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David Banks/Associated Press
It’s often said the NFL has no offseason. Anything and everything is an event. The scouting combine and NFL draft have become multiday media extravaganzas that draw thousands of fans and millions of eyeballs on TV.
Even the NFL’s schedule release has become a primetime television special. And on Wednesday night, that schedule dropped.
We already knew the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears would kick off the NFL’s 100th season at Soldier Field. But now we know so much more.
We know the first Sunday night affair will feature a couple of old friends who can’t stand one another as the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers
We know the 50th season of Monday Night Football will almost begin just as the first did. The Cleveland Browns travel to New York to face the Jets in Week 2 as a repeat of the first-ever MNF game.
And we know the NFL will give staging a game in Mexico City another whirl after last year’s attempt. The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers will square off in an AFC West showdown at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 18.
There’s still a lot of offseason to go, including the 2019 NFL draft, OTAs and training camp. A ton will change between now and that season-opener in the Windy City.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early stab at predicting the 2019 records of all 32 NFL teams now that we know the matchups, the wheres and the whens.
No offseason, indeed.
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Steven Senne/Associated Press
The good news for the Buffalo Bills after a pleasantly surprising 6-10 season and an offseason that saw them upgrade the passing-game weapons at young quarterback Josh Allen’s disposal is that the schedule features a number of winnable games—two tilts against the lowly Miami Dolphins, a trip to face the New York Giants and a home matchup with the Denver Broncos.
The bad news is that the Bills still play in the AFC East, which means two games with the 10-time defending division champs in New England. Add in home games with the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as trips to Pittsburgh and Dallas, and any improvement the Bills experience is likely to be modest at best.
Let’s be blunt here: It’s going to be a long season in South Florida.
Depending on who you ask, that may be the plan—punting on 2019 in the hopes of landing a high pick (and the quarterback that comes with it). This isn’t to say the Dolphins won’t win one here and there—say a home game against the Bills or Jets or maybe a Week 15 trip to face the New York Giants. But they play seven games against teams that made the postseason last year and several more against teams that just missed out.
The Dolphins may not join the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns in the annals of 0-16 infamy, but this talent-starved club is going to be at the head of the pack for the No. 1 pick in 2020.
New England Patriots
Certain constants in life are unavoidable. We all have to pay taxes. Eventually, we’re all sadly going to shake off our mortal coils. And the New England Patriots are going to win the AFC East. Again.
The Patriots did draw a first-place schedule that includes home games with Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas and a Week 14 AFC Championship rematch with the Chiefs in Foxborough, as well as trips to Baltimore, Houston and Philadelphia. But with six games against the AFC East and the NFL’s second-easiest schedule in 2019, the Patriots are not only going to win the division but should be in the thick of the mix for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are starting over yet again. After finishing last in the AFC East at 4-12, the Jets replaced the defensive-minded Todd Bowles with the offensive-minded Adam Gase at head coach. It will fall to Gase to get the most out of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, and Danold has some new toys to play with in tailback Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Jamison Crowder.
But new coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense remains a major question mark, and the Jets play five games against 2018 playoff teams and four against clubs with double-digit wins. The Week 2 matchup against the rising Browns on Monday night and the trip to face the Pats in Week 3 could set the tone for New York’s entire season.
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Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a 3-5 start last year to win the NFC East, posting a 7-2 record after the bye week and the integration of wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Cowboys didn’t suffer any major losses in free agency, and top pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence was re-upped long-term.
However, the Cowboys’ impressive 8-2 mark in games decided by seven or fewer points last year will be hard to duplicate in 2019. Plus, Dallas faces a number of legitimate Super Bowl contenders during the latter portion of the regular season—the Rams at home in Week 15, the Bears on the road in Week 14 and the Patriots on the road in Week 12.
New York Giants
The Giants are in as bad a spot as the franchise has been in recent memory, and they’re only going to get worse.
One year after it passed on a quarterback at No. 2 overall, Eli Manning thinks the team will draft one this year. But more and more draftniks seem doubtful it will be at No. 6. The team has a transcendent young tailback in Saquon Barkley, but Odell Beckham Jr. is gone, Manning is on his last legs and the defense is a hot mess. If there’s a plan in New York, it’s just about impossible to discern. This is a bad football team—the worst in the division and possibly the worst in the NFL.
Beginning with the defending NFC East champions in Dallas, Big Blue is in for 16 weeks of misery.
The Eagles have won a playoff game each of the past two seasons—they won quite a bit more than that two years back—but that postseason success came with Nick Foles under center. When the Eagles open the season in Lincoln Financial Field against the Redskins, Carson Wentz will be calling the shots.
If Wentz can stay healthy, the Eagles may well be the favorites in the NFC East. Philly is arguably the most balanced and experienced team in the division. But if he can’t, the team is in trouble. It isn’t beating the Cowboys (twice), the Bears, Patriots and Seahawks at home or the Packers on the road without him.
