I wasn’t sure we’d make it to this point. The NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball have all resumed their seasons amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hockey and basketball went smoothly, playing in a bubble. Baseball, struggled for a while, but has managed to keep itself afloat.
And, despite everything, we have football to look forward to this season.
This is my first article in months. A lot has happened.
You may notice Tom Brady is playing for a different team now. Cam Newton is also playing for a different team now. DeAndre Hopkins is an Arizona Cardinal, Brandin Cooks and David Johnson are Houston Texans. Adrian Peterson moved to Detroit, Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. Things are weird, but we must move on.
We’re coming off a Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl win. Patrick Mahomes is now the proud new recipient of sports’ first $500 million contract. I swear, we’re going to see the first billion-dollar athlete in just a few years. We’re also poised to see a duel between Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, last season’s MVP. Jackson has yet to win a playoff game of his own, but we seem to have the next big quarterback rivalry in this great league.
And of course, things are all kinds of bizarre because of the pandemic. Teams announced that, for at least the first month, fans would not be allowed to attend games (though there were some teams who opened at limited capacity). I’ll talk about that a little bit later, but things are going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Still though, we have a season to discuss. Here are my 10 bold predictions for this year’s unique NFL season.
1. The New England Patriots will still win the AFC East.
At the beginning of this summer, it was hard to imagine anything was going to be certain for the Patriots moving forward. Tom Brady moved to Tampa Bay and convinced management to let him take Rob Gronkowski with him. The defense, the league’s best in 2019, faces some personnel concerns after leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung both opted out of this season. I thought the Patriots would be relying on an untested second year quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, and that the defense, particularly the front seven, would be a train wreck. But then Cam Newton came to town… and then I became excited for this upcoming season in New England. While the Bills assumed the de facto “Kings of the AFC East” crown with the departure of Brady, the arrival of Newton (and, from what we’ve seen in camp, his work ethic since arriving) has put that seriously in doubt. Sure, Newton doesn’t have the weapons Brady has now, but he has the ability to make plays on offense. If he can return to his MVP form, I’d say there’s a strong possibility of good things happening in Foxborough. Pair that with a defense that still brings the best defensive back group in football- anchored by reigning DPOY Stephon Gilmore- to the fold, and have a little optimism in some untested talent, and you could argue that not only will the Patriots make the playoffs, Bill Belichick will have his finest coaching season yet. All they have to do is beat their divisional opponents to win the division, right?
2. Joe Burrow will break the rookie touchdown pass record.
Maybe I was a little salty that LSU won the National Championship. Maybe I was little over the Joe Burrow hype. But since he’s come into the NFL riding what just might be the greatest season for a quarterback in the history of college football, his hard-nosed, matter-of-fact, “just win” attitude has garnered me a little more respect for him. Make no mistake, the Bengals are still the Bengals. They have some major improvement to do, but improving from having the league’s worst record last season is a very easy baby step. I think Burrow will make an instant impact in Cincinnati. Think about it. He has receivers like Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate, not to mention A.J. Green, the once-great/still-great veteran receiver who is returning from injury. Joe Mixon is a great young running back who will have at least 300 touches this season. Also, the rookie touchdown pass record is only 27. Cincinnati might not break out of a loaded AFC North, but for Joe Burrow I consider 27 passing touchdowns to be chump change. Let’s see 30, I say.
