Red gets to cheat a bit on this one as he ran out of time before the season started to make his selection in the former NFL Division of Excellence. Oh yes, there was a time when the AFC South routinely put up the best numbers of any division in football. That has long since passed. The AFC South did post two play-off teams last season – that is, if you considered the Texans to actually be a playoff team after getting rolled and smoked by the Colts in January. Jacksonville regressed to recent form and perhaps the Titans did not get the love they deserved for their close to the play-offs 9-7 record last season under new coach Mike Vrabel. So with the benefit of Week One under his belt, Red goes all in.
Tennessee Titans – Again, yet another pick that Red will likely regret. The Titans were at best erratic last season. They started 3-1, then lost three in a row (including 2 one-point losses to the Bills and Chargers before blowing out the Cowboys and Patriots in back to back weeks to seemingly right the ship at 5-4. Then they get smacked by the Colts and Texans before winning four in a row against the weakest of the weak sisters last season (Jets, Jags, Giants and OTNA’s) and then blew amy shot at the playoffs in the last game to the surging Colts. The Colts probably had all the tie-breakers anyway, but . . . The Titans bring basically the same team back – with a few additions. Derrick Henry leads the league in rushing and M&M proves that he is a serviceable NFL QB if not a star. Tennessee is 10-6 and back in the mix.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Losing Nick Foles in the first quarter of the first game might not be the end for the Jags. They still have a rough-house defense (ask Patrick Mahomes how he feels this week) and strong running game. Rookie QB Tyler Minshew made an impressive and record-setting debut (completing his first 13 NFL passes in a row) before the Jags simply could not keep up with the Andy Reid show feature Patrick Mahomes and the Powerhouse Chiefs Offense Band (words that will be written many times this season). Jags will win low scoring ugly games and just enough for an 8-8 finish.
Houston Texans – Disorder be an easy one. The problem starts riot at the top. What is up with Cal “the Idiot Son of Deceased former owner and once-hailed Houston football savior Bob” McNair? Is he stupid or just morass than previously thought? Here’s Red’s tangle on the situation. Janice McNair needs to cut discord with Idiot Son and find a real person to ruin the franchise. Otherwise, Red will be one pandemonium all season about the Texans. The trouble will travel from the owner’s box down to the sideline and into the muddle on the field before plays. Before the season is over, attendance drops, ticket resale lags, and tickets will be free for all practical purposes. Even turning tumult-iple formations on the field doesn’t revive fan interest. Disarray of different offensive schemes can’t cure the problems with management. The problems compound and even moving the bollix a problem for the offense. In the last game of the season, angry maelstrom the field and call for Cal’s sizeable head on a pole. Has Red made his chaos? Texans tough schedule and rudderless front office lead to anarchy on South Main 7-9 rat’s nest.
Indianapolis Colts – Red hates the Colts. The Colts would hate Red if they ever thought about him – which of course they don’t. Red tempers his hate by season end and gets some much needed help. Indianapolis is lucky to finish 7-9 as well.
Usually a tough division to pick (with the notable exception of the Cleveland Browns for about two decades). This season is no different. One betting site refers to the AFC North as “one hell of a puzzle box for NFL bettors.” Fortunately for you, Red is pretty damn good at puzzle boxes.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens have traditionally featured a ferocious defense, decent special teams and an offense just good enough to win close games. The Ravens are now an offensive juggernaut. Discount QB Lamar Jackson’s poor in the playoff game against the Chargers who lined up 7 defensive backs at times. LJ is a better passer than anyone knows right now and his legs will keep defenses honest. The additions of RB Mark Ingraham and rookie Justice Hill (Red’s pick for All Rookie Team) will add to a triple headed rushing monster for the Ravens. The Ravens ran more than any team last season and that clock-eating offense only helps what is still a very good defense – now shored up with Earl Thomas. Baltimore shocks a lot of folks going 12-4.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns were Red’s off the dung heap pick to make the playoffs last season and they almost pulled it off despite blowing at least 3 winnable games with questionable play calling and clock management. New Head (and former interim) Coach Freddie Kitchens won’t be making those same mistakes. He has lots of talent to work with in Baker Mayfield, OBJ and Nick Chubb and a decent O-line. Browns are 3-3 before their week 7 bye. They turn season around by beating Pats in Foxboro in week 8. A bit of a sugar high, but they hold on against the Broncos and Bills to be 6-3 and facing the easier part of their schedule. Cleveland is 10-6 and in as a Wild Card.
