Sports

NFL 2020 predictions: can anyone stop Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs?


Will the season finish, or will it be sunk by Covid-19?

This feels like an unanswerable question. The will is there and the NFL’s financial resources can overcome a great many hurdles but I don’t have the foresight to know what comes next in the evolution of this pandemic. NB

Never underestimate the, ummm, resilience of NFL owners. If there’s money to be made, the league will be playing. Whether that’s with the traditional set-up featuring all of the league’s star players throughout the season is a different discussion. OC

Barring large public outbreaks being tied directly to NFL locker rooms, look for them to cross their fingers and subsequent infections will be filed under acceptable losses. HF

Covid cases have been reassuringly low during training camp and the mythic levels of money at stake make the season almost certain to be played to its conclusion. Winter may well be a very bumpy ride though with Roger Goodell improvising heavily. GS

Best team that won’t make the playoffs

The obvious place to look is the NFC West: home to the last two conference champions, plus a Seattle team that has posted winning records every season since drafting Russell Wilson. With Kyler Murray’s development accelerated by the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins, I think the Arizona Cardinals will finish ahead of the Rams in third spot, but miss the postseason precisely because of that ferocious division schedule. NB

Miami Dolphins. I buy everything that Brian Flores is selling. A whole host of rah-rah coaches preach ‘culture, culture, culture’ but rarely is it so transparently a part of the team’s winning as it was with the Dolphins last season; the team and the staff improved as the season went along and won in spite of the organization’s long-term agenda. They’re more talented this season, but a playoff push feels like it’s a year away. OC

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Let me go galaxy brain here: the San Francisco 49ers. It feels like everything went perfectly right for the 49ers last season and they’re due for a regression. The Seattle Seahawks run away with the division thanks to an MVP campaign from Russell Wilson and they just miss a wildcard spot. HF

The Seattle Seahawks. The absence of Seattle’s fierce home support will give opponents a significant boost when heading to the Link. The offensive line has been completely reimagined to give Russell Wilson a break from dragging them over the line but, without significant time to gel, they may be just as bad and the quarterback’s numbers will crater. GS

The most underrated team this year is …

The Cincinnati Bengals, and not just because they will have a No1 draft pick behind center. Joe Burrow will be surrounded by playmakers, as AJ Green returns from injury to join Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon – who have posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at receiver and running back respectively – plus another highly-touted rookie in Tee Higgins. But even beyond that, they lost all eight one-possession games that they were involved in last season, on the way to finishing with a 3-13 record. With better talent, and better luck, they should be closer to .500 and could even be a playoff dark horse. NB

The Houston Texans. Given what an apocalypse the offseason has been for head honcho Bill O’Brien, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Texans were up 24-0 over the eventual Super Bowl champs in the AFC title game less than a year ago. Houston’s roster is a little lighter this season, but Deshaun Watson remains a transcendent star capable of dragging a so-so group into championship contention. OC

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The Denver Broncos have a strong case to go from a losing record to a winning one and now that there are three wildcard spots per conference, they have a shot at making it. I am not going to say Drew Lock makes the leap but an above-average year is possible. HF

The Detroit Lions. Darrell Bevell has greatly improved their offense with the greater variety of playcalling he brought in from Seattle. With Matthew Stafford healthy again expect fireworks and, considering five of nine defeats without their star QB were by one score, expect a winning record too. GS

One bold prediction …

Chase Young is set to be a defensive star for years to come



Chase Young is set to be a defensive star for years to come. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Chase Young will break the rookie sack record – 14.5 – which has stood since 1999. NB

Andrew Luck returns. I am keeping this deliberately vague because I think Luck’s playing days are over. Whether it’s as a quarterback coach or he’s handed a prominent announcing gig or he does signal an intention to resume playing, Luck will be back at some point. OC

This is the year that the New England Patriots miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. I love the Cam Newton pick up for the Patriots: they got him for practically nothing and there’s plenty of upside here if he can remind folks of his Carolina Panthers peak. That’s a huge ask and that means things could get tricky here now that the AFC East is actually competitive. HF

Teddy Bridgewater is this year’s Ryan Tannehill. Carolina have tied him down to big money and he will be out to prove himself after showing promise in New Orleans. He has lesser weapons at his disposal but this is Teddy’s time. GS

Johnny Manziel disaster waiting to happen department …

I know you’re probably hoping for a funny answer here, but the fear of players getting sick hangs heavy. The sheer size of NFL rosters – compared with other team sports – raises the risk of someone, somewhere, disregarding rules put in place to minimise risks of infection. NB

