2020-21 NFL Season Official Predictions

2020-21+NFL+Season+Official+Predictions

Credit to: PFF

Carson Zorn, Sports Writer

With the NFL season less than a week away, and training camp slowly coming to a close, it’s time to attempt to predict the record for every team. Obviously, these predictions are extremely subjective, and if you disagree with my predictions let me know in the comments or on Twitter @PatPressSports, I would love to hear other predictions and reactions. Without further adieu, here are my final record predictions for all 32 NFL teams.

 

AFC North:

1. Baltimore Ravens: 12-4, #2 Seed

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7, #6 Seed

3. Cleveland Browns: 8-8, No playoff berth

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

With the emergence of Lamar Jackson, this has become the Ravens division to lose. The Ravens have a potent rushing attack that only got better with the drafting of Ohio St. RB J.K. Dobbins. They also have a shutdown defense that also improved by drafting LB Patrick Queen and trading for DE Calais Campbell. The receiving core is still a little weak, but if second-year receiver ‘Hollywood’ Brown steps up, it shouldn’t be a huge problem. While I don’t see them winning 14 games again this year, I still think they will be a great team. My only concern is that teams with stronger defenses will figure out how to neutralize Lamar Jackson as a runner, and force him to make passes he wouldn’t normally make, leading to more mistakes. It started to happen a little bit last year with the Bills and 49ers defenses, but overall, the Ravens are still looking like division winners. 

The Steelers almost made it to the playoffs last year solely because of how good their defense was. Once QB Ben Roethlisberger went down with injury, I honestly wrote the Steelers off, because their QB rotation was pretty bad. But, they proved me wrong time and time again. I think if Roethlisberger is even 60% of his 2018 self, the Steelers will make the playoffs. As much as it pains me as a Bengals fan to say it, the Steelers are a pretty good football team. 

Almost everyone was onboard the Browns hype train last year, and almost everyone regretted that decision by mid-November. Freddie Kitchens, simply put, was not the right HC for the Browns, and he did not help QB Baker Mayfield’s development at all (Mayfield threw 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions). Luckily for the Browns, Freddie Kitchens is no longer their HC, as they fired him and hired former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski is a way more promising prospect than Kitchens was, and he might be the one that is finally able to make the Browns offense click. That being said, he is a first year HC for a team that still has some holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and it will take more than a year for the Browns to re-enter the playoff conversation. I think 8-8 is a solid expectation for them, and I could honestly see them winning up to 10 games, but I am tempering my expectations, so I can be pleasantly surprised by the Browns, instead of let down by them. 

As for the Bengals, they have a bright future with Burrow as their franchise QB, but rookie QBs rarely take their team to the playoffs in the first year. Burrow will definitely help the Bengals improve on their 2-14 record from last year, and the Bengals made a lot of solid free agency signings in order to create a team that Burrow can lead to success. If A.J. Green is healthy for 75% of games this year, the offense will be hard to stop, the defense is the question mark for the Bengals. While they have a spectacular defensive line, the linebacking core and secondary are still going through some growing pains with a lot of young talent, especially in the linebacking core. The Bengals feel like a 5 or 6 win team this year, simply put. I have a gut feeling they will eventually return to winning records under Burrow, but just not this year.

 

AFC South:

1. Tennessee Titans: 9-7, #4 Seed

2. Houston Texans: 8-8, No playoff berth

3. Indianapolis Colts: 8-8, No playoff berth

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

I could honestly see any team except the Jaguars winning the AFC South. They each have an X-factor on their team that could push them to an unexpected win, and given that I think all three finish between 9-7 and 8-8, one win would be all they need for a division title.

The Titans X-Factor is RB Derrick Henry. He was a monster for them all last year, and single-handedly carried the Titans offense in the playoffs. In return, he got a pretty hefty contract. He can carry the Titans again if need be, but if the Titans rely exclusively on Derrick Henry they won’t win the division, their offense would be too one dimensional. They need QB Ryan Tannehill to continue the tear he was on last year and light up opposing defenses with ease. The defense is solid and the O-Line is good, so the Titans can win almost any game, it all depends on if Tannehill is up to the task. I think Tannehill will return to his former self this year, and be very hot and cold, but I think his ‘hot’ games combined with Derrick Henry will be enough to get the Titans the division win. 

