While some traditions remain tried and true in the NFL, each season finds a way to dump some unexpected nonsense on the sporting world and remind us why we love this game. Every season sees contenders fade and newcomers take their place atop the food chain, though rarely for long (and never if you’re the Browns).
We already made our normal predictions for the NFL’s major awards and who we think will win Super Bowl 53. Now it’s time to go big with five bold predictions for this season:
Mitchell Trubisky will push the Bears into the playoff race
I don’t think the Bears are ready for the playoffs yet — but there’s plenty to like about the team’s rebuild. While most of the focus will be on a defense led by 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and a pair of top-10 NFL Draft talents (Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd), there are enough interesting pieces on the other side of the ball to scare NFC North opponents.
New WR1 Allen Robinson missed 97 percent of the 2017 season, but he’s still a 25-year-old red zone standout who managed to notch 1,400 receiving yards with Blake Bortles shot-putting balls into his general vicinity. Fellow offseason addition Trey Burton’s biggest moment as an Eagle may have been as a passer, but he’s an athletic tight end who should shine now that he’s no longer in Zach Ertz’s shadow. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen may be the league’s best tailback platoon — a pairing who combined for nearly 1,400 yards despite opponents’ constantly stacking the box to shut them down.
The man tying them all together will be Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The North Carolina alum wasn’t asked to do much last fall. He was originally meant to be brought along slowly, only to be thrust into the spotlight thanks to Mike Glennon’s continuing failure as a quarterback. The early returns weren’t great — 183 yards per game, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions — but also came with a receiving corps led by Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, and Josh Bellamy.
That’s interesting, because we just saw a highly rated QB prospect make the leap after his team upgraded its receiving corps around him. Jared Goff averaged fewer yards per game, fewer yards per pass, and completed less of his passes than Trubisky did as a rookie. Then the 2016 No. 1 overall pick got targets like Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp to pair with a top-notch running game, leading to a breakout year two. The Bears are betting their young quarterback can follow his path to prosperity this fall and beyond — and it’s not a stretch to think it can work. — Christian D’Andrea
Jerry Jones is going to sue somebody
The Dallas Cowboys owner used to get grudging respect, the de facto commissioner who had a good read on the business of pro football and where it was going. That image was always a little overwrought, conjured up by old guys inside the columnist bubble. And it’s a stark contrast to the out-of-touch robber baron with dollar signs in his eyes sucking up to President Trump and demanding his players stand “toe on the line,” right to peaceful protest be damned.
Last year’s threat to sue the NFL and some of his fellow owners over Roger Goodell’s contract — a proxy war for the six-game suspension the league gave Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott — wasn’t even the first time he sued the league. He famously filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL so that the Cowboys could tap into their own line of merchandizing and marketing revenue more than two decades ago and won.
My personal favorite stunt he pulled was when he maaaaaaybe got Papa John Schnatter to blame player protests for sinking pizza sales.
So who’s Jerry gonna take to court, or at least threaten to, this year? My prediction is that Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case will come back to bite him, and he’ll call the lawyers in for some high-level damage control.
Last week, Kaepernick’s case got the green light to proceed into full-on arbitration hearing, which will be a lot like a court fight. Because it’s arbitration the proceedings don’t happen on the public record, but there will be leaks. And it’s hard to see Jones, who was deposed in April, coming out of this looking like he didn’t have some hand in blackballing Kaepernick. — Ryan Van Bibber
The NFL will have 10 1,000-yard rushers in 2018
There's been an influx of running back talent over the past few years as teams are spending high draft picks on them again. Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, and Sony Michel have all gone in the first round since 2015. Teams don't spend high picks on running backs without committing a high-volume workload to them. Even last year when Fournette and McCaffrey were struggling for their respective teams, they were still fed the ball on a routine basis.
First-round backs are essentially guaranteed to see a lot of carries, but in order for this prediction to come true, the running backs drafted after the first round are going to need to produce. Luckily, this isn't an issue for the NFL as teams have hit on plenty of later round running backs. Arizona's David Johnson had a fantastic preseason after he missed almost the entire 2017 season with a wrist injury. Devonta Freeman, Kareem Hunt, and Le'Veon Bell are running backs drafted outside of the first who are expected to run for 1,000 yards, and have in the past.
