Denver Broncos Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: TEN, @PIT, TB, @NYJ, @NE, MIA, KC, BYE, @ATL, @LVR, LAC, NO, @KC, @CAR, BUF, @LAC, LVR

Additions: DL Jurrell Casey (Trade), CB A.J. Buoye (Trade), OL Graham Glasgow (FA), RB Melvin Gordon (FA), TE Nick Vannett (FA), OL Demar Dotson, P Sam Martin (FA), WR Jerry Jeudy (Draft), WR K.J. Hamler (Draft), OL Lloyd Cushenberry (Draft)

Losses: OL Connor McGovern (FA), CB Chris Harris (FA), DL Derek Wolfe (FA), S Will Parks (FA), DL Adam Gotsis (FA), LS Casey Kreiter (FA), FB Andy Janovich (Trade), OL Ja’Wuan James (Opt-out)

Analysis:

Denver is an interesting team. Just looking at the depth chart, this looks like one of the best teams in the league. So did the 2019 Browns, though. There’s a lot of similarities between these two teams. Just like Cleveland in 2018, the Broncos ended last year on a hot streak, with four wins in their last five games. Hyped up all offseason, the Browns finished a lowly 6-10. Now, the Broncos’ hype train hasn’t gotten nearly as out of control and I still expect this team to take a step forward. The playoffs just might have to wait a year.

Another glaring similarity between the two teams is at quarterback, only Drew Lock is even less proven than Baker Mayfield was at this time last year. While Lock showed great potential as a rookie, so did Mayfield, and in a larger sample size. Don’t be shocked if he has a sophomore slump.

Lock has similarly intriguing, though less established, weapons at his disposal as Mayfield’s. Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay are up there with Cleveland for the best running back duo in the league.

Rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler join Courtland Sutton in what should be a fun receiver room for years to come. Add in the explosive Noah Fant at tight end and we could see fireworks.

Another thing Denver has going is Mike Munchak. You know that guy is going to drain every drop of potential out of the offensive line. He has some interesting pieces to work with, too. Left tackle Garett Bolles graded well at PFF, but hasn’t been able to shake his penalty issues. The other bookend is less certain with Ja’Wuan James opting out. Just as he did when James was hurt last year, Elijah Wilkinson will fill in. He’ll have a short least, though, with recent signee Demar Dotson breathing down his neck. The interior is talented, even with a rookie starting at center. Munchak should lead this group to fringe-top-10 status.

Comparisons to the 2015 unit are delusional, but this defense looks great on paper. After a slight down year, they should be much better. Bradley Chubb returns after missing most of last season. After a few weeks to shake off the rust, he and Von Miller—who’s coming off a disappointing season of his own—should return to being one of the most fearsome edge duos in the league. Adding Jurrell Casey to the d-line will buff up the pass rush, too. The linebackers are dealing with injuries, but when healthy, Alexander Johnson and Todd Davis are a nice duo inside. As a whole, the front seven is stout.

In the secondary, A.J. Bouye has an excellent opportunity to return to form now that he’s out of Jacksonville. Bryce Callahan will start opposite him after missing all of last season. That’s a solid corner duo with good potential. Whoever joins them in nickel looks will be a little dicier. At safety, Justin Simmons is a budding star while Kareem Jackson is a great veteran next to him.

I like everything about this roster. There are some worries, though. Vic Fangio got the standard free first season for a head coach. In year two, both his and the team’s performance will be more scrutinized. Lock is promising, but he’s played just five career games. Untested youth is abundant on the Broncos’ offense. And for as great as the defense looks, there are lots of aging vets or players with injury concerns. With a decent schedule, I expect Denver to take its lumps and come back next year as a team to truly watch out for.

What’s your record prediction for the Broncos? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Tennessee Titans Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @DEN, JAX, @MIN, PIT, BUF, HOU, BYE, @CIN, CHI, IND, @BAL, @IND, CLE, @JAX, DET, @GB, @HOU

Additions: EDGE Vic Beasley (FA), CB Johnathan Joseph (FA), DL Jack Crawford (FA), OL Isaiah Wilson (Draft), CB Kristian Fulton (Draft), RB Darrynton Evans (Draft)

Losses: DL Jurrell Casey (Trade), OL Jack Conklin (FA), QB Marcus Mariota (FA), Logan Ryan (FA), DL Austin Johnson (FA), RB Dion Lewis (FA), WR Tajae Sharpe (FA), EDGE Vic Beasley (Pastoring)

Analysis:

Last year’s playoff run was magical. Now it’s up to the Titans to continue that over a full season. I have my doubts Tennessee has historically been inconsistent in the regular season. Even Derrick Henry has gotten off to slow starts the past few years before exploding down the stretch.

Then there’s the matter of free agency. Including the March trade of Jurrell Casey, the Titans lost some important pieces this offseason while only bringing in one marquee player. That would be streaky ex-Falcon Vic Beasley, who has already made his presence felt with the team—by not being present at all. Beasley has been M.I.A. pretty much all summer with no clear return date set. Apparently, crushing quarterbacks doesn’t appeal to him as much as crushing sermons.

With his status unknown, the offseason losses could really stand out. Jack Conklin is the one poised to sting the most. Henry’s dominance wasn’t just because of his insane physical attributes. Tennessee’s offensive line hit its groove around the same time as its stud back and the group opened multiple massive holes every game. Besides Conklin, every other starter is returning. That leaves his oldright tackle spot as the position to watch. Rookie first-rounder Isaiah Wilson was expected to start early on, but his play and decision-making have been underwhelming. Veteran Dennis Kelly has been a spot starter for the Titans for years, so this could be his first shot at a full-time gig. Also, right guard Nate Davis was carted off in today’s practice. Suddenly, the whole right side of the line is questionable.

