Conference USA approves 8-game league slate – National Football Post


    Conference USA approved an eight-game conference schedule and will allow members to play up to four nonconference games, the league’s board of directors announced Friday.

    The first conference games are scheduled for Sept. 12, according to the league. Conference USA didn’t reveal specific matchups or dates of the regular season games.

    The league’s title game is currently set for Dec. 5 but can be moved to a later date if needed.

    The Conference USA Board of Directors also approved safety measures to ensure there is accountability of all athletic programs in terms of monitoring testing for COVID-19 and accurately reporting results.

    “I am pleased with the careful consideration of our Board regarding the health and safety of our student athletes as well as their commitment to accountability,” Board chairman Dr. Les Guice, the president of Louisiana Tech, said in a news release.

    The conference’s 14 football members are Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Texas-San Antonio, UAB, UTEP and Western Kentucky.

    The 25-year-old from China delivered a 5-under 65 at TPC Harding Park in Friday’s second round, leaving him in first place at 8-under 132.

    Koepka shot a 2-under 68 on Friday to end the day level with first-round co-leader Jason Day of Australia (69), Daniel Berger (67), England’s Tommy Fleetwood (64) and Justin Rose (68), and France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera (68).

    Li made five birdies, four of them on the front nine, during a bogey-free round that marked his second straight strong effort. He shot 3 under on Thursday.

    Even Li, ranked 114th in the world, couldn’t explain his back-to-back stellar rounds in just his third PGA Tour tournament of 2020.

    “Well, I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know, last few months, stay at home doing nothing,” Li said. “I just want to be out here, have fun.

    “Still got two rounds left. Long way to go. Just want to play my best. If it happens, it happens.”

    Li was in lockdown in China due to the coronavirus pandemic and certainly doesn’t consider himself in top form.

    In fact, he missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament last month and tied for 75th last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

    “I didn’t even think I could play like this this week,” Li said. “Especially … had no confidence.”

    Fleetwood had seven birdies and one bogey while tying Cameron Champ for the best rounds of the event so far, 6-under 64.

    Fleetwood said he is trying to rediscover his form. He missed the cut two weeks ago at the 3M Open outside of Minneapolis and tied for 35th last week in Memphis.

    “You come back and the game doesn’t feel as easy as it once did,” Fleetwood told CBS. “Just rustiness. Tournament golf is hard. It doesn’t matter how much golf you play with friends and family at home. When you come back (to the PGA Tour), the margin for error is really small.”

    Day and Brendon Todd were first-round co-leaders. Todd shot even-par 70 on Friday to remain 5 under, tied for eighth. Champ (64) and England’s Paul Casey (67) are also at 5 under.

    World No. 2 Jon Rahm of Spain shot 69 and is at 1-under 139, tied for 31st. No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland (69) and No. 4 Webb Simpson (68) also are at 1 under.

    Tiger Woods made the cut at even par despite a 2-over 72 on Friday. He is tied for 44th.

    Phil Mickelson (69) is at 1-over 141, as are Justin Thomas (70) and Jordan Spieth (68), all of making the cut on the number in a tie for 60th.

    Rickie Fowler (69) wound up 2 over and missed the cut. Spain’s Sergio Garcia (73) missed the cut at 6 over.

    Despite a poor second round Friday, Tiger Woods made the cut at the PGA Championship in San Francisco.

    The 15-time major winner shot a 2-over-par 72 in the second round, leaving him at even-par 140. Woods, 44, is tied for 45th heading into the weekend, eight strokes behind leader Haotong Li of China.

    Woods opened with two bogeys — at the par-3 third hole and the par-4 ninth hole — as well as seven pars on the front nine. He logged his first birdie at the par-5 10th hole, chipping onto the green and sinking a 9-foot putt.

    Any momentum gained vanished when he bogeyed both the par-4 13th and the par-4 15th holes, but he got a stroke back by making a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th hole.

    Woods closed with consecutive pars to stay clear of the cut that claimed notables such as Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.

    Neither of Woods’ accomplished playing partners made major moves forward on Friday, either. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy shot a 1-under 69 to leave him at 1 under overall, tied for 31st, and Justin Thomas barely made the cut at 1 over after an even-par 70.

    Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa was cleared to play for Maryland immediately on Friday just hours after quarterback Josh Jackson was one of six players to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.

    Hours after Terrapins coach Mike Locksley told reporters about the decisions of Jackson and five others, the NCAA announced that Tagovailoa could play for the school in 2020.

    The sophomore quarterback is the younger brother of former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa. He was added to the Maryland roster in May and Locksley said earlier in the day that it would be “icing on the cake for us” if Tagovailoa was cleared.

    Tagovailoa was a highly regarded high school star in Hawaii before electing to follow his brother to Alabama. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown in five appearances last season.

    Tagovailoa transferred from Alabama after last season. Locksley was offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide before being hired as Maryland’s coach following the 2018 season.

    The NCAA also granted immediately eligibility to sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Boletepeli, a transfer from North Carolina State.

    Also opting out of the season along with Jackson are sophomore offensive linemen Austin Fontaine, senior offensive lineman Johnny Jordan, sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Alexander, junior linebacker TJ Kautai and sophomore defensive back Vincent Flythe.

    Junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo will be held out due to a medical issue, Locksley said.

    Jackson started nine of 10 games played last season and passed for 1,274 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    The senior, who transferred from Virginia Tech, isn’t expected to play again for the Terrapins, according to Locksley.

    “Proud of him being able to make tough decision like he’s made and even prouder that he’s a guy that does things the right way off the field and will continue to pursue his education and finish his degree here at Maryland,” Locksley said.

    The Washington Football Team released running back Derrius Guice on Friday afternoon, shortly after learning of Guice’s arrest earlier in the day on domestic violence-related charges.

    “On Thursday we learned of a potential domestic violence related incident involving RB Derrius Guice,” the club said in a statement. “We immediately alerted the National Football League and have continued to work with them during this process. We then met with Derrius to inform him that he was excused from all team activity pending a review of this matter. This afternoon, we learned there were multiple charges filed against Derrius. Upon review of the nature of these charges and following internal discussions, we have decided to release Derrius immediately.”

    Earlier in the day, the Loudon County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office charged the 23-year-old Guice with one felony count of strangulation, three counts of assault and battery, and one count of destruction of property. The NFL confirmed the charges in conjunction with the announcement of Guice’s release, and stated that Guice turned himself in to authorities Friday.

    Washington drafted Guice in the second round out of LSU in 2018. His missed his entire rookie season after suffering a torn ACL in camp, played the season opener in 2019, then missed two more months after undergoing surgery in September for a torn meniscus.

    He played in five games last season, rushing for 245 yards on 42 carries with a pair of touchdowns. He also caught seven balls for 79 yards and a score.

    Players at Syracuse have sat out the first two practices of fall camp, citing concerns over COVID-19 safety protocols at opposing athletic programs, according to a report from

    Players refused to practice on Thursday, and instead met with Athletic Director John Wildhack and head coach Dino Babers. After refusing to practice again on Friday, Wildhack issued a statement Friday afternoon.

    The report stated that the players’ concerns centered around how other Atlantic Coast Conference programs, and nonconference opponent Liberty, are handling COVID-19 testing. Syracuse players did not have an issue with how their own athletic program was handling COVID-19 protocols.

    “Syracuse Athletics is committed to doing everything we can to support and protect the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, our staff and the campus and Syracuse communities,” Wildhack said in a statement. “That is why, in consultation with the Onondaga County Health Department, medical professionals and public health experts, we developed a comprehensive strategy that allows our student-athletes to safely train to compete in the upcoming season.”

