Predicting the 2020 NFL Season

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9/10/2020

By the When The Lights Go Out Team

The NFL season starts today and we here at When The Lights Go Out are elated. There was doubt as to whether or not the season was going to happen, but here we are! The first game features the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs playing against the team they dismantled in the divisional round of the playoffs last year after falling behind 24-0 in the 2nd quarter in the Houston Texans. The Chiefs won that game 51-31 (good gracious) and then proceeded to win a championship.

This is a new season, however, and 2020 will see a change from previous years as each conference adds a 7th playoff team. Many fresh-faced rookies look to impact their teams early, some players are returning from unfortunate injuries, and every team has a shot at a world championship.

I wonder what might happen…

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Monty – Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team. As much as I think there were a lot of talented defenders in the draft, I just don’t see a way Chase Young doesn’t stand out from the pack at the end of the season. He was one of the best pash rushing talents to enter the NFL draft and went to a team where his talents can really shine. Being on a defensive line with other great talents such as Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and more pretty much prevents any team from focusing too much on Young individually. This combined with his great talent really has me thinking that Young has a great chance to beat the rookie sack record of 14.5 sacks this year assuming he gets to play a full season. The only real detraction to Young winning the award in my opinion is that NFL awards are very narrative based and if the Washington Football Team are as bad as I think they will be he might not get enough media attention to win the award. That being said, I truly think Young’s season will be so special that he will force the media’s hand and easily run away with DROY this season.

Muf – Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens. Patrick Queen was a beast at LSU, and in the pros I think he slips into the perfect situation. Not that the Ravens were bad at any position before the draft, but the linebackers were probably their weakest group on defense. Queen comes in ready to start and to put up big tackling numbers. Baltimore’s stacked defense will make him a superstar.

Sam – Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team. No rookie, offensive or defensive, is as talented as Chase Young and he will show it by being the rookie sack leader by a significant margin. 

Mishal – Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team. Let’s be honest – this guy could have easily gone first overall. If the Bengals didn’t draft Burrow, Young would be a Bengal. This kid was a monster at OSU. Now put him in Rivera’s defensive system with great depth at the line. You have Payne, Allen, Sweat, and many more great D-linemen who will take attention away from Young. I believe Young will break the rookie sack record and bring fear into the eyes of opposing QBs.

Eli – Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team. There’s a reason this kid was taken 2nd overall; he’s a beast. If quarterbacks weren’t so highly touted, he would’ve been 1st off the board. Young is in the best position for a defensive rookie as he has a stacked defensive line and two successful defensive-minded coaches showing him the ropes. I expect double digit sacks, QB pressures, and probably a TD or two while we’re at it.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Monty – Henry Ruggs, WR, Las Vegas Raiders. With frontrunner for the award Joe Burrow being on a bad team in a really good division I think there is a chance that due to factors outside of his own control, Burrow struggles enough for another player to win the award. If that is the case, I think it just makes sense to look towards the wide receiver position since this may have been the best receiver class in the past decade. However, a lot of the top receivers went to teams with good receivers already in place ahead of them on the depth chart which could make it difficult for them to get the targets necessary to put up the raw numbers it would take for a receiver to win an award like this above a quarterback. As a result of this, I see no reason that Henry Ruggs, the first receiver in the draft, and undoubtedly the best deep threat in this year’s draft, couldn’t put together a great rookie season. Ruggs is immediately the number one receiver on the Raiders with the second option being another rookie picked in the third round this season. While Ruggs’s talent might not align perfectly with what Derek Carr has done the past few seasons, he perfectly fits the role that John Gruden wants for his receivers. 

Muf – Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals. I took the easy way out, but I have my reasons. The #1 pick has a pretty good skill position group to work with. Mixon just got a new contract and is highly motivated. Assuming you have a healthy A.J. Green, that’s an above average receiver room. I think he gets it based on his draft spot and an average year at QB.

Sam – Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams. This might be a bit of a surprising pick, but I believe that the Rams get back to form this season, mostly on the back of their much improved running game. While Akers certainly isn’t prime Gurley, he showed his incredible talent behind brutally bad FSU olines. McVay scheming for his shiny new running back will lead to great results in LA.

Mishal – Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals. Look, this kid was drafted first overall for a reason. He balled out last season and has the potential to be great. Burrow has a great supporting cast with a top 10 RB in Mixon and a great backup with Gio Bernard. He also has an elite pass catcher – A.J. Green and two good receivers – Tyler Boyd and John Ross. If he can produce like he did at LSU, Joe will run away with OROY.

Eli – Branden Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers lost a great playmaker in Emmanuel Sanders and look to replace him with the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft. While still the 6th receiver taken, he fits into San Francisco’s offense as a fast and physical pass-catcher that Kyle Shannahan will get to move all over the field. The 49ers will make it far in the playoffs and they’ll rely on Aiyuk to produce early to help get them there.

