The Sunday Special is back after a two-week hiatus. Memorial Day weekend got the best of my body and my brainpower so I had to take that week off. And last Sunday, I felt it would be tone-deaf to post something amid the protests against systemic racism and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. I’ve been attempting to do my part in listening, learning, and figuring out how to take action of my own, and I encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already.
This week’s topic of discussion is four 2020 NFL playoff bets worth making. For each team included, I listed their odds of making the postseason and rationale as to why I think it makes sense. Before you tear me apart for including the Jets, let me make clear that seven teams in each conference will make the playoffs in 2020 and these are nothing other than picks I see value in.
Below are my four picks and, as always, a few pieces of entertainment that got me through my week.
Note: Odds pulled from VegasInsider.com.
Indianapolis Colts -152
I like the infrastructure of the Colts and think Philip Rivers’ chances of success in the AFC South are much higher than in the AFC West. According to PFF, the Colts boast a top five offensive line, whereas the Chargers’ unit has consistently been one of the league’s worst. That should lead to less quarterback pressures and less INTs for Rivers after a poor 2019 season.
On the defensive side of things, the Colts made two noteworthy additions. Veteran corner Xavier Rhodes joins from the Vikings, while 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was acquired via trade of the 13th-overall pick, giving Indy All-Pro talents at the first and second level of the defense with Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard. Many analysts felt the Colts would be well-served by drafting a receiver at 13, instead they addressed that need by drafting the prolific USC product Michael Pittman Jr. with their first pick in the second round.
What else is there to add? Indy’s primary competition is the DeAndre Hopkins-less Texans, the tanking Jaguars, and a wildcard Titans team. That’s at least four wins in the division alone. With a superb offensive line, a pair of dynamic receivers and workhorse running backs in Marlon Mack and Wisconsin standout Jonathan Taylor, Philip Rivers is in a vastly better environment than he was a season ago. If fans are allowed in stadiums, he for once might have a home field advantage.
Seattle Seahawks -143
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Russell Wilson has won 10+ games in seven of his eight NFL seasons — he won nine in the other. Moving on.
Cleveland Browns +149
Baker Mayfield’s first two seasons were turbulence-filled. Poor decision-making, bad pass-protection, and lofty expectations proved too tall a hurdle for Mayfield to succeed in 2019. Enter Kevin Stefanski. The mastermind of Minnesota’s top 10 scoring and rushing attack from a year ago is set to take the pressure out of Mayfield’s hands, opting to rely on the league’s most talented rushing duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt instead. This is the same recipe Stefanski used to minimize the mistakes of Kirk Cousins. Minnesota ran the ball on 48 percent of their plays last season, trailing only Tennessee and San Francisco.
The additions of Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills cannot be understated. Conklin, the former All-Pro right tackle, joins from Tennessee and is regarded as one of the premier run blockers in the NFL, while 10th-overall pick Jedrick Wills replaces the heavily-penalized Greg Robinson at the left tackle position. After a career year in Atlanta, Austin Hooper joins David Njoku at the tight end spot, giving Mayfield two big targets in the middle of the field and Stefanski versatility for his personnel groupings.
After serving as the 49ers’ defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator last season, Joe Woods looks to carry winning momentum to Cleveland as the Browns’ new defensive coordinator. LSU star Grant Delpit adds help in the secondary, and hopefully, Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon — who both missed six games last year — can give Cleveland two serious threats off the edge.
17 years have passed since the Browns last made the playoffs. Wouldn’t it be nice to cash in when they finally return? I believe Baker Mayfield will succeed in his pivotal third season, and the Ivy league brains of Kevin Stefanski and new GM Andrew Berry will inject much needed competence into the Cleveland organization. We crowned the Browns as contenders a year too early in 2019. This is the year it all comes together.
New York Jets +400
I was all over the Buffalo Bills playoff-leap in 2019. In a wide-open AFC East, the New York Jets can be the Bills of 2020. While there will always be questions about Adam Gase’s abilities, the Jets were dealt a crappy set of cards last season. As the second-most injured team in nearly 20 years of Football Outsiders analysis, the Jets posted a winning record (albeit 5-1 in one score games) with Sam Darnold as the starter, ending the year with a 7-9 record.
After additions of veterans Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, George Fant, and 11th-overall pick Mekhi Beckton, PFF’s third-most improved O-line is poised to give a major boost to an offense that ranked dead-last in yards per game and 31st in points per game in 2019. Pro Bowl linebacker CJ Mosley will rejoin 2019’s 10th best defense in terms of DVOA after playing just two games all season.
Do I have loads of confidence in Darnold and Gase? No. But I do like playing Jarrett Stidham twice instead of Tom Brady and love the +400 odds as a flier. Buffalo should be the early favorite to win the division, but don’t be surprised if the New York Jets squeak their way into Wild Card weekend after being the butt of our jokes since their last playoff appearance in 2010.
A player worth revisiting: Tony Romo
Late last night I stumbled upon this short Tony Romo montage while scrolling through my Twitter. Romo the player is known for coming up short in the playoffs, but the Dez catch-ruled-no-catch in Green Bay will forever be one of the biggest what-if moments of my sports fandom. Give this a quick watch. This is what we what thought Johnny Manziel would do in the NFL.
A podcast I loved: Daryl Morey On Using Data To Make Decisions on The Pomp Podcast
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey joined finance whiz Anthony Pompliano on The Pomp Podcast to discuss how the Rockets use data for contractual negotiations and on-the-court strategy, how 2020 reminds him of the madness of the 1960s, and how technology can shape and inspire generations moving forward. As someone who aspires to work in the NBA, I devour every opportunity to learn from forward thinking minds like Morey. This article he mentions about Shane Battier is worth a read too.
Instagram account to follow: @overthefirecooking
If I could only follow one account on Instagram, “fire-cooking enthusiast” Derek Wolf would probably be the one. Wolf channels the primal roots of man to make mouth-watering dishes, often sending them down the hatch with a neat glass of Buffalo Trace. Get a load of these “Lemon Chili Bacon Wrapped Chicken Skewers” he posted today. Sheesh!