2019 Staff Predictions
Compiled by Vincent Verhei
This is one of our favorite features to write every year.
It is also one of our most hated features to write every year. Every group of football fans -- be they fantasy leaguers, officemates, drinking buddies, television crews, or in our case, a loose-knit collection of laptop warriors enslaved to our Internet connections -- loves to debate and discuss which teams will excel in the ensuing season, and which will suck. For our crew, it's an especially sweet time. After months of squinting at spreadsheets preparing our annual Football Outsiders Almanac (still available!), we get to put the data aside and put our knowledge to the test. It's a chance to find out if we're as smart as we think we are. The downside, though, is that our picks are on the record. Here's what we thought would happen in past seasons:
So here's your standard warning: Predictions are probably wrong. It is the intrinsic nature of the NFL. There are so many variables and so much luck involved in a 16-game season that teams will make the playoffs or bomb for totally unexpected and sometimes baffling reasons. We can only guess.
Let's say we think the New Orleans Saints have the best chance of any team in the NFL to make it to the Super Bowl. Let's say we think they'll make it 24 percent of the time, which happen to be the odds based on our most recent simulation. Imagine then that 15 other teams in the NFC each have a 5 or 6 percent chance to make it to the Super Bowl.
OK, so we pick New Orleans to win the NFC. Even based solely on this opinion, there is a 3-in-4 chance the pick will be incorrect. So all preseason predictions are going to be mostly wrong. It is unavoidable.
As we note every year, we're going to make picks anyway, because that's part of running a football site: you make picks.
Then again, if we each picked our 12 playoff teams, there would be a lot of overlap and you wouldn't learn a lot. Instead, we're showing our individuality by each arguing with our own statistical forecast, giving answers to questions such as "which team is most likely to beat its projection?" and "who will go first in the 2019 NFL draft?" (Our college writers made similar projections about the F/+ college football projections in this article last week.) However, the official FO predictions are based on the statistical projection system, even when the output looks a little strange. You can find those projections here, and as a reminder, the updated playoff forecast is:
AFC divisions: New England, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh, Houston
AFC wild cards: Kansas City, Baltimore
NFC divisions: New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia, Detroit
NFC wild cards: Seattle, Dallas
Super Bowl: New Orleans over New England
First Pick in the Draft: Miami Dolphins
"Officially," we are projecting just one new playoff team in each conference. In the AFC, we see Indianapolis falling out of the postseason and Pittsburgh taking their place. In the NFC, we're predicting Detroit to take Chicago's spot as NFC North champions, but the race in that division is bonkers-tight -- The Lions, Bears, Packers, and Vikings are separated by only 0.3 wins in our simulations.
We often say -- even though some people don't seem to ever hear it -- that we do not believe that our statistical methods are perfect. Our subjective views are informed by our objective numbers, but not dictated by them. However, we want to make this clear: EACH OF THE OPINIONS LISTED BELOW IS THE OPINION OF THAT WRITER AND THAT WRITER ONLY. These are not "Football Outsiders predicts."
And now: here are your 2019 staff predictions.
Ed. Note: For the record, all of the following mentions of Antonio Brown were written before news broke that the Raiders were considering suspending him.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO BEAT ITS FOA PROJECTION
Thomas Bassinger: New York Jets. The Jets don't strike me as a functional franchise, but they don't have to be to finish with a winning record (see the 2017 Bills). Sometimes it just takes a bit of luck. Though I'm expecting Sam Darnold will benefit from an improved supporting cast, that alone won't transform the Jets, who are full of question marks on defense. Can their cornerbacks hold up? Will a quality edge rusher materialize out of thin air? Fortunately for them, they will face the second-easiest schedule, according to our projections. Teams take advantage of soft schedules every season. In 2018, it was the Bears, Texans, and Colts. In 2017, it was the Bills, Jaguars, and Titans.
Dave Bernreuther: New England Patriots. Boring, I know, but the only way they don't win 11 games with that schedule is if a natural disaster hits their facility during the practice week. I could see them winning 13 or 14 games even if Tom Brady starts to show the occasional sign of age. The Falcons ought to get back up over .500 again as well, if only because they're too talented not to.
