NFL kickoff is less than a week away and like many of you, I’ve also been waiting and excited for this season ever since the Super Bowl ended. The 2020 season will be like none other, as their have been so many changes - arguably the greatest quarterback of all time Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay; Cam Newton replaces him in New England; Jason Garrett is replaced by Mike McCarthy in Dallas; Aaron Rodgers was blindsided with the Packers taking his future replacement in the 1st round of the NFL Draft; the Raiders officially move to Las Vegas, and of course the impact of COVID-19 impacting the world as well as the NFL, as their will be no fans at many football games this year. All in all, it's going to be a crazy season.
Here are my rapid fire breakdowns below, including a few predictions, on all 32 NFL teams for this year:
Kyler Murray was a bright spot for the 5-10-1 Cardinals last year and should be even better this year. The Cardinals front office did him a solid by trading for one of the five best wide receivers in the league in DeAndre Hopkins, to go with the 10th best rushing attack from last year. An important area where the Cardinals needed to improve was on defense and they did so in the offseason by adding Isaiah Simmons in the draft. However, it has been rookie 4th-rounder Rasheed Lawerence impressing his teammates and coaching staff during the 2020 offseason. The Arizona Cardinals will be improved, but how much so remains to be seen, being that they're in the NFL's best division with the 49ers and Seahawks above them.
Matt Ryan had one of the better seasons from all starting quarterbacks in the NFL last year, but he was not mentioned nearly enough simply because the Falcons didn’t make the playoffs. As good as Ryan is, he’s not a quarterback that can carry a team. That’s why the addition of Todd Gurley (if he remains healthy) is not only big for Ryan and the offense, but it's also big for the defense as well. By adding Gurley, it gives the Falcons offense more balance and a running game that defenses have to respect. It also helps out the defense by keeping them on the sidelines a little more. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints are still atop the NFC South, but the Atlanta Falcons should be a tough opponent for everybody.
The Ravens had the best +/- point differential last year and were the one team that sent the most players to the pro bowl. I think they’ll be just as good this season, as they added some key players this offseason through the draft and free agency. As dominant as the run game was, they needed to improve the passing attack and during training camp the wide receivers have been growing. This offense is gonna be even more dangerous, being led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, in addition to Mark Andrews, Mark Ingram & Co.
I have the Bills winning the AFC East by default because of the departure of Tom Brady. Buffalo has a top five defense in the league, although I think that’s their ceiling. I’m not high on Josh Allen, even though they brought in Stefon Diggs. Going into year three as a starting quarterback, there should be some signs leaning towards improvement for Allen, but based on the reports out of training camp he’s still struggling with accuracy and consistency, especially with his deep throws. The Bills are my pick to win their division, but it’s not a lock. A surprise team like the Miami Dolphins could shock some people in the AFC East.
The Panthers spending every draft pick on defense should tell you how much they think of their defense from a year ago and how much they need to improve on that side. I think they’ll be the team affected the most by the changes due to COVID-19 with a new coaching staff, a ton of new and young players who wil be forced to play a lot on both sides of the ball, in addition their limited practice time during the COVID-19 shortened offseason. A futures bet to take the Panthers' season win total under is probably worth a play.
The Bears enter this season with a top 10 defense from last year, but they had one of the worse offenses in the league, ranking 29th in PPG, 29th in YPG and 26th in passing offense behind Mitch Trubisky. Bringing in Nick Foles this offseason automatically created a quarterback controversy, sure, but I expect the Chicago Bears to have similar struggles offensively in 2020 and fail to meet expectations again.
Joe Mixon, who recently signed a long term deal with the Bengals, said he hopes to play his entire career with 1st overall pick Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. That’s high praise for the rookie signal-caller, who hasn’t even played a single NFL game yet. Burrow has earned the trust and respect from his coaches and teammates, and he is far along from where they thought he’d be a this point. The Bengals offense should score points and earn the respect of opposing defenses, but their defense will still be a major issue.
After severely failing to meet lofty expectations in 2019, the Browns are in a stronger position this year. Bringing in new head coach Kevin Stefanski should be beneficial for Baker Mayfield to help showcase his strengths and bring more consistency under center. Stefanski likes to use two tight end sets and run the ball, and the Browns have the personnel to be successful in that type of scheme. The biggest problem is that they’ll still be looking up at the Ravens, plus the Steelers should improve with a healthy Big Ben.
My pick to win the NFC East and potential dark horse to come out of the NFC. Dallas’ offense finished ranked 6th or better in PPG, YPG and passing offense last year and they still have one of the better offensive lines. A big factor from training camp is some of the veteran players approve of the coaching change from Garrett to McCarthy and will be motivated to prove the front office made the right decision.
A lot of people appear to be high on the Broncos this year, but I think they’re a year away from living up to those high expectations. Adding a bunch of young receivers for a young quarterback with limited practice time means that the need to develop some chemistry isn’t the best scenario in a COVID-19 shortened offseason. Drew Lock has impressed, but the Chiefs are still comfortably perched at the top the AFC West.
Before Matt Stafford was out for the year, the Lions were playing close to .500 and Stafford was putting up MVP-like numbers. Stafford returns and is my pick for comeback player of the year. The Lions have added some players in the offseason that are familiar with Matt Patricia’s system on defense. I think the Lions will surprise some teams and have a shot at winning the NFC North if Stafford remains healthy.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were the most overrated team last year and it showed the most in their two matchups with the San Francisco 49ers, where they lost by an average of 23 points. They did little to nothing to improve during the offseason and they used their first round pick on a quarterback in Jordan Love who can’t help them win this year. According to reports out of training camp, Love has been unimpressive at best. Either way, I don’t have the Packers making the playoffs this season.
The Texans are treating Deshaun Watson a lot like Russell Wilson and luckily for them he has the ability to live up to those expectations. But they’ll need to do a better job of protecting him as the offensive line allowed the eighth most sacks in 2019. With Watson’s favorite target in DeAndre Hopkins gone, third year tight end Jordan Akins could become one of Watson’s favoriteS. He’s been having a great camp plus over the last few years the tight end position is emerging as a more efficient and impactful position.
The Colts have a respectable defense from a year ago that should improve with the addition of one of the best interior defensive linemen in DeForest Buckner. Indianapolis also has a top five running game that should be even better by adding Jonathan Taylor. The most impactful addition, however is veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers. The Colts offense ranked 25th in YPG and 30th in pass offense. The Los Angeles Chargers offense, on the other hand, had a down year, but their passing offense still ranked sixth overall and Rivers won’t be asked to carry them like he had to do with the Chargers throughout last season.
If there exists a form of tanking in the NFL, the Jaguars are embodying that this season. All of their best players are now gone, and they’ll be relying on playing a lot of young guys with limited preparation and with a new offensive coordinator. If you can find odds on a team to go winless in 2020, consider the Jags.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are setup to compete and win Super Bowls for years to come by locking up the best quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes, on a team-friendly deal no less. I see this team winning another 12+ games. If there’s an area of improvement it’s the running game that ranked 22nd last year and they should improve that area after adding LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who’s impact is soon to be felt in both the running game and the passing game for Mahomes, Reid and company.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders got off to a solid start last year going, 6-4 through 10 weeks, but then injuries hit and showed a lack of depth on the roster. Oakland lost four straight games and eventually missed the playoffs again. I don’t think Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback, but if everything is lined up for him he can win games. The Raiders are also making the move to Sin City and teams making a move to a different city haven’t performed great in their first year in recent memory - Raiders in 1995, Rams in 2016 and Chargers 2017 - going a combined 21-27 in those three seasons combined between those franchises.
Los Angeles Chargers
With the Los Angeles Chargers having a top 10 offense and defense a year ago it’s hard to see why they not only missed the playoffs but only won five games. It came down to having too many turnovers. Phillip Rivers is out and Tyrod Taylor takes over. I don’t think Taylor is skilled enough to make plays downfield like Rivers is capable of, so it’s gonna come down to the Chargers rushing offense being explosive in helping to movie the ball downfield. If not, the Chargers will have to turn the keys over to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and hope he resembles some sort of play from Phillip Rivers in 2019 but with less turnovers.
Los Angeles Rams
Two years ago, the Rams risked it all for a Super Bowl and it didn’t work out. Now their in cap hell with little options to improve, the players they have currently on the roster all have to pan out in order for them to meet expectations. I don’t see it happening playing in the toughest division. Jared Goff is entering year five and still depends on help from his head coach to tell him where to go with the football vs defenses, and he no longer has an elite running game to rely on with the departure of Todd Gurley to Atlanta.
Under normal circumstances I would’ve liked the Dolphins to make the playoffs this year, but with adding a lot of young talent this offseason and limited practice time that prediction might have to be put on hold for a year. I think Tua is a generational quarterback, but he won’t be starting Week 1. He’s been impressing during training camp and I look for them to be better when he takes over for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Minnesota Vikings needed to get younger and cheaper this offseason while still remaining talented. They were able to do that, sure, but due to the COVID-19 shortened offseason they too will also be a team that I think will suffer from the limited practice time. I think they’re the best team in the NFC North, but not by much, as every team except for the Chicago Bears has a chance of winning that division title.
