With training camp just a few weeks away, the NFL is swarming with irresistible plot lines.
The Packers’ fortunes will swing wildly on Aaron Rodgers’ decision about the upcoming season, Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs will hit the field driven by the sting of a Super Bowl loss and — how is this possible? — Tom Brady is eying his eighth Super Bowl ring.
Then there are the Bears, who promise they’ll be interesting. They swear. Just not this season. They’re hoping to tread water well enough with Andy Dalton to sneak into the playoffs and launch a new era with Justin Fields in 2022.
That’s still a while to wait. In the meantime, here’s how the NFL stacks up going into this season:
The Chiefs still have the most loaded roster in the NFL, led by the most overwhelming quarterback in Mahomes. They’re the best bet to be the first team to go 17-0 in a regular season.
The Bucs are the first defending champ since the 1970s to bring back their entire starting lineup and, especially with the drama in Green Bay, are the supreme heavyweight in the NFC.
The Rams, who went 43-21 the last four seasons (fourth in the NFL), had an overwhelming defense in 2020: fewest points allowed, second-most sacks, third-fewest yards per carry allowed. And now they’ve upgraded at quarterback with Matthew Stafford.
No team’s future is as unpredictable as the Packers. The assumption is that they’ll work things out with Rodgers and remain a title contender. But if they don’t, they could plunge to the bottom of the league.
Josh Allen is the real deal at quarterback. Probably. Maybe. Mitch Trubisky (now his backup) had a season that made people believe, too, before falling flat. If Allen is solid, though, the Bills’ elite defense makes them one of the Chiefs’ top challengers.
The idea that the Seahawks were considering trading Russell Wilson after going 12-4 and being a Super Bowl threat was crazy. They’re fortunate coach Pete Carroll stepped in to squash a potential deal with the Bears.
It always seems like smoke and mirrors with the Titans and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but it seems to keep working. The addition of star wide receiver Julio Jones will help, too.
The Ravens still have a peerless dual threat in quarterback Lamar Jackson and allowed the second-fewest points in the league last season. They score a lot and don’t give up much. Sounds fun.
Speaking of fun, the Browns might be the league’s best entertainment outside of the Chiefs. They were the only team in the NFL to post a winning record (11-5) and a negative scoring differential last season. Every game is an adventure.
The Colts were top-10 in scoring offense and defense last season as they went 11-5 and nearly won the AFC South. If quarterback Carson Wentz can be merely average, they’ll be viable again.
After a run of 23-25, the Dolphins did in 2018 what has been long overdue from the Bears: They rebuilt. With a stockpile of high draft picks, they jumped to 10-6 last season and added five of the top 81 picks this spring.
As Bucs quarterback Tom Brady thrives into his mid-40s, it feels like Ben Roethlisberger is sputtering to the end at 39. Pittsburgh’s great defense can only cover for him for so long.
It was a brutal collapse last season when the Cardinals started 6-3 then finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, but there’s still a lot of promise for quarterback Kyler Murray and an ascending defense.
As good as the Saints’ defense was last season, it’s difficult to imagine them holding their ground with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at quarterback. They’ll be scrapping for a wild card.
Quarterback Justin Herbert’s 98.3 passer rating was the sixth-highest by a rookie in this millennium. He could emerge as one of the biggest stars in the league this season.
With a declining-but-still-strong defense and a lackluster offense, the Bears are stuck in the middle — as usual. Finishing in this spot would put them in the mix for the seventh playoff seed.
The Vikings don’t seem to realize that quarterback Kirk Cousins is mediocre. The rest of the league does, though.
This is a tough team to figure out. It had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl at the end of the 2019 season, then crashed to 6-10 and a quarterback crisis.
It’s not as simple as just getting quarterback Dak Prescott back and being a playoff team. The Cowboys allowed almost 30 points per game last season. The upside: The NFC East is a disaster.
The Patriots need to have gotten it right with first-round quarterback Mac Jones to turn things around, and even then it’ll take at least a year.
The Raiders had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season and still have question marks on offense. They also have one of the 10 most difficult schedules.
Washington made the playoffs by default at 7-9 last season and scored the eighth-fewest points in the league.
It won’t be hard for the Eagles to top their 4-11-1 record from last season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts should get better, and Philly has the weakest schedule in the league.
Giving up the opportunity to draft Fields was highly questionable. Third-year quarterback Daniel Jones has 35 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions and an 84.1 passer rating.
It’s hard to pinpoint something that’s going right in Denver. Their defense crumbled last season and they’ve been bottom-10 in offense five times in a row.
They aren’t good, but the Bengals are headed the right way. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow looked very good in 10 starts before a season-ending knee injury.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is still good enough to keep the Falcons from being a total pushover, but they’re headed toward their fourth straight losing season.
A team that went 17-31 the last three seasons is now betting on a quarterback the Jets bailed on, Sam Darnold. Good luck.
A better coach (Urban Meyer) and quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) will get the Jaguars a couple of wins.
The Jets had a league-worst minus-214 point differential last season, which is the equivalent of being outscored by nearly two touchdowns per game. It’s going to be a while before they’re relevant.
This looks like a team taking a step backward, which is scary considering it won a total of 14 games over the last three seasons.
Calling this team a dumpster fire doesn’t go far enough. A series of terrible decisions on and off the field sunk the Texans to the point where they’re the biggest mess in the league.