First, I promise that you will not see the Oakland Raiders or Jacksonville Jaguars on this list. I think they’re very promising young teams, but mainstream sports media has shoved them down your throats the past few months, and I aim to provide new information to get you thinking.
One of the best things about the NFL is that there’s always a few teams that come out of nowhere and put together good seasons. Last year I was sure the Washington Redskins would be one of the worst teams in the league, and they made the playoffs. The Panthers seemed destined for mediocrity after Kelvin Benjamin went down, and they were the best overall team in the league last year.
So who will those teams be? I don’t know, and no one does, but I will highlight a few of my top candidates to be Cinderella stories this year.
Yeah I’m a homer. Yeah, this site is meant for news on the Detroit Lions, so here they are on this list. Lots of things have to go right for the Lions to be a playoff team or better this year, but it isn’t total doomsday here in Detroit like it is in Cleveland or San Francisco. Despite what you may think about #9, he’s a capable quarterback who isn’t afraid of the spotlight and has incredible arm talent. I believe Tate and Jones will be a nice receiving duo, and JBC has something cookin’ in the kitchen.
The team’s success this season depends mostly on the performance of the offensive line. People forget that despite the slow start, the Lions finished 7-9 in what could have been a 3-13 type of season. There’s talent on this team, and one or two plays can win or lose a game. The Lions and Packers both had the same in-division record last year, the Pack just won the games outside of it, and the Lions didn’t.
Ryan Tannehill. The team’s success depends on his success in what looks to be a do or die season for the Texas A&M product. There’s reason to believe that he’ll have a good season too with Adam Gase as the head coach. He has what I believe could turn into a top 5 wide receiver duo with DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, and they got a steal when top-notch OT Laremy Tunsil fell to them in the draft.
As for the defense, it’s sneaky not terrible. They added two pieces who struggled mightily in Philadelphia in Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, and hopefully for Dolphin fans they will pan out in a new environment not bogged down by Chip Kelly syndrome. They have a strong defensive line even with the departure of Olivier Vernon with Suh, Wake, Mario Williams, and former Lion Jason Jones. Reshad Jones is a top 5 safety on the back end, and with what could be a weaker AFC East with Tom Brady’s suspension, the Dolphins could surprise in 2016.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Despite a 4-12 year in which the Bolts went 0-6 in their own division, I believe they could be a playoff team in 2016. 2015 was a year fogged by worries of the team moving away, which was a major distraction for the team. Phillip Rivers is still their quarterback, and Keenan Allen is due for a big season.
Joey Bosa will be a boost to a defense that lacked a pure pass rusher. The Chargers have a true #1 corner in Jason Verrett, and young star Melvin Ingram at linebacker. They did lose Eric Weddle which will be a setback, but the defense will be better than people think going into the season.
The Chargers are probably the biggest stretch on the list, but that’s the point of the article, to identify teams you may have never thought of to be possible playoff contenders come the home stretch of the season.
A lot has to go right for the Dolphins to be a playoff team this season, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for them to shock the NFL world this year. Also with Tom Brady out for the first four games, if the Patriots get off to a 1-3 start the AFC East could be up for grabs.
I’m a huge believer in the Jarvis Landry/Devante Parker duo. Landry set the NFL record for most receptions in a player’s first two seasons, and Parker who was injured most of last year flashed what his potential could late in the season with a catch against the Ravens in week 13 and one against the Patriots in week 17. They also have a receiving threat in Jordan Cameron at tight end, plus I really like rookie draft pick Leonte Carroo and Kenny Stills for some wide receiver depth. Laremy Tunsil was a steal at 13, and will offer much needed protection to the blindside.
The real question is Tannehill, and if he will be able to be the athletic pocket-passer that he was hoped to be. With offensive minded Adam Gase as the head coach, this is Tannehill’s last opportunity to prove himself as a starting NFL quarterback. I also believe the Dolphins defense will be pretty good. They have top level players at each level of the defense. D-lineman Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Koa Misi, and safety Reshad Jones. They also added Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell in the off season.
Their schedule is pretty tough, Miami isn’t a great home-field advantage, and the Dolphins usually get people’s hopes up then disappoint, however I still believe that there’s hope in South Beach.