Each NFL season is filled with parody, surprises, and change. Below are five bold predictions that may come to pass in the 2019 season.
1) The Giants Will Win The NFC East
Under the second year of both head coach Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator James Bettcher, the Giants will end the upcoming season as the NFC East Champions.
The Giants have reloaded their roster on both sides of the ball with a combination of proven veterans and rookies budding with potential. Most importantly, the offensive line unit has the most talent that it has had in years. Led by the signing of veterans Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers, the return of Jon Halapio, and the continued growth of Will Hernandez and Nate Soldier, the group looks solid.
Saquon Barkley will look to build off his Pro Bowl rookie year and become the focal point of the offense. With an improved line in front of him, Barkley should have increased opportunities as a runner. He should also see his use as a receiver increase as the Giants better utilize his skill set in his second year. As a rookie, most of Barkley’s receiving yards came after the catch. Most of his passes were caught behind the line of scrimmage and required Barkley to make at least one defender miss before getting into positive territory. For the upcoming season, he should be used as more of an attacking, downfield receiving option.
The combination of Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram are perfect compliments to capitalize on the attention the running game will garner. All three can make defenses pay after the catch and will be hard players to cover. With the addition of Darius Slayton and Reggie White Jr, plus the return of Russell Shepard and Cody Latimer, the wide receivers are a surprisingly talented and deep group–even after trading away Odell Beckham Jr.
The defense has added a massive amount of talent to all three levels, led by two strong drafts in a row. Second-year players B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter will look to take big steps this year. Rookies DeAndre Baker, Julian Love, and Cory Ballentine add depth and talent to a cornerback group that has seen it’s recent struggles. First-round draft pick Dexter Lawrence will demand double teams and allow the Giants to create a nice rotation along their defensive line. Jake Connelly and Jake Carlock look like solid additions to the linebackers group with each bringing a unique skill-set and the ability to impact opposing teams’ passing games.
The addition of Jabrill Peppers creates instant versatility in the secondary and will allow Bettcher to come up with some varied and complex play designs. Middle linebacker Tae Davis looks like another player ready to jump into a starting role and contribute. Peppers and Davis worked impressively well together in the Giants first preseason game. Overall, the defense looks talented, hungry, and confident.
With experience in the offensive system, an improved offensive line, and the dominance of Barkley on the ground, Eli Manning should have one of the better years of his career. Combined with a talented defensive group, the Giants will walk away from the upcoming season with the most wins in their division.
2) Lamar Jackson Will Prove People Wrong With His Arm In His Second Season
Most of the talk around Lamar Jackson centers around his running ability and the problem that it creates for defenses. The impact Jackson has on a game with his legs is not about to go away. The thing that will surprise people in his second year will be his big jump as a passer.
Jackson has been working over the off-season to improve his throwing motion, footwork, and his deep accuracy. With the continued growth of Willie Snead and the addition of Marquise Brown, the Ravens have a talented and incredibly fast receivers corps. Throw in the threesome of Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle at tight end and Jackson has a variety of weapons to do damage through the air. With his improved accuracy down-field, Jackson will take advantage of his skill position players and make a name for himself with his deep ball accuracy.
Opposing defenses will have no choice but to pay attention to the Ravens running game. Jackson will use his ability to be a dual threat player to punish defenses crowding the box by taking advantage of single high safeties with on-target deep passes. After being mainly seen as a running threat in his rookie year, Jackson will grow into one of the better overall quarterbacks in the league.
3) Cam Newton Will Have His Best Season Yet And Win His Second MVP
Following an off-season of surgery and rehab, Cam Newton will look to get back to terrorizing opposing defenses with his arm and legs. He has been working on his throwing motion and arrived at training camp showing off a tuned up and shortened windup and quicker delivery. Along with a healthy supporting cast, Newton will put together a season that will conclude with a second MVP award for the uber-talented quarterback.
Newton will be joined by a healthy and intact supporting cast. Greg Olsen underwent surgery in December to address a foot injury that severely limited his production last season. He has recently been fully cleared to return to the field and will look to get back to playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Offensive tackle Darryl Williams will also be returning from an injury that limited him to playing in just one game last year. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera recently said Williams had a “great off-season” and is expected to be back and fully healthy this year.
