The first two steps to every National Football League season for us here at Qoxhi Picks is to make our season long predictions on team win totals and our annual Super Bowl selection. This year, those predictions are complicated by the fact that we didn’t get to evaluate the teams in preseason games.
Five teams have new head coaches, and of those five only one is walking into a situation that has immediate promise. That would be Mike McCarthy, the longtime coach of the Green Bay Packers, who in 2020 will be mentoring the Dallas Cowboys. The other first-year coaches with their new teams are Ron Rivera, who moves from the Carolina Panthers to the Washington, we’ll continue to refer to them as the Redskins until they come up with a new name. His replacement in Carolina is Matt Rhule.
Kevin Stefanski is the new head man with the Cleveland Browns, as he becomes the 12th head coach to lead the Browns in the past 20 seasons. There is a lot of talent on the Cleveland roster, but talent alone does not make a winner. Joe Judge takes over the reigns of the New York Giants, and he inherits a team that will be led by quarterback Daniel Jones following the retirement of two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning.
Seven teams will be led by a new team leader behind center, highlighted by Tom Brady moving into that position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Three other teams, the Las Vegas Raiders, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers, have spirited competitions in their camps for the starting quarterback position.
Now, none of those numbers are out of the normal pattern that follows each football season. But, opening the regular campaign on Thursday without playing a scheduled preseason game is a first. When I was in the front office with the Oakland Raiders in the 1970’s, we played six preseason games leading up to opening day. In more recent years, that schedule has been reduced to four games. Players have been lobbying for cutting that number back to two or three, but no one had suggested to kickoff a regular season without the benefit of any preseason contests in preparation for the games that count.
What can we expect, and what will the league hope for this season?
First, we can expect some ragged play over at least the first month of the 2020 season, and we might also assume that teams that feature their running game will be a step ahead of those squads that count on a precision passing attack. The timing between quarterback and receiver is one of the most difficult aspects of the game to simulate outside of real game action.
Second, and this is what the league is most interested in accomplishing, is a full season without any team needing to quarantine because of a virus outbreak. I don’t know what the odds are on getting through a campaign without that setback, we have seen no less than four Major League Baseball teams sidelined for short periods by virus outbreaks in their organizations.
Our method to determine preseason picks for team wins is based on statistical motivational tendencies from one year to the next. We have that to work with this season, while the missing elements are tied to how the teams came together during their preseason scrimmages and if any crippling injuries were suffered during August. This year, there have been those scattered injuries that can happen during a practice session, like the horrific one suffered by Teddy Bridgewater while he was slated to be the Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback a few seasons ago.
Bridgewater will now be the starter in Carolina, where he and Rhule comprise the only NFL pairing of a first year coach and quarterback. Historically, this does not bode well for a pro team, and it could be further complicated for the Panthers given this year’s lack of a preseason. We are using that situation as a primary reason why the Panthers are one of our two “under” season win total plays for 2020.
On Wednesday, we will release our preseason Super Bowl selection, while today we post our six season win total choices:
Cincinnati Bengals under 5½ wins
Buffalo Bills over 9 wins
Indianapolis Colts over 9½ wins
Dallas Cowboys over 10 wins
Carolina Panthers under 5½ wins
Baltimore Ravens over 11 wins