Last weekend saw the NFL season kicking off for the 100th time. With an emphatic win for New England Patriots over Pittsburgh Steelers, it looks like the Vince Lombardi Trophy could once again be heading New England’s way.
But this year’s American football season is already looking like it could throw up plenty of surprises. With surprising opening defeats for the likes of Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, it’s clear that the path to Super Bowl LIV isn’t going to be straightforward. Plus Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys are already looking like real contenders for this year’s competition.
However, New England Patriots will be the team to beat in 2019. Bill Belichick has already proven to be perhaps the great coach in NFL history, and Tom Brady will be looking for one more Super Bowl victory. But could this year be the one where New Orleans Saints or even Los Angeles Rams finally make good and give the reigning champions a real upset?
Key points from the preseason
The run-up to the new NFL season saw plenty of controversy to keep American football fans entertained over the summer months.
The bizarre antics of Antonio Brown proved to be too much for Oakland Raiders, as the team released the wide receiver from his new contract at the start of the season. Following a strange case of frostbite after a cryotherapy session, refusing to wear the new regulation helmet, failing to turn up to practice before finally arriving in a hot air balloon, Brown was booted out of the Raiders and now has to make a new home at the Patriots.
However, it was the shocking departure of Andrew Luck from Indianapolis Colts that could set the tone for the season. The 29-year old announced his retirement from the game after numerous injuries, and it marked a sorry moment for one of the brightest stars of NFL. It also served as a reminder for how the long-term health effects of playing American football have yet to be fully understood.
The controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and the decision not to kneel during the national anthem will continue to be a big talking point. This is especially so as the NFL’s recent partnership with Jay-Z will only stoke the fires of political activism. Although it was a shrewd business move from the rapper, it has widely been seen as an ugly attempt to paper over how badly Kaepernick was treated by the NFL.
In terms of rookies to look out for, many people are expecting David Montgomery to light up the Chicago Bears offence, while Kyler Murray will be hoping to show that he is the NFL’s most promising quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals. But whether it’s Mecole Hardman with the Chiefs, Josh Allen with the Jaguars, or even Josh Jacobs with the Raiders, 2019 looks like a great year for a new generation of NFL talent.
AFC East: End of an era for New England Patriots?
Tom Brady may be 42-years old but the quarterback is still defying age and logic with the Patriots. Although this could be Brady’s final season, the Patriots should have no problems topping the AFC East. The Patriots started their 2019 NFL campaign in emphatic fashion with a 33-3 home win against Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some people had been expecting a dip in Brady’s form, but the quarterback completed 67 passes for 341 yards. This will definitely give Antonio Brown plenty of room for optimism in his new team, although wide receivers like Philip Dorsett and Josh Gordon won’t be giving up their places in the team easily after excellent work against the Steelers.
The AFC East has been one of the easiest divisions to predict for many years now. Although the Patriots are expected to win the division, we could see improvements from the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. These two teams came together in the opening game of the season, and the Bills managed to claim a 16-17 victory thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Jets fans will be still be hopeful of a wildcard spot, especially if Sam Darnold can continue his impressive run of form to prove he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
All that Miami Dolphins can do is hope that they don’t become the NFL’s worst team again. Although Ryan Fitzpatrick can always deliver the unexpected, the Dolphins’ disastrous 10-59 defeat by Baltimore Ravens doesn’t bode well.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs looking good for AFC title
There are still big questions about the Chiefs’ defensive record, but with Patrick Mahomes in the quarterback position, it should be another good year for Kansas. The team could have easily beaten the Patriots in the AFC Championship last season, and Mahomes is widely tipped to be MVP this year.
Alongside the irrepressible Mahomes, the Chiefs have plenty of talented stars like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The team quickly showed their worth with a commanding 26-40 win over Jacksonville Jaguars, and this featured Mahomes taking just 96 seconds to connect with Sammy Watkins for an opening 68-yard touchdown.
However, the Chiefs’ defensive frailties could open things up for Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers started their campaign in fine style with a 30-24 overtime win at Indianapolis Colts, and they seem to be well-balanced both offensively and defensively. However injury problems to their star running back, safety and offensive tackle could once again see the Chargers failing to make it past the divisional playoffs.
The Oakland Raiders will be hoping to put the Antonio Brown saga behind them, and their opening match against the Denver Broncos will hopefully see them back to winning ways. Despite this, there’s every chance that the Raiders will implode ahead of their move to Las Vegas, while Denver Broncos can only hope to improve on their lacklustre 6-10 of last season.
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens start campaign in style
The AFC North is all about the battle between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The Ravens started in fine style thanks to that demolition job of the Dolphins, and it’s going to be a big season for Lamar Jackson to finally show his true worth.
