A Preview of the 2018/2019 NFL Season

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The upcoming NFL season is ripe with exciting stories and players to watch. Last year’s NFL champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, host the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, September 6th to kick off the 2018 NFL season.

The Favorites

With Tom Brady returning for yet another season alongside coach Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots remain the favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Although the Patriots lack wide receiver depth after trading Brandin Cooks and losing Julian Edelman to suspension for the first four games, a healthy Rob Gronkowski is still here. Chris Hogan has also proven to be an adept option for Brady, with new signing Kenny Britt and first-round draft pick Sony Michel looking to bolster the offense. Veteran Rex Burkhead remains a solid option for short downs. As for their defense, Bill Belichick remains a genius at coaching the defensive game, specifically.

While the Patriots are the favorite to win, other up-and-coming teams are not far behind. The Los Angeles Rams saw the ample growth of QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley last year, with young head coach Sean McVay showing a knack for brilliant game planning. The Green Bay Packers, with Aaron Rodgers still at the helm, are another hyped team. The signing of TE Jimmy Graham looks to supplement an offensive attack that is now missing Jordy Nelson.

Of course, the Philadelphia Eagles will look to defend their championship and remain capable of doing so. Coach Doug Pederson shows great decision-making, putting his playmakers in the position to win. With QB Carson Wentz expected to be healthy, the Eagles are very comparable in strength and depth to last year, apart from losing TE Trey Burton to free agency.

A Year for Young QBs

If you enjoy watching young QBs with high upside, the upcoming NFL season will be a treat for you. The rookie QB class alone includes a bunch of high-upside, talented rookie QBs with avenues to playing time. Jets QB Sam Darnold and Bills QB Josh Allen will very likely start by mid-season, if not by week one. They are both talented, young QBs on teams starving for a franchise QB.

Although Baker Mayfield may not start in 2018 for the Cleveland Browns, with Tyrod Taylor showing more command of the offense presently, he remains an exciting player to watch. If Taylor suffers an injury or underperforms, it will be fun to watch Mayfield throw to the likes of Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. There are also rumblings of the Browns considering signing WR Dez Bryant.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was taken in the late first round, though could very well impress more immediately than any other rookie QB. Joe Flacco remains the starter in Baltimore, though Jackson has drawn praise from the coaching staff for his talent and readiness. Jackson’s multi-dimensional game, with his running and throwing, present a threat to opposing defenses. He and these other young QBs will be worth watching in the preseason and throughout the entire NFL season.

Season Predictions

The NFL proves year in and year out that outcomes are unpredictable. Although some teams like the Patriots dominate their division every year and are likely to do so again this year, the rest of the league is open for competition.

The NFC West is likely to be a showdown between the Rams and 49ers. If 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo continues to excel, the 49ers’ young core can prevail. The Rams’ additions of Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks and Marcus Peters in the offseason makes them a clear favorite, though.

The Packers and Vikings will compete in the NFC North, as Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins work with talented squads. The Packers’ additions of corners Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson should shore up their pass defense, a weak point last season.

The NFC South is likely to be competitive. The Saints, Panthers and Falcons all have teams with potential. The Eagles will likely lead the NFC East, though it will be interesting to watch the impact that Giants rookie RB Saquon Barkley has on his team. The AFC North will also be fun to watch, as the Steelers, Browns, Ravens and Bengals compete with fairly even-matched squads.

The upcoming NFL season looks to be a fun and competitive one.

How France Won the World Cup

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The FIFA World Cup wrapped up with a 4-2 victory for the French national team, spearheaded by dominating performances from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé. As a game that was full of surprises, the World Cup Final nonetheless finished with a victory for the expected winner, and a heartbreaking defeat for the Croatian Cinderella story. Let’s recap both teams’ journey to the finals.

image: SI

French Dominance and a Croatian Miracle

Throughout the group stage and elimination bracket, France seemed like an unstoppable force. They performed solidly in the group stage, going 2-0-1 against rival teams from Denmark, Peru and Australia to play against Argentina in the bracket. Following a close 4-3 victory over Argentina — and two goals by Mbappe — the French team swept Uruguay 2-0 and shut out Belgium 1-0 to get into the finals.

On the other side of the bracket, a very different story had unfolded. Following an unprecedented 3-0 over Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland in the group stage, Croatia managed to squeak by Denmark with a 3-2 victory in penalties after a drawn 1-1 game went through time.

A similar game followed against Russia, with a game decided 4-3 in penalties for Croatia after being tied 2-2. Their final game against England went to extra time — and resulted in a stunning 2-1 upset for the aspiring Croatian team, landing them in their first finals appearance ever.

Own Goal

The final kicked off with a World Cup first: A kick from Griezmann fell short of the net, but Mario Mandzukic headed the ball backward into his own goal, giving France a 1-0 lead early in the final. However, Croatia tied the game up a few minutes later with a beautiful kick from Ivan Perisic, sneaking past goaltender Hugo Lloris and into the left corner to put the teams at 1-1.

France Soars and Croatia Unravels

Unfortunately for the Croatian upstarts, Perisic’s goal was to be the highlight of their game. From the 1-1 position, a penalty on Perisic left the goal open for a textbook kick from Griezmann to give France the lead once more. Twenty minutes later, Pogba blew the lead wide open with a little less than 30 minutes of play on the clock. With France holding 3-1 over Croatia, the final seemed all but wrapped up.

If this wasn’t enough, Mbappé — just 19 years old — rocketed the French team even further ahead with a ricochet off the field and into the box at the 65-minute mark, all but sealing the match for France. Croatia managed to find some hope from Mandzukic — looking for redemption after flubbing the start of the match — when he stole the ball from Lloris just outside the box and brought the score back within two points.

The match ended with neither team scoring again, and France taking its second title. France is now the sixth team to hold two World Cup titles, along with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany and Italy. The next World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022.