It would be silly to pick EVERY SINGLE GAME—Dolphins-Bills, Week 7; who ya got?—on the NFL schedule. In July. With so much yet to learn. Right? Well, humor us
HAVE YOU EVER looked at a blank NFL schedule in its overwhelming entirety? Related question: Have you ever stood on the edge of the universe and stared into a black hole?
In front of me sit 256 rows of spreadsheet, containing every 2019 matchup, from the Week 1 opener (Sept. 5, Packers at Bears; 8:20 p.m. on NBC) to the Week 17 ender (Dec. 9, Cardinals at Seahawks; 4:25 p.m. on Fox). My task? Predict every team's record by picking every game. Training camp is still two weeks away, and the task feels insane—like doing a seven-round mock draft in October with incremental salvia breaks. The number of variables makes success a near mathematical impossibility. Will Aaron Rodgers stay healthy? Will PATRICK MAHOMES do his Patrick Mahomes thing? When will Eli Manning cede the starting job? Can the Air Raid fully translate to the pro game in Arizona? Will Jon Gruden coach the Raiders for 16 games or be tapped as the next secretary of defense in November?
Anything is possible. But here goes: a way-too-early look at how everyone will finish in 2019.
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Their early schedule is brutal, with trips to Minnesota, Green Bay and Atlanta in the first six weeks. But wherever they play, they have one of the best QB-complementary depth charts in the NFL, especially at running back.
Dallas has a real chance to start 3--0: an extremely winnable home game against the Giants, a road game (potentially against a rookie QB) in Washington, then a home game against rebuilding Miami. Things get much tougher after that.
When does Daniel Jones take over as QB? I envisioned a bye week (Week 11) changeover—though if coach Pat Shurmur debuts a rookie in Chicago in late November, he may be crazier than I thought.
There's a fair chance that this is a big mistake, if only because Jay Gruden is one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL. Their run game could be a handful to stop, and the Redskins got better on defense.
This team believes it's on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Without last year's internal chaos at offensive coordinator, where Kevin Stefanski takes over, this should be a major rebound season for Minnesota.
This is a talented roster with a mastermind play-caller in coach Matt Nagy. The Bears are on the road a lot early (Denver in Week 2, Washington in Week 3, Oakland in Week 5), but those are winnable games that should build a cushion for tougher stretches later.
AARON RODGERS thriving ... the Pack playing like a team in transition.... These both can be true. There's pressure on new coach Matt LaFleur to create something we haven't seen. It'll get bumpy.
This year will be a referendum on Matt Patricia. Can he motivate a team that sometimes looked flat-footed in '18? Detroit has one of the best TE sets and a solid O-line, but not enough firepower for a brutal division.
There's plenty to like in Atlanta: a fortified offensive line, a developing WR2 in Calvin Ridley and a schedule that breaks nicely after the Week 9 bye: at New Orleans, at Carolina, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Carolina, at San Francisco, Jacksonville, at Tampa Bay.
Five of their first seven games are against physical, ball-control teams that could keep New Orleans's best offensive players off the field. Counterpoint: This remains an insanely talented team. So....
We have no clue what CAM NEWTON will be post--shoulder surgery. If Newton is fresh and rehabilitated, Carolina has the talent to make a run at the division. If he's not, this is an offense of disjointed parts with a potential rookie QB starter.
Bruce Arians remains a top 10 coach, and he may have the deepest support staff in football. But Tampa finished the offseason with a net decline in talent, losing Gerald McCoy (Panthers), Desean Jackson (Eagles) and Jason Pierre-Paul (neck injury).
The drafting of Memphis running back Darrell Henderson was a steal, and the defense added some stellar veteran talent in Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews. Sure, there could be a Super Bowl lull, but SEAN MCVAY won't allow that to happen.
They can win some big games early, against the Saints in late September and at home against the Rams two weeks later. But if they don't show up in some other premier matchups, the 49ers could conceivably edge ahead in the division.
There's a chance the 49ers (they start with the Bengals, Steelers and Buccaneers) glide into Week 4 at 2--1 or even 3--0. But the meat of their schedule is backloaded. They finish Saints-Falcons-Rams-Seahawks.
Arizona can win its season opener against the Lions and maybe even at the Giants in Week 7, thanks to some favorable matchups. Everything else will be extraordinarily difficult.
They'll lose one of two to the Jets, one to the Eagles, one to the Chiefs and one to the Texans. That's as far as I'm willing to go. They'll win the Super Bowl.
Regardless of what he did in Miami, Adam Gase was one of 2019's best coaching hires. The Jets will make a run at the playoffs, but they get the Browns, Pats and Eagles before Week 5. Ouch.
I can see a world in which Buffalo wins 10—the schedule is that forgiving, especially in September. (Jets, Giants, Bengals....) But these are the Bills.
It's not impossible to get Miami to five wins. But the safe play is to bet them as owning the No. 1 pick in 2020.
They'll lose the opener to New England but bounce back—assuming they replace Antonio Brown's production.
I have them splitting three divisional series, plus a surprise Week 1 loss to the Titans. I'm not on the hype train. Yet.
They have a wicked first half, with trips to Seattle, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and L.A. (Rams), and home games against San Fran and Jacksonville. No way they're division threats.
I love what they did late last year, and there might be a way to blend that punishing rush offense with Lamar Jackson's playmaking abilities. But there will be some non-QB regression.
The opener against the Chargers feels like a potential divisional game. I have the Colts winning that and then beating the Titans to start 2--0. After that they'll pull away from the division.
How much time is too much time spent debating an early London game against the Jags? I picked the latter, but the two teams will be equal.
They'll return to form as one of the toughest week-in, week-out opponents. In a vicious division they'll get pretty close to a wild card.
Tennessee is stuck in neutral but can cause problems for foes like Carolina, Jacksonville and Cleveland.
K.C. is a lock for the division. Losses? I marked them down for Chargers, Colts and an early-season upset by the Jaguars, when they may still be sorting out some roster upheaval.
They have winnable games against the Lions, Broncos and Dolphins early—and they'll need them. Their pre-bye-week run of Bears, Packers, Raiders and Chiefs is tough; so is finishing with Minnesota, Oakland and Kansas City.
Maybe Jon Gruden's offense will begin to click in his second year. But Oakland's young core won't be consistent enough to be picked regularly with any confidence.
This will be a well-coached team under Vic Fangio. That alone won't be enough to keep them afloat in this division.