Football is back in less than one week. This off-season was highlighted by the split of star QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, who together made the Patriots into a dynasty that lasted almost 20 years and won six rings. Brady heads to Tampa Bay and will be surrounded by the best supporting cast he’s had in his career. Belichick will stay in New England, looking to maintain greatness even without Brady. Brady will be replaced, at least for now by ex-Panthers QB and former NFL MVP Cam Newton. Belichick has said he understands why Newton has been such a highly-touted player throughout his career and named him the Week 1 starter for the Patriots.
Today, I’ll be revealing my record predictions for each team as well as my playoff bracket. The Brady-Belichick split will have a big impact on the landscape of the league, so keep reading to find out why.
The Patriots won’t quite be the AFC East powerhouse they were with Brady. But I still expect a productive season and playoff berth. The defense lost some veteran play makers, including every starting LB from last year, but Belichick hopes to rebuild it stronger. The offense will center around Newton as well as versatile RB James White, slot WR Julian Edelman, and promising second year WR N’Keal Harry.
The Bills will give them a good challenge for the division title with WR Stefon Diggs making this offense significantly better. He might very well be the piece the Bills were missing that prevented them from taking the division last year. But to make a deep playoff run, they’ll need QB Josh Allen to step up, utilizing Diggs’ talent.
The Dolphins did bulk up a bit this off-season and draft their QB of the future in Tua Tagovailoa, but improvement will take time. I expect them to show flashes but still struggle. Meanwhile, the Jets are lacking at WR, and RB Le’Veon Bell is not quite what he used to be as he struggles in Adam Gase’s system. They also traded away star S Jamal Adams and LB C.J. Mosley opted out. I’m projecting disaster in New York, as it will be very hard for QB Sam Darnold to put up a good year with lackluster surroundings.
Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to a 14-2 season last year. The team only added this off-season and they have a very easy schedule, so I see them repeating their regular season success. This division will be competitive though.
I expect the Browns to improve with ex-Minnesota OC Kevin Stefanski taking over at head coach. The Steelers should see offensive improvement with QB Ben Roethlisberger back, and their defense appears to be elite. The Bengals were terrible last year, but they’ll be a lot better after improving the defense and bringing in their next franchise QB, Joe Burrow.
I think the tough division will prevent Pittsburgh from making the playoffs and prevent Cleveland from a better record. But the Ravens will be unfazed as their dominance continues.
The Titans went on an insane late season run last year, led by bounce back QB Ryan Tannehill and breakout RB Derrick Henry. If Tannehill and Henry’s success continue, I expect the Titans to dominate. This division should be easy for them to win nonetheless.
They’ll outperform Houston, whose offense will take a step back without star WR DeAndre Hopkins and whose defense is among the league’s worst. They should also outperform Indy, an average team in need of a bounce back from aging QB Philip Rivers.
The Jaguars appear to be tanking for QB Trevor Lawrence, as they cut RB Leonard Fournette and traded away multiple defensive stars. QB Gardner Minshew II is good, but he’ll struggle with Fournette gone and the defense left looking much, much weaker than it did in 2017.
This is another very competitive division. I expect more of the same from the Chiefs, who look to defend their title. I also expect Denver and the Chargers to improve.
The Broncos revitalized the offense over the last three years, and capped it off this year by adding RB Melvin Gordon and drafting WRs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Their defense also looks very strong. Meanwhile, the Chargers have a QB dilemma, but whoever is starting has RB Austin Ekeler, WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and TE Hunter Henry to rely on. The defense is also star studded between DE Joey Bosa and CBs Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr.
As they move to Vegas, the Raiders are the odd team out here. Their offense looks promising with young RB Josh Jacobs (who I see breaking out) and TE Darren Waller. But the defense looks weaker than it was last year, and the Chargers and Broncos should both take a leap this year, making it difficult for the Raiders to win games. I think they’ll ultimately land Trevor Lawrence and build up the team around him, which would create an intense divisional rivalry with the Chiefs.
The Cowboys are finally free from lackluster head coach Jason Garrett. With Mike McCarthy here, I expect the offense to reach its full potential. I have QB Dak Prescott throwing for 5000 yards with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb becoming the first same team 1000 yard receiving trio since 2008. The defense also looks better and should do well enough that the high-powered offense can lead the Cowboys to win the division.
The Eagles tried their best to address the issues holding them back in 2019. But two of their top three WRs are hurt, and LB is still a huge need on defense. It’ll be hard to beat out the Cowboys with those concerns lingering.
The Giants should also show some promise this year. The offense looks to be above average now that they’ve built around QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley. They’ll lead the team close to .500 despite defensive concerns.
Washington needs to keep fixing their cultural issues before they can focus on winning games. The defense looks pretty good but young QB Dwayne Haskins is unproven, and his only reliable weapon is a fellow Ohio State alumni in WR Terry McLaurin.
This division is definitely the league’s weakest. I expect one playoff team from this division that gets a 4 seed and goes one and done.
I have the Vikings narrowly winning it. The defense is looking elite with DE Yannick Ngakoue on board, and the offense should be good if RB Dalvin Cook plays like he did last year.
The Packers may have gone 13-3 last year, but they severely overperformed. This year, they have a tougher schedule and should see regression from QB Aaron Rodgers and RB Aaron Jones. Rodgers doesn’t have much help aside from WR Davante Adams and the defense is nowhere near Minnesota level.
