Tag Archives: NFL

How The NFL Might Have Just Guaranteed A Work Stoppage In The Future

I’m no expert on labor laws, union contracts, or the general business operations of professional sports. I’d never claim otherwise. I’m just a typical guy who loves watching sports. I have about as much expertise to judge a labor dispute as I do in performing brain surgery.

While I lack the expertise, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know when there’s potential conflict down the line. It’s not always obvious, but the signs are usually the same. People see an opportunity to resolve a conflict in the short term, but lay the foundation for greater conflicts in the long run. Like treating a symptom rather than a disease, it simply delays a bigger problem rather than resolving it.

That’s my initial take on the recent approval of the NFL’s new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. At a time when the news about sports has been historically bleak, many see this as a rare bit of good news from the sports world. To some extent, it is. By approving this deal, the NFL avoids a potential work stoppage that could’ve occurred after the 2020 season.

As a die-hard football fan, which I’ve affirmed more than once on this site, I’m glad to hear that this issue wasn’t drawn out. The last time this occurred, there was a full-blown lockout that almost bled into the season. I understand why labor deals are such a big deal in professional sports. Football, especially, requires unique protections for players who want to make money playing an objectively dangerous game.

However, the news on this deal has some details and circumstances that give me pause. It’s not just that certain players are already criticizing it. That’s bound to happen with any deal. The fact that this deal was approved amidst a massive crisis that has rocked the sports world to its core and by such a narrow margin is somewhat telling.

In general, when something is approved by a narrow margin, it’s a sign that neither side is all that happy. It implies there are still many unresolved issues and the presence of a deal doesn’t make those issues go away. Just look at how often narrowly decided Supreme Court decisions tend to cause more issues down the road.

The issues between the players and owners are many, but most boil down to who gets how much of the massive revenue that the NFL generates every year. This new deal gives the players a larger share of the revenue, but also sets the stage for an 17-game season, as well as an expanded playoffs.

As a football fan, I love the prospect of more football, but I also don’t deny that issues that tend to arise whenever you ask workers to work longer. These players already put their bodies through more rigor than most fans can ever fathom and now they’re being asked to push themselves even more. Even if it’s for more money, is the amount they got enough?

It’s hard to say since I’m not an NFL player, but the fact that the players approved the deal by such a narrow margin leads me to believe it’s not. Some may not oppose it, but I think the stage is already set for a much bigger conflict down the line. Once players start playing this 17-game season and see the amount of revenue it generates, they’re going to want more for the grind they endure.

Given the circumstances surrounding this deal, I suspect the only way they’ll get what they want is by going on strike, like they did back in the early 1980s. It might be their only recourse if the NFL continues to grow at its current pace. It will get ugly. Fans will hate it and so will the owners. However, it might be the only way they can get what they want.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I look forward to every new NFL season with great excitement. I want to keep enjoying football as a fan and I want the players to benefit as much as they deserve. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail in the end. For now, though, I think it’s only a matter of time before the NFL faces a bigger conflict that they won’t be able to blame on a pandemic.

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My Reaction To Week One Of The (New And Improved) XFL

Two years ago, I expressed intrigue and excitement about the prospect of the XFL returning almost 20 years after its initial failure. Part of that is because I’m a lifelong football fan. My annual excitement over the Super Bowl is proof of that. Another part of that is because the months between February and April, when baseball season starts, is a sports desert.

The NBA and NHL regular season is winding down.

The NCAA basketball tournament hasn’t started yet.

There’s a real void to be filled. Many have tried to fill it with spring football, including the first version of the XFL. To date, all have failed. It has led some to believe that spring football just isn’t possible. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment.

I believe there is a market for more football and I believe this new version of the XFL is doing everything right in pursuing it. They took their time, using the past two years to make sure they had plenty of money in hand and refine the rules. After plenty of waiting and anticipation, week one kicked off this past weekend. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Given how the first XFL failed, it could’ve been a disaster.

After watching all four games and seeing the quality of the product on the field, I have just one thing to say. As it just so happens, Morty Smith said it better.

I know it’s premature.

I know a lot can change between the first week of the season in the last.

For now, that doesn’t matter. I’m in. The XFL 2.0 has sold me. It’s real football at a time when the sports world needs it. I was rooting for it before. Now, I’m rooting even harder. The world of football and the world of sports, in general, will benefit from the XFL succeeding.