Derrik Klassen: Atlanta Falcons. Despite a brutal schedule and a tight division, I can't shake the feeling that the Falcons are going to be a strong team. The defense probably won't be significantly better than their 30th-place projections, but getting back safety Keanu Neal and Deion Jones for a full season may be enough to take them from bad to … OK-ish? Either way, it's the offense that really drives faith in the Falcons. Matt Ryan has been an elite quarterback for the past three seasons and there isn't much reason that should stop now. The team drafted two first-round offensive linemen and already has an elite wide receiver trio of Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu, and second-year star Calvin Ridley -- not to mention a decent tight end in Austin Hooper.
Bryan Knowles: San Francisco 49ers. Two years ago, everyone and their brother was on the 49ers' bandwagon. Then, everybody got hurt before the end of September and that was that. Garoppolo's first preseason outing aside, his return to the lineup should be a major boost to a team which was already better last year than the 4-12 record implied. It doesn't take much to boost last year's results to a more respectable record. The 49ers lost four games where they held a lead in the fourth quarter, in large part due to iffy quarterback play. Add in some reversion to the mean on defense (just two interceptions last year! Impossible!) and the potential for a really, really nasty pass rush, and you have a much-improved team. The NFC West is tough, but I'll predict that the 49ers' Week 17 game in Seattle will have a playoff spot on the line.
Rivers McCown: Baltimore Ravens. Their 8.5-win projection is built on regression staggering a defense that added Earl Thomas and a half-season of a pick-up offense. I'm betting that Lamar Jackson is good and the Ravens don't lose that much on defense, since they didn't force many turnovers last year anyway. I see them as a legitimate AFC contender rather than one of the pack as far as wild-card contenders.
Andrew Potter: Carolina Panthers. We project the Panthers to be roughly average this season. Their playoff chances and Super Bowl chances are both almost exactly what we would expect for an average team against an average schedule. Given the reworking that they've done, especially in the defensive front, I expect them to be significantly better than average. If he can stay healthy -- admittedly a big "if" -- this could easily be the best season of Cam Newton's career, and it has been a while since the Panthers have had a defense this talented. Injury's the big worry, as the roster is shallow in a lot of spots, but a healthy Panthers team is a dark horse contender in the NFC.
Aaron Schatz: Minnesota Vikings. I think there's something to Derrik Klassen's suggestion in this year's FOA Vikings chapter that the preseason death of Tony Sparano had something to do with the godawful offensive line play in Minnesota last year. I'm a believer that Kirk Cousins is at least an average NFL starter, not a bad one, and with a better offensive line and the receiving talent on this team, the offense should be better than its DVOA projection of 19th. We also know that the Rick Dennison/Gary Kubiak system tends to produce quality running games, and it seems pretty tailored to Dalvin Cook's talents. Finally, we know the defense has a ton of talent and should be pretty good. I like the Vikings to win the NFC North. (The other team I think will be better than our projections is Cleveland, because I think we're seeing too much regression from their defense in our formula.)
Scott Spratt: Denver Broncos. The Broncos underachieved in 2018 with a 6-10 record relative to their 7.4 Pythagorean wins, and while they rated better on defense (-9.7% DVOA, fifth) than offense (1.1% DVOA, 14th), they seem like a safer bet to avoid the heavy regression that defense-focused teams tend to experience. Not only have they finished top-10 in defensive DVOA each of the last five seasons, they zagged from the offensive play-calling head coach trend and hired the coordinator of last year's historically great Bears defense, Vic Fangio, as their new head coach. Whether or not Joe Flacco can spurn an offensive turnaround, better health likely will -- the Broncos were in the top 10 in adjusted games lost on offense in 2018.
Vincent Verhei: Cleveland Browns. I'm totally in on this team. I'm in on Baker Mayfield being a very special quarterback. I'm in on Odell Beckham being the rare wide receiver who can elevate on offense on his own. I'm in on Freddie Kitchens being a creative, innovative mind, the kind of young coach I hope to see a lot more of across the league in coming years in place of the usual retreads. And I'm very much in on the idea that an offseason without Hue Jackson is the kind of addition by subtraction for which our projection system cannot account.
