2018 NFL Schedule: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Team
Nearly all of the pieces are in place to provide a fuller picture of the 2018 NFL season. Thursday's regular-season schedule release was the appetizer for next week's draft in Arlington, Texas.
While we already knew who each team would face in 2018, we now know the when and where as well.
The release provides an early glimpse into each team's potential future after free agency and other personnel moves. A few teams will be far better, while others will falter.
The league prides itself on parity, as evidenced by the five new division champions that emerged in 2017. The Philadelphia Eagles went from a 7-9 record and last in the NFC East in 2016 to a 13-3 campaign and Super Bowl champions this past season.
How much turnover will occur this year compared to last?
The upcoming season doesn't appear primed for massive role reversals, but a few surprises are waiting. Let's walk through each team's projected win-loss record based on its current status in conjunction with its upcoming path.
The Ravens are 40-40 overall since winning Super Bowl XLVII. Their roster continues to age, with Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle in significant roles even though each is at least 33 years old. Health always plays a factor, and the Ravens will benefit from a complete offensive line, something they never had last season. However, the team's personnel eroded over the last two seasons without significant improvements in any specific area. Baltimore is far closer to the Browns at this juncture than the Steelers. The Ravens can prove this narrative wrong during a Week 4 Sunday night matchup in Pittsburgh before traveling to Cleveland the following weekend.
The Bengals are trending in the wrong direction. After five straight playoff appearances, they've now missed the postseason in back-to-back years, and they will end the upcoming season with three road games in four contests. The team hasn't significantly improved this offseason, either. Yes, the acquisition of Cordy Glenn will help bolster Cincinnati up front, but the entire right side of the offensive line still needs an overhaul. Meanwhile, the rest of the roster remained static outside of Preston Brown replacing the suspended Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals tout a mediocre roster with a record that reflects their standing.
After the NFL's second-ever 0-16 campaign, the Browns began reworking their roster under the supervision of general manager John Dorsey. The organization acquired Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Damarious Randall via trades while signing Carlos Hyde, Chris Hubbard, Chris Smith, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines in free agency. As a result, Cleveland is better at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety, which should help it place a superior product on the field this fall. A national spotlight will be on these changes in Week 3 when the Browns face the Jets on Thursday Night Football.
The Steelers are still the AFC North's best team and legitimate Super Bowl contenders. However, Todd Haley's departure as offensive coordinator may cause a slight setback until Randy Fichtner gets up to speed on play-calling duties. Both of the Browns contests—one to open the season and Week 8—will be interesting if former coordinator Todd Haley can get the Browns offense going. Pittsburgh's defense is a work in progress as well. However, the Steelers have the league's best combination of skill-position talent in Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, which should go a long way in this offense-driven era.
The Bears aren't quite ready to topple the Vikings or the Packers, but they should be excited about their outlook under new head coach Matt Nagy. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky enters his second season surrounded by improved pass-catchers in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. Nagy's decision to retain the defensive staff bordered on brilliant since the Bears ranked 10th overall in total defense last season. Chicago is well-positioned to rapidly improve even though its home schedule is difficult, with the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, Jets and Buccaneers coming to town beyond its regular rivalries.
If the Bears improve and the Packers and Vikings stay locked in a battle to win another NFC North crown, the Lions become the team on the outside searching for answers. Plenty of question marks can be found. The offensive line is missing pieces. LeGarrette Blount isn't the answer at running back after the team finished tied for last at 3.4 yards per carry. Ziggy Ansah needs a running mate to improve Detroit's pass rush as well. New head coach Matt Patricia will need some time to adjust as he tries to solve the roster's myriad problems, and they could be on display during the first Monday Night Football contest against the Jets.
Green Bay Packers
A healthy Aaron Rodgers changes the game. Rodgers missed nine contests last season due to a broken collarbone. He returns to an evolving organization with Brian Gutekunst as the new general manager. A Week 6 Monday night affair between the Packers and 49ers will pit Rogers and the Packers against Jimmy Garoppolo and his 49ers. Green Bay splurged in free agency for a change to prepare for the season, adding Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson. Graham could soon become Rodgers' favorite target since the Packers released the quarterback's security blanket, Jordy Nelson.
