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Saturday, September 22, 2018

10 NFL teams that could be poised for a big turnaround

Case Keenum

While free agent talent remains on the market, the bulk of NFL roster movement is already completed. Teams have signed, traded for, and drafted new players. Now with OTAs in progress, coaches are getting a clear idea of what their teams will look like in 2018.

Quick NFL turnarounds aren’t unprecedented. A few smart moves and a good draft can turn a non-playoff team into a contender quickly in this league. With that in mind, here are some teams that struggled in 2017 but appear poised for a turnaround in the 2018 season.

1) Denver Broncos

The Broncos went from expected Super Bowl contender to last-place team in 2017, thanks in part to an unsettled quarterback situation that was never adequately addressed. With Case Keenum in the fold, that should change in 2018, as he led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game last season. The Broncos also added Bradley Chubb to their defense via the draft, and he should make an early impact alongside Von Miller. Don’t expect to see Denver finish last again.

2) Houston Texans

A lot of this is injury-related, as Deshaun Watson is expected to be healthy and ready to go after invigorating the team during his brief starting stint last season. J.J. Watt is also targeting a return for the start of the season, which means Houston should be fully healthy to start the season. They’ve gone to work on their defense, including the high-profile addition of Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. Don’t be shocked if the Texans improve quickly and contend for a playoff spot out of the AFC South.

3) Green Bay Packers

The Packers probably wouldn’t need to improve if Aaron Rodgers hadn’t missed the bulk of 2017, but as it stands, they’re coming off a 7-9 season in need of a turnaround. As long as he’s healthy, Rodgers alone should ensure improvement back to contender status, but the Packers haven’t put all their eggs in that basket and hoped for the best. They went out and got Muhammad Wilkerson for the defense and Jimmy Graham as a big target for Rodgers. The quarterback may not be enamored with what the team has done this offseason, but Green Bay should be better.

4) San Francisco 49ers

We already saw signs of a 49ers turnaround late last season when they finally turned the quarterback job over to Jimmy Garoppolo and promptly started winning. Now armed with a new long-term contract, Garoppolo is the cornerstone of the franchise for better or worse, and they’ve tried very hard to surround him with some talent. Richard Sherman has been brought in from Seattle, and he’ll be motivated to show that the Seahawks made a mistake by releasing him. Adding Jerick McKinnon to their backfield should give Garoppolo another weapon to work with. The Niners ended 2017 by winning five games in a row. One would be remiss to ignore them heading into 2018.

5) Cleveland Browns

Perhaps it’s a bit silly to feature an 0-16 team on a list like this. After all, the Browns cannot be worse. But even winning four or five games would count as significant improvement, and general manager John Dorsey has made some savvy moves that should ensure the Browns don’t sniff another winless season. Even if Baker Mayfield doesn’t start, Tyrod Taylor is better than anyone that started at quarterback for Cleveland in 2017. They focused heavily on their secondary, including selecting cornerback Denzel Ward fourth overall, and added Carlos Hyde and Jarvis Landry to ensure that their quarterback has some weapons who can produce. They may not end up in the playoffs, but they should be a lot better in 2018.

6) Miami Dolphins

Much depends on the health and quality of play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the Dolphins are well positioned for at least modest improvements in 2018 from their 6-10 record. Even though they let Ndamukong Suh go, they did well to focus on the defensive line, most prominently replacing him with Robert Quinn in a trade with the Rams. They also brought in Josh Sitton to shore up the offensive line. Minkah Fitzpatrick could be one of the better first round picks for any team, too. Tannehill is the question mark, but if he performs well, Miami has an outside shot at the playoffs.

7) Arizona Cardinals

Carson Palmer’s retirement left the Cardinals in a lurch, but they moved quickly to address that need and many others this offseason. Sam Bradford is in and Josh Rosen has been drafted, which should ensure that the Cardinals are at least solid at the quarterback position. Christian Kirk could be Larry Fitzgerald’s heir apparent, and shoring up the offensive line with Justin Pugh helps, too. There has been a lot of roster turnover from this 8-8 team, and Tyrann Mathieu’s departure will hurt, but if you’re a believer in the quarterback room, it would not be a shock to see steady improvement from Arizona.

8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers were well aware of the fact that they needed a better defensive front, and they focused heavily on it all offseason. They’ve brought in Jason Pierre-Paul, drafted Vita Vea, and added Vinny Curry. Ultimately, though, the onus lies on Jameis Winston, who has not progressed as a quarterback nearly as much as the team would have hoped since he was selected first overall in 2015. He seems to know it, too, and he intends to make better use of his weapons. If he takes a big step forward, Tampa Bay should, too.

9) New York Giants

The Giants went from expectations of contention to three wins in 2017, which is a double-edged sword. They still have a core in place that can win, signed Nate Solder to protect Eli Manning, and added Saquon Barkley in the draft to lift some of the pressure from the quarterback. Alec Ogletree is a good addition to the linebacker group. Still, the biggest things will be health and keeping talented players like Odell Beckham in line with the rest of the team. If they can fulfill those objectives, major improvements could be in the offing.

10) Chicago Bears

The Bears showed some modest progress in 2017 with five wins, though they failed to beat any of their NFC North opponents. The fact that they managed to pull that off with a rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and a receiving corps mostly bereft of talent was certainly something. They’ve fixed the latter issue by adding Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton to the squad. Roquan Smith should improve the defense, and Trubisky can go into the season secure in the knowledge that this is his team now. They stand a chance to win a few more games this season, which could put them on the playoff fringes, though it may be a year too soon for that.

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