Rob Weintraub: New York Jets. Purely a "Sam Darnold making the leap" projection here.
Carl Yedor: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Bruce Arians running the show and a plethora of weapons surrounding Jameis Winston, the offense should be able to take a step forward. While Todd Bowles often fielded somewhat below average defensive units as head coach of the Jets (in addition to one excellent unit), "somewhat below average" would represent quite the upgrade for a Bucs unit that finished dead stinkin' last in the league in defensive DVOA in both 2017 and 2018. If the defense is competent, Tampa Bay could easily push towards .500 even with a fairly tough schedule.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL SHORT OF ITS FOA PROJECTION
Thomas Bassinger: Houston Texans. It's always hard to count out the Texans, who have had a winning record in four of the past five seasons. Teams more flawed than this one have made the playoffs. Still, even after the trade for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, I don't trust this offensive line, nor do I trust Deshaun Watson's willingness to avoid hits. The defensive front looked like a strength until coach/de facto general manager Bill O'Brien traded Jadeveon Clowney. Last season, Houston had one of the NFL easiest schedules (29th); this season it has one of the most difficult (seventh).
Dave Bernreuther: Pittsburgh Steelers. They still have a lot of talent, but despite the stats, Ben Roethlisberger was quietly pretty bad last year, especially late, and he's not going to get any better with age. They open the year with a likely loss in New England, and by October with that schedule I think we might get bombarded with articles about "what's wrong in Pittsburgh," with most people still pointing at the losses of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell as the reason. By December, though, I think we might very well see a six-win Steelers team -- and its fans -- wishing they hadn't just committed $30 million a year to a quarterback whose fall from grace is likely to be just as pronounced as Eli Manning's. I also think that the Rams are likely to be a massive disappointment and possibly miss the playoffs this year, but 10-6 isn't too far outside the realm of possibility, which would still hit their over.
Derrik Klassen: Tennessee Titans. Some of the Titans' young offensive firepower is exciting. Derrick Henry is a bull who was quietly efficient last season, Corey Davis is on the precipice of being a real difference-maker, and Jonnu Smith is the kind of athletic tight end this league thrives on. Add in rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, who many believed was better than his college teammate D.K. Metcalf, and you've got an interesting offense. But until Marcus Mariota can prove to be effective and healthy for a full season, it's tough to buy into the Titans as a whole, much less seeing them finish with the 12th-place offense. The defense doesn't look much better, either. First-round pick Jeffrey Simmons will miss the entire season with injury and their next-best addition to a mediocre defense was a 37-year-old Cameron Wake. Can't sell me on any of that.
Bryan Knowles: Tennessee Titans. With Andrew Luck retiring, our numbers give the Titans the best chance of winning the AFC South. I don't see it. I see a much tougher schedule than last season, especially for the defense. I think the pass rush will take a step backwards with the losses of Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, which would have a knock-on effect to the rest of the defense. And I see Marcus Mariota on his third offensive coordinator in five years as the Titans still try to get him to play up to his post-draft pedigree. A few bad breaks, and you could have a double-digit-loss team in Nashville.
Rivers McCown: Oakland Raiders. Seven wins? In that division? With that coaching staff? I don't think the Raiders are going to see enough improvement from their 2018 picks and I also wasn't the biggest fan of their 2019 draft. I'm also not entirely convinced that Antonio Brown is going to stay on the reservation for a full season.
Andrew Potter: Los Angeles Chargers. Indianapolis is the obvious answer because of Andrew Luck's retirement, but it's also not particularly interesting for that reason, so I'm going to skip over them in favor of the Chargers. We project the second-best DVOA in the league for a team that outperformed most of its previous decade last year. Their best non-edge defender will miss most of the season through injury; the starting running back is in a contract holdout; the team has a negligible homefield advantage at the best of times and gives up a home game to its prospective major division rival; and the 37-year-old quarterback significantly outperformed his career average passing numbers last season. I don't expect the Chargers to be bad by any definition, but I do expect them to regress somewhat toward their own performance mean.
