2018 NFL Season Preview

Story posted September 6, 2018 in CommRadio, Sports by DJ Bauer

The start of the 2018 NFL Season is just around the corner. Over the course of the next five months, 32 teams will be competing for the ultimate prize, the Lombardi Trophy. But before that, they’ll have to perform well enough in their 16 regular season games to even get a shot at playing in Super Bowl LIII. Let’s take a look at each team one last time and predict their regular season record before the season gets underway.

AFC East

New England Patriots

With Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick on the sideline, the Patriots are always contenders to go all the way. The offense will have to adapt to the absence of Julian Edelman for the first four games, but the defense should be able to take the next step thanks to the return of a now healthy Dont’a Hightower. It wouldn’t be a shock at all to see New England make a deep run again this season.

Projected record: 12-4

Miami Dolphins

Going into a new season with the starting quarterback coming off a major injury is always a troubling scenario, but if Ryan Tannehill can’t step up to the challenge, running back Kenyan Drake could find himself breaking out into the big time. Still, with a bottom-10 defense and bottom-10 offense, the Dolphins may find themselves struggling to stay afloat in 2018.

Projected record: 5-11

New York Jets

Starting a rookie quarterback right out of the gate is often a risky move; what makes this decision even more so is the fact that Sam Darnold doesn’t have much around him to work with. The defense may take a big leap this year thanks to players like Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams, but a lack of offensive talent means the Jets are likely headed for a long offseason.

Projected record: 4-12

Buffalo Bills

The only two QBs on Buffalo’s roster are Josh Allen, a rookie, and Nathan Peterman, a second-year player with very little NFL experience. That doesn’t bode well. The offensive line is another major problem, and the defense isn’t much to write home about either. Also, the fact that Buffalo’s first four games are against likely playoff teams could be got a recipe for disaster.

Projected record: 3-13

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Even with Le’Veon Bell holding out, the other key pieces, namely Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and the offensive line, are all in place for the Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers’ biggest concern will be finding a replacement for Ryan Shazier on the defense. But considering the majority of the key contributors from last year’s 13-3 team will be returning, there’s no reason to believe the Steelers won’t compete for an AFC North title again this year.

Projected record: 11-5

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens do boast one of the best defenses in the league with no major weaknesses at any position. It’s the offense that’s the biggest concern for Baltimore. Joe Flacco will need to pick up the slack after last season’s disappointing performance. The return of star guard Marshal Yanda will undoubtedly alleviate some of the pressure, and an improved receiving corps gives the Ravens’ offense a much-needed boost.

Projected record: 9-7

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati is home to a handful of NFL superstars, including wide receiver A.J. Green, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback William Jackson, but most of the roster is incredibly average. Marvin Lewis still hasn’t earned this franchise a playoff victory in his 15 years as head coach, and it’s unlikely that he gets his win this season. It’s more likely that he’s without a job at season’s end.

Projected record: 5-11

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns hype train is up and running, but perhaps it’s time to pull on the brakes a bit. Yes, this is a roster that includes rising stars like Myles Garrett, Josh Gordon and Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, but this team is also 1-31 over the past two seasons. Five wins seems like a reasonable expectation for this squad. Baby steps, Browns fans.

Projected record: 5-11

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars

Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Telvin Smith, Malik Jackson… the list goes on. This defense is going to be an absolute pain for opposing offenses. The other side of the ball isn’t too shabby either, though top to bottom, it’s nowhere near as talented. In what is perhaps a make-or-break year for Blake Bortles, it’ll be interesting to see if he can take the next step and inch Jacksonville closer to its first Super Bowl title.

Projected record: 12-4

Houston Texans

Assuming the key players stay healthy this season, Houston could easily be a sneaky candidate for one of the AFC’s top teams. DeAndre Hopkins has already proven himself to be a great receiver; having Deshaun Watson back on the field will only boost his status. Meanwhile, a defense featuring J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu is no laughing matter. If Houston could just clean up that offensive line, they’d have one of the NFL’s best rosters.

