NFL Playoff Contenders vs. Pretenders
While ‘worst-to-first’ NFL campaigns used to take place out of the clear blue sky, oh, about once per decade, that’s clearly not the case in today’s National Football League. In today’s pass-happy, high-tech times, it’s no longer unusual to see, not only one team, but several, have transformational seasons that no one saw coming and that can have some impact on the future betting odds to win Super Bowl LII.
Of course, all of these ‘transformational’ seasons certainly aren’t always positive. While some teams have unexpectedly impressive seasons, there’s usually an equal number that underachieve and fall way short of their expectations. So let’s take a look at three teams that could surprise in 2017 and three more that are going to be nothing more than overvalued pretenders.
Not only did the Titans post a fantastic 9-7 record in 2016, but they could have theoretically won the AFC South division last season while recording 11 victories. Now as they get set for the upcoming 2017, the Titans have the look of a team ready to break into the playoffs.
Tennessee added two players that I believe could be future superstars in wide receiver Corey Davis and cornerback/returner Adoree Jackson, the fifth and 18th overall picks in this year’s NFL Draft. More importantly, the Titans have a legitimate franchise signal-caller in now, third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The former Oregon Ducks quarterback and Heisman winner cut down on his interceptions from 2015 despite playing in three more games than he did as a rookie. The accurate and fleet-footed Mariota also extended his mind-boggling success in the red zone with 33 touchdowns against zero interceptions for his career. Mariota led the Titans to their first winning record since 2011 before going down with a season-ending broken fibula in Week 15.
If the Titans can improve a defense that ranked a modest 17th in points allowed and 30th against the pass, I believe they could both, reach the playoffs in 2017 while winning their division in the process (Even if the Colts and Texans are ahead in the existing NFL lines to win the AFC South Division).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers (9-7) are in an almost identical situation as Tennessee with their third-year quarterback Jameis Winston now having the look of a franchise signal-caller. The Bucs went 9-7 last season to finish second in the NFC South behind reigning conference champion Atlanta, but there’s plenty of hope they can overtake the Falcons and the rest of their division rivals in 2017.
The Buccaneers finished 2016 ranked a modest 19th in scoring (22.1 ppg) and equally respectable 15th in points allowed (23.1 ppg) but made a series of wise offseason moves by adding speedy veteran wideout DeSean Jackson in free agency and gifted tight end O.J. Howard out of Alabama to give Winston more targets to go along with Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans.
“Since Chuck Gruden’s departure, the Buccaneers have been the team that everyone wants to bet against. Tampa isn’t a betting favorites in any of the NFL lines for the 2017 season, although, they had a good performance in 2016, and they now look like a decent team to pick”
If the Buccaneers can improve their red zone efficiency and shore up a defense that ranked in the bottom third in almost every significant category, then the playoffs are definitely within reach for the Bucs in 2017.
The Arizona Cardinals are clearly entering the 2017 campaign flying under the radar after going 7-8-1 last season, but I think their mediocrity may be short-lived. You see, the Cards recorded double-digit victories in each of the three seasons prior to last year and still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to get back to being a potential 10-game winner in 2017 if you ask me.
While veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is clearly getting a bit long in the tooth, Arizona still has an elite head coach in Bruce Arians and arguably the best dual-threat running back in all of football in the gifted David Johnson, a player that rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 scores while adding another 879 yards and four touchdowns on 80 catches.
The Cardinals added a pair of defensive players that will contribute right away in former Temple linebacker Hasson Reddick and Washington safety Budda Baker and I believe they could very well get right back into the playoff mix in 2017 because of their smart offseason decisions.
If I wasn’t sick and tired of the Detroit Lions prior to last season, I certainly am now. After picking the Lions to reach the playoffs a year ago (they did) I’m now going to urge you to not waste any time – or money – backing Matthew Stafford and the perennially disappointing Lions heading into 2017.
While the Lions finished the 2016 campaign ranked an encouraging 13th in points allowed (22.4 ppg), the Lions also struggled mightily to put points on the board in ranking 20th in scoring (21.6 ppg) and pitiful 30th in rushing (81.9 ypg). To make matters worse, Detroit used its top two picks in the NFL draft to improve their defense when, what they really need is more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Detroit closed out its 2016 campaign by losing its final three games of the regular season, including its finale at home against Green Bay to lose the NFC North division title, all before getting bounced out of the playoffs by Seattle 26-6 in the wild card round. If you’ve got any faith in the Lions heading into 2017, I say lose it. Detroit is nothing more than a pretender at best!
The Washington Redskins may have recorded a winning record in 2016 (8-7-1), but I think they’re going to be nothing more than pretenders in 2017 for several reasons. First and foremost, Washington finished the 2016 season ranked an uninspiring 21st in rushing (106.0 ypg) and equally disturbing 24th against the run (119.8 ypg).
While the Skins did nab defensive tackle Johnathan Allen out of Alabama with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, I’m also thinking the loss of fleet-footed wide receiver DeSean Jackson is going to hurt their offensive attack in a big way seeing as how Jackson made covering the deep pass a necessity just because he was on the field. With their division rivals all improving a bit more than they did this offseason, reaching the postseason in 2017 looks likes fool’s gold for the Skins and their betting backers.
I know the Indianapolis Colts still have a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, but I don’t have much faith in their front office or their ability to surround Luck with the right kind of teammates in order to help him get to a Super Bowl any time in the near future.
While the Colts did manage to post a respectable 8-8 record a year ago to finish one game behind Houston and Tennessee in the AFC South, I don’t think the Colts improved nearly as much as their division rivals this offseason, especially after finishing the 2016 campaign ranked a dismal 23rd in rushing (101.8 ypg) while ranking in the bottom third in every significant defensive statistical category.
I know Indy nabbed a trio of defensive players with their first three picks in this year’s NFL Draft, but I just don’t see the Colts leap-frogging both, Houston or Tennessee to either win the AFC South or reach the postseason in 2017.