Aaron Schatz: Detroit Lions. I think I was clear about this in the updated DVOA projections article yesterday: Yes, I definitely understand why we're predicting a rebound for the Lions on both sides of the ball but no, I don't think they'll have a winning record or take home the NFC North title. Matthew Stafford was 11th in passing DVOA just two years ago but I don't think he's one of the top dozen quarterbacks in the league at this point. I like the addition of T.J. Hockenson long term but in the short term rookie tight ends rarely move the needle. The addition of Jesse James helped their projection but I think James' high DYAR last year was more the product of the Steelers offense than of James himself being a top-quality tight end. The defense is strong at defensive tackle and with Darius Slay as the No. 1 corner but there are big questions elsewhere. In particular, the loss of Jarrad Davis in the middle of the defense for at least half the season, and can Justin Coleman do what he did last year given that we know slot cornerback performance tends to be really inconsistent? I think the Lions go 7-9 or 8-8, which means we're probably more right about them than other prognosticators, but they're not winning the division. (Obviously, Indianapolis will probably underperform its FOA projection, but not its updated preseason projection from yesterday.)
Scott Spratt: Los Angeles Chargers. An overachieving Broncos team would likely come at the expense of another AFC West team. I think that's the Chargers, who have a slew of scheduled opponents I think could be a bit better than their projections. Beyond their divisional opponents, the Chargers draw the AFC South and NFC North, and also have to travel to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Detroit, and Chicago. Even if those teams are all a bit worse than the Chargers, they will be difficult to beat in their home stadiums. Meanwhile, the Chargers lost their do-everything safety Derwin James to injured reserve and could struggle to maintain a top-10 DVOA defense.
Vincent Verhei: Pittsburgh Steelers. This is largely a corollary to my Cleveland optimism -- if the Browns are going to be better than our projections, then someone else in the AFC North has to be worse, right? I think the loss of Antonio Brown will hurt here as much as the arrival of Odell Beckham will help in Cleveland, I think Ben Roethlisberger's odometer is looking bleak, and I think their lack of depth at cornerback could hurt them.
Rob Weintraub: Chicago Bears. The Vic Fangio loss will be felt.
Carl Yedor: Tennessee Titans. There are still serious questions about Marcus Mariota's future as a starter for the Titans, with Tennessee bringing in former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill as the backup. The team was fairly average in all phases of the game in 2018, but if Mariota doesn't take that next step forward, I wouldn't be surprised if Tennessee struggles to push past .500, even without Andrew Luck in their division.
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO BEAT HIS KUBIAK PROJECTION
Thomas Bassinger: Mark Andrews, TE, BAL. Maybe he's no longer a secret, but Andrews could be sneaky good (he ranks fourth on our top prospects list). Despite the Ravens' midseason change to the erratic Lamar Jackson, Andrews finished fourth in DYAR among tight ends (159), second in DVOA (36.2 percent), and fourth in average depth of target (11.4 yards). There's a chance that his efficiency was a bit of a fluke -- more than a quarter of his 552 receiving yards came on two plays -- but given that Baltimore likes to feature multiple tight ends, I'm expecting an increase in volume and for him to beat KUBIAK's modest projection of 43 catches and 578 yards.
Dave Bernreuther: Robert Foster, WR, BUF. I almost hope I'm wrong, because it's fun to laugh at Josh Allen doing Josh Allen things, but I think the Bills have done enough to open things up enough for Foster to have two or three huge games, which ought to be enough for him to get over a relatively low number. I am also bearish on the abilities of both John Brown and Zay Jones, which should mean that even as Cole Beasley gets a bunch of targets, Foster should still see plenty of deep balls and a touchdown here and there. (Now watch, the Bills will cut, trade, or bench Foster because of the investments they've made in the other guys.)
Derrik Klassen: James Washington, WR, PIT. Washington is a go/fade/post player. Coming from Mike Gundy's offense at Oklahoma State, Washington got plenty of experience getting vertical, and he is plenty good at it. In the absence of Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger will need to find a new favorite deep threat, and Washington is the best candidate. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a better receiver overall, no doubt, but he is more of an underneath and middle-of-field player. This is the perfect opportunity for a player like Washington to make a name for himself.
