Soon we will meet Lord Belichick’s new apprentice….
By: Elias McMillan
The New England Patriots have ruled the AFC East for the better part of the last twenty years. Will we see a changing of the guard this season? There was certainly momentum towards that last season with Buffalo’s emergence. But now with Tom Brady out of the picture, this is the time for the Bills to reach the top of the division for the first time since 1995. Coming off last season’s playoff appearance, Buffalo upgraded their roster in the offseason adding WR Stephon Diggs. The defense played at a high level a season ago and they added CB Josh Norman who is looking to resurrect his career. Thinking of defense, the Patriots had the top defensive unit in the league. But entering 2020, that defense will look a lot different than a season ago. New England will have new starters at multiple positions due to the losses in free agency and the opt-outs due to Covid-19. On offense, they’ll have plenty of excitement with free agent acquisition QB Cam Newton, who has a huge chip on his shoulder after a nasty divorce with Carolina. Many have questions about how effective Cam can be coming off a number of injuries but I question how he can be effective with New England limited offensive weapons. WR’s Julian Edleman and Mohamed Sanu return but they have a gaping hole at TE. Maybe Miami can break through and steal this division. They may be young but they have the talent and the coaching. I’m interested into how the QB situation gets sorted out in Miami. I feel that the job will eventually go to rookie Tua Tagovailoa, who was a dynamic passer at Alabama. The Dolphins were the big spenders in the offseason, adding CB Byron Jones, LB Kyle Van Noy, and DE Shaq Lawson. Not sure if those signings will pay off but maybe an improved defense and good QB play can push them into the playoff picture. I’m pretty sure the Jets won’t be in playoff scenario this season. They had two major talents on defense but they traded away one of them and then the other is a Covid opt-out. RB Le’Veon Bell will once again have his work cut out for him, as it will seem as if he is the only offensive weapon that this team has. Bell is probably one of the top RBs in the league but in this offense, it’s going to be tough for him to flourish. I bet he is traded during the season, leaving QB Sam Darnold to pick up the pieces. At least, head coach Adam Gase will get fired at season’s end.
Playoff Teams in CAPS – Projected Finish: 1) BUFFALO, 2) New England, 3) Miami, 4) New York Jets
This division is set to have a really competitive season. Baltimore took a big step forward in 2019 and they are looking to stay on top in the AFC North and have another shot in the playoffs. QB Lamar Jackson exploded onto the scene last year and his play could have the Ravens running this division for the coming future. Speaking of running, the Ravens return a top rushing offense that favors their QB and features veteran Mark Ingram and incoming rookie JK Dobbins. WR Marquis “Hollywood” Brown showed promise in his rookie season but I would like to see another solid receiving option to emerge. Baltimore’s defense got exposed in the post season. Hopefully, additions like DE’s Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and 1st round pick Patrick Queen will help. Pittsburgh has ruled this division in recent history but I think last season was a signaling of change. The Steelers return a top defensive unit but their offense held them back last year as they were down to their 2nd and 3rd string options at QB. I don’t feel great about the success of a ball club being tied to one player. Especially when that player is a 38-going-on-45 year old QB coming off elbow surgery. Yeah, the IG posts and the championship proclamations are nice but the fact still remains: Father Time is undefeated. The Steelers didn’t improve the backup situation behind star QB Ben Roethlisberger and its primed to bite them once again. I know everyone is expecting this great revival from him but we’ll see. I guess. If Ben is healthy, he’ll have a pretty good group at WR to go to, not to mention that they added Eric Ebron at TE. Pittsburgh lost Javon Hargrave upfront defensively but they are still primed to have a strong defense led by DE Cameron Hayward, LB T.J. Watt, and S Minkah Fitzpatrick. Cleveland enters 2020 a lot quieter than they did a year ago. Still, many people are expecting them to disappoint despite having another talented roster. A lot of their success this season will hinge on their QB play. This is a make or break season for QB Baker Mayfield who led the league in commercials last season. Mayfield better figure himself out and realize the talent Cleveland has at the skill positions. They should be able to run the ball with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. And he will have plenty of targets to go to with Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and free agent signee Austin Hooper. The Browns really aren’t great defensively but they do have a great player. DE Myles Garrett is an absolute monster on the edge as a pass rusher and last season, he snatched a helmet off another player and proceeded to beat him over the head with it. It was awesome. The Browns need more players like that. I mean, not doing that hasn’t worked for so long. Anyways, in the secondary, I think CB Denzel Ward could develop into a nice player. On to Cincinnati, where they have their QB of the future but not much more excitement after that. I’m really interested in seeing how well 1st overall pick QB Joe Burrow plays with no pre-season. The Bengals appear to be set at WR with Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins. I’m, however, worried about A.J. Green returning from injury. DT Geno Atkins will continue to lead this defense. In the secondary, they’ll feature two castoffs from Minnesota. Cincinnati is in a spot now where they are collecting young talent but they probably wont contend this year. They’re a couple of off season’s away from that.
Playoff Teams in CAPS – Projected Finish: 1) BALTIMORE, 2) PITTSBURGH, 3) Cleveland, 4) Cincinnati
Houston won this division a season ago but it was Tennessee who surprisingly made noise in the post season. Houston really did themselves no favors by trading away their best player (WR DeAndre Hopkins). Now, their star QB Deshaun Watson is waiting on his payday without his main target in the pass game. Houston will have a decent set of WRs this year but none of them are even close to Hopkins. It’s going to be interesting to see how Watson can adjust. RB David Johnson comes over in the Hopkins trade looking to regain the form he had a few years ago. Houston’s defense was inconsistent at times last year. What would help would be if DE J.J. Watt can stay healthy. Tennessee didn’t really have an exciting offseason. QB Ryan Tannehill won the starting job last season, led them to a couple of post season wins, and got a huge contract extension. But anyone who watched that team last season knows that RB Derrick Henry is that guy who makes this offense go. The Titans awarded him with a extension as well as he is coming off a season where he led the league in rushing. The Titans had a stingy defense last year but in the offseason, they traded away DE Jurrell Casey and they didn’t bring back productive safety, Logan Ryan. The Colts have a solid team entering 2020. QB Phillip Rivers arrives to the team looking to prove that he can still contribute after a lengthy career with the Chargers. This is a team that has a lot of things that I like. First, they have an impressed stable of RB’s with Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and rookie Jonathan Taylor. Another rookie, WR Michael Pittman Jr. could prove to be a great complement to veteran T.Y. Hilton. They do have a gaping hole at TE with Eric Ebron leaving to Pittsburgh in free agency. They made a big off-season trade for DT DeForest Buckner. That adds some much needed beef to a defense, which also includes all-Pro players, LB Darius Leonard and CB Kenny Moore. The Colts could quietly become a team to beat this year. Jacksonville is in the middle of a rebuild after a few years removed from being oh-so close to advancing to the Super Bowl. QB Gardner Minshew will try to turn a surprising 2019 into some stability for the Jaguars at the position. RB Leonard Fournette can be a great player but his relationship with the team is icy and he’s about to be traded away. I really like Jacksonville’s defense. DE Josh Allen is a monster who is on the verge of having a productive year. Draft pick K’Lavon Chaisson will also help with the pass rush as the team figures out a way to dump Yannick Ngakoue in a trade to a contender. In the secondary, Jalen Ramsey is gone but they also drafted C.J. Henderson in the first round.
Playoff Teams in CAPS – Projected Finish: 1) HOUSTON, 2) TENNESSEE, 3) Indianapolis, 4) Jacksonville
The defending Super Bowl champions will have a target firmly on their back in 2020. The Chiefs will start their bid to repeat with basically the same outlook as a season ago: score a lot of points. QB Patrick Mahomes is setup to win more accolades as he commands an offense with almost too many weapons. They are loaded at WR, they have a star at TE, and in the backfield, everyone is excited to see what rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire will bring to the table. DE Frank Clark will once again anchor Kansas City’s front defensive seven. In the secondary, safety Tyrann Mathieu will continue to be a vocal leader while providing big play ability. In this division, I see Denver as a team that will surprise people. A lot is going to depend on QB Drew Lock and if he has developed into a NFL passer. Denver will once again have the horses in the backfield with Phillip Lindsay and veteran Melvin Gordon. I’m also real excited to see what rookie WR’s Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler bring to this offense. On defense, I think the addition of DE Jurrell Casey is going to help that defensive line. LB Von Miller is also looking to reestablish himself as one of the most feared pass rushers in the game. The Chargers have already won 2020 with those new uniforms. But in terms of actually victories, they might be tough to come by. The LA Chargers will enter this season with some momentum from the new stadium but I think they will be held back by their offense. With Phillip Rivers now in Indy, the Chargers decided to stick with backup Tyrod Taylor to start the season. We’ve seen what Taylor had to offer in Cleveland and I’m not sure if he’ll be able to thrive with first round pick Justin Herbert waiting in the wings. The writing is on the wall that he will soon be replaced but we will have to wait and see if it’s the right move. I think WR Kennan Allen will be ready to produce no matter who is throwing to him. I really like the Chargers’ defense, which is led by two of the better pass rushers in the game: DE’s Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. This defense could really be special if safety Derwin James is able to stay healthy. I guess the Raiders will be interesting to watch this season. With the backdrop of being in a new city and stadium, they have an intriguing roster. QB Derek Carr quietly had one of his best season despite having his top target bail on him in the pre-season last year. I feel like that doesn’t get talked about enough. But then, why did the Raiders bring in Marcus Mariota to back him up? Definitely not a sign of confidence from the front office. The Raiders were able to land one of the top WR’s in the draft with Henry Ruggs. TE Darren Waller is receiving some hype going into this season. I’m sure he’ll able to keep 80-year-old TE Jason Witten on the bench. Though they traded away Khalil Mack two years ago, they look pretty decent up front defensively. DE Maxx Crosby was a nice surprise and he is just one of a decent group at that position. In the secondary, I’m excited to see rookie CB Damon Arnette who is already making highlight reel plays in training camp. This Raider team could be a sleeper but I just feel they always find a way to muck it up.
Playoff Teams in CAPS – Projected Finish: 1) KANSAS CITY, 2) DENVER, 3) L.A. Chargers, 4) Las Vegas