It's never too early to start thinking about the 2015 NFL season. After all, what else are you going to do all summer, watch baseball? Absolutely not! Instead, let's take a look ahead and consider the Top 3 NFL sleeper teams for 2015. Which teams are going to come out from nowhere and surprise the rest of the league, and who are the hidden contenders to know?
First, let's set the ground rule of what is or isn't a sleeper team. In order to qualify as a sleeper team, the team in question must not have made the playoffs last year. There's no point in declaring a 10-win team that got better a sleeper; we're looking for true candidates to make major improvements and remove themselves from either the cellar of the league or at least mediocrity.
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The Falcons finished 6-10 last season, bringing an end to their coaching regime. Out goes Mike Smith, likely a few years too late, and in comes Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator from the Seattle Seahawks. His work there obviously drew major accolades, as he put the system together for one of the best defensive units of the past few decades.
Of course, he had all sorts of talent in Seattle and will have far less to start things off in Atlanta. But he does inherit Matt Ryan, who's still in the upper tier of quarterbacks in the league, and an offense that has plenty of talent around him.
Better yet, the Falcons find themselves in the NFC South, which last year was one of the league's worst-ever divisions. Things don't seem like they'll get much better for Carolina or Tampa Bay, and maybe not even New Orleans. That means there's ample room for Atlanta to take a leap ahead, and 8-8 could be more than enough to land them the division title.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have been in the center of attention this offseason, part of one of the big moves from the Philadelphia Eagles. They traded away Sam Bradford and brought in Nick Foles in his place. Foles will look to add life to an offense that has been struggling for years.
He's not on his own, of course. The team drafted running back Todd Gurley with the 10th pick of the draft. Gurley is still coming back from injury, but all projections are that he's ahead of schedule and that he's going to be an absolute force to be reckoned with. The Rams will want to take it easy on him in terms of workload but will be hard-pressed to do so once they see him out there and healthy.
What Jeff Fisher does have in place though is a very strong defensive unit. If they can keep the score down, and control the clock a bit with short passes from Foles to move the chains with plenty of handoffs to Gurley, they should be in for an improvement.
The problem for the Rams, at 6-10 last year, is that they are in the toughest division in football, the NFC West. They contend with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. The bright side is they actually do pretty well against those other teams, and the 49ers are set for a major crash this season it appears. Expect the Rams to improve to 9 wins and be in the playoff hunt.
Buffalo got to a winning record last season, at 9-7, but stand to take some serious strides ahead in 2015 and actually return to the postseason. In comes new head coach Rex Ryan, and he'll take a strong defense with some star players and make it all the better and stingier.
But it's not just Ryan and his scheme that can turn things around; the offense now has LeSean McCoy to hand the ball off to. The quarterback situation is still uncertain, but whether its EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel behind center, giving the ball to McCoy 20 times per game is going to make life much easier.
The Bills are also boosted by the potential of Tom Brady missing a few games for the New England Patriots. That could make the internal road in the division a bit easier.
Expect the Bills to win 10 games this season, which isn't a big improvement by the numbers, but will get them to the playoffs, where they could be a dangerous out depending on matchups.
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