Grading our 32 NFL preseason bold predictions: Hits, misses and regrets

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Thursday, January 30, 2020

No NFL season goes exactly as expected, and Super Bowl LIV illustrates a perfect example.

Nine months ago, the San Francisco 49ers were picking second overall in the NFL draft after finishing 4-12 and the Kansas City Chiefs were coming off a 2018 season that saw them ranked 31st in defense after allowing more than 400 yards per game.

Now we're days away from watching the 49ers and Chiefs compete for the league title -- a matchup few predicted.

With that in mind, we asked our NFL Nation reporters to look back at theirbold predictions heading into the 2019 season and assess whether their prognostications were way off (yikes!), right on the money (Nostradamus-like) or somewhere in between.

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Baltimore Ravens

Bold prediction from September: Lamar Jackson will set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB in a single season.

Jackson didn't just set a new record. He shattered it, rushing for 1,206 yards -- 167 more than Michael Vick -- in 15 games. Jackson dropped jaws on a weekly basis with how he spun and juked out defenders. What did no one predict? That Jackson would become the first player to produce more than 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season and be a first-team All-Pro. -- Jamison Hensley

Minnesota Vikings

Bold prediction from September: The Vikings will have a top-five rushing attack.

OK, to be fair, it didn't take a genius to predict the Vikings would be a run-first team in 2019 given the emphasis of wanting to be more "balanced" offensively. The only question going into the season was whether the Vikings could see that through with Dalvin Cook, who hadn't yet played a full season due to injuries. Despite Cook missing a couple of games at the end of the season with a shoulder/chest injury, Minnesota finished with the No. 6 rushing attack, averaging 133.3 yards per game, and had the sixth-most rushing touchdowns (19). Since they had a top-five run game for most of the season, I'm going to reward myself for being spot-on with this prediction. -- Courtney Cronin

Close but no cigar

Carolina Panthers

Bold prediction from September: The Panthers will lead the league in sacks and OLB Brian Burns will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

I mean, this was real close. The Panthers finished second in the NFL in sacks with 53, one fewer than Pittsburgh. And Burns had 7.5 sacks despite starting only five games and being hampered by a wrist injury he suffered banging the turf after barely missing a blocked punt. Considering he played for a defense that fell apart the second half of the season, this was about as close as you could get to being right. -- David Newton

Jacksonville Jaguars

Bold prediction from September: DEJosh Allen will be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Were it not for the fact that he played in Jacksonville on a team that won six games, Allen likely would have won the award. San Francisco's Nick Bosa is the likely winner and Allen outperformed him despite playing significantly fewer snaps. Allen had a team-high 10.5 sacks, 44 tackles and two forced fumbles while playing only 42% of the Jaguars' defensive snaps (423). Bosa had nine sacks, 47 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception while playing 76% of the 49ers' defensive snaps (735). Bosa started 14 games. Allen started four. But because the 49ers won 13 games and earned the NFC's top seed, Bosa gets more attention. -- Michael DiRocco

Los Angeles Chargers

Bold prediction from September: Defensive endJoey Bosa will lead the NFL in sacks.

Bosa did not lead the NFL in sacks. However, he had one of his best seasons as a pro, finishing with 11.5 sacks and 67 combined tackles, good enough for Pro Bowl honors for a second time. One of the reasons Bosa did not get there was because of opportunity, as the 5-11 Chargers trailed in many games, limiting his chances to rush the passer. -- Eric D. Williams

New Orleans Saints

Bold prediction from September: Running backAlvin Kamara will catch 100 passes.

I was obviously foolish to predict anything other than 81 catches, since Kamara has now hit that exact total in each of his three NFL seasons. But he did miss two games because of injury. And he was averaging 6.7 catches per game through his first nine games, which put him on pace for 106. I was right about the Saints' lack of reliable receivers. Kamara and Michael Thomas (a NFL-record 149 catches) were the only two players on the team with more than 43. -- Mike Triplett

Oakland Raiders

Bold prediction from September: The Raiders will win nine games, go to the playoffs as the third team from the AFC West and scare whomever they face.

