At this point in the preseason, every franchise in the NFL is convinced they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run. Of course, most of those franchises are fooling themselves. In particular, teams expecting to return to the postseason just because they made it last year are in danger of disappointment. This piece focuses on five teams who have the talent to make the postseason this year after missing out in 2018.
5. Carolina Panthers
For the record, we’re squarely against most oddsmakers with this call. The current over/under for Panthers wins sits at a very modest total of 7.5. That total, of course, won’t be nearly enough to get Carolina into the postseason.
The play here obviously depends on the health of Cam Netwon. The Panthers raced out to a 6-2 start before he suffered a debilitating injury. If he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think this team can’t produce double-digit wins. That should be good enough to make the playoffs even in a tough division like the NFC South.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback health continues to be a theme here. Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury signaled the end of the 49ers campaign in 2018. Like Newton, the team hopes that Jimmy G can stay healthy for a full 16-game slate in 2019.
The presence of Kyle Shanahan on the sidelines also raises this team’s ceiling. He’s one of the best play callers in the NFL. He doesn’t need great quarterback play to produce a good offense. Even if Garoppolo is just above average, Shanahan’s offense can make him look like a Pro Bowler.
San Francisco isn’t ready to wrestle the division away from the 49ers, but they’ve got a great chance to overtake the Seahawks. The 49ers are an intriguing play to win the division with 5:1 odds. Even if they can’t overtake the Rams, a Wild Card berth seems likely.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
A lot of rival fans are ready to throw dirt on Pittsburgh’s grave after losing Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The simple truth is that the Steelers learned how to play without Bell last season and could easily be buoyed by removing Brown’s antics from the locker room.
There’s still a lot of high-end talent on this roster. Ben Roethlisbeger is getting up there in years, but he can still sling the ball deep down the field. That’s a perfect talent to have with JuJu Smith-Schuster as your No. 1 wide receiver.
Don’t sleep on the defense’s ability to improve with first round pick Devin Bush at middle linebacker. His speed is going to give Mike Tomlin’s defense a massive boost in play making ability. Look for the Steelers to go over their expected win total of just nine wins.
2. Minnesota Vikings
When the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins last offseason they believed it was time to make Super Bowl plans. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way for Minnesota last year. Fortunately for Mike Zimmer and his staff, they were able to keep their core talent together for one more run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Cousins gets too much grief for not being a superstar quarterback. If he were paid more reasonably he’d be viewed as a bargain. Look for him to have a big season in his second year with his skill players.
The defense has a chance to be a top-five unit in the league. Re-signing Anthony Barr was surprising, and a huge plus for the group. You can still take the Vikings over at just 8.5 wins. That’s great value for a team that has a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl.
1. Green Bay Packers
The Packers deserve inclusion on this list for getting rid of Mike McCarthy. His time as an effective coach in Green Bay had clearly come to an end. Time will tell if Matt LaFleur can forge a better relationship with Aaron Rodgers.
Speaking of the superstar quarterback, he is the biggest reason why the Packers are No. 1 on this list. He has a legitimate chance to post another All-Pro season if he can find a No. 2 receiver to compliment Davante Adams.
Combine the offense’s potential to explode on a weekly basis with the money spent on the defense in free agency and it’s easy to envision a scenario where Green Bay topples the Bears to win the division.
Somehow, you can still bet on the Packers to win the NFC at 10:1 odds. That’s great value for a team with such a dynamic quarterback.