Well before training camp arrives, fans from every team know that there are only so many NFL squads that will be championship contenders. But there are big reasons every fan base should be excited about the coming season, nevertheless.
New franchise quarterbacks have arrived in some cities, while veterans have acquired some thrilling new talent to bolster their own attacks in others. Some highly talented rookie defenders are going to make waves, along with veterans who have moved from one spot to another.
Whether your favorite team is among the league’s very best or in a rebuilding year (or decade for some franchises), these are the biggest reasons to be stoked about 2018.
Arizona Cardinals: The Josh Rosen era is coming
The Cardinals can’t stop gushing about what they’ve seen from Rosen, and he’s barely had a chance to make a first impression. The young UCLA product has already begun working with the first-team offense at times and has impressed at every turn. Sam Bradford was signed to be a bridge starter this year, but at this point he might not even get a chance. If Rosen continues to shine brightly when he gets his opportunities with the first team, there are reports out there that he could keep Bradford and his balky knees on the bench. For what it’s worth, of all the quarterbacks that were drafted, Rosen is the one ready to start right away in this scribe’s opinion.
Atlanta Falcons: ‘Bama WR tag team should be potent
I wasn’t a huge fan of Calvin Ridley as a No. 1 receiver like many were this past winter. He’s an incredibly polished receiver who has the ability to gain separation due to excellent route-running, and he has great hands. But he’s not a prototypical top guy. Thankfully, he won’t need to be in Atlanta playing alongside Julio Jones. These two Alabama products should give opposing defenses nightmares all year long. Jones is one of the league’s best deep threats, and he’s a dangerous runner after the catch. Ridley will clean up in the slot and playing opposite Jones as he gets moved around all over the field. Matt Ryan will have no shortage of open throws playing with this duo.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson will make an early impact
The Ravens have already made it clear that, even if Joe Flacco remains the starting quarterback all year, Jackson is going to play. They’re working “in the laboratory” to get the former Heisman winner involved in the offense, early and often,” head coach John Harbaugh recently said, per ESPN. Maybe the new additions at receiver will revitalize Flacco and the passing game. But Baltimore should seriously consider cutting Jackson loose at some point this year if the veteran continues to plod along like he has since inking his huge post-Super Bowl contract. Regardless, we’ll see plenty of Action Jackson, and that’s a good thing.
Buffalo Bills: Loaded young defensive core
We’d love to be excited about the prospect of Josh Allen potentially starting at some point this year. But honestly, even if he does Buffalo’s receiving corps doesn’t excite us much. On the other side of the ball, however, the Bills feature some special young players that have the potential to anchor an outstanding defense in the years to come. Obviously, rookie Tremaine Edmunds is an exciting addition. He’ll join Shaq Lawson, Tre’Davious White, Harrison Phillips (the heir apparent to Kyle Williams), Micah Hyde and Matt Milano to give this team a bright future on the defensive side of the ball.
Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore ready to explode
Assuming Cam Newton can stay healthy this year, the Carolina offense is going to be unbelievably fun to watch. The team selected Moore No. 24 overall out of Maryland, and he’s going to be the best receiver Newton has played with since Steve Smith left the league. A tremendous weapon after the catch, Moore was my favorite receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft class. He has some wiggle and power in the open field, and his SPARQ score tested in the 97th percentile of NFL receivers. He also caught 80 passes to set a school record while going for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns last year, despite some serious quarterback issues at Maryland. He and Christian McCaffrey are going to be cornerstone players for the Panthers for years to come.
Chicago Bears: Weapons for Mitch
Mitchell Trubisky didn’t get to show off his game a whole lot last year as a rookie. John Fox is one of the most conservative coaches in the league, and he leaned heavily on the run game, not to mention talent was lacking at the receiver position in 2017. Now that Matt Nagy is the man in charge, things will be a heck of a lot different this year. Additionally, the likes of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller give Trubisky quite a bit of weaponry to work with in his second season. The Windy City should see quite an uptick in explosive plays this year, compared to the dreary offense it has seen recently.
Cincinnati Bengals: What an edge
Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are pretty good veterans. Then last year as a rookie, Carl Lawson came on very strong, logging 8.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher. The Bengals further shored up their edge presence in the draft this year, selecting Sam Hubbard out of Ohio State in the third round. We’re also expecting big things out of last year’s third-round pick, Jordan Willis. Needless to say, the Bengals have built up quite a bit of talent on the edge. Which, combined with the ever-dangerous Geno Atkins, should be a scary proposition for opposing offensive lines.
