The NFL’s 2016 offseason has featured some crazy contract negotiations, a whole lot of hype, many predictions, and much more. It’s safe to say that after a long drought, fans are ready for training camp, the preseason, and then finally, the regular season. While plenty of teams are used to getting love from all over (New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and Carolina Panthers, to name a few), there are also teams who deserve attention, but simply aren’t getting it.
This offseason featured teams that improved in many areas where they desperately needed to. This has made it so that some teams who weren’t even on the radar for success are now contenders for the postseason, while other teams teetering on that playoff fringe have now become contenders. So, let’s take a look at five teams that no one is talking about, but deserve some love.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers fired former head coach Lovie Smith and promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. This move seemed largely focused on helping the continued growth of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. Overall, the Buccaneers are improving on both sides of the ball, but due to the fact that they went 6-10 last season, no one really has much to say about them.
The fact that they’re in the NFC South with Cam Newton and the Panthers doesn’t help either. Overall, the Buccaneers have a talented, young quarterback in Winston; two strong runners in Doug Martin and Charles Sims; and big, talented wide receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.
Tampa has the offensive side of the ball figured out, but the defense needs improvement, as they allowed 26.1 points-per-game last year. The addition of Robert Ayers should help, but more importantly, their young core of defensive players will push this team back to the brink of the postseason.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars did receive serious love after drafting not only Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, but also paying up in free agency and signing Prince Amukamara, Kelvin Beachum, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Chris Ivory. The franchise was not interested in remaining mediocre. Suddenly, the team that used to consistently hold a top-five spot in the draft are a serious threat to contend for a playoff berth.
The Jaguars may not make the cut in 2016–17, but at the very least, they’ve added a ton of talent to their defense, which will go nicely with a young core of offensive playmakers. Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas, and T.J. Yeldon should feel plenty confident in the defense after Jacksonville’s offseason.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl, while the No. 2 team in the AFC West finished off the year by winning 10 straight games. However, the Raiders are getting there. With a young core featuring Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree in their passing game, the upside looks pretty tremendous for this group. As long as Latavius Murray and the Raiders’ running game can help out the passing game, offense won’t be much of an issue for them in 2016–17.
As for the defense, the free-agent signings of Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson should all improve the weaker part of Oakland this coming season. The potential for the Raiders to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 is absolutely there; they just need all the pieces to come together.
4. Buffalo Bills
Yes, the Bills finished 8-8 last season, and yes, they scored just 20 more points than they allowed. Overall, the upside for the Bills is there though. Rex Ryan knows how to get the most out of his players, and Tyrod Taylor now has a full year of being a starter under his belt. A healthy LeSean McCoy will only make things easier for this offense. There’s a lot to like about the Bills.
As for the offseason, Buffalo did well in the 2016 NFL Draft, first landing Shaq Lawson out of Clemson, who may very well be one of the top five best defensive players in this draft. They also traded up to land Alabama’s Reggie Ragland. Both of these rookies will immediately help out this defense. The Bills have talent, but pairing Lawson with Jerry Hughes, and having Ragland fill in the void left after the departures of Mario Williams and Nigel Bradham are both huge deals.
5. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are also in the same division as the Panthers, but it’s still an interesting situation overall. Drew Brees looks as strong as ever, and the team added some new playmakers for him to work with in 2016–17. Not only did they draft wide out Michael Thomas from Ohio State, but they also signed tight end Coby Fleener. Brees, Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram, and Willie Snead should all have big years.
Defense was obviously the Saints’ biggest issue last season. The real problem: Rob Ryan wasn’t getting the job done. The team fired Ryan after a 47-14 loss to the Washington Redskins, and the defense improved in the six weeks afterward. Aside from allowing 41 points to the Panthers, and 35 to the Lions, the defense took a step forward. To go along with that, the drafting of safety Vonn Bell and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will help, with the free-agent signing of Nick Fairley being another solid move.