2020 NFL Preview, Part 3: The East

Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here. (Update 9/11: Part 4 is here.)

AFC East

New England Patriots

About six weeks ago, I downloaded a mobile football game. After winning about 12 or so Super Bowls, the sense of accomplishment had worn off; I found myself wishing I would miss the playoffs, just so I could feel alive again. I never had the guts to lose enough to do so, but the temptation was always there. Impossibly arrogant as this may sound, I can’t help but wonder if Bill Belichick is going through something similar.

Brady was probably going to leave no matter what, and most of last year’s psychotically excellent defense either opted out or went elsewhere. Stephon Gilmore is still around, I guess, as are a bunch of guys I’m surely forgetting right now. We were given a pleasant reminder that, for all of Belichick’s joyless hyper competence, he still makes mistakes – this reminder came in the form of last year’s trade for Mohamed Sanu, who dropped some passes and got cut this offseason. This cost a second round pick. I could’ve sworn Sanu was a t least decent, and perhaps he can be again somewhere else, but yikes.

Also Cam Newton is here now, in whatever condition he may be in. I love me some Cam, but I also hate me some Patriots, so I have some pretty conflicted feelings about his signing. I do hope the guy is healthy; I found his post-2015 season career an endlessly dispiriting cycle of increasingly demoralizing injuries. I hope he’s healthy and can regain some of his old form, but I also hope the Patriots kind of suck this year, for a change. It’s a conundrum.

Even if Cam is healthy, though, I don’t see how this team has enough talent to pose a serious threat to the likes of the Chiefs and the Ravens, and their long-uncontested divisional superiority is on shaky ground, too. The numerous opt outs on defense don’t help matters any. If you were to ask me if I thought Brady or Belichick was more responsible for the Patriots’ 20-year run, I would say Belichick 10 times out of 10. Again, coaching and circumstance trump roster talent. Even so, I have real trouble seeing this team contending for even a Wild Card in a deeper AFC than we’re used to seeing lately.

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Buffalo Bills

On the one hand, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Bills not only broke the longest playoff drought in the big four sports, but went on to make it two playoff appearances in three seasons. At the time, the first of these two appearances had a certain “broken clock is right twice a day” feel to it, so it was nice to see them do it again, and I am heartened to see the table-smashing bozos of Buffalo have a team that’s worth cheering for once again. I’m sure it feels good.

And yet, if we’re being honest and setting all of the feel-goodery to the side for a moment, I think we can all admit that the Bills sort of blew it last year. They could have beaten and imminently beatable Patriots team on two separate occasions, and fell short both times, including their Week 16 game where a victory could have given them the division. They also had a real shot at taking out the Texans and somehow failed to do so, in one of the most baffling late games I can recall (which isn’t saying much, since I drink a lot). Great gains as a franchise or no, I can’t help but look at last year’s Bills and see a wasted opportunity.

But it’s a new year, and therefore a new opportunity for the Bills to disappoint their fans all over again. I kid, of course – this team seems to be perfectly positioned to take the division from the Patriots, or at least they would were it not for Josh Allen. Josh Allen has occasionally done some very cool things, but unless he can be more accurate and less skittish, he ain’t it. Having my one true love Stefon Diggs and his contested catch wizardry will surely help some, as his presence improves the offense around Allen from ‘competent’ to ‘actually pretty good’. If Allen stinks up the place this year, or if he continues to show flashes without consistency, he won’t have any excuses.

The defense should be pretty damn good, too. Tre’Davious White is the most underrated player in the game, Jerry Hughes and Tremaine Edmunds are still around, and they also have the zombified remains of Josh Norman in back, all led by Leslie Frazier, who has long been high atop any sensible ranking of Guys You Don’t Want As Your Head Coach But Who Are Awesome Defensive Coordinators. I don’t see how this team could emerge as a Super Bowl contender, but they should be able to take out the Patriots, and for a franchise that was totally lost four years ago that’s not nothing. Everything is in place, and the time to strike is at hand.