    One Syracuse player, defensive lineman Cooper Dawson, has already opted out of the 2020 season. Babers, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said there could be more.

    “There’s some people that are pending, but right now he’s the only one that I’m going to talk about,” Babers said.

    Wildhack said Syracuse, at the request of the players, will increase coronavirus testing to twice per week beginning in September.

    “At the request of our student-athletes on the football team, we will conduct COVID-19 testing twice per week beginning the week of September 7,” Wildhack said in the statement. “We will also encourage our fellow ACC institutions to adopt twice-weekly testing for football to foster and maintain a healthy environment.”

    The ACC announced last month it will require all symptomatic athletes to be tested, even if the symptoms are minimal. Temperature checks much be conducted on every player and staff member upon entering facilities. Players and people who have been in “close contact” with players must be tested within 72 hours of each game once the regular season starts.

    The Football Championship Subdivision will not conduct its annual playoffs this fall with participating schools in the upcoming regular season falling under a 50 percent threshold, multiple outlets reported Friday

    On Friday, the Pioneer Football League and the Big Sky Conference announced they will not field football teams in the fall, citing coronavirus concerns. It means that less than half of the division’s 127 participating schools will field teams.

    FCS members have not ruled out shifting the entire season to the spring semester, with playoffs to follow a delayed regular season. The Division I Council had until Aug. 21 to consider the fate of the FCS playoffs.

    The playoffs, which were expanded to 24 teams in 2013, have been conducted every year since 1978. When first introduced the playoffs consisted of four teams, which was raised to eight in 1981. It was expanded to 20 teams by 2010.

    North Dakota State has won each of the last three FCS national titles and eight of the last nine. James Madison won the 2016 title.

    Participating conferences for the FCS playoffs: Big Sky, Big South, Colonial Athletic Association, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Pioneer, Southern, Southland and Southwestern Athletic.

    But the 25-year-old from China delivered a 5-under 65 in Friday’s second round and was atop the leaderboard at 8-under 132 after the early wave at TPC Harding Park.

    Li made five birdies during a bogey-free round that marked his second straight strong round. He shot 3 under in Thursday’s first round.

    Even Li, ranked 114th in the world, couldn’t explain his back-to-back stellar rounds in just his third PGA tournament of 2020.

    “Well, I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know, last few months, stay at home doing nothing,” Li told reporters. “I just want to be out here, have fun.

    “Still got two rounds left. Long way to go. Just want to play my best. If it happens, it happens.”

    Li was in lockdown in China due to the coronavirus pandemic and certainly doesn’t consider himself in top form.

    In fact, he missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament last month and tied for 75th last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

    “I didn’t even think I could play like this this week,” Li said. “Especially … had no confidence.”

    England’s Tommy Fleetwood also fared well in the second round as he carded a 6-under 64. Fleetwood had seven birdies and one bogey and is at 6-under 134.

    Fleetwood said he is trying to rediscover his form. He missed the cut two weeks ago at the 3M Open outside of Minneapolis and tied for 35th last week in Memphis.

    “You come back and the game doesn’t feel as easy as it once did,” Fleetwood told CBS. “Just rustiness. Tournament golf is hard. It doesn’t matter how much golf you play with friends and family at home. When you come back (to the PGA Tour) the margin for error is really small.”

    Australian’s Jason Day had a later tee time and he was making a push toward the top of the leaderboard. Day and Brendon Todd were first-round co-leaders.

    World No. 2 Jon Rahm of Spain shot 69 and is at 1-under 139. No. 4 Webb Simpson (68) also is 1 under.

    Phil Mickelson (69) as at 1-over 141, while Rickie Fowler (69) is 2 over and in danger of missing the cut.

    Carolina Panthers left tackle Russell Okung, a two-time Pro Bowler who has played 10 seasons in the NFL, is concerned enough about the coronavirus that he has not ruled out walking away from the game, ESPN reported Friday.

    Okung, 31, missed 10 games with the Los Angeles Chargers last season after blood clots in is lungs led to a pulmonary embolism. He did not play in the first seven games of the season, then missed Weeks 11 and 12, as well as the final game of the season. Now he is considering retiring, according to the report.

    The Panthers acquired Okung in March, sending guard Trai Turner to the Chargers. Okung still has one more year left on his four-year, $53 million contract he signed with the Chargers in March of 2017.

    Before 2019, Okung missed just two games from 2016-18. The former first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 started all 16 games in 2016, during his lone season with the Denver Broncos.

    New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie said Friday that he is retiring after 13 seasons.

    DeOssie, 36, played in 199 regular-season games, the fifth most in Giants’ history. The two-time Pro Bowler also played in two Super Bowl victories for New York during a stint that began in 2007.

    “I am retiring from football,” DeOssie said in a statement. “As many of you know, I made this decision months ago, but I wanted to make a formal announcement to acknowledge those who have made this experience so awesome — and this milestone is so bittersweet.”

    DeOssie was a team captain in each of the past nine seasons. He was limited to 11 games last season and finished the campaign on injured reserve due to knee and wrist injuries.

    DeOssie was a fourth-round draft choice from Brown before becoming one of the NFL’s top snappers.

    “I am forever grateful for the opportunity, the lifelong friendships, and ten lifetimes worth of memories — the big wins on big stages, the tiny victories behind the scenes, and the challenges that have taught me so much,” DeOssie said in his statement. “(Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning) said it best: Once a Giant, Always a Giant, Only a Giant. What an honor.”

    DeOssie’s father, Steve, also played for the Giants for 4 1/2 seasons from 1989-93 as part of a 12-year NFL career.

    Three North Carolina defensive backs will sit out the 2020 football season amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

    The school confirmed Friday to The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., that D.J. Ford, Bryce Watts and Javon Terry will skip the season, leaving the Tar Heels lacking depth at the position.

    Their move follows that of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Triston Miller, who on Thursday opted out for “personal reasons,” per the newspaper.

    Ford, a senior, appeared in all 13 games and made seven starts at defensive back in 2019. He recorded 54 tackles, one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, three hurries, two breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception. He was expected to contend for a starting role at safety.

    Terry, a sophomore, saw limited action in all 13 games, making four tackles, including one for loss, and adding a sack.

    Watts, a junior, has yet to play for the Tar Heels. He transferred from Virginia Tech and sat out the 2019 season under NCAA transfer rules.

    New York Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker will face prosecution on four counts of robbery with a firearm, while Seattle Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar will not be charged after an alleged incident during a house party at Miramar, Fla., on May 13.

    The decision on Baker was handed down by Broward County state attorney Mike Satz after Baker originally was charged with four counts of armed robbery and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

    Criminal charges were not filed against Dunbar by Broward County prosecutors because of insufficient evidence, according to an ESPN report. He originally had been charged with four counts of armed robbery in connection with the May incident.

    According to an arrest warrant in May, both players were accused of taking both money and watches from partygoers at a Miramar home while they were armed with semiautomatic weapons. Baker was accused of threatening partygoers with a firearm.

    Just over a week ago, the NFL placed both Baker and Dunbar on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, according to multiple reports, which is the equivalent of a paid leave as the league continues to review the case.

    Baker has not been allowed to participate in the Giants’ virtual offseason program, while Dunbar has been participating with Seahawks’ season preparations.

    As the case evolved, a search warrant in July alleged that Baker and Dunbar were reportedly involved in a cover-up following their arrests stemming from the incident.

