Though the USA Today sports staff is concentrated on NCAA basketball, they’ve taken time out to predict who the NFL’s “Final Four” will be at the end of the 2018 season. While this is one of the last sources I would look to for accuracy, five of their NFL guys are among the first to have made predictions as to who the four final NFL teams will be at season’s end.
Of the 10 names that were given for the NFC conference teams, the Rams and Saints received three votes each. The other four teams getting one vote each are the Falcons, Eagles, Packers and Vikings.
Staffer Mike Jones says the Rams will “receive their payoff for their aggressive offseason,” and Lorenzo Reyes says, “It’s hard not to love what Los Angeles has built with its aggressive offseason additions.”
Nate Davis says New Orleans is more formidable now that it can bleed the shot clock by allowing rushers Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to take more shots. Another forecaster says: “With an ascending roster powered by young talent, it’s difficult to find many holes here.”
Mike Jones, who voted for the Packers, thinks Aaron Rodgers will return triumphantly from injury and lead the retooled supporting cast back to Super Bowl contention.
The forecaster voting for the Vikings says they have a championship-ready defense, so new QB Kirk Cousins “shouldn’t have to play hero to return Minnesota to this stage.”
For the AFC, there’s more uniformity: three votes for the Patriots, Steelers, and Texans, and one vote for the Chargers.
All three who voted for the Texans think QB Deshaun Watson will return from injury and re-ignite the team.
The staff is 50-50 on whether the Steelers are ready to surpass the Patriots. A voter for the Steelers calls it “gut check time in Pittsburgh… the Steelers have to address the self-destructive tendencies that have haunted them in key stretches.”
Another forecaster says that as long as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski stay on course, the Patriots will have a clear path to a high seed and an eighth straight AFC championship game.