2020 NFL Season Playoff Predictions & Season Recap
The best part about the new year? The NFL playoffs begin very, very soon.
We only have a little bit of time before the games begin, so let’s jump right into the action and recap the season in a nutshell.
Lamar Jackson was the big story this season- the second year Baltimore quarterback led his Ravens to a 14-2 record and the overall #1 seed in the playoffs. We were all wowed when he threw 6 touchdown passes to open the season against Miami, and the rest of the team really rallied around him from there on out. Mark Ingram, who many thought was in the twilight of his career, had a solid season at the RB position, and assisted Jackson as Baltimore led the league in team rushing yards. Jackson’s ability to work the pocket as a true passer (instead of just the ground threat everyone thought he was) inspired receivers like Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to have solid seasons. Even the defense was spectacular: the Ravens ranked 3rd in yards allowed and 4th in points allowed. They ride a 12-game winning streak into these playoffs, and look like the most prepared team to take home a Super Bowl title.
The Patriots, having started the season 8-0, went 4-4 down the stretch, including two consecutive losses at Houston and against Kansas City, and an embarrassing stunner in week 17 at home against the Miami Dolphins, the last of which tossed them out of contention for a first round bye. They will play their first wild card game in 10 years against the Titans. Their defense has been stellar, though, ranking first in the league in yards and points allowed. But Tom Brady, now 42, has not had his best season, although it doesn’t help that he hasn’t had many receivers to throw to. They will need help from players like N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Benjamin Watson, as well as some productivity from staples like Julian Edelman, Sony Michel and James White- although they face three teams with stout defenses.
The Kansas City Chiefs finished with the same record as last season, although it was a far less productive year for defending MVP Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes threw only 26 touchdown passes this year, half of what he threw last year. They did have a great second half of the year, and players like Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins have all made names for themselves during the year thanks in part to a boost from their quarterback.
On the NFC side, no one expected the San Francisco 49ers to finish the season at 13-3 with the top seed in the NFC, but if you saw their body of work this season, they definitely earned it. Spearheaded by a fantastic defensive effort (ranked 2nd best in the league in both yards and points allowed), a young offensive group has quietly become one of the best in all of football. Jimmy Garoppolo is the quarterback we all envisioned him being, but a run game that has involved three backs, each with their own fantastic play, has been the envy of all, with Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman all sharing the load. They will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The only downside- it appears the 49ers have been having to escape from games down the stretch. They just barely survived scares against the Saints, Rams, and Seahawks to end the season.
Green Bay is back in the playoffs behind the terrific play of Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones, who carried the Packers quietly to a 13-3 record of their own. What stands out most about this Packers team is its defense, which had a habit of bending and not breaking. This team was 6-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They may not have the same firepower as the Saints or 49ers, but if they can keep the game close and keep Aaron Jones firing on all cylinders, we may see a return to glory for Rodgers and the Packers.
Back in mid-August, I made some bold predictions in regards to how I thought the 2019 NFL season might go. Some of my picks were right on, others were complete whiffs. Still, I did fare a little better than last season. In addition, I also predicted the record of every team in the league, as well as a way-too-early playoff prediction.
Let’s see how I fared with those:
1. The Cleveland Browns won’t make the playoffs.
With an offense that included the likes of Jarvis Landry, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Odell Beckham, many thought the Browns were a strong pick to make the playoffs, and perhaps even win the Super Bowl.
The Browns, however, are still the Browns. The team lacked any kind of consistency or accountability under head coach Freddie Kitchens. Beckham became an afterthought, and had possibly has worst full season as a professional. Pair it with the emergence of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, as well as the Steelers ability to just hang around in the AFC North, the Browns found themselves at 6-10 in their 2019 campaign- more lost games than in 2018- a finish that solidified them as the only franchise without a winning record in this decade. Perhaps the firing of Freddie Kitchens will bring about some kind of new beginnings in 2020.
