Every season the NFL playoff picture changes dramatically, with almost half of the 12 team field changing on a year to year basis. Here are three teams that will leap into January and three that could go back to their mediocre ways.
1: San Francisco 49ers
Record last year: 4-12
Predicted record for 2019: 10-6
Last season’s 49ers were hampered with injuries from start to finish, with offensive stars Jerrick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo going down before October. This caused San Fran to finish 4-12 and get the #2 pick in the NFL Draft. Nick Bosa will help bolster an already stacked defensive line. George Kittle had a breakout year with Nick Mullens at quarterback, so just imagine what he and Jimmy G could do. Telvin Coleman will help add running back depth to a team that needs it, with Matt Breida being the only other option. If the 49ers can finally avoid injuries, they could win the NFC West or at least make the playoffs.
2: Atlanta Falcons
Record last year: 7-9
Predicted Record for 2019: 10-6
Similar to San Francisco, Atlanta lost way too many key players to injury last season to remain competitive. That included Devonta Freeman and their whole defense, including stars such as Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen. In the draft Atlanta picked Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, two guards in the 1st round. People forget that Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the sport, and he’s throwing to Julio Jones, a guy who is an underrated superstar. Getting these key players back should rejuvenate a Falcons team that has been unable to overcome their 28-3 Super Bowl heartbreak and give them a chance at a playoff spot.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Record last year: 8-7-1
Predicted Record for 2019: 10-6
2018 was a year filled with fluke losses for the Steelers. Their tie with the Browns, their last second loss to the Raiders, and their terribly officiated losses to the Chargers and Saints all could’ve gone the other way. The last year hasn’t been kind to Steelers fans. From losing a home playoff game to the Jaguars, to Le’veon Bell sitting out, to Antonio Brown throwing a three month long tantrum and demanding a trade, it wasn’t looking good for Pittsburgh. However, the Steelers offense is still filled with talent, and there is a playoff spot wide open. Here are my AFC predictions as of right now.
The Steelers could win their division, but if they don’t, the 6th seed is still wide open. I have more faith in the Steelers than I have in the Texans, Jags, Jets, or Bills. James Conner and JuJu Smith Schuster are two of my favorite players in the league, and I think Pittsburgh will bounce back and make the playoffs.
1: Los Angeles Rams
Record last year: 12-4
Predicted Record for 2019: 9-7
“Super Bowl Hangover” is real and it will hurt this Rams team. Sean McVay’s offense came into the Super Bowl looking hungover already, and they only scored 3 points in the most exciting game of the 21st century. Todd Gurley was one of the main reasons this team was so dominant last year, and he has knee tendinitis. The Rams schedule is also a lot harder, as they travel in games against the Panthers, Steelers, Falcons, Seahawks and Cowboys. Los Angeles has lots of talent, but after taking two steps forward, they will take one step back this year.
2: Baltimore Ravens
Record last year: 9-7
Predicted record for 2019: 6-10
The Ravens will learn the painful lesson that all teams with run-first quarterbacks eventually learn — it’s not a winning formula in the NFL. It will only take one hit from a roided out linebacker to put RGIII back into professional football.
The addition of Mark Ingram will help, he’s a very good running back, but he’s not a difference maker by himself. The Ravens have a lack of talent elsewhere at the offensive skill positions, have a QB who is always one QB draw from getting obliterated, and a defense that’s lost its leaders in CJ Mosley and Terrell Suggs. With the Browns looking like contenders on paper, and the Steelers always reliable, look for the Ravens to have a hard time staying competitive in the AFC North.
3. Houston Texans
Record last year: 11-5
Predicted record for 2019: 8-8
Bill O’Brien’s squad has the misfortune of playing in the same division as Nick Foles and the Jaguars, Andrew Luck and the Colts, and Derrick Henry. That leaves the Texans and their uninspiring team to battle for an AFC wild card berth with the Steelers, Jets, Jags and Chiefs or Chargers.
Houston’s defensive line stars Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt together have shown flashes of dominance, but one or both have been injured too frequently to count on them as real difference makers over the course of a season. The loss of stud safety Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson to the Chiefs and Broncos won’t help their cause either.
The Texans drafted tackle Tytus Howard from Alabama State in the first round instead of literally any other football player on Earth, which will prove to be a mistake. The Texans are counting on Howard to make a difference in their O-line after giving up a league-worst 62 sacks last season.
Still, none of it matters because QB Deshaun Watson is running for his life and O’Brien’s play calling will continue to be brutally awful.
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