Biggest position battle to watch for each AFC East team during training camp

Buffalo Bills – Biggest Position Battle: Quarterback

The Buffalo Bills are in an interesting position at quarterback heading into 2018 season as they have two extremely inexperienced players at the position. A.J. McCarron likely has the advantage as he has the most experience despite only having 3 career NFL starts. McCarron has been a backup his entire career and it is completely unknown how he will fare if he becomes the Bills starter at quarterback. Meanwhile, Josh Allen is McCarron’s main competitor for the starting quarterback job. Allen is certainly going to get his shot to be the starter at some point considering he was a 1st round pick by the Bills this year. However, the question is whether Allen would be ready to start week one or if it will take more time for him to develop. If Allen really makes a strong impression during training camp then it is possible that he could be the starter right away. However, A.J. McCarron has more experience and it appears he is the frontrunner to win the job.

Miami Dolphins – Biggest Position Battle: Running Back

The Dolphins are clearly big believers in Kenyan Drake or else they wouldn’t have traded away Jay Ajayi last season. However, the Dolphins added future hall-of-fame running back Frank Gore to compete for the starting job. Kenyan Drake has a bright future as Miami’s number one option at running back, although it is a mystery as to whether he can be the lead guy right now. Gore was likely brought in to take some of the pressure off of Kenyan Drake. However, if Drake doesn’t have a good training camp then Frank Fore could take the majority of the carries.

New England Patriots – Biggest Position Battle: Running Back

The New England Patriots lost starting running back Dion Lewis this offseason, but it shouldn’t hold them back since they added Sony Michel in the 1st round of the draft. Michel should see plenty of carries in his rookie year, yet it is unclear whether he will become the starter early on. Rex Burkhead is a veteran that will likely compete for the starting job with Michel during training camp. The Patriots also have James White who will take some of the carries away from the other two guys. Michel is the most talented running back that New England has, but he might struggle to take the starting job away from Rex Burkhead.

New York Jets – Biggest Position Battle: Quarterback

The Jets have three quarterbacks on their roster that could technically compete for the starting job. However, this appears to be a competition between veteran quarterback Josh McCown and rookie 1st round pick Sam Darnold. McCown is 39 years old, so he is nothing more than a temporary solution for the Jets at quarterback. However, he played well last season with the Jets and he has plenty of experience as an NFL quarterback. Darnold will have to be extremely impressive in order for the Jets to name him the week 1 starter, but he is much more talented than McCown is. McCown clearly has the advantage based off experience in the NFL, although it shouldn’t be too long before Darnold takes over the starting quarterback role.

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2018 NFC West Standings Predictions

  1. Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams appear to be the best team in the NFC West heading into 2018 and they are likely super bowl contenders as well. Young quarterback Jared Goff made huge progress last season and he became a pro-bowl level player. He could be even better this season especially since he has a terrific wide receiver group with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks. Also, the Rams have Todd Gurley who is arguably the best running back in the NFL and he takes tons of pressure off the Rams passing game. The offensive line also appears to be very good for the Rams heading into 2018. Los Angeles doesn’t really have a weakness on offense and they have the potential to be even better in 2018. Meanwhile, the Rams defense was good last season, but it is very likely even better this season. They already had plenty of talent on the defensive line with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers leading the way. However, the addition of elite defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh could make the Rams defensive line impossible to beat. The major area of weakness for the Rams is at linebacker though as they don’t have too much talent at the position besides Mark Barron. However, the real strength of the Rams defense is now clearly in the secondary after the additions of pro-bowl cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib this offseason. Add in star safety Lamarcus Joyner plus solid cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and the Rams arguably have the best secondary in the NFL. Overall, it is very difficult to find many weaknesses on the Rams roster as they arguably have the best team in the entire NFL. If they can live up to their potential then they could easily make a deep playoff run in 2018.

2. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers were an awful team for most of last season, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to turn their fortunes around as he led the team to 5 consecutive wins late last season. Garoppolo is clearly the quarterback of the present and future for the 49ers which is why the team gave him a massive contract this offseason. The question is whether he has enough talent around him on offense to really reach his potential. The offensive line should be much improved this season especially with the additions of Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey. The biggest concern for the 49ers is at the skill positions. San Francisco signed Jerick McKinnon to a huge deal in free agency to be their number one running back. However, it will be interesting to see if McKinnon is an upgrade at that position considering he has never been a lead back in his NFL career. Also, the 49ers have some questions at the wide receiver position as Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, and Trent Taylor are the top targets for Jimmy Garoppolo. Goodwin was the number one receiver for the 49ers last season, but they will need Garcon and Taylor to be much better if the 49ers offense wants to be really good. The 49ers finally have a solution at quarterback, but he needs some help from his supporting cast if the 49ers offense is really successful. Meanwhile, the 49ers have plenty of young talent especially on the defensive line. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas are all really talented players for the 49ers on their defensive line. However, none of them provided much of a pass rush last season and that is something that the 49ers really need much more of this season. They have some talent at the linebacker position with Reuben Foster and Malcolm Smith, but it is unknown the type of production that they will provide. The addition of pro-bowl cornerback Richard Sherman is a big upgrade in the 49ers secondary, although the rest of the secondary appears to be a weakness heading into 2018. Overall, San Francisco is a team clearly on the rise and they should be able to be a playoff contender this season. However, they still have several holes that they need to fill on their roster if they want to compete with the Rams in the NFC West.