Defensive Player of the Year

Monty – Chandler Jones, DE, Arizona Cardinals. Chandler Jones may have had the quietest 19 sack season in NFL history in 2019. A lot of this comes down to the lack of team success the Cardinals had and the lack of media attention that comes with it. This season though, while I still don’t quite see them making the playoffs, they have an extremely exciting young unit that should draw the country’s attention as they match up week to week against their divisional opponents in the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams in what should be some of the best games of the season. This increased attention I think will give Chandler Jones the appearance of a breakout season to many which could be enough to give him the edge if he finishes close with some of the leagues other great pass rushers this season.

Muf – Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers. Last year, the 49ers defense was second in quarterback hurries (88) and fifth in sacks (48). Nick Bosa had 24 of those hurries and 9 of those sacks. The 49ers made no significant changes to their defensive starters or staff. This means that Bosa has another offseason to master the most hype defensive coordinator’s (Robert Salah) playbook and take his game to the next level.

Sam – Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills. White just received a huge extension in Buffalo which he earned by being one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL since he entered the league. Meanwhile the Buffalo Bills have a great team defense that could really feast on the poor offenses in the AFC East. Combine White’s shutdown corner potential with a defense that could finish as the league’s best could easily lead to the 2nd AFC East corner in 2 years winning DPOY.

Mishal –  Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts. Leonard won DROY his first year and could have won DPOY last year. He put up 163 tackles his rookie year with 7 sacks and 2 interceptions. Last season, he had 121 tackles, 5 sacks, and 5 interceptions. This dude is balling out, but since the Colts haven’t been winning, his talent and production isn’t on full display. However, I believe the Colts will be good this year with Rivers, so the voters will be able to see how Leonard is a beast.

Eli – TJ Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers. T.J. might be the best Watt in the NFL, and his brother J.J. has won three defensive player of the year awards. He’s playing in a division with a lot of eyes on it, and will get ample opportunities to make big plays in pivotal moments against three of the most interesting quarterbacks to watch this year. The steelers have a top 10, maybe top 5 defense this year and T.J. is their most important piece.

Offensive Player of the Year

Monty – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Normally this award goes to non-quarterbacks in recent years, but I think this season Mahomes is going to put up MVP numbers again with another QB narrowly beating him out for that award. The Chiefs return almost their entire starting team that includes, in my opinion, the best set of weapons in the entire league to surround Mahomes ridiculous arm talent. Pretty much feels like a guarantee for Mahomes to be around 5000 yards and over 30 tds again barring injury or a shortened season.

Muf – Josh Jacobs, RB, LAS VEGAS Raiders. Kyler Muarry was really good last year but Josh Jacobs would have been OROY if he didn’t get injured. The Raiders already had a good offensive line, and they added depth in the offseason. Rookie Henry Ruggs’ defense-burning speed should give Jacob lighter boxes, and therefore more open holes.

Sam – Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens. Jackson feasted on the league last year with his legs and his arm enroute to the league’s best record and an MVP award. It’s hard to see him not repeating this performance or being even better, with a Ravens roster that looks primed to threaten for their 3rd Super Bowl. 

Mishal – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers. Like Leonard, I feel like CMC should have won last year, but due to a poor team, he was passed up. The guy had 1,387 rush yards and 116 receptions for 1,005 receiving yards. I would be livid if he has another 1000-1000 season and does not win OPOY. But as I said earlier, if Carolina does not have a good season, people will neglect his production. CMC doesn’t get as much credit as he should because of the lack of team success. 

Eli – Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Christian McCaffrey is the best non-QB offensive player in the NFL, but his team will most likely not be successful. Mike Evans has Tom Brady, a good defense, and like, 1000 other players that would scare the living crap out of opposing teams. The opportunities in the big moments will be abundant for Evans to make memorable plays, and he’s good enough to make all of them go the Bucs’ way.

Comeback Player of the Year

Monty – Ben Roethlisburger, QB, Pittsburgh Sttelers. As you will see later on in this article, Big Ben is the main reason I see the Steelers quickly bouncing back into superbowl contention this season. While I don’t see them winning the division I still see them getting more than 10 wins and if they are going to want to beat teams like the Chiefs, Texans, and Ravens this season they are going to have to score points, even with what might be the best defense in the league.

Muf – Ben Roethisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers. This is an easy pick for me. Dude played 2 games, and then was out the whole season in 2019. If he starts all the games of the 2020 campaign and puts up average stats, Big Ben will win Comeback Player of the Year.

Sam – Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Team. Alex Smith will not play one meaningful snap this season. In fact he’ll be inactive for most of the season and will rarely be in uniform on game day. That does not take anything away from the ridiculous amount of obstacles he’s overcome to be on an NFL Roster in 2020. His leg injury in November of 2018 was incredibly gruesome, became infected, and left his lower leg hard to look at. He could’ve easily walked away then and there and not one soul would have given him crap about it. Smith decided that not only would he not retire, he’d rehab hard. After being told he’d never play again, he made it all the way to 11 on 11 drills in camp this August, an incredible accomplishment. 

