Training camp is just around the corner, which means that real football is just around the corner as well. Teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs are anticipated to be among the best of the best in 2021, a year after going head to head in the Super Bowl.
The NFL’s Most Underappreciated Teams Heading into The 2021 Season: The Vikings Are One of The Underappreciated Challengers
But what about the teams that operate behind the radar? Who are the potential candidates who aren’t receiving nearly enough attention? We’ve identified four of the most undervalued teams heading into the 2021 season in the table below. Not all of them should be regarded serious contenders for the title. However, we’d be astonished if these four didn’t catch a lot of people off guard this year:
The Broncos are rated top-11 favorites to win it all this year, despite finishing 12-20 under Vic Fangio and 32-48 since winning the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. This has practically everything to do with Aaron Rodgers, who has piqued their attention despite the Packers’ refusal to trade him.
Denver will be generally anticipated to either fight the Chargers for a wild card or miss the playoffs entirely if/when the Rodgers rumors are put to rest (and assuming he does not leave Green Bay). However, unlike the Jaguars, Jets, or even Raiders, they are built well enough to compete with A-Rod. Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater aren’t definite top-15 starters, but they have playmakers on both sides of the ball in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Bradley Chubb, Kyle Fuller, and a healthier Von Miller.
How can a club coming off 11 victories, a squad that has won 28 games and advanced to the playoffs in two of Frank Reich’s three seasons as coach, be considered underrated? For one thing, there is still a lack of national interest. As Super Bowl favorites, the Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Packers all have greater firepower, but given Reich’s track record, Indy deserves more respect. The coach is in their possession.
They have a strong ground game. They have a strong defense. Then there’s new quarterback Carson Wentz, who replaces Philip Rivers following a premature leave from Philadelphia. For many, the pendulum has swung too far to the “he’s broken and/or horrible” side of the argument, when it would be shocking if Wentz didn’t rebound to be a top-15 quarterback with a change of scenery. At the very least, he increases the offensive potential of the Colts. When you combine all of that with a winnable division, they’re capable of making a serious run in the AFC.
Both their coach and quarterback have earned a reputation for being consistent mid-tier performers: never awful enough to fall short, but never exceptional enough to rise above the pack. How else can you explain the Vikings getting into, out of, and back into the playoffs every year since Mike Zimmer took over, or Kirk Cousins putting up Pro Bowl stats without a memorable postseason run? Even if Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay, the Packers are primed to rebound.
Zimmer’s defense is both deeper and healthier (welcome back, Danielle Hunter!) after an uncharacteristically porous year, not only because Cousins has more motivation (hello, Kellen Mond), the offense has bona fide play-makers (Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson), and, best of all, Zimmer’s offense has bona fide play-makers (Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson). The Vikings have the makings of a surprising contender, even if they don’t win the division.
How can a club that just won the Super Bowl a few years ago be one of the most underestimated in the NFL? Consider the Eagles’ 2020 season, when organizational turmoil and a historic slide by a former MVP candidate led to a complete revamp of the team’s coaching staff and quarterback position. It’s back to square one in Philadelphia, where first-year head coach Nick Sirianni has been tasked with reviving a strategy that rapidly became boring under Doug Pederson.
From a national standpoint, almost no one appears to believe that the ex-Colts coordinator can surprise people right away with rookie Jalen Hurts as quarterback. When you combine Hurts’ mobility, a healthier offensive line, a new No. 1 wideout in DeVonta Smith, and some solid veterans on defense, a late challenge for the NFC East crown isn’t quite as insane as it sounds.
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