As the NFL season nears there will be plenty of previews and stupid columns thrown together by ESPN about each team’s best arm wrestler or who makes the best casserole or whatever the fuck they keep coming up with. They aren’t Buzzfeed and Buzzfeed is not me. These are the teams ready to make a push now that they have the talent to do so.
Jacksonville Jaguars. As soon as Dante Fowler went down with a season-ending injury last season it seemed as though that would be the way things would go for the Jags once again. And then Blake Bortles pushed back on the naysayers (not me) and Allen Robinson emerged as a top 10 wide receiver. While the addition of Chris Ivory isn’t going to change the landscape of the league it will give Jacksonville another talented runner to get things done. Julius Thomas should have a full season and hold some value. But this defense will be much better. Jalen Ramsey is likely to start at either nickelback or on the outside. Two other early round defensive draft picks, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue, figure to see the field a fair amount as well. While the offensive line still may be a concern, the defensive line is a strength and then there’s always Paul Posluszny running hash to hash.
Oakland Raiders. Another solid season from Derek Carr wasn’t enough to quiet the critics. Cutting down on the turnovers will be paramount this season. With a couple capable backs and a tandem of electric receivers (Cooper and Crabtree), there’s no reason why the Raiders can’t score points. Khalil Mack is a monster and with able-bodied guys like Bruce Irvin and Shilique Calhoun, getting past this defense might be scary. If Mack can get some help on the outside rushing the passer it will be tough to cross these guys off as there’s no clear-cut thoroughbred within the AFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You might not like these guys (God knows I don’t). But they are talented and still pretty raw as a group. The offense is set with Jameis Winston, Doug Martin, Mike Evans, a lite version of Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and others. Getting yards wasn’t really a problem last year. Limiting turnovers and keeping their opponents off the board was a little more difficult. And it will take a collective effort from guys like Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers. But look for mercurial pass-rusher Noah Spence to make a meteoric rise (assuming he doesn’t get in his own way). The kid is quick, strong, and talented enough to make things happen right away. Vernon Hargreaves will also push incumbents Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes for their starting positions. Playing in a weaker division never hurt anyone.
Tennessee Titans. This might seem like a bit of a stretch. Yes, they are a ways away. They won’t necessarily improve leaps and bounds in terms of wins. But Marcus Mariota has a season under his belt and more talent was brought in to help a thin group of receivers added to tight end Delanie Walker. This is a running team in a passing league, but the ability is undeniable. Derrick Henry looks like a bull and will certainly follow up his great season at Alabama. DeMarco Murray looks fresh and happy in a better system for his talents. An improved offensive line should as aid in the rebuilding efforts. The defense was lead by Jurrell Casey and some guy named Brian Orapko last year. Has the depth improved from last year? If so, the weak AFC South division could always open up. Or they could be in last again.
Dallas Cowboys. So this might be cheating, but coming off a season that saw the ‘Boys go 4-12 there’s still question marks that Dallas has unlike similar teams that had the injury bug and should bounce back this year. With Alfred Morris and Ezekiel Elliott added to the backfield the run game will be bolstered and the line should protect them once again. Provided Tony Romo is in decent form (and not fat as shit) and Dez Bryant can make some big plays the offense will be just fine. The question mark is on the defense where the past few drafts of players haven’t matured and/or stayed out of trouble. If the Cowboys can stay healthy on defense there’s no reason why they can’t challenge one more time with this group.