The NFL’s offseason was very active this past year with headlining trades, signings, retirements, and unfortunately suspensions that will surely impact the upcoming season. Perennial powerhouse AFC teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots all lost critical pieces to their respective teams. In the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams lost some key pieces, while the Saints look to bring back the band for one last Super Bowl run with Drew Brees.
And while the NFL odds will still favor these aforementioned favorites, there are plenty of darkhorse teams which improved dramatically over this past offseason. Heading into the 2019-20 NFL season, you could make the argument for several darkhorse teams. However, the three NFL teams that seem to be the popular picks as darkhorse contenders are becoming more and more obvious. These teams are:
If there is an NFL team that is due to have a breakout year, it is the Cleveland Browns. Since the Browns re-entered the NFL as an expansion team, they have endured bad luck. Whether it was the general manager, head coach, or high draft picks selected, the Browns have been abysmal.
But that seems to have changed with the recent regime brought in led by general manager, John Dorsey. The Browns have their quarterback of the future in Baker Mayfield, and an explosive set of receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Rookie running back Nick Chubb had an excellent first year and the addition of Kareem Hunt – while risky – could pay off huge.
The Browns are a young team with playmakers everywhere and are a popular pick to make a deep run. I’d feel very confident wagering on the Browns.
San Franciso 49ers
The Niners were a popular pick last season to make huge strides. However, a season-ending injury to franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ended the 49ers season before it started. But now the promising QB is back, and if there is one position in the NFL that can lead to the quickest change in a team’s win/loss record it is the position of quarterback. Jimmy G also has some nice weapons available in tight end, George Kittle, and receivers Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin. The return of Jerick McKinnon at running back is an explosive weapon to go with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.
The draft acquisition of Nick Bosa might end up as the best player in this year’s draft. Bosa has the talent to make an immediate impact on the Niners defense. And while the Niners do have question marks, they have a bright, young coach and talented players in critical positions.
The Niners are a team to keep an eye on as they seem poised to have a breakout year.
This pick probably seems to be a bit of a reach considering the Raiders have been a mess pretty much since John Gruden’s first stop – which they managed to botch that up as well. And in a division that has the Chiefs and Chargers, one could argue that the Raiders most likely would struggle to finish ahead of the Broncos, let alone beating out the Chiefs and Chargers.
However, there are a lot of veteran players and coaches that have a ton on the line. The Raiders are probably in their last season playing in Oakland and the splashy moves made in the offseason would indicate Gruden and the Raiders franchise want to leave on a big note.
Derek Carr to this point of his career has been largely inconsistent. One could argue that the Raiders organization ineptness has contributed to this as the team has seen several regime changes since Carr was drafted by the Raiders. But Oakland brought in arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown and added another solid receiving theat in Tyrell Williams. Big-play threat Jalen Richard is back and should compliment future starter Josh Jacobs nicely. Add to boot Oakland’s revamped offensive line, and one could see why the Raiders might make some noice on offense this season – lets just hope it’s not negative noise coming from Antonio Brown.
As for the defense, that remains a large question mark. The baffling trade of Khalil Mack will continue to haunt this franchise until they put together a good team and wins some games. There is a lot of young talent on this Raiders defense, and unfortunately for them, they have to grow up fast and produce. If Oakland’s defense can improve with getting pressure on the quarterback (which couldn’t possibly be any worse) and the defense helps out their offense, Oakland could be a sneaky team.
Remember, there are a lot of proud coaches and personnel on this team motivated to prove a lot of doubters wrong. You can never underestimate the work-ethic and motivation of former stars looking to prove naysayers wrong. Thus, don’t be surprised if the Raiders are playing in January next year.