We did it. We finally made it. Football is here! Thursday evening marks the kickoff for the NFL's 100th season, with the Packers and Bears squaring off in Chicago, a matchup of football's oldest rivalry. That means today is the last day to make bold predictions about the season (and the last day to get your season-long bets in, should you enjoy such things).
Before we dive into my predictions and you start yelling at me (and you will want to yell at me -- do so on Twitter @WillBrinson), let me just point out that the bold predictions at the end of each division are just that. Bold predictions. They are not likely to come to fruition based on the Vegas odds alone. I legit believe in them being better possibilities than the odds allow for, though, and think all of them could happen if the circumstances break my way.
However, I also acknowledge that sometimes these things can go sideways. For every correct "Ravens win the AFC North possibly while using Lamar Jackson as a ripcord while the Steelers will miss the playoffs" prediction (last year, go me!) I throw out, there's a "Cardinals win the Super Bowl" thing from two years ago lingering.
It's still football and it's still fun. Speaking of fun, we have fun every single day on the Pick Six Podcast, our daily NFL pod. You can hear our crew's full bold predictions from earlier this week in the player below and make sure to check out the full slate of podcasts this week: five already this week (with full picks and a TNF recap coming Friday) plus a ridiculous eight podcasts from last week.
If you want to see how I did with my bold predictions from last year,. I went four of six in division winners (not bad!) but just 6/12 in terms of playoff teams (not good!). If you , go check out what John Breech did; he's crazier than me.
To the prediction machine:
This might sound weird given that the Jets only go 9-7 in my simulation, whereas the Patriots go 13-3. But I firmly believe after this season we'll be talking about how the Jets can legitimately take over the AFC East from the Patriots as early as 2020. The Bills should be in the conversation too, I just don't like their schedule quite as much. Darnold is a perfect fit with Adam Gase's system and the additions of Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder, along with the presence of Ryan Kalil, give him a trio of really nice additions that should boost his production. Darnold was outstanding down the stretch for the Jets last year and should only improve with an improved coaching staff and better personnel around him.
AFC North Bold Prediction: Ben Roethlisberger wins NFL MVP.
The MVP award almost always goes to a quarterback barring an absolutely transcendental running back season and if you can find a narrative that helps to boost an already prolific passer, it's even better. Roethlisberger's got the best possible narrative of any top tier quarterback in my opinion: he just lost both his best receiver (Antonio Brown) and running back (Le'Veon Bell). Nevermind that Bell didn't even play last year; people are looking at Big Ben and wondering if he can produce at the same clip as last year and in previous years despite the departure of Brown and Bell. Ben knows this. He's out to prove people wrong and make sure they understand he's the most important player to the Steelers offense. I don't think he'll slow down one bit and I actually think we see a bump in his passing touchdowns thanks to the increased usage of Vance McDonald and Jaylen Samuels in the red zone. James Conner will be a big factor, sure, and JuJu Smith-Schuster might have already passed Brown out of pure sanity.
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AFC South Bold Prediction: The Colts win the AFC South.
Losing Andrew Luck to retirement is obviously a nightmare for Indy, but people are vastly underrating what Jacoby Brissett can do for this team in 2019. He was traded to the Colts on September 2, 2017 and he started his first game for the Colts on September 17, 2017. That's absurd (he also played in Week 1, but Scott Tolzien got the starting nod). Please don't blame him for the team going 4-12. Very few quarterbacks could move locations like that and succeed out of the gate with roughly a week to prepare. Now Brissett has had multiple years in Frank Reich's system in addition to an improved offensive line and a better rapport with guys like T.Y. Hilton. Indy's defense should take a step back and they've got a tough schedule, but I believe in Brissett and I definitely believe in the coaching staff. This team can still win the division.
AFC West Bold Prediction: The Broncos win the division.
This might be the most ridiculously bold prediction I've made in a while. The Chiefs and Chargers are LOCKS for the playoffs according to most people, but I'm interested in diving in on Denver this year because I love what they've done this offseason. Vic Fangio is one of the most feared defensive play-callers in football. He engineered the best defense in football last year and has the firepower with Denver to recreate the same situation. You thought Khalil Mack was fun? Enjoy Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Adding Mike Munchak on the offensive end should drastically improve the offensive line, which should open things up for Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay. The run game will beget Joe Flacco throwing BOMBS to Emmanuel Sanders (somehow healthy!) and Courtland Sutton. The Chiefs and Chargers could easily prove me wrong, but this is how I see it playing out.
NFC East Bold Prediction: Carson Wentz plays 16 games, flirts with 5,000 passing yards.
This is by far the hardest division to find a bold prediction. I'm not gonna have the Giants winning the division, don't think Dak Prescott will win MVP (although I like his odds a lot at 60-1) and can't fathom the Redskins being in contention. So I'll go with Wentz playing all 16 games this year and being a major impact player for the Eagles throughout the entire season. Given how people perceive Wentz, I feel like that would be a surprising prediction. If he does play all 16 games, the Eagles are going to the playoffs and he will put up some huge numbers, including a flirtation with 5,000 passing yards.
