Preparing for the NFL has been remarkably different for the 2020 season than any other in my nearly half of a century of handicapping. I do not have to tell anybody out there how crazy the first half of 2020 has been and how the Pandemic has seen the cancelling of sports along with a devastating toll on the lives of people all around the world. We have witnessed personal and business economies hurt or ruined in some cases and many businesses that have not survived. This has been one of those years you just have to live through and hopefully come out the other end stronger.
We recently have seen baseball looking to start their season on or around July 24 with a 60-game season. Plus, the NHL looks to return around the same time and proceed directly to a playoff format.
Still be determined is the effect this Covid-19 year will have on the NFL season. The NFL still appears on schedule for a preseason in August and a regular season week one in early September. Albeit with many new protocols in place which likely will include no fans in the stadiums. I have been doing my work and have some very in-depth analysis of each team in each division. However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll limit my analysis to an abbreviated look at the AFC divisions.
AFC EAST: You cannot mention the AFC East without talking about the team that has dominated this division for a long time now, the New England Patriots. This will be a new Patriots team for 2020. Gone is future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who departed for the warmer climate of Tampa Bay. The Pats dominance of this division may be coming to an end. I am not saying they can't win the East, especially when no team might come out of the AFC East with a record much over the .500 mark. The Patriots main challenger will be the Buffalo Bills, who have that excellent defense and exceptionally good coaching. The Jets looked to have improved in the draft and the Dolphins will likely still struggle. Pats might not have much to contend with in this division other than the Bills.
AFC NORTH: The Baltimore Ravens should once again be the team to beat in the North. The Cincinnati Bengals got the number one draft choice and took QB Joe Burrow from LSU. While Burrow looks to be a great NFL prospect, I still see too many shortcomings with the Bengals for them to be any factor this season. The Steelers welcome back QB Ben Roethlisberger, who knows how to win games. This will automatically make the Steelers a contender again for the division. As for the Browns, it is hard to predict a good year ever for this team. No matter how much talent they possess, the team fails to produce consistently year in and year out. I do not expect the Ravens offense to surprise teams as they did last year with their unique offensive attack. Defensive coordinators will be prepared this year for the Ravens and that should tighten this division considerably between the Ravens and Steelers.
AFC SOUTH: The AFC South has seen the Houston Texans rise to the top as the team to beat in this division. They came awfully close last year as we all remember that big playoff loss at Kansas City where they led 24-0 before the Chiefs rallied for a 20-point win. Still, they have an excellent coach in Bill O’Brien to keep moving them forward. The Tennessee Titans just made the playoffs last year and came close to making a big impact in the post season behind an incredibly good rushing attack. They beat the Patriots and Ravens before losing to the Chiefs, 24-35. Quarterback still looks to be an issue however and that likely will hurt them once again this year. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be a dumpster fire this year and any wins they get will be surprising. The Indianapolis Colts went out and got veteran QB Phillip Rivers in the offseason. Rivers is getting old but still knows how to win and that is what this team needs, veteran leadership at quarterback. Does he have much left in the tank? For me, the Texans are once again the team to beat here but if Rivers is anything like his old self, we will see this as a close race for the South.
AFC WEST: Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs look to defend their championship and appear to have all the pieces returning to do just that. I think their main competition in that division is going to come from the Denver Broncos. I like what Denver did in the offseason. I do not usually give a lot of credit to John Elway, but he did a great job and they are going to be much tougher this season. If the Chiefs stumble at all, I think it can be the Broncos that derail them. The LA Chargers will be in a rebuilding mode this year as I do not expect much out of this club. The Las Vegas Raiders have a new home, but I do not see much improvement for the team. They picked up QB Marcus Mariota to challenge for the starting spot, but this club will likely remain right around the .500 mark.
What I will say about the NFC is that I expect the 49ers to come right back this season and be the team to beat in that conference. Let’s hope for a full NFL season and hopefully the return of the fans to the stadiums.