By Allan Erickson:
We’re almost there, you guys! Football is right around the corner, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. After the Eagles Super Bowl win, I’ll predict division winners, and my preseason picks for Super Bowl LIII. Let’s start with the NFC, I’ll make my AFC picks next week.
We’ll start in the NFC South, the best division in football over the last 15 seasons. Since 2003, the Saints have the best record in the division at 131-109, the Panthers are 1/2 game back of that at 130-109-1, and the Falcons are 1/2 game back of the Panthers at 130-110. There’s no other division in football that has that kind of consistency at the top. This division is a coin flip, and as long as Brees, Cam, and Matty Ice are the starting quarterbacks, it will continue to be hugely competitive.
Winner: New Orleans Saints- 12-4, the Saints finally built a solid defense around Drew Brees, they also have the best 1-2 running back combination in football. No one can deny Drew Brees’ greatness; however, now we’re seeing Brees on the latter end of his career, getting the help he’s wanted and needed for the duration of his career. This team could really make some noise this year, barring injury, the Saints take the division in 2018-2019.
Wild Card: Carolina Panthers- 11-5, The Panthers had a busy offseason, losing a key part of the run game I. Andrew Norwell, but adding a lot of speed and depth on the offensive side. Newcomer DJ Moore looks like a solid first-round pick, veteran additions such as CJ Anderson, Jarvis Wright, and Torrey Smith, this offense looks a lot like the one that took the Panthers to the super bowl a few seasons ago; and the defense will continue to be a top-10 staple as it has since head coach Ron Rivera took over.
Atlanta Falcons- 10-6 (no playoffs) I like the Falcons roster, and the addition of young wideout Calvin Ridley will learn a lot from veterans like Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The defense continues to grow and be formidable under Dan Quinn, but the Falcons come up a game short this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 6-10 (no playoffs) Oh Jameis… another miscue for the once National Champion at Florida State. This guy just can’t seem to get out of his own way. Hopefully, he’ll grow up, and stop making boneheaded mistakes, but he may not be with the Bucs much longer. Another immature antic from Winston, and he’ll likely be looking for a new home. There’s only so much humiliation Bucs’ fans can take before enough is enough. Too many distractions on this team for them to make any noise this year. I expect them to be competitive, but not a good football team in the W/L column.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings- 12-4, There are times when you look at a team and say, “they need a quarterback, and they’re in the super bowl.” That was Minnesota last year. While Case Keenum performed admirably last season, the Vikings now have a great quarterback to pair with a nasty defense, and perhaps the best Wide Receiver combination in the NFL with Stefan Diggs and Adam Thielen. I expect big things from the Vikes this season.
Wild Card: Green Bay Packers- 11-5, Does anybody expect Aaron Rodgers to miss the playoffs two seasons in a row? Neither do I. The Pack get back on track this year, and the addition of Jimmy Graham will help Rodgers while resurrecting the career of someone who was once considered the best tight end in the game. A scary offense with 12-gauge leading the way.
Detroit Lions- 9-7, (no playoffs) Matthew Stafford continues to put up excellent numbers despite the lack of a running game. The Lions will struggle again to establish a rushing attack, making their offense one dimensional. The defense is still solid, and the Lions will lose a lot of close games this year, chalk it up to lack of possession offense.
Chicago Bears- 6-10, (no playoffs) I’m a huge believer of Mitch Trubisky, as well as the running back combo of Jordan Howard and Talik Cohen, however the Bears aren’t ready to take the steps this year, next year I expect them to compete and potentially make the playoffs, but they’re still a year away.
Winner: Dalla… NOT…. of course, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles 11-5. Philly has been flying high since winning the Super Bowl. Many were expecting Nick Foles to be traded because the face of the franchise, Carson Wentz is expected to return in full form this season. The reason the Eagles take this division is because the front office decided to keep Nick Foles. Now, the Eagles have a chance to establish Jay Ajayi on the ground, let their defense win the first few games, and have confidence that Nick Foles will be able to keep the seat warm until Wentz is 100% ready to go. The Eagles don’t have to rush their starting quarterback back into the line of fire. If he needs until week 6-7, that’s fine, they have a backup that can win them ballgames until Carson gets back. Brilliant move by Philly’s front office.
New York Giants, 10-6, (no playoffs), I’m a firm believer that Saquon Barkley was the best player drafted in 2018. He’s one of the best athletes we’ve seen. OBJ showed up to training camp, on time, in shape, and ready to play great football. The problem with this team is going to be the defense. Two seasons ago, the Giants fielded a top-5 defense in every statistical category. Last year, the defense declined drastically, and there was a beef in the secondary that seems to be lingering. I’d like to see Eli make another postseason run, but I don’t think the defense is ready to take the G-men to the playoffs this season.
Dallas Cowboys, 9-7, (no playoffs), I’ll be honest, I don’t hate the Cowboys like most non-cowboy fans do. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliot continues to be the workhorse back that Dallas expected when they drafted him. However, the Cowboys lost a lot of weapons on offense, Jason Witten retired, Dez Bryant was released, Ryan Switzer was traded to Oakland. The defense will keep them in games, but there’s not enough firepower on offense to take this division.
Washington Redskins, 6-10, (no playoffs) I don’t see too many positives for the Redskins this season. They lost Kirk Cousins, invested a ton of money in what turned out to be a system cornerback in Josh Norman, and can’t seem to stay healthy. Jordan Reed is a wonderful tight end and a great athlete, Jameson Crowder is a good slot receiver, and I love the effort Ryan Kerrigan brings to each and every game. That being said, it looks like another down year for the Redskins.
Winner- Los Angeles Rams- 13-3, (home field) this is the year. Todd Gurley bounced back from an injury 2 seasons ago to establish himself as one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. Jared Goff will take another step in becoming an elite quarterback. The additions of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, and Ndamukong Suh, add to an already stout defense, with the best defensive player in football wrecking opposing offensive lines (Aaron Donald), the sky is the limit for this team.
This may be where I shock you.
San Fransisco 49ers, 10-6, (no playoffs) I’m a believer. I think Jimmy Garoppolo will bring this team back, but they won’t make the playoffs this season. Anyway, a huge step in the right direction this season and the 49ers will return to relevance. The acquisition of Richard Sherman will be a huge boost for a young secondary needing a vocal leader, and a trash-talking presence.
Seattle Seahawks, 6-10, (no playoffs) No more Legion of Boom. Kam Chancellor retired, Earl Thomas is a no-show at camp, and the aforementioned Sherman is no longer a Seahawk. I love Russell Wilson and the way he plays the game, but since the departure of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks haven’t had a running game, and have put too much pressure on Russell. It may be Pete Carroll’s final season in Seattle, his record speaks for itself, but when an era ends, it usually means the ousting of a coach.
Arizona Cardinals, 5-11, (no playoffs) I’m anxious for the return of David Johnson, but I’m uneasy about the quarterback situation in Arizona. There’s something fishy about a quarterback taken 10th overall by the Cardinals, especially one that came from California (I’m looking at you, Matt Leinhart.) Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon? Who’s going to be the starter? We’ve seen rookie quarterbacks be thrown into the fire too quickly, never gain the confidence they need to play at a high level, but do the Cardinals have much more of a choice? Sam Bradford is like a box of glass, very unreliable in terms of health, and if they’re going to trot out Mike Glennon, they may as well forfeit the games and not risk injuring anyone. I don’t have very high hopes for the Cardinals this season.
Playoffs: Wild Card Round
Carolina at Philadelphia
Philly wins in the cold- 28-20
Green Bay at Minnesota
Minnesota takes care of arch-rival Green Bay to advance.
Minnesota at New Orleans
The Saints take advantage of an extra week of rest and amend last year’s last-second loss to the Vikings.
Philadelphia at Los Angeles
Rams beat Philly in a close game to advance to the NFC Championship game.
New Orleans at Los Angeles
This is tough. I can’t stand either of these teams. But I have to go with my gut. The Rams are too talented to not reach the Super Bowl. Rams advance to Super Bowl LLIII.
Lookout next week when I preview the AFC and pick the conference champion, and who will take on the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Until next time, Allan Erickson, signing off.