On the other side of the trenches, the questions are even more pressing. Casey had been one of the faces of the franchises for most of his nine-year career, all with the Titans. Clearly, they think 2019 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons is ready to take over. The only worry about him coming out was his recent ACL tear, so after rehabbing it as a rookie, he has the talent to break out in year two. With Daquan Jones taking one spot beside him, two-thirds of the line is set. Between free agent signing Jack Crawford, 2019 UDFA Isaiah Mack, and rookie Larrell Murchison, there are a lot of options for the last spot, but none are particularly inspiring. If Simmons doesn’t take the expected leap, this will be a weak unit.

Middle linebacker is in good hands with Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans. Beasley’s return to God puts a damper on the edge rotation, though. Harold Landry is solid at one spot, but the Titans spent their money here for a reason. 13th in the league in sacks last year, they’re poised to be mediocre once again without their big acquisition. Less sacks isn’t out of the question, either, given the defensive line turnover.

The last major departure came in the secondary—a place Tennessee couldn’t afford any. With injuries to both Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan bounced between the slot and outside, playing well wherever. Now that he’s gone, those two will have to stay healthy. If not, newcomers Johnathan Joseph and Kristian Fulton will have to fill in just like the Giants signee did. Even at full strength, this has proven to be an extremely inconsistent unit for the Titans. Luckily, they have excellent safety play behind them, with star ballhawk Kevin Byard leading the charge.

For all the talk of losses, one under-the-radar gain for Tennessee is a full season of Ryan Tannehill starting. With him at the helm, they were 7-3, compared to 2-4 with Marcus Mariota. The $118 million man won’t keep up last year’s efficiency, but should keep up the strong play nonetheless.

Tannehill to A.J. Brown was special last year, and the young receiver is another guy to watch. As a rookie, he was both an excellent deep threat and YAC machine. While he’s been banged up in camp, a monster season is definitely possible. Behind him, the receivers are uninspiring. Corey Davis is a certified bust at this point while Adam Humphries didn’t produce much in the slot. Jonnu Smith is interesting at tight end, though. Same goes for rookie Darrynton Evans, who will take over the third-down back role from Dion Lewis.

I don’t expect the Titans to improve much from last season. Another win feels fair given a full year of Tannehill and the team’s tendency to start slow. They should run over the division both on the field and in the standings, but they’re the weakest of my predicted AFC champions. A return to the championship game feels unlikely. To be fair, nobody expected it last year, either.

What’s your record prediction for the Titans? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Jacksonville Jaguars Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: IND, @TEN, MIA, @CIN, @HOU, DET, BYE, @LAC, HOU, @GB, PIT, CLE, @MIN, TEN, @BAL, CHI, @IND

Additions: LB Joe Schobert (FA), TE Tyler Eifert (FA), RB Chris Thompson (FA), EDGE Cassius Marsh (FA), DL Timmy Jernigan (FA), DL Adam Gotsis (FA), DL Rodney Gunter (FA), EDGE Aaron Lynch (FA), DL Al Woods (FA), CB Rashaan Melvin (FA), CB C.J. Henderson (Draft), EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson (Draft), WR Laviska Shenault (Draft), DL Davon Hamilton (Draft)

Losses: DL Calais Campbell (Trade), EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (Trade), CB A.J. Buoye (Trade), QB Nick Foles (Trade), RB Leonard Fournette (Cut), DL Rodney Gunter (Retired), EDGE Aaron Lynch (Retired), DL Al Woods (Opt-out), CB Rashaan Melvin (Opt-out), TE Seth Devalve (FA), LB Quincy Williams (Injury)

Analysis:

Thank God J comes after H and I in the alphabet. If not, I would’ve wrote this yesterday, when the Jaguars still had Leonard Fournette. The supremely underrated running back is the latest in a mass exodus of talent from Jacksonville. In the last year, they have traded Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Buoye, Calais Campbell, Nick Foles, and Yannick Ngakoue along with releasing Fournette.

On top of that, seemingly every defender they signed either opted-out or retired. What remains of this defense won’t look anything like the 2017 unit that nearly carried Blake Bortles to a Super Bowl. Instead, they could look even worse than the group that got demolished last season.

That defense at least had stars, even if the stats weren’t pretty. Now, the big dog is second-year edge Josh Allen. After tallying 10.5 sacks in a rotational role, his life will become a lot harder with all the attention now on him. With Allen now drawing doubles, K’Lavon Chaisson could follow in his footsteps with a big first year. He’s going to have to if Jacksonville is going to stop anyone.

Run defense is a particularly large worry, with an uninspiring interior d-line. 2018 first-round pick Taven Bryan will have to champion the group after two years as a part-time player. He was a day one pick for a reason and could be the next stud defensive lineman in Sacksonville. Starting next to him, nose tackle will be a position to watch after the Jags allowed 5.1 yards per carry last season. Veteran Abry Jones and rookie Davon Hamilton will both get reps. No matter who starts, this should remain a weakness.Rounding out the rotation are a couple desperation signings after the spree of opt-outs.

While linebacker looks better on paper, I’m not a Joe Schobert guy. I don’t think he’s the type to transform a defense like the Jags need him to be. Myles Jack has the potential to be that guy, but the flashes never persist. He’s way too inconsistent for a guy that talented. In today’s sub package-centric age, the third linebacker doesn’t play a huge role. That’s good for Jacksonville because they lack a complete player at the spot despite some intriguing names.

Cornerback might be the best indicator of the defense’s fall from grace. A couple years ago, they had arguably the two best guys in the league in Ramsey and Buoye. Now, they have Tre Herndon and C.J. Henderson. Herndon made a ton of notable plays—as many bad as good—last year in his first starting opportunity while Henderson is a rookie in a year and position that don’t favor first-year players. There’s a realistic chance these two get lit up next year.

At nickel, D.J. Hayden is one of the few standouts left on the team. Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison return as an unspectacular starting safety duo. With third and often fourth safeties playing significant roles nowadays, the lackluster depth could be a weakness.