I still miss the old XFL cheerleaders, but I’ll manage.

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July/August 2020: A Local Baby Boom Triggered By DC Sports?

babiescms

As a lifelong fan of sports who lives in the Baltimore/DC metro area, I’m very aware of major events and achievements in sports that affect these areas.

I was very aware when the Washington Redskins won the Superbowl in 1992.

I was very aware when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012.

I was very aware of when Robert Griffin III took the league by storm in 2012.

I’m also aware that Lamar Jackson has the Baltimore Ravens looking like Super Bowl contenders this year.

When there’s reason to cheer, I tend to notice. After 2012, however, this area didn’t have many reasons to be cheerful. The Baltimore/DC area has had mixed luck at best when it comes to major sports. The DC area was especially unlucky in that, until very recently, no major sports team had won a championship since the Redskins did it in 1992. That’s a long drought, albeit not the longest.

That finally changed in 2018 when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Make no mistake. This was a big deal for the area. My ears are still ringing from some of the cheering I heard. It also made the area subject to an interesting, but sexy side-effect of winning a championship. It may or may not have inspired a bit of a baby boom in the area.

Now, that makes sense intuitively. When your team wins, especially after a long drought, fans are going to celebrate. Sometimes, the celebrations get sexy. When things get sexy, babies sometimes get made. That’s just the nature of celebrations and they’re a beautiful thing.

While it’s hard to determine how much or how little of a baby boom there was once the Capitals won the cub in 2018, there was a notable uptick in babies being named after players. There has also been some previous research about cities or regions that win the Super Bowl on whether a championship causes a spike in birth rates. To date, the research is inconclusive.

However, there is some reason to suspect that championships in certain areas cause a baby boom. When the Chicago Cubs won the world series in 2016, ending a championship drought that was over 100 years old, there was a documented uptick in births nine months later. That implies that whether or not a baby boom occurs after a championship depends heavily on the city.

This brings me back to the DC area. Just a month and a half ago, the Washington Nationals capped off a historic playoff run to win their first World Series since the franchise moved from Montreal back in 2005. It also marked the first World Series won by a DC baseball team since 1924.

As someone who lives near the area, I can confirm that this was an emotional achievement. I have family members who remembered vividly when DC lost its baseball team back in the 1970s. It was a sad time for the region. Some thought they would never see baseball in DC again.

Then, the Washington Nationals came back and, for most of their early history, they were terrible. Even when they got good, though, they developed a reputation for choking in the playoffs. For them to win it all this year, especially after starting 19-31, was nothing short of astounding.

The celebrations this achievement triggered were a sight to behold. It also had me check my calendar. The Nationals capped off their championship on October 30, 2019. That means in late July, early August 2020, we’ll find out just how much celebrating DC sports fans did after that historic achievement.

I’ve already got my calendar marked. I’m going to be keeping an eye on the local news to see if there’s an uptick in births throughout the area during that time. If I find something, I’ll be sure to share the results. Honestly, as a long-time resident of the DC/Baltimore area, I hope there is a bit of a spike. If nothing else, it’ll show the people in my area know how to celebrate in sexy ways.

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Can We Just Take A Moment To Appreciate Last Night’s Saints/Texans Game?

It’s a good day to be Will Lutz of the New Orleans Saints. That’s all I’ll say.

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Jack Fisher’s Predictions/Picks For The 2019 NFL Season

NFL Combine Football

It’s that wonderful, exciting, beer-soaked time of year again. A new NFL season is upon us. Football fans, like myself, have followed news, leaks, and rumors from the start of free agency to the NFL draft to the preseason. It’s all been building towards this.

We’ve all been anxiously waiting to see if our team has done enough to become a contender. There have been all sorts of bold predictions, rampant speculation, heavy hype, and even a little doom-saying. Some major stories about certain players have already thrown things into chaos. More chaos is sure to come as the season progresses. That’s part of what makes the NFL one of the best spectacles in all of sports.

Last year, I made my share of predictions. Again, I was dead wrong. I grossly overestimated how the Pittsburgh Steelers would navigate the chaos that is Le’Veon Bell and how much Kirk Cousins would underachieve after signing his historic free agency contract. This year, I’m sure I’ll make predictions that are every bit as off.

