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2019 NFL Preview

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

By Ari Eizen and Mayer Fink

Football is officially back, as the 100th season of the National Football League begins. Here at MacsLive, we have provided a preview of every team in the NFL. Included are looks at the bright spots and weak points of each team, as well as a peek at how each squad’s schedule will affect their final record. Check out these predictions, as well as a forecast of how the playoffs will turn out, our pick for Super Bowl LIV Champion, and a look at who will win each of the major awards. It’s been 216 days since Super Bowl LIII. Who’s ready for some football!

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Roster Rundown: Buffalo has been rumored to be a destination that nobody wants to head to. A recent case for that is Antonio Brown’s threatening to retire if he was traded there. That being said, the Bills have put together a strong roster through free agency and this past season’s draft. There are two rookies on the Bills who may make or break their season: defensive tackle Ed Oliver and running back Devin Singletary.

The player to watch on this team is sophomore quarterback Josh Allen. Allen showed flashes last year, and demonstrated that he can be one of the most unstoppable quarterbacks in the NFL. He has also shown an inconsistent side; he is often inaccurate and tends to make poor decisions. Many are expecting a major jump from Allen this year; if it happens, the Bills will likely be a playoff team. Aside from him, the Bills have a mediocre roster; nobody stands out in the receiving corps, there are no pro-bowlers on the O-line, and their running game doesn’t look like it will produce a 1000-yard rusher.

The Buffalo defense was probably the most underrated unit in the NFL last season. They played well, but were overshadowed by a terrible offense, and more specifically Nathan Peterman. 2018 top pick Tremaine Edmunds improved incredibly as the season went on, and appears to be one of the best defenders on the Bills this year. The key thing to watch out for is their secondary; it’s very top-heavy with Micah Hyde, Tre'Davious White and Levi Wallace. Depth is lacking behind these players; if any of them gets injured, we will see a major production drop-off.

Schedule Prediction: The Bills are in an interesting situation. They have many games on their schedule that can go either way. These games include the Ravens and Eagles in Orchard Park, and the Steelers, Browns, Titans, and Cowboys on the road. In all likelihood, they will need to take advantage of the in-division punching bag in Miami. Buffalo will also play the Jets in week one, a game which may determine the second best team in the AFC East. If the Bills overachieve, they will have a 10 win season, and Bills mafia will be looking at a playoff berth. If they underachieve, we’ll be looking at a 7 win season, and head coach Sean McDermott may be out of a job. Expect something in the middle, an 8-8 or 9-7 campaign.

Miami Dolphins

Roster Rundown: I was going to write about how the Dolphins cleared house this off-season. That would be before last week. Now to say that the Dolphins are holding a fire sale is an understatement. They traded away Laremy Tunsil and Kiko Alonso this past week as moves to clear cap space and load up on draft picks. Despite head coach Brian Flores denying the possibility of “tanking”, it’s clear that the Dolphins aren’t trying to win this year.

The week one starter is Ryan Fitzpatrick. In Fitz’s career, he has had a game where he threw for six touchdowns and zero interceptions, and a game with zero touchdowns and six interceptions. Fitzpatrick will have a few games were he performs great, but at the end of the day he won’t win many games. Both Kalen Ballage and Kenyan Drake are solid running backs, but they will have to run behind an offensive line that just shipped away their best blocker in Tunsil. The Dolphins don’t have a clear number one receiver. I think we can admit at this point that former first round pick DeVante Parker is a bust.

Besides for Xavien Howard and Reshad Jones in the secondary, the defense isn’t good. If their defensive line draft selections in Christian Wilkins and Jonathan Ledbetter work out, we could start to see a new core being built in Miami. However, the lack of talent is simply part of the house cleaning that the Dolphins have been doing. There is no longer Kiko Alonso, no Robert Quinn, no Cameron Wake.

