19 things to watch for during the 2020 NFL season

Ready or not, the National Football League is back. The Chiefs open things up Thursday as they try and defend their title, most stadiums will be empty (but some will allow in some fans) and how the season will play out is anyone's guess.

News 12 Staff

Sep 11, 2020, 4:35 PM

Updated 1,382 days ago


19 things to watch for during the 2020 NFL season
Ready or not, the National Football League is back. The Chiefs open things up Thursday as they try and defend their title, most stadiums will be empty (but some will allow in some fans) and how the season will play out is anyone's guess. 
We rounded up the News 12 Sports team as they give us some insight into what they're looking at in the new year of football.
Gase Needs Gains to Stay in Town & A Giant Leap Forward in 2020?
The expectations in New York aren't too high in 2020. But performance will be important, with plenty of jobs on the line on Gang Green and Big Blue.
Jury's Out on Joe Judge;
Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn't have the best track record of producing assistant coaches who find great success as NFL head coaches. Romeo Crennel? Eric Mangini? Josh McDaniels? Now here comes Joe Judge taking over the Giants. The guy is playing with house money in my opinion. He's a first year coach of a rebuilding team in a pandemic season trying to develop its QB of the future and trying snap an 8-year playoff winless streak. I say throw it all on the wall and see what sticks, Joe! It's not a throwaway season, but expectations are low. I want to see him get creative with his play calling. I want to see him unleash Saquon Barkley in ways we've never seen. I want to see all sorts of blitz packages. Show the fans that you're not just a Belichick clone, but that you can maybe be Belichick 2.0.
Williams Worth The Money?
Leonard Williams has 17.5 career sacks in five NFL. He's making $16.1 million this season. That math doesn't add up. He's the highest paid Giants player this season thanks to the "franchise' tag they used on him, and now needs to produce like it. Williams had a half-sack last season, albeit in one that saw him get traded from the Jets to the Giants. That production won't keep him in the lineup and if it continues it could get Giants GM Dave Gettleman run out of town too.
Giants Exceed Expectations?
I think the Giants may get off to a slow start but will improve as the season progresses.  I think Joe Judge is a players' coach and has his guys fired up and buying into what he's all about.  I also think the addition of Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator will help young players like Jones, Barkley and Engram continue to improve.  I certainly think they will win more than four games this year as long as they stay healthy.  I think the Giants might exceed expectations.  
Gettleman's Ticket to Stay in Town Rests on Danny Dimes
For Daniel Jones, this is only his second year, so the Giants aren't at contract decision time yet, but that might not matter. The team took a chance bringing GM Dave Gettleman back for another season, and he enters with his seat already scorching hot, so his future very much relies on the play of Danny Dimes. Jones was up and down last season - but his supporting cast is healthier now, which should help. If he plays well, both Jones and Gettleman will certainly be back next year. If not, Gettleman is almost certain to be fired, and Jones will be left as a guy who was seen as a reach in the draft, taken by a GM and head coach (Pat Shurmur) who have both been fired, and has struggled to produce.
Giants Move Forward, Jets Move Back
The Giants will take small steps in the right direction I just don't think they're ready for prime time yet. I don't see a lot of success coming the Jets way. Another high draft pick could be in the cards which will help them down the road. The Patriots will finally come down to earth. Buffalo should take control of the division.
Year of the Black QB
The Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Chiefs, Chargers, Cowboys, Washington, Panthers, Seahawks and Cardinals are all starting black quarterbacks in Week 1. The reigning NFL MVP is black, as is the Super Bowl MVP. Let’s refer to all of them as quarterbacks. 
Sam I Am. Now Who Are You?
That's what Sam Darnold may be saying to the guys he's throwing to this season. Chris Hogan. Ryan Griffin. Braxton Berrios. Breshad Perriman. Not exactly a murder's row of pass catchers. I don't know if Darnold has a bonus in his contract for reaching a certain amount of 300-yard passing games, but I don't think he'll be earning it. Take the under on that one.
Big Man Becton
There haven't been too many "must-watch" offensive lineman in Jets history, but Becton is one this season. At 363 pounds he's the biggest guy on the roster. Thanks to free agency he'll have some solid veterans lining up next to him. But I'm very interested to see if veteran running backs Le'veon Bell and Frank Gore take Becton under their wings and teach him about opening hole and downfield blocks. I think their insight could be very useful to the rookie out of Louisville and I would imagine their words would carry a lot of weight - not that Becton needs more.
CBA Means a Choice Looms for NYJ
In Darnold, it's tough for the Jets to know exactly what they have - and it's not all his fault. Entering his third NFL season, the Sam-chize has had two head coaches and two offensive coordinators, shaky offensive lines, lackluster receivers ... and as you might remember, he also had mono. This season will be by far the best O-line he's ever played behind and on paper, his receivers, while new, should be solid, if not spectacular. If he's going to really *show something,* then this should be the year.
Here's where it gets tricky. The Jets will have to make a decision on whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract after THIS season - before he even plays in his fourth year ... and with the new CBA, that money will be fully guaranteed. That's a lot to commit to a guy who we still don't know very much about. The easiest way to win in the NFL is still having a QB on a rookie contract, and spending the salary cap on the rest of the team. So these days, teams are turning the page on QBs quicker than ever. That clock is ticking on the Jets, and if Darnold struggles, don't be surprised to see rumblings that Gang Green is already looking to move on.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
No one is doubting Saquon Barkley's ability, he's one of the best running backs in football. Le'Veon Bell was there not that long ago too. But what will his Jets career ultimately look like? He showed flashes of brilliance last season, can he get back to the running back he was in Pittsburgh?
Beckham's Back
OBJ ... remember him? It’s not a stretch to say that he is still the most talented wide receiver in the league. The Browns will be better, Baker Mayfield will be better and I think Beckham will benefit from a lot of the noise not being present in the absence of fans and the media. I think this is the year we see 2014-2016 OBJ, and he leads Cleveland back to the playoffs. 

