The wait is nearly over and the new NFL season is almost upon us.
The action begins on Thursday, September 10 when the 2020 Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, host the Houston Texans.
So ahead of the first game, here’s a look at each team’s chances in the NFC.
New England Patriots
For the 16th time in the last 17 years, New England claimed the AFC East title with a 12-4 record, but they then suffered a surprise 20-13 defeat to Tennessee on wildcard weekend.
Despite losing legendary quarterback Tom Brady, New England still have arguably the best NFL coach in history in Bill Belichick, who has proved time, and time again, that writing him and his team off is not advisable.
Can Newton, the former No 1 Draft pick arrived at Foxborough to fill the sizeable shoes of Tom Brady and will be more than capable of New England into the playoffs once more if his offensive line, and his body, holds up.
The Bills finished 10-6 last season and second in the AFC East, and the rebuilding process in Buffalo under Coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane gave much cause for optimism in the future.
Last season’s appearance in the postseason was only their second in 20 years, expect them to make it a third this season.
However, Buffalo may need one more season to replace the Patriots at the top of the AFC East, but they are heading in the right direction with a strong offense and one of the best all-round defensive units in the game.
New York Jets
Considering the Jets were 1-7 halfway through the regular season, to win six of their last eight games and finish the year 7-9 shows that things are progressing for Adam Gase’s side.
Weaknesses in the offensive line have been strengthened and Gregg Williams emerged as one of the best defensive coordinators in the league last year.
The question is, how long it will take for the extensive makeover to transform into a genuine challenge for the play-offs, which the Jets have not been a part of for a decade.
Considering the Dolphins lost their first seven games of the season in 2019, to finish the year 5-11 has to be seen as a success and reason to be optimistic going into the new campaign.
The youth and enthusiasm brought in by Broan Flores over the close season speak volumes about the blue print at the Dolphins and where they see the future of the franchise – with of those five wins being comeback victory against New England, which ultimately cost the Patriots a bye in the play-offs.
The only concern might be the side’s inexperience, but the priority is planning for the long term and the coming season will be a huge learning curve for many on the roster.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes has lit up the league since his first start less than three years ago and he will no doubt be calling the shots again as the Chiefs promise to keep everyone playing catch-up.
Super Bowl champions for the first time in 50 years after a 12-4 record took them to the AFC West title, they did it the hard way by coming from behind in both play-off games before rallying against the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
It’s almost impossible to see Kansas City being stopped in the NFL let alone the conference or the division, and fifth successive AFC West title looks a certainty while another Vince Lombardi trophy next February can’t be ruled out.
After a fourth successive season missing the Play-offs, Super Bowl 50 looks a long way away for Vic Fangio’s side after a third successive losing season – something which hasn’t happened since the 1970s.
However, running back Melvin Gordon is the star addition to the backfield, AJ Bouye has come in from Jacksonville, Graham Glasgow from Detroit and Jurrell Casey from Tennessee while Pat Shurmur has joined as Offensive Co-ordinator.
And looking at the positives, seven wins is the best return since 2016 and, down the stretch, the young guns did come into their own to suggest the future may be bright in the coming years.
Las Vegas Raiders
A much-anticipated move to Las Vegas will see the Raiders play in the spectacular Allegiant Stadium but they’ll do it without their famous fanbase – for the first part of the new season at least.
The focus instead will be on improving a record of one Play-off appearance in the last 17 seasons much will depend on quarterback Derek Carr who performed at an MVP level just a few years ago.
So if he can fire, and Coach John Gruden who got a decent return out of the roster last year can weave some magic, a shock could be on the cards in Sinn City in 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers said farewell following 5-11 campaign last year and while the veteran heads for Indianapolis he has left Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert to fight for the QB spot.
Quarterback concerns are likely to mean a bit of chopping and changing and the hope is that some big-name arrivals such as Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga can bolster what was a noted weakness on the offensive line last year.
In order to make the post-season they’ll need to win their non-divisional match-ups and the AFC East and NFC South represent decent opportunities, but the Chargers need to answer their offensive questions if they are to make any significant improvement.
