32 bold NFL predictions: Records for Lamar Jackson, Aaron Donald and more

32 bold NFL predictions: Records for Lamar Jackson, Aaron Donald and more

The NFL regular season opens on Thursday night, bringing with it the possibility of breakout performances and huge seasons for every team. Which rookies could make an instant impact? Which established stars are on the cusp of a career season? Which surprise teams might be headed to the postseason?

Our NFL Nation reporters break down some eye-opening scenarios that just might happen.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE
NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

WR Cole Beasley will finish with his first 100-catch season.

The former Dallas Cowboy has averaged 3.1 receptions per game in his career while playing in a run-heavy offense with elite receiving options around him. But he’ll be one of, if not the focal point of Buffalo’s passing attack in 2019. He might not lead the league in receiving yards, but he can average the 6.3 receptions per game he needs to reach the 100-catch mark. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


CB Xavien Howard will lead the NFL in interceptions for the second consecutive season.

The cornerback had seven interceptions in 12 games last season and has 11 over his past 17 games. Teams might try to avoid Howard more this year, but he’ll shadow No. 1 receivers and aim to make quarterbacks pay when they do test him. — Cameron Wolfe


LT Isaiah Wynn will win AP Comeback Player of the Year.

The Patriots selected Wynn with the 23rd overall pick in 2018, but lost him for his entire rookie season when he tore his Achilles in an August preseason game. This year, Wynn was brought along slowly in spring practices and training camp, and now looks primed to start the season as Tom Brady‘s blindside protector. — Mike Reiss


WR Robby Anderson will have a career year — 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Anderson has matured off the field and developed into an all-around receiver — not just a vertical threat. He and quarterback Sam Darnold have a nice rapport. The Jets, being proactive, will reward him with a four-year, $56 million extension in late December. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

QB Lamar Jackson will set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB in a single season.

Using his electric speed and elusive moves, Jackson will surpass his childhood idol Michael Vick, who is the only quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season (he did so in 2006). Jackson will also become the ninth quarterback to score double-digit rushing touchdowns. — Jamison Hensley

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1:41

Matthew Berry and Field Yates agree that Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has the most “bust or breakout potential” this season.

DE Carl Lawson will come back strong from an ACL injury with 14 sacks.

The former fourth-round pick will help the Bengals put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is one of the things the defense has lacked in recent years. Geno Atkins‘ 10-sack season in 2018 marked the first time in the past three seasons a Bengals player posted a double-digit total. If Lawson gets 14, it would be the most by any Cincinnati player since 2015. — Ben Baby


WR Odell Beckham Jr. will lead the NFL in receiving yards, breaking the 1,500-yard mark for the first time.

Beckham will also set a career mark with more than 13 touchdown catches, as the Browns win the AFC North for the first time in 30 years on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. — Jake Trotter


WR JuJu Smith-Schuster will lead the NFL in receiving yards.

Smith-Schuster has shown a flare for the big play, and he’s worked hard this offseason to show he can handle the load as the team’s new No. 1 receiver. Getting 1,500-plus yards is very possible for Smith-Schuster, who can parlay a big Year 3 into a potential new contract in the offseason. Without a clear-cut second option taking away 75-80 catches, Smith-Schuster will get every opportunity to post big numbers despite double-teams coming his way. — Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

WR Will Fuller will catch more TD passes than DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins will remain the Texans’ No. 1 receiver, but because of this, he sees not only the opposing team’s best cornerback, but he’s often double-teamed as well. This allows the speedy Fuller to get behind defenses as a home run target for Deshaun Watson. Of course, this is assuming Fuller can stay healthy, which hasn’t happened in his first three NFL seasons. While that is no guarantee, when he is on the field, he and Watson put up big numbers — in 11 games together, they have 11 touchdowns. — Sarah Barshop

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1:29

Matthew Berry makes a bold prediction that Jacoby Brissett will be impactful on your fantasy roster and makes a case for drafting him.

The Colts will be a top-10 offense with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback.

The panic button was rightfully hit when Andrew Luck decided to retire. But Brissett will have everything at his disposal when it comes to the offense. Same starting offensive line that gave up an NFL-low 18 sacks last season? Check. Receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle? Check and check. Running back Marlon Mack, who was 92 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards despite missing four games? Yep. With Luck, they potentially could have been in the top three in the league offensively. But top 10 with Brissett isn’t bad, either. — Mike Wells


DE Josh Allen will be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The 2018 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has already shown his ability to play the run as well as drop in coverage during the preseason (he was everywhere against Miami in Week 3), and he will have the benefit of being on the field at the same time as Pro Bowl pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. That should allow him a lot of one-on-one battles, and though he won’t seriously challenge Jevon Kearse’s rookie sack record (14.5 in 1999), he will notch double-digit sacks. — Mike DiRocco

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1:02

Field Yates sees production with Delanie Walker no matter who the Titans QB is.

