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NFL Preview: What to Expect

John Orzechowski, Head Writer

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Last Thursday, the Atlanta Falcons visited the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles for the first of 256 NFL games between now and February, resulting in a Philadelphia victory of 18-12. From the Browns taking Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick to the Bears trading two first round picks for pass rushing linebacker Khalil Mack after the end of preseason, it’s been an active offseason right up until the end. But the offseason is over. Here are four major things to watch for every Sunday in the next few months.

1. Can the Eagles keep it together?: It’s funny how some things work out. Last year, the Eagles were projected to be the third best team in their division behind the Cowboys and the Giants. However, injuries marred New York and Dallas, leading them to underperform drastically. On the other hand, Philly’s sophomore Quarterback Carson Wentz played like an MVP until he went down with an ACL tear in week 14, his backup Nick Foles played exceptionally in his place, and the defense developed into one of the best in the league resulting in the first Lombardi trophy ever to visit the city of brotherly love. But this year, Dallas is back with Ezekiel Elliott for a full season and best offensive and defensive line combination. New York is revamped with a healthy Odell, an Eli who shows no signs of being 37 years old, and the best running back we’ve seen straight out of college in years in second overall pick Saquon Barkley. The Eagles are still a top three in the NFC, and Carson Wentz is returning, but don’t expect the road to be easy if they want to return to the Super Bowl.

2. Young QBs: Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. Baker Mayfield went to the Browns with the first overall pick, Sam Darnold to the Jets at #3, Josh Allen to the Bills at #7, Josh Rosen to the Cardinals at #10, and Lamar Jackson to the Ravens at #32. All these teams are seriously lacking at the quarterback position (with the possible exception of Baltimore with veteran Joe Flacco), and the first four are going to be starters before the season ends. Darnold earned the QB1 job and will be under center for the Jet’s first game against Detroit, and don’t expect Mayfield, Rosen, or Allen to be far behind. These are the players of the future, and they’ll be giving us a glimpse of their future careers this year.

3. Returning Stars: Last year was a bloodbath in the NFL. Almost every team felt a significant loss due to major stars dealing with injury. Some major names to go down include Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman, Texans QB Deshaun Watson and DE J.J Watt, Cardinals running back David Johnson and QB Carson Palmer, Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook and QB Sam Bradford, Carolina tight end Greg Olson, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, along with the aforementioned Odell Beckham and Carson Wentz, just to name a few. These stars are back and ready to play, with the exception of the now retired Palmer and the still recovering Wentz. Rodgers is a preseason MVP candidate and Deshaun Watson with J.J Watt could help the Texans become one of the best teams in the AFC. Keep an eye on these names as they return from hiatus.

4. Who will raise the Lombardi Trophy?: The most asked question in the weeks leading up to the NFL season is basic: who’s going to win the Super Bowl? Here’s my two cents: there are four realistic teams to represent the AFC in Super Bowl fifty three: the Patriots, the Steelers, the Jaguars, and maybe the Chargers. But the Patriots don’t seem as good as they did last year, and Tom Brady is 41. Age has to catch up to him eventually, and there’s a valid reason to wonder how good this team is without him. Jacksonville might have the best defense in the league, but their offense is a force to be questioned. The Chargers are another team with a solid defense, and they have a respectable receiving core, but their run game is weak. I think the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best team in the AFC. Their O- Line is great, which will help running backs Le’veon Bell and James Conner. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL and Juju Smith-Schuster is an up and coming star. They’ve got a top ten D- Line and and their defensive backfield is only going to improve over the year. The Steelers will be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The NFC is more complicated, because there’s six realistic contenders: the Eagles, the Vikings, the Falcons, the Saints, the Rams, and the Packers. The Eagles are stacked and have a scary good defense but however long they have to wait for Carson Wentz is going to put more pressure on them. The Vikings are the only team to challenge Jacksonville for the best defense in the league, and they’ve got a good offense. If they were in the AFC, they’d be the best team by far. The Falcons have the best all- around offense in the league, and one of the best defensive backfields in the league. They’re a serious contender. New Orleans might have the best running back pair in football, and Drew Brees still has it. However, their defense lacks any serious elite talent other than corner Marshon Lattimore. Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay is an early season MVP favorite, but he’s a lot like Tom Brady: The team around him isn’t that special. The Rams are really, really good. Todd Gurley is the best running back in the league, and their receiving core is elite. They’ve got two of the best pass rushers and a seriously good cornerback duo. They’ve got the best special teams in the league. They’re an all around really good team. I predict that the Rams will meet the Falcons in the NFC championship game, and will face off against the Steelers in Super Bowl 53.

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NFL Preview: What to Expect