For seemingly the last time, both the AFC and NFC conferences sent six teams apiece to the post season in the 2019-20 season. As of the 2020-2021 campaign, the NFL playoffs will expand to 14 teams, one extra from each conference, as per the new collective bargaining agreement.
The expansion of the post-season has generally been met with praise from most corners of the NFL world. It should, in theory, allow for more competitive games down the stretch as teams fight it out for the final playoff spots. Whilst some cynics have suggested it dilutes the competitiveness of the post-season. Either way, it gives teams on the cusp of making it to the dance a fresh dose of optimism.
Read on for three teams in the AFC who may benefit from the new format, after they ultimately failed to achieve their goals last time out.
The franchise’s attempt to get by with Jacoby Brissett playing quarterback simply failed in 2019. That is why 16-year veteran Philip Rivers is now in the building. Rivers will play behind the strongest offensive line group in the conference, perhaps even the league. Where he was failed in San Diego and LA, he will certainly be taken care of in Indy.
This 0-line strength also allows for a highly effective run-game, which should see greater improvement following the drafting of the highly rated Jonathan Taylor. He and Marlon Mack will provide a fine one-two punch, with a bit of Nyheim Hines thrown in on passing downs.
The acquirement of DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick was risky, but an upgrade was needed at defensive tackle. Elsewhere on the defensive side of the field, many pieces of the puzzle are already in place. Stud defensive end Justin Houston will lead a decent pass rush, with Kemeko Turay looking poised to cause a few headaches for opposing offences playing alongside Houston.
The linebackers corps will be lead by Darius Leonard, who burst onto the scene in 2018. If he can take another step forward, this could be an elite defensive unit.
If all goes to plan for the Colts in 2020, there is no reason to suggest they will not be able to compete for the AFC title.
Perhaps the consensus most likely team to return to the post-season in 2020. However, the story is not as straightforward as many perceive. The Lamar Jackson show will continue in Baltimore, although a slightly toned down version might be in store, compared to the previous campaign. It can be argued the greater than that threat to the Steelers will in fact be the re-tooled Bengals and Browns.
This pair and the Steelers will in all likelihood be fighting it out to be second best in the AFC North, so Pittsburgh best be ready for a battle. So it’s good news that Big Ben will return to the helm of their offence, following the frailties shown by Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph lead attacks.
A throwback to a 2018 style offence is much needed. James Conner will need to re-discover his form, otherwise sneaky-impressive looking rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. may be trusted to carry the ball more. Another interesting rookie prospect is the bulky wideout Chase Claypool, who is already reportedly a coach’s favourite. He should make a great pairing alongside Diontae Johnson in three wide sets, with Juju Smith-Schuster assuming his role as WR1.
Much like Conner, Juju will have some re-discovering of his own to do though. The restoration of Big Ben will go some way to helping him find his way.
In the lead up to next season, it will be case of if’s and maybe’s for the Steelers until a down is played. The intra-division competition will be as tough as ever, a year of intrigue awaits here.
As of week 13 in 2019, it became Drew Lock‘s offence at Mile High, as Joe Flacco headed to IR. Whilst he displayed the typical issues most rookie quarterbacks in the NFL go through, there a number of reasons for cautious optimism in Denver.
It’s a young core with the likes of Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant now joined by the rookie pairing of Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler; we are looking at potential serious exponential growth for this team. Of course, prospect and deliverance of said promise are two completely different attributes. The top brass will be pinning all their hopes on these whippersnappers.
On the defensive side of the ball, there is also bubbling hope. Young star Bradley Chubb torn his ACL in the 2019 week 4 encounter with the Jaguars. His return will provide a huge boost for the Broncos defensive front seven. The disruptive tandem Chubb formed with Von Miller will often provide the edge when it comes to sacking the opposing QB.
As discussed on the most recent episode of Talk Football, if this Denver team can fly under the radar, they will certainly bring a surprise or two for the 2020 season. Therefore this article will end now before the cat is out of the bag.
If you do want to get more dirt on Denver and a couple other underdogs, hit play down below.