TE Delanie Walker will have 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is most comfortable throwing to Walker, who has averaged 71.2 receptions and 831.2 yards per season since the two started playing together in 2015. Walker is on a mission to prove that at 35 years old, he is still capable of being the NFL’s best tight end. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

LBs Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will both finish in the league’s top five in sacks.

They almost did last season when Miller was tied for fifth at 14.5 and Chubb had 12. Head coach Vic Fangio’s long history of success with edge rushers will show once again as he will turn the the Broncos’ tandem loose. If the offense will cooperate and actually give the team a lead once in a while, it’s a slam dunk. — Jeff Legwold

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1:22

Damien Woody, Adam Schefter and Mike Tannenbaum discuss whether there is a possibility the Chiefs’ offense could get better after last season’s juggernaut.

The Chiefs will score more points than last season, when they led the NFL with 565.

Not only is Patrick Mahomes a veteran relative to where he was at this point last season, but the Chiefs have added to their strong collection of skill players with a pair of rookies, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Darwin Thompson. Both used their considerable speed to score a touchdown in the preseason. Neither figures to be a regular, but the Chiefs will find ways to put their skills to use. The Chiefs with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins were already a fast offensive team, but this year they can double down on that. — Adam Teicher


DE Joey Bosa will lead the NFL in sacks.

The Ohio State product is coming off a disappointing 2018 season in which he missed nine games because of a bruised left foot, finishing with a career-low 5.5 sacks. However, Bosa says he’s fully healed and feels more explosive, which should lead to his best season as a pro. Bosa also benefits from having one of the best pass-rushers in the league on the other side of him (Melvin Ingram). They work well together, creating mismatches up front. The addition of first-round selection Jerry Tillery as an interior pass-rusher also should help Bosa get home more often. — Eric D. Williams


The Raiders will win nine games, go to the playoffs as the third team from the AFC West and scare whomever they face.

You wanted bold, right? As noted several times previously, the Raiders’ roster is much improved and quarterback Derek Carr is the beneficiary. Coach Jon Gruden’s offense will make a lot more sense to the quarterback and the last time Carr played in the same system two years in a row, he played at a league-MVP level. That was in 2016, when a broken leg suffered in Week 16 ended a dream season for Carr and the Raiders. Time for the dream to be revisited. — Paul Gutierrez

NFC EAST

RB Ezekiel Elliott will lead the league in rushing.

Training camp? Who needs training camp? Elliott will have three practices under his belt by the time the Cowboys play the New York Giants in Sunday’s season opener. He might not be vintage Elliott in Week 1 and potentially Week 2 as he works into game shape, but he will lead the league in rushing for the second straight season and third time in his four years. This time, however, he will likely have to come from behind to claim the title. — Todd Archer

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1:14

Field Yates likes Giants TE Evan Engram because he can see Eli Manning making Engram his most targeted pass catcher.

TE Evan Engram will top 1,000 yards receiving.

The Giants’ passing game is going to revolve around the tight ends and Saquon Barkley, especially early in the season with Eli Manning as the starting quarterback. That bodes well for Engram, who was second among all tight ends with 320 receiving yards over the final four weeks of last season when he was finally healthy. If he can remain healthy, Engram is going to be the Giants’ big-play receiver with Beckham Jr. no longer on the roster. They’re planning on Engram playing a massive role. That’s why they’ve kept him in bubble wrap most of the summer. — Jordan Raanan


The NFC playoffs will run through Philadelphia.

The Super Bowl hangover was real in 2018, and the fact that Carson Wentz was dealing with a bad back for much of the season didn’t help. There is a renewed energy around the team entering this season. General manager Howie Roseman has helped assemble a group of talent that can rival any in the NFL. If the veteran-laden roster can hold up health-wise, the Eagles will be in the driver’s seat. — Tim McManus

The Redskins will trade LT Trent Williams for a draft pick or player.

Coach Jay Gruden said he “seriously doubts” they will, but the signs still point to Williams not returning. At some point, the Redskins will decide to move on. There are players rumored to be available, and while Jadeveon Clowney and Laremy Tunsil have been dealt, Tyreek Hill could be an option. The dynamic Chiefs receiver would require more than just Williams in a trade, but would add plenty of juice. Still, Washington might have to be content with a high draft pick in return. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

OLB Khalil Mack will finish with at least 20 sacks.

Mack is healthy, happy and completely engaged in Chicago’s training camp. Remember, he arrived in Week 1 last year without any offseason or preseason work and still dominated. Mack appears ready to have the best season of his NFL career. — Jeff Dickerson


The Detroit Lions go 10-6 … and make the playoffs.

