New England Patriots (11-5)
The Patriots entered the Playoffs last season looking for a sixth Lombardi trophy and a third in the last five years. Even with this run of dominance they weren’t given much of a shot. The Patriots finished 11-5 and all five of their losses were against teams that failed to reach the Postseason. In three of those losses the offense only managed ten points. However, In the Playoffs they scored 41 against the Chargers and 37 against the Chiefs, and then outlasted the Rams in a 13-3 defensive battle. In 2019 they will be defending champions, but they will be without Trey Flowers and Rob Gronkowski. The questions reside on the offensive side of the football with Gronkowski retiring and LT Trent Brown leaving in Free Agency. In addition, they put David Andrews on IR and cut Demaryius Thomas. The Patriots will rely more on running the football as Brady is now 42, and that is a fine strategy as long as Sony Michel’s knees stay healthy. After Edelman the receiving group gets thin. On defense they are bringing in veteran Michael Bennett and handing play calling duties to Belichick. This will smooth things over and should give the Patriots the talent and ability to rush the passer. Kyle Van Noy is a force and Jamie Collins will have a comeback season with the Pats. The secondary will be fine with a returning Stephon Gilmore and the 2 McCourty brothers, although there are questions about Patrick Chung and cocaine use. Brady and Belichick have won with less and in this division 9 or 10 wins might be enough to win it. They may lose in week 1 to the Steelers but then they will rip off 7 or 8 wins. Things get interesting in week 9 as they start a string of 5 consecutive games against Playoff teams from 2018. Even with that stretch, the Patriots schedule is less than tough, they will go 12-4 and win the division for the 11th consecutive year.
New York Jets (4-12)
The Jets confused everyone when they let Mike Maccagnan make major decisions in the offseason and then fired him. The questionable move doesn’t change the fact that the Jets are infused with more talent than they have been in a long time. Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley are big additions to a young Jets team looking to make some noise after winning just 14 games in the last 3 years. Adam Gase is there because of his record with QBs, but after a disappointing tenure in Miami, many are unsure if he is the answer to help Sam Darnold. Beyond just Darnold, there were reports that Gase disagreed with moves made to get Bell and Mosley. A strange firing, a coach who doesn’t agree with moves made in Free Agency, and a star who sat out a year over a contract dispute. It will be an interesting year for the Jets. They flashed a ton of money and have exciting talent but there is potential for it to go south fast. Darnold will need to focus on turning over the ball less on interceptions and fumbles. The offensive line will need to help him with that, but there are more questions than answers there. Robby Anderson and new acquisition Jamison Crowder give the Jets a solid receiving group. Darnold will also get to use Bell as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The defensive line is one of the best in football. Quinnen Williams was unstoppable at Alabama and will join Leonard Williams to wreak havoc on teams’ offenses. In addition to Mosley, the Jets have Jamal Adams to lead the defense. They suffered a huge blow with the ACL tear of Avery Williamson, the questions continue with a lack of pass rushers and a spotty secondary. Based on the schedule alone the Jets might start 1-5, before getting the winning started. Darnold will still have growing pains in year 2, but the Free Agency moves, and the strong defensive line will keep them afloat. This is an 8-win team that has to be excited for the future.
TL;DR: The Jets are more talented than they have been in years, but with Darnold growing and some weak spots on defense they will finish 8-8.
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
The Bills understand that good teams are built around franchise QBs and so they spent the offseason getting help for theirs. The jury is still out on Josh Allen and his ability to be more of an NFL QB, but like any Quarterback he needs to play behind a solid offensive line and with good receivers. The Bills brought in John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Tyler Kroft. They also signed Frank Gore and a bunch of offensive linemen. Even with all of the turnover this is still a bad offense. LeSean McCoy fell off last year and was cut before the season started. Zay Jones is very talented but not quite a number 1 guy. Allen emerged as a prolific runner and showed flashes of a brilliant arm but struggled with completion percentage and avoiding interceptions. The defense is good enough to carry a team and keep them competitive as the offense grows. Tremaine Edmunds and TreDavious White are two of the more talented young players in the league. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer make up a dominant Safety punch. The defensive line is stuffed with good players and gets a boost with the drafting of the uber talented Ed Oliver. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have built a talented roster that may very well be in position to take over from the Patriots, but this year will be another building block. I could see the Bills winning their first 3 games or at least going 2-1, but after that they will regress and finish at 7-9.
