Way Too Early 2020-21 NFL Season Predictions

Way+Too+Early+2020-21+NFL+Season+Predictions

Credit to: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Zorn, Writer

On May 7th, the official schedule for the 2020-21 NFL Season was announced. All 32 teams had their 16-game schedule revealed. So, naturally everyone immediately started writing record predictions for each team. I am one of those people. I will still make more official and, hopefully, more accurate and informed predictions closer to the start of the season (assuming the season still happens, fingers crossed), but for now here are my WAY TOO EARLY record predictions for every team for the upcoming season.

 

AFC North:

1. Baltimore Ravens, 12-4, #2 seed in the playoffs

2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-7, #7 seed in the playoffs

3. Cleveland Browns, 7-9, No playoff berth

4. Cincinnati Bengals, 6-10, No playoff berth

No surprises here, the Ravens will win the division again. As long as Lamar Jackson is their QB and John Harbaugh is their HC, the Ravens will be a powerhouse in the AFC. While I don’t see them repeating their same 14-2 season that they had last year, their record is still enough to get them a top two seed in the playoffs. The Steelers almost made the playoffs last year with a QB rotation of Mason Rudolph and “Duck” Hodges. It really showed me how far that defense can carry that team. With Roethlisberger back at QB, and Conner hopefully remaining healthy at RB, the Steelers should have no problem getting back to their winning ways and clenching a playoff berth, especially with seven spots now available. We were all hurt by the Browns last year. There was so much hype surrounding them, and they let us down. I never thought they were Super Bowl-caliber, but I definitely thought they were playoff material, and I was wrong. Now, the hype is starting again. New coach, a good draft, and they still have WR Odell Beckham Jr. (for now). But I’m not buying the hype this time. Like it or not, it’s the Browns, and they will always find ways to lose games they shouldn’t. I think the Browns will be in the playoffs…next year. Give Mayfield a season to get adjusted to the new offensive scheme (again) and keep the coach around no matter the record. That’s your path to success, Cleveland. The Andy Dalton era is over in Cincinnati, and every Bengal fan’s dream came true. Joe Burrow is the QB of the Bengals. But not only Burrow, the Bengals had a really solid free agency and draft. It will take some time for all the pieces to fall into place, but the Bengals could be a playoff-caliber team sooner rather than later. Not this season, though. I think 6-10 is a bit generous, and a 5-11 record would not surprise me. The Bengals have a tough schedule, which makes no sense considering they were the worst team in the NFL last year. So, Bengals fans, the playoff-era will return to Cincy, it’s just not this season.

 

AFC South:

1. Tennessee Titans, 10-6, #4 seed in the playoffs

2. Houston Texans, 10-6, #5 seed in the playoffs 

3. Indianapolis Colts, 6-10, No playoff berth

4. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-14, No playoff berth

The Titans were the surprise team of the AFC last year. After benching QB Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill, the Titans caught fire and made it all the way to the conference championship game. I think it is their time to win the South. The Texans almost guaranteed the Titans the first place spot when they traded away WR DeAndre Hopkins for a bag of chips. However, I still think the Texans will compete. Even though they lost Hopkins, they replaced him with Brandin Cooks,  who is not as good, but is still a No. 1 WR. J.J. Watt is still a part of that defense, and as long as DeShaun Watson is the Texans QB, I will never count the Texans out. The Colts have all the pieces of a playoff team, but for some reason, I really don’t trust Phillip Rivers to get them there. Predicting a 6-10 season for the Colts feels really wrong. They feel like an 8-8 or better team. But after looking at their schedule, that’s the record I’m predicting. As it gets closer to the season, my prediction might move to 8-8 but as of right now, I’m calling it 6-10. The Jaguars are going to be the worst team in the NFL this year. The defense is in shambles, a couple solid draft picks set them up well for the future, but not the immediate future. Some big names want out of Jacksonville so it proves that the organization is not in a good place right now. Minshew and Fournette could still pull out some wins for the Jaguars, and they could spoil some teams’ playoff chances near the end of the year. But my bet is that they will have the number one overall pick in next year’s draft.

