Three 2019 playoff teams that will regress in 2020
With the 2020 NFL Draft right around the corner, it is almost time for supporters of all 32 franchises to enter a period of varying degrees of optimism, from the realistic to the downright delusional. For many teams the enthusiasm of the summer quickly wanes when September comes, which inevitably brings formerly successful sides crashing back to earth. In this article, we will discuss three playoff teams from 2019 that are prime candidates to regress when the NFL takes to the field in 2020.
1. The Houston Texans
Few will be surprised to see the Texans head this list. Lacking first round picks in both this and next year’s draft, Houston are already fighting a losing battle in building a side dominated by young talent. Add to this the quite frankly horrible decision to trade DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, and the Texans could quickly go from the top of the AFC South to battling with Jacksonville in a race not to finish bottom of the pile. Adding Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams leaves the Texans in a strange situation. While their wide receiver room is well stocked with Cooks, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills, but the fact remains that they’ve traded away one of the best receivers in the game for paltry draft capital, which they then went on to surrender in the Cooks trade.
Cook’s ability is unquestionable, with three franchises prior to the Texans having deemed him worthy of a first round pick (Saints, Patriots, Rams). He is the only wideout in the history of the NFL to have three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons with three different teams (2016, ’17 and ‘18). He has 34 career touchdowns and is still aged just 26. However, he is also coming off the least productive season of his career (just 583 receiving yards), which is largely down to missing a significant portion of the schedule with yet another concussion. When you combine the risk of Cooks, with the earlier decision to pay slot receiver Randall Cobb $9m a year, and the reliance that Will Fuller remains healthy for a full year, something history warns us not to expect, and that receiver room looks very fragile for Bill O’Brien.
Rather than a treasure trove of draft capital from the Hopkins trade, Houston have just 6 picks in this year’s draft, and half of those are in the seventh round. With a pressing need at cornerback, not to mention their offensive line (which ranked 20th in the league in 2019), there will be no quick fix this time around. Yes, they traded for Laremy Tunsil from Miami at left tackle, but the only thing he led the league in last season was penalties – 18 in total. The Texans will be hoping for much more from a player they sacrificed two first round picks for less than a year ago. Even if Tunsil improves next season, the Texans will still have the concern of having to pay big money to their left tackle as he enters free agency.
One positive outlook for the future is that in JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson, Houston have a game changer on either side of the ball. However, both have famously suffered serious injuries in recent years, with Watson tearing his ACL in 2017 and Watt succumbing to a myriad of ailments in his NFL career, from the twice broken ring finger to significant back and leg surgeries. Unfortunately, with another 51 roster slots to fill with talent, and Bill O’ Brien at the helm, there is good chance the Texans will be waving goodbye to the AFC South title in 2020.
2. New England Patriots
New England is in uncharted territory coming into this year. For the first time in what seems like the history of football, they lack a starting quarterback. Rival fans of the AFC East have rejoiced in Tom Brady’s departure, and Bill Belichick seemingly has yet to replace the greatest of all time. Many are unconvinced that Jared Stidham is the man to take the Patriots forward – could a move for Cam Newton or Jameis Winston be on the cards? Neither seems to be an obvious fit in Foxborough.
Belichick must have something up his sleeve. This is a man who bases his leadership approach on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince – surely he has a master plan up his sleeve? Could he convince Andrew Luck to come out of retirement? Are they planning the ultimate tank job to bring themselves into the Trevor Lawrence conversation next year? When it comes to Belichick and the Patriots anything is possible.
One area where the Patriots have undoubtedly got weaker behind the Brady media attention is on defense. They have lost linebacker Jamie Collins (who led the team in sacks and topped the NFL in forced fumbles in 2019) and lineman Danny Shelton (responsible for 34 tackles and 3 sacks last year) to former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions. Edge rusher Kyle Van Noy, who chipped in with 7 sacks, left to join another former staffer, Brian Flores, in Miami. Each played 16 games last season, and will be sorely missed on the Patriots D.
The Bills are the immediate threat to win what has been in the past the easiest division in football. Stefon Diggs has been added an X factor to the Buffalo offense, and under the impressive coaching of Brian Flores the Dolphins will be a contender within two years, if they spend their wealth of draft capital wisely. As for the Jets? The Jets will be the Jets.
While it would be wrong to simply say that the Patriots dynasty is over, they have their work cut out if they want to win the AFC East this year.
3. New Orleans Saints
If my other two predictions are too, well, predictable, then this one could cause more controversy. The Saints have won the NFC South in each of the past three years, have the best wide receiver in the game right now in Michael Thomas, and are in full win-now mode. Though they were smart to bring Drew Brees back, the spectre of Taysom Hill lurks in the background. He is seemingly desperate to prove that he is more than a trick-play role player, and worthy of an NFL starting job. The first round tender placed on Hill shows that he is valued in Louisiana, but for how long will he be happy as a backup?
By bringing in Malcolm Jenkins and Emmanuel Sanders, who have a combined age of 65, the Saints are expecting to immediately challenge for the Super Bowl once again. Sanders has been to the biggest game of them all with each of his previous teams, which bodes well for them. You have to question the acquisition of Jenkins however, who at 32 has signed a 4 year deal. With Vonn Bell heading out to Cincinnati on a 3 year, $18m contract it seems as though New Orleans must win now or regret it later.
Unlike Houston and New England, it is perhaps unreasonable to just expect the Saints to miss the playoffs in 2020. However, with a resurgent Tampa Bay side under Bruce Arians and the small matter of Tom Brady as the Buccaneers quarterback, coupled with the exciting arrival of Matt Rhule in Carolina, expect the NFC South to be much more competitive in 2020. With tough fixtures at home to Green Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City and San Francisco to come next season, the New Orleans Saints will do well to repeat the 13-3 record they achieved in 2019. The Saints will most likely win their division next season, but don’t expect them to improve on last year’s record.
Tom watched his first ever NFL game at a ex’s home in North Carolina in 2013, as he was “encouraged” to support the Indianapolis Colts. One break-up and four years later, He switched allegiance to the Jets and Has been obsessed with the game ever since. Tom can be found on Twitter at @downthemannyrd
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