TL;DR: The Bills have a talented roster and the most important thing this season will be the growth of Josh Allen. Too many holes on offense will leave them with 7 wins and on the outside looking in come Playoff time.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
The Dolphins are having a rather confusing QB controversy. After 7 years of Ryan Tannehill, the team finally moves on to the future. In the meantime, they signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and traded a second rounder for Josh Rosen. Signing the veteran Fitzpatrick is the perfect tanking move but trading for Rosen muddies the waters. Technically Rosen doesn’t prevent them from drafting a QB in the draft next year, but if Rosen shows signs of being the man, do you then use a top draft pick on another QB? Brian Flores is not in New England anymore and the lack of talent will be apparent from day one. He will try to implement values from the Patriots but like any other team things will depend on the Quarterback. Rosen has the tough task of showing he can be the guy in an offense that is just bad. The offensive line is arguably the worst in the NFL and the Dolphins lost their QB, top WR, top RB, and the LT. The offensive line got worse before the season began when they traded Laremy Tunsil to the Texans. There is some hope as Kenyan Drake has been freed from the prison that Gase put him in. Kenny Stills was set to lead a semi-talented receiving corps, but he was traded in the Texans deal. The nice thing about the deal is that the Dolphins get 2 first rounders and a second rounder as well as 2 players who are under 30. The defense has its own problems. Cameron Wake, Kiko Alonso, and Robert Quinn are gone and Reshad Jones could be next. Christian Wilkins was a good pick out of Clemson and might be their only force on the line. The secondary has some talent but is too spotty to shut down an offense. Wilkins, Xavien Howard, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are three solid building blocks to build a great defense. It’s possible they add another in 2020 if they like Rosen enough, but offensive line might be more of a pressing concern. I see an 0-4 start to the year as they face the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys, and Chargers. They will maybe get to 3 wins and have a serious look at the QBs in the 2020 draft.
TL;DR: Even if Josh Rosen is the QB of the future, they are still well behind the Bills and the Jets in the rebuilding process. The roster is a series of holes and the tanking has begun. No one should lose to them, but a few teams will.
Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
You don’t need me to tell you how hyped the Browns are. If you have read anything about the NFL, then you have heard about what the Browns roster can do. They finally got rid of Hue Jackson and replaced him with the unknown Freddie Kitchens. Kitchens did well in his time calling plays last season but being the Head Coach will be a different animal. Baker Mayfield threw 27 touchdowns as a rookie and now will be throwing to OBJ and Jarvis Landry along with David Njoku. Nick Chubb came within 4 yards of a 1,000-yard season and the Browns added Kareem Hunt for the last half of the season. The Browns were 3-6-1 heading into the bye week before turning it around and winning 4 of their last 6 games. Even with the new and exciting pieces on offense, questions remain regarding the offensive line. Left Tackle duties will be handed to Greg Robinson who has struggled since becoming the number 2 pick in the 2014 draft. Baker will have plenty of weapons to allow him to get rid of the football, but a faulty line can bring the whole offense down. Myles Garrett has lived up to his potential and continues to get better. The Browns traded for Oliver Vernon to add another pass rusher into the mix. Sheldon Richardson was added to help stop the run. Denzel Ward is a shutdown Corner but there isn’t a solid number 2 behind him. The Browns drafted Greedy Williams to be that guy. Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall will be good in the Safety position. Aside from LT and maybe a second Corner, it is hard to find real weaknesses on this team. The Browns will have the luxury of playing the AFC East, and if it all comes down to week 17, they have a date with the Bengals. The Browns will win 11 games and the division.