2. Juju Smith-Schuster will finish with more catches, receiving yards than Antonio Brown.
I wrote all this when Antonio Brown was in the midst of his infighting with the Oakland Raiders. In a wild span of 24 hours, Brown went from grabbing a coach and threatening him, to not being able to play, to being cleared to play, to wanting to be cut, to being cut, to being signed by the Patriots. So count it… that equals almost five times I thought Smith-Schuster was going to prove me right just on technicality alone. When Brown signed with the Patriots, I thought things might swing the other way. The previously undefeated Patriots looked even more unstoppable after signing one of the best receivers in football. 10 days later amid sexual assault allegations, the Patriots cut Brown, leaving Smith-Schuster as the only of the two receivers in the league. Brown finished with 4 catches for 56 yards and one touchdown in New England’s week 2 win over Miami. Smith-Schuster, on the other hand, may well have just sat out the season after his dismal campaign: He played 12 games, had 42 receptions for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hampered by injury, it was a season for him to forget. I mean, hell, it was a season for BOTH these men to forget.
Prediction: Correct. But I mean by technicality?
3. The Giants will win more games this year than they did last year (5)… even though Daniel Jones won’t replace Eli Manning as starter.
There were two predictions here: that the Giants would win more games than they did last year, and the Eli Manning would not lose his job. Both of those things were proven untrue. In week 3, head coach Pat Shurmer announced that Daniel Jones would replace Manning in their game against Tampa Bay. For the then-winless Giants, perhaps it was going to be the right move, as Jones’ brilliant performance against Tampa resulted in a huge comeback win for New York. Pair it with a win the next week against Washington to even their record out at 2-2, and things looked like they were going to be okay for the Giants (and for me). All they needed to make my call a reality was for Jones to get hurt or something.
The Giants lost the next 9 in a row, officially ruling out my prediction with a loss in week 14 in overtime to the Eagles. Jones got hurt in the process, allowing Manning to come in and take over in the process, but Jones returned for the final three games of the season. The Giants finish at 4-12, two games worse than last year, and face the future with the Duke product leading the offense.
Prediction: Doubly incorrect.
4. Patrick Mahomes will not surpass 40 touchdown passes this year.
In fairness to this past season’s MVP, no quarterback passed for over 40 touchdowns this season. Even Lamar Jackson, this season’s probable MVP, led the league with only 36. Perhaps this prediction was only a softball to prove a point that even good players regress. There haven’t been many quarterbacks to pass for 40 touchdowns in consecutive seasons anyway. Drew Brees was the last one to do it, but he’s Drew Brees. Mahomes also lost a game or two to injury this season, leaving Matt Moore to take over for him. Pair it with a season of throwing to players like Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman, and you can imagine that 40 touchdown passes is a little difficult. He finishes the season with 26, essentially half of what he had in his MVP year last season.
5. Nick Foles will finish as a top-10 quarterback.
Foles broke his collarbone in week 1, ruining any chance of this prediction coming true. He did, however, give us Gardner Minshew in the process, which is like pickled root vegetables at my Thanksgiving table: wholly unexpected but delightfully thankful for. Next.
6. The Broncos and Redskins will finish with identical records this year.
The Redskins have a toxic team culture and were heralded as one of the worst teams in football out of the gate. Christ, their two quarterbacks were Case Keenum (of one-hit wonderdom in Minnesota, allowing teams to horrendously overvalue him) and Dwayne Haskins, the rookie who bitched about not being taken by the Giants, threw his first ever NFL touchdown pass TO THAT SAME GIANTS TEAM (a pick six), and then desperately pleaded to his linemen to give him direction on what to do in order to survive a collapsing pocket, only to have his linemen literally laugh in his face. The Redskins finished 3-13.
The Broncos initially looked to be right on that losing track as well, as Joe Flacco quickly proved that he was not the answer at quarterback for Denver. The team started 0-4, won two in a row, then lost 4 out of their next five, including a game in Minnesota where they blew a 23-0 lead. Enter: Drew Lock, who started the final five games for the Broncos, and led them to four wins out of their last five, getting the Broncos to 7-9 to end the year. Receiver Courtland Sutton had a breakout year, ending as one of the up-and-coming young players in the league. I guess a quarterback swap doesn’t mean the two squads are equal.
7. The Rams will miss the playoffs.
Blame it on a strong NFC West (and the NFC West was STRONG). Blame it on whatever you want. The Super Bowl hangover was real for the former NFC Champions this season. Despite early season wins against the Panthers, Saints and Browns, the team struggled, losing their next three in a row and surrendering 105 points in the process (a shootout loss to James Winston and the Buccaneers? Come on.). A 45-6 home thrashing by the Baltimore Ravens all but killed the Rams playoff hopes. Even though trading for Jalen Ramsey was a cool thing, it didn’t help that the Rams just weren’t up to snuff for this year.
