With the 2019 NFL season drawing ever closer, what teams have a chance at raising the Lombardi that everyone is overlooking?
Oh, the dog days of the NFL season have fallen upon us. Kids across the nation and adults on vacation can’t help but want the calendar to flip to September so that their favorite players step foot on the gridiron to begin their quest to Super Bowl 54.
It seems as though the hot summer months cloud NFL fans’ judgment when the season comes along. Clickbait analysts seemingly rule the media market today, and their opinions have an opinionated stranglehold on the football community. Only the “clear cut” favorites or teams in “large media markets” get any sort of attention, and great players get severely overlooked because they don’t play for a marquee franchise.
Some of the NFL’s best rosters are lying right before our eyes and getting little to no media coverage at all. The following teams are outside of the top 3 betting favorites to win their conference, according to the Las Vegas Sportsbook and have been arguably vastly overlooked by the national media. These teams by no means are my “favorites” to hoist the championship come next February, but if all the cards stack up in their favor, could very well end up winning the big game.
3. Tennessee Titans
Let’s get the elephant out of the room right now: the Titans are far from the most efficiently ran organization in sports. Since Marcus Mariota’s arrival in Nashville in 2015, the Titans have had three different head coaches and a whopping four different offensive coordinators. The mismanagement of what should be their franchise quarterback has been astounding, to say the least, and Tennessee has paid the price with a trifecta of 9-7 seasons. However, I can’t help but be a bit optimistic for the team in two-toned blue.
It seems like Tennessee has finally found their man in Mike Vrabel. The former Patriot standout brings a certain edge to the team that few coaches in the league can offer. Being that he is only 43 years old, he serves as a great players coach who can still get in pads and teach the young defensive guys his expertise. He did, of course, learn under Bill Belichick and play in the league for over a decade, so it’s fair to say he knows what he is doing. The guys clearly want to play for him, and that is an underrated aspect of today’s NFL. If the players are hungry, they tend to perform better on the field.
The Titans issue isn’t their lack of willingness, but the fact the offense has been fairly stagnant for the last few years. This has of course fallen on the blame of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Constantly battling injury and under a new offensive system, it feels like the former Heisman winner just hasn’t had good luck in the NFL. Not to mention, his supporting cast of pass catchers has been in the bottom tier of the league for some time now, it has just been a recipe for disaster. It seems like going into this season there is no lingering injury, and general manager John Robinson has finally given him some help.
A.J Brown slid into the Titans lap in the 2nd round of the draft, and Tennessee should be extremely grateful. Brown was the #1 WR on my big board and has uber potential. At 6 feet tall and a ridiculously muscular frame, Brown is large enough in order to play on the outside. Titans fans may be comically overestimating Adam Humphries, but he is much better than stone hands Taywan Taylor, so I guess it’s acceptable. Humphries can stretch the field and is a great safety blanket, both things the Titans have been in dire need of. Paired up with the promising Corey Davis and a returning Delanie Walker, the Titans passing game could finally be a force to reckon with.
The real X-Factor for the Titans being a sneaky contender though is their defense. Tennessee had the 8th best defense this past season in yards allowed, and finished 3rd in points allowed. This was all accomplished without much of a pass rush either. Tennessee was in the middle of the pack in sacks, and that is including being in the lower half of quarterback pressures. With Cameron Wake, a second-year stud in Harold Landry, and Dean Pees promising more designed blitzes could lead to a great improvement in the pass rush. The secondary is of course lead by All-Pro Kevin Byard, and, when healthy, he and Kenny Vacarro were one of the best safety duos in all of football last season. Malcolm Butler greatly improved after his pedestrian start to the season, and alongside Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson, provide the backend of the defense.
A renewed passing attack, a troublesome defense, and an already established ground game, the Titans look to be a Chicago Bears esque team in the AFC and cause havoc throughout the league. They have shown flashes of this in the past (vs. New England and @Dallas) but now look to finally put it together for a full campaign. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can take NFL legend Peyton Manning’s word for it, as he said: “The Titans are a team to be reckoned with now in the AFC”. Some may scoff at that notion, but I like Manning, see the potential this team possesses.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Self-professed “Americas Team” not getting enough love? What kind of crazy world are we living in? Since Dak’s sophomore season ended on a large dud, most of the national media that is not infatuated with Dallas has been relatively quiet about them. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless may try to get a Cowboy reference in every segment, but the actual, legitimate attention has been few and far between.
