The end could be closer than anticipated for Pittsburghs Ben Roethlisberger, who turned 37 this offseason. Photograph: Derick E Hingle/USA Today Sports
Johnny Manziel disaster waiting to happen department
NB Helmet sagas, frostbitten feet, fish-head-in-the-fridge lawsuits is Antonio Brown in Oakland a disaster waiting to happen or one thats already unfolding?
GB Arizonas Kyler Murray is an extremely talented quarterback who would thrive with a few games of study under a seasoned NFL quarterback. Instead, hell be the Week 1 starter under rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who compiled a 35-40 record as a college head coach and whose defenses finished 105th or lower for five consecutive seasons before his dismissal. Murray is a great player entering a horrendous situation.
OC The Raiders. OK, so in one building we have: Antonio Brown, Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock, Richie Incognito, Vontaze Burfict, Mark Davis and the looming specter of a move to Vegas. Woof! Not even Derek Carrs blandness can save this inevitable calamity.
HF The Miami Dolphins are desperately trying to tank, but what if starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has the tendency to play fantastic when nobody expects anything from him and incredibly badly when handed the keys, backfires and they win enough games to sink their draft position?
MJ Beware more bizarre antics from Antonio Brown, especially once the Raiders start racking up losses. Trash-talking teammates and coaches, running off to Botswana, worshipping the color blue. With AB expect abnormal to be the norm. The NFLs partnership with Jay-Z is
NB not going to make anyone forget how the league treated Colin Kaepernick.
GB further proof that Jay-Z is not just a businessman, hes a business, man! Whatever his aims are, its a staggering decision to align himself with NFL owners.
OC a sham. Progress to profit, this was always going to be the way. Jay-Z sold out Colin Kaepernick and his fellow, peaceful protestors. The NFL got what it wanted: Kaepernick is out of the league, other players are now on notice, and theyre able to make cash. Its disgusting.
HF incredibly devious. Its a brilliant marketing move that papers over a lot of ugliness in the league and the more I think about it, the more depressed I get.
MJ a strange branding move for Jay-Z that may help a few people but will never detract from the leagues role in Colin Kaepernicks unemployment. MVP
NB Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs. Its reasonable to expect some regression, but the conditions are all there for him to thrive again in Andy Reids offense.
Mahomes GB Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs. Hell become the first repeat winner of the leagues highest individual honor since Peyton Manning in 2008 and 2009.
OC Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Either a new staff revitalizes the most talented player (second now?) at the most valuable position in sports, or hes become some kind of uncoachable individualist who cannot work within a team construct, regardless of its construct. Im betting on the former; hes going to wreck the league.
HF Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs. His biggest obstacles? Well, theres the looming presence of Drew Brees, particularly if the Chiefs end with a worse record than the Saints, and the general difficulty of remaining fully healthy year in and year out in the NFL. Still, I believe.
MJ Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs. As long as Mahomes is in the same stratosphere as last seasons 50-touchdown extravaganza, this is his award to lose in 2019 and beyond. Rookie of the year
NB Josh Allen, Jaguars. There are two Josh Allens to keep an eye on in the NFL this season, but only one of them is a rookie pass rusher who Im expecting to light things up on a Jacksonville defense that could bounce back strongly in 2019.
GB David Montgomery, Bears. The rookie running back from Iowa State will be thrust into head coach Matt Nagys offense. Hes a gifted pass-catching back and will be a necessary weapon for a quarterback as inconsistent as Trubisky.
OC Mecole Hardman, Chiefs. Hardman might be the springiest athlete in the league. He was drafted to replace Tyreek Hill. Now, hell play alongside him. If Hardman has four Wow highlights, hell clinch the award.
HF Josh Jacobs, Raiders. No 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is probably the favorite to win this one, but there are always questions when it comes to a rookie quarterback. Its possible well see Jacobs put up some monster numbers with the Raiders while Murray takes his lumps. His new boss seems to believe that will happen.
MJ Kyler Murray, Cardinals. Murrays talent and Kliff Kingsburys playbook should help the rookie compile an undeniable highlight reel, thus securing an award that almost always goes to an offensive player. AFC East champion
NB The Patriots, because of course.
GB The Patriots last finished a season with fewer than double-digit wins was in 2002.
OC The Patriots. Duh. Messrs Belichick, Brady, Scarnecchia and McDaniels are there. If those four are in or around the building, they win the AFC East. Its that simple.
HF With Brady on the decline, and Rob Gronkowski retired, expect New England to take a step backward yet still clinch the division with ease.
