- Who will be the Week 1 starting quarterback for the world champion Eagles? Who will buy the Panthers? Making 18 fearless predictions about the 2018 NFL season.
Last year I made nine fearless predictions about the 2017 season. I missed on a couple (Jeff Fisher did not coach this past season and Tony Romo most certainly did not play for the Broncos) but more or less (...less) hit on the others.
This season I re-up this column with double the takes as we enter into our NFL offseason together. Some of these predictions aren’t that far out but I went out on a limb for a few. Don’t be afraid to check my record this time next year.
Nick Foles will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in Week 1
The Super Bowl MVP will unseat Carson Wentz as the starter in Philly. How about that for fearless?
OK, not really. Wentz is clearly the franchise quarterback, but Philadelphia needs to be smart about his recovery from his ACL and LCL tear. He might be ready for the opener, but why chance it when you have a successful backup in Foles? That’s the reason you have him on the roster, after all. It’s true that Foles is a free agent after the 2018 season, but that doesn’t mean they have to rush this offseason to get something for him. Start him for the first few weeks until Wentz is ready, send Foles back to the bench and come mid-to-late October, figure out which quarterback-needy team is willing to deal at the deadline.
Ben Roethlisberger will threaten to retire and will actually follow through with it the following year
That Big Ben says he’s mulling retirement isn’t so much a fearless prediction as it is clockwork in the NFL. But I think this will be it for Roethlisberger. His 2017 season was marred by throwing teammates and coaches under the bus. He’s clearly over the new generation of players coming into the league. He’s taken a beating over his career. The Steelers can’t seem to get over the New England (or Jacksonville) hump. This year, I’ll actually believe Roethlisberger when he says it.
Someone outside of the sports world buys the Carolina Panthers
Everyone in Charlotte thinks either some NASCAR team owner or local business leader will buy the Panthers, keep them in Charlotte and everything will forever and always be the same. I find that difficult to believe, because that ignores the fact that there are extremely wealthy people in this country who would love to own an NFL team simply so they can boast that they own an NFL team. Why won’t some hedge fund manager in New York, who’s liquid enough to run for political office and win, decide he’d rather have a shiny NFL toy? What about a co-founder of some tech company in Silicon Valley? You need to be able to write a check for $600 million on the spot to even be considered a controlling owner of an NFL team. The pool of people like that in this country is small, and it consists mostly of people of whom you’ve never heard.
The Texans return to the playoffs
Deshaun Watson is back running on the treadmill, J.J. Watt is walking without a cane and the Houston Texans are my AFC South favorites. No disrespect to the Jaguars, who will still contend for the crown, but the Texans will be back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Before Watt went down injured last season, he and Clowney were finally working well together, and Watson has plenty of weapons in Hopkins and Fuller. Watson had his team within a score in all three of his losses and should take that step next season with a healthy knee.
… along with the Chargers
The Chargers came close last year, finishing 9–7 with tiebreakers awarding the wild cards to the 9-7 Bills and Titans. Philip Rivers is still slinging it, Keenan Allen returned nicely from his 2016 injury for a nearly-1,400-yard season, Melvin Gordon broke the 1,100-yard rushing mark and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram had double-digit sacks. With all the uncertainty in the AFC West, the most stable team is in Los Angeles.
Eric Reid gets the Kaepernick treatment
Colin Kaepernick did not find a job in the NFL last season, and unfortunately he’ll likely never be employed in the NFL again. It’s a sad reality that a player who has the talent to play the most important position in sports cannot because he spoke out against injustice in our free country.
49ers safety Eric Reid, who has continued Kaepernick’s protest, is set to be a free agent, and NFL owners will probably view Reid as Kaepernick’s buddy, the man who will keep the spirit of this “anthem protest” alive on their team. Even though Reid can play both safety positions and even linebacker if needed, owners will have none of that. I hope that this prediction is dead wrong come mid-March, and some team bucks the trend and decides that Reid is more than talented enough to contribute to the team while maintaining his activism. But there’s little this league and its owners have shown me in the past 18 months to make me believe that will be the case.
The Bills sign a veteran quarterback in free agency
By benching Tyrod Taylor last season, this Buffalo has shown it’s not interested in him being the starting quarterback in 2018. Nathan Peterman, he of six interceptions in two-plus quarters, shouldn’t be the answer. And the team, picking 21st and 22nd in the NFL draft, may not want to wait or trade assets to move up in the draft. I’m not convinced the Bills have the structure in place to foster a 21-year-old rookie starting quarterback with new OC Brian Daboll and a defensive-minded head coach. Go out and get a guy who knows what he’s doing—a Bradford or Keenum (or eventually trade for Foles)—and who can get you another wild-card berth. Because we all know who’s winning the AFC East.
The Patriots sign a free-agent QB better than Brian Hoyer and ultimately get back to the conference title game
I’m not willing to send the Patriots to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII because there’s plenty to work out. Yes, it appears Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will remain together for at least one more season. And Josh McDaniels, the likely eventual head coach of the Patriots, is back as offensive coordinator after a big raise and some hurt feelings in Indianapolis. The Patriots have to figure out their defense and plan for the future at tight end. All that said, though, if you have Brady and Belichick, you should expect this team to be in the AFC title at the least.
Drew Brees signs two-year deal with the Saints with voidable years later that will push cap space down the road
The Saints signal-caller confirmed he’s sticking in New Orleans, but of course he’s going to come at a price. If you look at the Saints, every year they seem to be in cap hell because of Brees’s contract that has some impossibly large cap hit that season. That won’t change. Brees will get a big signing bonus that will be spread out for cap purposes over multiple years. The end result: one, good final run at a Super Bowl with Sean Payton and locking up every meaningful passing record on his way out.
Dave Gettleman and Odell Beckham Jr. strike up a deal just before the season starts
In the 2014 NFL draft, the Panthers, Gettleman’s former team, selected Kelvin Benjamin, but the new Giants general manager gushed about Beckham, quick to share how he thought Beckham was the total package. He’s been around the block long enough to know that you don’t let a top-three receiver walk in free agency just because he’s a diva—that comes with Elite Receiver Territory. There’s going to be some hardball and leaks on both sides throughout the summer, but Gettleman will reach an agreement to make Beckham the highest-paid receiver before the Giants kick off the 2018 season.
The Seahawks get Malcolm Butler to keep their Legion of Boom on life support
Belichick may or may not ever explain why he decided to bench Butler during Super Bowl LII, but whatever the reason, I doubt the Seahawks care. Whether it was poor play in practice or something ranging on the nefarious scale (which Butler has vehemently denied), Butler is going to get paid in free agency and no longer be a Patriot. Seattle’s Legion of Boom has crumbled. Earl Thomas could be traded if they can’t reach an extension. Kam Chancellor may never play again. Richard Sherman is recovering from an Achilles’ tendon tear. Seattle will surely add to the defensive backfield in the draft, but they need a free-agent signing now and that’s got to be Butler. Unless, of course, some hard feelings get in the way.
... and the 49ers win the division and go from worst to first
With all the respect to the Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, 2018 belongs not to the Rams but to the 49ers. Mr. Perfection Jimmy Garoppolo went 5–0 while closing out the season with wins against playoff-bound Tennessee, Jacksonville and the L.A. Rams. He hung 44 on Jacksonville’s defense. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan seem to have figured things out rather quickly in the Bay Area, and another great draft this spring will solidify my prediction.
Kirk Cousins will sign a deal worth at least $29 million per year
Now that we are sure Cousins won’t be in Washington, we are also sure (maybe?) that Washington wouldn’t do something as dumb (maybe?) as tagging Cousins again and potentially being on the hook for $34.5 million. He will be the first true top-tier quarterback to hit free agency since Drew Brees, and there’s no doubt he’s going to get a contract bigger than Jimmy Garoppolo, who now tops the charts at $27.5 million per year. Cousins is coming off an extremely impressive season considering the team around him, passing for his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. He’ll be 30 at the start of the season, and the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Teams continue to make a sham of the Rooney Rule
This year we saw just one team (Cardinals) hire a minority head coach. We saw the Raiders make a mockery of the Rooney Rule and the Patriots put themselves in position to do the same when Belichick steps down and McDaniels takes over. Hiring minority coaches in the NFL shouldn’t be that hard: seven out of every 10 players are black, and many coaches are former players. Yet the numbers continue to be disproportionate despite the best efforts of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. No team seems to be getting in trouble by violating the spirit of the Rooney Rule, so I imagine teams will continue to try to circumvent this very important policy.
Jon Gruden flubs a crucial late-game decision that costs the Raiders a game because he hasn’t been on a sideline in a decade.
Sort of speaks for itself, no? Coaching an NFL after 10 years off isn’t exactly like riding a bicycle. This isn’t to say Gruden doesn’t know the rule changes or how the speed of the game has changed since he last roamed the Bucs sideline. But there’s bound to be some rust on THIS GUY!
The ratings will continue to decline
It’s obvious that we’re still oversaturated with pro football: fans can watch games wherever we want on Sunday, Monday and Thursday. In order to reverse ratings, there needs to be more exclusivity. On a whole, our television viewing habits have changed and that’s reflected across the board. And if the ratings from this year’s Super Bowl, one of the greatest ever pitting two teams in major media markets, turned out another year of declining ratings, then why is the 2018 season going to be any different?
The national anthem will still be performed with the players on the field
There’s been chatter that the NFL will revert back to the days of when players stayed in the locker room during the anthem, but I don’t find that likely. Putting the players back in the locker room would be seen as a capitulation to the “protestors”, and the NFL cannot be seen as such. Did you watch the Super Bowl? The Medal of Honor winner flipping the coin, the flyover OVER AN INDOOR STADIUM, all the America that you could want. The anthem certainly isn’t going anywhere, and the NFL isn’t about to hide its players in the locker room.
Ryan Shazier gets back to running in 2018
Man, it was uplifting to see the Steelers linebacker stand when being applauded at the Penguins game this week. Shazier is now reportedly walking with assistance just more than two months after his scary spinal injury in December. It’s obviously too early to tell if Shazier will ever return to football, but every positive update we get brings us more hope that he’ll be able to live a healthy and full life whether he plays football again or not. Here’s hoping that his recovery goes so well that we see Shazier back on a treadmill by the end of the year.