Hyping the right team is always difficult. A person can be drawn in by flashy moves and forget about the unsexy parts of football that make the difference; see last years Browns for an example. Originally, I had 3 teams that I seemed to have a higher opinion of than others based on potential win totals. However, since this years Browns have hit hard by injuries on defence (the side of the football that they improved on) that list has been decreased to two teams.
Last year, I was highly sceptical on the ability of Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense to adapt to the NFL. After an underwhelming record as Texas Tech head coach (35-40), I believed that his scheme would be figured out and then thrown out of the NFL by defensive coordinators. However, it appears that I was wrong. Whilst the record of 5-10-1 doesn’t inspire confidence, that is not the full story. Arizona improved immensely late in the season on both sides of the ball, culminating in a win over the Seahawks in week 16. Firstly, play calling improved, they were able to firstly set up a pounding run game before targeting the middle of the field when the linebackers moved up to stop said rushing attack and finally target deep on the outside once the safeties come down to stop the middle of the field attack. They were also more content to move up the field rather than rely on a single 40-yard-deep shot. This was set up by the trade for Kenyan Drake. Drake was taken from the Dolphins for 5th round pick which was later traded by the Dolphins. As soon as this RB stepped foot in Arizona, he exploded to accomplish 5.2yds/carry after only 3.7yds/carry with the Dolphins. His ability opened the offense up, increasing the Cardinals points per game from 21.25 to 23.875. That includes facing the 49ers defence twice and a matchup with a playoff bound Seahawks team. This all leads to why the Cardinals had the most improved offense from 2018 to 2019 as according to Football outsiders, its offensive DVOA increased 44.9%, the largest in the league.
Add this to the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins and the Cardinals are getting ready for a special season. They have an O-line capable of keeping tacklers off Drake till after the line of scrimmage at which point he can use his speed. Drake’s one-cut ability is ridiculous and he is no slouch in the passing game, get Drake into open space on a screen and he is gone for 30+ yards. Once the Cardinals can get Drake going, they can target Maxx Williams, Peter Schrager’s favorite Dan Arnold, and the legend that is Larry Fitzgerald in the center of the field. Kirk can attack deep on the outside with Isabella forcing safeties back running seems from the slot with the ability to turn a 5-yard slant into a 20+ yard gain. Then add the best receiver in the NFL, running comebacks posts and corners, using his large body and catch radius to muscle out opposing corners. Kyler Murray’s running ability will also require defensive ends to play more conservatively than against non-mobile QBs. This offensive is going to explode.
However, it’s not just the offense. The defence will also improve immensely. After being the worst ranked defence by yards given up (6432). Vance Joseph finally started to get this defence to a good level. Bubba Baker got paid this offseason (4 year, $59 million) and will continue his insane closing speeds from sideline to sideline, Chandler Jones will be able to rush the pass rusher more, which is only a good thing for the Cardinals, now Isaiah Simmons patrols the field at inside linebacker instead of Haason Reddick. Include Jordan Hicks returning and De’Vondre Campbell addition, and this defense is stacked. Don’t forget Leki Fotu, 4th round rookie, who will be able to make an impact in the latter part of the season. The inly issue for the Cardinals is they are in a division with the 49ers and Seahawks, but an early game against the 49ers, who have hit the injury bug, can kickstart their season. I believe they are still a season from challenging for a Superbowl, but this team is definitely playoff bound.
The Vikings had one of the best drafts in the NFL. Yes, they had the most picks (by far) but they got talent with those picks. Justin Jefferson will by the top Vikings receiver by the end of the season and Jeff Gladney is severely underrated. Gladney’s tenacity will be highly valued by Zimmer and the Vikings coaching staff. Their O-Line has improved every year and if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy, their rushing attack will be devastating, especially with a very capable backup in Alexander Mattison. Irv Smith will only improve this year and Cousins won’t get any worse (even if he won’t improve either).
Harrison Smith is still one of the best safeties in the league and we’ve already touch on the corners with Jeff Gladney. The opt-out of Michael Pierce will not help the centre of this defence but Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are capable of covering losses at the second level and this will be helped by the exterior pass rush. Danielle Hunter will reportedly be ready for week 1, his quality is shown by him being the fastest player to 50 sacks in league history. Now, at the price of only a 2nd and 5th, the Vkings have acquired disgruntled rusher Yannick Ngakoue who’s averaging over 4 sacks a season. This creates one of the best pass rushing duos in the league. Add this to the fact the Vikings are in a very weak division and suddenly they are in contention for the 3 seed (maybe, just maybe the 2 seed?). Their steady offense that will be consistently good, if not spectacular, and a great defence will propel the Vikings back to the playoffs and this time they can go deep.