A version of this story appears in the Aug. 26–Sept. 2, 2019, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
Think of the standings you see here not as predictions but as projections: This is how the 32 NFL teams look entering a season that’s sure to produce a slew of unforeseen developments. In fact, they’ve already started. Entering the summer, I loved the Colts. They were bringing back almost everyone from a 2018 squad that won 10 of its final 12 games.
But then Andrew Luck’s mysterious ankle injury became a concern. And then the ankle, from our football perspective, became moot, as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks walked away from the game. I am high on Jacoby Brissett and still see big things for the Colts this season, as the rest of the AFC heavyweights have questions. The Browns are sexy but inexperienced. The Chiefs have a terrifying offense but serious questions about their defensive back seven. Those same questions kept them out of Super Bowl LIII.
With Indianapolis being “good—but not good enough” without Luck, we’re left with that familiar team from the Northeast. Yes, picking the Patriots feels boring and lazy. But their defense is much stronger than it was at this time last year, and they’re one of the few offenses built around a smashmouth ground game. Oh, and when they’re not pounding the rock, they’ll rely on Tom Brady, who has still shown no sign of decline.
As for the NFC: New Orleans remains in the same brilliant offensive scheme led by the same brilliant QB, Drew Brees. The Saints’ D, while not amazing, is the most talented they’ve had in the Sean Payton era. Forecasting a Super Bowl showdown between two fortysomething-year-old quarterbacks feels absurd, but those quarterbacks remain elite and are surrounded by two of the league’s most complete rosters.
PROJECTED 2019 STANDINGS, POSTSEASON
6. CHARGERS over 3. BROWNS
4. COLTS over 5. STEELERS
4. COLTS over 2. CHIEFS
1. PATRIOTS over 6. CHARGERS
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
1. PATRIOTS over 4. COLTS
3. VIKINGS over 6. PACKERS
4. EAGLES over 5. 49ERS
1. RAMS over 4. EAGLES
2. SAINTS over 3. VIKINGS
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
2. SAINTS over 1. RAMS
SUPER BOWL LIV
Feb. 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami
PATRIOTS over SAINTS, 27–23
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