    According to a New York Daily News report, a warrant obtained as public record from the Broward County (Fla.) Clerk of Courts cites video evidence, social media messages and additional testimony that allegedly show a payoff of $55,000 for the four victims of the alleged robbery, all of whom have since given sworn statements about being paid off to recant their original statements.

    Baker, 22, was a first-round pick of the Giants in 2019. He appeared in 16 games last season, making 15 starts and recording 61 tackles and eight passes defensed.

    Dunbar, 28, was acquired by Seattle from Washington in March in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick. Last season, he recorded a career-high four interceptions in 11 games.

    Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson is one of six players who are opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, coach Mike Locksley told reporters on Friday.

    Also opting out are sophomore offensive linemen Austin Fontaine, senior offensive lineman Johnny Jordan, sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Alexander, junior linebacker TJ Kautai and sophomore defensive back Vincent Flythe.

    Junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo will be held out due to a medical issue, Locksley said.

    Jackson started nine of 10 games played last season and passed for 1,274 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    The senior, who transferred from Virginia Tech, isn’t expected to play again for the Terrapins, according to Locksley.

    “Proud of him being able to make tough decision like he’s made and even prouder that he’s a guy that does things the right way off the field and will continue to pursue his education and finish his degree here at Maryland,” Locksley said.

    A possible replacement for Jackson is sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa. The younger brother of former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa was added to the roster in May but the school is still waiting on a transfer request per whether he is eligible to play in 2020.

    Taulia Tagovailoa transferred from Alabama after last season. Locksley was offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide before being hired as Maryland’s coach following the 2018 season.

    “We signed him and brought him in with the expectations that we wouldn’t have him available to play this year,” Locksley said. “If he’s granted immediate eligibility, that would be icing on the cake for us.”

    Outside linebacker Vic Beasley has finally reported to Tennessee Titans camp after racking up $500,000 in fines, according to multiple reports.

    Upon arrival, Beasley began testing for COVID-19 at a trailer outside of the practice facility. He’ll need three negative tests over a four-day span before he can join the team.

    Beasley, who joined the Titans as a free agent in March, was placed on the reserve/did not report list and fined $50,000 per day. There was the possibility he might be opt out of the season, but the deadline passed Thursday without Beasley taking that option.

    Beasley, 28, was the Titans’ most noteworthy free agent addition of the offseason. He signed a reported one-year, $9.5 million guaranteed contract — which could max out at $12 million with incentives — after five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

    A first-round pick (eighth overall) out of Clemson in 2015, Beasley has 37.5 career sacks over 78 NFL games, including 60 starts. In 2016, he led the league with 15.5 sacks and tied for the NFL lead with six forced fumbles during his lone Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro season.

    Over the past three seasons, Beasley has amassed a combined 18 sacks — with at least five each season — and three forced fumbles.

    The Southeastern Conference announced its protocols for managing COVID-19 during the upcoming college football season in a statement on Friday.

    “Our Medical Task Force is producing an effective strategy for testing and monitoring, which complements the vigilant day-to-day efforts of our campuses to establish and maintain healthy environments in which our student-athletes can train and compete,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in the statement.

    “Our health experts have guided us though each stage of preparation for the safe return of activity and, together with the medical staffs embedded within our athletics programs, we will continue to monitor developments around the virus and evolve our plan to meet the health needs of our student-athletes.”

    The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force’s requirements for other SEC sports are expected to be similar, but will be fully outlined before they begin play. The Task Force will also continue to review its protocols and potentially adapt them as new information becomes available.

    In the testing protocol, players and those in close contact will receive tests through a third-party provider at least twice weekly — six days and three days before games. Players will be isolated for at least 10 days after confirmed infections.

    All sideline coaches and non-competing personnel will be required to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing as much as possible. Players will be required to wear a neck gaiter for use during timeouts or when talking to coaches or sideline personnel.

    Each member school will also be required to designate a COVID-19 Protocol Oversight Officer to insure compliance.

    — Inability to isolate new positive cases, or quarantine high risk contacts of cases of university students.

    — Campuswide or local community positivity test rates that are considered unsafe by local public health officials.

    — Inability to perform adequate contact tracing consistent with local, state or federal requirements or recommendations.

    — Local public health officials indicating an inability for the hospital infrastructure to accommodate a surge in COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

    The SEC’s plan will be different from each of the other Power 5 conferences with its late start, which is three weeks after the originally scheduled start and two weeks later than any of the other conferences.

    The SEC championship game is scheduled to be held in Atlanta on Dec. 19, two weeks later than initially planned and just 13 days before the College Football Playoff semifinals (Jan. 1).

    The release of the protocols comes after at least two SEC players announced they are sitting out the season. On Thursday, Auburn senior linebacker Chandler Wooten said he will opt out and return in 2021.

    “As a soon to be father, my number one priority is the safety and well-being of my family. Unfortunately, playing this season was ultimately not a risk that I was willing to take. I have ultimately decided to opt-out of this season & Redshirt,” he tweeted.

    “I thought it would be controlled by now,” he told Saturday Down South. “I thought I’d feel a lot more comfortable playing a season by now. But that just has not been the case. We haven’t really proven that we can control this virus, especially as Nashville has become a hotspot, as Florida has seemingly become the epicenter, all in SEC country.”

    2019 summary: A loaded roster and a quality backup quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater helped the Saints go a perfect 5-0 with Drew Brees injured. The momentum carried throughout a 13-3 season, but the offense cooled in an overtime playoff loss at home to Minnesota.

    Key additions: S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Jameis Winston, C/G Cesar Ruiz, LB Nigel Bradham, LB Zack Baun, LB Anthony Chickillo, TE Adam Trautman

    Noteworthy losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, G Larry Warford, S Vonn Bell, LB A.J. Klein, CB Eli Apple, FB Zach Line

    Cause for concern: The Saints have talent everywhere and depth in most spots, so the biggest concern is the eventual meeting between Brees and Father Time. How long can he stave it off? Sean Payton’s scheme has covered up a dip in arm strength thus far, but decline could arrive at any time.

    Position battle worth watching: Most Saints starting spots are secure, but Ruiz and Erik McCoy bear watching. Both centers in college, one will move to right guard to replace Warford. Will it be McCoy, who excelled at the pivot as a rookie? Or Ruiz, who won’t have preseason games to adapt to the NFL? Veteran Nick Easton provides veteran insurance if either struggles.

    Taking the over on a double-digit win total always carries some risk, but the Saints are as complete of a team as you’ll find. It also helps that they have Winston as insurance if Brees gets hurt again. We’d cautiously lean toward the over.

    2020 forecast: There’s no roster with more top-end talent in the league, and New Orleans also has depth almost everywhere, making it one of the clear favorites to come out of the NFC. The question is whether the Saints can snap out of their recent playoff funk, which includes home losses in consecutive years.

    2019 summary: The offense opened wide under Bruce Arians, but Jameis Winston couldn’t quite handle the responsibility that came with the power. His deluge of turnovers obscured a defense that quietly made major strides, keeping the Bucs out of the playoffs.

    Key additions: QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, OT Tristan Wirfs, RB LeSean McCoy, S Antoine Winfield Jr., OT Joe Haeg, RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Tyler Johnson

    Noteworthy losses: QB Jameis Winston, WR Breshad Perriman, OT Demar Dotson, DE Carl Nassib, RB Peyton Barber, G Earl Watford

    Cause for concern: The Bucs’ roster is in great shape, but there are some age concerns. At age 43, Brady is a marvel, but he’s more affected by pressure than he used to be, and how he fits into Arians’ deep-attacking offense is uncertain. McCoy (age 32) is already declining, and Ndamukong Suh (33) and Jason Pierre-Paul (31) could slip soon. Gronkowski is still just 31 but must prove he’s healthy.

