Archive for September, 2018

Week Four Picks

September 27th, 2018 Comments off

Damned underdogs.

That’s where I’m placing the blame for my horrific performance in week three. I’m not sure you could call it upset week — hell, I’m not inclined to believe you could call any week three upset week — but it’s nonetheless true that six underdogs won outright last week. Four of them did it on the road. And one of those teams, the Buffalo Bills, was getting most of three scores (16.5 points) going in. There’s no picking a team like that to win it straight up. Just isn’t.

Of course, it’s also possible that I’m just a dunce. I’ll let you weigh the possibilities while I point out that I finished the week at 7-9 both straight up and against the spread. That brings my season numbers to 26-20-2 (.563) straight up and 22-25-1 (.458) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can’t manage to creep even closer to the Mendoza Line this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Minnesota (+7) at LA Rams
The Vikings need a big win to rebound from the beatdown the Bills put on them on Sunday. Not exactly the circumstances under which you want to travel on short rest to face the Rams. Los Angeles by 17.

Miami (+7) at New England
I’m not sure I’d give a touchdown to the Dolphins in September (maybe December in Foxborough) even if the Patriots hadn’t stunk up the field in each of their last two games. I definitely wouldn’t give seven here. At the same time, though, I’m not overly impressed with the path Miami has taken to 3-0. New England by three.

Houston (+1) at Indianapolis
The Colts don’t look to me like a team that can succeed against top-tier opponents. But the Texans aren’t a top-tier opponent. The Texans are toast. Indianapolis by four.

Cincinnati (+5.5) at Atlanta
These teams may be more evenly matched than I imagined four weeks ago. I’m still taking the home team. But I wouldn’t give more than a field goal.

Buffalo (+10) at Green Bay
With Josh Allen starting behind center, the Bills may be capable of more than anyone expected. Winning against a heavily favored opponent in a road game for a second straight week? I don’t think they’re up to that quite yet. Packers by nine.

Detroit (+3) at Dallas
There are a lot of ways one can look at the Lions’ destruction of the Patriots on Sunday night. I, for one, believe I saw a team that should have been better than its 0-2 start finally buying into its new head coach’s approach and playing disciplined football. Add to that the fact that the Cowboys have been wholly unimpressive thus far this season and I’m looking for an upset here. Lions by a point.

NY Jets (+7.5) at Jacksonville
With their letdown game behind them, I expect the Jaguars to get back to business. Jacksonville by 10.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Chicago
Here’s how this game is going to prove harmful to the Buccaneers: They’re going to lose and the loss is going to be pinned on Ryan Fitzpatrick, opening the door for Jameis Winston to retake the role of starting QB. In reality, the loss is going to be the fault of the Tampa Bay defense. But for the rest of the season the conversation in Tampa is going to revolve around which quarterback is more of a disappointment, all while the Bucs D continues to sputter. And nothing will get fixed. Bears by six.

Philadelphia (-4) at Tennessee
Whichever team discovers the magical football quality called “offense” wins. I’ve gotta think that’s Philadelphia. Eagles by three.

Seattle (-3) at Arizona
I’m confident Josh Rosen is going to have his moments in this game. Rosen’s a talented guy. And the Seahawks at best are an uneven team. But I don’t think any one player is turning the 2018 Cardinals around. Seattle by four.

Cleveland (+2.5) at Oakland
I’m not 100 percent on this, so, you know, don’t quote me or anything, but I think the last time the Browns won two straight, their quarterback was Otto Graham. Of course, since the Oakland defense is a complete shambles … nah, actually, I still can’t pull the trigger. Raiders by one.

San Francisco (+10.5) at LA Chargers
The 2018 San Francisco 49ers put all of their offensive eggs in one basket. C.J. Beathard is not that basket. Chargers by 13.

New Orleans (-3.5) at NY Giants
Drew Brees has been lighting up questionable defenses, which has covered up the Saints own defensive struggles. I don’t believe the Giants’ D is likely to make things easy for Brees, though. And to my mind, that means this game comes down to whether Eli Manning can avoid making stupid mistakes. In New Jersey, anyhow, I’m inclined to think he can. Giants by a field goal.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh
Nothing I’ve seen from the Steelers this season has been remotely impressive. Ravens by four.

