By Joshua Hatt
There is a saying in the NFL that “anything can happen on any given Sunday”. And that promises to be truer than ever this season. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic 66 players have chosen to opt-out of playing this season, which could hurt certain teams but also give a chance for previously unheralded players to make an impact.
There will also be no pre-season games this year, so there will be no chance for rookies to gain any experience at the NFL level until it counts. The season is due to kick off on September 10th when the defending Superbowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs taken on the Houston Texans in a playoff rematch from last year. Some teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles have decided not to allow fans into their stadium this year, whilst others are allowing a limited number in. This could have a huge impact, because certain teams in the NFL rely on their fans making a huge amount of noise to disrupt the opposing teams’ communications. Without this home advantage, away teams may find it easier to win this year.
Here is my Preview of all 32 teams:
New England Patriots
It’s a new era in New England, as long time Pats legend Tom Brady moved south to the warmer climes of Tampa Bay. Brady is replaced by 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Cam Newton. Newton was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL a couple of years ago,but has recently had surgery on his shoulder and foot, so it is unclear how good he still is. If Newton cannot get it done, expect the Patriots to turn to Jarrett Stidham, a young player who is highly rated by the Patriots but has never played in the NFL. 8 Patriots players have opted out of the season due to concerns over COVID-19, including defensive stalwart Donta Hightower. This is a huge blow to their defence, but the Patriots do possess talented players such as Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Despite these changes and setbacks the Patriots are still led by coach Bill Belichick, who has led the Patriots to 9 Superbowl’s, and won 6. So whilst this may not be the fearsome Patriots team of old, they are probably not done quite yet.
Unlike the Patriots the Bills have not been so successful in recent years. Once famous for losing 4 Superbowl’s in a row in the early to mid 90’s, the Bills have largely been mediocre at best in the 21st century, with just 2 playoff appearances since 2000. However there is reason for optimism for the Bills, as they did make the playoffs last year, only to collapse late on against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round. The Bills made a big splash in the offseason when they acquired receiver Stefon Diggs from Minnesota. Diggs is a dynamic player who will provide a new weapon for quarterback Josh Allen to play with. Allen is going into his third season in the league, and the jury is still out on how good he actually is. Allen can throw the ball far and run well, but his accuracy is not always great, and he has issues with turnovers. Allen should however benefit from an improved attack around him, and the Bills possess one of the stronger defences in the league. If anyone is going to knock the Patriots off their AFC East perch, it’s probably Buffalo.
New York Jets
2019 was a strange year for the Jets, as quarterback Sam Darnold was out with Glandular Fever of all things for much of the first half of the season. And in his absence the Jets offence was quite frankly, offensive, as the Jets lost 7 of their first 8 games. However once Darnold returned, the Jets won 7 of their last 9. It should be noted however, that the Jets had a very favourable fixture list at the backend of the last year, and they still managed to give the woeful Cincinnati Bengals their only win of the year. The Jets schedule this year is much more difficult on paper, and they have lost their star safety Jamal Adams, who was traded to Seattle after very publicly asking to leave. The Jets also lost receiver Robby Anderson, so Darnold will be hoping that former first round pick Breshard Perriman can pick up the slack. The Jets will also be hoping for more production from Le’Veon Bell, the running back who has not lived up to his big money contract with the Jets so far. The Jets have attempted to improve their previously terrible offensive line by drafting Mekhi Becton in the first round of the 2020 draft, and signing Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten. The Jets defence was actually quite good last year, but the loss of Adams and linebacker C.J Mosely who opted-out will hurt. The Jets do have another good safety in Marcus Maye however. There will be a lot of pressure on head coach Adam Gase, if the Jets do not show improvement offensively, it could be curtains for his head coaching career.
The Dolphins were expected to be by far the worst team in the NFL last year, and for the first few weeks it looked like they were. However, rookie head coach Brian Flores managed to get the team playing much better down the stretch, and the Dolphins ended with a reasonable 5 wins, including a week 17 win over New England that helped lead to their early elimination. Much of the excitement in Miami this year centres around rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, a star at Alabama but with a history of injuries that may concern some. It is unlikely that Tua will start the season, and veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick will certainly help him to learn the ropes in the NFL. The Dolphins were active in free agency, signing cornerback Byron Jones to a lucrative contract to help bolster a defensive unit that struggled last season. The Dolphins also added Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy and former Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard to improve them on both sides of the ball. The Dolphins may not be playoff contenders quite yet, but there is reason for optimism for Fins fans.
