We are officially underway in the 2017 NFL season if you can believe it. Free agency and the draft are behind us, and now mini camp, OTAs and training camp are quickly approaching. With that in mind, there are always a few surprise teams in the NFL who make a playoff push or even a Super Bowl push. Who are those teams? Let’s look at my top five candidates.
- Jacksonville Jaguars
It seems like for the last three years, the Jags have been speculated as finally having enough to make that playoff push. Last year was a complete letdown and now, the Jags have overhauled their front office and roster. Doug Marrone is at head coach and bringing a no BS attitude. Tom Coughlin is the VP of Player Personnel. The Jags spent a ton of money bolstering their defense in free agency adding defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback AJ Bouye to an already talented and young defense. The Jags also drafted LSU runningback Leonard Fournette number four overall in the draft. They have some questions at offensive line, but Fournette alone should take pressure off of Blake Bortles in the pass game and the added firepower on defense should be enough to keep them in games. I really believe this is finally the year the Jags put it all together.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs already have the odds against them considering they play in a division with the Falcons and Panthers, two teams with offensive and defensive firepower. Looking at Tampa Bay, this is another team with a lot of young talent on defense and now, thanks to free agency and the draft, gave quarterback Jameis Winston weapons galore. With DeSean Jackson and draft picks Chris Godwin and OJ Howard joining the offense, the Bucs seem poised to be able to explode in putting up points. As I write this, I have Jameis Winston as a top five finalist for the MVP vote; so many weapons and with him continuing to improve every year statistically, he should have enough to really propel the Bucs.
3. Cleveland Browns
Maybe they won’t make a playoff push with the fact they have the Ravens and Steelers in their division, but the Browns are going to be a much, much better team in 2017. Three first round picks this year really helped them add talent to a roster that needed a makeover. The Browns spent a ton in upgrading their offensive line in free agency and now with rookies Myles Garrett and Jabril Peppers on defense, the Browns finally have something of an identity. I love head coach Hue Jackson especially with how well he works with quarterbacks and I believe Deshone Kizer will really surprise people especially with having Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt and rookie tight end David Njoku at his disposal. It finally looks like the misery is escaping Cleveland.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles for all intensive purposes had a good year in 2016. The team finally has their franchise quarterback and they have some solid pieces on defense. I think this draft class will immediately contribute and give the Eagles a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, Carson Wentz has two solid veteran options to throw to while having Darren Sproles as a security blanket in the backfield. Also, rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson offer Wentz two, true deep threats with solid size, something he lacked horribly a year ago. The Eagles also loaded up on depth on the offensive line, something that will be crucial in keeping Wentz upright and healthy. The defense was actually decent a year ago, ranking 12th, with all of their corner issues. The Eagles did a nice job addressing that in the draft with the selections of Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. Jones will probably not play the first several weeks, but assuming he comes back healthy, he and Douglas with Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson should solidify the corners once and for all and give the Eagles more opportunities to blitz guys like Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox who all should have big seasons given the system they are in and the supporting cast around them.
5. Oakland Raiders
Why would a team that made the playoffs a year ago be poised for a breakout campaign in 2017? The Raiders got even better this offseason. Oakland (because I refuse to call them Las Vegas until 2020) added Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch and with him, Oakland should be able to run the ball at will with them having one of the league’s best offensive lines. Factor in too Derek Carr will be healthy and has Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and now tight end Jared Cook in his arsenal and Oakland looks on paper as if they could score 30+ points each and every week. The Raiders did also add some defensive help with the draft selections of cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu. Oakalnd had some secondary problems a year ago so those two should be able to come in on day one and make an immediate impact. If Oakland stays healthy, they in my opinion, are the only team that can go toe-to-toe with the Patriots in an AFC Championship game.