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3 fearless predictions to usher in the 2019 NFL season

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz makes a few bold claims that might rile you up — including how far he thinks the Cowboys could go.

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NFL: DEC 23 Buccaneers at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wouldn’t be the start of a NFL season without a few predictions, so I decided to make three wild guesses about this year. I wanted to pick three that I believe could happen, but more than that, ones that will also draw a strong reaction from the audience.

On that note, buckle up. Here are my fearless predictions for 2019, listed from the least bold to the most.

The Chicago Bears won’t make the playoffs in 2019

This would clearly be a shocking outcome for some, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable. Let’s start with the offense.

Bears starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is just average. He was 16th in the league in passer rating last season and was only 20th in DVOA for quarterbacks. There were also reports that the team pulled back the playbook for Trubisky in training camp, which makes me worry he can’t handle a full playbook.

The Bears only played three playoff teams in the 2018 regular season and Trubisky threw seven of his 12 season interceptions against them, and had two of his three lowest-rated games against those teams.

This year, the Bears’ schedule is much tougher: the Saints, Chargers, Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, and Chiefs are all out-of-division games. Then, in division, I expect Minnesota to be a playoff team and that the Packers will be better with the combination of Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur.

I also believe the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos is a bigger deal than people think. I understand the Bears still have the players, but history shows that defenses regress when they lose their coordinator.

In 2016, the Broncos had the top-rated defense in the DVOA ranking. The following season, Wade Phillips left for the Rams. The Broncos dropped to 10th, while the Rams rose from 15th to sixth. When Fangio had the 49ers’ defensive coordinator job, they were top five in DVOA in three of four years. Fangio left for the Bears and the defensive ranking for San Francisco went from No. 5 to 27.

Losing an elite coach, offensively or defensively, is an issue. So, I think the Bears will struggle more this season and are looking at 8-8 instead of 12-4, with the Vikings winning the division. The NFC wild cards will be from the East and South.

Sam Darnold will have a better season than Baker Mayfield

I know, blasphemy — but hear me out.

Mayfield has all the weapons, I get it, but now he’s got a target on his back. He’s also facing a more difficult pass defense schedule this season. Last season, he struggled against playoff teams, most of which had great pass defenses. Five of his eight worst passer rating games were against these playoff teams.

According to Warren Sharp, the Browns played the 26th-best schedule of pass defenses in 2018. This season, they move to the fifth-hardest. That’s why I think that while Mayfield will still have a good season, Darnold will be better.

Darnold was widely viewed as quarterback with the highest upside of the 2018 draft class, but his rookie season was rough. However, the final month of the season, Darnold had the best QB grade in the league, according to PFF. That was with a poor Jets staff, too. Now he has Adam Gase as his new head coach.

Gase might be, uh, quirky and his time in Miami didn’t go very smoothly, but he can coach quarterbacks. Gase was the offensive coordinator during Peyton Manning’s historic 2013 season. In 2015, he moved over to the Bears, where he guided Jay Cutler to his highest passer rating of his career. Then in Miami, when Ryan Tannehill was actually healthy, he played well and record his best completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating.

With Darnold, Gase gets his best quarterback since Manning. They looked great during the preseason (I know, I know), and I think Darnold is about to have an outstanding season.

The Cowboys will win the NFC

Yep, America’s team in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.

Here’s why I’m high on the Cowboys: They are uber talented. Their offensive line is the best in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott + Amari Cooper + Randall Cobb + Jason Witten is an excellent combination of skill position talent for Dak Prescott.

Prescott must take the next step this season, whatever that next step is. For me, it’s being more aggressive on offense, which I hope new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can get out of him. But, if everyone remains healthy on offense, it will be at least above-average.

To complement their offense is their defense. It feels like enough people don’t realize how well their defense played last season and how it’s only going to continue. They have “game wreckers” at all three levels of the defense, which is more than most defenses can claim.

Also, it seems that teams come out of almost nowhere to win the NFC. The Panthers, Falcons, and Eagles did that in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. With the sixth-best odds to win the NFC, the Cowboys could very well be next in line for that.