NFL fans are still hoping that the 2020 season will go ahead in some way shape or form. It has already been confirmed that some college football conferences have cancelled their upcoming seasons. What we do know is that if games are to be played capacities will be, at the very best, significantly reduced.
As it stands, nineteen teams have indicated that they will open their stadium to a reduced capacity. Six teams have stated that they will have somewhere in between a limited attendance or no fans at all. And three teams, the Giants, Jets and Raiders have said that they will not open their stadiums to fans, for the 2020 season while four teams have yet to decide or announce their intention as of this writing.
* The Miami Dolphins have announced that they will have a maximum attendance of 13,000, which is 20% of its capacity.
Of course, all of this and the season itself will be subject to change on a, week to week basis. The NFL can take heart from the fact that the English Premier league season was completed behind closed doors without incident. However, some parts of the States still have large numbers of ‘Covid‘ cases. Since teams will be playing in front of, at the very best drastically reduced capacity, could those teams in high-risk areas not play in a different city or even state?
Arsenal win the F.A cup at an empty Wembley Stadium.The league offered the players the chance to ‘opt out’ of the season and earn a reduced salary. $350,000 for a player who is deemed to be ‘high risk’ due to the pandemic and $150,000 for a player not immediately at risk. Sixty-six players opted out, just under 4% based on the fifty-three-man roster sizes for all thirty-two teams. One change for the 2020 season to assist with this situation is an increase to the size of the practice squads. These have now been increased from ten to sixteen, with four of those players being protected (unable to be signed by another team) on a weekly basis.
Could the NFL take a leaf out of the NBA’s book by playing all the games in one venue? The problem here is that the roster size of an NBA team is fifteen, whilst the NFL is fifty-three ,significantly higher. Baseball have made some adjustments too. A shortened season and a schedule re-jig cutting down on travel where possible. This scenario is more likely and much more possible than the NBA’s version of events. Again, as it stands, the scheduled season is due to go ahead on September 10th, despite the pre-season being cancelled completely. The International fixtures have also been cancelled.
The lack of home crowds could make for a much more even playing field. Home field advantage will be less of, exactly that, an advantage. Without crowd noise, false starts and pre-snap penalties should be at an all-time low. The NFL is looking into the possibility of ‘artificial crowd noise’ in stadiums, something that previously would have been against league rules.
Off Season Headlines:
- Washington no longer to use the nickname ‘Redskins’.
- Raiders move to Vegas
- Rams and Chargers move into new stadium.
- Playoffs extended to 14 teams.
- Mahomes signs biggest ever contract.
- Joe Burrow goes #1 to Cincy, Chase Young #2 to Washington.
- Brady and Gronk re-unite in Tampa.
- Receiver Hopkins traded from Texans to Cardinals.
- Rivers to Colts, Newton to Patriots.
- Gurley back in Georgia, signs for Falcons.
- Super Bowl LV will be held at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.
The AFC probably has the best two teams in the NFL and with the Patriots seemingly facing uncertain times the Chiefs and Ravens will be looking to take advantage.
The AFC Frontrunners.
The defending champion, Kansas City Chiefs and Quarterback Patrick Mahomes got married this off season. The Chiefs paid out the biggest contract in sports history when they gave the Super Bowl MVP a ten-year contract which could be worth up to $503 Million. $140 Million of that is guaranteed.
Aside from the large contract the Chiefs could be set to dominate the AFC in the same way the Patriots have for the last, nearly twenty years. The Chiefs also gave defensive tackle Chris Jones a new contract and didn‘t lose anyone of note in the off season. The addition of Clyde Edwards-Hillaire in the draft could pay off early. The Chiefs were first in the NFL on third down conversions and in Travis Kelce have the best tight end in the NFL. Kelce is the only TE history to have 4 straight 1000 yard seasons.
As for the New England, Brady is gone therefore the Patriots will start the season with a different QB for the first time since 2001. The last time they missed the post season was in 2008 when Brady missed 15 games through injury. Former Panther, Cam Newton himself recovering from a foot injury was brought in to compete with Jarrett Stidham. The Patriots could well be watching the playoffs from their sofa’s for the first time in twelve years. New England had the most mount of players who ‘opted out’ of the season due to the pandemic with 8.
The biggest challenge to the Kansas City Chiefs will likely come from Baltimore. The Baltimore Ravens had the NFL’s best record (14-2) last season but were left stunned by the Titans in the playoffs. If Lamar Jackson and the offense can continue to produce the way they did in 2019, then they will be tough to stop. Jackson may not find things quite as easy in 2020 as defensive coordinators will have been studying and scheming to try to limit his production. The Ravens ranked 2nd in offense but 27th in passing. Jackson led the team in rushing with over 1200 yards. The Ravens remain the second favourite in the AFC behind the Chiefs.