That’s another part of what makes the NFL season such entertaining. It really is unpredictable. You never know what team will go from worst to first. You never know what team will collapse. You never know when a bullshit call by the refs will cost a team a trip to the Super Bowl. You really can’t know until the games are played and it all starts tonight with the kickoff of the 2019 NFL season.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am ready for some football! Just as I’ve done the previous two years, I’m going to make my picks and predictions for division winners and Super Bowl contenders this season. Most of them will likely be wrong, but that’s exactly why I’ll be locked in to watch for the next several months. It’s sure to be a wild ride.


AFC East

Once again, the AFC east is the most lopsided division in the NFL. You don’t need to be a psychic to know how this one will play out. For the past two decades, the New England Patriots have dominated this division as though it were a bunch of tune-up games. I don’t see that changing this season.

The fact remains that Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings. The New England Patriots have won this division almost every year since 2001. The only time they lost it in 2008 was when Brady was out with a knee injury. Unless he’s injured or retires, he and the Patriots will breeze through the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins.

All three of those teams are in a rebuilding phase. The only team that stands a sliver of a chance is the Jets, who have put together a decent team with Sam Darnold as their quarterback. However, neither he nor anyone else in that division is close to dethroning the Patriots. Until Brady and Belichick retire, that will not change.

Winner: New England Patriots


AFC North

Unlike the AFC East, this division has become less and less predictable with each passing season. Not long ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the most loaded team in the division. Their presence in the playoffs was almost a given. It was just a matter of them not underachieving at the worst possible time, which tended to happen.

Now, even with Ben Roethlisberger still playing at a high level, the Steelers have been losing ground to the Baltimore Ravens and the emerging Cleveland Browns. Last year, the Ravens really surprised everyone with how Lamar Jackson fared against top defenses. While I suspect opposing defenses will catch up with him, the team around him has what it takes to keep the Ravens competitive.

While I know the Browns have become a hot pick this season, thanks largely to some big time trades, they haven’t proved they’re capable of taking that next step. At the very least, they’ll keep the Steelers and the Ravens from running away with the division. They may even get into the playoffs as a wild card team. For now, though, I think the Ravens have the most balanced team and they’ll repeat this year.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens


AFC South

A few weeks ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how this division was going to play out. Then, Andrew Luck retired in the middle of the preseason at age 29. While I can’t necessarily blame him, given all the injuries he endured, his retirement caught the Indianapolis Colts off-guard and the entire AFC South, for that matter.

This division has become a lot more competitive in recent years. Both the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars made sure that Luck’s run with the Colts was painful. His absence can only help them. While Colts do have some play-makers outside of Luck, I don’t see them as being enough to compete this year.

Instead, I think this division might end up being the most dramatic, thanks to the arrival of Nick Foles in Jacksonville. While the Texans have big names like J. J. Watt, the Jaguars have a more complete team, overall. Poor quarterback play by Blake Bortles was the only reason they came up short last year and Nick Foles is a huge upgrade over Bortles.

Let’s not forget that Foles has one thing that no other quarterback in the AFC South has, including Andrew Luck, and that’s a Super Bowl ring. This is the guy who beat Tom Brady in a shootout. He brought Philadelphia a championship. I think he’ll get the Jaguars into the playoffs and he may even do some damage.

Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


AFC West

Last year might have marked the beginning of a new era in the AFC. The season that Patrick Mahomes had last year was nothing short of gaudy. He established the Kansas City Chiefs as an offensive powerhouse and took his team to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl. He even managed to do this during a season when Phillip Rivers had one of his best years with the Los Angeles Chargers.

I see no reason why Mahomes and the Chiefs can’t be contenders again in 2019. However, I’ve been watching football long enough to know that any team can get hot one year and fall flat the next. While I don’t see the Chiefs collapsing, I also can’t see them being as dominant as they were last year.

At the same time, I don’t see any other team in their division elevating their game enough to challenge the Chiefs. The Broncos might give them some issues with Joe Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, as their quarterback, but I have a feeling that Mahomes will come back down to Earth this season.

