In the sixth installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series, which will span 9 parts, I’ll be evaluating the top-heavy NFC East, a divison the Steelers will encounter in 2020.
Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.
Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!
Week 1: at Washington Football Team (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Los Angeles Rams (W, 2-0)
Week 3: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 3-1)
Week 5: at Pittsburgh Steelers (W, 4-1)
Week 6: Baltimore Ravens (W, 5-1)
Week 7: New York Giants (W, 6-1)
Week 8: Dallas Cowboys (W, 7-1)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at New York Giants (L, 7-2)
Week 11: at Cleveland Browns (W, 8-2)
Week 12: Seattle Seahawks (W, 9-2)
Week 13: at Green Bay Packers (L, 9-3)
Week 14: New Orleans Saints (L, 9-4)
Week 15: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 9-5)
Week 16: at Dallas Cowboys (L, 9-6)
Week 17: Washington Football Team (W, 10-6)
The Eagles certainly benefit from a generally weak division, but their roster is nothing to scoff at.
It all starts with 5th-year quarterback Carson Wentz, whose stellar play has unfortunately been hampered by a rash of injuries.
In 2019, Wentz enjoyed his first fully healthy campaign since his rookie season. Little concern about durability catalyzed Wentz to throw for over 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.
What makes the feat even more remarkable is that Wentz had essentially zero weapons on the perimeter outside of star tight end Zach Ertz—in fact, no Philadelphia receiver tallied over 490 receiving yards in 2019. Wentz single-handedly willed Philly to the playoffs, only to have his postseason fate decided by an unforeseen injury after being concussed by Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney in the Wild Card round.
The fact that Wentz was left off of NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2019 list is simply ludicrous—he is, in my view, the best quarterback in the NFC East.
But I am genuinely concerned about the consistency of the receivers he possesses. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson played in 10 and 3 games last year, respectively, with Jeffery having the most recent 16-game season of the two—but that transpired in 2017, the year Philadelphia’s magic with Nick Foles at the helm was palpable.
Wentz should largely remain upright, though, as the Eagles still boast a great offensive line. However, I’m skeptical about veteran tackle Jason Peters’ ability to fill Brandon Brooks’ enormous shoes at right guard.
On defense, the Eagles finally addressed what seemed to be a subpar secondary for years by trading for superstar cornerback Darius Slay from Detroit. While head coach Doug Pederson boasts a stacked defensive line with big bodies in Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and ex-Steeler Javon Hargrave, Philly’s lack of talent at linebacker and cornerback opposite Slay may be problematic.
The Eagles should fare well early—in fact, I have them being tied with the Ravens and Chiefs at 9-2 for the best mark in the league through 11 games. But 4 straight late-season matchups against formidable NFC foes should likely skew the Eagles to a more representative mark of 10-6, still good enough to win the division for the 3rd time in 4 years as well as gain the #4 seed in the NFC.
Week 1: at Los Angeles Rams (L, 0-1)
Week 2: Atlanta Falcons (W, 1-1)
Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 1-2)
Week 4: Cleveland Browns (W, 2-2)
Week 5: New York Giants (W, 3-2)
Week 6: Arizona Cardinals (W, 4-2)
Week 7: at Washington Football Team (W, 5-2)
Week 8: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 5-3)
Week 9: Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 5-4)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Minnesota Vikings (L, 5-5)
Week 12: Washington Football Team (W, 6-5)
Week 13: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 6-6)
Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals (W, 7-6)
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers (L, 7-7)
Week 16: Philadelphia Eagles (W, 8-7)
Week 17: at New York Giants (W, 9-7)
Since 2018, the NFC East has been decided by the outcomes of the Cowboys’ and Eagles’ matchups in Week 17. I fully expect history to repeat itself in 2020.
New head coach Mike McCarthy will inherit an absolute treasure trove of offensive talent, a unit that was already stellar in 2019. Dallas’ offense ranked 2nd in Football Outsiders’ 2019 Offensive DVOA rankings, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s contingent placed 1st in yards (431.5) and 5th in points (27.1) per game.