The Titans run to the AFC championship game in 2019 was something as a surprise. Tennessee went 9-7 and clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. Ryan Tannehill and more importantly, Derrick Henry have been resigned but Logan Ryan and Cameron Wake left in free agency. The Titans game plan of old school football won’t change as long as Henry is healthy. Receiver AJ Brown topped 1000 yards in his rookie season and could quickly turn into one of the league’s best wide outs.
It was the Texans who won the AFC South, but they lost one of the league‘s best receivers, DeAndre Hopkins in a surprising trade that sent running back David Johnson to Houston. Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks were signed in free agency. DeShaun Watson remains a polarizing player but his numbers were slightly down compared to 2018. With the talent the Texans have they should be doing more on offense, they ranked 13th in total offense and 14th in scoring. The defense is a bigger problem and keeping JJ Watt on the field will again prove an important factor especially come playoff time.
Another front runner in the AFC could be the Buffalo Bills. The Bills went 10-6 and lost a wildcard game to the Texans that they probably should have won, extending their playoff win drought to 25 years. Quarterback Josh Allen needs to improve in the passing game that ranked 26th overall in 2019. The addition of former Viking receiver Stefon Diggs should help. The Bills drafted quarterback Jake Fromm (Georgia) in the fifth round in an attempt to put some pressure on Allen. The Bills ranked second in overall defense and in Tre’Davious White have one of the NFL’s best corners and they signed veteran Josh Norman to play on the opposite side.
The Broncos and Drew Lock improved as the season went on, grabbing a respectable 7-9 record. Lock will have some more assistance in tis time around. Receiver Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) was drafted in the first round and running back Melvin Gordon singed in free agency. Five time Pro Bowler Jurell Casey arrived from Tennessee and if he can be disruptive in the middle then Von Miller and Bradley Chubb can take advantage on the outside. AJ Bouye replaces Chris Harris at corner. A 10-6 record should be enough for a post season berth and certainly looks achievable.
Pushing for a playoff spot.
The Jets could be looking to take advantage of a Brady less Patriots. They will need more consistent play from QB Sam Darnold and although they have two good backs in Bell and the evergreen Frank Gore, the receiver position could be better. The Jets best defensive player, Jamal Adams was traded to Seattle. Another middle of the road season looks likely.
The Cleveland Browns have it all in place to make their first playoff appearance since 2002. Baker Mayfield looked to have taken a backward step in 2019 but the offense has plenty of weapons and new offensive minded head coach, Kevin Stefanski should really help. The Browns made some really nice additions in free agency, Austin Hooper (TE), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Jack Conklin (OT) and Andrew Sendejo (S) will significantly improve the roster. Despite the talent on both sides of the ball, both the offense and defense ranked 22nd overall and therefore improvement is needed if they are going to challenge for a playoff spot.
The Colts signed Phillip Rivers to effectively replace Andrew Luck after Jacoby Brissett failed to make the most of his opportunity. Washington and former Georgia QB Jacob Eason was drafted late on. Rookie RB Jonathan Taylor could hit the ground running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Free agent corner Xavier Rhodes will improve the secondary but Rivers could be the difference maker.
The Raiders and now in Las Vegas. We will have to wait a little longer to see if their famous ‘black hole’ has gone with them. The Raiders went 7-9 in 2019 and will probably be somewhere between that or 9-7 in 2020. It’s a big year for Derrick Carr who will likely be out if he doesn’t take a good sized step forwards. The Raiders are one of the few teams that carry three quarterbacks on their roster. General Manager Mike Mayock added speedy receiver Henry Ruggs (Alabama)but the rest of their draft was questionable.
Pittsburgh seem to be in something of a transition period, Ben Roethlisberger returns after injury and tight end Eric Ebron was added but the roster is mostly the same one that went 8-8 last year. If Big Ben can play 16 games the Steelers could squeeze a few more wins and a spot in the playoffs especially as their schedule looks favourable.
Looking to the Future.
Miami appear to have something that they haven’t had in a long time, a quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) was drafted fifth overall. Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy and Matt Breida were all nice free agent additions. Seven wins would be seen a successful season.
The Chargers have lost Rivers and Gordon and will go with Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert (Oregon) at QB. Safety Derwin James is back from injury but it’s hard to see much better than the five wins they managed last season.
Jacksonville will roll with Gardner Minshew at quarterback as Nick Foles is gone. The Jags drafted very well adding Corner CJ Henderson (Florida), edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and receiver Laviska Shenault in the first two rounds. The Jaguars always seem to be a young team that are looking to build.
