It’s the NFL’s season for optimism.
Every team has a brand new draft class filled with players who fans can easily convince themselves are destined for greatness. And that new free agent will definitely be a big enough upgrade to make up for the loss of that other guy.
But the unfortunate reality is a lot of teams got worse this offseason. The only guaranteed exception is the Cleveland Browns, who had an 0-16 record in 2017. It can’t get worse than that and a really productive offseason that included trades for Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, and Damarious Randall should mean a boost in 2018. Other teams won’t be as lucky.
Not yours, though.
Still on top
The defending Super Bowl champs get the No. 1 spot because:
- They’re the defending Super Bowl champs
- They actually managed to get better
The Eagles beat the Patriots in February despite losing Carson Wentz three weeks before he likely would’ve finished the 2017 regular season as MVP. Now he’ll return in 2018 to a team that added Dallas Goedert and Mike Wallace to his list of offensive weapons, and Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata to an already great defensive line.
New England Patriots
Maybe. Maybe. Maaaaaybe 2018 will be the year Tom Brady finally gets old. If the Met Gala is any indication, he’s already prepping for his post-football career as a turtlenecked Bond villain.
But assuming Brady doesn’t slow down — because life always works out better for the Patriots than it does for your favorite team — the Patriots added veterans Danny Shelton, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jeremy Hill to a roster that is frustratingly great every year.
Kirk Cousins was arguably the most prized free agent to ever hit the market, and he landed with a team that was one of the NFL’s best in 2017. That doesn’t necessarily mean he was worth the price tag, but if Cousins is an upgrade from Case Keenum, then look out for the Vikings.
Minnesota will get running back Dalvin Cook back after losing him to an ACL tear in 2017. On the other side of the ball, the team will insert Sheldon Richardson into a defense that was No. 1 in points and yards allowed.
Los Angeles Rams
A high-powered offense led by Jared Goff and Todd Gurley carried a defense that struggled to stop the run in 2017. Adding Brandin Cooks to replace Sammy Watkins should only make an explosive offense better, and the defense now has Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters too.
Generating a pass rush without Robert Quinn and no new edge rushers to fill the void could be an Achilles heel, but Aaron Donald and Suh wreaking havoc in the middle should help cancel that out.
Climbing into contention
The 49ers are here for one reason: Jimmy Garoppolo.
This was a 1-9 team until Garoppolo — a trade acquisition from the Patriots — took over as a starter and made the 49ers a solid team overnight. It wasn’t quite that simple, but San Francisco should be feeling good now.
Signing Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg, and drafting Mike McGlinchey should only make the 49ers’ offensive transformation even more smooth.
The Texans are here for one reason: Deshaun Watson.
He was on his way to easily locking up Offensive Rookie of the Year before he tore his ACL in an early November practice. With Watson back from injury — as well as J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus — the Texans should be right back in the mix.
The team’s chances at really making a run will depend on how much of an impact the additions of Seantrel Henderson, Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete, and Martinas Rankin make on an offensive line that gave up way too many sacks in 2017.
The Packers are here for one reason: Aaron Rodgers.
He’s arguably the best player in the NFL, and the Packers were lost without him when a collarbone fracture kept him out for nine games in 2017. With Rodgers back, the Packers will be very much in business again — and now he’ll have Jimmy Graham to throw to.
If Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson live up their draft billing, the secondary should be much better too.
A long way from the top
They can’t seem to figure out if they’re aiming for another trip to the postseason in 2018 or if they’re building for the future. And really the lack of a clear plan won’t matter much if first-round draft picks Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds reach their lofty potential.
But if Allen ever pans out — an absolutely gigantic “if” — it almost definitely won’t be in 2018. He’s a long way from ready to start and if he has to, it’ll probably involve a lot of growing pains.
Instead it’ll likely be AJ McCarron at the helm of an offense that really has nothing going for it except LeSean McCoy.
The post-Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer era will begin with Sam Bradford at quarterback. The team’s future is Josh Rosen, but the goal is to keep him below Bradford on the depth chart and develop him slowly. But if Bradford’s knees — which are essentially held together with super glue and toothpicks, at this point — are to survive the season, he’ll have to manage behind a shaky offensive line throwing to a receiving corps of 35-year-old receiver Larry Fitzgerald, second-round pick Christian Kirk and not much else.
An even bigger problem than the offense may be a defense that lost Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson a year ago, and Tyrann Mathieu in 2018. It’ll probably be a rebuilding phase in Arizona to begin Steve Wilks’ tenure.
The Dolphins did a whole lot of good things this offseason like signing Danny Amendola, Josh Sitton, and Albert Wilson. But those additions and a solid draft class with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Mike Gesicki were offset by the Dolphins losing arguably their two best offensive players and their best defensive player.
Jarvis Landry was traded to the Browns, and both Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh were released. The goal was to cut “some of the bullshit” that brought down the locker room in 2017, but losing that much talent isn’t going to be easy to immediately overcome.
The return of Ryan Tannehill might help, but then again, he has been decidedly average for most of his NFL career. Tannehill’s also coming off a knee injury that kept him out of action for more than a year and is backed up by Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty.
Expecting much from the Dolphins in 2018 is optimistic.
|2||New England Patriots|
|4||Los Angeles Rams|
|6||New Orleans Saints|
|9||Green Bay Packers|
|10||San Francisco 49ers|
|15||Kansas City Chiefs|
|16||Los Angeles Chargers|
|18||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|22||New York Giants|
|32||New York Jets|