Originally published in La Plaza Press
By DANIEL WATERS
The 2020 NFL season is scheduled to start amongst the coronavirus pandemic on September 10th as the Houston Texans face a daunting matchup with the 2019 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL has not announced any plans for a bubble, but teams are taking precautions to try and make sure that the season happens in its entirety. Reckless behavior from the players will be the biggest threat to the NFL as just one player with coronavirus could easily spread it to his teammates due to the high contact nature of the sport. Regardless of the very real possibility of a shutdown, let’s explore every team’s outlook and chances to win the Super Bowl.
For the first time in forever, the door is wide open for Buffalo to take the AFC East crown. Winning the division feels like the ceiling for Buffalo, though. The team boasts a very solid defense and some skill position talent, but QB Josh Allen is simply terrible at throwing a football. The only reason he has been kept around is because the Bills have managed to win enough games by building a good roster around him. Having such an unreliable passer at quarterback caps the potential of the Bills.
New England Patriots
In their last season with QB Tom Brady, the Patriots did not prove themselves to be anything beyond products of their easy schedule. Concluding with pathetic performances against Miami and Tennessee at home left a very sour taste on their 2019. There are not many reasons to believe that 2020 will be better. New England will face a tougher slate of games with a transitioning offensive identity and several key players on defense gone. Belichick is the best coach in the game, but the roster does not have enough talent to really contend.
Miami has a clear path to success. Brian Flores appears to be a capable coach. The roster is improving as the team spent money on defensive help in free agency and drafted offensive linemen that will ideally shore up that weakness. It remains to be seen whether the Dolphins’ strategy pays off or not, but a Super Bowl is not in the cards for now.
New York Jets
Terrible coaching combined with an offense barren of talent and a defense without its best player in S Jamal Adams leaves the Jets projected to finish last in the AFC East.
GM Chris Ballard has accomplished his goal of building a team that is strong on both sides of the trenches, particularly on the offensive line. However, the Colts are not as well-off at the skill positions on either side of the ball. QB Philip Rivers should outperform former QB Jacoby Brissett behind such a skilled offensive line compared to the Chargers.
To win a Super Bowl, the Titans will need to extend their magic from the second half of last year through an entire season with heightened expectations. In the ever-changing NFL, that is hardly a good formula for success. The losses of OT Jack Conklin, DT Jurrell Casey, and CB Logan Ryan add to existing gaps at receiver, defensive line, and the secondary.
QB Deshaun Watson is not in a good position to succeed with a bad offensive line, receiver group, and running back corps. Houston’s defense is also suspect beyond its pass rush.
The Jaguars’ focus in 2020 is contending for the number one overall pick rather than the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City is returning almost all of their starters from last year. The key to beating them is limiting the damage of the offense by keeping the ball away from Patrick Mahomes and taking away the big play when he does have it. No one in the NFL looks to be as well-equipped to accomplish this as San Francisco was last season. Therefore, I am predicting that the Chiefs will repeat as champions.
The Broncos will field a good defense, but the offense has a wider range of outcomes. Incoming draftees at receiver and the progression of second-year QB Drew Lock will determine how far Denver goes. Even in a best case scenario, the offensive line is merely average. Also, the drastically reduced practice time in this offseason will add to the normal challenges that young NFL players face in their improvement.
Las Vegas Raiders
GM Mike Mayock has great visions for the Vegas version of the Raiders. He was active in free agency and again prioritized competitive, talented players in the draft. The finished product of the rebuild figures to contend in 2021 or beyond, though. Overall, the Raiders are a young team that needs to develop a bit more before thinking about the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are looking towards the future, but they have compiled an impressive level of talent across the board. The secondary, defensive line, and offensive skill positions are highlights. Unfortunately, a poor offensive line and quarterback situation eclipse the positives.
To win meaningful games in today’s NFL, a team has to be able to pass and erase a deficit if needed. Baltimore is a great team that often creates favorable game scripts, but being in a good situation is much harder come playoff time. When the going gets rough, the Ravens’ flaws become apparent. They are not well-equipped to pass or come from behind with an inaccurate quarterback in Lamar Jackson and a weak receiving group. For the Ravens to win the Super Bowl, the aerial aspect of the offense has to improve.
Pittsburgh is returning a fearful, complete defense but the team could be derailed by its quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger is on the decline and highly likely to get injured. Even with a great defense, offensive line, and surprisingly deep receiver group, the Steelers are weakest at the most important position in the game.
At the very least, Cleveland’s offense should be expected to rebound after the nightmare of last season. Their abundance of skill-position talent should shine with a bolstered offensive line and an efficient offensive mind as head coach in Kevin Stefanski. However, the defense is still lacking impact players outside of DE Myles Garrett and CB Denzel Ward.
Cincinnati is not as bad as having the number one overall pick would indicate, but new QB Joe Burrow has the odds stacked against him in a tough division with drastically reduced practice time.
Dallas’s explosive offense is returning with new WR CeeDee Lamb poised to replace WR Randall Cobb. The concerns lie on the defensive side of the ball. The additions of DE Everson Griffen, DT Dontari Poe, and K Greg Zuerlein are nice, but it will be difficult to replace the production of CB Byron Jones and DE Robert Quinn.