A playoff bubble. Running an NBA/NHL bubble takes a lot of work. You need complete buy-in from each and every owner, as well as the players’ union, to pull off something of that scale. Trying to tip-toe through a regular season and then shifting into a pair of playoff pods in Dallas and Los Angeles or wherever is a calamity waiting to happen. OC

The Chicago Bears stick far too long with the running gag that is Mitchell Trubisky at starting quarterback. Somebody in that organization needs to read up on the sunk cost fallacy. HF

Donald Trump. The NFL finally joining the fight against racism is a guarantee Trump will have plenty of toxic takes on their efforts. GS

Your MVP will be …

Patrick Mahomes. He won this award for the first time at 23, then the Super Bowl a year later. With his 25th birthday coming up next week, will this be the season when he combines both? NB

I think it will be Mahomes, but for the sake of difference, let’s go with Tom Brady. If Brady is able to roll back the years and guide the Bucs to a division title, the public discourse will coalesce around his brilliance away from Bill Belichick. If Brady is pretty good and the Bucs are great, that narrative is coming. OC

It would be super-easy to go with the likes of Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but I wouldn’t be shocked if voters are getting a little weary of going with the young guys. There’s lots of buzz on Russell Wilson heading into the season. He has led his team to a Super Bowl victory but has never won an MVP despite being one of the league’s most reliable and often quietly dominant signal-callers. HF

Patrick Mahomes. He showed elite toughness to add to, well, you know, that neverending list of things he is breathtakingly good at, in 2019. And he does it all with a smile on his face. We are not worthy. GS

Rookie of the year will be…

Will Joe Burrow adapt to the stresses and strains of the NFL?



Will Joe Burrow adapt to the stresses and strains of the NFL? Photograph: Aaron Doster/AP

Joe Burrow. I already made my case for why his team could thrive if he is just average. My hunch is that he will be better than that. NB

CeeDee Lamb: The most explosive playmaker in the draft landing on a Dallas offense full of difference-making talent. Put him down for three-plus 40-yard touchdowns. OC

Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Running back is a young man’s position, and in the right system a talented one can rack up eye-popping numbers. Edwards-Helaire is as talented as they come and the offensively stacked Chiefs are as good of a system as you can get. HF

Joe Burrow has made Cincinnati relevant again without taking a snap. The quarterback reading the Bengals’ mission statement at their social justice meetings in August indicates how highly he is thought of within the team. Expect Burrow to single-handedly put Cleveland back in their place at the foot of the AFC North. GS

AFC East champion

Buffalo Bills. I would have said New England if it weren’t for the Patriots’ numerous coronavirus opt-outs. I believe Bill Belichick can carry this team forward without Tom Brady, but to lose your starting right tackle plus players who contributed more than half of your team’s defensive snaps is really a lot. NB

New England Patriots. As much as Sean McDermott has proven to be a master program-builder and game-planning savant in Buffalo, it’s hard to chuck dirt on Bill Belichick just yet. The simple equation is this: Do you trust Josh Allen’s right arm more than you trust Belichick to account for the Patriots’ lack of defensive depth? OC

Buffalo Bills. With the Patriots the closest they have been to disarray in quite some time, the Bills have a great chance to capitalize. Despite not being sure what they have with Allen, Buffalo were good enough to make a postseason cameo last year and now is the time for them to finally break the Patriots’ stranglehold on the division. HF

New England may secretly be quite happy no one will be around to witness a disastrous new era. And by disastrous, I mean finishing second to Buffalo. GS

AFC North champion

Baltimore Ravens – as long as Lamar Jackson doesn’t get hurt. Cleveland should be better, Pittsburgh will hope to have a healthier Ben Roethlisberger and I’ve already made my case for an improved Cincinnati. But they each have a lot of ground to make up. NB

Baltimore Ravens. An easy pick. Offensive efficiency is the most stable part of the sport year-to-year. The Ravens were as explosive and efficient on offense as any team has been in the 21st century last season. No matter what the opposition tries, there is no defensive solution for Jackson. OC

Baltimore Ravens. They have Jackson and one of the league’s most dominant defenses. Last year, over final last 2 ½ months, only a single opponent managed more than 20 points against Baltimore. Combine that with a nigh-unstoppable dual-threat at QB? That suggests a deep playoff run. HF