I think way too many people wrote off the Texans after they traded away DeAndre Hopkins. While it is a huge blow to their offense, they still have a great offense, mostly because of their X-Factor, QB DeShaun Watson. I believe Watson can be a winning QB no matter who his receivers are, because he’s just that good at football. While they don’t have Hopkins anymore, the Texans did trade for WR Brandin Cooks, who I think could be a B-version of DeAndre Hopkins, and still be the WR1 the team needs. They also have good receiving talent in Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills and hopefully newly acquired RB David Johnson works out for them. While I do have them at 8-8, part of me still feels they’ll find a way to win the division and make the playoffs.

I was very low on the Colts earlier in the year, but my expectations for them have gone up since. They were a 7-9 team last year with Jacoby Brissett at QB, and they made a massive improvement at the position by signing Phillip Rivers. I think 8-8 is the new floor for the Colts as long as their playmakers stay healthy. Their offensive line is maybe the best in the league, their defense is stacked, and they have great players at the skill positions which now included rookie RB Jonathon Taylor and rookie WR Michael Pittman. It all rests on if Phillip Rivers plays like he did in 2018 or 2019. If it’s 2018, the Colts are set for success, if it’s 2019, there might be some trouble in Indy.

The Jaguars have all but announced that they are tanking in 2020. They have traded away almost every good player on that team for practically nothing, cut their first round RB (Leonard Fournette), and have left starting QB Gardner Minshew with no one but DJ Chark to throw to. Both their offense and defense are set up to fail, and that is why I predict they will have the number one overall pick come April.

 

AFC East:

1. Buffalo Bills: 11-5, #3 Seed

2. New England Patriots: 9-7, #5 Seed

3. Miami Dolphins: 5-11, No playoff berth

4. New York Jets: 4-12, No playoff berth

Even with Cam Newton as the Patriots QB, I still like the Bills’ chances to win the division. There’s just too many good players on that Bills team for me to say any differently. The Bills went 10-6 last year, and the team only got better in the offseason, so I don’t see how they’re not going at least 10-6 again. The one win difference this year? I think they beat the Patriots in Buffalo. Ending their losing streak to the Patriots. Not only do the Bills have one of, if not, the best defenses in football, they made massive improvements to their offense in the offseason. They brought WR Stefon Diggs in from Minnesota, and while it cost them a first rounder, it will be worth it in the end because now QB Josh Allen has a true number one WR. The Bills offense was missing that last year, and it cost them some big games. They also added RB Zach Moss in the draft who will create a solid one-two punch with fellow RB Devin Singletary. The Bills are set up for success as long as Josh Allen continues positively developing. If he regresses this year, his time in Buffalo may be quicker than most thought.

Many people, including myself, disregarded the Patriots as soon as Tom Brady left. But, as soon as the signed Cam Newton, a lot of people were calling them Super Bowl contenders. I personally wouldn’t go that far, but I think they can be a wild card team this season. Their defense, despite some key players opting out, is still one of the best in the league, the question marks come on the offensive side of the ball. The WR core is slim, the RB core is banged up, and most importantly, one injury to Cam Newton and it’s all over. So, the Patriots are skating on very thin ice, but as long as Cam Newton stays healthy, they should be able to put together a winning record.

The Dolphins, despite their predicted record, improved a ton in the offseason. Their defense now has way more playmakers, and they got their franchise QB in the draft. The reason it’s tough to predict their record is I don’t know when rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to start. I think their offense will operate better under Tua, but if he doesn’t come in until halfway through the season, the season might already be lost by then. The other concern is that the Dolphins’ number two and three WRs opted out, which means defenses can key in on DeVante Parker more often. They did improve their RB room by adding Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, but their O-Line is still sub-par. The Dolphins are definitely on an upward trend, this season is just a big question mark.

The Jets’ roster is in shambles. They traded away their best defensive player (Jamal Adams) and their second best defensive player (C.J. Mosley) opted-out of the season. The offense has almost no good receivers, Sam Darnold is still developing, and RB Le’Veon Bell has reportedly had an unimpressive training camp. On top of all that Adam Gase is the Head Coach of the Jets, and he is known for not being able to utilize a player’s talent to the fullest (Examples: Ryan Tannehill and Kenyan Drake). The Jets, simply put, do not look like a good team, and I think it will show in 2020.

