the Patriots are very beatable. In terms of this Sunday, Jacksonville matches up well against them. To stop the Patriots offense, you better have a defense that can rattle the QB. Jacksonville has strong play up front. They have excellent LBs. And their secondary is usually good despite giving up all those yards last week. Brady may also be dealing with a bum hand so, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is tough sledding for the New England offense. Bortles played a game last week where he wasn’t going to be the reason why Jacksonville would lose. I’m not sure if the Jaguars offense will be able to be so successful this week. I think they were aided by the absence of LB Ryan Shazier. I said earlier that New England’s defense is suspect but they did defend the run quite well last week and Tennessee was barely able to get into the end zone for the second time until after the game was out of reach. Despite how well the Jacksonville defense may play, they will still need the offense to score points and I don’t think I trust them to perform well enough again in two straight weeks on the road. The brain trust in New England is still strong and I believe the offense will find a way to consistently get down the field. I think Gronkowski and the different RB’s from out the backfield may create some bad matchup for Brady to exploit. New England is the safe pick. No picked Jacksonville last week and I think they have a real chance to shock everyone again. But I’m not brave enough to pick it. Business as usual in the AFC. Prediction: Patriots 30 – Jaguars 22

NFC Championship Game

Minnesota @ Philadelphia – The Eagles did a great job at home last week grinding out a victory against Atlanta. I shouldn’t have been as shocked that the Falcons under performed, again, but I feel they still could have won that game at the end. It came down to Julio Jones miss timing on a jump ball in the end zone. Julio Jones. Not some rookie. Regardless, we have to give Philadelphia’s defense credit for limiting Atlanta’s scoring chances. They will now host the NFC Championship game on Sunday against a Minnesota team that is coming off a miracle victory. As awesome was Minnesota’s triumph was last Sunday, the Vikings have to erase it from their memory and focus up on the task at hand. Both of these teams are very similar. They both offer good defenses, solid running games, and receivers that are capable to creating big plays down the field. Its hard for me to read how good Case Keenum is but he has done a great job at running this offense this season. He could be the difference in this game because honestly, I’m not expecting much form Nick Foles. Foles didn’t make any mistakes last week but he will face a much tougher defense in this game. Minnesota and Philadelphia both have solid defenses but I think I’ll give a slight edge to the Vikings. They are much younger at key positions and I believe that they have a stronger secondary than Philly’s. I think Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will have their chances to make plays if Keenum is able to stand in the pocket. Playing at home will definitely serve as an advantage for the birds but I think Minnesota has the better team on paper. Honestly, this game is a toss up. I’m not sure how strongly I feel about it but I like Minnesota to end their misery in conference championship games and therefor becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl in their host city. Prediction: Vikings 26 – Eagles 20

NFL 2017: Week 17 Predictions! (Condensed)

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

Matt Ryan and the Falcons are looking to clinch a spot in the postseason on Sunday against the Panthers.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 12-4

Season: 142-96

Week 17 Predictions

Lions over Packers – As Green Bay has already shut down for 2017, Detroit has slim playoff hopes.

Colts over Texans – I’m not giving Houston much of a shot without DeAndre Hopkins. I’m looking for Indy to give head coach Chuck Pagano a good send off.

Bears over Vikings – Minnesota cant catch Philly for home field in the NFC and the NFC South champ is locked in on the third seed. With no motivation for the Viks, Chicago will give a good effort on the road for John Fox? I’m not even sure on that one.

Patriots over Jets – New England’s goal is to wrap up home field in the AFC by half time in order to give the starters some rest.

Washington over Giants – So much turmoil in that Giants locker room. Can they keep it together to give Eli Manning a proper home send off? I doubt it. Kirk Cousins might be auditioning for the Giants in this game.

Eagles over Cowboys – Philly has nothing to play for but luckily for them, the 8-8 Cowboys are back.

