2020 AFC East Preview: Winds of Change

When Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason the winds of change swept through the AFC East. The stranglehold Bill Belichick and Brady had was finally broken and teams began anew with dreams of storming the Patriots castle. Most notably the Buffalo Bills who were in the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 years.

The Bills arrive with the NFL’s #3 ranked defense and added former Viking wideout Stefon Diggs to bolster the offense.  Josh Allen has the keys to the offense and RB Devin Singletary is the engine that powers this team forward. Will they emerge as division champions as many pundits believe?

2020 AFC East Predictions

  1. New England Patriots 11-5*
  2. Buffalo Bills 10-6**
  3. Miami Dolphins 6-10
  4. New York Jets 5-11

Not so fast as the Patriots will become a surprise division champion as Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will coax a turnaround season from Cam Newton. The former NFL MVP allows New England a solid weapon in the running game and will be able to work in a more traditional offense and some two tight ends. He has a spectacular young wideout in former ASU star N’Keal Harry and an underrated Jakobi Meyers. These two 2nd year players will benefit from Julian Edelman still in the slot to move the chains.

Singletary should have a 1,200 yard season in 2020.

In upstate New York the Bills have to get more out of Josh Allen as a downfield passer. He has to show the ability to get through his progressions and revert to running as a 3rd option in a make or break season. His fight or flight mechanics were highlighted in last year’s wild card loss. He has to get the ball into the endzone and not rely on field goals and get his defense a cushion.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, right, hands off the ball to Bills running back Zack Moss during an NFL football training camp in Orchard Park, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (James P. McCoy/The Buffalo News via AP, Pool)

One of the issues is the Bills didn’t step up and take one of the games against New England last year.  Each were in reach and they just couldn’t seize it. That came back to haunt them in why the Bills gave up a 16-0 lead in the wildcard game and couldn’t maintain it. They can’t assume they will win the division just because Brady is gone. The Bills have to learn to seize the opportunity and not expect to default into a division championship.

This team also lost a lot of leadership with the retirement of LB Lorenzo Alexander, RB Frank Gore, and DE Shaw Lawson. New leaders have to emerge for Buffalo to take that next step and why they will be in a wildcard slot again.

Aug 26, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) attempts a pass during training camp at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins are building on the momentum of their 3-2 finish which included a win in New England in the finale. The future looks bright with the drafting of QB Tua Tagovailoa.  The team has brought in RB Matt Breida, and RB Jordan Howard to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright as well. He just doesn’t have the tools to move the ball downfield. The team drafted mostly defense to be better prepared to have a defense minded team when Tagovailoa takes over later in the year. Its only a matter of time.

Never underestimate Belichick and the NFL’s #1 defense as he is the best teacher of situational football in league history. He will coax another division championship in New England and Cam will be NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

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2020 AFC North Preview: What will Lamar Jackson Do for an Encore

Last year we saw a transcendent performance at the quarterback position in Lamar Jackson. His 1,206 rushing yards was an NFL record while teaming with fellow 1,000 yard rusher in Mark Ingram. He threw for 36TDs as the Ravens did have defenses in a quandary over where the ball was. The read option was a weapon of epic proportions with Jackson’s ball handling & dazzling athleticism. 

However the Titans exposed Jackson’s weakness completing passes outside of his tight ends and outside the hashmarks in the playoffs. They also played disciplined gap control defense and made sure not to commit forcing Jackson into indecision handing off and in his pass options. He has to improve on his outside touch.

2019 AFC North Predictions

  1. Baltimore Ravens 13-3*
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6**
  3. Cleveland Browns 8-8
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 4-12

In the Steel City Big Ben stabilizes an offense that sputtered with Mason Rudolph and “Duck” Hodges. Yet the defense drug the team to an 8-8 season as they emerged as a top ten defense (5th) and were solid against the pass (3rd) while leading the NFL with 54 sacks and 2nd in interceptions with 20. 

TJ Watt and Bud Dupree combined for 26 sacks were the modern version of Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd. Their disruptive pocket presence along with FS Minkah Fitzpatrick makes this the NFL’s best in defense. They will benefit with continuity and an emerging Devin Bush at inside linebacker.

