Last week in “Martin’s NFL Pyramid,” I went over the “teams going nowhere in my bottom tier. As a recap, those teams were the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, and Miami Dolphins. If you missed that article, click here to read it. This week, I will be covering the next highest tier, the “teams who are close, but not quite there yet.” These teams could be here for a number of different reasons, such as good coaching but inadequate talent, or vice versa, or lack of experience, as well as others.
I’m sure many will think that the Cards should have been in last week’s episode, but I think they are quite closer than others may think. First, they have a solid foundation on defense with key pieces like Budda Baker and Patrick Peterson in the secondary, and wrecking-ball pass rusher Chandler Jones up front. Vance Joseph was also a solid pick for the defensive coordinator by new head coach Kilff Kingsbury, which leads me to my concern with this team. Rookie QB Kyler Murray is ultra-talented with a great arm, and while he does have size issues, I’m not convinced that will make him irrelevant. The Cards also have David Johnson, one of the better running backs in the game, as well as some young receivers that can grow with Murray. But Kingsbury? I’m not so sure about him. He never had winning teams at Texas Tech, and I think this was a major impulse hire to find the next Sean McVay by the Cardinals. It sure didn’t make me feel better when he chose not to hire an offensive coordinator, and do it all by himself.
I loved the Mike Vrabel hire from the beginning, and I think I’m right about it to this day. He nearly took his team to the playoffs in his first season as the head man, a very difficult thing to do. He’s also established a good culture in Music City, and the players can get behind him. Former 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota is yet to step up and prove to be a franchise QB, and they do still lack playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. I feel like if the Titans could develop some more skill players around Mariota, and he could stay healthy, he could be that guy. He certainly has the personality to be a successful leader and player, and now he just has to put it on the field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the Cardinals, I see more in the future of this team than most others. I’m a big Bruce Arians fan, and he may not fix Jameis Winston, but if he gets an actual quarterback with no baggage this offense could become very dangerous. They have the tools with Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard. And defensively, Devin White was a great pick at the inside linebacker position, and he could have a Roquan Smith-like impact in his rookie season this year. And Todd Bowles is about as good of a defensive coordinator that you can get. They’ve still got a lot of talent to acquire, but I like where this team is headed.
“Whoah! But they got Odell! They are Super Bowl Contenders!!!” Not so fast. From a pure talent standpoint, it looks like the Browns could be. But Freddie Kitchens, the Browns new head coach, was a position coach his entire career, except for the half season he spent as the offensive coordinator last season. To his credit, he did a pretty good job, but it’s a big step up from OC to HC, and there are a lot of big egos in Cleveland, and controlling them might take a year to figure out. I’m not saying anything is impossible. This team could win the Super Bowl for all I know. But I’m going to go with the “one more year” approach with Cleveland this year. With this type of talent, the sky is the limit. But I’m not buying in just yet.
New York Jets
I think Adam Gase is a good coach, especially for a young quarterback like Sam Darnold. This team also needs some more talent on each side of the ball. But my biggest thing with the Jets is the seemingly ever-ongoing dysfunction. In what world should a head coach be able to fire the GM that hired him? There is too much drama in the front office, and I again question the legitimacy of their ownership.
Joe Flacco doesn’t give the Broncos something that Case Keenum didn’t. Flacco has proved in the past that he can win big games, but he’s not that quarterback anymore. It’s pretty clear that Drew Lock is the future of the franchise, and Flacco is just a bridge between the past and future. The defense looks good, especially after bringing in head coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell from Chicago, as well as offensive line coach Mike Munchak from Pittsburgh. The Broncos just need to develop Lock and add talent around him, which is why I like this team in the future, but not the present.
This team’s defensive front is stacked, but, as usual, Dan Snyder has way overpaid for an aging defensive back in Landon Collins. The amount of money invested between him and Josh Norman is absurd. The offense looks better, but, again, is not quite there yet. Whether the starter is Keenum, Colt McCoy, or Dwayne Haskins, there is not quite enough talent there to support them, which is why I don’t want Haskins thrown to the wolves just yet. Adrian Peterson and the return of Derrius Guice should make a formidable backfield and Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis make two awesome tight ends. The defensive secondary needs work, as does the offensive line and receiving corps, and Dan Snyder needs to go. If those few things can happen and Dwayne Haskins can develop, this team could be championship contenders in the future.
Matthew Stafford is not quite cutting it. But the Lions have been addressing needs such as pass rush with the addition of Trey Flowers. Maybe Matt Patricia can evolve into a great coach now that he has a year under his belt. Kerryon Johnson flashed RB1 ability last season, and he gives the Lions an offensive dimension that they haven’t had in years. Maybe with an improved running game and an improved offensive line, Matthew Stafford can step up and be a true franchise quarterback. If these things happen and everything comes together, the Lions could become a playoff contender.
Well, that’s it for my teams who are close, but not there yet. Next week, I’ll cover my playoff contenders.