It’s almost here! We’re living in a world filled with uncertainty right now, and, at times, it didn’t look like we’d have football. Alas, all signs are pointing to the season happen (albeit without fans), especially as other sports continue to come back into the fold.
All the offseason moves, all the studies we’ve conducted at this website, it all comes down to this; I’ve constructed a model to project each team’s win total. The model rightfully weighs different areas of a team based on previous research, uses projected grades based on their previous performances, adjusts for play-callers, and also takes into account expected rookie quarterback improvements. From there, the model generated an expected point differential, and using the pythagorean formula, was able to project wins totals; after that, all that was left to do was adjust for strength of schedule! In short terms, this was not a model that I put together on the fly, and it’s as objective as it can be.
Today, we’ll go through the AFC. There appears to be a clear top two in place, but I wouldn’t discount a few other teams as well. We’ll go through each division, looking at their projected win totals, strength of schedule, as well as their offensive and defensive ranking.
Note: For more information on each team’s offense and defense, head over to the articles below:
#1: Baltimore Ravens
Last season, the Ravens were the talk of the NFL. After starting the season 2-2, they won 12 straight games, while Lamar Jackson ran away with the MVP award. They ultimately lost in the divisional round to the Titans, but it was clear they were the best team in the NFL during the regular season. That’s led some to believe they could be even better this season, though, in my mind, the real story is how much they’ll regress.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman did a phenomenal job creating an offensive system to cater to Jackson’s strengths, but I’m not sure how sustainable it is. The offense relied greatly on a rushing attack that was better than most passing offenses, but given the volatility of running the ball, expecting that same success would be foolish. Plus, Baltimore ran less than 100 plays while trailing last season, and this year, Jackson will likely have to make more plays outside the numbers in unfavorable situations. At the same time, though, Jackson is a great quarterback, and with a lot of continuity in place, they’ll still field a high-end offense.
Before they cut safety Earl Thomas III, the Ravens had the top projected defense in the NFL. Now, they’ve fallen to 4th, as they don’t have a ready replacement for the star safety. Still, they’ll be fantastic. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has embraced a position-less defense that blitzes frequently, and, thus, he’s been able to scheme up pressure to support one of the premier secondaries in the NFL. He has more talent to work with after Baltimore added Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe on the defensive line, however, and with cornerback Marcus Peters in the fold for a full season, he has plenty of talent to maximize.
The Ravens are a very smart organization, and it shows with how they’ve built their team- a unique offense and a defense filled with talented coverage players. With their coaching staff, the floor is very high, and even if they regress, they’re the clear second-best team in the AFC. Ideally, they’d been able to have Thomas III for their defense, but it’s hard not to be very confident in them winning this division heading into this season.
#2: Cleveland Browns
After trading for star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns were getting Super Bowl hype heading into last year. They responded to those expectations by being as dysfunctional as can be, and they ultimately finished with just six wins last seasons. In reality, though, we were just a year early on them, and with attention shifted away from them, they’re destined to be a post-hype sleeper.
At this time last year, Baker Mayfield was an extremely popular MVP pick. Now? Many don’t believe he’s even a top-20 quarterback. So, which is it? In reality, Mayfield is a mid-tier quarterback, which means he needs to be supported properly in order to thrive. Last season, the infrastructure was very poor, but with Kevin Stefanski taking over for Freddie Kitchens as the team’s head coach, I’m bullish on this offense. Mayfield will benefit greatly from an increase usage of play-action passes, and furthermore, he should mesh better with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry this season. Meanwhile, the additions of tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Willis have transformed this offensive line into one of the league’s best units, and the tight end duo of Austin Hooper and David Njoku is strong. When it’s all said and done, I’m expecting Mayfield, thanks to his surroundings, to be one of the more efficient passers in the entire NFL.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, their defense isn’t where you’d like it to be. Sure, the stars are in place with edge rusher Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, but, outside of that, they lack depth. They’re relying a lot on a major step forward from second-year cornerback Greedy Williams, while their linebacking core is one of the least talented in the NFL. Plus, while the safety duo of Anderson Sendejo and Karl Joseph is sufficient, they aren’t exactly world beaters. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods will have his work cut out for him trying to hide some of this defense’s holes.
The Browns could be in a better spot defensively, but the pieces are there for them to be one of the league’s best offenses. The perception of them is inaccurate based on their failures last season, but with Stefanski bringing some stability, all signs point to their abundance of talent being maximized this season. This is an organization that hasn’t experienced much success, but my model truly believes that Browns fans will get to watch a playoff team this season.
#3: Pittsburgh Steelers
Few teams had as crazy of a season as the Steelers last year. Even after losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending elbow injury, they traded a first-round pick for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and went 8-6 without their starting quarterback, thanks to a historically dominant defense. Unfortunately for them, that’s not a sustainable formula for winning games, but with Roethlisberger back healthy, they’ll be able to combat that regression by being even better this season.
The Steelers ranked #1 in the league in turnovers forced, which is something that almost certainly won’t carry over into this season. Still, they have a lot of continuity, and, overall, have a tremendous group of players to rely on. The attention tends to go to their front four of TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Bud Dupree, but it’s their pass coverage that stands out to me. Quietly, Steven Nelson and Joe Haden may be the best cornerback duo in the league, and with linebacker Devin Bush and Fitzpatrick doing their part, they’ll be able to combat opposing passing offenses. Outside of another safety in place of Terrell Edmunds, there aren’t any nits to pick with this defense, which is very encouraging.
In the end, though, it’ll all come down to Roethlisberger- what does he have left in the tank? All reports are that he’s in a good spot, and when healthy, he’s been a fringe top-ten quarterback. Even if he’s an average quarterback, that’s a massive upgrade over what this team dealt with at the quarterback position last year, and it’s not as though Roethlisberger has no support around him. He’ll be protected once again by a a top-ten pass-blocking offensive line, and although they lack a true #1 receiver, they have a lot of depth with their playmakers.
Few teams are able to win on a more consistent basis than the Steelers, which says a lot about their organizational stability. Obviously, they won’t have the turnover luck that they experienced last season, but with how much of an upgrade Roethlisberger is compared to the combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, it’d be hard for them not to better this season. Add their very easy schedule, and all signs point to them making the playoffs as a wildcard team.
#4: Cincinnati Bengals
With their poor luck in one-score games last season, the Bengals were fundamentally a much better team than their 2-14 record indicated. They certainly aren’t complaining, however, as their poor season allowed them to secure the services of quarterback Joe Burrow. With Burrow under center, better luck, and an improved roster, this will be an exciting team to watch.
We should always temper our expectations for rookies, but it’s hard to do so with Burrow. He essentially re-wrote the record books during his final season at LSU, was elite in every key metric, and may be one of the safest projections to the NFL that we’ve seen at the quarterback position. Now, ideally, he’d be playing behind a better offensive line, but the return of tackle Jonah Williams will be huge for them, while I’m confident that Burrow will do a sufficient job functioning in the quick passing game. Frankly, with a receiving trio of AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins, it’d be hard not to.
Defensively, I’m far less confident in the Bengals. They spent a lot of resources revamping that unit this offseason, but did so mostly with their run defense; they signed nose tackle DJ Reader, box safety Vonn Bell, and also added a lot of linebacking talent. You have to be able to defend the pass, however, and with cornerback William Jackson III coming off of a poor season and little cornerback depth behind him, they’re going to be very susceptible to opposing passing attacks. It also doesn’t help matters than defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo didn’t fare well in his first season with the team; he won’t be able to elevate this lackluster group.
Had the Bengals improved their secondary, I believe they could’ve seriously challenged for a playoff spot. They still have the upside to do so if Burrow produces up to his capabilities this season, but it still looks like they’re a season away from contending. Thus, this season should be about evaluating second-year head coach Zac Taylor, who needs to show that he’s capable of elevating this team after a poor showing last year.
