An NFL season rarely pans out as expected and 2020 might be the most unpredictable campaign of them all.
After a shortened offseason, which featured no preseason games, the NFL will begin on time, albeit with fans not present in certain stadiums, and in some cases for the entire year.
Yet the threat of the coronavirus pandemic remains and there is no guarantee that every team even completes a 16-game schedule.
Conventional wisdom may therefore go out of the window and, with that in mind, we make some bold calls about what will happen in the coming NFL campaign.
THE STEELERS WILL MAKE THE SUPER BOWL
Twelve teams currently have shorter Super Bowl odds than the Steelers, but this is a team that should be considered among the favourites… provided quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy.
In 2018, Big Ben led the league in passing yardage (5,129) and completions (452) and threw the most touchdowns of his career in a single season (34), but only played twice last year before undergoing elbow surgery.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 26, 2020
It is fair to wonder how he will fare at 38 but Roethlisberger is durable – he missed only three games in three years prior to last season – and simply does not need to put up the numbers he did in 2018 because of the defense.
In 2019, that unit led the league in sacks (54), takeaways (38) and was top five in both points and yards given up. Roethlisberger’s return should aid key offensive weapons JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, while the offensive line is among the best in the business.
Yes, AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens have everyone salivating, but the well-coached Steelers haven’t had a below .500 season since 2003.
DAK PRESCOTT WILL BE NAMED MVP
Young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have received plenty of love over the past 12 months as the darlings of the NFL, but Dak Prescott had better stats in many categories last year.
Prescott, blessed with a fine offensive line himself, was second in passing yardage (4,902), fourth in touchdown passes (30), had two receivers go over 1,100 yards (Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup) and has now been furnished with a first-round pick in CeeDee Lamb, arguably the best receiver in college football in 2019.
His new head coach Mike McCarthy was in Green Bay when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won two MVPs, and he can get even more out of Prescott, who will not struggle for primetime exposure given he plays for ‘America’s Team’.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) September 2, 2020
THE PANTHERS WILL END UP WITH THE FIRST OVERALL PICK IN 2021
The general consensus is the Jacksonville Jaguars will wind up with the NFL’s worst record in 2020 – and the chance to likely draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence – given their aggressive rebuild.
Yet young quarterback Gardner Minshew showed something in 2019. He was 16th in QB rating (91.2), 15th in TD percentage (4.5 per cent) and 20th in passing yardage. Minshew will certainly not be in on ‘Tank for Trevor SZN’ and those middle-of-the-pack numbers suggest he might just win enough games to ruin the Jags’ chances of landing Lawrence.
Instead, the Panthers could finish with that ‘consolation prize’. Having lost perennial All-Pro Luke Kuechly to retirement, they are set to field the NFL’s youngest starting defense in 10 years, one that lacks depth, which means they could find themselves in shootouts.
That’s not good news considering their new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has passed for over 300 yards just six times in his 34 career starts. Head coach Matt Rhule presided over rough first seasons at Temple (2-10) and Baylor (1-11) before turning things around, and it might be a similar story in Carolina.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 4, 2020
ADAM GASE WILL BE THE FIRST HEAD COACH FIRED
Less bold than the others, perhaps, as Gase would appear to be on borrowed time with the New York Jets, who lost their two best defensive players for this season when Jamal Adams was traded and C.J. Mosley opted out.
Gase, fired by the Miami Dolphins after the 2018 season, was brought to the Jets to bring the best out of young quarterback Sam Darnold and fix a misfiring offense. That offense finished 31st in points and 32nd in offensive yards.
Darnold still has a paucity of offensive weapons, and the Le’Veon Bell signing hasn’t worked thus far, with the running back having the 11th-most carries in 2019 (245), but only averaging 3.2 yards per rush – the worst of his career and only the 46th best in the NFL.
The Jets’ early-season stretch looks tricky on paper. They face the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Bills and Kansas City Chiefs in their opening eight games. Gase, who was hired before general manager Joe Douglas arrived, may be gone before the leaves turn brown.
Published 11 Sep 2020, 00:08 IST