Cincinnati Bengals – Will not be as bad as expected. But won’t be very good either. They have an easy schedule but not easy enough. Cincinnati is 6-10 and continues league worst streak for lack of playoff wins.
Pittsburgh Stealers – The window is closed. Ben is tired and old and his main weapons are gone. JuJu will still be spectacular but it won’t be enough. The pathetic defense of last season did not get any better (15 takeaways in a division filled with turnover machines). They get drubbed by the Pats in week 1 and it is downhill from there. Pittsburgh brings up the rear at 5-11.
Since Red is making NFL predictions, he is technically obligated to pick a winner in the AFC East. For 16 of the last 18 seasons, that has not exactly been a particularly taxing chore. Here goes again – Damn it.
New England Patriots – Almost every year, Red writes, “It is cowardly and spineless to pick New England year after year. And Red will keep doing it until he is proved wrong. (Hey, this is about the point Red has trouble coming up with new material – so excuse me).” (Hey, this is about the point where Red has trouble coming up with new material – so buzz off). Barring catastrophic injury to TB-12 or early onset of dementia or the possibility of Trump taking a Sharpie and making a mess of Bellicheat’s game plan, the Pats should ride into the playoffs. But it won’t be quite as comfortable a ride as usual because go-to target Rob Gronkowski will be celebrating his new physique somewhere other than the friendly confines of Insert Corporate Name Here Stadium. Every other team in the division will be better than last season, but not better enough. As always, Red hopes that he is wrong and the loyal readers can shout from the hilltops, “Red, you were cowardly and spineless to pick New England yet again.” But Red doesn’t hear the fat lady warming up yet. New England slogs to a 10-6 record but still repeats as division champ.
Buffalo Bills – The Bills have made improvements on offense shoring up the O-line with five signings. They give LeSean McCoy a new lease on life and provide some breathing room for second year QB Josh Allen – who got way too much OJT last season. The Bills actually played decently after a 2-7 start. If they can keep that pace a winning record will be in sight. The defense is solid, the return game could be interesting and if you haven’t read about Stephen Hauscha’s back story and rise from kicker for the Middlebury College Panthers who play in the NESCAC, then you are missing out. It’s quite a story. Look it up. At any rate, he is the tallest kicker in the league. Buffalo bulls its way to a 9-7 record and as for the playoffs – hmmm.
New York Jets – After a 1-9 finish to the 2018 season, a real house cleaning was in order with a new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators and the hopefully fresh legs of LeVeon Bell who sat out last season and middle-of-the-pack wideout Jamison Crowder. Darn Old Sam is still the QB and that is the biggest limitation on the Jets prospects this season. Although the house may be clean, the hedges still need trimming and there are a lot of weeds in the backyard. And when you are getting your new head coach from the Miami Dolphins – well you are getting new head coach that was fired from the Miami Dolphins. Let Red repeat – Fired by the Miami Dolphins. At least the Jets finish ahead of the Dolphins but 6-10 is the ceiling here.
Miami Dolphins – Tanks to their many off-season moves, it looks like a long season for the Aquatic Mammals. Expect a lot of dive plays from the offense. Red is disgusted and must quit now. Oh, did Red say that every team in the AFC East will be better? He meant every team that is actually trying to field a team. Someone has to suck and its Miami at 1-15.
This division seems like the easiest of calls in 2019. That is exactly what worries Red. So here he is calling for the biggest upset of 2019. Overall this division probably has the toughest schedule with games against the loaded NFC South and the AFC North. Fasten your seat belts.