The Vikings went 13-3 last year on the strength of an elite defense and opportunistic offense. Both sides of the ball are better this year, at least on paper, and the organization should expect similar (or even better) results. The biggest change came at quarterback, where Kirk Cousins enters the fray after three straight 4,000-plus-yard campaigns in Washington. He'll be distributing the ball to a talented skill position group, whereas the defense acquired a standout 3-technique in Sheldon Richardson. Last year's No. 1 defense will get a chance to slow the top scoring offense in Week 4 on Thursday Night Football when the Vikings go on the road to take on the Rams.
The football gods finally smiled upon the Bills, allowing them to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. A repeat appearance likely isn't in the cards this year, though. AJ McCarron is not an upgrade over Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, and the offensive line remains in flux. LeSean McCoy turns 30 in July, while the team's leading tackler, Preston Brown, signed with the Bengals in free agency. The schedule-makers didn't do the Bills any favors, either, by placing the Chargers, Vikings, Packers and Titans—all of whom are playoff contenders—in Weeks 2-5.
Plenty of uncertainty surrounds the Dolphins after head coach Adam Gase decided his team needed a new direction. Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey—arguably the team's best three players—are all gone. In their place, Miami targeted veteran free agents with winning experience. However, Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton can only do so much, as they're all on the downside of their careers. Each of the Dolphins' last five games is against a team that made the playoffs last season.
New England Patriots
Cracks are starting to show in the Patriots' once-pristine exterior. Tom Brady veered from his normal preparation this offseason. Rob Gronkowski is still contemplating retirement. The team traded its top receiver, Brandin Cooks, to the Los Angeles Rams. The Patriots no longer seem to be on the same page as an organization. Even so, they're still the AFC East's best squad and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Once again, a December (Week 15) meeting with the Steelers could determine the AFC's top seed. The end of the dynasty does appear to be in sight.
New York Jets
The Jets didn't tank last season, but their 5-11 record wasn't good, either. The organization hopes to build on last year's surprising campaign with the additions of Trumaine Johnson, Avery Williamson, Isaiah Crowell and Teddy Bridgewater. The roster still has a long way to go, but New York is already through the difficult teardown portion of the rebuilding process, and it has some talented young players on its roster. Another should be forthcoming after the Jets traded up to the third overall pick in an attempt to land a quarterback of their choice. Said signal-caller could be in the lineup against the No. 1 overall pick when the Jets face the Browns in Week 3 on Thursday Night Football.
As currently constructed, the Cowboys are closer to 2017's 9-7 campaign than 2016's 13-3 breakout performance. Having Ezekiel Elliott back in the lineup after he missed six games last season should work wonders, but the offense lacks a true playmaker in the passing game after Dez Bryant's release. A hole at linebacker still exists with Anthony Hitchens' free-agent departure, too. Elliott's maturation and a rebound performance from Dak Prescott can keep the Cowboys competitive, but they're far from the NFC East's best team. They'll also have to wait until Week 10 to test their mettle against the rival Eagles.
New York Giants
The New York Giants may not admit it, but they're in the midst of a rebuild, especially if they trade Odell Beckham Jr. between now and the draft. However, they seem to believe they can win now with Eli Manning and no long-term answer at quarterback. Manning's quarterback rating decreased in each of the last two seasons, and the addition of left tackle Nate Solder isn't enough to put the offense over the top. The defense also took a hit when general manager Dave Gettleman decided to trade New York's best pass-rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul. Where the Giants stand will be on display Week 1 when the Jacksonville Jaguars visit MetLife Stadium.
The Eagles finally reached the mountaintop last season, winning the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy. Philadelphia is well-equipped to handle the barrage of every opponent's best effort in 2018, as it didn't hemorrhage talent this offseason like most champions do. Instead, the Eagles added quality veterans like Haloti Ngata and Mike Wallace to supplement an already talented core. Oh, and rising star quarterback Carson Wentz will return from his knee injury at some point as well. Although, he's not guaranteed to be on the field for the league's kickoff game on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons.
