The last few NFL seasons have been thrilling and unpredictable, from New England’s stunning Superbowl comeback against Atlanta to Philadelphia’s meteoric rise to its first championship title the following year. That said, given the league’s recent undulating nature, it has become increasingly difficult to predict dominate teams — for instance, take Chicago, an accomplished 2018-19 playoff team that had been all but abysmal just one season prior.
All of this in mind, the 2019-20 season is unique in that it features several lesser teams set to not only improve, but also potentially emerge as Superbowl favorites. Here are three of these teams to keep a close eye on.
Perhaps the NFL’s longest-running punchline, the Cleveland Browns finally stand as a legitimate threat thanks to a series of impressive off-season acquisitions. Notable additions include former Giant Odell Beckham Jr., one of the league’s top receivers; former Chief Kareem Hunt, a recently controversial but objectively dominant running back; and Olivier Vernon, another former Giant and one of the league’s most accomplished defensive ends. Pair these moves with existing talent like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Jarvis Landry, and you are left with a team likely to break Cleveland’s recent tradition of mediocrity.
Jacksonville fans were treated to a sudden wave of excitement in the 2017-18 season when the Jags made it to the AFC Championship game, falling just short of the Superbowl after a devastating loss to the defending champion Patriots. Unfortunately, this loss was a catalyst for continued disappointment last season, as the team stumbled to a benign 5-11 record and missed the playoffs entirely.
This season, however, Jacksonville appears to have mended several of its noticeable weaknesses and reclaimed portions of its pre-season credibility. The obvious highlight has been the offseason acquisition of Superbowl 52 MVP quarterback Nick Foles, who will step in to fill a major gap in the Jags’ offense. This significant move, when paired with the team’s enduringly powerful defense and a cast of considerable offensive weapons, suggests equilibrium within a team desperate for stability alone.
The Colts are a partial outlier on this list — they had reasonable success during the 2018-19 season — but given that, just one year prior, they were a lower tier AFC team, they still reflect a gradual ascent to legitimacy going into the 2019-20 season. For a while, it seemed like the Colts had all but crushed their chances at maximizing the talent of quarterback Andrew Luck, but last season eased those fears as Luck led Indy to an AFC Divisional Game appearance.
Now, expect the Colts to remain a formidable AFC presence; they will have to compete with the equally promising Texans and aforementioned Foles-led Jaguars, but the team looks to capitalize on its top weapons, including the ever-intimidating T.Y Hilton and the recently acquired Devin Funchess.