The Ravens were one of the most exciting teams to watch last season, in large part due to quarterback Lamar Jackson. The second year man added a dynamism to a Ravens offense that had grown stale and boring under Joe Flacco. The Ravens won 14 out of 16 games in the regular season and looked to be Superbowl favourites, but where upset by the Tennessee Titans in their first playoff game. The Ravens will hope to learn lessons from this defeat, as there will be a lot of pressure on them come playoff time this season.
The Ravens did suffer a loss with the retirement of guard Marshal Yanda and replaced him with former Seahawk first rounder DJ Fluker. The Ravens have enough talent to the run the ball effectively with Mark Ingram and Jackson himself, as the pair rushed for over 1,000 yards each last season. On the defensive side the Ravens added talented veterans Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Their linebacking corp includes two rookies in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, who will look to make their mark in the NFL. The Ravens secondary features Marcus Peters and Earl Thomas, two former Pro-Bowl players looking to regain form. The Ravens will likely win their division again, but can they get the job done come playoff time?
The Steelers have not made the playoffs in two years, which must feel like an eternity for fans of a franchise that has won a record 6 super bowls. The Steelers will be pleased by the return of veteran Ben Roethlisberger, who has won two Superbowl’s himself with the Steelers, but missed most of last season with injury. However, “Big Ben” is 38, and there are question marks on how healthy, or good he still can be. The Steelers helped their QB by signing Tight- End Eric Ebron, who enjoyed an excellent campaign for the Colts last year. Rookie Receiver Chase Claypool will look to form a dynamic duo with star player Ju-Ju Smith Schuster. The Steelers have long been famous for their defence, and this new generation of the “Steel Curtain” promises much. No one forced more turnovers in 2019 than the Steelers, and they bring back most of their major contributors from last year such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush and TJ Watt. If Big Ben can stay healthy, the Steelers could find themselves back in the playoffs this season.
After years of futility, there was much optimism in Cleveland going into last season. But as is tradition, the Browns disappointed their fans with an underwhelming campaign in which second year QB Baker Mayfield failed to show sufficient progress after a promising rookie campaign in 2018. The Browns relieved head coach Freddie Kitchens of his duties as a result of this let-down, and new man at the helm Kevin Stefanski will look to turn around the fortunes of a team that has not made the playoffs since 2002. The key to the season will be the performance of Mayfield, and the Browns have attempted to surround him with more talent by signing Tight End Austin Hooper and lineman Jack Conklin. The Browns have the potential to be fearsome in attack, with Nick Chubb at Running Back and maverick Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry. The return of Myles Garrett from suspension will help their defence too. The time for excuses in Cleveland is running out, if Mayfield cannot lead this team to the playoffs, the Brown will find someone else who will.
