We’re nearly there, everyone. The NFL season kicks off exactly one week from today. It’s been an arduous offseason, as they all are, but the 100th year of the National Football League will end our wait in short order.
To celebrate seven days to go until the Bears and Packers kick it all off, here are the seven most interesting teams in the NFL heading into 2019.
The Browns have been the most interesting team in the league all offseason, and for good reason. There’s a lot to be excited about on both sides of the ball; the offense was among the most explosive in the league in the second half of last year and added one of the premier playmakers in the NFL. The defense has a handful of young studs who are quickly working their way up the ladder to be considered among the best at their position. Freddie Kitchens has already given out a few notable quotes about bullseyes.
Then there’s everything else. Is Baker Mayfield, after talking his talk for six months with no regrets, the man to end decades of misery for Browns fans? How will Odell Beckham Jr. handle his new environment and fiery personality of his quarterback? How patient will everybody be if they aren’t immediately good?
There might not be a more interesting franchise, from top to bottom, in the NFL right now.
New York Jets
The Jets added two of the most polarizing figures in the NFL over the offseason to add some spice to a team that struggled to hold anyone’s interest last season.
All eyes will be on New York in 2019 to see if Le'Veon Bell was actually good enough to sit out a year and come back just as strong. Adam Gase huffed smelling salts before a preseason game to kick off his tenure as the new head coach.
More importantly, Sam Darnold will the apple of many eyes in the Big Apple. Tony Romo has already laid down his reputation for omniscience on the line for the second-year quarterback. How he fares in Gase’s offensive system with a weapon like Bell will show if Darnold, and therefore the Jets, are ready to make the leap from potential to production.
Vic Fangio landed his first-ever NFL head coaching gig after decades of befuddling opposing offensive coordinators, and his new team couldn’t better fit his talents. Fangio fully unleashed Khalil Mack and can now do the same for one of the few players on Mack’s level, Von Miller, and another with the potential to be, Bradley Chubb.
Philip Lindsay’s follow-up season will be interesting to watch, but the real storyline offensively is Joe Flacco. Can he be just good enough to not lose football games? Will his deep ball accuracy actually improve in Denver’s thin air?
The Broncos will ride with Flacco this year because Drew Lock clearly still needs time to develop. If he takes advantage of the potential career revival this opportunity presents, Denver could be very dangerous.
The Raiders will probably be bad, but with Jon Gruden at the helm, they will always be interesting. That held true last year and holds true again this year as Gruden has gathered such an absurd a cast of characters that borders on the unbelievable. Antonio Brown has already introduced Raiders fans to the immense frustration that comes along with rooting for him, Richie Incognito is somehow back in the NFL after many incidents, and Nathan Peterman is receiving heaps of praise on HBO.
How good Brown is outside of Pittsburgh is of interest to most NFL fans, but especially his fantasy owners. Clelin Ferrell was the most surprising pick in the draft until the Giants got on the clock, and he has a lot to prove to show he was worth the fourth overall pick. It’s their last year before heading to Vegas. There are dozens of moving parts within the franchise right now, and may lead to a complete collapse. Or not. We have no idea, and can’t wait to find out.
The other team with a young quarterback in the AFC East, Buffalo took a much different angle at team-building than the Jets. They’ve doubled down on their very good defense from last year in adding top prospect Ed Oliver to their interior line and signed a hodgepodge of veterans on both sides of the ball. The overall goal is clear: make Josh Allen’s life as simple as possible.
Allen’s progress will be worth monitoring, but last year it was clear he has farther to go than his divisional contemporary in Darnold. The defense has a real chance to be an elite unit this year, and Oliver is as intriguing a prospect there is on that side of the ball. Frank Gore is immortal and always a pleasure to watch. Sean McDermott and Billy Beane clearly have a plan, and this is the year it will either come to fruition or crash and burn.
The Colts were a team to watch before, you know, everything happened. Now their progress will be fascinating to monitor. Jacoby Brissett isn’t going to suddenly become a superstar, but with a few more years’ experience than when he led the Colts to their dismal record in 2017, he could become a solid game-manager with a good enough arm to uncork a few deep ones.
How the rest of the team holds up is where our attention will be, though. The defense had the pieces to be a good unit, and will now have to be great to stay in games. Marlon Mack will get a chance to show what he can do as Indianapolis presumably shifts to a run-heavy gameplan. How the organization responds to this kind of adversity this close to the season could make or break what Chris Ballard has been building.
The Cowboys have a lot riding on this year. They’re in a staring contest with Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s reigning rushing champ and the engine that drives the Cowboys’ offense. If they let Elliott’s holdout carry on into the regular season, they’re making an awfully big bet that the offensive line is more responsible than Zeke’s talent for their recent success, and that Dak Prescott can make that leap from average to above-average. Those are a lot of chances to take for a franchise that talks like it’s Super Bowl or bust this year!
This is the last year any of the Cowboys’ key pieces will be on cheap contracts. If the current landscape of the NFL tells us anything, it’s much harder to put a competitive team together with a QB on a gigantic contract, much less a QB, wide receiver, and potentially running back. It’s a big season down in Jerry World.