2018 is finally here, let’s take a look at some bold predictions for the New Year from everyone at Blitzalytics.
1. Dave Gettleman will vault the Giants to the 2018 Playoffs
This season, the Giants have endured arguably their worst season ever as a professional franchise. They have been mired in mediocrity since they won the Super Bowl in 2011, with zero division titles and only one playoff appearance. But there were high hopes for this team coming into the season for a reason; on paper, this team isn’t far from being a solid roster. Though Eli Manning is getting up there in age, he is still a QB that can make an impact and lead his team to a playoff run given the right pieces around him. He’s 5th in the NFL in completions this season and top 15 in completion percentage and yards. Eli’s supporting cast has been less than adequate as well — Giants receivers have had the 2nd most drops in the league, and they have had the largest number of starting offensive line combinations this season. They’ve been hit with a serious injury bug, with injuries to significant starters like Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepherd, Janoris Jenkins, Dwayne Harris, and Weston Richburg. Finally, the Giants have been uncharacteristically poor from a player management and discipline standpoint, as Ben McAdoo has suspended multiple players and woefully mismanaged the Eli Manning benching situation.
I believe these are easily fixable issues that new GM Dave Gettleman will tackle to rebuild the Giants to the team that took the field in the 2016 NFL playoffs. Gettleman transformed the Carolina Panthers from a mediocre team to that won NFC South for three straight years and ranked 1st in offense and 6th in defense in 2015 when the team reached the Super Bowl. He did this primarily by rebuilding the defense, and the Giants already have top players like Landon Collins, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Janoris Jenkins rostered on the defensive side of the ball. Gettleman has also given some, albeit early, indication that he would like to see Eli starting at QB next season. Given this, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if he passed on Josh Allen and Sam Darnold and selected an offensive lineman like Mike McGlinchey or Connor Williams, or even someone like Minkah Fitzpatrick to put an explosive, immediate playmaker on defense. Finally, Gettleman’s hard-nosed, brusque attitude will restore New York’s integrity, eliminate any drama and team conflict, and restore the Giants’ legacy as a perennial playoff threat.
2. Jimmy G will lead the 49ers to the playoffs in 2018
Jimmy Garoppolo is currently UNDEFEATED: 7–0 in the NFL, 5–0 with a team that was 1–10 before he took over under center. Since stepping in for C.J. Beathard, Garoppolo has beaten three playoff teams, the #1 ranked defense, has a respectable 98.9 Passer Rating, and finished the 9th ranked QB in the NFL according to profootballfocus.com. The 49ers were 21st in total offense through week 12, 8th since Jimmy’s arrival, having improved in every offensive statistical category possible.
The fact that Jimmy was able to pick up a complex offensive system such as Kyle Shanahan’s in only a few weeks time, means he can be even better after a full offseason. One that includes over 60 million in cap space and 18 players possibly returning from injured reserve. We can only imagine what both the 49ers coach and quarterback could do with some surrounding talent next season. It’s been impressive to witness what John Lynch has done with that roster in only a year’s time. From solidifying the front seven, to finding a franchise QB, and establishing quality depth at several positional groups; the Niners GM has transitioned his hard hitting playing style from the field, to the front office. Attacking free agency and the draft as he would a wide receiver coming across the middle, another aggressive offseason would almost certainly catapult the 49ers into wild card contention in 2018.
3. A Turnaround in Cleveland?
John Dorsey has had an outstanding career and has a chance to right the wrongs of the Browns organization. He was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs along with Andy Reid in 2013, and together, they turned the inept Chiefs into playoff contenders and Super Bowl contenders soon after. In 2013, Dorsey inherited the rights to a 2–14 Chiefs team the previous year — sound familiar yet? Although it may be more difficult to break the losing culture in Cleveland, he is just the man to do it. All of the credit for the turnaround in KC can’t solely be credited to Dorsey, as Andy Reid has shown his ability to be one of the premiere coaches in this league. But, Dorsey created a well balanced team in Kansas City that has won three straight AFC West titles, most notably by prying Alex Smith from the 49ers for two second round draft picks.
