10. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is, in fact, a very good quarterback. Therefore, Seattle will be good this year despite their porous offensive line, lack of consistent options at running back, and a thin receiving core. Wilson made something out of nothing and got Seattle to the playoffs last season, so he can do it again. They shouldn’t fall off much defensively, if at all. Bobby Wagner is a perennial DPOY candidate. The Seahawks are good enough to make the playoffs; how far they’ll make it depends on some surprise contributors emerging offensively.
9. Green Bay Packers
Matt LeFleur has a decent resume, but in his one season as offensive coordinator in Tennessee, they had the seventh-worst offense in the league. He will obviously have much better personnel in his first season at the helm in Green Bay, but there should be some doubt regardless. All that said, as long as he doesn’t piss Aaron Rodgers off, the Packers will be contenders. Rodgers tossed 25 TDs last year on a fractured leg, Davante Adams is a top-10 receiver, and their secondary is coming along very nicely. Just how good they are will be determined by LeFleur’s scheme, but they’ll be battling with Chicago for the NFC North crown.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had an excellent second half last year once everyone got familiar with Frank Reich’s offense. They should continue on a similar, if less torrid, pace. Andrew Luck will be fully, truly healthy for the first time in who knows how long. Their offensive line is stellar. They have young talent worth getting excited about at every level of defense. The flip side is that Luck’s injury history could rear its ugly head at any time, and while there’s young talent on the defense, their secondary isn’t great as a unit. If Luck elevates back to MVP-caliber form, they could beat almost anyone, but their team isn’t as well-rounded as the other top-tier teams.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers had a great 2018, but ran into the wood chipper that is Foxboro in January and ended their season with a whimper. Fortunately, they’re returning all of their major contributors, and will see improvement from defensive studs like Joey Bosa and Derwin James. What happens with Melvin Gordon will play a big role on how their season goes. They also need to see a leap in strategic game-planning from Anthony Lynn after getting outclassed by New England. But with their most important players back and improving and Philip Rivers coming off a resurgent year, they should be contending once more.
6. Chicago Bears
Chicago’s defense last year was one of the best we’ve seen in years, and they didn’t lose anyone too important other than Adrian Amos. Khalil Mack should continue his warpath, while Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson both appear to be franchise cornerstones on that end of the ball. As was always the case, Chicago will go as far as their offense (and kicking) allows them to. Improvement from Mitch Trubisky on basic throws is paramount; Matt Nagy is smart enough to scheme guys open, he just needs Trubisky to make the pass. The defense alone will be more than enough to keep Chicago in games. Trubisky’s progression will make or break their championship contention.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
How Carson Wentz looks after a second season cut short due to injury is obviously rather important to this Eagles team. But they’ve been so good over the last three years that you just can’t count them out. Their defensive line is as good as any unit in the league, and Doug Pederson will once again design an excellent offense that will win games. Philly has earned the benefit of the doubt after winning a Super Bowl and making it as far as the second round with their backup QB. There’s little reason to assume they’ll fall off that pace with their franchise QB back on his feet.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were the most talented team in football last year. Todd Gurley had an outstanding year, Jared Goff continued to be one of the best statistical QBs in the league, and they had the best individual player in football with Aaron Donald. They just couldn’t put it together defensively despite their talent, and fell apart on the biggest stage. The state of Gurley’s knees will determine how far they can go. But Super Bowl 53 was a learning experience for Sean McVay, and given his track record, it’s reasonable to think the Rams will have another excellent year offensively and end up as a top three seed come playoff time.