Frank Ammirante| Aug 21st, 2019
The NFL season is a wild roller-coaster ride filled with surprises. Last year, we saw Patrick Mahomes throw for 50 touchdowns and win NFL MVP in his first season. We witnessed star running back Le’ Veon Bell sat out the entire year. We also were surprised to see the Chicago Bears breakthrough in their first season with head coach Matt Nagy, going on to win the NFC North. This year, like every other season, we’ll see another assortment of unexpected events. Here are three bold predictions for the 2019 NFL season.
The Los Angeles Chargers will miss the playoffs
The Chargers had a great season last year, finishing 12-4, earning a wild-card berth and advancing to the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the New England Patriots, but I see them falling off in 2019. Star running back Melvin Gordon is in the middle of a holdout, where both sides refuse to budge on their demands. This has the look of a Le’Veon Bell situation, with Gordon missing time due to the holdout. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are capable backups, but they do not offer the same type of play-making ability. The team has also lost star safety Derwin James, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot – he is expected to miss three to four months. We also need to remember that quarterback Philip Rivers is entering his age-38 season. It’s unreasonable to assume that he can continue at this pace – Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the exceptions. It’s likely that we start to see Rivers decline a bit. The Chargers have the look of an 8-8 team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers re-emerge as Super Bowl contenders
The Steelers narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year, finishing with a disappointing 9-6-1 record. They enter the 2019 season with a chip on their shoulder. Most pundits are penciling in the Cleveland Browns as the heavy favorites in the AFC North, counting out the Steelers. I think that the trade of wide receiver Antonio Brown is going to do wonders for this team. Brown’s antics became a distraction which had a negative impact. They also won’t have to deal with speculation on the return of Le’Veon Bell like they did on a weekly basis a year ago. This is a team that still has a strong pass-catching corps with wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald. Running back James Conner emerged as a solid back last year and can carry the load in the running game. The Steelers continue to have one of the best offensive lines in football. They also have an up-and-coming defense that just added rookie Devin Bush, a play-making linebacker they have sorely missed since they lost Ryan Shazier to injury. The Steelers could be Super Bowl bound this season.
The Tennessee Titans are one of the worst teams in the NFL
Every year, there’s a team that falls off a cliff and finishes with a much worse record than what was originally expected. Last year, it was the San Francisco 49ers, who lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3, which catapulted their season to a 4-12 finish. This year, I think that team is going to be the Titans. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has failed to take the next step as a passer. He has struggled with injuries – he played much of 2018 with a banged-up elbow and shoulder, but it’s now become a make-or-break year. The team acquired Ryan Tannehill to push Mariota and provide insurance if he were to get hurt once again. Mariota has the look of a player who desperately needs a change of scenery. The Titans continue to run a vanilla, run-heavy offense focused on running back Derrick Henry. It’s going to be tough for them because they will be without their best offensive lineman, left tackle Taylor Lewan, for four games due to suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. During that span, the Titans schedule looks like this: @ Cleveland Browns, vs. Indianapolis Colts, @ Jacksonville jaguars, and @ Atlanta Falcons. Those are four very tough matchups, especially without Lewan. They could potentially be looking at an 0-4 start to the season, and we’ve all seen how poor starts can snowball into a lackluster season.
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