While the defense looks nothing like it did in 2017, the offense is a different story. Granted, Gardner Minshew has already proven to be a better passer than Bortles, but as a whole, it’s a similarly underwhelming group. The quarterback upgrade is offset by the massive drop off in the backfield.

Fournette didn’t post the sexiest stats, but that’s more because defenses had zero respect for the passing game than anything. Neither Chris Thompson nor Ryquell Armstead will come close to replacing his value, though I am excited to watch the 2019 fifth-round pick. Tampa Bay has some competition for worst running back room in the NFL.

The offensive line won’t provide much support, either. A second-round pick last year, Jawaan Taylor led the league in penalties. Staying at right tackle this season, he desperately needs to improve on that. Every other 2019 starter returns as well. Unless something unexpected happens, this group will be below-average once again.

For Jacksonville to avoid the top-five draft slot most are predicting, the Minshew-D.J. Chark connection is going to have to be lethal. It was sometimes last year. In 2020, it’ll have to be a weekly occurrence. Chark might have that kind of potential, but I’m a little more weary of Minshew.

I think some people got a little carried away with the memes and started to overrate him. Let me clear, I think he’s awesome and definitely can be a franchise quarterback. I just think the same people who demand a player proves himself for years are ignoring that principle with the sixth-round pick. With that being said, I hope he succeeds just as much as everyone else. The NFL hasn’t seen many characters as awesome as the Jort King.

Another big worry with the team is the coaching uncertainty. Doug Marrone somehow escaped with his job last year and enters 2020 with an unbelievably short leash. The schedule is in his favor, at least. Jacksonville faces Cincinnati, Miami, and Detroit in the first six weeks. Win two of those with a couple more upsets later on, and he should be safe for the year. Returning in 2021 is a whole other story, though.

What’s your record prediction for the Jaguars? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Indianapolis Colts Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @JAX, MIN, NYJ, @CHI, @CLE, CIN, BYE, @DET, BAL, @TEN, GB, TEN, @HOU, @LVR, HOU, @PIT, JAX

Additions: DL DeForest Buckner (Trade), QB Philip Rivers (FA), CB Xavier Rhodes (FA), S Tavon Wilson (FA), FB Roosevelt Nix (FA), TE Trey Burton (FA), WR Michael Pittman Jr. (Draft), RB Jonathan Taylor (Draft)

Losses: TE Eric Ebron (FA), CB Pierre Desir (FA), DL Margus Hunt (FA), OL Joe Haeg (FA), WR Chester Rogers (FA)

Analysis:

Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement last year forced the Colts to adjust on the fly. Jacoby Brissett was thrust into a starting role just weeks before the season opener. After a hot start, Brissett and Indy sputtered to a 7-9 record, partially due to the unexpected and rapid decline of Adam Vinatieri.

So, this year, with new faces at both quarterback and kicker and a full offseason to prepare, I have the Colts going… 7-9. I know. It feels wrong. But, I try not to get too caught up in how the team did last year and instead look at the team’s current composition. Based on the roster and schedule, I think Indy is a 7-win team.

After 16 years in San Diego/Los Angeles, Philip Rivers is the Colts’ starting quarterback while Brissett slides back into his natural backup role. 2019 was a rough year for the fertile father. I think he’s a little better than what he showed last year, but decline has clearly set in. Brissett actually played well to start the season before a knee injury and ensuing struggles, so I’m not expecting a huge jump in overall qb play. Same goes for kicker. The favorite to win the job, Chase McLaughlin, hasn’t shown enough to suggest he’ll be a major upgrade, with just 11 career games and a 78% field goal percentage.

Rivers will have the benefit of playing behind possibly the best offensive line in the league, though. Quenton Nelson is so awesome that even casual fans know who he is. That’s a rare feat for a lineman. The rest of the line isn’t quite up to his level, but that’s an impossible standard. All five starters are back after Anthony Castonzo signed a two-year deal this offseason. With no weak link in the group, Rivers might not know how to react to actually having time in the pocket for once.

Indy’s weapons get a lot of talk, and they certainly are intriguing. I think they’re more great than elite, though. Rookie Jonathan Taylor is the future at running back and should take over at some point this season. Until then, Marlon Mack will hold down the fort as a proven and capable starter.

While the receiving corps gets a lot of love, I’m not as sold on them. T.Y. Hilton is a good-not-great WR1 coming off an injury-plagued season. Hopefully 2019 was just a blip in a great career. The Colts spent second-rounders in back-to-back years on Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell. Both will see time and benefit from the attention Hilton draws. With that being said, the hype around Pittman seems to have gotten a little out of control. People seem to forget that he was the eighth receiver drafted and only a rookie. Campbell is a really fun player with potential, but he did almost nothing last year amid injury struggles.

Great tight end has been a staple in Indianapolis play for years. With Eric Ebron leaving for Pittsburgh, Trey Burton was brought in. As I’ve said, I’m not the biggest Ebron guy, so I don’t think this was a huge drop off. Training camp has dealt a blow to the position’s outlook, though. Starter Jack Doyle has been dealing with neck problems while Burton will miss the start of the season with a calf strain.

All in all, I don’t think it’s that great of an offense. Somewhere from just inside the top 10 to slightly below average is my gauge on them. Defensively, it’s a similarly mediocre bunch. Coordinator Matt Eberflus has done a great job maximizing the unit lacking in star power.

DeForest Buckner, as great as he is, can’t play all 11 positions. Outside of Darius Leonard, he’s the only star of the group to me. Justin Houston and Kenny Moore warrant some recognition, too. However, Houston is more really good at his point in his career than anything. Putting a second-year slot corner in that category feels premature, too.

The rest of the defense is a mix of meh, solid, and good. Indy’s d-line falls in the last category, as they were particularly stout against the run (7th in yards and a less impressive 12th on a per carry basis). Kemoko Turay will bring some exciting pass-rush potential once he is fully recovered from last year’s ankle injury. With the addition of Buckner, they’re capable of overwhelming some offensive lines.