AFC East:

1. Buffalo Bills, 11-5, #3 seed in the playoffs

2. Miami Dolphins, 8-8, No playoff berth

3. New England Patriots, 6-10, No playoff berth

4. New York Jets, 5-11, No playoff berth

Here’s what I don’t understand: the Buffalo Bills went 10-6 last year, made it to the playoffs, and were only two wins away from winning the division. Then, in the offseason, Tom Brady leaves the division, the Bills make solid free agency moves, have a good draft, and trade for WR Stefon Diggs. The Bills only got better, yet some people still say they’re going 8-8 or 9-7. It makes no sense. The Bills are going to win the division this year. They’re going 10-6 again at the least. I think 11-5 or 12-4 are more realistic. It all depends on whether or not QB Josh Allen takes the next step, and I think the addition of Stefon Diggs will help him take the next step. The one-two punch of Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss in the backfield will add another level to the offense. The defense is still one of the best in the league, so I see another playoff berth for the Bills this year. The Dolphins made some big improvements to their defense in free agency, and got their QB of the future in the draft. But, they still don’t really have a RB (Matt Brieda and Jordan Howard will do, but they’re not game changers), or a WR other than DeVante Parker. They won’t make the playoffs, and possibly won’t crack a winning record, but they are set up well for the future. 8-8 seems pretty fair for them. The Patriots are the biggest mystery going into this season. They could either be really good, or really bad. It really hinges on the success of QB Jarrett Stidham. Obviously, they won’t be the same team as last year, because they don’t have Tom Brady at QB anymore, but as long as Bill Belichick is the Head Coach I will never rule the Patriots out of a playoff spot. 6-10 is honestly most likely the floor for the Patriots, I really don’t see them winning any less than six games. Finally…the Jets. Every year we’re told not to underestimate them, and they always disappoint. Adam Gase has proven that he will never be able to maximize the talent on whatever team he coaches, and if Sam Darnold is ever going to reach his potential, it won’t be with Adam Gase. So, despite what some angry Jets fans have said on the internet, I’m going to continue to sleep on the Jets until I’m proven wrong. 

 

AFC West:

1. Kansas City Chiefs, 13-3, #1 seed in the playoffs

2. Denver Broncos, 10-6, #6 seed in the playoffs

3. Las Vegas Raiders, 5-11, No playoff berth

4. Los Angeles Chargers, 4-12, No playoff berth

The reigning Super Bowl champions retained 20/22 starters from their Super Bowl team in the offseason. So, they’re going to be pretty good again. Their only real threat is the Broncos, and while I think the Broncos will be good this year, I don’t see them beating out the Chiefs for the division. That being said, the Broncos look scary good this year. Their defense has been solid for the past couple years and that doesn’t change this year, but their offense has been somewhat of a question mark. But now they have second-year QB Drew Lock as their starter, a two-headed monster of Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay in the backfield, they added two fantastic WRs in the draft on top of the already amazing Courtland Sutton, and a solid TE in Noah Fant. While it may take a couple games for Lock to get going, all the talent in the world is right there at his fingertips, he just needs to maximize it. As for the Raiders, I know they were in the playoff race last year, so 5-11 seems like a big step down, and as we get closer to the season I could see that win total going up. But they have a tough schedule, there are still question marks surrounding the offense, and the defense really just isn’t there. There is still some talent, RB Josh Jacobs is almost a lock to improve on his already impressive rookie campaign, TE Darren Waller is possibly a top-15 TE in the league and the addition of WR Henry Ruggs in the draft adds some much needed receiving talent for Derek Carr. But I just don’t know if it will all come together. The Chargers are somewhat of a mystery. Right now, I’m going with the assumption that Tyrod Taylor will be the starter at QB for all 16 games. Now, Taylor isn’t a bad QB, but he’s nothing more than a simple game manager. I think 4 wins is actually too low, and I will be looking back at this schedule in August, but as for now, it’s what I see for the Chargers.