    Position battle worth watching: Almost the whole defense returns, but there is much to settle at safety. Andrew Adams and Jordan Whitehead are the incumbent starters, but Justin Evans should be back from injury, and Winfield has the instincts and ball skills to play immediately. Mike Edwards, a 2019 third-rounder, could also demand more reps.

    On paper, the Bucs’ roster is certainly capable of 10-plus wins. But Tampa Bay isn’t as deep as New Orleans, and the marriage of Arians and Brady could get off to a rocky start. There are enough questions to pass on this one.

    2020 forecast: The defense should be at least solid, and potentially top-five or top-10 caliber. That brings the focus back to Brady. No 43-year-old quarterback has ever started more than six games in a season, let alone done so at a high level. Brady must do so in a new system. We won’t doubt the GOAT, but the Bucs seem more like a contender for the division title than the Super Bowl title for now.

    2019 summary: A team with high expectations got off to a horrid 1-7 start behind a hapless defense. That unit turned around when Dan Quinn gave up play-calling duties, and a late-season hot streak saved his job.

    Key additions: DE Dante Fowler, RB Todd Gurley, CB A.J. Terrell, TE Hayden Hurst, CB Darqueze Dennard, DL Marlon Davidson, WR Laquon Treadwell, C Matt Hennessy, LB Deone Bucannon, DE Charles Harris

    Noteworthy losses: TE Austin Hooper, CB Desmond Trufant, DE Vic Beasley, RB Devonta Freeman, LB DeVondre Campbell, DE Adrian Clayborn, G Wes Schweitzer

    Cause for concern: Bad cornerback play leads to leaky defenses. Terrell is talented, but can he play up to his draft status from Day 1? Isaiah Oliver (2018 second-rounder) has disappointed. Kendall Sheffield (2019 fourth-rounder) showed flashes as a rookie, and Dennard can man the slot, but there’s no surefire reliable starter in a league where great teams need to have two or three.

    Position battle worth watching: Hennessy is the heir apparent to Alex Mack, who turns 35 in November. But in the meantime, he’ll get a shot to compete for a guard spot, likely battling James Carpenter at left guard. If he wins it, the Falcons would have a nice young core up front alongside right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary.

    It’s tempting to see the Falcons’ strong finish and expect it to carry into 2020, but history shows little evidence supporting that trend. Atlanta has the offensive firepower to win 10-plus games, but a 6-10 season is also possible. Tread carefully.

    2020 forecast: Matt Ryan and the offense should be fine, especially if Lindstrom and McGary take a leap in their sophomore campaigns. But the defense still has major questions, including at edge rusher and cornerback, two spots where weaknesses can be exploited easily in today’s game. The Falcons might need a few breaks to threaten for the division title.

    2019 summary: Cam Newton was never right after a preseason foot injury, and he wound up playing only two games. Despite flashes, Kyle Allen eventually looked overwhelmed, and the Panthers’ collapse cost Ron Rivera his job and led to Newton’s release.

    Key additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Robby Anderson, DT Derrick Brown, LT Russell Okung, DE Stephen Weatherly, CB Eli Apple, LB Tahir Whitehead, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, S Jeremy Chinn, S Juston Burris, WR Seth Roberts, G Michael Schofield

    Noteworthy losses: QB Cam Newton, CB James Bradberry, G Trai Turner, DE Mario Addison, TE Greg Olsen, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Dontari Poe, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Vernon Butler, S Eric Reid, OL Daryl Williams, G Greg Van Roten, K Graham Gano, CB Ross Cockrell

    Cause for concern: The Panthers let go of two franchise icons (three if you include Rivera) and let a host of other talented veterans depart this offseason, including several longtime starters and former draft picks. Perhaps the goal isn’t to win now, but new head coach Matt Rhule has his work cut out for him.

    Position battle worth watching: Brian Burns, the 2019 first-round pick, should start on one edge, but who will man the other? Weatherly is a physical, reliable veteran, while second-round rookie Gross-Matos boasts impressive length and bend, but his instincts need honing. Whoever starts, all three should see the field on passing downs — Weatherly and Gross-Matos can rush inside situationally.

    The Panthers have shown their focus is on planning for the future more than the present, and expectations are understandably low. But with so much unpredictability with Rhule taking over and Joe Brady arriving to handle the offense, we’d pass and see how this plays out.

    2020 forecast: Many expect Carolina to contend for the No. 1 pick, but we’re slightly more optimistic. For all of the talent that departed, the Panthers have plenty left over, including a quality skill-position group, a steady hand at quarterback and playmakers at all three levels on defense. Bridgewater and Brady have familiarity, and few know what coordinator Phil Snow’s defense will look like, providing an element of surprise.

    2019 summary: QB Patrick Mahomes’ dislocated kneecap proved to be only a speed bump, as he quickly returned, and a much improved defense helped Kansas City claim the AFC’s top seed. Mahomes proved unstoppable in the postseason, overcoming 10-point deficits in all three playoff victories en route to winning Super Bowl LIV.

    Key additions: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, OG Kelechi Osemele, DE Taco Charlton, OT Mike Remmers, LB Willie Gay, RB DeAndre Washington, TE Ricky Seals-Jones

    Noteworthy losses: DB Kendall Fuller, RB Damien Williams (opt-out), G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (opt-out), DE Emmanuel Ogbah, RB LeSean McCoy, DE Terrell Suggs, G Stefen Wisniewski, OL Cameron Erving, P Dustin Colquitt, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Darron Lee, TE Blake Bell

    Cause for concern: The defense did enough last year, but there are still some holes. There’s no real edge-rushing threat opposite Frank Clark, and the linebacking corps is passable at best unless Gay transitions quickly. The secondary will miss Fuller, whose flexibility made it easier for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to deploy Tyrann Mathieu anywhere.

    Position battle worth watching: Between Duvernay-Tardif’s opt-out and the departures of Wisniewski and Erving, the interior O-line has questions. Osemele is a former Pro Bowler, but his play has slipped badly amid injuries, and he’s never played right guard. A tackle by trade, Remmers could compete to start inside.

    The Chiefs hit 12 wins last season with Mahomes hobbled and then missing time, and all of his top weapons are back. It’s usually foolish to bet on any team to reach 12-plus wins, but Kansas City is as good of a bet as any.

    2020 forecast: Unless the offensive line fails to gel with a new piece or two in place, Andy Reid’s offense should be as potent as ever. That should be plenty to obscure the defense’s handful of weaknesses. There’s no reason Mahomes & Co. can’t defend their title at Super Bowl LV.

    2019 summary: An 0-4 start plagued by last-second losses all but ended the Broncos’ season. After QB Joe Flacco was hurt, a 4-1 run to close the season with rookie Drew Lock as the starting quarterback created optimism for the future.

    Key additions: G Graham Glasgow, WR Jerry Jeudy, DL Jurrell Casey, CB A.J. Bouye, RB Melvin Gordon, WR K.J. Hamler, TE Nick Vannett, C Lloyd Cushenberry, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, QB Jeff Driskel, P Sam Martin

    Noteworthy losses: CB Chris Harris Jr., RT Ja’Wuan James (opt-out), DL Derek Wolfe, C Connor McGovern, G Ron Leary, S Will Parks, TE Jeff Heuerman, QB Joe Flacco, DE Adam Gotsis, RB Devontae Booker

    Cause for concern: James barely played last year due to a nagging knee injury, and now he’ll miss all of 2021 after opting out. Elijah Wilkinson was overmatched at right tackle last season, but Denver has few other options unless it signs a veteran. Of course, the other tackle spot remains a concern, given Garett Bolles’ struggles.

