Photo credit: Joe Bielawa
Author: Joey Carr
Going into the 2015 regular season, a good majority of the teams that muddled in mediocrity in 2014 are ready to dive into the playoff race this time around. Whether it was acquiring big names in free agency or filling some glaring roster holes, several teams that finished around .500 are now set to threaten the division leaders and throw a cog into the 2015 playoff picture.
When talking about .500 teams, the first team that usually comes to mind is the squad down in South Beach, the Miami Dolphins. They have always been a somewhat dangerous team to play, home or away, but have not been able to solidify themselves as real threats in years past. Enter Ndamukong Suh and a revitalized and richer Ryan Tannehill. Suh has the ability, alongside Cameron Wake, to transform the Miami run defense, which ranked 24th in the league in 2014. A quarterback’s worst nightmare is someone as quick and powerful as Wake coming from the outside with someone as forceful and aggressive as Suh attacking the inside. With the pass defense already solidly established, ranking 6th in the league last year, the Miami defense looks like a force to be reckoned with. The Dolphins also boast Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback that put up impressive numbers a year ago, throwing for over 4,000 yards and tossing 27 touchdowns. However, a quarterback needs receivers, and Miami once again, like in 2013, brought in new targets instead of keeping the old ones (with the exception of Jarvis Landry). They traded Mike Wallace, a downfield threat, but brought in Greg Jennings, an older player who looks to revive his career. They also traded for Kenny Stills, a true speedster and proven pass catcher. With a new crop of receivers, a shiny new defense, and a stable running game, the Dolphins are primed to turn some heads this year in the AFC.
Switching conferences, the team in the NFC that seems equipped to be in the hunt for a playoff spot is the Minnesota Vikings. The Purple and Gold suffered a tough loss last season losing Adrian Peterson due to child abuse charges, which blew any chance they had at the playoffs. However, AP is back and he has a new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. The second year man out of Louisville took over for Matt Cassel early in the season last year and never looked back, leading the Vikings to a 7-9 record. He struggled at times, as most rookies do, but put up respectable numbers, throwing for just under 3,000 yards and tossing 14 touchdowns. However, he also threw 12 interceptions, but that number should go down with a deadly run game, which Adrian Peterson brings back for the Vikes. Rushing for over 2,000 yards just a couple years ago, Peterson looks to be fully healthy this year and has a chip on his shoulder, which should make him even tougher to bring down, presenting a bona fide problem for the opposing defense. With a stingy defense led by linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive back Xavier Rhodes, the Mike Zimmer led Vikings are itching to climb up the NFC ladder.
Another notable team that made a big splash in free agency and the draft is the St. Louis Rams. In years past, a great defense has been wasted due to the mediocrity and instability at quarterback. Sam Bradford was supposed to be the guy to lead the Rams to the promise land when he was drafted first overall back in 2010. However, several injuries later, St. Louis and Philadelphia swapped quarterbacks, landing the Rams Nick Foles and shipping Bradford up to Philly. Foles is a proven reliable QB, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013 after posting a 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio. With Foles at the helm, the Rams really needed a stable and dynamic running back, which they got with Todd Gurley in the draft. The true definition of a workhorse at Georgia, the Rams got just what they needed to transform the St. Louis offense. Although he was out for most of the preseason, Gurley looks ready to go by Week 2, and should present a problem for defenses that stand in his way. The one part of the Rams team that is established is the formidable run defense that is headed by Robert Quinn. The former first round pick is one of the best defensive ends in the league, and can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game. After acquiring proven QB Nick Foles and obtaining Todd Gurley in the draft, the Rams might finally be ready to make some noise in a crowded NFC West.
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