'Tis the season to be giddy!
That's the beauty of preseason football. The game is back in our lives and on our TVs. With everyone at 0-0 on the ledger that counts, hope springs eternal across the NFL. And when you look around the league at quarterback play and playmakers and explosive potential, I'd make the case the NFL is better and healthier than ever when it comes to offensive firepower. But whose attack will be the best? Let's peer into the crystal ball ...
The following list is not about history or precedent. It's my projection of the top offenses for the 2018 NFL campaign, Schein Nine style!
1) Atlanta Falcons
Yes, the Falcons plummeted from No. 1 in scoring offense in 2016 down to 15th last year. Clearly, there was a drop-off after Kyle Shanahan left to coach the 49ers. But this is Year 2 with Steve Sarkisian at the controls. And talking to Matt Ryan this week on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," the fantastic 33-year-old quarterback stressed increased comfort with his coordinator. Ryan told me Atlanta will incorporate concepts from all four offenses he's played in during his time with the Falcons. And I believe this is the most talented team he has been on. This group is absolutely loaded.
In addition to the former MVP at quarterback, Atlanta boasts the freakish offensive dynamo that is Julio Jones. The Falcons predictably did the right thing by giving him a financial bump and getting him back in the building. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has four straight 1,400-yard receiving seasons. He's a player you can't do without. Everyone harps on last season's low touchdown total of three. I predict that number will be closer to 13 in 2018. Meanwhile, Ryan raved to me about the play and smarts of Jones' new running mate, first-round receiver Calvin Ridley. And Mohamed Sanu is a fine complementary wideout -- a guy who does all the little things, even throwing a touchdown pass every so often. I haven't even gotten to the backfield, where Atlanta houses the dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman -- two RBs who can kill you on the ground or through the air. Lastly, the Falcons bring back all five starters from an offensive line that ranked second in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
I seriously considered putting the Steelers in the No. 1 slot. The one thing that ultimately held me back: Groundhog Day with Le'Veon Bell. Just like last year, the running back has yet to sign his franchise tag. Thus, he won't show up until Labor Day, and his September touches will be compromised. It's all rather sad for Steeler Nation.
But when Bell is Bell, Pittsburgh rocks. Ben Roethlisberger is still playing like a Hall of Famer. Antonio Brown was the best -- and most clutch -- receiver in the game last year, getting some legit MVP burn. This trio is unparalleled in the NFL today. Second-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster is a fantastic No. 2, having piled up 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, despite starting just seven games. The offensive line is rock solid across the board, with a truly elite guard in David DeCastro.
3) Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers -- like his 2004 NFL Draft classmate, Big Ben -- is still playing at a Hall of Fame level. His go-to guy, Keenan Allen, was finally healthy last season -- and what do ya know, he was sensational, setting career highs in catches (102) and yards (1,393). Melvin Gordon is fresh off his best NFL campaign, too. He doesn't get the credit he deserves, as a dual-threat weapon in the backfield (SEE: 1,105 yards rushing, 476 receiving). The O-line should be improved this season, with Mike Pouncey now manning the pivot and guard Forrest Lamp set to return from the torn ACL that cost the 2017 second-rounder his entire rookie season.
Mike Williams could be the X-factor here. The 2017 No. 7 overall pick suffered an offseason back injury shortly after joining the team, missed the first six games of the season and then had a knee issue. His rookie campaign was pretty much a wash, but I expect him to be a strong target for Rivers in Year 2 and add another dimension to this offense. With playmaking tight end (and red-zone terror) Hunter Henry already on the shelf with a torn ACL, the Bolts could certainly use a sophomore breakout from their 6-4 jump-ball specialist.
4) New England Patriots
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, having just won his third MVP in his age 40 season. He will continue to defy logic at 41. The Patriots also might have the top tight end ever: Rob Gronkowski's best is hard to argue against. The Patriots' offense, under the guidance of Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick, is an ever-changing point-scoring machine.
5) Philadelphia Eagles
I'm mildly concerned that Carson Wentz used the word "frustrating" when asked about his limited practice availability thus far, but I also think the Eagles are wisely taking it slow with the quarterback, who tore his ACL just eight months ago. Before that Week 14 injury, Wentz was on track to receive my MVP vote. So, yeah, this cat's pretty good. And he's surrounded by a fine collection of players in Philly.
Nelson Agholor blossomed in his third NFL season. It wasn't a fluke -- he made a number of big plays and has become a much more reliable catcher of the football. Alshon Jeffery, who was a key addition to last year's title team, should be even better in 2018, considering he played all of last season with a torn rotator cuff. Tight end Zach Ertz gets better each year, and has really developed a nice rapport with Wentz, having caught 11 TD passes from the QB in two seasons. Jay Ajayi headlines a deep and diverse backfield. And the O-line, ranked No. 1 by PFF in 2017, should be stellar, with nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters returning from injury.
6) Los Angeles Rams
I love this offense, with Sean McVay's genius written all over it. It's a very fun group to watch. Reigning Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley is a speedy, powerful runner who got PAID this offseason for being truly special. In addition to the robust production he supplied on the ground (1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns), Gurley piled up 788 yards and six scores through the air. That sophomore slump -- a real indictment on Jeff Fisher, given how the back flourished in Year 1 under McVay -- is a distant memory. Same story with Jared Goff. The 2016 NFL Draft's No. 1 overall pick looked lost in his rookie year. Insert McVay, and he's a Pro Bowler.
One big new factor: I am obsessed with the Brandin Cooks pickup. He's an absolute home-run hitter, as evidenced by his 18 catches of 40-plus yards over the past three seasons. The Goff-Cooks connection is going to be special.
7) Green Bay Packers
I understood Aaron Rodgers brilliantly calling out his young receivers after practice earlier this week. And I give him a ton of credit for it. The receiving corps isn't deep or all that experienced. And Rodgers, the most talented quarterback in NFL history, demands effort and perfection. It's awesome.
8) Minnesota Vikings
The most underrated story of the preseason is the return of Dalvin Cook from a torn ACL. He was an instant stud in Year 1, racking up scrimmage yards at a prolific rate before suffering his knee injury in Week 4. One story that's not underrated: Minnesota's quarterback upgrade. Kirk Cousins, who completed 65.5 percent of his passes and posted a 97.5 QB rating over the past three seasons in Washington, lifts this offense to a whole other level. The Adam Thielen-Stefon Diggs combo finally started to get its due in the back half of last season. Kyle Rudolph is a very solid tight end. And I love John DeFilippo coming in to take over the play-calling duties.
When we think about the Vikings, everyone rightly points to that imposing defense. But the offense is going to be overpowering in its own right.
9) New Orleans Saints
Too low? Maybe so. But while Alvin Kamara is a favorite of mine (and everyone else's), not having Mark Ingram for the first four games of the season takes New Orleans' attack down a few pegs. And beyond the criminally underrated Michael Thomas, the Saints have some question marks in the pass-catching department.
Drew Brees is still incredible. Sean Payton, who smartly has made the offense more balanced, is a wizard. They could definitely make me look dumb for this No. 9 ranking.