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Are you ready for some football? A 2019 NFL season preview

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The 2019 National Football League season – the 100th in the history of the league – is upon us. We’re just a week or so away from kickoff for the first game of the season – this year’s first matchup sees the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 5.

As always, there’s plenty to anticipate. Lots that we know, lots that we don’t know - and a whole lot that we think we might know but don’t actually really know. Anybody who has read one of these previews in the past know that I live my life in that last category.

And so once again, I will attempt to anticipate how the season will play out. Once again, I will do my best impression of a monkey throwing darts in my ever-Quixotic effort to make sense out of the whole mess. I’m even going to try to predict the 2019 regular season records of each team – a fool’s errand inside a fool’s errand.

(For those interested, I will also be continuing our popular “Kibbles and Picks” online-only feature, wherein I attempt to pick the winners in each week’s schedule of NFL games and try to achieve a greater rate of success than that reached by my dog Stella (who has defeated me handily the last four years in a row and in five of six seasons overall, by the way). If you’re interested, you can check out our website at www.themaineedge.com every Thursday or find Kibbles and Picks on Facebook to see if man can begin to even the score against beast. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it – she’s far better at this than I am.)

And so here it is - your almost-certain-to-be-way-off 2019 Maine Edge NFL Preview.

(y = division winner; x = wild card)

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AFC

AFC East

New England Patriots – 11-5 (y)

New York Jets – 8-8

Buffalo Bills – 6-10

Miami Dolphins – 5-11

Obviously, the party ends someday – Tom Brady is another year older and the truth is that time eventually defeats us all. But until it happens, we have to assume that it will be more of the same. Losing Rob Gronkowski will hurt, but reliable options like Julian Edelman and James White are still here. Their linebackers look solid and the secondary is strong, though Patrick Chung might be a distraction. And they’ve still got Bill Belichick calling the shots, which might be the biggest advantage of all. We’re going to go ahead and pencil them in for double-digit wins and a division crown. The Jets will do their best to keep up, but .500 looks to be about where they’ll wind up. They have some talented offensive pieces – Le’Veon Bell will have something to prove after last season’s contract debacle, while Robby Anderson has a chance to break out. It really boils down to how Sam Darnold develops in his second year; if he adjusts well to new coach Adam Gase’s scheme, things could get interesting. The D can stop the run, but their pass defense will continue to struggle. Buffalo won’t be that good, but they will be weirdly interesting. Quarterback Josh Allen is eternally scrambling or throwing it deep – there’s not much in the middle. We’ll see who steps up to catch those balls – the receiving corps is meh. LeSean McCoy is still running the ball, though age might be catching up with him. The Bills have nobody to really rush the passer, so there’s a ceiling on their defensive effectiveness. Half-a-dozen wins would actually be a positive outcome for this squad. I might actually be giving the Dolphins too much credit here – five wins could be a big ask from a team this devoid of eye-catching talent. The QB is Josh Rosen, the top-10 pick in 2018 who was jettisoned by Arizona after just a single season. I was an early believer in RB Kenyan Drake, but his foot troubles are worrisome; he could lose time to Kalen Ballage. The D-line and linebacking corps are especially weak. It wouldn’t shock me if they wound up selecting first in next year’s draft.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns – 10-6 (y)

Baltimore Ravens – 9-7 (x)

