NFL season is underway

Defending champion Chiefs are positioned to hoist Lombardi Trophy again this season

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Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Star

Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes has the Kansas City Chiefs looking to win their second straight championship.

Pranav Sannaasi and Evan Heinz, Sports writers

Despite a worldwide pandemic, the 2020 NFL season charges on in mostly empty stadiums, giving football fans around the country a much needed distraction from the COVID-19. 

Here’s a look at how teams stack up and who we think will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. Temas are organized based on division standings from the 2019 season. Predictions are updated to include Week 1 results.

NFC 

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

This 49ers squad will be looking to one-up their success from last year. The Niners will be without the legendary left tackle Joe Staley, who retired, but they did replace him with the best left tackle in the NFL in Trent Williams. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner will also be a notable loss after being traded to the Colts, but the 49ers got a good young player in Javon Kinlaw to replace him. 

On the offensive side, Jimmy Garoppolo lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Saints, but that shouldn’t affect the offense that much once some offensive threats get healthy.

The 49ers have a host of major injuries to start the year with wide receiver Deebo Samuel likely out till week four while recovering from a foot injury. Cornerback Richard Sherman went on injured reserve with a strained calf that should keep him out a few weeks, while star tight end George Kittle is also questionable for week two with a sprained knee. 

Without these guys for the next few weeks, they could continue to skid following the 24-20 loss to the Cardinals. Prediction: 10-6 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have improved their secondary in strong safety Jamal Adams and their robbery for cornerback Quinton Dunbar should also be a big boost.    

As good as their defense looks on paper, they still gave up 450 passing yards to Falcons QB Matt Ryan albeit on 54 attempts in week 1. They did lose center Justin Britt and guard DJ Fluker for their O line.

 In the effort to replace these two the line looks very patched and quarterback Russell Wilson looked exposed at times vs the Falcons. They also lost defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to the Titans. 10-6

LA Rams

The Rams lost running back Todd Gurley after releasing him but they replaced him with rookie Cam Akers. 

The Rams still have great players like defensive end Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, as well as some other good pieces like wide receiver Cooper Kupp and quarterback Jared Goff. 

But it probably won’t be enough for a playoff berth, especially in the toughest division in football. Winning against the Cowboys in week one though should be encouraging to them though. 7-9

Arizona Cardinals.

This team looks very good on paper with additions like wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and linebacker Isaiah Simmons to their already good looking team. 

And if quarterback Kyler Murray’s performance vs the 49ers is an indication that he will make the second-year jump we’ve seen from Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, this team could have a great year and even win this brutally tough division. 11-5

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

After making the NFC Championship last season, the Packers didn’t make many moves to win now. They did however bring in linebacker Christian Kirksey and receiver Devin Funchess, both of whom should help them. 

Veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams looked excellent against the Vikings in the 43-34 victory at Minnesota in week 1. They should have a great season, but it remains to be seen whether they can go all the way. 12-4

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings lost wide receiver Stephon Diggs, cornerback Xavier Rhoades, and defensive end Everson Griffin. They did add defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to replace Everson Griffin, but the defense still looked bad as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers torched them for 364 yards. Green Bay also tallied over 150 yards running the ball. 9-7

Chicago Bears

The Bears have numerous talented players such as linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson, but they haven’t made that many roster moves to improve last year’s squad.

The offense did add tight ends Jimmy Graham and 43rd overall pick Cole Kmet, but that tight end room was already crowded beforehand. They also added wide receiver Ted Ginn, who only had one target on Sunday. In week one the Bears were looking rather poor against the Lions before they orchestrated an outstanding comeback, turning a 23-6 deficit into a 27-23 victory. 9-7

Detroit Lions

Quarterback Matthew Stafford returning from injury is a big boost for the Lions heading into the  2020 season after spending a chunk of last season on IR. 

The Lions lost cornerback Darius Slay in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, but they were able to replace him by using their third overall pick on Jeff Okudah, who missed week one with an injury. They also added veteran running back Adrian Peterson, and rookie running back D’andre Swift will allow the Lions to use a running back by committee system. 

But the Lions are still the Lions and they proved that in blowing a 17-point lead to the Bears in the fourth quarter. Some things never change. 4-12

NFC East 

Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz should have decent receivers this year and the addition of cornerback Darius Slay will be a boost to the defense. 

But the Eagles looked bizarre against Washington after they lost 27-17 despite being up 17-0 in the second quarter. 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 

Losing cornerback Byron Jones isn’t great for the Cowboys, but at least they got defensive end Everson Griffin to help fellow defensive end Demarcus Lawrence on the defensive line. 