Arizona Cardinals – Every season one team rises from the dung heap and makes the playoffs. This season it just might be the Cardinals. New coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offensive scheme is going to catch some offguard early in the season. It may not work over the long haul, but it just might work for one season. He has the guns to do it with Kyler Murray throwing to possession receiver and ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald and deep threat Christian Kirk – not to mention KK’s Red Raider buddy and still effective Michael Crabtree. A refreshed David Johnson rounds out the offense The Cards start 3-0 with wins over the Lions, Ravens and Panthers. They are 6-2 and the talk of the league at mid-season. Then they rip off another 3-4 wins before the challenging back to back roadies in Seattle and LA to end the season. If the Cards can win one of those they clinch a hard fought division title. You read it here first Cardinals go 10-6 and win the West.
Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are another team that Red frequently discounts frequently to his disadvantage in this prediction game. Red’s visceral dislike of Pete the Cheat has overwhelmed his judgment at times. The offensive line is very good and will make R. Penny look like the second coming of Walter Payton at times this season. Russell Wilson could use some more help from the receiving corps but as long as he is under center, the Seahawks offense is more than capable of scoring just enough points to win close games. The defense isn’t exactly the Son of the Legion of Boom, but it is more than adequate to keep the Hawks in most games. Seattle probably makes the playoffs at 10-6 but loses the division title on a tie-breaker with the Cards.
Los Angeles Rams – Despite putting on the worst Superb Owl performance since the Vikings in the 1970s or the Patriots in the 1985 (those were the days), the Rams would have to be considered the favorites in the NFC West. But Red has to pick at least one upset. Red thinks the Rams are going to have that all too familiar Superb Owl hangover that befalls teams that performed as poorly as the Rams did in the Big Show (may Red refer you to the Falcons here). The Sean McVay miracle lasts but two seasons. More importantly, the Rams play a tough schedule. An 0-3 start is not out of the question with games on the road in Carolina and Cleveland and the revenge-seeking Saints at home. At some point in the season Todd Gurley is going to out of action. If it comes at the worst time, then the Rams will also rack up losses to the Stealers, Bears and Ravens for another 0-3 stretch. After losing to the Cowboys on the road, the season is all but over and the Cardinals put a bullet between the horns in the season finale. Disappointment reigns in Los Angeles as the Rams slog to a 7-9 finish.
San Francisco 49ers – The Niners will be better. Unfortunately for them better is still not very good But fear not, better days are on the way – if you have a time machine that will take you back to the 1980’s. San Francisco brings up the rear at 6-10.
As he has mentioned more than a couple of times over the years, this is Red’s least favorite division when it comes to preseason picks. All four teams have made the playoffs in the past three seasons and there have been three different division winners during that stretch. If Red could skip this one he would, but that is not how the game is played. And he has to pick it today because the NFC North has the honor of kicking off the 100th NFL season with the two oldest franchises still playing. The Bears host the Packers in the Thursday night opener much to the chagrin of NFL Champion Patriots who are denied that traditional spot because of the 100 year anniversary. Oh, to be at Soldier Field tonight.
Chicago Bears – Da Bears are da team to beat in this division. Red expects Bears to come out of the box strong with win over the Pack in the historic season opener. By mid-point they should be 6-2 with a possible 5-0 start with a win over the Packers. The mid stretch of the season is the toughest with challenges from Saints, Chargers, Eagles and Rams. After that a break and then the Cowboys, Packers and Chiefs before a season ending laugher in Minnesota. If Da Bears win the games they should win and split the tougher match-ups they are in driver’s seat in what some are calling the best division in football this season. The only troublesome spot remains the redoubtable Mitch Trubisky who can be a turnover machine. The Bears won several games despite his lowlights. Look for the Bears defense to be even better and keep the team in enough close games to pull out more than a few. This could be Red’s best pick or his worst. Chicago has a solid season and wins division with 11-5 record.
Green Bay Packers – Things are not happy in northern Wisconsin. The Pack was in the hunt at mid-season in 2018 and then . . . Well, they didn’t quite fall off the radar, but the Bears put them in the rear view mirror. Remember when A-Rodg was the second coming of Joe Montana? That was a while back. Rodgers cannot carry a team like he used to. Fortunately he has help in a very good O-Line, Davonte Adams, Jimmy Graham (not quite tired and old yet – but check in with Red in November) and the all NFL Name Team wideout combination of Marquez Valdes-Scandling and Equanimeous St. Brown (Red picked him for fantasy on name potential alone). But it probably isn’t enough given the suspect situation at running back. Red likes Aaron Jones but can he play a full season without getting injured or suspended. If the Packers are going to have any success it will be because of an upgraded defense. Green Bay has seen better days (in the 1960s) 9-7 maybe works and maybe not.