The Bengals have been given the unflattering nickname the “Bungles” by rival fans for many years, and there is a reason for this. The Bengals have not won a playoff game since 1990, and last season it looked like they weren’t going to win a game at all until they beat the hapless Jets. However, this season marks the start of a new era in Cinci, with the arrival of number 1 draft pick Joe Burrow at Quarterback. Burrow was a star in college, but will now have to come into the NFL without the benefit of a preseason. The NFL is difficult for rookies at the best of times, but this season perhaps especially so. However, the Bengals are confident that Burrow can cope with the pressure and lead them to long awaited success. The return of Receiver AJ Green will help Burrow’s cause, as will the addition of fellow rookie Tee Higgins and the presence of veteran Tyler Boyd. Talented Running Back Joe Mixon will help to take pressure off Burrow as well. The Bengals defence is anchored by long time starters Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, and the Bengals added D.J Reader to the mix with a rare foray into free agency. The Bengals revamped the back end of their defence with two former Minnesota Vikings in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. The Bengals will hope that their new Quarterback and improved defence can help them be more competitive this year, but the AFC North is a tough division.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are coming off a Superbowl winning campaign, and will be favourites to defend their crown. They are led by star Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who signed a monster $500 million dollar contract this offseason that will keep him at Arrowhead Stadium for many years to come. The Chiefs return 18 of their 22 starters from the Superbowl, and looked primed to make another run under Andy Reid. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks an exciting addition through the draft. The Chiefs were quiet in free agency, but that’s to be expected after they just won the Superbowl. The Chiefs did manage to sign star defender Chris Jones to a new contract, which is a huge boost. Kendall Fuller was probably the biggest departure, but the Chiefs will look to fill the void left at Cornerback with second year player Reshad Fenton. The Chiefs defence is not its strength, but it is good enough to win games with when you have an attack that can routinely score 50 points a game. This is surely the Chiefs division to lose, and they will certainly be in the mix for the Superbowl once again.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are beginning anew this year, with a new state of the art stadium and a new quarterback at the helm in Justin Herbert. Herbert will certainly add some flair to an offence that has somewhat stagnated under the immobile veteran Phillip Rivers. Herbert may not start right away, as veteran Tyrod Taylor is familiar with coach Anthony Lynn’s style of play and will look to establish himself as a starting-calibre QB. The Chargers have plenty of offensive talent with Austin Ekeler, Hunter Henry, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. On the defensive side, the Chargers boast one of the biggest stars in Joey Bosa and the addition of Linval Joseph may give him more space to be effective. Cornerback Derwin James will be helped by the addition of Chris Harris. This is a defence that has the potential to be one of the league’s best, and if the Chargers can get adequate Quarterback play, they could give the Chiefs a run for their money.
The Broncos won the Superbowl in 2015, but its been a tough few years since with a four year playoff drought. That may change in 2020 though, as Denver believes it has finally found its new Quarterback in Drew Lock. Lock took over as a starter on December 1st last year, and the Bronco won 4 of their last 5 games in 2019. The Broncos provided Lock with more help this offseason, drafting Receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Courtland Sutton emerged as a potential star last year, and will look to develop even more chemistry with Lock. On the defensive side Line-backer Von Miller is the unquestioned star of the show. The return of Bradley Chubb from injury will help, and the Broncos signed A.J Boyue to replace the departed Chris Harris. The Broncos prospects hinge on how their youngsters develop on offence, if they do well the Broncos could surprise a few.
Las Vegas Raiders
The nomadic Raiders will begin their first year in Las Vegas in 2020 after 25 years in Oakland, California. The Raiders will hope that the move will bring success with it, something that has eluded the franchise for many years now. There are question marks over Quarterback David Carr, who was excellent in 2016 but has struggled to replicate that form after being injured. The additions of Trent Brown and Richie Incognito will help keep Carr upright more often, and speedster Henry Ruggs III will give Carr a new explosive target to throw to. Josh Jacobs will also look to build on an impressive rookie campaign at Running Back. The Raiders signed 13 players in free agency, 7 of those to attempt to improve a defence that struggled last season. Line-backer Cory Littleton was the most notable addition, and the Raiders expect more from second year players Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen and Jonathan Abram. This is the last chance saloon for Carr, if he does not improve, there will be a new man under centre under the bright lights of Vegas, possibly former Titans first rounder Marcus Mariota.
The Titans were the Cinderella story of last season, shocking the Patriots and Ravens en route to the AFC Championship Game, where their fairy tale was ultimately ended by Kansas City. Ryan Tannehill finally realised his potential last season in his first year in the Music City, and was rewarded with a new four year contract. Running back Derrick Henry is one of the best in the league, and he was also given a new four year extension. AJ Brown scored 5 touchdowns in his last 6 games, and will look to emerge as the deep threat the Titans have lacked for so long. Safety Kevin Byard is the star on defence, although the loss of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and Jurrell Casey may hurt. Can the Titans give their story a happy ending this year?