The Titans snuck into the final wild-card spot in what was a rollercoaster of a season, upsetting the New England Patriots and Ravens before being beaten by the eventual Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs.
The Titans will need Former former Atlanta Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley to help create turnovers for a defence that has lost a number of key players, including Jurrell Casey and Logan Ryan.
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, they will be hoping that first-round pick Isaiah Wilson can soften the blow of losing their 2016 All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin as they look to improve on a 9-7 record which they have achieved four years in a row.
Newly-acquired quarterback Philip Rivers will be the key to unlocking a Colts offence that struggled down the stretch with Jacoby Brissett tasked with leading the unit after Andrew Luck shocked the NFL by deciding to retire last year.
The introduction of DeForest Buckner to the defensive line should help create turnovers by unleashing edge rusher Justin Houston.
However, it could take a while for their reworked secondary to really gel and a lot of the pressure will fall on the shoulders of wide receiver and second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr.
The Texans finished 10-6 last season, edging past the Buffalo Bills in overtime of the Wildcard round of the playoffs, before being beaten 51-31 by the Chiefs in the Divisional Round after blowing a 24-0 lead.
And if they are to go one better this year then a lot will depend on Quarterback Deshaun Watson with the two-time Pro Bowler making a great transition to the NFL from college thanks to an ability to scramble upfield while also keeping plays alive.
Watson scored seven touchdowns on the ground last year, the most in a single season so far for the 2017 12th overall pick, and it’s these skills that will help keep defences off balance and create opportunities for him to move the ball downfield.
It was another difficult year for the Jaguars as they traded Quarterback Nick Foles, who got hurt early, paving the way for sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew who will once again be tasked with spearheading a new era on offence for the Jaguars.
The rookie quarterback was one of very few bright moments for Jacksonville in 2019, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,721 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But even that wasn’t enough to stop them finishing 6-10 as they amassed 13 points or less in seven different games, leaving them 26th in the league last season.
Baltimore finished 14-2 last season as runaway division winners having won 12 straight games to see out the regular season.
John Harbaugh’s men ranked No 2 overall in total offence having been No 1 in both scoring and rushing while Cornerback Marcus Peters and Judon starred on a No 4 ranked defence that seemed to progress as the year went on.
Lamar Jackson also recorded the most rushing yards ever by a quarterback in a season in NFL history with 1,206 in 2019 as well as leading the league with 36 touchdown passes so if he continues that kind of form, the Ravens will be undisputed favourites to win the division again.
Joe Burrow, the No 1 overall pick, looks set to be the Week One starter in Cincinnati following the departure of Andy Dalton to the Dallas Cowboys after putting together one of the most impressive college football seasons in recent memory as the Bengals look to improve on a dreadful season last year.
The Bengals finished a league-worst 2-14, 29th overall on defense and 26th on offence with Burrow very much the man the Bengals will be hoping to kick-start a new era for the organisation following a four-season absence from the playoffs.
However, with plenty of talent elsewhere in the division and with the other three teams all playoff contenders, this might well be a transition year in Cincinnati with one eye on the 2021 season.
All the 2019 off-season hype in Cleveland proved to be just that as, despite The Browns boasting some of the NFL’s most gifted individuals, they struggled to perform on the field.
Lacking consistency and missing Myles Garrett throughout his suspension, they limped home to a 6-10 finish, becoming the only team not to have a winning record over the last 10-years.
This is still a team with the players to challenge for the playoffs though, and if Baker Mayfield can step-up, Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry begin to dominate defences and running back Nick Chubb can add to last year’s impressive numbers – the full potential of this roster might just be realised.
Having ranked fourth on offence in 2018, the Steelers endured a contrasting 2019 as they finished 30th overall after seeing Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges share the workload in the absence of injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
What they lacked in offence, though, they more than made up for in defence, and ranking fifth overall, third against the pass and 14th against the run, the Steelers won six of their 10 games after the bye week to finish 8-8 and second in the division.
So with running back James Conner poised for a better year after missing six games in 2019, and “Big Ben” back, not to mention the threat offered by receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington and Diontae Johnson, the post-season has to be the target in 2021.
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