#1: New England Patriots
Even with Tom Brady departing, the Patriots’ reign of the AFC East will remain intact. Now, that says more about the division than their actual talent, given their modest win total projection, but it’s safe to say that they have a very high floor heading into this season.
The Patriots struggled to produce offensively last year, as they lacked any sort of playmaking talent on the perimeter. Well, they did nothing to address that issue this offseason, and have since lost Brady. I’d love to sit and here declare that Cam Newton will be an MVP candidate, but it’s more likely that he’s an average placeholder at quarterback, though offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is smart enough to maximize his strengths. On the bright side, though, center David Andrews’ return solidifies the offensive line, even if that doesn’t mean much without any receivers to work with.
Luckily for the Patriots, they likely have the league’s best defense. Many teams try to “build through the trenches”, but they’ve displayed the responsibility to continue to value their pass coverage, and it shows with their impressive collection of defensive back. Cornerback Stephon Gillmore is the obvious headliner, but Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, and Jonathan Jones provide ample depth behind him, while safety Devin McCourty will cover up the back-end of the defense. Plus, between Chase Winovich, rookie Josh Uche, and other rotational players, head coach Bill Belichick should be able to scheme up more than enough pressure to help that exceptional secondary.
In any other division, the Patriots would be seen as a fringe wildcard team at best. Luckily for them, however, they play in what projects to be the easiest division in football, and, thus, the signing of a competent quarterback in Newton vaults them to the top of the standings. I don’t see them as a legitimate threat without any sort of explosiveness to their offense, but they should be able to handle business in this division.
#2: Buffalo Bills
The Bills appear to be everyone’s pick to dethrone the Patriots in this division, and it’s easy to see why. After all, they’re coming off of 10-win season, and after trading for star receiver Stefon Diggs, they believe the time is now for them to try to assert themselves as the team to beat in this division. Honestly, this is a far more talented roster than the Patriots, and the coaching staff is excellent. Yet, one fatal flaw is likely to drag them down from meeting their objectives.
That fatal flaw would be Josh Allen, who has shown no signs of being even an average quarterback, based on the data, from his first two seasons as a quarterback. While many are hoping for a third-year leap, studies show that you can generally get a good idea of a quarterback’s ability after their first two seasons, and it’s hard to believe that he’ll suddenly fix his accuracy issues. Thus, the tremendous receiving core of Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley is likely to go to the way-side, though I’m sure offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will do all he can to try to compensate for Allen’s shortcomings.
Assuming Allen holds back the offense from reaching its potential, a lot of pressure will be placed on head coach Sean McDermott’s defense to carry the load this season. Fortunately for them, they’ve invested a lot in their pass coverage, and in McDermott’s scheme, the depth they have with their coverage defenders should be on full display. In the end, though, they don’t have an elite pass coverage, especially if linebacker Tremaine Edmunds struggles and they start cornerback Josh Norman, so this is more of a top-ten defense than an elite unit.
The Bills will try to once again win through sound coaching and defense, but that works better when you have a much easier schedule than your divisional opponents. I’m guessing their issues at quarterback will be on full display when they have to play the NFC West, AFC West, and even the teams in their division. Without an average quarterback, you’re not going to be projected to win many games, and that’s the trap Buffalo has fallen into.
#3: Miami Dolphins
Many accused the Dolphins of trying to purposefully lose games at the beginning of last season, but they ultimately managed to win five games. At the same time, they had to overcome some major talent deficiencies to do so, and I’m sure they’ll have as much luck in 2020; they’ll need their offseason additions to move the needle for them.
Under head coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins appear to be trying to be a defensive-minded organization, which aligns with their offseason. I was a major fan of their signing of cornerback Byron Jones, and the drafting of Noah Igbinoghene should solidly their cornerback group. Yet, Xavien Howard doesn’t appear to be a good fit in this man-heavy scheme, while Igbinoghene is not only a rookie, but one that was seen as developmental player coming out of Auburn. Making matters more complicated, the team’s safeties and linebackers aren’t up to par. As for the pass rush, the additions of Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson give them an average unit, but not one that opposing offenses will fear.