And so begins Wentz Watch 2019, sponsored by Aspercreme.
Dating all the way back to November, when quarterback Alex Smith crumpled to the ground against the Houston Texans, the Redskins have been reeling. They were at least able to obtain a short-term Plan B at the position by acquiring Case Keenum, but they’ve gone from first place pre-injury to also-ran status pretty quickly, featuring glaring holes on both sides of the ball.
Playing in a division with a pair of legitimate playoff contenders, and with out-of-division foes that include trips to Green Bay and Minnesota and a Week 5 home matchup with the Super Bowl champions, these Redskins will be hard-pressed to match last year’s seven wins.
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Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
After starting the 2018 season 4-5, the Ravens inserted then-rookie Lamar Jackson at quarterback, peeled off six wins over their last seven games and won the AFC North. However, Baltimore’s time in the postseason was short-lived, and making it back isn’t going to be easy.
In addition to a pair of games against the rival Steelers and upstart Browns, the Ravens will play five teams that made the playoffs in 2018, including the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on the road. The Ravens will play host to the New England Patriots (Week 9) and Houston Texans (Week 11) and travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 3), Seattle Seahawks (Week 7) and Rams (Week 12). It’s a fairly daunting slate.
For the first time since 2003, the Bengals will take the field with someone other than Marvin Lewis as head coach. New head man Zac Taylor will have his hands full coming off last year’s 6-10 campaign.
While the Bengals have some skill-position talent such as tailback Joe Mixon and wideouts A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, the O-line was shaky in 2018. Meanwhile, the defense ranked last in the NFL at 413.6 yards allowed per game.
That leaky defense is going to be tested repeatedly this year, as the Bengals will face both of last year’s Super Bowl teams. They’ll visit the Rams in Week 8 and host the Patriots in Week 15.
After going 7-8-1 last year, the Browns made a flurry of moves in the offseason—including the addition of Odell Beckham Jr.—and enter the year as the Vegas favorite to win the AFC North. Cleveland fans will get at least four chances to watch the Browns in primetime, including in back-to-back weeks against the Jets (Week 2) and Rams (Week 3).
The Browns have plenty of talent on paper, and their strength of schedule ranks outside the top 20. But games aren’t won on paper, and Cleveland’s offseason overhaul will create immediate pressure to contend.
After missing the postseason for the first time in five years in 2018, the Steelers endured a rocky offseason. Tailback Le’Veon Bell left in free agency to sign with the New York Jets. Pittsburgh traded star wide receiver Antonio Brown to Oakland. And inside linebacker and cornerback remain potential problem areas on defense.
The schedule-makers didn’t do the Steelers many favors, either. Beginning with a road game against the Patriots in Week 1, the Steelers have seven games against 2018 playoff teams. While Pittsburgh has a talented offense helmed by a future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger, it won’t be a playoff team.
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears won 12 games and the NFC North in 2018, only to have their Super Bowl hopes derailed by a double-doink kick in their Wild Card Round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The kicking game may remain the biggest issue facing the team today. The loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was a blow, but in terms of key personnel, this Bears team and last year’s group are similar.
It’s not going to take long for these Bears to be tested, either. For the second year in a row, they’ll open the season against their most hated rivals (and biggest threat in the division) when they host the Packers in the Thursday night season opener to kick off the NFL’s 100th season. After that comes a fairly daunting slate that includes three of the four teams that advanced to the conference championship games in 2018.
The first season of the Matt Patricia era in Detroit didn’t go according to plan. The Lions went 6-10, which was their worst record since they went 4-12 in 2012. They aren’t likely to improve much in 2019, either. The Lions spent big on edge-rusher Trey Flowers in free agency, but they remain a flawed team on both offense and defense.
Detroit also got a brutal home slate this year, beginning with the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. In addition to that matchup with the Bolts, the Lions also face two other non-division 2018 playoff teams at home in the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 4) and Dallas Cowboys (Week 11).
Green Bay Packers
It’s a new day in Titletown. Mike McCarthy is out as head coach, replaced by a first-timer in Matt LaFleur. The free-agent frugality of Ted Thompson has given way to the free-spending ways of Brian Gutekunst.
One thing has remained the same, though: the presence of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
To get Green Bay back to the playoffs, Rodgers will need a hot start, as the team opens the 2019 season on the road against the Bears. That isn’t the Packers’ only difficult game ahead away from Lambeau Field. They face three other 2018 playoff teams on the road, including a Sunday night trip to Arrowhead in Week 8 to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. That should be quite the quarterback duel.
No team is under more pressure to improve than the Vikings, who entered 2018 as a Super Bowl hopeful and finished 8-7-1. That improvement isn’t going to be especially easy to come by, though.