Kansas City (-5) at Denver
The Chiefs’ lack of balance is going to catch up with them at some point. But not this point. Kansas City by seven.

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Week Three Picks

September 20th, 2018 Comments off

Enough with the ties already, NFL. This is not soccer. Or hockey. No one wants to see this nonsense. Bring back the full-length overtime period. Extend it if you have to. Just have these teams play until one of them wins.

Or maybe I should welcome ties. At least with those games, I can pretend my picks were half right. And that’s something I could have used more of in week two.

I wrapped up last week 9-6-1 straight up, 7-9 against the spread. For the season, that gets me to 19-11-2 (.625) and 15-16-1 (.484) respectively.

Let’s see how much worse it can get in week three. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+3) at Cleveland
Ugh. The Jets are not a good football team. But neither are the Browns, who haven’t won a game since Christmas Eve of 2016. I know the short week favors the home team and all that, but I just can’t bring myself to pick Cleveland. Can’t. Jets by a point.

New Orleans (+3) at Atlanta
The home team rebounded from a tough road loss to the defending champs in the season opener with a win over another tough opponent at home in week two. The road team rebounded from a humiliating week one home loss with a narrow week two win at home over the Browns. If I need to have faith in one of these squads at this point, I’m going with the Falcons. Atlanta by six.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Kansas City
If the 49ers want Jimmy Garoppolo to lead them to a Super Bowl, they may want to invest some time in figuring out how to keep him on his feet. I can’t remember the last successful team that exposed its quarterback to a 72-sack season. Chiefs by four.

Oakland (+3) at Miami
I’m still not buying into the idea that the Dolphins are a good football team. But I’m totally in on the idea that the Raiders are a bad one. Miami by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+16.5) at Minnesota
Bills quarterbacks have taken a combined 11 sacks this season. Josh Allen has been on the pancaked end of eight of those. That translates, for Allen, to an absolutely brutal sack percentage of 14.3.

sack percentage tweet

The Vikings defense, meanwhile, has recorded seven sacks thus far this season. That’s an 8.5% sack rate, roughly once every 12 times an opposing quarterback has dropped back. This, in case you were wondering, is not a promising combination of factors for Buffalo. I’m still not giving three scores, though. Vikings by 14.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Philadelphia
You have to figure Carson Wentz is going to need a bit of time to shake off the rust, right? So let’s figure maybe the Eagles win this one by just four.

Cincinnati (+3) at Carolina
The Bengals can’t win every game they play 34-23. Maybe this week they’ll lose by that score. Panthers by 11.

Denver (+5.5) at Baltimore
Sure, 2-0 is a nice start to a season. But a pair of narrow home wins over mediocre and bad opponents doesn’t ultimately mean that much. I’m not sure the Ravens are a great team, but they’re the best the Broncos will have faced this season. And I expect it to show. Baltimore by six.

NY Giants (+6) at Houston
I guess I’ll go with the unproven home team over the unproven road team. Texans by a field goal.

Tennessee (+7.5) at Jacksonville
The Titans’ only hope here is that the Jaguars are in for a letdown game after their big week two Super Bowl victory. I don’t think it’ll be enough. Jacksonville by five.

Green Bay (-3) at Washington
I suspect the Packers could win this one even if Aaron Rodgers had to play on crutches. Green Bay by four.

LA Chargers (+7) at LA Rams
The Chargers should prove a tad harder to stop than the Raiders and Cardinals. Which, of course, is to say absolutely nothing. Rams by six.

Chicago (-6) at Arizona
We all knew the Cardinals were going to be bad this season. But I don’t think many of us realized they were going to be this bad. Bears by 10.

Dallas (+1.5) at Seattle
Neither of these teams has been able to protect its quarterback so far this season. But at least the Cowboys have shown some ability to get to opponents’ QBs. Dallas by three.

New England (-6.5) at Detroit
You can’t expect new addition Josh Gordon to be a factor for the Patriots this week even if he’s active. The Patriots’ run game, on the other hand, will be going up against a Lions D that surrendered 169 and 190 rushing yards to the Jets and 49ers respectively. That, you know, seems like an opportunity. New England by 13.

