Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.
In this space, I'll be articulating a handful of positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Here are my takes on each NFC team heading into the 2018 season ...
DALLAS COWBOYS: The passing game will be just fine.
Dak Prescott has been more effective targeting players not named Dez Bryant over the course of his career. Throwing to Dez, Prescott has a 52.3 completion percentage with 14 touchdowns, seven picks and a passer rating of 83.1. Throwing to Not Dez, he has a 69.3 completion percentage with 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 99.4. Dez is like the guy you had to invite to your parties, even though he has too much to drink, dominates the conversation and causes way more headaches than he's worth. And now that that guy's not with his partner who helped conceal a bunch of these problems (in Dez's case, Jason Witten), I'm out.
Manning's touchdown totals have dropped like Facebook stock. He had 35 scoring strikes in 2015, 26 in '16 and just 19 last year. Many folks implored the Giants to grab a quarterback with the draft's No. 2 overall pick, but I wasn't one of them. First off, Eli has a new coach in Pat Shurmur who has already revived the careers of Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, and who was the first guy to make Nick Foles a thing. (Remember the 27:2 TD-to-INT ratio in 2013? Shurmur was the OC under Chip Kelly.) Furthermore, the Giants scooped up Nate Solder in free agency and then drafted Will Hernandez and Saquon Barkley, giving Manning everything he needs to rise again.
Yes, I'm kidding. But this is how I feel when I hear you guys talking about how Mike Trout is automatically going to be your starting center fielder in 2021. It's funny, though: I had the chance to sit down with Trout (seriously, look at my Instagram feed) and talk about who should be the Eagles' starting quarterback this year. And you know what he said?? ... Of course, he said Wentz. Choosing between Nick Foles and Wentz is like choosing between Garrett and Blake on "The Bachelorette" this season. One gets you emotionally (because Foles did win the Super Bowl), but sometimes, the heart wants what it wants.
And he wants to be there. I hate to use a slow-pitch softball analogy (don't hate it enough not to do it), but I played in a league where our best player would give us an anxiety attack every week, as he wouldn't show up until 10 minutes before the game. And after going 4 for 5 with a pair of dingers, he'd give us a vague "maybe" when we'd say, "See you next Tuesday." Eventually, we replaced him with another guy who, while we didn't realize it at the time, was actually pretty good with the bat and had some sneaky wheels that made him a huge addition. Sometimes it's better to upgrade to stability.
CHICAGO BEARS: Playoffs.
I've been saying this long enough to breathe it into existence: The Bears will be this year's version of the Los Angeles Rams. There are many similarities. Old-school coach replaced by an up-and-coming coordinator. Second-year quarterback who basically wasn't used efficiently during his rookie campaign. A bevy of offseason additions to make said QB more comfortable. About the only place where this doesn't hold up: Sean McVay has excellent hair, while my brother Matt Nagy ... Well, you know. I would also say the Bears are better defensively right now than the Rams were last year, so this is happening, folks.
DETROIT LIONS: Will be competitive in Matt Patricia's debut season.
My editor, Dan Parr, wants me to say the Lions are going to the playoffs. Not because he wears Honolulu Blue, but to spice things up. Sorry, Dan: I'm sticking with "they'll be competitive" as my final answer. We can't have four teams making the playoffs from the North. People act like Bill Belichick's coaching tree is as barren as his tie drawer. But Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Bill O'Brien all had some level of success in Year 1 in the big chair. They went a combined 33-31 in their debut seasons as a head coach, and three of the four improved their team's record from the previous season. So don't sleep on Patricia this fall. Now, is it particularly bold to say the Lions will be competitive? Well, not if you actually look at the franchise's recent history: Detroit has posted winning records in three of the past four seasons. But it still seems like most people generally think of this organization in a certain way. (And it ain't good.)
GREEN BAY PACKERS: You should be embarrassed.
Two Lombardi Trophies in 26 years sounds like a deal Browns fans would absolutely sign up for, but it seems a little weak for a franchise that has boasted a pair of transcendent quarterbacks during that span. It's funny to hear people talk about how great the Packers management has been over the last few decades. But you're only good because of your quarterbacks. Don't believe me? Look at last year without Rodgers. The Packers need to get serious about this, or you're going to be super bummed watching Rodgers end his career with the Lions or something.
I wasn't dogging Cousins in the Redskins blurb. It's best, for all parties involved, that he's finally someplace he wants to be, and feelings are mutual on the team's end. And we should see an uptick in Cousins' efficiency, particularly near the end zone. The Redskins were one of the worst teams in the red zone last year. Now he not only joins an offense that excelled near the goal line in 2017, but he's flanked by new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was a red-zone mastermind with the Eagles. This should produce a huge season from Cousins, who has never had a supporting cast this talented. Your lone fantasy tip in this space: Draft Kyle Rudolph.
