12 Things to Watch for in the 2018 NFL Season

  1. The Quarterback Triumvirate in Minnesota, Washington, and Denver

Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, and Alex Smith will all be linked together for at least the 2018 season and perhaps longer. So many
questions revolve around these three teams and QBs. Which quarterback will perform the best? Which team got the best deal? Will any of these three players be able to push their team over the hump? Will there be buyer’s remorse? There are certainly expectations now on all three teams – each believes they are at least better than they were in ’17 and they may even feel that they have their franchise-changing quarterback.

Prevailing Thought: Alex Smith will be the best of the three.

  1. Is Hue Jackson Really as Bad as He Appears to be on Hard Knocks?

 Short answer – yes. And new GM John Dorsey will not stand for another season of embarrassment. The Browns are talented and even deep at some positions. They have a good veteran quarterback and a young, rookie gun-slinger behind him. The future could be bright. But Hue clouds that future.

Prevailing Thought: Hue’s gone by December and Todd Haley in the head coach.

  1. The State of Florida will have Seen Better Days.

Miami might be the AFC’s worst offense, and if they suffer an injury at QB, RB, or WR, then you can pencil them in for a top-3 pick in next spring’s draft. Tampa Bay is one of only a few teams who should be worse than the Dolphins. And even Jacksonville is positioned for regression this year.

Prevailing Thought: Miami’s defense will be pretty good; Tampa will need a new HC and QB next year; and Jacksonville will get too big for their britches and miss the playoffs.

  1. Can Jon Gruden still coach?

Doubters will say it’s up for debate whether Gruden ever really could coach to begin with. They will point to his Super Bowl victory and make the point he did it with Tony Dungy’s players in Tampa Bay. Gruden is 100-85 as a head coach with the Raiders and the Bucs. But can he relate to players today? Can his coaching philosophies work in today’s NFL? Is he still an offensive wizard in a league where offensive-minded coaches like Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Doug Peterson would seem to be ahead of the curve?

Prevailing Thought: Gruden has a talented QB and at least one very talented wideout. The offense should be pretty good. Can the defense keep up?

  1. Can Mike Vrabel be Bill Belichick’s Most Successful Pupil?

Tennessee was a playoff team last year – they even won a playoff game in Arrowhead. Not easy to do. Now, there’s a new, innovative offensive coordinator, new running back, new cornerback, two solid defensive draft picks in the first 2 rounds, and a shored up offensive line that might feature the two best bookend tackles in football.

Prevailing Thought: Marcus Mariota must take the steps forward for the Titans to realize the potential that awaits them in 2018. This could be the team of this upcoming NFL season.

  1. The Drama in Pittsburgh

I’m so sick of detailing all the drama that has existed in Pittsburgh for, now, over the past year. I think Big Ben is a quarterback who’s going to fall off a cliff when the time comes. In other words, his decline will not be slow and gradual. Injury, age, attitude – all are factors. This is certain to be Le’Veon Bell’s final season with the team so that adds a different dynamic to this season – maybe adds some desperation?

Prevailing Thought: Mike Tomlin can’t hold this team together and the playoff loss at home to the Jags last January will be something this team cannot get past. No playoffs in the Steel City.

  1. Sam the Savior in New York

The Jets got their guy – at least it seems like it. Sam Darnold looks the part. He’ll have his ups and downs, mostly because the offensive line is not great. But the future looks good for the Jets for the first time in a really long time.

Prevailing Thought: Darnold will throw for 25 TDs, but the team is not good enough as a whole yet.

  1. High Expectations in San Francisco and Chicago

Both the Bears and 49ers have a lot to be excited about – young, offensive-minded head coaches; young quarterbacks; roster construction that looks to be well thought out. Could one or both make a push for the playoffs?

Prevailing Thought: Both are a year away. But they will get a lot of people’s attention this year.

  1. The Eagles Should Repeat.

The Super Bowl champs only got better this offseason, adding Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, and Mike Wallace as free agents. They also get Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks back after both were lost to injury in 2017. Oh, and there’s the whole we-get-our-MVP-candidate-quarterback-back-from-a-torn-ACL thing. No big deal. The best got even better.

Prevailing Thought: It’s hard to repeat and a lot fell their way despite various injuries to key players last year. Sometimes magic happens. Philly will be in a dogfight for the division, let alone the conference.

  1. The Sky’s the Limit in Houston.

DeShaun Watson lit the NFL on fire in the seven games he played for the Texans in his rookie campaign last year. His arm strength, his mobility, the energy he brought to the team and the field was immeasurable. Expectations are high in Houston for a reason. The defense returns with defensive player of the year candidates all over the place – JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadaveon Clowney, Tyraunn Matheui.

Prevailing Thought: If the offensive line can protect Watson, this team has the firepower to make a run through January.

  1. Who Says 40-Year Old QBs Can’t Play?

Peyton Manning’s play fell off. Carson Palmer’s career ended abruptly. And others don’t even try to get near 40. But this year two 40-year old QBs could be on a collision course to meet in Atlanta in February. Tom Brady’s 41 and proved at age 40 that he could be the MVP of the league. Drew Brees is set to make the turn to 40 in mid-January.

Prevailing Thought: Would anyone be surprised if the Saints and Pats met in the Super Bowl? No.

  1. The Lamar Era in Baltimore

The only question is when? How long into this season before Joe Flacco’s play can no longer be tolerated? I hear all the reports from the preseason about how good Flacco looks and I read the articles that point to the fact that the pressure of Jackson has helped Flacco. Listen, I’ll believe it when I see it in games that matter.

Prevailing Thought: Baltimore won 9 games last season in spite of Flacco. Alex Collins can be the workhorse running back and that will help Jackson out when he takes over the reigns mid-November.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.