Yes, this would be a complete record flip from last season and a lot of what has been shown so far from the franchise has been mediocre at best. But the depth at key positions is stronger than it’s been since 2014 — particularly on the defensive line — and if Detroit can manage the game with Kerryon Johnson rushing the ball, it should give Matthew Stafford more time and better passing windows. He also has stronger move-the-chains options at tight end, which should extend drives that faltered a year ago. From a prediction standpoint, this is the boldest I’ve ever gone with the Lions, a team that has typically lived in the 7-to-9 win world for much of the past half-decade. — Michael Rothstein


QB Aaron Rodgers will throw double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2010 and just the second time in his career.

Last year, Rodgers threw just two, but he threw the ball away at an alarming rate. Not that he will force more throws this season, but there are bound to be some miscues as he navigates his way through a new offense with a new playcaller. — Rob Demovsky


The Vikings will have a top-five rushing attack.

This outside-zone scheme is going to bring out the best in Dalvin Cook and Minnesota’s deep corps of running backs. Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who is the run-game coordinator, will help Cook become a 1,000-yard rusher while also contributing to the passing game. Minnesota will go from the bottom of the league to one of the NFL’s most efficient rushing offenses. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

QB Matt Ryan will pass for more than 5,000 yards for the first time and lead the NFL in passing yards.

Twice in the past three years, Ryan has surpassed 4,900 passing yards, including a career-best 4,944 during his 2016 MVP season. Now that he’s reunited with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan should have his share of attempts. Having an arsenal that includes arguably the NFL’s best receiver (Julio Jones), second-year gem Calvin Ridley, sure-handed Mohamed Sanu, Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and dual-threat back Devonta Freeman makes Ryan’s job that much easier. In the process of reaching 5,000, Ryan will reach 50,000 passing yards, becoming the 10th player to accomplish that feat. — Vaughn McClure

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1:42

Field Yates and Matthew Berry look back at Matt Ryan’s previous performance with Dirk Koetter as Falcons’ offensive coordinator and like the QB’s upside.

The Panthers will lead the league in sacks with rookie OLB Brian Burns winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

This is bold because the Panthers finished 27th in the league in sacks a year ago. But with the move to a 3-4 scheme and additions like Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin and Burns to a unit that already included Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson and Luke Kuechly, quarterbacks beware. As for Burns, four sacks in his first three preseason games weren’t an accident. He’s going to be a force. — David Newton


RB Alvin Kamara will catch 100 passes.

I don’t expect a major increase in Kamara’s workload now that Mark Ingram is gone. Sean Payton has made it clear he likes Kamara’s “pitch count” around 65-70% of the snaps, which is why the Saints signed veteran running back Latavius Murray. However, Kamara is vital to the passing game, and I think his 81 catches in both 2017 and 2018 are a floor. (He hit that total as a rookie even when Ingram caught 58 balls. And last year Kamara sat out Week 17.) Plus, the Saints have rarely played from behind in Kamara’s career. He would feast on catches if they ever get into hurry-up fourth-quarter situations. — Mike Triplett

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1:52

Field Yates would not take Alvin Kamara with the top overall pick, but because of his talent, he wouldn’t think it’s a bad pick.

LB Devin White will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

That doesn’t seem like a stretch for the fifth-overall draft pick, but it’s a rare feat for anyone who plays in Tampa Bay to garner national awards. Todd Bowles’ defense caters to inside linebackers. White is heavily involved with Bowles’ blitzes, which should result in a number of sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss, and he’s a sure tackler in the short passing game. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

The Cardinals will lead the NFL in scoring and still miss the playoffs.

But this time, coach Kliff Kingsbury can’t blame the defensive issues on recruiting. There’s good reason to believe Kingsbury’s offense can be as potent and dynamic as it was in college. He’s coaching perhaps the best quarterback he’s ever worked with — and that’s saying something. Kingsbury, who has been compared to a young Bruce Arians, has an offensive mind on par with some of the best to work in the NFL. But the defense will be the liability for this team in 2019, despite how many points the Cardinals will score. — Josh Weinfuss


Defensive tackle Aaron Donald will break Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks.

He will also become the first player to be named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons and will be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, joining Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor as the only defensive players to earn the honor. — Lindsey Thiry


DT DeForest Buckner will reach 13 sacks and finish in the top 10 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.