Look, the Raiders were (checks notes) three plays away (three!) from winning 10 (10!) games -- a dropped Tyrell Williams pass in Houston, a blown ref's call on a slidingDerek Carr against Jacksonville and a tipped Carr pass on a 2-point conversion in Denver. And, yes, the Raiders were still in contention entering the season finale. Alas, the Chiefs were the only AFC West team to qualify for the postseason, and look how far they advanced. The last time the Raiders finished 7-9 and looked so promising in doing so, they followed it up with a 12-4 campaign and a playoff berth. Las Vegas awaits. -- Paul Gutierrez

If it weren't for ...

Arizona Cardinals

Bold prediction from September: The Cardinals will lead the NFL in scoring and still miss the playoffs.

If it weren't for some inconsistent outings, this prediction had a chance. So the Air Raid wasn't exactly the high-flying, high-scoring offense that it was expected to be. The Cardinals missed the playoffs, making the prediction half right, but finished tied for 16th in points with 361. However, when the offense was clicking, it was clicking. Arizona scored 20 or more points 11 times and averaged 30.4 points in its five wins. -- Josh Weinfuss

Atlanta Falcons

Bold prediction from September: QuarterbackMatt Ryan will pass for more than 5,000 yards for the first time and lead the NFL in passing yards.

If it weren't for the fact Ryan missed his first game since the 2009 season because of a sprained right ankle, he might have been on track for 5,000 yards. He finished 534 yards short in 15 games and threw for less than 200 yards in the game he suffered the injury and in the first game after he returned. A healthy Ryan easily joins Tampa Bay QBJameis Winston in the 5,000-yard club next season and probably surpasses Winston, in my opinion. -- Vaughn McClure

Buffalo Bills

Bold prediction from September: Wide receiverCole Beasley will finish with his first 100-catch season.

If it weren't for the emergence of John Brown as the Bills' true No. 1 receiver -- and Buffalo's below-average passing offense -- this prediction wouldn't have been so far off. Beasley did set a career high in touchdown catches and targets to go along with his 67 catches, putting together one of the best statistical seasons of his career. But with the Bills expected to add playmakers this offseason, 2019 might have been Beasley's best crack at triple digits in catches. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Dallas Cowboys

Bold prediction from September: Running back Ezekiel Elliott will lead the league in rushing.

If it weren't for the fact quarterbackDak Prescott's improved passing changed the scope of the Cowboys' offense, I would have been right. Elliott finished fourth in the league in rushing with 1,357 yards, so I wasn't that far off. And the argument can be made that the Cowboys got away from their core by relying on the pass so much, even if Prescott finished with a career-high 4,902 yards passing. Elliott did not break off many explosive runs, which perhaps his training camp absence played a part in, but he was effective. If I'm making a bold prediction for 2020, it's that Elliott will lead the league in rushing. -- Todd Archer

Houston Texans

Bold prediction from September: Wide receiverWill Fuller will catch more TD passes than DeAndre Hopkins.

If it weren't for Fuller's injury woes, this prediction might have looked good. There is no doubt quarterbackDeshaun Watson and the offense are better when Fuller is on the field, but the fourth-year receiver had issues staying healthy again this season. Fuller caught three touchdown passes -- all against Atlanta -- to Hopkins' seven, but he also missed seven games because of hamstring and groin injuries. -- Sarah Barshop

Los Angeles Rams

Bold prediction from September: Defensive tackleAaron Donald will break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 sacks.

If it weren't for the fact that each opponent's offense made it a mission to slow down Donald by any means, including double- and even triple-teams, he might have come much closer to the single-season sack record. Donald finished the 2018 season with 20.5 sacks, but this season had only 12.5 -- which led the Rams and ranked seventh in the NFL. Donald was double-teamed on 65.6% of his pass rushes, according to ESPN's pass rush win rate powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. -- Lindsey Thiry

New England Patriots

Bold prediction from September: Left tackleIsaiah Wynn will win AP Comeback Player of the Year.

If it weren't for a Week 2 turf toe injury, this might be a different conversation. I felt good about the pick because Wynn was clearly the Patriots' best left tackle, but the injury landed him on short-term injured reserve and changed everything. While Wynn had some struggles upon his return, he played a part in helping solidify the O-line late in the season. He has potential to be a long-term contributor if he stays healthy. -- Mike Reiss

New York Giants

Bold prediction from September: Tight endEvan Engram will top 1,000 yards receiving.

