Lamar Jackson will lead the NFL in passing touchdowns (again). The Jets will finish with the worst record in the league. The Seattle Seahawks will win the Super Bowl.
With the NFL season underway, here is one bold prediction for every team in the 2020 season:
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow sets the NFL record for most touchdown passes by a rookie.
Burrow’s divisional and in-state rival Baker Mayfield set the record in 2018 with 27 touchdowns passes, and did so in just 14 games for the Browns after taking over for Tyrod Taylor. Burrow is coming off a historic season at LSU in which he set the single-season Football Bowl Subdivision record with 60 touchdown passes. He has plenty of talented receivers to throw to in A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins, and running back Joe Mixon even had three touchdown catches out of the backfield last season. This record could fall with several games still to play.
Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett breaks Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record.
Strahan totaled 22½ sacks (with a little help from Brett Favre) in 2001 with the Giants, and while several pass rushers have gotten close since — the Vikings' Jared Allen and the Chiefs' Justin Houston each reached 22 — nobody has been able to top that total. Garrett had 10 sacks in 10 games last season before he was suspended indefinitely for striking Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet. He’ll see plenty of double teams, but opponents won’t totally sell out to stop him since the Browns have one of the best defensive lines in the league. After receiving $100 million guaranteed in his new contract, the most ever for a defensive player, Garrett will prove to be well worth the price.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson leads the league in passing touchdowns again.
Picking Jackson to repeat as Most Valuable Player or the Ravens to win the Super Bowl isn’t bold enough. So let’s take the most heavily criticized part of Jackson’s game and turn it into a strength. He was one of the league’s most efficient passers last season, throwing a touchdown pass on 9% of his attempts. While that number is likely to regress, Jackson’s receiving corps is expected to improve with a fully healthy Marquise Brown, a better Miles Boykin and the additions of draft picks Devin Duvernay and James Proche II. Teams are going to try and keep Jackson in the pocket and dare him to beat them with his arm, and the reigning MVP will oblige.
Pittsburgh Steelers: They win the AFC.
The Steelers have just a 6.4% chance of reaching the Super Bowl, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. But you can make a pretty compelling case for why they could. When Ben Roethlisberger was last healthy in 2018, he led the league in passing yards and the Steelers ranked sixth in offensive efficiency. Antonio Brown is gone, but JuJu Smith-Schuster has the potential to lead the league in receiving yards and young wideouts Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson could be stars in their first and second seasons, respectively. Tight end Eric Ebron had 13 touchdown catches with the Colts just two seasons ago. On the other side of the ball, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and edge rusher T.J. Watt are Defensive Player of the Year candidates, and Bud Dupree returns on the franchise tag after recording 11½ sacks last season. Getting past the Ravens and Chiefs will be tough, but Pittsburgh has the talent to pull it off.
Houston Texans: They hire a general manager in the offseason.
Bill O’Brien has proved to be a good coach, but his moves since becoming general manager have drawn plenty of criticism. Trading away stars Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins for middling returns would be bad enough, but the Texans also dealt two first-round picks, plus a second-rounder, for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who then strong-armed the team into making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. O’Brien stays the coach even if the Texans disappoint this season, but Houston finally finds someone else to handle the roster construction.
Indianapolis Colts: Michael Pittman Jr. leads all rookies in receiving yards.
Given how historically great the 2020 class of receivers is considered to be, Pittman having the best rookie season of the bunch would be a big surprise. While he isn’t as talented as Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy, the second-round pick steps into a great situation with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and coach Frank Reich. Rivers has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in all but one of his past 12 seasons, and if Pittman winds up being the No. 2 receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, he could produce a monster rookie year.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DJ Chark finishes top 10 in receiving yards.
This is purely a volume play, with Chark being just about the only bright spot for an offense that ranked 24th in efficiency last season. He had 1,008 yards in 2019, which ranked 27th in the league, but Jarvis Landry finished in the top 10 with just 166 more yards. With the Jaguars likely trailing in most games and Gardner Minshew II looking to sling the ball around to prove he’s a starter in this league, Chark could stuff the stat sheet this season.
Tennessee Titans: They finish top-five in defensive efficiency (Football Outsiders' DVOA).