Lamar Jackson’s skills make it tough to see beyond the Ravens as a winner in the AFC North



Lamar Jackson’s skills make it tough to see beyond the Ravens as a winner in the AFC North. Photograph: Brien Aho/AP

If Pittsburgh’s menacing defense led the Steelers to 3-3 with a man called Duck under centre then imagine what they can achieve with Ben Roethlisberger back. In reality, that amounts to the exact same finish as last season but with added wildcard. Lamar Jackson’s third act keeps the Baltimore Ravens on top in a division looking as spicy as ever. GS

AFC South champion

Indianapolis Colts, though I’m finding it hard to get enthusiastic about any of these teams. The Texans gave away one of the best players in the league, the Titans lost key pillars of both lines and the Jags are the Jags. Does Philip Rivers have enough left in the tank to make things work in Indianapolis? He should at least enjoy better protection than he had in LA. NB

Houston Texans. The Colts are much improved with DeForest Buckner and Rivers slotting into the two biggest positions of need in Indianapolis. But Indy weren’t quite as close to be a good-to-great team as the conventional wisdom holds. They will improve, but not enough to catch the Texans. OC

Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson has already established himself as Jackson’s rival at quarterback, the question is whether or not JJ Watt will return healthy and help solidify a defense that was not great last year. Let’s say that they end with the same record as the Colts but win the head-to-head matchup, leaving Indianapolis to settle for the wildcard. HF

Philip Rivers plus a functional, nay, brilliant offensive line is exactly what Indianapolis need to depose Houston. Rivers is going to let fly 30+ times a game so extra time should allow him to find TY Hilton hurtling into the endzone. GS

AFC West champion

Kansas City Chiefs. With nine of 11 starters returning on offence, the Super Bowl champions have continuity on their side – on top of everything else – in a year when that may matter even more than usual. NB

Kansas City Chiefs. This is Patrick Mahomes’ world and so on and so on… OC

Kansas City Chiefs. With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce still on board, they would have a shot even if Chad Henne had to take over from Mahomes (although it wouldn’t be as fun). HF

Las Vegas and Denver dream of knocking Kansas City off their perch and their drafts say as much. Receivers Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy add much-needed pop to the Raiders and Broncos respectively. Understandable picks, but it is too soon for both teams. GS

NFC East champion

Dallas Cowboys. Combining Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott behind one of the best offensive lines in the league should always have been a recipe for making Dallas into a perennial NFC contender. Perhaps, under Mike McCarthy, it finally will be. NB

Philadelphia Eagles. Having faith in Carson Wentz’s health is silly, but I do have more faith in Wentz’s health than in McCarthy transforming his doctrinaire approach. OC

Dallas Cowboys. I don’t like this any more than you do, but Dak Prescott is in line for a big season. It feels like the division will come down to the Cowboys and the Eagles for the division, with the loser taking one of the wildcards. HF

Say what you want about Mike McCarthy, he is an upgrade for Dallas at head coach after years of mind-numbing mediocrity. Adding some aggression to the play-calling for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup … you get the idea. Philadelphia’s wafer-thin roster cannot compete with that depth. GS

NFC North champion

Green Bay Packers. Time is ticking down on the Aaron Rodgers era, but I don’t believe he will go quietly. At 36, he no longer belongs in the very top tier of NFL quarterbacks but he has stated more than once his intention to play into his 40s. The challenge posed by first-round draft pick Jordan Love will push him to raise his game and prove he still belongs in this league, even if not in Green Bay. NB

Green Bay Packers. Their first year under Matt LeFleur was a resounding success. They should kick-on in year two. There is a risk that the Rodgers-Love situation devolves into a circus, but I’d back Rodgers to be as good as ever under the trickiest circumstances he’s faced in a while. OC

Green Bay Packers. Does Rodgers have one more good season left in his hall f fame career? I think he has, and Green Bay should have at least one more division win with him as the starter. HF

Green Bay’s attempt to take the ball out of Rodgers’ hands and run the ball more feels a little problematic which leaves the door open for Minnesota. GS

NFC South champion

Fans will need to get used to seeing Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay uniform