Projected record: 9-7

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are perhaps the most bizarre team in the NFL. The team showcases a roster filled with stars like Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan, Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo, which should be able to make some noise. However, Tennessee finds a way to underachieve. Perhaps a new coach and the offseason additions of Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler will prove to be the tipping point. We’ll find out in due time.

Projected record: 8-8

Indianapolis Colts

The return of Andrew Luck is very exciting, but let’s remember this fact: The Colts’ defense is bad. Jabaal Sheard is the lone standout player, though second-year cornerback Malik Hooker could look to change that. All things said, it’s very unlikely this team earns a postseason bid in 2018. Then again, Luck did almost single-handedly drag the Colts to the playoffs in 2014. But that’s too much to expect from a guy who missed all of last season.

Projected record: 5-11

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers

Injuries plague the Chargers once again before the season even begins, but it doesn’t appear like it’ll be enough to hinder this talented roster. The combination of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edges is absolutely terrifying, and offensive standouts like Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon should keep the points flowing. This is a strong dark horse pick for the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LIII.

Projected record: 11-5

Kansas City Chiefs

Obviously, the most interesting dynamic will be how second-year QB Patrick Mahomes pans out. He looked solid in his week 17 debut last year against Denver, but he’ll have a much bigger task to accomplish this year, as the Chiefs look to return to the postseason with Mahomes under center all year long. All the other pieces remain, such as Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce. It all relies on Mahomes.

Projected record: 10-6

Denver Broncos

Here’s another team that heavily depends on how the quarterback plays. Case Keenum is an improvement from Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, but will fans see the Keenum they saw last year in Minnesota? With a less experienced coaching staff, it may be difficult for Keenum to adapt. The defense should be fine though, even without Aqib Talib.

Projected record: 7-9

Oakland Raiders

From signing Jon Gruden to a 10-year, $100 million deal, to trading linebacker Khalil Mack for future first-round picks, the Raiders have made some questionable decisions this offseason. A lot of the talent still remains though, including the centerpiece in quarterback Derek Carr, but it may be difficult for this team to adapt to a new culture in just one season.

Projected record: 6-10

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

 

The defending Super Bowl champions carry the weight of the title on their shoulders, especially with an incredibly fierce NFC in 2018, but they still find a way to stand out above most of the crowd. Having a top five offense, a top five defense, a top ten head coach, great ownership and management has a lot to do with it. The depth of this team is so incredible that pretty much every position can be replaced with confidence in the event of an injury. A repeat will be difficult to accomplish, but it’s possible for this talented team.

Projected record: 13-3

New York Giants

There’s plenty of excitement to be had in New York; Odell Beckham is healthy again, Saquon Barkley is the running back and Pat Shurmur is taking over as head coach. Despite the hype, there are still major question marks for Big Blue. Will Eli Manning ever be as sharp as he once was? Can the offensive line hold up? Who other than Damon Harrison and Landon Collins will step up on defense? There’s still a lot of work to do.

Projected record: 8-8

Dallas Cowboys

Like the Giants, the Cowboys are plagued with question marks. Is Dak Prescott for real? Can Ezekiel Elliott return to form? How will Dallas accommodate for the absences of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Travis Frederick? Still, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith are there to anchor the offensive line, and Demarcus Lawrence and Sean Lee can do the same for the defense, but the bigger picture remains unclear.

Projected record: 7-9

Washington Redskins

The Redskins have potential to be an absolute wild-card this year. Last season, Washington finished a disappointing 7-9. Will they do better or worse this year? There’s really no way to tell. Kirk Cousins is gone, but perhaps Alex Smith can do a better job at QB? The offensive line needs to stay healthy this year if this team wants to make a run. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the NFC East this season.

Projected record: 6-10

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings

If not for the glaring hole at offensive line, the Vikings could lay claim to the most talented roster in the NFL. All-Pro players like Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen are bountiful in Minnesota, and the offseason upgrade at quarterback is a sign of good things to come. Still, it’s going to be difficult to top last year’s record of 13-3.

Projected record: 11-5

Green Bay Packers

Two words: Aaron Rodgers. This team is almost entirely reliant on its star quarterback. With Rodgers in the game, anything can happen. But if he’s absent, the Packers are almost certainly headed for stormy waters. If their signal caller can remain healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers in the playoffs. If he gets hurt, Green Bay is in for disappointment.

Projected record: 9-7

Detroit Lions

Like other teams, the Lions are driven by a few stars, such as Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Darius Slay, but much of the roster is lacking, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia at the head coaching position could prove to be fruitful in the long run.

Projected record: 7-9

Chicago Bears

Another team surrounded by hype, especially with the recent addition of Khalil Mack, but there’s plenty of room for growth. Mitchell Trubisky is only in his second year at QB, and the team’s lead receiver hasn’t played in a regulation game in nearly a year. Still, there remains a lot of promise, especially on defense, but this rebuilding project may take a few years to complete.

Projected record: 6-10

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

Offensive and defensive talent galore, the Saints are primed for another successful campaign in 2018. Drew Brees doesn’t look like he’s aged a day since 2006, and young stars like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas make his job all the easier. Meanwhile, Marshon Lattimore, Cameron Jordan, Marcus Williams and other defenders are only going to get better. Watch out for New Orleans.

Projected record: 11-5

Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have been a consistent threat in the NFC for years, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Alongside Julio Jones, Matt Ryan has new toy with the speedy rookie Calvin Ridley, and the defense shines with youthful exuberance as well. But being in a division with the Saints and Panthers means nothing is for certain.

Projected record: 10-6

Carolina Panthers

Fun fact: In their 28 years of existence, the Carolina Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Is this the year they finally break the curse? It looks like it could happen. Cam Newton finally has himself some offensive weapons, and the addition of Norv Turner at offensive coordinator is a big plus too.

Projected record: 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There’s not a lot for the Buccaneers to be hopeful about this season. The defense is a little bit better with the additions of Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry, but the offense leaves a lot to be desired, especially with Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games. Perhaps the most Buccaneers fans can ask for is seeing breakout seasons from the likes of Chris Godwin and Ronald Jones.

Projected record: 2-14

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams

There’s no doubt the Rams are in “Super Bowl or bust” mode. The loaded defense got even better this offseason, thanks to the signings of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and the offense is ready to roar with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley trailblazing the way. Sean McVay won Coach of the Year in 2017, and he’s got lofty expectations to meet this season. Let’s see if these Rams can live up to the hype.

Projected record: 13-3

San Francisco 49ers

Are the pieces falling into place in San Francisco? Maybe. Jimmy Garoppolo certainly turned a lot of heads in his five-game outing in 2017; he’ll need to do it again in 2018 to keep the Niners afloat in this stacked NFC. DeForest Buckner and offseason pickup Richard Sherman will lead the charge on defense, but they’re going to need others to make the leap as well.

Projected record: 9-7

Seattle Seahawks

A lot of analysts aren’t very high on the Seahawks this year. With the departures of Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman, it’s reasonable to expect Seattle to regress to some degree, but as long as Russell Wilson is the quarterback, the Seahawks have a chance to win every game he’s in. However, a more reasonable expectation for a franchise in transition would be .500.

Projected record: 8-8

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals may just be the most difficult team to pinpoint. There’s intrigue surrounding Sam Bradford’s health, David Johnson’s return, and Steve Wilks’ debut season as head coach, but nothing is for certain out in the desert. Well, almost nothing. Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson are definitely studs. Arizona’s defense could quietly be one of 2018’s best.

Projected record: 5-11

DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email metakoopa99@gmail.com.