2020 NFL season: Nine last-minute predictions before kickoff
The NFL season starts this week! And not a moment too soon.
You have my award predictions, my playoff picks and my Super Bowl LV forecast. But now, at the 11th hour before the 2020 campaign officially kicks off, I have to get off a few more juicy takes.
Here we go, Schein Nine style:
1) CeeDee Lamb will have more receiving yards than Amari Cooper
Dallas acquired Cooper from the Raiders via trade midway through the 2018 campaign. In the 27 games since (including the postseason), he’s piled up 145 catches for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading the Cowboys in receiving yards in each of the past two seasons. Not too shabby. But suddenly, there’s a new alpha wideout in town.
I love CeeDee Lamb. I’ll never forget the Oklahoma product’s appearance on my SiriusXM Radio show, “Schein On Sports,” just hours before the 2020 NFL Draft. In a great conversation, Lamb stressed how much he lives for the big moment and thrives when all eyes are on him. Then, that night, he became a Dallas Cowboy. Perfect!
Lamb is a special talent. I think he has better hands than Cooper. He’s more dynamic than Michael Gallup, who just posted a 1,000-yard season of his own. In the coming months, Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy are going to fall head over heels in love with Lamb, who definitely has the chops (pun intended) to wear the Cowboys’ fabled No. 88 jersey. Dallas will field the NFL’s top offense and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, thanks in no small part to this gifted rookie.
2) Joe Burrow will break Baker Mayfield’s rookie record of 27 touchdown passes
Back in 1998, Peyton Manning threw 26 touchdown passes, setting a rookie record that was eventually equaled by Russell Wilson in 2012. Two seasons ago, Mayfield topped them both with 27 TD tosses. Now it’s time for another Heisman Trophy-winning No. 1 overall pick to raise the bar once again.
It’s going to be so much fun watching Burrow, who was selected as one of Cincinnati’s team captains on Wednesday. He’s can’t-miss, especially with a deep receiving corps that includes A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, rookie second-rounder Tee Higgins, John Ross and Auden Tate. And with freshly PAID running back Joe Mixon providing Cincy with offensive balance, I think Burrow is going to thrive right off the bat.
People forget Zac Taylor was hired by the Bengals as an offensive wunderkind. Last season was a mess, but hardly the first-year coach’s fault. Now, he has a quarterback. And 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams provides much-needed O-line help after missing all of last year due to injury.
Burrow has the skills and swagger, with a whole bunch of talented playmakers at his disposal. Thirty touchdown passes seems reasonable.
3) The Jaguars will become the third 0-16 team in NFL history
Yes, the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns are about to have some company.
It’s not hard to see what’s going on here: The Jaguars are breaking it down to build it back up. Over the past 11 months, Jacksonville has parted ways with Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Bouye, Nick Foles, Yannick Ngakoue and, most recently, Leonard Fournette. This leaves a team short on quality experience and long on untested starters. On cutdown day, according to the PhillyVoice, the average age of players on the Jags’ 53-man roster was 24.9. That’s the lowest number since … those winless Browns of 2017. This organization is turning over the roster. And given all of the front-office strife in recent years — Tom Coughlin’s return to Jacksonville didn’t exactly go as planned, eh? — I hope Doug Marrone gets to stay around to see it through. He is a heckuva coach. But with the group he has in 2020, it’s impossible to be bullish on the Jaguars. Like, ever. Tell me where you’re finding a win in this schedule:
Week 1: vs. Indianapolis Colts
Week 2: at Tennessee Titans
Week 3: vs. Miami Dolphins
Week 4: at Cincinnati Bengals
Week 5: at Houston Texans
Week 6: vs. Detroit Lions
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Los Angeles Chargers
Week 9: vs. Houston Texans
Week 10: at Green Bay Packers
Week 11: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 12: vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 13: at Minnesota Vikings
Week 14: vs. Tennessee Titans
Week 15: at Baltimore Ravens
Week 16: vs. Chicago Bears
Week 17: at Indianapolis Colts
Home against Miami in Week 3? The Dolphins are one year ahead in the rebuilding process — and they have much more talent on defense, especially in the secondary. The following week in Cincinnati? Go back up to No. 2 on this Schein Nine — I believe in the Burrow Bengals.
It’s gonna be a long season in Duval.
4) Kyler Murray will be a legitimate MVP candidate
After taking home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2019, Murray is going to put up monster numbers in his sophomore campaign. I’m not completely calling my shot here by predicting that Murray will follow in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson’s shoes to become the third straight second-year signal-caller to take home MVP honors, but the electric Cardinal is going to make his way into the conversation.