Bryan Knowles: Dak Prescott, QB, DAL. Even in his last two somewhat disappointing seasons, Prescott has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback, but we have him falling all the way to 16th. He gets Travis Frederick back in front of him to anchor the offensive line, and he gets a full season with Amari Cooper to throw to now. He averaged 16.0 fantasy points per game before Cooper arrived last season, and 19.3 PPG post-Cooper. I think he'll end up as a borderline QB1.
Rivers McCown: Mark Ingram, RB, BAL. Ingram is our PPR RB22 and I see that as about his floor. He has done solidly in the past as a pass-catching back, and while I think Justice Hill is the long-term future of pass-catching backs in Baltimore, I'm not sure Hill will establish himself in that role right away. Gus Edwards can't catch passes and Kenneth Dixon is never healthy. Ingram has paths to top-10 value if the Ravens run Lamar Jackson less, or if Hill never gets a foothold. I like those odds enough that I'm doubling down on Baltimore optimism.
Andrew Potter: Cameron Brate, TE, TB. Brate's worst season as a regular contributor to the Buccaneers offense is still 10 percent better than our projection for him this year. Bruce Arians has stated quite plainly that the Buccaneers will be a two-tight end offense, which makes sense with slot specialist Adam Humphries now in Tennessee. This situation should afford Brate more opportunities than he had last year under Todd Monken and Dirk Koetter. O.J. Howard is still the clear No. 1 on this depth chart, but Brate should snaffle considerably more than the 260 yards and lone touchdown we have in his KUBIAK projection.
Aaron Schatz: David Njoku, TE, CLE. I think this is his breakout year because I love tight ends from the U and I think that defenses keying on Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry should leave a lot of room for Njoku. I think I ended up drafting Njoku as the starter in my deeper leagues and a backup in my shallower leagues.
Scott Spratt: Darwin Thompson, RB, KC. Thompson fits the profile of the kind of player who could out-produce his late draft selection. He played just one year at a non-power school in Utah State, is short at just 5-foot-8, and fell short of standout athleticism with a 4.50-second 40 time at his pro day. However, Thompson was very efficient in his limited college opportunities, and he measured much better in the strength and elusiveness drills that better predict NFL performance than the more popular 40-yard dash. The secret has already started to come out with Thompson -- we just boosted his numbers in KUBIAK last week -- but I still think he could become the Chiefs' lead back more quickly than expected. Damien Williams had never reached 4.0 yards per carry in a season before last year, and he enjoyed incredibly favorable rushing opportunities in an explosive Chiefs passing offense.
Vincent Verhei: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA. Complete guess here, but Wilson is 10th in touchdown passes in KUBIAK. He has ranked higher than that five times in his seven seasons, and has ranked sixth or better three times in the last four years.
Rob Weintraub: Sam Darnold, QB, NYJ. Feels like his time is now, and with Le'Veon Bell to take some of the heat off him, Sudden Sam is poised for a big season.
Carl Yedor: Royce Freeman, RB, DEN. With a potentially more even workload split between Freeman and Phillip Lindsay combined with the addition of Mike Munchak (formerly of the Steelers) at offensive line coach, Freeman could see improved run-blocking in front of him when he totes the rock. Under Munchak's tutelage, the Steelers were frequently upper-echelon rushing teams. Denver is hoping that he can help work some of that magic in the Rocky Mountains in 2019.
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO FALL SHORT OF HIS KUBIAK PROJECTION
Thomas Bassinger: Antonio Brown, WR, OAK. Brown's the only receiver in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes and gain more than 1,200 yards in six straight seasons. True, the NFL has never been more pass-happy, but only three other receivers have done it three straight times (Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore, and Jerry Rice). KUBIAK projects that, at 31 years old, Brown will extend the streak to seven seasons. I'm skeptical, mainly because he no longer has a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback throwing passes to him. Then again, during Moore's streak, Scott Mitchell was the primary passer.
