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AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws a pass against the Houston Texans during the teams’ Week 1 game on Thursday, September 10.

Social Justice protests + masks + TV commentator partitions – fans in the stands – a league-wide bubble x a global pandemic = the 2020 NFL football season. Still, The Neersyde is here to present you with this year’s contenders heading into the season, plus this year’s playoff and Super Bowl picks, so let’s get started!

With the season already underway, the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas Chiefs, are still the favorites to win Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay this year at 4-1 odds, according to Caesars Sports Book. The Chiefs still looked like the team to beat on opening night as they upended the Houston Texans 34-20. Reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, entering just his fourth NFL season, signes a huge 10 year, $500 million contract in the offseason. Without losing many stars on offense or defense, they are the heavy favorites to win Super Bowl LV. 

Will Lamar Jackson be able to use his arm and his legs to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl this year? (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports, via Reuters)

Challenging the Chiefs in the AFC will be a handful of other teams, including the Baltimore Ravens. They made a big statement in Week 1, crushing the Cleveland Browns 38-6. The team has a strong defense which ranked third in the league last year, and on offense, they are led by the 2019 MVP and First-team All Pro Lamar Jackson (QB). The team also returns most of its starters, including TE Mark Andrews, WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, and RB Mark Ingram.   Most teams succeed with a balanced offense, but the Ravens have succeeded with a run offense where Lamar Jackson had 1,000+ rushing yards last year to go along with his 3,000+ passing yards. How will he do this year, though, as he is featured on EA Sports’ Madden ’21 cover. Will he be cursed like those before him, or is he destined for the Super Bowl? 

Let’s not sleep on the New England Patriots, either. Yes, the GOAT is gone, but taking Brady’s place is former Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton who used his arm (155 yards passing) and his legs (75 yards rushing, including two touchdowns) to fillet the Miami Dolphins 21-11 in the Pats’ home opener. The best part for the Patriots: Newton was signed for the rock-bottom price of only $1 million for the year. Will he be able to stay healthy and humble in New England?

They didn’t make many additions to help Newton on the offensive side, but they have solid players in receivers Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, and running backs Sony Michel and James White. 

Former Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton brings a new skill set to the Patriots this year. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Patriots’ defense was the best in the league last year, with Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, and Jason McCourty in the secondary, while the linebacking corps also did well in helping to stop the run. Pro Bowl ILB Dont’a Hightower opted out of the season this year due to his concern over COVID-19, and the team also lost key linebacker Kyle Van Noy to the Dolphins, but the defense is still stout and should keep opponents in check. 

The Tennessee Titans were the underdogs of last year’s playoffs, but their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill – who was hated on at the beginning of last year – proved the critics wrong and took them all the way to the AFC Championship. They have a star receiver in AJ Brown, but their offense is built around last year’s rushing leader, RB Derrick Henry. On defense, they signed All-Pro DE Jadeveon Clowney who will try to show up big for them this season. The Tennessee Titans aren’t going to take anyone by surprise this year, but they are still a really good team all around, and could once again go far in the playoffs.

The Buffalo Bills could be the surprise team Tennessee was last year. With their young quarterback, Josh Allen, the Bills may be the most improved team this year. Starting with the offense, Allen got a new weapon who will contribute significantly to the passing game: WR Stephon Diggs. He should really complement deep threat John Brown and slot receiver Cole Beasley. In my opinion, their backfield is also probably one of the most underrated in the league as their starter at RB is Devin Singletary. He is young, and in only 12 games last season he rushed for 775 yards. 

Moving on to the defensive side of the ball, DT Ed Oliver, CB Tre’davious White, LB Tremaine Edmunds, and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, are underrated position players who can improve this season and help Baltimore’s playoff push. This team is very solid overall, but do the Ravens have what it takes to dethrone the Chiefs? 

Finally, you can’t overlook the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have a solid but injury prone QB in Ben Roethlisberger. Their star WR, JuJu Smith-Shuster, had a stellar game in week 1 (6 receptions for 69 yards and 2 TDs). However, their offensive line is starting to get old, and may not hold up any more for Roethlisberger.

The Steelers, though, may actually be stronger on defense with defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Hayward, linebackers Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, and TJ Watt, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. As they say, defense wins championships, but do the Steelers have enough firepower to keep pace with the likes of Baltimore and Kansas City? 

Tom Brady brings his six rings to Tampa Bay this year, hoping to elevate the Bucs to NFL relevance once again. (Getty Images)

In the NFC, six-time Superbowl champion Tom Brady has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after spending his first 20 seasons with the Patriots. . His first game didn’t go very well as he threw two interceptions (one was a pick-six), but there’s a long way to go.Brady also has one of his great friends and future Hall of Famer, Rob Gronkowski, lining up with him in Tampa Bay. He also has some other great receivers in Chris Godwin, who had a bounce-back year last year, and Mike Evans, who is still on his five-year, $82.5 million contract. Godwin had the third most receiving yards in the league last year, and Evans had the 13th most. 

They also have one of the best run defenses in the league, with linebackers Shaq Barret, Lavonte David, Devin White, and DT Vita Vea. Despite their loss in the opener, the Bucs are going to be a problem this year for any team they face.  

Staying in the NFC South, the team that beat the Bucs in Week 1, the New Orleans Saints, are once again many experts’ picks to land back in the Super Bowl this year. They lost All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, to an ankle injury against Tampa, and he is out for at least three games. That will limit Brees’ options, but he still has WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Jared Cook, and RB Alvin Kamara to throw to. Their defense, ranked tenth last year, has All Pros everywhere on the field: LB Demario Davis, DE Cameron Jordan, and CB Marshon Lattimore.

Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson is already putting up MVP-like numbers in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com.)

Out west, the Seattle Seahawks may finally be ready to get over their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Russell Wilson is already stirring up MVP talk after his performance in Week 1 where he went 31-35 for 322 yards, 4 TDs, and no INTs. His number one receiver, DK Metcalf, and number two, Tyler Locket, also had a great game. Their running backs, Chris Carson and Rashad Penny, also offer a strong one-two punch out of the backfield. The running game and passing game there is out of this world, and you can see at the end of this article where I placed them. They lost DE Jadeveon Clowney in free agency, but signed S Jamal Adams, and still have five-time First-team All Pro MLB Bobby Wagner. 

Staying in the West, the Arizona Cardinals had the number one pick two years ago and picked their future franchise quarterback, Kyler Murray. This offseason he received a dangerous weapon, former Houston Texans receiver Deandre Hopkins, who will help out Murray’s strength in the passing game this year. The Cardinals could be a dark horse this season and have the ability to go far in the playoffs. Last year’s acquisition of former Miami Dolphin’ RB  Kenyan Drake should also continue to pay huge dividends –  he has high expectations this year to help the Cardinals go far in the running game.

The defense is looking good, too, with All-Pro LB Chandler Jones, and their new LB Isaiah Simmons, who can also play safety. I like the Cardinals a lot, and I think they will go far in the playoffs.

Another threat in the NFC are the Green Bay Packers. Former Super Bowl champion and MVP Aaron Rodgers is looking very good so far, but there are still plenty of games left in the season. If they want a chance to get far in the playoffs, they will have to look into improving their offensive line since they lost two of their starting guards, Kenny Clark and Billy Turner. Rodgers and superstar WR Davante Adams have a very close connection which they showed off in rolling past the Minnesota Vikings 43-34 in Week 1. 

For them to get far in the playoffs, Rodgers needs to stay healthy, be the leader they need, and get some help from RB Aaron Jones. On the other side of the ball, the defense is looking good overall. Jaire Alexander is a Pro Bowl cornerback and could have a big bounce back year this season. 

Can Dak Prescott and the Cowboys finally make a deep playoff run this season? (Photo courtesy of www.dknation.draftkings.com.)

The Dallas Cowboys are always in the conversation, but never seem to play well. QB Dak Prescott looks like he might be their quarterback for some time as he signed the franchise contract in June, meaning he is a Cowboy for the 2020 season and maybe longer if he and Dallas can work out a long-term deal before July 15. WR Amari Cooper, who Dallas acquired from the Raiders in 2018, is still a deep threat, and All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliot give them a lot of confidence in the ground game. 

They have a number of outstanding players defensively, as well in linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, DEs Demarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen, and CB Chidobe Awuzie. People wonder why they are so bad with their team and their very easy division, but I have the answer right here for you on The Neersyde. They are spending way too much money on their players. Prescott, Cooper, and Elliott want a lot of money, and they don’t have that much salary cap to pay all three. However, they may be the best team this year in a weak NFC East.

 

Playoff Predictions

Division Winners – AFC:

AFC East: New England Patriots

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

AFC South: Houston Texans

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

Wild Card Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans

Division Winners – NFC:

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

NFC South: New Orleans Saints

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

Wild Card Teams: Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl: Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl Winner: Baltimore Ravens