We are just weeks removed from the 2018 NFL Draft and with just a few months before the season. Teams are beginning to find out who they are and they should begin to know what their 2018/19 season will look like. For some teams, they have improved out of sight from last year, while others have lost players to Free Agency, or begun the painstaking rebuilding process.
Some teams will surprise us in the new season, while others will certainly disappoint. With final rosters basically being assumed, and starting lineups known by now, we feel that it’s an appropriate time to start making some predictions for the upcoming season.
Sure, injuries happen and shocks do happen, so no one is ever going to be 100% right when it comes to predicting the success of a team over a 17 week season. However, today, we are going to look at eight teams who will improve their record from a season ago, and seven that for one reason or another are unfortunately going to take a step back.
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15 Improve – Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders were many peoples pick to represent the AFC in last seasons Super Bowl, but the injury bug bit them hard. They struggled to make the playoffs in perhaps the NFL’s hottest division. With the signing of Jon Gruden and the acquisition of some top level Wide Outs, they could finally be ready to step up and become one of the NFL’s elite teams.
Derek Carr is one of the most talented QBs in the entire NFL today and with a receiver cast that includes Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, he could put up some ridiculous numbers.
Although it will be tough out West again, this team is going to improve somewhat, even if that means missing out on the playoffs.
Their core is still quite young, so they’ve got plenty of years left on their Super Bowl window, especially after signing Gruden to a 10-year deal. This year is the first step towards finally seeing the Black and Silver in the biggest game on the NFL calendar yet again, and while many people have favored the incredible defense of the Broncos out West, this team has the talent to even topple the might of Von Miller’s D (having a D led by Khalil Mack certainly doesn’t hurt). If they live up to their potential, they could be a favorite to take out the Patriots in the AFC.
14 Regress – Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs had yet another hot start to the 2017 season. Despite the great play of Alex Smith, they slowed down towards the end of the season. Now that they’ve got sophomore Patrick Mahomes starting his first season as QB, they should be just as confident, but all the competition in their division has gotten better. With the loss of elite talent Marcus Peters, they will struggle to replicate the success of a season ago.
With Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt partnering Mahomes, the future is definitely bright in Kansas City but the Raiders have added several offensive weapons and Jon Gruden which will make them better. The Broncos have improved their already dynamic defense, so the Chiefs just aren’t going to win as many games as a season ago.
It will be a great season for the team, especially with how young they are, and their future is very bright indeed. However, with the competition in the AFC West, they just aren’t going to be able to compete this year, and they’ll likely miss the playoffs. If their chemistry can remain strong among their promising offense, they will be back in a few years.
13 Improve – Minnesota Vikings
On the back of arguably the best defense in the entire NFL, the Minnesota Vikings had a fantastic 2017 season, coming up just one game short of the Super Bowl. They had a great offseason, and the addition of elite level talent QB Kirk Cousins, as well as the return of break out Running Back Dalvin Cook - this team will somehow manage to improve in 2018.
Last year, their success came on the back of their D and the game management skills of Case Keenum. Now they’ve got Kirk Cousins, who has been putting up fantastic numbers for the Washington Redskins with very little talent surrounding him.
He’s got the weapons and the defense that will put him in good positions and he could be an MVP candidate.
The division will be harder this year with the return of Aaron Rodgers and the improvement of the Chicago Bears, but the Vikings are rightfully one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If they can stay healthy for a full season, we could definitely see it happening, even though the NFC is as stacked as it has been for years and years.
12 Regress – Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills had a historic year last year as they ended the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, after trading away Tyrod Taylor, the team doesn’t have much of an identity on offense. With LeSean McCoy getting older and the Jets and Patriots looking like the two best teams in the AFC East, the Bills are going to slide out of the playoffs yet again. They did draft Josh Allen and if they can surround him with talent to match their great D, this team could be solid for years to come.
When it comes to competing this year or matching their playoff success of last year, it’s just not going to happen, so the Bills Mafia need to be a little patient with this team.
They had one of the best drafts of any team in the NFL, and they’re still young, so they’ll have time to rebound from this setback before finally making a deep playoff run in a year or two. With the stiff competition in the AFC plus their lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, we just can’t see Buffalo replicating their regular season success of a year ago.
11 Improve – Green Bay Packers
Every year during the NFL pre-season, the Green Bay Packers are one of the favorite teams to go all the way to the Super Bowl. Yet year after year, the team fails to address their weaknesses on the defensive end, and it leaves Aaron Rodgers trying to carry the team. As good as he is, he just can’t do it all by himself, so when Rodgers goes down for an extended period of time, there it little to no chance of success for Green Bay.