 

AFC West:

1. Kansas City Chiefs: 12-4, #1 Seed

2. Denver Broncos: 9-7, #7 Seed

3. Las Vegas Raiders: 6-10, No playoff berth

4. Los Angeles Chargers: 6-10, No playoff berth

The reigning Super Bowl Champs maintained almost every starter from their championship winning roster, and improved it by adding rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I don’t normally think teams can win back-to-back Super Bowls, but if any team could do it, I think it would definitely be this Chiefs squad. The main knock against the team is that their defense, while it has its stars, isn’t anything special. But that doesn’t matter, because the offense is the best in the NFL. QB Patrick Mahomes broke the record for an NFL contract this offseason, and rightfully so, because he is the best QB in the NFL right now. The receiving core is impeccable and, like I said, they have a talented young RB in Edwards-Helaire. Everything is looking up for the Chiefs.

For the first time since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos actually look like a promising team. Their defense looks great, and their offensive weapons are outstanding. The only remaining question is if second-year QB Drew Lock can utilize those weapons, and lead the Broncos to a winning season. Lock didn’t start many games for the Broncos last season, and in the games he started he didn’t look amazing, but he didn’t look terrible either. I think he can take that step forward and put the Broncos in the playoffs. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s extremely difficult for teams to win in Denver.

The Raiders looked promising at the beginning of last year, but then the wheels fell off the wagon about midseason. Now they’re in a new home in Las Vegas, with a better receiving core, and a healthy Josh Jacobs (RB). But I still have extreme doubts about them for two reasons: their defense and their QB situation. The Raiders’ defense has not been the same ever since they traded Khalil Mack away, and they’ve been scrambling to replace him ever since, to no avail. Their D-Line is uninspiring, as is their LB core, and their secondary was one of the easiest to throw the ball on in 2019. As for Derek Carr, I’ve never found him to be a particularly inspiring QB, even when he had a decent receiving core. So, I don’t have high hopes for the Raiders this year, despite their offensive improvements.

The Chargers have all the makings of a winning team, except for a great QB. Tyrod Taylor is a serviceable starter who can beat teams .500 or under, but in a division where 25% of the Chargers’ schedule is the Chiefs and Broncos, they just aren’t likely to be a winning team in 2020. Their defense is fantastic, although the injury to Derwin James is a big blow to the secondary. The skill positions are stacked, with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams at WR, Austin Ekeler at RB, and Hunter Henry at TE. They just don’t have the right QB to piece it all together, but maybe Justin Herbert can be that QB after developing.

 

NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers: 10-6, #4 Seed

2. Minnesota Vikings: 9-7, No playoff berth

3. Detroit Lions: 7-9, No playoff berth

4. Chicago Bears: 5-11, No playoff berth

The Packers desperately needed to improve in the offseason, and they didn’t. They desperately needed to draft or sign a true WR2 to help out Aaron Rodgers, and they didn’t. But, with all that said, I still see them winning the division because of how mediocre every other team in the division is. Despite not really having a receiver besides Davantae Adams, Aaron Rodgers made it work last year. But, I think it’s highly unlikely the Packers repeat their 13-3 record from last year, due to the lack of depth at WR. On the defensive side, while the D-Line is great, almost every other position on the defense is questionable, especially the linebacker core. So, while it’s troubling to predict it, and I don’t feel incredibly confident in it, I’m taking the Packers to win the division.

The Vikings are the only other team with a chance to win the division. The only problem is that they had some key losses in the offseason. WR Stefon Diggs is gone, CBs Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander have all departed, DE Everson Griffen is now in Dallas, and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski is now the Head Coach of the Browns. The team took gut punch after gut punch in offseason losses, and picked up rookies to replace most of those losses. The Vikings offense will rely heavily on RB Dalvin Cook this year, and he doesn’t have a great history with injuries thus far, so that’s a big concern. But Head Coach Mike Zimmer always seems to find a way to get the Vikings into the playoffs, so who’s to say he can’t do it again this year?

