We are just days away from the start of the 2019 NFL season, as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will kick off the NFL’s 100th season on Thursday night at Soldier Field. But before the ball is put on the tee and sent flying into the South Side air, let’s spend a few moments looking at how we expect the 2019 season to unfold.
Our Pro Football Network predictions for the AFC can be found below. And if you’re looking for NFC predictions, we have you covered.
1. New England Patriots
New England enters 2019 looking to be the first repeat champions since themselves 15 years ago. While Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remain, there is a new era dawning in Foxborough. The Patriots are attempting to transition into a power run team, spending a first-round pick and a third-round pick on the running back position in consecutive drafts. As Brady moves into the twilight of his career, New England wants to use the same formula from the beginning of the dynasty; run the ball, play defense, and let Brady win the game at the end.
The defense looks good on paper but carries question marks of its own. The Patriots were one of the worst pass-rushing teams in football in 2018, and the outlook in that department is again dubious. Michael Bennett replaces Trey Flowers, but that is at best a lateral move. A lot is riding on rookie preseason sensation Chase Winovich. The secondary is the strength of the defense, and while coverage play impacts winning more than pass-rushing, it is less consistent year-over-year.
The Patriots are the runaway favorites to win the division, and seemingly a lock for yet another first-round bye given Andrew Luck’s retirement. Still, every year, the expectation from Pats Nation is Super Bowl or bust, and New England has a smaller margin for error in 2019.
-Jonathan Rosenberg, PFN AFC East Writer
2. New York Jets
The New York Jets might not be contenders, but they’re going to be fun to watch in 2019. Former GM Mike Maccagnan knew he needed to build around his franchise quarterback Sam Darnold. With the additions of versatile Le’Veon Bell, reliable slot receiver Jameson Crowder, and quality offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, the offense should improve. New GM Joe Douglas solidified that with the addition of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil.
The defense should thrive under Gregg Williams this season. Along with stars such as Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams, the team invested money and picks into linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. While the loss of Avery Williamson hurts and the cornerback position has questions, the unit should still improve.
The Jets season will heavily depend on the development of Darnold. With Robby Anderson looking like a legitimate lead receiver and the new weapons added on offense, there’s plenty of promise for the future. A 9-7 season isn’t far-fetched at all. But they’re probably still a year away from the postseason.
-Cole Thompson, PFN Lead NFL Columnist
3. Buffalo Bills
The big difference between Buffalo and New York are the offensive playmakers. Buffalo will have a top 5 defense, which will win them games this season, but until the offense proves they have a real identity in this league, it’s not enough for head coach Sean McDermott.
What it comes down to is the progress quarterback Josh Allen makes from year-one to year-two. Buffalo is one year – maybe two – away from being a legitimate contender in the AFC, and it’s all contingent on Allen. Right now he’s a good enough quarterback to keep the Bills offense alive in games but is he good enough to lead an NFL franchise to the playoffs?
-Tyler Olson, PFN AFC East Writer
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins enter the 2019 season with their eyes clearly focused on 2020, doing all they could this past offseason to acquire draft capital for next year and squirrel away cap space. And if there was any doubt, yesterday’s trade of Laremy Tunsil for even more 2020 and 2021 draft capital reinforced this idea.
New head coach Brian Flores should look at the 2019 regular season as an extension of the preseason, using these 16 games to evaluate the talent on his roster and figure out which players should be part of the future in Miami. This is especially true at the quarterback position, where the team must see enough of Josh Rosen to decide if he’s the long-term solution to their two-decade-long problem.
Make no mistake; this is a rebuilding year for the Dolphins. Fans need to be prepared for a very difficult season. But fans should not lose sight of the larger plan in place, one that includes two 2020 first-round picks, including one that will likely be in top 5, as well as having what will likely be over $90 million in cap space.
-Matt Infante, PFN Chief Editor
NEXT: AFC NORTH