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KSR’s NFL Preseason Predictions

It feels like Christmas this morning. After a LONG summer, we get to sit down, relax, and watch 13 NFL games on Sunday. Fantasy Football is in full swing, the sportsbooks are open and the 2020 season is off.

Of course, what would any NFL season be without a couple of predictions? Here are some thoughts and opinions from KSR’s Ty Schadt, Alex Weber, and Brent Wainscott to get you primed for a wild 2020 season.


Sleepers

Brent Wainscott: Cleveland Browns. We all know the hype train for the Cleveland Browns last year went entirely off the rails. Fans were Super Bowl dreaming in June, just to find themselves at 6-10 by season’s end. I know the Browns might be a relatively easy pick because they’ve got to put it together eventually. But one thing is for sure – this team has talent. Two productive backs in Hunt and Chubb, one of the best-receiving corps in the NFL, and a quarterback who is good enough to get a team over the hump in the league. With a competent head coach, the expanded playoffs, no fans or distractions for this Browns team, I can see Cleveland getting to the playoffs for the first time since Tim Couch was at the helm.

Ty Schadt: Denver Broncos. In the mile-high city, it’s all about Drew Lock, the second-year quarterback out of Missouri. As he goes, so will the Broncos, who have possessed one of the highest-ceiling offenses in the NFL. John Elway has surrounded Locke will tons of premiere talent. There are wide receivers like the toolsy Courtland Sutton and speedy rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, a nice 1-2 punch at running back with Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay, and a breakout candidate in tight end Noah Fant. It will all come down to the performance of Lock, who impressed in a handful of starts last season. It’s hard to see them winning the AFC West as long Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are around, but I can see a scenario where they clinch a Wild Card spot this season.

Alex Weber: Cincinnati Bengals. Homer pick, but who cares? My Bengals had arguably the best offseason of 2020. They added Joe Burrow, a universally-praised Zionesque prospect at the quarterback position, and got their two most important non-Burrow offensive players back from injury: former 2019 1st-round left tackle Jonah Williams and superstar wideout AJ Green. Defensively, they picked up Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander to shore up a shoddy secondary (still below average), finally plucked a big fish free agent by signing DJ Reader, a high-end defensive tackle from Houston; and they reset the linebacker position with three draft picks Logan Wilson (3rd round), Akeem Davis-Gaither (4th) and Markus Bailey (7th). Wilson should step in to make an immediate impact and mouths are frothing over the potential and athleticism of the other two. If the rookies on this team (including Williams) over-perform, Cincinnati will be one of the biggest overachievers of the season and might sneak into the expanded playoffs.

Most Overrated

Kirk Cousins frustrated after "really disappointing performance" - ProFootballTalk

Brent: Houston Texans. This pick really stinks, man. I want to see Deshaun Watson be an MVP caliber player in 2020 and I want a team that has been knocking on the door for so many years to finally get it done. However, the trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona was extremely lopsided. It has, in essence, left Watson with no sure-fire receiver, and instead with an injury-prone running back in David Johnson. Not to mention they have one of the worst O-lines in the league along with a shaky secondary, and I just don’t think Bill O’Brien puts that team in a position a win. The division has gotten better, but the Texans have taken a step back.

Ty: Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings regressed a lot this offseason, and I think 2020 will show that. Stefon Diggs is gone, Everson Griffen is gone, and nearly all of their secondary departed in free agency. It’ll be a different team out there than we’ve seen in years past. The offense will still work through the running game and Davlin Cook–that is if he stays true to his word and plays through his ongoing contract dispute. However, thanks to their new-look defense, I think the offense will be playing catch-up much more this year than they were last year, which will ultimately lead to more losses. Kirk Cousins has never been the most reliable guy when he’s been asked to shoulder the offense, and I think the team will take a step back in 2020 as a result.

Alex: San Francisco 49ers. I never boarded the Jimmy G bandwagon. He’s a fine quarterback, but the collective defensive unit and sleek offensive coaching schematics carried San Fran to the NFL’s largest win-total jump in 2020, from 2 in 2018-19 to 13 and a Super Bowl appearance this past February. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s handsome charm and football Einstein-ism will go the way of Sean McVey’s, as the rest of the league catches up to his advanced philosophies. Analysts predict this could happen to Baltimore and their generational offense too. I disagree. One of those teams has Lamar Jackson and one has Jimmy Garoppolo. Having an average quarterback will catch up to them, while Baltimore, better prepared for by the league this time around, still has an uncatchable pass-thrower.

Breakout Star

Brent: Will Fuller V. Part of this pick is wishful thinking for my fantasy team, and part of this is because he is now the number one option for Deshaun Watson. A couple of things can affect Fuller’s play this year, such as the Texans O-line giving Watson time to find Fuller and Fuller’s own health. If Fuller can stay healthy, he can become one of the NFL’s top receivers.

