We’ve heard enough about the Eagles and their abundance of quarterbacks. Tom Brady and his mentor Bill Belicheck. Minnesota Vikings and their dangerous defense. But what about the teams that aren’t being talked about? You’re either in the super bowl discussion, you just are the butt of every joke (looking at you Browns) or are forgotten about by the NFL. This one goes out to three teams that will be underdogs this year and surely won’t be forgotten about come playoff talks next year.
The most obvious choice that comes to mind when talking about the playoffs is the Texans. This year everything can come together. J.J. Watt will come back off another injury-ridden season to suit up for the team. We are talking about a three time Defensive Player of the Year, who is only 29 years old. Throw him next to the toy that is Jadeveon Clowney and you are looking at a defensive line that will feature strength to stuff the running game of the Jaguars and Titans in their divisional games. On top of this, they bring in Swiss Army knife Tyrann Mathieu to pair with other new comers Kayvon Webster and Justin Reid to bolster the secondary. We’re looking at one of the top 7 defenses in the NFL if Watt comes back (even if he’s not as good as he once was). The part that puts this team over the edge is the offense. It starts and ends with the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Marc Sessler says it best though:
Go back and witness the two-game stretch where the first-rounder fleeced the Titans <http://www.nfl.com/teams/
Before Watson went down last year, the Texans went 5-3. Add in a more dynamic secondary and even a Watson of equal capability from what we saw last year and they might be looking at ten or eleven wins. Even if they lost to the Patriots here in week 1, we saw Tyrann provide a spark to the defense with a fumble and interception. Watt and Watson need to be given a game to shed their rust. That’s understandable for both coming off of season-ending injuries.
Now comes the fun part. We look for teams that haven’t been in the playoffs for a while but have potential just oozing from them. No team seems more ready to take this leap than the Cincinnati Bengals.
At first glance they look destined to fail with two games against the division rival Steelers. On the flip side however, they also have a combined FOUR games against the likes of the Browns and the Ravens. Schedules aside, the Bengals feature what has the potential to be a top four offense. After a disappointing offensive year, the offensive line has been fixed. With new fixes at center in Billy Price (who most believe to be the best center prospect to come out of college in the past decade) and Cordy Glenn. Glenn comes in as one of the best offensive tackles in the league before this past year (where he had a ankle injury holding him back). With these two lineman brought in to anchor the line, the Bengals offense begins looking capable.
Another area of the team to take a look at is the skill positions. At running back they’re lining up Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard. Mixon lines up as the power back and Bernard as the receiving back on third down. Mixon should be in for a monster year behind a rebuilt O-Line that will give him some space to get started. The WRs are headlined by AJ Green and speedster John Ross (remember the man who broke the speed record at the combine?). The new found running game will unlock the air game as well for more open targets for both of these receivers. The ever dangerous Tyler Eifert remains an option as well to space the middle of the field and keep the linebackers honest.
Doubters will say that Andy Dalton doesn’t have the skill to carry this team. Back in 2015 and 2016 he threw a 25-7 and 18-8 TD:INT ratio and 3,250 and 4,206 yards respectively. This man, when given weapons and an offensive line has proved his ability to lead a team. It will be on the back of this offense that the Bengals will climb up the division rankings to steal first out of the unsuspecting Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even before the Bears traded for Khalil Mack, I thought they were a contender. With new coach Matt Nagy, the offense is all new and ready to take the NFL by storm.
What’s eye-catching is the resemblance of this team to the Eagles that just won the super bowl this past year. We’re talking about a defensive line with one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. A new head coach who is gutsy (see third down pass with two minutes left vs Packers this past week). A new receiving tight end coming in to team up with a new wide receiver by the name of Allen Robinson to stretch the offense. Looking at this recipe, it looks like a duplicate of the Eagle’s success story.
And frankly, it’s one that I think will work. Trubisky enters his sophomore season with the weapons he needs to succeed. In the same way Roseman shopped around for talent for Wentz and the Eagles, the Bears loaded up on offensive talent. They have a top 8 offense with these three receiving threats (comparable to Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Zach Ertz of the Eagles) and a running game with Jordan Howard. They’re loaded.
Their defense isn’t far behind either: Khalil Mack proved to be a one man wrecking crew already. However, they were missing new linebacker Roquan Smith for most of the game. When adding him to the line backer corps, the defense immediately shifts to a one that quarterbacks must be wary of. The Bears suddenly have the ability to rush the quarterback (see Smith bulldoze Ty Montgomery for the Kizer sack). We’re looking at a team that will grow week by week.
Luckily though, their “difficult” games all take place in week 7 on. The difference maker for this team will be two-fold: can they continue to groom these younger players as the season goes on and can the youngsters have the stamina for the long second half of the season (with the early bye week)? Only time will tell, but they’re trending in the right direction.