Schedule Prediction: As mentioned above, the Dolphins’ off-season moves prove that they aren’t trying to win this year. They may win two games within the division, but at this point that might even be a stretch. They can also beat the Colts, Bengals and Giants, but they don’t look better than any of these teams. It’s also noteworthy that the Dolphins will probably go through either a quarterback rotation between Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick, or a full switch to Rosen at some point this season, should they continue to lose. They are more likely to end up with the number one pick and two to four total wins than they are to make the playoffs.

New England Patriots

Roster Rundown: When it comes to the Patriots roster, the start and end is Tom Brady. The one constant in the Patriots’ dynasty has been TB12, who is the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen. A quick look at the rest of the offense reveals depth at every position. The running back personnel looks strong with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead; fullback James Develin has been critical as a blocker in the past. The receiving corps will not have first round pick N’Keal Harry due to injury, but they were able to bring back Josh Gordon. They also brought in Demaryius Thomas and, in a late-breaking development, the man who has participated in six consecutive Pro Bowls, Antonio Brown. The one team that already had so many weapons just got one of the most skilled wide receivers of our generation for pennies on the dollar. When taking into account the aforementioned players, and considering the fact that Julian Edelman will be returning after a four week suspension, it’ll be hard not to see Brady and Co. breaking some records this year.

The offensive line also has depth; Russell Bodine was acquired from Buffalo. The only weakness on offense is the tight end unit; since Rob Gronkowski’s retirement in March, the Patriots have not really addressed the need to replace him.

The same depth can be said for the defense. The noteworthy players on this Pats crew are All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Gilmore took out numerous number one receivers down the stretch in last year’s Super Bowl run. Hightower is the piece on defense who makes everything work; the Patriots have been shown to play significantly worse without him in games.

Schedule Prediction: The Patriots have a rather easy schedule. Even though the division may be stronger this season, they are still the heavy favorites in the AFC East. They do play some tough games against the Ravens, Texans, and Eagles on the road, and have to face the Browns, Steelers, Chiefs and Cowboys at home. That being said, it looks like they can roll through their schedule and finish the season with 12 or even 13 wins in the regular season. Expect the Patriots to earn a bye in the playoffs, which would give them a bye in every season of this decade.

New York Jets

Roster Rundown: The Jets made it clear that they wanted to add talent this off-season. They were able to land a few stars in All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell, imposing linebacker C.J. Mosley, and stud D-lineman Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in the draft. The new coaching staff brings both its positives and negatives. Head coach Adam Gase has been known as an offensive mastermind who can fix quarterbacks. However, he was rumored to have lost the locker room when he was in Miami, and is already having issues with Bell. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is also deserving of praise, but is instead linked to Bountygate from when he was with the New Orleans Saints a few years back.

Sam Darnold is now entering his sophomore season. After a year full of promise and rookie mistakes, we’ll see if he can do what no Jets quarterback since Mark Sanchez has done: lead the Jets to the playoffs. Bell should take a lot of pressure off of Darnold, as the offense is expected to be run-heavy. The offensive line appears stronger this year following the acquisition of Kelechi Osemele. Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa are nice pieces, but their success will be very dependent on Sam Darnold’s performance.

The defense’s strength is probably on the line, which is led by veteran Leonard Williams. The Jets also have Jamal Adams, who has emerged as one of the best safeties in the game. The key for the Jets on defense is to stay on the field. This team has at least one pro-bowler at every position, but besides for the defensive line they don’t have the depth to overcome an injury.

Schedule Prediction: The Jets got hit with a tough schedule. To begin, they have a week four bye, which is extremely annoying. They also play the Patriots twice within the first seven weeks, with the Eagles and Cowboys sandwiched in between. After this rough stretch they may be too far behind to feel relevant; they could end up throwing in the towel and tanking the season. A good stretch early in the year will set the Jets up for a possible run at the playoffs. It looks like they can finish strong, as they play the Dolphins, Giants, Raiders and Bengals during weeks 9-14. I can see the Jets finishing with as many as 8 wins, but if things go wrong early they will probably end up closer to 4 wins.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Roster Rundown: John Harbaugh made a move last season that may have kept his coaching job. Down the stretch, he decided to go with rookie Lamar Jackson at quarterback instead of Joe Flacco. That bold move helped the Ravens to their first division title since 2012.