Steelers over Browns – I wondering if all the James Harrison talk all week has over shadowed Pittsburgh’s actual opponent this week. Pittsburgh is even seceding the AFC to New England assuming that they will smash the Jets. I find this strange. Strange things could happen here with the Steelers “B team” but I’m not brave enough to pick Cleveland to stop the “perfect season”.

Falcons over Panthers – I think Carolina is the better team but Atlanta has more to play for and they are at home. Carolina has already clinched a playoff spot.

Chiefs over Broncos – Alex Smith won’t play in this meaningless game but Kansas City will still be able to amount more offense than Denver.

Jaguars over Titans – Tennessee embarrassed Jacksonville in their first meeting this season. The Jags are a different team now and I’m sure that they haven’t forgot about that earlier loss. Tennessee has been treading downward for weeks now.

49ers over Rams – The Rams will be resting most of their starters. San Fran looks like they have a future now thanks to acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo.

Dolphins over Bills – Miami’s defense has responded well at home this season. They gut out a tough one on Sunday keeping Buffalo from the playoffs.

Chargers over Raiders – With the Titans losing, the Chargers will gladly sneak in the playoffs with a win over Oakland. We’ll have both LA teams in the postseason. How weird.

Cardinals over Seahawks – Seattle’s structure is crumbling. Arizona will deliver a crushing blow to their playoff chances on Sunday.

Saints over Buccaneers – New Orleans still has to clinch NFC South with Carolina breathing down their backs.

Ravens over Bengals – This will be a fitting end to the Marvin Lewis era in Cincy.

NFL 2017: NFC Preview (Condensed)

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Dak Prescott has the keys to the castle in Dallas. What will he do with it? And can Matt Ryan get over what happened in the Super Bowl?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC East

New York Giants – I think the Giants have the best defense in the NFC East. They are strong up front with two passing rushing vets (JPP & Vernon) and a big run stuffer (Damon Harrison). I think they are weak at the LB position but they are loaded with talent in the secondary. New York should also have a sound passing attack on offense. Eli Manning will have a wide array of weapons to choose from this season with Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and rookie TE Evan Engram. The Giants do have question marks with their running game and offensive line. But I think they can outlast the competition in a tight NFC East race. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC East Champs)

Dallas Cowboys –For whatever reason, the Cowboys haven’t been able to string together back-to-back successful seasons too many times since the 90’s. And after blowing a great opportunity the change the narrative last season, they return this season with little or no improvements. I think the offense will be okay. I think Dak Prescott will not fall into a sophomore slump. There are some changes on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott might miss the start of the season but I think the run game will still be strong. And the Cowboys do return many weapons in the passing game led by Dez Bryant and the leadership of Jason Witten. On defense, all eyes will be on LB Jaylon Smith who missed all of last season due to injury but the Cowboys are expect big things out of. Outside of that, the Cowboys return a defense that cant create pressure and are featuring wholesale changes in the secondary. At this point, I feel bad for Jason Witten. I feel good about Dallas in 2018 though. Prediction: 8-8

Washington – I like what Washington has on defense. If they could just find some consistency on offense they could be a sleeper team in the NFC East. QB Kirk Cousins is a mixed bag but I like his gunslinger mentality. Many are expecting a big year from free agent signee WR Terrelle Pryor. Washington also had a nice big target for Cousins in TE Jordan Reed if he can stay healthy. Much like New York, offensive line and running back are where the question marks lie. Like I said earlier, I like many of the pieces on this Washington defense. They have already suffered some injuries on the defensive line and at LB but they wisely prepared for this in the draft. I’m interested in seeing how rookies DE Jonathan Allen and LB Ryan Anderson develop in their first years. Washington may have some weak spots in the secondary but they at least still have CB Josh Norman. Because of what they have defensively, Washington might surprise a bit this year. Prediction: 7-9