Roethlisberger will get the Steelers back to the playoffs however the team will come up short of Baltimore without a true running back. James Conner is a ball carrier that can get the yards a play is designed for but nothing more. JuJu Smith Shuster is still trying to show he is a #1 receiver and has a chance with Ben back at the helm. Ben can will this team to 3 more wins with a pedestrian set of skill players with this defense. Good enough for a wildcard.

Its put up or shut up time in Cleveland for Baker Mayfield as the team brought in Case Keenum who is a stop gap veteran much in the way Tennessee picked up Tannehill last season. There is simply too much talent for this team to be 22nd in offense. 

Nick Chubb lead the NFL in rushing up until the final week of his sophomore season. He finished with 1,494 yards and 8 TDs and is the complete package. With former rushing champion Kareem Hunt backing him up they have insurance. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are a solid set of receivers but they don’t seem to complement each other. They seem to be the same receiver however a good coordinator should able to get the ball to them. Can Mayfield improve with his 3rd offensive coordinator? 

The division is Baltimore’s for the taking and with the drafting of Ohio St’s JK Dobbins he has a stronger skillset than an aging Mark Ingram. The Ravens should repeat last year’s performance with a 1-2 punch. They’ve added DE Calais Campbell to fortify their defense also. The question is can the Ravens make it to Super Bowl LV.

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2020 AFC South Preview: Bound For a Championship Game Appearance

Well…well… well… it looks like we’re going to have an NFL season after all. So we’re here to rub the crystal ball and see what we think will happen this 2020 season. Amid the backdrop of empty stadiums the NFL plans on kicking off the 101st season amid the Covid pandemic.

With two teams that fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the playoffs, it’s not far fetched to assume a team from the AFC South will appear in this year’s AFC Championship Game. The Houston Texans melted after having a 24-0 lead in the divisional round before losing. Then the clock struck midnight on the cinderella Titans in the AFC Championshp after holding a 17-7 lead. Each come into the new season wondering what might have been. 

2020 AFC South Predictions

  1. Indianapolis Colts 11-5
  2. Tennessee Titans 9-7**
  3. Houston Texans 7-9
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

The mantle of best offensive line shifts from the “Great Wall of Dallas II” to the Indianapolis front line. This group led a game managing Jacoby Brissett to a manageable 18TDs & 6 picks and serviceable Marlon Mack to 1,091 yards and 8 TDs.

This line led by All Pro G Quenton Nelson and LT Anthony Costanzo powered the NFL’s #3 rushing attack. Now they add 226lb north south runner Jonathan Taylor out of Wisonsin. He had multiple 2,000 yard seasons in the Big Ten and translates well in tandem with Mack. This is before speaking of the upgrade to Phillip Rivers who already knows Head Coach Frank Reich’s offense from their time together with the Chargers a few years back.

Rivers has signed a 1 year $25 million dollar deal and is playing for his legacy. Fellow 2004 draftees Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger each have 2 Super Bowl wins and Rivers has yet to appear in one. The Colts have a proven leader in this 16 year veteran who should be able to push the ball downfield better than the aforementioned Mr Brissett.

Down in Tennessee they hope to strike lightening twice with a good season out of Ryan Tannehill. Hard to coax from a retread quarterback the division now has film on. Keep in mind bruising defensive teams that rely on a bellcow running back like league leading rusher Derrick Henry rarely repeat close to the vest playoff runs. Last year the Titans were 3-1 in games decided by 3 points or less. The ball won’t bounce that way a 2nd straight year.

Rashaan Evans will become one of the NFL’s best linebackers this season.

Gone is 5 time pro bowl DT Jurrell Casey, former Patriot change of pace back Dion Lewis, TE Delanie Walker and LB Wesley Woodyard. This is a tremendous loss of veteran leadership and with Casey, playmaking ability.

Houston resigned Deshaun Watson to a megadeal and then traded his #1 weapon in DeAndre Hopkins. They traded him for underachieving RB David Johnson from the Cardinals. Johnson was on the bench and fallen completely out of favor with the Cardinals Coach. What Bill O’Brien saw in this move has yet to be understood by The Chancellor of Football. Or any other pundit for that matter.

Watson will be holding the ball more next year now the team doesn’t have a #1 receiver. He will regress from the 333 of 495 for 3,852 yards 26TDs and 12ints he tossed in 2019.

This will be Bill O’Brien’s last season as the Houston Texans head coach. However this division will have the Colts make the AFC Championship Game. 

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