There’s a song by Lucy Dacus called “Night Shift”, and it’s someone taking the night shift to avoid seeing a former lover. That’s how I feel about the NFL; I’d like to take a night shift and avoid the NFL and in five years maybe all the songs will feel like covers. If I were EB Farnum and this were HBO’s Deadwood, I would now take Al Swearingen’s florid dialogue (my use of “Night Shift” being the stand in for said florid dialogue) and distill it into an understandable component for the audience.
So, as EB Farnum, I say that this is an NFL preview done by someone who had three concussions and several broken bones playing the sport and who fell out of love with it about five years ago, so keep that in mind. Okay here we go buckle UP!!!!!
In Order of Regular Season Finish
Kansas City Chiefs
An easy number one. They have the best player in the league in Patrick Mahomes, the second-best offensive mind in Andy Reid, and solid continuity from a team that should’ve gone to the Super Bowl. They added LB Dee Ford, DE Frank Clark, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and LB Darron Lee in trades and signed S Tyrion Mathieu in free agency, while releasing LB Justin Houston and S Eric Berry.
Houston and Berry have had exemplary careers with the Chiefs, but they made up for their loss with the players acquired. Berry especially hurts because of his persistence in battling back from cancer, and I hope he signs with another team and gets another shot.
The Chiefs needed to do very little to upgrade their offense, but spent their first round pick on wide receiver Mecole Hardman. If he’s ready to produce, he’ll open things up for both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
Cleveland Browns Baker
Baker Mayfield looks like the next great quarterback, and he seems to have a good bond with head coach Freddie Kitchens. They have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make a real difference, especially in a division that is in such turmoil. Adding Odell Beckham Jr. to an already talented offense is an obscene well of talent, and I expect them to turn it on early and not look back.
Myles Garrett, almost as much as Mayfield, holds the key to turning this team into a Super Bowl champion. If he continues to progress the way he has his first years in the league, he’ll be a JJ Watt-esque type defender, and able to disrupt an always-increasingly pass-oriented league.
New England Patriots
This one is simple: they have Tom Brady, they have Bill Belichick, and nothing else really matters until they show that they can’t make it work. We started to see signs of Brady declining last year, looking a little unsure in some big spots, but still conjured the magic to win the Super Bowl for the sixth time.
Josh Gordon has been reinstated, and if he’s able to keep things in order, he’ll be the kind of wide receiver weapon that the team hasn’t had since Randy Moss left ten years ago. They’ll need it, with Gronk retired.
This is predicated almost totally on my belief in Lamar Jackon becoming a franchise quarterback. I think he’s got the ability to be more than his critics say, as I think he’s one of the smartest quarterbacks in his rookie class. He’s with a solid, accomplished coach in John Harbaugh, and I think NFL-baugh has become underrated.
The Ravens added Earl Thomas, one of the best safeties of all time, to their defensive backline. He’s healing from a leg injury that ended his last season with the Seahawks, and that makes this a risk; but his talent is so great, and his skill so refined, that it’s a small risk compared to the reward.
It’s an odd feeling, picking the Ravens to go 12-4 and finish second. The Browns are just that good.
With the stunning news of Andrew Luck’s retirement, the Texans are now the easy favorite to win the division. They have the best quarterback in Deshaun Watson, the best wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, and nobody else in the division now looks like a challenge.
Two things might hold them back: Bill O’Brien at head coach, and the loss of Lamar Miller at running back. O’Brien, to be generous, is limited as a head coach (or has shown every indication of being limited), and with Miller out, he loses a weapon that might have made up for his shortcomings. Still, with the Colts losing Luck, they should win the division with relative ease.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers go as Philip Rivers goes, and with Melvin Gordon holding out, the pressure will only increase on the aging quarterback’s shoulders. With quarterbacks playing well into their late thirties and early forties, it’s hard to know when the decline will come. They need to protect him better; 32 sacks isn’t horrible protection, but the reason that Brady and Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have and did last for so long, is that they started getting the ball out of their hands quicker.
On defense, they’re helmed by Gus Bradley, back for his third season. He’s a very good defensive coordinator, and obviously it’ll be important to be defensively sound to take pressure of Philip Rivers.
The Steelers are at an inflection point. Ben Rothlesberger, should he be the Hall of Famer he has been, is in his late thirties. Mike Tomlin, a good coach in his second decade coaching the Steelers, has had a run of locker room trouble and less than satisfying seasons (for the Steelers, anyway). With the perceived problems of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell gone, there is hope that they will be more in-sync as a team.
They are still one of the premier franchises, and Mike Tomlin and Big Ben are still Mike Tomlin and Big Ben, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them push for the playoffs and surprise everyone. But it seems like its getting later and later in the day for this current iteration of the long-running Steelers success.
I like Marcus Mariota. I think he’s a good leader, with a good arm, and a strong intellect. But this team is not winning. Injuries are a problem, a less than wonderfully talented roster is another, and coaching has been more or less suspect; but at a certain point, the quarterback is the guy, and if the team isn’t winning, then something might need to change.