The Colts were stunned by the shock retirement of QB Andrew Luck before last season. Despite this, the Colts won 5 of their first 7 games, but fell apart in the second half of the season, only winning 2 of their final 9. The Colts signed veteran Philip Rivers to fill the void left by Luck this season. However, Rivers struggled for the Chargers last year, and at 38 he is not going to get better in my opinion. However, Rivers does have a better offensive line to protect him in Indy, along with star wideout TY Hilton to throw to. Rookie WR Michael Pittman will look to make his mark, as will Marlon Mack at Running Back. On the defensive end the Colts made a splash signing former 49er DeForest Buckner, a dominant tackle who had 1.5 sacks in the Superbowl last year. The Colts signed veteran Xavier Rhodes, and will hope that he can recapture the form that made him a Pro-bowl Corner with Minnesota. This defence is young and sometimes inconsistent, but if they can start to improve on that and get decent play from Rivers, the Colts could win a relatively weak division.
Houston bowed out of the playoffs in stunning fashion, blowing a 24 point lead to the eventual champion Chiefs. Head Coach/GM Bill O’Brien was ridiculed by the media, even more so when he inexplicably decided to trade star DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. In return the Texans received Running back David Johnson, who was good a couple of years ago but hasn’t been since. The Texans also received a few draft picks, but no matter how good these turn out to be, this is a tough trade to justify for Houston. To replace Hopkins the Texans signed Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Cooks is fast, but had concussion issues last year and only caught 42 passes with the Rams. Cobb has 528 receiving yards with Dallas last year, and could be a useful piece, but no-one will replace Hopkins. The defence is anchored by J.J Watt, one of the best defenders in the game when healthy. Watt only played 8 games last year however, so he will need to stay healthy for the Texans to have a chance. The line-backers are decent, but the back end of the Texans D is questionable. QB Deshaun Watson is very good, but the loss of Hopkins and an average at best defence could hold Houston back this year.
The Jaguars almost made it to the Super Bowl in 2017, and looked set to be a playoff contender for years to come. That hasn’t happened however, with the disintegration of the vaunted “Sacksonville” defence that helped get them to that AFC Championship game. The Jaguars have lost more games than they’ve won over the last 2 seasons. The Jaguars have a new Offensive Coordinator in former Washington head coach Jay Gruden, and he will look to develop moustached QB Gardner Minshew into a franchise QB for the long term. Minshew had a few issues with turnovers, but the potential is there. DJ Chark had a breakout season as a receiver last year, but the Jags will need more from fellow wideouts Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. Leonard Fournette has failed to live up to they hype that made him the number 4 draft pick in 2016, and going into the final year of his contract he has one more chance to prove himself in Jacksonville. The defence is almost unrecognisable from the unit in 2017. The Jaguars signed Joe Schobert to anchor the team at Line-backer. They used their first round pick in the draft to select Cornerback CJ Henderson, and the Jaguars will hope he can play well to help a unit that lacks depth. The Jaguars are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and this lack of experience means its unlikely they’ll be challenging for the playoffs this year.
The Eagles won the Superbowl in 2018, and despite a litany of injuries still managed to make the playoffs last year. They key for the Eagles will be the health of QB Carson Wentz. Wentz has shown he can be a great player, but has struggled to stay healthy. And the injury bug has already visited Philly this year, as Pro Bowl guard Bardon Brooks suffered an Achilles injury that will keep him out for the entire season. The Eagles have a dynamic Tight End duo in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert but will need more production from veteran receiver Alshon Jeffery. The defence is strong up front, with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham terrorising opposing Quarterbacks. The secondary is suspect, however. If the Eagles stay healthy, they have the talent to be Superbowl contenders.
After yet another year of disappointment, owner Jerry Jones finally lost patience with head coach Jason Garrett and let him go. He is replaced by Mike McCarthy, who led the Packers to victory in Superbowl XLV but faced accusations that he was growing stale towards the end of his tenure in Green Bay. McCarthy certainly has a lot to work with on offense, with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup headlining an attack that has great potential. And if that wasn’t enough, the Cowboys grabbed CeeDee Lamb in the draft, an explosive Wide Receiver. Dallas did lose corner Bryon Jones in free agency, but signed Safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, who played under McCarthy in Green Bay. Jaylon Smith and Demarcus Lawrence are big talents on the defensive side as well. The Cowboys have the potential, but can they finally live up to it?