Ty: Kyler Murray. The second-year quarterback is poised for a huge year as the Arizona Cardinals added some insane star power to its offense this offseason in the form of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Murray impressed as a rookie last season in an offense that lacked skill position playmakers for much of the year. With a workhorse running back in Kenyan Drake and a top-five playmaker in Hopkins, Murray is in a great position to make a massive leap in 2020.

Alex: CeeDee Lamb. He’ll be the best receiver on the NFL’s number one offense. With Prescott pressing for an even more lucrative payday than the $175 million he turned down this summer, the Cowboys retaining their top-five offensive line, and another star receiver like Amari Cooper on the other side of the hashes to draw primary attention away from Lamb, CeeDee will THRIVE. He moves around the field and jukes defensive backs like a nitrogen-jolted Lynn Bowden, he’s got dance moves to beat defenders more gracefully than James Harden, and he’s simply going to put up monster total yards numbers.

Offensive Player of the Year

Brent: Derrick Henry. We all finally got to see what Derrick Henry can do as the lead rusher in the backfield. I mean, that offense is basically built around him. Henry plays under Mike Vrabel with the ‘run the damn ball’ mentality, and he’s paired with a quarterback who just simply cannot get it done by himself. I like Tennesee’s O-line, I like the way Derrick Henry runs the football, and I am really anxious to see what a consistent 16-games for Henry looks like in 2020.

Ty: Christian McCaffrey. It’ll be really tough for McCaffrey to improve upon his 2019 numbers, but he will have every chance to in 2020. Carolina is in a bit of a rebuilding phase with rookie coach Matt Rhule and former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady. If there’s anything the new guys can count in when it comes to the Panthers offense, it’s McCaffrey. Plus, Teddy Bridgewater is the new QB in town. If there’s one thing Bridgewater does well, it’s working the short passing game. That style of offense is even more conducive to McCaffrey’s style of play. He is going to get tons of volume and tons of work. Barring another player breaking league records like Michael Thomas did last year, McCaffrey is going to be in a great position to win OPOY this season.

Alex: Lamar Jackson. Going to mention him again in a minute…

Defensive Player of the Year

USATSI

Brent: Za’Darius Smith. Of course, I couldn’t go this entire post without talking about the Packers. I know guys like Donald, The Bosa brothers, the Watt brothers, and even Josh Allen are trendy picks. However, the former Cat was the leader on a Green Bay defense that reached the NFC Championship last year. Clearly Green Bay has to get better at stopping the run, but Smith and the Packers will face the Lions, Bears, and Vikings six times this year. I can’t imagine those sorry offenses hang up big numbers on Green Bay this season, and I think the Packers improve in the run game this season.

Ty: TJ Watt. Watt is simply a game-wrecker and has been a huge part of helping the Steelers build one of the most frightening defenses in the NFL. He recorded 14.5 sacks last year and picked off two passes, continuing his impressive career trend. Every season since he was drafted in 2017, he’s upped his stats. It’ll be hard to do that in 2020, but he may not even have to in order to win this award this year. Perhaps the only reason he didn’t last year was due to Stephon Gilmore having one of the best seasons for a cornerback ever. If Watt flirts with the 15-sack range and picks off a pass or two again, he could very well bring home the hardware.

Alex: Nick Bosa. I’m fading San Francisco because I think they’ll take a step back everywhere aside from the defensive line, where last year’s number two pick in the draft, Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, will continue his skyrocket trajectory; bashing in tailback brains with even more force while refining his play-reading and decision making as an edge rusher. For what it’s worth, I almost picked Chase Young here for the sake of hot takes, but I settled for a more proven OSU D-line bulldozer.

Rookie of the Year

Brent: J.K. Dobbins. J.K. Dobbins won’t do it right away, but I believe he has the potential to be one of the most explosive backs in the league this season. The trendy pick is Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City, but that offense is littered with so much talent that I think it can hurt his volume. Dobbins, however, comes into the season as RB2 for a historic rushing offense behind Mark Ingram. I think he stays behind Ingram for a few games to get his feet wet but explodes as the lead rusher in an already prolific rushing offense.

Ty: Joe Burrow. You can call me a homer if you want, but Burrow is going to have the best opportunity of any rookie drafted this year to win this award. He’s going to be a starter from Day 1, and he’s in an offense that has a lot of playmakers. The offensive line is a concern, but if he helps the Bengals improve their win total from 2019 (which shouldn’t be too hard to do) and Burrow has some flashes of what we saw from his time at LSU, the OROY award is his.