The injuries of G Brandon Brooks and OT Andre Dillard greatly reduce the quality of Philadelphia’s offensive line. However, Miles Sanders will have a full season and little competition to showcase his talent while the receiver situation will at least be slightly improved. On the defensive side, S Malcolm Jenkins is a tough loss, but the acquisitions of CBs Darius Slay and Nickell-Robey Coleman along with DT Javon Hargrave go beyond in compensating for it. Philadelphia improved overall, but they were far from getting to the Super Bowl in 2019.
Washington Football Team
Washington’s fearsome pass rush is the highlight of the team. They will be held back by QB Dwayne Haskins, the lack of receiving options outside of WR Terry McLaurin, and the secondary.
New York Giants
Both New York teams are poised to finish in the basement of their respective divisions. The Giants are going to be plagued by a bad defense, a bad offensive line, and turnovers from QB Daniel Jones.
New Orleans Saints
It has been the same story for the Saints over the past several years. They consistently excel in the regular season, but underwhelm in the playoffs. New Orleans is a great team on paper, especially with the additions of WR Emmanuel Sanders and S Malcolm Jenkins, but they cannot be trusted to perform in the playoffs until further notice.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s defense is much better than it would seem considering that QB Jameis Winston turned over the ball so often. With Tom Brady, the Buccaneers will be much better off in the turnover department. However, I doubt the fit between Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense and the idea that they will seriously compete. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have thrived with a reliable need to pass and a quarterback that was much more willing to take risks, but can they show up in big games and prove that they are as skilled as their numbers would indicate? Can the offensive line give Brady enough time to pass or open up the running game? In a season that is not going to reward change and uncertainty, Tampa Bay is not likely to win the Super Bowl.
Atlanta is predictably unpredictable. To win the Super Bowl, their defense has to continue the remarkable performance from the latter half of last season and the offensive line has to improve in order to protect Matt Ryan and the volatile Todd Gurley. The Falcons cannot be trusted to accomplish this, though.
Carolina could have a good offense with their talent at receiver and running back, but they could also be limited by QB Teddy Bridgewater and their offensive line. The defense is going to be one of the worst in the league after the departures of CB James Bradberry, DTs Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, and LB Luke Kuechly. There will be severe growing pains with such an inexperienced unit.
San Francisco 49ers
History is not kind to teams that lose the Super Bowl, and the trend looks poised to continue in San Francisco. Losing WR Emmanuel Sanders and replacing OT Joe Staley with the unreliable Trent Williams is very concerning for their offense. The offensive line is everything for San Francisco’s run-first, pass comfortably approach. Emmanuel Sanders also opened up the offense for San Francisco in a way that will be difficult for rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk to replicate. WR Deebo Samuel’s foot injury might limit his impact. Rookie DT Javon Kinlaw has big shoes to fill with the trade of DT DeForest Buckner, but that is the only issue on the defensive end.
QB Russell Wilson is surrounded by impact players at the offensive skill positions, but the offensive line remains terrible. The health of RBs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny is also concerning. Running the rock might not be the best approach for the Seahawks with unstable running backs and a horrid line. DE Jadaveon Clowney was the only productive player on Seattle’s defensive line last season, and he is now gone. However, Seattle made good moves to improve their secondary with the acquisitions of CB Quinton Dunbar and S Quandre Diggs. The weaknesses on both sides of the trenches will be Seattle’s downfall.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are returning with a shaky offensive line, a shaky quarterback, and new question marks at running back and receiver. Their defense and special teams unit were decimated over the offseason with the departures of LBs Cory Littleton/Dante Fowler Jr., CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Eric Weddle, and K Greg Zuerlein. Los Angeles did not contend last year and they declined in all three phases of the game.
Arizona made the flashiest move of the offseason by trading for WR DeAndre Hopkins, but the team’s offensive skill positions are where the excitement begins and ends. A weak offensive line and defense are going to limit the potential of the Cardinals very much.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ 2019 season appears to be more of a flash in the pan than a sign of serious contention. They could not do anything against the 49ers in their biggest game of the season. With a relatively quiet offseason, there is no reason to believe that Green Bay will improve their run defense or suddenly perform well against top-tier defensive units.
Over the offseason, Minnesota lost offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, WR Stefon Diggs, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, and CBs Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackenzie Alexander. Just making the playoffs is more of a concern than winning a Super Bowl.
GM Ryan Pace failed to meaningfully address the offense that was so problematic for Chicago in 2019. For a team that is going to rely on their defense, losing DT Eddie Goldman, S HaHa Clinton-Dix, and LBs Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatowski will not go over well, even with the addition of DE Robert Quinn.
The Lions are glad to have QB Matthew Stafford back, but it seems like it will end up being another typical season for him. The offensive line and defense are still bad, despite the free agency pickups coming in on the defensive side. He will put up great numbers with a nice receiving duo in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. and a constant need to pass the ball, but he will not come close to getting his first playoff win.