However, Cleveland Browns are one of the most-improved NFL teams and they have been widely tipped to break through to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years. Their season didn’t begin well with a shocking 13-43 defeat at Tennessee Titans, and their offensive line will need to show some big improvements soon.
Although there are still big questions about the temperament of Baker Mayfield, this could finally be the year that the Browns top the division. The Pittsburgh Steelers will still be licking their wounds after their opening defeat by the Patriots, but they are always a real contender for the playoffs. Plus with even Cincinnati Bengals giving Seattle Seahawks a scare on the opening game, it looks like the AFC North is going to be tough to call.
AFC South: Can Indianapolis Colts survive the loss of Luck?
The AFC South should have been theColts for the taking. But with the exit of Luck, Indianapolis are looking much shakier as was shown in their opening defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers. Thankfully the Colts have the expertise of head coach Frank Reich who should be able to get the best out of star players like Darius Leonard.
The lapse of Colts’ form could mean that the Jacksonville Jaguars take the top spot in the AFC South. But their 26-40 defeat by the Chiefs showed that the Jaguars could be in for another difficult season, particularly as there remain questions over how Nick Foles will take over from Blake Bortles.
Houston Texans face a very tough opening game against New Orleans Saints. The Texans won the AFC South last season, and the addition of Laremy Tunsil to the offensive line could be a shrewd move. Plus with even Tennessee Titans claiming an impressive opening win over the Browns, it shows that anything could happen in the AFC South this year.
NFC East: Fascinating battle between Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys
After a disappointing season last year, Philadelphia Eagles are looking good to reclaim the Super Bowl title. As long as players like Carson Wentz stay fit and rookies like Miles Sanders live up to the hype, then the NFC East title could be the Eagles’ for the taking.
The Eagles beat Washington Redskins 32-27 in their opening game, and they looked good in all areas. Despite this, we can still expect some tough competition from Dallas Cowboys who showed the immense potential with a comprehensive 35-17 win over New York Giants.
All eyes will be on Ezekiel Elliott who recently became the NFL’s richest running back for the Cowboys, and Kellen Moore is looking good as the team’s head coach. Although there may be improvements from the Giants and the Redskins, the NFC East is already looking like a two-horse race between the Eagles and the Cowboys.
NFC West: Los Angeles Rams ready to shake off Super Bowl hangover
LA Rams will know that they could have won last year’s Super Bowl and they will be desperate to make amends for such disappointments. The Rams started their campaign in fine style with a 27-30 victory over Carolina Panthers, and they are widely tipped to top the NFC West.
The sheer pace of the Rams’ offence is always highly entertaining, and Jared Goff is expected to have another impressive season under the guidance of Sean McVay. Although the Rams should make light work of the NFC West, they will have to work hard to stay ahead of the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks should easily make a wildcard spot, and they looked solid in their opening win over the Bengals. It’s going to be a transition season for San Francisco 49ers who will hope that Jimmy Garappolo puts in some match-winning performances as was shown against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arizona Cardinals may have claimed an unlikely tie in their opening match against Detroit Lions, but they could once again prove to be the NFL’s worst team.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings expected to top NFL’s toughest division
Minnesota Vikings started their 2019 campaign with an emphatic 28-12 win over Atlanta Falcons. The sheer defensive strength of the Vikings as well as offensive players like Dalvin Cook should see the Vikings emerge triumphant to win the NFC North title.
Not that Chicago Bears will give up the title easily. The Bears have arguably the best defence in the NFL, while the Green Bay Packers have the likes of Aaron Rodgers on hand to add further drama to what’s already promising to be a tough fight.
The Packers 10-3 win over the Bears in the opening match gave us a good indication of just how tight the NFC North will be. Plus when you factor in an always troublesome Detroit Lions, this division could be anyone’s for the taking.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints aiming to make amends for last year
The Saints’ impressive season last year was overshadowed by the refereeing controversy that saw them robbed of a Super Bowl appearance. But all indications are that the Saints will dominate the NFC South, and they face their first match against Houston Texans.
It will be interesting to see whether the Saints can beat their impressive 13-3 record of last season. Thanks to the presence of Cameron Jordan, the Saints now boast a formidable defence, and quarterback Drew Brees will be hungry to make amends for previous playoff disappointments.
The Carolina Panthers will still be worrying about Cam Newton’s shoulder injury, although they gave LA Rams a close call on their opening game. As a result, there is hope that Atlanta Falcons may cause an upset in the NFC South.
This is especially true as the Falcons have defensive heavyweights like Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back in the team, although their defeat at the hands of the Vikings will be have been disappointing. With an opening game defeat to the 49ers, it looks like it could be another difficult season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.