2019 NFL Season Preview

Predicted records in parentheses

AFC East

New England Patriots (12-4) — Baseball's Atlanta Braves won their division 11 years in a row, from 1995 through 2005. The Pats have a shot at tying that mark this year — and should do it.

New York Jets (9-7) — Their last five head coaches all had winning seasons in their first year — and with Le'Veon Bell climbing aboard, that streak, too, should remain intact. But so should their current streak of eight years in a row not making the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills (4-12) — New York State's Only Team is also the only team that will not appear on prime time this season — although they do get one appearance on national television, at Jerry World on Thanksgiving Day.

Miami Dolphins (2-14) — George Allen in reverse! Where Allen was noted for mortgaging the future for quick fixes, they're mortgaging their present for the future. As of now they will have 13 picks in the 2020 draft — and the way they're going, "20 in '20" can't be ruled out.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns (10-6) — It is too fashionably decadent not to pick them to make the playoffs, for which winning this underwhelming division is the easiest route. But their complete lack of playoff experience (they last made it all the way back in 2002) is going to cost them dearly, and will likely lead to a home loss in a wild card game.

Baltimore Ravens (9-7) — Lamar Jackson is the new Bobby Douglass — last year, he threw for 1,201 yards while rushing for 695 in seven starts, with the team ranking second in the league in rushing and 22nd in passing on the season. With Jackson presumably starting all 16 games this season, those rankings are liable to be first and 32nd.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9) — The Rooneys debunked the maxim that you cannot unring a Bell, and they did nothing to shore up a running game that ranked 31st in the league last year without him. Antonio Brown is gone too — and so will Mike Tomlin, at the end of the season if not sooner. Plus the dreaded "20th Overall Pick Jinx" applies to them, even though they did trade up from that spot on draft day.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-11) — Marvin Lewis was long overdue to go. But Zac Taylor? And the bloom is off Andy Dalton's rose, too. Even the league's biggest drop in strength of schedule — their 2018 opponents went .535, their 2019 foes .473 in '18 — won't help because they are simply going the wrong way.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) — The [Nick] Foles Fever in northern Florida is perfectly justified. Only knock is at the wide receiver position, where somebody will need to step up. A rematch of Super Bowl LII, only this time we'll have to settle for it being in the AFC title game, would be epic.

Houston Texans (10-6) — All that quick fixing that Bill O'Brien just did won't mean a blessed thing if Deshaun Watson doesn't stay healthy, and let's not forget about Lamar Miller's season-ending injury in one of those lovely exhibition games. It would have to add up to at least their first Final Four appearance in franchise history to be worth it — and that almost certainly won't happen.

Tennessee Titans (8-8) — Stuck on 9-7, where they have finished the last three years, making the playoffs in only one of them. They might not even manage that this year.

Indianapolis Colts (3-13) — They owe it to their fans to make an honest effort to save their season in the wake of Andrew Luck's sudden retirement — whether it's signing Colin Kaepernick, trading for Eli Manning, or even signing Brock Osweiler, who is 16-16 as a starter, compared with Jacoby Brissett's 5-12. The NFL needs to go to a draft lottery system — NOWWWWW!

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers (11-5) — Gained ground on the Chiefs during the offseason not for anything they did, but for what the Chiefs did, or had done to them — see Tyreek Hill's girlfriend's "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy," which made them draft a potential replacement for Hill in the second round when otherwise that pick would have been used on defense. Philip Rivers might have to put it up a bit more than usual if Melvin Gordon succeeds in coming up with trade terms that management agrees to.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) — And Patrick Mahomes will definitely have to put it up a lot more than usual with Kareem Hunt gone (Hunt had 824 yards in 11 games in 2018 before he was released) and their being so desperate for help at running back that they signed the obviously washed-up LeSean McCoy after he was cut by Buffalo. The NFL record for most pass attempts in a season is 727 by Matthew Stafford in 2012. Look for Mahomes to crush it — if he stays healthy.

Denver Broncos (7-9) — At least we won't have to hear Drew Lock confused with Andrew Luck now that Luck has retired and Lock has been placed on injured reserve due to a torn ligament in his thumb suffered in the exhibition finale. So now it's up to Joe Flacco, who is 24-27 as a starter since 2015 after having gone 82-45 from 2008 through 2014, to keep this team competitive — and there are way too many other teams in the AFC that have better chances.

Oakland Raiders (5-11) — If it was just about any other team that had three first-round draft picks, one would say look out for them. But not this thoroughly incompetent organization, which has no doubt also come down with a serious case of buyer's remorse when it comes to Antonio Brown.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) — Last year, Dallas had the second meeting against them at home. This year, they have it — and they made three picks in the draft before Dallas even made one. And now it looks as if Ezekiel Elliott is gonna pull a Le'Veon Bell — and DeSean Jackson is back home again. Only question is how far Carson Wentz, who has still never appeared in a playoff game, can take them.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) — Jerry Jones had better come to his senses and pay Elliott what he's worth before he turns this entire season, and perhaps beyond, into one big dumpster fire. They also have a 57-percentage-point swing in strength of schedule going against them, along with the fact that no NFC East champion has repeated since 2004 — and they're the defending division champion.

