It's time to dust off the crystal ball for our annual foray into the unknown.
Another NFL season is upon us and the allure is in the uncertainty of it all.
Yes, Tom Brady led the Patriots to yet another Super Bowl title last year, but there were still plenty of surprises.
For instance who thought going into last season that the Cleveland Browns would have a better record than the Green Bay Packers?
Then again, in a league where judgement calls such as offensive and defensive pass interference are subject to video review, is anything really a surprise anymore?
Without further ado, it's time to unveil the annual Shoutouts and Callouts NFL forecast:
Shoutout: Chicago - Does Mitchell Trubisky take a step up in season two? Who knows, but the Bears undoubtedly have the best defense in the division and the fewest question marks, which makes them a good bet to repeat as division champs.
Callout: Green Bay -Yes, by not playing Aaron Rodgers in the preseason, the Packers ensured that a season-crippling injury would not take place before the season started. Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur insist the starters got all the reps they needed to learn a new offense during training camp. I have my doubts, especially considering the Packers play three playoff teams from a season ago in the first five weeks of the season. What's more, no Packers coach - not Lombardi, not Holmgren, not McCarthy - has taken Green Bay to the postseason in his first year. Hard to argue against history. (Note: I became progressively more ill at the keyboard as I typed those last two paragraphs.)
Shoutout: Philadelphia - Undoubtedly Carson Wentz's team now, and with no injuries to worry about, the Eagles seem poised for another deep playoff run.
Callout: Washington -Still led by Jay Gruden (a.k.a. the brother of Chucky), the Redskins have toiled in mediocrity the past several seasons. Imagine that - things going nowhere in Washington D.C.
Shoutout: New Orleans -Victimized the last two seasons by two of the craziest endings (and one of the worst no-calls) in NFL history, karma should dictate that this is the year someone finally takes out the pin that has been stuck in the voodoo doll that is the Saints' defense.
Callout: Tampa Bay - In honor of the NFL's 100th anniversary, the Buccaneers should strongly consider wearing their "Dreamcicle" throwbacks all season long. Tampa Bay's play this year will already resemble that of an era when it was one of the worst franchises in pro football.
Shoutout: L.A. Rams - Yes, the Rams laid an egg in the Super Bowl, but that's about the only thing that went wrong in Tinseltown last year. A team with a young quarterback and explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball will bounce back, even if they picked up a under-achieving former defensive player of the year in the offseason (See: Matthews, Clay).
Callout: Arizona - A decade ago Kurt Warner had the Cardinals on the brink of winning a Super Bowl. That seems like ancient history now as Arizona has reverted back to the bungling ways that have haunted the team during most of their stay in the desert.
Shoutout: Cleveland -After years of being in the Callout section of this column, count me among those on the Browns bandwagon this season. Giving Baker Mayfield a big-time receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. will only help a Browns team that, dare I say, can make the playoffs.
Callout: Pittsburgh - The Steelers have rid themselves of two colossal headaches in Le'veon Bell and Antonio Brown, but they were also two of their top offensive weapons. Last year showed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers defense were both human. They will have to return to their superhuman selves if the Steelers have a chance of making the playoffs this year.
Shoutout: New England -It seems like Tom Brady was just a lad playing peewee football when the NFL was first formed, and that he'll be signing another contract extension when the NFL celebrates its 200th anniversary. They say Father Time is undefeated, but he has yet to catch up with Brady and the Pats.
Callout: The rest of the division - Of course Tom Brady wouldn't be Tom Brady if the rest of the AFC East wasn't mediocre to terrible through the duration of his career. Aside from a couple of years for the Jets under Rex Ryan, there hasn't been a legitimate challenger for the Patriots in the division. I'm afraid that will be the case again this year.
Shoutout: Houston - The Texans have some question marks, and losing running back Lamar Miller to a torn ACL in the preseason doesn't help, but the Texans are the one team in the AFC South that doesn't have major question marks surrounding it entering the season.
Callout: Indianapolis - So this is where I abruptly end this column and announce my retirement from writing and then get booed by the home crowd at the next Hodag game, right? That won't happen, but with Andrew Luck's surprise retirement, the Colts' season ended before it began.
Shoutout: Kansas City - Patrick Mahomes proved me wrong last year, and if not for a suspect defense the Chiefs would have been playing in the Super Bowl. Let's just hope their top playmakers can stay out of trouble this year.
Callout: Oakland Raiders - A summation of the last 12 months includes a dumpster fire of a season and then trading for a receiver who first tried to freeze his foot off and then threatened to retire because he doesn't get to use a specific helmet. Talk about Hard Knocks. At least, when the team moves into its shiny new showplace on the Las Vegas strip in 2020 the goal posts will be in the right spot - we hope.
Cleveland may make the playoffs, but they won't do anything once there. A late Philip Rivers drive toward the Dawg Pound will have the Browns waiting another year. Meanwhile, after more costly missed kicks in the playoffs, expect the Bears to be in the Carli Lloyd sweepstakes in 2020, should the U.S. women's soccer star decide to try her hand at football. Karma will shine down on the Saints in a playoff rematch against the Rams, while New England will do what it does once it gets to the postseason.
The Saints and the Patriots will knock off the Eagles and Chiefs, respectively to reach Super Bowl LIV, which we can only hope is a better show than what we got last year with the Patriots and the Rams.
Unfortunately, for much of NFL nation, the Patriots secure their claim to the title "Team of the Century" as Tom Brady and Co. with their seventh Super Bowl, 31-28 over the Saints.
Now, if you'll excuse me, my stomach is beginning to turn again at that notion.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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