2020 has been a very unpredictable year. However, if you’re looking for some certainty, read below to see exactly what is going to happen in the NFL this season. Thank-you emails where you talk about how great I am are not necessary.
Eagles (10-6), #3 Seed
A year ago, Carson Wentz and some great red zone execution made up for a completely depleted receiving corps and guided the Eagles to a division title. It would be hard to imagine the same bad luck with health at the wide receiver position, although it’s not impossible. Between Doug Pederson’s play-calling and an improved secondary, I anticipate the Eagles having just enough to win the division over Dallas.
Cowboys (10-6), #7 Seed
The Cowboys are the most talented team in the division, as they seem to be every year. That hasn’t always led to the best results, though. Dak Prescott’s inability to perform at a high level consistently is one big reason Dallas has underachieved. It will be interesting to see how this offense looks in Mike McCarthy’s spread-it-out approach. Will the running game become less of a factor, as it did throughout most of McCarthy’s career in Green Bay? And if that’s the case, can the Cowboys win with the offense running completely through Prescott? Dallas certainly has the weapons in the passing game to give it a shot at very least.
Daniel Jones has the makings of a great quarterback, and all Giants fans should be excited to see what he can do in year 2. If difference makers like Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley can stay healthy, the Giants have the ability to attack defenses in unique ways that most other offenses can’t. The O-line will be a question, as always, until they prove otherwise. And the defense, while improved, still appears to be underwhelming. Do they have enough good DBs and pass rushers to effectively play the way Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham wants to? With no preseason, it’s hard to get a good idea of how that new-look defense will play. The bad news for the Giants is that the early part of their schedule looks brutal. They could play well and still start 1-4 or even 0-5.
Football Team? (4-12)
The Football Team formerly known as the Redskins had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season. It looks like Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins will get the chance to prove himself as the starter in 2020. Last season, the Football Team’s passing game was particularly dreadful, and Haskins was largely unimpressive in his 7 starts. He needs to get better at working through his reads and making quicker decisions if the Football Team is going to have a chance this season. The Football Team Defense wasn’t much better in 2019, with the exception of their pass rush. The Football Team was a top-10 unit in sacks and a top-5 football team in pressure %. Rookie 1st-rounder Chase Young does have the ability to help make the Football Team’s pass rush downright scary. I don’t expect much out of the Football Team this season. But one thing Ron Rivera and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio do have a history of doing is turning bad football teams into good football teams. They don’t always turn bad football teams into great football teams, but they are generally able to make their football teams more competitive. At best, the football team we’re talking about here, the Washington Football Team, should be a more competitive football team than the football team we saw in Washington last year, regardless of the Football Team’s final W-L record.
Packers (9-7), #4 Seed
What did the Packers do to get better this offseason? What did they do to maximize Aaron Rodgers’ remaining window? Nothing. Instead of adding weapons or filling holes, they were largely quiet in free agency. Then they traded up to draft quarterback Jordan Love and used a second-round pick on running back A.J. Dillon. Nothing against Love and Dillon. Maybe Love is the real deal. Maybe Dillon adds an additional element to the running game that the Packers missed in 2020. The Packers needed help elsewhere first, though. They needed help at receiver. Their defense needed help to be able to compete with teams like the 49ers (who embarrassed them twice in 2019), Seahawks, Saints, and Buccaneers. Instead, they added help at the two positions that were least in need. After their NFC Championship Game loss, we wrote about how the running game is nice, and Matt LaFleur’s commitment to it is an important element of the Packers ability to be successful in 2020. But this team goes nowhere without Aaron Rodgers cutting it loose this season.
Matthew Stafford is arguably the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. He was on his way to one of his best seasons before injuring his back last season and missing the final 8 games. The Lions fell apart without him. Expect Stafford to pick-up where he left off. On defense, the Lions appear to be an improved team in the secondary. If they can avoid the injury bug that derailed their 2019 season, and if Matt Patricia can get his defense to provide any support to Stafford and the offense, the Lions will be in the thick of the playoff hunt.
The Vikings should return a good running game and defense. Kirk Cousins and the passing game are the wild cards. While Cousins’ play did improve last year (largely with the help of a newfound commitment to play action), the 49ers exposed Minnesota’s passing game in the playoffs. If you take away their ability to run, they cannot succeed as a pass-first offense.
Similar to the Packers, I look at the Bears and am trying to see where they improved from a year ago. I’m not sure their personnel on the defensive side of the ball is quite as dynamic as it was in 2019, although it’s not far off. Last year, though, we saw how even a slight drop off on defense (coupled with terrible offensive play) completely derailed their season. While the Bears were the #4 scoring defense last year, they were bottom 10 in the NFL in sacks and sack % (although they were a top 10 team in pressure %). They also ranked 22nd in takeaways a year after leading the league in this category. The good news is that if Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles continue, they have a viable alternative that they can turn to early in the season in Nick Foles.