A make-or-break year may be forthcoming for Washington head coach Jay Gruden after the team missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons. While Washington is a solid squad, it lacks the firepower to be a true contender. The trade for Alex Smith can be viewed as an upgrade at quarterback, but the offense still needs a new left guard, a true lead back and an outside presence among the wide receivers. There's only so much a quarterback can do with an incomplete surrounding cast. Smith's value will be determined during a three-game stretch between Weeks 3-6 when Washington faces Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
The addition of Case Keenum is a step in the right direction for Denver. But is he a franchise quarterback or a one-year wonder? Either way, the Broncos should be more consistent at the game's most important position after last year's epic failure split between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Denver's defense is still formidable, even with Aqib Talib's departure. Talib returns to town Week 6 when the Rams visit the Mile High City. Barring another career year from Keenum, the Broncos offense might not be able to hold up its end of the bargain.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have finished 9-7 or better in each of Andy Reid's five seasons as head coach, but he could always rely on Alex Smith to steady the ship. Kansas City will now rely on second-year signal-caller Patrick Mahomes after trading Smith to Washington this offseason. Mahomes has an enormous ceiling, but he's sure to encounter growing pains during his first year as a starting NFL quarterback. The defense likewise may struggle without Marcus Peters and Derrick Johnson, which makes the AFC West wide-open for the first time in three years. A Week 1 meeting with the Chargers could be an early indicator of the division's hierarchy.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers won six of their last seven games under first-year head coach Anthony Lynn. They're poised to build upon last year's strong finish since all of their key components remain in place. The addition of Mike Pouncey along with a healthy Forrest Lamp should solidify a once-shaky offensive line, while receiver Mike Williams has a chance to become a bigger part of the offense in his second season. Meanwhile, the Chargers still feature the league's best one-two pass-rush punch in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Los Angeles is well-positioned to win the division.
Having Jon Gruden back on the sidelines might be exciting for Raiders owner Mark Davis and the franchise's fanbase. However, one has to wonder whether the former Monday Night Football color analyst is prepared for today's game after nine years in the booth. Gruden favors reliable veterans, and the team's 15 free-agent signings are, on average, 29 years old. The Raiders may be more experienced around franchise cornerstones Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, but they aren't necessarily better. In an interesting twist, the Raiders open the season on Monday Night Football against the Rams.
The Cardinals may be the NFL's worst team next season even though they still have Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and David Johnson (when fully healthy). Between a new head coach in Steve Wilks, Sam Bradford's ailing knee, an unsettled offensive front and Tyrann Mathieu's departure, they have no shortage of concerns to address. This is a team in transition, and it'll take some time to rebuild after losing former head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer to retirement. Unfortunately, the Cardinals also face schedule issues since they travel to San Francisco and Minnesota in Weeks 5 and 6 before returning home to play the Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
Los Angeles Rams
The rich got richer in Los Angeles with the Rams' addition of Aqib Talib, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh. General manager Les Snead realized championship windows are short-lived, and last year's 11-5 campaign opened the Rams' window of opportunity. Los Angeles is arguably the NFL's most talented team on paper, as it touts difference-makers at every position. The Rams now operate on a Super Bowl standard after so many years of substandard play. A Week 15 meeting with the Eagles could serve as the NFC's changing of the guard.
San Francisco 49ers
A five-game winning streak to end the previous season would have any team excited, but the 49ers must be especially exuberant this offseason since they now have their franchise quarterback signed to a long-term deal. While San Francisco's roster still has holes, Jimmy Garoppolo's presence in the lineup makes everything else better. Garoppolo vs. Goff to end the season will be a treat as long as the 49ers or Rams aren't sitting the starters. San Francisco's additions of Richard Sherman, Weston Richburg and Jerick McKinnon are just icing on the cake, as all three are talented and fit well in the team's schemes.
Nothing lasts forever, and the Seahawks are finally feeling the effects of long-term success with an aging and crumbling roster. Seattle doesn't just need to replace stalwarts like Sherman—who returns to Seattle in Week 15 as a member of the 49ers—Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor; a philosophical change is necessary, too. The spotlight now shifts to Russell Wilson and the offense even though the unit still lacks a cohesive offensive line, a reliable lead back and a true outside-the-numbers threat at wide receiver.