Philadelphia Eagles – Some have Philadelphia as a sleeper team in this division. I just don’t see it. Is Carson Wentz going to turn out to be a baller in his 2nd year? Maybe. He’ll have pretty weapons this year at WR with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles are still reeling at the RB position from the LeSean McCoy trade. Do they really expect LeGarrette Blount to be their #1 back? Philly’s defense will be pretty much the same from a season ago: decent front seven, trash secondary. I like DT Fletcher Cox and rookie DE Derek Barnett. In a best-case scenario for this team, I don’t even see them making it past 8 wins. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – I really don’t see how this Packers team got better in the off-season. A lot of familiar faces from the last couple seasons are gone. The Packers are in the transition of getting younger on defense with OLB Clay Matthews the lone veteran holdover. They let Eddie Lacy go in free agency. Ty Montgomery is talented but can he really be an every down back? But as last year proved, because they really weren’t that good either, as long as they have Aaron Rodgers behind center, they’ll be okay. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC North Champs)

Minnesota Vikings – I like this Minnesota team because Mike Zimmer has himself a tough defense on this squad. It was the defense that led them to a hot start to begin 2016. Eventually, they fell apart down the stretch but as long as that same defense returns, they’ll be in a lot of games this year. Obviously, there are plenty of questions on offense especially at the QB position. QB Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready until the middle of the season so they will have to ride it out with Sam Bradford for now. Minnesota will also be dealing with a couple of new starters on the offensive line. But I think they will have a better run offense this season even with the departure of Adrian Peterson. I’m expecting big things from rookie RB Dalvin Cook. Prediction: 8-8

Detroit Lions – I don’t even remember that the Lions made the playoffs last year. They really didn’t make any dramatic changes in the offseason. QB Matthew Stafford will give them a chance to win every week. The Lions are still missing consistency in the run game. Stafford has pretty good targets to go to in the passing game. This has to be the season where TE Eric Ebron proves himself as a legit TE in the league and not just an athlete. Detroit will be solid defensively, at least up front. First round pick LB Jarrad Davis will be counted on early in his career. And you could say the same about second round pick CB Teez Tabor. I think the Lions are a running game away from challenging Green Bay in the division. Prediction: 7-9

Chicago Bears – The Bears are still rebuilding but with a veteran head coach. Weird. I’m wondering if John Fox will be around to see the final product. After spending money on QB Mike Glennon for some reason, the Bears went ahead and traded for QB Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky has shown promise in the pre-season and Chicago might as well stop wasting everyone’s time and insert him into the lineup. RB Jordan Howard is returning after an impressive rookie season. The Bears have question marks at WR. Kevin White is healthy and he will receive plenty of opportunities this year. Chicago’s defense is a mess. They need to build that side of the ball up as soon as possible if they want to climb out of the basement in this division. Prediction: 5-11

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – There’s a lot of talk about the blown lead in the Super Bowl and the hangover from that. I know that Super Bowl losers, especially in this fashion, usually have a hard time getting back but I think Atlanta may have something going. I think this way because I liked what I saw from their defense last season and I like the additions they made in the offseason. Atlanta has a legit pass rush with Vic Beasley and I think rookie Takkarist McKinley could make an impact up front as well. I’m a big fan of the young LB’s they have especially Deion Jones who had a great rookie season. Atlanta will also see reinforcements in the secondary with the return of Desmond Trufant who missed most of last season. Everyone knows about what Atlanta has on offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, etc. But I think the improvements on this young defense will really make this team dangerous in the NFC again this season. Prediction: 13-3 (NFC South Champs)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For the first time in a while, the Bucs enter a football season with some momentum. This team will be led by QB Jameis Winston who has really taken on a leadership role in that locker room and the team has brought in. Winston will be surrounded by probably the most talented he’s been around in his career. Tampa is loaded at WR with Mike Evans and newcomer DeSean Jackson who can really stretch the field. TE Cameron Brate impressed last season but the team decided to really maximize the TE position with the first round selection of TE O.J. Howard. I’m worried about the suspension of RB Doug Martin but this Tampa offense will be about what Winston can do in the passing game. Tampa returns a solid defense led by DT Gerald McCoy. I really like their LB core. They are missing playmakers in the secondary though. I think Tampa should be good enough to make that jump in the post season in 2017. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Carolina Panthers – The Super Bowl hangover was real in Carolina in 2016. I think Carolina is in a position to rebound and maybe return to the playoffs but they need to do two things. First and more importantly, they need to ensure that the defense can stay at the level they were in during 2015. And secondly, they need to get Cam Newton better protection and younger players at the skill positions on offense. They did the latter in this offseason and I’m afraid that wasn’t the direction that this team needed to go. I think Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will do good things in their rookie seasons but I prioritize the line scrimmage over the flashy skill players. I think Newton will be able to use those young guys effectively but I’m worried about his protection especially that he is coming off off-season surgery. On defense, Carolina is starting to look old. They gave up on Kony Ealy and brought back an ancient Julius Peppers. I really like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly but they both have injury concerns. Carolina may slightly improve from 2016 but they need to do a better job at protecting their franchise QB and getting younger talent on defense. Prediction: 8-8

