Hop on the Bandwagon of These NFL Teams Before It's Too Late
With Week 1 in the books, it's bandwagon time in the NFL.
One notable team lost some new fans already coming out of the season's first week. It should go without saying, but the Cleveland Browns' bandwagon got much lighter after they lost 43-13 to the Tennessee Titans while committing 18 penalties for 182 yards.
But some bandwagons are going to be tested even more going into Week 2 after a few strong showings to start the year. These teams are well-known to their fanbases and hardcore NFL followers, but they're about to catch some major attention in the national spotlight after hinting at big things for the rest of the season.
While Week 1 does produce some wacky results and things will still settle down, these developments are more notable than the rest, making these teams worth latching on to and taking for a spin in 2019.
Los Angeles Chargers
It feels like every November, fans collectively look up and say, "Oh, the Los Angeles Chargers have nine-plus wins?"
Better to get ahead of the curve, right? After all, the Chargers have had at least nine wins in three of the last five seasons.
Yes, running back Melvin Gordon is holding out. Receiver Mike Williams is hurt, and so is Hunter Henry. And breakout safety Derwin James was put on injured reserve just before the start of the season.
But having a quarterback like Philip Rivers changes things.
It certainly did in Week 1, when the Chargers earned a 30-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts. In that game, Rivers threw for 333 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Those Colts lost Andrew Luck, but they’re otherwise still a legitimate threat considering how well the front office built around the quarterback position. L.A. running back Austin Ekeler, by the way, stepped in with Gordon out and totaled three touchdowns of his own.
That’s a big AFC test out of the way for the Chargers already, and in the coming weeks, they get to play struggling Detroit, Miami, Denver and Pittsburgh teams. And with Rivers under center, the tougher-looking games are also winnable, just like they were last year when the Chargers split with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Overlooked now, it’s a good time to get an early jump on this bandwagon.
The Baltimore Ravens have always been hiding in plain sight.
Baltimore made the playoffs last season after three seasons of missing out, yet the general vibe from a fan perspective seemed to suggest they could regress once teams were no longer caught off guard by quarterback Lamar Jackson's ability as a runner. Pair that with the Cleveland Browns hype and the expected continued strong play from Pittsburgh, and the Ravens were a bit overlooked.
So much for that.
The Ravens left Week 1 with a 59-10 victory over a struggling Miami Dolphins team. Jackson was accurate all over the field, going 17-of-20 for 324 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. The retooled running game featuring Mark Ingram contributed 265 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson attempted just three rushes.
Detractors will say the Dolphins are tanking and this isn't a sign of much. But this was still a regular-season game, so it counts. It won't always come this easy, but Jackson looks sharp, and both his cast of receivers and the running game are now specifically built to support his strengths.
Looking ahead, Baltimore was the only winner from the AFC North in Week 1; it gets winnable games against the AFC East and also gets to play struggling NFC West teams like Arizona and San Francisco. While teams might be prepping for last year's Jackson, the Ravens have already evolved.
Green Bay Packers
It is a little odd to think of an Aaron Rodgers-quarterbacked squad as a team that would have any room on the bandwagon, yet a coaching change after missing the playoffs twice in a row—following eight consecutive appearances in the years prior—has a way of doing that.
The Packers were also lost in the general hype of the NFC North. The Bears were perceived as elite, Minnesota at least boasts a dominant-looking offense, and Detroit has a big-game passer and added a defensive stud in Trey Flowers.
Yet the Packers were the only team from the division to tally a notable win in Week 1, besting those Bears while Detroit tied Arizona and Minnesota got a home win over Atlanta—even though franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for just 98 yards.
In a 10-3 win over Chicago—on the road, no less—Rodgers threw for 203 yards and a score while constantly under pressure from a ferocious pass rush. On the other side of the ball, the Packers' own revamped pass rush featuring Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith totaled five sacks and held the Bears to 3.1 yards per carry.
Improved coaching, an upgraded pass rush and already notching a win in Chicago of all places bodes well for a Packers team that gets to play Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and the New York Giants, as well as five more winnable divisional games. Few of those listed will be able to pressure Rodgers the way Chicago can, by the way.
The Buffalo Bills don't need any help in the bandwagon department given the rabid support from a passionate fanbase, yet it might be worth hopping aboard anyway.
Those Bills exited Week 1 winners in an AFC East road contest against the New York Jets, 17-16. They were down 16-0 before kicking things into overdrive, with second-year passer Josh Allen leading the game-winning drive.
Things weren't all rosy. Allen completed 64.9 percent of his passes but threw two picks and fumbled twice. He's volatile, yet he has the gunslinger mentality coaches can live with while he learns on the fly. He's got two new important weapons in receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, who combined for 12 catches, 163 yards and a touchdown. Rookie running back Devin Singletary inexplicably wasn't given much of a chance until the third quarter, yet he rattled off 70 yards on four carries and caught five passes for another 28 yards.
Never mind the defense, which totaled four sacks, held the Jets to an average of 3.2 yards on the ground with Le'Veon Bell and limited quarterback Sam Darnold to just 4.3 yards per passing attempt.
Already winners in a road divisional game and with two games remaining against Miami—as well as Cincinnati, the New York Giants, Cleveland and Denver—if the Bills use Singletary right, they might be showing early signs of making their second playoff appearance since 1999.