By Pawan Naidu
Football is back! We’ve played the Hall of Fame game and now we’re all excited about what this NFL season has in store. The storylines are endless: from the Eagles trying to defend their first-ever Super Bowl, Kirk Cousin debuting with the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers coming back from injury and plenty more.
Every team starts with the same goal at training camp; to win their division. Winning your division is the most clear-cut way of making the playoffs and you’re guaranteed at least one home game. This is especially true for the west coast and southern teams because they want no business going to Philadelphia or Green Bay in January.
But we all know for those teams that don’t win their division, there are two wild-card teams per conference. So teams that prove themselves during the season, but have another good team in their conference can still have the opportunity to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. So I decided to give you all my playoff predictions and just because I like all of you, I’ll give you my playoff predictions for free.
1. Green Bay Packers (14-2)
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was gone for most of the season last year because of a collarbone injury but he’s back now. We’re talking about, along with Tom Brady, one of the two best QBs in the league. His presence will motivate the rest of team and the Packers are going to play with a childlike joy. Receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have been in the team long enough that they know exactly where they need to be. Rodgers will take care of the rest.
The defense has always been the Packers Achilles heel, but that was because their former general manager relied on Rodgers and didn’t address the positions that needed strengthening. The Packers have a new GM, Brian Gutekunst, who’s been aggressive in acquiring young talent, especially in the biggest problem area, the secondary. Rodgers just needs a little help from them, and I believe they are going to deliver.
Head coach, Mike McCarthy, takes a lot of heat, because he has such a great quarterback. People think Rodgers carries him, and McCarthy is usually the scapegoat when things go bad. However, along with Rodgers, the head coach was hampered by not good enough personnel. As previously mentioned, the new defensive players will solidify the Packers’ defense and will give Rodgers breathing room . These are also young players and McCarthy will be able to shape a new and motivated team. He might not get the credit he deserves, but Big Mike is going to be a big reason for the Packers success this season.
2.Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
How ‘bout them Cowboys?! America’s team is going to shock the world and have a pretty great season. The offense is led by quarterback, Dak Prescott, and running back, Ezekiel “Zeke” Elliott. There shouldn’t be any concerns about Zeke, who’s proven he can carry the team on his back like he did during his rookie campaign. If it wasn’t for his six-game suspension, for alleged domestic violence, last year, he would be in the contention of being one of the best players in football.
Prescott is another story. He had a tremendous rookie year leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record together with Zeke. He is praised for his poise and intangibles. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he didn’t look the best when Zeke was out last year. For this prediction to come true, Dak’s going to have to be the quarterback myself and many others think he is.
This is a better defense than the Cowboys have had in the past. First, their line is filled with tremendous young talent, like Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, both of whom could be great players. However, these guys are going to have to keep out of trouble because the Cowboys have a history of their players getting suspended for actions off the field. There are rumors that Earl Thomas could join the Cowboys, but that will only happen if he parts ways with the Seahawks. Thomas is one of the best safeties in the league and his presence could be a game changer for the Cowboys.
We finally come to the much-maligned head coach, Jason Garrett. This man is the second longest standing head coach in the league and has had, not only his knowledge of the game, but his manliness attacked for years. People believe he’s a puppet for owner Jerry Jones, and in some ways, he might be but he’s also a man who knows the game of football. He might not be the best and he might have made some mistakes along the way, but he’s also been to the playoffs twice. When he has a good team, his teams succeeds and while the current team has flaws, it has every opportunity to be successful this season.
3.Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
The Falcons will make their third straight trip to the playoffs. They are led by their prolific quarterback, Matt Ryan. Ryan, a former league MVP, recently signed a big contract extension and will be looking to prove he’s worth the money. The Falcons might also have the best running back duo in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. We also can’t forget about one of the best receivers in the league, Julio Jones who is joined by rookie first-round pick Calvin Ridley. This offense is stacked and the Falcons have a chance to be the best in the league like they were two years ago when they made it to the Super Bowl.