Mike Vrabel is a smart person, and his job as the head coach last year was at least adequate, but I do think that he’ll need to show that he’s ready for the next leap. If Mariota isn’t better this year than last year, and if the Titans seemed doomed to the treadmill just beneath mediocrity, then things might change quickly.
I have no idea what they’re doing, and I suspect they don’t either. Signing Nick Foles to that large of a deal is baffling. Having Tom Coughlin as your head of whatever football stuff is baffling. Alienating your best player in Leonard Fournette is baffling. The Jaguars entire existence is baffling.
They’ve got some talent on the roster, and with the Colts headed to hell, they could hang around. Who knows.
If you think the Jaguars are baffling, the Raiders will completely blow your mind. I’ve never seen a team do the complete right thing (trade players for good draft picks) and also the complete wrong thing (literally everything else). If, like, a person who even halfway knew what they were doing were in charge of things, I’d be optimistic for their future. But if a million monkeys over a million years could write every work of Shakespeare, then a bad front office and a bad head coach could build both an ideal situation and the bomb that they plan on destroying it with.
Also: the Vegas deal is bad for Nevada taxpayers. Shame on Mark Davis, Sheldon Adelson, and the corrupt government in Las Vegas. The fans are good though. I don’t blame them for wanting a cool sports franchise. The people we elect to make decisions in our stead as we try to live our lives should and do know better.
Josh Allen is weirdly athletic. That’s it. Send tweet.
There’s a new head coach in town, after a seemingly unending number of years under Marvin Lewis. I give Marvin Lewis more credit than most, because with the notorious spendthrift-ery of the Bengals, it must’ve been a difficult place to work in. I also think he maximized Andy Dalton, a quarterback with a specific range of skills and a good work ethic, which is the mark of a talented offensive mind. But there were plenty of other mistakes made under his command, on all three sides of the ball, and nearing twenty years with one team is too much, even for the most successful.
The Bengals are, especially with the injury of AJ Green, in a rebuilding year in my opinion. I’ve been wrong before.
Andrew Luck is out, Jim Irsay is still the owner, and Jacoby Brissett is asking galaxy-brain questions to a large twitter audience. I award them several yikes. Then again, I do like Frank Reich as head coach, and their offensive line, and Chris Ballard, who put together a good roster. Losing a quarterback this close to the season, though, is too much I think for any team to overcome. Any team not named the Patriots, anyway.
Also: Andrew Luck is a good player and a good person and he’s smart to walk away when he’s not enjoying the game anymore. Who cares when it was. The person is always more important than the season.
New York Jets
Sam Darnold is talented. I like Le’Veon Bell. I haven’t been a Patriots fan in four years. I still don’t like the Jets. My biggest issue, that aside, with the Jets, is that Adam Gase is a better offensive coordinator than a head coach, and now he has the added responsibility of front office work. There’s been almost five or more instances of a head coach-front office combo working, and though I apologize for going out on such a limb, I don’t think Adam Gase is going to be one of the ones who makes it work.
I like Josh Rosen. I think Brian Flores playing Jay-Z to challenge Kenny Stills shows bad leadership on his part. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a player I have long defended, seems to be the prime contender to start the year at QB. The Dolphins deserve to be bad, and I think they will be.
John Elway started off with some of the best front office work of the last decade. He’s erased most of it in the last two years. The quarterback situation is more than likely going to be a disaster, they’re stuck in a weird ownership tangle that’ll make it harder to make good decisions, and frankly I think this team has earned the right to be bad, just like the Dolphins. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m not going to spend much time thinking about this if I am.
In Order Of Regular Season Finish
Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay is both an excellent offensive coordinator and a good manager of his players. Jared Goff is the perfect example of what I’m talking about; he’s got talent, but also some noticeable weaknesses, and instead of wasting time turning Goff into someone he wasn’t, he was made into the best he could be.
They have a talented roster on both sides, energized fans finding their way home, and a year of playoff experience against the best and most complete dynasty in the history of football. They’ll be back there again this year, and if they aren’t, it’ll be an awful disappointment.
I grew up in Atlanta, I think Matt Ryan is a Hall of Famer, and Julio Jones is really great and a Hall of Famer, too. That’s it. This is like the Buffalo Bill’s preview, except it’s more homeristic and much less rational, send tweet.
Carson Wentz is a talented quarterback and if he stays healthy they’ll dominate a weak division. Doug Pederson has proved, to Michael Lombardi and everyone else, that he’s a very good head coach. The Eagles have been at the forefront of the analytical changes in the NFL, and with the league being as slow to adapt, that alone could keep them on top for several years.
They also have very good fans who care a bunch and they were also the architects of the most satisfying moment of my life (seeing my former fandom friends the Patriots lose to a backup quarterback), so I’m giving them a Thumbs Up.
Mitch “Mitchel” Trubisky is a talented quarterback who operates much like the color spectrum, if the color spectrum at one end was really good and the color spectrum at the other end was really bad. Like most teams in the pass-happy NFL (and football in general), they go where their quarterback goes. Their talented defense could drag them to a title, but a crab can count on one hand where that happened without a good quarterback.