    Position battle worth watching: Glasgow is expected to slot in at right guard, leaving the center spot wide open. Cushenberry, a third-round rookie, will be given every chance to win the job, but Austin Schlottmann and Patrick Morris — both 2018 UDFAs who, coincidentally, played together at TCU — have also impressed coaches.

    The Broncos are perhaps the league’s hardest team to figure out, simply because there isn’t much of a sample size upon which to judge Lock. If you believe in him, the rest of this roster merits betting the over. But we would likely stay away and reserve judgment on the youngster.

    2020 forecast: The defense was solid in Vic Fangio’s first season, and it could get better with Bradley Chubb healthy and Casey and Bouye on board. On offense, Lock has the weapons to produce, but he remains an unknown quantity, and his protection could be suspect. Denver could plausibly finish anywhere from 4-12 to 11-5.

    2019 summary: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A talented Chargers roster was done in by injuries and poor results in close games. They went 1-6 down the stretch, and Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions in what would be his final year with the team after a 16-year tenure.

    Key additions: OT Bryan Bulaga, CB Chris Harris Jr., QB Justin Herbert, G Trai Turner, NT Linval Joseph, LB Kenneth Murray, LB Nick Vigil, RB Josh Kelley

    Noteworthy losses: QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, S Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis, NT Brandon Mebane, G Michael Schofield, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Jatavis Brown, FB Derek Watt, CB Jaylen Watkins

    Cause for concern: Adding Bulaga and Turner was outstanding, but who the heck is going to play left tackle? Sam Tevi (2017 sixth-rounder) was a below-average starter at right tackle, and Trent Scott (2018 UDFA) and Trey Pipkins (2019 third-rounder) have been a mess when forced to play. It’s hard to see this ending well, unless Pipkins takes a major leap in Year 2.

    Position battle worth watching: Besides the battle at left tackle, all eyes will be on the quarterback situation. Head coach Anthony Lynn is fond of veteran Tyrod Taylor, who should start as Herbert is brought on slowly. But odds are pressure to start Herbert will mount at some point. While very smart, Herbert doesn’t always show sharp instincts — a run-heavy, play-action offense would simplify things early on.

    The Chargers are clearly due to rebound, having gone 5-11 despite a point differential (minus-8) representative of a 7-9 or 8-8 team. But it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from a reconfigured offense. This could go either way.

    2020 forecast: Lynn wants to use the quarterback heavily in the run game, but progress could take time with a rookie QB and no preseason. Likewise, the glaring hole at left tackle and Bulaga’s injury history are worrisome. The defense remains loaded, but coordinator Gus Bradley might not maximize versatile players like S Derwin James and Harris Jr. The Chargers have playoff ability, but something might be missing.

    2019 summary: The Raiders appeared headed for the postseason after a 6-4 start, but the bottom fell out with a four-game losing streak — including three losses by 21-plus points — costing them a playoff spot.

    Key additions: LB Cory Littleton, WR Henry Ruggs, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, DT Maliek Collins, QB Marcus Mariota, CB Prince Amukamara, CB Damon Arnette, DE Carl Nassib, S Damarious Randall, TE Jason Witten, S Jeff Heath, WR Nelson Agholor, RB Devontae Booker, WR Lynn Bowden, WR Bryan Edwards

    Noteworthy losses: LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Daryl Worley, S Karl Joseph, DT P.J. Hall, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Dion Jordan, DE Benson Mayowa, QB Mike Glennon

    Cause for concern: The Raiders churn the roster like few other teams, adding handfuls of players and seeing who sticks. They’ve found some solid contributors, but the defense still lacks any blue-chip players. Las Vegas is betting big on youngsters making leaps, both up front (Clelin Ferrell, Maurice Hurst) and in the secondary (Trayvon Mullen, Johnathan Abram).

    Position battle worth watching: The Raiders have a bunch of bodies at receiver, but roles still need to be defined. Tyrell Williams disappointed as a free agent addition last year, but he can play when healthy. Ruggs will play a ton, but how many deep targets will he get? Will he be more of a gadget guy? Bowden brings his own gadget appeal, Edwards could compete to start if healthy and Agholor is no slouch, either.

    There’s reason for optimism after a 7-9 team added ample talent in the offseason. However, the Raiders are a clear regression candidate after posting a point differential (minus-106) more representative of a 5-11 team. We’ll take the under in a competitive division.

    2020 forecast: If their trajectory under Jon Gruden continues, the Raiders should be competing for a playoff spot — but we’re not so sure. While the young secondary will have ups, the pass rush probably won’t be enough to compensate for the downs. On offense, QB Derek Carr seems to have plateaued, and it’s not hard to imagine Gruden pulling the plug in favor of Mariota if things go sour early.

    2019 summary: Kyle Shanahan’s offense took off, and the Niners’ defense was perhaps even more impressive, helping San Francisco go from 4-12 to 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. But the defense couldn’t protect a 10-point lead in Super Bowl LIV, as the 49ers fell to the Chiefs.

    Key additions: LT Trent Williams, DT Javon Kinlaw, WR Brandon Aiyuk, TE Jordan Reed, G Tom Compton, DE Dion Jordan, DE Kerry Hyder

    Noteworthy losses: DT DeForest Buckner, LT Joe Staley, WR Emmanuel Sanders, RB Matt Breida, G Mike Person, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE Levine Toilolo, DT Sheldon Day

    Cause for concern: There are several options at wideout, but Deebo Samuel’s foot injury creates some concern. He’s likely to miss time, putting pressure on Aiyuk — a talented rookie who is a bit raw — as well as Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor, who both missed all of last season due to injury.

    Position battle worth watching: Right guard is open following Person’s release, with several possible candidates to fill it. Compton, a veteran, will likely battle Daniel Brunskill — a 2019 UDFA who held up fine at right tackle — and Ross Reynolds, perhaps with backup center Ben Garland getting in the mix, too.

    As great as the 49ers were last season, teams rarely improve by nine games in one season, and most who do take a step back a year later. Add in a loaded NFC West and it’s hard to take the over here, even if the Niners are division favorites.

    2020 forecast: San Francisco lost some major talent, but they rebounded enough to remain among the NFC’s best teams. The standout defense is mostly intact, and Kinlaw — while not a great run defender — can help offset Buckner’s departure as a pass rusher. On offense, the line could be better with Williams’ arrival and improved health, and Jimmy Garoppolo will be two years removed from a torn ACL.

    2019 summary: Russell Wilson’s heroics helped Seattle go a staggering 10-2 in one-possession games. That record was almost 11-1, as the Seahawks came up inches shy of the NFC West title against San Francisco. After one playoff win, they fell at Green Bay in the divisional round.

    Key additions: S Jamal Adams, TE Greg Olsen, LB Jordyn Brooks, DE/LB Bruce Irvin, RB Carlos Hyde, C B.J. Finney, DE Darrell Taylor, WR Phillip Dorsett, OT Brandon Shell, G Damien Lewis, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Benson Mayowa

    Noteworthy losses: DE Jadeveon Clowney, S Bradley McDougald, DT Quinton Jefferson, C Justin Britt, G D.J. Fluker, OT George Fant, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DT Al Woods

    Cause for concern: Even if Clowney re-signs (which appears unlikely), the Seahawks’ pass rush looks awfully thin. They managed just 28 sacks (T-29th in NFL) even with Clowney last year, and Irvin won’t solve things. Other veterans remain available, but Seattle might be counting on production from 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier and the rookie Taylor, which is risky.

