Atlanta Falcons When you have the third-ranked quarterback in the league in Matt Ryan (4924 yards, 69.4% completion rate, 35 TDs, 7 INT) and the top-ranked receiver in Julio Jones (1677 yards, 8TDs), you should be better. But that connection tended to lose its sizzle in the red zone, and the Falcons were only the tenth-rated scoring offense. That led to a 7-9 record and disappointment for pretty much everyone outside of fantasy football owners.
Bold Prediction: At this point, it’s a pattern that defense will key on. Ryan gains yards with Jones, then looks elsewhere when it’s time to put points on the board. In fact, Jones has never hauled in more than ten touchdown catches in a season. Defenses will have to shift away from him in the red zone eventually. I can’t help but think that this is the year that Ryan and Jones take advantage of a few more lapses in double coverage, put the Falcons on their backs and put some points on the board. Jones will have his career high in touchdown receptions by a country mile. I’m thinking fourteen to sixteen TD grabs, including one big game against a weak secondary that simply can’t control him and he gets three.
Last year was a lost season for the Panthers, and it wasn’t until it was over that we really understood what was happening. Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder was just destroyed, and he couldn’t get the ball down the field. Later in the season, opposing defenses started to recognize the trend and it was all over.
Bold Prediction: Maybe it was the sore shoulder. Maybe it was the shortened playbook. But whatever the reason, Newton’s passer rating in this injured season was actually the second highest of his career. With that behind him and a newly repaired shoulder, Newton will have the best season of his career, throwing for over four-thousand yards for only the second time in his career.
New Orleans Saints
Now that we’ve gotten the pass interference rule “fixed”, can we get back to how great this Saints team was, and still is? Drew Brees is only a little younger that Tom Brady, but he’s making his own case for best old dude in the league. There’s a new wrinkle in New Orleans though, if Sean Payton has the stones to use it. Young quarterback Taysom Hill was electric in run pass option scenarios last season.
Bold Prediction: Hill’s usage rate will skyrocket in his third season. The variety gained on offense will more than make up for any sore feelings on the part of Brees. Furthermore, using Hill more will cut down on the chances of a season-destroying injury to Brees. It’s just too tempting to ignore. Brees will still be the starter, but we’ll see longer stretches of Hill, and more frequent plays designed for him to throw.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year was a weird, weird season for the Buccs. A raging start saw the Tampa Bay offense, behind now-departed backup Ryan Fitzpatrick shred opposing defenses with an aggressive passing attack. They even whipped up on the Saints 48-40 in week one. But then, Jameis Winston returned from suspension. The controversy under center was ignited and the team fell apart. Full disclosure: Winston’s return wasn’t the primary problem here. And there’s some light at the end to the tunnel, backup QB Ryan Griffin leads all passers through the first two weeks of the preseason.
Bold Prediction: The Buccaneers defense won’t be terrible. And that IS a bold prediction… The defense was among the worst in the league all year long, only Oakland allowed more points in 2018. Tampa Bay’s brass knew where the team needed depth and playmakers, so that’s where they focused all of their draft capital. Tampa Bay selected five straight defenders with their first five picks, including highly touted linebacker Devin White out of LSU. Is it enough for a turnaround? Possibly. The Buccaneers are in the middle of the pack in both points and yards allowed thus far this preseason.
Check out my other Bold Predictions here.
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