After a dizzying offseason that saw MVP-caliber talent changing teams and several wide receivers signing big-money contracts, it’s time to look at the top five storylines for this upcoming NFL season.
Will Any Team Win a Prize for Riding the Coaching Carousel?
This year, there will be ten new head coaches in the NFL, which surprisingly only ties the record (1978, 1997, and 2006). What is unique about this year is that the teams with new head coaches span the entire spectrum of “not going anywhere soon” (sorry to Lovie Smith and Texans fans) to Super Bowl contender (Todd Bowles in Tampa Bay).
In between, there are a few intriguing situations:
- Nathaniel Hackett comes into an enviable position in Denver with an up-and-coming team and a newly-acquired Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Russell Wilson.
- Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson gets paired with a hyped generational quarterback talent in Jacksonville with Trevor Lawrence.
- Josh McDaniels gets a second chance to make his mark as a head coach, and we will see what kind of magic he can generate with the David Carr-Davante Adams connection.
All in all, history tells us that a few of these ten teams will be looking for a new head coach in a few years again, but, led by the Bucs, there are a few teams with new head coaches that should make some noise this year.
Is There Still Some TB12 Magic Left?
The age of 45 is typically reserved for men battling a mid-life crisis, not gunning for an 8th Super Bowl. Yet, here we are with the now unretired Tom Brady back for one more run. Has the clock struck midnight for the GOAT, or is there still some magic left?
The talent around him is superb – a solid offensive line with loads of talent at the receiver position, including the recently signed Julio Jones. While he has a new head coach in Todd Bowles, his offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich, remains.
The two have formed a statistically impressive partnership, and it is hard to envision a scenario of Brady coming back if he didn’t feel some comfort with his offensive coordinator.
If there is one thing we have learned over the years, it is to not bet against Tom Brady. With a talented team, respected head coach, and familiar OC, it is not a stretch to think that TB12 could have that fairy tale ending of walking off the field for the last time as a Super Bowl champion.
Will We Be Able To Cheer for the Browns?
My heart goes out to Browns fans. Year after year after year after year (ok, you get the point) of futility with a revolving door of coaches, GMs, or a hyped QB to draft. Finally, they break through with a winning season, but they signed Kareem Hunt (after the Chiefs released him for his domestic issues) and now Deshaun Watson (whose penchant for massage therapists has landed him in hot water).
On paper, this Browns team should be a Super Bowl contender. They are well coached and have talent on both sides of the football. Add to that a franchise QB with that on-field “it” factor, and it should not surprise anyone if they make some noise in the playoffs.
The question around this team is whether or not they can set aside the off-field distractions and what their level of success will be with Jacoby Brissett holding the QB seat warm for at least the first six games. Will winning make people forget about the off-field issues?
Can the la Rams Repeat?
To make a long story short, yes. The Rams have the offensive, defensive, and coaching pedigree to make it back to the Super Bowl. It also helps that the NFC is not as competitive as it has been in past years. Outside of Green Bay and Tampa Bay, no legitimate championship contenders exist in the NFC (cue angry Cowboys fans……now).
Sorry, Dallas, but the McCarthy-led Cowboys aren’t beating any of the aforementioned NFC teams in the playoffs. Yes, the Cowboys will likely win their division, and they may win one playoff game, but after that, it is back to … well, whatever the Cowboys do in the offseason.
For 49ers fans, until you have a proven, reliable option at QB, you too are not serious contenders for the NFC championship. Which leads us to the last item, who will be in the Super Bowl on the other side of the field?
Who Will Emerge From the AFC To Challenge the Rams?
The AFC is absolutely loaded. Though Josh Allen and the Bills seemingly have the inside track to that all-important #1 seed, their path to the Super Bowl will not be easy. If the Ravens can stay healthy (i.e., Lamar Jackson), they are a strong contender.
The Browns, as mentioned above, if they get Deshaun Watson back after six games, should be hitting peak stride at playoff time. We cannot disrespect last year’s AFC champs, the Bengals, who might have the next “great one” in Joe Burrow. And that’s just the AFC North – where two of those three teams could be a wild card team.
What about the AFC West – let’s not forget about Patrick Mahomes and his retooled Chiefs. There is also the new guy in the division, Russell Wilson, who has a solid run game and budding defense to back him up in Denver.
And the Raiders added one of the best, if not the best, wideouts in the game in Davante Adams to bolster their offensive firepower. Again, two of those three teams could be wild card entries.
You may be asking, what about the Tennessee Titans? No disrespect to them – they are probably the franchise that plays the best “team” football, but there is no way I trust Ryan Tannehill in the playoffs above those other QBs, particularly when you look at who some of those wild card teams could be.
Two darkhorse teams are lurking in the background – the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. You cannot count out the Patriots when you have the GOAT coach and some new additions to the team, with a second-year QB who should take some significant strides.
With the Colts, I still believe Matt Ryan has some juice in the tank, and I believe that Frank Reich is an underrated head coach and play caller who also excels at pass protection scheming. The Reich/Ryan partnership is capable of making some noise this year.
There are about ten teams in the AFC that are legitimate playoff contenders, competing for the four division spots plus three wild card spots, and that is just to see who gets into the big dance. Once the playoffs start, we’ll have some pretty compelling matchups! Over in the NFC, while it is not as wide open, there are still some interesting plotlines and playoff races. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride!
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