Dave Bernreuther: Deshaun Watson, QB, HOU. After what I said above about Big Ben, you might think I'd go there, but I still think Roethlisberger will put up some decent if meaningless numbers. Watson, while I like him more than many, is one blown block from getting killed, and one skill player injury from having to do everything himself. I think he'll still be fine in the real world, but I don't see him as the fifth-best fantasy player of 2019.
Derrik Klassen: George Kittle, TE, SF. No, this doesn't have anything to do with believing Kittle is overrated. He is fantastic and few people would argue otherwise. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan brought in a number of new pass-catching options. Running back Tevin Coleman, who played under Shanahan in Atlanta, immediately becomes the team's best pass-catching back. At least one of the team's two rookie wide receivers (Deebo Samuels and Jalen Hurd) should be an upgrade over most of last year's unit, and second-year receiver Dante Pettis is set to take huge strides toward becoming a top-class receiver. Again, Kittle is great, but a lot would have to go wrong elsewhere for him to dwarf his teammates' production for a second year in a row.
Bryan Knowles: Le'Veon Bell, RB, NYJ -- at least, in non-PPR leagues. Don't get me wrong; I'm still taking Bell in the first round -- just not if I'm at the top of the draft board. We haven't seen Bell on the field since January of 2018, and now he's adapting to a new offense in a new place. Our projections have him picking up basically where he left off in Pittsburgh; 1,300 yards and a dozen touchdowns. The touchdown number, specifically, concerns me. I don't think the Jets' offense is going to be as successful as the Steelers' offense; nor do I think Bell's going to score a third of New York's touchdowns. In a world where it's harder and harder to find 250-carry guys, Bell's still worth a first-round pick, but I'm not convinced he'll be a top-five fantasy back.
Rivers McCown: Zach Ertz, TE, PHI. TE3 for us, and I think he's a great player. I just think there are so, so many mouths to feed in this Eagles offense. I'm expecting a targets cut and I think he'll finish closer to TE10 than TE1.
Andrew Potter: Antonio Brown, WR, OAK. Brown is a great player, but he's going from a perennial playoff contender with a possible Hall of Fame quarterback to a perennial bottom-feeder with a guy they're widely expected to move on from next summer. While the helmet situation looks more and more like a P.R. stunt with every passing day, better receivers than Brown have become disgruntled in the Raiders organization. He's the clear No. 1 receiver on the Raiders, but I'm not sure that David Carr throwing him the ball keeps him as a clear No. 1 on your fantasy team.
Aaron Schatz: George Kittle, TE, SF. Kittle is very talented but he was just so dependent on YAC last year. And I know Kyle Shanahan's offense is excellent at designing plays that get YAC for a wide-open tight end but still, man, was Kittle super-dependent on YAC last year. He had 4.7 YAC+ when no other tight end with at least 50 targets was above 3.0.
Scott Spratt: Jarvis Landry, WR, CLE. The Browns became the toast of football by stockpiling talent that could include Landry, Odell Beckham, Rashard Higgins, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt (once his suspension ends). Baker Mayfield looks like a star, but that would be too many mouths to feed for any quarterback. KUBIAK projects 148 targets for Beckham and 122 targets for Landry, but Landry was one of 2018's least efficient receivers with -111 DYAR and -22.2% DVOA. The "good stats, bad team" label doesn't make as much sense in football because bad teams make life so much harder for receivers, but that never stopped Beckham from adding value to his poor Giants teams. I wouldn't be surprised to Beckham earn twice as many targets as Landry this season, making Landry the odd man out of an explosive Browns offense.
Vincent Verhei: Tom Brady, QB, NE. This is now three or four years in a row, maybe more, that I have named Brady in this space, but we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to old quarterbacks having successful seasons. There have been a total of 38 touchdowns in NFL history thrown by players of Brady's age or older; the single-season record is 11 by Warren Moon with the Seahawks in 1998.
Rob Weintraub: Antonio Brown, WR, OAK. Forget the noise -- now he's going to discover what it feels like not to have Ben Roethlisberger tossing him the ball.