He’ll also become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL in the offseason. Buckner has quietly established himself as one of the most dominant interior players in the league, posting 12 sacks in 2018 while receiving plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines. Still, he hasn’t received the credit he deserves, largely because the 49ers haven’t won enough to for him to do so. But the Niners should be more competitive this season and, with edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa taking some of the additional blockers away, Buckner is well-positioned to finally become a household name outside of the Bay Area. — Nick Wagoner

LB Bobby Wagner will be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Wagner has been in the conversation the past few seasons but has lost to pass-rushers J.J. Watt, Mack and Donald. Sacks tend to go a long way in the voting, and Wagner hasn’t had as many opportunities for those as an inside linebacker in a defense that doesn’t blitz much. But the Seahawks might have to rely more on Wagner as a blitzer, at least early in the season with Jarran Reed suspended and Ezekiel Ansah being eased back into the rotation. Five-plus sacks and another season with more than 130 tackles will put Wagner in position to become the only inside linebacker other than Kuechly to win the award over the past decade. — Brady Henderson

Published at Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:33:04 +0000

We simulated the entire 2019 NFL season: Scores and storylines for all 267 games

We simulated the entire 2019 NFL season: Scores and storylines for all 267 games

Normally when we project out the NFL season, we provide a percentage chance of an event occurring — it’s all degrees of maybe. But there’s no maybe today.

Before each season, we simulate the entire NFL slate 20,000 times using the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI), our prediction and projection system. In the preseason, it is based on a few factors, including each team’s preseason win total matched with its schedule, past performance in all three phases of the game, returning starters and who the starting and backup quarterbacks are expected to be. Altogether that gets us a strength rating for every team, which we in turn use to determine game predictions and the likelihood of one team beating another.

Today, we took just one of those 20,000 season-long simulations — No. 1,721 — and played out the entire slate with final scores for all 267 games. And we baked a little creative license into the details along the way. Consider it another way to preview what this 2019 NFL season might look like. Let’s dive into the 2019 season, starting with a handful of upsets and a standout rookie performance in Week 1.

Jump to Week:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17
Final standings | Playoffs
Super Bowl LIV

Week 1

Aaron Rodgers, Packers hold off Bears in opener: Unlike last year’s opening-week battle, the Packers won’t need a valiant comeback to edge Chicago. Green Bay’s offensive line is able to keep Rodgers upright in its 34-27 victory. The Bears were able to recover from a devastating Week 1 defeat last time … can they do it again?

Kyler and Kliff flourish in debut: At least on this night, the Lions looked like a Big 12 defense trying and failing to stop Kliff Kingsbury’s new Air Raid offense. Kyler Murray slices and dices Detroit with his arms and legs in the blowout 36-10 win, quickly causing fans to forget his preseason inconsistency and remind them why he won the Heisman Trophy and went No. 1 overall in April’s draft.

Texans edge Saints: Deshaun Watson outplays Drew Brees in a Week 1 barnburner, torching the Saints’ secondary in a 34-33 win and delivering an early blow to a Super Bowl hopeful. Remember when the Buccaneers did the same to New Orleans in 2018? The Saints rebounded with 10 straight wins.

Slow start for Pats, Rams: Could it be a Super Bowl hangover? Bill Belichick’s and Sean McVay’s teams stumble out of the gate, but no one is worried about either team … yet.


Week 2

Sweet, sweet revenge for New Orleans: In a rematch of the NFC Championship Game, the Saints avenge their loss and make sure that a stray pass interference call (or lack thereof) can’t get in the way, as they smack down the Rams 27-3.

Worried yet, New England? The defending Super Bowl champs drop another game, this time a 38-28 defeat at the hands of a (2-0!) Miami team that at least seemed in the preseason to be effectively tanking. But FitzMagic doesn’t go down without a fight.

Raiders stun Chiefs, man: Jon Gruden can’t stop smirking after Derek Carr and his Oakland team get the best of Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs 27-20. Oakland is out of the gate strong with a 2-0 start.


Week 3

Browns living up to the hype: Beating the Titans and Jets was one thing, but taking down the Rams 17-7 in primetime has the league breaking out in Cleveland fever. Jarvis Landry hands out Bless ‘Ems to every one of his teammates. They’re riding high at 3-0.

Bears, Rams drop to 0-3: Mitchell Trubisky‘s QBR has taken a precipitous drop, while the Chicago defense has regressed to the mean. Both of those events were fairly expected. But L.A.’s nightmare start? That came out of nowhere. Suddenly the Cardinals say Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay weren’t like best friends or anything. Only regular friends. Maybe even just acquaintances.

Marcus Mariota puts up 51 on Jaguars: A once-elite defense is torched by a never-considered-elite offense, as the Titans flex a completely unexpected level of firepower. And their 2-1 record is all the more impressive considering their lone loss came against the clearly unbeatable Browns.

Seahawks’ defense sends them to winless start: Russell Wilson and the team’s offense is doing enough, but the defense continues its early-season struggles — even after trading for Jadeveon Clowney. After a shocking Week 1 loss to the Bengals and a tough defeat against Pittsburgh, the Seahawks falter again in a Week 3 loss to New Orleans.


Week 4

Packers fans are plenty R-E-L-A-X-E-D: A 44-7 win over the Eagles on Thursday Night Football gives the Packers a 4-0 start, although it has come with a shade less buzz than the Browns’ undefeated start (they trounced the Ravens 45-17). Mike McCarthy’s job prospects dim.

