There are several teams every year in the NFL who show glimpses of greatness or signs of hope. Sometimes these are just solitary moments that happen every once in a while. Other times, however, these flashes evolve into repeated production and make a team a true contender. In this article, I will be diagnosing five NFL teams who are very interesting heading into 2018. These teams are in no specific order.
Number 5 – Kansas City Chiefs
Teams with rookie quarterbacks are teams that are definitely worth watching this year. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is technically not a rookie, but he saw action in just one game last year after sitting out the first 15 games behind Alex Smith. After the Chiefs and Redskins announced that they had agreed to a trade involving Alex Smith, the keys to the franchise were immediately handed to Mahomes. There are just a couple of things that worry me about the Chiefs this year. Mahomes’ inexperience is one. I’ve heard that his footwork is a mess at this point. Of course, his footwork will fix itself over time. Another worry of mine is the defense. The pass rush is unproven, and star CB Marcus Peters was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for a half eaten Chick-fil-A sandwich. Eric Berry is one of the top safeties in the game when healthy, but he is coming off of a ruptured achilles tendon, which is something to watch. My biggest issue is Kansas City’s loss of offensive coordinator Matt Nagy (who will come up later in this article). Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid is used to his assistants leaving. Reid is so good at training and teaching his assistant coaches that many of them go on to earn head coaching gigs (hence Nagy with the Chicago Bears). The Chiefs promoted Eric Bieniemy, who was the running backs coach last season, to offensive coordinator. I trust that Reid will raise him to be very good, but we just don’t know. That is part of the reason why the Chiefs are a very interesting team heading into 2018.
Number 4 – San Francisco 49ers
I have called the 49ers and QB Jimmy Garoppolo very overrated, and I still stand by that. As a Bears fan, I get a little upset when people just write off the Bears and say ”No, that’s crazy. They’ll suck forever.” So it would be very unfair of me to do that to other teams. I don’t buy the hype for the ‘9ers but I won’t say that they definitely won’t make any magic. Garoppolo is 7-0 as a career starter, and Kyle Shanahan is an extremely intelligent coach. Pierre Garcon will hopefully be healthy this season and will give Garoppolo a nice receiver. Sophomore TE George Kittle is someone I expect to have a really nice season in 2018, so that will give him a nice safety blanket over the middle. Running back Jerick McKinnon was given the big bucks in hopes that he can become a star back. I’m not convinced that he will, but he’s a good runner and a good pass catcher, and I’m sure that Kyle Shanahan can do wonders with. Marquise Goodwin is also a very good receiving threat. I am definitely not on the 49ers hype train, but it is certainly possible that the 49ers make a bunch of noise this season.
Number 3 – Chicago Bears
I wrote an article a while back about how the Bears could make the playoffs. I admit, that was a very optimistic scenario for the Bears this season. Many people have called this year’s Bears the next 2017 Los Angeles Rams. Even me, a die hard Bears fan, admits that that is pretty far fetched. Yes, the similarities between the 2017 Bears & 2016 Rams, 2018 Bears and 2017 Rams are eerily similar, but we have to remember that the 2016 Rams had the NFL’s worst offense and the Rams had the NFL’s best offense in 2017. Don’t expect the Bears to make that big of a jump. The Bears were a much better team than their 5-11 record showed in 2017; 8 of their 11 losses were decided by 8 points or less. The Bears’ defense, who allowed just 20 points per game in 2017, should benefit mightily from another year under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and a definite boost on offense. So, in theory, the Bears’ offense won’t even have to average even one more touchdown per game in order to have a much better record. I said to not expect the Bears to be cream of the crop on offense this year, but the thing is, they don’t have to be in order to win games. I know that the offense will be at least a few points per game better than they were in 2017, given the creativity of 2018’s offense versus the John Fox run-run-pass. The Bears are going to be able to lean on their defense this year. RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will benefit mightily from opposing defenses not stacking the box on first and second down, which will make everyone better. Yes, I believe that this team is more than capable of making the playoffs in 2018, but we will not be able to know for sure until the regular season starts.
Number 2 – Cleveland Browns
No, I do not believe the Browns aced this off-season. When GM John Dorsey was hired to replace the awful Sashi Brown, I made the mistake of thinking that Cleveland might turn around. Haha, no. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: The Browns had the opportunity to get the best quarterback overall and the best fit for Cleveland in Sam Darnold, but screwed that up and took small, arrogant Baker Mayfield #1 overall in 2018. Dorsey also held the #4 overall pick. With that pick, he could’ve drafted the best EDGE in the draft, Bradley Chubb, and created one of the NFL’s most dangerous pass rushes with 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett. Dorsey also screwed that up by taking 5’10” nickelback Denzel Ward. Now, I think that Ward will be a nice player in the NFL, but having a dominant pass rush improves the entire defense by a large margin, and unless Chubb busts, that is an unforgivable mistake. I don’t think that Mayfield will bust either, but I think he’ll be a Case Keenum at best, while Sam Darnold could go to multiple pro bowls. I think the ceiling for Cleveland is 6-10 this year, and that is being generous. I said earlier that it would be unfair of me to write anyone off, but I am going to break that rule here. In no scenario do I see the Browns winning more than 6 games this year. The reason that the Browns are interesting this year is Baker Mayfield. I said that high end he’ll be Case Keenum, but it is not impossible for him to be a star. So technically, I’m not writing off the entire team.
- New York Jets
- Arizona Cardinals
- Detroit Lions
- Tennessee Titans
Number 1 – Houston Texans
DeShaun Watson is another guy that I have called overrated because he was put into a very good situation as a rookie. However, he is capable of putting up great numbers with the help he has. DeAndre Hopkins is probably the second best receiver in the league. Will Fuller V is also a very good receiver. Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman make a solid running game, and J.J. Watt leads a pretty good defense. The Texans will be battling the great Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense to win the AFC South. I also expect the Tennessee Titans to be very good this year. The Indianapolis Colts get Andrew Luck back, but their roster is still a mess. The Texans being in a crowded division makes them all the more interesting this year.