Time to finish up the season preview posts with my projected NFL playoff bracket for the coming season. I’ve determined what records I think every team will end up with this season and the subsequent playoff seedings. Here are my playoff predictions. Continue reading
Here are my predictions for how the 2018 NFL season will play out. I went through and picked who I think will win each game and these are the final records, standings and playoff seedings. Thanks to the NFL Playoff Predictor for making it easy to track everything. There were some changes in my thinking from when I was writing the team previews through the summer based on signings, trades and other news items from recent weeks, as well as general changes in my opinions of some teams.
AFC Playoff Seeds
NFC Playoff Seeds
After five straight playoff appearances, the Seahawks took a step backward last season, going 9-7, and it might get even worse this season. The defense got worse when the team released CBs Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane and DE Cliff Avril, and later traded DE Michael Bennett to the Eagles. On offense, TE Jimmy Graham and WR Paul Richardson left in free agency, signing contracts with the Packers and Redskins, respectively. Their biggest addition on offense was selecting RB Rashaad Penny in the first round of the draft. They also signed WRs Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall and changed backup quarterbacks, trading a draft pick to the Packers for QB Brett Hundley.
The Seahawks were 15th in the NFL with 5,286 yards and 11th with 366 points last season. QB Russell Wilson threw for 3,983 yards and 34 touchdowns — which tied his career high — with 11 interceptions; he also ran for team-highs with 586 yards and three touchdowns. WR Doug Baldwin had 75 receptions for 991 yards and eight touchdowns. WR Tyler Lockett caught 45 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns. Brown had 31 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns with the Cardinals, and Marshall had 18 receptions for 154 yards in five games with the Giants. Rookie RB Chris Carson had 49 carries last season for 208 yards. The defense was in the top half of the league in both yards and points allowed.
The Seahawks begin on the road for Weeks 1 and 2, playing the Broncos and Bears, respectively. The Cowboys come to Seattle for Week 3, then the Seahawks hit the road again to take on the Cardinals. They host the Rams in Week 5, then head overseas to take on the Raiders as the visiting team in London in Week 6. After a Week 7 bye, the Seahawks visit the Lions, then host the Chargers in Week 9. The Seahawks visit the Rams in Week 10 and host the Packers in Week 11. After a Week 12 road game against the Panthers, the Seahawks return home for games against the 49ers and the Vikings. The Seahawks then visit the 49ers in Week 15, and they finish the season with consecutive home games against the Chiefs and Cardinals.
The Seahawks are set for significant regression this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Sherman, Lane, Avril and Bennett all gone entering this season. Graham is also a significant loss on offense, leaving third-year TE Nick Vannett, who has 15 career receptions in his first two seasons, as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart; they also used their fourth-round draft pick on TE Will Dissly. Brown could be a decent addition in the receiving corps, but Marshall is entering his 13th season in the league and, at 34 years old, is past his prime and shouldn’t be expected to be a big part of the offense. Baldwin and Lockett will be big parts of the offense. One part of the team that should be improved this season is the running game, which was virtually nonexistent last season. Carson will begin the season as the starter but Penny will get his share of playing time, especially has it gets deeper into the season. Overall, though, the team isn’t going to be good this season and may not win more than six or seven games.
And that concludes this year’s look at all 32 NFL teams. Tomorrow, we’ll have a preview of the Falcons-Eagles season opener, with our Week 1 picks and season and playoff predictions coming up this the weekend.
It was a tale of two seasons for the 49ers in 2017. They were 1-10 in their first 11 games, using starting QBs Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. But they traded for QB Jimmy Garoppolo and started him for the last five games of the season; they went undefeated in his five starts to finish the season a semi-respectable 6-10. The team’s biggest offseason acquisition was signing RB Jerick McKinnon to a four-year contract, but he suffered a torn ACL in the final weekend before the start of the regular season. He was the anticipated starter at the position, and with him out for the season the 49ers are expected to turn to RB Alfred Morris — another offseason signing — to become the No. 1 running back. McKinnon’s injury also means a bigger workload for second-year RB Matt Breida, who the team signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. The running-back signings were facilitated by the loss of RB Carlos Hyde, who signed with the Browns.
The 49ers were 12th in the NFL with 5,587 yards and 20th with 331 points in 2017. In his six games — five starts — Garoppolo threw for 1,560 yards and seven touchdowns, with five interceptions. WR Marquise Goodwin had 56 receptions for 962 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie TE George Kittle recorded 43 receptions for 515 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games, including seven starts. WR Pierre Garcon played in eight games, catching 40 passes for 500 yards — but that was all before Garoppolo took over as the quarterback because Garcon missed the second half of the season with a neck injury. Breida had 105 carries in his rookie season, running for 465 yards and two touchdowns. In 14 games — five starts — with the Cowboys, Morris ran the ball 115 times for 547 yards and a touchdown. The defense was in the bottom third of the league in both yards and points allowed.