The Cowboys will return 8 of 11 starters on offense, though a technical “loss” may actually be a gain. General Manager Jerry Jones capitalized on the rival Eagles’ hesitance to trade up in the 2020 NFL Draft and thus was able to snare outstanding Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb at the #17 overall pick—I do not consider it an exaggeration to contend that Dallas has three prototypical number one wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Lamb.
A departure that should not be overlooked is the unexpected retirement of 29-year-old and 5-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, though the Cowboys’ offensive line should still flourish in protecting Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, who have totaled the most combined passing and all-purpose yards of any quarterback-running back duo on the same team since 2016.
Most Passing + All-Purpose Yards By an #NFL QB-RB Tandem Since 2016— Bradley Locker (@Bradley_Locker) August 7, 2020
1. Dak Prescott + Ezekiel Elliott (24,023 yards)
2. Matt Ryan + Devonta Freeman (22,846 yards)
3. Drew Brees + Alvin Kamara (21,625)
4. Philip Rivers + Austin Ekeler (21,025)
5. Jared Goff + Todd Gurley (20,531) pic.twitter.com/vNBSIPbOiC
However, Dallas’ defense has some quagmires. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence totaled just 5 sacks in 2019 after signing a 5-year, $105 million deal prior to last season, and the Cowboys will likely attempt to replace 2019 sack leader Robert Quinn with veteran Tyrone Crawford—a theoretical loss of 10.5 sacks.
Moreover, Dallas’ secondary is extremely inexperienced outside of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. After failing to trade for world-class defender Jamal Adams, only one member of its back end—corner Chidobe Awuzie—has ever started 16 games in a season.
In his career, Prescott has gone a measly 18-14 on the road—that could spell trouble in 2020, as the Cowboys play a litany of tough games away from coruscating AT&T Stadium. All in all, though, Dallas still has enough talent to make the postseason—I have them doing so by earning the 7th and final NFC seed.
New York Giants
Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Chicago Bears (L, 0-2)
Week 3: San Francisco 49ers (L, 0-3)
Week 4: at Los Angeles Rams (L, 0-4)
Week 5: at Dallas Cowboys (L, 0-5)
Week 6: Washington Football Team (W, 1-5)
Week 7: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 1-6)
Week 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W, 2-6)
Week 9: Washington Football Team (W, 3-6)
Week 10: Philadelphia Eagles (W, 4-6)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Cincinnati Bengals (L, 4-7)
Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 4-8)
Week 14: Arizona Cardinals (W, 5-8)
Week 15: Cleveland Browns (L, 5-9)
Week 16: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 5-10)
Week 17: Dallas Cowboys (L, 5-11)
Although Big Blue finished a dismal 4-12 in 2019, there is reason for optimism in 2020—and beyond.
The Giants have assembled a nice young nucleus spearheaded by sensational runner Saquon Barkley, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL.
Further, 2nd-year quarterback Daniel Jones seems to have completed an about-face in regard to his NFL perception: entering the 2019 NFL Draft, pundits were leery of his abilities, but he silenced doubters by accumulating 24 touchdowns and throwing 12 interceptions in 12 starts. At the same time, Jones led all NFL players in fumbles with 18, even though he only saw game action in 13 contests—rookie head coach Joe Judge certainly must do his best to ameliorate this problem.
Another part of such aforementioned core is wide receiver Darius Slayton, who burst onto the scene with 740 yards despite being a 5th round pick last April. He, veteran Golden Tate and the inconsistent Sterling Shepard form a promising receiver trio.
On defense, too, New York has burgeoning players in defensive ends Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence alongside safeties Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney. General Manager Dave Gettleman did his best to pair such youth by signing talented veterans inside linebacker Blake Martinez and cornerback James Bradberry, who will both be plug-and-play starters this year.