While Leonard roams the weak-side, Walker will man the middle linebacker spot. Whenever the Colts deploy three linebackers, Bobby Okereke will join them. The 2019 third-round pick has some intriguing traits and has the coaching staff looking for ways to get him more snaps. With a stud in Leonard and league-wide deemphasis of the position, this is a good linebacker group.

The secondary is where you see a lot of the meh. As a whole, it might even be worse than that. Rock Ya-Sin will take one outside corner spot after an up-and-down rookie season while Indy prays for a time machine at the other. I’m not too keen on betting on an Xavier Rhodes career revival. Safety Malik Hooker had his 5th-year option declined in May. That should tell you all you need to know about how his own team views him. Fourth-round pick Khari Willis will start alongside him after a pleasantly surprising rookie season. Indianapolis struggled against the pass last season and the secondary was a big reason why. There’s a good chance this remains a weakness in 2020.

Indy is pretty much the epitome of average to me. Depending on how the ball bounces, they could go 10-6 or 6-10. They’d probably be in the middle of the pack if I ranked the toughest schedules in the league, too. For consistency’s sake, I’ll give them back-to-back 7-9 seasons with both the quarterback and kicker blowing games.

What’s your record prediction for the Colts? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Houston Texans Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @KC, BAL, @PIT, MIN, JAX, @TEN, GB, BYE, @JAX, @CLE, NE, @DET, IND, @CHI, @IND, CIN, TEN

Additions: RB David Johnson (Trade), WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), S Eric Murray (FA), WR Randall Cobb (FA), S Jaylen Watkins (FA), DL Ross Blacklock (Draft)

Losses: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Trade), DL D.J. Reader (FA), CB Johnathan Joseph (FA), RB Lamar Miller (FA), RB Carlos Hyde (FA)

Analysis:

I’m at the point where I don’t really care who’s on the Texans. I fully expect Deshaun Watson to drag them to the playoffs no matter what. Last year, I picked them for 7 wins, only to watch him carry a sorry team to the division title and a playoff win. Even with another underwhelming supporting cast, there’s no reason to think he won’t have them playing in January once again.

GM Bill O’Brien seems really committed to making life hard for both Watson and HC Bill O’Brien. After trading away the Texans’ future last offseason, O’Brien got to work on the present. I don’t care about any supposed contract squabbles—especially since he has been a model soldier in Arizona—DeAndre Hopkins is worth more than a second and expensive contract. To go and trade a second for Brandin Cooks weeks later somehow made it even worse. Maybe in 2021 O’Brien will try to go back and trade away Andre Johnson to complete the time treachery trifecta.

One possible silver lining of moving Hopkins is that it could push Watson to be even better. Getting rid of his top target can sometimes make a quarterback trust his reads more and create an overall scarier attack. Considering the weapons around him are still dangerous, it’s possible. Cooks and Randall Cobb join Will Fuller and Kenny Stills to create an intriguing receiver room. No one will replace Hopkins single-handedly, but few, if any, quartets match their qualifications. Even if Fuller misses his standard 6 games, they’ll be solid. Tight end Darren Fells showed great chemistry with Watson, seemingly always finding the right spot when his quarterback scrambled. A couple younger, more explosive guys behind him will earn some playing time, too.

The crown jewel of the Hopkins’ return, David Johnson, will have to ball out for that trade to look like anything less than robbery. With Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde gone, opportunity won’t be an issue. It’ll be up to him to prove his 2016 season wasn’t a fluke. Running backs have always produced in this offense, so he should continue that trend. As for whether he’ll return to form, I doubt it. Let’s not forget that DJ was straight-up benched last season despite supposedly being healthy. He’s another guy I expect to be much more valuable in fantasy than real life.

Even after substantial offseason investments, Houston’s offensive line flopped last season. With youth along the line and all five starters returning, I think the 2020 iteration will look closer to what fans hoped for last year. A costly acquistion, left tackle Laremy Tunsil has been a flag magnet. Outside of that, though, he has solidified Watson’s blindside just as the team hoped. The team is hoping for jumps from 2019 picks Max Scharping and Tytus Howard. Veterans Nick Martin and Zach Fulton will also need to play better. As a whole, this group is a borderline strength for the team and any uptick in their play will help make up for the outgoing talent.

With Watson at the helm, offense isn’t the worry. That would be the defense, which was awful in most categories last year. Bottom-10 against the run in 2019, they could drop even further without D.J. Reader. He’s arguably the best nose tackle in the league, so replacing him won’t be easy. First crack will go to Brandon Dunn, who spent the past few years rotating in behind Reader. Rookie Ross Blacklock and possibly former Raider bust P.J. Hall should get some snaps as well.

The rest of the Texans’ defense is full of big-name and generally highly-regarded players. As I said, though, they were below-average in virtually every metric last season. A guy like J.J. Watt can still wreck games, but don’t confuse him for his old MVP candidate self. Just seeing him suit up for 16 games would be a win in my book. Linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are both well-compensated, but I’m not sure they’re as great as some think. Still, inside linebacker is far from a weakness.

Edge rusher Whitney Mercilus is another guy whose name goes further than his play. If he’s the top pass rusher on your team, the result will be something like Houston’s 31 sacks last year. Someone needs to step up beside him, and Jacob Martin seems to be the leading candidate. Acquired in the Jadeveon Clowney deal, Martin has 6.5 career sacks in very limited snaps. The Texans need him to keep that efficiency in a larger role, or quarterbacks will once again have all day to pick apart the secondary.

While I like the defensive backs, they’re not good enough to compensate for a weak pass rush. Between Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson, Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves, and rookie John Reid, Houston has no shortage of noteworthy names at cornerback. By November or December, they should have a solid outside duo and nickel corner from that group. Safety is even more exciting, with Eric Murray coming from Cleveland to start alongside Justin Reid, a guy I really like. Reserves Jaylen Watkins and A.J. Moore give the team a lot of flexibility to run dime packages.

