It’s time to clean off the barbecue grill and search for your favorite salsa recipe. The 2018 NFL season is finally here.
This past offseason has been one full of rule changes, holdouts, trades and wacky roster moves. Although it does not take a rocket scientist to know that winning the NFC crown will be a dog fight involving numerous participants, predicting division winners and playoff teams are not as simple.
The odds are high that my picks will upset more than a few so don’t hesitate to put my predictions into the memory vault. If I’m wrong, I will gladly eat crow at the end of the season.
2018 NFL PREDICTIONS
Super Bowl LIII Champion: Los Angeles Rams
Super Bowl MVP: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
NFC Champion: Los Angeles Rams
NFC EAST DIVISION
The Eagles are the favorites, but their title hopes are pinned on a healthy Carson Wentz. The Cowboys are a much better squad than most people realize, but a terrible offensive coordinator and an even worse general manager are huge road blocks. Both the Giants and Redskins can beat any team in the division, but neither have the depth or talent to win consistently.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Washington Redskins
4. New York Giants
NFC NORTH DIVISION
I like Aaron Rodgers, I really do. But the Vikings simply have more talent than the Packers on both sides of the ball. The Bears were my Cinderella team before Khalil Mack arrived in Chi-Town. If Mitch Trubisky lives up to his No. 2 overall draft pick status, the NFC becomes even stronger. The Lions have a new coach, but nothing will change for the underperforming franchise.
1. Minnesota Vikings
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Chicago Bears
4. Detroit Lions
NFC SOUTH DIVISION
The Saints will win this division with or without Drew Brees. Sean Payton has his best squad since winning the Super Bowl, but will it be enough in a loaded NFC? The Panthers and Norv Turner’s union might become something special. Cam Newton finally has a mentor that will upgrade his talents in a big way. The Falcons have a quarterback and an offensive coordinator that are flawed. Enough said. The Buccaneers are a mess and will be in the hunt for a high pick in next year’s draft.
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC WEST DIVISION
The Rams are Super Bowl favorites for good reason. The stars are aligned and if this group stays healthy, the Eagles, Vikings and Saints will have their hands full with the most talented team in the NFL. The Seahawks do not intimidate opposing teams anymore, but Russell Wilson & Co. remain a dangerous squad. The 49ers are headed in the right direction, but growing pains will continue in the Bay area in 2018. The Cardinals have put Sam Bradford in charge of an offense that is built around David Johnson. But it’s almost a certainty that the Josh Rosen era will begin this season.
1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. Arizona Cardinals
AFC Champion: Los Angeles Chargers
AFC EAST DIVISION
The Patriots will continue to reap the benefits of playing in the league’s weakest division. There should be a law than bans a team from having six automatic division wins. The Dolphins have Ryan Tannehill back under center, but if he goes down again you can kiss a .500 season goodbye. The Jets believe Sam Darnold is the future. Unfortunately, the future is not now. The Bills are the best bet to earn the top pick in next year’s draft. Let the tanking begin.
1. New England Patriots
2. Miami Dolphins
3. New York Jets
4. Buffalo Bills
AFC NORTH DIVISION
The Ravens have upgraded their receiving corps and put Joe Flacco on notice. Although this team is not yet a Super Bowl contender, the franchise is finally headed in the right direction. It’s a good bet that Ben Roethlisberger will not play 16 games this season. That means the Steelers playoff hopes are in big trouble. The Browns could actually win this division if the cards fall right. Unfortunately, that never happens in Cleveland. The Bengals need to win this season to save Marvin Lewis’s job. But isn’t this the scenario every year?
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Cincinnati Bengals
AFC SOUTH DIVISION
I don’t like the Jaguars offense at all. Maybe I am wrong, but re-signing Blake Bortles was the worst personnel decision in the NFL this past offseason. Health is the biggest question in Houston. If the Texans can keep their playmakers healthy, the Patriots and Chargers will be more than a little concerned. Could this be the year the Titans finally get over the hump? I like this offensive unit, but I still have doubts about the secondary. The Colts will be better than last year, but that’s not saying too much.
1. Houston Texans
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Indianapolis Colts
AFC WEST DIVISION
The loss of Hunter Henry was a huge setback for the Chargers. But this is a talented team that might be the best squad in the AFC. The Broncos upgraded the quarterback position with Case Keenum, but this team would be a lot more dangerous with Teddy Bridgewater leading the offense. The Chiefs have the best young gunslinger in the NFL with Patrick Mahomes. He will have his moments this season, but 2019 will be his breakout campaign. Jon Gruden is an overrated loudmouth that won a Super Bowl with a team that Tony Dungy put together. But the Raiders will have a ton of high draft picks that will delay his firing for 2-3 years.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
2. Denver Broncos
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Oakland Raiders
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Comeback Player of the Year: DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos
Merv Moore is a freelance sports writer based in Dallas, Texas. His articles can be found at numerous websites including Rant Sports, Sportsnaught, and ClutchPoints to name just a few. Buy original/syndicated NFL and MLB articles at MervMoore.com.