I know this seems incredibly unpopular at first blush, but Julio has scored double-digit touchdowns only once in his seven-year career (10 in 2012). So why is this one of the most hotly contested notions in the NFL? Google "Julio Jones red zone targets," and there are more conspiracy theories than Area 51. Maybe we should just enjoy the fact that Julio is one of the best players in the NFL, and Matt Ryan is going to find a way to overthrow him each and every week.
I love that Ron Rivera is talking like a fantasy football enthusiast, saying he wants to get McCaffrey 200 carries. I want to play Bruce Wayne in the next Batman movie, but sometimes you need to be realistic. (Hey, they could CGI my hair.) I do feel like this is mostly coach speak. Like when Nathaniel Hackett said he wanted to run C.J. Spiller until he pukes. As long as you can continue to get McCaffrey the ball out of the backfield as a receiver -- he is one of just four running backs in NFL history to catch 80 balls as a rookie -- he's going to be fine. Don't imprison yourself with unrealistic expectations (like me and my Batman desire).
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The team to beat in the NFC.
You might be thinking, He means NFC South, right? Has to be just the South. I mean the entire NFC. The Eagles, Rams and Vikings are good teams. I'm not saying they're bad. But I really like the way the Saints look right now. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas continue the tradition of the Bayou Bombers (not an official nickname), but it's the defense I'm absolutely loving. Tenth in points allowed last year, in case you didn't realize. Cameron Jordan is amazing. Marshon Lattimore is the next great shutdown corner. And then you have first-round pick Marcus Davenport as the powdered sugar on the beignets. I'm all in on this team.
Winston's NFL career has been marred by off-the-field issues and turnovers. A hot topic around Tampa these days: If the Bucs were to do the 2015 NFL Draft all over again ... Look, I'm not here to defend the guy's past off-field behavior. But I am here to put a more honest spotlight on his on-field production. Jameis quietly set career bests last season in completion percentage (63.8), yards per game (269.5), yards per attempt (7.9), INT percentage (2.5) and passer rating (92.2). He's a new father, says he has ditched the booze and seems committed to making those questioning him eat their words. I see him coming off the three-game ban as a man on a mission.
This isn't a knock on any of the other rookie quarterbacks, but I feel like Rosen wasn't given much of a chance at UCLA. As if it was the NCAA's equivalent of going to the Browns. He also comes to camp in the best situation of any rookie quarterback, save perhaps his collegiate rival, Sam Darnold. Yep, there goes Darnold again, trying to steal his thunder ... Anyhow, he's not going to be frozen out by the veteran (looking at you, Ben Roethlisberger). He'll get to learn from a pretty good -- and seemingly nice -- quarterback. Sam Bradford has the highest completion percentage among quarterbacks with 15-plus starts in the last two seasons (71.8). Meanwhile, Bradford has never logged more than seven wins in a season, and he's missed 47 of a possible 128 career games. Read into that last statement what you will.
I know it seems strange that seemingly everyone not named Aaron Donald is getting their deal done this summer, with Cooks' new contract standing out the most. It was almost as if Brandin was walking through the Rams offices during the offseason, saw a deal that was probably for Donald and was all, "Hey, I'll sign this!" The Rams, embarrassed, had to be all, "Sure ... it's yours." Still, even though Cooks is on his third team in as many years, it's good to lock in some consistency around Jared Goff on a roster that's built to win -- both now and in the future.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Last year's winning streak will end up costing them.
It was fun to watch Jimmy Garoppolo go on that five-game winning streak to close out last season. But you done [expletive'd] up, Niners. You could have entered this season as one of those floater teams nobody pays attention to, like the contestant who flies under the radar to make the finals of "Big Brother" or "The Challenge" or whatnot. Instead, you not only beat a series of playoff teams, but now your quarterback is out there talking about how he's better than Tom Brady and dating well-known actresses. So, you won five games in a row to close out last season. This fall, you'll win six games. Total.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: This is Pete Carroll's last year in the Pacific Northwest.
It's weird how the last few years in Seattle have played out like Pete's last years at USC. The Trojans were on the cusp of a three-peat -- at least according to the AP poll -- but he ignored his best player (Reggie Bush) in USC's crucial offensive play of the Rose Bowl, instead giving the ball to LenDale White. No dice. Similarly, the Seahawks ignored Marshawn Lynch with a chance to clinch back-to-back Super Bowl wins. Kinda eerie, no?