Pittsburgh Steelers – 9-7

Cincinnati Bengals – 4-12

Count me among the folks who are really excited to see what happens in Cleveland this season. The talent they’ve put together on this team – particularly on the offensive side – is really quite remarkable. Baker Mayfield looks poised to take a step forward in his second year. He’s throwing to newcomer Odell Beckham Jr., a top-five talent with something to prove. Nick Chubb is electric on the ground. They’re young and athletic up and down the defense as well. Expect big things from the Browns – including their first playoff berth in nearly two decades. These next two were a coin flip for me. I went with Baltimore because I love their running game and defense. Not only did Lamar Jackson set the NFL record for rushing attempts by a QB, but he did it in basically half a season. He’ll lead the way for a team that almost certainly leads the league in rushes. The defense isn’t what it was, but it won’t fade that much – they’ve added safety Earl Thomas to the mix, and a guy like that can really cover some deficiencies. As for the Steelers, well – Antonio Brown might be gone, but Ben Roethlisberger is still here. So are Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner. That’s a heck of a foundation for your offense. We’ll see if they can keep it up for a full season. The defense has the potential to be really good – guys like T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward and rookie Devin Bush bring a heck of a lot of talent to the table. They could easily wind up finishing higher than this. And then, there are the Bengals. The sad, sad Bengals. There’s just not a lot good to say here. Andy Dalton is still the quarterback, dooming Cincinnati with his mediocre competence. Joe Mixon will probably run for a lot of yards, even though the offensive line is the worst in the league. A.J. Green’s time as an elite receiving force is likely at an end; he can’t stay healthy. The defense will give up a lot of points. All in all, it remains a tough time to be a Bengals fan. Four wins seems right.

AFC South

Houston Texans – 9-7 (y)

Tennessee Titans – 8-8

Indianapolis Colts – 6-10

Jacksonville Jaguars – 4-12

Obviously, this section would have read VERY differently had it seen print before the unexpected retirement of Colts QB Andrew Luck. Now, it’s anybody’s guess, though I like the Texans to take the lead, if only because I think Deshaun Watson is the best QB in the division. When in doubt, take the best guy under center. Especially when he’s throwing to DeAndre Hopkins – maybe the league’s best wideout. Lamar Miller is out, putting the running game in flux. The offensive line looks to have improved – it couldn’t be much worse – so that’ll help. The defensive line is as talented as ever with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, but the secondary is still pretty rough. The Titans look middle-of-the-road. They’ve got Marcus Mariota, who at this point might be what he’s going to be at this point. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis will share the load at running back, but neither inspires much fear. And the receiving corps is less than stellar. However, the defense looks like it might be really good, with a lot of playmakers in the secondary and an interesting scheme. It’ll keep them in games, but it’ll have to win a few for this team to be better than .500. Alas, poor Indy. The sudden departure of Luck probably costs this team five wins; Jacoby Brissett is a fine backup, but he’s no Andrew Luck. Still, the offensive line looks good, which will keep Brissett upright and open holes for running back Marlon Mack. We’ll see if T.Y. Hilton can get on the same page as his QB. The defensive secondary looks strong, with a guy like Kenny Moore leading the way. But yeah – the Colts are out of luck in more ways than one. They’re still better off than the Jaguars, though. The Jags replaced QB Blake Bortles with Nick Foles, who will likely look more like Bortles than the guy who won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, particularly since this is the worst wideout group in the league. Leonard Fournette will bounce back, but it’ll be tough against stacked boxes. The defense will improve, though not to the levels it reached earlier this decade. A year’s-worst-team contender.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs – 13-3 (y)

Los Angeles Chargers – 11-5 (x)

