Quibbl picks five hot takes for the 2020 NFL season
With the completion of the 2020 NFL draft, teams are close to finalizing their rosters for training camp. Many of the big offseason questions have been answered like where Tom Brady and Drew Brees will sign. While it might seem plausible that certain teams and players who succeeded last year will succeed again, this is not always the case. At this point last year, no one thought the 49ers would make it to the Super Bowl or Ryan Tannehill would be a star QB. Who thought Phillip Rivers would be on the Indianapolis Colts and Cam Newton unemployed? With this, I’d like to make some bold predictions about the 2020 season and what players, teams, and coaches may surprise fans.
The Browns will win the AFC North
A year ago, everyone was pegging the Browns as the next Super Bowl contender. With the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. and hiring Freddie Kitchens as head coach, people envisioned the fiery Baker Mayfield lighting up the league and destroying any doubt about the Browns. Yet, this vision never materialized in 2019. The Brown’s offense was lackluster, held back by a terrible O-line. Alongside this, Freddie Kitchens’s play calling was abysmal, leading management to fire him at the end of the season. Even the Browns defense was an embarrassment, most notably Myles Garrett being suspended six games for hitting Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet. While it may seem easy to write this team off for the 2020 season given how much they disappointed last year, I advise against this. The Browns have improved their team at every offseason moment, be it coach hiring, free agency, and the draft. This team has insane amounts of talent and if harnessed correctly, they could win the AFC North.
The first move the Browns made in the offseason was to switch head coaches and general managers. Firing Freddie Kitchens is a great decision for the team as he was just not good enough to be a head coach. Let it be known that Kitchens is a great positional coach or even an offensive coordinator. But Kitchens was promoted to a position in which he was way over his head. In a locker room with big personalities like Odell Beckham Jr and Baker Mayfield, you need to possess great leadership qualities in order to take command. And Kitchens does not have those qualities. Alongside this, wearing a t-shirt saying “Pittsburgh started it” in reference to the Myles Garrett situation is completely unprofessional and not something a head coach should do. Alongside the firing of Freddie Kitchens, general manager John Dorsey stepped down and was replaced by Andrew Berry. While in the end, Dorsey did not work out, I do applaud his moves as he was willing to take risks even if there was a chance they wouldn’t work out. With the new hires of Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry, I think the Browns will have enough strong leadership to control their big personality players as well as have a GM that prioritizes improvement on defense and offensive line.
Andrew Berry made some great moves during the offseason. In particular, his free agent signings of offensive tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper. As stated before, Cleveland’s o-line was horrific last year and a young, but experienced tackle like Conklin should give Baker time and space to lead the offense. Alongside this, Austin Hooper will give the Browns a deadly two tight end set. With David Njoku and Hooper, the Browns offense will have two great tight ends who are also deadly receivers. With the free agent signings, the Browns also had a great draft. I talked about their draft in my article on “The Winners and Losers in the 2020 NFL Draft.” But to summarize, the Browns picked up great value in positions of need. Jedrick Wills fell to them and will certainly play a big role in their o-line. They also picked up Grant Delpit, who is an incredible safety with great range and football IQ. In their later rounds, they found high upside players that will also be able to play roles on special teams. Having found so much value that can impact their team immediately, the Browns have made drastic improvements on areas of concern.
The Browns have a great shot at winning the AFC North. The Bengals are not much of a threat, despite picking up Joe Burrow in the draft. The Steelers are questionable as Big Ben suffered a season ending injury last year and is now 38 years old. I am less than confident that his implementation will improve the Steelers’s dismal offense. Lastly, the Ravens, while being a talented team, showed they were beatable in their loss to the Titans. The fact that no one suspects the Browns will in fact help them. With less pressure and being seen as the underdogs, I think the Browns will sneak away with the AFC North.
