The NFL season will always be full of surprises. It’s one of the great things about sports. It’s unpredictable. What those surprises are, will be… well, a surprise. However, it’s time to take a deep dive and predict the teams that will shock us once the NFL season begins.
The Ravens are generating a lot of preseason hype, especially with second year quarterback Lamar Jackson at the helm. However, I think, unlike many, that they’re set up to regress. The Ravens lost four of their defensive starters this offseason. Without CJ Mosely, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Eric Weddle, the Ravens walk away from 17 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
They only filled one hole and that was the one left by Weddle at safety by signing free agent Earl Thomas. That’s not to say their defense doesn’t have talent either. Linebacker Matt Judon is a young stud. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams is coming off of a Pro Bowl season. However, losing four key players is always a case for regression.
As for the offense, first round pick at wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews seem to be the top two pass catchers in the offense. They improved at running back by adding Mark Ingram to help take pressure of Jackson in the rushing game. But Jackson can’t just rush on every play and as it stands, he has very little at his disposal.
The Bills have managed to stay out of the spotlight this offseason and it makes sense why. They didn’t do anything particularly flashy. Given that, they already look worlds better than this time last year. Second year quarterback Josh Allen started 11 games last season and he wasn’t great. Although his leading receiver was Zay Jones who put up 652 yards and seven touchdowns. This offseason, they have added Cole Beasley and John Brown to bolster the receiving core for Allen. This will help spread defenses out and provide more opportunity for running backs Frank Gore, Lesean McCoy and Devin Singletary.
The Bills defense last year was already solid. The secondary has two stars in safety Jordan Poyer and cornerback Tre’Davious White. They have a group of aging pass rushers that played well with 36 year olds Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander. Pair them up with up and coming star Shaq Lawson and it balances out. Meanwhile, shoring up the middle are linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds who can only get better entering his 2nd season in the league at age 21. They also added defensive tackle Ed Oliverin the first round of this year’s draft, who some considered to be one of the most talented players in the entire draft.
Overall, the Bills aren’t a Cinderella team that can make a playoff run. However, they do seem primed and ready to put a lot of the doubters at rest.
The Seahawks, previously a team that was considered a dynasty for years to come is slowly losing its edge. The previously acclaimed “Legion of Boom” has now lost Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety and Frank Clark at defensive end. The defense seems a logical regression candidate. All-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner is still there and linebacker KJ Wright looks to rebound from an injury-riddled season. But the Seahawks need more impact players in order to make a difference this year.
The offense has stayed reltively the same. The offensive line is a major area of concern but Russell Wilson is an effective enough scrambler to minimize the issue. Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny lead the running back room. Doug Baldwin’s retirement opens the door for Tyler Lockett and rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf, who all can have an impact. That being said, the Seahawks are not anywhere near the same level as the team that finished the season 10-6 and earned a wild card spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFC South seems like a very tough division this year but the Buccaneers look like they can hang. New coach Bruce Arians will implement his offense and has plans for star receiver Mike Evans as well as young stud Chris Godwin. Running back is an area of concern but the team has faith in 2018 third round pick Ronald Jones II. The X-factor in the offense is whether or not Jameis Winston can finally take the final step in his development.
While the defense lost two stars in Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander, they have talented young players at both positions. They will be filling the void with defensive tackle Vita Vea and first round rookie Devin White. Back that up with established veterans like Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David, and the front seven looks like it could be a driving force in a surprise season for the Buccaneers. The secondary is a little shaky but it’s not crazy to expect a step forward from young defensive back Carlton Davis and the return of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves who missed most of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury.