Jim Powers 2019 NFL Picks & Predictions
New England Patriots (11-5): Their typical September break-in period — it includes a visit from the salty Steelers for the Sunday night opener — should be notable as the Pats adjust to life post-Gronk and amid several defensive changes, including Bill Belichick apparently taking a more hands-on role with the play calls. The December schedule appears inviting with Buffalo and Miami coming to Gillette Stadium in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. But a title defense will be challenging as ever as the reigning champs try to reach the Super Bowl for a fourth straight year, a feat only accomplished by the 1990s Bills.
Buffalo Bills (8-8): Underrated squad that was tough down the stretch in 2018 while sporting the league’s second-ranked defense. Buffalo has a shot to start hot prior to its Week 6 bye, then build further momentum with three consecutive homes dates. If sophomore QB Josh Allen continues to progress, coach Sean McDermott’s charges could return to postseason for the second time in three years.
New York Jets (7-9): Less than ideal drawing a Week 4 bye — particularly for a club trying to mesh so many players and a new coaching staff. Good chance to make hay at midseason, though, as Jets face seven consecutive teams that missed playoffs in Weeks 8-14. QB Sam Darnold must make a leap in Year 2, though his best friend might be a defense run by ever-aggressive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Miami Dolphins (3-13): A talent-strapped team with a rookie head coach (Brian Flores) and a new QB1 (whether it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen … and both will likely get opportunities to start) opens against four straight 2018 playoff squads before hitting the bye. Good chance this campaign is effectively over before it has chance to get off the ground.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): Mike Tomlin has missed the playoffs in consecutive years just once as he heads into this 13th season at the helm. Hard to spin losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as a positive … but the distraction factor should go way down, the offense’s unpredictably factor should rise, and a proud team that seems be a bit of an afterthought given how the national spotlight is focused on Cleveland could really surprise.
Cleveland Browns (10-6): Good luck finding a more loaded roster, not to mention one with so many capable players age 25 or younger. But rookie coach Freddie Kitchens will have to do more than call plays, namely meld a new-look staff and manage outsized expectations. And the overarching inexperience (and, perhaps, immaturity?) could rear its head given the buzz affixed to a team trying to break the league’s longest postseason drought by punching its first playoff tickets since 2002. Baker Mayfield and Co. should feel “dangerous,” but don’t be surprised if they’re still one year away.
Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Whether or not they were decoded by the Chargers in last season’s playoffs, second-year QB Lamar Jackson and this offense probably won’t catch many teams by surprise and will surely have to prove this attack can win through the air. Despite the arrival of star FS Earl Thomas, last year’s top-ranked defense was stripped of many key vets.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-13): Zac Taylor has never been a head coach. Lou Anarumo is a full-time NFL defensive coordinator for the first time. An O-line that was vulnerable, to put it kindly, in 2018 has already lost first-rounder Jonah Williams. This team just doesn’t feel ready to compete in what otherwise stacks up as a loaded division.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6): They won’t catch the league by surprise this year, and it doesn’t help having to navigate a division that projects as the conference’s most competitive from top to bottom. But a beast is burgeoning in Indy, thanks largely to a defense and O-line that don’t get sufficient renown. And no questions about QB Andrew Luck anymore.
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6): Should be fascinating to see if they get the Super Bowl MVP Philly version of new QB Nick Foles or the sub-Bortles St. Louis version from 2015, the last time “Saint Nick” started for more than half a season. His reunion with new OC (and former Eagles assistant) John DeFilippo should help. But will Foles get sufficient help from what projects as a limited suite of aerial weapons? And will a defense that’s been beset by distractions reach its vast potential?
(Notes: The Colts win the AFC South title over the Jags by virtue of a better record in common games. However, Jacksonville has a superior record to Cleveland in the common games tiebreaker in this projection, thus giving the Jaguars the conference’s second wild-card berth.)
Tennessee Titans (9-7): Coincidentally, they’ve gone 9-7 each of the past three seasons. Expect them to remain a tough out, if one with limited upward mobility in the face of a daunting schedule.
Houston Texans (6-10): They’ll face a formidable pass rush virtually every week — Von Miller, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Frank Clark, Cam Jordan and Gerald McCoy are among those on the non-divisional menu — which looks problematic for a line that allowed a league-high 62 sacks in 2018 yet doesn’t appear appreciably upgraded. The secondary may also be in significant trouble without DBs Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson.
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4): If they can finally stave off the injury bug — Bosa, TE Hunter Henry and LB Denzel Perryman have their fingers crossed — the Bolts have as much talent as any team, particularly at the skill positions. They’re also battle-tested — let’s be honest, they basically play in front of a hostile crowd every week — capable of winning in any environment, to include a Super Bowl audience in South Florida on Feb. 2. (And wouldn’t it be kinda nice to see Philip Rivers join 2004 draft mates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger on the championship dais?)
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Will an overhauled defense jell quickly? Can league MVP Patrick Mahomes possibly approach the mind-boggling production he managed in his first year as a starter? Are the off-field distractions at an end with the NFL choosing not to suspend WR Tyreek Hill? Lots of questions, though K.C. is equipped to provide correct answers between the lines. Early tests as AFC West champs open with three of four on the road.
Oakland Raiders (5-11): ‘Hard Knocks’ should be fun. The offense should be a lot more fun with WR Antonio Brown and rookie RB Josh Jacobs. But the defense still appears suspect, especially up front. Wouldn’t bet on them heavily before they land in Vegas.
Denver Broncos (4-12): With new coach and accomplished defensive mastermind Vic Fangio calling the shots, they shouldn’t have to score many points to win games. Still, those points could be hard to come by with a new quarterback (Joe Flacco) and top playmakers Phillip Lindsay (wrist) and Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) returning from major injuries.
