2018 OUT­LOOK

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Pack­ers in the play­offs, but not for long in this fore­cast

The NFL off-sea­son is es­sen­tially over. All of the big free agents have been signed, the draft picks have been made (and scru­ti­nized) and we have a sched­ule.

So why not waste our time by pre­dict­ing all 267 games that will hap­pen dur­ing the 2018 NFL sea­son and play­offs? To do this, we used Play­of­fPre­dic­tors.com, which you can use to pick the games your­self, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.

Af­ter pick­ing every game, here are our fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son stand­ings and the re­sults we came up with.…

NFC North

1. Vik­ings 13-3 2. Pack­ers 12-4 3. Bears 6-10 4. Lions 6-10

Low­down: A healthy Aaron Rodgers gets the Pack­ers back in play­off con­tention but Green Bay even­tu­ally loses a sea­son-long bat­tle with the Vik­ings for the NFC North. Mean­while, com­pet­i­tive Lions and Bears teams fight to avoid last place and end up with iden­ti­cal 6-10 records that don’t ac­cu­rately rep­re­sent the tal­ent level on both ros­ters.

NFC East

1. Ea­gles 11-5 2. Cow­boys 10-6 3. Gi­ants 7-9 4. Wash­ing­ton 4-12

Low­down: We’re pre­dict­ing a bounce­back year for the Cow­boys, who get off to an early lead in the di­vi­sion while Car­son Wentz works his way back to full health. But the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl champs make a late run and steal the East from Dal­las in Week 17, knock­ing Jerry’s ’Boys out of the play­offs.

NFC South

1. Pan­thers 11-5 2. Saints 11-5 3. Fal­cons 9-7 4. Bucs 6-10

Low­down: For a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the NFC South is the NFL’s most com­pet­i­tive di­vi­sion. The Pan­thers take the di­vi­sion ti­tle based on a tie-breaker over New Or­leans. At­lanta just misses out on the play­offs with a 9-7 record. The Bucs dis­ap­point once again.

NFC West

1. Rams 12-4 2. 49ers 9-7 3. Sea­hawks 8-8 4. Cardinals 4-12

Low­down: The Rams make good on the off-sea­son hype, win­ning 12 games and the di­vi­sion. The 49ers get their first win­ning record since the Har­baugh days thanks to an im­proved de­fense and a full sea­son of Jimmy Garop­polo be­hind cen­ter.

AFC North

1. Steelers 11-5 2. Ravens 6-10 3. Ben­gals 6-10 4. Browns 4-12

Low­down: It’s the Steelers di­vi­sion once again as the Ravens take another step back and the Ben­gals and Browns fail to pose a threat. Cleve­land fi­nally wins a game in Week 3 but ul­ti­mately

doesn’t live up to ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter a busy off-sea­son.

AFC East

1. Pa­tri­ots 14-2 2. Dol­phins 4-12 3. Jets 3-13 4. Bills 3-13

Low­down: The Pa­tri­ots, once again, dom­i­nate the di­vi­sion. The three other teams are out of the play­off race by Novem­ber, which al­lows New Eng­land to lock up home-field ad­van­tage fairly early.

AFC South

1. Jaguars 11-5 2. Ti­tans 9-7 3. Colts 9-7 4. Tex­ans 6-10

Low­down: An­drew Luck is back healthy but still has some rust to knock off. Same goes for De­shaun Wat­son, who suf­fers a sopho­more slump. That leaves the Jaguars and Ti­tans to fight for the di­vi­sion once again. Jack­sonville’s de­fense makes the dif­fer­ence, but Ten­nessee still man­ages to sneak into the play­offs.

AFC West

1. Charg­ers 12-4 2. Chiefs 10-6 3. Raiders 5-11 4. Bron­cos 4-12

Low­down: This is the year the Charg­ers fi­nally put to­gether a full sea­son, and it nets them a first-round bye in the play­offs. The Chiefs also make it back to the post­sea­son thanks to a more ex­plo­sive of­fense that car­ries an in­con­sis­tent de­fense. The Raiders strug­gle un­der Jon Gru­den in Year 1, but the of­fense looks much bet­ter.

Play­offs

Some ob­ser­va­tions be­fore we pick the play­offs… ❚ The South di­vi­sions are the most com­pet­i­tive in the league, with five games sep­a­rat­ing first and last place in both the AFC and NFC. ❚ The NFC is the bet­ter con­fer­ence once again. Three NFC teams with win­ning records miss the play­offs (Cow­boys, Fal­cons, 49ers) while only one AFC team with a win­ning record (Colts) misses the post­sea­son.

❚ We only get two new play­off teams, with the Charg­ers and Pack­ers re­plac­ing the Bills and Fal­cons.

❚ The top-five picks in the 2018 NFL draft go to the Bills, Jets, Browns, Redskins and Cardinals.

And now let’s pick a Su­per Bowl champ…

Wild-card round

❚ Pan­thers beat Pack­ers ❚ Saints beat Ea­gles ❚ Jaguars beat Ti­tans ❚ Steelers beat Chiefs

Low­down: We get one ma­jor up­set on the first week­end: Drew Brees and the Saints out­gun Car­son Wentz and the Ea­gles in Philadel­phia, send­ing the de- fend­ing champs home early. Carolina marches on af­ter Cam New­ton tears up the Pack­ers de­fense. In the AFC, Jack­sonville blows out the Ti­tans and the Steelers take ad­van­tage of two Pa­trick Ma­homes in­ter­cep­tions and ad­vance.

Di­vi­sional round

❚ Rams beat Pan­thers ❚ Vik­ings beat Saints ❚ Charg­ers beat Jaguars ❚ Pa­tri­ots beat Steelers

Low­down: No up­sets here. The Vik­ings beat New Or­leans for sec­ond straight year, and don’t need a mir­a­cle this time thanks to Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. The Rams’ pass rush proves to be too much for New­ton to over­come. Tom Brady con­tin­ues to ter­ror­ize the Steelers de­fense. And Philip Rivers dis­sects the Jags de­fense while Blake Bor­tles strug­gles.

Cham­pi­onship round

❚ Vik­ings beat Rams ❚ Pa­tri­ots beat Charg­ers

Low­down: The home teams win again. Mike Zim­mer out-schemes Sean McVay in a fas­ci­nat­ing chess match. On the other side, Anthony Lynn is no match for Bill Belichick, who makes his third con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowl.

Su­per Bowl LIII

Low­down: With two weeks to pre­pare for Zim­mer’s de­fense, the Pa­tri­ots put up 30 points. Bill Belichick al­lows Cook to run wild but Cousins plays a ter­ri­ble game, throw­ing three INTs. It’s another great game­plan from the Pa­tri­ots coach. New Eng­land wins as Belichick and Brady col­lect their sixth rings.

❚ Pa­tri­ots 30, Vik­ings 16

DAN POW­ERS / USAT

WR Adam Thie­len (left) and the Vik­ings may win the NFC North, in­stead of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack­ers.

GETTY IMAGES

Bill Belichick (right) and the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots are pro­jected to win Su­per Bowl LIII.

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