On Feb. 2, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers to win their first-ever Super Bowl. The world has changed a lot since then, and it is under that backdrop that the NFL returns to action as the 2020 regular season kicks off in full this weekend. Here are some previews and predictions for how each division will turn out.
For the first time since the day I was born, Tom Brady is not a member of the New England Patriots, meaning that the AFC East is wide open. This will be an interesting division to watch, as the young quarterbacks for the other three teams (the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets) will try to step up and dethrone the Patriots. The Patriots should not be left out of the conversation, though, as they have an intriguing talent in their quarterback, Cam Newton. However, the loss of Brady, combined with other key players opting out for this season, will likely prove too difficult to overcome despite the addition of the former league MVP Newton. All things considered, I am picking the Bills to win the division because of a stout defense, led by players such as cornerback Tre’Davious White, and an offense that could make strides with the combination of QB Josh Allen and newly acquired receiver, Stefon Diggs.
The AFC South title race this season will be a battle between the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts. I predict the Houston Texans, despite their world-class quarterback Deshaun Watson, having lost too much talent after trading away superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, for a weak return. Hopkins’ likely replacement as the Texans’ number one receiver, Will Fuller, has potential but he has never demonstrated the ability to stay healthy through an entire season.
The Jaguars traded everyone away and don’t have the requisite talent to compete for the division title this year. That leaves the Colts, who have a talented roster and have acquired Philip Rivers as a quarterback, and the Titans, who are coming off an AFC title game appearance and are bringing back the majority of their roster from last season. Between the two teams, the Colts will likely win the division with their strengths in having the better quarterback and overall roster top to bottom, especially with the addition of rookie Jonathan Taylor at running back.
The AFC North will be the most competitive division as all four teams come into the season with positive momentum. After winning the division with ease last year, before a brutally disappointing performance in the playoffs, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are coming in as motivated as ever to get back to the playoffs. However, their road to a division title will be much more difficult in 2020, as veteran Ben Roethlisberger returns to helm the Pittsburgh Steelers. Likewise, Odell Beckham Jr. and the Browns hope to avoid flushing yet another season down the drain, this time betting that a new coach can help them play like fans expected them to last season. As for the fourth team, the Bengals are still rebuilding but could make some noise with Joe Burrow at QB and Joe Mixon at running back. Ultimately out of these four teams, I predict the Ravens will win the division because of Lamar and their defense, with the Steelers not far behind in second and in a likely wild-card spot.
The AFC West is the Chiefs to lose. They brought back all of their pieces from their Super Bowl run and have the most talented roster by far. The Broncos and Chargers are still rebuilding their offense around young quarterbacks, and I don’t expect much from Derek Carr and the Raiders this season.
The East will be yet another battle between the Cowboys and Eagles. While Washington and the Giants are looking to improve, they are still nowhere close to contending status. The Cowboys are coming into this season with a new coach and the hopes that QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliot play up to expectations. At the end of the day, I think they will come up just short, as the Philadelphia Eagles, with QB Carson Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson in tow, remain the favorite to win the division.
Heading into the season, the biggest storyline in the entire league is the hype surrounding the Buccaneers after the addition of Tom Brady as a quarterback. A lot of people have the Bucs as the frontrunners in the division title race, but not this writer; that label still belongs to Drew Brees and the Saints until proven otherwise. They are still the best team in the division and I expect Sean Payton and Brees will find a way to win another division title. The Bucs will have kinks to work out and won’t be as good as expected. Similarly, both the Falcons and Panthers are not quite there talent-wise.
The Packers are in the strongest position in the NFC North because they have Aaron Rodgers. However, that does not mean it won’t be intriguing, as both the Vikings and Lions will battle it out to try to dethrone the Packers. Getting Matthew Stafford back from injury and adding Adrian Peterson will make for a more potent Detroit offense and an improved record from last year. Likewise, I think that Kirk Cousins will take the momentum from playoff success last year and have a better regular season. However, I have them coming up short. The Bears are the team in the division left out of this battle, but that’s not surprising since they kept Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has been disastrous for Chicago, at times demonstrating miserable accuracy and a suspect ability to even throw to the left side of the field. Ultimately, the Packers will win the division, but I expect the Vikings and Lions to be in playoff contention for a wild card spot.
The NFC West will be the closest division battle out of all the NFC divisions, coming down once again to the Niners and Seahawks. The Niners are hoping to recreate last year’s success that saw them come up just short in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. The Seahawks, on the other hand, are hoping to redeem themselves after losing the division last year in Week 17. I think the Seahawks will win the division because it is unlikely that Jimmy Garoppolo can recreate the success he had last year. The Seahawks, on the other hand, will be motivated and has superstar QB Russell Wilson. As for the other two teams in the division, the Rams and Cardinals are on the rise and could both vie for a wild card spot. At the end of the day, it will be Seattle winning the division with San Francisco in second.
Wild Card Teams
AFC: Steelers, Titans
NFC: 49ers, Vikings
David Gottlieb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.