A new NFL season awaits
T he start of the 2018 NFL season is one day away, and with that comes the annual surge of excitement for me, both as a journalist and as a football fan. The start of each season brings renewed hope, optimism for certain players, and downright jubilance that my Sundays will once again be filled with football.
Like I have with Major League Baseball, the NCAA Tournament, and the World Cup this year, I’ll run down my division and wild card picks quickly before getting to a special announcement.
Looking at the AFC as a whole, there are very few serious Super Bowl contenders. That all starts once again with the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is back for yet another season, while the defense looks to be improved on paper. The offensive line and receiving group for the Patriots looks very shaky, but Brady and Bill Belichick will figure it out as always.
Behind the Patriots in the pecking order for Super Bowl contenders is the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Jacksonville’s defense is absurd, and they’re built well on offense to fit their playing style: physical football with Leonard Fournette and a beefed up offensive line. Blake Bortles will have to play well this season for the Jaguars to reach their full potential. He showed flashes last season down the stretch. Now is the time to put it all together.
With the Chargers, they seem consistently cursed in the injury department, but there’s no denying just how loaded this roster is. I think the Chargers’ defense will carry the torch for them this season, thanks to two elite pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, a shutdown corner in Casey Heyward, and a high-end safety in Derwin James. Offensively, Phillip Rivers will once again be his solid self, consistently putting up top 5 numbers at the position. I do believe this could be the year for the Chargers.
In the AFC North, Pittsburgh will still reign supreme, but the loss of Ryan Shazier defensively has really taken the wind out of the sails for the Steelers when it comes to Super Bowl contention. Yes, the offense will once again be near the top of the league, but if you can’t slow anyone down let alone stop them, it’ll be hard to reach the Super Bowl.
If you’re keeping track at home, I have the Patriots winning the AFC East, the Chargers winning the AFC West, the Jaguars winning the AFC South, and the Steelers winning the AFC North.
For Wild Cards, I really like the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos this season. In Houston, DeShaun Watson is back healthy after a devastating knee injury last season. I truly believe if Watson is healthy all season long, the Texans are in the AFC Championship Game, not the Jaguars. Watson brings explosion to that offense, while JJ Watt returns defensively for the Texans, who brought in Tyrann Mathieu this off-season. That team might take some time to gel, but they’re dangerous. As for the Broncos, they finally have some stability at quarterback in Case Keenum. He’s not the flashy name with the big arm and the ideal tools for the position, but he gets the job done at a solid level. That’s all the Broncos need, because defensively this team will be dynamic once again. As Von Miller said the other day, this defense has some dogs on it.
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles will shake off the Super Bowl hangover to stay near the top of the pile. Even if Nick Foles has to open the year as the starter as Carson Wentz works his way back from knee surgery, this team is too talented and has too good of a coaching staff to slip up. I think the Atlanta Falcons will be really dangerous this year, too, after adding Calvin Ridley in the draft and locking up key defensive pieces this summer. Dan Quinn is one of the more underrated coaches in football. This group might get back to a Super Bowl again.
The Minnesota Vikings went all out this off-season, signing Kirk Cousins to a big free agent deal. Even after signing Cousins the Vikings were able to take care of their own, locking up guys like Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Stefon Diggs to extensions, while impressive rookie Dalvin Cook comes back from a knee injury. I’m worried about the offensive line, but this team is loaded top to bottom.
Speaking of loaded, how about the Los Angeles Rams? Wow. That team doesn’t seem to operate on a salary cap, throwing around massive amounts of money this off-season. That being said, they snagged some great players on both sides of the ball. They’ll be a tough out in Sean McVay’s second year.
So, division winners in the NFC are the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North, the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West, and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. As for Wild Cards, give me the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. Jimmy Garoppolo and Aaron Rodgers is all I need to say.
For Super Bowl LIII, I have the Packers and Chargers meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019. Rodgers gets one more ring after signing a massive extension.
Now that you’ve seen my picks for the year, how about competing against me each week throughout the regular season through our U Pick ’Em game at postindependent.com? The contest will start next week in Week 2, meaning Week 1 will count as one of your four worst weeks, allowing you to drop it in the final standings. It’s fast, fun, and quite easy to compete.
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The 50th Carbondale Mountain Fair last weekend included the 42nd running of the Mt. Sopris Runoff 14-miler and its companion 4-Mile Fair Run foot races after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic.