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Projecting the 2018 NFL season NFC EastJames Lang-USA TODAY Sports*Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)Dallas Cowboys (8-8)New York Giants (8-8)Washington Redskins (7-9)Going into this projection , I wasn’t overly high on the NFC East. All but one team is projected to finish .500 or better. Until I see what the Cowboys offense looks like, it’s hard for me to buy into them. The Giants offense could be fun, even with an aging Eli Manning.NFC NorthRon Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports*Minnesota Vikings (13-3)*Chicago Bears (10-6)Green Bay Packers (10-6)Detroit Lions (7-9)This is going to be the best division in football in 2018. Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid following the Khalil Mack addition, but the Bears are playoff bound for the first time since 2010. Make no mistake, the Vikings are the best squad here, but it’s going to be more competitive from top-to-bottom in comparison to last year.NFC SouthEric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports*Atlanta Falcons (12-4)*New Orleans (10-6)Carolina Panthers (7-9)Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)Maybe I’m higher on the Falcons that most but their offense should be deadly, assuming the play calling is better. The Panthers’ offensive line issues worry me and the Bucs appears to be looking at an 0-4 start. What was the strongest division in football takes a step back.NFC WestKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports*Los Angeles Rams (12-4)San Francisco 49ers (8-8)Arizona Cardinals (6-10)Seattle Seahawks (4-12)The Rams might have the most complete team in the NFL, but we’ve seen what too many superstars on the same roster can do. The 49ers could end up finishing better, but losing Jerick McKinnon is a big blow. The Cardinals and Seahawks are both bound to take a step back, especially the latter.AFC EastJeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports*New England Patriots (12-4)New York Jets (6-10)Miami Dolphins (5-11)Buffalo Bills (2-14)It appears the Patriots’ dominant run is close to being over, but in such a weak division it’s going to have to wait another year. The Jets are going to be better than their record projects and they have a bright future. The Bills appear to be the worst team in football after making the playoffs the previous year, and I’m not sure it’s close.AFC NorthPhilip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports*Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)Baltimore Ravens (7-9)Cleveland Browns (7-9)Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)The Steelers are loaded on offense and could dominate the AFC this season. The Ravens will continue to float around .500, and the Browns could surprise. There’s a lot of young talent on that Cleveland roster. I feel like I’m too low on the Bengals, but keeping Marvin Lewis was a terrible decision.AFC SouthTroy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports*Houston Texans (10-6)*Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)Indianapolis Colts (7-9)Tennessee Titans (5-11)The battle at the top is going to go into the final weeks of the season, as I like both the Jaguars and Texans. The Colts have a bad roster, but if Andrew Luck is healthy, it’s easy to see them accidentally winning six to seven games based on him alone. Not sure why Danny Trevathan Jersey , but I’m not buying what the Titans are selling.AFC WestThomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports*Los Angeles Chargers (11-5)*Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)Denver Broncos (7-9)Oakland Raiders (4-12)The battle between the Chargers and Chiefs will be a fun one. I’m not completely sold that Patrick Mahomes will be playoff ready in his first year starting, but I like them long-term. The Chargers will finally figure it out. They have too much talent not to. The Raiders are a team that I had around seven wins heading into last weekend, and what a disaster that ended up being. Trading Mack, cutting Martavis Bryant, and trading a fifth-round pick for A.J. McCarron was brutal. PlayoffsWild Card RoundReinhold Matay-USA TODAY SportsNFC: Eagles over Bears, and Falcons over Saints.AFC: Texans over Chiefs, and Chargers over Jaguars.Divisional RoundBrad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsNFC: Vikings over Eagles, and Falcons over Rams.AFC: Steelers over Texans, and Patriots over Chargers.Conference ChampionshipBenny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsNFC: Falcons over VikingsAFC: Steelers over PatriotsSuper Bowl:Aaron Doster-USA TODAY SportsSteelers over Falcons The Chicago Bears are coming off of the bye and sitting atop the NFC North at 3-1. On Sunday afternoon, they will be taking the field in South Beach against the Miami Dolphins. This game presents possibly the biggest test of the season for the Bears new-look offense. The Dolphins secondary is a far cry from the undermanned and overwhelmed secondary of their Sunshine State companions. The better news is, this Dolphins offense is probably the worst they have faced outside of the Arizona Cardinals, so the defense should have fun. The Dolphins’ offensive line is banged up and poor. Ryan Tannehill has a bum throwing shoulder, which could mean we see Brock Osweiler at some point. Either way, I would expect another banner day from this stellar Bears defense. Here is my list of players to keep an eye on Sunday afternoon.Who to WatchCharles Leno Jr. & Bobby Massie: The pass protection is going to be the absolute most important thing for the offense this week. With Cameron Wake likely not playing, I would guess that the Dolphins are going to blitz heavily, as they did last week. Robert Quinn was also very destructive in the first half against the Bengals. I am not as worried about Leno because he has the feet to cut off a speed rusher, but does Massie? If the Dolphins move Quinn around the defense to get match-ups Authentic Cody Whitehair Jersey , keep an eye on him, as he is by far the biggest threat in their front-7.Anthony Miller: I am curious to see how much Miller ends up playing this week and how he is used. If he is indeed full-go, then I would expect to see him utilized more as a downfield threat than he has been so far. His average depth of target is 5.7 yards, which ranks 118th in the NFL. Nagy has played the chess game within the gameplan and I would expect to see him exploit that this week. Roy Robertson-Harris & Bilal Nichols: Akiem Hicks might be the best defensive lineman on the team, but he won’t line up across from former Bear and current Dolphins left guard Ted Larson. In passing situations, that pleasure figures to go to RRH and Nichols. RRH has been very solid as a pass rusher and Nichols has steadily improved as the season has gone along, including a much larger workload against the Bucs. With the extra help likely going to the right side where Hicks and Khalil Mack line up the most, there should be opportunities for both players to really shine. Roquan Smith: I am still waiting for the Roquan Smith breakout game, and I predict that it comes this week. Smith has been playing excellent football, he just isn’t making splash plays. The bye week will be the first time that he has had to catch his breath and really dive into his strengths and weaknesses after an extended contract impasse. Like Eddie Jackson last year, Smith is just a hair late on making some plays, and on others, just a bit too out-of-control. I think with these 3.1 games under his belt, the game slows down a bit and we see some more impact plays from the rookie inside linebacker. What are your thoughts? Which Bears players are you keeping an eye on this Sunday afternoon against the Dolphins?Stay tuned for my Three Keys to the Game tomorrow morning and in case you missed it, here is my What to Watch For from earlier today.
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