Laughing Stock to Cream of the Crop: The NFL’s Most Improved Teams Going into 2020

Laughing Stock to Cream of the Crop: The NFL’s Most Improved Teams Going into 2020

As a new season begins, fans from every franchise have the same hopeful goal – that this year, is their year.

By week 10, though, it’s another story. The usual suspects have winning records and guaranteed playoff ambitions, whist the rest of the pack are already locked in on getting the best picks for next years’ draft. 

However, there’s always that one team that breaks the mould as they go from the league’s laughing stock to Super Bowl contenders.

In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers earned the coveted yet completely imaginary ‘worst to best’ title when they turned a 4-12 season in 2018 to Super Bowl runners-up just 12 months later.

Another team that surprised us was the middle of the road Tennessee Titans who reached the AFC Divisional round after Derrick Henry single handedly sent Lamar Jackson’s Ravens and Tom Brady’s Patriots packing.

Some say that Earl Thomas is still quaking in his boots at the sight of the man mountain that is Henry. 

With all this in mind, we at UKPigskin have taken a look at the current state of each franchise and picked three teams in the running for a much improved 2020 season. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

All eyes will be on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they look to improve on their average 7-9 record and there’s no real surpise that they are being touted to do just that.

Bruce Arians has an absolutely loaded offence going into 2020 with field general Tom Brady now running the show and his ever reliable pal Rob Gronkowski with him right by his side.

Questions will be asked if the ‘Gronk & Brady’ show can replicate their success as they have done so often back in New England but don’t forget Brady isn’t short of other offensive weapons to utilise.

Lethal wide-receiver pair Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be looking to carry on their effective partnership and Gronk will have to fight for game time with highly rated O.J Howard.

In recent years, Tampa have struggled to find a dominant run game but will now be expecting Ronald Jones to step up in 2020, especially since Peyton Barber was seen surplus to requirements.

The Bucs offence has enough to leave most NFL teams at a loss on how to stop them and they will be keen to prove it isn’t just all in the hype.

Whilst their offensive threat will get all the attention in the media, their defence should also not be underestimated.

That defensive line will strike fear into most quarterbacks and Tom Brady has got to be thankful that they won’t be chasing him down any longer.

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Key man Ndamukong Suh will be returning for another year to help nose tackle Vita Vea develop to the next level and William Gholston will look at making a bigger impact on the field next season. 

The top tier linebacker group is led by 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett, Devin White and NFL veteran Jason Pierre-Paul – a trio not to be taken lightly.

Regarding their secondary, keep a look out for second round draft pick Antoine Winfield Jr.

Questions will be raised over his injury record but he’s a high ceiling draft pick with the ability to intercept the ball before wide receivers even clock it’s coming their way.

If he stays fit, he could be a great value pick for the Buccaneers. 

It’s going to be an exciting season for fans of Tampa who assuredly have much higher hopes for success than recent years.

Can they rival the NFC South bullies in New Orleans or are they just another over hyped Cleveland Browns? We certainly look forward to seeing how it all pans out come September. 

P.S It’s still going to be extremely weird seeing Brady repping those Red and Pewter jerseys.

Arizona Cardinals

Bruce Arians did wonders when he was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, guiding them to an NFC Championship game before falling short against MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 season.

Fastforward to present day and current coach Kliff Kingsbury has a great opportunity to replicate something similar and improve on his lacklustre 5-10-1 record. 

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Hopes were realistic last year as number one overall pick Kyler Murray took his first NFL snaps parallel with a manager also in his debut season.

Even with tempered ambitions, the 5’10 quarterback didn’t disappoint, winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award and impressing us all with his duel threat ability.

He had an outstanding year made even more impressive considering the lack of help he had from his offensive line who ranked 22nd in PFF last season. 

This time around though, hopes will be high for a possible playoff appearance as Murray has been given the gift from the Gods with an unlikely, yet still-not-quite believable, trade for elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. 

Even by Bill O’Brien’s standards, this was a crazy deal that included a measly second round pick and an injury prone David Johnson going the other way.

Cardinals fans are still wracking their heads around how they got it quite so good. 

So, D Hop is in town and certified to be Hall of Fame candidate Larry Fitzgerald is back once again for his 16th year in the league.

