The circle of life is a concept applicable to all professional sports leagues with a salary cap. As 90s Bulls fans, 2010s Blackhawks fans, and Patriots fans (hopefully) can attest to, dynasties simply can’t last forever. The same goes for teams looking to establish themselves as the next dynasty, such as the Chiefs, 49ers, and Ravens in 2020. As championship windows come and go for franchises like matches on Tinder for a college kid, teams will do anything in their power to prolong their opportunities at success.
2020 will be a key year in determining the direction of several franchises in the NFL. Win and their shot at a title is prolonged, but fail to succeed and they’ll be headed down the dreaded path of rebuilding. This is often due to expiring contracts of key players, impending salary cap hell, or an extended period of mediocrity. General managers will throw all their resources behind one last playoff push in an attempt to save their jobs and bolster the franchise.
In 2019, teams that fell into this category included the Titans, Jaguars, and Panthers. The Titans ended up as the success story of the group, as they reached the AFC Championship and found their signal caller of the future in Ryan Tannehill. On the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers and Jaguars, both cat teams that were founded in 1995, will be entering a rebuild in 2020. Here’s 5 teams destined for a fork in the road in 2020, and whether they’ll succeed or suck.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans
5. New England Patriots
Nobody really knows Bill Belichick’s plan in 2020 for the most successful sports organization in the 21st century. After the departure of franchise icon Tom Brady, the Patriots are left with little established talent among offensive skill position players, if they have any at all. Unless Jarrett Stidham turns into the second coming of his predecessor, the Patriots offense will struggle mightily in 2020.
With one of the worst drafts of any team and an uneventful offseason, the Patriots will be a worse team in 2020 than in 2019. They will continue to have a top defense, but Stidham is not in a position to succeed with a bottom-tier group of weapons. The 2020 season will reveal if the NFL’s greatest dynasty of all time will continue into another decade, or if major change is required in the northeast. With Belichick on his throne of buffalo skin, the Patriots might be able to pull off something unexpected, but it won’t come as a surprise if they fail to make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
4. Indianapolis Colts
To give credit to Colts GM Chris Ballard and company, the front office in Indy made the most out of a bleak situation when franchise icon Andrew Luck unexpectedly called it quits just weeks before the beginning of last season. Nobody really knew what to expect from the Colts in 2019, but after a strong 5-2 start to the season that included a victory over the Chiefs, it looked as if the Colts would make a second straight trip to the playoffs. However, the Colts would finish 2-7 down the stretch, despite having a relatively easy schedule and return to irrelevance.
After several offseason moves that included the signing of Philip Rivers (the presumptive 2020 starter), a trade for DeForest Buckner, and the drafting of Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor (Not to mention the signing of UDFA K Rodrigo Blankenship), the Colts expect to return to winning form in 2020.
In the AFC South, the league’s most unpredictable division, anything can happen. The Texans got worse and are never a lock for the division title, the Titans haven’t reached 10 regular season wins since 2008, and the Jaguars appear to be in yet another rebuild. The gates are wide open for the Colts to come galloping through, and with a 3rd place schedule, the Colts are set to succeed for this upcoming season.
If not, they may be forced into rebuilding mode. If the Colts are to struggle in 2020, it will surely be due to quarterback play, as was the case in 2019. No quarterback is more well protected than those behind the likes of Anthony Castonzo, Braden Smith, and All-Pro Quenton Nelson, and if Rivers, Jacoby Brisett, or even Jacob Eason can’t lead Indy to the promised land, the Colts may have to consider finding their next signal caller with a high draft pick.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Things were looking up for the Falcons not too long ago. The year was 2017, and they led the New England Patriots by a score of 28-3 with 2:12 to go in the 3rd quarter of Super Bowl LI. However, as everybody knows, that lead and their 99.7% win probability soon vanished, as the Patriots went on to complete the greatest comeback of all time (Yes, even greater than the Bills 35-3 comeback over the Oilers in 1993).
Since then, the Falcons have yet to win the AFC South again and have only made the playoffs once. Despite consistently having one of the top offenses in the league, they struggle to win games and stay healthy on defense. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are only getting older and nearing the end of their primes, and the defense has only regressed since the dominant 2016 campaign. HC Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff’s seats are among the hottest in the league, and together they will surely throw all assets at fixing the Falcons’ failures.
Ultimately, I find it unlikely that the Falcons will succeed in 2020. A third straight 7-9 year looks probable with a difficult schedule in a deathly division. Pending a biblical revival of the defense, a rebuild in Atlanta looks imminent for the Falcons, but luckily, they have another season to prove their worth.
2. Chicago Bears
As is the case with three of the other four teams on this list, the Bears have no security at the quarterback position for the upcoming season. After the 2018 season, it looked as if the Bears were set to contend for the future with a young quarterback and one of the top defenses in the league. However, fans’ Super Bowl aspirations turned into frustration directed at Mitchell Trubisky, who may have thrown his last pass as a Chicago Bear.
Windows of success tend to close quickly among teams that find their strength on the defensive side of the ball as contracts expire and players get older. The Bears are no exception, and they will be destined for years of mediocrity and possibly another rebuild if they can’t fix their issues at QB. Ryan Pace’s job hangs in the balance of the Bears 2020 season, so another 8-8 season or worse won’t be tolerated.
I predict that the Bears will find their quarterback of the (distant) future in Nick Foles after Trubisky struggles in the opening weeks of the season. Foles will thrive in his natural habitat, coming in as a backup and leading the Bears to at least 9 wins and a wildcard berth. With a strong defense that only bulked up during the offseason, Foles will have an easy task at hand, and his veteran experience will smooth out the offensive struggles. It may be wishful thinking, but the stars are aligned for Foles to shine once again in a familiar offensive system.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Less than two years ago, the Rams were on top of the NFC and one step away from winning the entire league. After a 13-3 loss in the Super Bowl and a few ill-advised contract extensions, they now stand with a roster worse than last year’s 9-7 squad and no first round pick in next year’s draft. The Rams are primed to disappoint yet again for many reasons.
The most notable is the lack of help they added to a low caliber offensive line. Jared Goff has no potential to play up to his $134 million contract if he is constantly under duress. In addition, the Rams also failed to address key holes on the defensive side of the ball. Edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and MLB Cory Littleton both left in free agency, two players who aren’t easily replaceable. They made no attempt to address the gaping hole left by Littleton, and have two unproven options to replace Fowler in Leonard Floyd and 3rd round pick Terrell Lewis.
On top of all that, they play in the toughest division in the NFL, the NFC West. The Seahawks are proven contenders year in and year out, the 49ers are hot off a 13-3 season that nearly ended with a ring, and the Cardinals are like an artisan cheese, only getting better with time. They will have the league’s second smallest fanbase backing them, second only to their new neighbors in SoFi Stadium. Expect another dip in wins for the Rams in 2020, as I boldly envision them failing to notch 6 victories for the upcoming season.