Egan on Football: Potential Playoff Newcomers in 2017Date: August 12, 2017
By: Keith Egan
Every year the playoff pool looks different. Although there are teams expected to play in the postseason again, there will be teams that do not live up to the hype. Here's who may take their place:
The Titans' addition of Erick Decker puts Tennessee in the position to be a dangerous offense with a young quarterback that has not yet shown his full potential. Another thing working in favor for the Titans is that they are in the weakest division in recent years. The Texans have won the AFC South the past two seasons with no clear quarterback, but a defense that has gotten them enough wins to stand atop the division. The Titans could be the team to take a stand against them now that they can add Decker to their receiving core with Demarco Murray in the backfield and a new, athletic secondary. It may be hard for the AFC South to be represented in the Wild Card by looking at the way the previous years have played out, but the Titans were in the race until Mariota went down with a season ending injury. The division title should be their goal for the season in an exciting time for the franchise.
The Bengals are coming off their first losing season (6-9-1) since Andy Dalton took over as the quarterback of the franchise; however, there are still signs for a bright future. A.J. Green is still a top-five receiver, the defense finished third in points against for the second half of the season and Andy Dalton still has much to prove. The offense will have the additions of Joe Ross, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL history, as well as Joe Mixon, who despite controversy, has a lot to offer with his athleticism. With the Steelers in the same division, the Bengals will be looking for a Wild Card spot most likely, and may be in the position to take it. It would take a season of regrouping from last year's disappointments, but given that last season was the first non-playoff year for Cincinnati since 2010, expect the Bengals to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Super Bowl 50 champions had a hard time finding consistency in their follow up season. Denver had been led by its defense on their Championship run, however in 2016, they could not overcome the offense who ranked at the bottom of the league in three and outs and red zone percentage. New starting quarterback Trevor Siemian did not play terribly, but wasn't effective enough to be a difference maker. This year Paxton Lynch is in competition with him, which could bring out the best in both players. Whoever is out there starting week one will have Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, which many NFL quarterbacks would love to have. Not all the attention should be put on the pass game however, since the Denver rushing game ranked 26th in the league last season. C.J. Anderson returns, but the Broncos addition of Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker give the running game more options. Denver will be right with the Chiefs during most of the season, with the Raiders taking the division. If the offense can be effective, Von Miller and the Bronco defense will do the rest.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers believe they have the team this year to make a splash in the league. Jameis Winston has proven he can be an effective quarterback and leader, but this year is his chance to prove he's a franchise player. With the addition of WR Desean Jackson to go add to the solid receiving core led by Mike Evans, and a veteran running back in Doug Martin, the offense has the weapons. On defense, it all comes down to if they can get to the quarterback as they did last season. After being ninth in the league in sacks, there is a lot expected of the defensive line. The biggest challenge to Tampa Bay could be there division, which produced the last two NFC Champions in the Panthers and the Falcons. Not to mention, the Saints added future hall of fame running back Adrian Peterson and Drew Brees is still playing quarterback at an elite level. If the Bucaneers can find themselves having a winning record in the division, they may find themselves in the postseason.
The Cardinals last season was very disappointing after reaching the NFC Championship in 2015. However, David Johnson showed he is a top running back in the NFL, and with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd still out wide for Carson Palmer to work with, they will have a tough offense to defend. Defensively, Arizona has the weapons as well. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are elite defensive backs and can match up to receiving cores that other defenses simply can't. The Seahawks have owned the NFC West in previous years, and it seems they have another Super Bowl contending team, but do not be surprised to see a rebounding Cardinals team give them a run for their money.
The only team who had a more disappointing 2016 than the Cardinals was the team that ended their season in 2015, in the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton went from the new face of the NFL to just another quarterback after their struggles to finish games kept them out of the playoffs. In 2017, it is redemption time for Carolina. They will not have Josh Norman of course, but Luke Kuechly is still a top linebacker and with more experience all around, they should be better defensively. On the offensive side, the addition of Christian McCaffrey will give more depth to their running game. The key to the season is if Carolina can keep Newton off his back. The struggling offensive line added rookie Taylor Moton, but it will be a collective effort to let Newton make the plays he has shown he can. As I said before for the Buccaneers, the NFC South is going to be a bloodbath, and Carolina is going to need to win in the division to make the playoffs.
Keith Egan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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