NFL Fans seem to be freaking out over pre-season games. The only goal in pre-season is to make sure your team goes into the season health. For all those who are overthinking their team, take a page out of Aaron Rodgers vocabulary. R-E-L-A-X.
New England Patriots (2017 record, 13-3): 2018 Prediction, 13-3.
New England is coming into the 2018 season with a chip on their shoulder. The Patriots gave up 41 points and lost the Super Bowl to a backup quarterback in Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. Tom Brady is 41-years-old and does not appear to be slowing down. In 2017, Brady threw for 4.577 yards, completed 66% of his passes and had 32 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. Brady should get a boost at running back with rookie Sony Michel from Georgia. Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry and had 12 touchdowns with the Bulldogs last year. Julian Edelman returns from and injury and should be Brady’s security blanket along with Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots may have the deepest group of receivers Brady has ever had. Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett should all play a pivotal role in the offense.
The Patriots defense is not elite. Their lack of team speed was exposed in the Super Bowl. Getting Dont’a Hightower back from injury should help them in that department. This defense will get better during the 2nd half of the season but this team’s strength will be their offense. Once again, The Pats are the class of the AFC East.
Los Angeles Chargers (2017 record, 9-7) Prediction 11-5:
Every year, the Chargers have a 3 week stretch where they look like the best team in the NFL. They also have a 3 game stretch where they look like the worst team in the NFL.
I can’t believe I am predicting them to win this division…but I am. Phillip Rivers had a great season in 2017. He threw for 4,515 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Rivers avoided the big turn over for most of the year. He has tremendous help on offense. Keenan Allen had 102 catches, 1,393 yards and 6 touchdowns. Running back, Melvin Gordon had over 1,400 combined yards with 12 touchdowns. The Chargers were ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing but they added Center Mark Pouncey and that will help them.
The Chargers general manager give his defensive a huge boost. Tom Telesco took safety Derwin James, pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu, defensive tackle Justin Jones and linebacker Kyzir White. Joey Bosa had 70 total tackles and 12.5 sacks. Pro Bowl, Defensive Back, Casey Hayward is one of the best defensive backs that no one talks about. This team should be able to score a ton of points and they should be able to get a ton of “three and outs” on defense.
Tennessee Titans (Last season record,9-7): Prediction…11-5.
Mike Vrabel is now leading the Titans on the sidelines and has hired a very qualified staff. Matt LaFleur is the offensive coordinator and will do great things for Marcus Mariota. LaFleur spent the 2017 season as the Rams offensive coordinator and helped Los Angeles rank first in the NFL in scoring and 10th in total offense. He spent four season as the Atlanta Falcons quarterback coach and helped Matt Ryan become an all-pro player.
Dan Pees will be the defensive coordinator, he spent the past 5 years running the Baltimore Ravens defense and helped them win a Super Bowl in 2012.
After 2 solid seasons under center, Mariota took a huge step back in 2017. There offense was boring and predictable but let me make this perfectly clear. This is a make or break year for Mariota. We saw signs of what he can do in the 2nd half of their wildcard playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mariota has all the skills to be an elite quarterback and LaFleur should implement an up-tempo, high powered offense. Mariota should pass for over 3500 yards and rush for at least 500 yards, and have over 33 combines touchdowns. I like the young and improving wide receiving group and the addition of Dion Lewis, from the Patriots, should help their passing and running attack. TE, Dealnie Walker is still very solid and had 74 receptions last year.
The Titans should improve defensively. General manager Jon Robinson was aggressive acquiring rookie linebackers, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans and Boston College sack artist Harold Landry. The acquisition of defensive back Malcolm Butler was one of the most underrated moves by any team in the off-season. Butler should add leadership,experience and bring a long a championship pedigree from New England. I expect Pees to bring a toughness and discipline to this defense that might have been lacking over the past few seasons.
On paper, the Titans have had one of the best off-seasons of any team. I love their coaching staff, their young draft picks and their free agent signings.
If he stays healthy, Mariota would be a great, late 2nd round pick in your fantasy football draft. If Tennessee won 9 games under Mularkey, imagine what they can do with Vrabel. I expect the former New England Patriots linebacker to get some coach of the year votes.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Season record, 13-3): Prediction 12-4.
The AFC north may be the worst division in all of football. The Bengals, Browns and Ravens should all struggle to win more than 9 games. For all the criticism of Mike Tomlin he has reached the playoffs 8 out of 11 years. He has a combined record of 116-60. For the 1st time since 2011. Ben Roethlisberger will be working with a different offensive coordinator. Gone is Todd Haley in is former quarterback coach Randy Fichtner. WR, Antonio Brown continues to be one of the leagues best pass catchers and Le’Veon Bell is the best “Dual Threat” RB in the NFL. The Steelers will rely heavily on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s. He had a break out rookie year and will need to elevate his game to become a legitimate #2 option in the passing game.
The Steelers should lead the league in points scored.
Cameron Heyward made the 2018 Pro Bowl and had 12 sacks last season. Pittsburgh signed Jon Bostic via free-agency. In 14 games with the Indianapolis Colts last season, Bostic had 97 total tackles.
This is a team that should cruise through the AFC North. Do they have enough on defense to get to the Super Bowl?
Wild Card Contenders:
Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Championships Game
Chargers vs. Patriots
Follow The Sports Whisperer on Twitter: MonteAJP23