D.J. Moore will be a top 5 receiver in the league
Having been hidden behind talents such as Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, many of you will ask: “Who’s D.J. Moore and why should I care?” With the departure of Cam and McCaffrey due for a lesser workload in 2020, D.J. Moore might just become the new star of the Panthers offense. Moore was selected 24th overall in the 2018 NFL draft from the University of Maryland and in his rookie season, he put up decent numbers. But I think his stats in his sophomore season as well as the offseason moves of the Panthers create circumstances where I think he will thrive.
D.J. Moore quietly had a great sophomore season. Moore was 15th in the league in receiving yards and caught 87 passes. He showed improvement from his rookie season as he only caught 55 passes and had 788 receiving yards. It is also important to note the circumstances that D.J. Moore was playing in. The Panthers used three different quarterbacks throughout the 2020 season. And for the most part, these quarterbacks were not good. The Panthers quarterback for the majority of the season was Kyle Allen. While Allen played decently for a rookie, he just could not throw a deep ball for his life. There were countless times D.J. was open and Kyle Allen completely missed him. Alongside this, the Panthers were intent on using Christian McCaffrey 24/7. While McCaffrey performed great, the giant workload he received from the Panthers surely took passes from D.J. Moore. Given all these circumstances, for D.J. Moore to put up great numbers in his second season in the league is very impressive.
But for D.J. Moore to become a top five wideout in the league, he will have to do a little more than what he did last year. Luckily for him, the offseason moves of the Panthers will aid him in improving. First of all, Moore will be entering his third year as a receiver. In general, it usually takes three years for a wide receiver to fully develop and acclimate to the NFL, so Moore should improve from his sophomore season. Alongside this, the Panthers have a new head coach, Matt Rhule. Rhule is known for undergoing long rebuilds that eventually lead to success. This means I expect Christian McCaffrey to receive a smaller workload as the Panthers will be more focused on his long-term health. This means more targets for Moore. Alongside this, Rhule is known for developing hardworking wideouts like the recently drafted Denzel Mims, who I think will be a stud in the NFL. And to make things even better, Teddy Bridgewater will be the Panthers starting QB. While Bridgewater does not possess Mahomes-level throwing talent, he is certainly much better than Kyle Allen and will be able to throw Moore accurate passes. Lastly, the Panthers defense is terrible, so the Panthers will likely be throwing the ball often. This will allow D.J. Moore to have plenty of targets throughout the year. Given these circumstances, D.J. Moore is slated to have a great season and I think will be a top five wideout by the end of the year.
The Tampa Bay Defense will steal the show
With Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski joining an already star studded Tampa Bucs offense, there has been incessant chatter about how great they will be. Everyone talks about how many points they will score and how Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be catching dimes left and right. Yet, I want to make a case for the Tampa Bay defense and their potential to be one of the best in the league.
At first glance, the Bucs defense last year was nothing to get excited about. It seemed like every game was a “Jameis Winston shootout,” with both teams heaving deep balls and racking up ridiculous scores. How could a defense so bad become elite? One must first consider that Jameis Winston was on their team. Jameis threw 30 interceptions, fumbled 9 times, and was sacked 47 times. Given how many turnovers Jameis committed, it is no surprise that Tampa’s defense received terrible field position all the time, allowing teams to start close to the end zone and score a bunch of touchdowns. Opposed to the turnover catastrophe that was Jameis, the Bucs new acquisition, Tom Brady, will surely be much more controlled. Tom Brady has made a living by giving his team good field position and throwing the ball out of bounds when the pocket has collapsed. The Bucs defense will certainly not have to deal with Brady fumbling or throwing a pick every other drive, allowing for fewer touchdowns to be scored against them.
Before I go into depth on why the Bucs defense will be great, I want to point out that Tampa Bay’s offense is not unbeatable. We must remember that Tom Brady is 42 and his deep ball is not the same as it used to be. While maybe having to do with the poor wide receiver corp in New England, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense haven’t been high scoring in recent years. Can we really expect Tom Brady to go into Tampa and throw six touchdowns a game? Also, don’t forget that Jameis was sacked 31 times. This has just as much to do with a weak o-line as with Jameis’s inability to avoid sacks. While they did select OT Tristian Wirfs 14th overall in the draft, his technique still needs improvement, so I am skeptical of the impact he could have in his rookie year. Alongside this, Gronk has missed a year and was facing regression in his later years in the league due to injuries. While in his retirement, he may have felt good, things might change when he gets hit again and feels the pains of his injuries returning. With these concerns, I expect the Buccaneers offense to be good, but not the best.