Pittsburgh (-1) at Tampa Bay
I’m not sure the Buccaneers are for real. But I’m starting to believe that the Steelers are a real mess. Tampa Bay by four.

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Week Two Picks

September 13th, 2018 Comments off

I’m off to a perfectly mediocre start, which is nearly as comforting as it is frustrating. In this crazy world, there’s something to be said for taking consistency where you can find it. Probably. I’m a consistently OK picker of football results straight up, and a consistently semi-accurate picker against the spread. With zero dollars ever on the line, I can live with that.

I finished week one 10-5-1 (.656) straight up; 8-7-1 (.531) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can draw some faulty conclusions from the tiny sample size of one result per team and really cut into my results in week two.

Which is to say, here’s what not to expect.

Baltimore (-1) at Cincinnati
I don’t feel like I know anything more about either of these teams than I did a week ago. Well, except that maybe I underestimated both heading into the season. Or, you know, maybe not. A week ago, I wasn’t sure the Ravens could put a lot of points on the board against the Bills. Works out they could. That knowledge would be more helpful if the Ravens were playing Buffalo again. Or if I had a better sense of whether last week’s result had more to do with the Ravens being better than I expected or the Bills being worse (somehow). But I don’t. Meanwhile, the Bengals at least beat a team with an offense. But I’d really like to see them do it more than once before I draw any hard conclusions. In the end, I still have little to go on here. If what I still suspect is the better of the two teams were the one hosting on short rest, I’d just go with them and have done with it. No such luck. But I’m still going to hold my breath and take the Ravens. By two.

Indianapolis (+6) at Washington
I don’t know what happens when the Racists face an actual NFL opponent yet. I also don’t know yet whether the Colts are capable of playing defense. For now, I’m just going on the fact that Washington’s playing at home, the impression that the Colts can’t stop the run, and the belief that Alex Smith is at least as good a quarterback as Andy Dalton. Racists by a field goal.

Carolina (+6) at Atlanta
I don’t think the Falcons are six points better than the Panthers. In fact, I don’t think the Falcons are better than the Panthers at all. But I know the Falcons are playing at home on 10 days rest. And I think the injuries each team is dealing with pretty much offset. Atlanta by four.

Minnesota (-1) at Green Bay
If you’re Aaron Rodgers and you’re hopping around on your one good leg just trying to make something happen (because you aren’t just your team’s best option at quarterback; you’re their only option), you can’t feel good about the Minnesota Vikings coming to town. You can’t feel good about that at all. Vikings by six.

LA Chargers (-7.5) at Buffalo
Angry Chargers vs. awful Bills. I know Los Angeles doesn’t typically fare well on the east coast. And I know the Bills have made a change at quarterback. I’m just not sure a change at one position (though, obviously, it’s a big one) and a jet-lagged opponent are going to be enough to fix what’s wrong with Buffalo. Chargers by nine.

Houston (-2.5) at Tennessee
The team that keeps its starting quarterback upright longest wins. Since we don’t really know whether Marcus Mariota actually belongs on the field, I’m going with the Texans. Houston by a point.

Kansas City (+4) at Pittsburgh
No matter how I pick this game, it’s pretty much guaranteed to bite me in the ass. The Steelers are a different team at home than they are on the road. The Chiefs are playing their second straight road game. These aren’t minor factors. Still, I keep thinking about the extent to which the Cleveland Browns battered Ben Roethlisberger in week one. And I don’t know how to think past that. Chiefs by three.

Miami (+3) at NY Jets
Jets by a point. Why? Because I’m just guessing. That’s why.

Philadelphia (-3) at Tampa Bay
I don’t know if you’re aware of this — it’s a fairly well kept secret — but Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

Cleveland (+9) at New Orleans
I’m pretty sure the Browns played their Super Bowl in week one. They managed a tie. Because, yeah, the Browns probably could find a way to play to a tie in a Super Bowl. (You know, in the pretend universe where the Browns could get to a Super Bowl.) Saints by 13.

Arizona (+13) at LA Rams
Sometimes early in a season a pretty bad team catches a pretty good team off guard. I can’t see that happening here. Rams by 17.