Denver Broncos – 8-8

Oakland Raiders – 6-10

This Kansas City team has a real shot at putting up the best record in the NFL this season. The offense is supercharged, with Patrick Mahomes coming off an all-timer of an MVP season; he won’t match last year’s numbers – who could? – but he’ll still be one of the league’s best QBs. He’s got some elite talents catching the ball as well; Tyreek Hill is top-tier on the field, while Travis Kelce is probably the best offensive tight end in the NFL. The defense won’t be as impressive, but with Andy Reid’s offense, they won’t need to be. No one out there really cares about the Chargers, yet they look ready to make a serious run this year. Philip Rivers is still out there playing quarterback just as well as his more celebrated peers. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are back to catch the ball. Hopefully, Melvin Gordon ends his holdout in time to run with it. They’ve got some killer talent on the defensive side – Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are both elite pass rushers. I might be too optimistic on the Broncos this year. We’ll see if Joe Flacco is the answer at quarterback; it seems unlikely, but you never know. The offensive line will have to be better if they want to keep Flacco upright, especially since there’s no one of note to catch the ball. However, Denver is elite on defense – guys like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are outright dominant, which certainly helps. Maybe the offense can score just enough, but it will rarely do more. The Raiders will continue to linger at the bottom of the division, though with a little luck, they could potentially leapfrog the Broncos. Derek Carr is what he is at this point, but an improved O-line could help him maximize his talents. Having Antonio Brown join the fray helps too, helmet weirdness be damned. But that’s kind of it as far as offensive talent goes – it’s tough to see how this team scores points, which is too bad because the defense is kind of terrible and doesn’t look to get much better. Six wins might actually be high.

NFC

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6 (y)

Dallas Cowboys – 9-7

New York Giants – 5-11

Washington Redskins – 3-13

It will be interesting to see how this division plays out this season. The clear favorite is the Eagles, who have what appears to be a fully healthy Carson Wentz under center, throwing the ball to guys like Alshon Jeffrey and the returning DeSean Jackson, as well as top-three tight end Zach Ertz. Jordan Howard is a passable lead back, though he might lose the gig by midseason. If the defense can overcome some significant personnel losses, they’ll be in good shape – they still have Fletcher Cox and Sidney Jones holding it down. Considering how bad some of their division mates will be, 10 wins could be an undersell. The Cowboys have had some off-the-field stuff surrounding Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout, but he’ll sign and he’ll play and he’ll dominate. The bigger distraction might be QB Dak Prescott, who has impending contract concerns of his own. That said, Dallas has the NFL’s best offensive line, so that’ll certainly help matters. The defense will be really good as well, with linebacker tandem Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch spearheading what could be an elite D. A couple of provident bounces and Dallas is a playoff squad. The Giants, meanwhile, are many bounces away from even sniffing the playoffs. They have a crumbling QB (Eli Manning) who will be replaced by an unproven rookie (Daniel Jones). They have one of the league’s worst receiving groups, thanks to the dumping of Odell Beckham Jr. On the plus side, they have one of the most electric young running backs in the league in Saquon Barkley and a maybe-decent defense and … huh. That’s pretty much it. And yet, that’s still more than Washington’s got. Their quarterback situation is pretty rough – Dwayne Haskins will be asked to run the show as a rookie behind a pretty terrible offensive line. There’s almost nothing in the way of receiving talent; their best offensive weapons are a third-down back and a tight end who can’t stay on the field. Defensively, this team is below-average almost everywhere except the front four. By my reckoning, it will be Washington that makes the first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings – 11-5 (y)

Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (x)

Detroit Lions – 9-7

Chicago Bears – 6-10

There’s a lot to like about this Minnesota team, regardless of where you come down on the question of Kirk Cousins as a top-tier QB. It almost doesn’t matter when you’ve got a wideout tandem as talented as Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs – expect big seasons from both. And if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy, the running game will be elite as well. All that, plus a defense that promises to be good; they’ve got one of the best collections of defensive backs in the league. The Vikings will be able to pass and defend the pass – that’s a recipe for success in today’s NFL. And yet, don’t be surprised if Green Bay pushes past them. When you’ve got Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball, you’re set up to be one of the league’s best. Davante Adams has become an elite receiver and a favorite target. I like Aaron Jones to have an excellent season from the running back position. And I think the Packers are set up to have a big-play defense; if the front seven can approach the productivity of the secondary, this team could win a dozen games. Next, we have the Lions, who will once again spend a season being not quite good enough. Nobody embodies that reality quite like QB Matthew Stafford, whose big numbers don’t translate into wins. There’s some young skill position talent – guys like Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay could break out – but there’s just not enough of it. There’s room for improvement on the defensive side, but ultimately, coach Matt Patricia’s hopes of replicating his mentor’s success in New England will have to wait another year. Lastly, we have the Bears. I recognize that halving Chicago’s win total from last season might seem extreme, but the truth is that they were pretty lucky. The defense will still be great – Kalil Mack remains the game’s best overall defender – but regression means fewer big-time scoring plays. QB Mitchell Trubisky will have to step it up, putting points on the board to counteract the defense’s step back. It remains to be seen if he’s capable. If so, I’m way off on this win total.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – 11-5 (y)

