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Road to Miami: Predictions for the 2019 NFL season

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Here are my picks for the 2019 NFL season, hoping that this will never be used against me for evidence of my mental capacity.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-Host Committee Handoff Ceremony Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 100th NFL season officially starts with a September 5 Thursday night tilt between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The New Orleans Saints begin their 53rd season with a Monday night contest at home against the Houston Texans. The AFC continues to be ruled by the Patriots, with a few teams hopeful to finally knock them from their perch. The NFC again looks loaded, with as many as six teams with realistic chances for the crown. The Saints start the year among the top Super Bowl favorites, possessing one of the NFL's best collections of talent. Here are my predictions for the 2019 NFL season, proving that writers too can struggle with sanity.

(*) = playoff berth

AFC EAST

New England Patriots (*), New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Patriots continue to rule a division where the rest of the teams that reside should be forced to submit for reinstatement as actual professional teams. New England has won 16 of the last 18 division titles, including last year on the way to their to a ninth Super Bowl appearance and sixth championship in the Bill Belichick - Tom Brady era. The Patriots may have an even stronger roster this year, and will always be a contender with the now 42-yr old Brady leading the way.

The Jets look like they will finish the distant second to New England's first this year, with their aggressive defensive scheme and promising second year quarterback Sam Darnold. Despite the offseason addition of Le'Veon Bell, who hasn't played a meaningful down of football in 19 months, New York hasn't yet surrounded their young signal caller with enough weapons to contend. Ditto for the Buffalo Bills, who hope their own young quarterback Josh Allen will be more accurate in his second season. The Bills did add some veteran receiving help, but still look like a disaster up front. Defensively, Buffalo has one of the league's better units from front to back, which should help them to be competitive in most contests. Competitive might feel like a made-up word for most fans of the Miami Dolphins in 2019. The Dolphins are in the midst of a massive roster purge, which has included the jettisoning of former starters Robert Quinn, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Kiko Alonso. Miami hopes that second year Josh Rosen, acquired in an offseason trade, will at least prove to be their quarterback of the future for their complete rebuild.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers (*), Cleveland Browns (*), Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A odd rarity occurred in 2018: the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs. Pittsburgh should be better as a team in 2019, despite no longer having Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown on the roster to make them the NFL's ultimate soap opera. The Steelers will still have a productive offense with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Juju Smith-Schuster at receiver, James Conner at running back, and a powerful offensive line. Pittsburgh should be much improved on defense this season as well. They traded up to add linebacker Devin Bush in the first round, and expect a great improvement from last year's top pick Terrell Edmunds at safety to compliment front seven stars T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward. The Steelers should have enough to hold off everyone's offseason darling, the Cleveland Browns, for the division crown. Cleveland is loaded at the skill positions for budding star quarterback Baker Mayfield, adding wideout Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason to go along with receivers Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns also have a young and talented defense led by Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi up front along with Denzel Ward at cornerback. They added veteran linemen Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon this offseason, along with the drafting of talented corner Greedy Williams. Cleveland does have some questions at linebacker though, and it may take some time for their new additions to mesh. Also remember, these are still the Browns until they prove otherwise.

The Ravens, a consistent division contender, may take a significant step back this season after offseason losses that gutted their top defense. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is a special athlete who adds an elite running dimension to the offense. Baltimore added running back Mark Ingram this offseason, and will likely be among the league's top rushing attacks, but Jackson must show that he can lead an accurate passing game with young wideouts and a trio of talented tight ends. The Bengals added a new coach in Zac Taylor, but their stars must show that they can stay off the injured list on an otherwise thin team. Quarterback Andy Dalton has talent at the skill positions with running back Joe Mixon and receivers Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, and John Ross, but a young offensive line must protect their erratic signal caller better. The Cincinnati defense is disruptive up front and solid in the secondary, but may have major weaknesses through their linebacking corps.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans (*), Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans

Chicago Bears v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The division was turned on it's ear last week, when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement. His replacement, Jacoby Brissett, is now looking to prove that he's a longterm NFL starter. Brissett will have plenty of weapons, with star wideout T.Y. Hilton and a pair of solid tight ends in Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle being joined by rookie speedster Parris Campbell. An improved Colts defense hopes to make Indianapolis a balanced team, but Luck's retirement dropped Indianapolis from a potential conference favorite down into the pit of AFC playoff hopefuls. Houston looks to defend their division crown, 3rd in the last four years, after making a flurry of preseason moves to support quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Texans sent multiple draft picks to the Miami Dolphins to add left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills. Watson has been the most sacked quarterback in the league, but has some big play receivers in All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, Stills, and oft-injured Will Fuller V. Houston also traded for running backs Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde to replace the injured Lamar Miller (knee). Houston dealt talented holdout pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle, but still has plenty of defensive talent (led by end J.J. Watt) to hold most teams in check.