Cleveland Browns: Offensive talent galore
Whether the Browns will be able to do anything with the talent they’ve acquired this offseason is a big mystery at this point. But my goodness, Cleveland has amassed some skill on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Tyrod Taylor under center, neither player will have any excuse in this regard. At receiver, Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon will be joined by Jarvis Landry, and the talented rookie, Antonio Callaway. At running back, Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb join Duke Johnson, comprising as frightening and diverse a trio as you’ll find in the league. “Hard Knocks” this summer should be very eye-opening.
Dallas Cowboys: The next Brian Urlacher?
As good as Sean Lee has been for the Cowboys, he just can’t stay healthy. So, Dallas really needed to bring in another top linebacker this year, and it did when it selected Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State. There were some pre-draft concerns about his health, and some people have expressed concern that he might have been a one-year wonder last season for the Broncos. That said, those who study tape have compared Vander Esch to Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, who not coincidentally was once coached in Chicago by Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Vander Esch has Urlacher’s size (he’s 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds), and he certainly has his athleticism. He was one of the combine’s most impressive linebackers, and his tape from the 2017 season showed it off in droves. It’s going to be fun watching this young player develop.
Denver Broncos: The Miller/Chubb effect
Hopefully Case Keenum revitalizes Denver’s offense. But honestly, the biggest reason to get excited about the upcoming season for the Broncos is that Von Miller has a new playmate in rookie Bradley Chubb out of NC State. These two are like two peas in a pod. They both are elite pass rushers, and both of them are goofballs off the field. It’s going to be so much fun watching opposing offensive lines try to keep their quarterbacks safe, especially because Denver’s secondary is pretty darn good, even with Aqib Talib long gone to Los Angeles. Good luck slowing down the new (and improved?) No-Fly Zone, NFL offenses.
Detroit Lions: Run game looks legit
The Lions have the makings of a potent running game for the first time since…well, since Barry Sanders was playing. The Ameer Abdullah experiment is pretty much over, and he might not make it onto the final roster. But Theo Riddick and rookie Kerryon Johnson look like a very serviceable duo who can run inside and out, while making an impact in the passing game, to boot. On top of that, Detroit’s offensive line should only continue to get better with the addition of first-round rookie, Frank Ragnow out of Arkanasas — a veritable stud inside.
Green Bay Packers: Corner store open for business
The Packers have featured one of the most exploitable pass defenses in the NFL the past couple of seasons. Not surprisingly, new general manager Brian Gutekunst set about fixing that glaring issue this offseason in a big way. Many were puzzled when he traded away one of the team’s best pass defenders, Damarious Randall, to the Browns. However, he brought back former Packers corner Tramon Williams as a free agent, along with bringing in stud rookies, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Those two, along with second-year corner, Kevin King, give Green Bay a strong defensive secondary that could become elite in the near future.
Houston Texans: It’s elementary, Watson
There is no question about who will start under center for Houston this year, and that’s an incredibly good thing for the Texans. The team traded up for Deshaun Watson last year, and it took only one half of miserable play from Tom Savage for Bill O’Brien to realize his rookie needed to play. And, until Watson’s season-ending ACL injury, no quarterback in the NFL was hotter than the young gunslinger out of Clemson. Let’s jut put it this way, looking at Watson’s numbers last year, he would have finished with 48 total touchdowns if he had played in all 16 games. That kind of scoring capability, along with the outstanding defense Houston has built, is quite an amazing combination.
Indianapolis Colts: Lucky wall finally constructed
To say that the Colts have failed Andrew Luck to this point in his career would be an understatement of epic proportions. Hopefully he actually does come back healthy this year, because for the first time in his career, Luck will have a good offensive line to play behind. Anthony Castonzo is solid, and next to him will be rookie Quenton Nelson, who is the best offensive lineman we’ve seen enter the league in years. Center Ryan Kelly is great, and if Jack Mewhort can stay healthy he’s outstanding as well. Right tackle is somewhat of a question mark, but this is still the best offensive line Indy has featured since Luck was drafted.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Most dangerous D in the league improved
The Jaguars featured one of the most terrifying group of defenders in the league last year, and that group’s only downfall is that it was coached out of staying aggressive in the AFC Championship Game against Tom Brady. Jacksonville kept all its core players from last year, and it added strength to strength. The Jags selected outstanding rookie defensive tackle Taven Bryan out of Florida and versatile safety Ronnie Harrison out of Alabama. Both of these young players have a chance to make strong contributions in their first year. And nobody should be surprised if Jacksonville’s defense is even better in 2018.