I actually think O’Brien is a competent coach. It isn’t just Watson getting them to the playoffs, as his teams are always well-prepared. The problem is his front office experiment has left the roster with a bunch of big-time names, but not enough big-time talent. Dealt the NFC and AFC North plus Chiefs and Patriots, Houston has a challenging road ahead. Knowing Watson, though, he’ll make that road look more like a stroll in the park.

What’s your record prediction for the Texans? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Pittsburgh Steelers Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @NYG, DEN, HOU, @TEN, PHI, CLE, @BAL, BYE, @DAL, CIN, @JAX, BAL, WAS, @BUF, @CIN, IND, @CLE

Additions: TE Eric Ebron (FA), FB Derek Watt (FA), OL Stefen Wisniewski (FA), DL Chris Wormley (Trade), WR Chase Claypool (Draft)

Losses: OL Ramon Foster (Retired), DL Javon Hargrave (FA), OL B.J. Finney (FA), S Sean Davis (FA), TE Nick Vannett (FA), FB Roosevelt Nix (Cut)

Analysis:

As you can see by the short lists of both additions and losses, the Steelers are pretty much running it back in 2020. That’s understandable, given how they finished 8-8 despite crippling injuries. The most important, of course, being Ben Roethlisberger’s. Big Ben will be in Canton one day, so his loss was obviously devastating. Especially given how the team skimped on the backup quarterback position. In relief, the terrible twosome Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges combined to offset an utterly dominant defense. Ideally, neither of those guys will have to see the field next season and Pittsburgh will actually reap the rewards of the defense’s game-changing plays.

While Big Ben is back, he might not be the guy we’re accustomed to seeing. Last year, his season was ended by an elbow injury similar to those requiring Tommy John’s surgery—a procedure rare in football, but is a near-death sentence for baseball pitchers. Still, no matter what version of Roethlisberger we see, he’ll be an improvement.

His return will benefit everyone on the offense—a much-needed boost after rough years for pretty much the entire unit. Juju Smith-Schuster fell way short of expectation in his first season as WR1. Maybe we understated Antonio Brown’s role in his production, but regardless, 2020 should be closer to his past team MVP form. There’s a couple receivers nipping at his heels, too. Both James Washington and Diontae Johnson seemed to adjust better to Roethlisberger’s injury than he did, so we’ll see how the targets shake out now that number 7 is back.

Another threat is rookie Chase Claypool. A bit of a tight end-receiver hybrid, his freaky athleticism has been making noise in camp. Pittsburgh’s actual tight end, Eric Ebron, is more valuable in fantasy than real life in my opinion. His consistency and blocking issues keep him from the greatness his 2018 stats would indicate. He and incumbent Vance McDonald are more co-TE1s than starter and backup. Despite each player’s weaknesses, the duo has exciting potential.

Running back James Conner is another guy looking for a bounceback. Le’Veon Bell’s replacement only suited up for 10 games and was banged up for most of the games he did play in. Health has been an issue throughout his young career, but in 2018 he showed what he’s capable of when he and the offense are humming. Pittsburgh has a ton of intriguing young depth behind him as well. Benny Snell has looked so good in camp that many are speculating he could have a role regardless of Conner’s availability. Currently in the concussion protocol, rookie Anthony McFarland was one of the most explosive backs in the draft and warrants a few touches a game himself.

To help all their promising backs, the Steelers are going to need a better season from the offensive line. After years of elite play, they took a major step back last season. Barring David DeCastro’s recent injury turning out to be serious, they should reverse that in 2020. It’s not a coincidence that their down year came without Roethlisberger. With so many long-tenured guys, they and Roethlisberger make each other better. So long as Matt Feiler transitions to guard well and Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor fills in admirably at right tackle, this unit should be great once again.

The defense lost a couple good players in Javon Hargrave and Sean Davis, but I’m not worried. Given the awful positions the offense put them in, they might have been the best in the league last year. Plus, Davis missed almost all of last season and his injury played a huge role in the Steelers landing Minkah Fitzpatrick. It’s unlikely the former Dolphin makes as many big plays, but he could be a better overall player in his first full season with the team. Starting next to him is Terrell Edmunds, who’s had an up-and-down career since being a surprising first-round pick in 2018. At corner, the trio of Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton is supremely underrated.

Pittsburgh’s front seven is regarded as one of the best in the league, and rightfully so. T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree fly off the edge while Cam Heyward is just as scary in the middle. That trio might haunt quarterbacks’ nightmares more than any other in football. Stephon Tuitt doesn’t put up the same numbers as those three, but he’s just as great. Tyson Alualu will head up the group effort to replace Hargrave, but the new Eagle’s loss will be felt. In just one year, Devin Bush proved himself to be one of the better linebackers in football. Year two could bring a jump to being one of the best. After leading the league in takeaways, the Steelers are due for some regression on that front. Outside of that, there’s no reason to expect a drop off defensively.

Roethlisberger’s elbow is the main and really only concern I have with this team. The defense is top-notch and the offense should take a major step forward. Mike Tomlin reminded everyone how great of a coach he is last season. With a schedule on the easier side, Pittsburgh has a good shot at double-digit wins. I still think Baltimore takes the division, but anything’s possible with these two rivals.