The 49ers have a tough opponent to begin the season, visiting the Vikings in Week 1. Another NFC North opponent awaits in Week 2, with a home game against the Lions. The 49ers visit the Chiefs and Chargers in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively, then return home to face the Cardinals in Week 5. After that, they visit the Packers in Week 6 and host the Rams in Week 7. The 49ers play at the Cardinals in Week 8 before back-to-back home games with the Raiders and Giants. After a Week 11 bye, the 49ers have road games with the Buccaneers and Seahawks on tap, followed by a Week 14 home game against the Broncos. They host the Seahawks in Week 15 and Bears in Week 16 before ending the season on the road at the Rams in Week 17.
With Garoppolo as the starting quarterback all season, the 49ers will get off to a better record than they did last season, but I don’t think he’s as good as he looked in the few games he played late last season, so I’m not sure if they’re better than a .500 team. That would represent a two-game improvement over last year’s record, but wouldn’t be good enough to keep the 49ers in a hunt for a playoff spot. Especially with McKinnon’s injury, meaning the team is relying on Morris and Brieda on the ground, I think the 49ers are a level below the elite teams in the conference. They’re probably still a year or two away from competing for the playoffs.
After going 4-12 in 2016, the Rams went 11-5 in 2017 — their first season under head coach Sean McVay — en route to winning the franchise’s first NFC West title since 2003 and their first playoff appearance since 2004. The near-tripling of the team’s win total was due to breakout seasons for third-year RB Todd Gurley, who was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year, and second-year QB Jared Goff. Even though the Rams had one of the league’s best offenses last season, that didn’t stop them from adding to it this year. They traded a couple of 2018 draft picks, including their first-rounder, to the Patriots in exchange for WR Brandin Cooks, who they later locked up with a five-year contract extension. Acquiring Cooks makes an already-good offense even better and deeper.
The offense was 10th in the NFL with 5,784 yards, but it led the league with 478 points, which was 20 points better than the second-place Patriots. Goff threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions in 15 games. Gurley had 279 rushes for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns, to go along with a team-high 64 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. Rookie WR Cooper Kupp also played in 15 games — six starts — and caught 62 balls for 869 yards and five touchdowns. WR Robert Woods added 56 catches for 781 yards and five scores in 12 games. Cooks recorded 65 receptions for the Patriots, going for 1,082 yards and seven scores. The defense was in the middle third of the league in both yards and points allowed.
The Rams’ start their season in the final game of Week 1, visiting the Raiders in the second half of the Monday NIght Football doubleheader. They’re at home for their next three games, starting with the Cardinals coming to Los Angeles in Week 2. That’s followed by visits from the Chargers and Vikings. The Rams then have three straight on the road, starting with a Week 5 contest at the Seahawks. They visit the Broncos in Week 6 and the 49ers in Week 7, then return home to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Rams play at the Saints in Week 9, and that is followed by a home game against the Seahawks in Week 10. The Rams are the designated home team in Week 11 when they play the Chiefs in a Monday night contest in Mexico City. That is followed by a Week 12 bye, then consecutive road games against the Lions and Bears. The Rams host the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 15’s Sunday nighter and visit the Cardinals in Week 16. They end the regular season at home against the 49ers in Week 17.
The Rams scored more points than any team in the league last season and they added to their offensive attack by trading for Cooks this offseason. After last season, it appears to be obvious that Goff and Gurley are both the real deal. It may be hard for Gurley to duplicate the numbers he put up last season, but he should be able to surpass 1,000 rushing yards while putting up numbers in the passing game as well. The defense, led by DT Aaron Donald, could be better but if the offense can continue putting points on the board like it did in 2017, the defense shouldn’t be too much of a drag on the team. The Rams have some tough teams on the schedule this season, including two games against an improved 49ers team, but with the talent they have they should be able to get to double-digit wins again, which will likely be good enough to reach the playoffs for a second straight season.
The NFC West is the final division in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, and the first team we’re previewing in the division is the Arizona Cardinals, who finished in third place in the division last season.