If it weren't for ... those stinkin' injuries! Engram was on pace for 1,324 yards and eight touchdowns through four games. Then he suffered a knee injury in Week 5. The foot injury that needed surgery and ended his season came later. But this is the problem with Engram. He always seems to be hurt. He has now missed 13 games over the past two seasons. Guess I should take that into consideration next time. Duh! -- Jordan Raanan

San Francisco 49ers

Bold prediction from September: Defensive tackleDeForest Buckner will reach 13 sacks and finish in the top 10 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.

If it weren't for the fact that teams actually continued to double-team Buckner (he faced 194 double-teams on pass rushes, fourth most in the NFL), he likely would have come much closer to that sack total. Instead, all of the 49ers' starting defensive linemen took turns dropping the quarterback, and Buckner finished with just 7.5 sacks. While Buckner probably won't finish in the top 10 for Defensive Player of the Year, his consistent excellence didn't go unnoticed, as he was named second-team All Pro. -- Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

Bold prediction from September: LinebackerBobby Wagner will be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

If it weren't for the fact that he played on a below-average defense and didn't make quite as many "wow" plays as he did in past years, Wagner would have been in the conversation for DPOY. It might not have helped that he had more on his plate coverage-wise than in years past. That's not to say his 2019 was any sort of disappointment. Wagner led the NFL in tackles with 159 (the second most of his career) with three sacks and an interception. He made his sixth straight Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro for the fifth time in six years. -- Brady Henderson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bold prediction from September: LinebackerDevin White will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

If it weren't for White's health, there's a good chance this could have happened. Instead, he started the season playing through tonsillitis and then suffered a sprained MCL in Week 2. In the final six games, he registered two sacks, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, one interception and two defensive touchdowns. He was named NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for November and December. -- Jenna Laine

Washington Redskins

Bold prediction from September: The Redskins will trade left tackleTrent Williams for a draft pick or player.

If it weren't for Williams' holdout, this could have happened, and there's still a chance this happens in the offseason. The Redskins and Williams have not talked since coach Ron Rivera was hired to see if the relationship can be saved. Williams was eventually placed on the non-football injury list. He has one year left on his deal, and his $12.5 million base isn't guaranteed, which could prevent his desire to return. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

Bold prediction from September: Outside linebackerKhalil Mack will finish with at least 20 sacks.

Mack wasn't the same player for the Bears in Year 2. He finished with a respectable 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles, but Mack had nowhere near the level of impact he did in 2018. Sure, Mack is routinely double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed, but great players make great plays regardless of circumstance, right? -- Jeff Dickerson

Cincinnati Bengals

Bold prediction from September: Defensive endCarl Lawson will come back strong from an ACL injury with 14 sacks.

Injuries continued to plague Lawson. He battled hamstring issues throughout the season and couldn't build on a promising preseason. Of the five sacks he tallied in 2019, four came in the Bengals' final seven games. Cincinnati needs its younger pass-rushers to be productive in 2020, which means it could be a big year for the 2017 fourth-round pick out of Auburn. -- Ben Baby

Cleveland Browns

Bold prediction from September: Wide receiverOdell Beckham Jr. will lead the NFL in receiving yards, breaking the 1,500-yard mark for the first time.

OBJ was plagued by a hip and groin injury all season. But even then, he and quarterbackBaker Mayfield struggled to find a rapport, while the offensive line struggled to give Mayfield the time to find Beckham downfield for big plays. OBJ did go over 1,000 yards receiving, but it took the final game for him to get there. -- Jake Trotter

Denver Broncos

Bold prediction from September: Linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will both finish in the league's top five in sacks.

What I meant to say was Shaq Barrett will definitely lead the league in sacks -- except the Broncos didn't really make him an offer, as he left in free agency and had 19.5 sacks for the Buccaneers on the greatest one-year, prove-it deal in quite some time. The sacks never really came for the Broncos, who crawled out of the gate (no sacks in the first three games) as they adjusted to Vic Fangio's scheme. Then Chubb tore an ACL in Week 4 and Derek Wolfe went to injured reserve in November. The result: Miller was awash in blockers much of the time and finished with eight sacks, his first sub-10 sack season since 2013. -- Jeff Legwold

Detroit Lions

Bold prediction from September: The Detroit Lions go 10-6 ... and make the playoffs.