What’s your record prediction for the Steelers? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Cleveland Browns Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @BAL, CIN, WAS, @DAL, IND, @PIT, @CIN, LVR, BYE, HOU, PHI, @JAX, @TEN, BAL, @NYG, @NYJ, PIT

Additions: OL Jack Conklin (FA), TE Austin Hooper (FA), EDGE/DL Adrian Clayborn (FA), DL Andrew Billings (FA), CB Kevin Johnson (FA), S Karl Joseph (FA), LB B.J. Goodson (FA), S Andrew Sendejo (FA), FB Andy Janovich (Trade), OL Jedrick Wills Jr. (Draft), S Grant Delpit (Draft), DL Jordan Elliott (Draft), LB Jacob Phillips (Draft)

Losses: LB Joe Schobert (FA), S Eric Murray (FA), LB Christian Kirksey (FA), S Juston Burris (FA), S Damarious Randall (FA), DL Andrew Billings (Opt-out), OL Drew Forbes (Opt-out), LB Mack Wilson (Injury), S Grant Delpit (Injury), CB Kevin Johnson (Injury)

Analysis:

Last year, I was fooled by the Browns hype. I’m not going to make the same mistake again. It is tempting, though. Just like in 2019, Cleveland has a ton of talent. The issue, once again, will be the readiness of their first-year head coach.

Kevin Stefanski hasn’t experienced the meteoric rise of Freddie Kitchens and couldn’t possibly be as bad, but I’m still not sold on him. The Vikings’ offensive success last season was because of Gary Kubiak as much as it was Stefanski in my opinion. Eric Bieniemy was the better candidate in my opinion. I also prefer when new coaches hire accomplished coordinators à la Sean McVay with Wade Phillips. Stefanski instead went with first-time OC Alex Van Pelt and Joe Woods, who angered multiple players during his two years as Broncos DC.

With that being said, Cleveland’s roster fits well with what Stefanski likes to do offensively. In Minnesota, he pounded the rock consistently and effectively, with well-timed play-action shots mixed in. The Browns’ personnel might even be a little better, too. Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook are comparable talents, but Kareem Hunt off the bench gives Stefanski’s new team the edge. Even with Hunt, Chubb could take home the rushing crown. Newly-acquired fullback Andy Janovich should punish defenders just as C.J. Ham did for the Vikings. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are very similar to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

Where Cleveland has the advantage is tight end and the offensive line. My only slight worries about the line are rookie Jedrick Wills Jr. at left tackle and Wyatt Teller at right guard. However, I think Wills is one of the guys talented enough to succeed in what should be a tough year for rookies. And Teller is more of a weak link by default than anything. After a down year that was slightly overstated, this group should be one of the ten best in the league or better. Austin Hooper is a dangerous in the passing game and better than anyone the Vikings or Browns had last year.

That Baker Mayfield in the spotlight—a scenario he loves to be in. He got a little too much hate last year in my opinion, but was a huge disappointment nonetheless. Luckily for the man with the greatest photo in NFL history, Stefanski has experience changing the perception of belittled quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins balled out last year under his watch and is starting to shake his primetime reputation. Even if this isn’t a make or break season for Baker, it’s definitely important. Barring disaster, he’ll be the starter in 2021, but another dud could lead Cleveland to look at their options. He’s the big question mark on an otherwise excellent offense.

Defensively, things are a lot less certain. Myles Garrett is the best player on the team and leads a stout defensive line. He would’ve challenged for the sack title if not for Mason Rudolph’s extremely punchable face. Short of another suspension, he should be a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Alongside him are three talented players who underperformed last year. Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, and Olivier Vernon will have to be much more consistent in 2020, especially after Andrew Billings opted-out. He was brought in largely to fix an abysmal run defense, so other players are going to have to step up. A lot of that responsibility will fall on the linebackers.

After Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey departed in free agency, the remnants weren’t pretty. Now, with Mack Wilson slated to miss extended time, the group is just plain ugly. B.J. Goodson, on his third team in three years, should start at middle linebacker. Next to him will likely be 2019 third-rounder Sione Takitaki (epic name) and either 2018 undrafted free agent Tae Davis (5 career starts) or rookie Jacob Phillips. These might be the worst linebackers in the league.

Cleveland was expected to run a lot of nickel and dime looks already, and that’s all but certain now. That doesn’t bode well for the run defense, though. Plus, the secondary is having their own injury woes, with versatile rookie Grant Delpit and nickel corner Kevin Johnson already going down. Without them, the Browns’ young corner duo of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams will have to grow up fast. Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, both of whom were signed this offseason, will have additional responsibility, too. While I like both cornerbacks, I don’t love the new safety tandem and these injuries are killing one of the few strengths on this defense—secondary depth.

Cleveland’s defense will likely be a bottom-10 unit in the league and the offense should sit comfortably in the opposite grouping. While the out-of-division schedule is pretty easy, playing Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice will be tough, and even Cincinnati beat them last year. An 8-8 season full of extreme highs and lows feels right.

What’s your record prediction for the Browns? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Cincinnati Bengals Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: LAC, @CLE, @PHI, JAX, @BAL, @IND, CLE, TEN, BYE, @PIT, @WAS, NYG, @MIA, DAL, PIT, @HOU, BAL

Additions: DL D.J. Reader (FA), CB Trae Waynes (FA), S Vonn Bell (FA), OL Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA), CB Mackensie Alexander (FA), DL Mike Daniels (FA), LB Josh Bynes (FA), QB Joe Burrow (Draft), WR Tee Higgins (Draft), LB Logan Wilson (Draft)

Losses: QB Andy Dalton (FA), TE Tyler Eifert (FA), OL John Miller (FA), DL Andrew Billings (FA), S Clayton Fejedelem (FA), LB Nick Vigil (FA), DB Darqueze Dennard (FA), CB Trae Waynes (Injury)

Analysis:

I’m going to say this a lot during this series: I worry about rookies this season given the crazy, shortened offseason. No position will be hit harder than quarterback, so a guy who might normally be great, like Joe Burrow, could struggle more than expected. Given how bad they were last year, Cincinnati likely needs him to be special to see marked improvement.

Young coaches could find themselves at a disadvantage as well. Besides, I didn’t like the Zac Taylor hiring at the time and while it’s too early to make any final judgements, he’s done nothing to change my mind. Great coaches get the most out of their teams, even when the talent is lacking. Whether you like him or not, Taylor isn’t in that category. Cincinnati will likely remain a bottom-tier team given their roster uncertainty.