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): They’ve added intriguing pieces (DT Malik Jackson, WR DeSean Jackson and RBs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders). They’ve got promising youngsters like TE Dallas Goedert and CB Sidney Jones poised for bigger roles. And CB Ronald Darby, DE Derek Barnett and, of course, QB Carson Wentz return from injury to rejoin a championship-proven nucleus. Could be special if it all comes together. And December should be fun with the Iggles’ final four games against divisional foes.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7): Even if a team constantly mired in distractions extends every player in line for a new deal, the Jason Garrett issue remains. The head coach, who hasn’t gone to the playoffs in consecutive years since he was QB Troy Aikman’s backup in the 1990s, enters his ninth full season on the job in lame-duck status and apparently won’t get re-upped by owner Jerry Jones unless the reigning division champs are still playing next January.
New York Giants (5-11): They face the cross-town Jets and Darnold, who could have been a Giant had they not passed in last year’s draft, in Week 10. Then comes the bye. Already worth wondering if that might be the point when Big Blue installs its chosen successor to Manning, first-rounder Daniel Jones, into the lineup given the likelihood this team may only be playing for pride by Week 12.
Washington Redskins (3-13): They come out of the gate against three 2018 playoff clubs (Eagles, Cowboys, Bears) — all sporting nasty defenses. The ‘Skins also head to New England in Week 5. Might make sense to keep rookie QB Dwayne Haskins behind protective glass through that stretch … at minimum.
Minnesota Vikings (12-4): They took a step back with Kirk Cousins in 2018. For the sake of the team and its front office regime, it’s time to take two steps forward in 2019 — and Vikes have the firepower on both sides of the ball to make the same kind of deep run they did two years ago. Regular season ends with potentially crucial home dates against Packers and Bears.
Chicago Bears (11-5): Offense ranking 21st benefited greatly last season from defense’s 36 takeaways, a figure that will be very hard to replicate. Vikings and Packers should also resurface to make division less of a cakewalk. Tough early schedule with two prime-time games and a trip to London in first five weeks.
Green Bay Packers (9-7): They never missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons when Brett Favre was slinging it. You know ever-competitive Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to suffer such ignominy on his own watch, especially given the scrutiny he’s already under as it pertains to his relationship with new coach Matt LaFleur. Potentially pivotal back-to-back road games against Chiefs and Chargers in Weeks 8 and 9.
Detroit Lions (3-13): Difficult to envision coach Matt Patricia improving on his 6-10 debut. Four of their eight home dates come against 2018 playoff outfits — a figure that doesn’t include the Packers or Vikings. Two West Coast trips in season’s first half unlikely to help, either.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5): Another team that might catch people sleeping. With Dirk Koetter back to run the offense, head coach Dan Quinn taking over the defense and a clean injury report — was any team more decimated in 2018? — Dirty South Dirty Birds should be doubly dangerous.
New Orleans Saints (10-6): Can veteran group overcome consecutive playoff heartbreaks to take the Super Bowl step now? They’ll have to navigate challenging lineup, which begins with a Monday nighter followed by games in L.A. and Seattle. Saints must also play in Atlanta on Thanksgiving before concluding regular season with roadies in Nashville and Charlotte.
Carolina Panthers (8-8): A deep and highly athletic defensive line, which now includes DT Gerald McCoy, is going to be a nightmare for opposing passers. With final nine games in 1 p.m. ET window, this dangerous team could get into a late-season groove.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11): They had the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense in 2018 but couldn’t run the ball. As good a coach as Bruce Arians is, he’s got a major challenge trying to improve on that formula in such a brutal division while likely getting this one shot at salvaging Jameis Winston or else facing a major reboot in 2020.
San Francisco 49ers (10-6): Is anyone talking about them? Recovered QB Jimmy Garoppolo may have just one premier weapon (TE George Kittle) but has plenty of capable options to leverage in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Should be a joy to watch healthy group, which has consistently fought hard and remained highly capable despite dire circumstances of past two years.
Los Angeles Rams (9-7): Competition seems to be catching up to two-time defending division champs, who need Todd Gurley close to 100% in their bid to shake off the Super Bowl hangover that effects so many outfits that fall just short. And a rude wake-up call is coming with four of first five road contests in Eastern time zone.
Seattle Seahawks (9-7): I learned the hard way that the competitive fires continue to burn hot in the Pacific Northwest even if a lot of the familiar stars of yesteryear have faded. Still, QB Russell Wilson, who just became the NFL’s first $35-million-a-year player, hasn’t taken ‘Hawks to a Super Bowl since he was making third-rounder money and surrounded by high-priced talent. The new gauntlet has been thrown down as Wilson, Wagner and Wright try to reclaim their former glory while dealing with four 1 p.m. kickoffs on the East Coast plus a Sunday night game in Philly.
Arizona Cardinals (3-13): Can’t wait to see if No. 1 pick Kyler Murray takes the league by storm the way Oklahoma and Heisman-winning predecessor Baker Mayfield did (the duo will even square off in Week 15). But this all presumes new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack works effectively against NFL defenses (and doesn’t undermine Arizona’s) — though even teams caught off guard early on will catch a break against the Cardinals defense given suspended CB Patrick Peterson will miss six games.
Wild card: (3) Patriots def. (6) Jaguars; (4) Colts def. (5) Chiefs
Divisional: (3) Patriots def. (2) Steelers; (1) Chargers def. (4) Colts
AFC Championship Game: (1) Chargers def. (3) Patriots
Wild card: (3) Eagles def. (6) Saints; (5) Bears def. (4) 49ers
Divisional: (3) Eagles def. (2) Falcons; (5) Bears def. (1) Vikings
NFC Championship Game: (3) Eagles def. (5) Bears
Super Bowl LIV
Chargers def. Eagles