New England Patriots
After two decades of dominance, the reign for the Patriots has officially come to an end. Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay with a loaded roster and a number of key defensive guys from over the years are gone also. They do bring in Cam Newton, who I like, but if Brady, who’s the best quarterback of all time couldn’t do much of anything with those weapons, then we shouldn’t anticipate Newton doing much here either.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have had their season end in heartbreaking fashion over the last few years and it has me wondering how much more fight do they have left? Not to mention the NFC South has gotten significantly tougher with Tom Brady going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and if Todd Gurley remains healthy the Atlanta Falcons will be much improved and tougher. I do have the Saints winning 11-12 games, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they failed to meet expectations and won 7-9 games.
New York Giants
I think the Giants improve from a year ago, but not by much, as they still have to deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East division, as well as with the other loaded NFC teams in the conference. The Giants are also bringing in a new head coach in Joe Judge with no head coaching experience, and a new offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett, who failed to meet expectations with the Dallas Cowboys. With limited practice time, they’re another team I think will be negatively effected. If they’re not the worst team in New York, then the 2020 season should be consider a success.
New York Jets
This will be the last year for Adam Gase in New York. There’s been little to no improvement under him, he doesn’t have great relationships with his players and most of them wanted out and Sam Darnold has yet to meet expectations of a franchise QB. Reports out of camp indicate that the wide receiver position still remains an issue, so I don’t expect much of anything from the Jets. At least New York has the Yankees.
The Eagles had a great offseason with the draft and free agency, but they’re number one issue remains their health. They have to replace another starting offensive linemen after Andre Dillard went down, and rookie wideout Jalen Reagor also went down with an injury. Carson Wentz is dealing with a back issue that has kept him out of practice. It’s difficult to get a proper evaluation of this team because there is seemingly always a cluster of injuries since their Super Bowl year, but if Philadelphia can find a way to stay healthy, then they have the talent to compete with some of the best teams in the league and win their division.
With Big Ben returning to a team that had a top 5 defense and capable weapons on offense, the Steelers should be back in the playoffs. It's hard to make an argument against them, as Big Ben is a veteran that knows how to win and the defense hasn’t got any worse. Benny Snell has been having an impressive camp and a solid running game is what Big Ben would need to lean on as he’s returning from injury.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers had 50+ games missed by key starters and still had a MOV of +10. I think they have one of, if not the deepest roster in the NFL. Jimmy Garoppolo has caught a lot of criticism for his play in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl but he still had a great year for his first full year as a starter and reports out of training camp are he’s even better with his decision making. The 49ers also loaded up with more weapons by drafting Brandon Aiyuk, the returns of running back Jerick McKinnon and wide receiver Trent Taylor, and also adding tight end Jordan Reed (who all have had amazing camps). This team is better than last year, which is saying a lot, and will be motivated to get back to the Super Bowl and finish off the job. This is my back to win the Super Bowl and Jimmy G is also worth a bet to win MVP at 30-35/1 odds.
Russell Wilson is the glue that holds it together in Seattle, as the Seahawks had the most close wins last year and will need much of the same this year to meet expectations in the tough NFC West division. The Seahawks didn’t do much to improve their defense this offseason until they added Jamal Adams, but I don’t see it as a significant upgrade, as the Jets defense ranked 17th last year in the passing game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The biggest thing that held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back last year was Jameis Winston’s enormous amount of turnovers. The Bucs offense ranked 3rd in YPG, 4th in PPG and 1st in passing offense and considering how much time their defense spent on the field, they still ranked 15th respectively in YPG. Tom Brady does not put the ball in harms way, however and he has so many weapons at his disposal compared to New England. The Bucs just recently added Leonard Fournette, who improves the run game as well as the passing game. This is my pick to win the NFC South and make the NFC Championship game.
The Titans came on strong last year when Ryan Tannehill took over, but I expect them to take a step back this year. Defensive coordinators have had the offseason to break down his strengths and weaknesses and he won’t have the ability to surprise teams this year. Also, Derrick Henry almost reached 400 carries on the season in 2019 and it’ll be difficult to produce at a high level again with that type of a workload.
Washington Football Team
Not a lot on the Washington Football Team. I like their defensive line with the addition of Chase Young in the 2020 NFL Draft, but outside of that, not much else. This year should be committed to seeing if Dwayne Haskins has what it takes to be their franchise quarterback. Washington invested a high draft pick in Haskins, and he’s showed signs of being the franchise guy, but he obviously needs more time.