Miami might actually have the best offense in this division, but that isn’t to suggest they’re going to provide much in the way of scoring points. The quarterback tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa probably give them the best situation under center in the AFC East, but the talent around them is brutally poor. Outside of receiver De’Vante Parker, there isn’t much in the way of playmakers on the perimeter, and the offensive line is so talent-deficient to the point it may be a liability for them.
The Dolphins should be a much better team this season, but when you consider that they were fundamentally worse than their record last season, once again winning five games seems about right. They’ll likely get the best quarterback play in this division, but with no offensive talent around them, in addition to lingering issues defensively, there’s any so much that Flores can do to elevate them.
#4: New York Jets
At one point this offseason, my models actually saw the Jets as a legitimate threat to win the AFC East. Between injuries, opt outs, and the trade of safety Jamal Adams, however, it appears they’re not ready to take that step this season, though that doesn’t mean that they aren’t filled with intriguing storylines.
Obviously, the intrigue with this team starts with the quarterback, Sam Darnold. He’s heading into his third season as the team’s starting signal-caller, and if he can’t show any signs of progress, it’s likely New York will move on from him, despite his lofty draft status. Yet, it’s not as like he has much to work with at all. There’s a chance that the receiver trio of Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, and Jamison Crowder pan out, while the team also signed a lot of offensive lineman this offseason. However, the chances of them all panning out is minuscule, and, thus, this likely will be another rough season for Darnold.
Meanwhile, the Jets don’t have a lot of talent on their defense. Bringing back nickel corner Brian Poole, as well as taking a flyer on Pierre Desir, should help their secondary, especially since they have a strong safety duo in Marcus Maye and Bradley McDougald. Yet, their linebackers are very substandard when it comes to pass coverage, and I’m not sure even defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be able to scheme enough pressure without an elite secondary. Williams’ track record suggests he’ll keep this group as a middle-of-the-pack-unit, but there’s no way even he can elevate them into a defense capable of carrying this team.
This season is all about evaluating Darnold and head coach Adam Gase, and given the team’s lack of talent, I don’t see either maintaining their spots next season. Due to poor decisions made by the previous regime, general manager Joe Douglas has no choice but to have this organization go through another rebuilding phase, and the Adams trade will helps with that. This season, however, may get ugly at times for them.
Edit: Following Jadeveon Clowney Signing, Titans Now Projected For 7.71 Wins= 8-8 Record
#1: Indianapolis Colts
I mentioned the Steelers as a team that had a rollercoaster-like season, but how about the Colts? It all started with quarterback Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, and after they rallied to start the season with a 5-2, they collapsed down the stretch. Yet, after an offseason that saw them make significant improvements to their roster, they look like the team to beat in the AFC South.
As you would expect, Indianapolis’ major addition is their new quarterback. Yes, Phillip Rivers is coming off of a poor season, but he was an MVP candidate the season prior, so we shouldn’t overreact too much to that poor showing. Regardless, he’s an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, and has a great foundation to work with. Indianapolis may have the best offensive line in the NFL, while head coach Frank Reich is one of the better play-callers, and has familiarity with the veteran quarterback. Ideally, they’d have a dominant receiving group, but TY Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr. are a solid receiving duo, and Indianapolis has some depth with their playmakers. They won’t be a flashy offense, but I’m expecting them to be efficient.
The Colts also reshuffled their defense, though I’m not sure how much they got better on that side of the ball. Sure, DeForest Buckner is a solid player, but he isn’t an elite interior defender, so he’s only to make the impact that Colts fans are hoping for. In the end, it’ll come down to their pass coverage, which is why them entrusting cornerback Xavier Rhodes worries me so much- he’s been a liability for the last two seasons. Ultimately, the pressure will be on their talented linebackers and safeties to elevate the rest of the defense, and they’ll probably be an average unit.
I’m a major fan of the foundation the Colts have in place; they aren’t relying on many unknown commodities. That gives them a very high floor, and when you add in the fact that they have the league’s easiest schedule, I agree with my model having them as the favorite to win this division. The fact that they’re in this position after losing a quarterback of Luck’s caliber demonstrates the admirable job general manager Chris Ballard has done building this roster through the draft.
#2: Tennessee Titans
The Titans had a inspiring postseason run last season, and it all started when they switched to Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphins quarterback led them from a 2-4 start to the AFC Championship game, and this season, Tennessee is attempting to “run it back” with almost the sam exact roster. That may be good enough for them to secure the #7 seed, but I’m skeptical of them sustaining last year’s success.
Tannehill was phenomenal last season- he was even Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterback. Yet, do we really believe that’ll be the case again this season? He’s probably not as bad as the below-replacement level player he was in 2018, but most likely, he’s somewhere in between- a competent mid-term quarterback. To compensate for this regression, the Titans could’ve added some extra offensive talent, but instead, they let tackle Jack Conklin leave in free agency, and opted to keep running back Derrick Henry. I’m not going to dive into running back value here, but simply put, that’s a decision they’ll likely regret. What could make matters even worse is if they double-down on their run-first principles, which could lead to unfavorable third-and-long situations, and, in general, less opportunities for play-action passes.
There are a lot of similarities with the Titans’ offense and defense- they’re simply average. They’ve tried to build through the secondary, and there are signs of it working- cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and safety Kevin Byard are cornerstones to build around. At the same time, the cornerback depth outside of Jackson isn’t great, and Kenny Vaccaro is a clear weak-link opposite of Byard. Additionally, Jayon Brown is a great linebacker, yet Rashaan Evans is a liability in coverage, and the pass rush may be the worst in the NFL.
The Titans had a fun season in 2019, but barring some bizarre turn of events, they’re likely to go back to being the mediocre team they were previously. After all, they won just nine games last season, and with them likely to get worse and the Colts improving, seven-to-eight-wins is a reasonable expectation. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I’m not excited to see how they plan to combat the inevitable regression that awaits them this year.
#3: Houston Texans
The Texans have won the AFC South in each of the past two seasons, but if they want to do so for a third straight year, they’ll have to overcome a very poor season. After trading DeAndre Hopkins and failing to improve on their clear flaws, it’s likely that they take a step back in 2020.
Right now, Houston is projected to have the league’s worst defense. They’re relying on a man-heavy scheme, yet they’ve done little to add talent to their cornerback room- Gareon Conley, Bradley Roby, Vernon Hargreaves III, and Lonnie Johnson don’t inspire much confidence. Honestly, the only coverage player that is a good bet to be an above-average player is Justin Reid at safety, while the pass rush outside of JJ Watt isn’t in great shape. Long story short, opposing offenses are likely to have a field day with this defense.
In the end, all of the Texans’ hopes rest on the shoulders of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’s solidified himself as a top-ten quarterback with his elite improvisation, propensity for chunk plays, and ability to elevate the group around him. At the same time, he still induces too high of a pressure rate, and has been prone to “dud” performances that bring down his total numbers. Plus, he won’t have DeAndre Hopkins to work with, and although I’m all for adding speed, Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, and Kenny Stills appear to be very redundant; are they trying to build on a vertical passing attack, because this doesn’t seem like the way to lower Watson’s pressure rate. Overall, Houston should still have a solid offense, but not an elite unit that’ll keep up in shootouts.
Bill O’Brien is a fine head coach, yet his moves as a general manager have been perplexing. Houston’s modest point differential last year made it likely that they would be worse this season, and trading Hopkins and failing to upgrade the roster elsewhere only escalated it. Watson is the best quarterback in this division, but unless he becomes a consistently dominant player, he’ll have too much on his plate to handle this season.
#4: Jacksonville Jaguars
In a way, the Jaguars are what the Dolphins were last year- the team most likely to be accused of tanking for a franchise quarterback. There are definitely some bright spots on this roster, yet, compared to the rest of the league, it’s clear they have a talent-deficient roster.