Yikes. That's pretty much all that needs to be said. The defense, which was projected to be a top-10 unit, couldn't force turnovers or rush the passer. The offense became a shell of itself after injuries to quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Kerryon Johnson. Penalties were problematic. Oh, and did I mention the Lions couldn't stop anyone at all throughout the season? Yeah, a massive miss all over the place that resulted in the Lions finishing 3-12-1. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Bold prediction from September: QuarterbackAaron Rodgers will throw double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2010 and just the second time in his career.

Not only did Rodgers avoid interceptions -- he threw four all regular season and two came in the final two games -- he put together a streak of 277 straight passes without one, the second-longest streak of his career. One thing should be known about Rodgers at this point in his career, he's never going to force the ball. He is more likely to take a sack or throw it away. That didn't change just because the offensive scheme did. -- Rob Demovsky

Indianapolis Colts

Bold prediction from September: The Colts will be a top-10 offense with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback.

Ouch! What in the world was I thinking? The Colts not only were not a top-10 offense, they didn't even finish in the top 20 with Brissett starting in place of the retired Andrew Luck. The Colts finished 25th overall in offense. That's bound to happen when you're ranked 30th in the league in passing. It's a good thing the Colts finished seventh in the NFL in rushing to avoid any more embarrassment with their overall offensive production. -- Mike Wells

Kansas City Chiefs

Bold prediction from September: The Chiefs will score more points than last season, when they led the NFL with 565.

The Chiefs were on a pace to do so early in the season, but they tailed off greatly because of injuries to several offensive players and other factors. Late in the season, after their defense started to play well, the Chiefs didn't have to run up a big number to win. They scored 451 points in the regular season, but they picked it back up in the playoffs, scoring 86 points in two games. -- Adam Teicher

Miami Dolphins

Bold prediction from September: CornerbackXavien Howard will lead the NFL in interceptions for the second consecutive season.

Howard's 2019 season was nothing like his spectacular 2018 campaign. Nagging knee injuries limited Howard to five games and eventually led to him being placed on injured reserve in October. He had surgery on his left knee in December. Howard flashed his ball-hawk talent in his final game against Pittsburgh when he notched an interception and three pass breakups, but this prediction definitely was a dud. -- Cameron Wolfe

New York Jets

Bold prediction from September: Wide receiverRobby Anderson will have a career year -- 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Anderson didn't come close to the projected numbers, finishing with 779 yards and five touchdowns. No, he wasn't injured (he played every game), but he did lose his starting quarterback to mononucleosis. As a result of Sam Darnold's three-game absence, Anderson got off to a horrible start and didn't find his groove until midseason. A suspect surrounding cast also contributed to Anderson's ordinary stats. -- Rich Cimini

Philadelphia Eagles

Bold prediction from September: The NFC playoffs will run through Philadelphia.

I spelled San Francisco wrong. The Eagles went into the season looking to dominate the conference, but injuries quickly humbled them. They took advantage of a down NFC East to make the playoffs (9-7), where they fell in the wild-card round to Seattle, but general manager Howie Roseman knows he needs to infuse this roster with speed and young talent to put Philly back on top. -- Tim McManus

Pittsburgh Steelers

Bold prediction from September: Wide receiverJuJu Smith-Schuster will lead the NFL in receiving yards.

My predecessor, Jeremy Fowler, had some pretty high expectations for Smith-Schuster, and the Steelers' WR1 wasn't able to live up to them. Not only did Smith-Schuster play with three different quarterbacks -- two inexperienced -- he also had the first significant injury of his NFL career (knee), causing him to miss four games. With just 552 receiving yards, Smith-Schuster wasn't even the leading receiver on the Steelers' roster. That honor went to rookie Diontae Johnson with 680. -- Brooke Pryor

Tennessee Titans

Bold prediction from September: Tight endDelanie Walker will have 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards.

Saying Walker would have 90 catches is probably the boldest prediction one could make. But go hard or go home! Walker never really seemed to recover from the ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve in 2018. He played in seven games, posting 21 receptions, 215 yards and two touchdowns before being placed on IR prior to Week 12. -- Turron Davenport

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