By: Joe Siniscalchi (@Joe_Siniscalchi)
The NFL season is still four long months away, but as far as I’m concerned, everyday is a good day to discuss football. With the majority of the offseason over with, OTA’s and training camps are the only activities left. As rosters are beginning to shape into place, I’ve thought about which teams can surprise, and which teams can disappoint.
Look at the past few seasons. The 2007 Browns, the 2012 Colts and Redskins, the 2008 Dolphins, and the 2010 Seahawks all emerged as teams that came out of nowhere to make waves. On the flip side of that, we’ve seen teams completely fail such as the 2011 Cowboys and Colts, the 2012 Eagles, and the 2010 Chargers.
Here’s my list of teams that can shock. Part two, featuring teams that can disappoint, will be released tomorrow. I’m not saying that these teams will make the playoffs, win Super Bowls, or go 0-16. I am simply taking an educated guess as to what teams will over/underperform based on the majority of expectations.
Kansas City Chiefs – If you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that the Chiefs have one of the best young rosters in the NFL. They’re on this list more because of their awful finish last season than their lack of talent. They play in the weak AFC West, and have the fifth easiest schedule in the NFL. Key additions to the team such as number one pick Eric Fisher, Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson, and a quality quarterback in Alex Smith (I don’t care what you say, watch the 2011 playoff game against the Saints and tell me he’s no good), combined with an already talented young roster, can make the Chiefs a playoff team. A wild card berth is not out of the question.
Cleveland Browns – Critics are quick to sweep the Browns under the rug, but they will be proven wrong. The Browns have one of the greatest defensive minds in the NFL in Ray Horton, who inherited a very young defense. Joe Haden, Jabaal Sheard, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, D’Qwell Jackson, combined with the newly acquired Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant make for a talented defense. Trent Richardson should only get better in year two, along with supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon. Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell (whoever wins the starting job) are capable quarterbacks who can manage the offense. They have a fairly average schedule, but the weakening of the rival Steelers and Ravens may help them get an upset or two. This team is making progress, and this year will show it.
New York Jets – Boom goes the dynamite. How can the Jets possibly not finish in the bottom three or four teams? Yes the Bills and Dolphins have improved. Yes the Patriots and Tom Brady are still in the division. Yes the starting offense looks like it is a unit of flag football stars rather than NFL players. The right things need to fall into place, but the Jets can be a competitive team. If David Garrard wins the starting job, the team has a quarterback who can hold onto the ball. Rex’s defense looks worse, but it is suddenly very young and very fast. Ryan has the ability to make continually good defenses even if there is a lack of star power, however, this unit has promise to be a bright spot in what seems like a dull season. Muhammed Wilkerson is an emerging star, and moving last year’s first round pick, Quinton Coples, to edge rusher can be the spark that the defense needs. Antonio Cromartie showed last season he can hold down the fort without Darrelle Revis. The newly freed Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson can also provide a dynamic element the running game hasn’t seen since the days of Leon Washington and Thomas Jones. Then again I could be wrong and the Jets can be those same old Jets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – If you know me, you’ll know I’m one of Josh Freeman’s last supporters standing. Freeman is an underrated quarterback who has 9 game winning drives and 8 4th quarter comebacks since 2010. In 2010, his best season, he had 26 passing touchdowns to 6 interceptions at age 23. The play of his defense has rapidly deteriorated since then, and he has been forced to air it out to keep the team in games, leading to the rises in his interception totals. Now, the Bucs have one of the best young running backs in the “Muscle Hamster” Doug Martin, a potent receving duo in Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, and a revamped pass defense featuring Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson. The team’s rushing defense ranked 1st in the NFL last season, allowing only 82.5 yards per game to opposing rushers, compared to the 32nd ranked pass defense. Talk about night and day. I don’t expect the rushing defense to be as dominant, but the new additions in the secondary, as well as the return of Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers should help improve a team that finished 7-9. It will be difficult to do in a division that features the Falcons and the motivated Saints, but a playoff berth is very achievable for the Bucs.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals have the misfortune of playing in a division that features the 49ers and Seahawks. If you look at my first edition of The Stock Exchange, you can see that the Cardinals defense was already very good last year. Ray Horton may be out, but the new hybrid defense will better take advantage of impact players along the defensive line such as Darnell Dockett and Calias Campbell. Adrian Wilson is also gone, but third round pick Tyrann Mathieu is expected to play safety and slot corner when needed. Carson Palmer has also been brought in to orchestrate Bruce Arians downfield passing attack (this is where Larry Fitzgerald bows), and Rashard Mendenhall can be a nice upgrade over Beanie Wells if he is healthy. Ryan Williams and the recently drafted Andre Ellington also add to what can be a steady running attack. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd should be doing backflips now that they have astable quarterback who can get them the ball. Palmer’s arm strength may not be what it used to be, but it can suffice and help make the Cardinals turn some heads this season.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this edition of #TheList, where I point out 5 teams who can flop.
- Can the Arizona Cardinals Contend in the NFC West? (raisingzona.com)
- Evan Silva Ranks NFL Lineups; Puts the Cleveland Browns at No. 24 Overall (dawgsbynature.com)
- Dunta Robinson says the KC Chiefs don’t act like a 2-14 team (arrowheadpride.com)
- 5 Reasons The Kansas City Chiefs Will Improve In 2013 (arrowheadaddict.com)
- NFL Rumors: Latest Post-Draft Buzz Surrounding Each Team (bleacherreport.com)