This Thursday night, a collective sigh will be let out across the country when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Foxborough to face the New England Patriots in the season opener for the NFL season. The 220 day wait since the 2017 Super Bowl will finally come to an end. Here is a breakdown division by division of how I see this season playing out.
NFC East: The Cowboys were great last season, and they return with a loaded roster. They will also face a murderer’s row of a schedule. I see Dallas taking a step back and finishing at 9-7. This leaves the door open for the Giants and their electrifying duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall to win this division at 10-6. The Eagles will be improved at 9-7, and the Redskins will limp in at 6-10.
NFC West: The Seahawks have a dreadful offensive line, but their defense and Russell Wilson are enough to hold on to win the division going 9-7. The Cardinals are a tough team to judge. They have plenty of talent, but a difficult schedule holds them to 7-9. The Rams and 49ers go 5-11, and 4-12 respectively.
NFC South: Panthers fans will have something to cheer about after a down season last year. Luke Kuechly is back, and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey will give them a new dimension on offense. Panthers finish at 11-5. The Falcons aren’t going anywhere, and there will be no Super Bowl hangover as they come in at 10-6. Jameis Winston will lead the Buccaneers to 10-6 as well, and the Saints just can’t keep up in the toughest division in football going 6-10. Both the Falcons and Bucs should be in contention for a wild card spot.
NFC North: The Packers are still the class of this division and go a NFC best 12-4. The surprise here will be the wild card Vikings going 11-5, and the Bears improving to 8-8. The Lions are not a bad team, but they lose too many close games and finish 7-9.
AFC East: The Patriots are still the Patriots and cruise to the NFL’s best record at 14-2, and yes, Bill Belichick will still be grumpy about it. The rest of the division is weak, with the Dolphins finishing 7-9, and the Bills and Jets combining for a total of 7 wins, going 5-11 and 2-14 respectively.
AFC West: The Chiefs are solid everywhere, and they are the safest pick here. A favorable schedule helps them to a 11-5 record. The Chargers surprise everyone, and by the end of the season everyone will know the name Joey Bosa. Chargers go 10-6 and grab a wild card. The Raiders won a ton of close games last season, and that will be asking too much. They have a great roster but only manage to go 8-8. The Broncos are still trying to find a QB, but their defense is good enough to keep them at 8-8 as well.
AFC South: The big question here is just how much time will Andrew Luck miss. If he isn’t healthy, the Colts will be bad until they get him back, which leaves them at 7-9. That opens the door for the Titans. While many like the idea of the Texans highly touted defense taking over this division, they really need Deshaun Watson to be as good as advertised before they take the next step. The Titans edge out the Texans going 9-7 and 7-9 respectively. The Jaguars will be improved and post a respectable 7-9 record.
AFC North: Experts are high on the Steelers, but they may have another dogfight on their hands from the Ravens. At the end of the day, Pittsburgh has too much offensive firepower and will win the division going 9-7, while Baltimore finishes at 7-9. The window may be closing on the Bengals, and they struggle to go 6-10. The Browns also go 6-10, which is an improvement in Cleveland.
At the end of the season the AFC Championship will feature a rematch of the seasons opening game with the Chiefs returning to face the Patriots. In the NFC, the Panthers make another deep playoff run until the conference championship game in Green Bay, falling to the Packers. That leaves a Super Bowl featuring the Packers and the Patriots, and Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers could make for the most watched football game in history. I think we will see new teams on the rise this year, but we end up with two perennial favorites on Super Bowl Sunday.