The Vikings rank 10th in strength of schedule, with six contests against teams than won 10 games or more in 2018 and seven against teams that made the playoffs. That includes trips to Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle, along with two games against a Packers team that should be better this season.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
The Texans won AFC South last year, but it won’t be easy to repeat that feat. Houston addressed the loss of Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson by signing Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby, but it hasn’t significantly upgraded an offensive line that allowed a staggering 62 sacks in 2018.
Houston also has a challenging schedule in 2019. Half of its road games come against playoff teams from last year, beginning with the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and ending with the Ravens in Week 11.
After becoming just the third team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start, the Colts entered free agency with well over $100 million in salary-cap space. However, they didn’t go on a spending spree. Indianapolis gave short-term prove-it deals to edge-rusher Justin Houston and wide receiver Devin Funchess, but those were its only notable signings.
Then again, the Colts don’t have many holes, so they didn’t need to do all that much.
The 2019 schedule did Indy no favors. The out-of-division slate is heavy on road games against 2018 playoff teams like the Saints, Chargers and Chiefs and also features a trip to Pittsburgh in Week 9. But on paper, the Colts still look like the class of this division.
When the Jaguars open the season at home against the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs, they’ll do so with a new quarterback under center, as they signed Nick Foles this offseason to a four-year, $88 million deal. It’s on Foles to engineer a quick turnaround after last year’s 5-11 faceplant.
That faceplant brings with it a silver lining, however: A last-place finish means a last-place schedule.
The Jaguars don’t play an out-of-division road game against a team that had a winning record in 2018. A Nov. 3 game in London against the Texans has the makings of a tone-setter for Jacksonville’s second half.
The Titans were in contention for a playoff spot up until Week 17 last year, but the 2019 season has the makings of an even more difficult go for Mike Vrabel’s squad.
Tennessee has better insurance against a Marcus Mariota injury with the arrival of Ryan Tannehill, but also the possibility of a quarterback controversy. There’s also a substantial question mark on the edge after Brian Orakpo retired and Derrick Morgan left, although the arrival of veteran Cameron Wake should help.
In a tightly packed division, the Titans won’t have much margin for error. That raises the pressure to manage a home slate that includes five games against teams that made the postseason in 2018.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
The Falcons have been a team in decline of late. After blowing a 28-3 lead in 2016’s Super Bowl LI, the Falcons lost in the divisional round in 2017 and then missed the playoffs all together in a disappointing 2018 season. That led to some upheaval in the Atlanta coaching staff: Dirk Koetter has rejoined the team as offensive coordinator, and head coach Dan Quinn has taken over duties as DC.
Atlanta’s 2019 home schedule features some tough games. In addition to division opponents, the Falcons also welcome the Rams, Eagles and Seahawks to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But trips to New Orleans, Indianapolis and Houston are Atlanta’s only contests against 2018 playoff teams outside the state of Georgia.
There’s one offseason storyline that has dominated the conversation surrounding the Carolina Panthers—and it’s got nothing to do with their schedule. After a shoulder injury clearly limited quarterback Cam Newton down the stretch last year, the former NFL MVP had surgery in January. To be fair, reports regarding Newton’s recovery have been mostly positive, but you’ll have to excuse fans if they’re a little anxious given what the Colts went through with Andrew Luck in 2017.
This prediction’s going to get me roasted by Panthers supporters, and in fairness, if Newton’s 100 percent by Week 1, it’s entirely possible they could flip the script and challenge for a playoff spot. But if Newton misses any kind of substantial time in 2019, the Panthers are toast.
New Orleans Saints
After one of the more traumatizing endings to a season you’re going to see in the NFL (one that also brought about a major rule change), the New Orleans Saints are back and seemingly ready for another deep playoff run. On paper, the Saints are one of the league’s more complete teams. But there are causes for a level of concern, including Drew Brees‘ late-season fade last year and the loss of tailback Mark Ingram in free agency.
Last year’s regular-season success also got the Saints some formidable non-division games, including a home tilt with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 and an NFC title game rematch in Week 2 in L.A. The Saints are still the class of their division, but they may take a small step backward in 2019.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In some respects, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were better than their 5-11 record in 2017; over half of their games were decided by a touchdown or less. And while the Buccaneers were 3-6 in those close games under Dirk Koetter a year ago, per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, new head coach Bruce Arians was 29-12-1 in such contests while running the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
But the same problems that dogged the Bucs last year are still there. Jameis Winston remains a maddeningly inconsistent quarterback, and a bad defense might actually be worse now without Kwon Alexander. Add in a receiving corps that lost more than it gained, and Tampa looks like a fourth-place team again in 2019.