New York Giants
The Giants pulled off two stunning Superbowl wins in 2007 and 2011, but its been slim pickings for them since. After another mediocre season, the Giants have a new head coach in Joe Judge, a former Patriots special teams coach with a no nonsense approach that has endeared him to the tough New York media. Judge will look to former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to develop Daniel Jones, who had a rookie season in which he showcased potential, leading a comeback win against Tampa Bay on his debut, but also had problems with fumbling the ball. Saquon Barkley will be hoping for a bounce back season after injuries last year, he is one of the best Running Backs in the league when healthy. Evan Ingram is also good but injury prone, while the same can be said for Sterling Shepard. Darius Slayton emerged as a key target for Jones as a rookie and will look to build on his impressive debut season. The Giants improved their offensive line by drafting Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart. Nate Solder opted out of the season, although he was disappointing for the Giants last year anyway. On the defensive side the Giants signed James Bradberry in free agency to sure up a porous secondary, and drafted Xavier McKinney at Safety. They also signed a pair of former Packers in Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell to upgrade their linebacking corp. The Giants will hope for more from Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson up front, and the lack of a pass rusher outside of Marcus Golden is a concern. This is a team that should be harder to beat this year, but is still a little way off from playoff contention.
Washington Football Team
Huge changes in D.C this year, as the team finally retired its controversial nickname “Redskins”, amidst accusations that it was racist towards Native Americans. The team also has a new head coach in Ron Rivera. Rivera helped lead to Panthers to the Superbowl in 2015, and is looking to instil a winning culture in a team that has been languishing in the NFL basement. Dwayne Haskins started off slowly but showed promise towards the end of his rookie season at Quarterback. The departures of Trent Williams and Ereck Flowers leave holes on the offensive line. Terry Maclaurin looks a star in the making at receiver, and veteran Adrian Peterson will look to demonstrate he still has something left in the tank at 35 after rushing for 800 yards last year. Rookie Chase Young is a huge addition to the defence. Young was a star at Ohio State, and Washington wasted no time snapping him up in hopes he can be a force for years to come. Ryan Kerrigan returns from injury, and Jonathan Allen will look to get after the QB as well. There are some nice pieces here, but not enough depth for Washington to make a playoff run.
The Vikings made the playoffs last year and claimed a big upset win in New Orleans, but were easily dispatched by the 49ers in the divisional round. Kirk Cousins silenced a few critics last season by doing this, although there are some who still question the big money contract he was given. Stefon Diggs is gone, but Adam Thielen is a fine Receiver in his own right. It remains to be seen how he will fare without Diggs though, as he will have to mentor rookie Justin Jefferson. Dalvin Cook is an excellent Running Back, but contract issues have plagued him this offseason. The back end of the Vikings defence is excellent with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but they have suffered a few losses in Everson Griffin and Linval Joseph up front. The Vikings always seem to be good but not quite good enough, and that will probably be the same again this year.
Green Bay Packers
Last year was a strange one for Green Bay. They made it all the way to the NFC Championship game, but were unconvincing in doing so and were hammered by the 49ers once they got there. Aaron Rodgers was once one of the NFL’s best QB’s, but at 35 is not quite what he once was, and there are question marks over him. As a result the Packers drafted Jordan Love at 26 overall in this year’s draft, and if Rodgers struggles or is injured Love may get a chance. Defensively the Packers signed Christian Kirksey to help them against the run, which was a big problem for them last year. They have an excellent pass rush in the form of the Smith’s Za’Darious and Preston. Jaire Alexander is a very good Cornerback as well, and the safety duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage is nothing to sniff at. The Packers were one game away from the Superbowl last year, but there will be a lot of competition in the NFC which will make it tough for them to get back there.
The Bears had a great season in 2018, although their playoff run ended with the infamous “Double Doink” against Philadelphia. Expectations were high going into 2019, but the Bears disappointed, as QB Mitchell Trubisky struggled with accuracy, and the Bears defence could not sustain the level of turnovers they had in 2018. The Bears signed Nick Foles to compete with Trubisky this season. Foles was the Superbowl MVP for the Eagles in 2018 but has never quite been able to nail down a consistent starting role. Trubisky has to improve quickly or he will be out the door, the fact that the Bears traded up to get him when Patrick Mahomes was available looks like a terrible decision now. Allen Robinson is a good receiver, but there are question marks on the offensive line, where the only notable addition was Germain Ifedi from Seattle, not a team famed for its offensive line. The Bears defence slipped a bit in 2019, but is still extremely talented. Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will be hoping for healthier seasons. Khalil Mack is an incredible pass rusher, and Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson anchor the Bears secondary. But ultimately it is the play at QB that will determine how far Chicago goes, and I’m not convinced by Trubisky or Foles.