Mishal – Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots. If you know me, you know how I’m a huge Cam fan. *Do not get that mistaken as being a Panthers fan – looking at Sam.* In all honesty, if Cam is healthy, I think Belichick can bring him back to MVP form. Cam is as explosive as they come as a runner and if his shoulder is healed, he can seriously rip the ball. To me, this is a 2 person race between Big Ben and Superman. I feel Cam will have the better season, which will result in him winning CPOY.

Eli – Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Team. There is no doubt in my mind that this will happen. Smith could have lost his leg because of his injury in 2018. He could have died. Nobody would have blamed him if he retired and spent time with family, and yet, he’s giving it another shot. It doesn’t matter if he makes it on the field to play in a game, his career and journey garner enough respect alone to make him the hands-down favorite for comeback player of the year.

Most Valuable Player

Monty – Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans. Awards in the NFL are given out, in large part, due to the narratives around the players each season. This isn’t to say that most players don’t deserve the award, but I think it’s hard to argue honestly that awards like coach of the year shouldn’t by default just go to the superbowl winning coach each season. There really isn’t a better example of this than the MVP award. Last season Russel Wilson and Lamar Jackson were extremely close in terms of raw performance in my opinion (and that’s coming from a Ravens fan), and yet Lamar won the award unanimously, something only one other player has accomplished. With this framework being laid out, what bonafide top 10 talent in the league has a better potential narrative than Deshaun Watson this year? The media has absolutely killed almost every move that the Texans have made in the offseason with many thinking the Texans could take a huge step back this season. I honestly think the Texans still have a very good set of collective weapons for Deahaun to throw too despite the loss of Deandre Hopkins. This combined with Watsons continued performance every year since joining the league and tendency to come up big in the biggest moments of games leads me to think he could have worse stats than Mahomes and Wilson and still run away with the award this season.

Muf – Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos. This is my hot take for the 2020 NFL season. I didn’t think it was a hot take before but my colleagues have roasted me enough for this specifically that I know it is now. Let me explain my reasoning: Drew Lock is my guy. At receiver he has a true number one in Courtland Sutton, and two amazing rookies in Jerry Juedy and KJ Hamler. At running back he has the one-two punch of new signee Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsey. At tight end he has Noah Fant. I’ll admit the offensive line isn’t quite there so they definitely could derail this prediction. Last thing I’ll say is this: with an objectively worse supporting cast, the Broncos ended the year 4-1.

Sam – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Mahomes had a down year statistically in 2019 mostly due to the injury he suffered in the middle of the season. This year he will bounce back and have his best season yet; so good that voters will have no choice but to give him the MVP over Jackson, who will have another incredible year. I don’t envision a way neither of these quarterbacks win.

Mishal – Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals. Look at the recent trends – Mahomes wins in his 2nd season, then Lamar wins in his 2nd season. If Kingsbury can help Murray develop into an elite QB, he can win this award. Murray plays similarly to Lamar in the fact that he is a speedy, dual threat QB. Although running isn’t his first option, he does it with good production. Murray is a good passer and he just got a top 3 WR with Hopkins. The evolution in his game mixed with the addition of Hopkins should propel him this season, and it will end up with him winning MVP.

Eli – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Well, duh. I’m not gonna get caught saying anyone else is a better player this year. Some people think he won’t be the best QB in his division, but this kid is special. He is the face of the NFL and I see him getting more MVPs than Peyton Manning in his career. He’ll get a second at the age of 25.

Final Four

Monty – Chiefs vs. Steelers, Saints vs. Vikings. Before I go any further, I want to explain why I, a diehard Ravens fan, have the Steelers and not the Ravens in the championship game this season. I think that the AFC north is going to be very competitive this season with the Ravens barely beating out the Steelers for the division and the Browns not too far behind. As a result of this, and the probable regression of one of the most efficient offenses of all time from last season, I see the Ravens falling back to around 11 wins this season. This should put the Ravens at the 3rd or 4th seed this season in what is set up to be a loaded AFC. While I do think the Ravens win in the wildcard game this year, there is a good chance they wind up drawing the Steelers in the next round as a result of the seeding. The reason I have the Steelers beating the Ravens to play the world beating Chiefs in the title game is that the Steelers strengths line up extremely well against the Ravens weaknesses. The Chiefs shouldn’t require any explanation for their return to the AFC championship and I see them easily beating the Steelers to return to the Super Bowl for the second straight season. 