The 36-year-old has more tackles (37) than he does dropped balls (27) in his long illustrious career. Just let that one sink in.

No player deserves a Super Bowl ring as much as he does. We salute you Larry!

On the defensive side of the ball the Cards picked highly rated Swiss army knife of a player in Isaiah Simmons who can pretty much play anywhere on defence.

There isn’t really a clear way to define him and he knows that himself, backed up by his assured pre-draft comment: “you only get 53 on a roster and I feel like if you draft me you’ve got 56″.

Simmons wasn’t the only strong addition on that side of the ball, though, with Kingsbury going all out in free agency.

The Cardinals have added the signings of free agents Devon Kennard from the Detroit Lions, De’Vondre Campbell of the Atlanta Falcons and Jordan Phillips from the Buffalo Bills. The latter coming off his best year with an impressive 9.5 sacks.

Those additions come before we’ve even mentioned Chandler Jones who ranked second in the league last year in sacks (19) and top level cornerback Patrick Peterson who offers key veteran experience to the defensive side of the ball.

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Arizona’s biggest hole last year was defence and they have certainly addressed that during the off-season.

They were dead last in yards allowed per game and ranked a tepid 28th in points allowed per game in 2019. 

Many of us expect the NFC West side to pose a serious offensive threat to NFL teams across the board with only a few question marks to how their defence will improve.

Expect a high scoring offence and Murray to be one of the best in class fantasy choices for the quarterback position.  

This team has a lot of potential and is definitely on an upward trajectory.

Miami Dolphins

More questions surround the Miami Dolphins than answers going into the new campaign.

The Dolphins have had a complete makeover between this time last year and now, of course helped by their 11 high picks in the 2020 draft (three of those coming in the first round).

With the current off-season posing multiple challenges for team’s training camps and schedules, rookies will subsequently have less time to adjust to the NFL.  

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Even with a unique off-season there is no doubt that they are better placed for success than the beginning of last campaign, with many predicting that they could even have gone 0-16.

Brian Flores still managed to showcase just how good of a head coach he can be with the Dolphins, performing way above expectations and ending the season with a 5-11 record. 

Thankfully for him and Phins’ fans everywhere, Flores a didn’t even need to “tank for Tua” as they managed to get their man with the fifth pick in the draft.

The left handed quarterback was high on many people’s draft boards until he suffered a “dislocated right hip with posterior acetabular wall fracture” in November (yeah, we have no idea what that really means either but it sounds painful).

However, the Dolphins aren’t all young baby faced rookies entering the league, they’ve also utilised free agency and their large amount of cap space with key acquisitions.

Some of the more notable additions include Byron Jones from the Dallas Cowboys and linebacker Kyle Van Noy from New England Patriots.

The signing of Jones also means that the Phins now have the second and third highest paid cornerbacks in the league in both himself and Xavien Howard.

NFL landscapes change all the time and that can certainly be said for the AFC East.

With Tom Brady leaving New England to start a new challenge in Tampa, the division has finally opened up as one where a title isn’t just handed over to the New England Patriots. Well, we hope so anyway.

Since 2001, the Patriots have won 17 division titles, losing out only twice. Seventeen wins in nineteen years.

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However, this year is likely to be the best chance for Flores’ men to mount a serious challenge for a division title since they last won in 2008. The Buffalo Bills may be favourites right now, but make no mistake, the Dolphins won’t be far behind.

The Dolphins come into the season as a whole different outfit compared to 2019 with some serious play-makers on both sides of the ball.

It’s a case of wait and see to see how their rookies adjust to the NFL but Miami look as though they are fast becoming a team to be feared. 

Honourable mention

Four for the price of three because we’re feeling nice.

Denver Broncos also deserve an honourable mention as they look to give quarterback Drew Lock the firepower needed to outscore the likes of Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs.

High profile free agent signings in A.J. Bouye, Graham Glasgow and Melvin Gordon will hopefully help the Broncos push for a playoff berth this time around.

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Denver also spent their first and second round picks on wide receivers in this year’s draft with the additions of highly rated Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler.

The Orange Crush have added serious weapons and let’s not forget what Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are capable of.

Definite ones to watch.

Who do you think will be the surprise team dominating the league in 2020? Let us know on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram page.