New Orleans Saints – There isn’t much buzz surrounding the Saints going into 2017. We know they will pass the ball well with QB Drew Brees. Its too bad that they couldn’t make it work with Brandin Cooks but they did bring in Ted Ginn Jr. to take his role as the speedster at WR. RB Mark Ingram is the established back in this offense so, I don’t understand why they brought in an aging Adrian Peterson. Defense remains the main issues on this team. DE Cameron Jordan can only do so much. The Saints did make an effort on improving their secondary through the draft this offseason. I think the Saints will compete. But they wont be on the same level as the three other teams in this division. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are still in the mist of a decent run in the NFC as consistent title contenders. But I get the feeling that their window is starting to get smaller. Which is supposed to happen in the NFL. You can’t resign and keep everyone for only so long. But Seattle should be in pretty good shape in 2017. QB Russell Wilson returns and Seattle continued their efforts in the off-season to improve his offensive line. I think the Eddie Lacy signing could improve the run game if he can stay healthy. And that’s a big “if”. WR Doug Baldwin is massively underrated and TE Jimmy Graham can still take over a game when called upon. This team will continue to be led by the defense though. The front seven is tough and can pretty much do it all. Pass rush, run stuff, etc. The Seahawks also still have the three major cogs in the L.O.B., Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor. Prediction: 11-5 (NFC West Champs)

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona massively under performed last season and they return in 2017 with a supremely talented roster. On offense, RB David Johnson established himself last season as one of the top RB’s in the league. Arizona’s passing game is still dependent on QB Carson Palmer’s health. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think much of the WR’s on the roster but WR Larry Fitzgerald is still as good as they come. Arizona has recognizable names on defense but they need to become an elite unit if Arizona hopes to make the postseason. They will miss Calais Campbell up front but Chandler Jones is still a pretty good pass rusher and first round pick Haason Reddick could develop into a difference maker. I feel that Arizona secondary under performed last season but that should change as long as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu can stay healthy. I think the Cardinals have too much talent to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wild-card)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams hired a 30-year-old coach to lead the team in 2017. Maybe that youth can energize a team that hasn’t done anything note worthy in a while. Can second year QB Jared Goff show that he is worth his top selection in the draft a year ago? Can RB Todd Gurley return to form? Can the Rams finally get some consistency out from their recievers? Will the newly acquired Sammy Watkins keep the number 2 as his jersey number? Has the only player worth a damn on this roster (DT Aaron Donald) ended his holdout yet? Too many questions. Prediction: 5-11

San Francisco 49ers – Nothing quite says “we’re rebuilding” like saying “we’re rolling with Brian Hoyer as our QB this year”. San Francisco should be a complete disaster offensively this season. Its fitting that the offensive coordinator that blew it for Atlanta in the Super Bowl is now the head coach. On the bright side, San Fran is building a defense that might become a problem real soon. They basically have an all-Pac-10 defensive line and I liked the late addition of veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil. LB NaVorro Bowman returns and he’ll get a chance to groom rookie Reuben Foster who dropped right into the 49ers lap in the draft this pass April. Foster should have been a top 15 pick. The secondary leaves much to be desired but that front seven might end up being one of the best in the league. But with Brian Hoyer at QB, that tells me that this team must be tanking for one of the top signal callers in college. Prediction: 3-13

