We’ve reached the midway mark of the 2018 NFL season, so by this point, we can make some definitive conclusions: The Rams and Chiefs are good, the Buffalo Bills are atrocious, and the Cleveland Browns, well, who knows? Now is also the time when we can peer into our collective crystal ball and make some predictions for the season’s second half. Which team(s) will see a dramatic quarterback change? Who will win the AFC? And should Tom Brady be searching in his rearview mirror for … the Boston Red Sox? Here are The Ringer staff’s all-too-serious predictions for the second half of the season:
Doug Flutie Will Start a Game for the Buffalo Bills in 2018
Ben Glicksman: The Buffalo Bills went a combined 21-11 during the 1998 and 1999 NFL seasons. They won at least 10 games in each; the only teams that recorded more wins over that stretch were the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings (both 25-7). The late ’90s were a confusing and glorious time in the football world.
Since 1999, the Bills are 123-173. They’ve gone 18 straight seasons without notching double-digit wins. And this year they seem determined to sink to new lows. Their QBs have been a walking instructional video for how not to play the position, a big boy with a strong arm who was extremely mediocre in college, and some guy who was last relevant when Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man. On Monday, Buffalo lost by 19 points to the Patriots to fall to 2-6.
Some people have criticized the Bills for trading AJ McCarron, a perfectly reasonable quarterback who was on their roster as recently as September. Some have bashed them for turning to Derek Anderson, a player who is a full decade past his prime. But these critics have it wrong. The answer was never McCarron, just like it was never Anderson, Nathan Peterman, or Josh Allen. Buffalo’s problem is that it didn’t go back further. The franchise has been doomed since the moment it moved on from the undisputed quarterback GOAT (Grittiest of All Time).
That’s right: IT’S TIME TO BRING BACK DOUG FLUTIE!
Sure, Flutie is 56 years old. Yes, his last NFL snap came in 2005. But in case you haven’t heard, age in sports is meaningless now. Plus, Alex Guerrero exists.
Flutie is a man whose will to win is unparalleled, whose football prayers are always answered, and whose breakfast cereal is delicious. After Anderson gets hurt and the Bills cycle through Thad Lewis, J.P. Losman, and Alex Van Pelt, the front office will do what’s right and re-sign the greatest 5-foot-10 Grey Cup MVP who ever lived. Buffalo will party like it’s 1999 all over again.
The Patriots Will Reassert Their Boston Title Supremacy
Jack McCluskey: Tom Brady sometimes hears footsteps. But the ones tickling his ears these days don’t belong to defenders closing in for a sack. They belong to the Boston Red Sox, who won another title Sunday night to close the Patriots’ lead in 21st-century rings to one (five to four, if you’re counting).
If the avocado ice cream aficionado isn’t careful, his team might just get caught before the QB’s retirement in … sorry, blacked out there for a minute. What was I saying?
Alex Cora just sent Nathan Eovaldi out to the bullpen to warm up for next season, even though the burly starter will be a free agent this winter. So Bill Belichick and Brady better bully the rest of the AFC East and beeline back to the Super Bowl, which they let slip through their fingers like so many Eagles ball carriers earlier this year. There are 8-month-old babies in New England who’ve never seen the Patriots play for a trophy, so to stay on top New England better make sure it rights that wrong before those kids turn 1.
Adrian Peterson Will Outrush Saquon Barkley
Donnie Kwak: This is a drum I’ve been sounding since the start of the season and will continue to sound, louder and louder, until there is no choice but to surrender to the din. My drum sounds with the vindictive fury of the aggrieved as I torment my colleagues, whose blatant prejudices—not only against those who they perceive as “washed,” but also against my D.C. Skins—have been drowned out by the cacophony of cold, hard facts. As in: Washington is 5-2, alone atop the NFC East, and All Day has 68 more rushing yards than Barkley with a game in hand. Keep doubting us. I can no longer hear your impotent drivel.
