After training camp, recent trades and the opener in Philadelphia.  My 2nd poll of 2018

1.  Jacksonville Jaguars–Best defense, top offensive line free agent, healthy Fournette.    Similar to ’84 Bears team that lost conference championship and returned next year with a vengeance to win Super Bowl.   Like mid-80’s Bears, needs better backup QB.

2.  Los Angeles Rams-Healthy, soft divisional schedule, great lines and drafted for depth across lines.  Top secondary in the league, offensive skill depth.  Who’s better in NFC?

3.  New England Patriots--Like a movie villain that just won’t die!  Well oiled machine played Brady and starters extensively throughout preseason.  No problems.  Edelman coming back, Gronk healthy, happy, and no challengers in division.  Automatic 11 wins.

4.  Los Angeles Chargers–Pretty soft schedule and should dominate the division.  Won 6 of their last 7 games to just miss playoffs.  Defense is healthy compared to a year ago.  Offense was clicking big time at the end of the season.  Lots of speed.  Up from 9th.

5.  Green Bay Packers–Added depth, added ILB Antonio Morrison leading tackler from Indianapolis in preseason trade.  Like the Bears, Green Bay is also going for it.  Season comes down to the secondary.  Do rookie’s Alexander and Jackson, combine with 2nd year cornerback Kenny King, to shut down opponents with man coverage, and allow new def. coordinator Mike Pettine to blitz, blitz and blitz some more?  The answer is yes!

6.  Atlanta Falcons–Dropped after losing to Eagles in opener.  Drafted defensive depth across all levels.  Added more weapons on offense.  2nd year Off. Coordinator Sarkisian and QB Ryan together, struggled in red zone in the opener.  Head coach Dan Quinn coached in 3 out of last 5 Super Bowls, says they have to fix red zone issues.

7.  Pittsburgh Steelers–Have dropped in this poll because of uncertainty surrounding running back Le’Veon Bell’s holdout.  Steelers season hinges on health of Antonio Brown.  Steelers drafted with a focus on the safety and wide receiver positions, as well as drafting their quarterback of the future in Mason Rudolph in the 3rd round.

8.  Baltimore Ravens–Will be battling Pittsburgh all season for the division crown.  Offense will open up with wide reciever additions of Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead.  Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst’s injury during camp is a blow.  Rookie QB Lamar Jackson is the secret weapon for this year, getting his own package of plays.

9.  New Orleans Saints--After losing on a hail mary pass to Minnesota in playoffs, the Saints are very focused to cash in on what remains of Drew Brees Super Bowl window.  First round pick DE Marcus Davenport will be a rookie of the year candidate.

10.  Houston Texans--Have the benefit of possibly feasting on divisional opponents the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.  A season sweep of both teams is four wins right there.  If DeShaun Watson regains form (knee injury) and stays healthy, the Texans should easily approach 10 or 11 wins.  Another poor backup QB could be their undoing.

11.  Dallas Cowboys–Even with losing starting center Travis Frederick to illness, the Cowboys get by the Eagles and Giants to win the division.  Ezekiel Elliott runs wild to prove he’s leagues top back.  QB Dak Prescott merits MVP talk this year as he runs more.

12.  Carolina Panthers–Cam Newton has more weapons than ever.  Front office still  plugging holes in the defense.  Can Panthers take advantage of soft middle of their schedule in order to survive against Atlanta and New Orleans (twice) in last 3 games?

13.  Philadelphia Eagles–Almost MVP, quarterback Carson Wentz coming off of knee injury may miss more than the opener.  Team lost 13 players to free agency.  Offensive line, receivers and running backs are already banged up, but played well enough to win the opener against Atlanta.  Was it Eagles defense or Atlanta’s offense?

14.  Minnesota Vikings--Have a vaunted defense.  Can they overcome issues with their offensive line now that they have a new quarterback in Kirk Cousins?  Can 2nd year running back Dalvin Cook come back from knee injury?  Tough early schedule.

15.  Seattle Seahawks–Russell Wilson will carry this team, but the defense will be what fails the Seahawks this season.  Can running game get untracked with talented backs Carson and Penny, to keep young defense off the field?  Reloading for next year.

16.  Chicago Bears–Biggest climber has added former All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack to a defense on the edge of the top 10.  Health has been a huge issue with the Bears for years.  Can line protect young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and give him time to find new weapons Robinson, Burton and Miller?  Will secondary create turnovers?  Closer.

17.  New York Giants–Saquon Barkley will be offensive rookie of the year.  Eli Manning will resemble old self with healthier OBJr..  Defensive youth movement starts to improve.

18.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers–Another year, another Jameis Winston suspension.  Opening 3 games against New Orleans, Philly and Pittsburgh look like losses with backup QB Fitzgerald.  Winston comes back to play his ass off, but Buccaneers fall just short.

19.  Oakland Raiders–Jon Gruden taking heat for trading Khalil Mack, who wanted record setting money.  Gruden made the right call, dealing Mack before he played out his final year, become a free agent and left Gruden with nothing.  Raiders will miss Mack of course, but couldn’t pay both Mack and QB Derek Carr over $23 mil. per year apiece.  Raiders defense ranked 26th in the league against the pass with Mack, and 23rd overall.  Drafted def. tackles P.J.Hall Jr., Maurice Hurst and def. end Arden Key to start rebuild.