The Bears have a top defense, but the offense is a concern. I don’t trust Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky at QB, even though their surroundings are okay. The defense and the favorable system for the QBs should be enough for a decent season, but not a playoff berth.
The Lions are still in need of serious defensive improvement. But QB Matthew Stafford and his receivers will win this team some games.
This division will be close. All four of these teams are unproven but have potential. I feel the Vikings have the least amount of question marks.
The Saints and Bucs might be two of the most stacked teams in the league. I can’t name a single flaw with this Saints roster, and it’ll be led by the star offensive trio of QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara, and WR Michael Thomas. The Buccaneers brought in QB Tom Brady, and he has the best supporting cast of his career. He’ll have the star WR duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin plus a stacked TE room that includes Rob Gronkowski. The RB corps includes Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, while veteran RB LeSean McCoy is there for depth. The Bucs also have one of the best front sevens in the league, including LBs Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett as well as veteran d-linemen Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.
The Falcons also look good, but it’ll be tough to make the playoffs in a division with these two powerhouses. The defense isn’t as good here, but QB Matt Ryan has RB Todd Gurley and an elite WR duo of seasoned veteran Julio Jones and rising star Calvin Ridley.
That’ll leave Carolina in the division’s basement. They still have RB Christian McCaffrey, but the rest of the offense comes into this year unproven. The defense is still looking weak as well, even after the Panthers spent every draft pick on it. I think they’ll be in the running for QB Justin Fields, especially if QB Teddy Bridgewater struggles.
Seattle looks to be all in for title contention this year. They brought back WR Josh Gordon recently and traded for ex-Jets S Jamal Adams. QB Russell Wilson has carried this team for years, but this year he has the surroundings he needs to make a big run.
I expect the Niners to take a step back after falling in the Super Bowl. They may have star TE George Kittle and a strong defense. But they are lacking at WR which could make things tough for Jimmy Garoppolo if Kittle is double-covered all the time. I think the defense also may have regressed from where it was last year.
Arizona could also make a play for the division title. QB Kyler Murray is looking to take the next step and that will be easier with RB Kenyan Drake back and WR DeAndre Hopkins on board. This offense looks very strong and the defense isn’t terrible either.
The Rams already started to regress last year, and I don’t see the trend reversing. The defense is lacking depth beyond DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey. QB Jared Goff is as inconsistent as it gets. The RB corps are unproven. The only thing the Rams do have going for them is the fact that they have Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee as receiving options.
There’s six teams that I could see contending for the Super Bowl. From the AFC, just the Chiefs and Ravens. From the NFC, the Saints and Buccaneers as well as the Cowboys and Seahawks. The Patriots, at least this year, are not on this list. I think they’ll post a good season but fall short of a Super Bowl run without Brady. However, Brady could make a run with amazing surroundings in Tampa. The only thing he’s missing is Belichick, and there was tension between the two in New England, at least over the last couple of years.
The Chiefs were already a good team before Mahomes came in. He made the team a title contender and they’ve continued to build around them. I see the Ravens giving them good competition as they have a better defense and the best run game in the NFL, but unless Lamar Jackson continues to improve as a passer, it’ll be hard for them to take down the Chiefs or win the title even if they do have a chance this year.
The NFC is filled with contenders. Brees has great surroundings and I could see him leading the Saints and winning his second ring. With a stacked offense, Brady could do the same despite the Bucs lacking a good secondary (as opposed to the Saints who are a very balanced team with little to no positional needs). I could see Russell Wilson leading a strong looking Seahawks squad to a title. Even the Cowboys could win it all if Mike McCarthy can successfully establish a winning culture and turn them from an underperforming disappointment into the championship-winning powerhouse they have the potential to be.
There are other teams that could win playoff games, but these are the 6 that I see having a legitimate chance to win a title. I expect the Chiefs to take the AFC, but the Ravens also have a shot.
In the NFC, the seeding works out so that all four of the top contenders will likely make the Divisional Round. I have the Saints edging out the competition there, as QB Drew Brees and the Saints passing attack will be too much for Tampa and Dallas. I have the star-studded Cowboys edging out Seattle. Russ may be better than Dak Prescott, but he can only take the Seahawks so far against a team with this much star power surrounding the QB.
That will make for a Chiefs-Saints Super Bowl, something that all NFL fans would be satisfied with simply due to the fact that it might be the most exciting Super Bowl we’ve had in years. It would be Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid trying to go back to back and establish the Chiefs as a dynasty, against veteran QB Drew Brees giving it one last try to win a second ring. A second ring would allow Brees to retire established as one of the best QBs ever alongside guys like Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre.
I have the Saints taking down the Chiefs this time around. Even Mahomes will struggle to keep up with Brees and his stacked offense that includes an elite o-line, and four very capable receiving weapons: RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and TE Jared Cook. This offense can edge out Tampa. This offense can edge out a Mike McCarthy-led Cowboys squad. There’s no reason this offense can’t outperform Mahomes against an improving, but flawed Chiefs D.
As much as I would love to see Tom Brady lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl, or even Bill Belichick winning one with Cam Newton, I just don’t think there’s anyone that can consistently stop this stacked Saints squad this year. They’ve come out of the off-season with very good squads over the past couple years, but this year’s team is on another level. As long as Brees doesn’t fall off (and he hasn’t showed signs of it), the Saints should be in good position to win it all. Plus, a Chiefs-Saints Super Bowl would be very entertaining.
Comment with your thoughts on these predictions and with football back in a week, I’ll probably be writing about it more than any other sport.