Five NFL teams that will exceed expectations in 2020

By Jesse Reed
© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the summer, every team has a sense of hope about a new beginning. But if we’re honest, some NFL teams just won’t ever cut the mustard. On the other hand, every year some teams rise above expectations and thrive.

The latter group is what we’re focusing on here. These five NFL teams will be better than expected in 2020.

Arizona Cardinals

The NFC West is a meat grinder. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are both likely playoff teams. But it would be foolish to sleep on these birds.

Kyler Murray has a chance to take his game to an MVP-type level this coming season. He was spectacular as a rookie. Then this offseason, general manager Steve Keim got his young quarterback an elite weapon in DeAndre Hopkins. The entire offense is about to take a huge leap in 2020.

Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons will supercharge the defense. He joins two superstars in Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson, giving the Cardinals elite juice on both sides of the ball.

Los Angeles Chargers

Speaking of loaded divisions, the AFC West is going to be brutal. All four teams could conceivably be good enough to get into the playoffs. And of course, the Kansas City Chiefs are the defending champs.

The reason we’re high on the Chargers to be better than expected is that Tyrod Taylor is better than many remember. He was an underrated star in Buffalo. He rarely makes back-breaking mistakes and can efficiently run an offense. The Chargers have a ton of top talent on offense and upgraded their offensive line this offseason. Bryan Bulaga will protect the blind side. Trai Turner is one of the best guards in the game. Mike Pouncey is back. Watch out for this offense.

On the defensive side, Los Angeles was effective last year and should be even better in 2020. Blessed with one of the best pass-rushing duos on the league with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers also boast a dynamic secondary. This team is so good. Watch out.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns were a victim of their own hype last year. That, and some atrocious coaching by rookie (and one-and-done) head coach Freddie Kitchens. Really, the team’s lack of discipline and any real direction from a coaching standpoint was ridiculous.

Now under new leadership, this team should actually play up to its talent level in 2020. Speaking of talent, there’s a ton of it in Cleveland.

Baker Mayfield is better than his sophomore slump of 2019. Odell Beckham Jr. played through a painful injury all year and is still one of the best in the business. Jarvis Landry is, too. Tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku should be dynamite. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are a nightmarish combination.

A very good defense that’s led by Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward should be even better this year. Rookies Grant Delpit, Jacob Phillips and Jordan Elliott should make an instant impact. The Browns really could be fun to watch this year.

Miami Dolphins

This projection assumes a couple of things. First, Tua Tagovailoa will force his way into the staring lineup. Secondly, the team’s defense will be absolutely dynamite.

The latter point is based on the fact that Xavien Howard was joined by Byron Jones in the secondary. Then, Miami tripled down with Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of the draft. These guys, along with a dynamic front seven, give Miami a very good defensive unit.

To the first point, Tagovailoa is apparently fully healthy. Assuming he continues to make positive strides in his rehab and has no setbacks in camp, his talent will be too enticing to keep on the sideline. Then there’s the whole hype machine in Miami. Fans are going absolutely bonkers for this rookie and could revolt if he’s not playing.

And assuming Tagovailoa does play, Miami’s offense could be very fun to watch. DeVante Parker actually started playing like a star last year. Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson are nice complementary players. And the Matt Breida/Jordan Howard running back combo could be outstanding.

Detroit Lions

Before he was knocked out of the 2019 season, Matthew Stafford was having a stellar campaign. He passed for 312 yards per game, tossing 19 touchdowns and just five picks in eight starts. That’s elite-level quarterback play, folks.

Assuming the Lions can keep Stafford upright this year, he’ll continue shredding opposing defenses. Detroit has a trio of outstanding receivers. Kenny Golladay is electric. Marvin Jones is Mr. Reliable. Danny Amendola can still get the tough yards in key situations. Then there’s tight end T.J. Hockenson, who showed promise as a rookie last year.

The real reason to be excited about Detroit’s offense, though, is the running back situation. With Kerryon Johnson and rookie D’Andre Swift, the Lions have two dynamic backs who can rip defenses apart both on the ground and through the air.

If rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah is as good as advertised, the Lions will not miss Darius Slay. And with Jamie Collins re-joining his old New England Patriots teammate Trey Flowers in the front seven, this defense could be darn solid.