By Kalle Sorbo
All Aboard The Hype Train: Predicting the Pretenders and Contenders from the NFL off-season.
The NFL hype train is very real. There are several teams that have garnered enough off season attention for it to be considered a full on hype train. We’re almost through the pre-season so some clarity is forming around the league. I’m going to break down which hyped up teams are actually contenders, and which ones are pretenders. We’ll look at why the team garnered so much hype, reasons to be optimistic for the teams, and some concerns.
The Hype: The Browns were the talk of the league this summer, and rightfully so. They’re the stars of HBO’s Hard Knocks which always thrusts teams into the national spotlight. They also had a busy off season making big splashes in free agency with acquisitions like Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde. They also had the first and fourth pick in this year’s NFL draft. In what was a relatively controversial pick. They chose Baker Mayfield first overall. Whether for good, or bad reason, Baker attracts a lot of media attention wherever he goes. All of this combined with trades for players like Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has started a lot of conversation around the Browns. So are they for real?
Contender or Pretender: Unfortunately not yet. The Browns are pretenders for now. There is genuine reason to be excited this year as a Browns fan. John Dorsey has done a lot already to turn an 0-16 team around. But that’s just it. The Browns went 0-16 last season. John Dorsey said himself that it was a 3 year rebuild. I think the Browns are a few years away from popping. But with Big Ben on the back nine of his career and a lot of young talent on Cleveland’s roster, in a few years you could see the team dominating the division for a long time.
Reasons to be optimistic: The Browns have Quarterbacks. Plural. Tyrod and Baker have both looked solid in the preseason. Most importantly they have protected the ball well, which for a team that led the league in turnovers last year with a ratio of -28, has to be sweet music to Hue Jackson’s ears. The Browns also have invested heavily in their offensive line, and have a some real talent in their skill positions. Jarvis Landry is going to do a lot for changing the organization’s culture, whether they overpaid him or not. Add in Carlos Hyde and Georgia star running back Nick Chubb, whom they selected in the 2nd round, and those QB’s have some serious weapons. It’s also worth mentioning that John Dorsey is a hell of a GM. I’m a Broncos fan and even I have to admit he did a bang up job for the Chiefs.
Concerns: The team is really young, and there is bound to be some growing pains as those guys get used to the speed of the NFL. The organization is also still the Browns. There is a lot of disfunction throughout the entire operation. It’s going to take some time to completely change the culture. I also wouldn’t place my bets on head coach Hue Jackson hanging around for much longer. GM’s usually like to bring in “their guy”. For consistency sake they stuck with Hue this offseason, unless they shock the league with a playoff run this year, I’d be more than willing to bet John Dorsey brings in a coach taylor made for Baker Mayfield before the start of the 2019 season.
The Hype: There’s 84 million reasons the Vikings have so much hype this offseason. That’s every dollar of fully guaranteed money they shelled out for Kirk Cousins in free agency.
Contender or Pretender: In all seriousness the Vikings made the biggest free agent signing of the offseason. They added a bonafide proven franchise QB to a roster that already got to the NFC Championship game last year. The roster is completely stacked on both sides of the ball. They might be the only team in football with a genuine star in EVERY position group. Seriously. Go down the roster. Not one group doesn’t have a household name. As a Broncos fan, I really hope they were wrong and made a big mistake letting Case Keenum go, but the logical side of my brain tells me there is a reason they let Case walk and rolled out the carpet for Cousins. They even have uncanny depth at QB after trading for former Broncos starter Trevor Siemian, who has an 13-11 record as a starter. The Vikings are contenders for real this year. You can sense the all or nothing mentality around the organization right now. The Vikings are gunning for a Super Bowl, and they don’t care what they have to do or how much they have to spend to get it.
Reasons to be optimistic: There’s a lot of them.
Reasons to be concerned: You mean outside of all of our eardrums having to put up with SKOL chants and YOU LIKE THAT all in the same games. After this year it’s going to be hard to keep the dominant defense together. Those players are about to get REALLY expensive, and with all that money they are paying Kirk, they’re going to be tight on money for at least the next 3 seasons. While I mentioned their depth at QB, the rest of the roster isn’t so lucky. In several groups an injury to the starter could be incredibly impactful on the team’s success. They also have to play a first place schedule this year. The division is strong. The Bears should be a lot better this year, and in case you forgot they have to play Aaron Rodgers twice. Add in games against the Rams, Eagles, and Patriots, and there aren’t going to be a lot of easy sundays for the Purple Reign.
The Hype: LA Rams 2.0. That is what everybody is is saying, and everyone in Chicago is hoping for. The team brought in a young offensive minded head coach to pair with their struggling young first round quarterback. The invested heavily into skill positions, and bolstered their offensive line. They did exactly what the rams, and to a lesser extent the eagles, did last offseason.
