Settle down. We tend to overreact to the narratives of the offseason in the NFL because there isn’t anything else to do. Pundits are so quick to declare the winners and losers of the offseason that fans lose sight of what matters. In reality, the superpowers of the NFL are rarely that active during the period that can only be described as roster reconstruction phase. Those rookies that we spend months scrutinizing who they are and what they might do? Most of them will hardly see the field during their rookie season, and the few who do usually aren’t the ones that we’d expect. The best teams sat on their hands during the past few months, and that’s just fine. With that said, here’s how the teams stack up heading into OTA’s.
The Patriots are the best team in the league until proven otherwise. While analysts may question their draft haul on an annual basis, the team looks for a very specific set of players to run a very specific scheme. They have earned the benefit of the doubt. The loss of Chandler Jones hurts a bit, but the team had no intention of signing him to a nine figure contract. Even if they do start 2-2 without Brady, New England is the odds on Super Bowl favorite.
Don’t be fooled by their blowout loss in the NFC Championship; the Cardinals were the best team in the league last year. This offseason, the team has addressed their only major need in a pass rusher by adding Chandler Jones and Robert Ndeckiche. This is the strongest roster in the league, and with an aging Carson Palmer, it’s Super Bowl or bust.
Despite a down season last year, the Seahawks still have the roster best poised to be annual Super Bowl contenders for the next five years. All of their star players are locked up through at least 2019. Russell Wilson has erased any doubts about whether he is a top tier quarterback down the stretch last year. Still, questions remain on the offensive line and in the secondary.
One of these years, the Steelers have to get it right. The team has been blessed with the best triplet of playmakers in the league in Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Those are, at worst, the 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd best players at their respective positions. Problem is, the team hasn’t been able to keep all three healthy come playoff time. Maybe this time….
Last season. Without Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy(well, the real Eddie Lacy), Randall Cobb and DaVante Adams were exposed as products of a system rather than elite players. Their return should help, as well as moving Clay Matthews back outside with the addition of Kyle Fackrell. When you have Aaron Rodgers, you have a chance.
The Panthers were a pleasant surprise last year, to say the least, going nearly undefeated and coming within a furious Von Miller strip sack of a Super Bowl. Frighteningly enough, Kelvin Benjamin will be back. Even so, color me unsurprised if the team's patchwork secondary and offensive line don’t perform again this year, especially without Josh Norman.
The Vikings are quietly and soundly building one of the league's better rosters through a strong defense and running game. The addition of big bodied possession receiver LaQuon Treadwell should help Teddy Bridgewater's development. Still, Adrian Peterson has to lose a step eventually, and the options for the second starting corner spot are uninspiring at best.
The Bengals have the deepest and strongest roster in the league. Free agency departures like Reggie Nelson don’t impact them as much because they have the depth to replace them easily. However, it’s impossible to ignore Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton’s uncanny ability to throw away games in January. Don’t expect Andy Dalton to repeat last years miracle performance without Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu.
The Chiefs were one of 2015’s feel good stories, riding an eleven game win streak all the way to the divisional round. They return the bulk of that team, with a slightly improved offensive line and a weaker secondary. The development of second year phenom Marcus Peters should be exciting.
Don’t get wrapped up in all of this Mark Sanchez nonsense. As flawed as Buttfumble is, he is a better quarterback than either of the team's options a year ago. It will be hard to repeat the historic defensive performance from a year ago, as winning games off of so many defensive points and turnovers is hardly repeatable.
Andrew Luck is a special player. He has all of the potential to be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. The Colts just need to put enough talent around him to thrive, as they found out last year. Drafting four offensive lineman should help that matter. As long as Luck is healthy, the Colts have the potential for a deep playoff run no matter how many roster holes they have.
Reggie McKenzie deserves all of the praise in the world for turning around one of the worst rosters in the league in just two years. Although the wheels fell off at the end of last year, the trio of building blocks in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack is something special. With a successful draft and free agency period, this team could seriously contend for the AFC West title.
Whatever you think of Brock Osweiler(hint: it shouldn’t be that much), you can’t ignore what the Texans have done on offense this offseason. The team is lightyears faster than it was in 2015. Lamar Miller, who was unsurprisingly not used correctly in Miami, should add a dynamic presence to the backfield. Speedy Will Fuller can take the top off of defenses and take away double coverages from Deandre Hopkins. Braxton Miller could emerge as a nice surprise as well.
Amidst all of the turmoil in the NFC East, the Redskins are finally building a stable winner, thanks in large part to General Manager Scott McGowan. Kirk Cousins is surrounded by playmakers on the outside with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Josh Doctson, and Jamison Crowder. He has to show last year wasn’t a fluke. Josh Norman could turn the secondary from a weakness to a strength. The running game remains as a major question mark, however.
Everyone loves what the Jaguars have done this offseason. The team has the pieces in place for a high powered offense in 2016, should Blake Bortles limit his turnovers compared to a year ago. In essence, the team adds three first round talents in Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler. This, paired with a sea of free agent acquisitions, sets expectations high for this season. If the team misses the playoffs, Gus Bradley will most likely be out of Jacksonville.
“The Bills would be so good if they could just find a quarterback”
For years, that was the narrative surrounding this perennially mediocre franchise. Now, the team has potentially found that quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. Under apparent defensive guru Rex Ryan, the unit took a step back from its former elite level last year. Maybe his brother Rob, who led the worst defense in NFL history last year, will fix that. Probably not.
If I were a betting man, I would take any odds that the Rams will go 7-9 in any given year, because regardless of that years set of excuses, the team seemingly finds a way to hit that mark almost dead on every year. The teams elite defense and running game, combined with the human personification of inadequacy at quarterback led to a maddeningly inconsistent bunch every year. They had but to choice but to trade up for a quarterback this year. Hopefully,for all of our sakes, Jared Goff is the answer.
The Ravens are constantly touted by scouts and analysts as drafting and developing better than anyone in the league. As last seasons trainwreck season unfolded, the narrative was that they’d be right back in the playoffs with Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh at the helm. Yet, looking at this roster, the team sports an aggressively below average group of players with major holes at important positions due to consistently poor drafting in the last few years. Despite Baltimore's stability, they may be out of the playoffs again, especially with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in their division.
Will the 2016 Atlanta Falcons be the team that sprinted off to a 6-1 start or the one that limped to a 2-7 finish? The addition of Mohamed Sanu should help take some of the pressure off of Julio Jones, but this is still an extremely one dimensional offense. The team has to count on Vic Beasley to make the leap in year two to help fix their absent pass rush last year.
Owner Jeff Lurie got rid of Chip Kelly to bring back the stability and warmth of the Andy Reid era, but would ensued was a roller coaster ride worse than they could have possibly imagined. Did the team really not think Sam Bradford would mind if they went behind his back and traded a king's ransom of picks to acquire his replacement? Do we have any idea who will start week one at quarterback? Does it matter? As always, Philidelphia remains in utter chaos.
Forget the tabloid ESPN narrative that the Cowboys would have ran away with the division if Tony Romo was healthy. Teams don’t go 4-12 by accident. Outside of a flukey 2014 campaign, this defense has been a mess for years. They have no pass rushers for the first month of the season and a secondary littered with question marks. It’s no guarantee that Romo can even finish a full season, or that he’ll play at a high level if he does; this could easily be his last year. If he returns to a high level, the offense is loaded, but don’t assume it will be enough this year.
Don’t look now, but the Bears are quietly building a dynamite set of playmakers to support perennial letdown, Jay Cutler. Their top three receivers are among the best in the league, with Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Eddie Royal. Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard could be one of the better running back tandems in the league. The linebacking corps are outstanding. As for the rest of the roster….
The presence of young talent like Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, LaVonte David, and Kwon Alexander paints the illusion that the Bucs are successfully rebuilding like the Raiders and Jaguars, but don’t be fooled. Outside of these players, the roster is barren, with huge question marks in the secondary and offensive line. I’ll believe that Doug Martin will repeat last years surprise 1,300 yard campaign when I see him repeat last years surprise 1,300 yard campaign.
The Titans will regret passing on generationally talented tackle Laremy Tunsil. Choosing the powerful, yet raw Jack Conklin forces Taylor Lewan to stay on the left side. Still, you have to like that new General Manager Jon Robinson is building his team with a clear end goal in mind: a bully to overpower the frail AFC South. He’s added two bruising running backs to repair what was the worst backfield in the league a year ago. For star quarterback Marcus Mariota’s sake, these moves have to pan out, as he won’t last as long as division rival Andrew Luck did with a substandard supporting cast.
“It’s never a good sign when your QB1 will either start or be cut,”-Chris Wesseling.
It’s no longer a safe assumption that Ryan Fitzmagic returns to the Jets after last years miracle campaign. It’s even less safe to assume that he’d even come close to repeating that type of performance. Yes, both sides are just petty enough to perpetuate this no-win contract standoff. Without him on the roster, this team isn’t that much better than the one that crashed and burnt to a 4-12 record with the Geno Coaster at the helm. It could get ugly in New York awfully fast.
Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks of the generation, but for the past three years even he hasn’t been enough to save this talent challenged roster. Outside of him, there are only two above average position groups on the team, defensive end and offensive tackle. The receiving corps remain largely unproven, and additions like Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas won’t be enough to change that. If you take away Drew Brees, this is probably the worst roster in the league. Brees’ contract expires after the year, so don’t be surprised if the end of this era is coming quicker than most people would think.
Toss aside whatever the latest rankings are that have the Giants anywhere near the top of the NFC East. Overspending on second-tier free agents, wildly reaching on a first round pick, and firing a Super Bowl-winning head coach doesn’t qualify as a successful off-season. The defensive line is much improved from a year ago and largely reminiscent of the team's winning recipe against the Patriots. Regardless, outside of Odell Beckham and Eli Manning, this is one of the more talent barren rosters in the league.
I’ve said this once and I’ll say it as many times as I need to: the Dolphins are the worst run organization in the league. They continually splurge in free agency, draft poorly, and don’t retain the few hits they do find in the draft. Lucking into Laremy Tunsil and then moving him inside to guard is as quintessentially disastrous Dolphins-esque as it gets. The offense is stuck in neutral with Ryan Tannehill, who isn't as far along as he should be at this stage in his career, unproven receivers, and no running game. Oh well. Maybe Adam Gase will be the saving grace they’ve been praying for.
After a miraculous 11-5 season that ended a questionable call away from their first playoff win in over a decade, the wheels fell off quickly last year, leading to an 0-7 start in Detriot. The team showed life down the stretch when they switched to new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, but still missed the playoffs with a 7-9 finish. Signing Marvin Jones doesn't come close to an replacing all-time great in Calvin Johnson. There isn’t a single above average position group on this roster. It could be a long season in Detroit.
Two years of upper echelon performance disguised what was one of the weakest rosters in the league before this past year, when a slight dip in his performance led the the team stumbling to a 4-12 record. The team has quietly filled holes in free agency, as well as adding potential difference makers in Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry in the draft. Melvin Gordon has to show something in order to shake the bust label after an unproductive rookie year. Even though the team looks better than a year ago, it won’t be enough to remove the Chargers from the cellar of the improved AFC West.
There is a clifflike dropoff between these last two teams and the rest of the league. Whereas it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Chargers finished something like 8-8, anything more than 5 wins would constitute as a miracle for the 49ers. Hiring Chip Kelly feels like a hail mary to save what looks like a lost season. The team sat on its hands during free agency, and making sound draft choices isn’t enough to fix this depleted roster in one year. San Francisco won’t be competitive this year. Don’t be surprised if the coaching carousel spins on with the 49ers when the team doesn’t show up this year; the front office seems to have delusional expectations for this once great franchise.
It seems cruel to pick on the Browns, so I’ll stay away from that here. The team won’t be anywhere near competitive this year. On the plus side, the new front office and coaching staff seem to be on the same page with a common vision of how to rebuild this lost franchise; they are going to build through the draft and acquire as many picks as possible. I have no problem with the team rolling with RGIII for the year. If he sticks, they have their franchise quarterback. If not, they’ll be picking high enough to find one next year.