3. No team in the NFC West will finish below .500.
We begin with the Arizona Cardinals, who have had one of the league’s best offseason, since unloading David Johnson and acquiring DeAndre Hopkins from Houston. Kenyan Drake, who albeit has an 8-game sample size of being a stud, was a stud nonetheless for Arizona and the spark they needed on the ground. And, of course, there’s Kyler Murray. Many are projecting him to make the Lamar Jackson jump from hyped rookie to second-year superstar. I’d say the weapons are there for him to do it. Seattle, their long time division rival, seems to only improve and stick around every year. It’s a wonder Russell Wilson hasn’t won MVP yet. DK Metcalf will return from his rookie year with a lot of upside, not to mention they re-signed Josh Gordon. Oh, and for those of you with question marks about the defense… they did just get Josh Adams from the New York Jets, and they have a young pair of pass rushers in L.J. Collier and Darrell Taylor to help replace Jadeveon Clowney. The Los Angeles Rams are headed for a downturn. But 8-8 is still .500, so I’m going with it! Aaron Donald is still a freak of nature, with Jalen Ramsey poised to take his game to another level after a huge contract extension. And while Jared Goff might not have Todd Gurley to hand the ball off to, his receivers (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and TE Tyler Higbee) are all still very good at their jobs and can move the ball effectively. I don’t expect RBs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. to be fantastic, but if the Rams can be even slightly above average, they’ll help at least this prediction come to fruition. Lastly, we have the defending NFC Champions, the 49ers. Their defense was fantastic last year, not to mention the run game. I think there’s a strong possibility they’ll finish toward the top of the division. But let’s take a second and talk about them…
4. However, last year's NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers, will miss the playoffs.
When it comes to the NFC West, the Super Bowl hangover is real. It happened to Seattle back in 2015. It happened to the Rams two years ago. It’s going to happen to the 49ers too. I think Nick Bosa is a revelation at defensive end and their mostly-injured defense from 2019 will return to both health and form this season. But it’s their offense I’m worried about. The run game seemed to lose its glimmer by the time the team turned to its third RB to lead the charge. Raheem Mostert is great and Tevin Coleman likewise, but I’m unsure they can repeat their success this season, especially in such a tough division. Mostly though, I worry for Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game. Emmanuel Sanders was a great pickup at the trade deadline, but he’s off to New Orleans, leaving Jimmy G to throw to Deebo Samuel, Tayvon Austin, Dante Pettis and rookie Brandon Aiyuk as his primary targts. Sure, he can dump the ball to George Kittle all day, but eventually that strategy is going to run cold. To top it all off, the Niners, in each week of their schedule, play a team (with some exceptions, sorry Washington and the Jets) that could be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, with games against the Patriots, Saints, and Cowboys, to name just a few. Pair it with a division on the rise and the fact that 6 out of the last 10 Super Bowl losers failed to make the playoffs the next season, and you’re in for a bad time.
5. ... and so will the team they faced in that game, the Green Bay Packers (in Aaron Rodgers' final season in Green Bay).
The Packers suffer a similar fate to the 49ers in that they also face an uphill climb against a division that appears ready to get back on its feet. The Minnesota Vikings just bolstered their defense by acquiring Yannick Ngakoue and Ronnie Harrison, and even though they lost Stefon Diggs, I still think the Vikings can get it done even ith only Adam Thielen. Dalvin Cook also is one of the league’s best playmakers, assuming he stays healthy. Expect the Bears defense to bounce back also, as Robert Quinn joins an already lethal defensive line featuring Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. While it’s not very exciting to see Mitchell Trubisky back under center, we may see the emergence of another great receiving threat in Anthony Miller, who may emerge in the same way Allen Robinson did last year. The Lions, I’ll admit, have no shot. They just traded away Darius Slay, and Matt Patricia’s team is relying on an aging Matthew Stafford and untested rookie RB D’Andre Swift (and, yes, Adrian Peterson) to get the job done. Then there are the Packers. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t played like an MVP since 2016, and the front office’s decision to draft Jordan Love in the first round didn’t play well with their Super Bowl-winning QB. Rodgers can’t throw the ball to Devante Adams every play, which means he’ll have to rely on his no-name receivers like Allen Lazard when he’s not being harassed in the pocket. They were also exposed badly in last year’s NFC Championship game, as their defense, which had been steady all season long, surrendered 27 points in the first half and could not recover. I predict the Packers will fall to 9-7 on the year, four games worse than last year, and miss the playoffs, prompting Aaron Rodgers to leave the team next offseason.