    Position battle worth watching: Finney is expected to start at center, leaving an opening at right guard following Fluker’s departure. The prime candidates for the job are both maulers: 2019 fourth-rounder Phil Haynes, who didn’t play as a rookie, and 2020 third-rounder Lewis, who was a bully in the run game at LSU.

    Sportsbooks factored Seattle’s unstainable 2019 record in close games, which makes sense — the Seahawks finished with a point differential of plus-7 despite going 11-5. Still, they’ve won 10-plus games in seven of Wilson’s eight seasons (they won nine in 2017). The over is a relatively safe bet.

    2020 forecast: The 49ers likely won’t be juggernauts, but the Cardinals are on the rise and the Rams remain talented. Some regression seems inevitable for the Seahawks in such a talented division, but Wilson maintains their floor as contenders to win the West. The ceiling will be determined on defense, where a terrific back-seven will hope the pass rush holds up its end of the bargain.

    2019 summary: Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray took their lumps in their first NFL season, including a six-game skid in the middle of the season. But the offense certainly showed flashes, boosting expectations for Year 2, including some MVP buzz for Murray.

    Key additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT Jordan Phillips, LB Isaiah Simmons, LT Kelvin Beachum, OT Josh Jones, LB De’Vondre Campbell, OLB Devon Kennard

    Noteworthy losses: RB David Johnson, OT Marcus Gilbert (opt out), DT Rodney Gunter, TE Charles Clay, DE Cassius Marsh, WR Damiere Byrd, DT Zach Kerr

    Cause for concern: The Cardinals have gone from horrendous to adequate along the O-line, but questions remain. D.J. Humphries was overpaid on a new deal and has a lengthy injury history, and Gilbert’s opt out might force Jones to start right away at right tackle. Beachum was signed for insurance, but this could go poorly, especially with a QB in Murray who scrambles so often.

    Position battle worth watching: Simmons is far too talented to keep off the field, but where will he play? Arizona is starting him at linebacker, but it already has two expensive veterans there in Campbell and Jordan Hicks. Simmons could dabble on the edge but is better off in space, where he can chase and cover or blitz from distance.

    Most signs point to improvement, as Murray could blossom with a full year under his belt and Hopkins on board. The question is how high the Cardinals can climb with two or three very good teams alongside them in the division.

    2020 forecast: Hopkins’ arrival was massive. Not only will he become Murray’s go-to target, but he moves Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk into complementary roles while allowing Kingsbury to use more 10 personnel if he desires. The offense could erupt, but will the defense hold up its end? With talent at all three levels, Vance Joseph’s unit could be the difference in nabbing a wild-card spot.

    2019 summary: The defending NFC champs opened 3-0, but a three-game skid quickly revealed problems. Jared Goff regressed, and the defense had a few embarrassing performances, leading to coordinator Wade Phillips’ departure as the Rams narrowly missed the playoffs.

    Key additions: RB Cam Akers, OLB Leonard Floyd, WR Van Jefferson, DT A’Shawn Robinson, OLB Terrell Lewis, S Terrell Burgess

    Noteworthy losses: RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, OLB Dante Fowler, LB Cory Littleton, S Eric Weddle, LB Clay Matthews, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, K Greg Zuerlein

    Cause for concern: Just 18 months removed from a Super Bowl berth, the Rams’ roster has significant holes. A load of talent departed this spring, and rookies Akers, Jefferson and Lewis might be counted on immediately to step up. The linebacking corps is very thin, both inside and out, which could make new D-coordinator Brandon Staley’s transition bumpy.

    Position battle worth watching: Brian Allen should start at center, but both guard spots are open. Austin Blythe has the edge at right guard, but 2019 fifth-rounder David Edwards will contend. At left guard, Austin Corbett will likely battle fellow 2018 draft pick Joseph Noteboom. It’s also possible that 2019 third-rounder Bobby Evans pushes Rob Havenstein at right tackle.

    Faith in Sean McVay and the Rams remains relatively high, but the decline to 9-7 last year was no fluke, and the talent level has slipped since. With two surefire contenders plus the rising Cardinals in the division, it’s not hard to imagine L.A. posting a losing season.

    2020 forecast: The Rams’ fortunes will depend on whether McVay and Goff bounce back from an uneven season, but the infrastructure is critical. The O-line seems unlikely to return to its 2018 level. On defense, having the NFL’s best player in Aaron Donald sure helps, but there isn’t much pass-rush help around him. If things break right, the Rams could be contenders, but they could also wind up last in the division.

    2019 summary: With Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak running the offense, Mike Zimmer got the efficient, ball-control attack he wanted, and Kirk Cousins won his first playoff game. But the offense was shut down in San Francisco, as the Vikings were knocked out in the divisional playoffs.

    Key additions: WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, G Dakota Dozier, WR Tajae Sharpe, DE Anthony Zettel, OT Ezra Cleveland, CB Cameron Dantzler,

    Noteworthy losses: WR Stefon Diggs, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, G Josh Kline, DE Stephen Weatherly, S Andrew Sendejo

    Cause for concern: A ton of talent left, and one of the key additions (NT Michael Pierce) opted out due to COVID-19. Zimmer rarely leans heavily on youngsters, but he’ll have to this year, both on offense and defense. Gladney must start immediately, and 2017 seventh-rounder Ifeadi Odenigbo must produce as a starting edge rusher.

    Position battle worth watching: Kline must be replaced at right guard, and left guard Pat Elflein’s spot shouldn’t be safe. Dozier and 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia should compete to replace Kline. If Cleveland adapts quickly, perhaps the Vikings would bump left tackle Riley Reiff inside to left guard.

    Even after trading Diggs and losing several veterans, the Vikings have a great base of talent. They also haven’t had a losing season since 2014, Zimmer’s first year. We have faith that they’ll at least earn a push, with a good chance of cashing the over.

    2020 forecast: If Adam Thielen is healthy, the offense should be just fine without Diggs, especially if Irv Smith takes a second-year leap. The question is whether the defense can overcome a lack of depth at defensive end and cornerback. In perhaps the league’s tightest division top-to-bottom, Minnesota’s experience and coaching could be the difference.

    2019 summary: Matt Patricia’s leaky defense undermined a quietly terrific start from Matthew Stafford and the offense, as the Lions were unlucky to start 3-4-1. Then Stafford went down with a back injury, and Detroit didn’t win again.

    Key additions: CB Jeff Okudah, LB Jamie Collins, CB Desmond Trufant, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RB D’Andre Swift, DT Danny Shelton, QB Chase Daniel, DT Nick Williams, G Jonah Jackson, G Logan Stenberg

    Noteworthy losses: CB Darius Slay, G Graham Glasgow, OT Rick Wagner, DE Devon Kennard, DT Mike Daniels, DT Damon Harrison, DT A’Shawn Robinson, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Tavon Wilson, P Sam Martin

    Cause for concern: Patricia has leaned on deep rotations of run-pluggers dating to his time in New England, but the Lions lost major talent up front and didn’t add much. Shelton is the only defensive tackle on the roster who has ever played more than half of his team’s snaps in a season, and he hasn’t done so since 2017.

    Position battle worth watching: With Glasgow gone, things are wide open at right guard. Kenny Wiggins rotated there at times last season, and Oday Aboushi offers another veteran presence, but two rookies — Jackson and Stenberg — might be the top contenders to claim the job.

    The over is one of our favorite bets league-wide. Not only will the Lions have Stafford back and healthy, but their defense can’t be much worse, and they should be much better in one-possession games (3-8-1 last season).

