Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings were a playoff team last year – and had Seattle beat thanks to a late drive from the 2nd year QB, only to have their kicker, Blair Walsh, botch a 27-year chip shot at the horn – and they were going back to the postseason again this season until Teddy Bridgewater shredded his leg in practice this week.
So who is likely to replace the Vikings in the playoffs? I’ve got the Redskins and Packers winning their respective divisions and the Cardinals and Seahawks are headed back to the playoffs. The safe pick is Carolina in the NFC South (though I think a significant regression is coming). That leaves one Wild Card spot.
Put me down for Tampa Bay, and here’s why:
- The Bucs were a 6-6 team in the playoff hunt last year before a drug suspension to their star rookie linebacker, Kwon Alexander, crippled the defense. They lost four straight to end the year.
- One could argue at QB/WR/RB, the Bucs are the most talented in the division. I give Winston/Mike Evans/Vincent Jackson/Doug Martin a slight edge over Atlanta and Carolina at those positions.
- Tampa really bolstered its secondary by adding Brent Grimes at one cornerback position, and drafting rookie Vernon Hargreaves. The latter has been the best cornerback so far in the preseason, whatever that means.
- An improved secondary means the young, star-studded defensive lineman will be the key to the team. Can Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, William Gholston and rookie Noah Spence improve on the team’s 38 sacks last year?
- And finally, Jameis Winston. As a rookie he was up-and-down (28 TDs, 15 interceptions); Tampa had 28 turnovers, tied for 8th highest in the league.
The offense cuts down turnovers, the defense is improved, and the Saints/Falcons haven’t gotten significantly better. The schedule has Arizona, Carolina and Denver in the first five games, but then there’s a stretch with a potential 4-game win streak.
Put me down for 9-7 and the playoffs.