This column serves as part two of the NFL preview. Yes, we’re a day behind, but both the Cowboys and Bucanneers have been covered. Look out for part three either Friday or Saturday.
Now for part two: the real contenders.
The reason they can: It’s almost easier to just discuss why they may not. The Chiefs fixed what they needed to this offseason: the offensive line, which arguably single-handedly cost them back-to-back Super Bowl wins when they lost to Tampa Bay in February. Even though some youth exists, all projected contributors were good players in college, and veteran help will come if needed in Kyle Long, Andrew Wyile and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff.
The reason they may not: The pass-catching talent outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is extremely problematic. If one of those two go down for a significant amount of time, the Chiefs may be in serious trouble even with Patrick Mahomes under center. Additionally, the interior defensive line is a little weak, and cornerback has zero depth. Kansas City has four playable safeties, so that could allow it to get creative with its packages, but playing nickel with an extra corner might be a scary proposition.
The reason they can: Like the Chiefs, it might just be easier to say why they may not. Also, they did so last year, and quite literally everyone that made it happen is back.
The reason they may not: Tom Brady is 44 years old and at some point this nonsense has to come to an end? Because Aaron Rodges is extremely pissed off? Because Sean McVay finally has a quarterback? In all seriousness, it’d be surprising if the reason the Bucs don’t repeat came off of this roster, because a lack of cornerback depth does not matter for Tampa Bay this year. The Buccaneers still have the best roster in football and it’s not close. The only way this is truly their fault is if Brady is not the same player, which should not be surprising whenever that time comes.
The reason they can: They have Aaron Rodgers, who is even more pissed off than he was last season, when he won MVP. He’s throwing to one of the best wide receivers in football in Davante Adams, and can rely on a very good running back in Aaron Jones. Green Bay also has a stacked defensive line and secondary, although that side of the ball has given them more problems that one would think the past couple years.
The reason they may not: This exact formula hasn’t worked for years, and Rodgers knows it. While Green Bay did finally draft another wide receiver and traded for Randall Cobb to help Rodgers out, Amari Rodgers doesn’t move the needle like a Tee Higgins or Chase Claypool in 2020 or a Rondale Moore – per se – in April’s draft would have. Rodgers has a foot out the door, and it’s fair to wonder if he mails it in considering the current state of affairs between him and the franchise. Additionally, linebacker is a massive problem, and the offensive line is the worst Rodgers has had in front of him in years thanks to the loss of Corey Linsley in free agency and David Bakhtiari’s injury.
The reason they can: The Bills might have the second-best roster in football. The defense could be the best in the league, as Buffalo, like the Chiefs, fixed the one thing they desperately needed to in the offseason: the pass rush. The Bills have a group of five defensive ends they can rotate in and out on downs, including rookies Carlos (Boogie) Basham Jr. and Greg Rousseau and second-year player AJ Epenesa. The back seven is loaded, the offensive line is great and Josh Allen still has plenty of weapons.
The reason they may not: Can Allen really do it? Even though he broke out onto the scene last year and was in the MVP conversation, it still feels like he has to take another step forward. Whether it’s the sometimes bone-headed decisions or the high variance of relying on downfield throws, the high-end side of his game still doesn’t feel possible. The Bills really have no weaknesses aside from a questionable run game – how much that should be relied on could come to the forefront this season.
The reason they can: Sean McVay has a real quarterback now, and it could be scary hours for the rest of the league because of that. The loss of Cam Akers hurts when it comes to making this offense a balanced, cataclysmic threat. But it could also lead to the Rams to airing it out at an unprecedented rate, and subsequently unleashing holy hell on opposing secondaries. The defense has arguably the two best defensive players in football and a dynamite secondary to help keep things in front of it.
The reason they may not: This is not exactly last year’s defense. Even with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, holes exist in the front seven. The line probably doesn’t need help with Donald, but an extra edge rusher wouldn’t hurt. Linebacker is relying on a couple unknown guys, although Donald should plug up the run and the secondary should have their back. Additionally, the defensive coordinator who made it all work last year is now the Chargers’ head coach. Offensively, this is the time for Stafford to show who he truly is. Are we sure he just needed a better support system? McVay and Co. will be the ultimate test.
The reason they can: Seattle is probably the biggest surprise in this top category of teams. A lot of it has to do with the Seahawks, like Buffalo and Kansas City, fixing their two or so biggest problems over the offseason. The offensive line is the best it has been in years, with Gabe Jackson’s addition at guard likely to do wonders. Damien Lewis is a young, talented player opposite of him, and Duane Brown is a stable hoss. That’s at least three quality linemen, and in a new offensive scheme, Russell Wilson should have to do less while getting beat up less as well. Seattle’s defense features two awesome safeties and Bobby Wagner in the middle – giving them an impressive array of athletes to send flying all over the field. Other areas are a little suspect, but if the o-line holds up, there’s no reason the Seahawks’ offense shouldn’t look like it did to begin 2020.
The reason they may not: A lot rests on Wagner and those safeties’ shoulders. Cornerback is a weak, depth-lacking position. The pass rush and defensive line is still quite bad. The offensive line also has its holes despite upgrades. Wilson strangely declined even after regressing back to the mean from the hot start last year. Hopefully Seattle’s new offensive coordinator draws up advanced protections and quick, easy throws for Wilson, or else there might be another scare of the quarterback wanting to play elsewhere again this offseason.