Last Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs successfully defended their throne against the Houston Texans; simultaneously quenching a nation’s thirst for football and officially kick-starting the 2020 NFL season. But beyond the final 34 – 20 score at Arrowhead Stadium, it was the sight of professional football finally being played by two of the NFL’s finest teams that had me on the edge of my seat.
Watching the excellent play from star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson on TNF got me thinking about the other teams in the NFL, likely also watching and preparing for their own games over the weekend.
How will they fair during this wildly unusual season?
Completely ignoring any specific performances or outcomes in their Week 1 matchups, here are my overall thoughts and postseason predictions about each of the 32 NFL teams in the upcoming 2020 season.
New England Patriots – Wild Card potential
This year’s version of the Pats are going to go a long way towards answering one of the NFL’s previously unanswerable questions… How much of the team’s preceding success was due to Tom Brady and how much was due to Bill Belichick? With Cam Newton at the helm and a bunch of COVID opt-outs on defense, we won’t know for certain. But I’m excited to see how the season shakes out for the perennial powerhouse and see what new perspectives we’re able to glean this year.
Buffalo Bills – Division winner
With the Patriots potentially taking a step back, the Bills are finally in position to take the AFC East… If they can put it all together. Adding Stephon Diggs to the offense packs a lot of downfield pop to support a promising running game. They’re a balanced roster, with a stout defense and potent offense. Assuming Josh Allen and Devin Singletary can both take steps forward this year, the Bills feel like the team to beat in the division.
New York Jets – Not gonna happen
The Jets are a team in a perpetual state of trying to get better but never really getting better. Which is odd, given the investments they’ve made in talented players on both sides of their roster. To me, it’s a story of poor management and a misunderstanding of how to build a culture of winning from top to bottom. It’s not bought, but built, and I don’t know if the Jets understand that. Also, Adam Gase is a terrible head coach who shouldn’t be employed in 2021.
Miami Dolphins – Not this year
The Fins are in an interesting position in 2020. They’ve spent the last two years stripping down their roster, trading valuable players away for draft picks and finally, starting to assemble a new franchise on the rise. The question now isn’t are they ready to contend, because they aren’t, but rather which pieces fit the new team and which ones don’t. Specifically, is Tua Tagovailoa the QB of the future? Most likely, but we need to see it before believing it in Miami. Until then, let the Fitzmagic fly.
Baltimore Ravens – Division winner
The Ravens are the most exciting team in the NFL because of Lamar Jackson and how dedicated the team is to taking advantage of his unique skills. Last year, the Ravens essentially took the NFL by storm, unleashing a rushing offense unlike anything else in the league. This year, with opposing defensive coordinators having had months to study and prepare for the Raven’s dynamic attack, will they succeed as easily as last year? We shall see. If Jackson can stay healthy, it’s entirely possible they’ll take the division and run all the way to the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Wild Card potential
Last year, with Antonio Brown shipped out of town, everyone watching the Steelers wanted to see what the offense would look like with Juju Smith-Schuster as the leading receiver. Unfortunately, those curiosities were vaporized when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury in game one and the anticipated new-dynamic-duo never materialized. However, the Steelers defense was exceptional and carried the team all year. In 2020, all eyes turn to Pittsburgh to see if the defense is still there (it is) and if the offense can finally join them (fingers-crossed).
Cleveland Browns – Wild Card potential
The Browns had a lot of hype around them in 2019, having acquired Odell Beckham Jr. and coming off a successful rookie season from Baker Mayfield. But the team struggled to put it all together, especially among some of the less-exciting positions, like the offensive line, and the season was ultimately lost. So, what will 2020 bring to the desperate fans in Cleveland? The front office made a lot of smart moves in the offseason, and I have high hopes for their success. But, they’ve got two tough opponents in division to get past first.
Cincinnati Bengals – Not this year
As the owners of the #1 overall pick, the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow to lead their franchise in 2020 and well beyond. Putting all your hopes in a rookie QB can be a dangerous gamble, but Burrow seems poised to meet the challenge—he excelled at the collegiate level on good reads and decision making, rather than flashy moves. Add a new QB to a trio of fast, talented receivers and a quality running game and there’s a lot of room to grow. They’re not going anywhere this year, but the future looks bright in Cincinnati… Finally.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Not gonna happen
Oh man, the 2020 Jags are a total dumpster fire. They’ve traded and/or cut talented players to clear the books and appear to be tanking this season altogether. However, no NFL player steps on the field looking to lose a game, so they’re sure to have a few unexpected wins this year. And shame on the teams that allow an upset from Jacksonville this year. Nothing else to add, except Gardner Minshew is a boss.