3. Seattle Seahawks

It is difficult to count out the Seahawks considering that they still have Russell Wilson leading the way at quarterback. However, Seattle is a team going through a major transition right now. The defense has been what has carried the Seahawks in recent years, but the offense is going to have to take a much bigger role this season. Seattle should have a much better running game after they drafted rookie running back Rashaad Penny in the 1st round. The Seahawks also have a good group of wide receivers with Doug Baldwin, Brandon Marshall, and Tyler Lockett. However, the Seahawks lost elite tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency which will probably hurt Seattle’s passing attack. Seattle’s offensive line doesn’t appear to be too bad heading into 2018, although it still has a potential to once again be disastrous. Either way, quarterback Russell Wilson will have a lot of pressure to make big plays or the Seahawks offense won’t be great. Meanwhile, the Seahawks defense appears to be extremely weak heading into the 2018 season after all of the key players that they lost this offseason. In fact, they lost six key starters on their defense just this offseason. They lost cornerback Richard Sherman, cornerback Jeremy Lane, strong safety Kam Chancellor, defensive end Cliff Avril, defensive end Michael Bennett, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. That is tons of pro-bowl level talent that the Seahawks now have to replace. Now the Seahawks have many voids left on their defense as it could be one of the worst in the NFL in 2018. They still have a couple of really good linebackers with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Also, they have some good young talent on the defensive line with Frank Clark and Jarran Reed. However, the major weakness for Seattle appears to be in their secondary as they have a major void at the cornerback position after the departures of Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane. The team still has elite safety Earl Thomas on the roster, but he is currently holding out for a new contract and it is possible that he might miss some games this season. Overall, the Seahawks defense has suddenly turned from one of the NFL’s best defenses into one of the NFL’s worst defenses. It is hard to picture the Seahawks competing for a playoff spot this season unless the offense suddenly becomes elite.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona is yet another team going through a big transition right now especially since they have a new quarterback and a new head coach with Steve Wilks. The major excitement for the Cardinals is that they will have star running back David Johnson back from injury. Johnson should add a much-needed spark to the Cardinals offense and he will help take a lot of pressure off the Cardinals quarterback situation. The Cardinals offensive line is also likely going to be better especially after the addition of guard Justin Pugh in free agency. The Cardinals also have a good group of wide receivers led by star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, rookie 2nd round pick Christian Kirk, and deep threat J.J. Nelson. The main concern for the Cardinals is at the quarterback position after Carson Palmer retired this offseason. Arizona drafted Josh Rosen in the 1st round and he is clearly the quarterback of the future for the Cardinals. However, Sam Bradford figures to be the temporary solution at quarterback for Arizona while Rosen develops. If David Johnson stays healthy then the Cardinals offense should be decent. However, the success of the offense depends entirely on the production from the quarterback position. Meanwhile, the Cardinals defense has a chance to be decent this season as they figure to be just as good as last season. Chandler Jones is arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL as he had 17 sacks last season, but the issue is that the rest of the defensive line isn’t very good. The Cardinals do have some very good talent at linebacker with Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon, but the inside linebacker position appears to be a major area of weakness. Meanwhile, the Cardinals secondary still should be above average mostly because they have Patrick Peterson who is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. However, the loss of playmaking safety Tyrann Mathieu creates a major void in the Cardinals secondary that they didn’t really fill. Overall, the Cardinals have lots of work to do before they are playoff contenders once again. The quarterback position for the Cardinals has some potential, but it will likely hold them back in 2018.

2018 AFC West Standings Predictions

  1. Los Angeles Chargers

The AFC West is a wide open division heading into the 2018 season, but there is one team that appears to be better than the rest is the Los Angeles Chargers. They came extremely close to a playoff spot last year and there is an argument that they are even better heading into 2018. Sure, quarterback Philip Rivers might not be elite anymore, but he proved last season that he is still an above average quarterback if he can cut down on turnovers. However, he will have plenty of weapons around him on offense as he has Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams to throw to. Also, the Chargers have one of the best running backs in the NFL with Melvin Gordon. The offensive line is seemingly better this offseason as well since they added pro-bowl caliber center Mike Pouncey in free agency. There is plenty of talent for the Chargers on offense and the success of that unit is key to the Chargers playoff hopes in 2018. Meanwhile, the Chargers defense has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the entire NFL. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL as they combined for 23 sacks last season. Add defensive tackle Corey Liuget into the mix and the Chargers have a very good defensive line. The major weakness though for the Chargers appears to be at the linebacker position as they don’t really have any playmakers at that position. However, the secondary is looking particularly good for the Chargers as Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett form one of the best cornerback duos in the league. The team even added very talented rookie safety Derwin James in the 1st round of the draft. Overall, the Chargers are loaded with talent with both sides of the ball and it should be enough to win the division in a AFC West division that is unpredictable this year.