How Deshaun Watson progresses upon his return from his season-ending ACL tear will determine just how much the Texans can improve upon last year's 4-12 campaign. Head coach Bill O'Brien already plans to cater his system to the quarterback's unique skill set, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. With Houston's additions of Senio Kelemete, Zach Fulton, and Seantrel Henderson, Watson won't play behind a ramshackle offensive line. Meanwhile, a healthy J.J. Watt can make a dangerous defense even better. The Texans won't be given too much time to jell, though, since they face the Patriots in Foxborough to open the season.
Andrew Luck has yet to throw an NFL-sized football after last year's shoulder surgery, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB. His health should be the franchise's the No. 1 priority, but the glacial pace of his recovery should have the Colts worried. The team has been built around his availability, and no one is exactly sure when he'll take the field again. The Colts don't have enough surrounding talent to offset mediocre to below-average quarterback play, as they demonstrated last season. A Thursday night meeting with the Patriots brings intrigue since the Colts wanted to hire Josh McDaniels as their head coach before he backed out of the agreement and returned to New England.
The Jaguars exceeded all realistic expectations last season by making the AFC Championship Game. Their defense is downright nasty. Leonard Fournette provides the offense with an identity. How much Jacksonville improves and how far it can go this year will come down to Blake Bortles' maturation and help from the skill positions. The Jaguars took a few free-agent risks by signing Donte Moncrief, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul. This group must come together after losing Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marcedes Lewis. Jacksonville will be tested during its regular trip to London when the Jaguars "host" the Eagles in an early contender for regular season game of the year.
The Titans didn't fire former head coach Mike Mularkey after a playoff appearance and hire Mike Vrabel to maintain the status quo. This is a team gunning for an AFC South crown. It's capable of doing so as long as Marcus Mariota improves upon last season's 13-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio and Derrick Henry proves he's a true lead back. The organization also added Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis this offseason to improve its defense and offense, respectively. In a fun twist, the Titans will travel to London for the first time to face the Chargers.
Now a full year removed from their Super Bowl LI collapse, the Falcons are poised to retake the NFC South. Head coach Dan Quinn and his staff did a wonderful job keeping the team on track with a 2017 postseason berth instead of suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. Another year in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's system will be a great help as well. The Falcons lost Taylor Gabriel and Dontari Poe in free agency, but they still have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Quinn and Co. can re-establish themselves with a statement game in the season opener against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
The Panthers' decision to hire Norv Turner as offensive coordinator can be viewed as a desperate move by head coach Ron Rivera. Turner may be a known entity—his new team will face his old team when the Panthers open against the Dallas Cowboys—but he failed at his last two stops with the Browns and Vikings. The game appears to have passed the 65-year-old coach by. How can anyone expect him to build a cutting-edge offense around Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel? The question provides the answer. Therein lies the problem for the 2018 Panthers.
New Orleans Saints
At one point last season, the New Orleans Saints looked like the NFL's best team. They faltered in the playoffs, though, thanks to a Minnesota Miracle. Still, the Saints are among the NFC's top units, and a Week 8 rematch against the Vikings could determine the conference's best squad. A potential Falcons resurgence may knock New Orleans down a peg, but Sean Payton's squad has a chance to build upon last year's outstanding draft class and remain in the Super Bowl mix throughout the 2018 campaign.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers stumbled under expectations last season as a chic pick to become playoff contenders. Instead, the team fell to 5-11 overall. Tampa Bay has gotten better this offseason, particularly along the defensive line with the additions of Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. But the Bucs won't force their way into the playoff mix unless Jameis Winston improves. Another subpar campaign could cost head coach Dirk Koetter his job, as he already sits on one of the NFL's hottest seats. Everyone will know exactly how good the Buccaneers are by the end of Week 6 since they open against three division winners (Saints, Eagles and Steelers) and then face the Bears and Falcons before the schedule gets a little easier.