Adam Gase, Alex Smith, Bill Belichick, Brian Flores, Bruce Allen, Buffalo Bills, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Young, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, Dan Snyder, Daniel Jones, Dante Scarnecchia, Dave Gettleman, Dwayne Haskins, Jamal Adams, Jason Garrett, Joe Judge, Josh Allen, Kyle Allen, Miami Dolphins, Mike McCarthy, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, Pre-Season, Ron Rivera, Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley, Sean McDermott, Stefon Diggs, Tom Brady, Tua Tagovailoa, Washington Football Team
Despite having a longer run up to the start of their season than the rest of the major four American sports did to restarting their seasons, it feels like the NFL are approaching the 2020 season with a higher degree of improvisation and as a result there are no pre-season games.
This means that as far as I know the season opener will be the first time the NFL plays a game with the as yet untested protocols. Certainly, this is the case for two teams playing each other and only time will tell how that goes.
The inaugural draft of The Wrong Football Dynasty NFL fantasy league takes place this week, and we are under two weeks away from the start of the season so I thought it was time to roll through the divisions to see what I thought about the teams.
I always want to see how a team does rather than speculate too much, and I think that is going to be even more true for the upcoming season, for which we have nothing but training camp reports to work with so there is a lot of speculation and little we know for certain. In fact, I think it’s distinctly possible that things will move faster than a website can keep up with, but let’s start with the two East divisions and see what I can say.
New England Patriots
Let’s start how we mean to go on, with a Patriots team who lost an all-time great quarterback, and so were already in flux before half a dozen players opted out of the season due to Covid-19. I can’t find fault with any player deciding to sit out, but with a shortened offseason, a retooled defence, and a Brady-less offence for the first time since his ACL tear in 2008 things are going to be very different for the Pats this season. I would say with their coaching staff they should be fine, but the last time Dante Scarnecchia retired the Pats offensive line really struggled. The pickup of Cam Newton was a canny stroke and I really hope he can get back to his best, but whilst I expect the Pats to compete, this is the first year in a while where you can’t pencil them in for the playoffs, although it would hardly be a surprise if they do make it.
After a seventeen year wait, the Bills have gone to the playoffs in two out of the last three seasons under head coach Sean McDermott and they are hoping that their off-season trade for receiver Stefon Diggs will catapult them to the next level. The aim surely has to be to win a playoff game this season, but Diggs can’t catapult the offence to more closely match the defence’s top ten ranking by DVOA on his own. A lot rests on if quarterback Josh Allen can take another step forward in his third year. It feels like the Bills front office have done an excellent job of building around the young quarterback and he doesn’t have to become elite for the Bills to be a dangerous team, but their ceiling is going to be set by his performance. Still, they look to be the other contender for the AFC East title and will be looking for more than that.
New York Jets
I have very little idea what to make of the Jets coming into this season. They had a top ten defence by DVOA last season, but traded away their All-Pro safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, their special teams were top five by DVOA, but their offence was ranked thirty-first by DVOA and second year quarterback Sam Darnold missed games with mono. More importantly there seems to be very little stability in their front office and with all the caveats that he’s likely forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, Adam Gase does not inspire confidence and I suspect he is a better co-ordinator than head coach. Even after having said all of this, they still went 7-9 last year so we can’t write them off completely, but I definitely have them pegged for a similar or worse record this season. As ever I would love to be proved wrong, although I’m sure Dan would disagree.
I am pretty certain I’m going to be singing the Dolphins’ infuriatingly catchy fight song on the podcast a time or two this season as despite their 5-11 2019 season, things are definitely on the up for the ‘phins. For starters, they were tanking and so had no business winning five games, yet they still got to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who for many fans was the off-season target all along. More importantly, Brian Flores is probably the first Bill Belichick assistant who truly convinced in their first season as a head coach. They had a raft of draft picks in April and I think the arrow is definitely pointing up for this team. They might not win that many more games this year given the shortened pre-season, but I believe Flores will make them competitive no matter how many games Tagovailoa does or does not start and I feel as confident as I ever remember since I started this site about the Dolphins going forward. I’m sorry if that’s a jinx Dan.
Now it’s time to jump conferences and look at the NFC East
The 2019 season was a really odd one for the Eagles with a lot of people, including myself, thinking that they had one of the deepest rosters in the league, but they were ravaged by injury, particularly at receiver and corner and so just getting to the play-offs was in truth something of an achievement. They seemed to put a high priority on speed in the draft, but it is a slightly odd quirk for Carson Wentz is that in his four season in Philadelphia the Eagles have gone to the play-offs the last three season, won a Super Bowl yet his play-off record is 0-1. I think this is just a quirk of some bad injury luck, but I’m sure Wentz would like to get at least one win and put this behind him before the passionate Philadelphia fans start to question their franchise quarterback. I like the Eagles chances of doing just that, but we shall have to see.
The Dallas Cowboys were a very good team on offence last season, finishing second in the league in offensive DVOA, but a middling defence and poor special teams when combined with some less than inventive coaching led to the end of the Jason Garrett era in Dallas. The Cowboys come into this season with the same offensive coordinator, operating the offence under new had coach Mike McCarthy who made headlines by running a staff without a team last season and professing that he’s been studying analytics. We can’t know if such an approach will survive contact with the season, particularly given McCarthy’s reputation for conservative play calling at the end of his tenure in Green Bay, but it will be fascinating to watch. I don’t understand why they haven’t committed to Dak Prescott yet and signed him to a long term contract, but Prescott will be hoping to prove that it was a mistake not to get him signed up and the addition of rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb gives them a potentially formidable receiving group. The Cowboys really weren’t that far away from winning this division last season and I expect them to compete with the Eagles all the way for the division.
New York Giants
Last season was a mess for the Giants, who went 4-12 with very few positives on either side of the ball. The hire of thirty-eight-year-old Patriots’ special teams coordinator Joe Judge was definitely not a big name hire. I like the idea of hiring a special teams coach who is used to interacting with the whole roster, but it has to be viewed as a gamble with quarterback Daniel Jones going into his second year. The young quarterback has not shone early and the Giants are a team that looks to be a multi-season rebuilding project that they are entrusting to a young first time head coach. The Giants have some good skills players, and in Saquon Barkley a truly special running back, but I’m not sure I trust Dave Gettleman’s judgment of draft value in terms of who he picks where, though he clearly has an eye for talent. I simply don’t know enough about Judge as a coach to have strong feelings about this team, but I would be surprised if they did more than show progress. However, at this point in their team building, that would still be a positive step.
Washington Football Team
It’s hard to know where to start with Washington. It might be easier to go through what hasn’t happened to them. The 2019 season was a disaster on the field and off, leading to the hire of Ron Rivera as their new head coach, and loss of long-time president Bruce Allen. So far this off-season we’ve had the horrible revelations of the climate of sexual harassment around the team. The franchise has finally been forced into addressing their name, but only after major sponsors threated Dan Snyder with pulling out of contracts, and their owner has now also had allegations related to sexual harassment levelled against him. The turmoil does not end there as the conduct of Snyder over the years has led to several minority-owners of the team looking to sell their stakes, and Rivera who has so much on his plate already this off-season has been diagnosed with cancer. The one truly positive on-field news story has been the remarkable return to practise of Alex Smith from his gruesome 2018 leg injury, that after complications and infections nearly cost him the leg. As big a feel-good bit of new as Smith’s return to practise is, it’s hard to see him being anything other than a valued veteran voice in the quarterback room unless Dwayne Haskins continues to struggle in his second year and Kyle Allen (who has followed Rivera from Carolina) can’t get the job done either. The addition of first round draft pick Chase Young should really help this team’s pass-rush, but with so much change it is hard to see this team excelling this season, but Washington are another football team for whom forward progress would be a genuine achievement considering the position they are starting from.
DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.