GRIN NFL Preview 2018
September 7, 2018
Roberto A. Jackson
Gila River Indian News
Football fans, your 214-day hibernation is almost over. You’ve been in a state of inactivity, and now you can emerge from your dens and start foraging. The Winter Olympics and the World Cup couldn’t hold you over, and NFL preseason has you longing for the real thing, baby.
Football is back and so is the GRIN’s annual NFL preview. Robstradamus was a little off last year, and the year before, and I think the year before that, but this year is different. My reception is extra tingly and the predictions are coming in loud and clear. But before I give you my can’t-miss, full-proof picks for the 2018 NFL season, let’s rewind the year that was.
The Philadelphia Eagles, yes, those Philadelphia Eagles, won the big one with their victory in Super Bowl LII. They went toe-to-toe with the defending champion New England Patriots in a thrilling match-up that wasn’t in the bag until time expired. Philly fans had the time of their lives even when they fell off the awning outside Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Here in Arizona, the Cardinals evened out with an 8-8 record, and the Bruce Arians era ended after five seasons. The 2018 additions include a new coaching staff, new quarterbacks and a new $75 hamburger. Everyone is counting the redbirds out, but could they be a surprise team at the end of the year?
To kneel or not to kneel, that was the question. With a new national anthem policy in place, we’ll see how the controversy plays out for the league on this hot-button issue. The Los Angeles Rams took over the NFC West in their second year back in California. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a devastating spinal injury jeopardizing the young Pro Bowler’s career. Thanks to Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr and Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone, we have a new rule against driving quarterbacks into the ground. A deal at the trade deadline brought quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of Tom Brady’s shadow and under center for the San Francisco 49ers, and across the Bay, Jon Gruden is putting on the headset once again for the Silver and Black.
AFC East winner – New England Patriots
Tom Brady is still thinking about that pass he dropped in the Patriots’ 41-33 loss in Super Bowl LII. Lucky for the Pats, the division is going to be another cake walk, but don’t bet on head coach Bill Belichick showing any human emotions.
The Buffalo Bills snuck into the playoffs in 2017, which ended an 18-year postseason drought. Don’t worry, they’ll get back to their losing ways, especially if rookie quarterback Josh Allen is thrown into the fire before he’s ready.
The New York Jets are looking to turn around their fortunes after back-to-back five-win seasons with the quarterback of the future, Sam Darnold, kicking off his career in the Big Apple. Ownership is going to have to be patient while they figure out their long-term goals.
The last time the Miami Dolphins won a playoff game, I was 19-years-old. I’m 37. They were dealt a tough blow last year with the effects of Hurricane Irma messing up their schedule, but improvement on both sides of the ball will be hard to come by in 2018.
AFC North winner – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers will put up big numbers to once again win the division. If the defense needs motivation, all they have to do is pop in the tape of their 45-42 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t looking to hang them up despite first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson waiting in the wings. Free agent signing John Brown will bring some big plays to the offense and Terrell Suggs will show he still has some gas left in the tank.
The Cincinnati Bengals are giving it one more shot with head coach Marvin Lewis. If things don’t get back on track this will be his last year wearing those hideous stripes.
If the Cleveland Browns win 4 games they’ll match their win total from the past three seasons. They made a lot of moves in the offseason, but we’ve seen them swing and miss too many times.
AFC West Winner – Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers have the most to build on in 2018. Last year they went from 3-6 to 9-7. They will finally win those close games that seem to dog them every season. If the injury bug doesn’t bite them too hard, they’ll be sitting pretty.
I haven’t seen all of the sequels to the Chucky movies, but I’ll be watching this reboot of Jon Gruden coaching the Oakland Raiders. It won’t be easier after such a long layoff, but who can blame him for taking a 10-year, $100 million deal.
Kansas City Chiefs fans won’t have to endure another postseason meltdown. New Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a rocket arm and some of his passes might even go to the intended receivers.
The Denver Broncos have their man in quarterback Case Keenum, but whether he is the right man, is yet to be seen. Their defense will be disruptive, but that will only get them so far.
AFC South Winner – Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars had some memorable moments last year and their window is still open. If they hadn’t taken their foot off the gas pedal in the AFC Championship game against the Pats, they’d be even more hyped.