But the Bucs defense should improve drastically. As opposed to the Patriots defense, which is built back to front with star safeties and corners, the Bucs defense is very much focused on the frontlines. This can be seen last year when they had arguably the best run defense in the league. Their d-line is fantastic, loaded with the likes of Shaq Barrett and Ndamukong Suh. Barrett, who plays outsider linebacker as well as edge rusher, led the league with 19.5 sacks last year and has recently been franchise tagged according to ESPN. While he is certainly due for a healthy dose of regression, Suh or nose tackle Vita Vea can surely pick up his slack. Tampa’s linebackers are also awesome, specifically Devin White. As a rookie, White was stellar, netting 91 tackles in 13 games. His fiery attitude and willingness to dish out heavy hits will certainly be a central piece to this defense’s success in the future. I think if the Buccaneers defense had any weakness, it would be its secondary. While it is not terrible, none of the players stand out. That is a little troublesome when you are trying to cover Michael Thomas or Julio Jones as those guys will feast on mismatches. In general, the NFC South is not a kind division for defenses, so don’t expect the Buccaneers defense to have spectacular stats. But taking into account their competition, I think the Bucs defense will do great. Their defensive line and linebacker corps are sure to cause nightmares for opposing offenses. And come playoff time, don’t be surprised to see a similar story to the 2018 playoffs where the Patriots defense, not Tom Brady, won them a Super Bowl.
Miles Sanders will be a top five running back
Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 53rd pick in the 2019 draft, Miles Sanders was expected to have a giant impact on the NFC East. Yet, at the beginning of last season, this was not the case. Being eased into the league, Sanders played second fiddle to RB Jordan Howard. And the carries he did have were not particularly productive. But, by the end of the season, Sanders was quietly dominating.
Sanders was forced to play a much larger role midseason as much of the offense was injured. Most notably for Sanders, Jordan Howard was hurt, leaving Sanders as the main guy in the backfield. But alongside this, wide receivers Desean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey, and Nelson Agholor as well as tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert were all injured at some point in the season. In almost comedic fashion, they had 40 year old backup QB, Josh McCown, warming up to play wide receiver on MNF against the Giants. With all these injuries, Miles Sanders not only stepped up in the run game, but also proved he could catch passes. As the Eagles were fighting for a playoff spot in their last four games of the season, Sanders rushed for 300 yards as well as caught 18 passes for 150 yards. Given how injured the Eagles receiver corp was, teams were surely game planning against Sanders. Yet, Sanders performed incredibly, especially when his team needed him the most.
Sanders’s stellar second half earned the trust of the Eagles. Looking at the draft, the Eagles took no running backs even though Jordan Howard departed the team for the Miami Dolphins. The Eagles even selected QB Jalen Hurts in the second round, showing their uncertainty in Carson Wentz’s health and trust in Sanders as this pick could have certainly netted them a great RB. Yet, this upcoming season, Miles Sanders is the main man in the Eagles backfield and possesses incredible skills. Sanders is truly part of the new breed of running backs, like Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley, who can both run and catch passes. With these skills, Sanders will be able to stay on the field all three downs and get a boatload of touches. While many see Saquon or Zeke as the big shots at RB in the NFC East, I think Sanders will be right there with them and a top five RB in the league.