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Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Coming off a disappointing six-win season, Denver Broncos GM John Elway turned the reins over offensively to a veteran quarterback in the hopes of getting the team back to respectability. The problem with that story is that Joe Flacco isn’t a substantial upgrade over Case Keenum, and the Broncos remain stuck in the same rut—not a terrible team, but not one that can be taken seriously as a playoff contender either.
The Broncos aren’t going to be an especially easy out for opponents in 2019, but with the second-hardest schedule in the league and seven games against 10-win teams from 2018, the Broncos’ season is shaping up to be much like the last one—and the one before that.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs were immensely fun to watch in 2018—a wildly prolific offensive team led by a magical young MVP quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. But as good as the Chiefs were offensively, they were equally awful on defense, and that defense was eventually the team’s undoing in the AFC Championship Game.
That defense (hard though it may be to believe) could be even worse in 2019 without its two best edge-rushers from a year ago, and the murky future of wide receiver Tyreek Hill remains a dark cloud over the organization. The Chiefs are going to be in the thick of the AFC West race this year, but the team appears a good bet to backslide somewhat from last year’s 12 wins. Kansas City’s November 18 matchup in Mexico City against the Chargers has the makings of one of the season’s biggest prime-time affairs.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were the best team in the NFL no one knew about in 2018, largely because the team plays its “home” games in front of 17 people at the Dignity Health Sports Center. That includes the stadium’s employees, for what it’s worth. However, after winning 12 regular-season contests and a playoff game last year, the Bolts enter 2019 with a much higher profile and a schedule that sets the team up for another successful year.
The Chargers are the only team in the AFC West with a strength of schedule outside the top 15, and only one of L.A.’s non-division games against 2018 playoff teams is on the road (a Week 8 trip to face Chicago). With the division’s most balanced roster, the Chargers are set up to not only win the AFC West but challenge for home-field advantage in the postseason.
For much of the 2018 season, the Oakland Raiders looked like the worst team in the NFL. But they pulled off wins over Denver and Pittsburgh in December to salvage a four-win season. The team’s reward for that and an aggressive offseason that included a trade for star receiver Antonio Brown and three first-round picks in the upcoming draft?
The NFL’s most difficult schedule, based on opponents’ 2018 records. Almost half of Oakland’s games come against teams that both made the playoffs and won 10 or more games last year—including non-division tilts at home against the Bears (Week 5) and road trips to Houston (Week 8) and Indianapolis (Week 4). The Raiders will be better in 2019, but don’t expect a big jump in wins.
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Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
If there’s a team in the NFL best positioned to come between the Miami Dolphins and their collision course with the first pick in 2020, it’s the squad with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019. After one disastrous three-win season, head coach Steve Wilks was shown the door in favor of Kliff Kingsbury, who lost more than half of his games at Texas Tech last year.
There’s growing chatter that the Cardinals will similarly punt on quarterback Josh Rosen after one season in favor of drafting Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray with that first pick. Murray’s an intriguing prospect and incredibly athletically gifted, but if he does wind up in the Valley of the Sun, he’s going to find out the hard way something Rosen already knows: There’s not a lot on the roster around him.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams won 13 games and the NFC Championship Game last year, but all is not sunny in La La Land this offseason. The last time we saw the Rams in action, the New England Patriots offered up a blueprint for how to shut down L.A.’s high-octane offense. Todd Gurley’s balky knee has become a major area of concern for the team. And the Rams’ longest-tenured player, guard Rodger Saffold, was one of several offseason departures.
The schedule helped the team out a bit at least. In addition to two matchups with the Seahawks, the Rams face four more 2018 playoff teams this season—three at home. That sets up a Week 15 trip to Dallas for a playoff rematch with the Cowboys as a game that could have significant ramifications.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2018 season as one of the more hyped teams in the NFL They ended it as a 4-12 dumpster fire thanks to a series of injuries so complete and devastating that it might have been caused by an ancient Egyptian curse. Players like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tailback Jerick McKinnon are healthy now (or getting there), and general manager John Lynch was aggressive again this offseason in adding talent like linebacker Kwon Alexander.
If those players can stay healthy, the 49ers are one of the better bets to outperform expectations in 2019. A September slate that includes three games against teams that missed the postseason in 2018 followed by a Week 4 bye will go a long way toward determining whether that bet has any chance of paying off.
The Seahawks were a pleasant surprise in 2018, getting back to the postseason after a one-year absence. And in franchise-tagging defensive end Frank Clark and making quarterback Russell Wilson the NFL’s highest-paid player, Seattle spent big bucks making sure the team didn’t lose any significant contributors from that playoff team.
Seattle’s two games against the Rams will no doubt be big ones, and the Seahawks play three more games against 2018 playoff squads. But two of those games are at home, and just four of Seattle’s games in 2019 come against 10-win clubs—including those two go-rounds with the Rams in Week 5 and Week 14.