Saints (12-4), #2 Seed
We should see the same Saints Offense we’ve seen for the last 14 years under Sean Payton and Drew Brees – dynamic, high scoring, innovative, and difficult to match up against. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders should help stretch the field a little more than we’ve seen the last couple of seasons, which will create more big plays and open things up at the intermediate level. If their defense plays the way it has the last 3 seasons under Dennis Allen, that should be enough to give them the edge in the division over the Buccaneers.
Buccaneers (11-5), #6 Seed
We’ve written about how Tom Brady will fit in Bruce Arians’ Offense and how Rob Gronkowski will play a significant role. There is not a skillset that the Buccaneers Offense does not possess, and they have more weapons than every other team in the NFL. Everything on the offensive side of the ball will be about keeping Tom Brady upright. Tampa’s defense is a little better than most people think as well. Todd Bowles will continue to be aggressive (#2 in blitz % in 2019) to create turnovers, knowing that Tampa has enough fire power on offense to make up for any big plays allowed when chances are taken and missed. Like all of you, I am very excited to see what this team looks like on the field.
Raheem Morris did a great job of turning the Falcons Defense around in the second half of 2019. The Falcons will need to pick up where they left off to have any chance in a division with the high-powered Buccaneers and Saints. The addition of Dante Fowler should help a pass rush that struggled for most of last season. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons really struggled to run the ball in 2019, and that filtered it’s way through the entire offense. Todd Gurley might have lost a step, but hopefully his presence helps the Falcons become a complete offensive unit.
What can you really expect from the Panthers this year? They’re a team in transition under head coach Matt Rhule. While Christian McCaffrey is one of the best players in football, there’s really no one else on this team that excites you. Teddy Bridgewater is a great comeback story, but he’s a stop-gap until next year’s draft – one in which the Panthers will be getting one of the top picks.
Seahawks (13-3), #1 Seed
The Seahawks were inches away from sweeping the 49ers and winning the NFC West a year ago. They went 11-5 largely on the strength of Russell Wilson and the offense carrying the team. They made some key defensive additions to the secondary, including a trade for Safety Jamal Adams, that should help fill in some of the holes that kept them from getting past the Divisional Round in 2019. As long as Pete Carroll doesn’t wait for Seattle to be down by 3 touchdowns to let Russell Wilson start cutting it loose, the Seahawks have a great chance of getting back to the Super Bowl.
49ers (11-5), #5 Seed
It’s hard to pinpoint a weakness on this team. Any players the 49ers lost, they backfilled in the draft or via free agency. The concern for the 49ers is the health of their receiving corps. While we think Kyle Shanahan will have enough in his schemes to overcome any deficiencies in this area, teams in the NFL rarely repeat 13-3 seasons. Jimmy Garoppolo’s deficiencies were also exposed at times during the postseason. I expect the 49ers to be in the thick of the NFC race. But I also anticipate a minor step back.
The disappearance of their running game in 2019 put more pressure on Jared Goff to carry the offense. Goff is a good quarterback, but his success in the NFL to date has come from being an operator of a well-functioning offense, not the focal point. Goff struggled to protect the ball and did not handle the blitz well while under the microscope last season. We wrote about how he needs to be better in the face of pass-rush pressure. With a mind like Sean McVay leading the offense, we still expect the Rams to put up points. And on the defensive side of the ball, they’ll still be able to get after the quarterback. The Rams will be a tough out each week, but unfortunately, they’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time for the second year in a row.
I was impressed by what I saw out of Kyler Murray in his rookie season. Yes, he has the ability to run around and make plays as an athletic QB. But I saw him hang in the pocket, scan the entire field, and make accurate throws on a weekly basis. Often, when he moves, he moves to throw instead of run. This is great to see out of a young QB and makes him twice as dangerous late in the play. He also consistently showed good touch. With DeAndre Hopkins now in town, don’t be surprised to see Murray have a break-out 2nd year in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don’t seem to have enough on defense to help turn Murray’s break-out year-2 into something close to what we saw in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson.
Patriots (11-5), #3 Seed
Tom Brady is gone, but you know who’s still in town? The #1 reason the Patriots have 6 Lombardi’s – Bill Belichick. If Cam Newton stays healthy, he brings a dimension to that offense we haven’t seen in New England in quite some time. You can bet Belichick and Josh McDaniels will find innovative ways to use him. The Patriots are missing some players in their front-7 due to free agency and Covid-19 opt-outs. But that secondary is still loaded, and much of the pressure that they’re able to generate up front comes from Belichick’s schemes and the aggressive play of New England defensive backs disrupting the timing of the passing game. This division is still theirs to lose.