It wasn’t Dolphins-level, but the Bengals did make some upgrades this summer. D.J. Reader is one of the best nose tackles in the league and should immediately shore up last year’s worst run defense. I don’t imagine it getting too much better, though, given Cincinnati’s underwhelming linebackers. With a hybrid scheme, the Bengals will shuffle between two and three non-edge linebackers in base looks. Second-year man Germaine Pratt will take one of the spots, with rookie Logan Wilson and/or journeyman Josh Bynes alongside him. The former two are too young to put much faith in while Bynes also lacks long-term starting experience despite this being his 10th season in the league.

Stopping the run wasn’t the only issue for Cincinnati. With a poor pass rush, they weren’t much better when offenses aired it out. The linebackers won’t help here either, with Wilson, especially, lacking coverage experience.

While known as a run stopper, Reader’s presence could benefit the rest of the line. When in 3-4, the former Texan will likely be bookended by Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Dunlap offers a consistent 7+ sacks a year while Atkins is a former superstar coming off after a down year.

On the edge, Cincinnati has Sam Hubbard (8.5 sacks) and Carl Lawson (5.0). Despite the low total last season, Lawson has shown glimpses of being a special pass-rusher in the past. He and Hubbard should be a good pair going forward. Even with a starring role in the ugly stats, I actually like this d-line/edge rotation. The team clearly agrees, as besides Reader, they’re largely running it back.

Most of their money went to improving the secondary. Unfortunately, two of their most expensive investments won’t provide much of an immediate return. Trae Waynes, signed from the Vikings after years as their number two corner, could miss the season with a torn pec. Another Minnesota defector, Mackensie Alexander, has a cloudy outlook after some personal and legal issues arised. That leaves former Saints safety Vonn Bell as the only member of this free agent crop left standing. Without two guys expected to play big roles, it’ll be tough for this secondary to improve much.

Unlike the Jets and Dolphins, the Bengals chose to retain most of their awful offensive line. 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams will start at left tackle after missing all of last season. Right guard will be manned by Xavier Su’a-Filo, a former Cowboy with starting experience. Outside of that, Cincinnati is relying on internal development. I don’t know how I feel about keeping three of last year’s starters instead of looking for outside upgrades. Left guard Michael Jordan looked nothing like His Airness as a rookie, but has reportedly shown out in camp. Subpar veterans Trey Hopkins and Bobby Hart are the other two returnees. Here’s to hoping they don’t get Burrow and Joe Mixon killed.

Speaking of Mixon, he leads an elite group of weapons. A.J. Green’s health is worth monitoring, but the Bengals have one of the deepest receiver rooms in the league. Along with the shifty Mixon, they will make Burrow’s life much easier. At tight end, the duo of C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample has a solid mix of receiving ability and blocking prowess. The skill positions are the best thing on this team, by far.

I have Cincinnati adding a couple wins from last year’s total. That’s still only four, though, and another bottom-feeding season would make Taylor’s seat a lot warmer. They could definitely outperform this prediction, but it’s hard to predict any more given the roster and coaching staff. With that being said, Burrow could turn this franchise around within a couple of years. He has the potential to be a guy who elevates everyone around him.

What’s your record prediction for the Bengals? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Baltimore Ravens Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: CLE, @HOU, KC, @WAS, CIN, @PHI, PIT, BYE, @IND, @NE, TEN, @PIT, DAL, @CLE, JAX, NYG, @CIN

Additions: DL Calais Campbell (Trade), DL Derek Wolfe (FA), OL D.J. Fluker (FA), LB Patrick Queen (Draft), RB J.K. Dobbins (Draft), WR Devin Duvernay (Draft)

Losses: OL Marshal Yanda (Retired), S Earl Thomas (Cut), DL Chris Wormley (Trade), TE Hayden Hurst (Trade), DL Michael Pierce (FA), LB Patrick Onwuasor (FA), WR Seth Roberts (FA), LB Josh Bynes (FA)

Analysis:

I’m not expecting much regression from last year’s best regular season team. After starting 2-2, Baltimore rattled off 12 straight wins. Don’t be surprised if that streak continues deep into the season. This team is deep and led by the league MVP. At just 23, Lamar Jackson could be even better this season. Good luck, defenses.

After setting the all-time rushing record last season, the Ravens shouldn’t lose a step on the ground. J.K. Dobbins is now in the fold and should form a dynamic one-two punch with Mark Ingram. Even if the team scales back Jackson’s carries, Baltimore will be more than fine.

The only slight worry would be the offensive line. Marshal Yanda retired after 13 years of Hall of Fame-level play. Replacing a legend is always hard, but Baltimore’s a factory for offensive linemen. Every year they have some of the best depth of the league, and 2020 will be no different. D.J. Fluker is the favorite to take over for Yanda, and his elite linemates will make his job 10 times easier. This should remain one of the best lines in the league.

The real weakness on offense is the receivers. Even so, it’s not glaring and their stats look a lot worse because of the Ravens’ run first philosophy. Hollywood Brown spent the offseason bulking up after an injury-plagued rookie year. If he can stay healthy, he has the talent to be a major weapon.

Baltimore’s tight ends help make up for the lackluster supporting receivers. Mark Andrews showed great chemistry with Jackson and is already one of the best red zone and third-down threats in the league. Even after trading away Hayden Hurst, the Ravens still have a great TE2 as well. Nick Boyle is one of the better blockers at his position and is another reason for the run game’s success.

As crazy as it sounds, I think Baltimore’s defense will be even better than last year. Despite ranking 3rd in points and 4th in yards, they had a hole at linebacker and a mediocre pass rush. Rookie Patrick Queen will solve the former immediately. He should be the latest in a long line of first-year linebackers to explode onto the scene.

