Every year we get into week 8 or 9 of the NFL season and say to ourselves, “Man I had no idea ___ was going to be good/much better this year”. Last year the two teams fans probably said that the most about were the 49ers or the Lions. And then who can forget the epic “handshake” at the end of their game?
Granted, the 49ers play in the horrid NFC West, but no one in their right mind would have chosen Alex Smith to be the QB to lead their team to a division title. That was supposed to be Sam Bradford. But with the Rams riddled with injuries, the 49ers and first year head coach Jim Harbaugh, laid the smack down.
As week 1 of the preseason has now wrapped up, I have scoured the teams and have come up with 5 teams that could fly under the radar this season and surprise people.
#1. New York Giants
I know, how can I pick the defending Superbowl champs as my #1 team under the radar? Here’s the reason. Even in New York, NO ONE is talking about them thanks to the circus known as the New York Jets. Although I listen primarily to WFAN (Radio home of the Giants) here in NY, you’d think I was listening to 98.7 FM ESPN Radio (home of the Jets). Whenever there’s been a call into the FAN, it’s been 90% Jets. It’s not as if WFAN is shoving the Jets down our throats like ESPN Radio is, in the only the way ESPN can, but they are all people are talking about. Tebow this, Sanchez that, Rex is a loudmouth, Santonio should shut the eff up, and so on. But what about big blue?
The Giants are returning nearly every starter this season (WR Mario Manningham and RB Brandon Jacobs signed with the 49ers as free agents and TE Jake Ballard was claimed off waivers while injured by the Patriots) and didn’t make any “sexy” free agent pickups this off-season. Sound familiar? They didn’t do that last year either. But what they did do is add monster Shaun Rodgers on the d-line for depth (news just came out that he’s out for the season with a blood clot in his left leg), and Ex-Cowboys enigma TE Martellus Bennett.
Although the Giants have a real tough schedule, I don’t see why this team won’t make it back to the playoffs this season. They only went 9-7 last year, but as they have shown twice in the past four years, if you get hot at the right time, you can win a Super Bowl. As long as Eli’s tongue doesn’t swell any bigger and Hakeem Nick’s foot is ok, the Giants will be just fine.
#2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Greg Schiano was named the new coach of the Bucs, I just shook my head. I just didn’t get it. Why would the Bucs fire one college guy to hire another? Well from what I’ve heard, Schiano is a general. A no-nonsense coach who is not afraid to ship someone out who has an attitude problem. 218 receptions, 2377 yards and 12 TD’s later, Mr. Attitude Problem, or as he likes to refer to himself “a soldier”, TE Kellen Winslow Jr. was traded to the Seahawks for a bag of used “k” balls.
The youngest team in the NFL last year had a ton of salary cap space and finally helped out 3rd year QB Josh Freeman with a monster WR. The Bucs signed Vincent Jackson to a 5-year $55 million deal to bolster a passing offense that was beyond anemic last year. Along with Jackson, the Bucs helped the running game by drafting Doug Martin out of Boise St. Schiano is on the record as saying that Martin reminds him of Ray Rice. WOAH. Talk about a comparison.
While the Bucs still have holes on defense, Schiano’s coaching should help that along. Coming off a four win season, I don’t see why this team can’t get up to seven or eight this year. Every year there’s a team that goes from the basement to the playoffs or close, so why not the Bucs?
#3. Kansas City Chiefs
Last year was an utter disaster for the Chiefs. Coming off an outstanding 2010 campaign, safety Eric Berry, tight end Tony Moeaki and running back Jamaal Charles all had devastating injuries that derailed the Chiefs season. It was so disappointing to see an up and coming team have their season derailed due to injuries. But what might have even hurt more was the fact that they were one game out of the playoff hunt.
When you look at the roster for this year, there were two specific things that make me believe that the Chiefs will take a step forward.
#1 – Health. The three guys mentioned before are all back. Charles and Berry are pro-bowl players. These are the type of players you just can’t replace. Moeaki wasn’t a pro-bowl player, but an above average starting tight end. The tight end is the safety valve for every QB and if you don’t have that guy in place, turnovers happen.
#2 Peyton Hillis. Once destined for a big time contract extension from the Cleveland Browns, the Madden 2012 cover boy did everything possible to flush millions down the toilet last year. He had questionable injuries and reportedly a bad attitude. That being said, while watching a bit of the Chiefs/Cards preseason game, Hillis complimented Jamaal Charles so well. On a team that’s not going to go 4 or 5 wide and chuck it around the yard, the speed of Charles and power of Hillis is going to be brutal on opposing defenses. Both RB’s have great hands, and will be essential in the passing game as well.
With a solid defense, I can see this team sneaking in to the playoffs as the 6 seed in the AFC. That could mean only a two game improvement in the win column, but all the world to this organization.