I love this time of year. The first wave of NFL free agency is in the books. The draft chatter is heating up. The Sweet 16 is about to start in the NCAA tournament, and I cannot wait. Go Syracuse!
Speaking of the Orange ... 'Cuse was the last squad in the field, Team 68 out of 68. Now it's one of 16 teams still playing. Meanwhile, the South Region doesn't have a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed still playing. That's unprecedented. A 16 seed beat a 1. Also unprecedented -- and something I honestly never thought I'd see.
With all this madness as a backdrop, it's time for my annual look at the NFL's 16 teams to watch.
First, a few things, to avoid your inevitable tweet heat:
1) THIS IS NOT A POWER RANKING! In this exercise, I'm predicting the six playoff teams from each conference, taking division winners into account for seeding purposes. Then, since it's March, I also gave each conference two bubble teams. Because it's fun. And it equals 16. (See what I did there??)
2) Obviously, the 2018 NFL Draft is right around the corner. Obviously, there will be more personnel moves. These are not my official, break-out-the-Sharpie 2018 picks. This is my feel in March. And, as always, it's madness.
3) You're gonna have to just deal with the decisions of the selection committee, which consists solely of me. I know: There will be anger. Hey, I still think Notre Dame and Oklahoma State belonged in the NCAA tournament. I feel your pain.
SCHEIN'S 16 TEAMS TO WATCH IN 2018
2) Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh oozes talent, and the Morgan Burnett signing is a big addition to the defensive backfield. On offense, Todd Haley will no longer be calling the plays -- that's a good thing. Another thing that'd be good for business: Le'Veon Bell getting the long-term deal he has earned and not staying away from the team until Labor Day.
3) Los Angeles Chargers: The Bolts are getting over the hump this year. I love the Mike Pouncey signing. And Forrest Lamp should be healthy after missing his entire rookie year due to a torn ACL. These two provide needed upgrades on the offensive line. I still think the Chargers could've been dangerous if they'd made the playoffs last year. Philip Rivers is still humming. The pass rush suffocates opponents.
5) Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden will prove he's worth the 100 million bucks with this turnaround. I remain a big fan of Jordy Nelson -- great pickup by Oakland. And Derek Carr told me on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," that Amari Cooper was hurt last year: "He will never tell you, and he'll never even talk about it, but that man was out there playing on one foot." A healthy Cooper is a game changer.
6) Jacksonville Jaguars: I wish they had a new quarterback. I wish they had legit receivers. But wow, I absolutely love this defense. And running back. And head coach. And Tom Coughlin.
7) Buffalo Bills: I'm going to assume the Bills will draft a quarterback in the first round and they are likely candidates to trade up from 12. And that means they are back. Sean McDermott's stamp is all over this team, in a great way.
8) Cleveland Browns: And this isn't even a UMBC type of upset -- the Browns are a relevant team in the AFC today. Seriously. Cleveland has brought in real football players. What a concept! And wait until they draft their future franchise quarterback at No. 1 overall. And add an instant-impact player at No. 4. Myles Garrett hasn't even scratched the surface yet -- scary, considering he racked up seven sacks in an abbreviated rookie season. The Tyrod Taylor move was a wise one -- he's akin to what John Dorsey had with Alex Smith in Kansas City. Love what Dorsey's doing altogether.
1) Philadelphia Eagles: It's been a month and a half since the Eagles won the Super Bowl -- and somehow, they're even better. I still cannot believe that the great Howie "Houdini" Roseman stole Michael Bennett. Bennett compares the Eagles' defensive line to the Golden State Warriors -- and it's not crazy at all. When you can roll out a front four of Bennett, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett on passing downs, I get it. Oh, and did I mention Carson Wentz is coming back? Philly is the overall No. 1 seed.
3) Los Angeles Rams:Marcus Peters is a stud. I still can't believe Les Snead snagged him at such a low price. And then followed it up by doing the same with Aqib Talib. Character concerns? Sure. But Rams fans know the drill: In Wade Phillips and Sean McVay we trust. This defense can be special, with Peters and Talib joining the best defensive player in the sport, Aaron Donald.
5) San Francisco 49ers: All aboard the Jimmy G express! The 49ers will be this year's Rams. I love this quarterback playing for Kyle Shanahan. And the Richard Sherman signing represents a major upgrade at corner -- and boosts the overall leadership on defense. The money for Jerick McKinnon is batty. But the fit is sizzling.