Your first place … Miami Dolphins? This was not how “Tank for Tua” was supposed to go. But then again, we’ve seen this story with FitzMagic before. Don’t worry, we know how this ends: In a blaze of interceptions. The Dolphins sit at 3-1, even after dealing Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills right before the season began.

Back pages call for Daniel Jones: Pat Shurmur resists, telling reporters he’s sticking with Eli Manning as the 1-3 Giants’ quarterback after Big Blue’s 23-17 loss to the (suddenly 3-1) Redskins.


Week 5

Browns finally lose: Cleveland was due for a reality check at some point, and it comes in Week 5. Meanwhile, Green Bay edges out Dallas 27-22 as the only undefeated team left in the league.

New Orleans rebounds: Ever since their last-minute loss to Houston in Week 1, Drew Brees has had the Saints clicking at 4-1. Three of the team’s four wins have been by more than a touchdown, too.

Jones enters: With a goose egg on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, Shurmur obliges the chanting fans at MetLife Stadium and puts Jones in at quarterback. The game ends in a shutout, but the impact stretches beyond Week 5: Shurmur announces Jones is now the starter.


Week 6

Murray bests Matt Ryan in shootout: It hasn’t all gone smooth for the Cardinals since their opening-week wonders, but the Arizona offense gets it together against Atlanta in a 44-41 overtime victory. Both teams are 3-3 after six games.

Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper contained by Jets: The Cowboys can’t find the end zone and drop to 2-4 on the season. The Jets’ secondary — including not only Jamal Adams but also last year’s disappointment, Trumaine Johnson — shuts down the Dallas passing attack in a 20-3 win. Gang Green opened with a three-game losing streak but have now won two in a row coming out of their bye.

Lions continue to flounder: Two zeroes remain in the standings, as the Packers make quick work of the Lions to improve to 6-0. Detroit, meanwhile, falls to 0-5. Fans ponder calling for a quarterback change, but then remember Josh Johnson is Matthew Stafford‘s backup.

Denver loses its fifth game: The Broncos lose their fifth of six in the Joe Flacco era, as the Titans score 36 on Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the Denver defense. Coach Vic Fangio continues looking for answers at Mile High. Meanwhile, the Titans’ win puts them in a three-way tie atop the AFC South at 4-2.


Week 7

Playoff Nick Foles, checking in: Jacksonville drops 38 on the Bengals, marking the third consecutive week the Jags have put up at least that many points. And each have ended with a win. The Jaguars move to 5-2, matching the Titans’ record in the division.

Jay Gruden switches it up: After Washington’s third consecutive loss (3-4) with Case Keenum at the helm — this time a 38-21 defeat at the hands of the 49ers — Gruden announces that Dwayne Haskins will make his much-anticipated debut next week against the Vikings. He’s the third rookie QB to be named starter, and it’s only Week 7.

Patrick Mahomes has an off day: Mahomes throws three interceptions — one turns into a pick-six — in a 34-3 loss to the Broncos. It’s the worst performance of his career and not a good sign for next week’s meeting with the undefeated Packers. The Chiefs are still 5-2 atop the AFC West, though.

Jones picks up his first win … over Murray: In college, Jones and Murray weren’t considered anywhere near the same level. But in the first bout between the two top-six overall picks, the former Duke QB comes out on top, beating last year’s Heisman winner and the Cardinals 28-20. It’s the Giants’ second win of the season, while the Cards fall to 3-4.


Week 8

Rodgers rolls over Mahomes, Chiefs: Mahomes is no match for the red-hot and revitalized Rodgers. Rodgers becomes a consensus -1,000 favorite to win the MVP, as most consider it a foregone conclusion at this point. Green Bay is flying at 8-0.

Another old guard beats the new: After undergoing their typical September swoon, the Pats are back. And they prove it with a 17-10 win over Mayfield and the Browns. New England is in first place in the AFC East, though only a half-game up on the Dolphins at 6-2. Cleveland is up a game on the Steelers in the North at 5-2.

Falcons take the lead in NFC South: After the 4-4 Saints drop a close contest to the Cardinals and the Falcons beat the Seahawks by a touchdown, Atlanta gains sole possession of first place in the division at 5-3.


Week 9

Chargers become first to down the Packers: Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense are too much for Rodgers & Co., as they surprisingly dominate a 43-18 game in Los Angeles. The 1972 Dolphins break out the bubbly. But Green Bay appears destined to win the NFC North, as no other team in the division is even at .500, while the 5-4 Chargers keep pace with the Chiefs and remain one game back in the AFC West.

Niners beat Cardinals, take two-game lead in NFC West: A 23-16 win over Arizona gives the 49ers a three-game winning streak and a 6-2 record, as Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan start to put together the kind of run that San Francisco brass imagined when they landed the former Patriot two years ago. With the Rams stumbling at 3-5, the 49ers are in prime position to take advantage.

