Week One of the 2019 NFL season is upon us, with the first regular season kickoff on Thursday night and the full schedule of games following on Sunday.
OK, maybe if you’re living here in northeast Indiana you’re already tuned out for the season after the surprise announcement that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has called it a career at just 29 years old. Maybe you’re not excited to watch Indianapolis flail for 16 games this year.
But there’s still lots of other teams out there to follow and, if you’re a big fan, football is football regardless of who is playing.
To get you ready for this season, we polled some of our KPC Media Group staff and sport writers about not only who they follow, but about their hot reads on the rest of the league.
Mark Murdock, sports reporter for The Star
Your team: Cincinnati Bengals
Are they any good this year?: The Bengals are my team, and the fans screaming for Marvin Lewis’ head on a platter finally got their wish after almost 20 years. Zac Taylor, ex-QB coach for the Rams, has taken over and everyone likes his offensive focus (Marvin was a defensive guy). Injuries decimated last year’s team. This year, No. 1 pick Jonah Williams, tackle from Alabama, is already gone for the year with a shoulder injury, and star receiver A.J. Green will miss a few games with an ankle injury. Management did little in the offseason to address a defense that gave up the most points in the league, but again, injuries played a big part in that.
Teams to watch: I’d look for another wide open year in the NFC. In the AFC, New England is New England, and Pittsburgh did addition by subtraction letting malcontents Antonia Brown and Le’Veon Bell walk.
Ken Fillmore, KPC Media Group sports editor
Your team: Detroit Lions
Are they any good this year?: Don’t think so. The Lions are probably the fourth-best team in the NFC North, unless Aaron Rodgers can’t get along with new coach Matt LaFleur in Green Bay. Defense could be good, especially up front with Damon “Snacks” Harrison in his first full season in Detroit and the addition of free agent Trey Flowers. But too many questions and concerns on offense, like line play and depth. That affects everything on offense, including a running game that general manager Bob Quinn and new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are trying so hard to build up and quarterback Matthew Stafford’s well-being. Stafford apparently played some of last season with broken bones in his back.
By the way, is Stafford still not right or was he getting the veteran’s treatment during training camp? If he not right, this season will be ugly.
Who’s good: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots. The Rams learned a painful lesson in the Super Bowl that could pay dividends this season. But will Todd Gurley be a superstar again? The Rams and Chiefs are the teams of today. But the Chiefs have to win a real big game sometime. The Patriots have a way of evolving and developing personnel to remain elite. And they have Belichick and Brady
Who’s not: Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals is an easy shot, and new coach Kliff Kingsbury is not in college anymore. Washington might be nearing a bottoming out. Antonio Brown has had a negative impact on the Raiders and that will linger on their way out to Las Vegas.
Teams to watch: Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts. The Browns’ upgraded overhaul of personnel is exciting. Can coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield properly direct that team along the shores of Lake Erie? Colts GM Chris Ballard built a well-rounded roster, and they play in the AFC South. It might not be doom and gloom after Andrew Luck abruptly retired.
Chris Reed, sports reporter for The Herald Republican
Your team: Denver Broncos
Are they any good this year?: Expecting a .500 season, maybe a little better if a couple close games go their way. Joe Flacco is an upgrade at quarterback over what the team has fielded at the position the past few years, and the addition of Vic Fangio as head coach and Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator should allow that side of the ball to continue performing at a high level. The AFC West is tough, but the Broncos played both the Chiefs and Chargers close last year.
Who’s good: Outside of the usual suspects (Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, etc.) the Browns and Jets are two teams that look much improved in the AFC. While the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. draws the headlines, Cleveland signed veteran Sheldon Richardson to its defensive line, and returns Myles Garrett, one of the best young pass rushers in the league. With the Jets adding Le’Veon Bell, Sam Darnold finally has a back that can share the spotlight with him in New York. They improved defensively, too, and could be looking at a Wild Card berth by season’s end.
Who’s not: Can I take the easy answer? The Dolphins have the appearance of the worst team in the league. Aside from questions at quarterback, they are worse on the offensive line than a year ago, and have weak spots along the defensive front as well. Other candidates to be picking near the top of the 2020 draft include the Cardinals, Redskins, Bengals and Giants.
Teams to watch: My favorite sleeper team is the Buffalo Bills. A team that was a little better than its record indicated last season, the Bills improved both their offensive and defensive lines and added multiple weapons at receiver (a weak spot last year) to help second-year quarterback Josh Allen progress along. Smart offseason moves and an improving young quarterback generally lead to good results. Also keep your eyes on a rejuvenated Jaguars team as well.
Brice Vance, sports reporter for The News Sun
Your Team: Green Bay Packers
Any good this year?: They should be a playoff contender this year. As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback, the Packers have a chance to be good.
Who’s good: The Patriots, the Chiefs, the Steelers, the Rams and the Eagles all could win the Super Bowl this season.
Who’s not: The Miami Dolphins feel like they are in tank mode right now, and the Raiders are going to be the team filled with drama all season long.
Teams to watch: I think the Baltimore Ravens will be a team that could surprise some people. Their defense is always near the top of the NFL, and Lamar Jackson is one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league.