Wednesday, September 9, 2020

2020 NFL Season Predictions

 It doesn't seem real that there's going to be a full NFL season during a global pandemic still killing on average 1,000 Americans, but in a typical headstrong, stubborn American way, our true national pastime will soldier on. In many places, cheering fans will be replaced by awkward fake crowd noise and overbearing ads, but in a normal world, NFL games still featured plenty of that. With no preseason, it's hard to know what these games will even look like, but for many, sloppy football is still better than no football. These predictions are bad even in years with certainty, so these picks may end up even worse than usual. At least these won't be the only ones.

AFC East:

1. New England 10-6

2. Buffalo 9-7

3. Miami 7-9

4. NY Jets 4-12

2020 is so strange that the Patriots are still predicted to win the AFC East even though they'll have their first non-Tom Brady opening day starter since 2001 and many of their good players opted out thanks to the pandemic. But Cam Newton with a chip on his shoulder is scary, even though the rest of the Patriots are decidedly not that scary anymore. On paper, the Bills have the most talent in the division, but when the lasting memory of them from last year is Josh Allen not knowing which way was up during the Wild Card game, they end up getting a handicap. If the simplest question is which QB do you trust more, Newton or Allen, the answer is simple. Tua does not start the season for Miami as their QB but he'll end it under center, and the Dolphins will be competitive in every game since they now have the talent to go with the coaching from last season. The Jets had their best player opt out due to COVID-19, and Frank Gore might be starting over Le'Veon Bell even though he's old enough to have a child currently playing college football.

NFC East:

1. Dallas 11-5

2. Philadelphia 9-7

3. NY Giants 5-11

4. Washington 3-13

Somehow, Dallas conspired to throw the NFC East away last year, and that finally cost Jason Garrett his job. With better coaching this year, and small but necessary upgrades across the board, they should finally be able to put away this listless division. Philly's success this year will come largely if they stay healthy, but with history as a reference, that's nowhere near certain. They can win the division, but they're not as deep as Dallas, especially on defense. Daniel Jones has a new coach and a new offense, but his team still doesn't have the defense to back him up. And as for the team with no name, Ron Rivera has a massive clean up job to do, and that's more hoping the mess above him becomes slightly less messy. Is Dwayne Haskins the answer? Is he still the starter by the end of the year?

AFC North:

1. Baltimore 12-4

2. Pittsburgh 10-6

3. Cleveland 7-9

4. Cincinnati 5-11

The Ravens have the best QB and best player in the division, and though they won't win 14 like they did a year ago, having the best player and best QB be one and the same will tilt this division towards them again, though they'll have far more stiff competition this year than last. With Big Ben healthy, an offense with great potential could be back to their strength from the Killer B's era, and the defense might be starting to look somewhat like Steelers' defenses of old again. They're for sure a playoff team, and a sneaky Super Bowl contender in a top heavy AFC. Everyone thought this time last year that the Browns would finally turn the corner, and predictably, they didn't. They have the talent to finally make the postseason, but do you trust them? Joe Burrow will win the Bengals some games they shouldn't win, but this roster overall is still talent deficient, but the arrow is at least firmly pointing up.

NFC North:

1. Minnesota 10-6

2. Green Bay 9-7

3. Detroit 7-9

4. Chicago 6-10

Minnesota lost twice to Green Bay last year which cost them a division title, but they still pulled off a great upset at New Orleans in the Wild Card round. With Dalvin Cook and just enough on offense, even though they traded away Stefon Diggs for some reason, they should be the favorites in the division though they are more flawed than in recent years. Green Bay's 13-3 record last year was a fluke and everyone knows it, and after some bizarre moves this offseason, particularly in the draft, many are starting to wonder what the future of this team looks like. Their defense will be better than their offense again, which is strange to write. Matt Patricia looks to be another in a line of failed Bill Belichick disciples to have success as head coaches elsewhere, even though he's got a renewed Matthew Stafford throwing the ball around easily. And the Bears QB competition between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky tells you everything about where this team is heading: straight to the basement of this division.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis 11-5

2. Tennessee 9-7

3. Houston 7-9

4. Jacksonville 4-12

If Andrew Luck didn't stunningly retire during the preseason last year, they would have been a contender for the Super Bowl. To finish 7-9 after that even with mediocre QB play, shows the talent on this roster that will carry them forward this year now that they've upgraded at that position. Late stage Philip Rivers will be enough with this roster construction to get the Colts where they need to go. Teams that play like Tennessee; run heavy with just enough QB play to get by are not bets for long term success, and the Titans are perpetually 7-9/8-8/9-7, but with the expanded postseason that might be enough to get them in again. When you trade away your best non-QB player for peanuts, your team isn't destined for success, and the Texans, beneficiaries of being in a terrible division for so long, are finally going to see that catch up to them. The Jaguars aren't tanking, that requires a plan which they don't have, but they're not the automatic worst team in the league that so many are saying they are. Not only do they have competition for it, but they're not as talent bereft as you think, just extremely young, which isn't a formula for success in a year with a giant global pandemic.

