2018 NFL Preview: Vikings, Rams lead excitement rankings

Excitement is mounting for the 2018 NFL season, and in honor of all of this excitement, I’ve decided to rank the 32 teams in order of how compelling of a team that they project to be. Some teams, such as the Browns, would rank much lower on a list based on overall strength but provide enough intrigue to be worthwhile television programming. Also in this article are my 2018 projections for each team, including ultimate result if the team makes it to the playoffs. Enjoy, and get ready for a fantastic football season!

 

1. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams broke out in a big way last year, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They didn’t stand pat either, trading for receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Those additions will join forces with running back Todd Gurley, Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and Coach of the Year Sean McVay in what looks to be a team to beat. If McVay can avoid a sophomore slump and quarterback Jared Goff can improve into a true franchise quarterback, LA will be scary in January.

Projected Finish: 11-5, Lose in Wild Card Round to Packers (34-13)

 

2. Minnesota Vikings

The Rams were not the only ones making splashes in free agency. The Vikings, who reached the NFC Championship last season, signed Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins and boast perhaps the best roster in the league. Turnover in the coaching staff and roster are causes for concern, but Minnesota is too talented to miss out on the playoffs.

Projected Finish: 13-3, lose in Divisional Round to Packers (27-23)

 

3. San Francisco 49ers

San Fran is exciting for one reason- quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy G arrived last year to a 1-10 football team and led it to six straight victories, including several against playoff teams. Repeating that feat will be difficult in the brutal NFC, and this roster is still the one that was rebuilding as of last year.

Projected Finish: 7-9, miss playoffs

 

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

Could this be the last chance for the Steelers to reach the Super Bowl? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is entering his age-36 season, and running back Le’Veon Bell may leave after his franchise tag expires. If so, Pittsburgh is in prime position to capitalize, with the AFC’s top offense as well as a killer pass rush on defense. They’ve fallen short in the playoffs many times, but the Killer B’s bear watching.

Projected Finish: 12-4, Win Super Bowl LIII (20-17)

 

5. Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles, reigning Super Bowl champs. Boy, that feels weird to say. The Super Bowl hangover has befallen many past champions, but Philadelphia’s roster is perhaps even better than last year. Deciding between Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and Pro Bowler Carson Wentz at quarterback is a good problem to have, while both the offense and defense are full of talent and experience. The Eagles will be a top team, though last year’s magic will be impossible to replicate.

Projected Finish: 11-5, Lose in Wild Card Round to Cowboys (31-20)

 

6. New Orleans Saints

Like the Steelers, the Saints are hoping to ride experienced quarterbacks to Super Bowl glory. Thankfully for the 39-year-old Drew Brees, he has plenty of help on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. If not for the Minnesota Miracle, the Saints could’ve made it last year. Brees’ battle with Father Time and the necessary progression of the team’s young stars will determine if these Saints are Super.

Projected Finish: 10-6, miss playoffs

 

7. New England Patriots

The cracks are appearing in the Patriots’ dynasty, from Malcolm Butler’s mysterious benching to Jimmy G’s trade out of town to the team’s uncharacteristic Super Bowl loss, so it could be now or never for New England. The roster is not as strong as in previous years, especially on the offensive line, though any team with Tom Brady is an immediate Super Bowl contender. Unlike past seasons, this Patriots team is vulnerable.

Projected Finish: 12-4, lose in Divisional Round to Chargers (20-13)

 

8. Atlanta Falcons

After their crushing 28-3 blown lead in Super Bowl LI (every NFL article is required to mention this fun fact), the Falcons cushioned their Super Bowl hangover and almost toppled the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. The pieces are in place for another Super Bowl run, especially on the much improved defense. Still, in a crowded NFC, reaching the Super Bowl hosted in their own stadium is a difficult task.

Projected Finish: 12-4, lose in Divisional Round to Cowboys (35-21)

 

9. Dallas Cowboys

For all the turmoil that plagued the Cowboys last season, they still managed to finish with a winning record. With Ezekiel Elliott on the field and fortifications on the defensive front, the Cowboys represent the best chance for any NFC East team to knock the Eagles off their throne. The receiving corps and secondary are question marks that Dallas will need to answer to score a playoff berth.
Projected Finish: 11-5, lose in Super Bowl LIII to Pittsburgh Steelers (20-17)

 

10. Cleveland Browns

Yes, I put an 0-16 team as the 10th most exciting team to watch for this upcoming season. But take one look at the offense and you’ll be intrigued too. The agile Tyrod Taylor is the Week 1 starter and is backed up by the future of the franchise, top overall pick and Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Nick Chubb and former 49er Carlos Hyde team up in a potent backfield, while former Dolphin Jarvis Landry, Pro Bowler Josh Gordon, and tight end David Njoku make for a fearsome attack. There’s nowhere to go but up, and Cleveland should make things interesting.

Projected Finish: 2-14, miss playoffs

 

11. Oakland Raiders

Hire a guy to be your head coach for the next ten years that hasn’t coached for a decade, then watch as he defies analytics and alienates your best player. Welcome to the Jon Gruden experiment, the Raiders’ strange new strategy that just begs for a reality TV show. Gruden has plenty of young talent to work with, especially on offense, and the opportunity to nab a playoff berth is there. As Terrell Owens would say, get your popcorn ready.

Projected Finish: 5-11, miss playoffs

 

12. Green Bay Packers

Last year, the Packers were two completely different teams- Aaron Rodgers Packers and Brett Hundley Packers. Without their MVP quarterback, the Super Bowl-contending Packers went in the tank and were even shut out at home. Now, Rodgers returns to the fold and to a roster that Cheeseheads hope will finally get him the support he needs to make a deep run in the playoffs. The defense underwent drastic changes, including the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, that could be the spark the team needs.

Projected Finish: 12-4, lose in NFC Championship to Cowboys (27-21)

 

13. Los Angeles Chargers

The Super Chargers are all charged up with Super Bowl hype, and for good reason. Philip Rivers is the best quarterback in the NFL not to have reached the Super Bowl and leads a top-tier offense, but the defense is the main reason that Los Angeles will challenge the top teams in the AFC. Though the Chargers have been inconsistent and are inexperienced in the coaching staff, they ended 2017 with six wins in their last seven games. In a weaker AFC, the Chargers are a top challenger to the established order.

Projected Finish: 12-4, lose in AFC Championship to Steelers (29-17)

 

14. Houston Texans

The 2017 Houston Texans were a 4-12 afterthought, but this season the Texans could flip last year’s record and take back the AFC South. Reason number one is quarterback Deshaun Watson, who as a rookie electrified the league with his dual threat prowess before a freak injury. If Andrew Luck isn’t 100 percent in Indianapolis, the Texans will have the division’s best quarterback and best coach. Houston has studs on both sides of the ball to support that duo. If key Texans return from injury and perform, Houston is a team nobody will want to face.

Projected Finish: 10-6, lose in Divisional Round to Steelers (30-7)

 

15. Baltimore Ravens

Quarterback controversy! Joe Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP, now faces the biggest threat to his starting job in first round pick Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner who hurdled defenders. That’s what happens when the team misses the playoffs in three straight years, though whether this motivates Flacco or leads to a quarterback change remains to be seen. The offense around Flacco is retooled, while the defense is among the league’s best. This season is a prove-it year for everyone in Baltimore.

Projected Finish: 10-6, lose in Wild Card Round to Texans (28-18)

 

16.   Jacksonville Jaguars

The doormat team of the NFL finally became the darlings of the league, as the Jaguars’ top ranked defense lifted the team to its first playoff berth in nearly a decade. Jacksonville made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game and almost topped the Patriots, and most of last year’s players return to the team. But the returns of Deshaun Watson in Houston and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis expose the Jaguars’ biggest question mark, the mercurial Blake Bortles. The Jags are a good team, but it will take more than that to stand out in the AFC.

Projected Finish: 10-6, lose in Wild Card Round to Patriots (33-17)

 

17. Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith looked like an MVP for portions of 2017, yet the Chiefs were happy to jettison him at the end of a playoff season. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes now takes over, and his powerful arm and agility breathe fresh air into an offense already stacked with playmakers. The defense, once the strength of this club, is now the weakness.

Projected Finish: 9-7, miss playoffs

 

18. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts could be the number 32 team on the list, depending on how the return of quarterback Andrew Luck plays out. Along with the 12s in Green Bay and New England, the 12 in Indianapolis is an elite quarterback when healthy, but his team is awful when he’s not 100%. New coach Frank Reich brings Super Bowl success in Indianapolis and this team has a fresh outlook. But in the crowded AFC South, the Colts must prove a lot to return to relevance.

Projected Finish: 5-11, miss playoffs

 

19.   Chicago Bears

NFL experts have pegged the Bears as their sleeper team, thanks to the hiring of coach Matt Nagy and a bevy of top young players on both sides of the ball. Chicago is on the rise, though it would take a lot to jump into the playoffs. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky enters his second year and should enjoy new targets Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, plus a top running back in Jordan Howard behind him. Keep an eye out for this team.

Projected Finish: 6-10, miss playoffs

 

20. Tennessee Titans

For a team that advanced to the Divisional Round, the Titans have gotten lost in the shuffle. The roster signals playoff contender, with talents such as quarterback Marcus Mariota and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, but new coach Mike Vrabel is in charge of a team for the first time and the team could go in any direction in the strong AFC South. Like Houston, the Titans will rely on players returning from injury. They will need to show progression to keep up with the other playoff teams.

Projected Finish: 8-8, miss playoffs

 

21. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton’s up-and-downs have turned from the talk of the league to football’s version of a hypnotic pendulum. The Panthers were the least exciting of any of the teams to make last year’s playoffs and there are no reasons to expect much growth. The defense remains great, Newton remains an offensive force, but finding reasons why the Panthers could take the next step is difficult. And with the Saints and Falcons in division, it’s an uphill climb in Carolina.

Projected Finish: 8-8, miss playoffs

 

22. Detroit Lions

Quarterback Matthew Stafford puts up elite numbers year after year, but he has yet to prove that he’s one of the NFL’s best. His offense will stay mostly the same with the return of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (what a name), but the hiring of new head coach Matt Patricia gives Detroit fans hope that the shakeup could put the Lions back in the playoff picture. This team was a game away from reaching the playoffs last season, though it is levels below the other contenders in the NFC this year.

Projected Finish: 7-9, miss playoffs

 

23. Arizona Cardinals

Gone are head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer. These Cardinals will have a much different look, though some big names on both sides of the ball prevent this year from being an all-out rebuild. Running back David Johnson returns to the backfield, while linebacker Chandler Jones is coming off a phenomenal 17-sack season. The position to watch is quarterback, with three new players vying for time under center. Oft-injured veteran Sam Bradford is the Day 1 starter, though rookie Josh Rosen could jump in and shine right away.

Projected Finish: 4-12, miss playoffs

 

24. Washington Redskins

The Redskins were on the losing end of the Kirk Cousins move, but their acquisition of former Chief Alex Smith keeps them in the mix for 2018. Washington has been plagued by injuries in past seasons, but both sides of the ball have playoff potential if healthy. If Smith has a smooth transition, the Redskins could sneak into contention.

Projected Finish: 5-11, miss playoffs

 

25. Seattle Seahawks

Four seasons ago, the Seahawks were a goal line touchdown away from becoming the NFL’s dynasty of the 2010s. Now key members of those dominant Seattle teams have departed, from cornerback Richard Sherman (49ers) to safety Kam Chancellor (retirement), and the roster that remains is outmatched by its NFC competitors. If not for MVP-caliber quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ rebuild would be unwatchable. This could be the last season for coach Pete Carroll, and this team looks closer to tearing down than building up for another playoff run.

Projected Finish: 7-9, miss playoffs

 

26. New York Giants

2017 was terrible, especially by the Giants’ standards. What they took away from the season is a new face of the franchise, running back Saquon Barkley, and a new coach in Pat Shurmur. Quarterback Eli Manning is nearing the end of his career and the team is light years away from the division favorite Eagles, but there are pieces on both offense and defense to make the Giants somewhat relevant.

Projected Finish: 6-10, miss playoffs

 

27. New York Jets

The Jets could be the sneaky team that slips into the playoffs when nobody expects. New York added two quarterbacks, third overall pick Sam Darnold and former Viking Teddy Bridgewater, that have Pro Bowl potential, and head coach Todd Bowles has overachieved in an often turbulent situation. Seeing the Jets take the second spot in the AFC East would not be a surprise.

Projected Finish: 7-9, miss playoffs

 

28. Buffalo Bills

The Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 last year and then decided to send away the quarterback that brought them back to the promised land. Tyrod Taylor is gone, replaced by former Bengal A.J. McCarron and first round pick Josh Allen. The team’s offense runs through running back LeSean McCoy, whose off-the-field troubles could pose serious issues for the team. Buffalo has found a competent coach in Sean McDermott, but this roster does not look playoff-caliber.

Projected Finish: 6-10, miss playoffs

 

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay has assumed sleeper status for the past couple years, but the suspension of quarterback Jameis Winston could send the Bucs spiraling to an awful season. Both sides of the ball have playmakers, including receiver Mike Evans and linebacker Lavonte David, and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is capable in the short-term. If Winston can’t get his act together and make clear strides forward, change could be in the air in Tampa.

Projected Finish: 3-13, miss playoffs

 

30. Denver Broncos

John Elway’s Broncos are a difficult team to judge. New quarterback Case Keenum hopes to build off a stellar season in Minnesota, though the Broncos’ offensive line and personnel are uninspiring. The real strength of this team is the pass rush combination of Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb, which will need to compensate for losses in the defensive backfield. A playoff berth isn’t out of the picture. Neither is a full-rebuild.

Projected Finish: 7-9, miss playoffs

 

31. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins could be really, really bad in 2018. Yes, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was injured, but this team was uninspired and irrelevant last season. Take away arguably the best two players in receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as the Dolphins did this offseason, and this team looks ripe for a rebuilding period. With the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft…

Projected Finish: 1-15, miss playoffs

 

32. Cincinnati Bengals

Well, the Bengals’ four year streak of first-round playoff losses snapped in 2017, though their elimination of the Ravens in Week 17 (still groaning over that) ensured that their current core of coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton stays intact for at least another year. The Bengals aren’t as dangerous as in previous years, especially on defense. This is a team stuck between playoff contention and a committed rebuild. They won’t be Cleveland-level awful, but that may be what this team needs to get out of their rut of mediocrity.

Projected Finish: 6-10, miss playoffs

 

Most Valuable Player: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers

Coach of the Year: Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers

Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Comeback Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Most Improved Player: Patrick Mahomes III, Kansas City Chiefs

Least Valuable Player: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dumpster Fire of the Year: Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

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