The Ravens are one of the more unpredictable offenses in the AFC, and that’s solely because of Lamar Jackson. Jackson was one of the more exciting quarterbacks in the NFL last season, but he was more of a running threat than a throwing threat. To succeed in the NFL, Jackson will need to prove that he can throw just as well as anyone. The unpredictability of the offense helps Jackson; they have many different plays which can develop out of similar formations. One option is to run the ball with Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards. A second possibility is that Jackson keeps the ball and runs with it. A third option is to pass the ball to wideouts like Marquise Brown (2019 1st round pick) and Willie Snead, or tight ends such as Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has brought the RPO (run-pass option) to a new level. The O-line may be the primary strength on offense; it is led by Marshal Yanda, their reliable right guard.

The defense is what is going to put the Ravens in the playoffs. Despite losing key veterans Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith, the Baltimore defense looks to return to the power that it was last season. Their primary strength may actually be the secondary; the Ravens don’t have a weakness at any of the secondary positions, and with the acquisition of safety Earl Thomas, they will be a tough team to throw on. The group of linebackers may be a question after the departures of Suggs, Mosley and Smith, but expect Patrick Onwuasor to fill the void in the middle. The defensive line is top heavy, led by Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce.

Schedule Prediction: Against the same opponents which the Steelers and Browns will play at home, the Ravens have to go on the road to play. This means that they play @ Kansas City (week 3), @ Seattle (week 7) and @ the Rams (week 12), all of which are going to be tough games. They do get the Patriots at home following a bye week, so that is a potential upset. They follow that game by playing the Bengals, so they can potentially find themselves in a hot streak during the second half of the season. The last two games on their schedule are against the Browns and Steelers, which will probably determine whether they are a playoff team or not. Even though the schedule doesn’t give them much breaks, expect the Ravens to win 10 or 11 games and make the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Roster Rundown: This team was a mess at the end of last season. Their roster was injured and underachieving. The Bengals finally decided to make a change. Marvin Lewis was sent packing, and Zac Taylor was brought in to fill the head coaching vacancy. Taylor was the quarterbacks coach under Sean McVay last season.

This is a pivotal year for Andy Dalton. Should he disappoint this season, he will likely be replaced by a rookie in the near future. The new and improved offense should help him; the running game should be strong. It is led by Joe Mixon, with Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine serving as backups. The receiving corps took a hit last season when A.J. Green went down to injury; he starts this season on the sideline again. Now in his third season, it’s almost time to declare John Ross a bust; this is his last chance to prove the haters wrong. In the past, no receivers on the roster have emerged with Green hurt. The O-line is good, but not great; the Bengals hope that rookie guard Michael Jordan (not basketball) can be the glue that binds it together.

The defense is past its prime. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are still good, but both are in their thirties. Dre Kirkpatrick is still a solid player, but has seen better days. They finally let go of Vontaze Burfict after years of illegal hits and PED use, which added up to many fines and multiple suspensions. However, that's only part of the rebuilding process in Cincinnati. They have drafted some key starters in Carl Lawson, Jessie Bates, and Will Jackson, but it's clear that the Bengals have done a poor job in recent years when attempting to build a young defense.

Schedule Prediction: Being that the Bengals don't look like such a good team, it’s hard to see them winning many games. Maybe they’ll beat the Cardinals at home? Maybe they’ll take one or two games in the division? Maybe they’ll beat the Raiders or Dolphins? Right now I wouldn’t be optimistic if I were a Bengals fan. They are on track to finish last in their division, and are staring at a top five draft pick. They’ll probably finish with between 3 and 5 wins.

Cleveland Browns

Roster Rundown: There’s more hope than ever for Cleveland fans. After winning five of their last seven games to cap off the 2018 season, the Browns went out and made moves which show that they are ready to contend. They traded for Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon, and signed Sheldon Richardson. It’s clear that they are trying to win more than just the division. The Browns hope to pull off one of the greatest turnarounds in history: from 0-16 in 2017 to Super Bowl Champions.