As much as I don’t like to say it, the Lions actually looked alright until Matthew Stafford got injured last year. I mean they only got three wins in seven weeks, but they looked impressive in some of their losses. I’m still nowhere near being sold on their defense, but the offense, with the addition of RB D’Andre Swift, could do some real damage. I like the Lions chances to win games that are shootouts, but not so much games in which the opposing team has a top-10 defense. I think 6-10 is the floor for the Lions, and 9-7 is the ceiling, so it’ll be interesting to see how the season plays out.

The Bears are locked into QB nightmare, where they have to choose between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles. The reports from camp are as expected, that Nick Foles looks like the starter, which is the lesser of two evils, I guess. It doesn’t help that the Bears have no O-Line, so whoever ends up as the starter is likely not going to have too much time to throw. I honestly think we’ll see both QBs as the starter multiple times throughout the season, and the flip-flopping of the starting QB job will cause long-term offensive inefficiency. The defense also took a major step backwards last year, and while they may improve this year, the offense is such a big concern that it won’t even matter that much. It’s crazy to think that just two years ago the Bears won this division.

 

NFC South:

1. New Orleans Saints: 13-3, #2 Seed

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-6, #6 Seed

3. Atlanta Falcons: 7-9, No playoff berth

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

The Saints are still the best team in the NFC South, with or without Brady on the Bucs. Drew Brees is a top-five QB in the NFL, with a top-five WR (Michael Thomas) and a top-five RB (Alvin Kamara). They also added WR Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason to be the extra boost the receiving core needed. The offense is riddled with talent at every position, and will almost never be the reason the Saints lose a game. The defense is pretty stacked overall, with some weakness at the LB position. Simply put, they’re one of the best teams on paper in the NFL year in and year out, and they always translate that to the field. 

The Buccaneers easily became one of the most interesting teams in the offseason. They waved goodbye to Jameis Winston and brought in Tom Brady to play QB. They managed to get TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, and they had a good draft. Most recently, they added Leonard Fournette at RB, which, in short, means they have the most talented offense in the NFL (Yeah, I said it). The two questions that remain are: “Is Brady going to be able to utilize that offensive talent?” and “How is the defense going to hold up against teams with above average offenses?” I think the more pressing of those two is about the defense. Tom Brady has always been a steady producer, and he has six Super Bowl rings to show for it. The defense is the biggest part of whether or not this team succeeds. While the D-Line has some talent, and their LB is made up of extremely promising talent, their secondary is where things get shaky, and in the pass-happy NFC South, that’s the last group of players a team would want to be shaky. So, while I think the offense will keep them in almost any game, the defense is where they could lose games. A Wild Card berth seems almost inevitable. 

The Falcons looked like two completely different teams last season. For the first half of the season they were slow and unmotivated. But all the sudden, in the second half of the season, they started playing like a real NFL team and won a bunch of games. Will it be that way this season, or will we get the unmotivated Falcons? I think we get the offensive happy Falcons that put up a lot of points in almost every game, but it won’t always be enough points to win. It’s a shame the Falcons can’t put a decent defense around their stellar offense, because Matt Ryan and Julio Jones deserve Super Bowl rings.

Although they made a lot of improvements in the offseason, this is going to be a year where the Panthers go through a lot of growing pains. A new coaching staff, a new QB, and a newer defense all contribute to what will be a developmental season for most of these players. RB Christian McCaffrey and WR D.J. Moore will still produce at high levels, but almost all other players need a year to adjust, and that’s why I have the Panthers in last place. 

 

NFC East:

1. Dallas Cowboys: 11-5, #3 Seed

2. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7, #7 Seed

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

4. Washington Football Team: 3-13, No playoff berth

The Cowboys have all the tools in place to be a winning team this year, and if they aren’t, Dak Prescott has to go. The offense is loaded with talent, from RB Ezekiel Elliot, to the three headed monster they have at WR that includes Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. The defense is stacked too, and it got even better with the signing of DE Everson Griffen. They also finally got rid of Jason Garrett as HC and brought in Mike McCarthy. This team is primed for a Super Bowl run, it all just depends on if Dak is the guy who can get them there or not.

