Welcome to the February edition of the Hot-Take-o-Meter.
Stage 1: Siberia
Joe Burrow will set the rookie touchdown record with the Bengals.
The record stands at 27 by Baker Mayfield in 2018. Burrow is a lock to go to the Bengals, and he should start Week 1. The Bengals only had 27 offensive touchdowns in 2019, but Burrow should be an upgrade over Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley. A.J. Green should be returning from an injury that kept him out of 2019, and Tyler Eifert played a complete season for the first time in his career. Burrow could push the record up to 30.
Stage 2: Chicago in February
Five of six NFC playoff teams will return in 2020.
Free agency and the draft have yet to happen, so teams near the bottom of the NFC have yet to improve enough to make it to the playoffs over the 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks, and Vikings. Green Bay is the worst team out of the bunch when fully healthy, but the Vikings cannot beat a halfway decent Green Bay team, so the Vikings could surrender their spot to the Rams, Cowboys, or some unforeseen team.
Stage 3: Boston in June
Kansas City will go 15-1.
The Chiefs play the NFC South, AFC East, Baltimore, Houston, and the usual home-and-away within the division. Andy Reid decimates the AFC West, so that should be six quick wins. In the AFC East, the Chiefs will beat the Jets and Patriots at home as well as overcoming the Bills in Buffalo and the Dolphins in Miami. Houston will get smacked again, and the Ravens cannot beat the Chiefs. Heading to the NFC South, the Chiefs will obliterate the Panthers, annihilate the Falcons, destroy the Buccaneers, and suffer their only loss when they travel to New Orleans to face the Saints. As a secondary hot take, the Chiefs will go 2-0 in Tampa Bay (home of the Buccaneers and Super Bowl 55).
Stage 4: Atlanta in June
The Lions will draft Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Lions lost 12 of their last 13 games, including their final nine in the 2019 season. Many will blame injuries, especially an injury to Matthew Stafford that cost the quarterback the final eight games. The Lions were reasonably competitive in all of Stafford’s starts and many of Jeff Driskel and David Blough’s starts, but it is time for a new quarterback in the Motor City. The prediction allows room for a potential trade up to draft Lawrence, but the Lions have been losing many of their best players due to injury and trade in recent years, so the Lions could tank the 2020 season away and draft a franchise quarterback in 2021.
Stage 5: Phoenix in August
Baker Mayfield will be a Pro Bowler in 2020.
The trio of Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson will likely rack up most of the Pro Bowl appearances over the next decade (assuming clean bills of health), but a fourth spot will open up most years as Mahomes will likely play in many more Super Bowls. The fourth-best AFC quarterback will likely find his way to Orlando, and Mayfield has plenty of weapons around him to garner a better 2020 campaign. His stiffest competition will be in the form of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and 2019 Pro Bowler Ryan Tannehill. Mayfield has better receivers than those four quarterbacks, so expect to see Mayfield donning the Pro Bowl jerseys as an alternate to Patrick Mahomes.
Stage 6: Sauna
Two of Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock will make the playoffs in 2020.
Saying Lock and the Broncos will make the playoffs is not the boldest take, but picking a 2019 quarterback partner for the Missouri product is difficult. Murray and the Cardinals should improve in 2020, but they face the toughest division in football. Jones and the Giants have Saquon Barkley at their disposal, but the Cowboys and Eagles are two of the most talented teams in the NFL. In a similar vein, Haskins and the Redskins have potential, but the division is brutal. More concrete predictions will be available after the draft, but my gut tells me Lock and Murray could be playing January football.
Stage 7: Crematorium
The Jets and Giants will pick in the bottom half of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Jets had a winning record with Sam Darnold. The Jets will likely be on the edge of the playoff picture with a 9-7 or 10-6 record as they improve the team around Darnold. On the other hand, the Giants would need to win four or five extra games in 2020 to get to the bottom half of the draft order. The Giants went 2-5 in one-score games in 2019. The 2020 Giants will be better in close games and could pull out eight or nine wins to threaten a playoff berth.
Stage 8: Satan’s Favorite
Arizona and Miami will have a combined winning record.
Miami was regarded as the worst team in football for much of the 2019 campaign, but they won five games, and Brian Flores worked wonders with a team devoid of talent. The Dolphins are bringing in loads of new talent through the draft, and they should be much closer to an 8-8 record. For Arizona, fixing the offensive line will go a long way into ensuring a winning record for the Cardinals. Adding a Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb for Kyler Murray to play with sounds like a good idea, but the Cardinals should focus on the offensive line and develop Hakeem Butler, KeeSean Johnson, and Andy Isabella into complementary receivers. A good offense mixed with any defensive improvement will launch the Cardinals into playoff contention. 17-15 combined is the goal.
Stage 9: The Sun
Denver will make the AFC Championship Game.
The Broncos would have to run the gauntlet from the wild card spots through a pair of road games, but defense travels. Assuming that Drew Lock develops in Year 2, the Broncos should not only make the playoffs, but they should beat the generic AFC South team in the five-seed versus four-seed match before traveling to Kansas City, Baltimore, or Buffalo. Kansas City would spell disaster, but the Broncos have the pass rush to stay in the game against Baltimore or Buffalo. Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen have turned into turnover-prone choke artists come playoff time, so the Broncos could capitalize and celebrate with a 40-point loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Title Game.
Stage 10: ITER Plasma
The Patriots will finish last in the AFC East.
The Bills finished only two games behind the Patriots, and they will close that gap in 2020. The Jets had a winning record with Sam Darnold and should finish 2020 with a winning record. The Dolphins won five games with no talent, and they will get an influx of talent in 2020, finishing with seven wins. The Patriots have never finished lower than second since realignment, but the lackluster offense and eroding defense will spell disaster for the Patriots. The run of double-digit win seasons will stop at 17, and sports’ greatest dynasty will implode spectacularly.