5. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-3)
What a year for the Vikes. The expectation of them entering the season was to possibly makes the playoffs. It was a sure thing that their defense would be one of the better units in the league. However, a plethora of questions remained on the other side of the ball. Teddy Bridgewater was hurt and Sam Bradford had an inconsistent past. It was difficult to gauge how well the offense would perform heading into the season. Luckily, rookie RB Dalvin Cook provided a much-needed spark. Then things went downhill as Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook both went down for the year. So… who was there to save the day? (Or the season, I suppose). A man who goes by the name of Case Keenum. Yup — you heard me.
Mr. Keenum had a not so successful career entering the season. In 26 career starts he had just 24 TD passes and 20 interceptions. This year was quite the turnaround. Keenum threw 22 TD’s and just seven interceptions in his 15 games. He ranked second in the league in total QBR at 69.8, one spot behind Carson Wentz. Also, one spot ahead of Mr. Tom Brady. Keenum certainly deservses high praise for his borderline MVP effort this season. He is the central reason why Minnesota was able to become the 10th best offense in the league, averaging 23.9 points per game.
Of course, the defense deserves some love too. The defense was a very good unit last year and was even better this year. They only surrendered a league-best 275.9 yards per game. Also, they lead the league in points allowed per game at 15.8. So, is it fair to say they have the best defense in the league? I’d say so. Would not want to play this team in the cold weather in the playoffs.
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3)
Just like their aforementioned NFC pals, the Eagles finished the season 13-3. They also received elite QB play from a player who was not considered elite entering the season. What is more impressive about the Eagles is that they were not really expected to do so well this year. Last year, they were rather mediocre, as they finished 7-9 in a tough division. In 2016 they finished 16th in points scored per game and 12th in points allowed. Very average. However, they knew they had a bright future as they seemingly found the next best young QB in Carson Wentz. Luckily for the Eagles, the future came faster than expected.
The 2016 rookie that seemed full of potential blossomed into the MVP front-runner prior to injury. Wentz missed the final three games of the season and will not be returning until next season. Had he stayed healthy, many believe he would have one the MVP award. The impressive thing about the Eagles is that they lost their MVP-caliber QB and still had success. Foles proved to be a viable backup and the defense kept on doing what it does. Sans Wentz, a Superbowl victory will be difficult, but not out of the question. Philly has to be excited with the potential of this team’s future.
3. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5)
The Saints — most famously known for thoroughly enjoying 7-9 seasons. It’s something they just love to do since winning the Superbowl back in 2009. In fact, they finished 7-9 each of the past three seasons and four of the past five. There must be something about 7-9 that is so appealing to that organization. Anyway, I was expecting more of the same from them this year, losing high scoring shootouts. Here is how a typical Saints game had gone over the past five seasons: Brees throws for 400 yards and four TD’s but the defense played like a high school team, Saints lose 48-45. Poor Drew.
Finally, the Saints broke the 7-9 mold this year. They finished 11-5 which is quite a significant improvement. The difference was that they finally had a solid defense. One of the biggest reasons for the defensive improvement was CB Marshon Lattimore, who has quickly become one of the best CB’s in the game. A rookie on the other side of the ball was also an enormous addition. Alvin Kamara is so dangerous because he is a talented runner out of the backfield and is also a very good pass catcher. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per reception for 13 total TD’s. Along with Mark Ingram, their run game is nearly impossible to stop. I am sure Brees is relieved to not have to throw for 500 yards every game, he now acts more as a facilitator.
2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (10-6)
The lone AFC team to make the list, and boy would it be a boring conference without the Jag’s emergence. Perhaps a team not located in Pittsburgh or New England could make some noise in the playoffs this year. Jacksonville’s success has come from the excellent defense they have played all year. Their pass rush was relentless all season. They finished the year second in sacks with 55, lead by Calais Campbell’s 14.5.
The defensive improvements were a huge help to QB Blake Bortles. In the past Bortles has shown some flashes of skilled QB play, but he often makes untimely mistakes. With an elite defense behind him, he was able to focus on taking care of the ball instead of having to try to make things happen. He threw a career low 13 interceptions and had a viable quarter back rating of 84.7. If Bortles can take care of the ball and the defense continues to dominate, Jacksonville will be a tough out in the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-5)
Wow, did not see this coming. The Rams have flat-out sucked for a long time. From 2004 to 2016 the Rams had a record of 64-127-1. This poor stretch was expected to continue as the offense looked terrible no matter who was under center. Goff unfortunately did not appear to be the answer in his rookie season and it appeared that Gurley’s talents were being wasted in an abysmal offense. The defense had shown flashes in recent years but never was able to play consistently. Well finally, the Rams have figured it out. Goff is playing exceptionally, Gurley had room to run and the defense shows up every week. The only thing this team lacks is experience. They are a very young yet explosive team. I think their youth may be their downfall in the playoffs. However the playoffs will be great experience for their young players.
Regardless of how the season ends the Rams have to like the spot they are in. It looks like Goff and Gurley will be the center of the offense for years to come. Also, young coach Sean McVay looks like he knows was he is doing to say the least. He took the leagues worst offense from 2016 and turned it into the leagues best as they more-than doubled their points per game total from 14 to 29.9, remarkable. The defense also improved from 23rd to 12th in points per game.
*Questions or comments? find me on Twitter @MLBfromNH*
*Featured Picture credit to turfshowtimes.com*