My belief in their division victory boils down to Vic Fangio being Very Good and that defense being VERY Good and maybe even for Mitchell “Mitch” Trubisky making a tiny leap. Good luck to the Bears!!!!
Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback with rabid fans and that’s enough to get them over the top. Their biggest issues are strength of division (Arizona Cardinals don’t read this……. Los Angeles Rams, hello) and their vaunted Legion of Boom finally blowing away in the wind with the loss of Earl Thomas to the Ravens.
They, uh, also have some potential chemistry issues, with the way that Earl Thomas gave them a middle finger after he was being carted off with a broken leg. That can’t be a good thing. But, maybe losing one of the great safeties of all time will even out with an improved chemistry. Optimism! The West Coast is really nice and people like living there!
New Orleans Saints
Brees struggled the second half of the season, and even with the talent they have I don’t think they’ll be able to survive their division without him at full strength. If he’s 75 percent of what he was last year, they’ll probably take the wild card, but that’s a lot to ask of any quarterback of his age.
I think Sean Payton is one of the great coaches of all time and he’ll figure things out to the best of his ability. I like, too having Teddy Bridgewater there, who is one of my favorite young quarterbacks, though I think that’s more of a “future goodness” thing than a good thing for now.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is really good, but I think there’s going to be a little bit of a learning adjustment with the new coaching staff. If things break right, they’ll burn through their division. I’m playing it conservative, because you just never know with someone as mercurial as Rodgers and as new to this as head coach Matt Lafleur, but it’s definitely an improvement over Mike McCarthy and his….. I want to call them Goat Massages but I think I’m mixing up the goat that Robert Sarver put in his former GM’s office and the regular massages than McCarthy definitely got, also in his office.
Also: what’s going on, Mike? Don’t get massages like that. Nobody likes that [extremely Fallout 4 on screen text] Nobody Liked That.
Jason Garrett is a treadmill. Dak Prescott is good but on the Jason Garrett Treadmill. Zeke Elliot is a running back and your best player being a running back is a good way to close games that you are currently losing. Amari Cooper is a bright spot that will hopefully be used as he was last year, and if he’s able to form a stronger bond with Dak than the year before, they might actually be able to make some noise.
Then again: Jerry Jones, and all that. Who knows: NFC East (?) Division.
Ron Rivera has been around with the Panthers too long, with many of the same problems. Cam Newton has his faults, but he’s also getting his butt kicked every year and at some point blaming him for their failures is less a failure of critical imagination and more a failure of critical ambition (also racism in some [many] cases).
Christian McCaffrey will be the most important player on the field; not because he’s the best player, but because he has to take some pressure off of Cam. Defenses need to have to adjust for him, and cut back on their pass rush, with him as a threat for Cam to dump the ball. That’s a tall task.
Also, Marty Hurney is back.
San Francisco 49ers
I really, really like Jimmy G. I really, really like Kyle Shanahan. John Lynch has been a strange GM so far. Jimmy G has looked amazing in the preseason and Richard Sherman on defense has enough skill and guile and energy left in the tank to drive them to or near a playoff berth. If Jimmy G is the franchise quarterback they think he is, then they could win this division on his power alone. We saw what happened the last time Kyle Shanahan worked with a franchise QB. It might go better this time.
Matthew Stafford is a talented quarterback who has never lived up to the considerable promise he possess. Matt Patricia improved as a coach over the season but still has room to grow. The Lions have a stink on them, and in the difficult division they find themselves in, it’s gonna be hard to win and wash that smell off of them.
I want them to be good, and think they have all the pieces, but they’ve never been able to put them all together. I hope that they do this year.
Mike Zimmer is a good coach, but I think they’ve staked themselves to the wrong quarterback in Kirk Cousins. I think he’s maximized his skills under the current way that he plays, and the rest of the roster is talented but with holes to fill. This is a tough division and no wins will be easy and I’m fairly pessimistic on their chances.
Kyler Murray is going to be great, Kliff Kingsbury has interesting ideas but might not be the right man to implement them, and the Cardinals owner is a jerk. That’s all I have to say. Oh, also, Cardinals fans deserve better. They’ve been loyal to bad teams and they deserve better ownership.
New York Giants
Maybe I’m wrong about Daniel Jones, and Dave Gettleman, and the logic of drafting Saquon Barkley second overall, and trading OBJ to the Browns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Washington Professional Football Team
No three times.
- Patriots v Steelers
- Texans v Ravens
- Patriots v Steelers
- Eagles v Saints
- Bears v Seahawks
- Eagles v Saints
- Chiefs v Ravens
- Browns v Patriots
- Chiefs v Ravens
- Rams v Seahawks
- Falcons v Eagles
- Rams v Seahawks
- Chiefs v Browns
- Chiefs v Browns
- Rams v Falcons
- Rams v Falcons
- Chiefs v Rams
Senior Editor for The Ball Out: Hunter Bishop has been published over two hundred times on topics such basketball, television, and film. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, and is nearing the completion of his MFA in Stage and Screenwriting. He has written for Uproxx, Swish Appeal, TVOvermind, the award-winning local newspaper the Henry Herald, and many others.