The NFL offseason is just starting to take shape, but the minds of fans are already turning towards the start of the 2020 season. Barring setbacks due to COVID-19, the NFL season is set to start on September 10, 2020, which means 150 more days of purgatory. Like every season for every sport, the 2020 NFL season will be full of new stories, surprises, and twists. Here are my 5 boldest predictions for the 2020 season, just a little bit ahead of schedule.
5. Cardinals Finish 10-6, 3 NFC West Teams in Playoffs
The stars are aligning in Phoenix for the Cardinals to return to relevance. GM Steve Keim, an early candidate for Executive of the Year, has built a dangerous offense with Deandre Hopkins, Kyler Murray, and Kenyan Drake. Arizona also holds the 8th overall pick, which they will likely use to give K1 better protection. Competition will be stiff in the NFC West, but the Cardinals have the upside to shock the league. I envision them as the #6 seed, with the 49ers as the #5 seed, and the Seahawks taking the NFC West crown.
4. Cousins, Vikings Regress Without Stefanski
It appears as if the questions about Kirk Cousins’ legitimacy began to dissipate. Cousins led the Vikings to a 10-6 record and an NFC Divisional berth in 2019 but struggled in prime time against winning teams. He posted respectable numbers in 2018 and 2019 under OC Kevin Stefanski and threw fewer interceptions than during his time in Washington and set a career-high in passing touchdowns.
Stefanski left this offseason to become head coach of the Browns, and Cousins will have trouble posting the same solid numbers, especially with the lack of face-to-face offseason preparation.
3. Rams Flame Out, Finish 3-13
No team suffered more during free agency than the Rams. They lost many key pieces, including Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler Jr., and 2017 OPOY Todd Gurley, not to mention kicker Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein.
On the turf, Jared Goff has shown flashes but is a good system QB at his best, and a Vince Young-level bust at his worst. To top it all off, the Rams play in the toughest division in professional sports with 3 other teams that expect to win. 3-13 may seem like a stretch, as the Rams still have solid core pieces, but things are trending in the wrong direction in LA.
2. No Fairytale Ending for Brady
Hopes are high in Tampa Bay, as fans expect the Buccaneers to return to the playoffs in 2020 after being one of just two teams to not make the playoffs during the 2010s (The other is the Browns). With possibly the greatest quarterback of all-time on the roster along with two top 10 receivers, Bucs fans have reason to believe. However, I predict they will end up with a familiar feeling of disgust at the end of the season.
Tom Brady will be 43 at the start of the season, and Father Time may be catching up with him once and for all. In 2019, Brady’s numbers took a significant drop and the Patriots failed to make the AFC Divisional for the first time in a decade, even with a stellar defense. Aging NFL stars quite often look for one last run at glory with new teams, such as Emmitt Smith with the Cardinals, Brett Favre with the Jets, and Jerry Rice with the Seahawks. These attempts at bringing success to a new franchise frequently fail, and with Brady’s regression apparent, there’s no indication that TB12 will be successful in TB.
1. New England Patriots… Super Bowl LV Champs
Yes, this would be the ultimate shocker, but there are very few reasons as to why the Patriots can’t make a deep run. The AFC East is improving, but only one team, the Bills, has a legitimate chance to challenge the Patriots. Bill Belichick is the true mastermind behind the success of the Patriots and has proven over the last two decades that he can win with just about anybody.
Obviously, the departure of Tom Brady hurts, but Brady was a shell of his former self in 2019 and can be easily replaced. There are many possible replacement options that would work, including Jarrett Stidham, who spent the last year learning the offense under Brady, or Cam Newton, who is still available on the free-agent market. No matter who is under center in New England, the Patriots will have a good shot at winning with Bill Belichick at the helm, and can easily be in contention in 2020.