By Joel Deering
Every NFL season there are teams we don’t expect to be as good as they are. Most of the time it’s because they had a terrible season the year before. Whether or not a team is good or bad, pretty much everyone expects them to be the same next year, but in reality that never happens. Sure there are some teams who are consistently good, but most of the time we see several changes from year to year. This upcoming season will be no different, so I wanted to take a look at which teams we shouldn’t sleep on as we approach the regular season. The teams I’ve chosen are either teams who had bad years last year and could surprise us all, or a team which has been regressing over the past few years and everyone expects that regression to continue. So which teams shouldn’t we sleep on in 2018?
Yes, the Cleveland Browns. It’s hard for me to think of the Browns being a good team because we haven’t seen it in so long. We haven’t always seen them be 0-16, but we have seen them be one of the worst teams in the NFL for quite some time. It’s because of their history of being bad that when people think of the Browns, they automatically think of a terrible team. This year could be different.
Tyrod Taylor is a far better quarterback than the Browns have had in a long time. It’s been rare to see a starting quarterback for the Browns with a QB rating of over 80.0 in the season they played for Cleveland. Tyrod Taylor hasn’t played a regular season game for the Browns yet, but he has a career QB rating of 91.2. If at any point Taylor isn’t the starter for the Browns, they have rookie QB Baker Mayfield to lead them. Mayfield is a rookie, meaning there will be times when he looks like a rookie, but he’s looked impressive so far and will also have some great moments in his rookie season.
This team has made some good moves to help their QBs. They acquired Jarvis Landry, drafted Antonio Callaway, and Josh Gordon is also back. The passing game has looked pretty good so far in preseason, but I also feel like their running game has improved. In their second preseason game, I think the Browns were trying to display their running game a little more. Carlos Hyde had nine carries for 64 yards and a TD with a 7.1 yards per carry average. In addition to Hyde, rookie running back Nick Chubb had 11 carries for 53 yards and a TD with a 4.8 yards per carry average.
This is a much more well rounded team than the Browns have had in years past. They might not be a playoff team, but they for sure aren’t going 0-16. Maybe they will be a playoff team. I think we have to at least give them a chance at making it. For reals though, don’t sleep on the Browns this year.
New York Giants
After a great 2016, the Giants took a big step back and were one of the worst teams in 2017. A big part of their down year was because of injuries. They lost several receivers, most notably their star Odell Beckham Jr., and their offensive line was a mess. The offensive line play mixed with no elite running back led to a terrible run game, making things very tough on Eli Manning.
This offseason, the Giants have addressed some of their biggest problems. Odell Beckham Jr. is back, which is always good when your best player is healthy. They made moves on the offensive line to sure things up, and then they went and drafted the best running back (if not player) in the draft in Saquon Barkley.
Barkley brings a running threat to this team which they haven’t had in years. Not only can he be a huge threat on the ground, but he’s going to be a threat in the passing game. This kid can do it all! With their best player back on the field, a better offensive line and a new star running back, don’t expect the Giants to struggle like they did last season.
Seattle is an interesting team to me. In Russell Wilson’s first few years in the NFL this team was all about the defense. As the defense has slowly been torn apart, more responsibility has been placed on Russell Wilson, and he’s been just fine with that. Wilson has played at an MVP worthy level recently, and I expect him to do the same this year.
The biggest question for the Seahawks is their defense. With Sherman, Chancellor, Bennett and several others gone from the dominant defense we got used to seeing, I’m interested to see how this defense will fare in 2018. I feel like a lot of people are counting them out, but I also think there’s a chance they’ll surprise us. Don’t expect Legion of Boom from these guys, but don’t count them out entirely either.
If the defense can just be average, Russell Wilson will find a way to keep this team in games. Wilson is an incredible play maker, and I expect his play to be the reason why this team will fight for a playoff spot.
If Sam Bradford can stay healthy, I believe he’ll be a pretty good quarterback and hold off rookie QB Josh Rosen for the starting job. Bradford staying healthy is a big if, so I’m going to assume Rosen will be the starter at some point during the season. Whether it’s Bradford or Rosen, the Cardinals should be able to compete regardless.
The biggest reason for them being able to compete is because of David Johnson. Johnson got hurt in the first game of the season last year, which made fantasy owners who took him first overall, such as myself, very disappointed. Last time Johnson played a whole season he had 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards for a combined 20 TDs. Now Johnson is back and ready to return to his 2016 form.
If Johnson truly does return to form, all the quarterback (whoever that may be be) has to do is be average and this team will compete. Johnson can carry this team and keep them in games. I don’t see the Cardinals making the playoffs myself, but I’m not sleeping on them because there’s a chance they’ll surprise a lot of people.
New York Jets
A question remains at quarterback for the Jets, but I don’t think we should sleep on this team regardless of who it is. Sam Darnold has looked pretty good so far, although he has had some struggles. That’s to be expected from a rookie. Teddy Bridgewater has also looked pretty good in preseason. If Josh McCown is the starter, he can be solid also. Last season he had a QB rating of 94.5.
The quarterback is important, but so is the rest of the team. A lot of people don’t realize how competitive this Jets team was last season. I’ve said this several times before, but if a few plays had gone differently for the Jets last season, they could have had two or three more wins. This team wasn’t going away easily last year, and I expect much of the same this season.
I was one who thought the Jets would be terrible last year, and while their record didn’t make them look like a good team, they were a lot better than expected. Expect the Jets to be competitive this season once again. They may not win every game, but they compete every game.
I know the Colts were a really bad team last year, but they also didn’t have their best player. Andrew Luck was out all of last year, which is a big reason why this team had a record of 4-12. If Andrew Luck returns fully healthy, which all indications are that he is, the Colts will win more than four games. A good quarterback can go a long way in the win category.
This defense was one of the worst in the NFL last season, so they need some work. They did get stronger at the end of the season, so we’ll see if they can keep that up. Going back to Andrew Luck, if the defense can just be average, Andrew Luck can work with that.
I feel like the weapons Luck has are underrated too. T.Y. Hilton is a very good receiver, but for whatever reason he doesn’t get talked about very much, at least not that I hear. Hilton is a big time weapon for Luck, and from what I’ve heard, he and Luck aren’t having trouble connecting in camp.
So there’s my list of teams who aren’t getting much love, but could surprise us this upcoming season. Which teams do you think will be better than expected in 2018?