The Chargers Will Win Their Division—and Possibly the AFC
Justin Sayles: Why not Los Angeles? The Chargers entered the season as everyone’s favorite sleeper pick but were quickly overshadowed by their still-undefeated neighbors up the 110 and a burgeoning cult figure in their own division. But the team now sits at 5-2, with its only losses coming against those Rams and Chiefs—the consensus two best teams in football—and entering their Week 8 bye, the Chargers ranked third in DVOA. Philip Rivers has quietly turned in one of his best seasons—he’s thrown for 2,008 yards, 17 touchdowns, and just three interceptions in seven games and ranks third in yards per attempt (9.1)—and Melvin Gordon finally looks like the back we all hoped he’d be. This team won’t have trouble scoring on anyone.
Things are looking up on defense, too: While that unit has thus far has been middle-of-the-pack—it’s 12th in yards allowed after Sunday’s games—defensive tackle Corey Liuget is working his way back after a four-game suspension to start the season, and the team should get world-destroying defensive end Joey Bosa back at some point (hopefully).
This feels like a different Chargers team than years past. The kicking and late-game management issues that once plagued them have yet to rear their heads this season. And the only truly daunting game left on their schedule is a Week 15 rematch with Kansas City. Win that game and the division—and possibly the conference—could be theirs to lose. The only question is whether anyone will care.
Julio Jones Will Set the Single-Season Receiving Record, and Won’t Score a TD
Rodger Sherman: Julio Jones is doing the impossible. In just seven games, he has 812 receiving yards, which would’ve put him 31st last year over the course of the full season. He leads the league with 116 yards per game. And with games of 173, 169, and 144 receiving yards, he has three of the top 20 single-game performances this year; no other player has more than two.
Even more impressive? He has somehow done it without once scoring a touchdown. In part, this is a testament to how consistent he’s been. None of his huge yardage days have come because the defense simply forgot to cover him 90 yards downfield—he’s gained those yards chunk by chunk by chunk. The other part of it is a mystifying failure: How can such a talented receiver be so invisible in the end zone?
Jones already has the fourth-most receiving yards of any player with no touchdowns in a season. (Al Toon magically had 963 yards for the 1991 Jets without finding pay dirt.) He’s on pace for 1,856 yards, 108 short of the all-time single-season record set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. But I think it’s possible for him to be even better during the final nine games. I expect that he’ll be so dominant on 99 yards of the field that defenses will quintuple-cover him in the important part, opening up all sorts of scoring opportunities for Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, and Austin Hooper. He will simultaneously have the greatest and worst season in the history of this sport.
Kyle Lauletta Will Be the Giants’ Starting Quarterback in December
Danny Heifetz: Eli Manning will always be beloved in New York—that’s what happens when you reach the mountaintop, defeat evil incarnate, and raise the Lombardi Trophy (twice). Yet Manning is clearly on borrowed time with the Giants, and his next benching may be cheered instead of booed. Manning’s backup is the 30-year-old journeyman Alex Tanney, who doesn’t seem to have a future under center for the team.
Instead, the Giants will turn to Lauletta, the fourth-round selection out of the University of Richmond, to try to steer the ship for the final month of the season. Lauletta, a sleeper prospect last spring, will get his chance to prove the team doesn’t need a to select a quarterback in the 2019 NFL draft—they’ve got a perfectly good option already.
The Kansas City Chiefs Will Finally Live Up to the Family Name
Katie Baker: The last time the Chiefs played for a shot at the Super Bowl, Mrs. Doubtfire was hot at the box office, NAFTA had just been signed into law, and Patrick Mahomes II had not yet been born. Under head coach Marty Schottenheimer and quarterback Joe Montana, Kansas City finished 11-5 in 1993 but lost 30-13 to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game. It was the closest the Chiefs have ever gotten to winning the trophy that is named after their own founder, the late Lamar Hunt. (Kansas City did win Super Bowl IV, but it was before the AFC championship game as we now know it was a thing.)
The AFC is currently more up-for-grabs than it has been in quite some time, and the Chiefs lead the conference with their 7-1 record. This season’s iteration of the team features a lovable quarterback who has been performing feats of strength since he was a kid, a cornucopia of offensive options that includes the hurdling Kareem Hunt and the back-on-track Sammy Watkins, a defense that is… getting there!, and a coach who is extremely overdue to make a perfectly executed and eternally respected late-game decision in a high-stakes contest, even if just by accident. All of this gives Kansas City a fighting chance to finally bring their creator’s chalice in-house—and maybe even appreciate it.