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2018 Playbook Football Questions Interviews

1. Which NFL teams do you see being 'Play On' worthy this season?
The Chicago Bears have a good shot to show solid improvement in the 2018 season coming off a 5-11 season that featured mostly competitive losses including six defeats by eight or fewer points. Matt Nagy's offensive profile could help boost the scoring in Mitchell Trubisky's second season while adding the likes of 1st round pick Roquan Smith to the defense could push the unit to the upper tier of the NFC after finishing 10th in the NFL in total defense last season. Chicago actually had a better scoring differential than several more prominent teams last season including the Packers, Cardinals, Raiders, and Bengals and they defeated Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Carolina for quality victories. The Bears will pull a fourth place schedule in the NFC with the NFC West and AFC East draws looking fairly favorable as well. Chicago is also in the Hall of Fame game in August and the extra game and preparation week could help the cause for a first time NFL head coach in a transition season that could produce a rather competitive team. The Bears are still unlikely to be a high scoring squad as they won't be risk to be greatly overvalued even if they have some success as an above .500 ATS campaign looks possible.

2. Which NFL teams do you see being 'Play Against' worthy this season?
The Chargers rightly look like the favorite in the AFC West this season but this was a team that went just 9-7 last season despite the third best turnover margin in the NFL while playing a fourth place schedule. In year one in Carson the Chargers started 0-4 before a strong finish to the season but they only beat one 2017 playoff team and that was the Bills. The Raiders and Broncos had down seasons last year and could be candidates to bounce back as improved teams to make the AFC West more formidable than it was in 2017 with the Chargers going only 3-3 in division games last season anyway. The potentially competitive AFC North teams are on the schedule and the second place AFC draw features the Bills and Titans to make the 2018 slate a bit more daunting than last season. The road games in the NFC West draw are in tough venues against the Rams and Seahawks and the Chargers will still have to play three early start games in the Eastern Time Zone. Los Angeles looks like a quality team that should threaten for the playoffs but a franchise that has consistently disappointed might face bigger favorite pricing than deserved and might wind up as a losing ATS squad in 2018 with the expectations growing.

3. Which NFL teams do you see making it to the Super Bowl this season?
It remains difficult to count out the Patriots in the AFC with 15 straight seasons with at least 10 wins. The rest of the AFC East competition looks far behind as New England again has a great chance to be one of the top AFC seeds looking to reach a fourth Super Bowl in five years and a seventh straight AFC championship game. The NFC picture features more possible contenders but after a 2017 breakthrough under Sean McVay the Rams could have a big season in year three in Los Angeles. Aggressive offseason moves leave the Rams looking like the clear team to beat in what could be a mediocre NFC West and the Rams were the top scoring team in the NFL last season. Improvement looks very unlikely for the Seahawks and Cardinals in 2018 and while San Francisco could push Los Angeles in the division race, the 2018 schedule looks reasonable outside of a tricky month of October. The Rams figure to be favored in each of the final seven games of the season and possess late Week 12 bye week as Los Angeles could hit its stride down the stretch to take momentum into the postseason.

4. Which College Football teams do you see being 'Play On' worthy this season?
With a 7-6 finish Tom Herman's first season in Austin didn't quite meet expectations but the Longhorns outscored Big XII foes by 107 points despite going just 5-4 in league play. Four of five losses came by 10 or fewer points for some close calls including a five-point loss to Big XII champion Oklahoma and an overtime defeat against Oklahoma State. Another highly regarded recruiting class is in tow and the tough first half schedule for the Longhorns should keep Texas from being too overvalued as a potential Big XII title contender. Texas will catch a couple of heavyweight programs early in the season with unproven quarterbacks playing USC and Oklahoma in the first six games with those teams replacing top NFL draft picks. There are certainly some hurdles for Texas to re-emerge on the national stage but with only four true road games the path for a successful season is there and a respectable non-conference schedule will prevent the huge scoring blowouts that many of the other power five schools produce against light competition to keep the Longhorns from facing inflated prices most weeks.