 

NFC North:

1. Minnesota Vikings, 11-5, #3 seed in the playoffs

2. Green Bay Packers, 10-6, No playoff berth

3. Chicago Bears, 5-11, No playoff berth

4. Detroit Lions, 3-13, No playoff berth

Honestly, I really wanted to put the Packers in the number one spot, and I jumped back and forth between them and the Vikings. But, the Vikings really just look like a better team this year. They have a better defense, better receivers, and their RB is just about equal with Green Bay’s. If QB Kirk Cousins can just figure out how to win in primetime games, the Vikings would be one of the best teams in the NFL. Still, either way I see a division win for the Vikings on the way. The Packers were one game away from the Super Bowl last year, and while they didn’t really get any better, they also didn’t really get any worse. Sure, if they added at least one WR in the draft, I would definitely have them winning the division. But Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger, and if teams can slow down WR Davantae Adams or neutralize RB Aaron Jones, the Packers offense is done for. Their defense isn’t anything special really, but it’s enough to get the job done. I think a 10-6 record is actually reasonable, but despite what my predictions say, I think the Packers will make the playoffs somehow. The Bears are in the middle of a QB nightmare right now. They have two very unappealing options lined up for them at QB. Either Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky. All signs are pointing to Foles being the starter, the Bears traded for him on that massive contract, and they declined Trubisky’s fifth year option. I think the Bears are better off if Foles is the starter but not that much better off. I honestly think we’ll see both QBs start this year, and this situation is a dumpster fire. The only good thing going for the Bears is their defense, and I think  if Foles can do enough to keep the Bears in games, the defense can seal the deal. Still, not an overly promising season for the Bears, but if they can snag a QB in next year’s draft, things might start to turn around. Finally, the Lions. Every year I want to say this team is going to do good and prove everyone wrong, but I just can’t. The Lions, simply put, just aren’t a good team. They have bright spots like QB Matthew Stafford, WR Kenny Golloday and TE T.J. Hockenson, and they added some solid rookie talent with CB Jeff Okudah and RB D’Andre Swift, but I still just can’t see it all coming together this year. The defense is still somewhat suspect and the offense is done for if Stafford goes down with an injury. As we move closer to the season, this win total could come up to around 5 or 6, but the Lions just won’t be a winning team this year.

 

NFC South:

1. New Orleans Saints, 13-3, #2 seed in the playoffs

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 11-5, #6 seed in the playoffs

3. Atlanta Falcons, 6-10, No playoff berth

4. Carolina Panthers, 5-11, No playoff berth

This division became a lot more interesting in this offseason, and there is a new threat for first place. Of course, I’m talking about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers adding QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski. But, as you can see, I still don’t think it’s enough to topple the Saints for the division. Year after year, the Saints are always one of the top-5 teams in the NFL. By adding WR Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints added another weapon for future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees to throw to, and now opposing defenses won’t be able to concentrate all their defensive power on WR Michael Thomas. Also, assuming RB Alvin Kamara is back to full health, that running game will be lethal again this year. Even though the Buccaneers look promising, I will never underestimate Drew Brees and that Saints team. Speaking of the Buccaneers, I have them taking a big leap from last year. There are pros and cons to getting rid of QB Jamies Winston, but since his replacement is Tom Brady, the Buccaneers made the right call. The Buccaneers went 7-9 with their QB throwing 30 interceptions last year. If they can do that, 10-6 is the floor with Brady as their QB. There are still some questions as to whether or not Brady will be able to maximize the downfield threat of WR Mike Evans, but other than that, this Buccaneers team looks really solid. I don’t believe the Super Bowl hype, but the playoff hype? I can buy into that. The Falcons could either be really good (like playoff-level good) or really bad (like Top-5 pick in the draft next year bad) this year. The team looked to be headed for a top-5 pick last year, but after their bye week they caught fire and looked like a completely different team. But, they are in one of the toughest divisions in football now with the Saints and Buccaneers both being powerhouses. I won’t be surprised if the Falcons end up with a winning record, but I think it’s more likely they end up at 6-10 like I predicted. The Panthers made some big improvements to their team, although I don’t know if moving on from QB Cam Newton was the right decision. But, signing Bridgewater as the new QB was a solid choice. They also started rebuilding their defense in the draft, but the real X-factor is RB Christian McCaffrey, as long as he is active, the Panthers can truly win any game they play, but I think some teams will be able to stop him better than others. The Panthers are trending upwards, but they still need a couple seasons to get back to the playoff caliber team that they can be.

