With the NFL set to release the 2020 schedule Thursday night on ESPN, we took a look at which teams would rise above the rest, if — or when — the players get back on the field.
We predicted all the division winners and surging teams that will grab wild card berths this season, for a glimpse into the 2020 NFL playoff picture.
So, let’s get into it.
AFC East: Bills
The Bills are coming off a wildcard appearance in 2019, and return with a defense that ranked in the top five in pass defense, points allowed, and total defense. They also acquired receiving threat Stefon Diggs from the Vikings in an offseason trade to help Josh Allen in the passing game. Following the departure of Tom Brady from New England to Tampa Bay, the Bills will have limited obstacles in their division and should have no excuse not to win the AFC East crown.
AFC North: Ravens
The Ravens will be motivated to make amends for their divisional-round loss to the Titans last season. They will return an offense that led the league in rushing yards per game and ranked second in total offense. They’ve also added Ohio State standout J.K. Dobbins to a backfield headlined by unanimous league MVP Lamar Jackson. Not to mention the additions of Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers will only help boost a defense that ranked second in total defense last season.
AFC South: Titans
The Titans were able to keep together an offensive core that helped the team make a surprise run to the AFC Championship game last season. While they signed Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million deal, the contract makes him just the ninth highest-paid quarterback in the league based on annual average salary. Most importantly, the Titans were able to place a franchise tag on 2019 rushing leader Derrick Henry, the backbone of the team’s playoff offense with an average of 150 yards per postseason game.
AFC West: Chiefs
The Chiefs return as Super Bowl champions with arguably the most talented quarterback we’ve seen in NFL history. Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to a top-five passing offense in 2019, while ranking sixth in total offense. They return their top four wide receivers from last season including dynamic playmakers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs also added versatile LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the Draft.
AFC Wild Card
Browns: While Baker Mayfield struggled in 2019, he is poised to have a breakout season for the Browns in 2020. Another year of familiarity with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will only prove to be helpful. Also, Myles Garrett’s reinstatement in the league will be key for the defense.
Texans: Deshaun Watson will find a way to make Houston formidable. Even with the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, Watson will elevate the Texans to a wild-card spot.
Colts: The acquisition of Philip Rivers was a lateral move for an organization that already had Jacoby Brissett. However, the team gained some much-needed pieces through the draft at positions including wide receiver and safety. They could be dangerous when battling for the last playoff spot.
NFC East: Cowboys
The Cowboys will sign Dak Prescott to a deal eventually. Once they do, they will return the catalyst behind the highest-ranked total offense in the league. Prescott also helped lead the Cowboys to the league’s second-ranked passing offense. The addition of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma will only give new head coach Mike McCarthy and second-year offensive play-caller Kellen Moore.
NFC North: Packers
While the Packers failed to pick up another wide receiver threat in the draft to pair with Davante Adams, they won’t lose much ground in their division. The Vikings will take a considerable step back after trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills. Mitch Trubisky hasn’t proven much of anything in Chicago, and Detroit will likely falter again under Matt Patricia’s dysfunction. These circumstances, coupled with a motivated Aaron Rodgers looking to prove himself again after the first-round selection of Jordan Love, will work out well for Green Bay.
NFC South: Saints
Now that Drew Brees is set to return for another season, the Saints are arguably the most complete team in the NFC. They were ranked in the top 10 in total offense and passing offense in 2019. The familiarity between Brees and head coach Sean Payton will give the Saints an advantage against Brady and head coach Bruce Arians in Tampa. Not to mention, New Orleans will return one of the most underrated defenses in the league last season that ranked just outside of the top 10 in total defense.
NFC West: 49ers
The 2019 NFC Champions will bring back a squad that ranks top five in total offense, rushing yards per game, and total defense. The team also ranked first in passing defense. George Kittle returns as one of the best tight ends in the league and the innovative offensive schemes from head coach Kyle Shanahan will put the 49ers right back into Super Bowl title contention.
NFC Wild Card
Buccaneers: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, along with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard will be a powerful offensive attack. Tampa will win a lot of games in 2020 but won’t just be able to outlast New Orleans for the top spot in the NFC South.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll have cracked the code to success in Seattle. Behind a few miraculous comebacks, and the emergence of wide receiver DK Metcalf, the Seahawks will grab a wild-card berth.
Eagles: Barring another Carson Wentz injury, the Eagles will be in prime position to sneak into the last playoff spot. Despite the significant loss of Malcolm Jenkins to the Saints, the addition of Darius Slay will help the team’s secondary tremendously.