However, the Giants have been significantly etiolated by both opt outs and off-the-field incidents. Big Blue lost starting left tackle Nate Solder due to the former, meaning that 2020 #4 overall pick Andrew Thomas may see game action immediately. Also, cornerback DeAndre Baker was recently placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after being arrested on counts of armed robbery and aggravated assault in May—he likely will never play for the Giants again. Furthermore, 2018 Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas was replaced by veteran Chandler Catanzaro after Rosas was arrested in a June hit-and-run incident—Catanzaro has not kicked professionally since 2018.
Are long-term pieces in place in New York? Certainly, so much so that I believe it can end its 4-year losing streak against Philadelphia in Week 10.
But after incurring so much roster carnage in just one offseason, the Giants will likely end with a record not reflective of their potential—they’re a team to watch as legitimate contenders in the next few years.
Washington Football Team
Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at Cleveland Browns (L, 0-3)
Week 4: Baltimore Ravens (L, 0-4)
Week 5: Los Angeles Rams (L, 0-5)
Week 6: at New York Giants (L, 0-6)
Week 7: Dallas Cowboys (L, 0-7)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: New York Giants (L, 0-8)
Week 10: at Detroit Lions (L, 0-9)
Week 11: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 1-9)
Week 12: at Dallas Cowboys (L, 1-10)
Week 13: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 1-11)
Week 14: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 1-12)
Week 15: Seattle Seahawks (L, 1-13)
Week 16: Carolina Panthers (W, 2-13)
Week 17: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 2-14)
The state and culture of the Washington franchise is just as execrable as its play likely will be in 2020.
Not only did infamous owner Dan Snyder seemingly disappoint a portion of the NFL world by essentially postponing to release a revamped name for his team, but revelatory reports emerged from the Washington Post detailing a substantial history of sexual harassment and assault from upper-echelon Washington employees, many of whom have now stepped down.
If there is one coach who can help improve such reputation and environment, it is the affable, considerate Ron Rivera. Yet Rivera’s qualms certainly extend to the quality of his roster.
2019 1st-round pick Dwayne Haskins struggled in 7 starts last year, as he posted a poor 7 touchdowns to 7 interceptions while also going a subpar 2-5. However, Haskins appears to have worked diligently this offseason to improve his conditioning; with superior fitness and more time to acclimate to Washington’s system, he will almost definitely perform better.
Clean mind, clean heart, clean body, clean soul. https://t.co/rWEp0PM19x— Dwayne Haskins, Jr (@dh_simba7) August 2, 2020
Haskins, though, has a weak surrounding cast. 35-year-old Adrian Peterson appears to be his lead horse; Peterson, a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, posted under 900 rushing yards for the first time since 2017 in his second year in burgundy and gold. Cutting oft-injured 3rd-year back Derrius Guice after being arrested and facing strangulation charges is certainly a step in ameliorating the organization's culture, but presumed backup Peyton Barber had only 470 yards last year in 16 games.
The injury bug has also afflicted second-year wideout Kelvin Harmon via a torn ACL, meaning that Terry McLaurin should be expected to follow up a big rookie year with a standout sophomore campaign.
To complicate matters, Haskins won’t be helped by his robust protectors up front: Washington’s offensive line is utterly putrid, as its 9.8% Adjusted Sack Rate ranked 31st in 2019, per Football Outsiders.
One of this team’s few fortes is its defensive line, which boasts loads of talent—including 2020 #2 overall pick Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat and Matt Ioannadis. At the same time, its linebacking corps of Thomas Davis, Sr. and Jon Bostic is, by no means, youthful, and safety Landon Collins looks to rebound from a lackluster 2019.
This squad still has plenty of holes, a concept that can only hurt when playing against ironclad divisions such as the AFC North and NFC West.
Washington should utilize this year to paint a clearer picture of Haskins as its future signal-caller and, ultimately, should draft an offensive tackle—potentially Oregon’s Penei Sewell with the #1 overall pick—to replace disgruntled star Trent Williams.