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The 2016 season already seems promising due to the fact that the league could see some changing of the guards. With Peyton Manning retiring, the Denver Broncos are not looked upon as the hierarchy of the AFC, Tom Brady’s suspension has given the rest of the AFC East a four game head start and although the Carolina Panthers get better on paper with Kelvin Benjamin coming back, the NFC still is wide open. For years, the NFL has created a cinderella type team that has come up from nowhere. Last year, the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans (although the division was weak) both surprised the league in transforming into playoff teams. This year will be no different. There are three teams that might shock the NFL by making the playoffs.
1.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers; (2015) 6-10; Key Additions- CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith, Robert Ayers
The Buccaneers fought and clawed as a young inexperienced team in 2015. They showed signs last year with the young quarterback as their leader in Jamison Winston. Winston looked exactly like a rookie throwing 15 interceptions last year, yet still the team started to rally around him during the latter part of the season. He has the luxury of throwing the ball to a few massive targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Doug Martin will once again lead the running attack by trying to either duplicate or out due his stellar season in 2015 (1,402 and 6 TDs).
On the defensive side, they were already talented with Gerald Mccoy anchoring the defensive line and Lavonte David flying around as the leader of that linebacker core. Signing linebacker Daryl Smith gives the Buccaneers not only depth but experience at the position. The big splash in the offseason was Brent Grimes coming from the Miami Dolphins. Grimes, a feisty corner back, will give the Buccaneers a nice tandem with CB Alterraun Vernon.
Why will they shock the NFL- After the regular season, management decided to fire head coach Lovie Smith which shocked the entire NFL including the players. By hiring their previous offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the offensive cohesiveness will only get better and the verbiage stays the same. Koetter hires his old head coach Mike Smith (Atlanta Falcons) as the defensive coordinator. Smith has familiarity with going up against the South as he coached the Falcons from 2008-2014. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers have the same head coaches and QBs while he coached most of the Falcons. Adding that with talent, it should catapult them into having a pretty good year.
2.) Miami Dolphins; (2015) 6-10; Key Additions- Coach Adam Gase, DE Mario Williams, RB Arian Foster
2015 was a dismal and embarrassing year for the Dolphins. The city of Miami went through the team quitting on Joe Philbin only to get him fired (he really got himself fired) in the middle of the season. On top of that, it prompted their tight ends coach Dan Campbell as their interim head coach for the rest of the season. Now enters Adam Gase as their new head coach. Gase has a reputation of making quarterbacks better whether they’re bad or one of the greatest. Ryan Tannehill had a decent year in 2015 but with Gase’s offensive scheme, the game should become simpler but effective. Tannehill finally gets a coach that will adhere to his skill set. Another reason Tannehill should play better is because of the steal of the draft, tackle Laremy Tunsil. He might be the best player in the draft and will get a chance to prove that by protecting Tannehil while he gets the ball to their best player Jarvis Landry.
On the defensive side, they hit a home run with the signing of Mario Williams. Williams should definitely get one-on-one coverage joining a defensive line with Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Suh quietly had a very good year in 2015. Although he had only six sacks, he still demanded double teams and some triple team blockers but was able to get pressure on the QBs. Wake on the other hand is coming back from tearing his achillies tendon after seven games. All three should be able to impose their skills taking advantage of single coverages. With the Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones securing the secondary, the below average defensive backs should look better on the field than how they look on paper because of the defensive line.
Why will they shock the NFL- Miami biggest problem was no continuity on offense. Gase’s ability to simplify the offense while still being potent will sustain drives and keep the defense off the field in the very warm climate. Tannehill has been a tease on what he can really do as the leader of the team. As his relationship builds with Gase, it should give him a boost in his confidence. The big acquisition of Arian Foster (should he stay healthy) gives the offense balance. His patience running the ball boats well with the new revamped offensive line. This now reduces some of the pressure that has been bestowed on Tannehil. Let’s not discount the draft pick of Kenyon Drake who will be a threat in the passing game from the backfield. As the offense goes, so shall the defense.
3.) Chicago Bears; (2015) 6-10; Key Additions- LB Danny Trevathan, LB Jerrell Freeman, OL Bobby Massie
The Bears dealt with injuries the entire year 2015 year. Their starting wide receiver core was dismantled from the start as they only played a total of two games together which doesn’t include Kevin White, their 5th overall pick in 2015 who missed the entire season. Their woes didn’t end there. The linebacker core lacked experience and speed and was the weak link of the team. Jay Cutler did play better and for maybe the first time during his stint in Chicago he was the sole leader of the team. Cutler won’t be with his former offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but he will carry on with the confidence he instilled through him. Alshon Jeffery is primed for a big season due to the fact this is his contract year. He obviously didn’t impress the Bears organization well enough to get the contract he expected but that was due to not being able to stay healthy. With Matt Forte not being resigned, Jeremy Langford will get his chance to be the featured back. He showed signs of being an all purpose back last year and is determined to prove that not signing the veteran Forte was the correct choice.
On the defensive side, Chicago made a splash by upgrading in free agency and the draft. Led by the signing of outside linebacker Danny Trevathan from the world champs Denver Broncos, the Bears proved that they are trying to restore the “Monsters of The Midway”. Trevathan should add much needed big play ability from the outside linebacker position. They didn’t stop there, adding the hard working middle linebacker Jerrell Freeman gives them a solidified and talented core. Along with a young defensive secondary that is getting better and gaining more confidence, defensive coach Vic Fangio should have more to work with this season.
Why will they shock the NFL: When you look at John Fox’s track record during his second year with his previous team, they usually make runs into the playoffs. As the Carolina Panthers head coach, he went 7-9 and in his second year they went to the Super Bowl. In Denver, he was 8-8 in the first year and in the second, they went 13-3 with an AFC Championship Game appearance. Cutler will not only have Jeffery but also White be back. White is another big target who has speed and big play ability. Like usual in Chicago, it will start with the defense. Fangio hand picked rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd out the University of Georgia. Floyd is reminiscent of Oakland Raider’s linebacker Aldon Smith. Also keep an eye out on rookie DE Jonathan Bullard, his aggression is priceless. Piecing that together with standout rushers Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston, Fangio and the Bears should be somewhere toward the top in sacks.