Minnesota Vikings – Lots of pundits are going all in for the Vikings. Red will hold his chips for now. Red could never quite see what all the Kirk Cousins hype was about and if 2018 is any measure, Red was right. Red thinks the Vikings may play one of the toughest schedules in the league this year. They could lose to the Falcons, Packers, Bears (twice), Eagles, Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks and Chargers. If they don’t beat the Sad Sacks (Lions, Redskins, Giants and possibly Broncos), it will be a long season in the hinterlands. Minnesota misses out on chance to lose another Superb Owl at 8-8.
Detroit Lions – For more or less irrational reasons, Red has never liked the Lions. He is buying Detroit real estate however. Unfortunately for the Lions, the most exclusive real estate (their opponents’ end zone) will remain off limits for much of the season. Detroit wonders if Bobby Layne might still be available when it finishes 4-12.
The NFC South has a chance at being the premier division in the NFL in 2019. The Saints, Panthers and Falcons all could make the playoffs and the Buccaneers are not totally shabby – although still pretty shabby. It’s likely that only two are playing in January.
New Orleans Saints – Red has given the Saints short shrift for years thinking that tired old Drew Brees would actually become tired and old. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t happened yet. They tell Red, that there is nothing like attending a Saints game in person and Red believes it after having just been in New Orleans on a Sunday afternoon game day and seeing a plethora of gold lame miniskirts together with Saints jersey, caps, hoodies, sweats, dinner jackets and every other possible combination of black and gold being proudly worn by all. It just kind of makes a body want to root for the Saints because there will be so much happiness (and excessive drinking – not that there won’t be excessive drinking in N’Awlins anyway). So despite departures Mark Ingram, Ben Watson, Alex Okafor et al, with Brees, Kamar, Thomas and others will be trying hard to erase the sting of getting screwed in the NFL Championship game when Rams’ cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman pretty much tackled Saints receiver TommyLee Lewis on what could have been the game winning play. And to the dread of many (but not Red) that one play brought about a rules change for 2019. Rule 6c states: “For one year only, expands the reviewable plays in Instant Replay to include pass interference, called or not called on the field.” Somewhere Mike Renfro is smiling. The Saints will be not happy with anything short of a Superb Owl appearance. New Orleans wins division at 11-5.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have been slip sliding away (with apologies to P. Simon) since blowing a 28-3 lead in SB LI missing the playoffs altogether after a wretched 2018 campaign. Fortunately for the F Troop, all of their tough non-division games are at home (Rams, Eagles and Seahawks) and feature two triple inverse time zone hexes. They do play two non-division 2018 playoff teams on the road (Colts and Texans) but come on (see Red’s AFC South Picks later). There is enough talent on the offensive side to put up points with Matty Ice, Julio and Davonte and others. And with Dan Quinn taking over as DC, expect the Falcons defense to step it up as well. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they have to play in the same division as the Saints. Atlanta 9-7 and a possible wild card spot.
Carolina Panthers – After another disappointing 7-9 season (after a 6-2 start oops), HC Ron Rivera will be coaching like a man on a hot seat having taken a big shit and realizing that there is no toilet paper. In other words, he will pull out all stops to post a winning record in 2019. A word of advice: don’t delve too deeply into Red’s analogies. RR’s hopes rest on the surgically repaired shoulder of Cam Newton and the dual threat of All Pro Christian McCaffrey. The loss of the Kalil brothers will hurt the O line, but Rookie Greg Little and new center Matt Paradis shore things up. On defense, signing pass rusher Bruce Irvin and drafting some linebackers should help. But not quite enough. Carolina goes 9-7 and misses out on a tiebreaker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Red was high on Jameis Winston at one point. Apparently that’s not all Red was high on. With an almost record setting turnover pace at Head Coach (5 in the 10 years since Jon Gruden left), the Bucs have made exactly zero playoff appearances in the last decade. And now un-retired broadcaster and new Head Coach Bruce Arians gets to extend that streak. Enough said. Tampa Bay sucks gas and finishes 6-10.