 

NFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3 (NFC South)
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5 (NFC West)
  3. New York Giants – 10-6 (NFC East)
  4. Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (NFC North)
  5. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6 (Wild-card)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7 (Wild-card)

NFL 2016: NFC North Preview

jea 1816 vikings chargers.JPG

The Vikings have a shiny new stadium and great expectations in 2016.

By: Elias McMillan

NFC NorthWritten August 30, 2016 (Before Bridgewater injury)

Minnesota Vikings – Last season, the Vikings had a small taste of success. This season, the Vikings are opening up a new stadium and they are hoping to have bigger moments in their new home this season. I think one of the reasons for Minnesota’s success a season ago is that they are one of the league’s youngest teams. They have a lot of young talent but the veteran leadership they have at key positions is valuable as well. QB Teddy Bridgewater is coming off his best season as a pro and I think this year, we’ll see him do little bit more with his passing. Everyone is aware of Bridgewater’s athletic ability outside the pocket but he doesn’t really take many chances down the field. I think we will see this change in 2016. Last season, they found out that their fifth round pick, Stefon Diggs, actually has a future in this offense as Bridgewater’s number one target as a WR. Diggs is a good player and I liked him a lot coming out of Maryland but I think this year’s first round pick will really emerge as a down the field target for Bridgewater. Rookie WR Laquon Treadwell looks the part as a prototypical “#1” receiver and his ability will allow the Vikings passing offense to stretch the field in 2016. As always, the backbone of this offense will be RB Adrian Peterson and the running. Peterson is showing no signs of slowing down as he seems to get better year after year. Minnesota also beefed up their offensive line in the offseason so I feel even better about their ability to run the ball and protecting their future star QB. Looking at the defensive front four on paper and you’ll see a group that underperformed in 2015. DE Everson Griffin seems to be the lone standout as the team’s best pass rusher. Bottom line is that the Vikings need to do better at stopping the run this season. Minnesota has one of the better LB groups in the league with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and veteran Chad Greenway. I really like Minnesota’s secondary as well. CB Terrance Newman continues to have a career renaissance in this secondary but the Vikings have plenty of younger guys that can play too. More responsibility will be put on CB’s Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes this season. At safety, they get great play out of Harrison Smith and they brought over veteran Michael Griffin who will be trying to prove that he has more left in the tank after a mainly success career as a Titan. I don’t know if this team is ready to become one of the best teams in the conference but I think head coach Mike Zimmer will have this team ready to repeat as division champions. If Teddy Bridgewater improves like many thinks he will, Minnesota will definitely be a tough out in the post season. Prediction: 11-5

Green Bay Packers – The Packers weren’t as sharp as usually in 2015. And there was plenty of blame to go around. Mainly, there were health problems and the defense struggled mightily. I think this team is too dependent of their star QB, Aaron Rodgers. It’s either that or Rodgers just wasn’t that good last season. Either way, optimism is high in Packer land going into 2016. The offense is healthy and ready to go after a tough 2015. Aaron Rodgers is expected to be his regular self this season and it will really help that WR Jordy Nelson is back after missing last season. Many people believed that the Packers passing offense would be ok without Nelson but that wasn’t the case. WR. Devante Adams and even Randall Cobb underperformed last season. But with Nelson back in the fold, maybe the Packers passing attack can be as overwhelming as before. Green Bay also hopes to be a better running team in 2016. RB Eddie Lacy worked extremely hard in the offseason to drop weight and we’ll see soon if that will pay off this season. Green Bay also brought back James Starks who will continue to be a valuable third down option as a receiver coming out from the backfield. On defense, the Packers will be looking to improve a defensive line that ranked near the bottom in the league at defending the run. First round pick Kenny Clark will hopefully help with the youth movement up front defensively. Green Bay will return both of their star pass rushers, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Inside at LB, the Packers are very young and don’t have much depth at the position either. Green Bay’s secondary is decent, as they will return all of their starters from a season ago. CB’s Sam Shields and Damarious Randall do a good job and HaHa Clinton-Dix is one of the better, young safeties in the league. I think this Packers team will be relying on the offense more again this season but I think Rodgers and the passing attack will be up to task on improving from a season ago. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