The offense obviously runs through Baker Mayfield. Being the number one pick in 2018, Mayfield showed that he can lead the Browns somewhere they haven’t been since 2002: the playoffs. He’ll have an emerging star beside him in second-year running back Nick Chubb, who is expected to be a 1000-yard rusher this year. Kareem Hunt should contribute as well, but not until he serves his 8-game suspension. The receiving corps looks to be one of the best in the league after the trade for Beckham, who joins his former LSU Tigers teammate, Jarvis Landry. The offensive line will have to deal with the loss of Kevin Zeitler, but should still be a good unit; they are led by left tackle Joel Bitonio.

The defense’s fate will be determined by the secondary. As of now it is their weakest link. The key player to watch is rookie Greedy Williams. If he can be a lockdown corner, Cleveland will have an excellent one-two punch with him and Denzel Ward at cornerback; if he can’t play in the pros, then the Browns will be an easy team to throw on. While the secondary has its questions, their front seven may be the best in the NFL. Led by Myles Garrett and Joe Schobert, as well as the signings of Richardson and Vernon, it’s clear that the Browns have built a force, especially in the pass rush.

Schedule Prediction: Two games will be a good test to see where the Browns lie in the pecking order of the AFC: week two @ the Jets, and week 10 vs. the Bills. Cleveland gets very lucky in one facet of their schedule: they play five of their last seven games against their own division. Therefore, the Browns can determine their own fate in the final stretch. Cleveland appears set to have one of their best seasons in a long time. Expect them to win 9 or even 11 games this year, possibly make the playoffs, and perhaps win the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Roster Rundown: The Steelers are entering a new phase, having cleared out star players Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Due to this, the Steelers roster doesn’t look nearly as good as it has in recent times. Ben Roethlisberger is still the quarterback and undeniable captain of the Steelers; he brings stability to an organization that had a dramatic off-season. The new backfield will be the duo of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels, who took over last year when Bell sat out; because they are running behind a strong offensive line led by pro-bowlers David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, they should have success. Juju Smith-Schuster is going to have to have a breakout year should the Steelers want to fill the void left by Brown.

Pittsburgh has solid players throughout the defense. Last year’s unit was one of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL, and the front seven got better in the off-season, when the Steelers traded up in the draft to grab linebacker Devin Bush. It will be fascinating to see if Bush can help in providing the run defense which the Steelers need.

Schedule Prediction: The Steelers have an average schedule, which makes sense, as they are an average team. One could say that they got helped by the schedule makers in that they are hosting Seattle and the Rams, and get to face the Andrew Luck-less Colts. At the end of the season, what is going to define the Steelers season is how they play within their division. They will most likely go 3-3 against the division, which would give them a record around the .500 mark.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Roster Rundown: In retrospect, it would have been nice to see more out of the Texans last year. They had an excellent regular season, and came into the playoffs as a 3 seed, but it was all for naught, as they were beaten by the Colts in the first round.

Deshaun Watson has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His production is through the roof, despite the fact that he has to deal with a terrible offensive line. In the off-season, the Texans realized that it was time to address the issue, so they traded two first round picks for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. It’s clear that the Texans have a team built to win now, with multiple key players in their prime. One of those players is the unguardable DeAndre Hopkins, who has become one of the best—if not the best—receivers in the game. The running game is going to be a major question mark this year, as starter Lamar Miller went down with a torn ACL in preseason. It would make sense for the Texans to trade for Melvin Gordon, but it appears that the asking price is too high for them.

The defense is led by J.J. Watt. If he plays the whole season, he will finish as one of the top defensive players in 2019. Unfortunately, he has missed numerous games in two of the last three seasons; hopefully that’s not the case this year. The defense will have to make up for the loss of Jadeveon Clowney, who was traded after a long holdout. The defense does have depth, but they won’t wow anyone. They probably won’t lead the league in turnovers or scoring, and besides for JJ Watt, they may not have anyone who gets to 10 sacks. Expect the Texans defense to be solid, and with a good offense which can get the job done, that is all it needs to be.