Early NFC win-loss projections for the 2020 NFL season

With the 2020 NFL schedule officially released, Lead PFN NFL writer Cole Thompson breaks down his early projections for next season's NFC standouts.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints: 11-5

Go ahead and love the Buccaneers all you want; it’s still New Orleans’ division to lose. And with five primetime games this season, it’s clear the NFL is going to give Drew Brees a farewell tour in style. 

The most menacing matchups will be played inside the Superdome. Games against Kansas City, San Francisco, Green Bay, and Minnesota will all have the backing of the Saints’ faithful down in the Bayou. Outside of late trips to Denver and Philadelphia, the team’s road schedule should be manageable as well.

The Saints have been cursed with playoff pain three straight seasons. This will be Brees’ hoorah, so like the city’s nickname; their schedule should be the same, a “Big Easy”. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-7

If you give a team Tom Brady, he’ll want a tight end. If you reunite Brady with Rob Gronkowski, you’ll turn into a playoff contender. At least that’s the plan for Jason Licht and Bruce Arians heading into this season.

A Week 1 matchup against the Saints in New Orleans will show the league if they are like the 2019 Cleveland Browns or actually a contender. Brady can also prove he’s still a top-level gunslinger with games at home against the Packers in Week 6 or the Chiefs in Week 12.

Tampa has their quarterback and already has the weapons in place to win now. While they might not be New Orleans, they’ve tightened the lead on the division.

Atlanta Falcons: 8-8

What do you make of the Falcons; one week they look like a playoff contender and the next they are set to start a rebuild. The team could finally make the call on what their future holds in a prove-it year for Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn.

Atlanta will start with a juggernaut of Seattle, Dallas, Green Bay, and Chicago’s defense. That’s also not including facing New Orleans and Tampa Bay twice a season, making games against Detroit, Las Vegas, Carolina, and the Chargers must win moments.

After starting 1-7, the Falcons then won six of their last eight games. Much like their announcement, Atlanta is looking to contend in the future. If they’re not at least a wild card club, expect Arthur Blank to hit the reset button.

Carolina Panthers: 4-12

Some people love the Panthers’ schedule. The same could be said about their roster heading into the new decade. While the defense should improve with the new additions, it could take time for the Queen City to crown themselves the best team in the NFC South once more.

Playing a spoiler role, Carolina will face the likes of four playoff teams over 17 weeks. They’ll need to try and pick up a pair of wins over the likes of Green Bay, Kansas City, New Orleans, and the Vikings. After that, getting victories over Chicago, Las Vegas, and Arizona will at least show promise in Matt Rhule’s first season.

Carolina is going to be a new team with new faces leading the way. If they can’t establish an identity, this could be the team kicking off the 2021 NFL Draft next April.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks: 11-5

So long as Russell Wilson is under center, consider Seattle right in the middle of a playoff hunt. With the growth of defense, a healthy running game, and the emergence of second-round pick D.K. Metcalf, perhaps this is finally the year the 12th Man becomes No.1 in the conference.

The NFC West only became tougher, making all six divisional outings a nightmare for everyone. On top of over a third of their games being against better teams, the Seahawks will have to face an improved Dallas offensive arsenal while making trips to Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Wilson is an MVP-caliber quarterback, leading to the Seahawks picking up wins they probably wouldn’t grab with anyone else. If the offensive line and defense improve, this could be the team to beat late in January.

San Francisco 49ers: 10-6

The 49ers will likely suffer a tiny setback from the Super Bowl. The losses of Emmanuel Sanders and DeForest Buckner will sting, but if first-rounders Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk prove they’re the right choices, expect another playoff banner to hang in the stadium.

Traveling to the Eagles nest could be a shakeup early, but home games against the Bills, Dolphins, and Washington are going to help keep them in the race. But to know if San Francisco is truly a contender, they’ll have to beat New Orleans and Dallas away from the bay.

The offensive line only grew stronger with the Trent Williams addition. With a top-ranked defense, expect Kyle Shanahan to be still making another push for a Lombardi trophy. 

Arizona Cardinals: 7-9

Why is no one talking about the Cardinals? Sure, they might not be the flashiest city or franchise, but adding DeAndre Hopkins for less than a first-round selection only makes your team stronger. A strong draft with Isaiah Simmons and Josh Jones will only add starters at positions that have been problems for several seasons.

If Arizona is going to contend, they’ll have the opportunity to show why. Wins against the Bills and Eagles will prove they’re ready to compete at home while close games on the road against Dallas will back up their improvement.

Arizona is a year away from being a legitimate playoff threat. If they can split wins in the division, the Cardinals could be a surprise entry late into the season.

Los Angeles Rams: 7-9

Two years ago, Jared Goff and Sean McVay were representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Unless Cam Akers and Van Jefferson are Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks 2.0, they’ll likely be sitting at home come playoff season.

With every team improving in the division, the NFC West is no longer theirs. They’re going to need victories over Washington, Chicago, and the Giants while a win over Tampa shows they’re still a threat. After that, grabbing games against Arizona, Seattle, and the 49ers will keep them around in the race for the wild card.

If Los Angeles wins the division, it won’t be surprising. It also won’t be shocking if they finish below .500 and start to question their future.

NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS: Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.

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