20.  Washington Redskins–One of the slowest rebuild jobs in the league is going on in the capital.  Redskins can’t seem to keep any running backs healthy, as top pick Derrius Guice tore a knee.  Backups all have knee issues as well.  Quarterback Alex Smith and the revamped defense will keep Washington in the race.  Need to find young QB to groom.

21.  Buffalo Bills–Former Carolina def.coordinator Sean McDermott is doing good things in Buffalo as head coach and a voice on personnel matters.  Showing the intelligence that made him Ron Rivera’s top Lieutenant.  McDermott aggressively traded up for 19 year old linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, and traded QB A.J. McCarron to Oakland, when it appeared that top pick, 22 year old QB Josh Allen, wasn’t as raw as people believed.  Team is now younger and still has it’s picks, as they move up the ladder behind New England, and rebuild at the same time.  Made the playoffs a year ago, will be back soon!

21.  San Francisco 49er’s–49er’s top free agent signee RB Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in training camp.  49er’s must now rely on Matt Breida, a former undrafted free agent, and Alfred Morris, who was on the street two weeks ago, to run the ball.  It’s shocking how little depth the 49er’s have at receiver.  Still starting the ancient WR Pierre Garcon.  Garcon, Marquis Goodwin and 2 rookies among the smallest group of receivers in NFL.

23.  Detroit Lions–New head coach Matt Patricia will need a season to assess what he has on defense to fit his system.  Drafting OG Frank Ragnow and power back Kerryon Johnson will take pressure off of a skittish Matthew Stafford.  Detroit will have to go on the road and beat San Francisco in week 2 to ensure a 2nd win before Halloween.  Brutal schedule at a time of rebuilding might put Stafford on the trading block.  Tank?

24.  Cleveland Browns–Playing in one of the toughest divisions in football won’t show how far Cleveland has come in one year.  The talent across the entire roster has been greatly improved except on the offensive line, where perennial All-Pro Joe Thomas retired.   Browns made big mistake not drafting off. lineman Quenton Nelson at #4.  Worst QB room in the league is now one of the best, as #1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield learns from the bench, as Tyrod Taylor gets a chance to ball with Gordon and Landry.

25.  Cincinnati Bengals–Cincinnati fans get teased every year.  The Bengals show flashes of being a legit playoff team, but teamwide penalties, and inconsistency from QB Andy Dalton kill them every year.  It doesn’t help to be in the same situation as Cleveland, and be in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  If Dalton ever rises above mediocrity to become a steady force, the Bengals can sniff the playoffs.  Don’t count on it.

26.  Tennessee Titans–They took advantage of quirks in their schedule last year to make the playoffs.  The opposite will be true this year.  The only winnable games in their first 9 are the opener in Miami and week 5 in Buffalo.  Maybe they can beat the Eagles in week 4 but I doubt it.  Lost 3 def. starters to free agency.  QB Marcus Mariota struggled in his 3rd season with more interceptions than touchdowns.  Receivers aren’t much better.

27.  Denver Broncos–I’ll admit this seems very low for Denver, with defensive rankings in the top 5 across the board.  But last year after they won their first two games in a row, they then lost 11 out of the next 14 games, and they weren’t even close.  They were consistently rocked by double digits for several weeks.  Turns out they were 2nd worst in the league with a -17 in turnover differential.  The only team that was worse was 0-16 Cleveland.  The quarterback and running back are gone, but that means the top 5 defense didn’t create any turnovers either.  Special teams gave up four TD’s last year.

28.  Miami Dolphins–Are about the only team I’ve seen this year that has a schedule filled with very winnable games in the first half of the season.  Miami will need to feast early because after Thanksgiving, they will be the turkey’s.  They have made some very curious decisions with their roster, and seem like they are working on trades.  Very thin at linebacker with 5, offensive line depth and carrying to many quarterbacks (4).  Weird!

29.  Kansas City Chiefs–2nd year QB Patrick Mahomes will be dynamic at times this year, but the defense has lost so many players the last two seasons that it looks like the Chiefs will take a huge step back.  Last year the defense ranked 28th in the league, but it was masked by the sure handed play of quarterback Alex Smith.  Smith is gone, Mahomes will have growing pains, as every game will become a shootout.  Next year.

30.  Arizona Cardinals–In spite of the effort of David Johnson, the Cardinals dynamic running back, the Cardinals won’t escape being the NFC’s worst team.  Cardinals need to be in total rebuild mode with all of their best players also being their oldest.  They should trade every productive veteran they can for younger players or draft picks.  This is tanking NFL style.  They already have the running back and just drafted Josh Rosen, out of UCLA, to be their QB of the future.  Fire sale!  Everyone older than 28 must go!

31.  Indianapolis Colts–With former Bears director of pro scouting Chris Ballard as new GM, and Frank Reich as head coach, the Colts are just getting started on their rebuilding efforts.  Drafted foundational piece in off. lineman Quenton Nelson.  Got QB Andrew Luck back from shoulder surgery.  Traded last years leading tackler Anthony Morrison to Green Bay.  Colts are not in tank mode, but know they are a couple years away.

32.  New York Jets–Are already committing the cardinal sin of playing a rookie quarterback before he is ready, with Sam Darnold.  Darnold was the announced starter for the Jets opener in Detroit.  Nothing like starting your career in a dome on the road.  Tough enough to keep your nerves together at home.  But on the road, in a loud dome on a Monday night.  Talk about being thrown to the wolves.  Hope the kid survives the idiots running the show in New York long enough to have a decent career.  Should be starting veteran Josh McCown, formerly of the Bears.  Yes, his career outlasted Jay Cutler!

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