NFL Outlook 2018-2019


Anikait Koppaka, Contributing Writer

As the summer ends and school returns, most people are disappointed, but for some it means football is back. The impact of everything that occurred during the offseason will finally be seen and the fun will begin with interesting storylines, breakout teams, and players. But, what the NFL ultimately comes down to is who is still playing in January and February during the playoffs.

NFC East
To most people’s surprise, the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles won this division last year with a break out performance from second-year QB Carson Wentz and a strong showing from their backup QB Nick Foles when Wentz went down with an injury. This year should be smooth sailing for the Eagles on their path to keepin their title as division champs.

The Washington Redskins swapped Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith and didn’t improve at any skill positions on offense or defense and should be a middling team similar to last year.

The Dallas Cowboys, led by Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, lost pro-bowl tight end Jason Witten to retirement and are lacking at wide receiver with the departure of Dez Bryant. As a result, they will most likely take a step back from last year’s 9-7 season.

The New York Giants brought back last year’s core of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Evan Engram. They also added star running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. The Giants have the talent at their skill positions to be a potential playoff team, but whether the Giants are able to take this leap into the playoffs will depend on aging QB Eli Manning who struggled mightily last year.

Prediction: The Eagles should have a comfortable road to winning the division once again and making the playoffs.

NFC North
Led by a stellar defense and surprisingly good QB play from Case Keenum, the Minnesota Vikings won this division handily last year. And they did not let down in the offseason when they let Case Keenum go and brought in pro bowl Redskins QB Kirk Cousins to replace him.

The Green Bay Packers will get back two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers who missed most of last season due to injury; his return will likely put them back into playoff contention. The Packers also greatly improved their defense with edge rusher Muhammed Wilkerson and draft picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. With Rodgers returning and an improved defense, the Packers will be in contention for the Division title and a wild-card spot in the playoffs.

The Chicago Bears also improved their defense by adding 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, and the eighth pick in the draft, Roquan Smith, to bolster a top ten defense. They brought in a new coach, Matt Nagy, to revitalize the offense under second-year QB Mitch Trubisky and added WRs Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and TE Trey Burton to support the young QB. The Bears have an amazing defense and an up and coming offense, but it may take another year or two for Trubisky to reach his full potential and for the Bears to be serious contenders in the NFL.

Rounding out the North is the Detroit Lions who also brought in a new coach, Matt Patricia, but their roster did not go through any significant changes from last year. They are most likely to play similarly to last year and have a record around 8-8 as one of the NFL’s middling teams.

Prediction: The reigning champion, Vikings have the best chance to win this division again, but Rodgers and the Packers will pose as a serious threat.

NFC South
This division produced three playoff teams last year, which speaks to their overall strength. The New Orleans Saints won the division and the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons made it into the playoffs as wild card teams. None of these teams went through significant changes from last year so these teams should be back in playoff contention once again. The Saints led by young stars Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, and veteran QB Drew Brees will be back in the playoffs and look to overcome last year’s heartbreaking loss in the Divisional Round to the Vikings.

The Panthers led by former MVP Cam Newton and four-time All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly will look to win the division and return to the Super Bowl after.

The Falcons will also try to return to the Super Bowl after their loss in 2016. Led by former MVP Matt Ryan and star WR Julio Jones, the Falcons will look to win the division and establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders.

The weakest team in the division is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who, despite lots of talent on both sides of the ball, could not produce wins last year. This year may be better, but 2015’s number one overall pick, Jameis Winston has struggled at the helm of their offense and change will most likely need to begin with him.

Prediction: Based on last year’s results, the Saints have the inside track path to securing the division crown once again, but this will ultimately be a toss up between the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers.

NFC West
Last year’s breakout team, the L.A. Rams, won this division fairly easily last year. The Rams have only gotten better over the summer, adding Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh, and Brandin Cooks. They are led by last year’s coach of the year, Sean Mcvay, defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald, and the offensive player of the year, Todd Gurley. The Rams are loaded with talent at every position and will be serious Super Bowl Contenders. The rest of the teams are weak with rebuilding or declining teams.

The San Francisco 49ers showed potential last year with QB Jimmy Garroplo, but he got injured in the third week of this season and the 49ers should struggle mightily without him.

The declining Seattle Seahawks have a solid QB in Russell Wilson but have lost their defensive and offensive talent over the past few years and they missed the playoffs last year. This is expected to continue as they’ve gotten even worse from last year, losing CB Richard Sherman.

At the bottom of this division is the Arizona Cardinals, who are effectively rebuilding their team for the upcoming season as they added a new coach in Steve Wilks and drafted QB Josh Rosen with the tenth pick. They likely won’t win many games this season, but the Cardinals are looking towards the future.

Prediction: With no clear threat to the division title, the Rams should be at the top of the division at the end of the season and will be perennial Super Bowl contenders for years to come.

