Yes, we are actually here. This past weekend marked the halfway mark for the 2020-21 NFL season, which to many felt like it began yesterday. From having limited fan attendance, to even no fan attendance, along with the many rescheduled games due to teamwide COVID outbreaks, this football season is unique to any other.
Since we are at the halfway mark, I thought it would be a good time to re-evaluate where I went right and wrong with my preseason record predictions. This is going to be fun…
Where I Was Right
Cleveland Browns are Playoff Contenders
- Going into this season many doubted the legitimacy of this Cleveland Browns squad. From inconsistent quarterback play by Baker Mayfield, to having an all-around terrible defense, the Browns were arguably the biggest disappointment last season. Cleveland failed to reach the playoffs, despite trading for stars WR Odell Beckham Jr. and DE Oliver Vernon, and signing RB Kareem Hunt in free agency. The Browns even fell short of a .500 record. This resulted in the firing of then-head coach Freddie Kitchens and the hiring of former-Vikings offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski.
- As soon as the hiring was announced, I became a believer in what Stefanski could bring to this already stacked offense and how he can change the losing culture in Cleveland. This led me to predict them finishing with a 9-7 record and ending their playoff drought. As of today, the Browns have a 5-3 record and are a game behind of the Baltimore Ravens for second in the AFC North. A few key injuries have hurt them as of late, but I still fully expect them to be on track for a 9-7 finish and become a part of the AFC playoff picture come weeks 16 and 17.
Another Tough Season for the Cincinnati Bengals
- Despite picking QB Joe Burrow number one overall in this past NFL Draft, the Bengals were still far from formidable going into this season. Limited, to no upgrades on the offensive line, as well as question marks surrounding AJ Green’s production post-injury and whether or not the many offseason defensive additions would pan out, made me weary of Cincinnati’s success this year. In the preseason I had them 4-12, putting the Bengals in a prime position to get another top 5 pick.
- As they currently stand, the Bengals are 2-5-1 and sit dead last in the AFC North. While I would not be surprised if they finish slightly better than my 4-12 prediction, they are far from playoff contenders and should not sniff a .500 record this year. Joe Burrow has frankly been the only bright spot on a team that has many holes from the top-down. Success will surely come in the near future in Cincy, but they have a lot of work to do first.
Seahawks are Super Bowl Contenders
- Many forget that Seattle was a goal-line stand away from potentially winning the NFC West last season. Given that the 49ers managed to make it all the way to the Super Bowl, with a 13-3 record, their slight decline from glory was inevitable. The progression I saw from QB Russell Wilson and the Seattle receiving core, that had been lackluster for years prior, was incredibly promising and was sure to improve going into this year.
- I predicted the Seahawks finishing in the 13-3, 12-4 range and being the winners of their division this year. Additionally, on the TWSN Podcast, I mentioned how I believed that Seattle should be put in the title contention conversation and how I expected them to make many people surprised going into this season. As they currently stand, Seattle has a conference best 6-1 record, and Russell Wilson is in prime position to break passing touchdown records and win the NFL MVP. Despite many holes on the defensive side of the field, Wilson has proven he has what it takes to win games on his own. I expect this trend to continue in the second half of the year and into the postseason. Expect Seattle to be in the thick of things in the NFC playoffs.
Buffalo Bills winning the AFC East over the Cam Newton-led Patriots
- This prediction might come off as obvious to some, but many of the Pats faithful were quick to predict their continued success following the offseason addition of QB Cam Newton. As you can see in the Cam Newton announcement livestream (TWSN YouTube) and in episodes past of the TWSN Podcast, I continued to argue that while the addition of Newton was surely an upgrade from potential starter, QB Jared Stidham, this Patriots team had little to no help in the receiving game. Additionally, with many COVID-related opt-out from key defensive players, New England was far from a complete team going into this year.
- These developments, and rise in production of QB Josh Allen, led me to picking Buffalo winning the division with a 10-6 record. They currently stand 6-2 atop the division and will be a real contender in the AFC playoffs. Key additions such as WR Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings, and continued development from players such as LB Matt Milano and the Buffalo defensive front 7, have proven to be too much for the other teams in the division to deal with thus far. On the Patriots side, they stand at 2-5, trending downwards, which begs the question of whether or not they will just tank for a QB prospect in this upcoming draft. New England is looking worse than they have in the past 20+ years and should be in the conversation of carrying a top 10 draft pick, come April.
