It’s been a long offseason for NFL fans, but the Hall of Fame game, played last Thursday night, was finally the signal fans needed that the regular season is just right around the corner.
In the game, the Baltimore Ravens narrowly edged out the Chicago Bears 17-16 for the win as we got to see Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson make his professional debut, along with the return of quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Teams are now well into their training camps and preseason games are underway as every NFL team starts to trim down their rosters to 53 for opening day.
The NFL landscape has changed quite a bit from the end of last season, as several teams made key moves in the draft and free agency over the offseason to improve their odds at the much sought after Vince Lombardi trophy.
Jackson starred in the backfield at Louisville, and although he won the Heisman trophy, the Cardinals could not finish the season the way they wanted to. Things won’t get easier as the Cardinals sans Jackson open the season against the Alabama Crimson Tide, who the latest American football odds have as early favorites to repeat.
As we turn back to the NFL, there are several teams looking like early favorites. Among them are the Jacksonville Jaguars, looking like an early favorite in the AFC South. They gave the New England Patriots a run for their money in the AFC Championship game last season and retain the same solid defense.
The Cleveland Brown are also looked at as a team that may not be a favorite, but that should see some major improvement after acquiring Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and drafting Baker Mayfield.
The early favorites in the NFC West have to be the Los Angeles Rams. After making major strides last season, they solidified their roster by making several key moves and signing major defensive free agents, including Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Sam Shields and Aquib Talib. They also solidified their receiving corps after the loss of Sammy Warkis with the addition of Brandin Cooks, and they locked up Todd Gurley. They are currently working on an extension for Aaron Donald. If they get that done, Sean McVay and Co. are looking at a talent-laden team behind Jared Goff that could make a deep run in the playoffs.
It would also be hard to look past the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, who competed in the Super Bowl last season, when picking favorites for the 2018 season.
The Eagles likely have a good hold on the lead for the NFC East. While the Cowboys added players like Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Kony Ealy and filled some holes in the draft, they also lost Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Anthony Hitchens and Orlando Scandrick.
Also, while the Giants are excited about the addition of Alec Ogletree and rookie running back Saquon Barkley, they did not do enough to compete with the Eagles.
The season is just about one month away, with the first game scheduled for September 6th. There will be several key games in week one, including Atlanta vs. Philadelphia, Jacksonville vs. New York, Chicago vs. Green Bay and the Rams vs. the new-look Oakland Raiders with Jon Gruden at the helm.
Whatever questions there may be for teams heading into the 2018-19 season, the answers will start coming once the teams hit the field for the games that count on September 6th.