Sal's Crystal Ball: 2019 NFL Predictions

September 5, 2019
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Well, thanks to Andrew Luck’s surprising retirement, my crystal ball for the 2019 National Football League season is completely different than it would have been had I written this just a few weeks ago. I really believed the Indianapolis Colts were in a position to challenge, and maybe even win, the Super Bowl.

That’s not going to happen now.

I like Jacoby Brissett as a quarterback. How much do I like him? You can find out below in my annual forecast, which includes division winners, wildcard teams, and award recipients.

Football is here. Let’s do it:
 


 
  • AFC East - New England Patriots

I believe the Patriots are going to take a step back this year, and I believe both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets will take steps forward to narrow that gap. However, New England still has Tom Brady, they still have Bill Belichick, and they’ve won this division pretty free and clear for most of their reign. It’s not like they’ve been squeaking by. So, I can’t, in good conscience, pick against them winning the division quite yet.

As mentioned, the Bills and Jets are both very much improved, and both took the same blueprint to get there, loading up on draft picks and trading up for a quarterback in 2018. How far both teams can go will really depend on both of those quarterbacks, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. I give the slight edge to the Bills right now because of their defense and New York having a new head coach, but whoever finishes ahead of the other might really come down to Week 17 when they play in Buffalo.

Everyone knows the Dolphins are using 2019 as a rebuilding year at best, a tanking year at worst. They stripped the roster down to basically replacement players everywhere - guys who would normally be looking for work and working out for teams around the league each week. They’ll finish last; probably in the entire league.

 

  • AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s not that I don’t buy into the Cleveland Browns hype - I think they’re super talented and are going to be good. However, I don’t think they’ll be this super-team so many are making them out to be.

The Steelers are being overlooked, if that’s possible. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to be really motivated to prove he can win without Antonio Brown. The circus that was Brown and Le’Veon Bell is all gone. That will help the Steelers stay on track.

As far as Cleveland, they’ll still be a good team and fun to watch, even contend for the division. But all those new faces, strong personalities, and a first-year head coach will make it interesting to see unfold. It could go horribly wrong as much as it may go terrifically right. In the end, I don’t think they’re as ready to take over this division as many believe. Not yet.

The Baltimore Ravens are usually better than people expect. John Harbaugh is a good coach. He’ll have them contending for a playoff spot, but I’m not sold at all on Lamar Jackson at quarterback, especially considering they’ve designed the offense around his running abilities more than his passing. That doesn’t seem like the way to win to me.

Then there’s the Cincinnati Bengals, who do have a better starting 22 than most realize. But a 16-game season tests your depth, and I have a lot of questions about Zac Taylor as a head coach. In another division, I probably don’t have them last like I do here.

 

  • AFC South - Tennessee Titans

I’m going with a bit of an upset here since most are taking either the Houston Texans or Jacksonville Jaguars after the Colts lost Luck.

It’s not that I think the Titans will be great, but this will be a super tight division, and they allowed the third fewest points in the entire league last year. Head coach Mike Vrabel‘s team will play good defense, run the ball, and try to win low scoring games. Yep, old school. It won’t be sexy, but it can work in this division.

The Texans may have found a left tackle, but they’ll also find a much more difficult schedule than last year. They won 11 games in 2019, but seven of those were by one score and two were in overtime. You can only sustain that for so long. They also seem to have some organizational chaos right now, which never helps.

The Jaguars were last year‘s trendy, darling pick. Then they fell flat on their face with only five wins. They should have a bounce back season, but I’m not sure why so many think they’ll suddenly emerge as the team to beat in this division. Nick Foles will allow them to do more than Blake Bortles at quarterback, but I see their roster as pretty average overall, with an average head coach overseeing it.

 

  • AFC West - Kansas City Chiefs

It’s tough not to go against the Chiefs in this division. They are just loaded with so much talent on offense, and look to have a generational quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. They’ll put up boatloads of points once again, and probably have to win several high-scoring games like last year. But they can and will.

Every year I am on the Los Angeles Chargers train. I usually pick them to win this division and sometimes even go to the Super Bowl. I’m just not feeling it this year. I still love Philip Rivers, but with Melvin Gordon holding out, offensive tackle Russell Okung and safety Derwin James both on injured reserve, there will be some more challenges.

It seems people either think the Oakland Raiders are going to be really good or really bad. I give it more of a chance to be the latter. I’m not convinced John Gruden is the right coach for today’s NFL, and their roster certainly isn’t better than either the Chiefs or Chargers, even if they can stomach keeping Antonio Brown around. I just don’t see why they’re getting some of the love they are.

The Denver Broncos seem to be stuck in a time warp. John Elway has built his team in the mold of when, well, John Elway played. He has an immobile, older quarterback and just hired a defensive-minded, first-time head coach to pair with him. I see them as one of the bottom teams in the entire conference.

 



 
  • NFC East - Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles may have the best roster in the NFL from top-to-bottom. They also have high-end talent at the key positions. One year removed from winning the Super Bowl, they are rightfully one of the favorites to get back there in 2019.

The NFC East is always fun and challenging, but they should take this division.

