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Bold NFL predictions for 2018 season

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MINNEAPOLIS — Super Bowl LII just ended. The Philadelphia Eagles are still celebrating. But that’s not what matters here.

You wake this morning to face a stretch of seven painful, football-free months. The 2018 season is more than a half-year away, and you’re already aching to see what happens next.

We’ve got you covered.

For the third year in a row, we have looked into our crystal ball and foreseen many of the key events of the next NFL season, so you don’t have to wait. As you know from reading this column the past two years, all 10 of these predictions are absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed to come true.

Now, get to reading while I excuse myself to go scrub the internet clean of the past two years’ editions of this column. Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2018 NFL season:


1. Free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins signs with the Jets

It’s a six-year, $186 million contract with $100 million in guarantees, including $75 million fully guaranteed at signing. The Jets outbid the Browns, Jaguars and division-rival Bills for Cousins, who becomes the highest-paid player in NFL history after hitting the market following two seasons as Washington’s franchise player. He then leads the Jets to a 10-6 record and a wild-card playoff spot.

2. Odell Beckham Jr. sits out at least one regular-season game

Beckham’s contract situation is going to be a tricky one for the Giants, who hold a 2018 option on him and aren’t in a hurry to give him the extension he wants coming off an ankle injury that cost him almost the entire 2017 season. Uninterested in taking the field without a new deal, Beckham stays in California throughout training camp and, Aaron Donald-style, sits out the season opener in protest. New coach Pat Shurmur and quarterback Eli Manning continue to insist they can get by with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram as their top receiving options — and are wrong.

3. There are a least five new playoff teams, including the Jets, Chargers, Raiders, Packers and 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo helps San Francisco snag a wild-card spot with a fast start and a furious finish. Aaron Rodgers returns to put Green Bay back where it belongs. Philip Rivers has one more big year left in him, and this time the Chargers don’t start 0-4. Jon Gruden’s return revitalizes a Raiders team that should have been better than it was in 2017. And you already heard about the Jets.

The two AFC teams that repeat as playoff participants are the Steelers and Patriots, of course. The crystal ball is fuzzier in the NFC, where it can’t tell yet whether the Rams can repeat or the Cowboys can bounce back.

4. Le’Veon Bell signs a contract extension with the Steelers

Bell’s new deal is heavily front-loaded but guarantees him more than $25 million and averages more than $12 million per year — not the mega back/receiver deal of which Bell has been dreaming, but still pushing the top of the running back market well above where it is right now. A 2017 training camp holdout, Bell shows up on time for everything in 2018 and helps drive Pittsburgh’s offense where it needs to go.

5. Josh Allen is the first pick in the April’s draft … but he doesn’t start a game in 2018

The Browns take the big Wyoming quarterback No. 1 overall but sit him for at least a year behind AJ McCarron, whom they acquire when they lose out on Cousins. McCarron doesn’t love having to play with a first-round pick looking over his shoulder, but his reunion with coach Hue Jackson — his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati — makes it more palatable. Besides, if you can win a couple of games with the Browns, think of how attractive that would look to future employers.

6. Six more teams change head coaches after the 2018 season

Those teams are: Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Washington, Tampa Bay and Seattle, where 67-year-old Pete Carroll decides to retire after a second straight season without a playoff appearance.

Philadelphia enters the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites, even though the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion in 14 years. Questions about Wentz’s return from a torn ACL haunt the offseason, but Foles puts them to rest with a hot start that has the team in position to repeat as division champs once Wentz is healed and back in the lineup. A soft September schedule that includes the Buccaneers, Colts and Giants helps.

8. Andrew Luck returns and plays all 16 games for the Colts

Luck looks like a pretty good candidate to beat out J.J. Watt, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and others in one of the most crowded Comeback Player of the Year races in history.

9. The NFL changes the catch rule to appease fans and increase scoring

Seriously, there’s no way the league likes seeing touchdowns taken off the board by a rule that confuses and infuriates its fan base like no other. Expect a big competition committee discussion this offseason that results in a great deal more leniency in determining whether a player completed the catch. It’s probably too much to expect common sense to rule the day and for the NFL to relax the extent to which it uses its infernal replay review system, but new guidelines will result in fewer catches being overturned into noncatches because they didn’t “survive the ground.”

10. The Saints will beat the Steelers in Super Bowl LIII

Frustrated divisional-round losers this season, New Orleans and Pittsburgh put the past behind them quickly and reach the Super Bowl in Atlanta. It’s the second straight year one of the Super Bowl teams has a 40-year-old quarterback, and Drew Brees doesn’t disappoint, hitting Michael Thomas for the game-winning touchdown pass with 24 seconds left on the clock.

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Culture over cash: Ravens beating odds by keeping All-Pro talent – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When the Baltimore Ravens announced they had signed Ronnie Stanley to a five-year deal Friday, this was far more than a celebration of keeping the best left tackle in the NFL. It represented another victory lap for the Ravens’ culture.

It’s remarkable that Baltimore was able to sign two All-Pro players — Stanley and Marlon Humphrey — to long-term deals in the same month. It’s unreal that the Ravens were able to retain both without making them the highest-paid players at their positions.

Stanley and Humphrey believe this is the start of a special time in Baltimore. With Lamar Jackson in his second full season as a starting quarterback, there’s a feeling inside the locker room that the Ravens are beginning an extended run as a Super Bowl contender.

For Stanley and Humphrey, the top priority wasn’t about breaking the bank. It was more important that they didn’t break up this team.

“We all know we’re a family here,” Stanley said. “I think all the guys are on the same page on what we’re trying to build here in Baltimore and that’s long-term success.”

