The 2019 NFL Season: Early Thoughts

Here's a division-by-division rundown of what every team has been up to this offseason, and how it might affect their prospects for 2019.

AFC East

After losing the top seed last year, the Patriots may lose a first-round bye this year with Gronk gone, but should have little trouble notching their NFL-record 11th consecutive division title. Jets fans liked neither the hiring of head coach Adam Gase nor the selection of DT Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick, but the free-agent signing of Le'Veon Bell was a lot more popular.

The Dolphins, who let the oft-injured Ryan Tannehill depart for Tennessee in free agency and then acquired Josh Rosen from Arizona in a draft-day trade, are the longest price on the board to win the Super Bowl, and the Bills are the only team in the NFL who will not appear on prime time in 2019 (although they do get one nationally-televised game, at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day).

AFC North

Seems like everyone is picking the Browns to win this division — but hold the phone, bucko! They did not have a first-round pick due the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, and have lost 27 of their last 29 on the road.

The Ravens have been cursed at wide receiver for years, but went for both speed with Marquise Brown and size with Miles Boykin in the draft.

Look for a two-team race with the Rooneys and Mike Tomlin having lost Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and the locker room in Pittsburgh (the Steelers must also stare down the "20th Overall Pick Jinx," even though they traded up from that spot), while Zac Taylor, whose highest rank in the coaching profession had been as offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati, would appear to be in way, way over his head succeeding Marvin Lewis as head coach of the Bengals, whose taking the biggest drop in strength of schedule from what every team played last year, based on last year's records, figures to wither on the vine.

AFC South

A "worst-to-first alert" is in effect here with Nick Foles the new starting quarterback of the Jags, so the big, speedy Chris Conley, signed from the Chiefs in free agency, may finally have breakout year, while the signing of power back Alfred Blue from division foe Houston makes one wonder if they have future plans which do not include Leonard Fournette. The Texans allowed an NFL-high 62 sacks last year, so they went for offensive line help both in free agency (OT Matt Kalil) and the draft (OTs Tytus Howard in the first round and Max Scharping in the second).

The Colts picked up possession receiver Devin Funchess and edge rusher Justin Houston in free agency, and while trading out of the first round of the draft, they got obvious first-round talent in Round 2 in the form of arch-speed receiver Parris Campbell, who will form a deadly combo with T.Y. Hilton.

You gotta feel bad for the Titans. Somebody has to finish last in this loaded division — and with Foles in Jacksonville, it's almost certain to be them, at about 7-9.

AFC West

Kareem Hunt is already gone, and Tyreek Hill is very likely gone, from the Chiefs — and while second-round pick Mecole Hardman is arguably a suitable replacement for the latter, no way can journeyman free-agent signee Carlos Hyde possibly supplant the former.

Nothing jumped off the page about either the free-agent signings or the draft picks of the Chargers, but the losses of Hunt and Hill to their only serious rivals have enabled them to inherit the role of division favorites.

Joe Flacco climbs aboard Denver's post-Peyton Manning QB merry-ground, where he will stay until second-round pick Drew Lock is ready to cause mass confusion among fans and announcers alike, and when the Broncos drafted tight end Noah Fant out of Iowa in the first round it meant that two tight ends from Iowa were drafted in Round 1 (T.J. Hockenson went to the Lions 12 picks earlier).

The Raiders showed their usual fondness for speed receivers by not only trading for Antonio Brown but also signing J.J. Nelson in free agency, but of their three first-round picks only one was used on a so-called skill-position player, RB Josh Jacobs. They also signed free-agent OT Trent Brown. Do they know that they will not be permitted to rename themselves the Las Vegas Browns if and when that move actually happens?

NFC East

Don't expect the Eagles to rank 28th in the league in yards rushing per game or 24th in yards per completion again in 2019 — not with the trades that have brought Jordan Howard and DeSean Jackson (again) to town, and the drafting of Saquon Barkley's understudy Miles Sanders in the second round (he might have gone in the first round if not for the present league-wide bias against picking running backs in the first round). No defending champion of this division has repeated since 2004, and don't bet on it happening this year, either, especially with the Eagles having gotten to make three picks in the draft before the Cowboys even made one.

In Washington, the selection of Dwayne Haskins in the first round, coupled with the trade for Case Keenum to back him up, almost certainly spells the end of Alex Smith's stay in the nation's capital and very likely his career, while the head coach (Pat Shurmur, actually hired last year) and first-round draft choice (Duke QB Daniel Jones) are no more popular with the fans of the NFC's MetLife Stadium tenant than their counterparts are with the fans of the AFC's.

NFC North

Yes, the Bears have tons of things of going against them: their strength of schedule goes up by an imposing 90 percentage points (the Texans take the second steepest rise, 56); and already bereft of their first-round pick pursuant to the Khalil Mack trade, they traded out of the second round on draft day. Only one team lacking both a first- and second-round pick has ever won the Super Bowl (the '02 Buccaneers). But the quarterback of the only serious pursuer in their division is 34-38-2 as a starter, 5-13 on prime time, and 5-26 against over-.500 teams. If Matthew Stafford finishes the season and Aaron Rodgers doesn't, the Lions finish third. If Rodgers finishes the season and Stafford doesn't, the Packers finish third.

NFC South

Once upon a time no champion of this division could ever repeat. Then Carolina won it three years in a row from 2013 through 2015, and now New Orleans has a shot at a three-bagger. The Saints were forced to watch the first round of the draft from the sidelines because of a 2018 draft-day trade-up for DE Marcus Davenport — but when they got to the Final Four, the deal ended up not costing them much.

The Panthers have parted ways with both Kalil brothers — Matt to the Texans, Ryan to retirement — but signed Matt Paradis in free agency to replace Ryan. The Falcons ranked 28th in yards allowed and 25th in points allowed a year ago, yet four of their seven free-agent signings and both of their first two draft picks were on offense.

Bruce Arians is off to a puzzling start to say the least in Tampa Bay, signing Breshad Perriman, who does have blazing speed but has been injured more often than not, in an effort to replace DeSean Jackson, who he inexplicably traded away for essentially nothing — and in the draft, Arians certainly kept his promise not to draft for need.

NFC West

It's Super Bowl Runner-Up Jinx time for the Rams, and we all know what that means to any team not named the Patriots, and Pete Carroll should have gotten Coach of the Year for the job he did with the Seahawks. But both teams are nervously looking over their shoulders at the 49ers, who will make it a three-way battle if Jimmy Garoppolo can make a full recovery from the dreaded torn ACL, especially since they also came away with the highly talented and equally controversial Nick Bosa (he and his older brother, Joey Bosa of the Chargers, are great-grandsons of Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo, although that's not the reason why he's controversial) with the draft's second overall pick.

The way the Cardinals treated Josh Rosen was kind of shabby — maybe just a little around the edges — and Kyler Murray better end up being a multiple All-Pro after showing up to the draft wearing that pink suit.

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