After a seven month stretch without any NFL football, the regular season is officially underway. Plenty of teams are improved and look hungry as ever to compete for a playoff position come December. There are five teams in particular that pique my interest, and here is why I think they should have an eye kept on them this season:
#5: Detroit Lions (9-7 Last season, 2nd in NFC North)
The Detroit Lions finally parted ways with head coach Jim Caldwell in the offseason, who managed a 36-28 record during his four-year tenure in Detroit and only managed two playoff appearances, both of which resulted in first round ejections. They now have former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia at the helm, as he will look to put a winning mentality into this Detroit team. Early on in the Patricia experiment, it does not look friendly, as their first game of the season ended up as a 48-17 loss to the New York Jets.
The offense has upgraded its backfield with the addition of rookie RB Kerryon Johnson, and it should prevent Matt Stafford from having to throw the ball 40+ times per game. With the defense, there is still work to be done, but Patricia is notorious for building above-average defensive units. The NFC North is wide open with the Minnesota Vikings working through a transition period on offense, and the Green Bay Packers seemingly slowing down as time goes on. If Detroit was to strike, now would be the time to do so.
#4: New York Giants (3-13 Last Season, 4th in NFC East)
Another team in a coaching transition belongs in New York with the Giants. Pat Shurmur has taken over for Ben McAdoo as the head coach, and inherits an explosive (when healthy) offense that features the likes of veteran QB Eli Manning and superstar WR Odell Beckham Jr. Last year, the offense was the victim to the injury bug, losing their top three wide receivers. In the offseason, they did make the proper changes to hopefully make this year an incredible bounce-back.
With the departure of Jason Pierre-Paul, this pass rush could see a step in the wrong direction, and with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie now out of the picture, the secondary looks to be in rough shape. I thinkthey have enough to get by until they find a solid replacement for these losses. This team could easily be a nine or ten-win team this season if the offense plays to its full potential.
#3: New York Jets (5-11 Last Season, 4th in AFC East)
The New York Jets are always a sleeper team in any matchup they find themselves in. They impressed in week one against the Detroit Lions in their dominant win. Last season, they were a team that was predicted to go 0-16 and have a top three pick in the NFL Draft (though they did happen to trade up to #3 via the Indianapolis Colts). New York instead competed in every game they played and went 5-11 last season. They had much lower expectations for the 2017 season and overachieved while being led by veteran QB Josh McCown. The Jets now usher in a new era with rookie Sam Darnold out of USC and look to build around their first franchise QB that they’ve been needing desperately.
At points last season, the Jets flashed shades of greatness before McCown went down late in the season with a broken hand. In the offseason, New York looked to develop some sort of identity with the signings of RB Isaiah Crowell and DB Trumaine Johnson. If Darnold plays beyond expectations and has a Dak Prescott-level rookie campaign, this team could very well sneak into the Wild Card conversation.
#2: Chicago Bears (5-11 Last Season, 4th in NFC North)
Coming off of a tough 24-23 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears still showed promise early on in the game. The defense was able to disrupt Rodgers, and the offense seemed unstoppable, posting 20 unanswered points in two and a half quarters. Unfortunately, the Packers snapped out of it and dropped 24 points on the Bears defense.
From what we saw in their week one performance, QB Mitchell Trubisky looks much more promising than he did in his rookie season, and newly acquired DE/OLB Khalil Mack is making an immediate impact. Their newly acquired offensive weapons in Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson and Trey Burton seem to be meshing well with their new offensive attack, and the backfield looks as strong as ever. If the Bears can finish games this season, there’s absolutely no reason that this team shouldn’t be talked about late in the season when the races are coming to a close.
#1: Washington Redskins (7-9 Last Season, 3rd in NFC East)
This past week, the Washington Redskins impressed with new starting QB Alex Smith, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs during the offseason. They are probably the favorite to come in last place in the NFC East, but Washington isn’t a team that will just be walked over. The roster contains solid pieces on both sides of the ball, and if Adrian Peterson can provide one more efficient season, they should be in the conversation consistently.
The Redskins will have to battle in what is probably the most competitive division in football, but there is plenty of reason to have some faith in Washington this season. Their weaknesses can all be built upon with ease and could very well push this team to a postseason berth.
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