Ravens officials faced an untimely predicament this year when Laremy Tunsil shattered the market value for offensive tackles in April with a three-year, $66 million contract and Jalen Ramsey did the same at cornerback in September with a five-year, $100 million deal. Tunsil and Ramsey used the leverage of being traded to their teams before signing a long-term deal and knew neither the Rams nor the Texans would allow them to walk.

Tunsil’s $22 million-per-year average was $5.5 million higher than that of any other left tackle, and Ramsey’s $20 million-per-year average was nearly $3 million more than that of any cornerback. Baltimore knew there was no way it could keep this team intact if it surpassed these deals. So, the Ravens offered Humphrey and Stanley deals that fell just below top of the market — and crossed their fingers.

On Oct. 1, Humphrey signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension ($19.5 million per season). On Friday, Stanley agreed to a five-year, $98.75 million extension ($19.75 million per year).

“For me, being the highest paid never really was a factor,” Humphrey said earlier this month. “The biggest thing for me was just staying a Raven. I remember when I first got here, me and [wide receiver] Chris Moore used to joke around saying that we’re Ravens for life. And it’s a very good feeling to actually be one.”

When Eric DeCosta took over for Ozzie Newsome as Ravens general manager in January 2019, he emphasized that he wanted to keep young talent before reaching free agency.

The month of March has long become a frustrating period for the organization. Limited by cap space, the Ravens couldn’t come close to outbidding teams for the likes of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, center Ryan Jensen, guard Kelechi Osemele, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

In his 20 months as general manager, DeCosta has signed nearly a dozen players to extensions including kicker Justin Tucker and cornerback Marcus Peters. But the biggest achievement was holding on to a top defensive playmaker in Humphrey and Jackson’s blind-side protector in Stanley.

“I’m proud of the fact that guys want to be here, for sure,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m proud of the fact that guys want to come here. That’s kind of been established for quite a period of time. We’re just trying to do things the right way.”

Signing Stanley and Humphrey were just the first significant steps in keeping this core of Ravens players together. This offseason, Baltimore might have to use the franchise tag on one of its top pass-rushers (Yannick Ngakoue appears to be the prime candidate over Matthew Judon).

Jackson, reigning NFL MVP, has outplayed his rookie contract and could command a new deal over the next two years. Tight end Mark Andrews and and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will be free agents in 2022.

“I feel the Ravens do a really good job of picking out good talent and trying to keep that culture the way it’s always been,” Stanley said. “It’s just Ravens football.”

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John Ross of Cincinnati Bengals eager to play, wants out if he can’t

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CINCINNATI — Bengals wide receiver John Ross opened up about his role and uncertain future in Cincinnati on Friday.

Ross, who has not played in three of the team’s past four games as his role has diminished, rebuffed a report that suggested a team source wasn’t sure if the speedy receiver still liked football.

“Trade me if this (is) how y’all feel,” the Bengals’ 2017 first-round pick wrote on Twitter on Friday. “I’m healthy and eager to play. I know I can be productive. It’s hard to love something when your (sic) not actually participating in it.

“Believe me, its (sic) not football that I don’t like.”

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday.

Ross’ lone offensive numbers this year are the two catches for 17 yards he had in the season-opening loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. He is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans (5-1) with an undisclosed illness.

Ross was a full participant at Wednesday’s practice before he missed the next two days and was not present. The receiver has been listed with an illness on three separate occasions this season. They have all occurred after he was healthy scratch for Weeks 3 and 4. Ross has not met with media since the start of the regular season.

When asked Friday about the Ross’ injury designation for this weekend, coach Zac Taylor said Ross was dealing with stomach issues.

“He’s sick,” Taylor said. “His stomach bothers him. It is what it is. He’s listed with [an] illness, and he’s trying to work through it.”

Ross, a former standout at the University of Washington, has struggled to find his footing in four seasons with the Bengals. Between injuries and an inability to crack the rotation, Ross has appeared in just 27 games with Cincinnati.

Last year, Ross had his best start to a season before he injured his sternoclavicular joint and was placed on injured reserve for eight games. He still finished 2019 with 28 catches for 506 yards, both of which were career highs. Cincinnati declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Ross’ rookie contract.

When reports surfaced of Ross’ trade request, Taylor declined to get into the details of the situation but said he had spoken to the receiver.

“I think anytime players aren’t playing they get frustrated,” Taylor said Oct. 21. “He’s handled his business the right way around here.”



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New Orleans Saints rule out Michael Thomas, Marquez Callaway

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METAIRIE, La. — Michael Thomas and Marquez Callaway have officially been ruled out for Week 8 as the New Orleans Saints‘ receiving corps continues to get thinner by the week.

Emmanuel Sanders also remains on the reserve-COVID list, meaning New Orleans will be without three of its top four wide receivers Sunday at the Chicago Bears.

All three could be back as early as next weekend’s critical showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football, however.

Thomas has been sidelined since Week 1 because of a high ankle sprain, a team disciplinary action and a hamstring injury that he suffered last week. But he returned to practice on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday this week.

Callaway, meanwhile, suffered an ankle injury during his breakout performance last weekend while Thomas and Sanders were out. The undrafted rookie caught eight passes for 75 yards in New Orleans’ 27-24 win over the Carolina Panthers. Callaway also practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.

In their absence, the Saints should continue to rely heavily on running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jared Cook and receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris in the passing game. They could also call up practice squad receivers Austin Carr, Juwan Johnson and/or Tommylee Lewis.

The Saints (4-2) have actually won three straight games despite their depleted WR corps, with Drew Brees and the passing offense finding a better rhythm by the week. They converted 12 of 14 third-down attempts and never punted in last week’s win over Carolina.

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