With the NFL season kicking off tonight, I decided to again comb through the entire NFL schedule and pick the winner of every game. The below are the results of that experiment based on raw data. Meaning, these records could actually happen. 256 wins, 256 losses. All dispersed amongst 32 teams. And at the very bottom I've got league superlatives.
1) Buffalo Bills (11-5) #3 seed in AFC
I love the addition of Stefon Diggs at WR1 for Josh Allen. I’m expecting for the Bills stout defense and revitalized running attack featuring Devin Singletary and Zack Moss to power them to a division title.
2) New England Patriots (8-8) #7 seed in AFC
I see the Pats run of dominance ending this season. And while plenty of prognosticators have forecasted that for several years now, this year is different. No Tom Brady. A team ravaged by COVID opt outs including notable starters LBs Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung.
3) Miami Dolphins (6-10)
The Dolphins I think will be better, they spent a record amount in Free Agency, but I’m not of the belief this team is actually a contender for the division.
4) New York Jets (5-11)
The Jets made some sneaky value signings, especially along the Offensive Line and I think GM Joe Douglas has this team going in the right direction, but it’s a long process and they’re at the beginning which unfortunately means they’re wasting Sam Darnold’s peak value as he’s on his rookie contract.
1) Baltimore Ravens (13-3) #1 seed in AFC
The Ravens are in another class as far as the rest of the league. They scored a TD on 41% of their drives in the 1st half of games last year. For context, the Chiefs scored a TD on 33% of those drives. Lamar Jackson is just a different dude from the neck up, so I actually think he could have similar numbers to this past season and drive them to a 13 win season.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) #5 seed in AFC
The Steelers should also be improved with some heavy hitters on defense like T.J. Watt, Cam Hayward, Devin Bush, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick. They were a different unit when Minkah came aboard last year and now they have a Quarterback.
3) Cleveland Browns (8-8)
The Browns will be very run heavy under new HC Kevin Stefanski who came from Minnesota, so expect big things from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. I think Baker will be much better too. Assuming OBJ is healthy, I’m seeing a much better season out of him.
4) Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
The Bengals offense last year was so vanilla and predictable. Yes, they added Joe Burrow and last year’s 1st rounder LT Jonah Williams will be playing after missing all of last season, but they need to mix up their playcalling a bit and play to their strengths a bit more. Joe Mixon can carry the mail on offense and they have a sneaky good receiving corps with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and rookie Tee Higgins, so Burrow won’t be alone out there.
1) Indianapolis Colts (10-6) #4 seed in AFC
The Colts currently have the easiest projected schedule in the NFL in 2020 and they started off 5-2 last year, so the pieces are there. Philip Rivers comes in as the new QB and rookie RB Jonathan Taylor can add some punch to a backfield that needs some juice. The Offensive Line is very good and the Defensive Line will be improved after the trade for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner. They will surprise some people this year.
2) Tennessee Titans (9-7) #6 seed in AFC
It’s hard to not like this team, especially since they made the very savvy move of picking up our guy Will Compton to pair him with his Bussin buddy Taylor Lewan. Arthur Smith is an awesome playcaller and really sets up his QB Ryan Tannehill for success. Derrick Henry is back toting the rock and now they’ve got Jadeveon Clowney to rush the passer. This is a playoff team again.
3) Houston Texans (7-9)
One of the more interesting teams in the league because of their philosophical shift with personnel. Bill O’Brien LOVES Runningbacks and he traded his best Receiver, DeAndre Hopkins for a seemingly washed up David Johnson and a 2nd round pick. Their Receiving corps will now be comprised of Brandin Cooks, the oft-injured Will Fuller, and Randall Cobb to go with Johnson who is a great pass catcher to pair with another great receiving back, Duke Johnson. Can they stretch the field and throw exclusively checkdowns to mismatches? Probably not, but not definitely not.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
They’ve had just an awful stretch of drafting and are now paying for it, but DT Taven Bryan looks like a player and EDGE rusher Josh Allen had a great rookie year. They had two 1sts this year with CB C.J. Henderson and EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, but they’re just nowhere near ready to win now. But Minshew magic will keep this team from going winless.
1) Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) #2 seed in AFC
The defending champions somehow got better in the off-season. Rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the perfect fit for this team and he brings versatililty at Receiver too. He’ll need to stay healthy as they don’t have much behind him as “Playoff Damien” Williams opted out for the season due to COVID along with their starting Right Guard. But Patrick Mahomes is healthy and so are all his weapons. Look out.
2) Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Derwin James just can’t stay healthy. He’s out for the year and that is a huge blow for what could be the best defense in the league. Their CBs are incredible with Casey Hayward, Desmond King, Chris Harris Jr. Not to mention their stellar rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They also beefed up their Offensive Line with the additions of RG Trai Turner and RT Bryan Bulaga. They could surprise some people this year.
3) Denver Broncos (6-10)
Von Miller being out for the year is a crushing blow. If both he and Bradley Chubb were healthy they would be one of the most dynamic pair of EDGE rushers in the league. But this team is pretty unknown. Drew Lock went 4-1 down the stretch and looked good enough to warrant a build around him. Will it work?
4) Las Vegas Raiders (6-10)
They won seven games last year, but all those wins were by one score. Josh Jacobs is a player and adding Henry Ruggs should open things up for him. Dispelling the ‘Derek Carr only checks down rumors’, he actually averaged a career-high 7.8 yards per attempt which was above the NFL average of 6.9 YPA.
1) Dallas Cowboys (11-5) #2 seed in NFC
Mike McCarthy takes over the reigns from Jason Garrett and they’re gonna lean heavily on Dak Prescott. I think Dak will actually be the league MVP which will certainly get Brandon Walker’s attention. Dak now has the best weapons he’s ever had with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup on the outside and now has a coach that should know how to utilize all those pieces. On defense, the bargain signing of DE Everson Griffin will pay dividends in January and I’m very interested to see if once promising EDGE rusher Aldon Smith can return to form after several years out of the league.
2) Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) #6 seed in NFC
Speaking of weapons, if the Birds Receivers can actually stay healthy this year, Carson Wentz could be firmly in the MVP discussion too. His rookie WR Jalen Reagor was already nicked up in camp and two starting Offensive Lineman have already been lost for the year in LT Andre Dillard and RG Brandon Brooks. Look for Miles Sanders to be Wentz’s best friend as he may catch 100+ balls.
3) New York Giants (6-10)
I foresee Clem taking a lot of laps season. I am a Daniel Jones believer, but they just don’t have the pieces on defense yet to compete. It doesn’t help they have the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL in 2020. On Offense they can at least be interesting with Danny Dimes and Saquon to go with Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram, but it’s hard to score more points than your opponent if you continually give up points.
4) Washington Football Team (5-11)
I think this team is actually headed in the right direction, but they’re in a similar spot as the Jets. Not quite ready to make that leap yet. Their Defensive Line is loaded with talent and they have FIVE 1st rounders there (Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young). But can Dwayne Haskins make the jump going into year 2?
1) Green Bay Packers (10-6) #4 seed in NFC
This team was a staggering 9-1 in one score games last year powering them to 13 wins. But Vegas has their O/U win total at 9 this year, so most are expecting that record in one score games to regress. For a team that was so close to the Super Bowl last year, they really didn’t improve at all with personnel. They drafted two backups (QB Jordan Love and RB A.J. Dillon) with their first two draft picks and they didn’t sign anybody else for Aaron Rodgers to throw to. All that being said, I still think they’re good enough to hang onto the Division.
2) Detroit Lions (8-8)
Matthew Stafford only played eight games last season and he threw 19 TDs against only 5 INTs before a back injury ended his season. He’s back (no pun intended) healthy this season and ready to pick up where he left off. On Defense, they traded away their best player (Darius Slay) but drafted another star CB in Jeff Okudah. I think this is the year we see Matt Patricia’s scheme start to actually work.
3) Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
Danielle Hunter is on IR, so he’ll miss at least three games. They also lost their top three Cornerbacks (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, & Mackensie Alexander) in free agency. Stefon Diggs is also gone, replaced by Justin Jefferson, but I’m expecting a drop off.