Detroit (+6) at San Francisco
If Matt Patricia had all of the pieces in place, and if those pieces were actually interested in being coached, I might think the Lions defense could exploit their coach’s familiarity with Jimmy Garoppolo and steal a win. Oh, wait. Detroit would also need an offensive line. Those can come in handy. San Francisco by 10.

New England (-1.5) at Jacksonville
Is, um … there’s a lot that makes this an interesting game — AFC Championship rematch, home team’s excellent defense, ongoing uncertainty about the visitors’ depth at wide receiver … just a lot — but my question remains: is, um, is Blake Bortles still playing quarterback for the Jaguars? Oh, he is? OK, then. Patriots by a field goal.

Oakland (+6) at Denver
The Broncos are not great. The Raiders are not good. Denver by seven.

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
At this point, I can’t imagine doing anything other than taking the home team to win by the default margin of three. Maybe I’ll think differently by the time this series gets to New Jersey at the end of December. But that’s where I’m at right now. Cowboys straight up; a push with the points.

Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
Maybe the Bears defense will play a full four quarters this week. Maybe they won’t even need to. Chicago by four.

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Week One Picks

September 6th, 2018 Comments off

Here’s the bar: 177-79 (.691) straight up, 124-119-13 (.510) against the spread. That’s how I wrapped up my 2017 regular season picks.

Those results feel pretty daunting to me right now. But I’m just foolish enough to press on anyhow. Even here in week one when I have less than usual to go on. I know nothing, because nothing has actually happened. All I know is what I think, and what I think rarely accomplishes anything other than getting me in deep trouble.

Last year, in week one I went 9-6 straight up, 8-7 against the spread. (Yes, there were only 15 games that week. Remember the whole thing where Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of the Buccaneers-Dolphins match?) I’ll be lucky to duplicate those results.

Here’s what not to expect.

Atlanta (pick ’em) at Philadelphia
Someone out there somewhere has these teams meeting again in the NFC Championship game. I don’t know who that someone is; I just know they have to exist. Because these are two excellent football teams that appear to have good to great seasons ahead of them. Only one of is the defending champion, though. The 2018 Eagles look right now like a better team than the one the took the 2017 league title. And they’re at home. So I’m taking them. Philadelphia by four.

Pittsburgh (-4) at Cleveland
Le’Veon Bell will not participate in this game. But neither, one suspects, will the Browns. Steelers by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Minnesota
Wait, the 49ers are getting most of a touchdown in the season opener? Even though San Francisco has never lost a game with Jimmy Garroppol0 — the sun that rises in the west; the GOAT-in-waiting whom the Patriots foolishly let slip through their fingers — starting at quarterback? I just … I just … I don’t … it, it, it just doesn’t make sense. Someone fix this. Please. Vikings by six.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis
The home team might be good this season. The visitors probably won’t be. Colts by a field goal.

Buffalo (+7.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are winning this match, but I’m still not sold on Baltimore’s ability to put a lot of points on the board. So I’m going to hedge and say the home team comes out ahead by just six.

Jacksonville (-3) at NY Giants
I recommend resisting the temptation to draw broad conclusions about the 2018 Giants based on the outcome of this game. Jaguars by five.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at New Orleans
I just don’t see what the Buccaneers have going for them in this match. Saints by 13.

Houston (+6.5) at New England
The Patriots have lost their home opener only twice in the 16 seasons since Tom Brady took over as starting quarterback. The Texans are a decent team. And I kind of expect the Patriots to start slow as they feel their way around their new offense. I won’t be blown away if New England lets this one go all 60 minutes and only comes out on top by a late field goal. But I’m more inclined to think they take control late in the third quarter and win it by at least seven.

Tennessee (-1.5) at Miami
I suspect we’ll all have a much better idea what to make of both of these teams at the conclusion of this game. Titans by four.

Kansas City (+3.5) at LA Chargers
In Kansas City, I’d probably take the Chiefs. And maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do when the Chargers roll in to KC for a rematch in mid December. In week one, in Los Angeles? I’m going with the Chargers by three.

Seattle (+3) at Denver
I’m not sure either of these teams is fully formed at this point in the young season. And, really, both may be a full calendar year away. I’ll go with the home team by a point.