Coming off of an 8-8 season, the Cardinals lost the centerpiece of their offense this offseason with the retirement of QB Carson Palmer. That led to the Cardinals using their first-round draft pick on QB Josh Rosen — taking him with the 10th overall pick — and signing veteran QBs Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon to compete for the starting job. Bradford is probably the best of that group, but none of the three is likely to have much upside. There was good news for the offense as RB David Johnson, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 1 last year, is ready to return to the field this season. And WR Larry Fitzgerald, who contemplated retirement, ultimately decided to return for his 15th season with the team. The team added to the receiving corps by signing WR Brice Butler and selecting WR Christian Kirk in the second round of the draft. The Cardinals also have a new head coach, with Steve Wilks replacing Bruce Arians and getting his first shot at being a head coach in the NFL.
The offense ranked 22nd in the league with 5,026 yards and 25th with 295 points last season. Bradford only started two games for the Vikings last season, going 32-for-43 for 382 yards and three touchdowns, and Glennon started four games for the Bears in which he threw for 833 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Fitzgerald had another strong season in 2017, recording 109 receptions for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns. WR JJ Nelson had 29 catches for 508 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie TE Ricky Seals-Jones had 12 catches for 201 yards and three scores in limited playing time over 10 games, including one start. Butler had 15 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games, but no starts, with the Cowboys. There wasn’t much of a running game with Johnson out and the running backs who had most of the carries last season — notable Adrian Peterson and Kerwynn Williams — are no longer with the team. The defense ranked sixth in yards allowed but was 19th in points allowed last season.
The Cardinals begin their 2018 campaign with a home game against the Redskins, then play at the Rams in Week 2. That is followed by home games with the Bears and Seahawks in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively. The Cardinals have a two-game road trip after that, with games at the 49ers and Vikings before returning home to play the Broncos and 49ers in Weeks 7 and 8. After a Week 9 bye, the Cardinals have three straight games against AFC West foes. They visit the Chiefs in Week 10, host the Raiders in Week 11 and hit the road again to play the Chargers in Week 12. They stay on the road in Week 13, playing the Packers at Lambeau Field. The Cardinals host the LIons in Week 14 and visit the Falcons in Week 15, then finish the season with a home game against the Rams in Week 16 and pay a visit to Seattle to battle the Seahawks in Week 17.
It’s not looking like a good season for the Cardinals, who figure to have one of the worst offenses in the league this season. Bradford is currently expected to begin the season as the starting quarterback, but with his injury history he probably won’t finish the year in that capacity. Glennon has never been a great quarterback, and Rosen is a rookie who may not be ready to play at a NFL-caliber level in 2018. The lower level of quarterback play that the Cardinals are likely to have compared to what they got out of Palmer will probably lead to worse numbers for Fitzgerald than what he has done throughout much of his career. Johnson will probably have to be the workhorse in the offense, but is unlikely going to be able to carry the team enough for them to have a good year. After a .500 record last season, the Cardinals may be looking at just five or six wins in 2018 in their first season of the post-Palmer era.
After three seasons under head coach Jack Del Rio, who led them to a 12-4 record in 2016, the Raiders let him go and went into their past for his replacement, hiring Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden — who previously coached the team from 1998-2001 — to a 10-year contract despite him having been out of coaching since 2009. It looks like Gruden will be without the heart of his defense as the Raiders have reportedly agreed to trade star LB Khalil Mack, who has been holding out for a new contract, to the Bears for two first-round draft picks — and possibly more. The Raiders added to the offense this offseason, inking free-agent WR Jordy Nelson and RB Doug Martin to contracts, along with trading a third-round draft pick to the Steelers for WR Martavis Bryant. Among players the Raiders cut was WR Michael Crabtree.
The Raiders were 17th in the NFL with 5,185 yards last season, and their 301 points placed them 23rd in the league. QB Derek Carr threw for 3,496 yards and 22 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions in 15 games. TE Jared Cook recorded 54 receptions for 688 yards and two touchdowns and WR Amari Cooper had 48 catches for 680 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games. Nelson played in 15 games for the Packers, catching 53 balls for 482 yards and six touchdowns. Veteran RB Marshawn Lynch led the running game in his first season with the team, carrying the ball 207 times for 891 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. Martin was limited to 11 games — eight starts — with the Buccaneers, recording 138 rushes for 406 yards and three scores. Defensively, the team ranked in the bottom half of the league in both yards and points allowed.
Gruden’s first game back on the sideline will get national attention as the Raiders host the Rams in the second game of the Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader. After that, the Raiders are on the road for two weeks, visiting the Broncos and Dolphins. They’re back at home in Week 4 to take on the Browns, then they visit the Chargers in Week 5. A Week 6 “home” game against the Seahawks in London is followed by the Raiders’ bye and a Week 8 game against the Colts at home. The Raiders don’t have to travel far in Week 9 when they visit the 49ers. They host the Chargers in Week 10, then travel to the Cardinals and Ravens in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively. They have home games in Weeks 13 and 14 against the Chiefs and Steelers and then visit the Bengals in Week 15. After that, the Raiders host the Broncos on Monday night in Week 16, and they end the season with a Week 17 road game against the Chiefs.
Losing Mack will have a big impact on how the Raiders do this season. He is the best player on their defense, which will take a massive hit. Getting a couple of first-round picks in return for Mack, though, sets the Raiders up nicely in the coming years if they can turn those picks into stars. On offense, it’s unknown what can be expected from Nelson. He’s 33 years old and coming off one of the worst seasons in his career, but he had backup QB Brett Hundley throwing him the ball for much of 2017 with Aaron Rodgers injured. Can he bounce back and get closer to the numbers he put up in his prime now that he’ll have a better quarterback in Carr throwing him the ball? That is yet to be seen. Overall, the Raiders should have a decent offense but the defense has its flaws. The Raiders should best last season’s 6-10 record, but they’re probably about a .500 team. If they can eke out nine or 10 wins, they could compete for a wild card in the AFC, but I don’t think they’ll win that many games.
The Chargers will be entering the regular season a bit short-handed after getting hit by some big injuries in training camp. CB Jason Verrett and TE Hunter Henry are expected to miss the season with a torn achilles and a torn ACL, respectively. The Henry injury is particularly damaging, as the third-year player was expected to get the bulk of playing time at the position following the retirement of veteran TE Antonio Gates. After Henry suffered the season-ending injury, there was speculation that Gates may return to the team for 2018, but that has not yet happened.That leaves TE Virgil Green as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart in his first year with the team
The Chargers ranked fourth in the NFL with 6,026 yards, but they were 20th with 355 points. QB Philip Rivers threw for 4,515 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. WR Keenan Allen had 102 receptions for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns, with WR Tyrell Williams adding 43 catches for 728 yards and four touchdowns. WR Travis Benjamin caught 34 passes for 567 yards and four scores. Green had just 14 receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown with the Broncos last season. RB Melvin Gordon was the team’s leading rusher, with 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns on 284 carries; he also had 58 receptions — the second most on the team — for 476 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie RB Austin Ekeler showed some promising signs in limited playing time, totaling 47 rushes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, with 27 receptions for another 279 yards and three touchdowns. The defense ranked 15th in yards allowed but gave up the third-fewest points in the league.
The Chargers begin their season at home against the Chiefs, then head to Buffalo to take on the Bills in Week 2. They return to Los Angeles in Week 3, but they’re the designated road team when they take on the Rams. The battle of L.A. is followed by home games against the 49ers and Raiders. The Chargers visit the Browns in Week 6, host the Titans in Week 7 and have their bye in Week 8. Coming out of the bye, they have road games against the Seahawks and Raiders in Weeks 9 and 10, respectively. They host the Broncos and Cardinals the following two weeks, then visit the Steelers in Week 13. The Chargers return home in Week 14 to take on the Bengals, then visit the Chiefs in Week 15. Their final home game comes in Week 16 against the Ravens, and they finish off their schedule at the Broncos in Week 17.
The Chargers’ 9-7 record last year was a four-game improvement over 2016 and they still have a good offense, but it’s not as good as it would be if Henry didn’t suffer his season-ending injury. Rivers has a good receiving core to throw to and Gordon is one of the best running backs in the league. I would expect Ekeler to be thrown into the mix more in the running game to save Gordon some reps. The tight end position is worrisome, though, with Green as the starter. He has never had more than 22 receptions in a season in his seven seasons with the Broncos. Overall, I think the Chargers still have a good enough team to finish around .500, possibly repeat their 9-7 record from a year ago. If things turn their way, the Chargers could compete for one of the wild cards in the AFC as they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Chiefs made a change at quarterback this offseason, trading QB Alex Smith to the Redskins for CB Kendall Fuller and a draft pick. That opens up an opportunity for QB Patrick Mahomes to get his first shot at being a starting quarterback in the NFL. They already had some good receivers last season, but they added to the receiving core by signing WR Sammy Watkins this offseason. Other than those moves, the Chiefs’ offense remains mainly intact from last season, when they were 10-6, so Mahomes has a good team to lead onto the field in Week 1.