Along with the return to health of some key offensive players, Newton will also be surrounded by some of the best young skill position players of his career.
Christian McCaffrey will demand attention as a runner and receiver after leading the Panthers in both categories last season. D.J. Moore will look to build off a rookie year that saw him gain 788 yards and two touchdowns off of just 82 targets. Throw in Curtis Samuel, Chris Hogan, and Ian Thomas, and Newton should easily get back to taking advantage of his immense skills as a down-field passer.
Given the talent and ability to stretch the field at the receiver and tight end positions, Newton will be left with a large cushion to attack opposing defenses with his legs. It’s easy to forget just how well Newton was doing before being shut down due to injury last year. In the first two-thirds of the season, Newton had a 22 to 7 touchdown to interception ratio and achieved a QB rating of over 100 in eight of 11 games. When healthy, Newton can take over games and be an absolute offensive force, something he should get back to in the upcoming season.
4) Sony Michel Will Challenge Corey Dillon’s Team Record 1,635 Rushing Yards
The Patriots have used a rotation at running back for the past few seasons. Many believe that the trend will continue for the upcoming year, but Sony Michel will buck that trend and become the main ball carrier for the team.
During his rookie year, Michel played in a combination of 16 games between the regular season and the playoffs. If we use those 16 games to equate to a full season, Michel would have gained 1,267 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
In the regular season, Michel ran for 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 attempts, good for an average of 4.5 yards per carry and 71.6 yards per game. In the playoffs, Michel really turned it on, gaining 336 yards and scoring six touchdowns in three games. He also raised his average yards per carry to 4.7 and his total yards running per game to 112. This was achieved while facing three standout defenses in the playoffs: the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams.
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the up in the air availability of Josh Gordon, and losing Hogan in free agency, the Patriots will look to run the ball much more often over the upcoming season. Offensive line position coach Dante Scarnecchia has a long track record of success and will look to provide Michel with a solid group of run blockers to open up holes for him.
Michel enters his second season after an impressive and successful rookie year. He will end his second NFL season by providing the Patriots with a running game that they haven’t had in years by running for over 1,600 yards.
5) Le’Veon Bell Will Lead The League In Total Touches And Exceed 2,000 Total Yards For The New York Jets.
The last two seasons that Le’Veon Bell played, he touched the ball 742 times over 27 games. After a year off, Bell will once again reclaim his position as a stud running back and get more combined touches than any other player.
Bell will enter the season head and shoulders above any other running back the Jets have on their roster. While head coach Adam Gase might not have been the main driving force in acquiring Bell’s services, he will certainly put them to use. With fresh legs and an ascending quarterback in Sam Darnold, Bell will be relied on heavily in both the passing and running game for the Jets.
Bell has always been a reliable and dynamic receiver out of the backfield. Over his five years playing, Bell has gone over 600 receiving yards three times. His most prolific year catching the ball came in the 2014 season when he caught 83 passes for 854 yards. Bell’s lowest catch percentage came his rookie year when he caught 68.2% of his targets. Over his five year career, Bell has an average catch percentage of 78.6%. With Jets starting tight end Chris Herndon facing a four-game suspension to start the year, Bell will be called upon early as a receiver over the middle of the field. This is an area of the field where Darnold can capitalize on Bell’s skills for the entire season.
Bell should also be able to make an immediate impact in the running game for the Jets. Combining Bell’s immense skill set with the additions of interior linemen Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil, the Jets bottom-ranked running game should quickly become one of the leagues’ better units. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack has a long history of success with his blocking schemes, especially in the running game. Seven times over the last ten years, Pollack has coached his unit to a top-ten finish in adjusted-line yards. Between the additions to the offensive line, coaching, and Bell himself, the Jets should be in line for serious production on the ground.
Bell is by far the most talented running back that head coach Gase has ever had. The closest comparison would probably be when Gase had Knowshon Moreno while he was the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013. During that season, Moreno ran for 1,038 yards and added another 548 yards through the air. With Bell’s talent, he should easily eclipse both those numbers.
Bell will re-announce his presence in the league by once again topping out with the most touches of all running backs and break the 2,000 overall yardage mark. The Jets will give him a heavy workload and he will once again show off his elite skills.