Predicting the 2020 NFL Season - NFC South Edition By Billy Schick

1.New Orleans

(Picture Credit: Who Dat Dish)

The Saints come into 2020 fresh off another devastating playoff loss against the Vikings.  Who Dat Nation wants more than a fourth straight NFC south title; they want a Super Bowl.  Well, the Super Bowl window is closing in New Orleans.  Drew Brees is 41.  Although he continues to shatter passing record after passing record, it’s safe to say that Brees does not have much gas left in the tank.  2020 will be no different up front - Brees will continue to get protection from one of the NFL’s top offensive lines.  The Saints return starters Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Ryan Ramczyk, Erik McCoy, and drafted Michigan center Cesar Ruiz with their first round pick.  Expect the Saints’ offensive line to be one of the league’s best again in 2020.  After a bit of a down year in 2019, Alvin Kamara is due for a bounce back campaign in 2020.  If he can stay healthy this year, expect him to get a lot more targets and double his touchdown totals from a year ago.  If Latavius Murray gets more carries he could take some of the load off Kamara’s shoulders, allowing Alvin to take additional snaps as a receiver.  Speaking of the receiver position, the Saints are loaded.  Michael Thomas is coming off one of the best receiving seasons in NFL history as he broke the catch record with 144 receptions.  In free agency, the Saints signed Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year, $16 million contract.  With Sanders, the Saints got a good deep threat, and Brees finally has his secure number two receiver.  In addition to Thomas, the Saints have another great red zone target in tight end Jared Cook. Brees, Kamara, Murray, Thomas, Sanders, Cook.  The Saints offense is going to be lethal.  On defense, the Saints are solid.  Marcus Davenport, Sheldon Rankins, and Cameron Jordan will get lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Kiko Alonso are a formidable linebacking trio.  The Saints secondary has some questions at the cornerback position outside of Marshon Lattimore, but may be the deepest in the NFL at the safety position after signing veterans Malcom Jenkins and DJ Swearinger in free agency.  On special teams, the Saints are the best in the league with all-pros all across the board in Will Lutz, Thomas Morstead, and Deonte Harris.  Heading into 2020, the Saints are stacked on offense, defense, and special teams.  I smell another division title.

Record Prediction: 12-4

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Picture Credit: Tampa Bay Times)

The team of the offseason - everybody is talking about the Bucs.  I don’t care that Tom Brady is turning 43 on August 3.  He has the best receiving duo in the league in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and is reunited with his longtime favorite target Rob Gronkowski.  Brady.  Godwin.  Evans.  Gronk.  Don’t tell me that offense isn’t getting Tampa to double digit wins.  While there are questions at the running back position, I expect Ronald Jones to have a breakout season in 2020 after a quietly promising 2019 campaign.  The Bucs’ prolific passing attack should open up running lanes for Jones all year long.  With their first round pick, the Bucs landed a stud at tackle in Iowa product Tristan Wirfs.  Expect Wirfs and veteran center Ryan Jensen to lead the offensive line, which struggled in 2019.  On defense, the Bucs are quietly loaded.  With Ndamakong Suh, Vita Vea and William Gholston leading the charge up front, the Bucs allowed only 73.8 rush yards per game in 2019, good for best in the league.  The linebacking crew is insane: Jason-Pierre Paul continues to get to the quarterback, Devin White won Defensive Rookie of the Month twice last year, Lavonte David is one of the best in the business year after year, and Shaq Barret broke out with 19.5 sacks in 2019.  Although there are questions surrounding a young secondary, watch out for this Bucs defense in 2020.  It is a good time to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.  2020 is going to be fun.

Record Prediction: 11-5

3. Atlanta Falcons

(Picture Credit: Forbes)