The Jaguars look to return to contender status after falling flat on their face a year ago. Jacksonville replaced Blake Bortles with Eagles postseason hero Nick Foles, but have little offensive punch to push the top defenses. One of those top defenses do belong to the Jaguars though, who have the talent at each level to perhaps keep them in contention. The Titans face a make-or-break year at the quarterback position, where former 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota may face a challenge from former Dolphins 1st rounder Ryan Tannehill just to keep his job. Tennessee is fundamentally solid but unspectacular on each side of the ball, and with standout quarterback play could push for a playoff berth.

AFC WEST

Kansas City Chiefs (*), Los Angeles Chargers (*), Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

A probable two team race here between the Chiefs and Chargers, who are each among the AFC favorites to take the conference crown. Kansas City expects that an abysmal defense from a year ago will be vastly improved. Offseason additions Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, and Darron Lee should transform a front seven that already contained the Pro Bowl caliber Chris Jones at tackle, while Tyrunn Mathieu should help the secondary create turnovers. The Chiefs already have a championship level passing game, fueled by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. San Diego (yeah, I said it) looked to have an even more balanced attack than the Chiefs, but an extended holdout by running back Melvin Gordon creates an offensive concern along with their questionable line. The Chargers have a strong defense, but a preseason injury to safety Derwin James weakens the secondary. The Broncos and Raiders seem in full rebuilding mode, but Denver possesses a dangerous defense with a talented running back and Oakland is retooling with a number of high draft picks. Denver has a porous offensive line with an immobile and inconsistent quarterback though (Joe Flacco), while the Raiders took on the ultimate locker room cancer in Antonio Brown to mentor an unproven roster.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME :

Chiefs over Patriots

It was so tempting to pick the Chargers to take the conference because of who my NFC pick will be and given the storylines that it would create (Spoiler Alert!), but the holdout of Melvin Gordon, questions along the offensive line, and injuries in the secondary could sink the Chargers. My pick has Kansas City exacting a measure of revenge over New England, because of an improved defense and their offensive talent. Someone eventually has to knock off the Patriots, right?......RIGHT???

NFC EAST

Philadelphia Eagles (*), Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, New York Giants

NFL: DEC 09 Eagles at Cowboys Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Eagles fell short of successfully defending their championship last season, but return with a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Carson Wentz doesn't have Nick Foles backing him up anymore, so must stay healthy to distribute the ball to one of the deepest offenses in the league. Philadelphia added DeSean Jackson to their stable of pass catchers that include wideouts Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor to go with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Philly expects to have to have a productive rushing attack after adding Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders this offseason. Defensively, the Eagles were ravaged by injury last season, but added Malik Jackson to a disruptive front line of Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, and Brandon Graham. Philadelphia has some questions at linebacker, but are deep in playmakers in the secondary as they look to return to the top of the NFL.

The fate of the Dallas Cowboys probably depends on the holdout length of stud running back Ezekiel Elliott. Contract talks are reportedly progressing, but the team's offensive attack revolves around his talents. Quarterback Dak Prescott is also in line for a new deal, along with star wideout Amari Cooper. They aren't as deep in offensive talent as some of the other top NFC teams, but do have a top line and some nice complimentary weapons in Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, and the un-retired Jason Witten. The Cowboys do have a rugged and fast defense that causes havoc for opponents though, which should keep them in contention down to the wire.

The Redskins (Dwayne Haskins) and Giants (Daniel Jones) both drafted quarterbacks in the first round this spring, but neither look to have the talent to push for a playoff spot in the deep NFC. Washington has built a defense that could give teams trouble, while New York has one of the best backs in the league with Saquon Barkley, but both teams are in rebuilding mode.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears (*), Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Minnesota's hefty financial gamble on quarterback Kirk Cousins blew up in their face last season, missing the playoffs despite one of the better rosters in the league. The Vikings added exciting rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. to one of the best receiving trios in the NFL with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph to couple with underrated running back Dalvin Cook. Cousins must cut back on his turnovers in clutch situations though, and must overcome a poor line in front of him. The Vikings defense is aging, though still a solid unit. The crown of the most disruptive defense in the division, if not the whole league, belongs in Chicago. The new-age Monsters of the Midway are led by elite edge rusher Khalil Mack, but he's not alone making opposing offenses miserable. Linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman wreck offensive blocking, while linebackers Leonard Floyd, Roquan Smith, and Danny Trevathan form one of the best units in the league. Defensive backs Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson are playmakers on the back end. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is expected to take the next step in his development, but much of that could depend on the progression of several young players at the skill positions. Green Bay is always a threat with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Rodgers enters his 16th season coming off his worst year, and with controversy swirling around him after the firing of coach Mike McCarthy. Outside of wideout Davante Adams and a declining tight end in Jimmy Graham, Rodgers also doesn't have nearly the same quality of weapons at his disposal. The Packers are building a potentially stout defense though, headed by an extremely talented secondary. Talent is no such luxury in Detroit, where quarterback Matthew Stafford should consider a lawsuit for cruel working conditions. The Lions are expected to toil at the bottom of the standings again, likely causing yet another coaching change.

