NFL Teams Poised for a Surge in 2nd Half of 2020 Season
The inevitable second-half surge for a few lucky NFL teams should be more interesting than ever in 2020.
After all, the first half of the season was as unpredictable as any in recent memory after the summer stretch featured altered training camps and no preseason.
In a typical year, teams getting healthier, facing a softer schedule and just generally pulling it together after some adjustments represents the few teams making big surges over the final eight to 10 weeks. Think the Philadelphia Eagles winning six of nine to close last season and make the playoffs as one example.
This year, add in new faces in new places taking longer to get adjusted too, plus some new starters and unexpected wrinkles in the strength-of-schedule columns. Here's a look at a handful of teams about to surge over the season's second half.
New Orleans Saints
It feels like the New Orleans Saints are just getting started.
The 3-2 Saints have only had their best offensive player for one game, as star wideout Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain and was also held out for disciplinary reasons.
Few players in the NFL can reshape the entire dynamic of a team the way Thomas can considering he's the guy who put up 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 100-plus-yard performances last season for his 13-win squad.
Thomas has only caught three passes this year, so Drew Brees has made running back Alvin Kamara the team's leading receiver while the ho-hum duo of Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith try to pick up the slack. There's no word on when Thomas will officially return after suffering a "tweaked" hamstring, but when he does, the offense will open up even more.
Over the opening span of games, Brees and Co. understandably dropped matchups against Las Vegas and Green Bay, yet took down the biggest threat in the NFC South with a 34-23 win over Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. Feel free to add in the fact the Saints have the sixth-easiest schedule the rest of the way based on opponent record—and formerly tough-looking non-divisional games against San Francisco (3-3), Philadelphia (1-4-1) and Minnesota (1-5) have the team in a great position.
The Miami Dolphins turning the team over to first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa might give some pause.
Handing things over to a rookie passer could mean more bumps in the road than with a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick, sure. But Miami has flashed the kind of quality play the Brian Flores-led rebuild seemed to suggest over the first six games, drumming up a 3-3 record and the only positive point differential in the AFC East at plus-47.
While Fitzpatrick was playing well, his throwing 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions on a 70.1 percent completion rate didn't make him untouchable. Tagovailoa inherently adds more speed and potentially opens up the playbook for the entire offense from his first snap.
Everything around the quarterback points to a strong finish regardless. The Dolphins kept New England and Seattle within 10 points and lost to surging Buffalo by just three. Miami is tied for third in allowing just 18.8 points per game, and weapons around the quarterback continue to emerge, with four players sitting on at least two touchdown catches.
Miami also has one of the 10 easiest schedules left the rest of the way, so while it might seem like a random time to start the Tagovailoa era, doing so after a bye and heading into this stretch could produce more marks in the win column than many might expect.
Las Vegas Raiders
Don't look now, but the Las Vegas Raiders are 3-2 and took down the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, 40-32. That's the type of win that can really jumpstart a team and has significant ramifications on the AFC West.
It helps that Derek Carr is quietly having a solid season, completing 73.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just a single interception. He's the second-most accurate quarterback in football right now, and his spread-it-around attack that features eight players who've scored a receiving touchdown stretches defenses thin.
While the defense hasn't looked particularly strong, playing New Orleans, New England, Buffalo and Kansas City all in a row has a way of skewing the outlook. What should swing things back in the other direction is the Raiders having the outright easiest schedule the rest of the way.
That slate includes two games apiece against struggling Denver and Los Angeles Chargers teams, plus the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts. This, plus the fact the Raiders are only just starting to get first-round wideout Henry Ruggs involved, has the arrow pointed directly up.
Things seem really bad for the Dallas Cowboys right now.
Not only are the Cowboys 2-4, but new head coach Mike McCarthy has also had to publicly spar with some of his players after comments anonymously made by a few of them. Andy Dalton is in at quarterback after Dak Prescott's devastating ankle injury, and to top it all off, the miserable defense is on pace to set an NFL record with 581 points allowed.
And yet, we'll likely see a turnaround via an assist from the sheer easiness of the schedule and some things settling into place.
For one, the Cowboys have the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way. They get five more games in a putrid NFC East where they're currently the only team with more than a single win. Also on the schedule? Minnesota (1-5), Cincinnati (1-4-1) and San Francisco (3-3).
And broadly speaking, the only way for Dalton to go is up. He's a savvy veteran with playoff experience who has been boosted by strong talent around him in the past—he'll shake off the rust and won't average 5.7 yards per attempt for long. Star back Ezekiel Elliott will clean up the fumble issues, even if he's done it seven times over his last 13 games.
It's harder to buy into a defensive resurgence, but the combination of simplifying things to help players excel in the fundamentals and an assist from poor competition should help.
And when all else fails, Dallas' "surge" to close the season won't need to be as dramatic as the other teams listed because of the sour state of the NFC East. It probably won't be pretty, but an upswing for the Cowboys is on the way.