That said, I think the Chiefs have enough firepower and depth to repeat. The Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers will keep it closer this year, but not enough to get past Kansas City.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


NFC East

This is one of those divisions that I find frustrating because no team ever seems to sustain their success, once they get it. There hasn’t been a team to repeat as division champs since the early 2000s and I don’t see that changing this year. Between contract disputes with the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles losing their former Super Bowl MVP to free agency, I’m genuinely perplexed by the NFC East this year.

That said, this division did get somewhat simpler over the offseason. Eli Manning, despite his two Super Bowl rings, keeps showing his age. The Washington Redskins lost the quarterback who was supposed to keep the team stable for the next several seasons. As a result, the NFC East is basically a two-horse race, but both horses have some open wounds.

The Eagles and the Cowboys have playoff-caliber teams. The Cowboys have been more stable, but they haven’t done much in the playoffs. They also let the drama with Ezekiel Elliot get way out of hand. I can see both teams going back to the playoffs this year, but I think the Eagles have more going for them.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


NFC North

This is another confusing division, but for much better reasons. This division has steadily gotten more competitive over the past several years. It was once dominated by the Green Bay Packers and their all-pro quarterback/State Farm spokesman, Aaron Rogers. For the past couple years, however, the Packers underachieved while the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions only got better.

This year could be one of the most competitive to date, for this division. You could make an argument for all four teams winning the division. You could even make an argument for them being contenders in the NFC Championship game. They all have quarterbacks that can play at a pro-bowl level and defenses that can make a difference in any given game.

I’m tempted to go with the only quarterback who has won a Super Bowl. However, with a new coach taking over and no play-makers on defense, I can’t pick the Packers to do much this year. I’m also tempted to pick the Vikings again, but until Kirk Cousins stops choking in big games, I’m going to have to go with the growing success of Chicago. They may not compete for a Super Bowl, but they will start to establish themselves this year.

Winner: Chicago Bears


NFC South

Let me make one thing clear before I break down this division. The New Orleans Saints were robbed last year. They should’ve been the team playing the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. That bullshit no-call in the 2018 NFC Championship Game was one of the worst calls in NFL history.

That said, I think the New Orleans Saints are going to make up for that gaff this year. Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback. That much is beyond dispute. He’s got a great team around him, but the Saints have suffered two heartbreaking playoff losses in two years. At some point, that starts to wear on a team. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.

I also think the Saints benefited from a weak division in 2018, which was marred by injuries and a version of Cam Newton that was not at full strength. They won’t have those benefits in 2019. They’ll still be the team to beat. They’ll still probably make the playoffs, but I think the Falcons did enough in the offseason to bolster their team.

I know the Falcons may not have gotten over their epic collapse in Super Bowl LI, but they still have an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan and play-makers on offense that are finally healthy. That will be what tips the balance in their favor.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


NFC West

Let me make another thing clear before I break down this division, as well. The Los Angeles Rams did not deserve to be in Super Bowl LIII, but they are still a team that can contend for a Super Bowl in 2019. They have a defense littered with Pro Bowlers and depth. They have an offense that is more balanced than almost any other team in the NFL. They can get back to the Super Bowl and they can win it.

It helps that their division is relatively weak. Other than the Seattle Seahawks, they really don’t have much in terms of obstacles. The San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback coming off a major knee injury and the Arizona Cardinals have a new coach and a new quarterback who haven’t yet learned how to win in the NFL. Their path to Super Bowl LIV is easier than most.

I admit I was among those who were very skeptical of the Rams. I thought they were just overachieving for a year or so. However, they’ve convinced me that they have what it takes to compete at a high level consistently. Their team, as well as their baby-faced coach, are young and hungry. I think they’ll take the division again. I just don’t think they can keep relying on the refs to hand them the game.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


Super Bowl LIV Prediction

This year might be one of the least predictable years for the NFL in the past decade. We’re going into a season that has has no overly dominant team. There are a few with weak schedules and weak divisions, but that will only get you into the playoffs. It won’t carry you to a Super Bowl.

Given these uncertainties, I still have a gut feeling as to who will make it to the big game on February 2, 2020 in Miami. My gut feeling is usually wrong when it comes to sports, but right now, it’s telling me that the two teams that will face off on that day will be the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs.

These are two teams with immense talent at the quarterback position. Both Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes are among the NFL’s elite in terms of stats and leadership. They also have defensive talent on each team that can give them an edge once they get into the playoffs.

