I am skipping to my highest ranked teams, who seem to be sure shots to battle deep into the Play-Offs next January/February. You might ask, and rightfully so, what happened to teams 7-24? As I did my initial roster perusals looking for plusses and minuses, it became clear to me that there is a huge cluster of teams between those ranking numbers that could go somewhere from 8-9 to 10-7; 18 to be exact. A few key injuries here and there on those rosters could swing the momentum in the wrong direction. So for now, let’s concern ourselves with the 6 teams I see as top dogs as Camps open.
1) BUCCANEERS No surprise here. When the reigning Super Bowl Champion returns all their starters from the championship game, and quite a few from their remaining depth chart, how can you pick against them? I certainly can’t. As I write this, it is MR. BRADY’s 44th birthday. And have no doubt, this is “his team”. For those of you old enough to remember AFL days, think GEORGE BLANDA here folks. BRADY will NOT let this locker room get complacent. This team is sound from top to bottom, if a wee bit thin on the depth chart in places. I found it of interest that the team went heavy on adding youth to their pass rush/LB group in the Draft. Don’t look for any vets to get pushed out of their jobs, but JOE TRYON and K.J. BRITT both may have futures in this D. It also appears that the ARIANS/LEFTWICH combo will try to develop KYLE TRASK/Florida Rookie into BRADY’s eventual successor. Enjoy it BUCS fans, you may have another Super season on the way. The BUCS should be just about everyone’s pick as the top team in the NFL.
2) CHIEFS PATRICK MAHOMES is all you need to say here. That and almost a total rebuild of the OL that was decimated during last season’s Play-Off run and could not protect MAHOMES in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs will have a new OC this year in either VFA AUSTIN BLYTHE, or Rookie CREED HUMPHREY. JOE THUNEY/OG was one of the top VFA signings, regardless of position. ORLANDO BROWN should anchor that LT slot for years to come. Rookie TREY SMITH is already throwing defenders around in Camp. He could force his way out on the field as a 330 lb. monster, or as ANDY REID used to refer to his penchant for huge OL… an elephant on parade. They even have a doctor in the Camp, with native Canadian LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF from his Covid opt out of 2020. The guy they are counting on to step up his play is wideout MECOLE HARDMAN, who must replace SAMMY WATKINS. MAHOMES will make sure that he does. As the current “home of unhappy players”, JARRAN REED from Seattle will team with CHRIS JONES to give K.C. perhaps the best DT combo in the NFL. Even if DE FRANK CLARK goes away because of legal issues, DC STEVE SPAGNUOLO will find a way to generate some edge-rush pressure.
3) PACKERS Now that AARON RODGERS is in Camp with a revised contract that sets him up to exit after this season, perhaps a very talented overall roster will try to bolster their Defense under new DC JOE BARRY to take that final step to Super Sunday. RODGERS played mind games with himself and the team most of the off-season, but looks to be entrenched for at least one more Super Bowl run up on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Good move to bring back receiver RANDALL COBB. Not only is he a RODGERS favorite, but he can also teach Rookie AMARI RODGERS the tricks of the trade as an NFL slot receiver. And he may not be washed up yet out on the grass. Nice work by GM BRIAN GUTEKUNST beefing up his OL with the drafting of OC/JOSH MYERS, T/G ROYCE NEWMAN and signing VFA DENNIS KELLY. KELLY may win a starting OT job while DAVID BAKHTIARI rehabs from his late season knee injury. KELLY, who fancies flowing locks ala BAKHTIARI, turned up at his first team practice even wearing #69. The media was in a mild frenzy for a few minutes at the practice field over that ruse. You also have to believe that RODGERS had to luv that little escapade. I think RODGERS would like nothing better than to win a Super Bowl in Green Bay this season, and then move on to try it with another team, just as BRADY did. The PACKERS will take it if the Lombardi Trophy returns to Green Bay.
4) BROWNS They crashed the Play-Off party last season and have bolstered a good roster by adding some very nice pieces to the lineup, including the anticipated return of OBJ to the offensive arsenal. BAKER MAYFIELD appears to have carved his niche in the KEVIN STEFANSKI offensive scheme, which returns for a second season. This will be the first time that BAKER has run the same offense, for the same Coach in consecutive years. That surely can’t hurt, can it? Their Defense let them down at times last season, and GM ANDREW BERRY spent some time and money jacking up the talent on that side of the ball. The list of names that was added to their roster on defense include JADEVEON CLOWNEY/DE/ER, TROY HILL/NB, MALIK JACKSON/DT, JOHN JOHNSON/S, ANTHONY WALKER/LB. BERRY also added GREG NEWSOME/CB, JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH/ATH, TOMMY TOGIAI/DT & MARVIN WILSON/DT in the Draft Process. Then roll in S/GRANT DELPIT, their 2nd Round Pick in 2020, who missed his Rookie season with injury. There could be 7 or 8 new starters on their defensive unit. This team should be ready to roll even further after finally getting to the Play-Offs last year.
5) BILLS All it should take here is another step in the development of QB JOSH ALLEN to push the team even closer to the Big Game. Overall, the Offense is solid, and the Defense is dynamic, as well as physical. The talent added to the roster this past off-season should not be discounted or overlooked. They had an impressive Draft, and made some solid VFA additions. They should have one of the most talented “young” DE/ER group in the League with EPENESA/ROUSSEAU/BOOGIE. Watch for those guys to assert themselves in the second half of the upcoming season. Not that I think it will matter much unless ALLEN gets hurt, but I even found it fascinating that the BILLS signed ex-BEARS QB MITCH TRUBISKY to be their back-up signal caller this season. They need a boost in their running attack. Adding explosive journeyman MATT BREIDA should help them when you add him to SINGLETARY and MOSS. If slot man COLE BEASLEY angers management enough with his anti-vac ramblings, he might find himself pushed off the roster by VFA EMMANUEL SANDERS and Rookie MARQUEZ STEVENSON. This looks like the team that will keep the PATRIOTS from reclaiming their lock on the AFC East any time in the immediate future.
6) RAVENS The biggest issue here seems to be their ability to open the playbook up and have LAMAR JACKSON lead them in a more explosive passing Offense. They have added a couple of deep threats to help LAMAR move the process along. Rookie RASHOD BATEMAN looks to be the real deal, with more speed than many originally thought he had. The biggest question is how much juice does SAMMY WATKINS still have in his legs. The RAVENS training staff has a new set of drills and exercises that they hope will keep him on the field. It would also help the deep game if the team could find a way to get 2nd year man DEVIN DUVERNAY out on the field more to tap into his speed. On Defense, the team is trying to identify some new edge-rushers to replace the VFA losses of MATT JUDON and YANNICK NGAKOUE. They need 3rd-year man JAYLON FERGUSON to break out, and might get some immediate help from Rookies DAELIN HAYES and ODAFE OWEH. A shake up could be coming in their secondary as well, where vets CHUCK CLARK, MARCUS PETERS, and MARLON HUMPHREY might get an infusion of athletic youth around them if SHAUN WADE and BRANDON STEPHENS show enough athleticism to force their way onto the field. It is still a fairly young roster in many spots, with a sprinkling of seasoned vets to rule the locker room. But it’s time to take another step forward, and a less predictable Offense is likely the key to progressing, once it turns to the Play-Offs.
I had originally planned to take this top group out to 8 teams. But I honestly felt that these 6 were head and shoulders above a cluster of at least another 10 teams of very similar quality. So, a Top 6 is what you get for now.