Dorsey has shown the ability to build through the draft and find quality talent throughout free agency. Dorsey’s first objective will be to find a quarterback and a leader. The Browns don’t know what a winning culture is; they will have to change the narrative in Cleveland. He will have to find leaders off the field, in the locker room, and on the field to direct each player to victory. Dorsey will have an opportunity to find his quarterback of the future through the draft, as they possess the first overall pick; however, it would be surprising if he didn’t look to other options as well, as quality quarterbacks will be entering the market. A likely scenario could be the reunion of Jon Dorsey and Alex Smith. Smith will be entering the final year of his contract, and with Patrick Mahomes waiting on deck, the Chiefs may decide to part ways with their aging quarterback, saving 17 million dollars in cap space in the process. This would be an intriguing partnership. Smith has been a capable quarterback throughout his tenure in Kansas City. He will not win you a Super Bowl (or any other game for that matter), but he will not lose one for a team either. Smith protects the ball, and has shown a newfound ability for taking chances downfield in 2017. Free agents don’t typically say, “let’s go to Cleveland,” but with the roster the Browns are building, new management entering the facility, and 117 million dollars in cap space, some prospects may be interested in heading there.
Cleveland possesses a bucket load of draft capital. The Browns have five picks in the first two rounds; what is more astonishing, however, is two of those picks are in the top five of the first round. The Browns hold the number one and four overall picks; however, they would probably like to give that number four pick back to the Texans in exchange for the opportunity to pick Deshaun Watson, but let’s not get too picky. Jon Dorsey has been excellent at finding talent through the draft, with the selections of Travis Kelce, Marcus Peters, Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes and Kareem Hunt. And, with two top five selections and three more in the second round, Dorsey has the opportunity to change the tide in Cleveland. The Browns acquired Myles Garrett with the first selection of the 2017 NFL draft, and selected impact players Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku. If they can continue to build through the draft and find some quality talent in free agency, Cleveland may be making a push sooner than expected.
With the acquisition of Jon Dorsey, 117 million dollars in 2018 cap space, and the draft capital they possess, Cleveland has the potential to break out of their losing habits sooner than later. They have an established offensive line, and playmakers on both sides of the ball. It would be a surprise if Cleveland didn’t make a jump in 2018. My Bold Prediction for 2018 (Drum Roll, please) is the Cleveland Browns will finish with a record at or above five hundred (8–8 or better) and do not finish in last place in the AFC North. It is hard to see the Steelers or Ravens falling below the Browns in the North, which leaves one to make an educated guess on who will be falling below the winless Cleveland Browns. Sorry Cincy.
4. Jags Trade Up, Take Mayfield and Become World Beaters
This season for the Jacksonville Jaguars has been extremely impressive, especially because of their history of having a bad football team. This franchise in the past few seasons has loaded up on highly touted free agent pieces and draft picks that have turned out to be all-pro caliber players. This team is primed right now to possibly make a Super Bowl run this year, but there is one glaring problem in my eyes. That problem just happens to be the most important position on the field, Quarterback. Blake Bortles has not been a terrible quarterback for the Jaguars since drafting him 3rd overall in 2014. He struggled early in his career and has seemed to grow and progress nicely over the past 4 years and especially this year where he lead the Jags to a 9–6 record and the 3rd seed in this year’s playoffs. But for as much as Bortles has improved and looked better, I do not think he is the guy you want at the helm leading your team to a Super Bowl.
(Enter Baker Mayfield)
Mayfield is one of the most electric and fun players in the nation this year in college football. Mayfield lead the Oklahoma Sooners to an extremely successful 12–2 record and a chance to compete in the College Football Playoff (CFP). Mayfield began his career as a walk-on first at Texas Tech where he immediately earned the starting job then again at Oklahoma, where he got the opening day nod at QB. I tell you all of this to show you, this man is a WINNER. Every time someone has bet against him, he has proved them wrong. He is a special player who may not have the size or the arm strength that scouts and teams look for, but he has a winning attitude that trumps all of his “recessive” traits as a quarterback.
Mayfield’s fit with the team is almost identical, and arguably better, to the situation that Russell Wilson went into in Seattle when he came into the league. When Wilson came into the league the defense was ranked 7th in points and 9th in yards, and won the Super Bowl in only his second season. This Jaguars defense is already ranked 2nd in both points and yards this past season. We’ve seen what he can do with a, flakey at best, defense and a couple weapons at Oklahoma leading them to the CFP, but you give him a top 3 defense, a decent o-line, some speedy weapons on the outside, including one of his favorite targets from Oklahoma Dede Westbrook and an absolute stud workhorse that thinks the NFL is “easy” in the backfield, and that to me sounds like a recipe for success at the next level.
5. Kirk Cousins to the Broncos
What would our bold predictions be without a major QB change in 2018? The Denver Broncos have had a three man QB carousel all year without a future starter in sight. Trevor Siemian does not look to be the answer, Brock Osweiler is destined to be a career back up, and the Paxton Lynch experiment has just down-right failed.
Insert Captain Kirk Cousins. With the Redskins not meeting Cousins demands for a new contract, reportedly offering him a deal worth 22 million a year, he will most likely test the market and get that plus $30 million a year deal he’s been looking for. Seems like a match made in heaven no? Unfortunately the Broncos only have about $19 million in cap room, but John Elway has a tendency to get what he wants.
With some potential roster maneuvering, Elway can pull it off. If he were to cut often injured Emmanuel Sanders, underperforming Tackle Menelik Watson, and highly paid running back C.J. Anderson, he would have opened up $15 million in cap space, giving the team a grand total of roughly $34 million to work with. With Cousins’ camp looking for a deal in the $30 million a year range, a 5 year $150 million dollar deal with $70 million guaranteed would be hard for Cousins to pass up from such a well-established franchise at his age of 30. While the cap for 2018 would be tight, this is the type of move that moves each side that much closer to a Super Bowl appearance.
6. BRADY WALKS AWAY! PATS KEEP WINNING!
Peyton, Kobe, Jeter? Great player’s, first ballot Hall of Famers, multi-time champions!!! They all have one thing in common, they hit the proverbial wall. No matter how incredible a player’s accolades or records are, there is none better than father time, who’s undefeated against even the most legendary of athletes. In his 2015 Super Bowl run, Peyton Manning hit the wall, missing 6 games and throwing 17 INTs to only 9 TD’s. Kobe scored a career low 17 ppg in his final season, while the Lakers went 17–65 and Jeter went on a 0–28 hitless slump in his final season as a Pro. Brady is by no means the exception to the rule! The tomato free diets, 25 glasses of water a day and all the avocado ice cream in the world won’t stop father time from finally showing TB12 that he too is human and ending his domination over the NFL. The 40 year old QB can only keep this up for so long, right?
My bold prediction for 2018 is that the New England wins Super Bowl LII, the G.O.A.T rides off into the sunset and Belichick doesn’t skip a beat. Bill will pick a new QB and they will keep on truckin as the Patriots always do. In 2008 when Brady went down for the season, the Pats went 11–5, but still missed the playoffs. That will not happen again!
The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through New England, in the Belichick era the Pats are 5–0 at home and 2–2 on the road in Conference Championship games. The only team in the AFC field I see beating the Patriots are the Steelers and they are 0–3 against the Pats losing 2 in Pittsburgh and 1 in New England in the Conference Title game. As of October 2017 TB12 owns 11 NFL records, and has 7 more in reach. Brady will retire either after this season, or following the 2018 season, knowing he has nothing left to prove, but to go out under his own power. In the one season that Brady was not the starter under Belichick, the Patriots went 11–5, Matt Cassel had an 89.4 QB rating, threw for 21 TD’s and 11 Int’s, so he can win without TB12 in my opinion. The question now becomes how long does Belichick stick around?
7. Ezekiel Elliott will rush for 2,000 yards
The 2017 season in Dallas has been a Texas-sized disappointment both on and off the field, and it all centers around RB Ezekiel Elliott. The struggles of the Dallas offense, especially without Elliott in the lineup, have been clear. QB Dak Prescott came back to earth after a remarkable rookie season, receivers struggled to get open, and the offensive line dealt with injuries (Tyron Smith) and inconsistent play throughout the year.
If Dallas is going to return to the playoffs next season, they need a dominant running game. Not “pretty good”, but dominant. While better OL play is certainly a factor, Zeke is the playmaker who takes it to another level. In 2016, Elliott carried the ball 322 times for 1,631 yards, per Pro Football Reference. After seeing nearly 100 less carries this season due to his six-game suspension, expect the Cowboys to give him a heavy workload in 2018, perhaps similar to Demarco Murray’s 2014 campaign in which he ran the ball almost 400 times.
The All-Pro RB will be as hungry as ever to make his presence known in 2018. Look for Zeke to become the first RB to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season since Adrian Peterson accomplished the feat in 2012 (2,097 yards).
8. The Vikings will become the first team to host and play in the Super Bowl. They will also win it as well.
The old saying goes, “Defense Wins Championships”. Since Mike Zimmer took over the Vikings, he has built a championship caliber defense. He has playmakers at all levels on that side of the ball that range from players like Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes. They have arguably the top defense for the 2017 season. It also helps that Case Keenum has been playing lights out and could be named their Team Offensive MVP, if it wasn’t for the season that Adam Thielen has been having. Which leads to my next point, the Vikings have one of the top wide receiver duos in the league this season between Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have filled Dalvin Cook’s shoes better than expected as well.
They have already proven they can beat most of the NFC playoff teams with wins over the Saints, Rams, and Falcons. I predict that they will host all three playoff games at U.S. Bank Stadium as I think whoever faces the Eagles in the Divisional round will beat them. The Vikings will culminate their season with a Super Bowl victory in front of their home crowd.
9. The Steelers will defeat the Patriots in New England to advance to Super Bowl LII.
Pittsburgh was 7 yards away from defeating the defending Super Bowl champs (or at least sending it to overtime) at Heinz Field in week 15. The final score was 27–24, Patriots. This, all without their Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, who became the only player to record 100+ receptions in five consecutive seasons with his 2 catch, 24 yard performance before his injury in the second quarter.
I believe, with Brown having rested for three weeks by the team’s Divisional Round matchup, the Steelers will have the firepower to overtake New England in another classic at Gillette Stadium. Le’Veon Bell will need to produce at least 100 scrimmage yards, and Brown will need at least 70 yards receiving and a touchdown. The Pittsburgh defense will need to create another Tom Brady turnover just like their previous matchup in order to advance to Super Bowl LII
10. Saquon Barkley will go #1 to the Cleveland Browns.
With John Dorsey coming to Cleveland, expect him to want to bring over a consistent and productive veteran QB to take over for this upcoming season (my money is on his boy Alex Smith from his time in KC, whom he sent two 2nd round picks to SF for back in his first season as GM in 2013) and continue to develop DeShone Kizer, as well as likely bring on another developmental QB in the draft at some point. With this position somewhat settled for the time being, Dorsey can select the best player in the draft with the 1st overall pick. Some would consider this to be way too high for a RB, but if recent years are any indicator of what an elite RB can do for an offense (look at what happened with Dallas, Arizona, and Jacksonville when a top RB was in/out of the lineup), teams are back to seeing the value a top RB brings to an offense.
Consider the fact that the notion of “you shouldn’t spend high picks on a RB” has been more the product of a lack of true elite prospects at the position over the years as opposed to the overall belief that the position has been devalued. Top prospects are worth top picks regardless of the position, as you will see this upcoming draft with Barkley and Quenton Nelson.
11. The AFC South Will Send Three Teams to the Playoffs
Not only will the reigning AFC South champions, the Jacksonville Jaguars, continue to impress in 2018 with an improved offense to match their dominant defense, but Deshaun Watson will return to Houston to continue where he left off as the league’s hottest quarterback, and Jim Harbaugh will lead his team to the playoffs in his first year as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach with a newly-healthy elite quarterback. That’s right, you get two bold predictions in one from me. Jim Harbaugh will say goodbye to the University of Michigan, where he and the Wolverines have reached their ceiling, to return to his former NFL team to look for a Super Bowl victory that eluded him in 2013.
Look for the Jaguars to add a quarterback, which seems to be the small but important weak link in Jacksonville, that will hold them back from being a real contender this year. The AFC South will boast two of the top defenses in the NFL as the Texans return many key players from injury on defense in addition to the star sophomore quarterback. Finally, the Colts will climb into the number 6 seed in the AFC in their first season under the now-Michigan head coach and a healthy Andrew Luck.
12. The Carolina Panthers will be Predators in the Playoffs
The Carolina Panther are entering the NFL playoffs as the number five seed and have the undesirable task of going into the New Orleans Superdome and battling Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the most dynamic and dominant backfield in the NFL with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints are undefeated in the Playoffs at home during the Brees era and many believe they will make it 6–0 on Sunday. However, the Saints will have their hands full with Cam Newton, the rushing attack of McCaffrey and the defense of the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are back in the playoffs since their Super Bowl run as one of the hottest teams in 2016. The fuel to the Panthers winning season and playoff run in 2016 was owning time of possession with the offense by running the ball and picking up 3rd downs to control the clock. This years team has gotten back to those ways as they are 4th in the NFL in rushing and 3rd in time of possession. The blueprint for a victory on Sunday is to do exactly what they do best. Run the ball on early downs to set up medium second downs allowing Cam Newton to use his deep ball skills to attack a banged up and young secondary on play action or to run again to set up a short 3rd down. Offensively the key for the Panthers will be to keep their 3rd down opportunities to 4 yards to go or less. This will allow them to be much more dynamic and use the QB runs, swing passes and play actions to keep the defense unbalanced. If Cam is put into too many obvious passing situations his accuracy and lack of touch can be exploited. If the Panthers are able to keep it short on 3rd down opportunities they will move the chains and control the clock, keeping Drew Brees on the sideline. Defensively the keys will be to slow Alvin Kamara and limit his touches, while playing a bend but don’t break defense and holding the Saints to field goals. Should be a very close and well played game, Panthers win 24–20.
Now, winning in New Orleans will be one heck of a task, but if the Panthers can play well enough they will be rolling with confidence and Cam with have his swag and confidence back that is so crucial for his play style. That confidence will carry over to the Philadelphia eagles game in the Divisional Round. This game will be much more about the Defense dominating Nick Foles and the Eagles front seven. The Eagles defense is extremely good at stopping the run which will put a lot of pressure on Cam to throw the ball. Once again I expect a tight game that will be well played, Panthers win 20–17.
I know by now you are starting to question if I have lost my mind or a Panthers homer/ optimist, just hang in there it keeps going.
In the NFC Championship game the Panthers will be playing either the Falcons, (only possible game at home in Carolina) the Rams or the Vikings. The Panthers matchup with both the Falcons and Rams very well due to their rushing attack and ability to defend the pass. If the Panthers are facing the Vikings in Minnesota, it could be a much more difficult task for the offense to produce points, but can they out play and outscore Case Keenum and the Vikings offense, yes I believe so. Panthers win the NFC Championship game in an in absolute thriller and stay in the Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. Panthers win 23–17.
So here we are, the stage is set. Cam Newton and the Panthers are taking on the Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 52 for a rematch of their October game when the Panthers went into Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots 33–30. While I won’t spend anytime previewing a game that may never happen, the Panthers have the offense to attack the Patriots weakness which is a lack of pass rush and inability to stop opponents on 3rd and short. Defensively, I don’t really know does anyone match up with Brady and Belichick? Panthers pull off one of the greatest postseason runs we have ever seen and win the Super Bowl 27–24.
-Nick Van Fossen