Where I Was Wrong
Pittsburgh Steelers Finishing 8-8
- I had to put what is probably my coldest prediction of the preseason first on this list. Yes, even with a healthy Big Ben returning and what was already seen as a top 5 defense in the league, I still was a doubter in the Pittsburgh Steelers. I must admit I fell for the Ravens/Lamar Jackson bandwagon here and also looked at the underachievement of years prior under Mike Tomlin, especially in the postseason, in looking past the Steelers.
- Pittsburgh is currently the only undefeated team in the league at 7-0 and are looking at being in the driver’s seat for the first seed in the AFC going into the postseason. I expected QB Ben Roethlisberger to make mistakes and decline significantly, similar to what we are seeing from Colts’ QB Phillip Rivers right now, but he has shown no such signs. The emergence of the receiving core, especially that of rookie Chase Claypool and second year player, Diontae Johnson, has helped this offense consistently put up points. Also, this defense which, like I mentioned, was considered one of the best of last year has seemingly gone up another level. Their secondary is legit and linebacking core, led by T.J. Watt, have been among the very best in the NFL. This Steelers team will be looking to win another Super Bowl title with Big Ben at the helm and are in prime position to win the AFC North and go deep in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons Will Have A Bounce Back Year
- Despite having a poor 1-7 record at the midway point of last season, the Falcons under coach Dan Quinn finished the year with a 6-2 stretch, that put that at a 7-9 record and 2nd in the NFC South. I figured that momentum would carry into this season, especially with key players such as MLB Deion Jones and SS Keanu Neal returning on the defensive side. This made me predict the Falcons being a sneaky 8-9 win playoff contending team, going into the season.
- To say Atlanta has fallen flat of this prediction would be an understatement. They are 2-6 and have fired both Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. Their roster situation is very much up in the air, as both QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones have been in recent trade rumors. They are also thought to be considering a QB prospect in the upcoming draft too, so the rebuild is becoming inevitable. It is frankly sad to see a team that was in the Super Bowl as recent as a few years ago be in this tough situation.
Titans Will Underachieve After A Strong Playoff Showing
- While the Titans rushing attack, led by Derrick Henry, looked unstoppable in last year’s postseason, I thought teams would soon figure out how to stop this workhorse. I predicted that with teams now scheming to stop Henry and the Tennessee run game, the pressure would be on QB Ryan Tannehill to make plays with his arm. I frankly expected him to fall flat and prove to be a one-year wonder. Boy, I was wrong.
- Titans currently stand at 5-2 and are the AFC South leaders. Sure, Henry has been incredibly dominant, but Tannehill’s play is what is making Tennessee a legit dark horse contender in the AFC. In seven games played, Tannehill has thrown for 17 TDs and 3 INT on 1823 yards. These numbers are good enough for him to be considered an outsider in the MVP conversation and easily the most improved player in the league. This Tennessee Titans team is looking overall better than they were last year and are a true force to be reckoned with.
Las Vegas Raiders will finish under .500
- Many going into this season predicted the now-Las Vegas Raiders to surprise the league and make a playoff push. I was on the opposite side of this debate pointing to the uncertainty surrounding QB Derek Carr’s future under coach Jon Gruden, and a defense that has looked incredibly shaky since trading LB Khalil Mack. Sure, RB Josh Jacobs had a strong rookie campaign, but that offense did not look capable of competing with the likes of Kansas City and Baltimore.
- The Raiders are currently second in the AFC West with a 4-3 record, with notable wins over the division-leading Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Cleveland Browns. It seems that Jon Gruden has finally got his team to buy into his scheme and coaching staff, and now have one of the better offenses in the league. Derek Carr is having a true bounce back campaign, showing everyone that he is a more than capable starting quarterback and a leader of his football team. While the defense is still far from perfect, there are promising players to build off of, like DE Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell. Las Vegas is truly looking like a legitimate playoff contender this year.