Predicted Finish: 1st

New York Jets

Oh man, please don’t make me write about the fucking Jets.

Alright, fine. I’ll say some words and then I’ll get out. I forget this almost everyday, but the Jets somehow managed to win seven entire, honest-to-shit professional football contests last year. I didn’t watch a single second of these victories; the only Jets games I had the misfortune to ingest were their Monday night embarrassments against the Browns and the Patriots. I don’t know whether Sam Darnold is good or bad, but since I’ve established myself as a Nurture Over Nature guy when it comes to player development, I will say that being shackled to Adam Gase’s depraved, insane cokeheadedness and his wide receiver screens for 3 yards on 3rd and 6 have doomed poor Sammy as surely as if he had been stricken with Mummy Rot.

With the trading of Jamal Adams to a place that knows how to use him, and with C.J. Mosley having opted out, the Jets do not have any other notable football persons I am aware of. They are going to suck and suck drastically. Do not watch any part of any Jets game if you value your time on this earth. This goes for Jets fans, too, perhaps even more so.

Predicted Finish: 4th

Miami Dolphins

A year after winning five entire games, which is five more than anyone expected, it is extremely tempting for me to view the Dolphins as some sort of dark horse Wild Card contender. Even though professional football is the Official Sport of Chaos, that’s probably a pretty tall ask. They’re still trotting out Ryan Fitzpatrick behind an offensive line that has improved, sure, but it has improved from ‘catastrophic’ to ‘deeply suspect’. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ryan Fitzpatrick as much as the next guy, but like everyone else this admiration is predicated less on his skill at his job and more on his magnificent beard and his penchant for borrowing his receivers’ clothes for the purposes of looking cool at press conferences.

Of course, Tua Tagovailoa has already been appointed as Fitzmagic’s eventual successor. We’ll see if the guy ever sees the field this year, though, after his horrific injury. Personally, I sure hope it doesn’t come to that; I know that sports medicine has advanced a great deal in the past 30 years, but to hear any injury be compared to the injury that took Bo Jackson out of football entirely is cause for concern. Again, the offensive line isn’t good all of a sudden, and there’s no expectation for the Dolphins to start winning this year. If there ever were a time in this day and age to sit a highly-drafted rookie quarterback for his entire first year, now would be it.

Tua aside, there’s also cause for optimism with respect to coach Brian Flores. Flores is yet another Belichick disciple, but the fact that he got a team with almost no talent fired up enough to win five games suggests that he not only has his own personality and motivational tactics, but that said personality and tactics consist of something other than “Alienate 70%-99% of the established starters so that when they leave you can replace them with ex-Patriots”. Then again, Kyle Van Noy is here all of a sudden, and the Dolphins rush three with man coverage behind it constantly, but at least this tendency has yet to become self parody, unlike whatever the shit the Lions are doing.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

I forgot the Eagles even won the division last year. It seemed like they spent the entire year being disappointing, and perhaps relative to some outlandish expectation it was – as with quarterbacks, people seem to think that once a head coach has won a Super Bowl, he should be able to do so again and again every year, for the rest of eternity. Instead, Doug Pederson spent a good deal of time getting put on blast last year for a litany of injuries that don’t seem as though they could have possibly been his fault, and still capitalized when the Cowboys inevitably blew it.

But this year, the deck feels stacked against them, with the Cowboys’ offense looking potentially invincible. The promise of Carson Wentz now feels tainted by injury; in this context, drafting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round makes sense aplenty. The potential for injury catastrophe looms large on the rest of the offense, too. Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson are back for the moment, although who knows how long that will last. Zach Ertz never left. Miles Sanders will get a chance to be the guy, and he played a big part in dragging my fantasy team to the playoffs last year so that means he must be good, right? Also, Nelson Agholor is gone, which can’t hurt. Nevertheless, predicting how this offense will do feels like a fool’s errand. How many of these guys are gonna stay healthy, really?