New Orleans Saints – 11-5 (x)

Carolina Panthers – 8-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4-12

This is another coin flip. I went with the Falcons to win the division because I really like their offense. Specifically, I think the receiver combo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley has the potential to be the best in the league this season. If QB Matt Ryan can keep performing like he has been, those two will both blow by the 1,000-yard mark this year. A lot of this will come down to an improved offensive line. On the defensive side, things aren’t as impressive. However, when a team is built to score points like this one, a so-so defense is plenty good enough. That doesn’t mean I’m somehow picking against the Saints; New Orleans could easily wind up atop the division. Drew Brees might be 40 now, but what decline he’s had has been gentle. That will continue with guys like Michael Thomas and Jared Cook catching the ball, along with do-everything running back wonder Alvin Kamara. The O-line looks great. If the defense is top-half or better, the Saints are an easy playoff pick. It’s funny – Carolina features two of the most dynamic offensive players in the NFL in QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey, and yet, they’ll probably be lucky to go 8-8. Newton and McCaffery will both get numbers – pick them for your fantasy team if you can – but that won’t equal wins. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is elite on the defensive side too, but again – there’s not much else going on there. Despite some elite talents, the end result for the Panthers is going to be more mediocrity. And then we have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will be in competition for that coveted first-overall draft pick. Jameis Winston is still the quarterback, though no one seems to know whether he’s actually good enough to lead a team to the playoffs. Mike Evans is one of the league’s best receivers, but there’s not much else in Tampa Bay’s cupboard. The running game was bad last year and will continue to be bad this year. The defense is shaping up to be one of the NFL’s worst, struggling against both the pass and the run.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams – 12-4 (y)

Seattle Seahawks – 9-7

San Francisco 49ers – 9-7

Arizona Cardinals – 4-12

Tough to imagine last year’s NFC champs struggling to repeat their regular season success. Yes, running back Todd Gurley’s knee is a concern, but with an improving Jared Goff throwing to a collection of wideouts like Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, this offense will have no problem putting up points. The defense is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who led the league in sacks and is one of the most dominant forces in the entire NFL. The secondary looks capable as well. It adds up to a team that should cruise to a dozen wins … and could potentially do even better. I’m a little higher on the Seahawks than most. While I recognize that the team is on the downswing, I think Seattle’s got one more push in them before this window closes. Seattle going run-heavy with guys like Chris Carson and Rashad Penny opens things up for QB Russell Wilson to do his thing. And the defense, while missing some key contributors from past years, still has some playmakers – Bobby Wagner is one of the best linebackers in the league, just as one example. Two wins in either direction wouldn’t shock me. On the flip side, I’m down on the 49ers more than most. I don’t buy Jimmy Garoppolo as a top-shelf QB yet. I may be wrong, but I just don’t see it yet. He does have an elite talent at tight end in George Kittle and some decent running backs, so who knows? The defense needs the pass rush to improve; they need to generate pressure and turn that pressure into turnovers. If not, it’s a long season for San Francisco. Finally, we have the Arizona Cardinals, who will be one of the most fun teams to watch even as they put up one of the worst records. We’re all excited to see rookie QB Kyler Murray in action. Running back David Johnson remains one of the game’s best; the ageless Larry Fitzgerald will be catching balls as well. It’s the defense that presents a problem; while Chandler Jones and newcomer Terrell Suggs can rush the passer, star cornerback Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games.

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