Just days ago, the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) began their title defense with a convincing 34-20 win over the Houston Texans (0-1). In less than 24 hours, most of the remaining NFL teams will begin their schedule as the road to Super Bowl LV really begins. With the majority of Week 1 almost upon us, it’s time to predict how the season is going to go.
Houston begins the season with three straight losses, still makes the playoffs.
The beginning to the Houston Texans schedule is brutal, already losing to Kansas City, followed by two more losses against the Ravens and Steelers. Despite the early season woes, Houston turns it around and makes the playoffs.
No Tom? No problem. Patriots make the playoffs as a wildcard team.
Even with the loss of 6x Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, the Cam Newton era begins in New England, and he guides the Patriots to yet another playoff berth.
Even with all the offseason acquisitions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers disappoint throughout the season and miss the playoffs, again.
All four NFC West teams finish with double digit wins, three make the playoffs.
Many are expecting the NFC West to be the most competitive division in football this year. This stands true, with all four teams winning at least ten games. Even with the success throughout the division, one team fails to qualify for the playoffs.
[Denotes playoff seed]
Baltimore Ravens (13-3) 
Buffalo Bills (11-5) 
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) 
New England Patriots (9-7) 
Cleveland Browns (7-9)
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)
New York Jets (3-13)
Tennessee Titans (11-5) 
Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) 
Houston Texans (8-8) 
Denver Broncos (7-9)
Indianapolis Colts (7-9)
Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
Las Vegas Raiders (4-12)
Green Bay Packers (10-6) 
Dallas Cowboys (9-7) 
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) 
Philadelphia Eagles (5-11)
Chicago Bears (6-10)
New York Giants (5-11)
Detroit Lions (6-10)
Washington Football Team (2-14)
New Orleans Saints (13-3) 
Los Angeles Rams (12-4) 
Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) 
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
NFL Playoff Picture:
 Pittsburgh Steelers @  Tennessee Titans
 New England Patriots @  Buffalo Bills
 Houston Texans @  Baltimore Ravens
 Kansas City Chiefs BYE
 San Francisco 49ers @  Dallas Cowboys
 Seattle Seahawks @  Green Bay Packers
 Minnesota Vikings @  Los Angeles Rams
 New Orleans Saints BYE
Key Games throughout the season:
Week 3: Baltimore Ravens defeat Kansas City Chiefs
In an early clash of the top two teams in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens win the all-important tiebreaker for the number one seed. Ultimately though, it proves to be non-consequential for the Chiefs.
Week 8: Buffalo Bills defeat New England Patriots
While early and the division is still up for grabs, this game ultimately is the difference in giving the Buffalo Bills the divisions title. New England passes the torch.
The loss by the Ravens all but seals the number one seed for the Kansas City Chiefs, but it also keeps the Steelers in the running for a division title.
Week 12: Kansas City Chiefs defeat Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While this loss does not officially eliminate the Buccaneers from playoff contention, this loss makes it too difficult to climb back into the picture.
Weeks 14-17: LA Rams 4 game win streak
During weeks 14 and 17, the LA Rams go on a run and win four straight contests, claiming their 2nd division title in three years in the process. Seattle and Arizona go 2-2 and the 49ers go 3-1 during the same stretch.
Week 17: LA Rams defeat Arizona Cardinals
At the end of their win streak, the Rams beat the Cardinals to claim the NFC West title. This Cardinals loss also clinches a playoff berth for Minnesota. Had the Cardinals won, all four NFC West teams would qualify for the playoffs.
A lot of people are picking Tampa as a popular playoff pick, but I just don’t see it. Much like the Cleveland Browns last year, all the offseason hype isn’t going to translate into in-season success. They signed a very aging QB in Tom Brady, a TE in Rob Gronkowski who hasn’t played a football game recently, and a talented RB in an already crowded backfield. While they will win games, it just doesn’t feel like they having the makings of a playoff team, especially in a top-heavy NFC.
Many are picking the Green Bay Packers as a likely candidate to miss the playoffs, even after going 13-3 last year and reaching the NFC Title game. While they did not get objectively better during the offseason, they didn’t get worse either. In year 2 of the Matt LaFleur system, the Packers won’t replicate their 13 wins from a year ago, but they are still a double digit wins team and will win the NFC North of the 2nd consecutive year.
The NFC West has a chance to have all four teams having winning records in the division. The Rams are poised to have a bounce back year, even without Todd Gurley, who is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers defense is set to be dominant once again, and even with a first-place schedule, should reach double digit wins. The Seahawks are ready to go once again with Russell Wilson, arguably the 2nd best QB in the NFL behind Patrick Mahomes. The question mark is the Arizona Cardinals. Cliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray showed plenty of flashes on offense last year, and the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins can give the Cardinals a potent offense much like the LA Rams. Their big question mark is on defense, as no major moves were made in the offseason to improve that side of the ball. While I think the offense will do enough to push the Cardinals above .500, the defense is why they are the lone team from the NFC West outside of the playoff picture.
There you have it. My early season predictions for the NFL season. I will update my predictions every quarter of the season, to account for injuries, COVID-19 related circumstances, and surprise teams. I will also attempt to do NFL Power Rankings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so stay tuned. But for now, let’s be thankful that NFL football is officially back, and hope that we can see a full season of play.