8. Josh Rosen and the Dolphins will make Kyler Murray and the Cardinals look silly.
Well how was I supposed to know that the Dolphins would suck in AUGUST!? Many thought the Dolphins would even go 0-16 (although 5-11 sucks just as much). After being outscored in their first two games by a combined scored of 102-10, Josh Rosen took the reins from Ryan Fitzpatrick in week 3, but didn’t fare much better, as the Dolphins continued to lose, dropping their first 8 in a row.
Arizona’s season was streaky. After a tie against Detroit in the season’s opener, the Cardinals lost three, won three, lost 6, won two, and lost their season finale. Kyler Murray was, on the whole, not terrible, leading comebacks in games against Atlanta, the Giants, and even Detroit, even if it was a tie. Despite the teams finishing with near identical records, I’m giving the win to Kyler Murray, who showed much more promise in his rookie season than Josh Rosen did… riding the bench for his second year in a row.
9. Melvin Gordon will play this season.
Gordon ended his holdout after week 10, rejoining the Chargers for the rest of the season. Still, Austin Ekeler was able to remain efficient out of the backfield as a receiving option- which was good for my fantasy team.
10. The Patriots will finish with a top-5 defensive unit.
As anticipated, the Patriots finished the season with the best defense in the NFL. Through the first 8 weeks of the season, they allowed no more than 14 points to opposing teams, finishing with 14 average points allowed throughout the season, ranking first in that category, as well as first in yards allowed. While the offense was just average, the defense was stellar, the secondary especially. Stephon Gilmore has made a strong case for himself for defensive player of the year with 6 interceptions, two of them for touchdowns, to go along with 20 passes defended, the most in his 8 year NFL career. While we have yet to see if the defense can return to the form they assumed through the first eight weeks of the season in the playoffs, we can take comfort in the fact that they were simply outstanding this year, a rarity for New England- where the defense is the talking point over the offense.
I also predicted the standings and playoff teams early in the year, and finished a little better in 2019 than I did in 2018.
I correctly predicted 8 out of the 12 playoff teams. I had all my division winners in the AFC correct, although the placement of these teams did not go the way I planned:
As for the records, I fared about as well as I could from banking on my potential playoff teams. Here are the records I correctly predicted from the beginning of the season, all four of them:
Now, with all my guessing out of the way, let's cap this off with some predictions, now that our playoff window is narrowed to 12 teams. Here are my official playoff predictions for the postseason of the NFL's 100th season.
Wild Card Weekend (Jan 5-6)
#5 Buffalo Bills (10-6) at #4 Houston Texans (10-6)
Saturday, January 4th, 4:35pm (ESPN)
(Texans favored by 3)
Buffalo is a dangerous team to take lightly, and I think we’re all about to see their coming out party in Houston for the first Wild Card game. The Bills’ defense is excellent, and if they can keep pressure on Deshaun Watson and keep him in the pocket, they should have no problem winning. What is Watson gonna do? Throw to DeAndre Hopkins the whole game when he’s being doubled, and try to hit Will Fuller if Tre’davious White has anything to say about it? The Texans run game is also unimpressive. When was the last time Carlos Hyde had a career-defining game? Josh Allen has developed into the quarterback the team thought he’d be, and has shown that he can win in primetime against big time teams. Buffalo wins in a game that is not as close as the score indicates.
Prediction: Buffalo 23, Houston 13
#6 Tennessee Titans (9-7) at #3 New England Patriots (12-4)
Saturday, January 4th, 8:15pm (CBS)
(Patriots favored by 5)
Okay. I, again, am hereby declaring the Patriots dead in the water. A potential Tennessee-Kansas City-Baltimore Gauntlet is too much for them, considering the way they’ve looked over the last six weeks. Tennessee scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs thanks to the play of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, who have both been brilliant down the stretch. You can run against this stout Patriots defense- and to be honest, as of late, you can pass against them too. On offense, Tom Brady has no one to throw to…. At least, no one who’s been wiling to show up and make a play. He can’t throw the ball to Edelman or the tight end he doesn’t have. The Patriots should view their week 17 home loss to Miami as a wake-up call, and I think they’ll bring a certain type of underdog energy to this game. I expect them to win, but I won’t be surprised if they lose. Remember what happened the last time these two played? That was an embarrassing loss in Tennessee to Mike Vrabel’s squad by double digits. This one will be close. At least their last win of 2019 will be at home before they get squashed by Kansas City in the divisional round.
Prediction: New England 27, Tennessee 24
#6 Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at #3 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Sunday, January 5th, 1:05pm (FOX)
(Saints favored by 7.5)
Remember what happened the last time these two faced each other in the playoffs? It was a fun little walk-off victory for the Vikings on a play now known as the Minneapolis Miracle. These two are different in 2019. The Vikings were just north of average, with Kirk Cousins showing that he’s still got a little bit left in the tank, and the defense playing pretty well too. Dalvin Cook has been a revelation, but his injury late in the regular season has left some question marks about whether Alexander Mattison and Matt Boone can succeed against real talent going forward. Drew Brees is out for blood after the botched PI call in last year’s NFC Championship game, looking to win one last Super Bowl before his career comes to an end. The offense is rolling thanks to Brees, Alvin Kamara, and especially Michael Thomas, who would be in the conversation for MVP were it not for a certain Baltimore quarterback. The defense isn’t spectacular, but against Minnesota, I don’t think that should be a problem for New Orleans. I anticipate a big home win in the Wild Card round. The dream remains alive for Brees and the Saints.
Prediction: New Orleans 36, Minnesota 21
#5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at #4 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Sunday, January 5th, 4:40pm (NBC)
(Seahawks favored by 1.5)
Both teams are battered by injury, sure. But these two are not even on the same planet when it comes to comparing talent. The Eagles have no one for Carson “I’m Made of Glass” Wentz to throw to. The Seahawks lost all their running backs, and have now attempted to revive the corpse of Beast Mode to recapture that glory from the Legion of Boom days. Still, the Seahawks are the better team because Russell Wilson is the better quarterback of the two. There is no one better in the league right now that scrambling to make something out of nothing, finding receivers in traffic, and truly putting the team on is back. Wilson throws three touchdown passes as the Seahawks roll.
Prediction: Seattle 31, Philadelphia 14
#5 Seattle Seahawks at #1 San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, January 11th, 4:35pm (NBC)
Ah yes. Seattle-San Francisco, Round 3. We were in this exact same position back around Veterans Day, where the two had that epic clash on Monday night where the Seahawks won in overtime. Now, San Francisco has just been escaping in games since that point, a prime example being week 17 when their defense made an excellent stop on the one yard line to seal a win and lock up the #1 overall seed. The 49ers are a team that is at full strength, but do they have the experience needed to go all the way to the Super Bowl? Jimmy Garoppolo has yet to have a game placed squarely on his shoulders. I think San Francisco’s ground attack serves them well here considering they have so many options to work with. Mostert, Breida and Coleman have all had their spotlight moments this year, so maybe we’ll see all three of them? Seattle is not a walkover, though. They are able to move the ball against San Francisco’s second-ranked defense, and I believe Wilson will be able to make the same plays he’s made against them in the two prior meetings. As such, overtime will be required. I think it’s a back-and-forth affair, with San Francisco squeaking out a win in overtime to move to their first NFC Championship game appearance since 2013.
Prediction: San Francisco 35, Seattle 32 (OT)
#5 Buffalo Bills at #1 Baltimore Ravens
Saturday, January 11th, 8:15pm (CBS)
Since this is the first we’ll see Lamar Jackson in these playoffs, many are expecting this to be some kind of offensive showcase; that the Ravens will put up 55 points and move on to the AFC Championship. I don’t think this is the case- remember who they’re playing: Buffalo has a great defense and held the Ravens back from running up the score in a 24-17 loss earlier this season. This game will be a defensive showdown, with both the Bills and Ravens (whose defense has only gotten better as the year’s gone on) keeping points at a premium. I think Lamar Jackson finds a way around the Bills in the third quarter, keeping the game just out of reach for Buffalo. Expect a low-scoring affair in this one.
Prediction: Baltimore 17, Buffalo 6
#3 New England Patriots at #2 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 12th, 3:05pm (CBS)
Christ, okay. I do this every year. I predict a Patriots loss so I can protect myself from getting too invested, therefore preventing me from feeling too bad about them losing. The Patriots SHOULD lose this game. They lost to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at home in week 14, so what makes you think they’ll be able to win on the road? It doesn’t matter if they did it last season. This year is not last year. The Chiefs are simply a better, more well-rounded football team. They can beat you on the ground, and they can definitely beat you through the air. Tom Brady doesn’t have anyone reliable to throw to, and if Terrell Suggs (remember him?) and the Chiefs can put pressure on the New England offensive line, that’ll be all she wrote. I think Kansas City jumps out to a big lead in the first quarter, and the Patriots are unable to recover from it. The dream of a seventh Lombardi trophy is killed and buried in Kansas City.
For real, if you think the Patriots make it out alive against Kansas City, you’re delusional.
Prediction: Kansas City 34, New England 21
#3 New Orleans Saints at #2 Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 12th, 6:40pm (FOX)
This divisional around is full of fun games, isn’t it? Packers/Saints? Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers? This is what the NFL is all about. The Packers are the one team that nobody seems to be talking about. Everyone is all bogged down talking about Lamar Jackson, or Drew Brees’ touchdown record, or the Seahawks/49ers rivalry. The Packers are 13-3 and for good reason: Aaron Rodgers has been incredible this season, Aaron Jones has been a revelation at running back, and the defense is playing great football. But the Saints are hot, and I think a big win over Minnesota could really spur New Orleans onto a win at Lambeau Field. Drew Brees leads a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, aided by a huge catch and run by Michael Thomas, to steal one for the Saints.
Prediction: New Orleans 24, Green Bay 23
#2 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #1 Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, January 19th, 3:05pm (CBS)
Perhaps a Kansas City-Baltimore AFC Championship wasn’t what we were expecting to start the season, but it’s what we’ve got. Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes- two of the best young quarterbacks this league has seen in a while. Baltimore won the last time these two met, and that game was in Kansas City. With both teams at full strength, we are in the market for what could be an AFC title game for the ages. The Kansas City defense isn’t great against the run, and so we could see Mark Ingram have a big game here. And even if they don’t, they’ll have to stop Lamar Jackson, who can beat you with his feet, as well as through the air. Essentially, if the Chiefs can’t stop the run, it’s over. Patrick Mahomes throws a couple touchdown passes to keep the game close, but Baltimore is just too good. Lamar Jackson, in his second season, leads the NFL’s top team to the Super Bowl, seeing their third win.
Prediction: Baltimore 38, Kansas City 35
#3 New Orleans Saints at #1 San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, January 19th, 6:40pm (FOX)
The Saints and 49ers have also matched up before, with San Francisco earning a hard-fought victory. In this game, even though the game is in Santa Clara, I think the Saints come out swinging, catching the 49ers defense off guard with a fast and quick opening drive, forcing Jimmy G and the Niners to play from behind. With the Saints effectively able to stop the run, Garoppolo will need to win the game on his own, throwing the ball. He can’t. He throws a late-game interception, sending the Saints back to the Super Bowl, giving Drew Brees another shot at the big one. New Orleans has avenged its loss in last year’s catastrophic NFC title game loss, and San Francisco’s luck has run out.
Prediction: New Orleans 27, San Francisco 23
Super Bowl LIV
New Orleans Saints vs. Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, February 2nd, 6:38pm (FOX)
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida
I can see it now: the Ravens open up as Super Bowl favorites by 7 points, and they jump out to a 17-6 lead by halftime, thanks to a touchdown run by Ingram, and a short Jackson pass to Hollywood Brown for 14 points in the second quarter.
But Brees and the Saints won’t go away, as their hot streak rekindles itself, and their old horse of a quarterback throws two touchdown passes in the third quarter, taking a 23-17 lead on a crazy trick play that features a pass from Taysom Hill to Jared Cook. The Ravens counter as a Jackson touchdown early in the fourth quarter puts Baltimore back up, 24-23. After a late field goal by Wil Lutz to put the Saints up 26-24 with just over 2 minutes to go, it is all on the shoulders of the MVP to lead his team to glory. But early in the drive, a Jackson fumble winds up in the arms of Marshawn Lattimore, who runs it in for a game-sealing touchdown. Drew Brees retires after the game after being named Super Bowl MVP for the second time. The all-time passing yards and touchdown leader stamps his ticket to Canton with a golden star in his final game.
Yes I know I’ve picked the Saints to win the Super Bowl for the last three playoffs in a row, shut up.
Prediction: New Orleans 33, Baltimore 24
Am I wrong? Scream at me in the comments.