Carl Yedor: Zach Ertz, TE, PHI. Ertz remains a talented player and should be a very productive piece of the Philadelphia offense. However, there are more mouths for Carson Wentz to feed this season, so it would not be a shock to see Ertz's volume decrease, with high-value red zone targets shifting to a healthy Alshon Jeffery, second-year tight end Dallas Goedert, and rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Arcega-Whiteside was a dominant red zone threat in his time at Stanford, and while 2019 may be too early for him to make a major impact, I would not be surprised if the Eagles make use of his ability to box out and make contested catches.
SUPER BOWL LIV WINNER AND LOSER
Thomas Bassinger: New Orleans Saints over New England Patriots. As if the Patriots need any breaks, they're projected to have the NFL's softest schedule, which means their path to Super Bowl LIV in Miami should be relatively easy, assuming the Steelers, Chargers, or Chiefs don't discover the secret to winning playoff games at Foxborough. The only question is, what act of God (or officiating) will get in the Saints' way this time? If the Patriots get bounced and we don't get Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees, I'll settle for the next best thing: Andy Reid vs. the Clock.
Dave Bernreuther: Kansas City Chiefs over Carolina Panthers. The Chiefs aren't going to roll through the regular season to the top seed like last year; in fact, I could see them having to play three AFC playoff games, although Andrew Luck's retirement certainly helps their chances of a bye. Their defense doesn't inspire any confidence whatsoever, and they weren't the same team last year without Kareem Hunt. But picking the Patriots again is too easy, and even if/when Patrick Mahomes' fantasy numbers come back to the field a bit, that offense is terrifying. The Pats could still run all over them the way they did the Chargers last January, but Mahomes isn't late-season Rivers. Meanwhile, in the NFC, I see Drew Brees fading late and the Rams fading in general. If Cam Newton is healthy, and Carolina's defense is as scary as that front seven looks, and Christian McCaffrey stays healthy ... well, maybe it's still not super likely. But if they get there, then I'll be on the record here looking really smart.
Derrik Klassen: Philadelphia Eagles over New England Patriots. Sure, we've seen this movie before, but some great movies deserve a sequel. The Eagles are primed to get back to their 2017 form, while the Patriots are, well, the Patriots. Philadelphia's plethora of pass-catchers and elite offensive strategy just might be enough to topple Tom Brady and Bill Belichick once more.
Bryan Knowles: New Orleans Saints over New England Patriots. I wanted to pick against the Patriots; I really, really did. But with the Chiefs and Chargers smashing into each other out west, the Steelers navigating the post-Killer Bs era in the north, and the injury-ravaged south, the path to another Patriots 1-seed and a Super Bowl trip seems as smooth as ever. So I'll take an NFC team to knock 'em down, with Drew Brees giving the Big Easy their second Lombardi Trophy by a score of, oh, 29-27.
Rivers McCown: Philadelphia Eagles over New England Patriots Ooh, who can I jinx into not making the playoffs in the NFC this year? Give me the Eagles over the Patriots.
Andrew Potter: New Orleans Saints over Kansas City Chiefs. The battle of the two No. 1 seeds ends with Drew Brees riding off into the sunset as the all-time leader in career passing touchdowns and a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Aaron Schatz: Kansas City Chiefs over New Orleans Saints. I'm sorry, I don't want to pick the Patriots, it's boring. And for the Patriots, the Chargers, and even the Saints, I worry a little bit about the trend where older quarterbacks tend to decline a bit in December and January. Not always, Tom Brady didn't last year, but they tend to. I do think our projection system is overestimating how much the Kansas City offense will regress towards the mean, so I think they'll be one of the top teams in the league again. It will sure help for them to beat the Chargers for the division title, but the Derwin James injury and Russell Okung's blood clots really help with that. In the NFC, I'm behind our numbers on New Orleans as the most balanced team although I do like the Eagles and Rams as well.
Scott Spratt: Kansas City Chiefs over Philadelphia Eagles. Andrew Luck's unexpected retirement removed one of an already small number of AFC contenders. The Chiefs have many of the same schedule headaches that I think could derail the Chargers, but Patrick Mahomes had a 44.6% road DVOA in 2018. With any kind of defensive improvements, he can win in the playoffs in New England or Pittsburgh if they fail to secure home-field advantage. The NFC is more wide open, but many of its best teams such as the Saints, Seahawks, and Falcons seem more reliant on home games to make it through the playoffs. I think that should help the Eagles, who draw the third-easiest projected schedule. And while they may have fewer stars than the other top NFC teams, they may have the greatest depth.
