The NFL schedule won’t be released for another two months. Kansas City’s second Lombardi trophy has likely not collected any dust.
What does this mean?
It is time to predict the 12 playoff teams.
Disclaimer: In most seasons, there is significant playoff turnover. 2019 was an outlier as there were only five new playoff teams (Bills, Titans, 49ers, Packers, and Vikings).
While it may seem smart to choose the same group of teams to make the 2020 playoffs, it rarely happens that easily. Be prepared for some surprises.
No. 1 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs should coast to the top seed in the AFC. Losing Chris Jones would hurt, but as long as #15 is in town, the Chiefs will have a bye every season.
No. 2 Seed: Baltimore Ravens
14-2 was an aberration, but the Ravens have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Arguably the most important characteristic of the Ravens is the established identity on offense. The electricity of Lamar Jackson fuels the rest of the offense and energizes the defense. The Ravens have to make critical decisions in free agency and the draft, but they will likely bolster the weak spots on the team: linebacker, pass rusher, and wide receiver.
No. 3 Seed: Houston Texans
If the Texans can get to 10 wins, they will win the AFC South for the third consecutive season. Tennessee appears to be stuck at 9-7, so they would be better suited for a wild card berth, and the Colts and Jaguars are facing uphill battles at quarterback. Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in the division, and the Texans have the star power to match any team in the NFL.
No. 4 Seed: New York Jets
Before you click off the article, remember that the Jets had a positive record with Sam Darnold under center in 2019. There were ugly losses, but the Jets had a putrid offensive line. The Jets will address the offensive line in free agency and the draft. Defensively, the Jets were one of the better units in the NFL. If the offense can put up more than 17 points per game, the Jets will win the division for the first time since 2002.
No. 5 Seed: Denver Broncos
While the Jets and sixth-seeded team are random throws at a dartboard to satisfy the NFL playoff parity algorithm, the Broncos are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. Similar to the Jets, the Broncos have a sturdy defense and an offense that should be better in 2020. The Broncos had three losses come from made field goals in the last 30 seconds. If two of those three results are flipped, the Broncos make the playoffs over the Titans.
They have no shot at the division, but a potential Henry Ruggs could push the Broncos into being a playoff lock.
No. 6 Seed: Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders started 6-4 before rattling off three straight blowout losses. The 2020 installment of the Raiders brings in three first-round picks: 2019’s Johnathan Abram as well as two picks in the top 20 of the 2020 draft. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have the flexibility and the allure of Las Vegas to bring game-changing free agents to town. It may be a conspiracy theory, but the Raiders have a solid shot at the playoffs.
New England Patriots
2019 was a tale of two seasons for the Patriots. In the first half, they pummeled teams to a degree that fans rarely see. In the second half, the fluky touchdowns dried up and the Patriots regressed (slightly) defensively, exposing the fraudulent Patriots offense. The Patriots should have a good defense in 2020, but it is incredibly unlikely that they allow just 14 points per game again. The Patriots may be better off in the long run if Tom Brady skips town, but Brady will likely be back in Foxborough.
The Bills are limited offensively, but their defense will keep them in the playoff race for the foreseeable future. The Bills are a side effect of history’s playoff parity, but they should post a second-consecutive winning season for the first time this millennium. At 9-7, the Bills could miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker. Josh Allen should continue to develop, but he cannot overcome the power of playoff parity.
The Titans will likely lose one of their top three offensive players in Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, or Jack Conklin. Henry is almost a lock to be re-signed while Tannehill and Conklin could have other suitors. The most likely scenario involves Conklin leaving, forcing Tennessee to take a tackle in the first round to replace the former All-Pro. As long as Henry is on the roster, the Titans will be somewhat competitive, but as mentioned with the Bills, 9-7 could leave the Titans outside of the playoffs.
No. 1 Seed: Seattle Seahawks
Seattle caught the injury bug at the wrong time. If they have half of their running backs, the Seahawks likely sweep the 49ers. With Chris Carson healthy in 2020, the Seahawks should be among the best offenses in the NFL. Pete Carroll should fix the defense to a mediocre level. There is uncertainty surrounding Jadeveon Clowney, but the Seahawks had the fortitude to flip Frank Clark and could do a similar thing with Clowney. A tough road awaits, but Russell Wilson should lead the Seahawks to a division crown.
No. 2 Seed: New Orleans Saints
The Saints mix depth and star power as well as any team in the NFL. Fueled by the likes of Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan, and Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints should get yet another productive season out of Drew Brees. The Saints have demolished the NFC South in recent years, and they should win five of six games en route to a fourth-straight division title. The playoffs have thwarted the Saints in the last three seasons, but is 2020 their year?
No. 3 Seed: New York Giants
This pick boils down to the NFC East being a wild division to predict over time. Daniel Jones had flashes of being a good quarterback, but this selection is dependent on the Giants having a productive free agency and draft. The Giants are major reach, but the Cowboys and Eagles underperformed dramatically in 2019, and they could underperform in 2020.
Crazier things have happened.
No. 4 Seed: Minnesota Vikings
Thanks to the Vikings and Packers making the playoffs as a pair, it becomes difficult to cut both of them to preserve playoff parity. The Vikings are the superior team, but the Packers always seem to beat Minnesota.
Green Bay should regress to the mean after playing miles over their heads in 2019, and Minnesota should steal away the NFC North crown just in time for Kirk Cousins to hit free agency.
No. 5 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians and the Bucs have kept their 2020 quarterback plans under wraps, but it is incredibly unlikely that the Buccaneers succumb to their 2019 turnover problems. Even if Jameis Winston is under center, 30 interceptions are almost impossible to match. With fewer turnovers, the Bucs will allow fewer points, and they should finish with a positive record in 2020. The offensive is impressive even with the turnovers, and the defense had strong moments in 2019.
No. 6 Seed: Arizona Cardinals
The offense is in a solid spot as Kyler Murray grows in his second season. Defensively, the Cardinals are terrible, but they have enough talent on defense to move up from the bottom of the league. Assuming that the Cardinals retain Kenyan Drake, the Cardinals should be good enough offensively to cover for horrific defensive performances. The Cardinals could look at offensive line reinforcements in the first round of the draft after addressing some defensive problems in free agency.
San Francisco 49ers
The only logic here is the Super Bowl hangovers that have hit the 2015 Panthers, 2015 Broncos, and 2018 Rams in recent years. The 49ers are insanely talented on defense, and they have an electric offense. They should make the playoffs, and they could be in play for a trip to the Super Bowl, but they fall prey to playoff parity in this prediction.
Green Bay Packers
Winning 13 games was incredibly fluky for the Packers. They have many talented players, but they were thoroughly outclassed by the 49ers (twice), Chargers, and Eagles. With an off-season for other teams to adjust to the Packers, the Packers should slip a couple of games as teams emulate the pressure that the Chargers and 49ers were able to supply. While not the easiest of plans, opponents should keep the Packers at bay.
Predicting the Eagles to miss the playoffs is not the boldest prediction, but having the Eagles and Cowboys missing is borderline delusional. The Eagles were ravaged with injuries in 2019, and they still won the division. Carson Wentz flashed his 2017 form at some points of the season, and the rest of the team should be significantly more healthy in 2019. Teams like the Eagles make playoff parity diabolically difficult to predict from year-to-year.