Houston Texans – Wild Card potential
Despite trading away one of the best receivers in the league in the offseason, the Texans are still a good team. Why? Deshaun Watson is a very good quarterback, and sometimes, it’s really that simple. Bill O’Brien might be a sub-par GM, but he’s a good head coach who knows how to put together a quality offensive and defensive scheme. Winning the division won’t be easy, and they’ve got a tough schedule this year, but don’t sleep on the Texans in 2020.
Indianapolis Colts – Division winner
After the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck last year, the Colts were a franchise in disarray. And they played like it. This year, they’ve added a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and added new juice in the backfield with the stout Jonathan Taylor. The question facing the Colts now is how quickly can a team with so many new pieces all start to work together. I’m predicting a better than expected run from Indy in the regular season and a playoff berth with a bye week to show for it.
Tennessee Titans – Wild Card potential
The Titans broke every expectation last year when they made it to the AFC Championship game. They were driven by a powerhouse running game by the name of Derrick Henry and better-than-expected play from QB Ryan Tennehill and WR A.J. Brown. In the offseason, the Titans did the seemingly impossible by bringing both Henry and Tennehill back, essentially doubling down on their previous recipe for success. Will it work out in 2020? Maybe, but when your team is a mostly one-trick pony, it can be hard to overcome well-coached defenses.
Kansas City Chiefs – Division winner
As the reigning Super Bowl Champions, what can be said about the Chiefs that hasn’t already been said. They’re good. Like, really good. From excellent coaching and elite QB play to a hotshot rookie running back and literally the fastest wideout in the league, KC has everything a contending team needs to, well, contend. Due to a limited preseason, one of the most critical factors to win football games in 2020 is continuity between the play-caller and the play-executer, and for the Chiefs, the Andy Reid / Patrick Mahomes connection is as strong as ever.
Los Angeles Chargers – Not this year
The Chargers are in a bit of a transformation in 2020. This year, they said goodbye to the former-face-of-the-franchise, Philip Rivers, and pivoted to established QB journeyman, Tyrod Taylor while also drafting a QB for the future in Justin Herbert. On the defensive side of the ball, another disastrous injury to standout playmaker Derwin James will limit the team’s ability to
shutdown opponents. To me, the Bolts feel like a team with about half the pieces they need, and in the NFL, it takes a lot more than that to make a run towards the postseason.
Denver Broncos – Not this year
The Broncos confuse me just about every year. After fueling the last ride of Payton Manning a few years ago, they brought in… Joe Flacco. Then, once it was clear Flacco isn’t going to take them anywhere, they pivot to Drew Lock. And to me, Lock is the embodiment of good (compared to regular people), but not good enough (compared to professional quarterbacks). I can’t imagine the Broncos doing much in their division, or beyond it, without exceptional pieces surrounding Lock. And this year’s splashy acquisition, Melvin Gordon, isn’t going to cut it.
Las Vegas Raiders – Not this year
Will the bright lights of Las Vegas be the ultimate source of success for the Raiders? Who knows. Not this year, but the real star of the Raiders, head coach Jon Gruden, has made some smart personnel decisions in developing the team of tomorrow. From RB Josh Jacobs to WR Henry Ruggs III, the Raiders have intriguing weapons going forward, but need to get better in a variety of other position groups before they can really threaten anyone.
New York Giants – Not this year
The Giants look like a solid B- average team, but it’s a deceptive grade because star RB, Saquan Barkley is a genuine A+ talent standing next to a cluster of C+, C, and C- pieces. Quarterback Daniel Jones might actually be okay in the NFL, and the receiving core has talent, but none are real standouts. And defensively, the G-Men just aren’t there. Like the other team in New York, the Giants seem to suffer from mismanagement in the front office more than the rest of the NFL, but 2020 isn’t going to be the year it turns around.
Philadelphia Eagles – Not this year
Philly is either the unluckiest team in the league or the decision-makers have terrible scouting, I just don’t know how else to explain their consistent woes. After winning the Super Bowl a few years ago, the Eagles have had all hopes of returning dashed by season-ending injuries to key players in almost every position group—both last year but even before this year began too. It’s weird. I’d feel bad for the fans in Philly, but they’re legendarily terrible fans towards other teams, so I’m not sure they deserve any sympathy.