    2020 forecast: Stafford was stellar when healthy in new coordinator Darrell Bevell’s system last year, and Swift’s addition gives him a deep skill-position group. The offense has few glaring holes, which puts the pressure on Patricia’s D. If Trufant is healthy and Okudah transitions quickly, the Lions could surprise by contending for the division title.

    2019 summary: The marriage between new head coach Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t perfect, but the Packers excelled in close games en route to a first-round bye and a playoff win. Their run defense, however, was blown apart by San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, ending their season.

    Key additions: QB Jordan Love, OT Rick Wagner, LB Christian Kirksey, RB A.J. Dillon, TE/FB Josiah Deguara

    Noteworthy losses: RT Bryan Bulaga, TE Jimmy Graham, LB Blake Martinez, OLB Kyler Fackrell, LB B.J. Goodson, WR Geronimo Allison

    Cause for concern: Green Bay’s two biggest weaknesses — a leaky run defense and a lack of targets for Rodgers — were barely addressed in the offseason. The injury-prone Kirksey won’t fix the former by himself, and the only wide receiver signed (Devin Funchess) opted out due to COVID-19. The Packers are relying heavily on development from within.

    Position battle worth watching: Both should have roles, but second-year tight end Jace Sternberger and Deguara may have to fight over targets. Sternberger, a shifty receiver who played sparingly as a rookie, has drawn praise this offseason, while Deguara could fill the Kyle Juszczyk role in LaFleur’s Shanahan-style offense.

    The over would normally be a no-brainer for a team coming off 13 wins, but signs point to regression after Green Bay was an unsustainable 9-1 in one-possession games (including playoffs) in 2020. We would still lean toward the over, but tread carefully.

    2020 forecast: Many have cooled on the Packers after a curious offseason in which the team acted more like a rebuilding team than one on the verge of the Super Bowl. Perhaps Rodgers goes nuclear and proves the Packers wrong for drafting Love, but it’s been awhile since he’s played at an MVP level. In a competitive division, there are enough holes here to be concerned.

    2019 summary: Mitchell Trubisky’s make-or-break season shattered, and the Bears offense topped 30 points just twice. With regression and injuries on defense, Chicago’s 3-1 start devolved into a 4-6 record and ultimately a .500 finish outside the playoffs.

    Key additions: OLB Robert Quinn, QB Nick Foles, TE Cole Kmet, WR Ted Ginn, TE Jimmy Graham, CB Jaylon Johnson, S Tashaun Gipson, OL Germain Ifedi, CB Artie Burns, TE Demetrius Harris, LB Barkevious Mingo

    Noteworthy losses: OLB Leonard Floyd, CB Prince Amukamara, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, WR Taylor Gabriel, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, TE Trey Burton, DT Nick Williams, QB Chase Daniel, OT Cornelius Lucas

    Cause for concern: Even with Foles on board, the quarterback situation is worrisome. Trubisky is a lost cause, and Foles is an expensive, injury-prone option who has done little outside Philadelphia. Even given his familiarity with Matt Nagy, the Foles acquisition looks especially misguided after Cam Newton signed so cheaply in New England.

    Position battle worth watching: Burns was signed to replace Amukamara, but the former Steelers’ first-rounder has been unreliable throughout his four-year career. Second-round rookie Jaylon Johnson should win the starting job, but he must be healthy coming off shoulder surgery. Similarly, second-round rookie Cole Kmet should earn more reps than free agent signee Jimmy Graham.

    There’s an argument for the over: Foles should be better than Trubisky was in 2019, and the defense could bounce back with Quinn on board and Akiem Hicks healthy. But the Bears also have comfortably the worst QB in a competitive division. We’d lean toward the under.

    2020 forecast: Nagy will hope his offense clicks with Foles on board, but the offensive line doesn’t look any better after a down 2019 campaign. On defense, Khalil Mack, Hicks and Quinn make for a fearsome pass rush, but Eddie Goldman opted out, and there are holes in the secondary. The Bears have a few questions to answer before they can threaten for the division title.

    2019 summary: The Colts weathered the blow of Andrew Luck’s retirement surprisingly well at first, opening 5-2. But Jacoby Brissett’s progress stalled and a late-season collapse on defense left Indianapolis outside the playoff picture.

    Key additions: DT DeForest Buckner, QB Philip Rivers, WR Michael Pittman Jr., CB Xavier Rhodes, RB Jonathan Taylor, TE Trey Burton, CB T.J. Carrie

    Noteworthy losses: TE Eric Ebron, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Pierre Desir, WR Devin Funchess, K Adam Vinatieri, OT Joe Haeg, DT Margus Hunt, QB Brian Hoyer

    Cause for concern: Rivers has a history of committing turnovers in bunches, so it’s tough to gauge whether his shaky 2019 campaign was a sign of the 38-year-old’s decline or merely a product of poor protection. He now has a great O-line in Indianapolis, so we should find out quickly.

    Position battle worth watching: A complete runner with power in short spaces and long-distance speed, Taylor will claim lead-dog status before long. But Marlon Mack is better in the passing game and in ball security, both keys to earning coaches’ trust. Whoever starts, there should be snaps featuring both on the field, with Mack lining up all over the formation.

    The Colts won seven games with Brissett a year ago, then added Rivers and an elite disruptor in Buckner, all while losing few critical pieces. It requires a leap of faith to back Rivers, but Indy seems more likely to push or go over than hit the under.

    2020 forecast: Frank Reich’s scheme and a burly offensive line provide the ideal environment for Rivers, who is still adequate physically and remains sharp as ever above the neck. Buckner — a perfect fit at 3-technique in Matt Eberflus’ defense — could be the piece that pushes the defense to top-10 status. There’s no reason the Colts can’t win the AFC South and make noise in the playoffs.

    2019 summary: Mired in a 2-4 start, the Titans turned from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback and caught fire, finishing on a 7-3 run. Workhorse Derrick Henry powered two road playoff victories, but Tennessee blew a 10-point lead at Kansas City in the AFC title game, ending a Cinderella season.

    Key additions: OT Isaiah Wilson, DE Vic Beasley, CB Kristian Fulton, CB Johnathan Joseph, RB Darrynton Evans, OT Ty Sambrailo

    Noteworthy losses: RT Jack Conklin, CB Logan Ryan, DL Jurrell Casey, TE Delanie Walker, QB Marcus Mariota, LB Wesley Woodyard, DE Cameron Wake, RB Dion Lewis

    Cause for concern: While the Titans re-signed Tannehill and Henry, they let at least three above-average starters walk for reasonable prices, with their replacements unlikely to provide similar value. Jeffery Simmons is ready to step into Casey’s role, but Wilson and Fulton can’t be expected to match the level of Conklin and Ryan, respectively, as rookies.

    Position battle worth watching: Wilson, a 21-year-old who left Georgia as a redshirt sophomore, will battle veteran swing tackle Dennis Kelly for the starting job at right tackle. Wilson has the raw ability — especially power in the run game — to win the job, but he’ll likely have hiccups in protection.

    Tennessee went 9-4 with Tannehill as a starter (including playoffs), so the over is tempting, but we’re wary of his 2019 campaign being lightning in a bottle. Given the downgrades elsewhere on the roster, we’re selling on the Titans for now.

    2020 forecast: Tannehill should be solid, but he won’t lead the league in passer rating again. An O-line decline without Conklin would affect both Tannehill’s and Henry’s efficiency, which would be a problem for an offense dependent on the run and play-action. The defense should be fine, but questions remain up front and in the secondary. The Titans have work to do to win the division, let alone make it back to the championship game.