It’ll be a close game. One is an up-and-coming star. The other is a veteran hungry to avenge a previous Super Bowl loss. It could easily become an offensive shootout. In that battle, I think the Atlanta Falcons will make just enough plays to get the victory and become Super Bowl champs in 2019.

Super Bowl LIV Final Score: Atlanta Falcons 35, Kansas City Chiefs 31


As I’ve noted before, I tend to be very wrong about predictions this early in the season. Pretty much everyone is wrong at this point. That’s what makes this time of year so exciting. With kickoff slated for later tonight, I am ready! The path to Super Bowl LIV begins now.

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How Technology Will Change Professional Sports

cyborg

In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations issued a momentous ruling. From that day forward, double-amputees who used specialized blade prostheses were not permitted in Olympic competition. However, it wasn’t because that double-amputees were at an inherent disadvantage. It was because these high-tech prostheses made runners too fast.

Think about that for a moment. When someone loses their legs, it’s devastating. Their lives will never be the same. Never mind hindering their ability to participate in Olympic-level events. They will be forever handicapped, unable to conduct themselves in an able-bodied society. For most of human history, this was a sad reality.

Suddenly, advances in technology have flipped the script. Existing research on these blade prostheses shows that those using them expend significantly less energy to sustain their top running speed compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Now, a double-amputee actually has an advantage in a race, especially one that relies on stamina.

The implications go beyond helping double amputees live normal lives. This marks a critical turning point for technology and sports, alike. For once, able-bodied athletes are at a disadvantage and that gap is only going to get wider. I’ll go so far as to say that in the next few decades, professional sports will undergo enormous change due to technology.

That’s not an overly bold prediction. Technology and medicine have been enhancing sports for decades. I’m not just talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs, either. There are certain medical procedures, such as Tommy John Surgery, that can give professional athletes a competitive advantage. They’re so common these days that neither athletes nor fans think much of it.

On top of that, advances in medicine have made injuries that once ended careers into extended injuries. Just a few decades ago, an NFL player who tore their ACL was likely finished. Today, such an injury still means an extended stay on the injured list, but players can come back from it. Some even manage to have MVP caliber seasons.

In the future, more advanced treatments involving stem cells or lab-grown body parts will further improve injury treatment. Given the billions in profits generated by professional sports and the massive incentives to keep star athletes healthy, there’s are plenty of reasons to push this technology forward. Before long, star quarterbacks in the NFL playing into their 40s might not be so extraordinary.

However, recovering from injuries is only a small part of a much larger upheaval that’s set to occur in the world of sports. The entire concept of competition may need revising as technology reaches a point where maintaining parity is almost impossible. Unlike performance enhancing drugs, it won’t be possible to test for them or remove them.

Today, it’s easy to appreciate how gifted the best athletes in the world are. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and effort to achieve the mental and physical prowess that allows these individuals to be at the top of their game. To build muscle, you need to spend hours in the gym. To master a skill, you need to spend years practicing and honing your mechanics.

All that work and training, however, has the same goal. The intent is to strain the body to make it stronger and wire the mind to make it more capable. At a fundamental level, it’s just restructuring the body and brain with a mix of brute force and mental effort. Modern medicine and technology can help supplement those efforts, but only to a point.

That point, however, keeps changing and will continue to change. Think back to emerging technology like Neuralink’s brain implants. Instead of spending years learning the mental aspect of a sport, why not just use an implant that mirrors the neural patterns of athletes like Tom Brady or LeBron James? They’ve already done the work. In theory, all you have to do is mimic their neural connections.

That technology is a long way off, but accelerated learning is already an emerging field in the military. It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising sports league attempts to use it. A technology that may be closer and more controversial is biohacking. I’ve mentioned it before, but it has the potential to complicate any competition.

We already know how to use genetic engineering to build bigger muscles without steroids. That same technology could be refined to impart other advantageous traits like better reaction time, quicker reflexes, and enhanced bone strength. Unlike other drugs, it wouldn’t require athletes to take pills. These skills would be written right into their genetics, which means it won’t show up on a typical drug test.