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams (*), Seattle Seahawks (*), San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When we last saw the Rams in a game that mattered, they were becoming just the second team in Super Bowl history that failed to score a touchdown during a 13-3 snoozefest loss for the championship. Los Angeles returns most of the star core that led them to division titles the last two seasons, and are on the short list of championship favorites again. Questions do surround the longterm health of stud running back Todd Gurley, skill of the offensive line, and how much some veteran defensive additions have left. Head coach Sean McVay is one of the best game planners in the NFL though, and has Jared Goff throwing to a deep corps of talented receivers. Defensively, tackle Aaron Donald may be the league's most feared defender, and the Rams support him with a handful of playmakers.

Should Los Angeles falter, the Seahawks could be close on their heels to overtake them. Seattle has built a potentially lethal front seven on defense, punctuated by a recent trade for Jadeveon Clowney, although their secondary could derail realistic title hopes. The Seahawks are as dangerous as anyone with a power running game and Russell Wilson at quarterback, despite an unproven stable of receivers.

San Francisco returns Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, and added running back Tevin Coleman to go with All-Pro tight end George Kittle and speedy wideout Dante Pettis. Garoppolo still hasn't proven that he can sustain success for an entire season though, and must improve on last year's awful defensive performance. Awful performances have been the norm for the Arizona Cardinals, who have yet another new coach and yet another new quarterback. First overall pick Kyler Murray does have some talent around him in coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. David Johnson is a terrific running back, along with exciting young wideouts Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella to go with the ageless Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals must show that they can protect their young quarterback, and have little talent defensively. Look on the bright side, another bottom five finish in Arizona could always mean yet another new quarterback with yet another new coach for the NFL's version of Groundhog Day.

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints (*12-4), Atlanta Falcons (*10-6), Carolina Panthers (7-9), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

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Saints quarterback Drew Brees enters his 19th season still among the league's top signal callers, able to dissect the best defenses. He leads a New Orleans attack that has a dominant offensive line to go along with match up nightmares Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. The Saints expect newly added tight end Jared Cook to provide the team a nearly unstoppable three some of offensive stars for coach Sean Payton's innovative game plans. Defensively, New Orleans boasts a trio of stars with end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, and corner Marshon Lattimore that lead a fast and underrated unit that looks on the cusp of being a dominant squad. The Saints must show that they can emotionally overcome the soul crushing endings to each of their previous two playoffs, and consistently eliminate big plays against them in the secondary. They have Pro Bowl level talent at nearly position though and are expected to play with razor sharp focus towards their championship mission.

The Saints most bitter rival looks to return to the postseason after a disappointing 2018. The Atlanta Falcons have explosive offensive firepower behind quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman and wideouts Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed, but have major questions along their offensive line. Defensively, the Falcons were handcuffed by injuries last season, and expect better results with their stars back in the lineup. Head coach Dan Quinn's job could hinge on a return to the playoffs. Coach Ron Rivera of Carolina could also find his job in jeopardy if his Panthers don't find themselves back in the postseason. The Panthers still have starpower on each side of the ball, headed by versatile back Christian McCaffrey, and are still one of the most physical teams in the league. Quarterback Cam Newton's sustained health is a major question mark though, and an aging defense could doom their hopes of contention. New coach Bruce Arians brings fresh perspective to Tampa Bay, but the Bucs are in the midst of a major defensive rebuild, possess a running game with little pop, and are waiting for Jameis Winston to consistently play up to the expectations of a franchise quarterback. The NFC South is still perhaps the most hotly contested in the league, but the Saints seem to have the star power to rule it for a third year in a row.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:

Saints over Eagles

The New Orleans star power prevails in a close one at home over Philadelphia, in a game with loads of offensive firepower on both sides but two highly underrated defenses.

SUPER BOWL LIV (Miami, FL)

New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs

New Orleans Saints v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

A match up that many believe should have taken place a year prior pits two teams with some of the top offensive stars in the league. Drew Brees and Sean Payton return to the site of their only championship to date, when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Now ten years later, the 41-yr. old Brees will bring back the title that has narrowly eluded the Saints over last two seasons. Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans offensive line will roll over the Chief defense, while Cam Jordan, Demario Davis and the Saints defense makes just enough plays against the explosive Kansas City offense to hoist their second Lombardi Trophy.

Saints 38

Chiefs 31

Poll

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