Why would the Jaguars want to tank when they have a young quarterback in Gardner Minshew? That’s a question I’ve heard pondered on multiple occasions, and it’s understandable- Minshew had a productive season last year. However, he graded out poorly in most stable metrics, and studies show that most late-round quarterbacks don’t experience the same progression as higher-regarded signal-callers- he likely peaked in his rookie season. Plus, he appears to be in a position to fail. DJ Chark Jr. is the only capable receiver on the roster, while the offensive line also will be one of the league’s worst. Heck, even offensive coordinator Jay Gruden hasn’t fared well calling plays in recent seasons, and the lack of continuity there will be a greater issue in a shortened offseason.
Once upon a time, the Jacksonville had an elite defense, but now, almost all of the key contributors from that unit have departed. On the bright side, they. have productive safeties and linebackers, yet the cornerback room has been significantly depleted, and the pass rush is a work in progress. The middle-of-the-field coverage will be strong, but they’re relying on too many unproven players.
This is clearly a team in transition, which is why they’re giving a lot of playing time to young players, such as cornerback CJ Henderson and edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson. In an average division, there’s certainly a chance that Jacksonville may win enough games to not secure the #1 pick, but still, they’re probably looking at a four-to-five-win season at best.
#1: Kansas City Chiefs
The story for the Chiefs heading into last year was getting redemption for their postseason loss to the Patriots, and it’s safe to say the achieved that objective. With practically the same exact roster in place heading into 2020, the defending champions look like the clear favorite to win the AFC for a second straight year.
When you have the best quarterback in the NFL, you’re going to have an elite offense. However, it’s what around Patrick Mahomes that truly separates this offense from the rest of the pack. Tyreek Hill is a nightmare for opposing defenses to deal with, and even behind him, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman are big-play threats. Then, you add in tight end Travis Kelce, a solid offensive line, and even a talented running back in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and there’s no way to stop this offense. Oh, and just for giggles, they have the best play-caller, in my opinion, in the NFL- head coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs defense gets a lot of credit for their championship run last season, but, in reality, that was more due to an easy schedule. Simply put, their cornerback depth is awful, and unless rookie linebacker Willie Gay Jr. pans out, their middle-of-the-field coverage will likely not be sufficient; their pass rush also was poor last season. On the bright side, though, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu’s versatility helps cover up a lot of their flaws, and it’s hard not to trust defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to get whatever he can out of this defense.
Kansas City’s defense still lacks talent, but that obviously hasn’t stopped them in the past. When you have the explosive offense that they have, you’re going to win a lot of games, and in a shortened offseason, their impressive amount of continuity should play in their favor. It’s easy to see why my model belives best team in the AFC by a wide margin.
#2: Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders, based on their point differential, did not deserve to win seven games last season. At the same time, few teams added as much quantity to their roster as they did, so they should have a similar record when it’s all said and done.
Derek Carr gets criticized often by analysts, but he’s a capable quarterback, especially if he’s placed in a position to succeed. He hasn’t had much help in the past, but now, I think the Raiders may perform like a top-ten offense. Tight end Darren Waller is capable of being the focal-point of this offense, while slot receiver Hunter Renfrow is a reliable intermediate target. The clear X-Factor of this offense is first-round pick Henry Ruggs III, however. With his absurd deep speed, he could be the explosive playmaker that finally prompts Carr to throw the ball down the field, and, thus, generates the chunk plays that they couldn’t a season ago. There’s a lot of stability in place between head coach Jon Gruden’s above-average play-calling and a productive offensive line, and if Ruggs III can give them a higher ceiling, then there’s a lot to like with this unit.
Las Vegas better be able to have some sort of vertical component to their offense- their defense is in a tough position. The additions of linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski should help them significantly when it comes to defending the middle-of-the-field, especially if safeties Erik Harris, Jeff Heath, and Jonathan Abram mesh well. Covering wide receivers, however, is another story. Travon Mullen will need to take a major step up in his second season, and that would’ve been made easier had they been committed to starting veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara. However, they just cut Amukamara and gave his starting spot to first-round rookie Damon Arnette, and that could be detrimental to their defense. The same also can be said about continuing to play Lamarcus Joyner, a productive safety, at slot corner, where he’s a complete liability.
