10. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders’ first season in Vegas mostly depends on what kind of quarterback play head coach Jon Gruden gets out of incumbent Derek Carr and newcomer Marcus Mariota. Look for Carr to get benched around Week 10 with Mariota unable to light a spark big enough to propel the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Still, this is a proud team that has an explosive running back in Josh Jacobs as well as a defense that made strides from 2018 to 2019. The Raiders won’t belong in the worst tier of NFL teams in 2020, but only just above it.
9. Denver Broncos
Surprisingly, the Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs in an even longer time than the Raiders, last experiencing postseason play when Peyton Manning heavily relied on his defense to win the Super Bowl.
Since: one 9-7 season followed by three consecutive losing years; several different head coaches; a bunch of different starting quarterbacks; and an ownership feud.
In 2020, the Broncos will be around right in the middle in terms of teams the Kansas City Chiefs will play, maybe a little lower. It will surely help that pass-rusher Bradley Chubb returns after a lost 2019. But while Drew Lock looks like a–ahem–lock to be the starting quarterback, it may take a while for him to learn his new offensive scheme.
When all’s said and done, look for the Broncos to continue inching forward, finishing around 8-8.
8. New England Patriots
Tough team to rank, these dudes from Boston. Gone is Tom Brady, who left through free agency. Gone are eight other players, ranging from starters on the offensive line (Marcus Cannon) to the defensive secondary (Patrick Chung).
New faces include, of course, quarterback Cam Newton, who missed all but two games in 2019, and he didn’t look very good in those two games in which he did play. Hopefully he’s healthy, because if he is, that makes this Patriots team that much more interesting.
This is Bill Belichick’s 21st season with the Patriots, and he’s had 20 consecutive winning seasons. His very first team went 5-11. Since then, his worst finish was in his third season, when the team went 9-7. The Patriots have won at least 10 games in a whopping 18 straight seasons.
Though they’ll remain competitive in 2020, especially in the weak AFC East, the Patriots won’t win 10 or more games. Playoffs? Maybe. More than likely, though, that 18-year streak of 10 or more wins will come to an end.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
This is another team I’ve had all over the place in these rankings. No. 7 seems appropriate in the end. Maybe a little low but I don’t think the Chargers will be unseating the Chiefs in the AFC West, though they look like the biggest threat to do so.
How good is Tyrod Taylor going to be? If he can be slightly more than the dreaded “game manager,” then the Chargers can win 10 or 11 games. If he falters, or if the team decides to bench him in favor of rookie Justin Herbert, then the Chargers could be picking very high in next year’s draft, perhaps with a different GM and head coach calling the shots.
But with Joey Bosa leading the defense and Keenan Allen catching passes from whomever, the Chargers won’t be a roll-over opponent. Instead, expect the Chargers to compete for a playoff spot while pulling off some regular-season upsets.
6. Atlanta Falcons
It’s do-or-die time for the regime in Atlanta. If the Falcons can break through in 2020 and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017, then head coach Dan Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and quarterback Matt Ryan should all return the following season as the status quo remains. But if the team misses the playoffs for the third consecutive season?
Heads will roll.
Under that pressure, Ryan will return to his 2016, All-Pro form. That season, he led the Falcons to an 11-5 record as he completed 69.9% of his passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdown passes (both career highs) versus only seven interceptions. He led the NFL in Quarterback Rating (117.1) and QBR (79.4).
Continuity is also key this season as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter enters his second season in this go-around with the Falcons, and Raheem Morris takes over from Quinn as defensive coordinator after being on staff for the past five years.
Unquestionably, the Falcons are up against the wall. With some extremely talented players, like wide receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones, Atlanta will be dangerous, and will challenge for the NFC South title.