One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a NFL fan is the inherent unpredictability of the league. Every single season – without fail – the list of whacky storylines is voluminous.
Just last season, for example, we saw the 49ers emerge from the second-worst in the league to near Super Bowl winners; Gardner Minshew finishing the year as undisputed starter in Jacksonville; Taysom Hill becoming a cult hero in New Orleans and the Buffalo Bills looking like a potential powerhouse in the AFC.
Rest assured we’ll see some more madness in 2020. Here are our top five wild predictions for the upcoming NFL season:
1. Dallas Takes the Top Seed in the NFC
Get excited, Cowboys fans; this team is a perfect fit for Mike McCarthy, and we’re expecting big things.
Jason Garrett was a fine NFL head coach, but… Clearly, after a decade in the role, Garrett wasn’t going to lead the league’s biggest franchise back to the promised land. McCarthy, on the other hand, has proven he’s capable of winning rings and dealing with rabid fanbases.
He’s also one of the finest offensive minds in football today, with some of those Packers offenses from the early 2010’s up there with the most electric in NFL history. The Cowboys have all the offensive weapons in the world – headlined by Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb – and all they need is a coach to take advantage of that talent.
There are some holes on the defensive end but Dallas’ pass rush is – as always – elite, and they should be able to compensate with that aforementioned offense. Look out, NFC, the Cowboys are coming.
2. Broncos Challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West
The Chiefs go in to season 2020 with an enormous target on their backs, and one of the teams with Kansas City in their sights are their AFC West rival Broncos.
Denver finished the 2019 season with an underwhelming 7-9 record, but have improved immeasurably over the offseason. Rookie QB Drew Lock was surprisingly good last year, with his ability to connect with Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant impressive.
GM John Elway is well aware of the fact that Lock will need targets around him to improve, which is why the franchise was so excited to land Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first two rounds of the draft. Elway also took one of Lock’s favorite college hook-ups – Albert Okwuegbunam – in the later rounds just to top it off.
Lock is the QB of the future in Denver, and with a decent supporting cast around him is set to thrive. So will the Broncos, and their improvement will lead to a surprising battle with the Chiefs for AFC West supremacy.
3. Tom Brady’s Bucs Miss the Playoffs
“Uhhhh… What?!” I hear you say, “Tom FREAKIN Brady missing the playoffs?! Yeah, right.”
Unfortunately for long-suffering Buccaneers’ fans, the simple truth is that Brady is old, and so is Rob Gronkowski. It will take time – particularly in this post-COVID world, where training times are at a premium – for Brady, Gronkowski rookie OT Tristan Wirfs and RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn to gel together.
The Bucs have the talent on both sides of the ball, but expecting a 43-year-old Brady and 31-year-old Gronkowski (who hasn’t played football in 18 months) to carry a team to the playoffs is complete folly.
Bruce Arians is a stellar head coach but he’ll need to work a miracle to get this team operating on the same page by the time the season starts. It’s hard at the best of times to assimilate a new quarterback, even more-so when that quarterback has functioned in the same offense for over two decades and never experienced anything different.
Many pundits have the Bucs challenging for a Super Bowl, but we don’t see it.
4. Jets Win the AFC East
There’s a power vacuum in the AFC East, and we’re backing the Jets (yes, those Jets) to fill it.
Despite a torrid 2019 – which included starting QB Sam Darnold contracting mono – the Jets finished with a respectable record, and were actually 7-6 with Darnold under center. Speaking of Darnold, 2018’s No. 3 draft pick is primed for a breakout season. GM Joe Douglas has beefed up the offensive line in free agency as well as adding OT Mekhi Becton in the first round in the draft.
When Darnold returned from mono in the second half of last year he averaged 245 passing yards per game, throwing 14 TDs and just 5 INTs. More importantly, he looked like a true NFL-calibre quarterback.
With no Tom Brady to worry about, and the Bills and Dolphins still yet to prove they can be a real force, the door is wide open for the Jets to walk through. We’re backing Darnold to lead them there.
5. Matt Stafford is an MPV Contender
We all know Stafford has the talent to consistently produce as one of the NFL’s top QBs, and it’s time for him to show it for a full season.
2020 will be the second year of Darrell Bevell’s revamped offense, and Stafford looked good last year before succumbing to injury. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are a surprisingly formidable receiving corps, while T.J. Hockenson showed promise last season and rookie RB D’Andre Swift looks like a steal in the second round.
Unfortunately for Lions fans, their defensive foibles mean this team won’t be a contender for the Super Bowl, however they do mean that Stafford will be called upon to throw the ball. A LOT.
Stafford’s back bothered him all of last season and by all accounts he’s now fitter than he’s ever been. It’s his turn to put up some absurd numbers in this pass-happy iteration of the NFL.
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Image by: Keith Allison