Push this technology even further and the world of professional sports gains even more complications. As time goes on, the forces of medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and machine/human interface will steadily converge. We’ll get to a point where enhancing the human body is akin to upgrading our computers.

Instead of regular natural cells, we’ll rely on entirely synthetic cells that are programmable and capable of achieving more than even the best athletes of today.

Instead of intense mental training, we’ll be able to link our brains to computers to effectively learn the skills we need, whether it involves throwing a baseball or weaving baskets.

Instead of waiting for damaged body parts to heal, we’ll just swap them out for newer, better models that are much more efficient and capable.

Under such conditions, the current system for professional sports just couldn’t work. If every new quarterback could just copy the skills and experience from Tom Brady’s brain, then what’s the point of competing in the first place? If every NBA team has as much talent as the 2018 Golden State Warriors, then how does competition even work at that level?

The questions get even more profound when applied to Olympic competition. If we get to a point where double amputees run faster and those with robotic arms throw harder, then that changes the entire approach. Sure, some may still prefer seeing non-enhanced humans compete, but their feats won’t be as spectacular.

Instead, imagine events where javelin throwers can use robotic arms or swimmers could use bionic lungs. The feats they’ll achieve won’t just be better, in terms of stats. They’ll be a far greater spectacle. Given the declining ratings of the Olympics in recent years, I suspect future events will need those spectacles to maintain interest.

Personally, I would definitely watch the Olympics if it had athletes that utilized cybernetic enhancements, be they artificial limbs or brain implants. It would require a mix of both athletic training and applied science to achieve championship status. It won’t be the same as simply winning the race through sheer grit, but it will still be an achievement worthy of a metal.

What is the future of professional sports?

What is the future of professional athletes?

How will people compete in a world where the human body can be enhanced, programmed, and modified at will?

These are questions that none of the major sports leagues have to answer immediately, but they will start to become more relevant in the coming years. The fact that some of the prosthesis we give double-amputees are better than regular human legs is the first tangible step towards a very different future for professional sports.

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Jack Fisher’s Predictions/Picks For The 2018 NFL Season

NFL Combine Football

It’s finally that time of year when we can definitively answer the question that Hank William Jr. loves asking so loudly.

Are you ready for some football?

Yes, Mr. Williams. Yes, I am. I know football has not exactly been a squeaky-clean enterprise lately. I’m well-aware of the long list of bad press it has generated over the past year and before it. I don’t doubt that there will be plenty of controversies to come, some more egregious than others.

For now, though, I want to set aside all the outrage, grand-standing, and whining for a moment and focus on real, actual football. Last year, I made a series of predictions and picks for how I thought the 2017 season would play out. I was dead wrong. I had the Panthers and the Steelers in the Super Bowl. One didn’t make the playoffs and the other got knocked out in the second round.

I’m not an expert, nor am I psychic. I freely admit that. However, I am a die-hard football fan who follows multiple teams, right down to which knee-ligament they injure. As such, I’m going to share my gut predictions for how the 2018 season will pan out, minus the inevitable controversies.

Like last year, I can only assume so much before the first game. Injuries, front office shake-ups, and player suspensions are likely to upend any predictions. For now, though, here are my picks for the division winners and the outcome of Super Bowl LIII.


AFC East

Once again, this is the easiest division to pick in football. It has been for nearly two decades now. It’s not just that the Patriots are that good with Bill Belichick as a coach and Tom Brady as a quarterback. Every other team in the division just keeps finding ways to fall behind.

The Buffalo Bills ended a 17-year playoff drought last year, only to ditch their starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. The Miami Dolphins thought they could win with Jay Cutler and the less said about the New York Jets’ struggles to replace Joe Namath, the better. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for these three teams to overachieve this year. I’m just saying they have a lot working against them.

As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots should win their division with ease. The Dolphins are the only wild card, but that depends on Ryan Tannehill’s ability to recover from a torn ACL and an offense that traded away its best receiver to Cleveland. The Patriots dynasty will end at some point, as all dynasties do. It just won’t be this year.

Winner: New England Patriots


AFC North

This is another easy division to pick, but one that might not be as easy as usual. As of now, the Pittsburg Steelers are the most complete team. They have the best receiver in football in Antonio Brown. They have a two-time Super Bowl winner in Ben Roethlisberger. They have an all-pro running back in Le’Veon Bell. They have what it takes to win the division and make a run at the Super Bowl.