Their defense doesn’t have the big names their offense has but nonetheless they are a formidable unit in their own right. The defense is led by third-year pass rusher Vic Beasley and head coach Dan Quinn is known for coaching suffocating defenses. The one concern is that there are still young players on defense so it will be important for the coaching staff to keep them composed.
We’ve mentioned Quinn is a tremendous defensive mind and that comes from his time as a defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks made two straight Super Bowls on the backs of their legendary defense. Quinn has also made the Super Bowl as head coach of the Falcons, so he knows what it takes to make his team successful. Quinn’s experience is going to be important for the Falcons success this season.
4.Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
The Rams on paper are the most talented team in the NFL. They went from making the playoffs last year to adding multiple Pro Bowlers to their team. The Rams’ offense was number one in the league last season and they might have gotten even better. They have got rid of injury prone wide receiver Sammy Watkins and replaced him with the reliable and consistent deep threat Brandin Cooks. Jared Goff is entering his third season and that means he has a better understanding of the coaches plays. We can’t forget about star running back Todd Gurley, who is one of the best in the league and can attack by both running and catching.
Suh, Talib, and Peters are just a few additions the Rams made to the defense. These are all Pro Bowl players and they have the talent to make this one of the best defenses in the league. We also can’t forget about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He’s a Super Bowl champion and one of the most respected defensive minds in the league. All those Pro Bowl players are also a headache in the locker room. Although they bring tons of talent, they might disrupt the chemistry in the locker room, because all three have done that before. Aaron Donald, who might the best defensive player in the league, is holding out and no one knows how that will affect the team.
Head coach Sean McVay was the darling of the NFL last season. He turned a dormant team into a playoff contender and they even had a chance to make the playoffs. However, he might of let that success go to his head. McVay is 32 years old and maybe, through no fault of his own, can come across as arrogant and self-entitled. With all these potentially problematic personalities entering the locker room, his character might not be best suited for what the team will need. The team will still be good but just not one of the best.
5.New Orleans Saints (11-5)
The Saints turned around their fortunes last year by making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They are led by future hall of fame quarterback, Drew Brees. Even though Brees is on the older side, he’s still one of the best QBs in the league and will hope to lead his team to recapture last years success. Brees won’t have to do it alone because he is joined by the reigning offensive rookie of the year, running back Alvin Kamara. You also have wide receiver Michael Thomas who is ready to show that he isn’t going to be outshined by the quarterback and running back.
The Saints’ defense was the laughing stock of the league for a couple of years but that isn’t the case anymore. This defensive line improved a lot last year, primarily because of team’s scouting department recognizing which players would be the best to draft. This team doesn’t have the depth you would like, but the players are some of the top in the league.
Head coach Sean Payton has been around for a long time and has developed the reputation of being one of the best offensive minds the game has ever seen. He’s Super Bowl proven, but it’s been a while. Payton and Brees are hungry to prove that they still have something left in the tank and can reach the top at least one more time.
6.Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Some might be surprised to see the reigning defending super bowl champs so low but they have many problems that need to be addressed. Quarterback Carson Wentz went down during his MVP campaign last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is one of the key ligaments that stabilize your knee joint. However, the Eagles still won the Super Bowl on the back of backup Nick Foles. We don’t know if Wentz is going to be at his best on his return, and we don’t know what to expect from Foles for an entire season. Foles has been a career backup when he caught fire in the playoffs. He hasn’t proven he can be a consistent starter for a team. The Eagles’ offense will get back into form eventually but it might take some time and they’ll suffer some loses because of it.
For the first half of the season, the team is going to have to be carried by their defense, and they might be up to the task. This defensive line is stacked and loaded with pass rushers, linebackers and defensive backs that can keep offensive coordinators up at night. They are led by star linebacker Fletcher Cox who is going to be leading his unit as the offense figures things out.
Head coach Doug Pederson outsmarted Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl and is considered one of the next generation of great coaches. However, it might be a little premature to anoint him yet. He deserves a lot of credit for winning the Super Bowl but it’s completely different when coaching the team with the biggest targets on their backs. The Eagles will be facing the best teams because of their success last year and their opponents will be giving it their best shot. Pederson might be up for it but it’s going to be a lot tougher this year.