    2019 summary: Offseason investments and a preseason trade for Laremy Tunsil finally improved Deshaun Watson’s protection, but the defense slipped badly, leaving little margin for error. Houston started hot at Kansas City in the divisional playoffs, only to be overwhelmed when the Chiefs came roaring back.

    Key additions: WR Brandin Cooks, WR Randall Cobb, RB David Johnson, DT Ross Blacklock, OLB Jonathan Greenard, S Eric Murray,

    Noteworthy losses: WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT D.J. Reader, S Tashaun Gipson, RB Carlos Hyde, CB Johnathan Joseph, LB Barkevious Mingo, S Jahleel Addae

    Cause for concern: The Texans’ run defense cracked last year, and then burly nose tackle Reader left for Cincinnati. Houston’s only addition up front was Blacklock, a talented but undersized rookie more suited to rush the passer than stop the run at this point. This weakness is especially important with J.J. Watt playing more on the edge than inside in recent years.

    Position battle worth watching: The Texans always seem to be adequate at tight end without having a real standout, and this year is no different. Can Jordan Akins take a leap in Year 3? Will Kahale Warring emerge after missing his rookie season injured? Or will Bill O’Brien fall back on the steady but limited veteran in Darren Fells?

    Bill O’Brien the GM deserves all the criticism he’s gotten, but Vegas might be doubting O’Brien the coach just a bit too much. The Texans have reached nine wins five times in his six years, including all three years before Watson arrived. There’s still enough talent here to go .500 or better.

    2020 forecast: As ugly as the Hopkins trade was for Houston, the offense still has plenty of playmakers, and the O-line should be better if Tytus Howard comes back healthy. With Watson running the show, the Texans’ ceiling remains high, but question marks on defense prevent them from being favorites in the AFC South.

    2019 summary: The Jaguars’ bet on Nick Foles quickly went bust, and while Gardner Minshew surprisingly impressed as a rookie, the roster’s lack of talent became glaring. Just two years removed from an elite campaign, the defense fell apart, with many key pieces eventually shipped out of town.

    Key additions: LB Joe Schobert, CB C.J. Henderson, DE/LB K’Lavon Chaisson, TE Tyler Eifert, DT Rodney Gunter, WR Laviska Shenault

    Noteworthy losses: DL Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye, QB Nick Foles, DT Marcell Dareus, WR Marqise Lee, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, DT Akeem Spence

    Cause for concern: A once-proud defense has been stripped to the bones, and another key piece — Yannick Ngakoue — seems likely to be traded before long. Even with Henderson on board, the secondary has too many weak spots to match up with most receiving corps. It may get worse before it gets better.

    Position battle worth watching: Second-round picks usually fight for starting roles early, but Shenault is a bit unorthodox. While physical and explosive, he was more of an athlete than true wideout at Colorado and still needs ample polish. Can he push Dede Westbrook or Chris Conley for a job, or will he be primarily a gadget guy as a rookie?

    Of all the teams that seem to be playing for the future, Jacksonville seems most committed, perhaps eyeing the loaded 2021 quarterback class. It’s hard to see this team winning more than five games.

    2020 forecast: There’s a scenario in which Minshew engineers a few fourth-quarter comebacks and the Jaguars stay in the division race through midseason. More likely, though, the second-year mustachioed signal-caller won’t get enough help from his offense or defense, and the Jags will be cellar-dwellers. If injuries hit hard, things could get really ugly, as there isn’t much depth available.

    Brendon Todd weathered difficult afternoon conditions on Thursday to post a 5-under-par 65 and tie Australia’s Jason Day for the lead after the first round of the PGA Championship in San Francisco.

    They hold a slim one-shot lead over a group of nine players that includes two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and fellow major champions Zach Johnson, England’s Justin Rose and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.

    Another group of eight players at 3 under includes reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, with 15-time major champion Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau among those another shot back after an opening-round 68.

    No one else in the afternoon wave managed better than 3 under, leaving Todd’s round as arguably the most impressive of the day. That included parring the eighth and ninth holes, his final two of the day and the two hardest holes at TPC Harding Park on Thursday.

    “(The weather) really changed fast before the last two holes,” said Todd, who was among the final players off the course and estimated the winds kicked up to 20 mph.

    Todd is already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season as he has rocketed from outside the top 2,000 to begin 2019 to No. 48 in the official world golf rankings entering this week.

    “It’s really a story of perseverance,” he said. “I’m just a golfer who’s always had a lot of talent, and fortunately I was able to overcome my struggles and play the type of golf that I’ve always been capable of.”

    Day has been undergoing his own resurgence. The former No. 1 parted with long-time swing coach Colin Swatton last week and is coming off three straight top-10 finishes. That includes a T6 at last week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, where he shot four rounds in the 60s.

    Day, whose lone major title came at the 2015 PGA Championship, played during the morning wave and posted a bogey-free round.

    “There was definitely a lot of momentum coming in off the previous finishes that I’ve had,” Day said. “The game feels like it’s coming around. I’m pleased with it.”

    Lurking just a shot behind is Koepka, who is attempting to become just the third three-peat champion at a major in the past 100 years.

    Koepka had admittedly not been playing well while dealing with pain in his left knee. But he tied for second place last week, and the four-time major winner has a reputation for showing up big in marquee events.

    “I love the competition,” he said. “I love it when it’s extremely difficult. Every shot, there’s a lot of consequences.

    “When you play tough golf courses like this, you’ve got to really narrow your focus off the tee, put it in the fairway and just go one shot at a time. Just keep plugging away.”

    Woods, a four-time PGA champion, turned in his 68 after making a switch in putters this week. Starting on the back nine in a group with No. 1 Justin Thomas and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, Woods got to 3 under before a bogey on the par-3 eighth hole.

    “It was positive,” Woods said. “We were surprised at some of the pin positions, they were a little bit more on the difficult side. This golf course is all about hitting fairways.”

    McIlroy did rebound from a stretch of three consecutive bogies on his first nine to briefly get back under par. However, he struggled with his distance control on the greens and had to settle for an even-par 70.

    “It was there for the taking today,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I definitely could have been a few shots lower, but you know, I sort of grinded it out and with how I hit it on the back nine, even par actually wasn’t too bad.”

    Thomas’ struggles primarily came off the tee box. That included the newly-minted No. 1 player in the world losing a ball in a cypress tree off the seventh hole, leading to one of two double bogeys in a 1-over 73.

    Thomas did close out his round with one of only three birdies on the ninth hole during the morning wave. He is coming off a win at the WGC and has Phil Mickelson’s former caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay on his bag for the second consecutive week with Jimmy Johnson ill.

    Second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain scratched out a 70 during the afternoon to keep himself in contention, as did Bubba Watson and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.

    “It just seemed like a tough day all around,” said Rahm, who carded three birdies and three bogeys. “I was aware of if you don’t put it the fairway, it’s going to be a long day, and that’s what happened.”

    NOTES: The PGA Championship is serving as the first major of the year for the first time since 1971, and there are no spectators on the grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic. … Koepka is aiming to be the first player to win the same major three consecutive times since Peter Thomson at The Open Championship from 1954-56. He is also seeking to become the first player since Woods in 2005-08 to win at least one major in four consecutive seasons. … Woods is a 15-time major champion and 82-time winner on the PGA Tour, the latter tied with Sam Snead for the most all-time. He won a WGC event at Harding Park in 2005. … Thomas regained the No. 1 world ranking for the first time since 2018 with his victory last week.


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