Football-in-shorts season (which is better than the no-football of June) comes to an end as football-in-pads starts up for the Redskins tomorrow. While we wait for the opening whistle for the first competitive football game played by the team in 2018, I figured we could kill a little time by trying to piss some people off.
We saw what every team did last season. We’ve seen the free agent acquisitions and the draft. We’ve gotten training camp reports and kept track of early injuries, and even some trades. But, Ravens & Bears aside, we haven’t yet seen teams playing games since the end of the superbowl.
What better time to try to figure out which teams will dominate, or — in this article — to try to predict which teams will struggle.
This is a hot take article. We’ll be throwing shade. I’m gonna go division-by-division and tell you which of the 4 teams in each will have the worst record by season’s end in 2018. There’ll be plenty of time to celebrate success later; right now, with hours to go to kickoff, we’re gonna project the 8 teams who seem most likely to be left holding the divisional wooden spoons at the end of the season.
There’s a lot of competition in the AFC East when it comes to picking a team to struggle, but when you have to play the Patriots twice a year every year, that can happen. The Jets are one of several teams in the league that has a strange quarterback depth chart, with Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold. Most people (including me) picked the Jets to have the worst record in the NFL in 2017; the final 5-11 record seemed almost like a triumph in that context. The Dolphins mustered 6 wins last season, which netted them Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round. They also have Ryan Tannehill back under center after he missed all of last season with injury. He’s never had a truly great year in his career, so it’s hard to get overly excited with his return. In case you’re wondering, Tannehill’s backed up by Brock Osweiler, Bryce Petty and David Fales. The Bills, of course, broke the longest dryspell without a playoff appearance in 2017, and promptly decided to start working on a new streak by trading away the team’s starting QB. Buffalo probably has the least experienced QB room in the league, with A.J. McCarron, Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen. Can you imagine a team where A.J. McCarron is the senior guy, providing the most veteran leadership? I honestly don’t see any AFC East teams outside of New England making the playoffs in 2018, and picking the worst of the three involves some coin-flipping for me.
Verdict: The Bills
I looked at the running backs: Lesean McCoy and Chris Ivory - two great players, both past their primes. Wide Receiver: Kelvin Benjamin, Jeremy Kerley, Zay Jones... ugh. Three quarterbacks with a combined five NFL starts. I think there’s a good chance that the Bills could go from being a 2017 playoff wildcard to picking first overall in the 2019 draft.
Nope; I’m not picking the Browns. I think Cleveland has done enough in the last couple of drafts to have a good, young, hungry team with talent and attitude. In fact, I’m ready to predict an 8-8 season for the Browns (though that Corey Coleman trade has me wondering if I’m overestimating John Dorsey and Co). For me, the wooden spoon in the AFC North comes down to Baltimore or Cincinnati. The Bengals won 7 games last year, the Ravens won 9. The Bengals get Joe Mixon back, they’ve got AJ Green and Tyler Boyd, and the defense has enough talent and enough depth to play pretty well inside their own division.
Verdict: The Ravens
Terrell Suggs is 35 years old; the quarterback situation is a mess, with Joe Flacco a lame duck, and Lamar Jackson not yet ready. Running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon aren’t going to give defensive coordinators enough of a scare for Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown to dominate. I think the Bengals finish with 9 wins, the Browns with 8, and the Ravens with 7 in 2018.
I think the Houston Texans bounce back with the return of QB DeShaun Watson. They have excellent skill players on offense (Hopkins, Fuller, Davenport, Miller, Foreman), and a loaded defense (Mathieu, Joseph, Clowney, Merciless, Watt). The rest of the division is tough, though, so the Texans aren’t likely to have a dominating 12-win record. Still, I see them as one of the better teams in the league. The Jaguars are also a loaded team, but — last year’s division championship and playoff run aside — a lot of people still aren’t sold on Blake Bortles. The Titans put up 9 wins last year, and — while the expected resurgence of the Texans will make this season tougher — I think the Titans got better with the additions of Dion Lewis and Rashaan Evans. I think they can put up 9 wins again.
Verdict: The Colts
With all that winning going on, somebody has to lose some games, and I think it’ll be the other division team that lost a lot last season: the Indiannapolis Colts. Yes, I know... Andrew Luck is healthy again. Quentin Nelson and Braden Smith are a matched set of rookie guards that should help the team’s passpro and run game improve. Still, Ryan Grant is penciled in as one starting wideout, and Marlon Mack appears to be the lead back in a group of middling runners. Malik Hooker will help the defense, but any team that has a new head coach is likely to struggle (yeah... I know... I remember Sean McVay). I just think there’s way too much talent in the rest of the division, and way too much bad karma stacked up against this team in recent years for Luck to be enough to put them back on the winning side of the ledger.
Looking at the QB position in the AFC West I see Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, Case Keenum and Pat Mahomes. My first inclination is to say that this is gonna really hurt the Kansas City Chiefs. Then I remember the rest of the roster: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Chris Jones, Justin Houston, Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Eric Berry, Kendall Fuller. I also remember how good a coach Andy Reid is, and I forget about the idea that these guys could finish last in the division. They may not finish first, but Kansas City is built to carry a first year starter at QB. The Chargers went 9-7 in a tumultuous year in 2017. I believe Anthony Lynn is gonna be better able to get his team focused this season. I see them getting at least 9 wins again, and possibly competing for the division championship. That leaves us with the Broncos, who won 5 games last year, and the Raiders, who had 6 wins. Both teams have competitive rosters. Last year, the biggest problem with the Broncos was the quarterback position. In 2018, the franchise is ‘all in’ on Case Keenum. I have to say, I’ve always been a Keenum fan, dating back a number of years, so I find it easier to believe in him than most. He took a similarly-built Vikings team to the NFC Championship game last year after starting the year as a backup quarterback. I think he might be exactly the guy the Broncos have been looking for since Manning retired.
