The New England Patriots enter the 2019 NFL season in familiar territory, as defending Super Bowl champions. There's no question the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady-led dynasty is the team of the 2010s, as the Patriots have appeared in more than half of the Super Bowls in this decade, winning three titles in five trips. So can New England finish off a dominant decade by doing something that's been done just eight times — repeat as Super Bowl champions?
Fittingly enough, the Patriots were the last team to accomplish this rare feat, doing so back in the 2003-04 seasons, but as history has showed, even getting back to the Super Bowl is no easy task. To that end, expect the Los Angeles Rams to do everything they can to show that last year was no fluke by not only retaining their NFC crown but also making sure they are ones that hoist the Lombardi Trophy by season's end.
In the NFC, the Rams will have to contend with the likes of New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Seattle, all playoff teams last year, and there's always a team or two that makes an impressive one-year turnaround. Could that be Atlanta, Green Bay or Minnesota this season?
In the AFC, Kansas City came up just short against New England in the conference championship game and boasts the returning league MVP in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs can't sleep on the Chargers in the AFC West while Oakland and Denver are hoping offseason changes can produce better results in 2019.
Two other teams that will look drastically different this year are Cleveland and Pittsburgh, who will battle with defending AFC North champion Baltimore for the top spot in their division. Meanwhile, Houston seeks to defend its AFC South crown against a trio of teams that feature different questions at the quarterback position. For Indianapolis, it's how will Jacoby Brissett fare following Andrew Luck's sudden retirement? Jacksonville is hoping Nick Foles can get the Jaguars back to contending while Tennessee has to figure out if Marcus Mariota is still the long-term answer at the position. And in the AFC East, the Jets and Bills will each try to show that they are ready to challenge the Patriots for supremacy in that division.
So will the 2019 season simply serve as the exclamation point for New England's dynasty or will another team claim the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done? Here is how a panel of Athlon experts see the season playing out. In addition to projected standings for each division, each panelist presents their wild card (WC) picks as well as the respective conference championship game (CG) matchups and Super Bowl 54 matchup on Feb. 2, 2020, in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.