The Packers Defence
Green Bay are perennial contenders because they have the best quarterback in the league. Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury in week five last season melted Wisconsonian championship hopes, but he’ll be back in September for a tilt at a second ring.
The Packers, have, however, only made one season finale in Rodgers’ 12 years in the league, and he’s been healthy in most of them.
The biggest change for the Cheeseheads is up in the private boxes, where Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers will clown about no longer.
The annual event of TV cameras panning to a shadowy glass box somewhere high up in a stadium, trying to pick out Capers’ face as another Packers season collapses will be no more. Former Browns head coach Mike Pettine takes charge of a unit that, with average or above play in the last decade, could’ve made this team into a dynasty.
The Packers new General Manager has brought in defensive reinforcements through the draft too. 9/1 is a short enough price for the Super Bowl in a stacked NFC, but if Rodgers is healthy, they’ve a great chance with a revitalised defence. The QB is the 4/1 favourite for the league MVP title.
Anyone who had to watch the Chicago Bears last season
Tight end Zach Miller provided the most notable incident of the Bears’ 2017 offensive season when his leg was gruesomely mangled attempting a touchdown reception. The refs ruled him not to have completed the catch due to the injury, an episode that summed up Chicago’s trying 2017 campaign.
2018 looks a lot brighter. Mitchell ‘Mitch‘ Trubisky carried a grizzly-sized weight of expectation into last season, and coped well despite relying on Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy as his primary receivers.
Allen Robinson, who made Blake Bortles look sensational in 2015, was signed in free agency, as was one of Matt Ryan’s favourite targets Taylor Gabriel, who offers squat speed from the slot. Hot property Trey Burton of Philly Special fame should offer some help to sophomore QB too.
— NFL (@NFL) February 10, 2018
The most significant change is at coach though, where the old-school grit of John Fox has been swept from the streets of the Windy City by Matt Nagy, Kansas City OC from last season and ‘the best head-coaching prospect I’ve ever had’ in the words of Andy Reid.
The winds of change are blowing through… well, you get the idea, and they should see the Bears improve significantly on last season. They’re 100/1 for the Super Bowl, so we wouldn’t recommend sticking your pension on them, but their first round pick Roquan Smith may offer some value at 6/1 for the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The owners of the Stubhub Center
The Los Angeles Chargers (it should be San Diego still) were the form team closing 2017, and the questionable direction of their AFC West rivals should see them actually make the playoffs this season, even if they draw smaller crowds than Leeds United in their temporary home.
In their division, Oakland have the potential to be amazingly awful after recruiting a swathe of veterans, Bradley Chubb could pay off hugely for the Broncos defence, but there’s a mile-high pile of questions on offence, while Kansas City defensively may be even worse than last year after losing Marcus Peters, making Pat Mahomes’ potential redundant.
The Chargers, by contrast, have 2017 first rounder Mike Williams healthy, adding him to Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. They’ll miss Hunter Henry, his ligament snap an ominous sign for a club beset by brutal injuries in recent years, but there’s returning health and depth on the offensive line too which could compensate.
On defence they have a great secondary behind one of the meanest fronts in the league. And they might, just might, have a competent kicker in former Eagle Caleb Sturgis.
The Chargers are the definitive Dark Horse for the Super Bowl in a weak AFC, though I’d prefer bigger than 20/1 given their capacity for screwing things up in recent seasons. Quarterback Philip Rivers, however, presents an interesting option in the top passing yardage market at 10/1 given the targets he’ll have this season.
He regularly tops 4,000 yards, and had the highest yardage of all QBs way back in 2010. He’s worth a shot here. They should also be worth a punt at 13/8 to win their division if you’re looking for a safer play.
The New York media micro-climate
The Jets snapped up the QB that was promised in Sam Darnold, but it’s their Meadowlands co-tenants the Giants who’ve had the more intriguing offseason.
Their new front office opted to stick with Eli Manning at QB – maybe he can play another 222 games in a row before some slick-backed doofus benches him – when they could’ve got in on the rookie QB sweepstake in the draft.
Whether that was a wise decision remains to be seen. They did pick up a young QB, Kyle Lauletta, in the later round of the draft, and it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see him or Davis Webb starting games towards the end of the season.
In Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, no young quarterback could ask for three better receiving options, and Nate Solder’s signing from the Patriots at least suggests they might remedy their O-line woes.
With their second overall pick in the draft they took the most coveted offensive athlete in the class.
Even before the pick, Saquon Barkley was being hailed as Superquon by the New York tabloids for his combine performance. He has drawn comparison with some all-time greats, and will be a central piece in the Giants’ offence from the get-go.
Barkley is 2/1 for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which is very short, but justifiably so. The Giants are also a tasty 11/2 to win the NFC East, which does contain the defending champ Eagles, but it’s not unimaginable that Big Blue could pip them to that title if things click for them.