The Bengals only won two games in 2019 but if Joe Burrow (LSU) can perform like he did last year, winning the National championship and the Hiesman trophy then perhaps there is hope for the future. AJ Green will be back from injury to help and Joe Mixon is one of the league’s best backs but that’s about it.
AFC East: Bills 11-5, Patriots 7-9, Jets 7-9, Dolphins 6-10
AFC North: Ravens 12-4, Browns 10-6, Steelers 9-7, Bengals 3-13
AFC South: Titans 11-5, Texans 9-7, Colts 9-7, Jaguars 4-12
AFC West: Chiefs 12-4, Broncos 10-6, Raiders 8-8, Chargers 3-13
The NFC appears to be wide open with perhaps no obvious number one team but several very good teams that are all capable of putting a run together to be the best team in the NFC.
The NFC Frontrunners.
Injuries have plagued the Eagles for several years but last year was worse than ever. Josh McCown played the majority of their wildcard loss to Seattle, throwing to receivers that not many people had heard of. If Carson Wentz, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery can stay on the field Philadelphia should return to the playoffs. Jalen Hurts was drafted as more than just a backup and could be used in certain packages. Injuries hit them hard on defense too, especially in the secondary. Safety Will Parks replaces Malcolm Jenkins and free agent corners, Nickell Robey-Coleman and ball hawk Darius Slay will shore things up.
The 49ers blew a ten-point fourth quarter lead in the Super Bowl, something that’s becoming a habit for head coach Kyle Shanahan. The team returns eighteen starters from last year. San Fran replaced defensive tackle DeForrest Buckner with rookie Javon Kinlaw and tackle Joe Staley who retired with Trent Williams from Washington. Defensively the 49ers should still be top five. The offense ranked second overall in 2019 mainly thanks to their running game. Teams will no doubt look to stop the run and see if the inconsistent Jimmy Garoppolo can beat them.
It felt like the Packers over achieved with a 13-3 record in 2019, the blow-out loss to the 49ers in the NFC championship game would seem to back that theory up. The drafting of quarterback Jordan Love in the first round raised a few eyebrows both in and out of Green Bay. The team seems desperately short of receivers but didn’t manage to draft a single one. The defense wasn’t that good last year and there is no suggestion that it will be any better this time around. One huge plus for the Pack was the play of running back Aaron Jones who rushed for 1,084 yards and added 16 touchdowns.
The Vikings lost some considerable talent in the off-season, Diggs, Joseph, Griffen, Rhodes and Sendejo all left town. Minnesota did draft well and their first four picks could see significant game time. Kirk Cousins appeared to get over a hump, putting together a winning drive on the road in New Orleans in the playoffs. Running back Dalvin Cook has a shot to lead the league in rushing. A lot will depend on how the team cope with replacing experience with rookies.
Jason Garrett’s time in Dallas is finally up, replaced by former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. However as always there is still drama in Jerry World. Quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have yet to agree a new deal, as a result Prescott will play the 2020 season under the franchise tag. Jerry Jones couldn’t believe his luck and couldn’t resist the urge when Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb fell in their lap in the first round of the draft. Add Lamb to Cooper, Gallup and Elliott and the offense could again lead the league like it did in 2019. Cowboys legend Jason Witten signed for the Raiders. On defense the cowboys added both Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle and added safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix and drafted corner Trevon Diggs (Alabama) in the second round.
How will another devastating playoff loss affect the Saints? Drew Brees is now 41 and has only completed one pass that travelled 35 ‘air’ yards since 2017 but only threw 4 interceptions in 2019. Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter when Brees got hurt but left for Carolina and former Buccaneer, Jameis Winston is now the back up. Speedster Emmanuel Sanders signed as a free agent as did once former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. Alvin Kamara had something of a down year by his standards. The defense probably played a little better than expected, ranking 11th overall. The Saints have won the NFC South for the last 3 years.
Pushing for a playoff spot.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs in 12 years, Jeff Garcia was their quarterback and Jon Gruden the head coach. Tom Brady is now the man and his former ‘go to guy’ in New England, tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join him. Brady is 42 and looked on the decline last year, Gronk is one concussion away from a second retirement and hasn’t played a full season since 2011. The hype train should probably slow down a little. The Buccs do have weapons though, Evans, Goodwin and Ronald Jones racked up the numbers last season. On defense Shaquil Barrett lead the NFL with 19.5 sacks but the secondary needs a significant improvement.
