NFL expert Kyle Brown (@Kyleianbrown) pinpoints four sides he expects to struggle in the 2019/20 season.
AFC East – Miami Dolphins
Of the 4 teams mentioned in this piece, there is no one I’m more certain of to finish bottom of their division than the Miami Dolphins. Quite simply, they’re a team in rebuild mode.
This year isn’t about winning for the Dolphins. They are clearing cap space, offloading veterans and looking to acquire draft capital for 2020 and beyond. To be frank, they’ve done a good job of it so far.
Ryan Tannehill, Danny Amendola, T.J. McDonald, Frank Gore, Robert Quinn and a whole host of other big names have all been moved on from the Sunshine State.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been named the starting QB going into Week 1 but I expect that to change by their bye week. Josh Rosen will be given a shot at some stage to see whether he can lead the team into the future, and if not, they’ll have their eyes on the top prospects in next years draft.
What also goes against Miami this season are their divisional rivals. Notoriously a weak division (Patriots aside), this year looks set to be different. Both the Jets and the Bills are a few years ahead of Miami on the rebuilding timescale, and look set to compete (or at least make a better effort than the years gone by) with the Patriots for the AFC East crown – New York Jets especially. If they’re serious about that challenge, then home and away victories against the Dolphins are a must.
There isn’t much use in looking back at last years’ performance metrics or statistics because, as I mentioned, so many of the players responsible have been traded or released. A successful season for the Dolphins this year is getting a top three draft pick, bleeding in some young talent and making a definitive decision about the future of Josh Rosen in this franchise.
To Finish 4th – 8/13 (SkyBet)
AFC South – Tennessee Titans
The riskiest of my 4 picks, I’m tipping the Tennessee Titans to bring up the rear of the AFC South because of their questions at QB.
Marcos Mariota is a freakishly good athlete, but it would be fair to say he hasn’t quite met the expectations of him when he was taken 2nd overall in 2015. He has struggled for consistency and has been hampered by an injury every other week. Even when fit, however, he doesn’t have the playmakers around him that will seemingly win every contested throw.
Corey Davis had just 891 yards and 4 TD’s last season which simply isn’t enough for top receiver. As good as he could be, I don’t think he’ll ever reach his maximum potential while Mariota is the one throwing at him.
I have my own doubts over their running game, too. Derrick Henry ended last season on red hot form, but it makes his stats a little skewed. He rushed for 1059 yards last year and 12 touchdowns, which is nothing to be sniffed at.
However, more than half of those yards (585) and touchdowns (7) came in the final four weeks, which including nothing-to-play-for matches against the Jaguars and Giants, and a Redskins side plagued with injuries who lost six of their last seven. Henry’s 2017 stats – 744 yards and 5 TD’s, are more representative with the quality of running back he really is, I believe.
Elsewhere on the team, I don’t have many complaints. A well-rounded defence and competent head coach will make this team hard to beat. But they drew a relatively short straw schedule wise, having to play the NFC South (Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Bucs) and the AFC West (Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos and Raiders. 2-6 from those eight games isn’t unthinkable.
I’m banking on a worst-case-scenario-esq year for the Titans. I could simply never back a team in which I don’t have confidence in their QB.
To finish 4th – 11/4 (SkyBet)
NFC East – New York Giants
This one is a coin flip. The NFC East hasn’t seen back to back winners since the Eagles in 2001 – 2004, it’s been wide open in recent years. That trend will likely continue as I expect the Eagles to reclaim the crown from the Dallas Cowboys.
That leaves the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, both of whom have questions at QB (notice the trend).
Washington at least, looked relatively strong last year until injuries hit them hard. Going into the new year, the worst of that is seemingly over – Alex Smith aside – and they acquired the reliable enough Case Keenum to act as a veteran for Dwane Haskins before he eventually gets the starting gig.
They have a stellar defence and a very nice situation at running back, with a revitalised Adrian Peterson in the backfield alongside one of the previous years’ top prospects (pre-ACL tear), Derrius Guice. This team likely won’t be competing for the divisional trophy, but they should be strides above the Giants, who they’re predicted to battle with for third spot.
It’s also worth noting that the Redskins have the easiest schedule in the league this year (.469 was the average win % of their upcoming opponents during the 2018 season).
The Giants are a mess. The sentiment for Eli Manning may still be prevalent with the front office but those feelings doesn’t resonate with the majority of fans. A poor start to the season and you can expect games at the MetLife stadium to be a tense affair, with Daniel Jones waiting on the side-line for a call up.
Seven of the 11 starting defenders last year have been moved on, and they haven’t exactly been replaced with big or exciting names. It’s a young unit that will likely need a year or so to gel together.
Not only did the Giants lose OBJ to the Browns this off-season, they’ll be starting Week 1 without their next best pass catchers: Sterling Shepard (injury) and Golden Tate (suspension). That will likely result in a dependency on Saquon Barkley yet again, and while he was electric in his rookie year, he’s not enough alone to propel this team into playoff contention.
Had the Giants opted to put faith in their new rookie QB then I’d have put faith in their chances of leapfrogging the Washington Redskins. But they haven’t, and I can only see the season playing out messily.
Let’s not forget, Eli Manning was sacked 47 times last year and he threw just 21 touchdowns – his joint lowest tally of any of his full 16 game seasons. Those numbers would terrify me if I were a Giants fan.
To finish 4th – 10/11 (SkyBet)
NFC North – Detroit Lions
Now, in a different division, Detroit may have a sneaky chance of grabbing a wild card spot for the Playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they are in what is probably the toughest division in football right now – the NFC North.
Twice the Lions will have to face the Bears, Packers and Vikings and I really don’t see where they’re going to pick up the wins from.
Chicago had been the bottom dwellers for 4 years running (2014-2017) before being transformed head to toe by GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy. A more reliable kicker last year could have resulted in a Chicago Super Bowl appearance, and while they have still yet to solve that issue, the defence will make up for the lost points, no doubt. Both home and away I see a Chicago victory.
The Vikings are my dark horse for a Super Bowl run this year and may in fact top this division. Their inability to run the ball was their downfall, but a healthy Dalvin Cook will be a nightmare for opponents, and it will allow Kirk Cousins to control a more balanced offence.
You can’t go to outdoor stadiums in the North during the Winter months and expect favourable weather conditions – making the run game more crucial than ever. The Vikings will look at these games as two must wins if they want to push on from last season, and I don’t see the Lions stopping them.
Third and lastly, the Lions will take on the Packers twice. I personally don’t anticipate a great season from the Packers this year (preview available in my win totals piece), that said, are they man for man much worse than the Lions? Probably not. And I don’t think there’s any discussion as to who has the better QB. 1 win apiece seems fair to predict at this stage of the season, but that would only leave the Lions with a 1-5 divisional record.
Three tough games against the Chargers, Chiefs and Eagles also await at some point during the season. And while favourable matchups do come along in the form of the Giants and (to a lesser extent) the Cardinals, it’s hard to see how exactly the Lions will piece together an 8-8 year, let alone remain competitive in the NFC North.
To finish 4th – 8/13 (SkyBet)
SkyBet are one of the only bookmakers offering this market before the season starts, and you can back the four-fold at a tasty looking 12.7/1. For extra piece of mind, good money can still be made by backing it as four trebles, which is what I’d recommend.