It doesn’t take a perfect team to win a Superbowl, but it does take a damn good one; at least a team that can be damn good for 3 or 4 playoff games. There are always a handful of teams that can contend for the big game, but the rest of the league spends their every waking moment fighting to get good enough. Often times the bottom of the barrel, those getting those highly coveted top-5 draft picks, just aren’t even close to contention, but those mid-rounders? One good off-season can turn any mediocre team to a playoff contender; and a playoff contender into something bigger.
All stats are as of week 16.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have been one of the league’s most unfortunate teams this season, suffering as many heartbreaking losses as some franchises have seen in a decade. Fortunately, losing can pay off in the NFL as the Chargers now hold a top-15 draft pick. With a could-be franchise QB in Justin Herbert, they can expend their resources by filling holes such as upgrading the offensive line and getting the depth needed to maintain their 9th ranked pass defense, which is only giving up 224.1 YPG through the air. This team could easily be playoff contenders in 2021, and the right growth could have them working towards a Superbowl in 2022.
If controversial QB Tua Tagovailoa is ‘The Guy’ after all down in Florida, the Miami Dolphins could be contending as early as next season. Using the Houston Texans 3rd-overall draft pick, Miami can select or trade for talent to give this offense the anchor it needs to help Tua. Their defense might be the scariest unit in the NFL in 2020, forcing a league-high 27 turnovers through 15 games, but turnovers and sacks can’t be relied on for long-term success. If Miami’s defense can continue to find ways to stop teams when they don’t force turnovers, this team can win games as Tua progresses through 2021. They’ll look a lot like their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills did in 2019, with intent to contend immediately.
Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic QBs in the NFL right now, but he’s not ready yet. Aside from his famous ‘Hail Murray’, it’s been a rather mediocre year of throwing prayers to DeAndre Hopkins, most of which he seems to come down with. They’ve got a wealth of talent in various positions, but until they can galvanise and work more cohesively as a group, they’ll be on the outside looking in. They could be ready in a little as one offseason, assuming they spend their time wisely. It’s a big assumption, and they could look like the Browns did over the past few years ‘just putting it all together’.
Speaking of the Browns, what have they spent the past few seasons doing? It’s hard to recall exactly what Cleveland was missing that’s stopped them from competing but even now, as they teeter on the edge of success, they’re just not quite there. Their passing game is 24th in the league, but it’s supplemented by their 4th ranked run game. A successful run game is never a bad thing, but the fact that Cleveland lost in a shootout against the Baltimore Ravens is a testament to their inability to consistently move the ball through the air. That won’t do in the playoffs. Trading WR Odell Beckham Jr. for assets they can use to address their lack of secondary depth is a must, since Baker is consistently better without him on the field, and forcing the ball to him hinders both the offense as a whole and Mayfield’s growth.
Washington Football Team
This may be considered an unorthodox pick, but it’s not without it’s merits. A dark horse to compete in 2021, the Washington Football Team is one QB away from contending. With a top-5 defense in every category, a healthy starter who can manage this offense and not make too many big mistakes would make them a playoff contender, but a consistent veteran could get them further. Trades for veterans such as Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, or Matt Stafford aren’t off the table, but drafting a young QB like Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance could be the beginning of a perfect storm in Washington. Keep an eye on this unit, they’ll be ready in as little as 1 1/2 seasons.