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NFL preview 2018: Predictions for all 32 teams all the way the Super Bowl

Tom Brady shows no signs of slowing down, even at 41 years old. / Getty Images / Tim Bradbury

New Yorkers have had seven months to recover from Super Bowl LII’s dispiriting scenario, in which the Giants’ rival Philadelphia Eagles finally won the big game against the Jets’ arch nemesis, the New England Patriots. Hey, at least it was a terrific game.

Big Blue and Gang Green may have been bad to awful last fall, but that’s ancient history. All that matters now is the 2018 season, which kicks off Thursday night as the defending champions host the Atlanta Falcons.

Once again, amNewYork has predicted all 256 regular-season games — plus the projected postseason all the way to Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 in Atlanta — to sort out how all 32 teams will perform during the upcoming campaign.

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AFC East

New England Patriots (12-4)

Kirk Cousins

No division rival is equipped to challenge the Pats’ dominance. Eventually, Tom Brady will look his age, but there’s no way to predict when at this point. Regardless of a few high-profile offseason departures, one should assume coach Bill Belichick and the 41-year-old quarterback will put together yet another impressive season and be a favorite to win it all.

New York Jets (7-9)

Seven wins may be a bit optimistic for the Jets, but there’s reason to be upbeat. They were better than advertised last year, upgraded on defense with additions such as cornerback Trumaine Johnson, and quarterback of the future Sam Darnold already looks like a worthy starter. Gang Green is trending in the right direction, to be sure.

Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Ryan Tannehill is back under center after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, but he’s never been a game-changer. At 30 and coming off major knee surgery, why would that change now? Trading away top receiver Jarvis Landry doesn’t do him any favors. A repeat of last year’s 6-10 mark looks about right.

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Buffalo Bills (3-13)

With perhaps the least impressive quarterback situation in the league, Buffalo looks to be in for a long 17 weeks. If rookie Josh Allen, who won’t start immediately, defies expectations and emerges as an NFL-ready passer soon, there’s some upside. Beyond QB, the Bills have some young talent on defense, but this group isn’t putting fear into any opponents.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

This may be the last hurrah for the current configuration of the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is 36, and most quarterbacks decline sharply in their late 30s. Running back Le’Veon Bell could bolt for that elusive long-term contract after the season. For now, however, the Terrible Towels will keep waving for one of the more potent offenses in the league.

Baltimore Ravens (7-9)

It’s transition time in Baltimore. Joe Flacco guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl crown, but that win was nearly six years ago. An upper-crust defense continues to keep them competitive into December, but Flacco receives little credit. Rookie Lamar Jackson figures to start sooner or later, and that likely precludes this team from a meaningful playoff run.

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Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)

Now two years removed from their peak under head coach Marvin Lewis, its clear that Cincy isn’t getting better. Andy Dalton should be better than his 2017 performance but not enough to make up for a lack of meaningful upgrades to a subpar supporting cast. This should be the final chapter in Lewis’ lengthy tenure guiding the Bengals.

Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Even one victory is a dramatic improvement over a woeful 0-16 campaign, but they’ll do better than that after a major offseason overhaul. Either Tyrod Taylor or No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield should be serviceable quarterbacks at worst, and a host of acquisitions on both sides of the ball will pay off quickly.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)

The Jags’ run to the AFC title game was fueled by their defense, including top cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Even if the unit isn’t as dominant a year later — a reasonable expectation given how great it was in 2017 — look for the offense to be more comfortable as second-year rusher Leonard Fournette comes into his own as a pro.

Houston Texans (10-6)

JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus are back, reinstating this defense as a leaguewide force. They might even be better than Jacksonville in that regard. Almost certainly, Houston possesses the best offense in the division now that quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy again. He wowed as a rookie in an injury-shortened season, and he could be even better now.

Tennessee Titans (9-7)

The AFC South landscape is pretty wide open, so there’s no counting out the Titans to emerge from the fray as division champs. What they lack in star power, Tennessee makes up for with a well-rounded roster on both sides of the ball. Assuming they respond well to rookie head coach Mike Vrabel, they’ll be just fine.

Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Andrew Luck is back at last, but there’s no way to know how much his career trajectory was thrown off by missing 26 of the last 48 games — counting all of last season due to shoulder issues. If he’s back to 2014 form, Indy could make waves even in a brutal division. Don’t bet the house on it.

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers (11-5)

The Bolts closed out 2017 with six wins in seven games, and this year they can boast a balanced roster with playmakers on both sides of the ball — such as running back Melvin Gordon, defensive end Joey Bosa. Veteran QB Philip Rivers shows no signs of slowing down. This team could go from missing the playoffs to the Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

The Andy Reid era has been the franchise’s best stretch in 20 years, but there will be some growing pains after trading veteran passer Alex Smith in the offseason. Patrick Mahomes, a 2017 first-round pick, is a wild card as a first-time starting quarterback. More clear is that this defense no longer is a force.

Oakland Raiders (7-9)

The Silver and Black looked like a team on the rise in 2016, but hindsight could paint that 12-win campaign as more of a fluke. Last week’s trade of elite defensive player Khalil Mack does no favors to an already weak defense. Short of quarterback Derek Carr re-establishing himself as a top talent, the Raiders are going nowhere.