Dallas (+3) at Carolina
I think my view of both of these teams heading into the season is more favorable than the consensus. My view of the Panthers is slightly more favorable than my view of the Cowboys, though. And the Panthers are at home. Carolina by four.

Washington (+1) at Arizona
I don’t think much of either of these teams. But I suspect that while Washington will be a disappointment this season, Arizona will be a straight up mess. Racists by six.

Chicago (+7.5) at Green Bay
The Bears are surely in better shape for this game with Khalil Mack than they ever could have been without him. Which means, you know, they might not get clobbered quite so bad. Packers by “just” 10.

NY Jets (+6.5) at Detroit
It has to feel good, when you’re a team that maybe needs some time to find a groove, to open your season at home against a team that … uh, is the Jets. Lions by six.

LA Rams (-4) at Oakland
Four? You’re kidding, right? I half expect the Rams to be up by 14 before the end of the first quarter (which is when I plan to go to bed). Los Angeles by 21.

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2018 Season Predictions

September 6th, 2018 Comments off

I don’t know why I do this.

Well, I do, actually. It’s because I’ve had months and months (213 days) to think about football without watching football and now there’s this part of me that feels like I have to say something. That part of me couldn’t be more wrong, of course. I don’t really have to say anything. And I know that. But I’m ahead with this anyhow.

So here goes the only football-related activity I engage in that’s more pointless than trying to pick a given week’s slate of games.

As in previous years, I’m not interested in trying to predict win-loss records. Even my stupidity has its limits (or so I really, really, really hope). I’ll just present a range of the total wins I think each team is capable of. And then, having forgotten sometime during my advance walk through 32 teams’ 17-week seasons that I’m just completely making this stuff up, I’ll refer back to the products of my own idiocy and pretend I can predict postseason seedings and outcomes

You still here? Man, you might be even sadder than I am. Might as well keep reading.

AFC East

New England Patriots, 11-13
I don’t know, like, maybe you’ve heard this, but Tom Brady just turned 41, which as I now understand it is the age at which one expects to see a quarterback transition from from league MVP to worthless bum. I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be a problem. Still, when the Patriots drafted Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, I thought (and I’m pretty sure tweeted, but going back to check that would, you know, require effort), hey, adding an explosive running back is a certainly one way to ameliorate the sudden bumification of an aging quarterback. It’s been done before (I think; like maybe there was a guy in Denver once or something like that — no, no, longer ago than that). This was an exciting thought to me. But not apparently to Bill Belichick, who in his eternal determination to play chicken with the Grim Reaper has opted to um, let’s say de-emphasize the wide receiver position this season. This, one anticipates, may put some of that pressure right back on Gray-dy. (See what I did there?) It might also tend to put some pressure on the dinged-up Michel, who could conceivably have trouble gaining yards if he’s the only guy defenses have to worry about. Except Gronk, I mean. They still have to worry about Gronk. Also, Chris Hogan has been known to make a catch from time to time. And if Cordarrelle Patterson is ever going to evolve into an actual NFL receiver, the QB best suited to help him get there is probably Brady (dotage notwithstanding). The Patriots also should get Julian Edelman back after week four — and one can at least hope that Edelman will start to return to form by the second half of the season. That’s all good-ish news for young Mr. Michel and old Mr. Brady alike. It’s no guarantee of a third straight Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots, mind you. But it does at least suggest that things may not be so terribly bleak for New England after all.

Miami Dolphins, 5-8
Let’s say Ryan Tannehill returns to his previous form. What does that get you? A guy who can throw 25-ish TDs and lead you to eight wins? Are those the goals? Is eight wins the goal? If so, I’m not sure I think this Dolphins organization is particularly well run.

New York Jets, 4-6
Sam Darnold very likely represents a huge step in the right direction for the Jets. Should be interesting to see what creative ways New Jersey comes up with to bollix the whole deal.