As far as the NFC is concerned, the Saints have the best roster in the NFL and have what should be a guaranteed 4 wins against the Falcons and Panthers this year to set them up well to get the 1 seed and home field advantage in the early stages of the playoffs. The Vikings have what I see as a team designed to take down powerhouses. They have a great defense, good receivers, an above average starting QB, and a run game that can just demoralize their opponents. Also, I’m not going to lie and pretend I don’t want to see this matchup again in the playoffs purely from a fan standpoint because of the recent postseason history between these two teams. This time however, I see the Saints finally getting revenge and sending the Vikings home to chilly Minnesota while they go on to play the Chiefs in the hometown of their divisional rivals Tampa. 

Like this past superbowl I expect this game to be extremely close and a great overall game to watch as a neutral fan. At the end of the day, I just can’t see myself betting against who I think will quickly become the greatest QB of all time in Patrick Mahomes, despite how much I would love for Drew Brees to go off into the sunset with a super bowl victory. 

Muf – Ravens vs. Broncos, Eagles vs. Saints. For the AFC, it’s just a safe bet in the Ravens versus my MVP pick’s team. One half of this will be right. For the NFC, it’s just speaking my dreams into reality with the Eagles, versus the Saints, who are one of the more complete teams in the conference.

Sam – Kansas City vs. Baltimore, New Orleans vs. San Francisco. Both of last year‘s finalists make my championship games as neither team really seemed to get worse and no team got so much better that I see them taking down KC or SF. This is the year, however, that Baltimore gets over it’s playoff woes with Lamar Jackson and makes the AFC Championship game. They’re simply too talented of a roster to fall short of their expectations again. New Orleans also looks primed to make a run this year after acquiring a solid #2 receiver in Emmanuel Sanders and shoring up their defense.

Mishal – Texans vs. Ravens, Saints vs. Packers. My gut is just telling me that the Ravens or Texans will take down the Chiefs in the playoffs and will be on a collision course with the other. The Ravens and Texans play each other week 2 and the winner of this game will have an advantage in this potential rematch. For the Saints, they have been one play away the last few years, and with Brees on the latter end of his career, I think he gets to at least the conference finals. For Green Bay, they have a QB named Aaron Rodgers. The Packers drafted Jordan Love in the 1st round, so if you don’t believe Rodgers is coming out with heat, you’re gonna be in for a treat.

Eli – Chiefs vs. Bills, 49ers vs. Seahawks. The defending Super Bowl Champions have yet to show signs that they aren’t going to be dominant for a decade, minimum. The Bills are a little bit of a surprise, but in a matchup with the Ravens I like their playmaking defense and wide receivers led by Stefon Diggs (a UMD alumnus). The 49ers will get better in Kyle Shannahan’s system and their defense is elite. Russell Wilson is better than some QBs who have won MVPs (I’m looking at you, Matty Ice) and he’s got an offense around him ready to be the best since their ‘05 Super Bowl team.

Dark Horse Playoff Team

Monty – Las Vegas Raiders.The Raiders and Broncos are two AFC teams this year that people either love or hate. I personally come down on the side of the Raiders who I expect to have a great offense with new explosive young receivers, a much better than advertised offensive line, a great tight end, and one of the best running backs in football. The defense should also make improvements from last season as the Raiders continue to add in high draft picks to what was an underperforming unit from last season.

Muf – Cleveland Browns. All the talent, none of the execution. We’ll see how this year goes.

Sam – Los Angeles Rams. I’m not sure if this team counts as a dark horse, after all, they are just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl berth. However, it seems that the Rams have been written off in the NFC West in favor of the younger, prettier Arizona Cardinals. I see the Rams comfortably making the playoffs under the new 7 team format, while the Cardinals miss the cut. The Rams have two of the best defensive players in the league in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, an incredibly talented rookie running back who could give spark new life into an offense that looked anemic a year ago, and of course they have Sean Mcvay who has proved himself to be one of the top minds in the NFL. Look for LA’s only team (The Chargers belong in San Diego) to be playing beyond week 17.

Mishal –  Las Vegas Raiders. Carr is going to be great this year, better than his break out year a few years ago. He is in his 2nd season in the Jon Gruden offense and has good complimentary pieces. Sure, his number 1 receiver got hurt, but they just drafted Ruggs. They also have a good TE in Waller and RB Josh Jacobs, who had a great rookie year. On the defensive end, they have 7 new starters, but I believe they will mesh well and make necessary adjustments from last year. Also, they’re in Las Vegas, so there will be a lot of excitement and hype for this football team.

Eli – Miami Dolphins. Look, I get it. Miami is not who anyone thinks of as a great team. They do, however, have a coach that could’ve won coach of the year last year in Brian Flores. They also have Fitzmagic, the best bridge quarterback ever, and Tua Tagovailoa, the most intriguing young quarterback from this year’s draft. The defense is underrated and the offensive will be top-15. Look for this team to sneak into the 7th seed in a late push.

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