Denver Broncos (6-10)

Maybe Case Keenum will carry over the momentum he built up under center with the Vikings, giving Denver a reliable pocket presence. If not, it’s hard to look at their offense as anything more than mediocre. A playmaking defense, led by linebacker Von Miller, could pick up the slack, but this doesn’t look like a playoff team, anyway.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

For the first time in 57 years, the entire NFL is chasing Philly. The Iggles won’t be easy to catch, either. The bulk of their championship core is back. Quarterback Carson Wentz, who excelled last year but missed the playoffs with an ACL tear, will return soon. Nobody should be shocked if they’re back in the big game again.

New York Giants (8-8)

The G-Men want to put last year’s abomination in the rear view in a hurry. With even-keeled Pat Shurmur as the new head coach, they’re in good shape to do so. A full year of megastar Odell Beckham Jr., the addition of rookie rusher Saquon Barkley, and a solid defense, the Giants are back in the NFC mix.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Even before a rash of injuries chewed up Dallas’ vaunted offensive line, this team didn’t look all that scary. Beyond top running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Boys lack potent weapons. If the O-line gets healthy, they will be fine. If not, don’t count on their middling defensive unit to pick up much slack.

Washington Redskins (6-10)

Alex Smith taking over at quarterback for free agent departure Kirk Cousins is, more or less, a push. That’s not enough to help a team that finished below .500 a year ago. Given the improvements the Giants made this spring — and the relative lack of upgrades in D.C. — Washington looks to be the East’s clear weak link.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

A strong Vikings collective only got better since falling short in the NFC Championship Game. Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than Case Keenum, which should ensure their underrated offense doesn’t stall against top defenses. Their own D has few holes — if any. Minnesota is a complete team, one with realistic championship dreams.

Green Bay Packers (11-5)

When future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy, few teams can handle Green Bay. One can only assume Rodgers will play a full slate this year after fracturing his collar bone, so rest assured this is a playoff-bound group. Still, it’s fair to be concerned about a lackluster defense and some question marks on offense.

Chicago Bears (8-8)

The late addition of versatile defensive stud Khalil Mack solidifies a defense that’s got what it takes to make waves. They had to mortgage their draft future to do so, but there’s enough young talent in the fold to justify the move. One such example is QB Mitchell Trubisky, who must take the next step in year two.

Detroit Lions (7-9)

In four of the last five years, the Lions have finished either 9-7 or 7-9. Given the depth of their division and lack of clear offseason improvements, the latter mark looks more likely. Matthew Stafford’s ability to rally his troops late in games makes up for a lot of Detroit’s struggles. If they ever lose him, things would be ugly.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (10-6)

After 2017’s surprising resurgence, the Saints’ roster doesn’t look all that different — for better or worse. An offense that once relied heavily on Drew Brees’ all-time great arm proved it can be a force with more emphasis on the ground attack, led by multitalented running back Alvin Kamara. Still, the NFC South won’t be easy to win again.

Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

Atlanta’s offense, powered by former MVP Matt Ryan and outstanding receiver Julio Jones, remains the driving force. When they’re clicking with the ball, few teams can keep up. But the defense’s regression last year after a strong 2016 that culminated in an NFC crown is troubling. With few changes, one must wonder if the D will hold them back again.

Carolina Panthers (9-7)

One of three NFC South teams which made the playoffs last year, Carolina certainly could be postseason-bound again. The big question is how QB Cam Newton responds to coordinator Norv Turner’s offense, with secondary concerns about the quality of his offensive line. If all respond well, they’ve got division title potential. If not, they could slip below .500.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)

The Bucs’ biggest problem is playing in the same division as the three teams ahead of them. Just as worrisome is quarterback Jameis Winston, who is talented but held back by off-the-field issues that led to a three-game suspension. Their defense is better with the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul, but Tampa isn’t ready to compete yet.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

The Rams are revitalized under young head coach Sean McVay, who turned the team into an offensive juggernaut, with running back Todd Gurley as the centerpiece. The defense, anchored by Aaron Donald, is excellent too. Still, a flurry of changes on both sides of the ball could turn them into a champion, but they could backfire just as easily.

San Francisco 49ers (10-6)

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — now the unquestioned starter — and the Niners should be in the thick of the playoff race. That’s no guarantee, of course, if the defense isn’t up to snuff. Adding cornerback Richard Sherman was wise, even after his injury-shortened campaign, but will it pay off? It’s possible this team needs another year to make the leap.

Seattle Seahawks (8-8)

The Legion of Boom is dead, but enough talent remains in Seattle to keep this team competitive. Russell Wilson is a good quarterback, even without a strong supporting cast or dominant defense as a safety net. Make no mistake, though: The Hawks are on the way down, and they aren’t a real championship threat anymore.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11)

The Cards are capable of reaching the postseason, or totally flaming out. Running back David Johnson is healthy again and as good as they come. On the other side of the football are some talented playmakers, such as cornerback Patrick Peterson. But with lame duck QB Sam Bradford holding Josh Rosen’s place, that’s an unusual situation for a contender.