 

NFC East:

1. Dallas Cowboys, 10-6, #4 seed in the playoffs

2. Philadelphia Eagles, 9-7, No playoff berth

3. New York Giants, 4-12, No playoff berth

4. Washington Redskins, 3-13, No playoff berth

Once again, the NFC East will be a battle between the Cowboys and Eagles for first place, and the Giants and Redskins will be non-factors. I think that this year the Cowboys will take first in the division. It was a close race last year, and it basically came down to one game. The Cowboys made a lot of improvements in the offseason. They fired HC Jason Garrett in favor of Mike McCarthy, and added amazing talent in the draft. There are some questions about whether or not QB Dak Prescott will hold out, but they have one of the best backup QBs in the league in the newly acquired Andy Dalton. Say what you will about Dalton, but he could win that Cowboys team game if he needed to.  So, I think no matter what happens at QB, the Cowboys are going to win the division. The Eagles are intriguing though. They also vastly improved by adding WR talent in the draft, and hopefully these receivers stay healthy. Despite all the injuries last year, the Eagles still won the division, so if they’re fully healthy this year, don’t count them out of the playoff race. The Giants could be better than I predicted, it all depends on if QB Daniel Jones takes a huge jump in efficiency, or if he hits a sophomore slump. The defense is still not great, but the offense looks promising. But, when it comes down to it, teams need to have a good offense and good defense to win games, and the Giants don’t have that good of a defense. The Redskins didn’t make enough improvements for me to consider them a good team. Of course, Chase Young will vastly improve that defense, but the offense still needs a lot of help. The big question is whether or not QB Dwayne Haskins is the future. Haskins didn’t impress too many people with what he did last year, and without too many receiving weapons it’s hard to say he’ll be any better this year. The Redskins have a lot of work to do in order to even sniff the playoffs, and it definitely won’t happen this year. 

 

NFC West:

1. Seattle Seahawks, 13-3, #1 seed in the playoffs

2. San Francisco 49ers, 12-4, #5 seed in the playoffs

3. Arizona Cardinals, 10-6, #7 seed in the playoffs

4. Los Angeles Rams, 7-9, No playoff berth

The NFC West is possibly the best division in football. Honestly, every team in this division are playoff contenders. Although, I do think the division will play out a little differently than last year. First off, I think the Seahawks will win it. They were literally half-a-yard short from the #1 seed last year, and they didn’t lose any key players. Their draft wasn’t the greatest but they are still a fantastic team, and if RB Chris Carson can stay healthy, the offense is practically unstoppable. The defense is questionable, but I think the Seahawks are going to do very well this year. Then, in a close second we have the 49ers. I think that they will suffer a little bit of Super Bowl hangover after losing to the Chiefs in February. But, they still have a strong defense, and their offense got a lot better, so I like their chances to repeat and go deep into the playoffs. I may be overhyping the Cardinals just a little bit, I’ll be honest. Yes, they got a lot better. They somehow managed to pry stud WR DeAndre Hopkins away from the Texans, and were able to draft LB Isaiah Simmons at pick eight. The O-Line is still questionable and the defense is still not great, but that offense alone can win them quite a few games. Honestly, when I relook at everything in August, I’ll probably drop one or two games off the win total for the Cardinals, but as of right now, they are looking like they will be one of the most fun teams to watch this coming season. Finally, the Rams. They’re not bad…but they really lost some key offensive weapons, especially RB Todd Gurley. They already missed the playoffs last year, and really didn’t get any better in the offseason, so they’re the only team in this division that I have with a losing record.