1. *Vikings: 13-3
2. Bears: 9-7
3. Packers: 9-7
4. Lions: 7-9
NFC North Bold Prediction: Dalvin Cook leads the NFL in rushing.
I've been beating this drum all offseason long and I'm not backing off now. Cook is set up perfectly to dominate in this scheme, with the Vikings hiring Gary Kubiak and the former Texans/Broncos coach installing his zone-blocking scheme. It's what Cook ran in college and you could see how comfortable he was with it during the preseason. Check out where Garrett Bradbury is when Cook gets the handoff in that run -- he's already up to the second level obliterating a linebacker. Bradbury operated in a zone-blocking scheme on 95+ percent of his run blocks during his final year of college. And Kirk Cousins is comfortable in this scheme too, having come into the NFL with Mike Shanahan, Kubiak's mentor. Health is a concern, sure, but Cook is set up to produce a huge season if he plays 16 games.
NFC South Bold Prediction: Matt Ryan breaks the single-season passing record.
Did you know that the Falcons, a team notoriously better when it plays indoors and away from the elements, do not play outside until NOVEMBER 17? Every single game before Week 11 against the Panthers in Charlotte is either at home, on the road indoors or on the road with a retractable roof. The Falcons don't even really risk playing in bad conditions: outside of that Carolina game, they play the 49ers in Week 15 and the Buccaneers in Week 17. It's a remarkable schedule that could result in Ryan winging the ball around a ton. Additionally, almost every team they play this year has a potent offense -- the Titans and Jaguars loom as the worst offensive teams on their schedule. Ryan could be in a pile of shootouts this season and could threaten to break the passing yards record of 5,477 set by Peyton Manning in 2013.
NFC West Bold Prediction: Jadeveon Clowney leads the league in sacks.
It's not bold enough to just point out that the Rams miss the playoffs in this particular situation is it? NOPE. We're going deep with these bold predictions and getting very specific about the impact trading for Clowney will have on the Seahawks season. In this specific situation, I've got the newest Seahawks defensive end showing up and playing in a defense he prefers to play in and putting up huge numbers. Clowney has never even gone over 10 sacks in his career with the Texans, but he was playing as an outside linebacker instead of a pure defensive end. The Seahawks won't drop him in coverage and there's a chance they could unlock what Clowney displayed his second year at South Carolina when he registered 13 sacks in just 12 games. He didn't even pile those up in meaningless games either, recording 4.5 sacks against an 11-2 Clemson team in 2012. Clowney is playing for a contract and knows he can't be tagged again. We might see him finally unleashed at the NFL level.
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Garrett Bradbury
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Allen
Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garrett
Comeback Player of the Year: Cam Newton
Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer
(4) Seahawks 20-16 over (5) Saints
(6) Cowboys 21-17 over (3) Eagles
(1) Vikings 24-14 over (6) Cowboys
(2) Panthers 24-21 over (4) Seahawks
(2) Vikings 31-28 over (2) Panthers
Teams: 1. Patriots 2. Steelers 3. Broncos 4. Colts 5. Chiefs 6. Ravens
(3) Broncos 14-7 over (6) Ravens
(5) Chiefs 31-24 over (4) Colts
(5) Chiefs 41-38 over (1) Patriots
(2) Steelers 28-14 over (3) Broncos
(2) Steelers 31-24 over (5) Chiefs
Super Bowl LIV
Vikings 30-28 over Steelers
Playoffs bold prediction: The Vikings win the Super Bowl.
The NFL is celebrating 100 years and in those 100 years, the Vikings have not won a Super Bowl. They did, however, win the final NFL Championship, taking down the title in 1969, right before the merger. So it would be fitting for a historically great franchise that's fallen just short to win the title this year. That's not why I'm picking the Vikings though. I'm here for the Vikings because this is a team that already has a defense capable of winning a championship. It's a team that already has gotten close to a title; they came up just short with Case Keenum under center and then turned to Kirk Cousins, who is terrible at cooking steaks and apparently no one trusts in big games. Here's the thing: I think the offense can be great without Cousins having to dominate, and I believe he'll be extremely comfortable in this situation, thanks to the presence of Gary Kubiak, whose zone-blocking scheme Cousins came up in when he was drafted by the Redskins and Mike Shanahan (Kubiak's mentor).
More importantly is the presence of Dalvin Cook (and also Alexander Mattison and Mke Boone, two quality backups), who I believe will post a Pro Bowl/All Pro season and potentially lead the league in rushing. Mix in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen flooding to one side of the field as Cousins boots off play-action and you have the recipe for an offensive explosion. The Vikings are in a tough division, but I'm not quite buying the Packers and I believe the Bears are due to regress. Fighting their way through the playoffs won't be easy, not with a stacked NFC and a tough matchup against the Steelers. But with that defense and an improved and more comfortable Cousins on board, the Vikings are ready to sound the horn to close the season.