TL;DR: The Browns have high expectations going into the year and its easy to see why. A weaker schedule and more talented roster will give this team its first division crown since 1989.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1)
The Steelers are going to try to prove that they are going to be better without one of the league’s best RB and WR. JuJu Smith-Schuster will replace Antonio Brown and James Conner will continue to take over from Le’Veon Bell. Both of those are fine options as long as Conner can stay healthy. The problem is it leaves a serious hole at the number 2 WR spot. Donte Moncrief will probably have the best chance at filling that role. Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 5,000 yards and had 34 touchdowns while playing every game for the Steelers. The Steelers then locked him up through the 2021 season. The offensive line will once again be a strength and becomes steadily more important every year as Ben grows older. The Steelers lost 6 games last year and scored over 20 in 4 of them, and over 30 in 2 of them. The Steelers traded up to pick Devin Bush who they hope can replace Ryan Shazier. The defensive line is one of the more talented in the NFL, led by Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. T.J. Watt had 13 sacks in 2018 and Javon Hargrave can get after the QB and stuff the run. Joe Haden and Steven Nelson will be tasked with covering Receivers and they will get some help from the pressure the line will put on backfields. Safety might be the biggest hole on the roster unless Terrell Edmunds makes some major strides. Much of the progress on defense will depend on a second edge rusher and a second Linebacker. The season will get off to a tough start with games against New England and Seattle. Playing the rest of the AFC East will be a blessing for them as the season will end with games against the Cardinals, Bills, and Jets before the big week 17 matchup in Baltimore. The Steelers will win 10 games and just get beaten out for the division.
TL;DR: It will be a much quieter season in Pittsburgh without the spectacle of Bell and Brown. The offense won’t have the easiest time replacing them, but the defense will be better, and the team will win 10 games and challenge for the division.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
After a 4-5 start and an injury to starting QB, Joe Flacco, the Ravens put Lamar Jackson in at Quarterback and won 6 of their last 7 games to make the Playoffs. They were beaten by the Chargers 23-17 in the Wild Card round while many experts called for Joe Flacco to be given a chance. In 2019, Flacco is gone and this team for better or worse will be run by Lamar Jackson. In the stretch of 6 out of 7 wins, Jackson completed just 58 percent of his passes, but was extremely dangerous when he set out to run. Jackson is built smaller than Cam Newton, but the Ravens are certain they can run him and still keep him healthy. A large part of that is thanks to a strong offensive line that will keep hits in the pocket to a minimum. The problem is that new and different offenses don’t always hold up when the NFL gets a second look. Jackson will need to grow as a passer and unfortunately, he doesn’t have strong weaponry around him. Michael Crabtree and John Brown are gone, and Willie Snead remains as the best option. Mark Ingram was a good pickup because it will bring another dimension to the running game. The Ravens were one of the best defenses in the league last year and were a large part of the strong finish. C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs will all be playing for different teams in 2019. Most of the replacements will come from within the roster which means the Ravens will have less talent and less depth. The team did bring in Earl Thomas to replace Eric Weddle and if he can stay healthy that could prove to be a game-changer. Marlon Humphrey looks like a star and the secondary won’t lose much. The problem will be regarding pass rush and the holes left by veterans like Suggs. The Ravens have a mixed schedule as they play the AFC East and NFC West. The division may very well come down to their last 2 games of the season, when they take on the Browns and Steelers. This team will win 9 games and fall short of the division.
TL;DR: The offense will have to adjust to the adjustments the league will make. The defense has too many good players to replace, and yet there is still enough talent to challenge for the division. They will finish 9-7.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
The Bengals have had Marvin Lewis coaching for 16 seasons, so any change was going to be a big one. They hired Zac Taylor, the 36-year-old QB coach for the Rams. The hire was exciting, but the roster remains the same and the injury problems have already picked up where they left off in 2018. First rounder Jonah Williams is out for the year with a torn labrum. A.J. Green is still walking with a boot and will miss several games. Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon give the Bengals 2 talented players at skill positions. The offensive line will hurt this team more than any other group. Tyler Eifert is another skilled player who has been hampered by constant injury. Dalton needs time in the pocket more than most QBs and Mixon can only do so much. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins return to anchor the defense, while Vontaze Burfict is gone. Carl Lawson can help Dunlap rush the passer, but he is coming off an ACL tear. The Linebacking corps is as shaky as the offensive line and that was part of the reason, they struggled so much against the run last year. The secondary has some pieces such as Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick. The question with the Bengals is how much of the team’s struggles were due to injury? The Front Office seems to think a lot of it was due to injury because they didn’t do much to overturn the roster. The injuries and thin parts of the roster will hold the Bengals back. They will get beaten by the 3 teams above them in the division, but Dalton and Green are talented enough to win 5 games.
