With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing and our country desperate for pro sports, most of us continue to fall back on the 2020 NFL season. While the season itself could be delayed, Fantasy Football drafts are taking place months in advance. The NFL odds are available for the opening week. There are a plethora of ways to analyze the first week’s slate. One of the most intriguing is to focus on the five new NFL head coaches for the 2020 season.
Sure, a few of them are not exactly brand new head coaches, but they are with different teams. Every year features a clean slate and a spin around the NFL coaching carousel.
This year is no different.
Enter Matt Rhule (Panthers), Kevin Stefanski (Browns), Ron Rivera (Redskins), Mike McCarthy (Cowboys) and Joe Judge (Giants).
Yes, that translates to 75% of the NFC East division featuring a new frontman and only one head coaching change in the AFC conference.
What will we see from the five new NFL head coaches? Some are in rebuild mode. Others are not. Expectations vary depending on the position and the situation. Will any or all of them live up to the hype or will this be a marriage doomed from the start?
First, let’s start by analyzing NFL Week 1 and the matchup each new coach faces to kickoff the season. For the sake of visibility, I will include additional feedback about the current team situation.
Week 1 Early Picks: Five Intriguing Games and Odds for Five New NFL Head Coaches
Matt Rhule: Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers (No Line)
New Panthers owner David Tepper wants to place his own unique stamp on the Panthers franchise – that much is clear. He hired Matt Rhule to help with the rebuild. Rhule – who quickly climbed the college ranks – was tabbed the next to make the jump to the pros. With Rhule on board, Cam Newton was let go and Teddy Bridgewater was signed to headline the offense. Christian McCaffrey was given an extension and the team focused the entire NFL Draft on adding talent and youth to its defense.
In Week 1, the Panthers host Jon Gruden and the Raiders. There is no line, a clear sign of the open questions regarding the two franchises. There is also the uncertainty of whether Carolina will have its home crowd (or if stadiums will be empty). In general, many acknowledge the rebuild that Carolina is in. While there will be growing pains, the Panthers should surprise some people. I trust that Rhule will move the franchise in the right direction and Tepper will provide endless support. If a crowd is available, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carolina flourish. KP’s Way-Too-Early Pick: Panthers
Kevin Stefanski: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-8.5)
The Browns pulled the plug on the Freddie Kitchens era after one year. A team with that much hype will do that following a 6-10 season. Plug in Stefanski, the former OC with the Vikings. A heavy dose of running is a good bet. The addition of Austin Hooper means one more potent weapon for Baker Mayfield, too. Speaking of Baker, this is a make-or-break year for him and his career.
As for Week 1, the early returns have Stefanski and the Browns as 8 1/2 point underdogs in Baltimore. This isn’t a huge surprise considering the Ravens finished 2019 with the league’s best record (14-2). There’s also that Lamar Jackson guy, too. Still, if you watched Minnesota at all last season, you’ll recall the focus on Dalvin Cook and the run game. Control the clock and run the ball. Nick Chubb can do that, but how will Cleveland’s O-line be? How will the Browns manage Baltimore’s weapons and speed? The teams split the two games in 2019. Throw in the run-first mentality, plus the potential for an empty stadium, and I expect Cleveland to keep it close. If Baker Mayfield limits his mistakes, give me Cleveland and the points. KP’s Way-Too-Early Pick: Browns
Ron Rivera: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (+6.5)
The Redskins have been a hot mess for years. Enter Ron Rivera, who gives you instant accountability and discipline. The talent has been there on the defensive front and the addition of Chase Young further adds to that. The defensive minded Rivera also added Jack Del Rio as his DC. Translation: this could quickly become the most ferocious defensive front seven in the NFC. The question remains if Dwayne Haskins can take the next step as the franchise QB. Washington added a few multi-talented offensive weapons through the draft, but failed to ink both Austin Hooper and Amari Cooper via free agency.
In Week 1, Washington opens at home and faces division rival Philadelphia, the only team that didn’t change its head coach in the NFC East. Philly added a lot of speed to its roster, so one key will be how Washington’s secondary can handle that. Also, will Carson Wentz face a lot of pressure in the pocket? How will Haskins perform to open year two? I know one thing, if there’s a crowd, they will be loud (and rejuvenated), considering the regime change and departure of Bruce Allen. That alone, plus the addition of Rivera, has me thinking close game throughout. KP’s Way-Too-Early Pick: Redskins
Mike McCarthy: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (+2.5)
McCarthy may not have been the sexy coaching selection, but many forget the success he had in Green Bay. He brings to Dallas a 135-85-2 career record as a head coach. That is one thing. He’s also used to QB controversies (i.e. Brett Favre). Sure, it’s an apples to oranges example, but the Dak Prescott contract situation is still a controversy of sorts. Jerry Jones brings in a veteran after hanging onto Jason Garrett for a few years too long. The talent is available, especially on offense, so this could be an interesting year for the Cowboys.
This Week 1 matchup features two of the top five passing offenses from last season. For some reason, a 9-7 finish has people overlooking the Rams. This is still a team that features Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald on defense. Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods front the offense. Add in the fact that Dallas was 3-5 on the road last year and traveling halfway across the country in the first week. The L.A. teams are used to opposing fans in its stadiums, too. Watch it come down to Greg Zuerlein, who is now in Dallas (instead of L.A.). Stranger things have happened. Either way, this likely high-scoring game should keep us entertained. KP’s Way-Too-Early Pick: Rams
Joe Judge: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants (+3.5)
This was the most surprising of the new NFL head coaches to be hired. Many felt the Giants were the favorites to land Rhule. Other names were mentioned, too. Judge came completely out of the blue (pun intended). For one, you can’t argue the pedigree and experience under Bill Belichick. Still, the guy must have wowed during the interview process. He inherits a lot of talent. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to open your career with Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones, right?
The Giants open Week 1 on Monday night, facing the Steelers at home. Pittsburgh gets Ben Roethlisberger back from injury (among others). That will make a major difference to start the season. There will be growing pains with Judge. Coaching changes also mean player adjustments, with less time to practice and get familiar with each other (due to the pandemic). In the end, how can we expect Joe Judge to take down Mike Tomlin to open the season? There’s a clear talent gap here. If Pittsburgh shuts down Saquon Barkley, this game gets out of hand quickly. KP’s Way-Too-Early Pick: Steelers
Are there any bold predictions that you are ready to make? Which one of these new NFL head coaches will impress the most during the opening week? How about for the season? Let’s talk football via the comments section below.
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