Dan Quinn will not be a head coach by the end of the 2020 season
Dan Quinn’s tenure in Atlanta is one of highs and lows. Just as things seem to be going perfectly, they fall apart. And just as things are about to fall apart, they somehow get better. This can be seen in the Falcons’s 2017 playoff run. Matt Ryan was slinging it, Julio looked unbeatable, and they were up 28-3 in the third quarter. Then everything fell apart and the Patriots pulled off an incredible comeback for the Super Bowl. The next year, Matt Ryan throws 35 touchdowns and is playing like an MVP, but the team still goes 7-9. The Falcons poor play continued in the 2019 season as they started off 1-7. Rumors were swirling that Quinn was surely going to be fired. Yet, the Falcons miraculously won 6 out of the next 8 games, saving Quinn his job momentarily. Though the Falcons looked decent, their moves in the offseason did nothing to strengthen their weaknesses. With this, I expect the Falcons to have a rough start to the 2020 season, forcing the Falcons to fire Dan Quinn.
Before we look at the Falcons, we must look at the offseason moves that the other teams in the NFC South made. The Panthers signed QB Teddy Bridgewater, hired head coach Matt Rhule, and re-signed RB Christian McCaffrey. While these are good moves for the franchise, the Panthers will not pose a big threat for a few more years as they are still in the process of rebuilding. Yet, the other two teams, the Saints and the Buccaneers, are looking quite scary for the 2020 season. The Saints did not do much aside from bring in veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders and bolster their o-line by drafting Cesar Ruiz. Yet, their roster is already star-studded with QB Drew Brees, WR Micheal Thomas, and RB Alvin Kamara. Even their defense is awesome, boasting stats against the run and a Pro Bowl cornerback in Marshon Lattimore. While there are certainly questions about whether this team is able to rise to the occasion come playoff time, they are a significantly better roster than the Falcons. And if facing the Saints twice wasn’t bad enough, the Falcons now have to face the Brady-led Buccaneers as well. The Bucs not only added Tom Brady, but also TE Rob Gronkowski to an already loaded offense. Brady will now have incredible talent to throw to like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and OJ Howard. The Bucs also added OT Tristian Wirfs, a physical specimen from Iowa, in the 2020 draft to protect Brady. With these acquisitions, the Buccaneers are slated to be a top contender in the 2020 season. With the fact that the Falcons will have two of the best teams in the league in their division, they will certainly have a tough time getting to the playoffs.
Despite the fact that the Buccaneers and the Saints offenses look ready to win Super Bowls, the Falcons offense possesses some incredible talent too. I think these past few years have shown that Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback. And one could argue that the Falcons receiver corp is the best in the league, possessing both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Yet, the Falcons offense has one big flaw: they can’t run the ball. In Super Bowl LI, the Falcons believed they didn’t need to run the ball, instead choosing to throw. This would eventually cost them the game as the Patriots came back and embarrassed them. I think this offseason they realized they actually need to run the ball. Being 30th in rushing in 2019 and relying on the injury prone Devonta Freeman is just not going to cut it. Yet, to fix this problem, they decided to sign another injury prone running back: Todd Gurley. While I am all for giving Gurley another shot, I don’t think a backfield with him and Ito Smith will be effective. In fact, I think this backfield could be worse than last year. This terrible backfield will certainly prevent the Falcons from competing with the Buccaneers and Saints offenses.
And I am sorry to say that the Falcons defense does not make up for any deficiency on offense. The Falcons run defense is mediocre at best, on average allowing 110 yards per game against running backs. But the real problem is the Falcons secondary. This secondary has so many holes in it, it’s basically swiss cheese. In the NFC East with Mike Evans and Michael Thomas, being 22nd in the league against the pass will not do. And no, drafting corner A.J. Terrell will not help. While Terrell can snag interceptions, he also allows wide receivers to make plenty of big plays against him. In general, he often gets burned as he takes too many risks, most notably in college championship against LSU. None of the moves the Falcons have made led me to believe this defense is capable of stopping the Saint or Bucs.
With the fact that the Falcons have a terrible backfield and a suspect defense, it is no surprise that I believe they will stumble at the beginning of the season. Dave Quinn, already in hot water from his poor start last season, will most likely be fired before the 2020 season ends. While Falcons fans might be upset by this, there is still hope. Brady and Brees are getting old, so in the next few years the Falcons may find themselves atop the NFC South again. But in 2020… I’d be doubtful.
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