Most years in the NFL you can expect around 20 teams to be “challenging” for a play off spot. A small number of those are practically shoe ins and some teams make the post season with regular ease, whereas some challenges inevitably die off *cough* Buffalo Bills *cough*.
In this list though, I’ll be bringing you my Top 5 teams that have the ability to sustain a challenge and make their way back to play offs next season, after missing out this past season.
Starting off we have my number 1 pick…
#1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay are probably the most complete team overall of the ones on this list, if they fulfil their potential that is. They’re number 1 on this list because I believe they’ll do just that next season, but they do need another couple of pieces to the puzzle. I have them down to draft David Njoku and placing him alongside Mike Evans would make this one of the most explosive offenses in football straight away. If Tampa can couple it with a running game that is above average and keeps opposition defences honest, then I don’t see many teams stopping them. The defensive unit is growing and maturing and this could a team that not only threatens the NFC South but makes a serious run deep into the play offs.
#2. Philadelphia Eagles
Boy did Carson Wentz start his career hot! A lot of people have said “if you redo the draft Dak Prescott goes No.1” but that is the biggest load I’ve ever heard! Wentz is the best QB out of last year’s draft class, hands down. If he had the running game, offensive line and weapons that Dak had, we’d have all witnesses the same end result in the regular season but with a more balanced offense that could’ve threatened deeper in the play offs. Let’s look at the picture as a whole, the Eagles have a better defence that Dallas and a better QB, if they add some weapons for Wentz on offense and build a reasonable run game they’ll have more than enough ability to challenge in the NFC East.
#3. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are something of an unknown going into next season, what will the Wide Reciever core look like? Will Carson Palmer play at a high enough level? Can they ride David Johnson to the play offs? That last question, along with a good defence are the main reasons why I think they’ll be back in the play offs next season. They don’t play in the toughest of divisions and with an MVP contender in your squad you always have a chance to push your way into the play offs.
#4. Carolina Panthers
There’s no getting away from how bad Carolina were last year as defending NFC champs but if there’s one thing this team knows how to do, it’s rebound. Cam Newton could do with some more protection for this offense to really click but I think they’ll address that in the draft early on and if they do, look out for an MVP calibre Super Cam. They’ll be in a ultra competitive NFC South which is why they aren’t higher, with Tampa Bay being in a slightly stronger position to challenge Atlanta, although don’t be surprised if both the Panthers and Bucs overtake the Falcons in what could be a season of transition in Georgia.
#5. Chicago Bears
I could’ve easily gone safe and picked the Broncos as my 5th team, however when you consider what division they’re in, strength of schedule and their offense as a whole, it’ll be a tough ask for them this year. The Bears on the other hand have quietly been building a good young squad and if they have a good draft they could challenge in what is a tight NFC North. If they somehow grab a good (not even great) QB they’ll be a winning team next season and even if they don’t, Jordan Howard is a stud that will carry the load enough to win a few next year.
Yes, I realise all of the teams that have made this list are from the NFC and that isn’t to say that the AFC doesn’t have quality teams challenging (see list of also considered below) but that the NFC overall has more depth of challengers and a more open set of divisions.
Can anyone seriously knock off the Patriots? The Steelers will be heavy favourites in the North. Oakland and Kansas City will take some beating in the West and let’s be honest, I couldn’t include an AFC South team on this list.
As always, leave your comments and opinions or tweet me @CPFootballUK
Also considered: Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens