Updated: Sep 12
Yep, it’s here. Several months ago, I was not positive we would ever get this far, but as we try to control the smile on our faces, please consider the following as you get ready for the return of NFL Football- COVID-19 style. We have now reached the point where everyone is picking and previewing yet, in the wake of the pandemic, still trying to figure out how all of this is going to go.
*If you have a propensity to risk a dollar or two on NFL games, consider some facts. Even though there are restrictions on fans and home-field advantage will not carry the same weight as it normally might during the season, please keep in mind that teams still have to travel, often times a great distance. They must go thru a COVID-19 travel process and will no doubt realize the extra tasks and effort now required to board buses and charter flights as well as what must be done to stay, meet and eat in a hotel safely. Also, there will be coast to coast travel, with time zone changes and changes in weather (specifically heat and humidity going from north to south). These will all be factors in the weekly process. There is a reason teams like the Miami Dolphins carry an impressive winning percentage for games played at home early in the season.
*I’m a little apprehensive to drink the Kool-Aid of our newest darlings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I know, they are currently everyone’s flavor of the month. My concern might be unpatriotic and unpopular but I have seen the Patriot offensive film from 2019. TB-12 was not good. His decreased accuracy, his lack of poise in the pocket, his improper footwork in the pocket, all give me concerns. Last season was not Tom Brady-like. Yes, his weapons around him have now been upgraded. I agree 100%. I see a lot of new moving parts with the Bucs that have yet to come together when real bullets are flying and I also see a QB who is one year older facing an opponent that is undefeated- AGE.
*Signing Jadeveon Clowney was a big deal for the Tennessee Titans. I think he makes them better. Clowney gives them a versatile weapon and will play in a familiar defensive scheme. You cannot judge his value by stats alone — three sacks in 2019. The fact that he has never had a season to date with double-digit sacks does not tell the story. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel will use him in many different ways. Clowney is a skilled player with the way he uses his hands and at 265 pounds, he can hold the point of attack, set the edge vs the run game, and escape to chase down the line of scrimmage on plays that are run away from him. He creates for others by being very long and athletic. I was really impressed with the way he performed in big games for the Seahawks in 2019. In the playoff game vs Philadelphia, his performance was the reason that Eagles tackle Jason Peters wanted more money to have to go back to tackle. Heck, otherwise, he may have driven Peters into retirement to start with. Clowney dominated in that game and in the Monday Night game vs. the 49ers. There is a reason the Saints and the Seahawks were recruiting him until the end. Great “get” and “fit” for the Titans.
*Don’t sleep on the Arizona Cardinals. I can’t remember if I’ve ever said this but it’s unlikely In a season that should give offense an early advantage, I think head coach Kliff Kingsbury, second-year QB Kyler Murray, and new shiny toy, WR DeAndre Hopkins, are going to stand out. This team has now secured their better players for the long term and has added some additional quality bodies to the mix. Even though they only won five games in 2019, they played SF tough and beat Seattle on the road. DB Budda Baker is very underrated as a defender and he just might make a run for defensive player of the year honors before it’s all said and done. I’m not saying they are going to win their division, but I can see Arizona vying for a wildcard spot in this first version of the expanded playoffs.
*Tampa Bay’s newly-signed QB Josh Rosen, even if it is just a practice squad signing, makes a great marriage for both. Josh has guaranteed money still coming in from Miami so he got to make a decision based on “FIT” alone. That seldom happens in the NFL. A team without a future QB in the wings, a Bruce Arians offense, and sitting in the same meeting room and learning to prepare from the GOAT, as well as reuniting with former OC Byron Leftwich, all make this move a no brainer.
*The Chicago Bears QB situation is interesting. To me, it was no surprise that head coach Matt Nagy named Mitchell Trubisky his starter to begin the 2020 season. I actually think this was a forgone conclusion. Trading for Nick Foles in the offseason was supposed to create competition at the position, but that really never materialized. In my opinion, I think one of the main reasons Foles was chosen to add to the QB room was he would be “ok” with starting out as the backup at the end of the day. Sure, Trubisky is under the gun, but I really think the pressure should be on Nagy, as well, to adjust and create an offense that emphasizes his strengths. I think the Bears staff has not been able to do that to date. Nagy has gotten the benefit of the doubt since becoming the Bears head coach in 2019 after working just two years as Andy Reid’s OC in KC. In my opinion, he is as green and unproven as Trubisky. This team has struggled to handle the prosperity they enjoyed in 2018. Both Nagy and Trubisky have a lot at stake this year. I see a Bears team that had all the answers after his first season of success but hasn’t been able to back it up at all since then. 2020 will be a reality check. In the words of former coach Bill Parcells, “We are what our record says we are."
If you enjoy these types of NFL storylines, be sure and tune into my new podcast this season. I will be co-hosting on the The Athletic feed starting later this week with Mike Sando, The Athletic’s Senior National writer and a NFL Hall of Fame voter. We will give listeners an insider look into all things going on in the league throughout the NFL season. I’m told it will be offered outside the pay wall at The Athletic, under podcasts. Details to come but feel free to reach out to either of us with questions and comments on Twitter: @Randymueller_ and @SandoNFL