By: Max Ferguson, Staff Writer
The 104th season of NFL football is upon us! Some teams made huge moves this offseason to get themselves closer to the Lombardi Trophy. Other teams remained relatively consistent in their offseason activity, and a handful simply ate major losses this offseason. All the while some players were drumming up drama over renewals and trades. Here’s what’s happened leading up to the NFL regular season, which kicked off on Thursday, September 7th.
Business as Usual:
The Super Bowl runner-up Philadelphia Eagles made some key transactions in the offseason to put them in a position to get back to the big game again this year. The great wall of Philly, that is their offensive line, remains consistent. Jalen Hurts will still have plenty of time in the pocket to get a pass off to his elite receiving corps. The Eagles used this year’s draft wisely, as they made major draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. With the ninth overall pick, the Eagles drafted national champion Jalen Carter from Georgia to play defensive tackle. Also in the first round, the Eagles selected Noah Smith, another superstar from the title-winning Georgia Bulldogs, to play outside linebacker. Six out of seven of the draft picks made by the Eagles this year were defensive players. The utilization of this draft to strengthen their defense may be what the Eagles need to make the Super Bowl game go their way. With that in mind, expect the Eagles to compete for their spot at the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
Just like last year, the Denver Broncos are gearing up for an unimpressive season. Although they’ve excised the tumor that is Nathaniel Hackett, they have not done much to compensate for the cultural losses that he caused. Last season, the Broncos hired a new head coach, Sean Payton, whose career was tainted by Bountygate. Bountygate was a period in time where he would pay his players for injuring opposing players. Controversy aside, Payton did manage to win a Super Bowl when he coached the Saints for 15 seasons. However, Payton does not have much talent to work with. The Broncos had no first round picks in this draft and neither the free agents nor draftees brought on seem like they will improve Denver’s team culture by any means. Meanwhile, an underperforming Russell Wilson is becoming an expensive problem for Coach Payton. Sean Payton has made it clear that he believes Wilson’s ego and personal branding is a detriment to the team’s performance and has not hesitated to call him out in practice and to the press. In short, Bronco management is trying to put a band-aid on a much larger wound.
The Steelers continue to improve with a strong base. Last year, Kenny Pickett proved himself as a qualified starter among a deafening crowd of doubt. Najee Harris and George Pickens are consistent contributors to a strong Steelers offense. Mike Tomlin seems confident in his ability to continue the positive momentum of last season. Although they finished with a winning record, they did not make a playoff appearance. Now that Kenny Pickett is comfortable in his position, expect a wildcard from Pittsburgh at minimum.
Up and Comers:
The New York Jets made some serious plays this offseason. Although signing Aaron Rogers was huge for the team, he does not seem like a permanent fill. Aaron Rogers is 39. If anything, expect Rogers to be a temporary placeholder until the team can find the perfect young superstar to sign to a long-term contract. The Jets also picked up All-Pro Dalvin Cook from the Vikings. Cook has already cemented himself as an excellent player and will definitely make as big of an impact in New York as he did in Minnesota. Add to that a lockdown defense made even stronger by drafting outside linebacker Will McDonald out of Iowa fifteenth overall, and the Jets are set to have a great season.
The signing of Odell Beckham Jr. was huge for the Ravens, so fans can expect Lamar Jackson to make some incredibly tough passes to the credited receiver. Add to the fact that Lamar Jackson is one of the best dual threat quarterbacks the league has seen and you have the makings of a dynamic duo offense.
The Atlanta Falcons made an excellent choice signing Bijan Robinson. However, he is not a one-man army. Expect him to be a positive force on the Falcons roster, but the work isn’t done. The Falcons need to keep strengthening their offense by implementing a strong receiving corps. If they do not, they will end up like the Pre-Daboll Giants. In years past, once teams figured out how to stop Saquon Barkley, the Giants defense would grind to a halt. The Falcons need to create options if they want to avoid the same from happening to them.
The Detroit Lions look promising this year. Jared Goff is a respected veteran quarterback who now has a fleshed-out offense with plenty of options to move the ball forward. He is backed up by former Dolphin Teddy Bridgewater who stepped up last season to take over in Tua Tagoviloa’s absence after he suffered multiple concussions. Amon-Ra St. Brown is an integral piece of the Lions offense who consistently puts up big receiving numbers. As if proof wasn’t enough to validate his offensive prowess, he was last year’s seventh overall wide receiver in fantasy football with almost 300 fantasy points for the season. But this season, the Lions have a run game too. Detroit drafted Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs twelfth overall. His 99.2% rostered rate on ESPN Fantasy means football fans expect him to be a standout. During his college career, he tallied over 2100 rushing yards and over 1200 receiving yards. Expect to see this year’s Lions offense get to the endzone very frequently.
The reigning super bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, lost some momentum in the offseason. Patrick Mahomes is still the quarterback to beat, but he isn’t the only talented QB on the Kansas City roster either. The Chiefs’ former second string, Shane Buechele, was gunning for the number 2 seat all offseason. Once he got a chance to start in their first preseason game against the ravens, he threw for 2 touchdowns. Although he showed great potential, the Chief’s head office went with an aging Blaine Gabbert. The Chiefs are also heading into week one without Travis Kelce, who injured his knee in the preseason. Defensive Tackle Chris Jones, an integral part of their title winning defense, is holding out on renewing his contract due to demands for higher pay.
The Rams are going to learn the hard way that Stetson Bennett is a bust. In preseason games, he has not shown himself to be the college football quarterback everyone saw before making it to the league. Even worse is that an aging Matthew Stafford cannot relate to his new teammates. According to ESPN, Stafford struggles to even recognize new rookies. Going into week one, the Rams will look rough, as Cooper Kupp is listed as questionable on their roster. They are still feeling the sores of losing Odell Beckham Jr. and those pains will grow worse once regular season games begin.
The Arizona Cardinals are going to feel the sting of losing DeAndre Hopkins. To add more salt into the wound, the organization is playing musical chairs at the QB1 position thanks in part to an underperforming Kyler Murray. The Cardinals ought to look towards building for future seasons as opposed to operating in a ‘win now’ mindset.
Some teams like the Jets shattered offseason expectations whereas other teams like the Broncos and Cardinals outright blew their chances to increase their odds of winning. This year is gearing up to be another exciting season of NFL football. The transactions of this past offseason have made the suspense for this season even greater. It’s going to be interesting to see how these roster changes affect the dynamics of this year’s league.