New York Giants (7-9) — True, it was only preseason and he played his college ball at a basketball school, but Daniel Jones couldn't have been more impressive therein, making the fans who booed his selection with the sixth overall pick look awfully silly. But just about every other unit on this team is going to need to show significant, if not massive, improvement before we can even start talking about playoff contention.

Washington Redskins (6-10) — A team with the same basic trajectory as the Bengals. They're going the wrong way — and Jay Gruden will always be Jon Gruden's little brother.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (10-6) — Traded away both their first and second-round picks in the 2019 draft — and you have to go all the way back to the '02 Buccaneers to find a team lacking both a No. 1 and a No. 2 that won the Super Bowl. And their strength of schedule is going up by a staggering 90 percentage points — from a league-easiest .430 last year to .520 this year, using last year's records in both cases. Ouch!

Minnesota Vikings (9-7) — Kirk Cousins is 34-38-2 as a starter, and also 5-13 on prime time and 5-26 lifetime against over-.500 teams — in other words, he's as weak as they come in the clutch. Third-year RB Dalvin Cook must stay healthy after an ACL tear aborted his rookie season after just four games, and hamstring problems cost him five games last year.

Detroit Lions (7-9) — They have not ranked in the top half of the league in rushing offense since 1998 (the Curse of Barry Sanders!), which only puts that much more pressure on Matthew Stafford. Lacking marquee talent at wide receiver, as well, they loaded up at tight end, investing both a major free-agent signing (ex-Steeler Jesse James) and a first-round draft pick (tight end T.J. Hockenson) at the position.

Green Bay Packers (6-10) — Lost valuable veteran leadership in the offseason (55 games', 43 starts' worth on defense alone), most notably linebacker Clay Matthews. Defense hasn't finished in the top 10 since 2010, and Aaron Rodgers now has to brush off the "diva" label. It just seems as if someone has pushed the "Down" button on their elevator.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (12-4) — This used to be a division where no champion ever repeated since it was created in the 2002 realignment until Carolina won it three times in a row from 2013 through 2015. Now they have a shot at pulling off the hat track — but of course they're focused on the Super Bowl trip they were so blatantly denied last year.

Carolina Panthers (9-7) — Lost twice to Atlanta last year — and as a result, they get to play the Redskins and the Packers this year while the Falcons will have the play the Eagles and the Vikings. That could make the difference as to who finishes second in the division — but will even the second-place team make the playoffs?

Atlanta Falcons (8-8) — In addition to facing a tougher schedule than the Panthers, they also have a much weaker defense than they do, ranking 28th in total defense, 25th against the run, and 27th against the pass a year ago to Carolina's 15th, 12th, and 18th, respectively. Matt Ryan has yet to miss a start in this decade, with 153 starts in 153 games, including 9 out of 9 in the playoffs — and only Philip Rivers, with 219 out of 219, has a longer active streak.

Tampa Bay Bucaneers (4-12) — Bruce Arians is supposed to love throwing the ball downfield — so why did he simply throw DeSean Jackson away? And going to a 3-4 defense for a more attacking style? We all know what the late Buddy Ryan said about that. Jameis Winston is on pace to be the biggest bust since Jamarcus Russell.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams (11-5) — For any team not named the New England Patriots, the Super Bowl Runner-Up Jinx has been deadly: Since the Bills lost those four Super Bowls to start the '90s, it was not until the 2011 Pats that a Super Bowl loser so much as reached the conference championship game the following year, then the 49ers did it the year after that, and New England won the Super Bowl last year after having lost it in 2017. So we'll go with the Elite Eight as their ceiling, with the Saints and Eagles preventing them from getting any further.

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) — They were first in the league in rushing a year ago, and 27th in passing — but Russell Wilson is a perfect 125 starts in 125 lifetime games, including 13 in the playoffs, and is 83-41-1 as a starter. You can't ask for much more than that. But they must play the second meeting vs. the Rams on the road again this year; otherwise, they would have had real chances of winning the division.

San Francisco 49ers (8-8) — The verdict is decidedly mixed on how Jimmy Garoppolo's rehab is going, and Nick Bosa has already used the idiot's platform known as Twitter to say things that were bound to anger his mostly black teammates, along with the overwhelming majority of this team's hyper-progressive fan base.

Arizona Cardinals (4-12) — Kliff Kingsbury? Kyle Kingsbury was a better MMA fighter — but he will be thankful for the Dolphins and the Colts.

Playoffs (Home teams in CAPS)

AFC Wild Card — L.A. CHARGERS over Houston; Kansas City over CLEVELAND

NFC Wild Card — L.A. RAMS over Seattle; CHICAGO over Dallas

AFC Semifinals — NEW ENGLAND over Kansas City; JACKSONVILLE over L.A. Chargers

NFC Semifinals — NEW ORLEANS over Chicago; PHILADELPHIA over L.A. Rams

AFC Championship — NEW ENGLAND over Jacksonville

NFC Championship — NEW ORLEANS over Philadelphia

Super Bowl XLIV — New England over New Orleans

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