Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
NFL teams are on vacation, but we here at 10-Point Stance headquarters never stop working.
We have two sayings that guide us in these seemingly quiet times:
1. Slow feet don’t eat.
2. Slow texting leads to vexing.
In this expanded special edition, we look at storylines for all 32 teams. Particularly, what each team accomplished this offseason, what their hopes are for the coming year, and if those dreams can come close to matching reality. Think of this as The Bachelor but with football.
One pattern that has emerged heading into this season is that many teams, including the superpowers, are in some state of flux. The Saints are going to a more traditional single-star running back system instead of splitting the carries, as they have recently. The Patriots are playing for the first time since 2009 without tight end Rob Gronkowski. There remains at least some uncertainty about the knee of Rams back Todd Gurley. The Packers have reconfigured their front office, coaching staff and offense.
On and on it goes. Cam Newton has a new throwing motion. The Seahawks lost one of the best players in the history of their team, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, to retirement. The Buccaneers have a new head coach, and the Chiefs don’t know about the playing status for Tyreek Hill.
There is always turnover in the NFL, but we’ve seen a particularly large amount of it this year.
Yes, teams are resting, but the questions about the future still percolate.
For help assessing each team, I interviewed one scout from each division. They asked to remain anonymous and declined all roses.
Here are the eight teams that have NFL scouts buzzing…
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
What they’ve accomplished: Sean Payton remains one of the best minds in football and often displayed it last year with play-calling that kept defenses off balance and Drew Brees at the top of his game. The seven-time passing leader should pick up where he left off this season after an infusion of youth on the interior (2019 second-rounder Erik McCoy is slated to step in for the retired Max Unger) promises to make an already good offensive line a superb one. That also bodes well for Alvin Kamara, who should get more touches with Mark Ingram II gone, and if you think Kamara was productive before, just wait. On defense, scouts believe the Saints will be better this season than most expect. There’s a level of athleticism from top to bottom on the roster that impresses many around the league. Said one AFC West scout: “They would have kicked the s–t out of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.”
The hope: The franchise can recover from the blown pass interference call in the NFC title game, and most scouts think they will.
Payton has earned a ton of respect from scouts and coaches around the league. No one outside of Bill Belichick is held in higher esteem as a strategist. Payton will need to rely on those skills, as well as any he has as a locker room psychologist, to keep the Saints focused on avenging what happened against the Rams through the grueling months ahead.
The reality: Several scouts predict a Saints-Seahawks NFC Championship Game. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Brees is 40, but like Tom Brady, he shows few signs of slipping. The worst record prediction I got from scouts on their season was 11-5.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
What they’ve accomplished: Scouts continue to tell me the Seahawks had a vastly underrated draft, which included three receivers. The loss of Baldwin will hurt, but as one NFC North scout said, “That receiving group is going to be a lot better than people think.” Now in his 10th season, Pete Carroll is getting more praise than maybe ever before, even more than during the Super Bowl years. Teams tell me they’ve heard Carroll has implemented a sense of calm inside the locker room despite the loss of Baldwin and other key veterans.
The hope: The Seahawks can catch a Rams team that may be vulnerable, especially with the health of Todd Gurley’s knee an open question. The Rams have top-line talent all over the roster, but the Seahawks might quietly be one of the deepest teams in football.
The reality: Rival teams believe the Seahawks are going to be good, really good. And a big part of the reason is how Russell Wilson has changed.
“I’ve noticed a looseness from Wilson, on and off the field, that I haven’t seen before,” an NFC East scout said. “You can see it on film [from last season]. He was already a tough son-of-a-bitch, but Ciara has turned him into an absolute killer.”
That would be Wilson’s wife, Ciara, who is a singer, songwriter, dancer and model.
Invoking any player’s partner, and in any way relating it to what happens on the field, can be dicey territory. The two have been married since 2016.
But in this case, scouts believe Wilson’s marriage to Ciara has made Wilson not just more relaxed, but more confident and hungrier for success. And that will only make one of the NFL’s best QBs even more effective. (NFL scouts are now marriage experts apparently.)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
What they’ve accomplished: The Bucs hired one of the most talented coaches in football in Bruce Arians, went all-in on Jameis Winston—something that people around the league believe is foolhardy (more on that in a moment)—signed defensive line wrecking ball Ndamukong Suh, which some teams believe was a remarkably underrated pickup, and, from what I hear, allowed Arians the freedom to change the culture in the building by creating a more communicative atmosphere that emphasizes instruction. Some players say privately that Arians is already one of the best teachers they’ve ever had.