The Lions have not been a franchise blessed with much success, and last year was no different. The team only won 3 games, and star QB Matthew Stafford suffered a midseason injury. Matt Patricia is under huge pressure, and he could be the first Head Coach to lose his job if things go south at Ford Field again. However, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Marvin Hall have a lot of potential at receiver, and TJ Hockensen is a threat at Tight End. The Lions drafter D’Andre Smith to help a running game that has struggled in recent years. On defence the Lions added 1st round rookie Jeff Okudah to replace Darius Slay at Corner, and Patricia has added Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton, both of whom worked with Patricia in New England. The Lions offence is decent if Stafford can stay healthy, but I’m not convinced by their defence or head coach, and think Patricia will be gone before seasons end.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers may have lost the Superbowl, but that shouldn’t hide the fact that it was a great achievement for them to even be there at all after losing 12 games the year before. But it is tough to make it back to the Superbowl, with 24 of the last 25 runners up failing to make it back the next year. Jimmy Garropolo was criticised for missing a potential game winning touchdown in the Superbowl last year, and still has much to prove. He is not short of weapons however, with George Kittle at Tight End and Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman at Running back, along with Deebo Samuel at wideout. The 9ers also upgraded their offensive line by aqquiring Trent Williams from Washington. On defence they did trade away DeForest Buckner, but drafted Javon Kinlaw in the first round to replace him. He will join Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Soloman Thomas and Dee Ford in a disruptive front end that will terrorise quarterbacks. Richard Sherman was good overall last year at corner, and Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw make a very good linebacking group. Can the 49ers go one step further and claim the Lombardi trophy this year?
The Seahawks have been a consistent threat under Pete Carroll, winning Superbowl 48 and runners up the next year. They were pipped to the division title by San Francisco last year, but will look to change their fortunes this time around. Russell Wilson is the gem in the Emerald City, and despite a questionable offensive line he has still emerged as one of the NFL’s best QB’s. Tyler Lockett is Wilson’s favoured target at WR, and D.K Metcalf will look to build on a good rookie campaign in 2019. The Seattle defence was once formidable but is no longer. That being said Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright are bright spots at line-backer, and they are joined by rookie first rounder Jordyn Brooks. Bruce Irvin returns to help a pass rush that struggled last year. Quinton Dunbar comes over from Washington to help solidify the secondary. Seattle will definitely be in the playoff mix, but the loss of their formidable home field advantage due to the lack of crowds may affect them more than any other team.
Los Angeles Rams
After making the Superbowl in 2018, the Rams hoped to go one better last year. Alas, it was their division rival 49ers that claimed the NFC crown, and the Rams missed out on the postseason altogether. Jared Goff signed a big contract and did not live up to it last year, so there is a lot of pressure on him to prove it was not a mistake. Copper Kupp is great when healthy, and Robert Woods is a good receiver too. Todd Gurley departs, meaning that the Rams running game will likely feature a committee approach of Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers. Tyler Higbee could be a breakout star at Tight End, but the offensive line is a concern with 39 year old Andrew Whitworth a key component of it. Aaron Donald is an excellent defender, but the Rams lost a lot of key pieces on D, such as Dante Fowler, Eric Weddle and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Outspoken Corner Jalen Ramsey was a big acquisition, but he is due a big contract to justify the draft picks the Rams gave up to get him. This is a big season for the Rams with their new stadium and uniforms, and they need Goff to justify his big contract or the Rams may face a few years of hurt.