Losing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch for six to eight weeks also is a problem for the defense. Rookie receiver Ceedee Lamb likely won’t get enough chances to make a serious impact, but running back Ezekiel Elliot looks like he will bounce back from a down year.

This season feels like every other year with the Cowboys, hyped up to win a Lombardi but performing subpar. Losing to the Rams in week 1 makes this year seem like it will be like every other one, and losing Vander Esch shouldn’t be helpful in their attempt to prove otherwise. 8-8

New York Giants

Losing a solid number two corner in Deandre Baker following his arrest isn’t great from a football standpoint, but this team has young pieces like quarterback Daniel Jones and wide receiver Darius Slayton that should be an improvement over last year, as well as one of the best running backs in the world in Saquon Barkley. 

The Giants offense was unable to perform well against one of the best defenses in the Steelers in week one, but this team is still capable of being decent. 9-7

Washington Football Team

Washington is in the middle of a culture change after changing their branding from the Redskins. They are now the Football Team. 

The Football Team cut running back Adrian Peterson while adding three running backs in the offseason in J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, and 66th overall pick, Antonio Gibson. 

With their second overall pick, Washington took defensive end Chase Young, who had a monster game against Philly. The defensive line took over in the game against the Eagles, racking up eight sacks. 5-11

NFC South

New Orleans Saints 

On paper, this team looks amazing as always. Then they added wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, which makes them look even better. 

That being said, they have choked in the playoffs the last few years though, and after Drew Brees’ rather disappointing performance against Tampa Bay, it remains to be seen what happens to the Saints this season. 12-4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The big news is the Bucs added Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Leonard Fournette to the offense. On paper this makes their offense look incredible. 

Brady, however, looked bad against the Saints. He had two picks which came from misreading the defense. He was late and slightly missed another throw that went for a pick-six. 

Gronk and Fournette didn’t get many reps in week one. It looks like Coach Bruce Arians has a few things to work out before we see the real Bucs. 10-6

Carolina Panthers

Carolina lost quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen but Teddy Bridgewater steps in at quarterback and should be able to do a good job as a game manager.    

The Panthers also added wide receiver Robby Anderson, who had one of the plays of the week in his 75-yard touchdown in a week one loss to the Raiders. 8-8

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons added running back Todd Gurley, and both wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley looked fantastic against Seattle. Matt Ryan also threw for 450 yards. 

That being said, the Falcons still lost the game and did this a lot last year and still weren’t great, so this year shouldn’t be too much better. 7-9

AFC

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire adds a new dynamic to the defending Super Bowl champs, who have an already loaded offense with the best quarterback in the world in Patrick Mahomes. His receiving corps is still all world with tight end Travis Kelce and speedy wide recievers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman. 

The Chiefs defense remains okay after resigning defensive tackle Chris Jones. They showed why they are the champions in the week one victory against Houston and they should go all the way again. 13-3

Denver Broncos

This team has a nice young core on offense with quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. 

But losing linebacker Von Miller to injury is a massive loss. Despite Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski giving the Broncos many lifelines, they were unable to take advantage during a week 1 home loss. Jeudy looked good though. 8-8

Las Vegas Raiders 

The addition of a seventh playoff seed this season should be huge for Las Vegas – yes, we know, that still doesn’t sound right. 

The Raiders spent several weeks on the cusp of a playoff berth last season, so they definitely can be a playoff team. 

Running back Josh Jacobs comes off an incredible rookie year and should follow that up with an even better sophomore campaign, especially if his week one performance is any indication. Jacobs scored three touchdowns in a win over Carolina. The offense, which looked good overall, also added a very exciting receiver in Henry Ruggs III. 

If the Raiders can play like this they’ll certainly be a playoff-caliber team. 9-7

LA Chargers

The Chargers fell apart last year without safety Derwin James and they will be without him again this season. 

Losing quarterback Phillip Rivers, who signed with Indy, should also have an impact this year even though Tyrod Taylor is a decent QB and their sixth overall pick, quarterback Justin Herbert, looked great throughout training camp. 

The Chargers also added rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray with their 23rd overall selection. They got away with the win against Joe Burrow’s Bengals with the defense looking pretty good. 6-10

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

After having the best record in football last season, the Ravens have added defensive end Calais Campbell to the line and their younger players should be even better. 

Ravens Coach John Harbaugh rarely drops games he shouldn’t, and is considered one of the best in the league. Baltimore dominated the Browns in week 1 while reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson showed he is ready to defend his title. 13-3

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback Ben Rothlisberger’s return is good news for them and should give their offense a completely different look than last year. 

And if safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and the defense continue to be one of the best in the league, the Steelers are poised to make a deep run. 

Pittsburgh played great against the Giants with the defense holding tough and the offense doing well. 10-6

Cleveland Browns 

The Cleveland Browns again brought in a new coaching staff led by head coach Kevin Stefanski, the old offensive coordinator for the Vikings. 

The offense should get better with Austin Hooper but a huge part of their success this season will depend on what version of Baker Mayfield the Browns get. If it’s the week 1 version, that’s not a good sign as the Browns were horrendous against the Ravens.

But it’s the week 2 version the Browns saw against the Bengals, Cleveland actually has a chance. It also won’t hurt if running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combine for 210 rushing yards like they did in Thursday night’s win. 9-7

Cincinnati Bengals

With the first overall pick the Bengals drafted a new young QB in Joe Burrow, but their problems last year require more than a QB to fix. They came close against the Chargers in week 1, but on Thursday against the Browns Burrow threw for 3 TDs and 316 yards and they still lost 35-30. 6-10

AFC East

New England Patriots

Losing Tom Brady is huge but the addition of Cam Newton looked to solve the quarterback problem.

But due to coronavirus concerns, notable players such as Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower opted out of the season, causing everybody outside of Boston to breathe a sigh of relief. You can never count out their head coach Bill Belichick. 

The Patriots did well against the Dolphins, where the defense picked off QB Ryan Fitzpatrick three times and the offense produced over 200 yards rushing. 7-9

Buffalo Bills

After having a statement season in 2019, the Bills added star wideout Stephon Diggs as well as third-round pick running back Zach Moss. 

The only question regarding them is just how deep will their playoff run go. They soundly beat the Jets in week 1, but quarterback Josh Allen’s fumbles could be a cause of concern. 12-4

New York Jets

C.J. Mosley decided to opt-out because of coronavirus concerns and Jamal Adams was traded. Both of these departures darkened the hopes of the defense for the Jets. There’s not much else to say about this mess of a team. 5-11

Miami Dolphins 

Things seem to be looking up for the Dolphins as they also drafted the QB for the future in Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins added cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle van Noy and defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson to the defense. Running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Brieda also joined the offensive side of the ball. 

But the Dolphins looked bad against New England in week 1 as Fitzpatrick was picked off three times and they had no answer for the Patriots run game. 6-10

AFC South

Houston Texans

Deandre Hopkins is a massive loss but getting running back David Johnson out of that trade helps replace Carlos Hyde. Still, Hopkins departure is a big loss that should negatively impact the offense.

Houston lost to the Chiefs as expected in week 1, but Will Fuller IV had a nice outing and QB Deshaun Watson played well. 9-7

Tennessee Titans

Following last season’s miraculous run from having a losing record midseason to making the AFC Championship, expectations are high for Mike Vrabel’s boys. Jadeveon Clowney’s addition on defense should help them on their quest for another great year. 

The Titans narrowly beat the Broncos in week 1, but they could have done it more convincingly if Gostkowski didn’t miss three field goals and an extra point. Running back Derrick Henry ran wild with 116 yards. 10-6

Indianapolis Colts

Phillip Rivers should come in and play well with T.Y. Hilton as one of his targets, as well as a very good offen line. Xavier Rhodes is also a key addition to the defense as they look poised for a playoff push.

The loss against the Jaguars, however, wasn’t very encouraging. Running back Marlon Mack got injured but they have depth in that position with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Rivers had a mixed performance as he played well with a high completion percentage and 363 yards but he threw two picks. 9-7

Jacksonville Jaguars

Yannick Ngakoue, Leonard Fournette and Calais Campbell all got out of Jacksonville, and that’s bad news for the Jags. This team has lost so much of their star power that you wonder what the Jags are trying to accomplish. 

But they still looked better than anyone thought they would be against the Colts, reminding the league that they still have a solid team. Quarterback Gardner Minshew was very accurate as he went 19-of-20 passes, and rookie cornerback CJ Henderson was brilliant. 6-10 

SuperBowl LV Prediction:

Kansas City Chiefs 35

Green Bay Packers 31

The Chiefs have the best offense in the league and an underrated defense. They should steamroll the AFC and reach the Super Bowl for the second straight season. 

Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have the least concerns out of any team in the NFC and should be the team that makes the Super Bowl. But the Chiefs are just too good of a team for anyone to stop and they will come out on top again.