It's never too early for prognostication, is it?
That timeless art is always in style. Even if we are barely a week removed from the Super Bowl, and even weeks before the combine and a month before free agency and two months before the draft, well, there are still no shortage of thoughts and opinions and ruminations about a 2019 NFL season that is now roughly half a year away.
Heaven knows it hasn't stopped me from pondering the future. Perhaps it was catching some replays of the championship games, or maybe it was watching a few quarters of the AAF over the weekend, or it might be the snow that is falling heavily outside my office window while I write this. Regardless, I'm already getting a little amped up about what the league will have to offer this year, and I feel like making a few bold predictions while they are still picking confetti off the floor of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Actually, my rush of feelings about the 2019 season are probably more a symptom of all the pre-Super Bowl programming we did on CBS Sports Network in the week leading up to the game, when various producers had me consider breakout players, coaches on the hot seat and teams potentially in turmoil for the upcoming season. It's funny how your mind works when you are running through a totally barren NFL Experience in a suit at midnight.
So, crazy as it may be, I'm ready to make some fearless forecasts about the 2019 season in the dead of February. Let's go:
Patrick Mahomes won't throw 50 touchdowns again
Okay, so maybe this isn't all that bold, considering no player in NFL history has two 50-touchdown seasons in their entire career, let alone do it twice in a row. Not Marino. Not Brady. Not Manning. Manning came the closest, with a 49-TD year in 2004 and 55 in 2013. And while I am all about Mahomes and was even before his draft year and I expect him to be a legend in this game, I just don't see him duplicating this accomplishment just yet. Even with scoring at an all-time high rate. So go ahead and pencil him in for 45-ish. Just not 50.
Kyler Murray will be gone in the first half of the first round
This kid is too athletic and too intriguing not to go very high in a draft short on elite quarterbacks. The buzz will start at the combine and persist through the spring and Pro Days. The size will be a concern for some teams more than others, but I have a hard time seeing him slip past teams like the Dolphins and Skins, only to have some smarter, winning team grab him later in that round.
The Browns will win the AFC North
This is not a hot take. By this time next year there will be a consensus that they have the best QB in the division. They may well have the best roster in the division once the Steelers divest themselves of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell and they are young and hungry. John Dorsey does anything close in this year's draft as he did to last year's and we could be talking about a first round bye in Cleveland. The Bengals have a rookie coach who does not have a defensive coordinator yet, the Ravens face myriad tough roster decisions with that aging defense and the Steelers have become Team Turmoil. The Browns are in position to make power moves.
The Patriots will host the AFC Championship
Go ahead and give them the AFC East title, barring a season-ending injury to Tom Brady. Yeah, I think Gronk is done, but once the compensatory picks come out the Pats will be in position to wheel and deal in every round. They are loaded with draft capital and utilize trades better than most any other team in the NFL. They are all-in on making more history and I see a ninth straight AFC title game in their future. It's very early, obviously, but their toughest road games appear to be Baltimore, Philadelphia and, I guess, Houston. They get the Steelers and Chiefs at home, with Foxboro still a fortress. Get mentally prepared for more Patriots Fatigue. They aren't done yet.
The 49ers will be the most improved team in football
The injury gods, surely, will not curse them in 2019 as they did in 2018, right? They may go from a team that looked like it has no QBs after Jimmy G went down for the season to now one blessed with two. Jerrick McKinnon should be a great fit and I expect Kyle Shanahan to get this offense truly humming in Year 3 in SF. The defense played hard and overcame a lack of talent in some position groups. I believe they should be poised to be a factor in 2019.
The Bears will be the Jags of 2019
Regression is a way of life in this league, and the Bears will be hard pressed to get back to 13 wins. If they do, it will be because of Mitch Trubisky taking major strides. Because they won't be able to win as many games the way they did a year ago. It's going to take a more balanced efficiency. Besides what are generally challenging divisional games, the Bears also face four of the five best teams in the NFL from a year ago (Chiefs, Chargers, Saints and Rams), and games at the Eagles and at Denver (Mile High is always tough) could be tricky, too, especially with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio now running the Broncos. No matter how that schedule comes out in April, it's going to be a gauntlet.