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NFL Bold Predictions: Playoff Longshots, Teams at Home in January, Coaches to Watch

Before the 2019 NFL season kicks off, The MMQB staff makes some bold predictions. Two things are clear: We’re high on the Vikings returning to the postseason, and we’re high on Lincoln Riley.

The 2019 NFL season is here, and everyone is bursting with optimism and opportunity. Which player will break out unexpectedly and who will disappear by midseason? Which team will have a bad call go against them, denying them the opportunity to play for it all? Which coach will get fired midseason? Which team’s kicker will miss a postseason game-winning field goal, launching a months-long search for his replacement?

The possibilities are endless!

The MMQB staff made complete playoff predictions and award picks on Wednesday. But before the Bears and the Packers kick off, we have some bold predictions about the upcoming season. Behold...

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The NFC North will be the best division in football—with the Packers and Lions taking big steps forward, the Vikings bouncing back up and the Bears remaining steady. And as a result of this balance, only one of those four teams, Minnesota, will make the playoffs. Lock it up. The Vikings tend to roll in odd-numbered years. — Albert Breer

The Vikings will make the playoffs. Pundits seem to forget that Minnesota, a trendy playoff selection this time last year, played the 2018 season with a new quarterback in a new (to him) system and without an injured running back and with several injuries to numerous key players and still went 8-7-1. Now, the Vikings don’t seem to be as much a part of the conversation in the NFC North as the Bears and the Packers are. But Kirk Cousins will be in his second season, Dalvin Cook should be healthy and a team with an already-stacked defense finally addressed its offensive line. I think the Vikings will be better than most people seem to, and I think they will return to the playoffs in 2019. — Greg Bishop

After Lincoln Riley coaches Jalen Hurts to a season in which he’s a Heisman finalist, the NFL rumors start to swirl. When the Cowboys complete a season sagging below expectations, Jerry Jones makes his move. He lures Riley back to his native Texas with a seven-year contract, hoping for the same success but a longer tenure than the last coach he plucked from the Sooners. Riley hires Rex Ryan as his defensive coordinator. — Jenny Vrentas

Despite the hype, the Browns will not make the playoffs. They'll have a fine record—say, 9–7—but the opening stretch will do them in. Cleveland opens with the Titans (meh) then it's the Jets, Rams, Ravens, Niners, Seahawks and Patriots. A group of players with as little experience together as the Browns will need time to gel, and those five teams will likely all finish the season at .500 or better. If they squeeze three or more wins out of that stretch, Cleveland will have a shot at the postseason. If not, they'll spend the rest of 2019 trying to catch up to Pittsburgh. — Robert Klemko

I want to make an incredibly bold prediction that we’re going to see someone on Andrew Luck’s tier, or just below, will retire during the 2019 season. If that happens, remember that I almost said so here. But I’ll go with something slightly less bold but still pertaining to Luck. We won’t hear a word from the four-time Pro Bowler all season. Luck will decline all interview requests. He won’t draw attention to himself in a Lucas Oil Stadium suite, but instead cheer on his Colts from his vacation rental along the Vltava River in Český Krumlov. — Jonathan Jones

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A high-profile twist atop a quarterback depth chart. Nick Mullens takes over a massively stacked, but underperforming offense and leads a team into the playoffs. Joaquin Phoenix wins an Oscar for The Joker. Albums released by 90s supergroups Third Eye Blind and Hootie and the Blowfish both take home Grammys and usher in a new era of togetherness. A mysterious firebrand of the deep economic world with almost no social media footprint and a vague past in the midwest emerges to primary the sitting president. Lincoln Riley gets appointed head coach of an NFL team immediately after the final day of the 2019 regular season. — Conor Orr (Editor’s note: This prediction was made BEFORE Jalen Hurts accounted for six touchdowns against Houston in his first game as Okhahoma’s quarterback.)

