The NFL season kicks off tonight with the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons. In the first DC Sports NFL roundtable of the season, our writers share their predictions for which teams will square off in the big game in February, and which team they believe will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIII.
Luke Swanson, Staff Writer
It won’t happen, but please give me Saints vs. Jaguars in Super Bowl LIII. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is well within driving distance for both fanbases, so give me ornery Saints fans–who might have already seen their team cause Falcons fans heartbreak again in the playoffs–heading to Atlanta to rub it right in their faces.
In this scenario, they’d be meeting there with north Florida denizens who haven’t experienced this type of sporting success recently (sorry, Gators) driving up I-75 to get ripped and yell, “DUUUUUVVVVAAAALLLLLL!” non-stop throughout the tailgate lots.
The players involved will be entertaining too. Alvin Kamara will be a lightning rod when he’s not getting eaten in large chunks by Calais Campbell, Saints fans will have to bite their lower lip when their defense gets torn up by Leonard Fournette and D.J. Chark and Drew Brees has to throw towards Jalen Ramsey at some point, right?
Either result would be extremely good and fun to watch, but I think I would take the Saints in this hypothetical matchup.
Shahan Kamal, Campus Correspondent
I think it’s going to be a battle of LA this time around for Super Bowl LIII. The Chargers should have won their division last year if not for kicking woes hamstringing them early on in the season. Philip Rivers is likely looking at the best team he’s played with since last reaching the AFC Championship Game, and with Antonio Gates in tow for one last year, Head Coach Anthony Lynn will be hard pressed to make it worthwhile. The Rams, on the other side, are a year stronger, more experienced, and in year two of McVay and Goff, they’re ready to compete for a title. Not to mention a number of high profile additions to their defense, namely Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh. This is a young team much like last year’s Eagles, and they’re ready to go and take what they think they deserve.
Daniel Dashefsky, Campus Correspondent
I think Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are due for a great season and are my Super Bowl favorites. Last year, they started off 4-1 and were the No. 1 team in the NFC going into week 6. Of course, Aaron Rodgers would break his collarbone on a dirty tackle by the Vikings so their season was effectively over, having to start DeShone Kizer. With the new addition of Jimmy Graham at tight-end, as well as the most underrated receiver in pro football Davante Adams and veteran Randall Cobb, their receiving core is extremely deep. They have depth at the running back position with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones. They also improved what has always been their weakest spot at defense by adding a cornerback and defensive end. I believe the Packers will face the Chargers in the Super Bowl because as pointed out, the Chargers are looking at their best team in years. If they continue how they left off the 2017-2018 season, they should run through the much weaker AFC. Packers, however, come out on top due to Aaron Rodgers putting on a show as usual.
Neil Simmons, Campus Correspondent
I’m gonna go with Patriots vs Vikings. If the past 17 years have taught us anything, it’s to underestimate Brady and Belichick at your own risk. Tom Brady is still playing like his prime at 41 years old, Gronk is still a monster and the defense will improve with Dont’a Hightower being healthy again. There might be questions about the receiver depth and pass rush, but this team is still head and shoulders above the rest of the AFC. They will still find a way to make everything work and run away with the AFC East, get a first round bye and make it to their fourth Super Bowl in five years.
I like the Vikings to win the NFC because they’ve made a few key upgrades to a team that won 13 games last season and was one win away from playing for the Super Bowl in their home stadium. On the offense, signing Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook returning from a torn ACL represent significant improvements over Case Keenum and Latavius Murray and they added Sheldon Richardson to strengthen an already elite defense. The NFC is stacked with Super Bowl contenders, but Minnesota will be determined to redeem themselves after getting embarrassed by Philly last season.
My pick would be for the Patriots to win this matchup, assuming that the game plan doesn’t include benching our best player again.
Jorge Eckardt, Campus Correspondent
I was very close to picking the battle in LA just like Shahan. However, I ultimately decided to go with a Chargers-Vikings Super Bowl LIII. I love the Chargers this season. They have one of the best offenses in the league that really does not have any weak spots. They have two studs heading up their RB and WR corps, Antonio Gates back for another year, and an offensive line which was already solid and now gets the return of 2017 38th overall pick Forrest Lamp. Not to mention they have one of the best and most consistently underrated QBs in the league, Philip Rivers. Their defense is also consistently rated in the top 10 in the league and is headed up by one of the best pass rush duos in the league, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. As for the Vikings, they came so close to the Super Bowl last year, but they unfortunately ran into the red hot Philadelphia Eagles. Now, with a better QB at the helm, a young core that is only going to improve (Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook) and one of the best defenses in the league, the Vikings are a serious threat.
If I have to pick one team to win it all, I would say the Chargers. Philip Rivers finally gets his ring and cements himself as one of the best QBs of all time.
Conner Gilson, Campus Correspondent
I see a rematch of Super Bowl XLV coming this season. Packers vs Steelers with Green Bay once again coming out on top. You might think I’m crazy for this, considering the Packers defense has been one of the worst in the NFL for the past five years, but they have one thing that makes them stand out above the rest. That thing’s name is Aaron Rodgers. I call him a thing because he is not human. His diverse skill set, leadership and calm demeanor have put him in the GOAT conversation, even though he only has one Super Bowl. The Packer’s offense isn’t too shabby either, with Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Jimmy Graham as Rodgers’ supporting cast, and they have an improving defense, including three cornerbacks they added in this past years draft. Throw in a seemingly once-in-a-generation talent like Rodgers and they will more likely than not make a Super Bowl run, and win their second in the past seven seasons. If the Packers can finally find a way to stay healthy for a whole season, they are my favorite to take the Lombardi Trophy home.
Matt Severino, Campus Correspondent
My Super Bowl prediction is the Los Angeles Chargers squaring off against the New Orleans Saints. I have been a Chargers fan my entire life and have been waiting for the time to come when we would be able to get over the hump. If the team can stay healthy for once, they have the weapons on both sides of the ball to win what is a wide open AFC West division. Rivers is extremely underrated and is set to have another great season. The Saints were a historic defensive misplay away from reaching the NFC title game a year ago and there is no reason to think that they can’t go the distance this year. Drew Brees finally has a defense making New Orleans a complete team. Los Angeles defeats New Orleans by a score of 31-17, capturing the franchises first Lombardi Trophy. Go Chargers!
Danny Barletta, Campus Correspondent
What type of Pats fan would I be if I didn’t have them reaching the Big Game for the ninth time in the Brady-Belichick era? This time I have them facing an extremely talented Los Angeles Rams team in a (sort-of) rematch of Brady’s first Super Bowl way back in 2002. I know the Patriots have had their drama in the offseason and training camp, but I believe they can put all that BS behind them and do what they do best: win. As for the Rams, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley are coming off incredible seasons, not to mention they are only 23 and 24, respectively, still yet to hit their primes. They have also made big additions to their defense, which could be one of the best in the NFC.
In my storybook version of Super Bowl LIII, Tom Brady, the greatest QB of all time, finishes his legacy the same way he started it: by beating the Rams in the Super Bowl to get his sixth and final ring before he retires.
Dakota Melvin, Campus Correspondent
This year will be a year of transition in the NFL as the dynasties we all know and love (or hate) will begin to be overshadowed by the teams that will be the face of the new look NFL. My prediction is that the Los Angeles Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars will face off under the lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, 2019. These teams offer up two of the most powerful defenses in the league today to go along with two of the best young ball-carriers in the game. The Rams have taken a page from their basketball brothers to the north, the Warriors, in building a “super-team” by adding names like: Suh, Cooks and Talib. These accompany many others to an already powerful young group that boasts Gurley, Goff and a newly-resigned Aaron Donald. As for the Jaguars, they made the case last year that they were a force to be reckoned with by making it all the way to the AFC Championship game only to be defeated by the Pats. However, I feel that a year to digest and grow from that experience as well as the Patriots losing valuable pieces in the offseason will propel the Jaguars past New England in this year’s Championship game.
As for a game prediction, I think both teams match up evenly on the ground and on defense, but the Rams have the edge through the air and at QB, which will result in the Rams winning Super Bowl LIII by a score of 24-10.
Kevin Arnold, Campus Correspondent
I’m picking Rams vs Jaguars for my Super Bowl LIII matchup. The Rams have made it very clear that they are in a “win now” mode after their plethora of offseason pickups. Adding guys like CB Marcus Peters, CB Aquib Talib and WR Brandin Cooks to a team coming off an early postseason exit a year ago will create some tough matchups for any NFC team. On the other side, the Jaguars are a young but hungry team, lead by their impressive defense. The Jags came up short of CB Jalen Ramsey’s Super Bowl victory guarantee after losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game a year ago. While they remained somewhat quiet during free-agency, some key additions like TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the resigning of veteran WR Marqise Lee, will help bolster an offense that remains overlooked due to their top-notch defense.
Story Salit, Campus Correspondent
As a Patriots fan, I have to expect that New England will be back in the Super Bowl with a fairly weak AFC this year. The team should face stiff competition from the Texans, Jaguars and Steelers, but New England seems to have the most complete roster in the AFC and they are blessed with another year of Brady and Belichick, a pair that know how to get it done in big games. The NFC is loaded with contenders including teams like the Eagles, Rams, Saints, Panthers, Falcons, Vikings and Packers. The Rams are an exciting young team that made major additions in Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndomukong Suh and Brandin Cooks. They are certainly a threat but may need another year to develop its young talent and team chemistry. The Packers are a serious contender with Aaron Rodgers back but have questions surrounding the run game and on defense. The Super Bowl champion Eagles are a favorite to repeat, but I’m going to pick the Saints to make it out of the NFC this time around. New Orleans lost to the Vikings on a fluke play that ended their season, and–if I had to guess–that loss will serve as motivation in their preparation throughout the season. The Saints 1-2 backfield punch of Mark Ingram and budding superstar Alvin Kamara will strike fear into opposing defenses, while Drew Brees and Michael Thomas should find success airing the ball out downfield. After years of weak defenses, Brees and co. finally have a strong defensive line and secondary backing them up. Besides, who wouldn’t love a Brady vs Brees Super Bowl matchup with each in the twilight of their careers?
Amir Clato-Day, Campus Correspondent
I’m going with the Eagles to make it back to the Super Bowl. All the talk has been about how hard it is to repeat in the NFL, but Philly might be the most-equipped reigning champion in recent memory to do so. Carson Wentz is back and so is future Hall of Fame LT Jason Peters among others. They also have some new additions highlighted by former Seahawks DE Michael Bennett. Basically, the rich got richer. As for who will be representing the AFC this February: the Houston Texans. As we all saw last year, DeShaun Watson showed flashes of greatness, going toe to toe with Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, before suffering a torn ACL. Their offense, headed by Watson and Deandre Hopkins, already has proven to have extreme potential. Both JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus are also returning from injuries, so the Texans will be extremely sound on both sides of the ball. Combine that with the weakest schedule in the entire NFL in terms of opponents combined record (2017), they’ll find themselves in Super Bowl LIII. The Eagles will be too much for the Texans though, as Philly goes on to repeat as champs, 28-16.