The draft has concluded. The large majority of key free agents have found their homes for this upcoming season. There is now another playoff spot in each conference to grab. The NFL added a third wild card spot so now 14 total teams make the playoffs. Do you like where your team sits with this change? Are they going to be fighting for the Lombardi Trophy? Or are they going to be in the running for the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft? Here is my take on each team’s standing this season.
Competing for the Championship
Playoff locks. They are in an easy division or are simply THAT good.
Cowboys – With the addition of WR stud CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys accomplished two goals. First, preventing a divisional rival, the Philadelphia Eagles who desperately needed a WR, from taking him a few picks later. Secondly, established arguably the most dangerous core of offensive players in the league. Even if you could make an argument for a team having a better WR group than Cooper, Lamb, and Gallup, none of those teams will have as talented a running back as Ezekiel Elliot. The Cowboys are primed for a Super Bowl run and are officially in “win now” mode.
Ravens – The Ravens bolstered their defense by adding DE Calais Campbell from the Jaguars and drafting LSU ILB Patrick Queen. They also added Ohio St running back J.K. Dobbins to help manage aging RB Mark Ingram’s workload. These moves have improved arguably the best team in the NFL, which should be terrifying for other NFL teams. In a reasonably weak division, the Ravens will find themselves in the playoffs this season.
Chiefs – The Chiefs addressed their biggest offensive need (as if they really needed more help) in the draft by picking LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick in the first round. Adding a running game to this already electric offense will be almost impossible to stop. In a fairly weak division that is made up by the Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos, the Chiefs will walk into the playoffs again. It also helps that they drew the AFC East for their out of conference games which will be at least 3 easy wins. It’s a good time to be a Chiefs fan. They will be looking for a repeat championship which is not unrealistic.
49ers – Having only two picks in the first 4 rounds, both being first-rounders, the 49ers managed to get a perfect replacement for their former star Deforest Buckner in Javon Kinlaw and a top tier rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk. These key additions will help them maintain their success and bring them right back to representing the NFC in the big game despite being in a competitive division.
Saints – The Saints play some tough teams this year including the Packers, Chiefs, Vikings, and 49ers. But all those games are at home, giving the Saints an edge. On the other side, their away games consist of teams including the Lions, Bears, Broncos, and Raiders. With their defense as good as ever and Drew Brees still slinging the ball around. There is no reason why the Saints can’t win 11 or more games this year.
Seahawks – It isn’t like the Seahawks needed to improve, but they made small additions that will make a big difference. They added a downfield threat in Phillip Dorsett and a veteran pass-catcher in Greg Olsen. This will open up the field at all levels and allow QB Russell Wilson to do what he does best, make plays. In terms of schedule, they couldn’t have drawn easier divisions having to play the NFC East and AFC East. This should mean an easy walk into the playoffs whether it’s as the wildcard or as division champs.
Fighting for a Playoff Spot
Have a solid chance of making the playoffs but compete are in a competitive division.
Bills – The Bills look to maintain their success from last year which earned them 10 wins. This offseason they did make an investment in their passing game by acquiring WR Stefon Diggs, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. Adding a premier wide receiver to this team will help QB Josh Allen not only move the ball downfield with his strong arm but also make it so he doesn’t have to tuck and run as much. Therefore, keeping him from taking as many hits. I would love to put them as a playoff lock, but the Jets have improved and you can’t count the Patriots out just yet.
Patriots – Tom Brady is gone. There is no solid answer at QB. The only reason they are considered for this category is that they are the Patriots. Bill Belichick could win with fans pulled from the stands. It also helps that they are in the weakest division in football. The Bills are still unproven, the Jets and Dolphins have just not been able to win for a long time. This division is completely up for grabs and I wouldn’t count anybody out.
Jets – The Jets addressed their biggest issues in the draft. They got a high ceiling offensive lineman in Mekhi Becton who will help keep Darnold off his back and improve Bell’s rushing efficiency. They also took a big/physical weapon in wide receiver Denzel Mims for Sam Darnold to throw to. With the Patriots losing Tom Brady and the NFL allowing another wild card team per conference, there is more than a solid chance for the Jets to get into the playoffs.
Giants – The Giants made a clear effort in the draft and free agency to improve the weak points on their team. In the draft, they used their first three picks on two offensive linemen and a safety. Bolstering the offensive line will be a tremendous help for Daniel Jones taking the next step. They also went out and got a backup running back in Dion Lewis. This may not seem like a sexy pickup, but it will allow Saquon Barkley a chance to get more rest and make him more efficient on the field. Plus, it will keep him healthier. With a young core and clear improvements, the Giants could surprise some people this year.
Steelers – The Steelers’ lack of success last year can be directly linked to the fact that they did not have QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB James Conner for most of the season. Yes, it is their fault for not having a viable backup, but not a lot of teams actually do. With their electric defense full of playmakers, they should be able to compensate for the short period of time Big Ben and Conner will need to shake off the rust and get back into playing shape. There is no reason this team couldn’t snag a wild card spot next season
Packers – With their first and second-round picks not being used to fill a direct need for the team, it is hard to say they will improve next season. They were one game away from the Super Bowl and felt no need to improve in the draft or in free agency. As a fan, I would be very frustrated. The bad news on top of that is that they have to play against playoff teams SEVEN times next year (Vikings X2, Eagles, Titans, Texans, Saints, and 49ers). With a hard schedule against teams that improved since last season, the Packers will be fighting very hard to sneak into the playoffs this year.
Vikings – Having lost Stefon Diggs, the Vikings had a huge hole at the wide receiver which they filled with the first-round pick of Justin Jefferson from LSU. Jefferson is more than talented enough to fill the production and should be a highly used target by QB Kurt Cousins. With fifteen total selections in the draft, they will have plenty of young talent this year. Although their draft was a success, failure to make any big moves in free agency mixed with a difficult schedule could leave the possibility to not make the postseason.
Texans – Well the good news for Texans fans is that you acquired an elite running back (when healthy). The bad news is you gave away the best wide receiver in the game in DeAndre Hopkins, made no splash in free agency, and only had five draft picks (none of them in the first round). With a schedule that is split down the middle between easy and difficult opponents, this year could look very “eh” for the Texans. With an extra playoff spot up for grabs, who knows, 8-8 could get you in.
Colts – The Colts have one big issue every year, their players cannot stay on the field. With reserves on the field at key positions (WR and CB in particular), it is very hard to win with a glorified backup QB in Jacoby Brissett. The Colts have made additions this offseason to add depth at skill positions to account for their bad luck with injuries. Philip Rivers is a huge step up at quarterback and they drafted WR Michael Pittman, RB Jonathan Taylor, and hopefully the future franchise QB Jacob Eason. The revamped offense will cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses. The AFC South has three teams that will be deserving of playoff spots this year.
Titans – The Titans did not make any major changes other than drafting offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson in the first round of the draft. This goes to show that they are sticking with the game plan that led to so many wins and playoff success last season which was “run the damn ball”. With a fairly easy schedule this upcoming season, look for the Titans to be right in the running again this year (pun intended).
Panthers – This new-look Panthers team could make a splash in the NFC South this year. They drafted two of the best defensive linemen in the draft in Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos, they signed their new starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and signed Robby Anderson and Seth Roberts to add quality depth at wide receiver. With a more than favorable schedule, the Panthers are set up for a bounce back season.
Buccaneers – So you’re telling me, that a team can have the third-most total yards in the NFL, and then get Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski? Tom Brady, although old and not the arm talent he used to be, will not make the mistakes that Jameis Winston makes by giving the ball away to the other team. Gronk can not only create mismatches all over the field but he is one of the top blocking tight ends in the league. These two additions along with offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (drafted thirteenth overall) will reshape this offense that was already producing far greater than was expected. With a fairly friendly schedule coming up this season, the Bucs could make some noise in the NFC South.
Broncos – The Broncos are fully invested in giving QB Drew Lock the best environment possible. This offseason they have added protection in guard Graham Glasgow (formerly of the Lions) and center Lloyd Cushenberry who was picked in the third round of the draft out of LSU. They also added two elite level weapons in former Chargers running back and pro bowler Melvin Gordon and Alabama stud WR Jerry Jeudy who was taken fifteenth overall in the draft. These four additions will bolster this offense and make it formidable for the first time in years. The Broncos could be a whole new team this year.
Better Luck Next Year
These teams are just in too good of a division. Maybe if they were in a different division, they might have had a chance to sneak into the playoffs. But alas, let’s see how next year goes.
Cardinals – The Cardinals did everything right this offseason. They saw that they had multiple competent running backs so they traded David Johnson to the Texans for DeAndre Hopkins, the best wide receiver in the game. They also drafted OLB Isaiah Simmons from Clemson who is widely regarded as a generational talent. We are sure to see a large improvement from them but with the Seahawks and 49ers being playoff locks, they just won’t be able to sneak into the playoffs.
Dolphins – Although they only drew three playoff teams for this upcoming season in their out of conference games, they just simply aren’t good enough yet to possibly sneak into the playoffs. They are clearly the worst team in their division. I will give them a lot of props for doing the best they could in the draft. They picked their franchise QB in Tua Tagovialoa, two highly rated offensive tackles in Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt, and a lockdown cornerback named Noah Igbinoghene (good luck pronouncing that). The Dolphins have made all the steps to succeed in the future, but until they prove the can win, they are still just the Dolphins.
Eagles – I don’t have to tell any Eagles fan how disappointing their draft was. They managed to take a WR in the first round, but it wasn’t one of the top 5 ranked. They took Jalen Reagor from TCU, not even close to what Eagles fans were hoping for going into the draft. The Eagles then shockingly took QB Jalen Hurts in the second round, who (if everything goes right) will not step on the field for many seasons. Essentially being the same team as last year when you barely squeaked into the playoffs is not good. With the Cowboys and Giants getting better this offseason combined with a difficult schedule will make it unlikely for the Eagles to repeat a playoff appearance. Some of their out of conference opponents include the Seahawks, Ravens, Saints, 49ers, and Packers (all playoff teams).
Rams – The Rams no longer have Branin Cooks and Todd Gurley, but they did draft a wide receiver and a running back to replace them in Van Jefferson, the former, and Cam Akers, the later. Including free agency, they have failed to accumulate the talent that they had last season. With the 49ers and the Seahawks still significantly better, it is hard to see the Rams getting into the playoffs this year.
Bengals – Having drafted QB Joe Burrow with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals made their future intentions very clear. They are going to build a team around Burrow. They added WR Tee Higgins in the second round giving Burrow an absolute arsenal to throw to. With a wide receiving core of AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and now Tee Higgins, the Bengals are going to be hard to stop. Unfortunately, in a division where they are still arguably the third best team, they just aren’t ready to make the playoffs.
Browns – The Browns addressed the offensive line this offseason by drafting Alabama OT Jedrick Wills Jr and signing OT Jack Conklin. Two elite talents being added should help the team get their sacks allowed down from the forty they had last season. They also added a quality target for Baker Mayfield in TE Austin Hooper who should take some pressure off the other weapons. Still, the Browns may be the worst team in the AFC North and I don’t see them being competitive enough to make an impact this year.
Bears – Coming off an 8-8 season, the Bears did not make major changes to their team. Not having a first-round pick in the draft and then using your second pick on a tight end, it seems like other needs could have been addressed. Especially since they signed TE Jimmy Graham in free agency. Look for the Bears to have another average year being the third best team in their division.
Falcons – The Falcons adding RB Todd Gurley this offseason to replace RB Devonta Freeman. While Gurley might be a slight improvement, is it enough to really make an impact on that side of the ball? They also drafted ZERO offensive skill players in a draft stacked with talent. While ranking top five in total offensive yards, they ranked only thirteenth in total points. They improved their defense which was much needed but this offense will have to get the ball in the endzone more if they want to make the playoffs. They will play five of their eight away games against playoff teams from last year while only two home games against such opponents. In a division that has improved greatly in the offseason, it will be hard for the Falcons to find their way into the postseason.
Raiders – The Raiders did the most Raiders thing to do in the draft, they draft three wide receivers in their first four picks. Not only that, they took some of the fastest ones (per usual). Even if they don’t win a lot of games this year, they wanted to make sure they would at least have a damn exciting offense for fans to watch. They have a decent schedule with a mix of quality teams and not so quality ones ranging from the Saints, Chiefs, and Falcons to the Dolphins, Jets, and Browns. They’ll do just bad enough to not get a playoff spot and just good enough to not get a good draft pick, as is a tradition for the Raiders.
Chargers – I wouldn’t say there is a whole lot of optimism here. They did replace an aging Philip Rivers with a talented and young Justin Herbert out of Oregon, but that comes with a lot of uncertainty. Also, they let RB Melvin Gordon walk and go to divisional rival the Broncos. Although Austin Eckler had Christian McCaffrey type success (in terms of producing on the ground and through the air) he has still not proven he can handle a full workload for 16 games. I’d love to see a rookie bring this team to the playoffs but it does not seem likely.
Could Snag the #1 Pick!
These teams are the worst of the worst. They have failed to build any kind of competitive roster. They did not address major issues in free agency or the draft.
Lions – Coming off a 3-win season and tying for the second-worst record in the NFL, the Lions needed a lot of help. With the third pick of the first round, they took their replacement for CB Darius Slay in Jeff Okudah from Ohio State, which was a great pick but also a lateral movement from last season. With their second-round choice, they for some reason drafted a running back in D’Andre Swift. Although D’Andre Swift is very talented, the Lions already have Kerryon Johnson who is a promising young running back that proved to be a viable option. Not using early-round picks to address the dire needs on your 3-win team is what will get you back to the same record next year.
Redskins – If you look at all of the free-agent signings from this offseason, most of them have something in common, they are veterans who are outside of their prime years and have bounced around from team to team. If they can all stay healthy, it should improve the team a little bit, but not drastically. The only major improvement was drafting Chase Young, DE from Ohio State. Young is a monster and will need to be considering they are in a division full of offensive-minded teams. It still won’t be enough, the best they can hope for is 5 wins this year.
Jaguars – Playing against a stacked division, the Jaguars just won’t be able to compete. You can love Gardner Minshew as much as you’d like, but it doesn’t change the fact that right now, he is not good enough to lead a team that has no star receivers and a subpar offensive line. It also doesn’t help that there is constant dysfunction with players and coaches/upper management. After losing key defensive players, there is no aspect of this team I have confidence in. Opponents that they must play outside the division include the Ravens, Packers, and Vikings (All playoff teams and all are away games). I’d be happy with 6 wins, but 4 is more realistic.