TL;DR: The Bengals suffered injuries to key players which derailed their 2018 season. Health will make the team better, but the roster is still too untalented to challenge for the Playoffs. Dalton, Green, and a solid defensive line will win 5 games.
Houston Texans (11-5)
Experts were cautious to predict the Texans to win a bunch of games last year. Deshaun Watson had an incredible rookie year, but he was coming off an ACL tear. In the beginning it looked like picking against the Texans was a smart move as they started off 0-3. However, Watson and co. ripped off 9 straight wins on their way to a division title and the 3rd seed. They finished the season going 2-2 over the final 4 games and then were stifled by the Colts in a 21-7 loss. In 2019 Watson is another year removed from the injury, but he returns with a very similar line to the one that let him get pummeled last year. It speaks to his incredible talent that he still had a good year despite getting hit at record levels. The Texans drafted a couple of offensive linemen, but they are works in progress and Matt Kalil is a replacement level player. A few days before the season started the Texans pulled off a deal to get LT Laremy Tunsil to bolster the line. In the same trade they improved their receiving corps by acquiring Kenny Stills. DeAndre Hopkins played through injuries last year and still caught 115 passes for over 1,500 yards. The Texans will lineup Will Fuller across from Hopkins, and if he performs it will make Hopkins even tougher to defend against. The Texans suffered a major blow when Lamar Miller tore his ACL during the preseason. Duke Johnson was brought in which will give Watson an out when he’s being chased around. On defense J.J. Watson is still king. Jedeveon Clowney was traded to the Seahawks as the Texans couldn’t reach a deal with the former number 1 pick. In return the Texans received a 3rd round pick, Jacob Martin, and Barkevious Mingo. Whitney Mercilus also had a good season last year after suffering injuries in 2017. The Linebackers are solid and therefore Houston boasts one of the better front-7s in the league. Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson are gone, and their replacements are a downgrade. The offensive line and secondary are going to decide whether this is an improved team or a team that falls back into mediocrity. The Texans looked like they had the toughest schedule in the NFL, but with Luck’s shock retirement two games just got easier. Even if they go 5-1 in the division, the schedule is still tough enough to hold them from a great season. The struggles on the line and the loss of Miller will be tough to overcome, the Texans will win 10 games.
TL;DR: The talent of Watt, Watson, Hopkins, and Mercilus will help overcome the injury to Lamar Miller and the loss of Clowney. Even with the trade for Tunsil, the line will have Watson running for his life, but his talent will run them back into the Playoffs with a 10-6 season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
The Jaguars were 10-6 in 2017 and made a run at the Super Bowl but fell to New England 24-20. 2018 was a different story as they finished 5-11 in a drama filled season. This offseason they went out and spent 88 million on Nick Foles in order to have the QB that Blake Bortles never was. Foles of course won that Super Bowl in 2017 and has shown long stretches of brilliance in the NFL, but also has struggled. Which Foles will the Jaguars see? Well part of that will be up to how they use him. Leonard Fournette can take a large load off of the passing offense if he can stay healthy. The problem is the offensive line is bad and they were porous last year. They also are missing a number one WR. The top target last year was Dede Westbrook who will have a chance to prove he is the guy if he can improve under Foles. Foles will have his former QB coach, John DeFilippo, which the Jags are hoping will make the transition easier. The Jaguars defense took a major blow before the season started when Telvin Smith announced he will be stepping away from football in 2019. Malik Johnson left in Free Agency, but up front they return a talented line with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Taven Bryan and Josh Allen are two young players who will play a big role. Myles Jack will replace Smith at Linebacker but that leaves a gaping hole at number 2. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will do fine in coverage, but Safety is an issue after Tashaun Gipson left in Free Agency. The 2 starters are both unproven and untested. The Jaguars start off with a game against the Chiefs before getting two division tests in a row. The NFC South and AFC West aren’t the two divisions you would choose to play. They will take advantage of division games and easy matchups against the Raiders and Buccaneers but will still only manage 9 wins.
TL;DR: Every team depends on their Quarterback, but that might be more true for the Jaguars. Nick Foles cost 88 million dollars, but he has a Super Bowl to his name. Foles will produce, but an inconsistent offensive line and key pieces leaving will keep them from being a powerhouse in the AFC. They will finish 9-7 and fight for the last Wild Card spot.
