In one week, after going without preseason games due to coronavirus, the National Football League will open the 2020 season. This time, it's a lot easier to separate the haves from the have-nots.
The Tom Brady era is over in New England, but don't go thinking the Patriots will suddenly fold up and give up the division. Coach Bill Belichick, last seen doing commercials (!) that are currently in rotation, has not, as of Wednesday, named a starter for the season opener on September 14. It'll be either Cam Newton (Carolina), Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham, that much we know. New England cut receiver Mohamed Sanu on Wednesday, which isn't exactly solving the problems the Patriots had on offense last year. If New England doesn't make the playoffs, this may be Belichick's last go-round.
The team with the best chance of unseating the Patriots atop the division could very well be Buffalo. It's year 3 for Josh Allen under center with the Bills, but the window of opportunity could close very quickly.
Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson simply has the misfortune of playing in the same conference with Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson. He has the stats and skills to take the Ravens to another Super Bowl, but if they can't get past Kansas City and Houston, much less the Evil Empire (New England, of course), the road is going to be that much harder.
While LeVeon Bell is causing headaches in New York, Pittsburgh has found a suitable replacement for him in the Steeler backfield in James Conner. The other problem child, Antonio Brown, is this close to calling 911 to find a team willing to deal with his drama since the Steelers dumped him a while ago. Conner's had some injury issues, but then, so did Bell before he decided to copy Brown's drama queen act, and bolt. If Ben Roethlisberger can't stay healthy, the Steelers do have a capable backup in Mason Rudolph.
Cleveland has shown some improvements the last couple of years, and QB Baker Mayfield is just dying to get the Browns to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Browns have peaked a little too early the last two seasons, and still have to learn how to play with some consistency over a 4 month period.
As with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, the window is closing fast for DeShaun Watson in Houston, and it's not entirely his fault. Injuries curtailed his rookie campaign, and while he has reached the elite level at quarterback, he's missing some offense, as Lamar Miller took the money and ran (New England). On defense, the Texans need a fully healthy JJ Watt, but they'll still regret letting Jadaveon Clowney walk after the 2018 season.
After signing with Tennessee last season, Ryan Tannehill rediscovered his "A" game, and took the Titans to the playoffs, sending Marcus Mariota to the bench, and, eventually, out of town (Las Vegas). Coach Mike Vrabel seems to have his former coach's number, having eliminated New England last season before falling to Kansas City. Maybe the Patriot Way is now the Titan Way?
Super Bowl champion Kansas City, after winning their first title in 50 years (!), rewarded coach Andy Reid and his staff with 6-year contract extensions. QB Patrick Mahomes has endorsement deals with State Farm and Procter & Gamble (currently doing another Head & Shoulders ad with ex-Steeler Troy Polamalu), among others, and has virtually his entire offense back from last season. Yeah, the road to the Super Bowl will run through KC this year, not Foxborough.
Las Vegas should change their team name from the Raiders to the Nomads, since they might move again in about 10-20 years if they don't start winning. Coach Jon Gruden gave up his Corona license to Tony Romo, for all the good that does, but now QB Derek Carr has a challenge for the starting job with Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) in camp.
Dallas owner/GM/head idiot Jerry Jones is demonstrating again why it's not a good idea for an owner to also be making personnel decisions, leaving QB Dak Prescott hanging on a contract extension. Coach Jason Garrett is gone (Giants), replaced by Mike McCarthy, but the division isn't as sure a thing as it used to be. McCarthy has to remind himself that he has one owner to answer to, instead of a whole town full of them (Green Bay), and that the one owner has a few screws loose.
That means the division title goes through Philadelphia once more. As long as Carson Wentz stays healthy, that is.
Daniel Jones will have a full season as the starting quarterback for the Giants under first year coach Joe (Here Comes The) Judge, now that Eli Manning has retired. Jones should've been the starter right from the go last year, but management didn't want to do that, and it cost them. If everyone's healthy, the G-Men will contend.
If Green Bay is seriously thinking about putting Aaron Rodgers out to pasture, they'd better think again. Too many State Farm commercials the last few years, coupled with injuries, have caused diminishing returns. If Rodgers is healthy, however, then the Packers don't have to worry about duplicating the Giants' mistakes of a year ago.
It's really a 4-team race in the division, as Chicago, Detroit, & Minnesota could all contend.
Tampa Bay underwent a total makeover in the offseason, bringing in Tom Brady (New England), luring his BFF, party boy & detergent salesman Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, and out of the WWE, and, then, on Wednesday, signing running back Leonard Fournette after he'd been cut by Jacksonville. However, Brady is going to find the going tough as opposed to the marshmallow AFC East.
That's because fellow graybeard Drew Brees is still calling the plays in New Orleans, and the air show between Brees & Brady when they play this season should be must-watch. Brady also has to watch for Atlanta, thirsting for revenge after choking away a Super Bowl, thanks partially to their own defensive ineptitude and some curious second half officiating.
San Francisco is playing like the great teams of the Bill Walsh-George Seifert era of the 80's & 90's. That's bad news for the rest of the division. Still, it's a 3-team race, as Los Angeles & Seattle will be vying for playoff positions as well. I think Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo is checking his calendar to see if he plays against Tampa Bay this year.
Miami will be without QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, we think, to start the season due to a family emergency. Coach Brian Flores is still obsessed with beating ex-boss Bill Belichick. Lose the obsession, and focus on winning, man. The Jests are having issues between LeVeon Bell and coach Adam Gase, and that could run Gase out of town if New York doesn't make the playoffs. You know how short-fused sports fans are in the city.
Cincinnati made a run last year, but it was too little, too late.
Jacksonville has all but said they're tanking after dumping Leonard Fournette (Tampa Bay).
Los Angeles drafted Justin Herbert (Oregon) as a successor to Philip Rivers, but he's not starting?!? Bad idea, unless the thought is to let him have as much time as he needs to learn the system. Denver has to find extra help for Drew Lock.
Washington shall now be called the Deviants in the wake of new and old charges of sexual abuse and harrassment levied against Daniel Snyder and his staff. They're so inept, they couldn't come up with an appropriate name for the team for this year. All they gotta do is contact me.
Carolina has fallen with the departures of coach Ron Rivera (Washington) and QB/yogurt salesman Cam Newton (New England).
Arizona doesn't have enough fresh weapons in Kliff Kingsbury's offense. Color Kingsbury gone after the season if they don't make the playoffs.
1. New England. 2. Buffalo. 3. Jests. 4. Miami.
1. Baltimore. 2. Pittsburgh. 3. Cleveland. 4. Cincinnati.
1. Tennessee. 2. Houston. 3. Indianapolis. 4. Jacksonville.
1. Kansas City. 2. Las Vegas. 3. Denver. 4. Los Angeles.
1. Philadelphia. 2. Dallas. 3. Giants. 4. Washington.
1. Minnesota. 2. Green Bay. 2 (tie). Chicago. 2 (tie). Detroit.
1. New Orleans. 2. Tampa Bay. 3. Atlanta. 4. Carolina.
1. San Francisco. 2. Los Angeles. 2 (tie). Seattle. 4. Arizona.
Of course, I could be wrong.