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Zuniga: Preseason NFL predictions

An early look at how each NFL division could turn out.

Houston+Texans+rookie+quarterback+Deshaun+Watson+passed+for+283+yards+with+four+touchdowns+and+added+a+rushing+touchdown+in+the+Texans%27+57-14+win+against+the+Tennessee+Titans+on+October+1%2C+2017.+Watson+is+lost+for+the+season+with+a+torn+ACL%2C+NFL.com%27s+Ian+Rapoport+reported.+%28Trask+Smith%2FCal+Sport+Media%2FNFL+Communications%2FZuma+Press%2FTNS%29
Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 283 yards with four touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in the Texans' 57-14 win against the Tennessee Titans on October 1, 2017. Watson is lost for the season with a torn ACL, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported. (Trask Smith/Cal Sport Media/NFL Communications/Zuma Press/TNS)

Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 283 yards with four touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in the Texans' 57-14 win against the Tennessee Titans on October 1, 2017. Watson is lost for the season with a torn ACL, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported. (Trask Smith/Cal Sport Media/NFL Communications/Zuma Press/TNS)

TNS

TNS

Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 283 yards with four touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in the Texans' 57-14 win against the Tennessee Titans on October 1, 2017. Watson is lost for the season with a torn ACL, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported. (Trask Smith/Cal Sport Media/NFL Communications/Zuma Press/TNS)

Jordan Zuniga, [email protected]

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The dog days of summer are here, which means that football is just around the corner. The Hall of Fame game takes place Aug. 2, and teams are beginning preseason camps.

With that in mind, here are the early predictions for how the NFL season will shape up.

AFC East: New England Patriots

No-brainer here. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick run the show, the Patriots will reign supreme in the East. The Bills, Dolphins, and Jets still have a long way to go.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

Another repeat. Like the Patriots, the Steelers are just too good compared with the teams in their division, which have not done enough in the offseason to be able to compete.

AFC South: Houston Texans

This could be the most competitive division this season, because it is full of young quarterbacks and talented teams. Marcus Mariota continues to improve year in and year out for Tennessee, Jacksonville may have the best defense in football, and Indianapolis might just need a full year of a healthy Andrew Luck to make the playoffs.

But I don’t think there is a team more complete in this division — maybe the NFL — than a healthy Texans team. Health is the key word here, and that’s been a struggle, but I think this will be the year of the Texans.

AFC West: Oakland Raiders

What happened to the Raiders last year? The season completely ripped apart, which resulted in the firing of Jack Del Rio. They upgraded to possibly the most coveted coach in all of football, Jon Gruden.

I think Gruden is the perfect coach for this team, especially for young QB Derek Carr, and he should be able to put the Raiders back on track this season.

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

The Boys are coming back in full force this year. Dak Prescott is a lot better with Ezekiel Elliott, and he should play a full year this year. If Elliott is as good as he was as a rookie, it will be another good season for the Cowboys.

NFC North: Chicago Bears

Full disclosure: I am a Bears fan, so part of this might be wishful thinking. But hear me out. The Bears lost six games by a touchdown or less, and they did so with a banged-up defense, no receivers, and a rookie quarterback.

This season, they have a new offensive-minded coach, a few solid receivers, and — hopefully — a healthy defense. If everything works out, the Bears could see a big jump over last season, similar to what the Los Angeles Rams did last season.

NFC South: New Orleans Saints

This will, once again, be a highly entertaining division. Carolina and Atlanta have both been to the Super Bowl in the past few years, and the Saints have been competitive for more than a decade.

But the Saints are young, with a rising defense and a veteran coach and quarterback, and that should be enough to make them back-to-back division champions.

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

There’s no question that the Rams might be one of the best teams in the NFC, but the problem is that the 49ers also might be.

Sure, they finished 6-10 last year, but they went 6-1 in their final seven games (with two of those games coming against the Jaguars and the Rams) ​— all the games Jimmy Garoppolo played in.

Super Bowl: Texans over Saints

I really think this is the year for the Texans; they finally have a quarterback, which seemed to be what they were lacking in years past. Deshaun Watson will be the guy to put them over the top, and J.J. Watt will finally get a ring. Heck, maybe he’ll even score a touchdown.

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