FOOTBALL IS BACK !! For the first time since February there is hope and light and something to discuss that isn’t world-ending. Hurrah for football!
We’ve had the draft, we’ve had the speculation and we’ve had our fill of covid-friendly, iso-bubble namby-pamby training camps. What we really want is bone-crunching, pass-catching, touchdown-scoring football. Tomorrow night the reigning champion Chiefs get the season underway against division rivals the Texans at Arrowhead as they look to be the first repeat champions since the ’04 and ’05 Patriots. The season is going to post many, many questions and dilemmas for staff and players alike in these strange times, but ultimately one thing remains true, the best team post-Christmas will claim the crown. So lets take a look through the teams by Conference and Division and weigh up their chances of reaching the tickertape glory land…
THE NFC SOUTH
Wow this division is loaded, a real candidate for having 3 teams in the playoffs under the new rules. Tom Brady joining the Buccs has been the biggest news, but don’t make assumptions based on past glories. Dan Quinn saved his skin last season by getting the Falcons playing properly in the second part of the season whilst Carolina opted to sack their long-term HC and bring in College Footballs hottest young coaching star… Oh, and the Saints are still the best team here.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Lets address the issue of Dree Brees’ arm strength. Yes, its on the wane, as with all 38-40+ QBs, but does it matter? Brees is ruthlessly efficient with his passing (70% or above for 4 straight seasons!) and the coaching staff know how best to utilise his talents. IF the situation calls for a hail-mary play you’ll see Jamis Winston rolled out to heave the ball down the field. Jamis, by the way, is a great signing, look what Payton and co. have done for Teddy B. Theres every chance Winston revives his career in New Orleans. Alvin Kamara has signed a mammoth new contract and looks to return to consistent form after an up and down 2019 (injured throughout apparently), Emmanuel Saunders will draw coverage away from satr wideout Michael Thomas and Jared Cook mustn’t be overlooked from TE. Add to that offense a D bristling with stars and potential stars (Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore, Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins) and its easy to see why the Saints are one of the NFC title favourites for 2020.
TAMPA BAY BUCS
43 year old starting QB anyone? No? Greatest of all time? Oh, go on then… Its all change under centre and I for one and delighted. I can still love Brady cos he’s playing well away from my Pats. Im not sure how Arians envisages using the all-time all-pro, downfield plays are no longer in his repertoire, but Big Bruce is a man with a plan and I like that. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the best two receivers that Brady has had in years too so expect him to utilise that. OH YEAH GRONK IS BACK TOO! Lets not get too carried away here, but Gronk and Brady have than connecting like Richards and Jagger, so you know something good is coming… The Leonard Fournette signing will be big news one way or another, he either fits in tows the line and produces like we know he can, or hes out of there at seasons end with permanent reputation damage. Suh, Vea, JPP, Devin White, Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David are all back up top for the defense, but the backfield isn’t a good one, Brady could be behind more often than he’d like, the corners are definitely a concern, they give up too many yards and TDs. A fun recipe in Tampa. Who isn’t looking forward to Bardy v Brees twice a season??
Projected record: 10-6
As I mentioned above, Dan Quinn saved his job with some late season heroics, but we’ve not seen the best of Dan since that SuperBowl turnover. This could well be a year too far in a loaded division. Matt Ryan continues to be on career path that keeps Rodgers, Brady, Brees etc in-sight, but he’s hampered by a so-so team. Im not sold on the move for Gurley at RB, after 10 games the knees will likely give-out again, and Brain Hill and Ito Smith just aint cutting it. Julio and Ridley rival Evans and Godwin for best WR duo in the conference, but the o-line needs to protect Ryan better if he’s to utilise them. Last seasons downfall was defensive injuries so its great to see, Keanu Neal and Deion Jones starting the season, the addition of Dante Fowler Jr is massive as the D-line lost Vic Beasley to the Titans, but Linebacking depth is poor on this team, and they of all should know better than that.
Projected record: 8-8
Matt Rhule has a history of turning round bad teams. In college he changed the fortunes of both Temple and Baylor, but not until his second season in each case. So, the front office is in for the long haul and so are the fans. 2-10 in his first season at Temple, and 1-11 at Baylor, rebuilding programs from the grassroots up is what Rhule does. His choice to take Teddy Bridgewater at QB seems solid enough based on what we’ve seen, young, hungry and coachable but also patient enough to play the long-game. Christian McCaffrey was the best all round RB in the NFL in 2019, scoring 19 Tds in the process, id expect some regression but if he produces at 90% that’s still outstanding. The WR corp is weak, (Anderson, Samuel, Moore) and TE isn’t even worth looking at (try it, go on). There are pieces on defence but nothing you’d want to rely on weekly outside of maybe Shaq Thompson at LB. It’s a tough year ahead, but hang in the Panthers fans.
Projected record 3-13