I've posted overrated and underrated NFL teams on my NFL Picks page for a while, but I thought it deserved its own section. I'll update this page every week during the season as well as periodically during the offseason. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
NFL Overrated Teams:
Los Angeles Rams
The 2018 Rams might be the most overhyped team entering a season since the 2011 "Dream Team" Philadelphia Eagles. People believe the Rams should be one of the Super Bowl favorites despite not really doing anything last year. Sure, they won a bunch of games, but how many of their victories were really impressive? Let's review:
The Rams played the NFC East. They lost at home to the Eagles. They were defeated at home against the Redskins. They won at the Cowboys, who didn't have Sean Lee in that game. They demolished the Giants in a very low-effort game from New York.
Los Angeles' NFC North opponent was Minnesota. The Vikings blew the Rams out. The NFC South foe was the Saints. The Rams beat New Orleans at home in the one very impressive win during the season.
In the division, the Rams saw Carson Palmer for less than a half in two games, so they swept Arizona. The Rams lost at home to the Seahawks, and then won easily in Seattle when the Seahawks were missing everyone on defense. As for the 49ers, the Rams beat Brian Hoyer in Week 3, then sat their starters versus Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Rams battled the AFC South foes in the non-conference games. They beat the Colts in the only game Jacoby Brissett didn't start. They crushed the Tom Savage-led Texans. They won at Jacksonville and Tennessee in close games, which was nice.
So, that's it. The Rams had one very impressive win and two other decent ones. They didn't do anything special in the other games. No wonder they lost to Atlanta in a home playoff affair.
The Rams added personnel this offseason. They got Ndamukong Suh, whom the Dolphins didn't want. They got Aqib Talib, whom the Broncos didn't want. They got Marcus Peters, whom the Chiefs didn't want. And they got Brandin Cooks, whom the Patriots didn't want.
Sure, the Rams have lots of talent, but how will these cast-offs mesh together? More importantly, will Jared Goff regress without quarterback guru Greg Olson? Goff didn't even make his own pre-snap reads last year. Sean McVay did that for him. I like McVay as a coach, but quarterbacks have been regressed after being separated from Olson.
Above everything else, the Rams have very high expectations, much like the 2011 Eagles. This all sounds like a recipe for disappointment. It would not surprise me at all if the Rams miss the playoffs in 2018.
The Vikings reached the NFC Championship last year, so now many expect them to potentially take the next step in the wake of the Kirk Cousins signing. I believe the opposite will happen.
The Cousins signing reminds me of the 2001 Ravens. Fresh of a Super Bowl victory with pedestrian quarterback Trent Dilfer, Baltimore thought it upgraded the position by signing Elvis Grbac. The results turned out to be disastrous, and the Ravens learned a valuable lesson, which was that Dilfer, while sub par, was perfect for what the team's system and game plan. I think the same could apply to Case Keenum. While Keenum isn't a good quarterback, he played well last year. One of the best things he did was use his mobility to buy time behind a shaky offensive line. Cousins can move around, but Keenum is better at that.
The offensive line is way more of an issue heading into 2018. The Vikings lost guard Joe Berger to retirement. That's a key departure, and yet it's nothing compared to the untimely passing of line coach Tony Sparano. Minnesota's offensive line will be far worse without Sparano's excellent coaching.
Meanwhile, going back to Cousins, it might be difficult for him to achieve proper timing with his receivers without a complete offseason of practice. Cousins could get the timing down in the second half of the season, but it's reasonable to expect him to get off to a slow start.
There are three teams with season win totals of 10.5 or greater at the Westgate as of mid-July: the Patriots, Eagles and Steelers. Two of those teams are great. One is mediocre.
People think of the Steelers as this dynamic, Super Bowl-contending team, and that was once the case. Pittsburgh still has terrific players like Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, as well as some other studs like Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and JuJu Smith-Schuster. However, the Steelers suffered a major decline last year when they lost Ryan Shazier to his devastating injury. Shazier was arguably the top linebacker in the NFL, so it's understandable why his absence would have such an impact.