Ah the NFC East, aka the division of former champions. Red had never thought about it and it wasn’t actually true until the 2017 season, but the NFC East is the only division that features four teams that have won the Superb Owl.
The only question for the Eagles is whether Carson Wentz can actually stay on the field for an entire season. There will be no all-world backup Nick Foles to fall back on this season. But Red thinks the Eagles have a decent chance of going undefeated in the NFC East and owning all tiebreakers against their division rivals. Look for the Eagles to possibly have the best running game in the NFC with an almost entirely new crew led by Jordan Howard with Miles Sanders and Wendell Smallwood in the wings. Yes, those aren’t big names but they will get a lot of space because of the big play possibilities with CW at the helm. Red also thinks there is a decent chance that Jadeveon Clowney is traded to the Eagles at some point which immediately ups their somewhat no-name defense (quick name Red a defensive starter). Red has Philadelphia going 10-6 and winning this division.
Red begins with his annual bitch about the incredibly favorable TV treatment afforded the Cowboys year after year – despite the now decades long stretch of mediocrity of this franchise (3 playoff wins in the last 21 seasons). This season the Cowboys have only 4 noon starts one of which is the traditional noon start on the last Sunday of the season to avoid intentional playoff maneuvering. They have 6 late afternoon games – none of which are time zone related (Giants, Packers and Rams at home and Jets, Patriots and Eagles on the road). Then there are 3 coveted Sunday night games (Eagles, Vikings, Saints), one Monday nighter (Giants), the obligatory Thursday night appearance (Bears) and the sweet late afternoon spot on Thanksgiving (Bills). Maybe watching all of these Cowboy games will make you as sick of winning as Trump claimed he would – but don’t count on it. In the battle of the big egos between Jerry Jones and Zeke Elliot, Red will take JJ everytime – even if it means sacrificing a season. The once vaunted offensive line is tired and old, but otherwise the Boys are remarkably young. There is really no reason why they shouldn’t be competitive. But the schedule looks brutal albeit with a relatively easy start against the Giants, OTNAs and Dolphins and the Boys could be 3-0 by the end of week 3. Then things get rough with the Saints, Packers, and Eagles (with the Jets thrown in as a palate cleanser). Now they are 4-3. A couple of week breather gets them to a respectable 6-3, but then Patriots, Bills, Bears, Rams and Eagles are next and they are 9-6 at best. Here is the kicker, they have to play the Pats, Bills and Bears in 12 days. Red doesn’t think they survive that stretch and the OTNAs beat them at home in the last week to knock them out of the playoffs. Arlington goes 9-7 and misses the dance.
New Jersey Giants
It has been fruit basket turnover in the Meadowlands. GM Dave Gettlemen ditched OBJ and has brought in a host of free agents and ten count ‘em ten draft picks. Many have concluded that the Giants reached to select Duke QB Daniel Jones with the 6th overall pick. Red thinks the Giants will be glad to have a warm body to take the snap once it is proven that Eli Manning is a likely front-runner for the 2019 NFL Deadman of the Year Award. The Giants will cause some trouble with all-world RB Saquon Barkley behind a decent O line. But really this team will go only as far as SB can carry them. New Jersey is a 7-9 team on a good day.
As noted above, the highlight of the OTNA’s season will be knocking the Cowboys out of the playoffs. Look, Red likes Case Keenum – he should still be the Texans backup quarterback, but the idea that he is going to lead the OTNAs to glory just doesn’t fly. And starting rookie QB Dwayne Haskins would be a recipe for disaster with as little support as there is available. Maybe Adrian Peterson has something left in the tank – but Red thinks last season was the last hurrah (and quite a hurrah it was) for AP. The defense will be much improved by the addition of Montez Sweat and Landon Collins. Does Red really need to say anything else. Landover, MD will be lucky to finish 6-10.