Many NFL teams are viewed as pretenders (rather than contenders) right out of the gate. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, and New York Jets are among teams likely headed for another top-five draft pick.
On the other hand, there are playoff juggernauts like the Buffalo Bills and the Kanas City Chiefs, who play in January every year.
Then, there are the teams in between. These organizations are on the outside looking in but could make a sneaky push in the back half of the season. Let’s explore five under-the-radar playoff contenders.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders made the playoffs last year by securing one of the last Wild Card spots. During the offseason, however, all four teams in their division got a whole lot better through free agency and the draft.
The Raiders made underrated free agent signings with Chandler Jones and Demarcus Robinson, plush a splahy trade for star wide receiver Davante Adams. With the Adams addition, the Raiders have a sneaky good wide receiver core that also includes Hunter Renfrow.
The division is going to be a dog fight for playoff spots, which could pose a problem for Vegas. Critics also had concerns about their secondary being able to keep up with the rest of the quarterbacks in the division but, following these great signings, the Raiders can be playoff contenders in the AFC West.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were one of those teams that found themselves injured to hell and back. Their injuries got so bad that they relied on Ian Book, their third-string quarterback, at one point. A positive for the Saints is that their division and conference are a lot less competitive than the Raiders’ conference and division. The Saints did make free agent signings in Marcus Maye from the New York Jets and Tyrann Mathieu from the Kanas City Chiefs.
At present, quarterback Jameis Winston is healthy so the Saints’ quarterback position is set for now. The Saints, as a result of free agency and players coming back from injury, can be a playoff contender if they stay healthy.
The Dolphins brought in a new front office and head coach. They also signed star wide receiver Tyreek Hill to pair with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, and this duo could be destructive to NFL defenses that don’t have a good secondary.
They improved their offensive line by signing former Saints tackle Terron Armstead, one of the league’s best. The success of the team now lies in the hands of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. If he plays well, the Dolphins can be a playoff contender.
The Steelers are now in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era of their history. Of course, in his place, they signed quarterback Mitch Trubisky and drafted Kenny Pickett. Pickett has shown in the preseason why he was the first quarterback taken in the 2022 draft.
The Steelers improved on the defensive side of the ball by signing Levi Wallace and Terrell Edmunds from Buffalo, as well as Myles Jack from the Jaguars. The Steelers did just narrowly make the playoffs last year because of a pair of unlikely Week 17 losses from the Colts and Chargers. Another positive: Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 14 years as the Pittsburgh head coach.
The Lions have shown progress through the offseason, as shown on HBO’s Hard Knocks. In free agency, their notable signings included DJ Chark from the Jaguars and Mike Hughes from the Chiefs.
The first round of the 2022 draft was memorable for the Lions, who stole Jameson Williams from their division rival, the Packers. More notably, of course, was the election of Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson, who looks like a home-run pick. Sixth-rounded Malcolm Rodriguez also looks to be a draft steal.
Second-year head coach Dan Campbell still has a lot to prove in terms of winning. On paper, the Detroit Lions have the potential to sneak into a Wild Card spot.
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