The Dallas Cowboys have built their team around a terrific running back in Ezekiel Elliott. They have one of the best offensive lines in football and an underrated defense. Quarterback Dak Prescott is better than a traditional game-manager, but he’s not going to carry them. That’s why I can’t pick them to beat the Eagles, because when teams shut down their running game, I don’t see Prescott doing enough to overcome that often enough.

I go back and forth on the Washington Redskins when I think about them. Sometimes I like their roster and sometimes I don’t. They started last season 6-3, but finished by losing six of their last seven games. Injuries took a toll, but that always seems to be the case with Jay Gruden‘s team, and it may be how he structures his roster and tries to play. Now they have transition going on at the quarterback position, which is always tough. They are a middler - good enough to win a handful of games, but not good enough to be a playoff team.

Is what Daniel Jones did in the preseason for real and good enough to translate to the regular season? I guess we won’t know because even though the New York Giants puffed their chest out that they chose the right guy when so many criticize them, they’re not willing to put their money where their mouth is and start him yet. It’s Eli Manning. It’s a terrific running back in Saquon Barkley. It’s also not a very impressive wide receiver corps and a questionable offensive line. The defense wasn’t very good last year and won’t be that much improved.

 

  • NFC North - Chicago Bears

After surprising the entire football world by winning 12 games last year, the Bears are, of course, a natural pick here for most people. I think they’ll take a bit of a step back, but that defense is still loaded and they have enough weapons on offense to get to double-digit wins again and take home the division.

I’m not sure where the Minnesota Vikings are going at this point. I picked them to be really good last year and they fell flat. Now they’re changing their entire offense to help quarterback Kirk Cousins, going more to a bootleg/rollout system. Essentially, they don’t trust him and are hiding him. That’s not a good sign.

The Green Bay Packers are a bit like the Raiders for me, whereas so many people are picking them and love what they can be, while I just don’t see the huge jump. Six wins last year and now a new, young head coach in Matt LaFleur, who was the Titans offensive coordinator. The Titans were one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL last year, statistically. He was hired because he worked for Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams. I’m skeptical of this marriage between him and Aaron Rodgers, who is not easy to coach.

The Detroit Lions' offense was not that good last year, despite having Matthew Stafford at quarterback for all 16 games. They added tight end T.J. Hockenson in the draft and signed former Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers in free agency, but I don’t see enough around this roster to really make any noise here.

 

  • NFC South - New Orleans Saints

I can see so many different scenarios playing out in this division. Would it be a total shock if the Atlanta Falcons or Carolina Panthers had a really good season and won it?

I’ll still go with Drew Brees, Sean Payton and the Saints,with all of that other talent on offense, too. They’ll still be tough to stop and as long as they’re fairly consistent on defense they not only should win this division but maybe even have a shot at the Super Bowl.

Atlanta might be a bit better than they were with last year’s seven wins, but they just don’t have the horses to compete on an every-week basis in a tough division that will test depth and attrition.

The Panthers are an X-factor for me this year. I could see them having a really nice year or the type of season that causes organizational turnover. The defense was not good last year, but should be improved, especially upfront. They built a really solid defensive line. Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton together will be dynamic again, but there are question marks at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

This is a big year for quarterback Jameis Winston in Tampa and he should be helped by having new head coach Bruce Arians with him. I wouldn’t even be stunned if Arians got the Buccaneers to .500, but they’re just too limited around the roster to be anything more than that.

 

  • NFC West - Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s defense should be downright nasty, and although that’s not the blueprint to win championships now in the NFL, they also have a play-making quarterback on the other side of the ball who can get them out of trouble. This division is going to be a grind, but the Seahawks are the most equipped to deal with it.

McVay will still be creative and they have talent, but after two years with that offense lighting defenses up, the Rams aren’t taking anyone by surprise anymore and may have to start winning some lower-scoring games as defenses figure some things out. Wade Phillips is a good enough defensive coordinator to be able to do that.

Seeing what the San Francisco 49ers can do with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan calling the offense will be interesting. So far it hasn’t worked out in San Francisco the way they wanted and they are still a work in progress trying to go against teams that know who they are and are further along in the Seahawks and Rams.

The Arizona Cardinals roster lacks talent in many places. Throw in a rookie quarterback and a first-year head coach who many even question the credentials he has for being there, and Arizona is probably looking at another tough year, especially in this division with a lot of talent to go against a totally of six times.

 

AFC Wild Cards:

Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills

 

NFC Wild Cards:

Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys

 

AFC Championship:

Chiefs over Steelers

 

NFC Championship:

Eagles over Seahawks

 

Super Bowl LIV:

Philadelphia Eagles over Kansas City Chiefs

  • Andy Reid gets back to a Super Bowl, but loses to the team he coached for 14 years.

 

NFL MVP - Russell Wilson - QB - Seahawks

Offensive Player of the Year - Christian McCaffrey - RB - Panthers

Defensive Player of the Year - Myles Garrett - DE - Browns

Offensive Rookie of the Year - Josh Jacobs - RB - Raiders

Defensive Rookie of the Year - Devin Bush - LB - Steelers

Coach of the Year - Mike Tomlin - Steelers

Comeback Player of Year - Carson Wentz - QB - Eagles


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