B/R NFL Staff Roundtable: Early Hot Takes for the 2020 NFL Season
The hot take gets something of a bad rap in sports.
Yes, some in the industry will say or write anything that pops into their heads that they believe will get a reaction, without basing that take in reality. They do so because far more often than not it works—getting that reaction (usually a heated one) is rather the point.
But hot takes can be a good thing too. Controversial opinions start conversations that get people both talking and thinking. And given that we have precious few sports to watch (Capital One's "The Match: Champions for Charity" was a nice diversion, but it was just one day), talking about sports is the best we've got.
With that in mind, the NFL writers here at Bleacher Report gathered recently to fire up their Easy Take Ovens and offer some piping-hot takes for the 2020 season. Some went with teams. Others chose players. And at least one went the Cinderella route.
So settle in, put on some pot holders (can't have any burned fingers) and let's get cooking.
The writers who participated in this piece are, in order of submission: NFL Analyst Gary Davenport, NFL Features Lead Writer Tyler Dunne, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman, NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon, NFL Analyst Brent Sobleski and NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier.
A No. 7 Seed Will Make the Super Bowl in 2020
Might as well get this thing sizzling right off the bat.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, it's an odd time to monkey with the playoff format, but the NFL did just that—there will be seven playoff teams in each conference. A third wild-card slot was added, and only the No. 1 seed in the AFC and NFC will receive a first-round bye.
That change will undoubtedly bring complaints that the postseason is being watered down—that a 7-9 team will get in at some point. However, the opposite is also true—per ESPN's Kevin Seifert, since 2002, nine teams have won 10 games but missed the playoffs. Under this format, eight of those teams would have gotten in.
In 2020, one of those squads will take full advantage of that opportunity and make a run all the way to Tampa, Florida.
The New Orleans Saints may be the class of the NFC South, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons have the talent to make a Cinderella run. So do the Arizona Cardinals, who have the misfortune of playing in a loaded NFC West. Teams like Seattle and Houston have a megastar QB who can carry a team. The Tennessee Titans have already shown they can play giant-killer.
There have been two No. 6 seeds make the Super Bowl—the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and 2010 Green Bay Packers. In 2020, some team (likely on the NFC side—that conference is stacked) will do them one (seed) better.
For what it's worth, both of those sixth seeds won the Lombardi Trophy.
The Atlanta Falcons Are NFC Contenders
Hey, remember these guys?
All the talk in the NFC South is about Tom Brady and the Bucs, and here's thinking the hype in Tampa is justified, but do not sleep on the Falcons. Defensively, they're finally healthy...and they added a massive threat off the edge in Dante Fowler Jr. He is precisely the player you need in a division with two all-time greats at quarterback.
Offensively, they still have an MVP quarterback (Matt Ryan) and the best wide receiver in football (Julio Jones)—and they added an extremely motivated Todd Gurley. I know it's quite an "if," but if Gurley can stay healthy, he's still one of the most versatile, dangerous players in the game. And, oh, Calvin Ridley has legit star potential.
Atlanta can easily go 11-5, make the playoffs and go on a run, and nobody will be mocking its new uniforms at all. They'll be flying off the shelf.
New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs All Go 15-1
This season will be viewed as one of the most competitive in recent memory.
Brady will play some of the best football of his career.
Sean Payton will be named Coach of the Year and Drew Brees the Offensive Player of the Year, and Patrick Mahomes will win his second MVP award.
The Saints and Buccaneers will play in the NFC title game, with the winner facing Kansas City. And it'll be the most entertaining Super Bowl ever.
The Los Angeles Rams Will Be One of the NFL's Worst Teams
They're just 16 months removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but the Los Angeles Rams are falling off a cliff.
The team went all-in in recent years, and it's paying the price. Incredibly, the Rams haven't drafted a player in Round 1 since taking Jared Goff in 2016, leaving them lacking in depth across the board. Goff hasn't been the same since laying an egg in that Super Bowl, 38-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth's low fuel gauge is blinking, and offensive weapons Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks are gone.
The support isn't there on either side of the ball, actually. Aaron Donald is still a football Monstar, and Jalen Ramsey is quite good at his job, but in the last 15 months that D has lost Fowler, Eric Weddle, Cory Littleton, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Lamarcus Joyner.
They're a shell of their former selves in almost every way, and division-mates Arizona and San Francisco look stronger than they have in years. In the toughest division in the tougher of the two conferences, the Rams are screwed.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Won't Even Make the Playoffs
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Every year, high-profile additions get everyone excited. But talent acquisition is completely different than actual team-building. Ask the Cleveland Browns.
A year ago, everyone grew excited about what the Browns could do under new head coach Freddie Kitchens and with Odell Beckham Jr. added to the team's impressive skill position group. The team never came together, and its season fell flat.
The Buccaneers are more stable with Bruce Arians leading the way, but the additions of Brady and Rob Gronkowski don't automatically equate to being Super Bowl contenders. They're not even guaranteed a playoff spot, especially in a tough division that features the Saints.
The coronavirus pandemic also factors into the equation, because all of these new parts will need time to come together and establish an on-field rapport.
Tampa Bay is improved, but let's not crown anyone just yet. We've already learned this lesson the hard way.
The Cardinals Are Gonna Be the Next Ravens
Kyler Murray had the most exciting rookie season that few people really watched last year. Sure, he took far too many sacks, and some of Kliff Kingsbury's play calls worked better against Kansas than against NFL defenses. But Murray's talent and Kingsbury's creativity led to some thrilling moments.
Murray now knows what he is doing and has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, Kingsbury has a clearer idea of what doesn't work in the NFL, and the Arizona defense is pretty stacked. Look for the Cardinals to make the kind of leap the Ravens made last year and the Chiefs made two years ago, both in production and innovation.
Kansas City had Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid's "West Coast meets spread option" offense, and the Ravens had Lamar Jackson, read-options and tight end seamers. Now, the Cardinals have Murray, Nuk, Kingsbury's five-receiver packages and spread-out formations that will stretch defenses to the limit on every snap.