Bills (10-6), #7 Seed
I love what Sean McDermott has done with the defense in Buffalo. They have the ability based on diversity in personnel and schemes to create unique and effective opponent-specific game plans, similar to what the team they’re chasing in New England does. The offense still has question marks, though. While Josh Allen improved last season, he still has too many inconsistencies to his game. If he gets it together, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bills win 12 games. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them win 8 if he doesn’t. Hopefully for the Bills, the addition of Stefon Diggs takes the offense to the next level.
I’m a Sam Darnold fan, but it was concerning to see some of the areas where he regressed under Adam Gase in year 2. Any improvement out of their revamped offensive line would be a welcomed sight and a catalyst for any potential turnaround. Even if Le’Veon Bell looks more like the player he was in Pittsburgh than he did last year, will Gase use him in the way that maximizes that versatility he brings? I’m not so sure. The defense took a major step back by losing Jamal Adams. While I think the trade was great for New York in the long term, in 2020 it doesn’t really help. If you’re a Jets fan, just hope for some improvement on offense and growth in Darnold, and you can consider the season a success.
The Dolphins became a fun team to watch towards the end of 2019 behind Fitzmagic. And Brian Flores did a great job considering the lack of talent the Dolphins had. Unfortunately for Miami, the Dolphins are still not a good football team. It’s encouraging to see the investment they made in the offensive line, something that should be a priority for any team with a young quarterback. They also didn’t have much of a choice, given that they were dead last in the NFL in just about every meaningful pass-protection metric. Who knows when we’ll see Tua Tagovailoa, but it shouldn’t be until that line is somewhat solidified. Then the Dolphins can get going on developing their future.
Steelers (12-4), #2 Seed
The Steelers had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season, largely due to Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury in Week 2. They still won 8 games. That’s how good their defense was. And they are returning largely the same unit in 2020. I don’t necessarily expect Big Ben to return to his prime this season, but he’ll be a huge improvement over what we saw in Pittsburgh a year ago. How much of an improvement? Enough to help the Steelers eek out the division title over the Ravens.
Ravens (12-4), #5 Seed
The Ravens return a very good team on both sides of the ball. The loss of Earl Thomas hurts, but they’ve gotten stronger up front, literally, by beefing up with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Still, it’s hard for any team to maintain the blistering pace the Ravens did in 2019. The success they had was largely based on the running schemes deployed by Greg Roman to take advantage of Lamar Jackson’s unique and amazing talents. That said, there were some teams (like the Bills and Titans) that showed how to slow Jackson down. You can bet every team on the Ravens schedule this year spent all offseason scheming ways to disrupt Jackson and that running game. They won’t be able to shut him down entirely, but we anticipate teams finding ways to slow him down by forcing him to play from the pocket more often. Jackson is good from the pocket. He is not MVP good. The Ravens don’t take a major step back in 2020. They still win 12 games. However, they lose the tiebreaker to Pittsburgh for the division.
On sheer talent, the Browns are a playoff team. Last year, though, they collectively showed the discipline of a 1st grader. The Myles Garrett incident certainly comes to mind in this respect, but so do all of those yards and big plays given up on the ground (run defense is all about maintaining gap discipline). On offense, Cleveland had too many negative plays and too many giveaways. Even their running game, which was one of the better rushing attacks in the league, finished 25th in the NFL in percentage of runs gaining negative yards. That’ll thwart drives and put you in more 3rd-and-long situations. We’ll see if Kevin Stefanski can get more out of Baker Mayfield in 2020.
The Bengals are not a good team, obviously. But for a franchise in the early stages of a rebuild, there is at least reason to be excited. They have the skill players on offense to put up some points, and a franchise QB who has the makeup to be successful in the NFL. It’s a little puzzling why they didn’t invest more in their offensive line. We’ve all seen enough young quarterbacks get ruined playing behind porous offensive lines early in their career. I’m guessing they’re banking on last year’s low pressure percentage carrying more weight than their high sack rate when it comes to the ability to protect.
Colts (10-6), #4 Seed
I’m excited to watch Philip Rivers play behind a good offensive line instead of having to throw out of a phone-booth sized pocket, as he has for most of his career. He should help the downfield element of a Colts passing game that was near the bottom of the NFL in pass plays of 20 yards or more in 2019. The addition of DeForest Buckner should help generate more inside pressure, which should improve a pass rush that was in the middle of the pack a year ago.