On top of that, the defense, which was the not-so-secret weapon of their Super Bowl victory, seems a shambles. The secondary, which for the past few years consisted of a bunch of scrubs and Malcolm Jenkins, has been reduced to just the scrubs. Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett remain, so perhaps there are pressures to be racked up here, but a secondary that’s this level of shaky typically needs a bit more than that to appear functional.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz remain extremely good at their jobs, and have shown their capability even in trying circumstances. Also, this division is shite, which helps.

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Dallas Cowboys

It didn’t occur to me until late last night that, in choosing to bundle the AFC and NFC East together, I would be forced to write about both the Patriots and the Cowboys on the same day, which sucks. Not only do I despise both teams like any decent person, both teams also get far too much attention in the first place, and I am now confronted with the knowledge that I’m not helping matters.

At least the Patriots have recent success to justify the shine. The Cowboys, by contrast, haven’t so much as appeared in the NFC Championship since I was in elementary school. My youngest brother wasn’t even born yet, and now he’s graduated from college, engaged, and in possession of a real, adult job. But despite this sub-Vikings level of success, they retain their stupefyingly large fan base, and that base’s attendant piles of money, which Jerry Jones then drunkenly parlays into paying football guys you’ve heard of to play in his depraved megachurch of a stadium.

As a result, people go into most seasons believing the Cowboys to be the best team in the division on paper, and this year is no exception. And alas, I confess I must fall in line with this orthodoxy. Dak Prescott appears to be the truth, and with CeeDee Lamb (who is allegedly very good but is also a rookie so I’m hesitant to agree just yet) arriving to help out Amari Cooper to go along with Ezekiel Elliott and the still very good line, all of which are now coached by an allegedly revitalized Mike McCarthy (hereafter referred to as ‘Beav’) and a hot shit offensive coordinator, it is quite difficult indeed to see how this team will fail to drown the opposition in points.

The defense contains many more question marks. Like their eternal nemesis Eagles, the Cowboys appear to have a potentially pretty good but not otherworldy pass rush with a questionable secondary behind it. And there remains the potential, however remote, for the offense to go astray. I believe the Beav when he says he spent his year away from the game learning new things, and it’s clear he needed a change of scenery, but there’s a chance that he’s still basically the same dude. Even if that’s the case, though, there’s only one other team in the division supplying real opposition.

Predicted Finish: 1st

New York Giants

I’m glad the Giants are next, because I need a palate cleanser. What better to way to refresh my prediction mojo than by styling on Joe Judge, who has already established himself as the league’s hottest new circus act?

I’ve said enough about bringing in Patriots assistants and it’s brain-numbing effects on a franchise, so it was nice of Judge to bring in a circus-like style of ineptitude to provide an entertaining comparison point. Judge gives the Giants a healthy does of grim scowling, yes, but he also brings goofy tennis-ball-taped-to-hands DB drills and wind sprints like this is high school again all of a sudden and a general sense of running the team like Chip Kelly ran the Eagles when he took over, with none of the optimism from the football intelligentsia at large. Few things are guaranteed in football, and there remains the tiniest chance that Judge’s methods will translate to on field success, but in 99.9999999% of all possible universes, this ends with Judge completely alienating both the players and the front office after failing to treat either like fellow adults. Grab your popcorn, it’s gonna be a hoot.

Even if we assume this terrible coaching hire works out (or didn’t even happen in the first place), the Giants’ hopes for a return to relevance hinge entirely on Daniel Jones, and whether or not he takes a leap in his second year. Jones doesn’t seem to have pocket awareness or deep ball accuracy, though, so I think we’re done here.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Washington Football Team

Fuck Dan Snyder Forever. Get Well Soon Ron.

Predicted Finish: 4th

Tomorrow: I conclude with the AFC & NFC North. Come for the bullshitting, stay for the Vikings-based anguish.

4 thoughts on “2020 NFL Preview, Part 3: The East

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