Vincent Verhei: Philadelphia Eagles over Los Angeles Chargers. I was in Vegas last month and put money on the Eagles and Chargers to win their respective conferences. A few days later Derwin James got hurt, because of course he did. But I'll stick with the same two teams anyway -- James injury aside, they seem like the deepest, most complete rosters in the league.
Rob Weintraub: New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers. As ever.
Carl Yedor: New England Patriots over Philadelphia Eagles. While New England was not as dominant during the regular season as we've been accustomed to in 2018, Bill Belichick shut down the vaunted Rams offense in the Super Bowl to bring home another ring. At this point, New England has earned default AFC champion status until someone proves otherwise, though the Chiefs are certainly worthy challengers. Philadelphia should be able to expect improved health this year after finishing worst in the league in adjusted games lost, and even with all the injuries, the Eagles still managed to make the divisional round.
WITH THE NO. 1 PICK IN THE DRAFT, [TEAM] PICKS [PLAYER]
Thomas Bassinger: The Arizona Cardinals select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. Also, the Cardinals fire Kliff Kingsbury and pry Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. General manager Steve Keim stays. Nah. That's crazy. A team would never give up on their first-round quarterback and new coach after just one season.
Dave Bernreuther: The Cincinnati Bengals select someone that's not even on any of our radars yet, but is probably a quarterback. Call me crazy, but I don't think all that much of Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. But maybe the Dolphins still will, and will end up getting one of them anyway even though they'll be more mediocre than they hope again this year, but in the wrong direction.
Derrik Klassen: Denver Broncos select Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon. Denver's schedule and disaster potential on offense make them a decent candidate to end up at the top of the draft. Investing in another quarterback seems excessive, but Joe Flacco has no dead cap on his contract and Drew Lock wasn't a first-round pick. We all know John Elway will keep swinging for a quarterback so long as he has the job. Herbert -- a tall, strong-armed, athletic passer -- fits Elway's mold to a T and would be the best quarterback prospect he has drafted over the past few years. Not that the bar is very high for Elway's quarterback drafting, but y'know, it counts for something.
Bryan Knowles: The Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. I DID have Washington taking Andrew Thomas here, but then Miami shifted their tank up two notches, so I have to go with what I assume will be a unanimous opinion. And, if they're drafting No. 1, then Josh Rosen didn't turn out to be an answer. That means the Dolphins are going Tua-and-14.
Rivers McCown: The Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.
Andrew Potter: The Las Vegas Raiders trade the farm for the right to select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.
Aaron Schatz: Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. Sorry to go with chalk but it's hard to pick someone other than Miami after the Laremy Tunsil trade dropped Miami's preseason DVOA projection even further. The question is whether the top quarterback will be Tagovailoa or some freshman that nobody right now is even thinking about. Or Jalen Hurts after he wins the Heisman Trophy in Lincoln Riley's offense.
Scott Spratt: Oakland Raiders (via trade with Washington Redskins) take Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.
Vincent Verhei: Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. Here's what I wrote before last week's trade: "This feels too obvious, but I look at Miami's schedule and struggle to find games they might win. Even the Jets and Bills look to have separated themselves from the Dolphins, and there aren't many patsies on a slate that includes the AFC North and NFC East. The Week 6 game against Washington could decide who ends up picking No. 1 in 2020." Post-trade? I have no idea how a Miami offense whose best player is Ryan Fitzpatrick finds a way to win a game.
Rob Weintraub: Cincinnati Bengals select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. Hey, a kid can dream, can't he?
Carl Yedor: Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. Pretty chalky here. Miami is worst in our projections by a hefty amount. Tua is generally regarded as the best quarterback prospect in this year's draft class (with respect to Justin Herbert, and maybe one or two others), though I could see Miami potentially going another direction if A) they like what they see from Josh Rosen or B) they want to wait for Trevor Lawrence in 2021.