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
After 4 consecutive victories the Titans had a chance to play for the Playoffs against the Colts. The week 17 matchup wasn’t all it was cracked up to be because QB Marcus Mariota sat out with an injury and Blaine Gabbert and the Titans were beaten 33-17. Last season was derailed by injuries to their Quarterback which has been an ongoing problem since he was drafted. Mariota looked great in his first two seasons as he showed brilliance and seemed to be maturing, but the good years were followed by injuries and bad play. This is the final year of his rookie contract and the Titans went out and traded for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans also signed Rodger Saffold to boost the interior of the line. Adam Humphries joins a thin Receiving corps that is led by Corey Davis. The biggest surprise of 2018 for the Titans was the emergence of Derrick Henry who dominated down the stretch. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan both retired which leaves the Titans with few options to use to pressure the Quarterback. Cameron Wake is too old to be the factor they need him to be. Jurrell Case will keep the running game in check, and it will be interesting to see what they can get from first rounder Jeffery Simmons who is coming off ACL surgery. The Linebackers are a solid group and will do a decent job against the run and the pass. The secondary has more questions as Malcolm Butler struggled last year and Adoree’ Jackson had surgery on his foot. Kevin Byard is one of the best Safeties in the world and will be joined by Kenny Vaccaro. The Titans have a well-rounded roster, but it will start and end with Mariota’s health because Tannehill is not the answer. Mariota will have a better year and should get paid but they will miss the Playoffs and he will miss out on a rich payday. The Titans will win 7 games.
TL;DR: The Titans enter a pivotal year as they decide where to go with their QB. The Titans will have the unfortunate experience of having a better team but a worse record than 2018 because they have a tough schedule. They will go 7-9 and miss the Playoffs again.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
The story begins and ends with whatever happened on August 24th. Andrew Luck shocked the football world when he announced the end of his prolific career at the age of 29. He cited the mental wear he dealt with over the many injuries he had. His decision is his and everyone should wish him the best of luck, but from a football perspective this changes some things. Instantly fantasy teams were crushed and predictions about the season, especially the AFC South, seem archaic. Last season they lost 5 of their first 6 games before turning it on and winning 9 of the last 10. They beat the Texans in the Wild Card game 21-7 but fell to the Chiefs in the Divisional round 31-13. Through all of this doom and gloom of Luck retiring we are forgetting an important point. The Colts are talented in a whole host of positions. The offensive line is one of the youngest and best in the NFL. T.Y. Hilton is a clear number 1 and Eric Ebron is a great Tight End. The Colts signed Devin Funchess who showed some promise in a disappointing time in Carolina. Marlon Mack ran for over 900 yards with 9 touchdowns in 10 starts in 2018. The benefit of all these weapons will be Jacoby Brissett who started for the 2017 Colts when the team went 4-12. He threw for 3,000 yards with 13 TDs against 7 interceptions and had a completion percentage of 58.8%. On that note let’s talk about the defense. Darius Leonard emerged as an NFL star last season and will need to build on that if the Colts are going to overcome the offensive downturn. Justin Houston was brought in and he can have a major impact if he can stay healthy. Pierre Desir showed he can play Corner last year, despite being a mid-round pick. Malik Hooker anchors things from the Safety spot and his worth was shown when they were shredded by the Chiefs without him. Like the rest of the division, they face a rough schedule. Brissett will be better than 2017 and the team is super talented, but you need a Quarterback better than Brissett. They will win 5 games and will either spend Foles money on a Free Agent Quarterback or they will draft one in a QB-heavy draft.