Kansas City Chiefs: Air Mahomes and the Gamebreakers
I wasn’t a huge fan of Kansas City dumping so much money into free agent receiver Sammy Watkins. You can read more about that here. But there’s no doubt that adding him to the same lineup as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt is going to lead to one of the most thrilling offenses in the league. And, assuming Patrick Mahomes doesn’t suffer a total meltdown in his first year under center, he’s the perfect man to distribute the ball to this group. Opposing defenses are going to need their track shoes, because every one of these playmakers can fly.
Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James is a do-it-all weapon
The Chargers were already one of the most intriguing AFC teams leading up to the offseason. They have a dynamic blend of young talent and veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. They came on like a bullet train last season, winning six out of their last seven games. Then they got better this offseason, and nobody gives them as much juice in this capacity than rookie safety Derwin James out of Florida State. He’s a safety who can cover the back end with aplomb and who can defend the run like a linebacker. He can also blitz off the edge and will be an incredible Swiss Army knife defender for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Los Angeles Rams: Super-Bowl-or-bust roster building
The Rams’ entire offseason was a humongous, extended “wow.” They pushed all their chips to the middle of the pile, essentially making it clear they’d like to be this year’s Philadelphia Eagles. They traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, traded for receiver Brandin Cooks, and signed top free agent Ndamukong Suh. Anything less than a Super Bowl bid will be a big letdown, not only for the organization but also for its fans. You cannot build up this much excitement without creating that expectation. This Los Angeles squad is going to be a fascinating team to watch throughout the 2018 season.
Miami Dolphins: The right combination on offense
Head coach Adam Gase finally has a group he might be able to do something positive with this year, assuming Ryan Tannehill can stay healthy. The combination of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake is very intriguing. The group at wide receiver of DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jakeem Grant and, of course, Danny Amendola, could be something special. And rookie tight end Mike Gesicki will give Tannehill the best tight end option he’s had since turning pro. Miami could be better on this side of the ball than people think in 2018.
Minnesota Vikings: All in on Captain Kirk
The Vikings didn’t hide their interest in going hard after Kirk Cousins this offseason. They cast Keenum aside, and then they made Cousins an (unprecedented) offer he couldn’t refuse in free agency. After coming so close to making it to the NFC Championship Game last year, this team has no excuse for not going all the way in 2018. Featuring the NFC’s best defense, a loaded offensive unit with a high-priced veteran leading the charge, it’s time for the Vikings to meet their lofty expectations.
New England Patriots: A Sony new day
One of the players draftniks were very high on throughout the pre-draft process was Sony Michel out of Georgia. Even more than his teammate, Nick Chubb, Michel is seen as a player who can really impact the pro game due to his abilities in the passing game and his home-run threat running game. Apparently, the Patriots also fell in love with Michel, because they uncharacteristically used a first-round pick to draft this rookie running back. He’s the ideal replacement for the recently departed Dion Lewis, and he’ll become one of the team’s top offensive weapons in short order.
New Orleans Saints: All aboard the train to Kamara
The news of Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension hit Saints fans pretty hard recently. But it might end up serving the Saints well in the end, because it was reported shortly after Ingram’s suspension was announced that New Orleans had already been planning to phase Ingram out in favor of more Alvin Kamara. Whether Kamara can handle the load remains to be seen. He never did it at Tennessee, so it’s a big mystery. That said, if he can shoulder that load, the Saints will become even more deadly on offense. He’s a home-run hitter, both in the run game and as a receiver. Giddyup.
New York Giants: Saquon to the rescue
In the short term, the Giants’ decision to eschew drafting Sam Darnold in favor of selecting Saquon Barkley could lead to amazing results. This assumes Eli Manning has a resurgent 2018 campaign under new head coach (and noted quarterback whisperer) Pat Shurmer. If he does, adding Barkley to the same lineup as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram gives Big Blue one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. He’s a do-it-all running back who can leave any defender in the dust (watch here). It will be fun watching this offense take the field in 2018.