Eagles go for two to … tie: Ties are weird. But a late two-point conversion run by Jordan Howard secures one for the Eagles against the Bears, 29-29. Philly holds at 3-5-1, while Chicago’s season remains bleak at 2-5-1.


The halfway point

Let’s check in on every division at the halfway mark of the season:

  • AFC East: Miami (6-2) has stunningly taken the lead in the AFC East by a half-game over the Patriots (6-3).

  • AFC North: The Browns (5-3) hold a one-game edge over the Ravens (4-4) and Steelers (4-4).

  • AFC South: The Titans have the edge (6-3), but the Colts (5-3) have made a recent surge as they find their offense without Andrew Luck. The Jags and Texans linger at 5-4 apiece.

  • AFC West: Despite a couple of hiccups, the Chiefs (6-3) are doing what’s expected: Holding first place. The Raiders are actually next on their tail at 5-3.

  • NFC East: It isn’t pretty. The Cowboys (4-4) lead by a slim margin, while the Redskins (4-5) — with Haskins at QB now — are a half-game back.

  • NFC North: Green Bay (8-1) all the way. Oh, and the Lions are still winless (0-8).

  • NFC South: The Falcons (5-3) hold a one-game lead over a team that many expected to be at the top (Saints, 4-4) and another that no one did (Bucs, 4-4).

  • NFC West: The 49ers (6-2) have a strong two-game lead over Arizona and Seattle (both 4-5).


Week 10

Bills hand Browns their third straight loss: Josh Allen beats another 2018 first-round QB in Mayfield and helps move the Bills above .500 and to just one game back in the AFC East. And all of the fawning coverage the Browns received at the start of the season now feels like a decade ago. Can Freddie Kitchens keep the team together and right the ship and win the division? Cleveland is now tied at 5-4 with Baltimore, while the Steelers remain a half-game back.

Steelers’ huge fourth quarter forces overtime at Heinz Field: For the second time this season, there is a tie. Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster go to work in the game’s final quarter to complete a big comeback against the Rams and push the contest to extra time — but neither team can score again. Pittsburgh goes to 4-4-1, while the Rams continue their struggles at 3-5-1.

Bucs shut out the Cards: Arizona’s offensive line implodes and Murray can’t get away from the Tampa Bay defense, which shuts down the Air Raid and then some. The Buccaneers move to 5-4.

Jets take the regular-season Snoopy Bowl: The once-every-four-years game between the two New York teams that actually counts comes down to the wire. While neither are really contenders — the Giants are 3-7, while the Jets are 4-5 — it’s a battle for future dominance. Sam Darnold orchestrates a successful two-minute drill that results in a game-winning field goal.


Week 11

Lions fire Matt Patricia: Enough is enough for Martha Ford. Eager to avoid another winless season, she removes Patricia from his role as head coach after an 0-10 start and an overall 6-20 record for his tenure. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni takes over as the interim head coach.

Miami can’t be stopped: Those Fitzpatrick interceptions? They haven’t begun. And Miami, after beating the Bills, is now 7-3 and a full game up on the Patriots, who lost to the Eagles this week. Forget tanking. Miami is trying to win a division here! Could this really happen?

A four-way tie in AFC South: Yup, all four teams are 6-4. Plenty around the league are surprised with how the Colts have managed without Luck. Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton have built up a rapport. But Watson is also lighting it up, Mariota is having a career year and Foles is settling into Jacksonville very well. It should be an exciting stretch run for what has often been an anything-but-thrilling division.


Week 12

NFC East misery: All four teams in the NFC East sit at .500 or worse, with the Eagles — fresh off of a 29-19 win over the Seahawks — barely leading the pack at 5-5-1.

Packers become first team to 10 wins: With 35 points against the Niners, Rodgers has Green Bay at double-digit wins and in cruise control. It’s the Packers’ biggest NFC challenge yet — the 49ers are the only other team in the conference with at least eight wins.


Week 13

Falcons beat the Saints, take lead in NFC South: The two teams entered this rivalry game tied in the standings, but Atlanta had no problem throwing on the Saints in this 37-21 win. For the first time in a while, New Orleans looks awfully mortal, and at 7-5, they are no sure thing for the postseason.

The Motor City Nightmare is over: The Lions win! This is not 2008 all over again. Detroit takes down the Bears, the latest indignity for a Chicago team that entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations and now wallows in third place in the division at 4-7-1.

Vikings win third straight: You like that?! A 24-10 win over the Seahawks puts Kirk Cousins and the Vikings at 7-5 and plants them firmly in the wild-card race.

