The centers of power in the NFL are much the same as last season. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC is very likely still to go through New England, and Atlanta remains at the forefront of the NFC. There are three teams, two in the AFC and one in the NFC, who might just surprise everyone and cause a ruckus in the playoffs.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers abandoned the city that adored them to move to a place where, at least so far, no one seems to care. They will play in the stadium of the Los Angeles Galaxy, which seats only roughly 30,000, and face the ignominy of being outdrawn at the box office by MLS. Still, Philip Rivers will have some more weapons around him, and the defense will have been shored up by the Chargers’ off-season moves. Trey Boston and Ryan Reid will bolster the secondary, and Mitchell Paige and Mike Williams add to the receiving corps. It remains to be seen if the Chargers can compete with the Raiders, who have a healthy Derek Carr back and the best offensive line in the AFC.
2. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had salary cap problems at the end of the 2016-2017 season and let both Mario Williams and Branden Albert go. They have also striven to get younger, likely with the strategy that the Patriots are closer to the end of their run than the beginning. In a move that was a refreshing change for Dolphins fans, Miami never panicked and chose poorly in the draft. They patiently got the best player available to fill a position of need in each of the seven rounds. They didn’t make a splash signing, pardon the pun, but they got players with loads of upside and potential in as solid a draft as they have ever had. They are a total long shot this season, but the NFC East should watch out once Brady and the rest of the Patriots are finally out to pasture.
3. Minnesota Vikings
In the 2016-2017 season, the Vikings were 5-0 and firing on all cylinders. They had beaten the Packers. They were looking terrific, and then the injury bug came along. If injuries were colored red on a chart, then their chart would have looked as bloody as their bandages did during the season. They lost two quarterbacks, their three top wide receivers, their star running back, who just happened to be Adrian Peterson, and three offensive linemen. For the rest of the season, they had to play the second string. Their defense is as strong as ever for the 2017-2018 season, but the offense is still an unknown quantity. Bridgewater is making slow progress, and Bigfoot is, well, Bigfoot. If the offense can get healthy, and the defense can keep them in games, they stand a chance to overtake the Packers for the division crown.
When it comes to NFL odds, none of these three teams will be the favorites, but luck plays a part in any season. Just look at what happened to Minnesota last year.