Fans will need to get used to seeing Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay uniform. Photograph: Douglas P DeFelice/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints. I don’t know if Drew Brees has another Super Bowl run left in him, and I don’t think this team will match its 13 wins from last season, but I’m reluctant to climb aboard the Tom Brady in Tampa bandwagon. Neither quarterback throws the ball as well as they used to, but both do it well enough to stay competitive with the help of brilliant supporting casts. Only Brees, though, has the benefit of continuity and protection from one of the league’s best offensive lines. NB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints are loaded, but I’m committed to this Bucs narrative thanks to my Brady pick. Relying on an overcooked Rob Gronkowski, a nearly-washed op LeSean McCoy and a plodding Leonard Fournette is a concern for the offense, but they have the talent and staff to win the division. OC

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady is aging but he’s got something in the tank and look for him to be rejuvenated away from dealing with the Patriots Way. If Gronkowski is somewhat less broken after his much-needed time away from the game, I could see the two of them reconnecting just like it’s old times. It’ll be the football version of Bill & Ted: Face The Music. HF

Brady’s age is irrelevant as he will clean up an offense that was killed by turnovers last season but still managed 7-9. Will it be enough to topple New Orleans? No. GS

NFC West champion

Seattle Seahawks. I could make a case just as easily for San Francisco – both have all the tools to be a Super Bowl contender. But Jamal Adams is an excellent addition for Seattle, and it’s hard to keep Russell Wilson down for long. NB

San Francisco 49ers. Adding Adams isn’t enough to cover up the ills of the Seahawks’ offseason. Having a Hall of Fame quarterback in-his-prime will mean Seattle’s offense is fine, but there are all sorts of issues on defense: Do KJ Wright, Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner still have the same juice? Will Quinton Dunbar be as good in Seattle as he was in Washington? And, most importantly, who is pressuring the quarterback? OC

Seattle Seahawks. I predicted that Russell Wilson will win the MVP, and that the San Francisco 49ers won’t make the playoffs. Seattle is it then. HF

Arguably the best division in football. San Francisco stay ahead of the chasing pack though because of Nick Bosa’s wrecking crew on defense. Jimmy Garoppolo’s Super Bowl may have disappointed but he will bounce back. GS

AFC wildcard teams

Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots. NB

Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts. OC

Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts. HF

Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Las Vegas Raiders. GS

NFC wildcard teams

San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles. NB

New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys. OC

Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings. HF

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, LA Rams. GS

AFC championship game

Kansas City Chiefs over Baltimore Ravens. NB

Kansas City Chiefs over Baltimore Ravens. OC

Kansas City Chiefs over Baltimore Ravens. HF

Kansas City Chiefs over Pittsburgh Steelers. GS

NFC championship game

Seattle Seahawks over San Francisco 49ers. NB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the New Orleans Saints. OC

Seattle Seahawks over Tampa Bay Buccaneers. HF

New Orleans Saints v Kansas City Chiefs. GS

Super Bowl LV prediction

Our panel are united in their prediction of another Super Bowl for the Chiefs



Our panel are united in their prediction of another Super Bowl for the Chiefs. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs over Seahawks. In a year of such unprecedented uncertainty, I can’t help but feel that the teams with the greatest stability will have a natural edge. The Chiefs were already the best team in the league, with a generational talent at quarterback, and have retained the core of the offence that carried them to a Super Bowl last season. Why shouldn’t they do it all over again? NB

Kansas City Chiefs over Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Full disclosure: I don’t actually think this will happen. But I want it to happen. Brady v Mahomes. The old guard v the new. The last dance v the new dynasty. Throughout the history of US sports, it has always felt like there’s a dynastic threat: the Oilers, the Bulls, the Lakers, the Patriots, the Warriors. You often hear proclamations like ‘they’ll own the next decade!’. As LeBron Jame said, not one, not two, not three, not four. Yet save for rare eras, those kinds of streaks, in the 21st century, rarely come to pass. The Chiefs feel like the outlier. It already feels like they have the most talented thrower of footballs in the history of the game and he’s only 24. Not four, not five, not six feels like a statement of fact as much as a projection. Teams need back-to-back titles to kickoff a dynastic run, and I’d back Mahomes and Andy Reid to seal the deal. OC

Kansas City Chiefs over Seattle Seahawks. While no team has repeated since 2005, Kansas City look to be good enough to break that trend. Of course, unlike my previous Chiefs prediction, this is assuming that Chad Henne remains on the bench. HF

Kansas City Chiefs over New Orleans Saints. The next dynasty may have already begun but it will be confirmed this season. The buzz around Edwards-Helaire suggests Kansas City have another star on offense. Yes, the defense is average but why bother with it when you can surrender a 24-0 lead then be out of sight in the blink of an eye. GS



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