Contenders or Pretenders: There is only one problem with trying to be the Rams 2.0. I don’t think it can be done. No one could have expected Jared Goff to pop the way he did, and I think there’s only one Sean McVay. The two seem to have the best head coach-quarterback chemistry I’ve seen since Belichick-Brady. I also don’t buy into Mitchell Trubisky. His skills weren’t up to par in order to win a starting job his junior year of college. He has some good physical gifts, but his arm isn’t what Goff’s is, nor is he has mobile as a guy like Deshaun Watson or Carson Wentz. Remember when Chicago had the chance to draft Deshaun Watson? Good times. There’s a lot of talent on this team, and I think Matt Nagy will be a solid NFL coach. The Bears are going to be better this year. No doubt. But Rams 2.0? The Bears are still pretenders as far as I’m concerned.
Reasons to be optimistic: I think the team has a lot of young talent. I especially like their pair of running backs in Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard. The team invested in the wide receiver position this offseason signing Allen Robinson. I think Matt Nagy is a huge upgrade over John Fox, who never seemed to quite fit in Chicago. He’s a smart offensive mind, and a great play caller. I think the defense is underrated and they got an absolute steal when Roquan Smith fell to them.
Reasons to be concerned: Like I said earlier. I am not sold on Trubisky as a franchise QB. I don’t think the Bears have found their long term solution at the most important position in sports. The roster is young and the team lacks depth. They also are in a division loaded with star QB’s. Trubisky v. Rodgers, Trubisky v. Stafford, Trubisky v. Cousins… I know who I’m picking in all six of those games. The organization hasn’t won more than six games since 2013. I think the Bears could be a .500 team this year, but I don’t think they’ll be in the playoff conversation come November and December.
Los Angeles Rams
The Hype: Speaking of the Rams. Do I really have to talk about the Rams? It seems so obvious. The team was the highest scoring offense in football last year and they got better. The hype comes from all the additions they made this offseason. The Rams know they have it good right now. Jared Goff has popped and is still on his rookie contract which means they’re not spending a ton on their QB, which means they can spend more elsewhere and go for it now. Which is exactly what they are doing. The highest scoring offense in football added Brandin Cooks. The defense added Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, which might be the best one two punch of corners in the league, and they signed Ndamukong Suh. Shall I keep going?
Contenders or Pretenders: Contenders. On paper the Rams are the best team in the NFL. They have arguably the best offensive and defensive players in football with Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald, who both won those respective awards last year. A brilliant head coach, the best Defensive Coordinator money can buy, and the best special teams unit in the league. The roster is star studded just like Minnesota’s. Their division also features three teams all in some sort of a rebuild. For my money the Rams are the team to beat this year.
Reasons to be optimistic: Sean McVay. Wade Phillips. Todd Gurley. Jared Goff. Robert Woods. Brandin Cooks. Cooper Cupp. Andrew Whitworth. Aaron Donald. Ndamukong Suh. Aqib Talib. Marcus Peters.
Reasons to be concerned: Okay let’s come back down to earth a little bit. There are a lot of personalities in the locker room and the Rams could be a bit of a boom or bust situation. If the personalities don’t mesh then it could be a disaster. The Rams also have excellent interior pressure, but lack a real pass rush from the outside, which is one of Wade Phillips specialties. The league has a full year of Goff on tape now. The team also lacks depth. Their starters are stacked, but as the preseason has shown, once you get past the first string, there are a lot of questions. Aaron Donald has been absent the entire off season program, and who knows how the holdout and contract negotiations will effect the team. They play a first place schedule and don’t have a strong home field advantage while they’re still playing in the coliseum.
San Francisco 49ers: I think the 49ers could be good this year. The defense is loaded with first round picks, and I think the Jimmy G trade is the heist of the century. I think the team is young and has a lot of holes so it could be a year or two but who knows. The hype could be real. Jimmy G hasn’t lost as a starter yet.
Kansas City Chiefs: This all comes down to whether or not Pat Mahomes is everything Chiefs Kingdom hopes he is. He’s thrown a lot of picks in training camp, but has also had highlight reel stuffing moments in the Pre season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The defense is going to dominant again. But Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson are back healthy in that division. I don’t know if Blake Bortles can get it done again. They were one play away from beating the Patriots, but I don’t see them getting that far this season. They’re a bubble playoff team to me.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley is a special player, but if they don’t win it all in the next year or two it will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in draft history to not draft Eli’s successor. Especially if Sam Darnold is lighting it up in the same stadium for Gang Green. QB draft classes like this don’t come around often.