New York Jets: Sam’s time to shine
It’s hard to imagine Sam Darnold doesn’t take the field at some point as the starter for Gang Green this year. Josh McCown is a fantastic teacher, teammate and person, and he’s going to do everything he can to pour into his rookie teammate, even while he clings to the starting job as long as he can. New York has already made it clear that Darnold will have every chance to earn the staring job. And the Jets have been stalking this kid with rabid interest for a couple years. Don’t be surprised if he claims it before the season begins.
Oakland Raiders: The Gruden experiment, 2.0
It was pretty stunning when rumors started emerging early this offseason that the Raiders were chasing Jon Gruden. It was even more stunning when we found out just how much Gruden is going to rake in once he put pen to paper. Then the offseason happened, which was a procession of one stunning move after another. We literally have no clue what to expect from this team going forward. We do know you’ll want to get your popcorn ready, because it’s going to either be a spectacular failure or a rousing success.
Philadelphia Eagles: Best D-Line in NFL history?
One of the reasons the Eagles flew to the pinnacle of the NFL last year is that they featured one of the most outstanding defensive lines in the league. Then this offseason, they doubled down on this unit, making it even more formidable. In addition to retaining Chris Long, who had thoughts about retiring, they added veteran Michael Bennett and highly touted rookie Josh Sweat out of Florida State. Bennett, even before Sweat was drafted, said he thinks this could become the best defensive line in history. That’s a bold claim, but it’s going to be fun seeing if the Eagles can back it up.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Adding to the most potent offense in the NFL
We’ve done the work determining which offense is the most explosive in the NFL, and no team can compete with what Pittsburgh brings to the gridiron every week. Even before the offseason, this was true. With Le’Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster and, of course, Antonio Brown, the Steelers are almost impossible to shut down. Then they added Biletnikoff winner, James Washington out of Oklahoma State, in the second round of the draft. All this kid did for the Cowboys was average 19.8 yards per catch and haul in 40 touchdowns. Good luck trying to stop Big Ben and Co. this year, guys.
San Francisco 49ers: McKinnon, Pettis are perfect for this offense
After securing the quarterback for his offense in Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch went about acquiring two more potent weapons that appear to have been specially designed for his offense, too. Jerick McKinnon is a tremendous dual-threat running back who will be the top running back from Day 1. Dante Pettis is a multi-dimensional receiver who can line up all over the field and win by running precise routes and dominating after the catch. Expectations for this team might be a bit exaggerated right now, but it’s not hard to understand why folks are excited.
Seattle Seahawks: A Penny for your thoughts?
This is one of those wow factors we’re not sure about. It was stunning to pretty much everyone outside this organization when the Seahawks expended a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny, who immediately will be the starting back in Seattle. It was even more surprising to hear Pete Carroll declare Penny as a three-down back for his offense, given the fact that he wasn’t a very good receiver or pass blocker at San Diego State. So, there’s a whole lot of “wow” going on with this player. Whether it is a good or bad thing for the Seahawks remains to be seen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defense finally has teeth
We’re not sure what to expect from Jameis Winston and his offense this year. What we do know for a fact is that the Tampa Bay defense should have some more bite than it has in the past couple of years. The Bucs added pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry in trades, selected dominant defensive tackle Vita Vea out of Washington in the first round and doubled down at cornerback in the second round, adding MJ Stewart out of North Carolina and Carlton Davis out of Auburn. What was a huge weakness for this club should be a strength in 2018.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Vrabel the spark this team needs
Before last season, we pondered that Tennessee could struggle in 2017 due to head coach Mike Mularkey. Unfortunately, that came true in a big way, as Marcus Mariota and Co. took a few steps in the wrong direction. After some hemming and hawing following a brutal playoff loss, the Titans finally decided to cut ties with Mularkey. In his stead they brought in Mike Vrabel, a former Bill Belichick favorite who has spent the past four years with the Houston Texans. His intelligence and energy should be the spark the Titans need to live up to the talent assembled on this roster.
Washington Redskins: The Guice is loose
Washington’s offense is going to be completely different in 2018. Kirk Cousins is gone. In his place, Alex Smith will be under center. And once that happened, we wondered how effective he could be, given the fact that Washington had issues at running back. Then the team selected LSU product Derrius Guice, who’ll give Smith the balance he needs to succeed in the passing game. Guice is going to be a battering ram on first and second downs, and he’ll thrive around the goal line. He and third-down back Chris Thompson give this offense an entirely new look that should pay off in a big way.