The Tennessee Titans are still on the rise with Derrick Henry now as the featured running back. Left tackle Taylor Lewan inked a big deal which bodes well for quarterback Marcus Mariota’s blind side.
Quarterback Dashaun Watson’s promising rookie season with the Houston Texans was cut short by an ACL tear 9 months ago. He has come back from big injuries in the past and the Texans are going to need him if they want to make some noise.
The Indianapolis Colts are happy to have their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, taking first team reps. Luck will help for sure, but a lot has changed in this division since the Colts were a factor.
Wild Card Teams – Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans
NFC East Winner – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles come into the season as defending champs—new territory. Quarterback Nick Foles took over for Carson Wentz late in the season, and won a Super Bowl MVP in the process. He can “man the ship” until Wentz is fully recovered from an ACL tear.
If running back Ezekiel Elliot puts up the same numbers from his rookie season, the Dallas Cowboys can give their fanbase more reason to cheer. We’ve seen quarterback Dak Prescott without Elliot and less time to throw, and it’s not a pretty picture.
It’s all or nothing for the New York Giants. After a 3-win season, the Giants have a new coaching staff, a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie running back Saquon Barkely to help them out of the cellar.
With the Alex Smith trade, Washington is looking to be relevant again, but this is not the year. They’ll be playing catch up to the defending champs and two other teams that have a lot to prove.
NFC North Winner – Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings will be in the driver seat with new quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook to go along with a fearsome defense. The Vikes are looking to finally snag that missing Lombardi Trophy.
When you have Aaron Rodgers, you always have a shot. The Green Bay Packers will need the former MVP to lead them back to their winning ways. Divisional wins won’t be as automatic as they were in the past, but double-digit victories sounds about right.
I feel like one of the Super Fans with Chris Farely and Mike Myers this year when it comes to da Bears. Every year one team does a dramatic turnaround and the Chicago Bears have a chance to turn some heads. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will have to improve, and if he does, watch out.
The Detroit Lions are underachievers and they’re hoping that new head coach Matt Patricia has the answers. But Belichick disciples haven’t exactly set the world on fire once given head NFL coaching duties.
NFC West Winner – Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams were winners last year and they are on the fast-track to keep it that way. They took a take-no-prisoners approach in the offseason, particularly on defense, and they will be a popular pick to make it to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
The Legion of Boom is history. Quarterback Russell Wilson is all they need to stay in games, but he better have on his track shoes.
It’s tough to pin your hopes on the oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford, but that’s exactly what the Arizona Cardinals have done. Odds makers are giving them a pickle-slushy’s chance at lunch time, but betting the over will be a good wager for this team in transition.
Who’s that Hollywood leading man throwing passes for the San Francisco 49ers? That’s Jimmy G, folks. I need 49er fans back in my life like I need a stubbed toe, but we’ll soon find out if the blueprint is working for this rebuilt squad.
NFC South Winner – Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons are in a good spot to keep racking up wins in a top-heavy division. They’re still hungry for a Super Bowl, and in February the big game is in their home stadium. Could they be the first true home team in Super Bowl history?
For New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, less is more. Their rushing attack takes precedent over their once-prolific passing game in this playoffs-or-bust year, considering they were one good tackle away from playing in the NFC title game in 2017.
The Carolina Panthers have been in the playoffs four out of the last five years, but it’s going to be a dog fight for them to win the division. When quarterback Cam Newton uses his legs that’s when he’s the most dangerous.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is getting his tenth chance to prove he’s a decent guy. His bad decision-making is carrying over to the field and he might need a fresh start to get back on track.
Wild Card Teams – Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints
Super Bowl LIII prediction
We’ll be glued to the TV screen on Feb. 3, 2019 to watch the Minnesota Vikings take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl LIII at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. The Vikings defense will go against the high-powered Steelers offense in a heavyweight showdown. Start working on your Prince playlists now, because Purple Rain will pour down from the rafters when the Vikings win it all. They’re famously 0-4 in the big game, but this year that zero is straightened out. Let’s Go Crazy.
Super Bowl Champions – Minnesota Vikings