There are also some sneaky options to hit that 1,000-yard benchmark this year. Alfred Morris reunited with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco — the last time they were together in Washington, Morris had a 1,600-yard rookie season after being a fifth round pick from Florida Atlantic University. Since Jerick McKinnon suffered a torn ACL, Morris could emerge as the lead back for the 49ers. Royce Freeman, the Broncos' third-round pick this year, was just announced as the starting running back. He had a productive preseason and looks far superior to Devontae Booker, his competition in the backfield.
Opportunities and talent are sprinkled all over NFL backfields. With more premium draft picks being put into the position and clear cut starters emerging around the league, we're going to see more 1,000 yard rushers. — Charles McDonald
This is the year Tom Brady finally stops being Tom Brady
Maybe it’s reckless to think that Brady and the Patriots are going to come crashing down immediately after another MVP season for the quarterback and another trip to the Super Bowl.
But he’s 41 years old, dammit! It has to happen soon.
Brady slowed down the stretch in 2017 with six touchdowns and five interceptions in December, but that’s kind of par for the course for him — that’s always been his worst month, statistically.
So there’s really no sign of slowing to suggest this prediction has a chance at being true. I’m just making it because he’s 41 YEARS OLD.
I know, I know. Brady eats avocado ice cream and he drinks so much water that he doesn’t get sunburnt or something. I’m also reasonably confident he’s been siphoning talent out of young players like a Dementor. There’s a good chance he’ll live to be 160, but he’s going to stop being good at football at some point, right?
The only players to ever be a full-time starting quarterback at age 41 or older are Warren Moon, Brett Favre, and Vinny Testaverde. Only Moon was even remotely good, and that was when he turned 41 in November of the 1997 season. In 1998 he was benched shortly after his 42nd birthday.
Every bit of conventional wisdom tells us this is the time when Brady’s career will start circling the drain. I’m going with the conventional wisdom, avocado ice cream be damned. — Adam Stites
Myles Garrett will set the Browns’ single-season sack franchise record ... and still won’t get one against Ben Roethlisberger
Here’s something the Browns didn’t screw up: drafting Myles Garrett No. 1 overall in 2017. Although Garrett’s NFL debut was delayed until October due to a sprained ankle, the pass rusher made his presence felt immediately, getting a sack on his first play.
In 11 games last season, Garrett totaled seven sacks. By the looks of him this offseason, he should easily beat that number this year:
In fact, I think he could set the single-season record for the Browns, currently owned by Reggie Camp, who had 14 all the way back in 1984.
As long as he stays healthy, I don’t think that could be considered a bold prediction for Garrett. But this is the part that’s a little more out there: I think he, once again, misses his chance to sack Ben Roethlisberger.
Garrett has talked about how much he wants to sack Roethlisberger since draft night. The first time the Steelers and Browns played last year, Garrett was out with an injury. The second time, it was Week 17 and Roethlisberger sat out to rest for the playoffs.
Not maliciously so, though. Garrett has made it clear that he respects Roethlisberger’s abilities.
That’s not to say Garrett isn’t capable of getting to Big Ben, either. The Steelers’ offensive line is already having nightmares about Garrett, who they will face in Week 1:
#Steelers LT Al Villanueva w/ my fave line of the day: “I’m not worried about Le’Veon. I have enough to worry about w/ the #Browns’ no. 95. Have you seen the Browns’ no. 95?!”— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 3, 2018
Yes, I have seen Myles Garrett. And yes, I expect most every LT who sees him will worry about him.
Maybe it’s the curse of playing for the Browns, but this feels like it could be Garrett’s white whale. Fate, circumstances, our machine overlords, Garrett getting blocked by his own teammate, something will prevent him from knocking down the guy who looks like Will Ferrell crossed with a grown-up Charlie Brown.
Garrett is such an easy player to root for that I hope I’m wrong. Either way, I expect Garrett to have a monster season, which might be the most “well, no duh” prediction anyone could make. — Sarah Hardy