The regular season of the National Football League is almost upon us, and the competition has increased since last season. In 2015, we saw many young quarterbacks start to take steps in the right direction. Teams are built around these players, and it seems as though some front offices’ dreams are about to come to fruition in 2016. The teams highlighted below have been out of the playoffs for various times, but they will be making an appearance in January of 2017, and may be here to stay.
Last Playoff Appearance: 2007
Biggest Strength: Receiving core
The Jaguars were poised to make a break for the playoffs at the end of the 2015 season, and it’s partly because of their strong group of receivers. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are two up-and-coming receivers that are quietly climbing the ladder as some of the best in the game. They are accompanied by Julius Thomas, one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league, as well as scat back Denard Robinson, who has been a decent receiving option out of the backfield. This unit, led by Blake Bortles, will likely reach sky-high numbers this season.
Biggest Question: Offensive line
The biggest weakness the Jags have is their offensive line, and it’s not too much of a weakness. Their main issue lies at the left guard position, which is almost certainly going to be manned by former left tackle Luke Joeckel. He hasn’t looked very strong there, and that spot will most likely be given up soon. Their secondary would have been the issue if this were 2015, but with the additions of Jalen Ramsey, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara, it is going to be a strong suit this season.
Last Playoff Appearance: 2002
Biggest Strength: Front seven
This marks the 14th season since the Raiders have appeared in a playoff game, but it’s likely a streak that ends this year. One of their most talented teams in recent memory boasts a strong front defensive line and linebacking core, led by hybrid man Khalil Mack and new free agent prize Bruce Irvin. Their front seven also features players such as Shilique Calhoun, Dan Williams, and Jihad Ward. Oakland will also see 2015 second round pick Mario Edwards Jr. return after coming off the PUP list later in the season.
Biggest Question: Running game
Latavius Murray rushed for over 1,000 yards last year, but there are still questions about his production. The Raiders supplemented the running back position with fifth round selection DeAndre Washington, but he is more a receiving back than a pure runner. The offensive line may be able to assist Murray in reaching his numbers from last year, but there are questions that remain.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Playoff Appearance: 2007
Biggest Strength: Quarterback
Jameis Winston received Rookie of the Year honors last year, and it was well deserved, topping 4,000 yards and throwing 22 touchdowns. It is almost a guarantee that he improves this year, and many people around the league opine that he could be an elite quarterback soon. He has strong receiving options in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and a talented running back in Doug Martin that will force the defense to be cautious.
Biggest Question: Receivers
Aside from the aforementioned receivers, there are many questionable names behind them. Their most talented option that’s not a top-two receiver is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and he has been benched in favor of Cameron Brate. While Winston can carry this group, the talent surrounding him aside from their top options is scarce, and could be an issue as the season goes on.
Last Playoff Appearance: 2008
Biggest Strength: All offense (except offensive line)
While Marcus Mariota didn’t compete in a full 16 games last year due to injury, he still managed to come close to 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. He looks to build on an impressive rookie season, and he is likely to do so with a revamped receiving corps, as well as a rejuvenated running game. Tajae Sharpe, Andre Johnson, and Rishard Matthews look to bolster the offense and add to Delanie Walker’s production, while new additions DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry look to bruise opponents on the ground. This will likely be a strong offense, if not for one thing…
Biggest Question: Offensive Line
That one thing is the offensive line. While they have strong bookends in Taylor Lewan and rookie Jack Conklin, the interior of the line is a bit questionable, specifically at the guard position. Ben Jones is likely to win the starting center job, and the real question remains at left guard. Chance Warmack has locked down the right side, and the left side is very questionable at this point. Quinton Spain is the most likely starter, and that’s not exactly a positive thing for the second year quarterback looking to lead his team to victory.