NFL Nation predicts: Coaches, players on hottest seat in every division

Updated: July 11, 2018

The NFL season is officially two months away, so it seems like a good time to start predicting what to expect in 2018.

ESPN’s NFL Nation will answer a series of questions this week, breaking down the league division by division.

Wednesday’s question:

Who is on the hottest seat in the division?

AFC East: Two quarterbacks — Ryan Tannehill and Josh McCown — might be feeling the pressure. Tannehill, who has missed the past 19 games due to knee injuries, received a vote of confidence when the Dolphins passed on drafting a quarterback but he has to take his game to a higher level. McCown, the incumbent Jets starter, faces competition from No. 3 overall draft pick Sam Darnold and free-agent signing Teddy Bridgewater. Read more.

NFC East: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gets the nod here but splits votes with a quarterback and team president. Garrett is entering his eighth season, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been remarkably patient. Garrett has been able to respond to this type of pressure season before. In 2014, he was in the final year of his deal and the Cowboys finished 12-4 and made it to the second round of the playoffs after three consecutive 8-8 finishes. Read more.

AFC North: The votes are split between an “elite” quarterback and a losing coach. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is five seasons removed from being named Super Bowl MVP and has failed to live up to a big-money contract. Browns coach Hue Jackson’s seat is on fire after winning only one game in his first two seasons. Read more.

NFC North: Packers coach Mike McCarthy gets half the votes. For the first time in his 13 seasons as head coach, McCarthy’s boss isn’t Ted Thompson, the person who hired him in 2006. Thompson was pushed aside and replaced by new GM Brian Gutekunst. But McCarthy doesn’t report to the GM anymore. Instead, it’s team president Mark Murphy who makes the call on the coach. Read more.

AFC South: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles gets a pair of votes here. Yes, he signed a three-year, $54 million contract extension. But after next season just $10 million of the remaining deal is guaranteed. The Jaguars are the defending AFC South champion. The biggest threat to their crown, outside of the other teams in the division, is the play of Bortles. Read more.

NFC South: Bucs coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht are mentioned prominently. This is a fairly obvious choice in a division where Tampa Bay was the only team to miss the playoffs last season. The Bucs won’t be very patient with Koetter, whose team grossly underperformed last season after showing so much promise and barely missing the playoffs in 2016. If Tampa Bay doesn’t make the playoffs — again — look for a change. Read more.

AFC West: Broncos coach Vance Joseph gets two of four votes after a rough start in Denver. The Broncos finished a dismal 5-11, a cumbersome slog through the season that included an eight-game losing streak and three different starting quarterbacks. With pressure mounting for the Broncos to take advantage of an aging roster with a Super Bowl pedigree, Joseph could be one of the first coaches fired in 2018 if head personnel man John Elway does not see the results he wants. Read more.

NFC West: Cardinals QB Sam Bradford needs to stay healthy and even then his job status is tenuous at best. It’s just a matter of time before No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen becomes Arizona’s starter. That’s why the Cardinals traded up to get him. Read more.

Tuesday’s question:

Who is the rising star in the division?

AFC East: The votes in the division are split between players that make their living in the defensive backfield. Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard and Jets safety Jamal Adams all finished 2017 on a high note and will be looking to continue that trend this fall. Read more.

NFC East: Eagles DE Derek Barnett was nearly a unanimous pick here. The Eagles’ defensive line was stacked last season, yet Barnett carved out a significant role as a rookie. He played 41 percent of the snaps for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and rewarded his DC by posting five sacks and coming up with a number of clutch plays. Read more.

AFC North: The pick here is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who should outshine all AFC North risers in year two. He earned Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiver job thanks to a 917-yard, seven-touchdown rookie performance, and with that elevated role should come at least 100 targets in 2018. Smith-Schuster will have every chance to notch his first 1,000-yard season despite a mysterious offseason knee injury. Read more.

NFC North: Vikings running back Dalvin Cook took two of four votes. He offered a glimpse as a rookie before tearing his ACL four weeks into the season. Cook opened with a 127-yard game and in less than four full games had rushed for 354 yards (averaging 4.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Read more.