MJ The Patriots. The easiest division to call for a decade now. The Jets and Bills should improve but will be second-class citizens until Bill Belichick retires. AFC North champion
NB The Browns. Ah, go on then, lets buy all the way into Cleveland hype. This is a fascinating division, though I believe in John Harbaughs ability to make the most of Lamar Jacksons skillset and Mark Ingram is an upgrade at running back, too. If the Steelers can stay competitive, as usual, its going to be a close fight.
GB The Ravens. Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson is ready for a star turn, and the Baltimore offense will wear down opposing defenses with exhausting drives while their defense will provide its trademark tenacity.
OC The Browns. If Cleveland wore different helmets, they would be co-favorites to win the Super Bowl alongside the defending champs.
HF The Browns. This is saying something, since the Browns havent won a division title since 1989 and havent made the playoffs since 2002. The Cavaliers won an NBA title and the Indians won the pennant back in 2016. Its the Browns time.
MJ The Ravens. Cleveland are the sexy pick but Lamar Jacksons progression and an elite secondary will help Baltimore prevail in a tight division. AFC South champion
NB The Jaguars. So many questions for all of these teams. Can DeShaun Watson survive without an offensive line in Houston? Will Marcus Mariota ever become the star he was billed to be? Is there any hope for the Colts without Luck? Im not convinced that Nick Foles is going to be brilliant in Jacksonville, but he will be better than Blake Bortles, and that might be enough to vault the Jags to the top of the pile.
GB The Colts. Even with Andrew Lucks shocking retirement, Indianapolis will start one of the leagues more reliable backups in Jacoby Brissett while returning one of the games best defensive players in Darius Leonard, a stacked offensive line and an extremely creative offensive mind in head coach Frank Reich.
OC The Titans. I dont feel good about it, but it feels like theyve leapfrogged the Colts and Texans in the last fortnight.
HF The Texans. With Luck out of the picture, Houston are going all-in, particularly with the trade for tackle Laremy Tunsil, although possibly sacrificing their long-term success in the process. Watch as the Texans win the division by default, potentially with a .500 record, lose in their first game of the playoffs and suffer buyers remorse for the next few seasons.
MJ The Jaguars. Jacksonville retained most of their key defensive starters and should again be a top-five unit. Nick Foles is a major upgrade over Blake Bortles. AFC West champion
NB The Chiefs. Did I mention how much Im looking forward to watching Mahomes again?
GB The Chargers. A toothless Chiefs defense means Los Angeles will shock the NFL and win the division. The holdout of running back Melvin Gordon denies quarterback Philip Rivers of one of his better weapons, but backup Austin Ekeler is a versatile piece and complements a host of talented playmakers between receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as well as tight end Hunter Henry. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, arguably the leagues most underrated defender, will terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
OC The Chargers. They finished eighth in defensive DVOA last year and third in offensive DVOA. And they improved on both sides of the ball.
HF The Chiefs. Heres where my Most Valuable Player pick has essentially made my choice for me. If Mahomes ends up being the regular-season MVP for a second straight season, that would probably necessitate him leading the Chiefs to their second straight AFC West title. The Chargers are going to make things interesting though.
MJ The Chiefs. With Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Kansas City have too much firepower. The Chargers are close but losing disruptive safety Derwin James really stings. AFC wild card teams
NB Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos
GB New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs
OC Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens
HF Pittsburgh Steelers, LA Chargers
MJ Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns
The AFC East is the Patriots division to lose as long as the Brady-Belichick union remains intact. Photograph: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports NFC East champion
NB The Eagles. If Carson Wentz can stay healthy, Philadelphia are a Super Bowl contender. Thats a big if. Wentz made changes to his diet and workout schedule this offseason but his offensive line has been missing its entire right side in preseason. Im still taking Philly, and have high hopes for rookie running back Miles Sanders, but so much rests on the quarterbacks ability to stay on the field.
GB The Eagles. Philadelphias offensive line has combined to start 378 games as members of the Eagles, an astonishing feat of consistency that should help protect oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz. On defense, linebacker Zach Brown was one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason.
OC The Eagles. Pull up Philadelphias roster and try to find a hole. They are pretty much two-deep with league average talent at every single position.
HF The Eagles. Bonus prediction: Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz will be the Comeback Player of the Year.
