It feels strange with the NBA and NHL playoffs still in full swing, but the start of a new NFL season is upon us. There are plenty of intriguing storylines, from Cam Newton joining the New England Patriots to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski reuniting in Tampa Bay to the ever-present uncertainty with the coronavirus.
The dawn of a new season means its prediction time, and 110 Sports’ Chris Brown, Josh Doering and Josh Mullenix are here to choose division champions, the rest of the playoff field, an MVP and, of course, who plays in the Super Bowl.
Chris Brown: Buffalo Bills
All the pieces are in place for the Bills to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East this season. Coming off a playoff appearance last season, Buffalo boasts one of the best defenses in the NLF and an offense that’s poised to continue improving with the addition of new No. 1 wide receiver Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen entering his third season. Combine that with the losses of several key Patriots players and this actually wasn’t a very difficult call for me.
Josh Doering: New England Patriots
The Patriots gave up the fewest yards and points in the league last season by a considerable margin. That is partly because 17.3% of their opponents’ possessions ended in a turnover. Having Dont’a Hightower and Marcus Cannon opt out is significant, but no one replaces players better than Bill Belichick. The same goes for Tom Brady. Cam Newton opens up all kinds of possibilities for Josh McDaniels and the Patriots’ offense. This is Belichick’s division until there is a gaping hole in the roster or someone takes it from him.
Josh Mullenix: Buffalo Bills
The Patriots reign at the top of the AFC East comes to an end this season. The quarterback position is a question mark until Cam Newton proves he’s ready to be a contributing member to a football team again and I’m still not sold that he and Belichick will work. Add in Dont’a Hightower and Marcus Cannon opting out and the defense is no longer good enough with the questions on offense to win the division. Josh Allen and his weapons headlined by Stefon Diggs will dethrone the Pats.
CB: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens lost just one key player this past offseason: right guard Marshal Yanda, who retired. Baltimore set the NFL record for rushing last year and reinforced its running game by drafting J.K. Dobbins. There’s also reason for optimism that Lamar Jackson, coming off an MVP season, can take another step forward as a passer. He won’t need to for the Ravens to finish on top the AFC North again.
JD: Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore ran the ball for 991 more yards than any other team in 2019. As dynamic as passing games have gotten, there is still no replacement for an elite rushing attack. Defensively, the Ravens were top five in yards and points allowed. There is not a more well-balanced team in the NFL. Even if Lamar Jackson doesn’t put in another MVP-caliber season, Baltimore is the best team in the AFC North.
JM: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens return a top three defense from last year and arguably the most dynamic player in the NFL in Lamar Jackson, who led an offense to more total yards than any other team. I’m certainly intrigued by this division as the Steelers should be better, the Browns will improve and Joe Burrow is now in Cincinnati. With that being said, the Ravens are the best team in the division.
CB: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have the best offensive line in the NFL and went out and added Philip Rivers and DeForest Buckner to fill their two biggest needs. Are their valid questions about Rivers? Absolutely. But I really believe the strong o-line will make a major difference for a quarterback who has struggled with sacks and turnovers in recent years. Running back Marlon Mack is also topped 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career last year and the Colts have more depth at the position.
JD: Tennessee Titans
Adding Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney takes the Titans’ defense from very good to great and the rest of the division hasn’t exactly improved. Jacksonville cut ties with Leonard Fournette and Yannick Ngakoue. A 38-year-old Phillip Rivers isn’t leading the Colts to more than nine or 10 wins. Bill O’Brien continues to reduce the amount of talent at Deshaun Watson’s disposal. I’m buying Ryan Tannehill and what Tennessee did in the playoffs last season.
JM: Indianapolis Colts
Philip Rivers finally has a good offensive line. This is a guy who, yes, has struggled with mistakes but saying he can’t fling the ball around still is wrong. Just two years ago he threw for 32 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. I’m expecting his numbers this year to look closer to that than the 23 TDs and 20 picks he threw in 2019. The Colts addressed the pass rush in the form of DeForest Buckner. Ultimately, here’s where I land: This division will come down to the Colts and Titans and I refuse to pick Ryan Tannehill over Rivers.
CB: Kansas City Chiefs
There was nothing difficult about this call. In fact, I’d probably project the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders to all post sub-.500 records. With only a few exceptions, the Chiefs remain the same team that finished last season on top. Kansas City is the favorite to repeat as AFC champions and an easy pick here.
JD: Kansas City Chiefs
There is nothing particularly scary about the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos. Patrick Mahomes is still playing quarterback in Kansas City and Andy Reid is still his coach. The only way someone dethrones the Chiefs is if Mahomes misses substantial time with an injury.
JM: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs just so happen to be one of the best teams in football in one of the more underwhelming divisions. The Raiders, Chargers and Broncos aren’t necessarily horrible, but unless Mahomes gets hurt and Andy Reid is no longer on the sidelines, the Chiefs win this division pretty comfortably.
AFC Wild Cards
CB: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans
The Steelers were 8-8 last year without Ben Roethlisberger and I’m confident that, despite some questions, they’ll improve by at least two wins with Big Ben back and an elite defense led by T.J. Watt. Despite my belief that the Patriots will be dethroned atop the AFC East, I’m certainly not doubting Bill Belochick to the point of projecting New England to miss the playoffs. Finally, I believe we’ll see A.J. Brown and Corey Davis get increased opportunities with more passing plays from Ryan Tannehill as the Titans are able to fend off any regression.
JD: Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bills will win at least nine games for the third time in four years and seriously challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. Indianapolis is absolutely one of the best seven teams in the AFC on paper. How much of an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett is Phillip Rivers though? The Steelers are in if Ben Roethlisberger is available for at least 12 games. They nearly snuck in with Delvin Hodges and Mason Rudolph starting a combined 14 contests last season. I’m not betting against Mike Tomlin and that organization.
JM: New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers
In pretty much every division, there are two teams I like more than the other two. The Patriots will challenge in the AFC East but ultimately land here due to a lack of consistency at quarterback and a defense that doesn’t quite make up for it enough to win the division. The Titans have an improved defense and a quality ground game. That’s a good recipe for success and Pittsburgh is still led by Big Ben and Mike Tomlin.
CB: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys will turn their talent into production this season under Mike McCarthy, who knows what it takes to be a Super Bowl team. With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, there’s really no doubting the team’s offensive capabilities, and the team’s new-look defense figures to be more aggressive. Assuming Prescott can smoothly adapt to McCarthy, I have confidence Dallas can avoid another late-season limp to the finish line.
JD: Dallas Cowboys
Dallas ranked in the top three in total yards (1st), yards per play (1st), 1st downs (3rd), passing yards (2nd) last season while also ranking fifth in rushing yards and sixth in points. Their defense was above average as well, though losing Byron Jones in free agency will hurt. Talent has never been the question with this team. The Cowboys should’ve won the NFC East in 2019 and Mike McCarthy was brought in to make sure they don’t throw the division away again.
JM: Dallas Cowboys
Let me be very clear, Mike McCarthy is the reason I’m picking the Cowboys. The Cowboys have been the most talented team before and come up short but it’s the different standards of the new head coach that make the difference. The Cowboys have the talent to win a Super Bowl, much less a division title, but then again talent has never been the question.
CB: Green Bay Packers
The Packers went 13-3 last year, are entering the second year under Matt LaFleur, and Aaron Rodgers has all the motivation in the world to prove he’s still a high-end player. I was surprised the team elected not to add more help for Rodgers, but on the other side Green Bay’s defense has improved each of the last two seasons and figures to be the backbone of this team.
JD: Minnesota Vikings
While the Packers took Jordan Love instead of getting Aaron Rodgers more help, the Vikings replaced a frustrated Stefon Diggs with Justin Jefferson and added Yannick Ngakoue. Year after year, general manager Rick Spielman puts together one of the best rosters in the league. Kirk Cousins posted the highest quarterback rating of his career and threw 4.33 touchdowns for every interception last year. There’s a lot to like in Minnesota.
JM: Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins threw just six interceptions last season and there’s no reason to suggest he won’t be good again in 2020. The biggest move of their off season was adding Yannick Ngakoue to a pass rush that finished sixth in the league in sacks a year ago. The weapons at Cousins’ disposal of course take a slight step back without Diggs but there’s a real argument Justin Jefferson will one day be better.
CB: New Orleans Saints
With Drew Brees’ leadership, Emmanuel Sanders and a healthy Alvin Kamara on the offensive end and a sturdy defense that includes Malcolm Jenkins, Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis, the Saints have perhaps the most well-rounded roster in the NFL. I’m extremely high on this team heading into the season.
JD: New Orleans Saints
The fact the Saints won all five games Teddy Bridgewater started last season is a testament to how much talent Sean Payton has at his disposal. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are the best tailback/wideout duo in the league. The return of Malcolm Jenkins reinforces a defense that should easily be in the top 10. It would not be surprising at all to see the Saints finish 13-3 for a third straight season.
JM: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s hard to pick against Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Sean Payton. But here’s the thing, I’m kinda rooting for Tom Brady to silence anyone who says it’s the combination of him and Belichick that made him so good. Not to mention there’s a receiving core with the likes of Chris Codwin and Mike Evans that helped Jameis Winston throw for the most yards per game in the league last season. Now you’re gonna put Brady in that spot? On the other side of the ball, Ndamakung Suh is there to lead the run defense and Shaquill Barrett is there for the pass rush. It’ll be close and this might come back to bite me, but give me Tampa.
CB: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were mere inches away from winning the division last year despite significant injury problems and defensive issues, something star safety Jamal Adams was brought in to help address in a big way. In the offseason, Seattle upgraded its offensive line with the additions of Brandon Snell, Damien Lewis and B.J. Finney and, to oversimplify things a great deal, I just have more faith in Russell Wilson than Jimmy Garoppolo.
JD: San Francisco 49ers
Both the 49ers and Ravens finished top four in total offense and yards allowed last season. Additionally, San Francisco gave up the fewest yards through the air of any team and Richard Sherman proved he’s still an elite cornerback. There is every reason to think the numbers will be similar this year. The questions with Kyle Shannahan’s team revolve around winning in the playoffs, not the regular season.
JM: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and got significant upgrades on both sides of the ball in their weakest areas. When you look at the other Josh’s MVP pick, I’m scratching my head as to why he thinks the 49ers will win the division. Because if he really thinks that player will walk away with an MVP, San Francisco isn’t going to win this division.
NFC Wild Cards
CB: Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Several changes have taken place on the defensive end for the Vikings, though I have faith the team will boast a top-10 defense again. Continuity may be more important than ever given the unique nature of this season, and the 49ers have a great deal of that, returning nearly all their starters and their coaching staff. There’s certainly good reason to question the Buccaneers’ defense, but the team improved in that area through last season and I believe will take another sizable step forward this year.
JD: Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This was much easier for me than picking the AFC Wild Card teams was. The Packers will be in the playoff hunt as long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy. Russell Wilson continues to be underappreciated and there are games to be won against the Rams and Cardinals. It will take some time for Tampa Bay to put the pieces together but Tom Brady has never had this many weapons to work with. The NFC’s depth is just remarkable.
JM: Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints
This was easy. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers play at a very high level on both sides of the football and proved that they’ve put together a team that can be led by Jimmy G. The Saints will be the best Wild Card team ever with the weapons at their disposal led by Brees.
CB: Patrick Mahomes
I didn’t feel any need to get creative here. The best player in the game is loaded with offensive weapons and, now that he’s fully healthy, another 40-touchdown season seems completely realistic. It’s really that simple.
JD: Russell Wilson
The last time someone other than a quarterback won an MVP was 2012, so there’s no point picking a different position. Seattle has never won fewer than nine games in Wilson’s eight seasons and has posted double-digit wins seven times. He doesn’t have a superstar to throw the ball to like most other top-tier field generals. This is the year people finally realize just how important Wilson guy is.
JM: Patrick Mahomes
There’s no need to be bold here. I’ll take the best quarterback in the sport who didn’t win the MVP last season. This isn’t an award about who the most important player in the NFL is. If that were the case, Peyton Manning would still win every year. This is about who is the flashiest and who puts up the most stats in the biggest spotlight. Enter the guy on a contract worth half a billion dollars.
CB: Chiefs over Saints
I’m a big believer in the power of a well-rounded roster, and as I detailed above, the Saints certainly have that. Despite this, I’m picking the Chiefs to be the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the ‘04 and ‘05 Patriots. Despite salary cap concerns, Kansas City lost very few key pieces around Patrick Mahomes. The team locked up defensive tackle Chris Jones, found solid replacements for its two starters who opted out, and held onto its offensive and defensive coordinators. It’s the easy pick, sure, but I don’t think there’s any need to get creative here either.
JD: Saints over Ravens
These are the two most well-balanced teams in the NFL in my estimation. Lamar Jackson doesn’t need to be superhuman for Baltimore to claim the top seed in the AFC. In a season with limited interaction and reduced preparation time, continuity is more important than ever before. The Saints have an edge over every other team in that area with Brady leaving New England. They’re owed a couple of breaks in the playoffs after what’s happened the past few seasons as well.
JM: Buccaneers over Chiefs
Part of me is just rooting for this, but most of me just thinks these will be the two best teams at the end of the year. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are the best QB/coach duo in the NFL and until someone slows them down in the AFC, I’ll stick with them. Even if the Bucs take a little while to figure it out, I find it really hard to believe they won’t be one of the best teams in the sport if healthy by the playoffs. Give me the greatest of all time against the guy who might end up being the greatest of all time. The possibility is exciting.