2. Denver Broncos

Denver is an interesting team heading into the 2018 season because they could compete for a playoff spot or they could be a bad team. The Broncos were certainly disappointing last season at 5-11, but that was mostly due to the terrible quarterback play that they had. That is why the Broncos went out and signed Case Keenum to be their new starting quarterback. However, Keenum has been a backup for most of his career until last season when he suddenly became a very good starter for the Vikings. It is unknown whether Keenum is really the answer for Denver at quarterback. However, if he can play like he did last season then the Broncos should be playoff contenders. The good news is that he has plenty of talent around him especially at the wide receiver position. Denver has talented veteran receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but they also added talented rookie receiver Courtland Sutton in the 2nd round of the draft. The running back will be an interesting position battle for the Broncos. Rookie 3rd round pick Royce Freeman probably will get most of the carries, but Devontae Booker will compete for the starting job as well. The offensive line is better than it used to be especially with the addition of Ronald Leary at left guard. However, the right side of the offensive line especially the right guard position is particularly concerning. The Broncos offense is a complete unknown especially with the uncertainty that they have at quarterback and running back. However, if those positions can just be slightly above average then the Broncos offense could be much improved from a year ago. Meanwhile, the defense still appears to be the strength of the Broncos team. Denver’s pass rush was already extremely talented with players like Von Miller, Shane Ray, and Shaquil Barrett. However, the pass rush got even deeper when they selected Bradley Chubb with their 1st round pick this offseason. Add in defensive tackle Derek Wolfe plus linebacker Brandon Marshall and the Broncos suddenly have a terrific front 7. The secondary for the Broncos is also still very strong despite the subtraction of pro-bowl cornerback Aqib Talib. Denver still has plenty of talent at cornerback with Chris Harris and Bradley Roby as their starters heading into this season. Overall, the Broncos defense could be even better than last season and they will probably need it to be very good to be a playoff team in 2018. However, the entire fate of the Broncos defense rests in the hands of quarterback Case Keenum because if he doesn’t play well then the Broncos season could be bad again.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs might be the most unpredictable team heading into the 2018 season in the entire NFL. The reason for that is because they traded away starting quarterback Alex Smith and replaced him with 2nd-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. There is no doubt the talent that Mahomes has, although he is basically a rookie heading into 2018 as he only has one career NFL start. The good news is that Mahomes will have plenty of talent on offense to help him. Kareem Hunt established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL last season and he should help to take a lot of pressure off Mahomes. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have great options in the passing game with star tight end Travis Kelce and star wide receiver Tyreek Hill returning for the 2018 season. Also, the Chiefs decided to add another elite receiver by signing Sammy Watkins to a big deal this offseason. The offensive line should be good as well, so Mahomes should have plenty of help around him in order to succeed. However, given the inexperience of Mahomes it is unknown if the Chiefs offense will regress in 2018. Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense doesn’t appear to be any better heading into 2018 than it was a year ago. They still have Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones to lead the pass rush. However, they lost several key defensive players including Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and star young cornerback Marcus Peters. The Chiefs did add star linebacker Anthony Hitchens in free agency and that should provide a big upgrade at the linebacker position. Kansas City still has pro-bowl safety Eric Berry, but the rest of the secondary just looks average at best. They added cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade, but the loss of Marcus Peters creates a huge void at that position. The Chiefs still have some good pieces on defense, but it certainly isn’t the dominant defense that it was not too long ago. Kansas City has enough talent to make a playoff run in a rather unknown AFC West. However, that all depends on the play of young quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

4. Oakland Raiders

Oakland is yet another team that could possibly challenge for a playoff spot this year, but it seems like wishful thinking at this point. Quarterback Derek Carr had somewhat of a down season last year, but he is expected to bounce back in 2018 especially with the talent around him. Carr still has his top target at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, but the Raiders added even more talent to that position with the additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant this offseason. The Raiders also have plenty of talent at running back with starter Marshawn Lynch and the addition of former pro-bowler Doug Martin to be his backup. The Raiders offensive line also appears to be very good next season especially with the addition of 1st round pick Kolton Miller at right tackle. Oakland has the pieces on offense to be elite, but quarterback Derek Carr really needs to bounce back in order for the offense to reach its potential. Meanwhile, the Raiders defense is still what will likely hold them back in 2018. They have a couple of terrific pass rushers to lead the way with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. However, the rest of the defense is a complete unknown heading into 2018. The addition of Tahir Whitehead should help the Raiders at linebacker, although it remains an area of weakness for the team. The real weakness for the Raiders on defense is still the secondary. They really struggled in that area last season and they didn’t do much to improve that unit this offseason. Overall, the Raiders still have plenty of work to do in order to become true contenders again. 2018 will likely just be a transition season with Jon Gruden now taking over as the head coach.