Titans (10-6), #6 Seed
As Ryan Tannehill goes, this team will go. It seems like most people think the Miami-version of Tannehill is suddenly going to start showing up in Tennessee’s locker room on Sundays (That version wasn’t quite as bad as most now make it out to be, btw). I wouldn’t expect him to play quite as well as he did last year, but Tannehill has steadily improved over the last 5 years. Enough so to make me believe that last season wasn’t a fluke. His skillset meshes well with the style of offense the Titans want to play. It’s fair to ask how effective he’ll be if the running game isn’t firing on all cylinders. After all, we did see Tannehill struggle somewhat in the playoffs when the Titans weren’t able to use play-action. On defense, the additions of Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley should give the Titans the ability (when healthy) to get to the quarterback more frequently without necessarily needing to scheme pressure. The Titans improve as a team and finish 10-6 in 2020 but fail to beat the Colts out for the division.
The Texans’ inability to get to the quarterback really did them in last season. This was on full display during their abysmal performance against the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round. During the regular season, they finished 31st in the NFL in pressure % and 26th in sacks. This clearly hurt their ability to defend the pass, as they finished 29th in pass defense and 31st on 3rd down. They also were bottom 10 in the league against the run. Maybe new Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver can make a difference. More likely, this comes down to J.J. Watt’s health. Can he stay healthy? He missed 8 games last year and has missed 32 over the last 4 seasons due to injuries. I love Deshaun Watson, but the loss of DeAndre Hopkins is a significant one, especially since his new receiving corps is led by 3 players (Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, and Randall Cobb) with questionable injury histories. The Texans at full strength could go 10-6 and win the division again. Given the injury risk to so many key players on this team, the more likely outcome is a disappointing 2020.
What is there to say about this team really? They have a couple of nice young players and should be able to get to the quarterback on defense. But it kind of seems like most of the news coming out of Jacksonville this year will be about who the Jags are likely to take with the first pick in 2021.
Chiefs (14-2), #1 Seed
Generally, Super Bowl winners regress the following season. The Chiefs will be an exception to that rule. Keep in mind, Patrick Mahomes missed two games (and 3 quarters) last year and was playing at less than 100% for much of the season. Kansas City wasn’t really firing on all cylinders for much of 2019. That defense was also in its first year of adjusting to Steve Spagnuolo’s intricate schemes. It got better towards the end of the season and played a significant role in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run. If history shows us anything, it’s that Spagnuolo’s defenses get better late in year 1 and into year 2 after his schemes are better understood and executed by his players. The Chiefs are returning mostly the same personnel on defense as well. Between the D, Mahomes, and Andy Reid’s never-ending assortment of ways to create open receivers, I expect the Chiefs to be talking about a 3-peat this time next year.
I am very excited about the Raiders Offense, even with the season-ending injury to Tyrell Williams. Las Vegas has a versatile offensive approach under Jon Gruden with the ability to attack with all different types of offensive weapons. We might see the best version we’ve ever seen of Derek Carr. While the offense should keep the Raiders in most games, the defense is still a huge question mark, especially in the pass-rushing department. Enough so that it keeps them out of the playoffs.
The Broncos seem to be the popular pick to emerge as the surprise playoff team of 2020. They certainly have the talent on offense to justify that optimism. It’s off the charts at the skill positions, which is a great situation for a young quarterback to develop in. That said, we do have some concerns with Drew Lock. On the other side of the ball, we can say that Vic Fangio defenses are always well coached. And they’ll need to be this year since Von Miller is likely out for the year and Bradley Chubb (recovering from a torn ACL) will be eased back into the season. If this preview was written a day earlier, we’d have said that the Broncos would be putting up a year like the Bears Defense did under Fangio in 2018. The Von Miller injury changes the dynamic of this team, though, and keeps them out of the playoffs.
This defense struggled to get to the quarterback in 2019 (28th in Sacks), and that prevented them from generating turnovers (dead last in the NFL) or getting off the field on 3rd down (29th in the NFL). Despite a few nice offseason additions, and what should be a dynamic pass-rushing combo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the loss of Derwin James hurts. Given that the offense is in a bit of a revamp, you’d be hard pressed to see the Chargers do much this season. 2020 will be the Justin Herbert watch.
Wild Card Round
#2 Saints defeat #7 Cowboys
#6 Buccaneers defeat #3 Eagles
#5 49ers defeat #4 Packers
#1 Seahawks defeat #6 Buccaneers
#5 49ers defeat #2 Saints
#1 Seahawks defeat #5 49ers
Wild Card Round
#2 Steelers defeat #7 Bills
#3 Patriots defeat #6 Titans
#5 Ravens defeat #4 Colts
#1 Chiefs defeat #5 Ravens
#2 Steelers defeat #3 Patriots
#1 Chiefs defeat #2 Steelers
Super Bowl LV
#1 Chiefs defeat #1 Seahawks
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