One half of the 2020 NFL season is in the books, and already we've had quite a few surprises: The Baltimore Ravens lost their footing as the class of the AFC North, the Seattle Seahawks finally turned Russell Wilson loose through the air, the Green Bay Packers exploded rather than regressed, and the New York Jets turned out to be astoundingly bad (kidding on that last one being a surprise).
What's in store for the second half of the year? We're glad you asked. As we enter Week 9, here are 10 bold predictions for the remainder of the 2020 campaign:
10. Steelers top 13 wins for first time since 2004
Pittsburgh hasn't exceeded 13 wins since going 15-1 back in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year. But frankly, it'd be an upset if they don't come close to matching that this winter. They may have had a relatively quiet march to 7-0, but just look at their schedule the rest of the way:
- Week 9 at Cowboys (2-6)
- Week 10 vs. Bengals (2-5-1)
- Week 11 at Jaguars (1-6)
- Week 12 vs. Ravens (5-2)
- Week 13 vs. Washington (2-5)
- Week 14 at Bills (6-2)
- Week 15 at Bengals (2-5-1)
- Week 16 vs. Colts (5-2)
- Week 17 at Browns (5-3)
Cincy will put up a fight with Joe Burrow, and maybe the Bills and Colts will be competitive, but even the other AFC North games aren't particularly scary: Baltimore has to come to Pittsburgh on a short week for Week 12, a Thanksgiving night game, and Lamar Jackson has flopped against that defense. The Browns, meanwhile? Is anyone even sure Baker Mayfield will be the quarterback in Week 17? The Steelers haven't been perfect despite their flawless record, but that's also the point; imagine if they really start hitting their stride.
9. The Lions fire Patricia in December
This has nothing to do with coach Matt Patricia personally and everything to do with his team's performance on the field. Lions ownership has already issued a mandate for this year, requiring the team to be a "playoff contender" in the coach's third season. The extra playoff spot this year helps their cause and their schedule over the next five weeks (at Vikings, vs. Washington, at Panthers, vs. Texans, at Bears) enables them to at least hover around .500. But the feeling here is that going into Week 14 against the Packers, the Lions will be something like 5-7. Maybe it's before that Green Bay game. Maybe it's after. But if they have nothing but pride to play for in the final three or four games of the year, it'd be a logical time to cut the cord.
8. Mahomes overtakes Wilson as the passing TD leader
Hard to do, right, considering Russell Wilson already has 26 to Patrick Mahomes' 21 in one less game? No doubt. But have you seen this Mahomes guy play football before? Russ is dropping dimes on deep balls like no one, but Pat has barely been unleashed so far this year, save for Week 8's sandbox rout of the Jets. As Andy Reid and Kansas City dial it up a notch to push for top seeding in the AFC, you can bet your sweet bottom that No. 15 will blow past his TD total of 2019 (26) and then chase Wilson on the home stretch.
7. Cam lasts only one more game as Pats QB
The experiment was fun in the beginning. Now? Cam Newton looks an awful lot like he did at the tail end of his Panthers career -- banged up or flooded with poor decisions, or both. Maybe Bill Belichick didn't pull one over on the rest of the NFL, after all. Because while a win over the Jets is feasible, the Ravens in Week 10 spell more of a long-term turn to Jarrett Stidham.
6. Herbert wins Offensive Rookie of the Year
Look, if you want to crown Joe Burrow, go right ahead. There's no denying his impact on the Bengals, and he's going to be a Pro Bowler in no time. But let's not pretend Justin Herbert hasn't been just as, if not more, impressive out in Los Angeles. The wins aren't there yet, but it's also not his fault he can't play defense. This kid's got top-five arm talent and entirely looks the part as a rookie.
5. Giants temporarily bench Daniel Jones
If you watch Jones play, it's not hard to spot the makings of something special. He just happens to lace every spectacular, gritty highlight with an equally infuriating decision. Joe Judge has denied there's any chance of a QB change right now, as he should; the G-Men need to keep evaluating Jones a lot more than they need to bank on Colt McCoy giving them new life in a bad division. But let's say you're going into the bye at 1-9. Everyone knows McCoy is not the answer, but would it hurt to give Jones space to at least sit on the bench, reflect on the situation and ideally come back in all charged up? Judge likes Jones' fight at the moment, but at some point, he also owes it to the rest of the roster to give them their best chance at a reward on Sunday.
4. Bears finish strong to make the playoffs
This wouldn't have seemed bold at all a few weeks ago, but most people are down on Chicago now that the team has lost two straight and neither Nick Foles nor Matt Nagy is inspiring much confidence offensively. Mitchell Trubisky is now sidelined and unavailable for any potential takeover in the immediate future, in the event that anyone actually thought that would reinvigorate their chances. Still, their defense can't be counted out. If you're picking between the Bears and the Rams right now for that last wild-card spot, you might want to bank on Foles getting streaky rather than Jared Goff maintaining confidence in the pocket.
3. Eagles win a home playoff game
Have the Eagles done enough to warrant this kind of proclamation? Heck. No. But little about Doug Pederson's last two and a half seasons has made sense. By virtue of barely edging similarly bad NFC East teams and owning the most experienced QB-head coach duo in the division, Philly is poised to benefit from seeding rules (barring a COVID-induced restructure) and open the postseason at Lincoln Financial Field. And guess what? If there's one thing the Eagles don't do under Pederson, it's back down. Maybe it's Carson Wentz, maybe it's Jalen Hurts, or maybe it's both, but this crunch-time team will surprise again.
2. Jimmy G says goodbye to the 49ers
It's up for debate whether Jimmy Garoppolo is likely to even play again this year, now that he's out indefinitely with the aggravated ankle injury. But try this one on for size: Jimmy G could easily be done in San Francisco altogether. Had just a few plays gone differently in Super Bowl LIV, maybe we'd be talking about him differently. But the reality is he's still only started 30 games for the Niners, during which he's mostly been good, not great. Throw in the fact the 49ers can clear almost all of his remaining contract off the books without penalty, and the fact team brass admittedly entertained replacing him with Tom Brady before 2020, and the writing is on the wall. Keep your eye on Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan or even Sam Darnold in 2021.
1. Bucs win the Super Bowl
Offseason champions almost never win real championships, but last time we checked, 2020 was not a normal season. Tampa Bay has room to improve, but there's no denying they've assembled the closest thing to a "super team" in the NFL, at least when it comes to offensive skill positions. Tom Brady doesn't have to be more than a good point guard with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown -- whose arrival is probably being undersold -- at his disposal and a feisty Todd Bowles defense on his side. They've got the potential to be the most balanced contender outside of Pittsburgh come playoff time. Now just imagine them playing the Steelers in the big game: Brady in the Super Bowl rather than the AFC title spot, and Antonio Brown with a prime-time shot at his old team.