As good as the Steelers are, though, their age is showing. Roethlisberger has a lengthy injury history and Bell seems to be getting impatient with wanting a long-term deal. Every other team in the division is catching up to them, including the Cleveland Browns. However, until the Browns can prove they can win at least one game, they’re a long way from competing.

Both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals have improved. The Ravens are getting Joe Flacco back healthy and they’ve gained a few offensive weapons. Unlike previous years, the Steelers will not run away with this division early. They’ll have to fight for it, going into December.

Even with the improvement of their rivals, though, I think it’s still the Steelers’ division to lose. Roethlisberger understands his window for another Super Bowl is closing. The team got blind-sided last year by the Jaguars and they’re going to make a hard push for one last run before their core starts to fracture.

Winner: Pittsburg Steelers


AFC South

Unlike the previous two divisions, this one might be the most competitive division in football. You could easily make a case for any one of these teams winning the division and not seem crazy. This division was one of the tightest in the league last year and it’s going to be even tighter this year.

In the end, though, I believe the Indianapolis Colts will come out on top. I know that assumes a lot about Andrew Luck’s health. He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2015 because of a shoulder injury. However, I believe that just means he’ll be well-rested and able to re-establish the Colts as a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

It won’t be easy. Both the Huston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars will fight them for the division. While I think the Texans will get a boost with the development of Deshaun Watson, I don’t think he’s ready to overtake Luck. It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, Luck took a scrappy Colts team to the AFC championship. The team he has around him is much better and I think that’ll be the deciding factor.

Again, this could come down to the last week of the season. This division may end up producing two wild card teams. At the moment, though, I believe Luck’s return will be the deciding factor.

Winner: Indianapolis Colts


AFC West

This is a tough division to predict. It’s one of those divisions that doesn’t have a really dominant team, but it doesn’t have any really bad teams either. All four of them have talent on both sides of the ball. All four could get hot at just the right time and make the playoffs. For the moment, I think the Oakland Raiders have the best chance.

That’s not just because of the return of Jon Gruden as their coach. I believe they have a solid core with Derek Carr as their quarterback and Khalil Mack as their top defensive player. Yes, I know Mack is in the middle of a contract hold-out. I don’t believe that’s going to last too deep into the season. This team has too much going for it.

I know the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have top-tier defenses, but I don’t think that will be enough to carry them through. Patrick Mahomes and Case Keenum just aren’t going to provide enough balance. I believe Philip Rivers could certainly carry the Los Angeles Chargers to the division if the team gets hot, but that whole team is in flux right now. I don’t see it having enough to overtake Oakland this year.

Winner: Oakland Raiders


NFC East

This is probably my most ambitious pick. I know the New York Giants finished dead last in the division last year, which led to the end of Eli Manning’s consecutive start streak and the end of Ben McAdoo’s tenure as coach. However, this division is almost always in flux and I think the time has come for the Giants to reclaim it.

The Philadelphia Eagles may be the defending Super Bowl champs, but I also see them taking a step back. I’ve seen a pretty sloppy team throughout preseason. Carson Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and Nick Foles has not shown that he can carry over his astonishing playoff performance that led the team to their first Super Bowl. The team will still be good, but it won’t repeat.

The NFC East, historically, has not let teams repeat. It’s just too competitive and the teams around the Eagles are too hungry to let them do it again. The Washington Redskins keep stocking up on defensive talent and the Dallas Cowboys, despite losing Dez Bryant, still have playmakers on both sides of the ball.

What will carry the Giants beyond them, though, is their investment in Saquon Barkley, their fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. He is, by far, the best running back the Giants have had since Tiki Barber. He will provide the Giants offense with the kind of balanced attack that helped propel it to two Super Bowl victories.

I believe the Giants of 2018 will use the same script as the Cowboys of 2016, following a rookie running back into the playoffs. While I don’t think they’ll go all the way, I believe they have the tools they need to overcome their rivals, at least for this year.

Winner: New York Giants


NFC South

This is another division that always seems to be in flux. Every year seems to birth a dominant team. It was the Carolina Panthers in 2015. It was the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. It was the New Orleans Saints in 2017, thanks to two rookie running backs that carried their offense. This year, though, I believe the Falcons will once again rise to the top.

Beyond the fat new contract they just gave Matt Ryan, I believe the Falcons have a good blend of defensive talent to go along with offensive weapons that include the likes of Julio Jones. Last year, they kept things close and managed to make it into the playoffs as a wild card team. They just didn’t make enough plays when it mattered.

I believe they’ll fight a little harder this year after seeing the Eagles upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I also believe that the Saints, Panthers, and Buccaneers did not do enough to improve in the offseason. I can see one of those teams making it as a wild card team, but I think the Falcons will eventually pull away with the division.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


NFC West

This might be an unpopular pick, especially after the Los Angeles Rams surprised everybody last year with their record. Plus, most saw how hot the San Francisco 49ers got at the end of last year and think Jimmy Garoppolo is the second coming of Joe Montana. I believe both those teams can make a case for winning the division this year, but I’m still going with the team that has a Super Bowl ring in this decade.

The Seahawks really faltered last year and they’ve steadily lost the core that won the Super Bowl in 2013. However, they still have Russell Wilson, who had to single-handedly win games last year. They also have the most stable coaching staff with Pete Carroll and a fresh crop of defensive talent to build on.

They’re not going to be as dominant as they were in previous years, but I think they have what it takes to reign in the Rams and 49ers. Both of those teams are on the rise, but they still have a way to go before they can be true contenders. It’s hard to say whether the Arizona Cardinals will be in the mix with journeyman Sam Bradford as their quarterback. In a division like this, though, stability counts for something.

At the moment, the Seahawks are the most stable, consistent team in the division. They’re losing ground to the 49ers and Rams, but so long as they can avoid the flood of injuries they had last year, I think they’ll still come out on top.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


NFC North

This could very well be the most exciting division in all of football. This division, alone, will help make the 2018 NFL season worth watching. Each team has a capable quarterback. Each team has playmakers on both sides of the ball. Each team is hungry for a Super Bowl. This is one of those divisions that will make for the most drama that doesn’t involve Colin Kaepernick.

The Chicago Bears surprised me last year with how well Mitch Trubisky played. The Detroit Lions surprised me by how competitive they were in so many games. Even the Green Bay Packers surprised me with how well they played in the absence of Aaron Rogers. None, however, were as surprising as the Minnesota Vikings and not just because of that last-second miracle play against the Saints in the NFC Divisional round.

The Vikings accomplished that feat with Case Keenum, who is now in Denver. Since then, they landed the biggest offseason prize in recent memory with Kirk Cousins. Seeing the numbers he put up with the Redskins behind mediocre talent at best and the Vikings are officially poised for a Super Bowl run.

I can still see either the Packers or the Lions overtaking them. I can even see the Bears over-achieving at some point. However, in terms of talent and depth, the Vikings are the most complete team. I believe they’ll eventually win the division. It’ll come down to the final week of the season, but their depth and talent levels are just too great at this point.

Winner: Minnesota Vikings


Super Bowl LIII Predictions

I’m not going to speculate on how the playoff seating or wild card teams will shape up. Those kinds of specifics are just pit stops on the way to the Super Bowl, which is the goal for all 32 teams last I checked. When all is said and done, there can be only two teams on Super Bowl Sunday and I believe those teams will be the Steelers and the Vikings.

I believe the Steelers are poised for a run. That devastating loss against the Jaguars last year hurt, but that’ll only motivate them even more this year. They were just a few plays short in 2017 and I believe they’ll make those plays in 2018. I also believe the Vikings will make enough to finally get to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976.

Both teams have a solid balance of offense and defense. Both teams have quality quarterbacks with a solid group of playmakers. I think the Vikings are better defensively while the Steelers are better offensively. On paper, both teams are as evenly matched as you can get.

In the end, I predict that the Steelers will inch out am overdue Super Bowl victory. They have too much experience with Roethlisberger and too much talent with Antonio Brown. I believe that’ll be just enough to carry them past the Vikings in a close, but decisive game.

Super Bowl LIII Final Score: Pittsburg Steelers 28, Minnesota Vikings 27


There you have it! Those are my predictions for the 2018 NFL seasons. They’re probably dead wrong, but that’s what makes football so much fun. You can be wrong and still enjoy the game.

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