Submitted by Jim Feist on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 12:00 AM
This week we’ll take a look at my next eight teams in order in the NFL for their 2018 rankings.
- Packers:Let’s first have a look at what the Pack has to contend with in their division. The Lions, Vikings and Bears. The only one of that group, in my opinion, that is a legitimate challenge, would be the Vikings. Not to belittle the Lions but they have not shown in many years the ability to step up their game. The Bears are a work in progress. In addition, the Bears and Lions bring in two new head coaches. As is the case with any new head coach, they need to find their way, so to speak. As long as the Pack has Aaron Rodgers, they will return as the favorite to not only win the NFC North but as a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. However, let’s not forget that Mike Pettine could be the real boon in the staff shake-up for the defense.
- Raiders: The soon to be Las Vegas Raiders, were not nearly as good as advertised last season. They will begin 2018 with a new head coach in Jon Gruden and a solid QB in Derek Carr which makes their future look bright. The Silver & Black aren't waiting for their Vegas move to put on a show. Gruden's return raises both the team's profile and expectations. Though many will focus on how he handles Carr after last year's struggles, the defense also needs to become more than the Khalil Mack solo act. The AFC West is a perplexing division. The Broncos have the defense but otherwise John Elway totally mismanaged them. The Chiefs have an untried quarterback in Pat Mahomes. There has to be growing pains on those teams which opens up even more for the Raiders.
- Cowboys: there are a lot of changes taking place in the NFC East this offseason. Dallas Washington, Philadelphia and the NY Giants are all making moves. Of course, the Eagles are favorites to win the division and make another run at the Super Bowl. Things should settle down for the Cowboys after the Ezekiel Elliott suspension saga is finally done. Dez Bryant's is not the player he once was and it's clear that Dak Prescott needs more help from his receiving corps. I feel they are solid enough on the Offensive line and Defense to be in the mix but not as strong as they were two years ago. But I also feel they have missed their shot to be the focus of this division, since some of the quality talent is aging out a bit.
- Chargers: They proved they won't settle for second banana in Los Angeles. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram constitute the NFL's best young pass-rushing duo, while the fourth-ranked offense remains in good hands with Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon. But, it's past time to fix the farcical kicking woes and porous run defense. Again this is a team whose time may have run out. However when looking at their division, Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs, all beatable clubs, the Chargers could pick up a piece of the playoffs.
- 49ers:San Francisco has an impressive setup after closing the year on an NFL-best five-game win streak under Jimmy Garoppolo, and is returning with a very solid head coach and GM. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch continue to rebuild the roster but they could easily win this division, if they can figure out the Rams. Expected to be among the teams with the most cap space, the Niners could choose to make a big splash in free agency. I see a very dangerous and motivated young team under solid leadership making the playoffs with the failing Cards and Seahawks perhaps giving them four wins.
- Texans: If this team can only get healthy and stay that way, a division title is very possible. The top of the roster is sterling, as quarterback Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt provide tantalizing possibilities as they mend from injuries. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and WR DeAndre Hopkins also stand among the best at their respective positions. The offensive line gave up 54 sacks and needs lots of help. No one in their division is that strong that they can’t be beat.
- Broncos: John Elway gets another shot at fixing his mess at quartback. With a few top rated free agents available, I’m betting he makes the right moves, this time. Whatever move he makes might not be a cure-all for a group that underwent an eight-game losing streak last season. But Von Miller and the rest of the defense help position Denver to make a big leap if a competent passer is obtained. There are no solid teams in this division that the Broncos could not overtake if the planning is right.
- Chiefs:There’s a lot being placed on strong armed young quarterback in Pat Mahomes. After Kansas City sent Alex Smith to Washington following a career year, last year's big-armed first rounder should have free reign of an explosive offense. His first season as a starter might be a facsimile of his Texas Tech days, as the defense is still in bad shape, though the return of Eric Berry and acquisition of Kendall Fuller will boost the secondary.