NFL action is back after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans to kick off the defence of their Super Bowl title.
A further 15 games across Sunday and Monday will see the league’s other 30 teams begin their 2020 slate, with some having greater prospects than others.
The Chiefs and Texans were two of the teams who made the postseason in 2019, but there were 20 that did not, including some historic franchises.
With an increased 14 spots up for grabs – up from 12 last season – many of those non-playoff teams will be eyeing a return to the big time and here we have reviewed six of the best candidates to make the jump.
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2020
Eight-time Pro Bowl selection Philip Rivers provides the Colts with an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and he will now play behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, a situation he never had with the Chargers.
A difficult offseason for the Texans, last year’s AFC South winners, is another boost to the hopes of the Colts, who also made a splash on the defensive side of the ball by bringing in DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers after his appearance in the Super Bowl.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) September 10, 2020
The Steelers went 8-8 last season even without two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of the campaign after shoulder surgery.
Despite a relatively quiet offseason, the Steelers can contend with Roethlisberger back and a defense that finished fifth in yards allowed (third against the pass) and sixth in points allowed, with T. J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick two of their star performers.
Against the odds…
Yes, it’s the Browns, and yes, last season they emphatically failed to deliver on preseason expectations and ended up changing their general manager and head coach having gone 6-10.
But despite those woes and an incredibly competitive division that contains the Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers, analysts may have gone too far the other way in dismissing the Browns as a 2020 threat.
If Baker Mayfield can recover from a poor year and shine like he did as a rookie behind a revamped offensive line, an offense including Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will thrive, while pass-rusher Myles Garrett – who has 30.5 sacks in 37 career games – is back from suspension to lead a defense that was a top-10 unit against the pass last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After winning six Super Bowls and nine AFC Championships in 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady has a new home at the age of 43, instantly making the Bucs a likely playoff team.
Brady has also brought tight end Rob Gronkowski along with him, those two adding to an already explosive Bruce Arians offense that includes pass-catchers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O. J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
With the offense set to shine and the Bucs looking to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl on home soil, the defense will need to play its part – but there is optimism there too with league sack leader Shaquil Barrett returning on the franchise tag and a promising young secondary in place.
“Does that prove our kinship or what?”
Tommy & Gronky take the friendship test pic.twitter.com/GcqjSRQ87b
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 10, 2020
Fresh from throwing just shy of 5,000 yards and adding 30 touchdowns last season, Dak Prescott would not have believed his luck when top wideout Amari Cooper signed a new long-term deal and Oklahoma prospect CeeDee Lamb dropped to the Cowboys in the draft.
Michael Gallup is also part of an impressive receiving corps being overseen by highly rated offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. A strong all-round roster and a weak NFC East should help new head coach Mike McCarthy as he looks to make the kind of postseason impact that eluded predecessor Jason Garrett.
Against the odds…
Adding DeAndre Hopkins, one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, from the Texans in a one-sided trade was perhaps the deal of the offseason for an optimistic Cardinals team who should improve on their five wins in 2019 and could even be a surprise playoff team.
Hopkins joins franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald as a receiving option for QB Kyler Murray, of whom big things are expected after a largely positive rookie season from the former number one overall pick (3,722 passing yards and 544 rushing).
If they are to contend, big strides are also needed on the other side of the ball, but fans will be excited to see versatile top draft pick Isaiah Simmons paired with All-Pro pass-rusher Chandler Jones.