Losing defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and cornerback Logan Ryan stings, but consider the other moves the Titans made this offseason. They brought in free-agent edge rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney, which should help them improve their mediocre pass rush. The secondary added LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton in the draft and signed veteran corner Johnathan Joseph to provide depth behind Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler. Kevin Byard and Kenny Vacaro should remain one of the league’s best safety tandems, and linebacker Rashaan Evans and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons have star potential. There’s a lot to like about this unit, even if Tennessee won’t have anyone with the title of defensive coordinator after Dean Pees retired.
Buffalo Bills: They don’t win a playoff game.
Most of the Bills predictions this season involve Josh Allen winning MVP and Buffalo making a push for an AFC title. I’m going the other way. Allen is set up for success this year after the Bills traded for star receiver Stefon Diggs, but he’s shown nothing in his first two seasons that suggests he can become a star. Completion percentage isn’t everything, but when a quarterback is struggling to complete more than 60% of his attempts, it’s worrisome. The defense has the potential to carry this team no matter how much Allen struggles, but that’s asking a lot for a unit with a shaky group of cornerbacks (outside of star Tre’Davious White) and subpar linebackers. The AFC is set up to be much stronger this season, and that could send the Bills home early.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t start more than four games.
For the rebuilding Dolphins, there shouldn’t be any rush to get their franchise quarterback on the field, especially with the offensive line relying on two rookie starters in left tackle Austin Jackson and right guard Solomon Kindley. Tagovailoa is less than a year removed from hip surgery, and the Dolphins aren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot anyway. Miami can let Ryan Fitzpatrick do his thing for most of the season before giving Tagovailoa a chance to earn experience an NFL game.
New England Patriots: They win a playoff game.
As long as Bill Belichick is coaching, I won’t bet against him. The Patriots seemed destined for a mediocre season with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback before signing former MVP Cam Newton, breathing new life back into the franchise after Tom Brady’s departure. The defense lost a ton of key contributors, most notably All-Pro linebacker Dont’a Hightower, but there’s still some talent up front and in the secondary, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. As long as Belichick is in charge and Josh McDaniels is calling the plays on offense, New England will be a tough team to beat come January.
New York Jets: They finish with the worst record in the NFL.
Even before star safety Jamal Adams was traded and linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out of the season, the buzzards were circling coach Adam Gase. Sam Darnold has been a disappointment after being drafted No. 3 overall in 2018, but it’s not all his fault. The Jets finally gave him some help this offseason by drafting tackle Mekhi Becton and receiver Denzel Mims and signing wideouts Breshad Perriman and Chris Hogan, but there isn’t much optimism that Gase can get the most out of this group. The defense could be a disaster, and the offensive line remains a big concern. If Darnold can’t carry this team, it could be a long season in New York.
Denver Broncos: They finish last in the division.
Their postseason odds sit at 14.1% after their Week 1 loss, per ESPN’s FPI. To make it, Drew Lock needs to become the quarterback Broncos fans think he is in just his second season. He won’t lack firepower, with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler at wideout, Noah Fant at tight end and Phillip Lindsey and Melvin Gordon at running back. The problem is, Sutton and Hamler are both dealing with injuries and have yet to take the field. An even bigger concern is how the defense copes with the loss of star pass rusher Von Miller, who is out for the season after suffering an ankle injury in practice, and cornerback AJ Bouye, who dislocated his shoulder in a Week 1 loss to the Titans.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes breaks the single-season passing touchdowns record.
Mahomes got close in his first full season as a starter in 2018 with 50 and he had three in Thursday night’s season-opening win over the Texans. He’ll need to stay on that pace to eclipse Peyton Manning, who threw 55 touchdown passes in 2013 after opening the season with an NFL-record-tying seven against the Ravens. The No. 1 seed is the only team to receive a first-round bye in each conference this season under the league’s new playoff format, which means it’s less likely that Mahomes sits in Week 17 if the Chiefs are neck-and-neck with another team. He could be gunning for the record instead.
Los Angeles Chargers: Joey Bosa is named Defensive Player of the Year.
Safety Derwin James was a strong candidate to win this award before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Instead, his teammate gets the nod after signing a five-year, $135 million extension. Bosa hasn’t eclipsed more than 12½ sacks in each of his first four seasons, but there’s a chance this defense is among the league’s best and carries the Chargers to playoff contention. If Bosa is among the league leaders in sacks and lifts Los Angeles without James, he’ll be tough to deny.
Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr leads the league in passing yards.