The Bears and Vikings will continue to be plagued by inept kickers and will cycle through at least two during the season. Rob Gronkowski is back playing before the season ends (if the new CBD spokesman can pass a drug test). Daniel Jones is the Giants quarterback by mid-October. Antonio Brown gets suspended for trying to sneak his old helmet past the officials in Week 3. The Redskins replace their entire medical staff to entice Trent Williams to return to the team. He refuses. Raiders players stage a revolt against Jon Gruden when he asks them to knock on wood if they're with him for the 9,999th time. — Kalyn Kahler

Jacoby Brissett will be in the Pro Bowl conversation. And fans will rue that the NFL does not have an award for Breakout Player of the Year, because the Colts new starting QB will so deserve it. Brissett is a big strong pocket passer who understands how to work through multiple progressions and can rely on his legs when things break down. Indy will be just fine. — Andy Benoit

Yes, I have picked the Browns to not just win their division for the first time since 1989, not just win a playoff game, but to make it all the way to the AFC Championship game. It’s possible that my recent reporting for a Browns magazine story is clouding my judgment, as for months I heard Clevelanders talk on and on about how much this team means to their city and how long they have waited for this return to relevance. Those fans have watched so much bad football and seen so much ineptitude that it’s hard not to root for them to finally catch a break. And the Browns do boast one of the most talented rosters in the entire league—yes, all on paper, of course. It’s true, the personalities and egos are big and the possibility of it all crashing and burning is certainly existent. But I believe that if Cleveland starts the season strong, success will breed bonhomie and the team will roll from there. — Ben Baskin

Two overwhelming narratives existed this offseason: the Browns are the hot team to watch, and the Giants made the worst pick in the 2019 draft in Daniel Jones and will stink. Since so many have believed these two to be true, I say they won’t. The Browns will be an average team, no better and no worse. And the Giants, with Daniel Jones playing by Halloween, will be about the same.  And, as much the Cowboys and their ownership can annoy us, I think they will be really good this year, with or without Ezekiel Elliott. — Andrew Brandt

Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro earns first-team All-Pro honors with one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, converting on 41 of 42 field goal attempts (the only miss: a blocked 43-yarder against the Eagles) while going perfect on PATs, signaling a definitive end to Chicago's tortured search for a reliable placekicker. Thanks to the heroics of the man upon whom Chicagoans bestow the nickname “Steady E. Pineiro,” the Bears—despite a takeaway rate that regresses toward the mean (as expected), Mitchell Trubisky's desperate struggles from the second half of 2018 carrying over to this season, and three division rivals that bounce back from worst-case-scenario seasons—manage to finish 8-8. — Gary Gramling

I picked four new division champions in the NFC, but for my bold prediction I’ll swing over to the AFC. While I’m not ready to predict the sudden, complete and total end of the Patriots’ dynasty, I do predict a down season and the end of two impressive streaks: nine consecutive first-round byes and eight consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances. I still picked them to win the AFC East, largely because I’m not confident enough in any of their division rivals to pick a new champ. But as the Patriots fight through age and injuries at a few key positions, multiple football hipsters and/or Bill Belichick admirers will write columns along the lines of, “Well actually, this season is one of Belichick’s most impressive as a coach.” (They might not be totally wrong, but people will still find it annoying.) — Mitch Goldich

I can picture it now: It’s Week 17 in the NFL. We can’t quite figure out how we got here. The Jets, led by Sam Darnold and a revived Le’Veon Bell have won the AFC East (it seems that holding out for a year is good for the legs, something that Melvin Gordon—who hasn’t even been in the state of California since the NFL’s trade deadline—is clinging to). The Dolphins and the Patriots are playing for the final spot in the AFC playoffs. Rumors of Brady’s retirement have been swirling all month. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic has returned—and stayed!—and Miami was quickly forced to abandon its tanking strategy...

Alright, that is too far-fetched, plus I already picked the Patriots to lose to the Saints in the Super Bowl. One storyline we’ll be watching all season is how Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, the first and second picks of the 2015 draft, play on their fifth-year options. At the end of the season, neither team will make the playoffs, and both QBs will be gone. Josh Rosen, is that a Nashville area code calling you, or just another spam call? — Bette Marston

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