How great of an impact? Prior to Shazier going down, the Steelers allowed 17.5 points per game. Following his injury, Pittsburgh surrendered 28 points per game. If your Windows calculator isn't working, that's a disparity of 10.5 points. And here's the thing: Aside from Tom Brady, the list of quarterbacks the Steelers battled and couldn't contain following the Shazier injury were Joe Flacco, T.J. Yates, DeShone Kizer and Blake Bortles. What's going to happen when the Steelers go up against great offenses?
Furthermore, while the Steelers went 13-3 last year, they were very lucky in many of their wins. They had five victories decided by three points or fewer. If those games went against them, they would've gone 8-8, which is a realistic record for them in 2018, especially if the other three teams in the division have improved.
NFL Underrated Teams:
The Bears are the NFL's true dark-horse team. They went 5-11 last year, but were very competitive in many of their losses. They would've beaten the Falcons in Week 1 had Jordan Howard not dropped a touchdown at the very end of the game. They nearly vanquished the Vikings on Monday Night Football. They were the closest team to defeating Jimmy Garoppolo, losing by just a point thanks to a last-second Robbie Gould field goal. Meanwhile, they beat the Steelers and Panthers at home, and they won in Baltimore.
All of this occurred with a rookie quarterback, a lame-duck coach and a horrific receiving corps. Now, Mitchell Trubisky has experience and some talented wideouts to throw to. We haven't seen Matt Nagy operate as a head coach, but he can't be worse than John Fox, who was once great, but much like Jeff Fisher, never adjusted his ways to compensate for the ever-changing NFL. Nagy, at the very least, will be creative with Trubisky, and he'll run an offense that can actually be effective this decade.
Meanwhile, the Bears have plenty of other things going for them. Their offensive line is excellent, while their defense could be dominant this year if Roquan Smith is as good as advertised. Chicago's stop unit was very good last year when star linebacker Danny Trevathan wasn't hurt, and Smith can only help matters.
Kansas City Chiefs
The public is pretty down on the Chiefs, but the sharps don't agree. Kansas City opened at 40/1 to win the Super Bowl in some books back in February. They've been bet down to 20/1 now, and understandably so. The Chiefs are one of the top contenders to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.
Patrick Mahomes has started one game in his pro career, but it's very telling that Andy Reid, one of the top quarterback whisperers in the NFL, was so willing to move on from Alex Smith for Mahomes. Smith was coming off the best year of his career, yet Reid discarded him so thoughtlessly. Reid knows what he has in Mahomes, who is a tremendous talent and a hard worker. Reid has gotten the most out of the likes of A.J. Feeley and a decrepit Jeff Garcia in the past, and now he'll be coaching a quarterback with enormous upside. It's very likely that Mahomes will play on a Pro Bowl level in the near future.
Meanwhile, the defense will be better in 2018 despite the departure of Marcus Peters. Cornerback didn't suffer much of a decline with Kendall Fuller coming in from the Smith trade, but the big boost will be the return of Eric Berry. When we last saw Berry, he was putting the clamps on Rob Gronkowski in the 2017 season opener, a Chiefs blowout victory over the Patriots. Berry being back on the field is a huge deal. Kansas City's defense will be so much better with him in the lineup.
It's easy to forget how competitive the Redskins were last year before they suffered so many injuries in the middle of the season. They nearly beat the Eagles in Week 1. They defeated the Rams in Los Angeles the following Sunday. They then clobbered the Raiders when Derek Carr was healthy. After that, they were a dropped Josh Doctson touchdown away from winning in Kansas City on Monday Night Football. Following a win over the 49ers, they were once again in a close battle against the Eagles before losing control in the third quarter.
The wheels came off after that, however, as the Redskins had countless injuries. There were several weeks where they struggled to field a complete offensive line. Poor Morgan Moses had to play on one leg. It was brutal, yet the Redskins still beat the Seahawks when everyone Seattle was healthy, and they took the Saints to overtime in New Orleans.
The Redskins lost Kirk Cousins in the offseason, but Alex Smith is just as good of a quarterback as Cousins. Smith is five years older, but for the next season or two, there won't be much of a difference between the two. In fact, it could be argued that Smith gives the Redskins a better chance of reaching the playoffs, given that he's actually been in the postseason very often, unlike Cousins.