He finished eighth last season with 4,054 yards, so it isn’t a huge stretch. Now he has one of the league’s fastest receivers in Henry Ruggs III at his disposal and another highly touted rookie wideout in Bryan Edwards, who will have to replace Tyrell Williams after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Hunter Renfrow is among the league’s best slot receivers, and Darren Waller grew into one of the NFL’s best tight ends with a breakout 2019 season. If Carr shows a better grasp of the offense in Year 2 under Jon Gruden and takes a few more shots downfield, he could lead one of the league’s best passing attacks.
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky starts more games than Nick Foles.
Trubisky was all but written off in Chicago once the Bears sent a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Foles and his massive contract this offseason, but he won the job in an abbreviated training camp and led the team to a shocking come-from-behind win in Week 1, throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. He faces an uphill battle to prove to coach Matt Nagy and the front office that he can be a reliable starter, but Sunday’s win was a promising start. The Bears will likely give the former No. 2 overall pick every opportunity to prove he can get better in the final year of his rookie deal.
Detroit Lions: Matt Patricia is fired midseason.
The Lions entered Week 1 with a surprising amount of optimism, with some experts even considering them possible NFC North champions led by a healthy Matthew Stafford. A fourth-quarter collapse against the Bears doesn’t tank their season, but it does highlight the team’s inability to get over the hump. Patricia has plenty of time left to prove he can turn things around in Year 2, but a few more disappointing losses might spell an early end to his tenure in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is named NFL Most Valuable Player.
The revenge tour started with a bang on Sunday, as Rodgers threw four touchdown passes in a win over the Vikings after the Packers drafted his possible successor in the first round. After Green Bay neglected to surround their star quarterback with more receiving talent, Rodgers threw touchdown passes to unheralded wideouts Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard and spread the ball around to seven different targets. The Packers are due to regress after outperforming expectations in close games last season, but with Rodgers playing this way, they could be one of the best teams in the NFC once again.
Minnesota Vikings: They finish top-five in offensive efficiency.
The Vikings might have lost in Week 1, but it wasn’t the offense’s fault. They led the NFL in yards-per-play (8.0) and ranked No. 1 in success rate (65%) in only 49 snaps. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was solid and Adam Thielen looked more than capable of being a No. 1 wide receiver after the Stefon Diggs trade with 110 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing attack also averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Minnesota ranked 10th in offensive efficiency in 2019, but lost coordinator Kevin Stefanski to the Browns. Longtime assistant Gary Kubiak can make the unit even better.
Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley leads the league in touchdown catches.
Julio Jones remains one of the NFL’s best receivers, but his struggles to find the end zone continued in the season opener. Ridley, on the other hand, caught two touchdown passes against the Seahawks and finished with 130 yards. Matt Ryan might end up leading the league in pass attempts after throwing 54 on Sunday, eight more than any other quarterback. With Jones the primary focus for opposing defenses and Atlanta’s defense looking like one of the league’s worst, Ridley could put together a career season.
Carolina Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater finishes top-10 in Total QBR.
Bridgewater’s return to becoming a full-time NFL starter isn’t just a feel-good story. Three years after suffering a devastating knee injury, he threw for 270 yards and a touchdown in a narrow loss to the Raiders on Sunday and added 26 yards on the ground. After signing a three-year, $63 million deal, he’ll get every opportunity to lead a young, rebuilding team. With new offensive coordinator Joe Brady and a solid set of weapons headlined by star running back Christian McCaffrey, Bridgewater is in position to be one of the league’s most efficient passers.
New Orleans Saints: The defense is more efficient than the offense.
For all the credit Sean Payton and Drew Brees get as one of the top coach-quarterback tandems in NFL history, the defense has quietly grown into one of the league’s best. On Sunday, they held Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to 4.8 yards per play and forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by Janoris Jenkins to help seal the victory. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and defensive end Cameron Jordan are genuine stars, and Demario Davis is one of the league’s best linebackers. With Brees unlikely to keep up his high level of performance in his 16th season, the defense could end up being better than the star-studded offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They reach the NFC championship game.
Let’s not overreact to Brady’s performance in Week 1. He didn’t look sharp, throwing two ugly interceptions, but he’s going to build a better rapport with his receivers, most notably Mike Evans. The defense should also be better after returning 86.9% of its snaps from a unit that ranked fifth in efficiency in 2019. Some of the NFC’s top contenders looked shaky in their season openers, which could make the Bucs' path to the Super Bowl a little easier. Brady won’t have to go through Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes either.