Dallas Cowboys – Division winner
Let me begin by saying that I don’t like the Cowboys. From the “America’s Team” nickname to Jerry Jones, I just don’t like much about them whatsoever. Having said that, they have several talented players on both sides of the ball, and in 2020, a new head coach (thank goodness), so despite my personal feelings, I think Dallas is a real threat this year. Not only are they better than the average NFC team, their division is hot garbage, so they should easily put up double digit wins this year and take the division.
Washington Football Team – Not gonna happen
Like several others, the newly-unnamed Washington Football Team is a franchise in a rebuild with multiple front office problems to boot. With the #2 overall pick in the offseason, they took hotshot pass-rusher Chase Young who instantly adds pop to their defense. Offensively, there’s a lot of work to do, but if young QB Dwayne Haskins can take a step forward (or ideally about 2.5 steps forward), maybe this team can be competitive in the near future. But, probably not until they can sort out the problems they’re literally wearing on their sleeves, like a new team name.
Green Bay Packers – Division winner
For better or worse, the Packers are synonymous with Aaron Rogers to me. Partially because he’s been slicing and dicing defenses at Lambeau Field for years and partially because he embodies the gun-slinger mentality of older QBs—many of whom have left the NFL entirely to make way for the rise of younger, mobile quarterbacks. But Rogers remains, likely due more to his will than anything else. And for a player powered by the size of the chip on his shoulder, watching GB draft their next QB this offseason will likely fuel Rogers to utter excellence this year. Watch him will his way to the postseason. Just watch.
Detroit Lions – Wild Card potential
In 2019, the Lions we’re a team of two halves; the first with a healthy Matt Stafford throwing bombs and winning games and the second without Stafford, without bombs, and without wins. This year, assuming Stafford can stay healthy, and the Lions can rediscover their 2019 form, they’ve got all the tools they need to succeed and just maybe find their way into the playoffs. It’s not a lock, obviously, Matt Patricia is their coach, but things are looking frisky in Motor City.
Minnesota Vikings – Wild Card potential
The Vikings were a better-than-expected team last year due to a high-powered offense that emphasized a rushing attack from Dalvin Cook. However, stacked on top of that base, QB Kirk Cousins threw efficiently to his star wideouts, Adam Theilen and Stephon Diggs (now on the Bills). That balance; run most of the time and don’t miss when you do throw, was an effective plan in 2019, but without Diggs, the question of repeatability looms in Minnesota. I think they’ll have plenty of success this year and will push the Packers for the division, but will ultimately fall short of their potential. Don’t sleep on the Vikings, but don’t put all your eggs in their basket either.
Chicago Bears – Not this year
Oh, the Bears. The imposing defense has aged, the floundering offence hasn’t improved, and the coaching isn’t able to admit they were wrong with 2017’s #2 overall pick, quarterback Mitch Trubisky. I understand how hard it must be to recognize your mistake and move on, but I firmly believe that Trubisky will limit the Bears ability to move the ball until he is replaced by Nick Foles. Then, and only then, will the team be able to make a real decision about the future of the team. Is Foles the right QB to lead the Bears back into the limelight? I have doubts about all that, but I’m certain he’s better than Trubisky.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Wild Card potential
The Bucs are the flip side of the Patriots coin. With Tom Brady under center, I expect better QB play than last year (understatement of the year) which should elevate the team’s wideouts. However, this roster is half established Buccaneers and half established vets (another giant understatement), and 2020 is not the best time to try and get a bunch of new-to-each-other players on the same page. Also, how much gas does Brady have left in the tank? We’ll find out soon enough, but don’t count them out. While I’m expecting a wobbly start to the season, I won’t be surprised if Brady can assemble his team into a very competitive form ahead of schedule.
New Orleans Saints – Division Winner
As I said before, the secret to success in 2020 is continuity between the play-caller and the play-executer. And I place the Saints at the top, or very close to the top, of that particular mountain. Sean Payton and Drew Brees have one last ride in store for the NFC and I expect them to compete aggressively this year. The weapons to score are in place. The defense is very good. And the decision makers are in lock-step with each other. There aren’t a lot of surprises to come out of New Orleans, other than Taysom Hill, but even when you know what to expect it’s hard to stop them. To me, the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC.
Carolina Panthers – Not this year
Yet another team jumping into a new season with new play-callers. Both new coach, Matt Rhule and new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater will try to get their team rowing in the same direction as quickly as possible, but that’s easier said than done. However, the Panthers have the best running back in the league, Christian McCaffrey, supporting the offence, so there are reasons to be excited about the team’s future… Just not in 2020.
Atlanta Falcons – Wild Card potential
It feels like Matt Ryan has been throwing perfect passes to Julio Jones in Atlanta forever. And that’s not true, but it also feels like the Falcons are perpetually falling short of their potential. Other than their Super Bowl appearance and collapse a few years back, they’ve consistently failed across the board as a team. It’s odd, because Ryan is good and Jones is great, but as with so many other franchises, it takes more than a few pieces to win each and every week. Whether it’s the correct response or not, the 2020 season will decide if head coach Dan Quinn still has a job in Georgia… But they’ve gotta get it together on the field first.
Arizona Cardinals – Wild Card potential
Last year, the Cardinals were a team defined by change. Both the team’s head coach, Kliff Kingsbury and starting quarterback, Kyler Murray were brand new to the league. Additionally, the team’s star running back, David Johnson, who had been the centerpiece of the team’s offence for the previous few years, was hobbled by injuries. After trading the fire-sale Miami Dolphins for running back, Kenyan Drake last year and adding elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the offseason, they’re a team on the rise to be sure. Hopkins should open up the
offense for Drake and/or Murray to run wild, allowing for a whole new kind of football in Arizona.
Los Angeles Rams – Wild Card potential
In my opinion, the Rams are remarkably unbalanced when it comes to talent. They have the best defensive pass rusher in Aaron Donald, one of the best pass defenders in Jalen Ramsey, and good pass catchers in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. However, once you look past those names, the picture starts to sour. Beginning with quarterback Jared Goff, who despite his high draft pick, has never impressed me as either a quiet decision maker or a loud leader. Rather, Goff appears to be an overpaid game-manager type whose real job is to be head coach Sean McVay’s proxy on the field, executing his game plan to the best of his abilities. In another division, the Rams would probably be frontrunners, but in the NFC west, they’re going to need a lot of luck to sniff the postseason.
San Francisco 49ers – Wild Card potential
Let me begin by saying that I despise the San Francisco 49ers. I disliked them when they were good and challenged for the division. I disliked them when they were bad and weren’t any fun to beat. And I dislike them now, more than ever, as the world has so quickly embraced them as the most incredible team in the NFC, too easily dismissing everyone else essentially overnight. I understand that Kyle Shanahan is a great coach with innovative ideas about how his team can move the ball. And it’s all very exciting and impressive, sure. But where I draw the line is at Jimmy Garoppolo. Is he an Aaron Rogers or Drew Brees type, who can go win a game? No. Is he even a Kirk Cousins or Ryan Tennehill type, who can be relied on to make accurate passes and not lose the game? I’m not sold yet. I just don’t see him ever transcending the best of the best at the position, but maybe they don’t need that to win. They are good, no doubt about it, but I question how great they can become. Despite virtually everyone picking them to win the division, I wonder if they’ll even be competitive down the stretch. We’ll see.
Seattle Seahawks – Division winner
Ok, finally the Seahawks. Not only my favorite team, but my pick to win the NFC West outright and make a run at the Super Bowl in 2020. I know that’s a homer pick, but hear me out. As I’ve asserted earlier, continuity is the secret to success this year and the Hawks are among the very top of any kind of team continuity list. Other than the rookies and a few outstanding free agent additions, the team is virtually the same as last year. Moreover, the areas of weakness from 2019 were the result of inexperience more than anything else, giving me optimism about the team’s potential for organic growth. But most importantly, the Hawks are led by Russell Wilson who is the BEST OVERALL QB in the NFL. He might not be as flashy as Jackson or as extraordinary as Mahomes, but year-in and year-out, Wilson delivers elite play in the most important moments. He can take over a game instantly, unleashing the most dazzling plays you’ve even seen and defying the odds to extract victory from the jaws of defeat. Or, when things go wrong, he’s the first to truly shrug it off and focus on the next opportunity to make them go right. In his ninth season, Wilson is arguably still finding the upper limits of his talent, and as the Hawks “Let Russ Cook” more and more, I expect to see a MVP-winning season from #3, leading his team to win the division, the conference, and ultimately, face the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. That’s a lot to expect, but I have no reason to expect any less in 2020. Go Hawks!