NFC South:

1. New Orleans 12-4

2. Tampa Bay 10-6

3. Atlanta 8-8

4. Carolina 6-10

This might be the last kick at the can for the Saints as currently constructed, which is a shame. They've been one of the most fun and fascinating teams in the NFL in recent years, only to be eliminated from the postseason in excrutiating fashion each time. It's not a matter of what they do in the regular season, it's a matter of getting over those mental hurdles in the playoffs. Tampa has the stars, and has the pieces, but can they put it all together in a year without a preseason? They are the Bucs, a team that has made the playoffs only twice since winning the Super Bowl in 2002. Atlanta feels like a team that is distinctly stuck in the messy middle; not good enough to contend for the playoffs but not bad enough for the bottom to fall out, which is evidenced by two consecutive 7-9 finishes, and it seems they're not budging from that. Carolina is going all out on the college model of success, and while that will benefit Christian McCaffrey's fantasy owners, what else do they have around him?

AFC West:

1. Kansas City 12-4

2. LA Chargers 7-9

3. Las Vegas (still weird) 6-10

4. Denver 6-10

No team has repeated as Super Bowl champ since the Patriots in 2004, but it feels like if any team in recent history is going to do it, it would be these Chiefs. Though hit by a few notable COVID-19 opt outs, they still have the best player in football and have the depth to overcome those losses. It also helps they play in a mediocre division. The Chargers will go with Tyrod Taylor instead of rookie Justin Herbert, probably wise since Herbert is such a divisive prospect and nowhere near polished yet, but this team always confounds and conspires to be worse than the sum of its parts. They could have the DPOY in Nick Bosa, a talented offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler, and yet they don't have the look and feel of a playoff team. Derwin James being out is tough. A new city beckons for the Raiders, yet Vegas won't singlehandedly change this team's luck. Derek Carr might be on the last of his seemingly nine lives, and ever since that great 2016 run, he hasn't been able to recapture that form. The Broncos may have just lost Von Miller for the season, Bradley Chubb isn't healthy yet either, and the offensive line might well be a sieve. Not a great combination for a team that hasn't won in five years and a young QB with plenty of question marks.

NFC West:

1. San Francisco 11-5

2. Seattle 9-7

3. LA Rams 8-8

4. Arizona 7-9

10 years ago, the NFC West's division winner finished with a below .500 record, yet for most of the decade after, it was the best division in football by far. That's again the case in 2020, where a convincing argument can be made that all teams finish above .500. Though the 49ers are going to have a Super Bowl hangover of some kind, they're still a cut above everyone else in the division, even with perhaps the third best QB in the division. They're already a little banged up, but especially at WR, and thinner on the OL than last year, but every other team has a more fatal flaw than theirs. Seattle was also extremely flukey with their record since they won so many close games, and that is not replicable in 2020. They also don't have a good pass rush, or much of a running game to speak of. Relying on Russell Wilson to do absolutely everything is great in principle, not so in practice. Jared Goff is a perfectly acceptable QB making top 5 QB money, which is a bad combination on a roster that has become pretty lopsided and uneven even with superstars like Aaron Donald. If the Cardinals were in any other division, they'd probably make the playoffs considering Kyler Murray now has the best receiver in football to throw to. They're definitely going to be fun, but they may not be quite ready yet.

AFC Playoff teams:

1. Kansas City 12-4

2. Baltimore 12-4

3. Indianapolis 11-5

4. New England 10-6

5. Pittsburgh 10-6

6. Buffalo 9-7

7. Tennessee 9-7

NFC Playoff teams:

1. New Orleans 12-4

2. Dallas 11-5

3. San Francisco 11-5

4. Minnesota 10-6

5. Tampa Bay 10-6

6. Green Bay 9-7

7. Seattle 9-7

AFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round:

2. Baltimore over 7. Tennessee

3. Indianapolis over 6. Buffalo

5. Pittsburgh over 4. New England

Divisional Round:

1. Kansas City over 5. Pittsburgh

2. Baltimore over 3. Indianapolis

AFC Championship Game:

1. Kansas City over 2. Baltimore

NFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round:

2. Dallas over 7. Seattle

3. San Francisco over 6. Green Bay

5. Tampa Bay over 4. Minnesota

Divisional Round:

1. New Orleans over 5. Tampa Bay

3. San Francisco over 2. Dallas

NFC Championship Game:

1. New Orleans over 3. San Francisco

Super Bowl 55:

Kansas City over New Orleans 35-24

Award Predictions:

MVP: Patrick Mahomes (KC)

OPOY: Lamar Jackson (BAL)

DPOY: Aaron Donald (LAR)

OROY: Joe Burrow (CIN)

DROY: Chase Young (WSH)

Coach: Mike McCarthy (DAL)

Comeback: Cam Newton (NE)

Will there be a full season finishing on time? There will be a hiccup or two along the way considering the unprecedented nature of the season, but the NFL will have a full season either way. Whether it finishes on time is another matter, but surprisingly there haven't been any major disruptions yet. It seems more plausible than ever that the season will chart a normal course with regards to the calendar.

Apologies to anyone I jinxed with these predictions.

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