We've made it. It feels like an eternity since Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy back in February but here we are, on the eve Week 1 of what promises to be a truly unique 2020 season.
Now is a great time to take stock, so to speak, of which teams are poised to rise and fall as we kick things off this weekend.
It may seem hard to believe the Ravens stock can go much higher after a phenomenal 2019 campaign that ultimately ended in playoff disappointment. I actually feel Baltimore could be even better here in 2020. There's just so much talent coming back to the fold - on both sides of the football - not to mention the coaching staff, which is somewhat unique in today's NFL. I fully expect Baltimore to pick up right where it left off last regular season and what a great starting point against a very beatable Browns squad on Sunday afternoon.
The Cardinals are suddenly a trendy sleeper pick in the NFC West and while I'm not one to side with the masses, I tend to agree that the Cards could be in for a terrific year. QB Kyler Murray is obviously poised to take a big step forward in his sophomore year, and he'll be given every opportunity to succeed with the addition of all-world WR DeAndre Hopkins, and an underrated stable of running backs led by Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. With that being said, Arizona's defense still has plenty of holes, so count on plenty of shootouts in games involving the Cards this season.
The Colts have quietly been building something positive down in Indy over the past few seasons and now they have a legitimate chance to take a leap forward with a rock solid defense and an offense that could be better than expected with a few new faces in the fold. Of course, the Colts big offseason move was acquiring a proven quarterback in Philip Rivers. While he's not going to light the AFC on fire, I do think he's a good fit in this offense. Don't sleep on rookie RB Jonathan Taylor either. He should fit in just fine running and catching behind an offensive line that returns mostly intact.
San Francisco 49ers
Hear me out on this one. The 49ers are the defending NFC champions and a popular pick to return to the Super Bowl in February. I'm expecting some regression, however, as the Niners open the campaign with a number of key absences on the defensive side of the football as well as on the offensive line. That strikes a major blow to San Francisco's identity, which is built on playing airtight defense and bludgeoning opposing defenses with a run-heavy offense. Playing in an improved NFC West doesn't help matters.
Outside of QB DeShaun Watson, there's really not a lot to like about the Texans entering the new season. First they take away Watson's biggest weapon in WR DeAndre Hopkins. Then they do nothing to help what was a pitiful pass rush a year ago. Yes, Houston added the likes of RB David Johnson and WR Brandin Cooks but both carry plenty of baggage on the injury front (Cooks is already missing practice time). The schedule-makers did the Texans no favors giving them a rematch with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs on opening night.
There are whispers of 'tanking' in Jacksonville as the Jaguars have become a shell of their former selves. What was once a loaded young defensive corps has been left ravaged and ripe for the picking against a tough AFC South. QB Gardner Minshew brought plenty of excitement to the offense a year ago, but his weapons are few and far between. Expect the Jags defense to spend a lot of time on the field, giving the offense precious little time to inflict much damage, and without the necessary tools to do so.