4) Chicago Bears (7-9)
Their Defense took a big step back last year, but they’re finally back healthy. Will it be enough? On Offense, there is plenty of hype around an Anthony Miller breakout, but Ryan Pace chose to invest heavily in Tight Ends this off-season with the Jimmy Graham signing on the drafting of Cole Kmet with their first pick in the draft. Apparently Mitchell Trubisky’s confidence is much higher this off-season, hopefully that translates to more Ws for Da Bears.
1) New Orleans Saints (12-4) #1 seed in NFC
They probably have the most complete roster in the NFL. But can they put it all together in the playoffs when good Defenses tighten up even more? Drew Brees in excellent, but at age 41, can he continue to hold up? Michael Thomas will be excellent and the Defense will be very good. They’re clearly all-in for this year.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) #5 seed in NFC
It may take them a few weeks to fully gel, but I think the Buccaneers are one of only a few teams (Saints, Ravens, 49ers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks, & Steelers among others) to have Super Bowl ready rosters. Tom Brady has looked fantastic so far in camp and the sky is the limit for him. Super Bowl LV is in Tampa this season, will it be a home game for the Bucs?
3) Atlanta Falcons (6-10)
This team is a mystery. They started 1-7 last year only to finish out 6-2 in their final eight games including wins at San Francisco and at New Orleans. What changed was Raheem Morris taking over as Defensive Playcaller. Will it carry over to this year? Maybe a little, but I’m still not seeing a successful season. Atlanta has the toughest projected schedule against the pass in 2020 and my guess is that Dan Quinn is fired with Morris being his successor after the season.
4) Carolina Panthers (2-14)
New HC Matt Rhule has slow starts wherever he’s gone and I expect the NFL to be no different. They completely overhauled their team and now feature Teddy Bridgewater at QB. But don’t bet against Teddy! He’s 31-9 against the spread in games he’s attempted at least one pass. But while they may cover, I still don’t like them outright winning a lot of games. Will Trevor Lawrence stay close to Clemson after the season?
1) Seattle Seahawks (10-6) #3 seed in NFC
Seattle added Jamal Adams in the off-season and I’m interested to see how he’s used. He previously moved all over on Defense, but Seattle typically plays a fairly basic Cover 3 Zone. We may be seeing a change as that relies on a strong pass rush and outside of Bruce Irvin, there isn’t one to really speak of. Jadeveon Clowney is gone and they need former 1st rounder L.J. Collier to step up. On Offense, they have three new starters on the Offensive Line which worries me, but Mr. Unlimited is coming off his career best year and he’s just that good.
2) San Francisco 49ers (9-7) #7 seed in NFC
I see the 49ers taking a bit of a step back, but still being a playoff team. Last year was the first time in Jimmy G's career he played more than seven games (he played all 16 in 2019), so counting on him to be there again for 16 games is less than likely. GM John Lynch did a great job replenishing lost assets with DT Javon Kinlaw and LT Trent Williams stepping in for DT DeForest Buckner and LT Joe Staley. An area of concern from 2019 was they were 25th in the NFL in Red Zone Defense, they’ll need to improve there in 2020 to have continued success.
3) Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
A very trendy playoff pick, I think the Cardinals will be much improved. They traded for WR DeAndre Hopkins and despite reports that they drafted WR CeeDee Lamb, they actually took LB/S/Nickel CB Isaiah Simmons which should help them defend versatile pieces like George Kittle.
4) Los Angeles Rams (6-10)
The Rams are paying Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks a combined $31M to play for different teams. Jared Goff is one of the top paid QBs in the league and they just didn’t do a good job managing their salary cap. They are depending on fantasy darling Cam Akers to run them to the promised land, but they’re in a tough division. I see them taking another step back.
And here are my predictions for the NFL Awards for the 2020 season:
MVP: Dak Prescott
Coach of the Year: Mike McCarthy (Dallas)
Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill
Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt
Super Bowl LV Matchup: Ravens vs. Cowboys
Super Bowl LV Champion: Baltimore Ravens
And while you're here, take a listen to the latest episode of Going Deep as Willie Colon and I preview the full Week 1 slate and sit with Broncos Safety Kareem Jackson for a special Monday Night Football preview of Denver vs. Tennessee: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher