Why Last Year’s 3rd Place Teams Have Become This Year’s Most Interesting Teams
Written by Jack Kramer
New Bucs QB Tom Brady looks to lead Tampa Bay to their first super bowl since 2003 (Photo via SI)
2019 saw four out of eight teams that came in third place in 2018 make the playoffs, which included three of the four teams in their respective conference championship games (Packers, 49ers and Titans). This upcoming 2020 season seems to be no different. Third place teams this season include big markets (Chicago, Los Angeles and New York), an extremely talented yet undisciplined Browns team, QBs in new uniforms (Brady, Foles and Rivers) as well as the first season of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Anytime one of the greatest players in NFL history changes teams, the buzz around the league will be around them. That is exactly what is happening with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A team coming off a 7-9 season which saw their QB Jameis Winston throw 30 TDs as well as 30 INTs, the Bucs decided it was time to part ways from Winston. They went out and snagged Tom Brady from free agency giving them a monster upgrade at quarterback. The five time Super Bowl winning QB looks to lead an already potent offense which includes the best WR duo in the game with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Bucs will have their hands full in one of the hardest divisions in football which includes Drew Brees and the Saints, but the world is waiting for the Tampa debut of Tom Brady. The league’s most hyped up and talked about team this offseason is going to play five primetime games which includes three straight from weeks seven to nine. This is the most primetime games the Bucs will have in a season in franchise history so let the Tom Brady effect begin!
The Chicago Bears like the Bucs decided to pass on Jameis Winston while trying to fix their QB issue, but the Bears traded a 4th round pick for veteran Nick Foles. The Bears had a historically bad offense which was 29th in points per game, 29th in yards per game, 31st in yards per play, 32nd in net yards per attempt, 30th in yards per rush, 25th in 3rd down conversion and 24th in red zone TDs where QB Mitchell Trubisky was blamed for the lack of success. The Bears coaching staff has familiarity with Foles but there are still many question marks with the Bears offense which includes fixing a brutal run game and a lackluster offensive line. Good thing for the Bears, however is they still have one of the leagues top defenses led by pro bowl linebacker Khahil Mack. They also added the veteran Robert Quinn. The Bears offense simply needs to do just enough to keep the pressure off that nasty defense.
The Rams, like the Bears, had a disappointing 2019 season. Coming off a super bowl appearance, the Rams look to bounce back in 2020. The Rams in McVay’s first two seasons had the highest and second highest scoring offense in the league as well as a top defense led by the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald. Last season they were 13th as Jared Goff threw 22 TDs in 2019 compared to 32 in 2018. The lack of offense and mediocre season by Jared Goff seemed to be the Rams issue. It didn’t help that the Rams offense was crushed with injuries as Todd Gurley had a weird arthritic season, Cooper Kupp tore his ACL and Brandin Cooks was riddled with concussions. The Rams still have the talent to compete with Seattle and San Francisco but they are going to need to perform as they did in 2017 and 2018. The Rams look to start fresh on offense as well as start off well in their brand new 5 billion dollar stadium in Inglewood.
Speaking of talent, there is no denying that the Cleveland Browns have immense talent all over the field, but the question marks are everywhere on this Browns team. A team that let go of first year head coach Freddie Kitchens, looks to become a more mature and smarter team. The Browns hired former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to attempt to right the ship on the offensive side of the ball as QB Baker Mayfield has shown immaturity and lack of leadership on the Browns. Stefanski should have no trouble finding ways to score however as an offense with RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as well as WRs Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry should score in bunches. The Browns still have become one of the most entertaining teams in the league due to their immense talent and sky high expectations. There is no say as to how good or how bad the Browns could be. They are the league’s biggest question mark year in and year out.
The brand new Allegiant Stadium on the Las Vegas strip will house the Raiders for seasons to come (Photo via Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Anytime a city gets an NFL team for the first time, there is going to be buzz around that team. The buzz and excitement over the Las Vegas Raiders is mounting as a city who embraced the Golden Knights like they did, is going to love the silver and black. A Raiders team that is extremely close to bursting into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and only their second time since 2002. Coach Jon Gruden is trying to build a tough and smart team that is in the middle of some remodeling, but the Raiders could bust through in their first year in Sin City. QB Derek Carr had the tenth best passer rating in 2019 but only threw for 21 TDs. Luckily for Carr, the Raiders spent their first pick in the 2020 draft on speedster Henry Ruggs and also signed Nelson Agholor in free agency. Carr should have a much better time throwing this year considering opposing defenses are going to focus on Josh Jacobs and the run game. The question for the Raiders is that defense which ranked in the bottom half in almost every category. The Raiders are going to only get better in the years to come and this year could be that year.
Last season for the Indianapolis Colts turned out to be weird from the start with Andrew Luck retiring only a month before the season. The Colts didn’t get enough production from Jacoby Brissett so they went out and signed 16 year veteran Philip Rivers. A team with an elite offensive line now may have the quarterback to score points. The Colts offense should be significantly better than last season with the additions of Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. in the draft. A healthy T.Y. Hilton would also help the Colts mightily. The Colts are a well-run and well-coached organization that can reach the playoffs and maybe even win a playoff game as they did in 2018. Indianapolis may have been the only team in the AFC South that improved this offseason and draft and the Colts may be poised to break through again in 2020.
No city has higher expectations for their teams than New York on a yearly basis, but this year the expectations are much lower than normal. The New York Giants expectations for 2020 are relatively low considering they are in the middle of a rebuild. QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley were really all the Giants had on offense in 2019 and their offense looks to improve for new coach Joe Judge in 2020. The Giants had a poor offensive line in 2019 that couldn’t pass protect or run block which forced them to draft 3 offensive lineman including 4th overall pick Andrew Thomas. Their defense was just as bad as they failed to stop opposing run and pass games. The Giants may have finished 4-12 in 2019 but the press and buzz around the Giants is still there. With very low expectations the Giants could bust the doors off in 2020 and surprise everyone.
The New York Jets like Giants were a disappointment in 2019. Although the Jets finished 7-9, they finished the season 4-2 and were really out of any postseason contention midway through the year. The Jets defense in 2019 was much better than people thought and were really an above average defense. Of course with a player as good as Safety Jamal Adams it is much easier to build a defense around a guy. The Jets offense in 2019 was, well, poor to say the least. QB Sam Darnold didn’t hit his stride until late in the season as he had to take almost a month off dealing with mono. He looks to take leaps and bounds in 2020 as Gang Green will only go as far as Darnold will take them. There is buzz around the Jets coming into 2020 and the Jets could surprise the league.
All eight of these “third place” teams have storylines and buzz around them and it will be interesting to see how their seasons all play out. Don’t be surprised to see a few of these teams show up for the playoffs in January.