The NFL season kicks off in just under a month, but the hype has been building since the last snap of Super Bowl 52. Teams are seemingly getting more and more talented from top to bottom, and it’s hard to differentiate elite from good, decent from mediocre, and so forth. Scheduling has a lot to do with it, as many great teams have tough road schedules and may end up with a worse record than their talent level would indicate.
For the next three weeks, let’s go division by division, analyzing each team. Let’s see which ones will make the playoffs, struggle to get to an even record, contend for a Super Bowl, or just downright suck. We start with the NFC South…
New Orleans Saints
2017 Record: 11-5
2018 Prediction: 14-2
“Oh, when the Saints, go marching in…” Will the Saints miss Mark Ingram’s running talent for the first four games? Hard to say, they got star running back Alvin Kamara, and perhaps they will go with a pass-heavy attack out of the gate. Overall, this team is loaded. Hall of Fame QB? Check. Great coach? Check. Solid receiving core? Check. Versatile defense? Check. The NFC South is usually a hotly contested division, but I have the Saints walking away with it this year.
2017 Record: 10-6
2018 Prediction: 12-4
Twelve wins would win most divisions in football, and that being said, the Falcons would be a division winner in most years. Former MVP Matt Ryan remains an elite thrower of the football and wideout Julio Jones is arguably the best receiver in football. Pair that with a strong offensive line and a steady ground attack, the Falcons offense is raring to go. The only major question is their secondary. Although a strong front-seven will alleviate some pressure, their corners and safeties need to stop enough passes to get off the field on third down. Luckily, they don’t face a ton of pass heavy teams in the middle of the schedule, so I expect a win streak long enough to push this team into the wild card.
2017 Record: 11-5
2018 Prediction: 7-9
Many expect that the hire of Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator will bolster the Panther’s offense, and perhaps bring Cam back to MVP form. I think otherwise. Carolina has a stout defense spearheaded by Luke Kuechly, but it’s the other side of the ball that has me concerned. Even in 2015, Cam was a mediocre passer at best. He relies too heavily on his size and athleticism to move the ball downfield. That may work sometimes, especially on weaker and less-prepared teams, but in a matchup with strong competition, he’ll be figured out early and stopped. Football has been compared to chess, and it usually feel like Carolina’s offense is still playing checkers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017 Record: 5-11
2018 Prediction: 1-15
TRAINWRECK! Say it with me… TRAINWRECK! Your quarterback has been charged with assault of an Uber driver and will miss the first month of the season. That’s not what has me most concerned though. Even when Jameis Winston is on the football field, he is known for lackluster performances. Looking down the depth chart, it’s a whole lot of “Who? They’re still playing?” and “Boy, that guy sucks!” I feel bad for Mike Evans, I really do. He’s a talented wideout, who needs to find an equally talented QB to toss him the ball. Then again, he just signed a contract extension until 2024, so he knows what he’s getting into. Defensively, the Buccaneers have a decent front seven, but even their secondary leaves much to be desired. If Tampa Bay is to win any football games this year, it’ll have to be by scoring the ball on defense. Either that, or Jameis Winston calls a cab and leaves town. For good.
Check back in later this week for a preview of the NFC East
Danny Lovell – Contributor – WTF Sports