What the NFL does better than other sports is sell hope. Whether you just drafted your franchise quarterback and you’re hopeful for improvement towards the future this season, or you’re eying a run to the Super Bowl, there’s genuine hope for almost every franchise in the league.
Three reasons why a team can make a quick turnaround between seasons.
The first is a major player, mostly a quarterback, coming back from injury, hence the Cowboys in 2016.
Yes, I know Dak Prescott was the quarterback in 2016 but Tony Romo was hurt in 2015, so Prescott was an improvement over quarterback that took the field in 2015 (outside of the four games Romo started that season). And I’ll always contend that the 2016 Cowboys go 13-3 with a healthy Romo.
Second is hiring a new offensive-minded head coach and adding pieces to an already talented roster that underachieved.
Why an offensive head coach? It’s 2018 and the passing game with the right quarterback is the way to win. Most often, quick turnarounds happen with offensive-minded head coaches who inject some life into the team by scoring points.
The Los Angeles Rams are an easy example for this. The 2016 Rams guided by Jeff Fisher (fired after 13 games) were a mess on offense. In comes Sean McVay, a left tackle, a center, plus some help at wide receiver and the Rams win the NFC West.
Look back to the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, my first year there. The 2012 Chiefs had decent offensive line, Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, and others. The pieces were there; the franchise just needed an excellent head coach and quarterback. They got both with Andy Reid and Alex Smith. We won 11 games and earned a Wild Card berth, a big jump from the two win 2012 season.
The third way is a complete rebuild with a new coaching staff. That’s not a “quick” turnaround. It’s usually upswing that happens within two or three years.
The Eagles are latest example of this. After hiring Doug Peterson, the team drafted Carson Wentz in 2016. They had their struggles in their first year together, but we know what happened last season. The main ingredient for this type of turnaround tends to be a new young quarterback.
What are some teams that should see some improvement this season?
Under the first category, it feels like the Indianapolis Colts are right there, if Andrew Luck is healthy. Even though he hasn’t played football in over a year, he seems to be on track for training camp this season.
Chris Ballard spent his first two offseasons continuing to churn the roster. He spent his first five draft picks on trench players.
The Colts were leading to start the fourth quarter in nine games last season! Poor play calling and being conservative cost the team. Add in Luck and a new coaching staff led by Frank Reich, who was anything but conservative as the Eagles offensive coordinator, and the Colts will be improved.
You could even make an argument they fit into the hiring a new offensive coach category.
An easy example that fits the second category is the Chicago Bears who hired Matt Nagy as the new head coach. However, we can’t going to fall into the trap of assuming the Bears will turn into the 2017 Rams. It’s possible, but their division is tougher than the NFC West was last season. The Rams ran into the Seahawks’ mini dynasty run ending, the 49ers with no Jimmy Garoppolo, and Arizona with a beat up roster. The Bears have Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, and Kirk Cousins to contend with.
The better example for this category would be the New York Giants. The Giants hired Pat Shurmur to run the team. They’ve already got talent with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard, and Evan Engram. The better part of a talented defense is back as well.
Dave Gettleman, in his first draft as big dog for the Giants, added running back Saquon Barkley and offensive guard Will Hernandez, two positions the Giants desperately needed to improve. This team should be able to win another five games.
Last season I bet the over on the Browns at 5.5 wins. Clearly, I was wrong. They were a rudderless ship at the quarterback position. Retired Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said after the season that the Browns would have won six to eight games with a decent quarterback. Now they have that.
The Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor and drafted Baker Mayfield. If you take a look down the roster, it’s loaded with talent. They were just missing adequate quarterback play.
The Browns fit into the third category of improvement because they can only get better next season. However well this season goes, they should be humming by 2019 when Mayfield has had a full season under his belt. The Browns could realistically contend for a playoff spot in 2019. I can’t believe I just typed that. Yikes.