6. Drew Brees will (finally) win MVP.
It’s just about time for the guy, isn’t it? It’s a shame they don’t award MVP awards for lifetime achievement awards. I guess that’s what the Hall of Fame is for, but I digress. Give the man his MVP. The 41-year old Brees is in the twilight of his career, but is still playing at an elite level on a team that hasn’t quite gotten over the hump in the last five years or so. The Saints will have some competition this fall with Tom Brady leading the new and improved Buccaneers, Matt Ryan’s Falcons looking to improve since they acquired Todd Gurley, and the Panthers using new quarterback (former undefeated Saint) Teddy Bridgewater, to helm their squad. But Brees and the Saints still boast a lethal passing attack, as Michael Thomas continues to dominate opposing defenses, and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders only makes things more difficult for secondaries. Brees is both the career leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, but the man hasn’t won an MVP. He’s still good enough to play like one. Give the man his damn trophy, and he can finally call it a career.
7. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't win the NFC South.
You’ll notice a lot of these predictions relate to each other, as in each one seems to be relying on the last. As you may know, a certain 6-time Super Bowl champion found his way to Tampa to revitalize the franchise. But the Buccaneers, potent as their offense may be, suffer the same problem the Cleveland Browns do- an overhyped offseason leading to a colossal letdown this season. This is likely my boldest prediction, which is why I had to edit it- I previously pondered if Tampa Bay would even make the playoffs, before I was reminded that Tom Brady played in New England for 20 years and made do with wayyyy worse. I think based on strength of division alone, the Bucs won’t win the division. Their offense is stacked, but their offensive line leaves something to be desired. Obviously we don’t know if rookie Tristan Wirfs really is the missing piece yet, and we have no idea how running backs like LeSean McCoy, and- oh yeah- Leonard freakin’ Fournette will add to the equation, and we’ll really see if Brady was a “system quarterback” or not while in New England. As anyone who’s ever beaten the Patriots knows- if you pressure Tom Brady, he’ll have a hard time winning. While the offense might score 50 a game, you also might not be sure the defense won’t allow 60. They did blow an 18-point lead to Daniel Jones, of all people, last season. OH! Speaking of Mr. Jones…
8. Daniel Jones will be a top-5 passer.
Daniel Jones likes to throw the ball down the field. Last season, he was arguably the best deep passer in football, at least based on accuracy, with over 40% of his deep passes being accurate. However, he was at the bottom of the NFL when it came to completions of his deep passes (just over 20%). One can only wonder whether that is his fault or his receivers. I am expecting both Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard to take big steps forward this season, and for Jones’ acclimation to a redesigned Jason Garrett offense to play to those strengths, and for Jones to complete more deep passes down the field. The Giants won’t be the best team in the NFL by any stretch of the imagination this year, but I’ll be damned if Daniel Jones won’t turn in a 4000-yard season this year.
9. Adam Gase will be the first coach fired this season.
And now we get to the coach’s hot seats this year. According to CBS, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is currently the favorite for first coach to be fired this season. Gase is fifth. If I had to pick between Gardner Minshew and Sam Darnold as my quarterback, I’d pick Minshew. Even if he has no one to throw to (and believe me, he has NO ONE to throw to), Minshew has enough heart that can literally will his team to a victory. I don’t see that kind of hunger in Sam Darnold, whose primary receivers are *checks notes* Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan and Chris Herndon. Yikes. There’s also the fact that his running backs are a disgruntled and aging Le’Veon Bell, who appears ready to give up his position to a man twice his age, Frank Gore. On defense it just gets worse. Jamal Adams was shipped off to Seattle, and the team has tons of new faces in the middle. Finally, the clincher: scheduling. The first nine weeks of the Jets schedule is as follows: Bills, 49ers, Colts, Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Bills, Chiefs, Patriots. I’ll be impressed if they win ONE of those games. Gase gets the axe after just four of them.
10. Zero games will be cancelled this season due to COVID.
I read an article on ESPN about each franchise and how they’re going to allow (or not) fans into their stadiums this fall. Since the COVID situation appears to be getting better- or at least remaining stagnant- (1 positive test out of over 2,000 players and coaches), and the NFL announcing it won’t be testing players on game days, I think, despite the lack of a bubble, and players and coaches flying from place to place, we won’t see a single game cancelled because of the virus. About half of teams won’t see fans in their stadiums, at least for the first month of the season. Some won’t at all (Washington said they won’t because of the “unpredictability of the virus”, a.k.a. management is still working on getting Dan Snyder out of Washington so they can complete their name change and move on with reality). But regardless, the machine is too complex to be stopped completely. Rain, snow, tidal wave, global pandemic, the NFL will persevere. Will we see a bunch of positive tests swept under the rug at the end of this season? Probably. But for now, we have football. Who am I to complain?
2020 NFL Season Predictions- Standings
For reasons mentioned above, Cam Newton has a great season, and Bill Belichick has an even better one. The Patriots beat the Bills in a crucial game on Monday night in December, winning them the division again.
The Steelers, that’s right, the Steelers, are my pick to with the AFC North. The defense looks ready to be one of the more dominant forces in the league. Skill players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner are ready for a comeback after a dormant season. Above all, Ben Roethlisberger is back and ready to take the black and gold to the promised land. I expect Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to take a step back only in record, still landing a solid wild card spot.
Man, this division is enigmatic. Philip Rivers takes over for the Colts, and has rookie RB Jonathan Taylor behind him running the ball. The Titans made it to the AFC Championship last year, but Derrick Henry has shown me that, despite being a bowling ball at times, he has the ability to run cold. The Texans end up realizing that David Johnson is a waste of space as a player and the Jaguars are the Jaguars. The Colts, as if by default, claim the AFC South.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look ready to be the NFL’s next dynasty, having locked up their core group of players for a considerably long time (and for considerably even more money). I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve locked up the AFC’s top seed at the start of December. While the Chargers lost safety Derwin James, they’ve still got Joey Bosa on defense, and I believe Austin Ekeler will be even better now that Melvin Gordon is gone from the team. Speaking of the Broncos, they need one more year to really get their feet under them, but they’re going to be really good, REALLY soon, just you wait. What’s there to say about the Raiders? The move does nothing for them. They’re still the same old Raiders.
The Cowboys, if not for being the Cowboys, could probably be the NFC’s best team in 2020. Dak Prescott is playing to earn his damn money, and his supporting cast could not be more stellar. Sure, they lost Jason Witten, but Blake Jarwin is a capable replacement, especially for when Dak needs to change it up from throwing to players like Amari Cooper, or Michael Gallup (who is ready for a monster season of his own). The Eagles will match their record if Carson Wentz stays healthy, although I’m not sure I trust Miles Sanders to run my backfield. The Giants may improve but still need another player from next year’s offseason for them to be good again, and Washington will be as tragic as their uninspired temporary name suggests.
I threw a tie in here because I was bored. I explained this above. The Packers fall just below the 7th spot in this year’s playoffs (remember, there are 7 spots this year), and the Vikings win the division thanks to the stellar play of their defense.
Again, mentioned above. Saints have the MVP on their team, we learn that Brady might be actually 43 years old. Both teams make the playoffs, but the Saints win the division.
Does Kyler Murray, a second year quarterback with a big ol’ question mark, lead the Cardinals from last place to a playoff spot this year, in spite of a tough division which features the previous NFC Champion? Yes, yes he does. Cardinals defeat the 49ers in week 16 to earn that tiebreaker, sealing the 49ers fates.
And finally, for the memes, here are a quick slate of playoff predictions for next January... assuming we still have a league after 5 more months.
2021 Playoff Predictions
Bills over Colts
Ravens over Patriots
Steelers over Chargers
Chiefs over Bills
Ravens over Steelers
Ravens over Chiefs
Buccaneers over Vikings
Cowboys over Eagles
Cardinals over Seahawks
Saints over Buccaneers
Cowboys over Cardinals
Saints over Cowboys
Super Bowl LV
Saints over Ravens