Buffalo Bills, 2-5
I’m sure Nathan Peterman’s going to do just great.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-12
The temptation this year (actually, it’s not all that new a thought process) is to consider the fact that Ben Roethlisberger seems significantly older at 36 than Tom Brady does at 41 and conclude that the Steelers and their quarterback alike are destined to fall apart. But the end never seems actually to arrive, does it? And I don’t think the Le’Veon Bell situation changes the calculus much, if at all. (Might hurt in the short term, but long term, I think as great as Bell is, the Steelers are built to achieve roughly the same level of success with or without him.)

Baltimore Ravens, 7-11
The Ravens defense, once again, should be able to keep the team in the hunt no matter what happens with the offense. Whether “in the hunt” translates to just missing the postseason or overtaking the Steelers for the division title (or, you know, one of the possibilities in between) will depend on the extent to which Joe Flacco continues his ongoing slide.

Cincinnati Bengals, 3-6
I wonder if anyone in the Bengals organization has noticed that Andy Dalton gets worse every season.

Cleveland Browns, 1-4
Here’s what I wrote about the Browns last year: “I’m sorely tempted to set up a template that populates this space with ‘The Browns are rebuilding.’ Feel like I could save a ton of time that way.” So there you go.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars, 9-13
If defense truly won championships, the Jaguars would be … well, actually, they might have gone into this season as the defending Super Bowl champs. But defense doesn’t win championships. Balance wins championships. And championship-level balance in the NFL requires consistently strong quarterback play. Blake Bortles has yet to deliver that. Maybe this is his year. Or maybe Jacksonville will field one of those Ds that are so dominant that even an average QB is enough. Or maybe the Jags will finish another season as also-rans. Time will tell.

Tennessee Titans, 8-11
The Titans were very good last season. They could, maybe should be better this season. If Marcus Mariota can step up his game, Tennessee may even be able to challenge Jacksonville for the division.

Houston Texans, 7-10
Deshaun Watson is a stunningly good quarterback. Next off-season, the Texans should consider bringing in an offensive line to protect him.

Indianapolis Colts, 5-10
You tell me whether Andrew Luck is healthy and ready to play like his old self. Without knowing, it’s impossible to say whether the Colts are a contender or a disaster.

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers, 8-11
I’m not sold on the Chargers. I keep hearing about how they’re poised to make a deep run into the postseason after struggling to 9-7 and just missing the tournament last season. But I keep thinking about how all I heard last season was that the Chargers were “better than their record” (man, do I hate that stupid cliche). I suspect that, for whatever reason, a lot of experts just sort of love to love the Chargers. Thing is, as I look around at the rest of the AFC West, I’m just not clear on which of the other team can step up and take the division. There are too many questions all around. So maybe Los Angeles gets it done. Or maybe they back into it. Or maybe neither. (And, ugh. Now that I’ve said all this, the Chargers will probably go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl.)

Kansas City Chiefs, 8-11
The Chiefs are just uneven enough that they could conceivably get a great season out of Patrick Mahomes and still manage to finish 8-8. Or they could get a few good bounces of the ball and end up taking the division.

Denver Broncos, 7-10
I like Case Keenum. I like the Broncos defense. The rest of the team, I’m not so sure about.

Oakland Raiders, 4-6
The Raiders are playing the long game. And they’re making wise decisions in that regard. But they’re not making decisions that point to success this season.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles, 11-15
I’m putting the Eagles at the top of the division because it was only a few months ago that I saw them beat a really good team in a really big game behind a backup quarterback. I don’t know how you look away from that. And then you consider that the defending champs certainly look like a team that could be better this year than they were last (maybe even if their starting QB doesn’t make it back on the field until midseason). That would be bad news for the rest of the league. Could it all fall apart? Well, sure. It’s the NFL. It can always all fall apart. For any team. But I’m not getting into the business of predicting that. And in fact, the only reason I even feel a need to hedge with the Eagles at all is that I think the NFC East is a fairly brutal division in which just a bit of misfortune can kill a team’s season.

Dallas Cowboys, 10-13
The Cowboys have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. If they can stay healthy and execute consistently, they’re at least a wild card team. And if the ball bounces right in their head-to-head matches with the Eagles, the Cowboys could potentially steal the division title.

