During the two weeks of preseason, things began to take shape in the NFL — positive for some, ominous for others.
Every year, it seems that several teams come out of nowhere and force themselves into relevance. Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon for leaders to slip and fall short of expectations.
This year’s data is no exception. Many in the league already believe that teams like the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles have a chance to make strides following offseason big-name acquisitions. At the same time, there is some concern that the departure of Tyrek Hill, along with the simultaneous advancement of AFC West rivals, could threaten the Kansas City Chiefs’ six-year dominance.
years seem to offer some surprises. Some smart moves and a few strokes of luck put a squad or two on the track for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021. At the same time, misfortune could end up derailing an intended competitor.
Here are three teams that looked like they had a chance to be a surprise threat, and three others that were destined to be a surprise disappointment.
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Matt Rhule needs the worst possible way for this to happen while the 2018 No. 1 pick in the Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield was as good as he was at Carolina after taking Deshaun Watson. Mayfield always had a chip on his back, but his drive seemed as strong as ever. He’s going to prove the Browns wrong, and now that he’s healthy, he can help the team compete.
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In addition to boosting quarterback confidence and decision-making, he could bring the edge the Panthers need. Carolina certainly has the offensive weapons (Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Trace Marshall Jr.), but the team needs to stay healthy and have the right coaches to give them a chance. With the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints each starting at quarterback and navigating uncertain territory at the head coaching position (Atlanta’s Arthur Smith is still finding his way into his second year, former defensive coordinator Dennis Allen replaces Sean Payton in New Orleans), and the door is wide open for Carolina to chase wild-card bids after three straight double-digit loss seasons.
Things couldn’t have been worse than last year’s dysfunctional 3-14 campaign under Urban Meyer. After hiring Doug Pederson as head coach and focusing on building a more complete team through free agency and the draft this offseason, Jacksonville’s prospects for a dramatic leap look good.
Pederson and quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy should be good for 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who had 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions last season The game often looks lost. The upgraded line should also help with quarterback comfort. As members of the AFC South — the Titans are somewhat restructured, the Colts are still trying to put it all together, and the Texans seem destined to be one of the top picks in the 2023 draft — the Jaguars The future is bright.
After the controversial end of the Brian Flores era, Dolphins officials went the route of a young, creative offensive coordinator, naming former San Francisco 49ers assistant offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as the lead coach. The Dolphins are hoping Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man can save Tua Tagovaloa’s career and develop the quarterback into what they consider a top-five 2020 draft pick.
McDaniel runs a quarterback-friendly system, and the investment in Tagovailoa’s supporting cast should also make life easier for young quarterbacks. If the Dolphins can run a productive offense that matches an already gifted defense, Miami could be in trouble in the final stretch of the season. Of course, the Dolphins do have two formidable AFC East opponents (the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots) to worry about. But New England’s dubious offense could lead to Mike Jones’ trouble in Year 2, preparing the Dolphins for this unexpected contender’s candidacy.