It is a glorious time of year, as the NFL season is upon us. For me, the NFL is the only sports league in which I can watch and enjoy a regular-season game between any pairing of teams. It was like that when I was a kid, as I knew that, with a 16-game regular season, every game was of monumental importance. As much as I love MLB and the NHL, a May Athletics/Tigers game or a November Flames/Blues game has never exactly glued me to the TV. Of course, as time and my life have progressed, my love for the NFL has increased with fantasy football and the many pools in which I take part.
Anyway, with the NFL season’s arrival, I am providing a preview. I am not going to preview all 32 teams’ strengths and weaknesses. I am merely going to make a few predictions about which I feel strongly. Let us begin.
- The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins signing will prove to be a mistake. Last year, Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Sam Bradford and led the Vikings to a 12-2 regular-season record a miraculous playoff win over the Saints. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has been 26-30-1 as a starter and lost his only playoff game. Of course, it is easy to argue that Keenum was pretty much awful before last year and pulled a shamrock-encrusted rabbit’s foot out of his butt to win last year’s playoff game, but that does not refute my point. I would say that Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins would give the Vikings an equal chance for success this season, so it would have been more logical to re-sign Keenum for much less money than the amount for which Cousins signed.
- The Giants will finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth. Obviously, I hope that the Giants win the Super Bowl. I hope that Eli Manning dominates from September through February en route to a third Super Bowl championship and makes me eat a giant plate of crow. Realistically though, I see the Eagles winning the division at 10-6. Even though the Giants have won two Super Bowls after playing on Wild Card Weekend, I am not ready to make that prediction when (to paraphrase Rick Pitino) Justin Tuck isn’t walking through that door. Michael Strahan isn’t walking through that door. Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t walking through that door. Osi Umenyiora isn’t walking through that door. OK, I will stop before I end up putting Jay Alford on the list. That said; with a revamped offensive line, a healthy Odell, and a debuting Saquon; this offense should put up enough points to put the team in the playoffs. If the offense does not dominate and people continue to say that Eli deserves to be the starter for as long as he wants, then I do not know what to tell those people.
- The Jets will finish 7-9 in a season reminiscent of Geno Smith’s 2013 season. No, I am not making this comparison just to backhandedly remind people that I was actually rational in supporting the Giants’ move to start in Geno in Oakland. I say this because Geno’s talent brought the Jets some exciting wins in 2013. I was eliminated from my Survivor pool when Geno won Week 5 on MNF in Atlanta that year. Devastating stuff for me, but wins like that and their win over the Pats (with some help from the officials) gave Jets fans major hope for the future at the time. Of course, Geno proved to have discipline and dedication issues that kept him from taking that next step. In 2018, I expect that Sam Darnold will similarly lead the Jets to a few exciting wins (as Geno did in 2013), but he remains a rookie taking over the reins of a 5-11 team. 7-9 would be a solid year for him, and Jets fans should feel good about that. Unlike with Geno, I would expect that Darnold would build on this season in 2019 with a best-case scenario being Darnold mimicking Carson Wentz’s second season. (Thus, the Jets should be ready to sign Nick Foles next season.)
- For the same reasons; the Raiders and Islanders will be similar train wrecks this coming season and the coming seasons. Let us examine the traits:
- The game has passed by the team’s stubborn leader: Mike Francesa always says the biggest reason why NFL coaches do not succeed after long layoffs is that, after three years away from the game, it is difficult to assemble a coaching staff. After all, most of a coach’s former assistants have been gobbled up by the time the third year rolls around. Moreover, the game changes radically over a few years. Jon Gruden last coached in 2008. Back then, it was still somewhat OK to try to decapitate opposing players on the field. Now, there is a 3-inch-by-3-inch square in a quarterback’s midsection that opposing players are allowed to touch. Anything else is a penalty. Plus, I do not know that Gruden can be as harsh now as he was 10 years ago. Similarly, Lou Lamoriello is now the Islanders’ general manager, and I have a feeling that he will return to his usual Lou mantras: signing defensive defenseman, placing a large emphasis on veteran leadership, and avoiding star players with any egos. All of those premises served Lamoriello well when he was (in my opinion) the best general manager in the NHL for 20+ seasons with the Devils. However, his ways did not serve the Devils well at the end of his tenure in New Jersey, and I feel that Brendan Shanahan (Leafs’ general manager) was calling all the shots when Lou and Shanahan were in Toronto. I do not feel good about Lamoriello being in full control of the Isles’ personnel.
- Both teams have lost their top players. The Isles were unable to re-sign John Tavares, who ironically moved to Toronto, Lamoriello’s former home. Meanwhile, Khalil Mack has been traded from the Raiders to the Bears. Both moves are obviously bad for the players’ former teams. Plus, if Gruden had anything to do with pushing Mack away, some of his players might grow resentment toward Gruden. That is a bad thing.
- Lastly, both teams are in geographic limbo. The Isles are spending part of the next few seasons at Nassau Coliseum and part of it in Brooklyn. Having two different homes does not exactly seem like a recipe for success. Similarly, the Raiders are finishing out their time in Oakland, as a future home in Vegas looms on the horizon. Neither of these scenarios bode well for fan support or thus for the teams’ potential success.
- Anyway, let us wrap this up with my playoff predictions. Note that I made these before the season-opening games.
1 New England
4 Kansas City
6 Los Angeles Chargers
2 Green Bay
3 San Francisco
5 Los Angeles Rams
6 New York Giants
Pittsburgh over Los Angeles, Houston over Kansas City, San Francisco over New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams over Philadelphia
New England over Houston, Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, Atlanta over Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay over San Francisco
Jacksonville over New England, Green Bay over Atlanta
Green Bay over Jacksonville
Enjoy the season, everyone!