Dallas Cowboys: They don’t win a playoff game.
Expectations are sky-high for Dak Prescott and Co. after coach Mike McCarthy took over for Jason Garrett in the offseason and rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb joined an already-impressive offense. Week 1 was disappointing, though, with Dallas finding the end zone just twice in a loss to the Rams. Even more concerning is the defense, which is relying on rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs and lost starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone. The Cowboys should still be able to win the NFC East, but they’ll need the offense to be among the league’s best to have a successful postseason.
Philadelphia Eagles: They miss the playoffs.
The injuries have piled up early for the Eagles, and they threaten to derail the season. The offensive line in particular has been hit hard, with starting right guard Brandon Brooks and left tackle Andre Dillard out for the season and right tackle Lane Johnson missing Week 1 because of an ankle injury. Running back Miles Sanders, defensive ends Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and receiver Alshon Jeffrey are also banged up. Carson Wentz needs to carry this team again, and Sunday’s loss to Washington showed that he might not be up to the task behind a makeshift line.
New York Giants: They trade tight end Evan Engram midseason.
While the Giants showed some fight in the season-opening loss to the Steelers, the offense struggled mightily. Star running back Saquon Barkley was held to six rushing yards, the fewest by any player with 15 or more carries this century. Meanwhile, Engram had just two catches for nine yards on seven targets and a costly early drop. The former 23rd overall pick has tantalizing potential, but he’s struggled to stay healthy since his breakout rookie year, missing 13 games the past two seasons. With the Giants headed for a losing season, they trade the 26-year-old, who has one more year left on his rookie deal.
Washington Football Team: They compete for a playoff spot.
An expanded postseason means a team such as Washington could hang around for quite awhile. A season-opening upset of the Eagles is a nice start for new coach Ron Rivera, who is tasked with changing the culture at a historically moribund franchise. Star rookie defensive end Chase Young gives the defense a true game-wrecker, and while the offense is a work-in-progress, Dwayne Haskins looks like a better leader at quarterback.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray is named Offensive Player of the Year.
This award usually goes to the player with the best stats who doesn’t win MVP. While Murray has a great chance to take home the top honor, he’ll happily settle for the consolation prize. He dazzled with both his arm and his legs in Week 1, passing for 230 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 91 yards and a score in a win over the defending NFC champion 49ers. With star receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the fold, Murray has a chance to put up some big numbers.
Los Angeles Rams: Malcolm Brown leads the league in rushing touchdowns.
Former Rams running back Todd Gurley led the league two of the past three seasons and tied for fourth last year with 12. Sean McVay isn’t afraid to feed his backs near the goal line, with Brown scoring L.A.'s only two touchdowns in Sunday night’s win over Dallas. Brown will have to fight off rookie Cam Akers and second-year pro Darrell Henderson Jr. for touches, but it appears that the former undrafted free agent has earned the coaching staff’s trust.
San Francisco 49ers: They’re worse than league average in offensive efficiency.
Kyle Shanahan is considered one of the game’s best play-callers, and he proved it in 2019 by guiding a Jimmy Garoppolo-led team to the Super Bowl. With a devastating running game, the 49ers finished seventh in offensive efficiency last season and Garoppolo ranked eighth in passer rating and 12th in Total QBR. The former Patriots quarterback wasn’t bad Sunday, throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns, but the offense lacked explosiveness with wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk sidelined by injuries. Fifteen of Garoppolo’s 19 completions went to a running back, fullback or tight end, and George Kittle was held to just four catches for 44 yards. The running game should still be effective, but Shanahan will have a hard time scheming up chunk plays with his top receivers out.
Seattle Seahawks: They win the Super Bowl.
Those who believed in his talent just wanted to see Russell Wilson cook, and Pete Carroll finally obliged in the season opener. Wilson attempted 35 passes, throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns, and Seattle ran the ball just 20 times in a 38-25 win over the Falcons. Much-maligned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer even dialed up a deep shot to DK Metcalf for a 38-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5. If the offense is more aggressive and lets Wilson pass more frequently on early downs, Seattle has the potential to be the top seed in the NFC. That could mean another Lombardi Trophy for Wilson and Carroll.