2018 NFC South Standings Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints

It will be a really close battle in the NFC South once again this season, but the Saints are still probably the best team in the division. They have a good receiving group led by Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn. The additions of 3rd round pick TreQuan Smith and free agent signing Cameron Meredith makes this group even stronger in 2018. However, the strength of the offense for the Saints is now clearly at the running back position. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram form the best running back duo in the NFL in my opinion. The offensive line is also very talented as well and it only makes the running game even more dangerous. The Saints still have future hall-of-fame quarterback Drew Brees and he is still playing well despite being 39 years old. Brees isn’t the player that he once was, but he doesn’t have to do as much with the running game being so good. There really isn’t a weakness on the New Orleans offense and it should continue to be very dangerous next season. Meanwhile, the Saints really made huge strides on defense last season led by rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams. The Saints also have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL with Cameron Jordan. However, they need other pass rushers like Alex Okafor to step up in 2018. The linebacker group wasn’t good at all for New Orleans last season, but the additions of A.J. Klein, Demario Davis, and Manti Te’o should make that group much better this season. The secondary is clearly the strength for the Saints defense and that is important considering they have to face Matt Ryan and Cam Newton two times a year each. It won’t be easy for the Saints in the tough NFC South, but their roster is stacked enough to win the division again.

2. Atlanta Falcons

It was surprisingly the defense that really carried the Falcons to the playoffs last season, but don’t forget about how talented the Falcons are on offense. They especially have arguably the most talented wide receiver group in the NFL. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the NFL and they still have Mohamed Sanu as a good 2nd wide receiver. Also, as if that wasn’t enough, the Falcons went out and landed Calvin Ridley who was arguably the best wide receiver in this year’s draft class. The Falcons also have a terrific offensive line led by center Alex Mack and it should be even better with the addition of Brandon Fusco. The Falcons also have a dynamic duo at running back with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, although both of them struggled somewhat last season. The Falcons really need the running game to get going in order to take the pressure off of their passing game. That was probably why quarterback Matt Ryan had somewhat of a down year in 2017, but there is no excuse for him not to play well this season considering the talent surrounding him. If Ryan and the rest of the offense can play like they did in 2016 then this offense could easily be the best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the defense has gotten much better the past couple of seasons. They have a couple of really good young pass rushers with Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. Also, they have Grady Jerrett who has turned into a stud at the defensive tackle position. The Falcons also have a couple of really good young linebackers with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. However, the real strength of the Falcons is in their secondary with Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant as the main starters while the team also added Isaiah Oliver in the 2nd round of the draft. The Falcons also have star young safety Keanu Neal who makes plays all over the field. Atlanta has a really young talented defense overall and it should help them to be a playoff team once again in 2018. Also, if Atlanta’s offense gets going once again then the team could easily be super bowl contenders.

3. Carolina Panthers

Carolina is still a playoff contender in 2018, but they aren’t quite on the same level as New Orleans and Atlanta considering the key players that the Panthers lost this offseason. However, the Panthers did improve at the wide receiver position by trading for Torrey Smith and drafting speed wide receiver D.J. Moore in the 1st round of the draft. They will be a good complement to number one receiver Devin Funchess and star tight end Greg Olsen in the passing game. The Panthers also figure to have a better running game with Christian McCaffrey as the lead back and the addition of C.J. Anderson as well. The offensive line for Carolina is still good, but that unit took a major loss with the departure of Andrew Norwell. The question mark for Carolina is whether quarterback Cam Newton can perform up to his potential and stay healthy as well. If he can have a good season then the Panthers offense certainly has high potential. Meanwhile, the Panthers still have a good defense heading into this season as it remains about the same as it was last year. The strength of the defense is clearly at the linebacker position where they have Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, and Thomas Davis to form arguably the best group of starters at that position in the NFL. However, it will hurt a lot to have Davis suspended for the first 4 games of the season as he is the leader of the defense. Also, the Panthers have a pretty good defensive line as well led by the dynamic pass rusher duo of Julius Peppers and Mario Addison who both had 11 sacks each last year. The team even has a couple of really good starting defensive tackles with Kawann Short and the free agent signing of Dontari Poe. The major weakness for the Panthers defense is their secondary as James Bradberry is the clear number one cornerback for the team. However, the rest of the secondary isn’t very good to say the least, although rookie 2nd round cornerback Donte Jackson should compete for a starting role right away. The Panthers are above average on offense and defense, although they likely aren’t any better than they were last season.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had such high expectations last season, but they never lived up to the hype. However, there is reason to believe that the Buccaneers are a better team than they were in 2017. They still have arguably the best wide receiver group in the NFL with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and Adam Humphries. Also, they have a dynamic duo at tight end with Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. The main issue for the Bucs last season was that they were terrible in the running game. That shouldn’t be as much of an issue though this season as they drafted Ronald Jones in the 2nd round of the draft to be their lead back. Jones should provide much more balance to Tampa Bay’s offense and take a lot of pressure off of the passing game. The offensive line should be better in 2018 as well as they signed Ryan Jensen to a big contract in order to be their new starting center. The main thing for Tampa Bay’s offense though is the question marks at the quarterback position. Jameis Winston is the clear starter, but he is suspended for the first 3 games of the season. That leaves journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as the temporary starter at quarterback for the Bucs and that’s not exactly an ideal scenario. Even when Winston returns, he needs to prove that he can be a consistent starting quarterback at the NFL level. He turns the ball over too often and if Tampa Bay is going to improve this season then he needs to start making better decisions. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers defense was an absolute disaster last season, but it appears to be much improved this season. The pass rush was especially bad as they finished last in the NFL with 22 sacks combined. Gerald McCoy continues to be a dominant force at defensive tackle, but now he’ll have help at that position with rookie 1st round pick Vita Vea. Also, the team added proven veteran defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry this offseason which should help improve the pass rush right away. The team also has defensive ends William Gholston and Noah Spence who is returning from missing most of last season. The secondary was awful last season as well, but the additions of rookie 2nd round picks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart should help add some competition at cornerback. Brent Grimes is still the clear number one cornerback and he continues to play well, but the Bucs need the other starter Vernon Hargreaves to have a comeback year. The biggest strength for the Buccaneers on defense is clearly at linebacker as LaVonte David, Kwon Alexander, and Kendell Beckwith form a solid trio of starters at that position group. Overall, the Bucs defense should be much better than it was last season. However, it will be tough for Tampa Bay to compete in the NFC South if they don’t get quality play from Jameis Winston at the quarterback position.

2018 AFC South Standings Predictions

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars surprised many last season by coming very close to going to the super bowl. However, this team could be just as good in 2018 as they were when they almost knocked off the Patriots in the AFC Championship last year. The Jaguars offense is clearly the weakness of the Jaguars team, but they still have several really good players. Starting running back Leonard Fournette is already one of the top running backs in the NFL and he will be the one to carry the offense. However, they also have TJ Yeldon who provides some solid depth at running back. Meanwhile, the offensive line appears to be even better next season after the addition of elite guard Andrew Norwell this offseason. The main question for the Jaguars will once again be their passing game. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been criticized heavily in the local and national media for his performance the past couple of seasons. However, Bortles actually played relatively well last season especially considering he barely had any wide receivers to throw to. The Jaguars wide receiver group doesn’t appear to be any better this season even with the additions of 2nd round pick DJ Chark and free agent signing Donte Moncrief. The best receiver for the Jaguars is clearly Marqise Lee, but he has really struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career. The Jaguars don’t need a great passing game since they have one of the top running games in the NFL, although Bortles will still need to be relied upon to make plays in key situations. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense is really what carried the team last season and it is arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. They have the best pass rush in the entire NFL with Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, and Dante Fowler all having at least 8 sacks each last season. The Jaguars also have pro-bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and rookie 1st round defensive tackle Taven Bryan which makes the Jaguars defensive line probably the deepest in the NFL. Jacksonville also has two very talented young linebackers with Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Also, Jacksonville arguably has the best secondary in the entire NFL. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the best cornerback duo in the NFL in my opinion as they combined for 10 interceptions last season. Also, the Jaguars might have one of the best safety duos with Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. The only real weakness that the Jaguars have on defense is at middle linebacker, but that shouldn’t hold the Jaguars from being one of the top defenses in the NFL. Jacksonville might struggle to score some points if they can’t throw the ball well, but the defense and running game are among the best in the NFL which is why they will likely win the division this year.

2. Houston Texans

Last year was really rough for the Texans as they went 4-12, but that was mostly due to the injury to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, when he was healthy then the Texans proved that they could compete with any NFL team including the Patriots. If Watson plays like he did last season then the Texans should be considered a playoff contender. He has a couple of good receivers to throw to as DeAndre Hopkins might be the best receiver in the NFL and Will Fuller is a terrific number 2 receiver as well. Houston also has a decent running game with Lamar Miller leading the way and D’Onta Foreman will compete for the starting job if he is healthy to start the season. The main concern for the Texans is their offensive line. It was an absolute disaster last season and they didn’t do too much to improve it this season as they didn’t have the draft picks to be able to do so. However, Watson is mobile enough that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Texans in 2018. Meanwhile, having J.J. Watt back from injury will give the Texans a huge boost on defense. Having Watt to go along with star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney will give Houston a major pass rush threat. The Texans also have a very good linebacker with Benardrick McKinney as he establishes a hard-hitting presence for Houston. However, the best overall position group for the Texans might be their secondary as they have two quality cornerbacks with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. Also, the addition of safety Tyrann Mathieu fills what was a major position of weakness for the Texans last season. Injuries derailed the Texans 2017 season, but as long as their key players remain healthy then they could definitely make the playoffs in 2018.

3. Tennessee Titans

The Titans somehow managed to make the playoffs last season despite a very poor season from quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, there is no excuse for the Titans quarterback to not improve this season as he has plenty of weapons surrounding him. He has some really talented wide receivers with Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis, but he also has pro-bowl tight end Delanie Walker to throw to. The Titans even have a very good running game led by power running back Derrick Henry and the addition of Dion Lewis as well. Not to mention, Mariota has plenty of protection from the offensive line with players like Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, and Josh Kline. Mariota is still a threat to run the ball, but he threw too many interceptions last season and he wasn’t good enough in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Titans defense was decent last season and it could be even better in 2018. They have three good pass rushers with Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo, and pro-bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The linebacker group was good last season as well with Wesley Woodyard and it figures to be even better with the additions of 1st round pick Rashaan Evans and 2nd round pick Harold Landry. The Titans also have one of the best safeties in the NFL with Kevin Byard who had a whopping 8 interceptions last year. However, the secondary could become a strength this year with the addition of cornerback Malcolm Butler in free agency. The Titans have a new head coach with Mike Vrabel and it could be a tough transition for the Titans. However, the success of this season depends on if Marcus Mariota can have a comeback year. If that happens then the Titans have a chance to make the playoffs again in 2018.

4. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had an awful 2017 season, but that was kind of to be expected considering their star quarterback was out for the entire year. However, quarterback Andrew Luck is expected to be back for week 1 of the season and that would be huge for the Colts. Luck can make the team somewhat competitive by himself, but the issue is the Colts still have a very poor roster around him. He has a terrific number one receiver with T.Y. Hilton, but the rest of the receiving group isn’t good. They signed Ryan Grant to be their 2nd receiver, but he hasn’t done much in his NFL career. Also, the Colts have what appears to be a very weak running game after the departure of Frank Gore. Marlon Mack figures to be the starting running back and rookie 4th round pick Nyheim Hines could see plenty of playing time as well. However, both are extremely inexperienced and neither appear to be very good options. The good news is that the offensive line for Indianapolis could be good this year for once after they drafted elite guard prospect Quenton Nelson in the 1st round. The Colts suddenly have a decent offensive line as they also have Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly. Having Andrew Luck back makes the Colts undoubtedly better, but it won’t help much if he doesn’t have much around him on offense. Meanwhile, the defense for the Colts might be even worse than last season if that’s even possible. The Colts had an awful pass rush last season as they only finished with 25 sacks combined. Jabaal Sheard is the team’s best pass rusher right now, although he only had 5.5 sacks in 2017 for Indianapolis. The issue is that the Colts have basically the exact same defensive line as last season and the only change they made was drafting defensive end Kemoko Turay in the 2nd round. Turay likely isn’t the answer to their pass rush woes and they need the other players on the defensive line to be much better. The linebacker group for the Colts appears to be just as bad as their defensive line. Their linebacker group might have been even better last season, although adding 2nd round pick Darius Leonard should help a little bit. The Colts secondary is probably the strength of the defense with young safety Malik Hooker leading the way. However, their two best cornerbacks from last season Vontae Davis and Rashaan Melvin are both gone. That leaves the Colts with basically nothing at cornerback heading into next season. The Colts have arguably the worst defense in the NFL and it will put too much pressure on the offense to score points. If Andrew Luck stays healthy then he will keep the Colts a respectable team, but even he can’t make the Colts a playoff contender unless the rest of the team steps up.

2018 NFC North Predictions

  1. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings came close to reaching the super bowl last season and there is a chance that they could be even better this season. They have starting running back Dalvin Cook who will be back from injury in 2018 and they have Latavius Murray as a solid backup at the position as well. They also have some really good pass-catchers led by Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph. The offensive line is probably the weakest part of the entire Vikings team and that could really hold the offense back in 2018. However, Minnesota likely upgraded at the most important position by signing pro-bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins to a massive contract this offseason. The Vikings did well with Case Keenum last season, although Cousins has been a better quarterback throughout his career. Cousins won’t have to do too much since Minnesota has a very talented defense, but he just strengthens the quarterback position for Minnesota. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defense is arguably the strength of the team. They have arguably the best defensive lines in the NFL as they have a terrific pass rush duo with Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. However, they are even stronger at defensive tackle with the addition of Sheldon Richardson this offseason and he will form a really good starting duo along with Linval Joseph. Also, the Vikings have a couple of really good young linebackers with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Not to mention, the Vikings are extremely deep at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Mackensie Alexander, and rookie 1st round pick Mike Hughes. Overall, the Vikings don’t have much of a weakness on offense or defense and they appear to be legitimate super bowl contenders heading into next season.

2. Green Bay Packers

The Vikings are probably the most talented team in the division, but the Packers will likely make a strong push to win the division in 2018. Green Bay has plenty of firepower on offense as they have a couple of really good wide receivers with Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, although the departure of Jordy Nelson will hurt that position group. However, the Packers made up for it by signing star tight end Jimmy Graham this offseason and that is a major upgrade for the team at that position. Meanwhile, the running back position has some good depth, but they really don’t have a clear starter. They have Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones as potential options in the backfield. However, it will be interesting to see which running back will get the most carries this season. The Packers have a really good passing game, but they will need more balance from their running backs this season. Green Bay also has some issues along the offensive line especially on the interior offensive line. Green Bay still has arguably the best quarterback in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers and as long as he stays healthy then the Packers should be a playoff contender once again. Meanwhile, the Packers defense might actually be the strength of the entire team. The Packers have an elite pass rush led by Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. However, the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson should make Green Bay’s pass rush even more dangerous. Green Bay does have some weakness in their secondary as it is extremely inexperienced. However, they do have some terrific talent in the secondary led by star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and rookie 1st round cornerback Jaire Alexander. The secondary has high potential, but it also has a risk of failure as well. If the secondary can perform well then the Packers could have a strong defense in 2018. Overall, the Packers just missed out on the playoffs last season and that was mostly because Aaron Rodgers missed most of the season. However, if he can stay healthy then there really isn’t much doubt that this team has a really good chance of making the playoffs.

3. Detroit Lions

It is a year of transition for Detroit as they have Matt Patricia as their new head coach heading into 2018. However, don’t forget that the Lions were actually a good team last season as they just missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record. There is no doubt that the Lions are really dangerous on offense especially in the passing game. Matthew Stafford is an above average quarterback and he has some really good wide receivers to throw to with Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. Also, he should have an improved offensive line this season especially with the addition of rookie guard Frank Ragnow. However, the key to the success of the offense will be the running game as that is something that they have struggled with for many years. The addition of rookie 2nd round pick Kerryon Johnson and the signing of veteran running back LeGarrette Blount should give a big boost to that group. They also have Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah who could compete for some playing time as well. Either way, the Lions have a deep running back group, but it is unknown which player will have the most carries. If the Lions can just be average running the ball then it will make Detroit’s offense even better. Meanwhile, the Lions defense actually wasn’t that bad last season mainly because their secondary played really well last season. They have one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL with Darius Slay and they also have a terrific safety with Glover Quin. However, the Lions also have a solid pass rush led by elite defensive end Ziggy Ansah. They also have starting defensive end Anthony Zettel who provided a solid 6.5 sacks last season. The Lions have some holes on the defense especially at outside linebacker, but their defense should be decent as long as their secondary and pass rush to continue to lead the way. Overall, the Lions are a good team, but they just play in what is likely to be a very tough division this year. However, the Lions have a very talented team that is capable of being a playoff contender once again in 2018.

4. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears have some hope for this year as Mitchell Trubisky heads into his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. However, the Bears are still a team that is in transition with new head coach Matt Nagy and they unfortunately play in a tough division as well. The Bears did add some more talent to their offense this season though as they signed pro-bowl receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton. The Bears still don’t have a very good receiver group, but it is better than what they had a year ago. The strength of the Bears offense though is still at the running back position as Jordan Howard has established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Also, they have Tarik Cohen who is a terrific 3rd-down back. Both of those guys will be important since they help to take a lot of pressure off of Trubisky and the passing game. The Bears offensive line is somewhat concerning, but it is still decent with Kyle Long and Charles Leno. The Bears offense should be better this season, but it all depends on how Trubisky progresses in his 2nd NFL season. Meanwhile, the Bears have one of the most underrated defenses in the entire NFL. Akiem Hicks provides the team with their main source of pass rush as he had 8.5 sacks last season, but the rest of the defensive line is a major weakness. They need other pass rushers like Leonard Floyd to step up and have a better year than they did in 2017. The linebacker position is looking stronger this season for the Bears as they added rookie 1st round pick Roquan Smith to go along with veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan. The Bears also have a somewhat strong secondary led by cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson. Chicago has some good players on both sides of the ball, but they still have too many holes to fill. Also, I’m just not quite sure how well Mitchell Trubisky will develop at the quarterback position.

2018 AFC North Standings Predictions

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly going to be super bowl contenders once again in 2018 as they are led by a terrific offense. Ben Roethlisberger is still a top quarterback in the NFL despite his age and it helps that he has Le’Veon Bell who is probably the best running back in the NFL. Also, the Steelers have arguably the best wide receiver group in the NFL with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie 2nd round pick James Washington. It is difficult to find a weakness on the Steelers offense and that is what will carry this team once again during the 2018 season. Meanwhile, the Steelers defense is what could hold the Steelers back this season. They do have some good talent on the defensive line with players like Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Bud Depree. However, the secondary and linebacker groups for the Steelers could prove once again to be a major issue in 2018. TJ Watt is a rising star in the NFL at linebacker and Vince Williams has been a productive player for the Steelers. However, they didn’t do anything to address the inside linebacker position this offseason and that could be a major area of weakness in 2018. Meanwhile, the Steelers secondary is really appearing to once again be the weakness of the entire team. Rookie 1st round safety Terrell Edmunds should help to strengthen that group, but the safety position still needs some help. Also, the cornerback position is thin for Pittsburgh as they have Artie Burns and Joe Haden, but not much else. Pittsburgh could struggle to defend the pass in 2018 and the defense as a whole could be a big weakness for the Steelers. Pittsburgh is still the best team in the AFC north, although they aren’t really any better than they were last season.

2. Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens had a goal of adding some more explosiveness to their offense this offseason and that’s exactly what they did especially by drafting speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson in the 1st round. Jackson probably won’t be the starter at QB right away, but he is so athletic that he can be used as a weapon at other positions. He can also help to put more pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco to perform. Alex Collins figures to be the lead running back for Baltimore in 2018 after he performed well last season. The Ravens will need him to play well to take more pressure off of Flacco at quarterback. Also, the Ravens completely revamped their passing game as they added tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the draft. Also, the team added wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead to presumably be their new starters at that position. It’s still not a great receiver group, but it really shouldn’t be worse than what Baltimore had last season. Baltimore also has a decent offensive line led by Marshal Yanda, yet the loss of starting center Ryan Jensen will really hurt that unit. Meanwhile, the Ravens figures to be just as good as it was last season. They have a really good secondary led by their star safety duo of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. Also, the Ravens have some good linebackers led by Terrell Suggs who had 11 sacks last season. However, the Ravens need to find another pass rusher to step up by Suggs or else too much pressure will be put on Baltimore’s secondary. Baltimore’s defense will likely carry the team once again this season, but the offense should be better than it was in 2017. If Baltimore’s offense can just be decent then the Ravens could be serious playoff contenders.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are kind of a team that is stuck in the middle of being a playoff contender and being one of the worst teams in the NFL. They have a good running back duo with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Also, they have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL with A.J. Green. However, the rest of the receivers are kind of a mystery at this point. John Ross is a talented receiver, but he didn’t have a good rookie year as he struggled to stay healthy. Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd provide good depth at wide receiver for Cincinnati, but they are only reliable 3rd targets at best. The Bengals also don’t know what to expect from quarterback Andy Dalton in 2018. Dalton is the type of player that can play at a pro-bowl level or he could be a below average starter. If the Bengals want to go anywhere next season then they need him to step up as he has plenty of talent around him on offense. Cincinnati’s offensive line should be much improved next season especially with the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. Cincinnati’s offense has some potential, but it all revolves around the play of Andy Dalton. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense appears to be the strength of the team heading into next season. They have three good pass rushers with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Carl Lawson. Also, they have a couple of good linebackers with Preston Brown and Vontaze Burfict. The secondary is very talented as well since they have Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson at cornerback. Cincinnati doesn’t have too much weakness on defense and it should help to carry their team in 2018. If the Bengals can improve on offense this season then they could possibly be a playoff team.

4. Cleveland Browns

There is finally some hope for the Cleveland Browns franchise after winning only one game the past two seasons combined. However, Browns fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too much as they still have several holes to fill on their roster. Cleveland now has much more talent this season especially on offense. They now have a terrific wide receiver group after the acquisition of Jarvis Landry this offseason. If Josh Gordon can stay out of trouble and Corey Coleman can stay healthy then the Browns figure to have one of the best receiver groups in the NFL. Also, the Browns have a terrific running back group after they drafted Nick Chubb in the 2nd round and signed Carlos Hyde in free agency. They also have 3rd-down back Duke Johnson that will make the running back position for the Browns. It will be interesting to see how the Browns split up the playing time for each of the running backs as any of those running backs have a legitimate chance to be the starter. The Browns also should have an improved offensive line with the additions of offensive tackles Chris Hubbard and Austin Corbett this offseason. The only real uncertainty for Cleveland is at the quarterback position. Tyrod Taylor was acquired this offseason and he will likely be the starter early this season. However, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is waiting in the wings and it is very likely that he will start sooner rather than later this season. The quarterback position has high potential for the Browns and it should be much better than last season, although it will likely hold the team back from contention this season. Meanwhile, on defense the Browns are stacked with plenty of young talent. They are particularly stacked at the linebacker position with Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey, and the offseason addition of Mychal Kendricks. Cleveland has some weakness at the defensive tackle position, but they still have a couple of really good young pass rushers with Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah. Those two defensive ends have really high potential and they should only improve in 2018. The Browns also have a couple of really talented players in the secondary. They added cornerback Denzel Ward in the 1st round of the draft and they also have talented 2nd-year safety Jabrill Peppers. Cleveland still has some uncertainty at many positions including at quarterback, but they still should be much more competitive than they were last season.