Below are some teams that I think going to improve a lot over last season’s record. I’ve structured it from most confident about the turnaround to least confident.
This division should be one of the toughest in football this year and I think the Chargers are going to compete for a title. Last year they were decimated by injury as well as found a way to lose games they should have won. Chances are this won’t happen again. In terms of talent, I think they are up there with all the other teams in the division. Their defense is super underrated. They have 2 legitimate pass rushing options as well as great cover corners on the back end. This allows tremendous scheme flexibility and gives them the ability to match up with any opponent. On offense, their biggest weakness is their offensive line. They addressed this in the draft by adding two of the top guards in this class. Every other position group they have above average talent. Mark my words – if the Charges can avoid the insane amount of injuries they had last year, they are going to compete in this division.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints Issue last year was their defense. Every level was terrible but their secondary was particularly poor. Not only did they draft the first cornerback taken in the draft but they get Delvin Breaux back from injury (the one corner who has shown starting NFL caliber level of play) and they drafted a safety who should come in and start. This should do wonders to their secondary as their adding 3 starters. On the defensive line, they are adding their first-round pick from last year who missed the regular season due to injury. That’s a large talent injection to their defense. If they can get decent play from that until they have a chance to be good as their offense is always one of the tops in the league.
Their offensive line still scares me but I think they have the weapons to overcome it. With A.J. Green and John Ross on the outside, Defenses should be playing a lot of 2 high safeties. This makes life a lot easier for the line as blitz looks are a lot less complex and in theory less concerning. It should also help Andy Dalton, in addition to just having more talent around him, as one of his biggest weaknesses is when the pre-snap look changes post snap. If teams are in 2 high safeties then they won’t be able to disguise as much and change the post-snap look. Also in adding Joe Mixon, they added a running back that can make the line look better than it is from the running game perspective.
The problem last year was their offense. I think after this offseason they can become great again and if that happens then they should be back in contention for the AFC north.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I really liked Tampa’s offseason. The only reason I don’t have them higher is because they already had a winning record last year and getting to double digit wins in the NFL is tough. Also, take into their schedule. I think that everyone in their division improved and they are playing the second-place schedule instead of the last place. That being said their defense should be about the same but their offense took leaps forward in my opinion. Adding Jackson opposite Evens (who also is a fast receiver) creates the same look as Cincinnati where teams are not want to bring the extra safety down into the box. This should help the line as well as the running game. The other offensive player they added was O.J. Howard an excellent in-line TE. Why this is important is it will allow Tampa to play in base personnel, simplifying the game for Winston, and still give them the flexibility to create mismatch opportunities. They have a great f-type TE in Brate who they can move around the formation if they so choose. This will make them an almost impossible team to match up to, which is why I think they will improve.
This one is more logic. They can’t have as bad of an offensive line as they did last. If you add an improved line and potentially great back, that can create on his own further helping the offensive line, to their dominate defense and that should equal success.
If you take the QB position out of the equation then they have a really talented roster. Last year their defense was really good, they just got off to a bit of a rough start and it threw off the data a bit. During the offseason, they added more talent to their defense. They have the talent to be a top until in the league. If they can get to that level and have a decent running game they’ll be in a lot of games. Also note that when Blake did have his best season, he was really good on play action. A good running game can help the play action game but it’s more about the philosophy and playing out of running sets that can help a play action game. Logically they should be in contention for the division.
They added a lot of pieces to their already talented team in the offseason and they just happen to address a lot of their areas of need. Based on that I think they will be better than last year. The reason I have them at the bottom of the list is I’m not sure that the issues that hindered them last year won’t this year as well speed at wide receiver, offensive line depth, and corner talent. Torey Smith is fast but not a good NFL receiver so I’m not sure that solves the problem. I am a fan of the Jeffery signing and think he helps the team, but he doesn’t address the speed issue really and he has been unavailable for a lot of games recently. Not sure you can count on a full season from him. Last year when Lane Johnson went down, Wentz struggled. They didn’t add any depth on their offensive line. They added a lot of corner talent but due to injury, it might not be super impactful this season.