Which Atlanta Falcons team will turn up in 2020? The one that started last season 1-7 or the one that finished it 6-2 grabbing impressive road wins in New Orleans and San Francisco. Head coach Dan Quinn is very much on the hot seat and only a playoff berth can save him. The offense is loaded with talent but the play calling could be better at times. Running back and Georgia ‘fan favourite’ Todd Gurley was signed to replace Devonta Freeman who was cut for salary cap purposes. On defense the team improved when Quinn gave up play calling duties and Raheem Morris is now the full time defensive coordinator. Another Former Ram, Dante Fowler JR was signed to help improve the improve the pass rush, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a legit playmaker.
Arizona had what looked like a bad season going 5-10-1, however there seem to be plenty of encouraging signs to suggest that they are on the rise. Rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury has input his ‘Air Raid’ concept offense and his rookie QB, Kyler Murray passed for over 3,500 yards and rushed for over 500 in an impressive debut season. The Cardinals racked up a league high, 6,432 yards in 2019. Murray will be aided further by the addition of one of the league’s best receivers, DeAndre Hopkins who was acquired via trade. The Cardinals main problem is their defense, which ranked dead last overall. Swiss army knife linebacker Isaiah Simmons was drafted from Clemson but they could and should have done more to improve this unit.
In 2019 Seattle finally solved a problem they’ve had since Marshawn Lynch left town in 2015, running the football. The run by committee approach led by Chris Carson was good enough for fourth in the league in rush yards. Quarterback Russell Wilson was again impressive throwing 31 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. The Seahawks could not agree terms with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney so they brought back Bruce Irvin and drafted outside linebacker, Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech) in the first round in an attempt to improve the faltering defense.
It’s all change for the Rams, a new stadium two new coordinators and new uniforms. They also lost several big names in Gurley, Cooks, Fowler Jr, Weddle, Matthews, Robey-Coleman and kicker Greg Zuerlein, mostly due to salary cap issues. The Rams did however, have a good draft despite not having a first round pick, given away when they traded for Jalen Ramsey towards the end of last season. Running back Cam Akers (Florida State) and receiver Van Jefferson (Florida) were both drafted in the second round. Aaron Donald leads the defense which will likely be similar to last seasons number of 13th overall. The Rams may benefit from that extra playoff spot because they don’t appear to be any better than last year in which they went 9-7.
Looking to the Future.
Chicago seem to have lost a little patience with QB Mitch Trubisky, trading for former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. It feels somewhat unlikely that either player will start all 16 games. The Bears lost more good players than they gained and it’s hard to see an improvement on last years 8-8 record.
The Giants have yet another head coach, this time former Patriots assistant and the latest Bill Belichick disciple Joe Judge takes the reigns and former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is the OC. Eli Manning has officially retired and Daniel Jones is now the starter. The Giants have some talent on the offense and will again lean on running back Saquon Barkley. Have they really improved much on the team that won just four games last season?
In 2019 Washington ranked 31st in total offense and 27th in total defense, not a surprise that they finished 3-13 or that head coach Jay Gruden was fired. Former Panthers HC Ron Rivera is now in charge and another former head coach, Jack Del Rio is the defensive coordinator. The jury is still out on Dwayne Haskins, another former Panther Kyle Allen was acquired in a trade as Alex Smith is still recovering from injury. Ohio State ‘phenom’ defensive end Chase Young was drafted second overall.
Head coach Matt Patricia came close to getting fired in the off season after going 9-22-1 over the last two seasons. Quarterback Matt Stafford missed 8 games through injury and the Lions lost all 8. It is therefore some what impressive that the Lions ranked 17th in total offense last year. The problems really lie on the other side of the ball. Cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant (Falcons) and the third overall pick in the draft Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) are in as is former Patriot linebacker Jamie Collins. Detroit signed 13 new players in the off season and let the same number depart.
The Carolina Panthers have a new head coach, former Baylor man Matt Rhule comes in, and Teddy Bridgewater replaces Cam Newton at QB. The leader of the defense Luke Kuechly retired and veteran tight end Greg Olsen was let go. Thankfully for the Panthers running back, Christian McCaffrey is still around and shows no sign of slowing down. This is definitely a rebuild which will be helped by the good draft the team had with Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown the pick of the crop.
NFC East: Cowboys 10-6, Eagles 10-6, Giants 4-12, Washington 2-12
NFC North: Vikings 11-5, Packers 10-6, Bears 5-11, Lions 4-12
NFC South: Saints 11-5, Falcons 10-6, Buccaneers 9-7, Panthers 2-14
NFC West: 49ers 13-3, Seahawks 10-6, Cardinals 7-9, Rams 6-10
Written by: Dave Squires