For a team that had literally no WRs last year, the Eagles STILL made the playoffs. I think there’s absolutely no reason they can’t do it again. Despite the fact that he is destined to never complete a playoff game, Carson Wentz is a truly exceptional QB who put up impressive stats last year when he had no one to throw to. The Eagles helped him out by adding a WR in the draft, and hopefully Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson can get back to full health. The only problem is, Wentz might not stay healthy all season, because a lot of the stars on the O-Line opted out of this season. If Wentz gets hit too many times, it might mean trouble for the Eagles. The defense is still solid enough to keep them in games, and the coaching staff is practically perfect for this roster, so don’t count the Eagles out of the playoff race this year.

I think a breakout season is on the way for Giants QB Daniel Jones, but I don’t think it will translate into a winning record for the whole team. The defense is still incredibly suspect, and they didn’t make any major improvements over the course of the offseason, with the exception of the signing of CB Logan Ryan. Their offense looks strong though. As I already said, I expect Daniel Jones to break out. RB Saquon Barkley has already established himself as one of the best in the league, and the receiving core of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate and Evan Engram is extremely promising. But, I just don’t see it all coming together because of the lack of defensive weapons. Someday soon the Giants will be a threat for the East, just not yet.

The newly named Washington Football Team made a massive coaching improvement by hiring Ron Rivera to be their new Head Coach. Unfortunately, they didn’t improve much else on their team. With the exception of drafting DE Chase Young, their defense is still sub-par, and QB Dwayne Haskins doesn’t exactly have the weapons in order for him to take a step forward, so the offense will once again be inefficient. The Football Team is also going through a lot of problems off the field, which I will not get in to here. Short and sweet, the Washington Football Team, is not going to be a very good football team this year.

 

NFC West:

1. Seattle Seahawks: 13-3, #1 Seed

2. San Francisco 49ers: 11-5, #5 Seed

3. Arizona Cardinals: 8-8, No playoff berth

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

More likely than not, I’m overhyping the Seahawks. But it’s so hard not to. They have one of the best QBs currently playing, a great RB core, a solid receiving core, and a defense that has massively improved after trading for Jamal Adams. A true secondary stud is what the Seahawks really felt like they were missing last year. The offense had all the pieces in place last year until RB Chris Carson went down with an injury, but the defense was easy to burn. Especially with DE Jadeveon Clowney likely out, they needed another defensive playmaker, and they got one. So, I like the Seahawks to win the division and also the first round bye in the playoffs.

The 49ers blew a lead in the Super Bowl, simply put, I think they will suffer from Super Bowl hangover this year. But not enough to push them out of the playoffs. The roster is riddled with talent, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. From George Kittle and Raheem Mostert, to Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman, the team is almost unbeatable. Keyword there is almost. I think they could lose a couple more games than they did last year, but still win enough to push them into the playoffs, although I don’t see another Super Bowl appearance for them this year.

I’ll admit it, I overhyped the Cardinals a bit in my previous article. Despite gaining DeAndre Hopkins and Isaiah Simmons, they are still not a playoff ready team. QB Kyler Murray still has some progressing to do, and while having DeAndre Hopkins on the team will help his development, I don’t think the rest of the team, more specifically the defense and O-Line, can help get this tem to the playoffs. The O-Line is porous and allowed Kyler Murray to get sacked 48 times last year, tied for the most in the league. The defense has some stars, but isn’t consistent enough to prevent opposing teams from scoring at will. The Cardinals might squeak their way into the playoffs in a year or two, but in the hotly contested NFC, I just don’t see them making it this year.

The Rams were in a cap space nightmare pre-draft. Their cap space was so low, they literally couldn’t have signed any of the rookies they drafted. How did they deal with this? By getting rid of their best players. Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Clay Matthews are all gone, and with them, most of the playmakers. QB Jared Goff is nothing special, yet somehow, his receiving core still is. WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods will do everything in their power to save the offense, but will it be enough? The defense, obviously, is still in alright shape because they have the best defensive player in the NFL, Aaron Donald. On top of that they have CB Jalen Ramsey, who is one of the better corners in the league. I just don’t think the offense will be efficient enough to get the Rams to a winning record this year.

 

So, there they are, my predictions. It was a lot of fun going through schedules and making my predictions, but it will be even more fun when football starts. The NFL season starts Thursday, September 10th when the Texans take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead.