Season 101 of the NFL: Predictions

Image Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

By Jack Cherico

The 2020 NFL season is going to be different, from players who have been on the same team for 20 years and packed their bags for pastures anew, to the inevitable restrictions that COVID-19 is going to impose on America’s new pastime. This upcoming season is going to be very interesting and pretty unpredictable. So guess what I’m going to do? Predict it! 

Texans at Chiefs, Week 1

The first matchup of the 2020 season is very interesting, a rematch of the 2019 divisional round, the Kansas City Chiefs, led by reigning Super Bowl MVP and the face of the NFL, Patrick Mahomes, against the Houston Texans, with Deshaun Watson under center. The Chiefs, riding the high of winning their first Super Bowl since 1970, are poised to make another run this year, with key pieces like defensive end Chris Jones and tight end Travis Kelce returning. As for the Texans, this journalist doesn’t have high hopes, as the aforementioned divisional-round game highlights a massive problem. Coach Bill O’Brien and his suspect playcalling are responsible for the Texans blowing a 24-0 lead to the Chiefs; bogus play-calls such as a fake punt, on fourth-and-four, on his own 31-yard line, while up 24-7 halfway through the second quarter, are simply the tip of the iceberg. Plays like this, and a lack of “finish the game” mentality, contributed to the Texans’ demise, and, in my opinion, are the end of any playoff hopes the Texans have. O’Brien’s destruction of the team doesn’t end on the field. As acting general manager of the team, he traded star receiver Deandre Hopkins in the offseason, as well as defensive end Jadeveon Clowney during the regular season. This game acts as a litmus test for where each of the teams are at. If everything plays out how I think it will, the Texans will perform poorly, which will define the rest of their season.

Prediction: Texans 17 @ Chiefs 35 

Saints-Buccaneers, Week 1 & Week 9

The NFC South is quite possibly one of the craziest divisions we have seen in a while, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing former Patriots legends Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. That’s not all, though, as the Bucs have two top-ten ranked receivers, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, along with a defense consisting of great linebacking talent and an excellent D-line. The other teams in the division are also stacked, with the New Orleans Saints having the reigning offensive player of the year, Michael Thomas, and electrifying halfback Alvin Kamara. For New Orleans, it’s conference championship or bust; quarterback Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger, and with the Bucs on their heels, this may be their last chance to win out before they have to part ways with the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. These matchups will show if the Bucs can live up to the hype and if the Saints can make one final push to the promised land. 

Prediction: 9/13 Bucs 28 @Saints 20

      11/8 Saints 35 @ Bucs 31

Ravens at Patriots, Week 10

The matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots is a game to watch every year, and it has typically been a battle between Tom Brady, and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. With all three of those players having moved on, I can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic for those early 2010’s matchups. Nevertheless, this upcoming game is very interesting because of the two quarterbacks leading the teams, 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson, and 2015 MVP Cam Newton. Newton is one of the most physically gifted QB’s of our era; standing at 6’5”, 245lbs, he is able to outrun some running backs. Newton also tallied 4606 rushing yards in his career, as well as 58 rushing touchdowns. Lamar Jackson, although not as big or physically strong, is lightning quick and had 1901 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in his two years of playing. These guys are very similar quarterbacks, and although Cam will be throwing the ball more at the age of 31, it will still be fun seeing the old bull face off against the young calf at the mobile quarterback position. Also, this will be a test for the Patriots, who, without Tom Brady, could crash and burn or go on another magical playoff run. For the Ravens, this is a prove-it year, especially because their playoff performance with Jackson under center hasn’t been great. 

Prediction:  Ravens 14 @ Patriots 17 

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs

This prediction isn’t very interesting, but it’s hard to not have Mahomes as the MVP. The Texas Tech product has thrown for 9412 yards and 76 touchdowns in only three years and is the engine behind the Chiefs potent offense. The last time a non-QB won MVP was Adrian Peterson in 2012, and I don’t see that trend changing next year. 

Offensive Player of the Year: Deandre Hopkins, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals 

Now, this is a prediction that should cause a little intrigue. Although Christian McCaffrey is one of my favorite players in the league, his insane 1000 yard rushing and receiving season last year is going to be very hard to replicate, so I’m going with Deandre Hopkins as a dark horse. The Texans traded Deandre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick for David Johnson, a 2020 second-rounder and a 2021 fourth-rounder during March, and the whole NFL world was in shock. This trade worked out perfectly for Arizona, who, with QB Kyler Murray at the helm, is a dark horse playoff candidate for the upcoming year. Murray threw for 3772 yards last year and 20 touchdowns, but with an offensive line that resembled Swiss cheese, he took a league-high 48 sacks. Murray has a lot of upside going into next year, with plenty of options to throw to, namely a receiver with arguably the best hands in the league. Hopkins will have many opportunities to catch the ball in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme that utilizes the run-pass option; defenses can’t afford to double team him too often, or else other receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk will have a field day. 

Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt, Defensive End, Pittsburgh Steelers

Another prediction that’s a little out there, Steelers defensive end T.J. Watt is poised to make a run at defensive player of the year, as his brother J.J. did three times in the 2010s. While breaking down some film, my friend and I discovered that the younger Watt was relentless in pass rush, especially when taking on top-tier blockers like 49ers tight end George Kittle. Watt also had fourteen and a half sacks and two interceptions last year, as well as eight forced fumbles, which are crazy numbers for such a young player. During the film breakdown, we also saw that although Watt isn’t as well polished technically as the Bosa brothers, for example, he still mostly required a double team from the tackle and tight end usually. With the Steelers D-line being very solid next year, and the technical work T.J. has put into this year, he still has a good shot to take DPOY.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Halfback, Kansas City Chiefs

Back to the boring picks. As much as I would like to say one of the wide receivers taken this year has a chance, such as the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson or the Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy, I feel like the wide receiver market on the teams they were drafted to is too good to make them stand out. All the top receivers drafted in the first round this year have seasoned players in front of them (the single exception being Henry Ruggs III), so it seems unlikely that they’ll top the ROY voting. Chiefs’ first-round running back out of LSU Clyde Edwards-Helaire, however, is walking into a great situation. Starter Damien Williams is opting out of the season due to COVID-19, and as I have stated, the Chiefs offense is one of the best we’ve seen since the 2007 Patriots. With the run game not being a big focus in Kansas City, defenses won’t focus on it, leaving room for the college football national championship winner to pop off.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jeffrey Okuda, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Lions defensive back Jeffrey Okuda is not the consensus pick for defensive rookie of the year; those honors go to his former Ohio State teammate, the Washington Football Team’s defensive end Chase Young. However, because of Young’s play style, and the lack of pieces around him, Young may not perform as expected. Young uses the speed rush technique while he should be bull rushing. In college, this worked because of his natural talent and physical strength, but in the NFL, against players like Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, this won’t fly. If Young can develop great technique like Nick Bosa, then he’ll be a perennial DPOY candidate. Okuda, however, comes from “cornerback university,” where Ohio State has pushed out corners Marcus Lattimore, Denzel Ward, and Bradley Roby. Okuda has a lot to face in a receiver-heavy division led by Davante Adams and Adam Thielen, but I think with coach Matt Patricia taking him under his wing, Okuda will be the next great product of Ohio State’s cornerback system. 

Comeback Player of the Year: AJ Green, Wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals 

AJ Green was once looked at as one of the best receivers in the league, but as the Bengals deteriorated, so did his health and production. He suffered a toe injury in 2018 after a hot start to the season, then tore several ankle ligaments and missed the entire 2019 season. With Heisman-winning rookie quarterback Joe Burrow taking the starting spot at QB, Green has the potential to regain his lost production, if he can stay healthy.  

Coach of the Year: Sean McDermott, Head Coach, Buffalo Bills

My last prediction for the NFL season is Bills head coach Sean McDermott winning Coach of the Year. With the acquisition of wide receiver Stephon Diggs and a defense led by an amazing secondary, the Bills have a shot to go very far this year. Quarterback Josh Allen has improved every year, and, aside from Lamar Jackson, might be the best QB in the class of 2018. Allen has amazing arm strength, yet struggles with accuracy, but with Diggs and other wide receiver John Brown, he should be able to be very successful next year. McDermott has been described as a coach who has built a culture of integrity and character around the locker room; I think this will translate into the season, and the Bills have a chance to win out.

Playoff Bracket:

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