NFL kicks off this weekend with no clear favorite on horizon

Image courtesy of Chicago Tribune | Linebacker Khalil Mack, pictured above, signed a six-year, $141 million contract with the Chicago Bears on Sept. 1, just hours after the Oakland Raiders dealt Mack to Chicago. Mack’s new contract will pay the edge-rusher $23.5 million annually.

Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer

Sept. 6, 2018

The NFL, set to begin Thurs., Sept. 6, features bountiful storylines both on and off the field. Ahead of Thurs., Sept. 6’s opener in Philadelphia, staff writer Jacob Hebda compiled a concise 32-team primer.

Contenders:

Atlanta Falcons: If Steve Sarkisian’s offense can find its rhythm on a consistent basis, Atlanta will be a dangerous team.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers alone determines the fate of this team (see: last season’s mess). If he’s healthy, Green Bay will be in the Super Bowl mix one way or another.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Elite defense plus a “not horrible” Blake Bortles equals legitimate Super Bowl aspirations for Jacksonville.

Los Angeles Rams: After a series of roster changes, the Rams are all in. Depth may be an issue at some areas, but L.A. has the star power to win it all.

Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota should be back in contention, but be wary. The offensive line has some serious question marks, which could spell trouble for new arrival Kirk Cousins.

New England Patriots: Bill Belichick. Tom Brady. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, that’s all New England seems to need.

New Orleans Saints: Brady might get all the attention for being an ageless wonder, but what about Drew Brees? Even at 39, he’s still among the best. The rest of his team isn’t too shabby, either.

Philadelphia Eagles: Philly will inevitably have to endure some form of a post-Super Bowl slump, but eventually getting Carson Wentz back will be one heck of a boost.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Even with a potent offense, Pittsburgh will only go as far as this defense takes it. That could mean a trip to Atlanta come February, or another sloppy flame out prior to that.

Playoff Hopefuls:

Baltimore Ravens: Now that Joe Flacco has competition for his starting spot, maybe he steps up his game. If he somehow does, this team could be surprisingly good.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton’s squad could very well be back in the postseason this year, but NFC South foes Atlanta and New Orleans will make this season’s campaign an uphill battle.

Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ offensive line make for a powerful run game when healthy. But will it be enough to take Dallas deep in the playoffs? Probably not this year.

Denver Broncos: If Case Keenum performs even remotely close to his level of play last year, this defense is strong enough to take Denver far.

Kansas City Chiefs: The young Patrick Mahomes will be tasked with developing into the dynamic quarterback Alex Smith never became. There will be a learning curve, no doubt, but it should be fun to watch the Texas Tech product lead a high-powered Chiefs offense.

Los Angeles Chargers: If L.A. can avoid the injury bug that’s plagued it in recent years, it has what it takes to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014 — even in the competitive AFC West.

New York Giants: Saquon Barkley may be the real deal, but who knows? Eli Manning is on the decline, Odell Beckham is unpredictable, and I’m just not buying this team. At least, not yet.

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo has been terrific so far, but San Francisco will likely be stuck vying for a Wild Card spot at best. It needs time to build chemistry, and the division rival Rams may be the best team in football.

Tennessee Titans: Tennessee has a low-ceiling, high-floor dilemma. This team will be in the playoff hunt again, but don’t bet on them going very far.

Not There Just Yet:

Arizona Cardinals: This season, Arizona appears dedicated to developing rookie QB Josh Rosen. In the meantime, be sure to appreciate the living legend of Larry Fitzgerald.

Buffalo Bills: With Josh Allen still a raw enigma at this stage, Buffalo is rolling with journeyman Nathan Peterman in Week 1 versus the Chargers. Sorry Bills Mafia, but don’t expect another playoff trip this year.

Chicago Bears: The Bears’ recent addition of star linebacker Khalil Mack gives Chicago some momentum heading into the season, but Chicago shouldn’t be in any playoff conversations this season. The biggest story line from the Windy City this season will be QB Mitch Trubisky’s continued development.

Houston Texans: Expect Deshaun Watson to regress to some degree, and with the offensive line a mess, Houston fans should probably wait until the 2019 season to start really getting excited.

New York Jets: Sam Darnold has been promising, but he’s only 21. The future is bright for Gang Green, but give it some time.

Purgatory:

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton is still the quarterback, which is a microcosm of the rest of the team. Sure, Cincinnati will have its moments, but Bengals fans should prepare to be frustrated once again.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford is a top quarterback, but does not seem to have the accompanying talent necessary to win in the strong NFC North.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck is finally back, but will his team give him the support he needs? Indy will likely be on the outside looking in come January.

Oakland Raiders: Oakland just shipped out Khalil Mack, the center of its defense, and received no immediate replacement. Even if Derek Carr has a terrific year, Oakland will struggle in a challenging AFC West.

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is still there, but most of the vaunted “Legion of Boom” is gone. This could be the start of a tough stretch in Seattle.

The Cellar:

Cleveland Browns: Say what you want about Baker Mayfield, but until Hue Jackson’s squad wins more than one game in a season, the Browns are still rebuilding.

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill is back, but Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and other key players are gone. Miami might not be horrible, but there is little reason for optimism at this juncture.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension to begin the season won’t do anything to help the Buccaneers’ chances in a stacked NFC South this season.

Washington Redskins: Losing Kirk Cousins in free agency only hurts Washington’s chances in the NFC East.

Comments are closed.