The hope: That the Buccaneers transition from this coming year, a rebuilding one, into a playoff team in 2021. Yes, the dreaded ‘R’ word is being used, but I can’t find anyone in the league who believes the Buccaneers will win more than five or six games this coming season.
The reality: People around the league continue to have strong feelings about Winston, and few of those feelings are positive. It’s stunning in a lot of ways how low of an opinion some in the game have of Winston as a player. From the way people speak about him, you’d think he peacefully protested during the anthem or something.
In truth, the biggest complaint is that he’s not an accurate passer and never will be.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
What they’ve accomplished: The franchise has come a long way in just a few years. It is, without question, one of the deepest teams in the league, scouts say, and with the offseason signing of veteran linebacker Thomas Davis and the securing of defensive playmaker Denzel Perryman, it’s easy to see why. One NFC East scout believes the Chargers will finish the year with the best defense and running game in football. The passing game took a bit of a hit with wide receiver Tyrell Williams leaving for Oakland via free agency, but that could also open a path for the continued emergence of Mike Williams.
The hope: That there’s enough left in Philip Rivers’ tank to keep fueling the offense. If there is, the Chargers are easily a Super Bowl team.
The reality: Will we see another quarterback—Rivers—continue to defy time? “There are four old and great quarterbacks: Brady (42), Drew (40) Big Ben (Roethlisberger, who is 37) and Rivers (37),” an AFC East scout said. “I think you’re seeing some significant drop-off in ability with Big Ben, and if I had to pick who was next, it would be Rivers.”
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
What they’ve accomplished: The team overhauled the defense, which should take some pressure off Patrick Mahomes to post video game-type numbers. (He might need the assist considering many scouts think receiver Tyreek Hill will be suspended by the NFL for at least six games because of the recorded threat he issued to his fiancee, Crystal Espinal.) Key to that defensive overhaul was the hiring of coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whom scouts believe was a smart choice. Others rave about the addition of safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose arrival can only help support a retooled defensive line, now with Frank Clark on it, that could be a huge problem for opposing offenses.
The hope: Not a single scout interviewed thinks Mahomes will have a significant drop-off from last season. The reason is coach Andy Reid, whose track record says he’ll find even more ways to take advantage of Mahomes’ unique abilities after he threw for 50 touchdowns last season.
The reality: Every team drafts a player or two with character concerns. Or three. This is a fact of NFL life. But teams say privately that the Chiefs have taken as many, if not more, chances on these types of players than any team in recent league history. And now those rivals say those gambles have come back to haunt the team, and Hill is a prime example.
This is all debatable. What’s not, however, is the talent the Chiefs have, the star they have at quarterback and the fact that they will be a force in the AFC again. No one should be surprised if they make the Super Bowl.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
What they’ve accomplished: The Packers have overhauled the entire freaking franchise, starting with hiring Matt LaFleur as the new head coach.
The hope: Best summarized by my second-favorite quote from a scout for this story (my favorite is down below), courtesy of the AFC North: “Aaron Rodgers is going to f–k some s–t up.”
In other words, Rodgers is going to have an incredible year, even by his standards. Why now? The general belief is that Rodgers will treat this entire upcoming season as a sort of revenge tour for all the battles he had with former coach Mike McCarthy, all the questions surrounding his leadership of the team and all the frustrations he’s had within the Packers offense.
The reality: Scouts believe the Packers are one of the great mystery teams. They have a new head coach, new offensive system and new components on defense. They are a total unknown except for one person: Rodgers.
In a lot of ways, Rodgers is this generation’s John Elway, who, for years, carried the Broncos on his shoulders. Rodgers has done the same for the Packers and might need to do it again this year.
What they’ve accomplished: Cam Newton is getting healthier, running back Christian McCaffrey is becoming further integrated into the offense (McCaffrey is a legitimate Offensive Player of the Year candidate) and significant pieces have been added on both sides of the ball. Inside the locker room, from what I’m told, there is great unity and a sense of optimism not seen in years.
The hope: A younger and more athletic Panthers team can overtake a relentless Saints team. The problem for the Panthers is that Brees remains ageless and the Saints are getting younger and more athletic, too (see above).