5. Which College Football teams do you see being 'Play Against' worthy this season?
Ed Orgeron's first full season as the LSU head coach produced a few humiliating losses but the Tigers did beat Auburn and wound up 9-4 for a respectable campaign. They drew imploding Florida and Tennessee squads from the SEC East last season however and this year will play a possibly improved Gators team on the road while trading the Volunteers for a home game with national runner-up Georgia. Add a non-conference game with Miami plus a road game into revenge at Auburn in September and the 2018 path is difficult. LSU does get a bye week ahead of the November Alabama game but then will face a pair of dangerous SEC road games down the stretch against talented teams in transition that could be hitting their stride late in the season as matching last season's record looks very unlikely in Baton Rouge. LSU will be breaking in a new quarterback through a difficult schedule while also replacing an elite running back all while under another new offensive coordinator as Matt Canada left the program in January. LSU actually had a winning ATS record last season as they faced great value following the home loss to Troy in September but they won't catch as favorable numbers this season.

6. Which College Football teams do you see making it to the College Football Playoff Championship Game this season?
I'd like to find a path for a dark horse to make a run but it will likely be more of the usual suspects in the playoff. Fair or not Alabama will always be at the top of the heap as they were included in the playoff even without winning their division title last season and featuring a marginal schedule rating. They again have a very favorable schedule with a loaded roster coming off last season's championship and the Tide are afforded a free pass if they slip up at some point, though this year's schedule looks very likely to be swept. Clemson lost to Alabama in the national semifinals last season getting a tough break with Alabama considered the #4 seed despite being the favorite to win the championship. This year Clemson looks again like the class of the ACC with great returning contributors on both sides of the ball and only one major hurdle on the schedule playing in Tallahassee, but Florida State is in a transition season coming off last year's disappointing campaign as that might not be the great test it is expected to be. The early season game at Texas A&M also features an Aggies team in transition and none of the other road games look overly formidable. Clemson still made the playoff last season despite losing to Syracuse and the competition in the ACC Atlantic may not be as fierce this season with FSU in transition and Louisville replacing Lamar Jackson. Clemson and Alabama meeting in the playoffs for the fourth straight season looks very possible.

7. Which new head coach hire will prove to be the best in the NFL this season?
Pat Shurmur is probably in the best position to succeed in terms of making clear improvement immediately. The Giants were a playoff team two years ago under Ben McAdoo before the wheels fell off last season, with injuries certainly a catalyst. Despite the 3-13 record the Giants were competitive early in the season with three single-score losses against quality teams in the 0-5 start and the three wins all came against decent teams including beating Kansas City. The Giants have a veteran quarterback and Shurmur has NFL head coaching experience to ease the transition, with the consensus top running back in the draft added to the fold as well. The early season schedule is fairly daunting but getting this team to double last season's win count looks pretty realistic. As mentioned above Matt Nagy with the Bears is in a good position to have some success while Mike Vrabel obviously steps into a great situation for a first time head coach inheriting a team that made the playoffs the previous season as the Bears and Titans will likely win more games than the Giants. In terms of win-improvement over last season however Shurmur is a good candidate to be at or near the top of the list among the new hires.

8. Which new head coach hire will prove to be the best in College Football this season?
Jonathan Smith could have some potential for a steady first season at Oregon State with the bar set rather low in Corvallis. The Beavers weren't nearly as bad as the 1-11 record with only a FCS win in 2017 indicates. They had to deal with the awkward and unexpected resignation of Gary Andersen on the fly midseason and wound up competing fairly well in the second half, including nearly upsetting Stanford in a one-point loss. Mike Riley is also back with the program to help the offense as there should be positive enthusiasm back with the program. Opening the season in Columbus is a tough first game but the Pac-12 slate is back loaded as the Beavers should have an opportunity to break its Pac-12 losing streak in September or October. This team was considered a bowl sleeper ahead of last season but wound up battling turnovers and an ugly quarterback situation and there is still a decent roster returning for the new staff. The bowl season made it clear that the Pac-12 wasn't very good last season and a few more big programs are in transition this year as well as this could be a wide open conference with the Beavers having the opportunity to steal multiple wins for a season of improvement.

9. What will we remember the most about the 2018 football season?
The legacy of the Patriots will again be a familiar January storyline with New England again at the forefront of the AFC and in the mix to compete for another Super Bowl title. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are already cemented as inner circle NFL legends and the end of that partnership is on the horizon with this year possibly the final run. The question will be whether or not the legacy ends with an unprecedented sixth title or if a second straight season of disappointment is ahead thwarted by an unlikely upstart as Philadelphia accomplished last season. Like Belichick, Nick Saban is also 66 and could be a candidate to try to go out on top. Saban doesn't seem likely to go the route of Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden pacing the sidelines well into his upper 70s and he has to also know the Alabama schedule will get a bit tougher in 2019 and 2020 as this season's draw is laughably light meaning a historic perfect season with dominant numbers could be ahead.

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