There were some truly classic NFL regular season games in 2018. Right off the bat week 1 had the Bucs put 48 on the Saints. In week 3 thousands of Bud Light refrigerators around Cleveland were unlocked when the Browns finally won their first game in 635 days against the Jets. Finally, who can forget the Chiefs explosive offensive performances against both the Patriots and the Rams — where Andy Reid’s boys scored a combined 91 points — and still managed to lose BOTH games? 2019…… more of the same please.
1. SAINTS @ RAMS – Week 2
There are some great games in week 1. But the NFL regular season truly arrives in week 2. Who can forget THAT pass interference non-call on Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman in last years NFC championship game? It ultimately cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl, and robbed everyone of a dream Brady v Brees matchup. More importantly, it led the NFL to change what coaches can now challenge — with pass interference calls/non-calls to be trialled in 2019 as a direct result of said fallout. Will it alter the flow of the sport? Quite possibly. But those from the ”Big Easy” won’t care. Prediction — the Saints dominate the Rams 34-13.
2. COLTS @ CHIEFS – Week 5
Another playoff rematch between two of the NFL’s best. The last time these teams met the Chiefs had arguably their best defensive game of the season. Andrew Luck was hurried all game, sacked 3 times, and limited to just 203 pass yards. Albeit part of Andy Reid’s game plan to run the ball and control time of possession, Patrick Mahomes was far from his explosive best too. Nevertheless, this game could very well be a dress rehearsal of this years AFC championship. Both teams are loaded on offence, and both have got better defensively this off season. More importantly how much longer can Tom Brady and the Patriots dominate the AFC? Prediction — both QB’s put on a show, but the Chiefs edge their opponents 38-34.
3. BROWNS @ PATRIOTS – Week 8
When was the last time the Cleveland had a signature win against a legitimate championship contender? Long suffering sports fans from the greater Ohio area did indeed have the great LeBron James in town for a while — he even delivered an NBA championship in 2016. But football is America’s game, and Browns fans have not witnessed a playoff appearance for a league record 16 seasons. Yet, after years of failure, and loading up on some of the best defensive talent college football has had to offer, there appeared to be a genuine shift in team culture in 2018. Signing stud WR Jarvis Landry certainly helped, but drafting elite competitors in Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, and Antonio Callaway — all young explosive skill position players — has the Dawg Pound dreaming once again. Oh and they just added Odell Beckham Jr., and Kareem Hunt too. Subsequently, what better way to announce yourselves than by beating the defending champs in Foxborough? Prediction — the Browns shock the Patriots 28-24.
4. PACKERS @ CHIEFS – Week 8
Tom Brady is the undisputed G.O.A.T, and Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most talented QB to have ever played the sport. Nevertheless, if I could choose any QB to lead my team over the next 5 years I would take Patrick ”Mahomeboy” Mahomes every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Yes he has benefited from some truly spectacular play design from Andy Reid, but name me one QB who can throw no look passes on a dime, and who can rip the ball 80+ yards in cold weather? Last year we got to see ”old man” Brady beat out both players. But this year we get to see two of the most physically talented QB’s of all time go head to head. Prediction — in what will be a game of preposterous offensive quality, Green Bay’s much improved defence will do just enough to keep Mahomes at bay. Packers win 31-28.
5. BEARS @ EAGLES – Week 9
Will Bears fans ever get over their traumatising 2018 wild card defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles? What should have been a game winning field goal proved to be the stuff of nightmares for Chicago kicker Cody Parkey. As time expired Parkey’s field goal managed to strike the goal post not once — but TWICE. Until the Saints knocked off the Eagles, ‘Saint Nick’ had me convinced that he was about to run the table for a second successive year. Alas, Parkey has since been released, and Foles will be the starting QB for Jacksonville after paying the Eagles $2 million to void their team option. Yet, despite the immediate history between both teams, each can legitimately lay claim to having the best roster in the NFL. Prediction — the Eagles hold off the Bears much improved offence 26-21.