After a dismal 2018, the Cards brought in coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray. There were promising signs in 2019, and the arrival of Reciever DeAndre Hopkins is an incredible coup for Arizona that will help Murray immensely. Kenyan Drake scored 8 touchdowns in 8 games at Running Back last year, but the offensive line gave up too many sacks, third most in the league, and there isn’t much change in that group. Isiah Simmons was drafted in the first round to help a defence that was one of the league’s worst last year. He is joined by fellow new arrival Jordan Philips from Buffalo, who had a good 2019 with 9 and a half sacks. Budda Baker is a young talent at safety, and Chandler Jones is an excellent pass rusher. This is a group with exciting potential that could pull off a few surprises, but it will be tough for Arizona to surpass the other teams in their division.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were hoping to be Superbowl winners last season, but endured a devastating playoff loss at home to Minnesota. The Saints also suffered heartbreak in 2017 against the Vikings, and in 2019 where denied a Superbowl berth by a missed pass interference call. This could be the last chance for head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees to add to the Superbowl they won in 2009, as Brees is now 41 years old. Brees stirred controversy this offseason when he stated on Twitter that he could not tolerate teammates kneeling during the National Anthem, something that has been done by many players to protest police brutality towards African Americans in the U.S. Alvin Kamara was not fully fit last season, but if he is in 2020 he could be one of the league’s best Running Backs. Michael Thomas caught a record 149 passes last season and figures to be a huge target for Brees again. The offensive line has been upgraded with the addition of first round Center Cesar Ruiz. The Saints defence has improved considerably from a few years ago, and Linebacker DeMario Davis is a large part of that. Cameron Jordan had a whopping 15.5 sacks last year, and will look for a repeat performance in 2020. Marshon Lattimore is a good young corner and Malcolm Jenkins returns to the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009 to provide leadership at Safety. The Saints have been so close yet so far the last few seasons, is this they year they get over the hump?
It was a season of two halves for Atlanta last term, as they started 1-7 before winning 6 of their last 8 games. Julio Jones is one of the best Receivers in the game, and Hayden Hurst is a new weapon at Tight End for veteran QB Matt Ryan, who despite his age remains a decent player. The Falcons signed Todd Gurley in an interesting move. Gurley was once a star Running Back for the Rams but a degenerative knew condition seems to have slowed him down. The Falcons are hoping that a change of scenery can resurrect his old form. Grady Jarett is a Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle and the acquisition of Dante Fowler provides a much needed boost to the Falcons pass rush. Keanu Neal needs to stay healthy to realise his potential at safety, and the Falcons hope that first round corner A.J Terrell can help out their secondary. If the Falcons can avoid the injuries that have plagued them the last few seasons, a playoff berth is not totally out of the question.
The Panthers made the Super Bowl in 2015, but haven’t been able to make it back since. This year they begin with a fresh approach, a new Head Coach in Matt Rhule and a new QB in Teddy Bridgewater. There are question marks over both, as Rhule has never coached in the NFL and Bridgewater was solid if unspectacular for the Saints last year following his return from a serious knee injury sustained with the Vikings. There are no such question marks over Christian McCaffery however, as he became the highest paid running back in NFL history, and when you watch him it is easy to see why. The Panthers acquired former Jets Receiver Robby Anderson to be a deep threat, and Curtis Samuel and D.J Moore look promising talents. The defence has changed much from last year, as Luke Kuechly retired and James Bradberry, Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy departed. The Panthers drafted Derrick Brown in the first round of this year’s draft to play Defensive Tackle, British lineman Efe Obada is one to watch too. Brian Burns will look to build on an impressive rookie campaign in which he recorder 7.5 sacks. The Panthers have made much needed changes, but how effective they will be remains to be seen. It may be a bit too soon for them to start thinking about the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay could be the most interesting team to watch this year. They made huge waves when they signed Tom Brady, the greatest QB in NFL history and lured Brady’s old teammate Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him in Tampa. However, Brady is 43 and showed signs of decline last year, and Gronk has been out of the league for a year, so whilst the moves are exciting, they are also risky. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be great targets for Brady as well as Gronkowski, along with Tight Ends O.J Howard and Cameron Brate. Ronald Jones looks like an intriguing option at Running Back, but the offensive line may have trouble protecting the immobile Brady, although the Bucs did draft Tristin Wirfs at 13 overall to help solidify things. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh are a force up front on defence, and Shaq Barrett will look to prove his excellent season last year was no fluke. The Bucs will certainly not be dull, but will they be good?
Overall it promises to be another thrilling season, despite the issues posed by the COVID Pandemic. Kansas City and Baltimore look the teams to beat in the AFC, whilst the NFC Is very wide open. One things for sure, it will be as unpredictable as ever.