AFC East
The never-ending dynasty of New England continued to flourish as they took a trip to the Super Bowl last year despite ultimately losing. Led by Coach Bill Belichick and the ageless Tom Brady, who was the oldest player in NFL history to win the MVP last year, the Patriots will look to avenge last year’s defeat and make the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the past five years. The rest of this division is scattered as all the teams are rebuilding and looking toward the future, or are just not as good as New England.

The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills brought in rookie QBs, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen respectively. Both of these teams are looking for talent to develop a core for the years to come and will not be anywhere near the playoffs this year.

The Miami Dolphins are a weird team as they have been pretty average with their ups and downs, including a playoff appearance in 2017. The team lost pro- bowl WR Jarvis Landry and did not improve in other places on the roster and they will probably linger to make the playoffs as a wild card near the end of the season, but will not be serious challengers to win the Super Bowl or even win a playoff game.

Prediction: Unless the Dolphins finally put it all together, or the Jets and Bills rise to the occasion, the Patriots have an easy path to their 16th AFC East title in the past 18 years.

AFC North
After a shocking loss in the Divisional Round last year, the AFC North Champion, Pittsburgh Steelers were left with a bitter taste in their mouth. Their star, RB Le’veon Bell has not signed with the team yet as of week three, and star WR Antonio Brown has made some curious comments on staying with the team at the beginning of the season. If the team cannot overcome this drama, they could be in some hot water winning this division again.

The Cincinnati Bengals have gotten off to a hot start led by rising RB Joe Mixon and established star WR A.J. Green and are in the lead to win the division.

The Baltimore Ravens are not too far behind as they’ve brought back most of their cast from last year’s 9-7 season, but upgraded at WR by signing John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead to reinvigorate the Joe Flacco led offense.

The Cleveland Browns should also improve this year from their winless outing last year with the addition of QB Tyrod Taylor and WR Jarvis Landry. They are another team looking towards the future and are using this season as a transition to upcoming seasons as they drafted QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward.

Prediction: This division is currently up for grabs due to the Steelers off-field issues, but after their 2-0 start, the Bengals currently have the clearest path to a division title.

AFC South
Along with the Rams, the biggest surprise of last year was the Jacksonville Jaguars as they made it to the AFC Championship game and almost to the Super Bowl. Boasting one of the league’s best defense led by Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell, the Jaguars will look to return to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl this time around.

The division also has the young and upcoming Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans led by QBs Marcus Mariota and rookie sensation Deshaun Watson respectively. The Texans will be much better than last year on defense with the return of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus who will join Jadeveon Clowney on their defensive line. For the Texans to be successful, Deshaun Watson will have to effectively use his mobility to mask their weak offensive line.The Titans, on the other hand, have been somewhat held back by Marcus Mariota’s limited capability as a thrower, and he will need to improve on that aspect of his game for the Titans to challenge for the Super Bowl.

Unlike the Titans, the Indianapolis Colts are set at QB with Andrew Luck, but they have issues at almost every other position. With the lack of talent around Luck, it will be difficult for the Colts to make it to the playoffs, but Luck has carried them there before.

Prediction: The Jaguars should have consecutive division titles due to the weaknesses of the other teams in the South.

AFC West
The Kansas City Chiefs reigned supreme in the Wild Wild West last year and have looked much better than they did last year as second-year QB Patrick Mahomes replaced Alex Smith. Mahomes has been red hot in the first two weeks with ten touchdowns as the Chiefs have started 2-0.

Potential challengers to the Chief’s division title are the L.A. Chargers and Denver Broncos. The Chargers brought back most of their talented roster consisting of WR Keenan Allen, RB Melvin Gordon, DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They should be able to build upon their 9-7 season last year and be in contention for the division title and a wild-card spot.

Over the offseason, the Broncos greatly improved by upgrading at QB with Case Keenum and drafting skilled pass rusher Bradley Chubb to play alongside former defensive player of the year Von Miller. If Keenum can elevate their QB play and the defense continues to perform, they will also be fighting for a wild-card spot late in the season.

At the bottom of the barrel is the Oakland Raiders who, coming off their 6-10 record, lost former defensive player of the year, Khalil Mack, their number one WR Michael Crabtree, and made a coaching change all in one summer. This loss of talent and change will not help the Raiders get any better, so it is likely that they will finish worse than they did last year

Prediction: Mahomes and the Chiefs should run away with this division, but there will be a wild card team from this division in either the Broncos or Chargers or possibly even both.

As of right now, based on the first two weeks of the season, last year’s performances, and offseason transactions, the division winners in the NFC will most likely be the Eagles, Vikings, Saints, and Rams with the two wild-card spots filled by the Packers and Falcons. In the AFC, the Patriots, Bengals, Jaguars, and Chiefs should be atop their respective divisions with the Chargers and Steelers rounding out the playoff picture in the wild card spots. The favorites to win the Super Bowl as of now have to be the Rams, who are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and the team to meet them there from the AFC will likely be the Chiefs, led by a spectacular QB talent in Patrick Mahomes. Regardless of how the playoffs shake out, the season and postseason will be exhilarating.