New York Giants, 8-11
If you believe Eli Manning has a rock-solid season in him at age 37, then it’s easy to believe the Giants made all (or most) of the right off-season moves. If not, you have to expect the season to turn into a bit of a slog. I’m inclined to believe Manning’s got one more run in him, and I think that’s good enough at least for a run at a wild card berth.

Washington Racists, 7-9
The Racists could be OK. They don’t have the weapons to be great (not in this division, anyhow). And they may not even make it all the way to good.

NFC North

Detroit Lions, 9-12
I couldn’t decide whether to pick the Packers or the Vikings to win the NFC North, so I decided to go with the Lions. Detroit has a quarterback who can play pretty well. They acquired a running game in the off-season. And they have a coach who has at least shot at fixing their defense. I can get behind a team like that.

Green Bay Packers, 9-12
If Aaron Rodgers stays healthy and plays at the top of his game, the Packers can win it all. If he doesn’t, they can’t. What else is new?

Minnesota Vikings, 9-12
Let’s see if the Vikings can keep their new starting quarterback on his feet for an entire season for a change. If they can, they can win the division again.

Chicago Bears, 5-8
Khalil Mack is a great football player. He’s the equal of at least two, probably three great football players, actually. But he isn’t 11. And he certainly isn’t 22.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints, 12-14
The Saints look like a stronger, more balanced team than the one that won the division last season. As long as Drew Brees has a decent season in him (and I have no reason to suspect he doesn’t), New Orleans not only has a shot at the division title, but should be in contention for the NFC one seed.

Carolina Panthers, 9-12
I know I’m supposed to have the Falcons as the team most likely to challenge the Saints for the NFC South title. But I think it’s a mistake to look past the Panthers this season. This is a balanced team that I think can get things done on both sides of the ball. And Norv Turner is the kind of offensive coordinator who can engineer situations in which Cam Newton can excel. If this team can execute consistently, they have the potential to be very, very dangerous.

Atlanta Falcons, 9-11
If talent alone were enough to win professional football games (which I guess is to say, “if the NFL were like the NBA”), the Falcons would be a lock to make a deep run in the postseason. But it isn’t. And I need to see how things come together (over the entire season, not just the first half of it) before I’ll be ready to buy in on this team as more than a solid contender for a wild card berth.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1-5
It looks like this is the year before the rebuilding year for the Buccaneers. That’s never a good year.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams, 11-13
The Rams rode a high-powered offense to a division title last season. And here’s the thing: they were about a year ahead of schedule. The Los Angeles D, which wasn’t awful last year, appears to have improved in the off-season. And the O may actually be a hair better. The Rams face a tougher schedule this year than they did last, but they should still fare at least as well as they did in 2017, and they’re probably better by a win or two.

San Francisco 49ers, 8-11
The Niners are probably a bit ahead of schedule, too. Which is to say, I won’t be terribly shocked if they come on in a big way this year. But I suspect there’s still one more off-season of work to do before San Francisco will truly be ready to make a run at a title.

Seattle Seahawks, 7-9
There’s enough talent in Seattle to make the Seahawks a team opponents can’t afford to overlook. But the Seahawks also have some things to figure out, including how they’re going to reconstitute their defense. Given the power at the top of this division, I suspect it’s going to be next year before we talk about Seattle a postseason contender.

Arizona Cardinals, 4-6
If you don’t have much of a defense and you can’t protect your quarterback, you’re in trouble.


Here’s where things get truly ridiculous. I don’t know what’s going to happen next week. But here’s a look at what I kinda guess might possibly happen early next year. This always works out great.

1. New England
2. Jacksonville
3. Pittsburgh
4. L.A. Chargers
5. Baltimore
6. Tennessee

1. L.A. Rams
2. Philadelphia
3. New Orleans
4. Detroit
5. Dallas
6. Carolina

Wild Card Playoffs

Los Angeles defeats Baltimore
Tennessee defeats Pittsburgh

Dallas defeats Detroit
Carolina defeats New Orleans

Divisional Playoffs

Los Angeles defeats Jacksonville
New England defeats Tennessee

Dallas defeats Philadelphia
Los Angeles defeats Carolina

Conference Championships

New England defeats Los Angeles

Los Angeles defeats Dallas

Super Bowl LIII
New England defeats Los Angeles

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