Not only does Murray have Kliff Kingsbury’s offense down cold now, but he also has one of the best receivers in the game. DeAndre Hopkins is an absolute stud. I still cannot believe how Arizona stole him from Houston. Nuk, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk comprise a dreamy Big Three at receiver for Murray.
Oh, and the Cardinals have been my sleeper team all offseason. They are making the playoffs, and Murray is going to be the major reason why.
5) Derek Carr will be a legitimate MVP candidate
Talking to Carr earlier this week on SiriusXM Radio was great. The three-time Pro Bowler can’t wait to just go out and play football — and you better believe he’s driven to prove all of his critics wrong.
Honestly, Carr didn’t get enough credit for his 2019 performance. After Antonio Brown did his best to torpedo the Raiders’ offense, Carr went out and completed over 70 percent of his passes for a career-high 4,054 yards, recording a 100.8 passer rating in the process. He’s very comfortable in Jon Gruden’s offense — and now has a significantly improved collection of weapons to work with. First-round burner Henry Ruggs III gives this attack some much-needed sizzle, while big-bodied third-rounder Bryan Edwards generated buzz throughout training camp for his advanced route-running ability.
Carr and second-year back Josh Jacobs will guide the Raiders to the playoffs this season.
6) The Patriots will post their first losing record since 2000
New England has logged double-digit wins in 17 consecutive regular seasons — and 18 of the past 19. The lone exception was a 9-7 campaign in 2002. The last time the Patriots finished with a losing record? You have to go all the way back to Bill Belichick’s first year on the job, when New England went 5-11 in 2000.
Welp, it’s time for the Patriots to see what it’s like to live life below .500 once again. If everything breaks right, New England goes 7-9. And it could be worse.
Cam Newton isn’t Tom Brady. (RED-hot take, I know.) And the Patriots still have a pedestrian O-line, lack of experience at tight end and a shaky group of running backs and receivers. And then there’s the defense, which was leveled by offseason attrition via free agency (Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton and Duron Harmon) and COVID-19 opt-outs (Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung).
The rest of the AFC — and the rest of the AFC East — look better on paper this season. Buffalo will win the division. Miami will finish second. The only reason why the Patriots could reach seven wins is because Belichick is the best coach in sports history.
7) The Rams will finish last in the NFC West
Look, I don’t hate the Rams. I still love Sean McVay. I believe in Jared Goff. And at this point, the Defensive Player of the Year award should be named after Aaron Donald.
I just like the Niners, Cardinals and Seahawks more. This division’s an absolute buzzsaw. I could see the Rams going 8-8 or 9-7 and finishing last. Heck, I wouldn’t rule out all four NFC West teams making the expanded playoff field.
But on my official scorecard, I have San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle hitting the postseason, with L.A. missing out. There are just too many questions and changes with this roster.
8) Jonathan Taylor will be the best rookie running back
The competition will be fierce. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is rightly everyone’s darling and a perfect fit in the high-powered Chiefs attack. D’Andre Swift is a stud and will dazzle for Detroit. J.K. Dobbins was put on Earth to run the rock for the Ravens. And Bills bruiser Zack Moss has been receiving sleeper Offensive Rookie of the Year buzz.
But Taylor is special, having recorded obscene rushing totals in his three years as a Wisconsin Badger: 1,977, 2,194 and 2,003 yards. Then he went out to the NFL Scouting Combine and ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 226 pounds. Combining Taylor’s blend of power, speed and smarts with the best offensive line in the game today? Watch out! That’s why this guy’s my pick for Offensive ROY.
9) The Browns and Buccaneers will end the NFL’s two longest postseason droughts
Cleveland and Tampa Bay are the only teams that haven’t made the playoffs in double-digit years. The Browns have been postseason-free for a whopping 17 seasons, while the Bucs’ drought sits at 12 years. But both dry spells are about to end!
Finally, Cleveland has a professional coach to maximize Baker Mayfield and the gobs of surrounding talent. Finally, Cleveland has a competent and ego-free GM who significantly improved the Browns along the offensive line and at tight end. I have this team nabbing the AFC’s top wild-card slot.
Meanwhile, in Tampa … Tom Brady is Tom Brady. He’s the G.O.A.T. and still great. I cannot wait to see what he does with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and all those tight ends. That said, it’s the underrated front seven on defense that makes these Bucs complete. I have them winning the NFC South and being major contenders to make this season’s Super Bowl in … Tampa Bay.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.
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