Tank for Trevor? 
It's rare indeed when a player of Trevor Lawrence's caliber becomes available, as he will in next year's NFL Draft. The Clemson quarterback is a can't miss superstar of the same caliber of Andrew Luck or John Elway when they entered the draft. His size, 6'6, 220, makes NFL scouts drool. Combined with his arm strength and his ability to use his legs, he's the total package.
So the question is, who will tank for Trevor? You know it will happen. Or at least many will suspect it's happening when a team or teams, start say, 0-5. Who are the candidates? Jacksonville, Washington, Detroit, Cincinnati and Carolina will all be bad. The Bengals just got the top pick and landed LSU Quarterback Joe Burrow so they may lose, but not necessarily on purpose.
My money is on the Jaguars, they'll be REALLY bad, on purpose or otherwise, and will end up as the winners in the Tank for Trevor Sweepstakes.
The Patriot Way Continues?
Can we call the Pats a surprise team if they win the AFC East? I'm doing it. With Tom Brady in Tampa Bay and a truck-load of important pieces opting out of the season for COVID concerns, the consensus seems to be that the AFC East is wide open. Not so. Bill Belichick's presence/system, Cam Newton's resurgence and a dreadful division will allow the Pats to finish on top once again. 
NJ Representing in Indy
I'm excited to see what Salem, New Jersey native Jonathan Taylor is going to do in Indianapolis. The rookie running back was the Colts second round pick out of Wisconsin. Taylor is one of the best players to come out of the Jersey high school sports scene.  In college, he continued to impress, winning the Doak Walker Award for the nation's top running back in 2018 and 2019.   He finished his career at Wisconsin with nearly 6,200 total rushing yards and is the only FBS player to rush for more than 6,000 yards in three seasons. I think he'll fit right in with the other Indy RBs and prove to be one to watch.
Chiefs Still On Top? Dallas Back on Top?
I wouldn't be surprised to see Kansas City make it back to back titles. I'm not breaking any news here but Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback on the planet and the Chiefs could be even better this season than last.
In the NFC, I think Mike McCarthy will be a big boost in Dallas. He knows how to win and he has plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. That could be a scary combination.
Preseason Predicaments
I never enjoyed NFL preseason, yet here we are, at the start of the regular season, and I feel like 1 or 2 preseason games may be important! The four that every team plays on a regular year are too many, but one or two?  I think would've helped teams and fans. Nonetheless, the excitement level is there for me as we begin the 2020 season!
Prediction Time!
I've always known what number Super Bowl it is because it was always my age. Kansas City wins Super Bowl LV, beating Tampa Bay. Let's hope for a safe and healthy season.
I see a wide net of possibilities for both the Giants and the Jets.   Would I be shocked if either team made the playoffs?  No... pleasantly surprised would be more accurate.  I also wouldn't be shocked to see disappointing 4-5 win seasons from each.
Featured image courtesy Adam Hunger, John Minchillo and Chris O'Meara for AP.
Other images courtesy David J. Phillip, Gerald Herbert, Seth Wenig and John Minchillo for AP.

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