The Chiefs ranked fifth in the league with 6,007 yards and sixth with 415 points last season. Mahomes started the final game of the season in 2017, going 22-for-35 for 284 yards and an interception. Backup QB Chad Henne also didn’t see much playing time for the Jaguars last season, with just two pass attempts. TE Travis Kelce had 83 receptions in 15 games last season, totaling 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. WR Tyreek Hill recorded 75 catches for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games, including 13 starts. Watkins had 39 receptions for the Rams last season, gaining 593 yards with eight touchdowns in 15 games — 14 starts. RB Kareem Hunt had a strong rookie season, carrying the ball 272 times for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns; he also had 53 receptions for 455 yards and three touchdowns. The defense was in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed but was middle-of-the-pack in points allowed.
The Chiefs find themselves on the road for the first two weeks of the season, opening with a divisional contest against the Chargers, then flying across the country to do battle with the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 2. They host the 49ers in their home opener in Week 3, then visit the Broncos for the Monday night game in Week 4. The Chiefs host the Jaguars in Week 5 and visit the Patriots in Week 6. They then get consecutive home games for the first time, hosting the Bengals in Week 7 and the Broncos in Week 8. They head to Cleveland to take on the Browns in Week 9, which leads into a Week 10 home game against the Cardinals. The Chiefs are at the Rams in Week 11, then get a Week 12 bye before visiting the Raiders in Week 13. That is followed by back-to-back home games with the Ravens and Chargers. In Week 16, the Chiefs take on the Seahawks in Seattle and then wrap up their regular season with a Week 17 home game against the Raiders.
Mahomes is inheriting a pretty good team in his first season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, with pass-catchers who surpasses 1,000 yards last season and a running back in Hunt who had 53 receptions last season. Mahomes had a good pedigree coming out of Texas Tech when the Chiefs took him with the tenth overall pick in the 2017 draft. He probably won’t throw for more than 5,000 yards like he did his junior year in college, but he does have a better arm than Smith and can make some big plays. The Chiefs could have a strong offense behind Mahomes. If the defense can be better than it was last season, the Chiefs could be among the best teams in the AFC. As it stands, they’re probably the best team in the division and look like they’re on track for double-digit wins again in 2018.
The Broncos went 5-11 last season, which isn’t good but it did allow them to get the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, which they used to select DE Bradley Chubb, one of the best defensive players in this year’s class. The Broncos also selected RB Royce Freeman in the third round of the draft. Early in the offseason, the Broncos made probably their most significant personnel moves of the offseason when they signed QB Case Keenum and later traded QB Trevor Siemian. Keenum, who was the top quarterback for the Vikings last season, is expected to be the starter entering the regular season. The Broncos will be without RB C.J. Anderson, last year’s leading rusher, who is now with the Panthers.
The Broncos ranked 18th in the NFL last season with 5,185 yards and they were 27th with 289 points scored. Keenum played in 15 games — 14 starts — with the Vikings last season, throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions. QB Paxton Lynch, who is No. 3 on the depth chart started two games for the Broncos last season, completing 30 of his 45 passes for 295 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. WR Demaryius Thomas had 83 receptions last season for 949 yards and five touchdowns. WR Emmanuel Sanders had 47 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games, including 11 starts. RB Devontae Booker ran the ball 79 times for 299 yards and a touchdown; he also had 30 catches for 275 yards. The defense ranked third in the league in yards allowed but was in the bottom third in points allowed.
The Broncos’ schedule begins with two home games, against the Seahawks in Week 1 and the Raiders in Week 2. They visit the Ravens in Week 3, then host the Chiefs in Week 4. The Broncos hit the road to take on the Jets in Week 5, then they return home to battle the Rams in Week 6. They visit the Cardinals and Chiefs in Weeks 7 and 8, respectively, and then host the Texans. Following a Week 10 bye, the Broncos visit the Chargers in Week 11 and host the Steelers in Week 12. The Broncos have two road games after that, taking on the Bengals and the 49ers. The Broncos host the Browns in Week 15, then end the season with two divisional games; they visit the Raiders in Week 16 and host the Chargers in Week 17.
The Broncos’ poor performance last year was due in part to inconsistent quarterback play. Signing Keenum should help solve that problem, but the depth chart behind him is thin if he gets injured. The current No. 2 is Chad Kelly — the nephew of Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly — who missed all of his rookie season with an injury and Lynch, who hasn’t had much success in his career, is behind him. The team also still lacks stars at key offensive positions. Booker is the starting running back, but he’s probably near the bottom of the league at the position. Freeman has a good chance to usurp Booker as the starter if he can perform well in his rookie season. Overall, the team should be better with Keenum under center, but the roster still isn’t great. The Broncos should see a slightly improved record this season and win six or seven games.