I still can’t believe it, but an NFL game is being played on Thursday night. And even more games will be played on Sunday!
I don’t know how we did it, but we made it to the 2020 NFL season. Before the Chiefs and Texans kick things off, let’s celebrate the return of football by throwing out wild predictions for a totally unpredictable year. To put together my final standings, I picked every regular-season game on the schedule. If you are interested in actually going through each and every result, you might have a problem, but you can do that here.
In addition to the postseason and Super Bowl picks, I’ll also be making award predictions. Let’s start with a look at the final league standings…
NFC division winners
It seems like every year we overvalue the Cowboys and they end up disappointing. Well, let’s do it again! Jason Garrett and his conservative ways are gone and he’s been replaced by Mike McCarthy, who’s not afraid to go for it on fourth down or call a first-down pass. That should help a fair bit. And with Philadelphia already banged up — it’s a yearly tradition at this point — and the Giants and Washington fighting over who has the worse roster, the Cowboys should stroll to a division crown.
If I had been making this pick before the Yannick Ngakoue trade went down, I’d have taken the Packers. But that’s not the case. My biggest issue with Minnesota had been the pass rush, and now they have one of the better duos in the league with Ngakoue joining forces with Danielle Hunter.
Here’s what this pick comes down to for me:
Mike Zimmer > Mike Pettine
Gary Kubiak > Matt LaFleur
With the gap between Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins closing, the coaching difference is enough for me to roll with Minnesota.
With a normal offseason, I may have flirted with the idea of taking the Bucs here. But nah. This Saints team is so talented and has continuity on its side. I do expect Tampa Bay to be good, but there will surely be some growing pains, right? With New Orleans around, there’s no margin for error in the race for the NFC South. As for the other teams, I’m not seeing much change from last year for either Atlanta or Carolina: Both teams should put up some points but it won’t be enough to make up for bad defenses.
Look, both the 49ers and Seahawks are due for some regression after enjoying a fair bit of luck in 2019. But only one of these teams has Russell Wilson, and this is also the most talent Wilson has had to work with in … well, maybe ever! Like Seattle’s front office, I’m just going to ignore the non-existent pass rush and focus on a secondary that might not be the Legion of Boom but is the closest Seattle will ever get. San Francisco will still be a very good team, and one that makes the playoffs, but it will have to settle for second place.
NFC wild cards
Barring a complete collapse by Tom Brady — possible give his age! — there is just too much talent on the roster for the team to fail.
The defense may not be the demolition group it was last year, but it won’t fall too far. And I may not trust Jimmy Garoppolo, but Kyle Shanahan is still around so the offense will be just fine.
Getting to play four games against the Giants and the, um, Football Team will be enough to get an already hurt Eagles team over the hump and into the playoffs. The offense has to be better (right?) and the defense will almost certainly be better.
AFC division winners
As good as Sean McDermott is at coaching football, I just don’t have it in me to pick a team quarterbacked by Josh Allen over one coached by Bill Belichick. I’m predicting a tight race decided by the Patriots sweeping the two matchups. The Dolphins are still a year away from being a factor and the Jets are still years away from being a year away.
The Steelers will make it harder — having an NFL-level starter at QB will help — but the Ravens are just a cut above the rest of a talented division. Lamar Jackson has improved every year since he’s first landed in the spotlight at Louisville, and there’s no reason to expect that to stop. Losing Earl Thomas hurts, but Baltimore has a deep secondary and adding Calais Campbell to the pass rush should make its job easier.
If not for a midseason injury to Jacoby Brissett the Colts probably win this division last year. Now they’ve made a massive upgrade at quarterback by bringing in Philip Rivers (who is not washed despite what the haters and losers say), and with the Titans and Texans destined to take a step back, this should be the Colts’ division to lose. Especially with that schedule, which is the easiest in the league by just about every measure.
The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and the other teams do not. Need I say more?
AFC wild cards
I’ve got the Steelers winning 12 games, but this is the playoff pick I’m most worried about because it all falls on Ben Roethlisberger (1) staying healthy and (2) playing well. But even if he gives Pittsburgh just league-average play at quarterback, there’s enough talent for this team to win a lot of games.
The same can be said of Buffalo, only league-average play would be an improvement for Josh Allen. Even if Allen doesn’t improve, the offense should improve with Stefon Diggs joining the group of his pass catchers. The defense will be among the NFL’s best once again, which should be enough for this team to make it back to the postseason.
I’m as surprised as you! The AFC is not very deep, though, so I would not be surprised if an 8-8 record gets a team to the playoffs with the expanded field. The Browns’ season really comes down to Kevin Stefanski. If he can make that quarterback-by-numbers offense work in Cleveland, there’s more than enough talent around Baker Mayfield to produce a good offense.
NFC Championship: Saints over Seahawks
I don’t really have to explain the Saints pick, do I? The most talented team, playoff experience, great coaching staff, blah, blah, blah. As for the Seahawks, Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the NFC, and with how the roster is built, the coaching staff may have no choice but to finally let him cook … That will be enough to carry Seattle to the NFC title game, but New Orleans is just too good across the board.
AFC Championship: Ravens over Chiefs
As I explained on The Counter podcast, I’m picking the Ravens in this one because picking the Chiefs is kind of boring. Playing at home should help Baltimore’s cause, but we don’t even know if there will be fans in the stands. I’ll say this: If the Kansas City’s struggles against the run continue for a third straight year, this could be a bad matchup for them.
Ravens over Saints
This is just a coinflip for me, and seeing Lamar Jackson win a Super Bowl would be a lot more fun than seeing Brees win another. The Saints are the deeper team on paper; but by this point in the season, it would not be surprising if Drew Brees is fading, while Jackson should only get better the more he plays.
MVP: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
If the Seahawks do win 12 games, Russell Wilson is going to have a big year. And if Wilson has a big year, the media will right a wrong and finally give him an MVP award.
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots
Bill Belichick should have more of these awards, and he probably would if not for voter fatigue. But now that Tom Brady is gone, and the defense has lost a bunch of dudes, the narrative is there.
Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, Saints
The Saints offense is loaded and Brees won’t have to work too hard to put up video game numbers. That supporting cast could lose him the MVP race, but this seems to be the consolation prize.
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garrett, Browns
Total shot in the dark here. Myles Garrett is really good at football and has a 20-sack season in him. If this is the year he gets it and the Browns make the playoffs, that should be enough to win it.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Burrow, Bengals
The bar is so low for highly-drafted quarterbacks to win this award. As long as Joe Burrow doesn’t go all Josh Rosen on us, he should be the favorite. Having some talent at receiver to with will certainly help!
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Patrick Queen, Ravens
In that Ravens defense, Patrick Queen will have a lot of opportunities to stuff the stat sheet. He’ll rack up tackles, rush the passer and, with his athleticism, he should get his hands on the ball a few times. Playing on national TV a bunch will also help his case.
Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski
The Bucs offense will be totally new to Tom Brady, so I would not be surprised if he leans heavily on his old pal from New England. And having taken a year off, Gronk should be fresh and ready to take advantage of the opportunity.