The Raiders made some nice additions to their roster this offseason, yet they failed to overhaul their pass defense, and still need more depth at wide receiver. In the end, to win with a mid-tier quarterback in Carr, they’re going to need a deep roster, and right now, they’re very mediocre. Add in their difficult schedule, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to reach their potential in 2020.
#3: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers decided to part with veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers, which generated a lot of intrigue of their prospects in 2020. Could they bring in Tom Brady? Would they draft a premier quarterback? In the end, Los Angeles butchered their quarterback situation, and will be relying on a very talented roster to compensate for that blunder.
Tyrod Taylor is an underrated quarterback, but he’s a low-ceiling option as a game manager. So, do the Chargers have enough to elevate him? In terms of playmaking the talent, they probably do. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are a very talented receiving duo, Hunter Henry is a productive tight end, and Austin Ekeler is one of the most valuable running backs in the NFL. Nevertheless, Taylor has always had a problem with his pocket presence, and even after adding tackle Brian Bulaga, this remains one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL- those two realities don’t mesh well. Overall, Taylor’s limitations will cause this offense to be an average-at-best unit, and the insertion of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert would only complicate matters further.
On the bright side, Los Angeles has a superb defense. Obviously, they have a very strong edge rush tandem in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but it’s the secondary that really deserves the recognition. Outside of Stephon Gillmore, Casey Hayward Jr. is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, and, back in the slot, free-agent signing Chris Harris Jr. will thrive in this defense. Meanwhile esmond King and Nasir Adderley are also versatile playmakers at the back-end of the defense, and it’s hard not to love what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is trying to accomplish here- a position-less defense that utilizes a lot of dime packages and emphasizes stopping the pass over committing resources to defend the run. Now, for the bad news; the pillar of this defense, safety Derwin James, is expected to miss a substantial amount of time due to a meniscus injury, which could be the straw that prevents this defense from reaching its potential.
The Chargers have a very smart front office, and it shows with their talented defense and offensive playmakers. At the same time, their quarterback situation has limited their ceiling tremendously, and, thus, they’ll have to win a lot of low-scoring affairs this season. That’s not a formula that I believe can work, especially with James injured, but at least they have the talent to engineer it as well as they can.
#4: Denver Broncos
Few teams have generated as much hype this offseason as the Broncos, and it’s easy to see why. They had a very productive offseason, especially in the draft, and, overall, their roster is filled with a nice blend of experienced veteran and young, ascending players. At the same time, there’s a lot of uncertainty with this roster, which I (and my model) believe will doom them this season.
Due to his 4-1 record in his five starts last season, the consensus appears to be that Drew Lock is a franchise quarterback, yet I’m not sure what he’s done to warrant that. After all, this is a player who fell out of the first round after an unproductive final season at the University of Missouri, and his passing grade from Pro Football Focus (57.4) doesn’t match up with the hype. In the end, it’s likely that he’s a below-average quarterback, and although the Broncos have added a lot of playmaking talent, they’re all relatively unproven, outside of third-year receiver Courtland Sutton. This is not the year to have a lot of moving parts, and that lack of continuity and reliability is very concerning.
Similarly to the Chargers, the Broncos are going to try to win games with their defense, which figures to be one of the league’s best. Head coach Vic Fangio is cited as being a defensive mastermind, and the pieces in place would appear to fit his defense well. The safety duo of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson is one of the league’s best, and between AJ Bouye and slot corner Bryce Callahan, there is a lot of high-end talent in this secondary. Yet, they have a revolving door at their #2 outside cornerback spot, and even with a productive front-seven, that’s a wart that could prove to be costly. In the end, though, I’d be shocked if they didn’t have an elite defense, based on their coaching staff and star talent.
The Broncos won their last Super Bowl title on the hands of their defense, but they won’t have that same luck this time around. It’s hard to win without a competent quarterback, and I don’t believe they have that, while there is too much in the way of uncertainty across their roster, especially in this strange offseason. The long-term outlook of this organization is in good shape after a few successful drafts, but their time isn’t now.