Expert NFL Handicapping: Best-Case Scenario for Each Team
Fans of every team in the NFL dream of winning the Super Bowl at this time of the year. They believe, in some dark corner of their soul, that it can actually happen. But the truth is that already there are only a small handful of teams that can legitimately win it all, and that number will only shrink as the season advances. The only measure of success can't be a Super Bowl win, or 31 teams will be hopelessly disappointed every year. There are other ways to measure success. Our job here today is to identify the best-case scenario for every team in the league - an accomplishment that would make this team successful even if they don't win it all.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson emerges as the clear QB of the future - and upgrade from Flacco in any eyes - they make the playoffs and build for the future.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen plays well enough to confirm that he can be a franchise quarterback but not well enough to keep Sean McDermott around for another year.
Cincinnati Bengals: This year is all about wiping away the legacy of the Marvin Lewis era. There won't be much winning as that happens, but the further they move away from that past the better.
Cleveland Browns: If the Browns can come even remotely close to meeting the hype that has been piled on them heading into this season, then this will be a massively successful season.
Denver Broncos: Finding a quarterback who has upside for more than a season would be huge for the Broncos - and they have a couple of guys who could pull it off this year. It has to be all about figuring out that position and not about wins.
Houston Texans: The team needs to be bad enough that they can finally fire Bill O'Brien. They are going nowhere fast under his leadership.
Indianapolis Colts: Jacoby Brissett either needs to prove that he can be the starter of the future here, or he needs to fail spectacularly and quickly. Treading water and maybe being good enough for would be a disaster.
Jacksonville Jaguars: They need Philadelphia-in-a-Super-Bowl-year Nick Foles, not Foles-on-a-team-that-isn't-Philadelphia Foles. And they need him quickly.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes had a first season as a starter for the ages. Incredible. He needs to prove that that isn't anything close to a fluke. It's probably not, but we can't know for sure. And obviously, the best-case scenario is that he is what he seems to be.
L.A. Chargers: If their offense gets more yards per home game than fans in the stands, then they will be really, really dangerous.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter to begin the year, but it would be an absolute disaster for the team now and in the future if he still is at the end of the year.
New England Patriots: The robots at the helm of this program execute their programming accurately and reach yet another Super Bowl.
New York Jets: Le'Veon Bell is effective as a teammate and contributor this year, Sam Darnold improves his accuracy, and the Jets show forward progress for the first time in two Presidents.
Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden either has to get over his craziness and actually coach this team, or he has to provide a way for the team to fire him without regret. The middle ground is the enemy here.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin needs to find his coaching mojo again. He was the brightest of the bright as a young coach. Now he's a little too far removed from his best work. He works for the Steelers, so he isn't getting fired, so he really needs to turn a corner.
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota needs to let us know for certain what he is. Is he a franchise guy? Is he a bust? We are four seasons in, and we have no real idea. It would be nice to get some clarity one way or another.
Arizona Cardinals: The best-case is obvious - Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury prove that they are a match made in heaven, and they make opposing defenses melt in their wake. They won't play enough defense to really matter - it's Kingsbury, after all - so the goal here is massive amounts of fun.
Atlanta Falcons: Dan Quinn can no longer justify his employment after yet another unfortunate underachievement in a key time, and the team goes another way.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton either proves he can be healthy or decides he would like to play elsewhere. This team can't move forward with this can-he-or-can't-he version of their QB.
Chicago Bears: In the best-case people will finally be able to quit talking about Mitch Trubisky's inadequacies. So many people love being down on him, but there are a lot of starters in this league who don't bring as much to the table. You don't have to love the guy, but I sure hope he does enough to get people off his back.
Dallas Cowboys: If Jerry Jones says or does less than 20 regrettable things by the end of the regular season, it will be a massive victory.
Detroit Lions: They don't need Matt Patricia to get himself fired - they need stability. What would be ideal is if Patricia would finally prove that a Belichick guy can do Belichick things away from Belichick.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers needs to look like he cares again. Last year he was still effective, but he looked like his joy zone was lost and he was hating being a football player. He needs to be peak him again.
L.A. Rams: The Rams forget that the Super Bowl ever happened, never run into Bill Belichick again, and win their first of four Super Bowls before Sean McVay turns 40.
Minnesota Vikings: Last year Kirk Cousins found a way to pile up some pretty decent stats without having it translate to positive results on the field. It would be ideal if he didn't do that again and if stats and wins somehow became correlated for him.
New Orleans Saints: If Drew Brees can keep being Drew Brees - if he can remain effective while showing an ability and willingness to keep evolving - the team will be just fine.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones needs to grab this QB job in a hurry so the team can put Eli Manning out of his misery. Any uncertainty or drama at that position would - and will - just be a disaster.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz needs to be able to last for 16 games. Simple as that. He's very good. The team is very good. But his joints are made of glass.
San Francisco 49ers: After two mulligans, it would be ideal to finally see the Kyle Shanahan era get started in San Francisco. We know what he should be able to do. Now it would be good to see if he is actually going to be able to do it.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll needs to use this year to either decide that he is going to coach forever, or that he doesn't want to coach anymore. He has spent the last two years stuck in an awkward middle ground, and it is affecting the team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston need to develop a love match early on so that they can get the best out of each other. Winston, in particular, really needs that.
Washington Redskins: The faster Jay Gruden gets himself fired, the more of a success this season is for the team. They'll mess up the new hire, of course, but at least the new guy won't be Gruden.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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