The NFL offseason is effectively over.
Yeah, Jadeveon Clowney will eventually find a team – at a vastly reduced rate – and Cam Newton will be on a roster somewhere, sometime, I figure, but most teams have shut up shop. They have spent their money and made their moves and maxed out most of their budgets. And with the global economy in uncharted territory in a pandemic, I wouldn’t be holding my breath about anyone loosening up the purse strings in a dramatic fashion.
Sure, there will be a three-hour celebration of the 2020 schedule release on Thursday night and we’ll all get wrapped up in the hoopla and start projecting records and all of that stuff … but back on Park Avenue at the league office the endless contingency meetings will continue with no one certain of how many games will be played and when they might start and where they will be played and whether or not any fans will attend any of them.
Given all of that, I wouldn’t expect many more blockbuster trades or transactions that radically alter the division of power in this league. At this point, with no plans for any spring practices or meetings, what you see is what you get. The only question is, when do these rosters actually all get to assemble in the same place to begin preparations for the 2020 season.
With that in mind, I figured this was as good a time as any to update my early predictions for the 2020 season. The prospect of players being lost for the season during OTAs is out of the equation for now, the idea of certain young players taking a huge leap based on their spring performances is out the window as well. And as things stand now, these are the teams I fancy to reach the revamped postseason (assuming that ends up looking anything like the format currently expected).
EAST: Bills. They have the best roster in this division and it doesn’t appear to be particularly close to me right now. Even if Josh Allen is more of a project than a solution, as long as he protects the football and does his thing with his legs they will be in the playoffs again. Top 5 defense and Stefon Diggs will be a game changer.
NORTH: Ravens. I don’t think this is going to be all that close. The MVP QB just turned 23 and has more speedy, twitchy pieces around him. The defensive line has bene totally recast. They actually have potentially impactful linebackers now, after the draft, and may have the best secondary in football. Unique scheme that is difficult to prepare for. Highly motivated after another one-and-done playoffs. Look out.
SOUTH: Colts. As long as Philip Rivers gets comfortable with the fact he can’t play hero ball, and assuming he listens to Frank Reich, whom he goes way back with, this is the team to beat in this division. With a stout line in front of him, Rivers can trust his protection. Colts defensive line got much more beastly with DeForest Buckner. They were close a year ago and will be more balanced in 2020.
WEST: Chiefs. Found a way to keep Chris Jones and get this whole thing under the cap, barely. Patrick Mahomes is the best player in football. They are Super Bowl favorites for a reason. Pay him. Get that done.
WILD CARD: Steelers, Chargers, Titans. If the Browns were not in yet another transition and having to break in yet another first-time head coach at a time when the entire offseason was wiped out, they would be in this group. But I anticipate a massive competitive advantage for teams with a continuity of scheme and QB, and the three above fit that bill. LA has oodles of talent and Tyrod Taylor will not turn the ball over. That alone is a huge leg up. I fall for this trick every year but the more I stare at their depth chart the more I like them. I believe Big Ben is nearing the end, but with that defense and an expanded playoff field, Mike Tomlin can guide them back to the postseason. They came darn close last year with shaky QB play. And the Titans find a way to win nine games every year and I suspect that is enough to get them in this year, too.
EAST: Eagles. Even if this is a lost year for Alshon Jeffrey and Desean Jackson again, they have sufficient reinforcements. The revamped secondary looks good to me. I don’t mind the Jalen Hurts selection and I bet they find ways to get him involved, too. As long as the injuries do not wipe out entire position groups as they did a year ago, I like the Eagles big here in what otherwise will be a poor division again.
NORTH: Vikings. The rest of this division has left me fairly baffled at multiple times since January. And Minnesota could have torn this thing up and started over and I would not have blinked, but doubling down on this group will prove good enough to win this suspect division. Mike Zimmer needs to let the offense do its thing, because I do have reservations about his side of the ball. This is not a coronation of the Vikes as much as consternation about the rest of this bunch. Packers picked an odd time to pick a fight with Aaron Rodgers.
SOUTH: Bucs. Yeah I am buying all of the hype. Brady and Gronk putting the band back together. Tom illegally sneaking into coach’s houses to get a leg up and getting busted breaking social distancing regulations to get a workout in. Super Bowl or bust. Bruce Arians can handle this and that defense is loaded with high picks. Strong enough offensive line and a ridiculous bounty of weapons on offense. I lean to Tampa over New Orleans because I think Brady out-performs Drew Brees at this twilight of their careers.
WEST: 49ers. Love their draft, coupled with the Trent Williams trade. Kept the DL elite even after dealing Buckner and Kyle Shanahan has all the tools he needs in the passing game now with Brandon Aiyuk in the fold. Already a dominant rushing team. Might be the best defense in football.
WILD CARDS: Saints, Seahawks, Cowboys. New Orleans is built to withstand an injury to Brees and still play into January. They will be a factor. Russell Wilson is good for about 10 wins a season and that ain’t changing anytime soon. And while I have deep reservations about the Cowboys defense and ability to stop anyone, they had a helluva draft and with an expanded field and getting to feast on the Skins and Giants, I figure they are good for a one-and-done playoff appearance.