For this upcoming season, the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, and St. Louis Rams are my top four teams to look out for. These are teams that either ended above .500 and relatively high in their respective divisions, have added some quality depth to their team that will improve their roster, or both.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins were the recipients of some big news this offseason when they landed highly touted free agent Ndamukong Suh. Suh, a former D-Lineman for the Detroit Lions, will help their defense immensely; which gave up an average of 121.1 rushing yards per game last year (24th in the league), according to ESPN.com. Suh will be able to plug up the holes in the middle of the line as the Dolphins 3-technique lineman to help limit the rushing attack of opposing offenses. In addition to that, pairing Suh with the likes of Cameron Wake coming around the outside could provide much needed penetration to hurry QBs up and force them to make ill-advised throws. The strength of the Miami defense though was against the pass, where they ranked 6th in the league in average yards given up. This will help in the long run against their division rival Patriots since they have one of the better passing attacks out of the AFC East compared to the Bills intense rushing attack. The Jets, ehhh, nothing to really worry about there on the offensive side of the ball.
In addition to bringing in Suh to beef up the defense, the Dolphins also added more depth to their receiving core with the likes of Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills. The addition of Greg Jennings will give QB Ryan Tannehill a veteran presence that he could hopefully rely on as a primary target, while the young speedster Kenny Stills can become the downfield threat for the Dolphins. The Dolphins offense also has a pretty good 1,000 yard rusher in Lamar Miller, who can help keep the defense guessing so they don’t key on one phase of the game. If Tannehill stays healthy and Suh improves the rushing defense, then I’d expect the Dolphins to finish with at least 10 wins this year.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are coming off of a 9-7 season last year; one win behind a Wild Card slot. Now, the Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin over the offseason to help them break the touchdown “drought” that the Chiefs wide receivers were experiencing last season. With Maclin to run deeper routes, as well as Kelce handling a large portion of the red zone duties, the Chiefs passing attack should be much better this year.
Then, shifting to the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs were one of the best defenses against the pass, but were ranked 28th against the run last year. Compared to last season, there hasn’t really been a monumental change in the Chiefs front seven short of Inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson coming back from injury and Justin Houston signing a monumental contract to stay in KC. With much of their schedule consisting of teams with top tier running backs as well as teams that will be leaning more on the run this season, stopping the run this season will be a key point for the Chiefs. If the Chiefs can do that, then I see them hitting at least 10 to 11 wins in 2015.
Minnesota Vikings: Previously, I wrote an article having to do with the Minnesota Vikings and how I believe that they will be a Wild Card team this year; I strongly stand by those thoughts still to this day. This team has all of the pieces it needs to be a pretty good team in the NFL, they just need to make it work. Their offense, to start, has it’s all-pro running back returning in Adrian Peterson to compliment their young QB Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater, unlike recent years, will help take some pressure off of AP so that he does not get over-worked. Peterson has always been the key fixture of the Vikings offense throughout the years, and he has not had a really solid quarterback to back him up. Now, with Bridgewater, those days are surely behind the boys in purple.
Minnesota, lead by veteran linebacker Chad Greenway, were ranked seventh against the pass and 25th against the run. The rushing defense could be a problem for them in the NFC North; where they will have to go up against two teams twice with Top 10 running backs from last season, (Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte). But with Chicago still being the big question mark it is going into the start of the season and the Packers likely to win the North again, the Vikings major competition will be the Detroit Lions for the Wild Card.
St. Louis Rams: This year, St. Louis is going to be more of an “interesting” team to watch rather than a title contender to watch out for. They should do better this year, but I don’t see them being contenders quite yet. Offensively, they brought over Nick Foles from the Eagles in exchange for Sam Bradford. So far, Foles should be a major upgrade to the Rams offense after only getting seven games out of Sam Bradford the previous two seasons. But talent wise, I’m still not completely sold on if this was the right move or not; we’ll just have to wait and see. In addition to that, the Rams also drafted Todd Gurley out of Georgia, who will provide more depth to a St. Louis running back core that consists mainly of Tre Mason, and others. I, personally, am a big Tre Mason fan, and believe that he and Gurley as a backfield tandem could give the Rams one of the best RB cores in the NFL.
The Rams have sort of a middle of the pack defense; headed by veteran DEs Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and LB James Laurinaitis. When I say middle of the pack, I literally mean middle of the pack. They were ranked 19th and 14th in average passing and rushing yards respectively, and gave up an average of 22 points per game to opposing offenses. So, on average, they didn’t really lose you games, but they also didn’t win you games either. But, with the addition of the likes of Akeem Ayers from the Patriots; the Rams hope to reverse their defensive woes from the previous season. In the end, I’m predicting the Rams to add about two more wins to their total from last year, but they will not be fighting for a playoff spot.
Elias Sports Bureau. “NFL Team Total Defense Statistics-2014.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 2014. Web. 10 Sept. 2015. <http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/team/_/stat/total/sort/rushingYardsPerGame/position/defense>.