It’s a new look for the Falcons in 2020.  Yes, they are rocking new threads, but they also brought in some new faces in free agency.  For example, the major signing of the offseason, Todd Gurley.  Only two years after making Gurley the highest paid running back in the NFL, the Rams decided to part ways with the 25 year old back.  Despite a down year in 2019 along with a bad history of knee injuries, I expect Gurley to have a resurgence in Atlanta.  At 25 and only entering his prime, Gurley is going to make the Rams regret their decision to cut him.  Matt Ryan is 35, and led an offense in 2019 that averaged 85.1 rush yards per game.  I believe that Gurley will take some of the weight off Ryan’s shoulders and help the Falcons commit to the ground game.  As long as Matt Ryan has Julio Jones to throw to he is going to continue to put up big numbers year after year.  Jones has put up over 1300 yards in six straight seasons, and will continue to prove why he is the best receiver in the NFL in 2020.  Lining up on the other side of Jones is Calvin Ridley, who had another solid season in 2019 and proves to be a solid number two receiver for Ryan to throw to.  The Falcons lost two time pro-bowler Austin Hooper in the offseason as he signed a four year, $44 million deal with the Browns.  His replacement: Hayden Hurst, a 2018 first round pick who had two unproductive seasons in Baltimore.  Even if Hurst has a decent year, it will be extremely difficult to replace Hooper in the passing game.  Besides six-time pro-bowler Alex Mack and nine year veteran James Carpenter, the Falcons lack stability on the offensive line.  In 2019, Mack and Carpenter were unable to overcome deficiencies on the rest of the offensive line, so expect Matt Ryan to have pressure in his face often in 2020.  On the other side of the ball, Atlanta has a new look with first year coordinator Raheem Morris.  This offseason, the Falcons said farewell to veterans Vic Beasley and Desmond Trufant, but signed Dante Fowler and drafted Clemson cornerback AJ Terell.  Fowler is a significant upgrade over Beasley as he has produced more sacks and pressures in the last year and a half than Beasley did the past three seasons combined.  Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is coming off an all-pro campaign in 2019 and is in his prime at the age of 27.  Second-round pick Marlon Davidson is explosive and will form a nice tandem at the defensive tackle position with Jarrett.  If defensive end Takkarist McKinley can stay healthy, watch out for this Falcons defensive line in 2020.  In the secondary, the Falcons are young.  Very young.  While the pass rush will help at times, this secondary is going to have their hands full with the Saints and Bucs in their division.  Isaiah Oliver was a penalty machine in 2019, so it looks like rookie AJ Terrell will be Atlanta’s number one option at corner in 2020.  The Falcons are loaded on offense and are going to put a lot of points on the board, but will the secondary be able to hold strong and keep teams out of the end zone?  Nope.  Not in a division with the Saints and Bucs and a tough schedule against the NFC North and AFC West.  Expect another mediocre year in the ATL.

Record Prediction: 7-9

4. Carolina Panthers



(Picture Credit: Panthers Wire - USATODAY.com)

Exit Ron Rivera.  Enter Matt Rhule.  Goodbye Cam Newton.  Hello Teddy Bridweater.  It’s a new era of Carolina Panthers football.  In Rhule’s first year at Baylor, his team went 1-11.  Two years later, his team finished the regular season at 11-1 and were one overtime away from a berth in the College Football Playoff.  How long will it take for Rhule to turn the Panthers into a Super Bowl contender?  Well, he has some pieces in place.  Teddy Bridgewater finally gets his chance, as Carolina signed him to a three-year, $63 million contract.  When Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees went down with a hand injury last year, Bridgewater went 5-0 as the starter.  This success was not new for Bridgewater, as before his tragic knee injury in 2016 he led the underdog Vikings to a 11-5 record and NFC North title in 2015.  The key for Teddy: don’t do too much.  Teddy is a game manager, and when the pieces are in store, he will win football games.  Well, the pieces are in store on offense.  Christian McCaffey.  DJ Moore.  Curtis Samuel.  Robbie Anderson.  What has also helped Teddy out in his short career?  A good defense.  The 2015 Vikings and 2019 Saints didn’t ask much from Teddy.  If he scraped together 20 points, his team would get the victory.  Well, the Panthers’ defense is going to need Teddy and company to score more than 20 points a game.  From 2012 to 2019, Carolina’s defense was led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, who went to seven straight pro bowls and was named first-team all pro five times.  Last January, Kuechly shockingly announced his retirement.  After losing their star defender and team leader, the Panthers are looking for a new lead man on defense.  Shaq Thompson is the guy, but if he cannot read the opposing offense and communicate with the rest of the defense, 2020 will be a rough year for the Panthers.  With a lack of depth on defense, Rhule is going to have to start four or five rookies.  This could quickly unravel for the Panthers, especially with the high-powered offenses of the Saints, Bucs, and Falcons all in their division.  While they have a good future, the Panthers are in rebuilding mode, and 2020 marks the beginning of it. 

Record Prediction: 5-11

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