Patriots regain control of AFC East: Miami loses at the wire in dramatic fashion to the Eagles 30-28, and it costs them first place thanks to another narrow result elsewhere: An 18-16 win for the Pats over the Texans. New England sits at 8-4.


Week 14

Here come the Rams: Aaron Donald has been angry. After reaching the bottom of the division a month earlier, he has become a nonstop force of destruction. And the Rams? They’ve quietly won six straight, just as the 8-5 Niners drop their third in a row. They’re 7-5-1 and right back in this thing!

After a long wait, Chiefs avenge AFC title game loss: A 35-31 win over the Patriots won’t mean as much to the Chiefs as a trip to the Super Bowl would have, but it’s something. The victory keeps the Chiefs in first place in their division, and at 9-4, gives them the No. 1 seed for the moment in an AFC without a runaway team. The 8-5 Patriots keep a one-game lead in the AFC East after 7-6 Miami stumbles against the Jets.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Cleveland (8-5) is a half-game up on the Steelers in the AFC North, as are the 49ers in the NFC West over the charging Rams. The AFC South is deadlocked yet again with the Colts, Texans and Titans all tied at 8-5. The Falcons and Saints are also tied atop the NFC North (8-5). And out in the NFC East, the Eagles own a 7-5-1 record and are 1½ games up.


Week 15

Monday Night Football drama in the AFC South: The 8-6 Colts’ loss sets up a battle for first place in the division between the Titans and Texans. It came down to the end, but the Texans were able to stop Mariota’s final drive and hold on for a 17-15 victory. The win kept 9-5 Houston in contention for a bye, too.

Three-way race for the No. 1 pick: Perhaps motivated by the coaching change, the Lions have suddenly won three games, tying them for the league’s worst record with the Panthers and Bengals to set up a chase for next year’s No. 1 pick. Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and the rest of the 2020 draft class offer the cluster of teams a lot of options come next April.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Patriots, Browns, Texans, Chiefs and Chargers all are tied with nine wins, and each either leads or is tied for the lead in the division. The Ravens, Colts, Titans and Raiders all are in realistic playoff contention, as well. In the NFC, the Packers hold a two-game lead for No. 1 seed. The 49ers and Eagles each have a half-game lead in their divisions, while the Saints are now up by a game on the Falcons. But Atlanta joins the Rams, Vikings and Redskins in a fight for the postseason.


Week 16

49ers clinch NFC West: It seemed preposterous, then likely, then tenuous — but now certain. The 10-win 49ers are division champs, and they get it done by beating their division-rival Rams 26-24. For the first time, a pang of regret strikes Bill Belichick for dealing a quarterback.

Eagles clinch NFC East: It was far, far uglier than Philadelphia ever imagined it would be, but it still managed to grind out a division title at 8-6-1. A 27-20 win over the Cowboys (6-9) seals the deal.

Saints clinch NFC South: Atlanta gave them a run for their money, but ultimately Brees and Sean Payton were able to keep their foot on the gas down the stretch and build up a two-game advantage over Atlanta at 10-5. The Falcons remain alive for the postseason at 8-7.

Baltimore stacks 51 points on Browns: The 9-6 Ravens stay in the AFC North mix heading into the final week of the season, as Lamar Jackson runs all over Cleveland’s defense. The Week 17 matchup with Pittsburgh (8-6-1) could hand John Harbaugh the division title for a second straight year.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: It’s all up in the air in the AFC. The Patriots and Dolphins have a Week 17 showdown for the AFC East title (no, really). The Browns, Ravens and Steelers can all still win the AFC North. Either the Chargers or Chiefs can win the AFC West. And the Texans haven’t wrapped up the AFC South just yet. Out in the NFC, it’s the opposite. Every division is settled, and the Rams are locked into one wild-card spot. The only question now is whether the Falcons or Redskins take the last berth.


Week 17

Patriots hold off Dolphins for AFC East title: Xavien Howard and the Miami defense did everything they could to make Tom Brady‘s day tough, but it just wasn’t enough. Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the Pats’ top-five defense shut down Fitzpatrick’s passing attack. The Patriots squeak by to win the division title again, and somehow manage to earn a bye, as well. And it truly is the worst of all worlds for Miami: It loses a heartbreaker, misses the playoffs, never gets to see Josh Rosen play a meaningful down and won’t have an early draft pick.

Chiefs stumble at the last second to … miss the playoffs: Rivers guts out an excellent Week 17 performance to topple Mahomes and the Chiefs 27-24. Andy Reid’s team finishes 9-7 with a cluster of other teams and ends up on the wrong end of the tiebreaker. It never truly felt like the Chiefs were going to miss the postseason, but after three straight losses to close the year, here we are.

Steeling a playoff spot: Pittsburgh sat a half-game behind Baltimore heading into their Week 17 showdown. Jackson played good enough all year, coupled with a strong defense, but in this one, he couldn’t quite hold his own against Roethlisberger, who showed he had just enough left in the tank for another playoff push. With the victory, Pittsburgh locks up a wild-card spot.