Verdict: The Raiders
I think this is gonna be a competitive division, with the four teams beating each other up a lot, but I think the Raiders are gonna come out the worst for the wear and tear. I don’t have faith that Jon Gruden, after 9 years in the booth, has what it takes to lead the Silver & Black to any sustained success. During the off-season he seems to have placed a premium on adding older players, prioritizing veteran experience and ‘old school’ attitude over youth and skill. The franchise is living in anticipation of its upcoming move to Vegas; the coach wants to throwback to 1998; Gruden complains about the CBA and rule changes on the field; he shows the players game tape from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I just ain’t a believer in what he’s doing.
I’m buying the hype on the Rams. First, I believe in Sean McVay. Second, I think they had a good offseason with an ‘all in’ approach on veteran free agents while they have Goff on a rookie contract. I think the team is hungry, well coached and stocked with talent. I’ll be shocked if they don’t repeat as division champs. The other team that looks like a winner is also led by a former Redskins offensive coordinator. The 49ers coach, Kyle Shanahan is an outstanding offensive mind, and the team has a lot of young talent (Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Mike McGlinhey, Josh Garnett, Jimmy Ward). Garoppolo looks like a legit QB. I think the Niners are a year away from competing for the division title, but I also think that Shanahan gives them an offensive edge and the defensive talent is good enough to lead them to at least 9 wins this season. The question, then, is who struggles more: the retooling Seattle Seahawks or the struggling and rebuilding Arizona Cardinals?
Verdict: Arizona Cardinals
Basically, I’m gonna favor Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson over rookie head coach Steve Wilks and the Bradford/Rosen combo at QB. With David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, Deone Buchanon, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker, this team has the talent to compete, but when in doubt, bet against the rookie head coach — and when the team is set up for a season-long quarterback controversy to boot, that’s the decider for me.
The Saints and Falcons both look like teams set to return to the playoffs. History tells us that this (being an ‘even’ year) is destined to be a season of struggle for the Carolina Panthers, but that doesn’t matter. Even if they limp to a losing record and finish out of the playoffs, I think Carolina will be 3rd in the division.
Verdict: The Buccaneers
This team just ‘feels’ too dysfunctional right now, with the ‘star’ of the shit-show being former first round draft choice and franchise quarterback, Jameis Winston. I’m less concerned by the talent on the field than I am with the drama off of it. I expect this team to be distracted and dismayed for much of the season, and to be overwhelmed by the competition inside the division and the conference. The Bucs feel like the team most likely to implode in 2018.
I’ve been saying for a while now that the Green Bay Packers would win the division in ‘18, but if the pace of early season injury reports continues, I may end up eating my words. For now, I stand by my earlier prediction that the division championship returns to Titletown with a healthy Rodgers. The Detroit Lions may have solved their greatest need by drafting Kerryon Johnson at RB. Despite having a rookie coach, I think the Lions improve this year. I feel like Matt Patricia is the rookie coach taking over the best situation in ‘18 — this year’s version of McVay replacing Jeff Fisher in 2017. The team talent is there; the problem has been the coaching. The Vikings put together a 13-win season last year, partly because of not having to face Aaron Rodgers for more than 8 minutes last season, partly because they faced the Bengals, Browns, Bears (twice) and Ravens. They reached the NFC title game (where they were demolished by the Eagles) because a Saints safety failed to make a routine tackle on the final play of the game to send Minnesota home. The Vikings are good, but they’re not close to being a 13-win team, and this year they play the NFC West (Rams, Niners, Seahawks), the AFC East (Patriots), and improved teams in their own division with a healthy Rodgers (twice) and improved Lions (twice). The outcome for this team should be far different, and much more disappointing than last year’s playoff run... but they won’t have a losing record. I see the Vikings finishing a game over .500.
Verdict: The Bears
Rookie head coach, second-year quarterback, first-round draft pick holding out. Oh yeah, and the Bears have six combined games against the Packers, Lions, and Vikings, plus they play the same killer lineup outside the division (Rams, Niners, Seahawks, Patriots). That looks like nine or ten losses right there. Bears fans should be posting mock drafts by late October. It’s gonna be a bloodbath in the Windy City. At least they’ll have a premium draft position next off-season.
This is a Redskins fan site, so clearly the Redskins should win the East, and the defending NFL champion Eagles are likely to qualify for the playoffs as well. The question is: who will finish third, and who will finish last in the NFC East? The Giants have a new RB in Barkley, but the Cowboys have Zeke. When you add Derrius Guice into the mix (and Jay Ajayi) it’s obvious that the team that wants to win the NFC East this season will need to be able to stop talented running backs. The ‘Skins new Dline will completely reverse last year’s ineffectual run defense, and Chris Thompson will provide the Redskins with the offensive X-factor that will make the Redskins the Beast of the East in 2018. The Cowboys are hamstrung by having Garrett as a head coach, but the Giants go into the season with a rookie head coach (though having a mannequin as a head coach would be an improvement on Ben McAdoo). The Cowboys have to muddle through with a limited talent at QB in Dak Prescott, but is that really worse than entering the season with a 37 year-old turnover prone quarterback and no proven backup?
Verdict: The Cowboys
While I’d be surprised if either the Giants or the Cowboys can muster a winning record this season, I’m gonna give the (slight) edge to the Giants since they have a quality receiving group (OBJ, Sterling Shepard) while the Cowboys enter the season looking for leadership at WR, with a group led by Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley. I’d say the Giants win 7 games and the Cowboys win 6.
Which division will produce the team with the WORST W-L record in the NFL in 2018?
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Which division will produce the NFC Champion in this season’s postseason playoffs?
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