MJ The Cowboys. With Zeke back and Kellen Moore calling plays, plus a fierce pair of inside linebackers, Dallas should hold off the feisty Eagles and claim the division. NFC North champion
NB The Vikings. Are we really sure Mitch Trubisky is going to take that big step forward in Chicago? The Packers have made significant upgrades to their pass rush and still have Aaron Rodgers behind center. But Im taking Minnesota, who have an elite defense as well as brilliant offensive weapons in Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Kirk Cousins has his limitations, but I trust him more than Trubisky.
GB The Vikings. Kirk Cousins disappointed during his first season in Minnesota, but another year with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs plus a reliable defense will help the Vikings outlast the Bears and Packers in one of the leagues toughest divisions.
OC The Packers. Ive picked Aaron Rodgers to win the MVP, so Ill give the division nod to Green Bay. I still think the Lions go deeper in the playoffs, though.
HF The Packers. It will be up for Aaron Rodgers to prove that hes not done but a change in head coach might be just what he needs. The Bears ravenous defense should be enough to push them into the postseason, however.
MJ The Bears. Chicagos ridiculously stacked defense should give all NFL offenses nightmares. Also, Mitchell Trubisky is not the liability many think. NFC South champion
NB The Falcons. Im worried about Cam Newtons shoulder. I also think that we may see a little regression from Drew Brees at 40 years old. Atlanta drafted to strengthen their offensive line but should be better in any case simply by virtue of having Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones three key starters back on defense after losing all three to injury early last year.
GB The Saints. For years, New Orleans soared on offense while fielding some of the leagues worst defenses. The presence of defensive lineman Cameron Jordan and one of the games best secondaries has transformed the Saints into a complete unit that is equipped to make a deep playoff run.
OC The Panthers. If Cam Newtons shoulder holds up, Carolina are as gifted as any team in the division.
HF New Orleans were defeated in overtime by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game after the referees missed an easy pass interference call that would have put them in position to win in regulation. This will be their revenge season.
MJ The Saints. New Orleans went 13-3 last season and probably should have been in the Super Bowl. They only got better in the offseason. No reason they shouldnt dominate the division again. NFC West champion
NB The Rams have their problems, and its possible that opponents have learned a thing or two about how to stop them from watching Super Bowl LIII. But this division is still theirs to lose.
GB The Rams. Sean McVay enamored the world with his high-flying offense that anchored an unlikely Super Bowl berth. Its improbable that quarterback Jared Goff will be quite as good in 2019, but the Rams remain the class of the division.
OC The Rams. Were at the start of a long Sean McVay-Jared Goff run in the West. Dont overthink it. Eric Weddle might be the most impactful pickup anywhere this offseason.
HF The Rams. They still should be favorites to win the division but watch out for the Seattle Seahawks, who should challenge them throughout the rest of the season.
MJ The Rams. Forget the last Super Bowl. They still boast a super-team roster and a head coach who schemes in his sleep.
A fully fit Carson Wentz should guide the Eagles to a third straight postseason berth. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP NFC wild card teams
NB Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers
GB Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks
OC Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints
HF Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears
MJ Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers AFC championship game prediction
NB Patriots over Chiefs
GB Ravens over Patriots
OC Patriots over Browns
HF Chiefs over Patriots
MJ Patriots over Chiefs NFC championship game prediction
NB Eagles over Rams
GB Saints over Seahawks
OC Eagles over Lions
HF Saints over Rams
MJ Bears over Saints Super Bowl LIV prediction
NB Patriots over Eagles. Tom Brady continues to defy age and logic, exacting revenge on the Eagles team that defied him two years before. Brady, with nothing left to prove to anyone, confirms that he will be back to do it all again next year anyway.
GB Saints over Ravens. In a thrilling clash of high-flying offense against punishing defense, Drew Brees finally overcomes the brutal playoff defeats that have ended the last two seasons in New Orleans before announcing his retirement. Lamar Jacksons valiant comeback ends short of the go-ahead touchdown, but Jacksons future brightens while one of the games most prolific passers retires on top.
OC Eagles over Patriots. When you have a top-five offensive line and top-five pass-rush, you should be winning Super Bowls.
HF Saints over Chiefs. I want to say Kansas City here, but the fact is the Chiefs defense continues to lag well behind their offense. Thats going to be a problem against Drew Brees and the Saints. In fact, if youre a betting person, take the over on the points allowed by Kansas City in this prediction.
MJ Bears over Patriots. With incredible defensive line depth that gives defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano many personnel options, the Bears are built to withstand the Pats various run schemes. Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and company will be able to disrupt Tom Brady just like the Rams did last season, Chicago will showcase their dynamic run attack and a signal-caller in Trubisky who people forget was a stud in the second half of the doink-y loss to Philly.