TL;DR: Andrew Luck stepped away and leaves a very talented roster to his backup Jacoby Brissett. Brissett led the Colts to a 4-12 season in 2017, but this team is certainly better. The loss of the franchise cornerstone will be too much to overcome and they will go 5-11.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
When Alex Smith was Quarterback the Chiefs were built around a balanced roster with a game managing QB. Smith has never thrown 5,000 yards or even had more than 26 TDs in any season of his career. In 2018 Patrick Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards with 50 Touchdowns while leading the Chiefs to a 12-4 season. The Chiefs losses included tough defeats at the hands of the Patriots, Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks, and their biggest loss was by 7 points. They handled the Colts easily in the Playoffs before losing 37-31 in overtime to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The best offense in the NFL returns a very similar one from last year. The biggest loss was Running Back Kareem Hunt, but they believe they have his replacement in Damien Williams. Williams helped the team to the finish last year and did well. They also signed LeSean McCoy after he was cut by the Bills. Tyreek Hill avoided suspension and will be the number 1 Receiver after posting 1,479 yards last season. With Rob Gronkowski gone, Travis Kelce is the best Tight End in football. The Chiefs don’t really have a good number 2 Receiver and will miss Hunt out of the backfield. The Chiefs lost two linemen to Free Agency but do have Duvernay-Tardif returning from injury. It’s hard to be super excited over this line especially with their performance during the Championship game. The Chiefs fired their defensive coordinator and lost Dee Ford and Justin Houston. It was a major turnover because the defense was bad last year and was terrible against New England. The Chiefs traded for Frank Clark to bring in talent and a few other linemen for depth. Chris Jones will also be extremely important upfront after his breakout season in 2018. Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens don’t inspire a ton of confidence for the Linebacking crew. The Chiefs signed Damien Wilson and traded for Darron Lee, so they definitely have some players even if they aren’t great. Eric Berry is being replaced by Tyrann Mathieu and that is where the good ends for the secondary. Kendall Fuller can play but hasn’t shown it recently and the rest of the corners haven’t shown enough to believe in them. However, we should keep in mind how terrible the defense was last year. It might be that different names are good enough. The team might be a bit better on defense, but the offense will take a step back. Mahomes can’t keep up that pace, can he? The schedule is soft for the most part and they will go 12-4 again and this time the Chargers will be a game or two below them.
TL;DR: Patrick Mahomes may have had the greatest season ever last year, but will take an inevitable step back. The defense underwent major change and will be slightly better. The schedule is easy enough that a step back will still result in a 12-4 season and a division title.
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)
It wasn’t too long ago that Melvin Gordon was all in on the Chargers Super Bowl chances, but now he enters a full month of a holdout. The Chargers have pieces to replace him and they still return a skilled roster, but it would be a big shame to have this play out similar to Bell in Pittsburgh. Phillip Rivers had one of his best years last year and led the Chargers to an 11-2 finish to the season after starting 1-2. Their first 2 losses were to the Chiefs and Rams, but the last 2 were to the Broncos and Ravens. They beat the Ravens in the Playoffs before falling to the Patriots to end the season. Sometimes a team comes out flat and that could explain the loss to the Broncos but the loss to the Ravens was particularly tough because it cost them a 1st seed and Bye. If Gordon and the Chargers can’t figure it out, they will have to turn to Austin Ekeler which would be a big downgrade. Kenan Allen and Mike Williams are a devastating duo to cover, but once you throw in Hunter Henry it feels impossible. Ekeler does have the ability to replace Gordon regarding catching passes out of the backfield which will be important for Rivers and a shaky line. Russell Okung suffered from blood clots that kept him out of training camp. Without him the line gets even weaker. Mike Pouncey will anchor things from the Center spot, but the rest of the line inspires more questions than answers. On defense Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are a problem for any offense they encounter. Those 2 were quieter in 2018 due to some injuries but expect a major bounce back in 2019. The Chargers drafted Jerry Tillery to help the interior of the line. Thomas Davis was signed from the Panthers to lead the Linebackers. Davis was often overshadowed by Kuechly, but he is one of the toughest players in the league. The Chargers had major injuries that ravaged the Linebacking corps, with Davis and some health they could be much improved. Derwin James was the 17th pick in the draft but played like a number 1 pick. They released Jahleel Addae and replaced him with second rounder Nasir Adderly. The Cornerbacks are led by Casey Hayward and Desmond King. King lines up in the slot so the Chargers really need another CB to lineup across from Hayward. Their schedule should be easy, and they could easily start the year with 4 of 5 wins. The Chargers always find a way to lose a game or 2 they shouldn’t, and this team will go 11-5.
TL;DR: Phillip Rivers will never receive enough attention until he wins a Super Bowl. The future Hall of Famer was incredible in 2018 and even if Melvin Gordon doesn’t report, he will still lead them to the Playoffs in 2019. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram look to rack up a record number of sacks as the team will go 11-5 and finish just below the Chiefs.
