Brian Baldinger Answers Key Offseason Questions for Each NFL Division

Jordan Cohn
February 10, 2020 - 1:03 pm
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There are several ways to get over your end-of-football depression. In fact, football started up again on Saturday, February 8 with the season debut of the XFL.

But if you have a hankering for the NFL, one of the best ways to satisfy that itch is to listen to the RADIO.COM Sports podcast Prevent Defense, hosted by NFL insiders Brian Baldinger and Eliot Shorr-Parks.

In this week’s episode, Eliot presented one burning question for each division as the offseason gets going, and Baldy was ready with his answers.

NFC North: Can the Bears Bounce Back?

After a 2018-19 season in which the Bears’ terrifying defense (93.1 Pro Football Focus grade, first among all NFL teams) led the team to a first place, 12-4 finish, Chicago fans were hungry for an even stronger subsequent season after the double-doink left them feeling empty. But 2019 saw regression for not only the defense (76.0 PFF grade, No. 10 among all NFL teams), but also for Mitch Trubisky, the entire offense and the city’s respect for Matt Nagy. Will the 2020 season offer results more similar to 2018?

Baldy: “Yes... People just don’t see the talent, the consistency or the development of Mitch Trubisky… You made a HUGE investment in [Trubisky]. They have to take another year to make it work. He’s got to play better, the offensive line has got to get better. I think Matt Nagy went from Coach of the Year to people really scratching their head asking ‘Who is this guy?’ and ‘What does he bring?’”

NFC East: Will Amari Cooper Stay in Dallas?

Dallas had a frustrating season but it certainly wasn’t due to the play of Amari Cooper. Since joining the Cowboys, Cooper has shown phenomenal chemistry with Dak Prescott and continued that trend in 2019. He was one of just seven wide receivers to compile 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns, and had the second highest approximate value (Pro Football Reference’s attempt to assign each player with an individual numeric value) of that group. His return to Dallas is in question given the number of teams who could desperately use help in their receiving corps.

Baldy: “I do think he’s going to be back. If you take Amari out of that offense, I don’t think that they have anybody who is a guy that can really beat man coverage. If you’re playing Stephon Gilmore or Tre'Davious White or some of the elite corners of the league, you better find somebody who can do it… I think he’s going to be back.”

NFC South: Will Cam Newton Be Back in Carolina?

Cam Newton watches warmups before a Panthers game.
Photo credit Getty Images

Kyle Allen had his ups and downs throughout the 2019 campaign, and Will Grier’s future is largely unpredictable. If Newton is healthy, it would be a sight for sore eyes to see their QB -- the same QB that led the team to three double-digit win seasons in the 2010s -- back on the field. But given his health issues and the hire of Matt Rhule, will Carolina still want him as the centerpiece of the offense?

Baldy: “I don’t think so. I think they’re ready to turn the page. I think they’ve seen the best of Cam Newton, the injuries have compounded. Maybe they make a mistake, maybe he goes to Chicago or some place and has some great second act, but I think they’re ready to move on in Carolina. You’ve got a new coach, a new way of doing things… I think they’re going to start fresh.”

NFC West: Is Jared Goff a Real Issue for the Rams, or Can They Win With Him at QB?

The Rams’ Super Bowl follow-up wasn’t very impressive. The offense ranked near the league average, according to Pro Football Focus. While Todd Gurley’s injury issues and the lack of consistent offensive line production certainly didn’t help, quarterback Jared Goff regressed a significant amount, posting 10 fewer touchdowns and four more interceptions than he did in 2018.

Baldy: “I think he’s got accuracy issues. I know people say he’s greatly accurate but when the games are on the line he seems to really struggle putting the ball in certain places. I think Sean McVay can only do so much in the play action pass game with where to go with the ball. We’ve seen it now for a couple years where you kind of scratch your head… I just don’t think quarterbacks improve their accuracy over the course of their careers and I think we’ve seen the best that he’s going to be.”

AFC East: Will Another Team Besides the Patriots Win the Division Next Year?

Bill Belichick looks on from the Patriots sideline.
Photo credit Getty Images

After Tom Brady and the Patriots were taken down by Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round, the already-loud buzz surrounding Brady’s future increased as the team’s outlook became increasingly unclear. With all that uncertainty and an improved Buffalo roster that continues to gain more experience, will New England’s 11-year reign atop the AFC East finally come to an end?

Baldy: “I’ll only answer it if somebody can tell me if Tom Brady is going to be there. I think if Tom Brady stays -- and I’ve said all along that I don’t think he’s going to play for another team but the Patriots -- they’re going to win the East. I think Buffalo has narrowed the gap, but if I was the Patriots I would sign Brady and I would build around him. If Brady isn’t there, then I think Buffalo is ready to win that division.”

AFC West: Who Will Be the Chargers' QB?

Philip Rivers’ career as a Charger has come to an end after 14 years without a missed start, a stretch in which he went 123-101 with six playoff appearances. However, sources close to the team have indicated that they will be moving on from the veteran and potential future Hall of Famer, and the void left behind will be an intriguing one for several prospective quarterbacks.

Baldy: “I think they’re going to draft a quarterback, and I think that they’re going to draft him high. I don’t know if that’s Tua or Justin Herbert or [Jordan] Love, I don’t know who it’s going to be yet. I think they’ll have somebody ready to go -- a journeyman, potentially, to start if [the rookie] doesn’t win the job -- but I think they’ve got a big problem moving to a new stadium in Los Angeles right now. They don’t have a very charged up fan base. I would not sign a player -- let’s say Tom Brady -- just because you’re trying to sell tickets, because I don’t believe that that’s any kind of a long-term answer. I think you have to go find yourself a Patrick Mahomes or somebody like that that the fan base can get excited about and they’ll be patient with him if they see real talent.”

AFC North: Does Joe Burrow Play for the Bengals Next Year?

LSU QB Joe Burrow celebrates a national championship.
Photo credit Getty Images

Most speculation in Cincinnati and nationwide is that Joe Burrow will go to the Bengals -- he’s already told the media that he’s not a fan of Skyline Chili -- but several teams should be hungry for the LSU product. And reportedly there are several interested parties, according to a tweet by Dan Sileo. But will anyone or anything actually be enough to tear the Bengals away from their potential franchise star? Or do they keep the No. 1 pick?

Baldy: “My guess is yes. I think they can entertain all the offers and I think there’s going to be some substantial offers. I’d like to know what they think of Tua or any other candidates right now because if you can get a king’s ransom for the No. 1 pick but you feel like Tua or Herbert… can be as good if not better, then you’d be foolish not to make that deal. The combine is going to be huge for everybody. But, my guess right now is yes, he will play for the Bengals next year.”

AFC South: Do the Colts Need a Quarterback or Are You Confident in Jacoby Brissett Going Forward?

Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement thrust Jacoby Brissett into the spotlight, and though it wasn’t a major storyline this year, he pretty seamlessly entered the role and proved to be a worthy starter in this league. The AFC South is a division that has some flare in stars like Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry, but it also seems like a group of teams that is somewhat up for grabs for the time being. Each team has its flaws and its question marks, and for the Colts, the biggest one is whether or not Brissett (2942 yards, 18 TD, 6 INT) can legitimately lead this team to a division title.

Baldy: “I think they need a quarterback. It’s not a knock on Jacoby Brissett but I think we’ve seen what he is. I think everybody rallies around him, and I think he’s a great guy to have on your team, but I don’t think he’s a front-line quarterback -- I’m talking like a top 10 quarterback -- and that’s what that team needs. I think they need an upgrade at that position.”

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