AFC South: Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson showed a flash of what could be during six starts as a rookie. He was tied for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns (19) before he tore his right ACL during practice; he also threw for 1,699 yards with eight interceptions. Watson, who threw in seven-on-seven offseason drills, is expected to be ready for training camp. Read more.

NFC South: The Saints have a few rising stars including running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Kamara was the steal of the draft a year ago when New Orleans got him in the third round. He arguably performed better overall than any of the backs in a strong draft class, topping 700 yards rushing and 800 yards receiving. In the regular season and postseasons combined last year, Thomas had receptions on 20.1 percent of his routes run, more than any other receiver in the league. Read more.

AFC West: The Chiefs have cornered the market on young talent in the division. Will it be beginning of Patrick Mahomes‘ reign or will the second-year quarterback ride behind running back Kareem Hunt? Hunt had an impressive rookie season, leading the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards and adding 11 total touchdowns. Mahomes takes over for the traded Alex Smith. Read more.

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the pick here. Garoppolo took over a 1-10 team last season and delivered five victories in five starts. The Niners then signed him to a five-year deal worth up to $137.5 million and added pieces to bolster the offense around him. While Garoppolo still has some proving to do, there are also reasons to believe he’s going to be better in 2018. Read more.

Monday’s question:

Who is best newcomer in the division?

AFC East: The votes are split between two rookies — Jets quarterback Sam Darnold and Dolphins cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick — and an old pro. Dolphins running back Frank Gore, 35, is the NFL’s oldest running back and ranks fifth all time in career rushing yards. Whether he plays a major role in a backfield that also includes Kenyan Drake and 2018 fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage remains to be seen, but Gore has posted 12 consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Read more.

NFC East: New York Giants rookie Saquon Barkley and Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith will both make a big impact. But Barkley was the No. 2 pick for a reason. And running back is a position where rookies can make an immediate impact. Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette each topped 1,000 yards rushing last season. Ezekiel Elliott had 1,994 total yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie. Barkley is going to make an immediate impact with the Giants, maybe even more as a receiver than runner. Read more.

AFC North: The votes are split four ways in this division. Two Browns players — receiver Jarvis Landry and quarterback Tyrod Taylor — were in the mix. The Browns gave Landry a five-year, $75.5 million contract extension after trading with the Dolphins for him in March. Taylor has been a reliable player who does not turn the ball over and a breath of professionalism since he joined the Browns, winning over teammates and coaches alike with his competitiveness and work ethic. Read more.

NFC North: The answer here, though not unanimous, was the biggest free-agent fish of the offseason. Quarterback Kirk Cousins joins the Minnesota Vikings, who signed him to win a Super Bowl. The Vikings were close last season, advancing to the NFC Championship Game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. He’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards for three straight seasons and has been over 64 percent passing during that span. He’s also thrown at least 25 touchdown passes each year since 2015. Read more.

AFC South: Safety Tyrann Mathieu is the pick here. The Texans signed the former All-Pro safety, who’s coming off the healthiest of his first five NFL seasons. The Texans will start Mathieu at safety and allow him to focus on the position — something he has said he didn’t really have the chance to do in Arizona. He also gives them versatility, because he’s capable of roving to play multiple positions such as cornerback or nickel linebacker if needed. Read more.

NFC South: The votes are split four ways in this division. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe is among the picks, as he moves from the Falcons to the Panthers. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, whom the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired for a third-round pick from the New York Giants, is also intriguing. Read more.

AFC West: The Denver Broncos had their first losing season since 2010 in 2017. The failure came largely at the quarterback position, where they started Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch last season. They looked to stabilize the position by acquiring Case Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC title game last season, in free agency. They hope Keenum can build on a career year where he had highs in passing yards (3,547), passing touchdowns (22) and completion percentage (67.6). Read more.

NFC West: The Los Angeles Rams, already a very good defensive unit, added three top-tier players, any one of whom could have been named the best newcomer. The choice went to a guy up front who could wreak havoc alongside Aaron Donald. Read more.

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