Oakland Raiders (4-12)
The season hasn’t started, and Antonio Brown has already become a headache. No one is really surprised as the only reason the Raiders were able to acquire him was because of how much of a diva he was in Pittsburgh. The Raiders also added Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict which has to make you wonder if they are trying to win the award for the best “Hard Knocks” show of all time. If by some miracle those personalities don’t combust, the Raiders actually improved this team. Brown and Tyrell Williams add talent to the ball catchers after the team let Jared Cook leave in Free Agency. Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are gone and will be replaced by Josh Jacobs. The other major move made for the offense was the signing of Trent Brown from the Patriots. Brown alone will improve the Raiders offensive line which was poor last year. All of these weapons will be used by Derek Carr who after a slow start, finished a quality season for Oakland. With the new and improved offense Carr will also be expected to step up and if he can’t the Raiders will be one of those teams looking for a Quarterback in 2020. The defense is still recovering from the trade that sent Khalil Mack to Chicago. The Raiders had an embarrassingly low total of sacks last year and almost any production would be an improvement. With the 4th pick in the draft they reached a bit to pick Clelin Ferrell out of Clemson. Burfict and Brandon Marshall will add talent to the Linebacking corps. Tahir Whitehead should come back after an ok 2018. In the back end they improved by signing LaMarcus Joyner from the Rams. They also drafted Johnathan Abram who played Safety at Mississippi State. At Cornerback they will start Gareon Conley and Trayvon Mullen. On offense it will be all about the drama of Antonio Brown while defense will be a lot more about the rookies on the field. The Raiders seem like they could be turning a corner with a great draft in 2019 and Derek Carr playing better. Bringing in guys with a history of character issues seems like a strange thing to do with a young team, but you can’t deny they have talent. The team is improved and as long as the drama and injuries are kept down this team could improve by a few wins.
TL;DR: Antonio Brown has already brought over some controversy regarding his helmet. Derek Carr played better at the end of last year and will have better weapons in 2019. They are still far from the Chiefs and Chargers, but after a 4-win season last year they will win 7 this year.
Denver Broncos (6-10)
The Broncos suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972. After finishing 6-10 they are moving on from Case Keenum and Vance Joseph. Vic Fangio was an interesting hire as Head Coach because everyone in the NFL is looking for a young offensive mastermind. However, it pales in comparison to the move to trade for Joe Flacco. Flacco has been average for a good couple of years now and we know what he is. It seems like wishful thinking to imagine that he will suddenly become 2012 Flacco at 34 and on a worse team. The Broncos also drafted Drew Lock and chances are they will hear they should start him after game 1. Flacco may not be the answer, but he does bring a veteran presence and a ton of experience. Emmanuel Sanders was having a good season in 2018 before he injured his Achilles. If he can come back healthy, he will pair up with Courtland Sutton to catch passes from Flacco. The Broncos drafted Tight End Noah Fant in the first round, but Tight Ends generally take some time to grow. The star of the offense last year was Phillip Lindsay who went from being undrafted to making the Pro Bowl. They also have Royce Freeman who compliments well with Lindsay. The other big move they made in the offseason was to sign Ja’Wuan James which shores up their RT. Strangely they let Matt Paradis walk which leaves a gaping hole at Center. The Guards are going to be trying to recover from injuries or have to start in a rookie year which is less than ideal. With holes in the line and at the Receiving position, the offense looks like it will struggle. The defense is supremely talented. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller could both have 15-20 Sacks and it wouldn’t be a shock. Quarterbacks will be running the whole game with those 2 coming around the end or up the middle. Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe will try to stuff the run up the middle which is an area that Denver struggled with in 2018. Chris Harris will be back from injury in 2019 and still is an elite Cornerback. The Broncos signed Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan in Free Agency and they are considering moving Jackson to Safety. Vic Fangio has the ability to upgrade this defense and get it closer to what he had in Chicago. The roster has too many weak positions and it looks like the ceiling for the offense will be an average season. The defense has tremendous talent and is a few pieces from being one of the best in the NFL. It isn’t an easy schedule and they will again finish with 6 wins.
TL;DR: The key to the season will be an improved defense, but the offense will hold them back. Flacco may be an upgrade from Keenum, but he doesn’t have the pieces to be successful and he is an average QB who is 34. The Broncos will be 6-10 and the calls to start Drew Lock will be loud.