We aren’t the only ones to think this thankfully, as My Top Sports Books thinks the same thing putting them as a great sleeper bet at (+2500).
I feel as if most non-fans of the franchise just feel as though Dak isn’t anything special, Zeke is overrated, and that the defense had a flukey stretch that was ultimately disposed of by the Rams in the playoffs. That just isn’t the case.
Dak is far from an elite quarterback. Putting Dak above anything of a middle of the road NFL quarterback is absolute lunacy. The great thing about Dak, which made Alex Smith look good for so long is that when all the factors are suited perfectly for him, he can shine. This Cowboys roster is constructed so he can do just that.
Amari Cooper might’ve been one of the most underrated wide receivers in the entire league during his stint in Oakland, but has been really establishing himself since his arrival in Dallas. His route running is amongst the best of the league, he is extremely athletic, and he can always make a play when needed. When used correctly, there is no doubt he could be a top 10 wideout in football. Joining Cooper is second-year standout Michael Gallup who greatly benefited from Cooper’s arrival in Dallas. Allen Hurns and newly signed Randall Cobb provide some veteran leadership, and together the core should be formidable enough to give Dak a much-needed boost in the passing game. Zeke is undoubtedly a top 3 running back in football, and with the offensive line coming back to health, Dak should have all the pieces around him to be an above average game manager in 2019.
Like Tennessee, the Cowboys Super Bowl hopes relies squarely on their defense. Kris Richard and Rob Marinelli have been instrumental in making Dallas’ defense one of the most feared in all of football, and are trying to take it to the next level in 2019. Leighton Vander Esch should be able to finally secure the role as a starter alongside Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee can focus on being an elite rotational player in what many assume to be his last season in the NFL.
Robert Quinn and Demarcus Lawrence should be one of the better pass rush combos in the NFC, and that could vastly help out the back end of the defense. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie both greatly stepped up in 2018, and should only get better with another year out of them. Really the only issue I have with this team is the safety tandem, but Jeff Heath has betting rave remarks this off-season. After all the years of undeserved hype and media coverage, Dallas is finally formidable enough for the NFL to be put on notice.
1. Atlanta Falcons
I will not give up on you Atlanta, I promise. Right before last season got underway I predicted that the Falcons would be the best team in the NFC. The roster was still largely intact from their “28-3” team, they had lost in heartbreaking fashion for the second straight year, and this as the year they would channel their misfortune into victories. That was not accurate, to say the least, but it was not because the team was bad.
Atlanta was ravaged with injuries hard and early in the season and played barely a half of football with the team that I thought was amongst the best in the NFC. Well, for now anyway, they are healthy again and have something to prove.
Matt Ryan had a sneaky MVP campaign last season, and for some reason, no one seemed to care. This was in large part without his starting running back, and an offensive system that didn’t utilize Julio Jones, one of the greatest receivers of all time. Dirk Koetter might not have been the greatest head coach, but no one complained that Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t run to the best of its ability with the talent they had and made 70-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a young stallion again. That change at offensive coordinator alone is going to do wonders for this team and will take the already great talent and enhance it. Koetter is big into getting all of his receivers involved, so Julio, Calvin Ridley, and Muhammad Sanu should all be in line for pretty big seasons. The issues with the Falcons offense was their mediocre offensive line and run game, which will presumably be fixed by the rookie lineman they spent high picks on and the return of Devonta Freeman respectively. There is no world in which I can see the Falcons not having a top 10 offense in 2019.
Atlanta’s defense is not nearly as good as Tennessee’s or Dallas’, but they have the talent to be one of the league’s better groups. Vic Beasley led the league in sacks just a few seasons ago, and although inconsistent, could definitely return to form fully healthy this upcoming season. The total emergence of Demontae Kazee along with the already established Keanu Neal will be an elite safety duo for years to come when both men can play alongside each other. Deion Jones is one of the best middle linebackers in football, and with him, back on the field it really could make all the difference for this team. Dan Quinn being the teams head coach also gives the defense that much more potential, as he is unquestionably one of the best defensive minds in the sport.
Talent just oozes from this roster, top to bottom. Matt Ryan is trying to establish himself as an elite quarterback, and he has the talent around him to make that a real possibility. With a lethal offense and formidable defense, the NFC shouldn’t overlook the Falcons as a team that could make it to the big dance in 2019.