By Andrew De Fazio for TonySoftli.com
After making the NFC championship during the 2015/16 season, the Cardinals failed to make the post season with a record of 7-8-1 during 2016. Going into the 2017 season, the Cardinals are destined to rebound after a poor season and reach the playoffs. On offense lead by David Johnson, the Cardinals can now become a more balanced attack without having to lean on Carson Palmer in too many situations. If they do however decide to call a passing play, Larry Fitzgerald can still make the clutch third down grab and John Brown and JJ Nelson can take the top off of any defensive backfield in the NFL.
While the offense can cause opposing defenses fits, the Cardinals defense can be a menacing nightmare for offenses across the league. Pass rushers such as Chandler Jones and Markus Golden combined for over 20 sacks last season. You also have Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and second round pick Budda Baker who comprise of one of the more dominant defensive backfields in the NFL. Overall if the offense can limit turnovers in game defining moments, they should be back in the playoffs and competing for a Super Bowl.
After nearly a decade of poor and mediocre play, the Titans will finally turn the corner and make the post season in 2017. Led by Marcus Mariota and their exotic smash mouth offense, the Ttitans were able run the ball with ease while Mariota would have time to throw behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The two biggest needs for the Titans going into this past offseason were providing Mariota with more weapons at the receiver position along with an improved secondary. They were able to add playmakers such as Corey Davis, Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor. Them combined with Rishard Mathews and Tight end Delaine Walker gives Mariota plenty of options to choose from in their passing attack.
One the defensive side the ball they were excellent at stopping the run (ranked second in the NFL) and getting to the quarterback (40 sacks tied for 6th in the NFL). The Achilles heel for this defense however was their inability to defend the pass as they were ranked near the bottom of the league in yards allowed. However they were able to address this by adding players such as Logan Ryan, Johnathan Cyprien, and Adoree Jackson. All three along with Kevin Byard have the makings of a solid defensive backfield. This group of players can ultimately be one of the reasons why they will make the post season.
Los Angeles Chargers
Coming off a miserable 2016 season, the Chargers are due for playoff football this season. Led by Philip Rivers, the Chargers have a wide variety of talent on the offensive side of the ball . This includes the likes of Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates, and Hunter Henry (yes it’s a long list). Defensively the Chargers poses one of the more dominant defensive lines with run stoppers in Brandon Mebane and Corey Liugit and chaotic pass rush duo in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Along with this you have young athletic linebackers in Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman and talented corners in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.
One of the biggest keys for the Chargers this season is their health. Last season they lost 21 players to injured reserve, which lead to them being depleted as a team. Head coach Anthony Lynn addressed this by hiring long time strength and conditioning coach John Lott. Another key for this team is the play of their offensive line. Rivers has been sacked over 35 times over the past 3 seasons and has led to a lot of interceptions thrown. Along with this Melvin Gordon this past season only averaged 3.9 yards per carry due to the offensive lines inability to create consistent running lanes. The additions of Russel Okung, Forest Lamp and Spencer Pully along with the departure of King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin and DJ Fluker should help improve this offensive line and make life easier for this offense as a whole.
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