Detroit Lions – The Lions had a disastrous start to their season last year but they finished off very strong and they’ll hope to bring over some of that momentum in 2016. Their offseason was headlined by the shocking retirement of WR Calvin Johnson but I actually think that the Lions will be better off after moving on from that situation. I’m not saying that the Lions are going to be able to replace him easily but I think the team will be better as whole as group that is fully motivated on being its best. QB Matt Stafford was probably pleased to see that the Lions spent multiple draft picks on their offensive line. Better play up front will put Stafford and the running game in much better situations. I expect Detroit to have a really good running duo this season with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. If those two guys can stay healthy for the season, they’ll help take some of the pressure off the QB. I really like Stafford’s receiving core going into this season. WR Golden Tate proved last season that he can be a number one option in the passing game. Detroit also brought over Marvin Jones from Cincinnati who has plenty of ability. But I really liked the signing of WR Anquan Boldin. Boldin is an absolute gamer and he’ll fill the veteran role in the WR room left by the retirement of Johnson. During Detroit’s run near the end of last season, their defense really began to improve. Upfront, they have a beastly pass rusher in DE Ziggy Ansah and DT Haloti Ngata was brought back to prove that he is still one of the best run stoppers in the league. At LB, the Lions are very thin on depth but DeAndre Levy is one of the best tacklers in the league. I’m not sure how good the Lions’ secondary can be as they were pretty average a season ago. Darius Slay is the lone standout from the group of corners on this team. Safety Glover Quin will continue to be a veteran leader in the secondary. He is coming off his second Pro-Bowl season. The Lions have plenty of holes on defense but they are an overachieving group that will compete in every ball game. I think the Lions are a sleeper team in 2016. I don’t have them making the playoffs but they may make a push at the end of the season. Prediction: 9-7

Chicago Bears – The Bears didn’t really improve during the offseason and they’ll have plenty of question marks going into 2016. Last season, I think QB Jay Cutler earned my respect. I say this because he had every excuse to mail it in but you could tell that Cutler really made the most of his time on the field. Cutler has a great connection with WR Alshon Jeffery and he will hope to build the same relationship with WR Kevin White. White was the team’s first round pick a season ago but he missed his entire rookie season due to injury. If White can be the player that he was at West Virginia, he’ll form a great 1-2 punch in the passing game with Jeffery. TE Zach Miller had a very successful 2015 and he’ll enter this season as the starter at the position. The Bears will greatly miss Matt Forte at starting RB but they have been grooming Jeremy Langford for that position. Langford has showed promise last season and he’ll receiver plenty of more opportunities in 2016. The Bears have seen better days defensively but they are on the road to getting better. Chicago has struggled for years at stopping the run and they will need some of the young guys they drafted to step up this season. Outside at the pass rushing positions, they have veterans Lamarr Houston and Willie Young but look out for first round pick Leonard Floyd. Floyd looks like a wideout playing defensive end but his great speed will be a positive factor for this defense eventually. At inside LB, they brought in Danny Trevathan who is coming off a pretty success campaign with the Super Bowl champion Broncos. LB Jerrell Freeman racked up a lot of tackles last season for the Colts and he’ll help form a great tackling duo inside with Trevathan. The LB core on this defense will definitely be a strength this season. In the secondary, the Bears have two decent corners in the veteran Tracy Porter and the younger Kyle Fuller. The Bears will be relying on some unknowns at safety this season so, I view that position as a question mark going into 2016. Prediction: 6-10