It's that time of year everyone! Training camp! In what has been a long off-season, with lots of moves, we have taken a big step towards our journey back to football. So with that being said, lets go over four intriguing teams to watch.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Last year, we were strongly anticipating quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's impact from 2017 to carry over to a playoff appearance last season. Unfortunately, he went down with an ACL tear in week 3 which ended his season as well as the 49ers season. Despite this, it didn't stop others from contributing to the team. Tight end George Kittle had arguably the best season for a tight end in NFL history. He caught 88 passes for 1,377 yards which is a record for all tight ends, and 5 touchdowns. Three of them were 43 yards or longer. On defense, DeForest Buckner also turned in a successful season with 12 sacks which was good enough for a pro bowl appearance. Coach Kyle Shanahan was able to make the most out of Garoppolo’s injury by turning undrafted quarterback Nick Mullins into a quality passer. As a team, the 49ers entered this year’s offseason as a favorite to get Antonio Brown while Odell Beckham Jr. and Le’Veon Bell were dark horses. However, they whiffed on all 3 of those players. They did refurbish their front 7 on defense with the acquisitions of Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford along with the selection of Nick Bosa. All of those players will have something to prove for this upcoming season. Alexander has to become a better tackler unlike his years in Tampa Bay. He is a play maker who has a knack for takeaways, but last year he missed 78 tackles in only 6 games! If he's going to live up to his big contract, he has to improve that flaw. Dee Ford had a quiet start to his career. but made a big jump last season recording 13.5 sacks. Like Alexander, Ford was given a big contract from the 49ers once he was traded so his ability to follow up his breakout year will be tested in the Bay Area. Nick Bosa will be tasked with not only making a full recovery after sitting out his final season at Ohio St., but he also has to adapt to the NFL immediately given the value pass rushers have in today's game. If all of those new players along with Buckner are able to play together, San Francisco will have a dominant front 7 in the years to come. But if they want to return to the players, their season will hinge on the player starting at the most important position in all sports. Garoppolo. His health will determine 2019 for the 49ers, so as long as he stays healthy, they can make a run in the playoffs.
2. New York Jets
New York did a lot of work this off-season from the moment their season ended. They fired head coach Todd Bowles and hired Adam Gase to take over the sidelines. The hire of a drill Sargent in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is considered the best assistant coach hire of the off-season. As for players, they acquired pro bowl guard Kelechi Osemele in a trade with the Oakland Raiders and signed linebacker C.J. Mosley who is already building up an impressive resume in his 5 seasons that could get him to Canton if he keeps up his accolades. They were also able to draft defensive tackle Quinnen Williams who has the attributes to be the Aaron Donald of the AFC. But the biggest ,one of the off-season, was the free agent signing of all pro running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell is easily one of the top running backs in the last 5 years, but he sat out all of last season because of a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he has kept himself in shape and will likely be a major part in helping quarterback Sam Darnold take a big step forward in his sophomore season. That has become a common theme for quarterbacks to take a major step forward in their second year. Guys like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Mitchell Trubisky have experienced that kind of success. Given the improvement Darnold had at the end of the season and the new weapons the Jets got on offense, a big jump should be likely. However, it would be a surprise to think that the Jets could have an entire offseason without making any negative headlines. About a month after the draft, G.M. Mike Maccagnan was fired in a shocking move. All of a sudden, what seemed like a perfect offseason was going to be a disaster with Adam Gase possibly flexing his powers as the interim G.M. in a bad way. Fortunately, the Jets instead went after one of the leagues top executives on the market in Joe Douglas. Douglas played a big part in forming the Eagles’ Super Bowl roster and when he turned it down, the Jets doubled up their offer which was enough to lure him to the Big Apple. And just like that, all of the concerns within the front office can now be washed away for the rest of the offseason and hopefully beyond that. Now the only question, is if all of the new guys on the team from the players to the front office can jell together with last year’s core players like Darnold, receivers Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, tight end Chris Herndon IV, pro bowl safety Jamal Adams, and defensive lineman Leonard Williams. If they can, Jets fans will finally be able to see a year of playoff football. Something that they’d like to be in after missing it for 8 straight seasons.
3. Cleveland Browns
I didn’t rank this team higher because they have all the reasons to dominate 2019. On offense they got quarterback Baker Mayfield who delivered one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history and looks like the answer to the Browns long hunt for a quarterback. His weapons included pro bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb. On the defensive side of the ball, they got pro bowlers in defensive end Myles Garrett, linebacker Joe Schobert, and cornerback Denzel Ward. Coach Freddie Kitchens showed a lot of promise when he took over offensive coordinator duties last season and could possibly form a long lasting QB/coach duo with Mayfield. What was the G.M. John Dorsey able to do? Sign star running back Kareem Hunt off waivers and trade for Odell Backham Jr. from the New York Giants. Once Hunt returns from his 8 game suspension, he and Nick Chubb will have a great chance of forming one of the best running back duos in the league. Odell gives Mayfield a big target as well as a one two punch with him and Landry. In the draft, they might’ve got a big steal with the selection of cornerback “Greddy” Williams which gives Cleveland a strong possibility of having 2 lockdown cornerbacks. However, there is one word that stands in the way of all of the hype. Egos. Cleveland has a lot of big personalities that are contained by most of their top players. Mayfield probably is the most outspoken quarterbacks in the league and veterans of the team expressed their disapproval in his cockiness. Backham Jr. is one of the most outspoken receivers in the league. Temper tantrums were no rare thing in New York and in Cleveland, lots of people will be closely analyzing that next season. Hunt was only picked up from the Browns because Dorsey drafted him when he was in Kansas City and he’ll have to prove that he has rebounded from his horrific incident in February last year where he hit a woman in a hotel room which landed him a spot on the exempt list before being released by the Chiefs once TMZ released a video in late November. Egos can also be created when there’s lots of hype surrounding a team which will give Cleveland one simple task. Downplay the hype, put egos to rest, and just play football. As long as they follow that simple formula, lots of playoff games will come very soon.
4. Houston Texans
Last year, we finally saw the damage that this team was able to do with a healthy roster. After starting 0-3, they reeled off 9 straight wins en route to finishing the season atop their division with an 11-5 record. The offense which featured arguably the best QB WR duo of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins is the best in the league along with young receivers Will Fuller IV, Keke Coutee, and running back Lamar Miller, gave Houston a potent unit. On defense, end J.J. Watt returned to his old form after missing the last two years with injuries by recording 16 sacks while Jadaveon Clowney served as the perfect pass rusher to compliment Watt. In the secondary, pro bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu, Kareem Jackson, Justin Reid, and Johnathan Joseph produced a solid secondary. This helped Houston have a defense that was solid throughout the season. Overall, their offense and defense made them arguably the league’s most balanced teams. But it all came crashing down when they got outplayed and out coached in their wild card defeat to the rival Indianapolis Colts. Their offseason was average. For the pros, they gave out smart contracts to veteran starters Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby who should contribute to the secondary. For the cons, they let Mathieu walk in free agency in which he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, they didn’t make much adjustments to their offensive line, and they’re in a really sticky situation with negotiating a new deal for Clowney. What will also be interesting, is if Houston will still possess the ability to win in close games. Last season, they’re young core showed the ability to win close games down the stretch. This will either continue this year or set the Texans up for even greater success in the future. But there’s also wear and tear that comes along in close games in victory or defeat and given the injury prone roster that Houston has even though it didn’t affect them this year, it could take its toll. Chances are that this team will still remain a playoff team that can definitely achieve greater heights within a few years, but they have more question marks going into the season than any other team that made last year’s playoffs which is why I included them on this list.
Every year, there are those teams that enter the season with lots of question marks. Sometimes those question marks could be about how good, bad, or average they’re going to be. That’s what leads to an interesting team to keep an eye on.