It was sad to see some Colts fans boo Luck on Saturday night after news of his decision broke. Luck is as good as it gets from a reputation and integrity standpoint, and that never should have been put into question.
His decision does have a major impact on divisional and conference title races, which is where we will start our list of seven bold predictions for the 2019 NFL season:
The Jacksonville Jaguars will go from worst to first and win the AFC South.
New quarterback Nick Foles has looked great this offseason, and his presence should enable the Jaguars to elevate their scoring average to 23 or 24 points per game — a big improvement from the 15.3 points they scored last year with Blake Bortles at the helm. Foles will benefit from the fact that running back Leonard Fournette is back to running well.
The defense is loaded again, and in particular it should be effective at getting to opposing quarterbacks. It helps that both the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans have problems in pass protection. Perhaps most importantly, Jacksonville should be much better in close games this year. The Jaguars were 2-6 last season in games decided by eight points or fewer.
While Colts General Manager Chris Ballard has greatly improved his team’s roster since Jacoby Brissett led an offense that averaged 16 points two years ago, that won’t be nearly enough to get Indianapolis to the level it was at last season when Luck led an offense that averaged 27 points. Luck’s retirement means the Colts go from Super Bowl contenders to a six- or seven-win team.
Bonus prediction: If Luck were to decide in a year or two to return to football, he would have both the option of coming back to the Colts or potentially signing a megadeal with the XFL, the rebooted start-up league that has his father, Oliver Luck, as commissioner.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will throw for 5,000 yards and be an MVP finalist.
The reason? Dirk Koetter’s return as offensive coordinator. Koetter, a Ryan favorite, was with Atlanta from 2012 to 2014. During that stretch, Ryan threw for more than 4,500 yards each season and totaled 86 touchdowns.
The Falcons are three deep at wide receiver with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley, and they have strong starters at running back (Devonta Freeman) and tight end (Austin Hooper). The question mark is the offensive line after they brought in guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency and drafted guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, who is recovering from a heart procedure, in the first round.
Josh Rosen will be the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback by Week 5.
At this stage of his career, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good backup. The Dolphins open the season against four playoff teams with good defenses: Baltimore, New England, Dallas and the Los Angeles Chargers. Fitzpatrick could come out of September with a 1-3 or 0-4 record entering the team’s bye week.
My second Dolphins prediction, however, is that Rosen won’t be able to get Miami to better than a four-win season. Expect him to be traded after the season and the Dolphins to take one of the top three quarterbacks in next year’s draft.
4. The New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will all win fewer games than last season but still make the playoffs.
All three of these teams have great rosters, but one indicator of next-year success is a team’s record in close games, and last year the Rams and Chargers were 6-1 in such contests while the Saints were 5-2. Those results will be tough to maintain, and I expect all three will drop to a 10- or 11-win level while remaining playoff teams.
The Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers should see significant improvements and make the playoffs.
These two teams struggled in close games last year, with the Panthers going 3-7 and the Packers 3-6-1. Green Bay made some significant upgrades to its defense this offseason and brought in an innovative offensive head coach in Matt LaFleur, while Carolina should benefit from the return to health of Cam Newton. If he and Aaron Rodgers stay healthy, both teams have a very good chance to make the postseason.
Denver Broncos edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will combine for 35 sacks.
That total would be within four of the sack duo record set by former Minnesota Vikings Chris Doleman and Keith Millard in 1989.
Miller and Chubb combined for 26½ sacks last year. I predict that Miller will be in the top three for defensive player of the year voting and will cross the 100-sack mark for his career, all but locking up a future spot in the Hall of Fame.
Kyler Murray will throw for more than 4,000 yards, but the Cardinals will score fewer than 20 points per game.
New coach Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the pass-heavy Air Raid offense could end up being a lot like the Run-and-Shoot offense of many years ago: great at moving the ball between the 20s but inefficient at converting red-zone opportunities.
The biggest reason for this is that most plays will run out of the shotgun, making the offense less physical, which can have an adverse effect when the field shortens. That could mean more field goal opportunities than touchdowns when the Cardinals get closer to the goal line, although Murray’s running ability does provide some promise in that area of the field. Look for the Cardinals to be prolific in terms of total offense, but they might lack some in the scoring department.
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