Browns clinch AFC North: A Ravens loss and a Browns win landed Cleveland the division crown. The Steelers took care of the first part, and Freddie Kitchens’ team didn’t bother to make it close. While Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. received most of the glory during the season, this performance was all about Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Joe Schobert, Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon. The league’s second-best defense showed up in a shutout of the Bengals.

Texans fall but win divisional title anyway, Titans snag playoff berth: This was a rarely seen win-win in the NFL, as Mariota continued his breakout season by knocking off the Texans in Week 17. Tennessee had been two games back of Houston going into the game, and because Indianapolis lost to Jacksonville, the Texans ended up taking the AFC South anyway. The Titans take home a wild card for their efforts.

Falcons secure final wild-card spot: Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s top-five offense outdo Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, as they pull away early in the second half to ice this one.

Cincinnati on the clock: After finishing with just three wins, the Bengals edge out the Panthers on tiebreakers for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

NFC playoff seeds: 1. Green Bay Packers, 2. New Orleans Saints, 3. San Francisco 49ers, 4. Philadelphia Eagles, 5. Los Angeles Rams, 6. Atlanta Falcons

AFC playoff seeds: 1. Los Angeles Chargers, 2. New England Patriots, 3. Cleveland Browns, 4. Houston Texans, 5. Pittsburgh Steelers, 6. Tennessee Titans


Wild-card weekend

(3) 49ers 37 (6) Falcons 0: Holy Garoppolo. It’s one thing to shock the world during the regular season. But to come out like this in the postseason and take down a talented and experienced team like the Falcons? The world better wake up: The 49ers are Super Bowl contenders.

(5) Rams 30, (4) Eagles 26: It’s the old 2016 NFL draft postseason battle. And yes, Carson Wentz is healthy this January. But perhaps because the Eagles lacked the magic of Foles or perhaps because the Rams are just sizzling after their second-half run, Sean McVay gets the best of Doug Pederson in a closely contested matchup.

(6) Titans 10, (3) Browns 9: Oh, Browns. Even in the postseason, they find a way to torture their fan base. After a successful regular season, they get a winnable home game in the playoffs against a Titans team that is better than we all thought, but the offense sputters at the worst time. Three field goals is all they can muster in a loss to Tennessee’s top-five defense.

(4) Texans 27, (5) Steelers 17: Watson earns his first playoff victory, as he and DeAndre Hopkins connect again and again in Houston’s win. The Texans move on to face New England.


Divisional weekend

(5) Rams 30, (1) Packers 17: And just like that, it’s over. The Packers’ magical season, featuring the league’s No. 1 defense and No. 4 scoring offense and Rodgers’ resurgence — it’s all gone. The quarterback will still win the MVP, but the 13-win Packers pack their bags without a playoff win. Consider that, in Week 9, the Packers were 8-1, and Los Angeles was 3-5. Now, it’s the latter that continues on.

(2) Saints 27, (3) 49ers 17: And here’s where Jimmy G’s road comes to an end. Brees’ devastatingly accurate passing attack was too much for this defense. Still, it was a very successful season for San Francisco.

(1) Chargers 39, (6) Titans 30: Mariota puts on a show, but so does Rivers. And Joey Bosa has clearly become one of the game’s elite defensive players.

(4) Texans 38, (2) Patriots 26: Houston finally got past New England in the playoffs. The Patriots stopped Houston in 2012 and 2016, but with Watson under center and Brady showing signs of age on the other sideline, Bill O’Brien is able to get one over on his former superior. But no, neither Brady nor Belichick retires.


Conference championships

Saints 17, Rams 10: Finally, justice. Sure, it was nice for the Saints to beat the Rams in the regular season, but they held the grudge from last year for 12 full months. And they got the opportunity to really pay back L.A. Defense stole the show, too, stifling McVay and Jared Goff.

Chargers 34, Texans 26: Rivers is just flying now. He and Keenan Allen are tearing up defenses. Hunter Henry has broken out to become one of the game’s top receiving tight ends. And Bosa picks up a trifecta of sacks against Watson, who is prone to take them. In the end, Rivers is finally going to the Super Bowl.


Super Bowl LIV: Saints 40, Chargers 33

In a meeting of the No. 1 (Saints) and No. 2 (Chargers) offenses in the NFL, Brees is back on top. A decade after he and Payton beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, the duo get it done again. It’s heartbreak for Rivers, having come so close to finally winning that elusive championship, but he comes up a touchdown short. He says you’ll have to simulate the offseason to find out whether he’s coming back for a 17th season at 38 years old, but FPI leaves us at the Saints’ victory parade down Bourbon Street.

Published at Mon, 10 Jun 2019 19:33:43 +0000