6. PATRIOTS @ EAGLES – Week 11
Week 11 will see a rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls in NFL history — Super Bowl LII. As a Boston sports fan I still struggle to see how the Patriots managed to lose, especially when Tom Brady managed to torch the Eagles for 505 yards. Talk of infighting did not help, and the benching of Malcolm Butler will likely remain a mystery for as long as there is the same level of Area-51 style security that is currently found at the Patriots practice facility. Nevertheless, it’s been some time since New England last played in Philly. Naturally, Brady will be greeted with a chorus of boos in what is widely considered to be the most intimidating atmosphere in the NFL. But the fans won’t beat Brady alone. As previously mentioned, the Eagles can lay claim to having the best roster in the NFL. I also expect a bounce back year from Carson Wentz — who could be in the running for league MVP when its all said and done. Prediction — this will be a relatively low scoring affair, but the Eagles win 27-23.
7. COWBOYS @ PATRIOTS – Week 12
Just who is ‘America’s Team’? The Cowboys have long held the self-proclaimed title — from 1978’s championship winning team to be precise. Yes the ‘The Boys’ did win 3 Super Bowls in the early 90’s, but has Jerry Jones truly upheld the model of accountability and leadership that was set by Tom Landry over 50 years ago? I think we all know the answer to that question. To have just two playoff wins in the Tony Romo era was criminal, but to make matters worse, the Patriots went on to build the greatest dynasty the sport has ever seen over the same period. OUCH. Nevertheless, despite the failures of yesteryear there are signs of life in Arlington —the Cowboys are one of the most balanced teams in the league heading into 2019. Not only can they lay claim to having the best defence in the league, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper are arguably the best offensive skill position trio in the league. However, to truly put the league on notice they will have to beat NFL royalty. But can Jason Garrett out-coach Bill Belichick? I have my doubts Prediction — the Patriots play some of their best football of the year to win 32-14.
8. CHIEFS @ PATRIOTS – Week 14
Yes there is a theme to my last three picks — watch as many Patriots games as you can. Why? Not only do they consistently bring the best out of their opponents, they can bring the worst out too. In 2018 the Patriots certainly brought out the best of Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence. However, when they had the finish line in sight — and had the Patriots staring at the barrel of a gun in the AFC championship — the Chiefs wilted under pressure. They say to be the man you have to beat the man, and in the playoffs Tom Brady continues to be the self proclaimed ‘baddest mother f’ on the planet. The Patriots predictably marched into sub zero Kansas City and stole the dreams of multiple generations of Chiefs fans — including the family of the great Lamar Hunt who’s name dons the AFC championship trophy. Nevertheless, this was Mahomes first year as a starting QB, and Reid has previously bested the Patriots with Alex Smith under centre. Prediction — Mahomes finally exorcises his Patriot demons to help his team win 34-28.
9. COLTS @ SAINTS – Week 15
My penultimate pick for one of the must-watch games of the 2019 season comes in week 15, when we see the Colts head south to face the Saints. In what could be a vital end of season game that helps determine the playoff picture for both conferences, put money on Sean Payton calling a number of trick plays to disrupt the Colts young, yet impressive Tampa 2 defence. More importantly, we get to see two of the league’s best QB’s come face to face for just the second time. After a serious shoulder injury kept Andrew Luck out of action in 2017, he was at his irresistible best last year — coming close to surpassing his career best single season marks for both TD’s (39/40) and pass yards (4,593/4,761) respectively. Prediction — Luck puts on a clinic to shock the Saints 38-34.
10. CHIEFS @ BEARS – Week 16
Despite each team losing in gut wrenching fashion in last years playoffs, could this be a dress rehearsal of Super Bowl LIV? On paper both appear to have addressed their respective deficiencies during the off season. Yes the Chiefs await an NFL report into Tyreek Hill’s personal conduct — amid allegations of domestic abuse and child battery — but adding Tyann Mathieu, Frank Clark and Juan Thornhill will surely make their leaky defence better. The Bears got significantly better too. Taking both David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. at RB were easy decisions to make, especially when players of their quality fall into the latter rounds. However, with the additions of Riley Ridley, and more importantly Cordarrelle Patterson at WR — the Bears have added much needed versatility to an offensive scheme that relies heavily on RPO’s and play-action bootlegs. Still, both teams are likely to revert to type, and it is this that makes this game so fascinating. Who doesn’t want to see 2018’s most electric offence come up against 2018’s best defence? Prediction — in a cold, snowy Chicago, the Bears win 23-21.
What games are circled on your NFL calendar? Post your comments below. J