What makes the NFL so great is that any team can win any match up and year in and year out we see a few teams that come out of nowhere to make the playoffs or that team that has a cinderalla story and get deep in the playoffs.
Lets get straight into it and talk about three teams that i think will make the playoffs after missing out last year
1) The Houston Texans
Everyone seems to be on this hype train and theres good reasons for it….The return of Deshawn Watson and JJ Watt.
Houston has had one of the leagues best defenses for the last few seasons but never had the offense to match.
They havent had a franchise Quarterback since Matt Shaub and even thats a reach to call him that. They have gone through guys like Brandon Weeden Bryan Hoyer Case Keenum TJ Yates just to name a few and its not only the number of quarterbacks thats alarming its that 3 or 4 of them start at some point during the season but despite the shuffle they have managed to make the playoffs in a couple of those years thanks to the defense but now they have their Quarterback of the future and more importantly the present.
Watson was outstanding last season exploding onto the scene and making this offense one of the most explosive in the NFL. I dont remember the last time a rookie came in and looked so good.
He was leading the LEAGUE in touchdowns then tragedy struck and he got injured in practice on a simple routine play putting him out for the rest of the season. The defense also lost all pro defensive end JJ Watt and leading tackler Whitney Merciless which left the normally stout defense vulnerable. All this was too much to overcome for the Texans and they finished (record)
Well all those guys are back this season and so is the head coach Bill O brian who was in the hot seat and this really could be a make or break year for this franchise.
JJ Watt has had several injuries the past few seasons and the defense is slowly getting up there in age but they still have more then enough to remain very competitive for the next few years and they also added one of the best and most versatile safety in the league in Tyrann Mathieuwho was shockingly flat out released by the Arizona Cardinals.
We didnt even talk about All Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins who has produced elite numbers despite the quarterback shuffles so pairing him with Watson could be something to look forward to for years to come and hopefully speedy wide receiver Will Fuller can also remain healthy to play on the other side to take advantage of the single coverage he will usually see due to Hopkins being covered however they do need to find a consistent running game.
Assuming Watson picks up where he left off last season there is no reason why this team cant make it to the playoffs in a somewhat open division although the Jacksonville Jaguars are up and coming as well as overlooked Tennessee Titans. The Colts have a long way to go to get back in the mix but they have the best Quarterback in the division so it could all of a sudden be a competitive fight for the division lead in the end
Projected Record 11-5
2) San Francisco 49ers
Im not as sold on this one as many others seem to be but theres alot of reason for optimism in the Bay area.
First of all they have a Quarterback, a great young genius offensive minded head coach and a great front office. More importantly they are all working in unison and seem to be on the same page and thats usually a recipe for success.
Its hard to know how good this team will be cause alot of the hype comes from how strong they finished last season but they have so many young talented players especially on defense.They are kind of assuming they will take the next step up but its not as easy as that. They brought in All Pro corner back Richard Sherman from rival Seattle Seahawks and added versatile running back Jerod Mckinnen to the back field but they arent done adding more players.
They have alot of cap room and have some early round picks to add to the young and hungry roster but alot depends if they put it all together but they main advantage that they have is that long time division leaders Arizona and Seattle seem to be going the other way so it could be a turn of the tide. They need to add another wide receiver or two for their young franchise Quarterback but overall they have the pieces to at least compete for the division next season….i dont think 9-7 or possibly 10-6 is a bad prediction for them to finish but with the L.A Rams having one of the most dominant off seasons we have ever seen it might be tough to win the division but a wild card could be in play.
Projected Record 9-7
3) The Oakland Raiders
This is more about the rest of the division having huge question marks. Last season they were picked by many to make a run for the superbowl and were alot of peoples pick to be the new hot team in the NFL
It had a nice ring to it as the NFL is always better when the Raiders are doing well and after so many years of being one of the worst teams they seemed to finally come out their slump 2 seasons ago but last seasons no one really knows what happened.
Im still confused as there werent really many injuries and they didnt lose many players in free agency so what happened with the Raiders? Why did they have such a bad season? It cost upbeat and culture changer Jack Del Rio his job
Personally i feel like they were reading their own headlines a bit to much. They seemed to think that it was automatic for them to take the next step without putting the work in. That same hunger and will to win and momentum they had the year before seemed to be gone and there wasnt much leadership around to help fix it
Derek Carr who got paid monster bucks didnt transcend into the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees like we all thought. Amari Cooper didnt break out as a top level wide receiver and frankly Marshawn Lynch was a disappointment for the most part of the season but im willing to say it was more of a fluke and it was the wake up call they needed.
They still have defensive monster Khail Mack coming back (bars) and most of the team is returning minus veteran wide receiver Micheal Crabtree but hes been essentially replaced by Jordy Nelson who was surprisingly let go by the Green Bay Packers this off season. In a strange move showman Punter Marquette King was released citing personaility issues (he liked to dance after his punts) It apparent message sent out by Jon Gruden to the team. Its clear that Jon Gruden is putting his stamp on the team early on
Its so hard to win in the NFL and even harder when your not sneaking up on teams like they did in 2016 so i think now they got a slap of reality in the face they will come back hungrier then ever to avoid going back into the slump they were in for more then a decade AND remember Chucky aka Jon Gruden is back!! Its going to either be an 11-5 campaign or it will be 4-12.
Alot of the same players again are returning with a few more additions so i think they get back to where they were in 2016 but if the whole Gruden Mania thing goes south its REALLY going to go south but i have faith that the stars of the team will rise to the occasion.
Projected Record 11-5
Green Bay Packers – Projected Record 10-6
Couldnt put this in the list cause it would have been cheating as they are always in the playoffs and only missed it because Aron Rodgers who is a top 3 Quarterback in the league is back