Alex: Joey Burrow! While this is yet another homer pick and the same as Ty’s, it fulfills my 2020 NFL fantasies. This selection just makes mathematical sense. Burrow is a quarterback, the primary award-winning position in football, he’s starting Week 1, which other QBs from recent draft classes cannot say (fellow first-rounders Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love are all listed as backups), and take a gander at that receiving corps which is, in my opinion, a top-five unit in the league. Recovering superstar AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, a consistent number one or two threat coming into his prime; Auden Tate, a bruising and lanky target; and Tee Higgins, former Clemson standout and 2020 second-round pick. Plus Joe Mixon scrambling around for check-downs and screens, which he’s proven capable of breaking for huge-yardage. It’s an obvious choice.

Most Valuable Player

Brent: Patrick Mahomes. I mean, is there really anybody else? Obviously, Lamar, but Tennessee gave the game away on how to stop Lamar in the AFC divisional. Lamar will be very good in 2020, but this thing is Mahomes’ to lose.

Ty: Drew Brees. At 40-years-old, Brees is in the twilight of his career. Yet, even as the young quarterbacks are taking over the game, I’m predicting him to win the MVP. He captains one of the most consistent offenses in the league, which will be even better this year than it was last year. Michael Thomas returns and will, for the first time in his career, play alongside a true #2 wide receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray make up a stellar backfield, and the team improved its offensive line in the draft. Due to Brees’ impending retirement and the team’s 2021 cap situation, the Saints’ championship window is closing. They’re pushing all their chips to the center of the table and selling out for a title run this season, and I think Brees will deliver some monster numbers as a result.

Alex: Lamar Jackson. The incumbent. I know the Titans smothered Lamar and ball-controlled the life out of Baltimore in January. But one game proves nary a reason to doubt the second season of Lamar Jackson as a full-time starter. He toyed with the quarterback position in ways Michael Vick only dreamed of, and turned a direction-less 2018-19 Ravens group into the 2020 Milwaukee Bucks on paper, and then lost like them in the postseason. He’s the NFL’s Giannis…hauntingly athletic, a cannon-armed slithering glitch of just…23 years old. He probably won’t repeat last year’s numbers, but 85% of them would still have won him the MVP going way. In a world swallowed by uncertainty, Lamar Jackson decimating NFL defenses is something I’ll reliably have on my television this fall.

Best Former Wildcat

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Brent: Benny Snell Jr. Sticking with my trend of picks that are off the beaten path: I think Benny Snell busts onto the scene in Pittsburgh. James Connor is on thin ice, Mike Tomlin raved about Snell in camp, and I think the Steelers are looking for anything fresh after a disappointing season in 2019. I want to see Benny snell take over RB1 in the Steel City and be productive en route to a winning season in Pittsburgh.

Ty: Za’Darius Smith. Smith saw his career revitalized in Green Bay last season, as he posted career highs in sacks, QB hits, and tackles. He was a huge part of turning the Packers defense–long thought to be a liability–into a legitimate strength that carried the team at times last year. Every year since 2016 his stats have improved, and if he continues that trend coming off his Pro Bowl season that saw him bring down quarterbacks 13.5 times, watch out.

Alex: Josh Allen. Za’Darius will probably be the best Wildcat, but Ty took him and I want to shout out Allen, who’s in a miserable situation trying to impress the loss-loving front office of Jacksonville. When the objective of a season is to be so bad that you get the number one pick, and the goal of every game is to lose and lose comfortably, where the hell is the motivation? Josh Allen won’t be involved in a silly Black Sox approach to playing football. He’ll compete, and if year one was any indication, sunny pastures and slain QBs lay ahead.

Super Bowl Prediction

Brent: Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Look, it’s 2020 which means the Cowboys are going to make the Super Bowl, unfortunately. All that talent in Dallas paired with a proven winner in Mike McCarthy is dangerous. At the end of the day, the Chiefs are worldbeaters and they repeat this year.

Ty: Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Give me the Chiefs, and let the NFL’s next dynasty begin.

Alex: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Baltimore Ravens.  I desperately want the Brady Bowl: Pats vs. Bucs. Brady vs. Belichick. But the Pats, for all their coaching bravado, won’t make it past Baltimore. Brady has two more 30+ yard pass catchers and two more NFL caliber tight ends than he did last year. Tampa’s O-line will protect him well enough and that defense is a sleeper in my eyes, with a budding secondary, a veteran defensive line, and high-end starters at the linebacker position. Give me one more vintage playoff Tom performance a proverbial passing of the torch to first-time Super Bowl MVP Lamar Jackson. I’m going with the Ravens.

Article written by Brent Wainscott

Twitter: @BrentWainscott_