- Pittsburgh Steelers: If the Steelers can get consistently good play from quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was second among quarterbacks with a 90.1 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the season, they could really surprise some people.
- Green Bay Packers: If Love can even be a top-16 starting quarterback in the NFL, the Packers are absolutely good enough to contend in the NFC North.
- New Orleans Saints: With a supporting cast led by wide receiver Chris Olave, whose 82.9 PFF receiving grade was the third best among rookies, and 16th among all receivers, if they get the 2019-2021 version of Carr that we saw with the Raiders, there’s a path to them contending late in January in the NFC.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Teams come from nowhere almost every season in the NFL. Sometimes it’s hard to predict while at other times, the signs are there to see if you look hard enough.
Here we’re looking at five teams that are currently being overlooked, ranging from teams currently projected to pick in the top 10 of the 2024 NFL Draft to contenders that are just seemingly being forgotten in discussions surrounding the top teams in the NFL, ignored for a newer, shinier rivalry.
The Steelers have finished .500 or better for 19 straight seasons now while winning nine or more games in all but three of Mike Tomlin’s 16 seasons as head coach. They have the worst odds to win the AFC North, but that’s largely because they are in a division with two genuine contenders in the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. If the Steelers can get consistently good play from quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was second among quarterbacks with a 90.1 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the season, they could really surprise some people.
The Packers were in the hunt for the NFC’s final playoff spot right up until the end of the season and have a pretty strong roster outside of a huge question mark at quarterback. While Jordan Love‘s potential performance is a big unknown right now, it’s worth noting that the Packers were still in playoff contention despite Aaron Rodgers producing a 77.5 PFF grade in 2022, the second-lowest of his career. If Love can even be a top-16 starting quarterback in the NFL, the Packers are absolutely good enough to contend in the NFC North.
The Saints are the NFC South favorites, admittedly one of the weakest divisions in football, and as long as Derek Carr can offer an upgrade for them at quarterback, there’s a good chance that they are hosting a playoff game in January. With a supporting cast led by wide receiver Chris Olave, whose 82.9 PFF receiving grade was the third-best among rookies, and 16th among all receivers, if they get the 2019-2021 version of Carr that we saw with the Raiders, there’s a path to them contending late in January in the NFC.
Maybe this is tenuous, with the Bills having the third-best odds to finish the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but the attention in the AFC right now seems to be on the burgeoning rivalry between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals. It’s like many people have forgotten how close the Bills were to taking the Chiefs down in the 2021 playoffs. The Bengals beat them comfortably in the playoffs this past year, but with Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, the Bills have one of the most impressive QB-WR duos in the league, and with Allen posting 90.0-plus PFF grades in each of the past three seasons, they will be right there in the battle at the top of the AFC again in 2023.
This hinges entirely on Matthew Stafford’s performance in 2023, as the Rams signal caller is coming off his lowest-graded season since 2015. However, we are just one season removed from Stafford posting a career-high 86.1 PFF grade as the Rams rolled toward the Super Bowl. This is not a deep roster, don’t get me wrong, but if their stars like Stafford and Cooper Kupp, who was the highest-graded receiver in the NFL in 2022, can stay healthy, this offense can be fine. On defense, they still have Aaron Donald, who has exactly zero seasons in his career with a sub-90.0 PFF grade. It’s a big if, but if they can stay healthy, I have a hard time seeing them not be closer to the seven-seed in the NFC as opposed to contending for a top-five draft pick.