As for the latter, there isn’t as much of an instant solution. The edge spot opposite Matt Judon remains a question. Jaylon Ferguson should be the starter and could be in for a breakout second year. However, that’s far from certain. Tyus Bowser is another guy with a lot of hype but no production yet. There’s a reason we’ve been hearing so much Jadeveon Clowney to Baltimore chatter recently.

Whether Clowney is a Raven or not, the pass rush should still improve. Calais Campbell was acquired for comical value. I don’t care how old he is or how much money he makes, the dude is still a monster. There’s no way he was worth only a fifth-round pick. Regardless, that’s what Baltimore got him for, and he should prove to be a tremendous steal.

The secondary was poised to be among the league’s best once again this season before the Earl Thomas craziness. I’m sure he did worse than just have a terrible attitude and fight a teammate because the Ravens are eating $25 million in dead money over the next two seasons. Suddenly, Baltimore’s starting free safety is a sophomore with 40 career snaps instead of a likely Hall of Fame Career. At this point in his career, though, Thomas had more name value than on-field. The rest of this elite secondary will help cover for any growing pains by DeShon Elliott, too. If this is the biggest hole on Baltimore’s roster, they’ll be just fine.

Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but barring injury, I would be shocked if this team doesn’t succeed. 12 wins is almost a conservative prediction for them. They have one of the best players in the league at the most important position and an excellent roster surrounding him. John Harbaugh is a great head coach. The schedule is shockingly easy for a reigning division winner, and their toughest opponent, Kansas City, has to come to Baltimore.

Hell, even this weird offseason benefits the Ravens. With limited padded practices and no preseason, teams with strong continuity and simple, “We’re going to physically dominate you,” gameplans should have an advantage. Baltimore returns most of last year’s 14-2 roster and certainly checks the second box. This team is a title favorite and should go far in the playoffs. If they don’t, I might have to reconsider my stance on Jackson as a choke artist.

What’s your record prediction for the Ravens? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

New York Jets Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @BUF, SF, @IND, DEN, ARI, @LAC, BUF, @KC, NE, @MIA, BYE, MIA, LVR, @SEA, @LAR, CLE, @NE

Additions: OL George Fant (FA), OL Connor McGovern (FA), OL Greg Van Roten (FA), WR Breshad Perriman (FA), CB Pierre Desir (FA), LB Patrick Onwuasor (FA), RB Frank Gore (FA), S Bradley McDougald (Trade), OL Mekhi Becton (Draft), WR Denzel Mims (Draft), EDGE/DL Jabari Zuniga (Draft)

Losses: S Jamal Adams (Trade), LB C.J. Mosley (Opt-out), WR Robby Anderson (FA), OL Brandon Shell (FA), OL Tom Compton (FA), CB Darryl Roberts (FA), WR Vyncint Smith (Injury), EDGE Tarell Basham (Injury)

Analysis:

I’m seeing a lot of predictions giving the Jets three or four wins. If those are right, there will likely be parades in the streets of New York to celebrate Adam Gase’s firing. If they match or exceed the six I’m predicting, it’ll be a lot dicier. A playoff berth virtually guarantees another year of Old Crazy Eyes while just remaining in the hunt in December could do the trick as well. This might be one of the few times when a team’s fans will be disappointed if they do well.

Now that Sam Darnold is hopefully done getting teenager viruses, we could see the breakout season many, myself included, expected last year. Everyone loves to make fun of him for his paranormal visions, but Darnold was solid last year given the circumstances. Let’s not forget he had some of the worst blockers and weapons in the league.

New York completely revamped its offensive line, replacing four of five starters from arguably the worst line in the league. With that being said, questions remain about how much better they’ll be. At tackle, they’re projected to start a raw rookie and a former basketball player who often struggled with his last team. The interior looks better, with lone holdover Alex Lewis joined by offseason acquisitions Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten. Expect big-time improvement from this group, just not elite-level play.

The Jets’ running back room didn’t undergo nearly as much change, but could see a similarly large bump in production. Le’Veon Bell and Gase have reportedly worked out their issues after last year’s soap opera. That could mean a return to his Pittsburgh form for Bell. Or, it could mean absolutely nothing. Would anyone be surprised if Gase gives the bulk of the carries to 63-year-old Frank Gore?

Like seemingly every team in this division, the Jets have nothing special at tight end. Receiver isn’t much better, either. Rookie Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, and Jamison Crowder comprise Darnold’s top three targets. While Crowder has a long history of production in the slot, the other two form an unintimidating pair of outside receivers.

Looking at the defense, there shouldn’t be a large drop-off from 2019’s surprisingly great unit. Everyone brings up C.J. Mosley opting out, but the Jets only had him for like 30 seconds last season anyway. After missing all of last season himself, Avery Williamson’s return could give the position a boost as well. Still, New York’s original plan was for Mosley and Williamson to start alongside one another and this marks the second straight year that won’t come to fruition.

The big departure to worry about is Jamal Adams. Superstars like him make everyone better, so we’ll see just how much his loss is felt. A guy like Quinnen Williams stepping up could help offset that, though. He didn’t do much as a rookie, but still has a ton of potential. The defensive line will be stout and the secondary should remain solid with Bradley McDougald replacing Adams.

The main worry is the pass rush. New York only had 35 sacks last season and didn’t do much to address the need. Adams’ (6.5 sacks) presence will be missed here as well. Williams breaking out would likely account for those numbers. Outside of him, the Jets are going to need someone to step up across from Jordan Jenkins. The main candidates are Tarell Basham (4 career sacks) and rookie Jabari Zuniga. With Basham currently projected to miss the start of the season, Zuniga might be thrown into the fire.

Every AFC East team has a tough schedule, drawing the AFC and NFC West. New York also gets Indianapolis and Cleveland—two teams with comparable or better talent. That’s why I have the Jets dropping a win despite an arguably better roster. Plus, the possibility of a midseason coaching change looms large if they get off to a bad start.

What’s your record prediction for the Jets? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.