4 NFL Teams Set to Take Off in 2020

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

4 NFL Teams Set to Take Off in 2020

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason provides a beacon of hope for all 32 fanbases—for good reason. 

    Look at last year when the San Francisco 49ers rebounded from a four-win showing to go all the way to the Super Bowl. A rare turnaround, but a good example of what a franchise can accomplish with a little luck in the aftermath of quality player personnel moves and coaching. 

    Looking ahead, a handful of teams seem ready for massive leaps in the win column thanks to a combination of roster additions, improving health and a sheer uptick in projected production. 

    These are the teams set to shed some .500 or worse showings and compete. 

Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Any team getting the return of a quarterback of Matthew Stafford's caliber is bound to make a leap. 

    Stafford only played in eight games last year, tallying three wins and a tie for a struggling team that finished 3-12-1. He was mostly his usual self in the process, completing 64.3 percent of his passes with 2,499 yards and 19 touchdowns against five interceptions. 

    A passer whose completion percentage hasn't dropped below 64 percent since 2014, Stafford has been medically cleared and returns to a team that improved in a few ways around him over the offseason. 

    Detroit added offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai to counteract some losses and beefed up the secondary with Desmond Trufant, a corner with a 70.3 grade at Pro Football Focus last year. The front office then added Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah at No. 3 before throwing Georgia running back D'Andre Swift into the offense in the second round, at No. 35 overall.  

    Some of the bigger criticisms about the Lions over the years centered on the running game and secondary. Adding the draft's best corner and a running back who put up a 6.6-yard-per-carry average over 440 attempts with 20 scores addresses both areas. Add in a dramatic leap under center that will improve the running game's effectiveness and make life easier on the defense, and the NFC North has another contender to worry about in 2020. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    This one won't surprise many, right? 

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled to seven wins a season ago, even splitting the season series against sub.-500 teams in the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers while Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions. 

    But now it's Tom Brady under center for an offense that boasts Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and the recently unretired Rob Gronkowski, who came over from New England via trade. 

    Brady himself wasn't magical under center last year, completing just 60.8 percent of his passes with 4,000-plus yards and 24 touchdowns against eight interceptions. But it's no exaggeration to say his weapons at the skill positions are dramatically better in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers front office also worked hard at improving an offensive line that coughed up 47 sacks a year ago, adding free agent Joe Haeg (71.9 PFF grade in 2019) and No. 13 pick Tristan Wirfs. 

    There are some hurdles. An offseason potentially altered from the norm because of concerns about the coronavirus could mean a tougher-than-usual adaptation for a soon-to-be-43-year-old passer joining a new team for the first time in his career. 

    But really...this is Tom Brady, and the Buccaneers still won seven games a year ago, including a 5-3 mark on the road. With Brady in town, Tampa Bay now looks like a launching pad for a new contender in the NFC South. 

Las Vegas Raiders

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In a perfect world for the NFL and a certain fanbase, the Las Vegas Raiders will hit on a resurgence right as they officially move. 

    And it might just come to fruition. 

    Jon Gruden and Co. were once again active big time in free agency, attacking the weak-side linebacker spot with Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Those were two of the biggest names in free agency outright, with the former being a stalwart presence in coverage and the latter a nice sideline-to-sideline enforcer with some coverage experience of his own. 

    Las Vegas also added three free agents to the defensive rotation up front in Maliek Collins, Carl Nassib and Daniel Ross, and it put Marcus Mariota behind Derek Carr—just in case. Speaking of the starter, he's safe a year removed from completing 70.4 percent of his passes with 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions. 

    Perhaps most notably, the Raiders went out and added Alabama's Henry Ruggs III, a 5'11", 188-pound deep threat with a 4.27-second time in the 40-yard dash to his name. Las Vegas then used two more picks in the top 100 to add Lynn Bowden Jr. and Bryan Edwards to a group of receivers that already includes Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow. 

    Translation: now or never for Carr. The Raiders won seven games last year, and his surroundings are now improved. The biggest issue, the defense, has seen a makeover (No. 19 pick Damon Arnette even overhauls the cornerback room). Provided the injury bug stays away, the Raiders' first season in Las Vegas should be a big one. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    On first pass, it's somewhat easy to shrug off the Indianapolis Colts adding Philip Rivers. 

    Rivers, after all, regressed to the tune of a 66.0 completion percentage with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions last year. 

    But context and projections remain important to the equation. Rivers did that with a Los Angeles Chargers team that won five games and let up 34 sacks. The running game didn't feature a back who cracked even the 700-yard mark, and the defense only tallied 30 sacks, the fifth-worst mark in the league. 

    Projecting Rivers to a Colts team that won seven games a year ago is a whole different ballgame. He'll play behind a stronger line with Anthony Castonzo and Quenton Nelson leading the way. He'll have 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack present in the backfield. 

    And best of all, the Colts didn't just add a quarterback and call it a day. They added DeForest Buckner (78.8 PFF grade with eight sacks last year) to a 41-sack defense from a season ago.

    The draft was all about getting Rivers more weapons, with 6'4", 223-pound target at wideout Michael Pittman Jr. at No. 34 and Jonathan Taylor at No. 41. Taylor, arguably the best back in the draft class, ran for 6,174 yards and 50 scores on a 6.7-yard-per-carry average over 926 attempts at Wisconsin and projects incredibly well behind the Indianapolis line. 

    Rivers should have those weapons at his disposal in addition to T.Y. Hilton, who was limited to 10 games last year. Improved quarterback play and smart upgrades in premium areas figure to translate to a boon for the Colts.