The reality: As always, and as it will be for years, how Newton goes, the Panthers go. For now, Newton is healthier. And he has a new throwing motion. So things are looking up for the Panthers.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
What they’ve accomplished: As an AFC East scout said: “I don’t know what year this is the league is chasing them again. Fifth? 10th? 20th? But we’re all chasing them again.”
This offseason, the Patriots accomplished what they always have under Bill Belichick and Brady. They had a solid draft and dipped a toe into free agency, and Brady continued to train and defy all the laws of physics and age.
The hope: That Gronkowski abandons retirement and rejoins the team. As I’ve written before, and as I’ve heard more since first discussing it a few weeks ago, the Patriots believe Gronk already misses football and will miss it even more once the season begins.
The reality: Every year, there’s a chorus, saying, “This season is the beginning of the decline.” And every year, that chorus is wrong. There are teams, yes, again, saying this is finally the year Brady’s play falls dramatically. This year. This is it. This is the one.
Good luck with that.
Now let’s take a quick look at the rest of the league (organized by division) and what the scouts think. Teams mentioned in the top eight are not discussed below…
Dolphins: We still won’t know how good new quarterback Josh Rosen is because the offensive line is a problem. However, you will see Miami try to run the football a lot more this year (because its line stinks and there won’t be much time for passing routes to develop).
Bills: Some scouts believe this is a nine- or 10-win team. If that’s true, I’m Denzel Washington.
Jets: One of the safest bets in the league is that Le’Veon Bell will be one of the best running backs in the league. That’s not a shocking prediction. But what is surprising is how many scouts think the Jets could stun the NFL this coming season.
Gail Burton/Associated Press
Ravens: There are a lot of Lamar Jackson doubters across the league. They don’t believe he’ll be a consistently good passer. I’m not one of those doubters, but they exist, in no small number.
Steelers: This season will be one of the great tests of the Mike Tomlin era. They lost a future Hall of Famer in wide receiver Antonio Brown and a staggering talent in Bell. Normally a franchise loses that kind of ability and wins five games.
Browns: One NFC North scout had some lofty praise for quarterback Baker Mayfield, claiming, “He’ll end up as a better quarterback than Andrew Luck.”
Bengals: No franchise was more universally torched by scouts for their lack of offseason moves than the Bengals. I mean absolutely blasted.
Texans: Is this the year DeAndre Hopkins is finally seen as the best receiver in football?
Colts: The defense this season could be as big a reason as Andrew Luck that the team reaches a Super Bowl in February.
Titans: Scouts tell me this should be a make-or-break year for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Jaguars: Watch the various contract situations with this team. Several players are looking for new deals and haven’t gotten them. That’s not a huge deal now, but sometimes these things can fester in a locker room.
Broncos: Some scouts think John Elway has finally found his quarterback in Joe Flacco…at least for the short term.
Raiders: People around the league are popping popcorn waiting to see what happens when Antonio Brown becomes Antonio Brown, both on and off the field.
Cowboys: Most people in the league think this is Jason Garrett’s last season as coach, barring the team winning a Super Bowl. However, people have thought this before.
Eagles: A lot of people are sleeping on this team. Wake the hell up.
Washington: Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins has many fans in the scouting community. I’ve been slightly surprised at how many believe he’ll be Rookie of the Year.
Giants: Scouts think Daniel Jones will start the season at quarterback because Eli Manning is half dead.
D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press
Bears: How much wear and tear can 5’6″, 181-pound running back Tarik Cohen take as the now (mostly) every-down back?
Vikings: The biggest question—the only one, really—from this offseason, the regular season and the near future is when will Kirk Cousins play like a superstar and earn his $84 million guaranteed contract?
Lions: Have had one of the busiest offseasons of any franchise, led by an overhaul of their defensive personnel with the additions of Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Andrew Adams. Some scouts think it will translate into nine or 10 wins. Some aren’t so sure.
Falcons: Atlanta is focusing on making its defense more physical. The Falcons should focus on hiring a magician because that defense will still be bad.
Rams: Some scouts worry the league will adapt this year to the coaching of Sean McVay. Count me as one of those not worried.
49ers: This is true with many teams but especially true with the 49ers: They will only go as far as their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, can take them.
Cardinals: Rookie QB Kyler Murray, so far, is as good as advertised.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.
NFL analyst Ross Tucker joins Adam Lefkoe to talk about what it was like to play against Ray Lewis, what every player tries to avoid when working under Bill Belichick and why Tom Brady is obsessed with snapping the football. All that and more on The Lefkoe Show.