They’ve somewhat addressed their weaknesses, with Muhammad Wilkerson being one of the off-season's biggest signings, and with Jimmy Graham added to give this offense yet another layer, we could be looking at a team that’s finally ready to live up to all the expectations.
Sure, they had to let go of Jordy Nelson, and that no doubt would have made Rodgers quite annoyed but he’s still got plenty of weapons around him, and if he can stay healthy for all 16 games, the Packers will be good. They will no doubt have a fun race with the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC North crown, but at this stage, it’s way too hard to protect just which team will come out on top in that battle.
10 Regress – Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars had a fantastic 2017 season and came just a few plays short of knocking off the New England Patriots and going all the way to the Super Bowl. While they may make the playoffs and get another shot at glory, their regular season isn’t going to be as pretty, especially with Andrew Luck expected to be back for the Colts and the Texans making huge improvements over this offseason.
Their offense has been changed quite drastically as well, they let both of their top receivers walk away in Free Agency, and while they got Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in Free Agency, it’s going to limit their effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
Their defense is still one of the best in the league and if Blake Bortles can protect the ball, we could still see this team returning to the playoffs in the wild card spot. However, the combination of losing their two best receivers and thus completely limiting their offense and the division getting much harder is going to knock a few wins of their 2017 total. It'll surely bring them back down to earth.
9 Improve – New York Giants
The New York Giants were meant to be one of the best teams in the NFC East a year ago, but that crown went to the eventual Super Bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles. After a great off-season, and assuming the health of star Wide Receiver Odell Beckham, the Giants are ready to rebound in a big way in the upcoming season.
They added the best draft prospect that we’ve seen in quite some time in the form of Saquon Barkley.
Adding him to an offense that already included OBJ, Evan Engram and Sterling Sheppard has to be a mouth-watering prospect for the veteran Eli Manning. Although they’ve got quite a lot of stiff competition in the NFC East, they will no doubt improve from their dismal performance during the 2017 season.
We are likely seeing the last run that Eli Manning has in him after 14 years in the NFL and plenty of punishment. We know that the Giants are capable of going on a run if they reach the playoffs, so watch out for this team in the 2018 season - they will be a fun team to watch all year long.
8 Regress – Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins have been nothing but mediocre for some time now but after drafting well with the likes of Kirk Cousins (the less said about that massive trade for RG3 the better), they’ve let those guys walk, and despite having a solid team, they just aren’t going to do anything in one of the toughest divisions the NFL has to offer.
The Eagles are coming off the first Super Bowl in franchise history, and both Dallas and New York are going to be healthy and looking to rebound. After this team lost the best QB Washington has seen in decades, there’s just no way that they’ll make any impact on the NFL this season. It’s really hard to see them even winning four out of their 16 games. Last season, they managed to pick up seven wins, but this year, there’s absolutely no way that can be repeated.
With a game manager in Alex Smith at QB with limited talent around him, they are well into a rebuilding phase. After decades of doing nothing, it looks like the Redskins are again going to have to suffer through a few poor years, but hey, at least you’ve got the Nationals and Capitals.
7 Improve – New York Jets
The New York Jets just completed one of their best drafts in recent memory, and while their top pick Sam Darnold likely won’t play much in this upcoming season, they will no doubt improve on the back of the solid foundation they’ve built. In two seasons time when Darnold finally does take over, this will be a team to contend with in the AFC.
Sure, they don’t have many big names, but they’ve built a great defense on the back of Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye and Leonard Williams. With all the solid pieces they have on the offensive side of the ball, there is no way they do anything but improve this year, as they look to build a great future around the former USC star.
The New England Patriots still run the AFC East and as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around, that’s likely not going to change. However, the Jets are ready to be competitive now, and the Bills became the second East team to make the playoffs last year. Although the Jets may not take a playoff spot in 2018/19, they are ready to step up and challenge the Patriots dynasty and their stronghold on the AFC East.
6 Regress – Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have long been the fiercest of rival for the dominant Pittsburgh Steelers but while that team continues to go from strength to strength on the back of the Killer B’s (Brown, Ben, Bell), the Ravens continue to fall. We don’t expect the Browns to be making the playoffs this year (it’s a stretch to say next year too, but after the great offseason that they had, anything is possible), but they will no doubt prove more competition than they have in years.
It’s not going to help the Ravens. Joe Flacco is on his last legs in the NFL, so before this year is out, they could even turn to rookie Lamar Jackson, who they drafted with the #32 overall pick.
Either way, their run of success in the AFC North is done.
Cincinnati isn’t a bad team either, and while we don’t expect the Bengals or Browns to take second place from the Ravens just yet, they’re all going to have mediocre records. The biggest fall from grace in that division is going to be the Ravens, whether they stick with Flacco or go to one of their very talented backup QBs.
5 Improve – San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers fortunes have been up and down over the past few years as they went from an appearance in the Super Bowl to one of the NFC’s worst teams after the loss of Jim Harbaugh. They look to be building a solid foundation and by wrapping up Jimmy Garoppolo long term as well as signing Richard Sherman, this team is ready to make the steady climb back to the Super Bowl.
They don’t have too much talent outside on the offensive side of the ball but that will come with time. After building their D over the past few drafts, they look as solid as any team in the NFC West. With Seattle falling and Arizona struggling to capitalize on their talent, this team could be an NFC West contender in a few years.
They certainly aren’t going to the playoffs this year but with their core pieces, they will again become a huge Free Agent destination, and in a year or two, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they were yet again contending for the Super Bowl. For now, they will gradually improve year after year and with the attitude that Sherman gives this defense, they could surprise a lot of people in the upcoming season.
4 Regress – Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are a young team, and on the back of young star QB Marcus Mariota and a deep offense. The team returned to the playoffs again in 2017, being one of two teams representing the AFC South in the playoffs, but like Jacksonville, the return of Andrew Luck, J.J Watt and DeShaun Watson is going to severely hinder their ability to return to the postseason. With the loss of a few pieces on offense, they are going to struggle.
The AFC South is going to be a battle all year long, and right from week 1, every game is going to be vital for all four teams battling for a playoff position. While we predict that again two teams will represent the AFC South in the playoffs, we think it will be Houston and Jacksonville/Tennessee, so it’s going to be a fun ride.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville are much deeper on both sides of the ball, so even though both are going to regress with their win total, we can see them all being in contention late into the season. Unfortunately for those loyal Titan fans, it’s back to the bottom (or at least third) place in the AFC South for you.
3 Improve – Houston Texans
The Houston Texans may have got one of the biggest steals of the 2017 draft when they took DeShaun Watson at #12 overall (Alvin Kamara in the 4th round for the Saints is by far the biggest steal), and half way through the season, it looked like he was going to shatter several rookie records. He was on his way to the MVP conversation, but an unfortunate injury derailed their season.
When they get Watson and J.J Watt back on the field, this will be a scary team to contend with.
Add to that the fact that they grabbed one of the most exciting and versatile defenders in the entire NFL with Tyrann Mathieu, if this team can remain healthy, especially with the Watson-Hopkins combination, they could no doubt contend for a Super Bowl berth.
They have to contend with both the Titans and the Jaguars who made the playoffs a year ago, but as we’ve mentioned on this list, neither of those teams improved as much as Houston. While one of them will likely claim a wild card spot, they will regress in terms of record, and no team in the NFL will improve as much as the Houston Texans.
2 Regress – Seattle Seahawks
Ever since Russell Wilson joined the Seattle Seahawks, they’ve been one of, if not the best team in the NFL on the back of his individual brilliance and the dominating D that became known as the Legion of Boom. However, over the last few years, age, Free Agency and the rise of other teams in the NFL, and the NFC West to be specific have caused them to slow down. In 2018, that downfall is going to continue at its hardest.
They’ve just lost the backbone of the Legion of Doom, as Richard Sherman has moved on to the division rival San Francisco 49ers, and with Russell Wilson again having a poor Offensive Line in front of him, it’s going to be hard to win games the way they have done over the past few years.
With the Rams looking like running away with the division yet again, it’s bad news for the 12th Man. Sure, they’ll likely contend for a wild card spot this year, but with Earl Thomas seemingly on his way out too and the division, the entire NFC getting tougher. It’s going to continue to get harder for Seattle to succeed, the downfall might continue for some years.
1 Improve – LA Rams
The Los Angeles Rams were one of the NFL’s biggest surprises in the 2017/18 season as they completely turned their franchise around on the back of their always fantastic D. A breakout year from sophomore sensation Jared Goff, and with Todd Gurley behind him, they looked untouchable all season long in a very tough AFC West division, but somehow, they managed to go and get even better during this past offseason.
While the team lost receiver Sammy Watkins to the Kansas City Chiefs, they managed to add Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, making the already dangerous D even better.
With the Seahawks reign of dominance coming to an end, it looks like the NFC West could be dominated by an even wider margin this year. Sure, we’ve talked about how the 49ers are coming up on the back of new QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and they’ll be a future threat, but this year, no one is touching the LA Rams. Not only will they improve their regular season record, but they’ll no doubt be a Super Bowl contender come playoff time as well.
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