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NFL - US Sports: Five outsiders to look for next season

25 June 2022 09:51:46 EST
Cincinnati Bengals were close to NFL glory

The Cincinnati Bengals began last season as big outsiders for Super Bowl glory and almost pulled it off - here's five teams that could be ready to follow suit next term.

Miami Dolphins can make AFC East impact

The Dolphins look capable of shaking up the AFC East - where the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots have ruled for the past 13 years. No team finished the 2021 season on a hotter streak than Miami, who won eight of their last nine games to finish with a winning 9-8 record.

However, it wasn't enough to save Brian Flores' job and he was soon replaced by former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as the Dolphins' 14th head coach in early February.

He's taken steps to revitalise a rush attack that finished 30th in the NFL for run yards last season, 26th in yards after contact and 31st in rushes of 10-plus yards by enlisting the help of veteran RBs Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds and Sony Michel to compliment incumbent starter Myles Gaskin in a four-headed monster of the backfield.

Some McDaniel magic would get Miami moving on the ground and should take some pressure off inconsistent young QB Tua Tagovailoa while a Dolphins defense that posted the third-highest pressure rate (28.5%) with the seventh-lowest QB rating allowed (85.4) during the 2021 regular season may only need to improve marginally to turn them into contenders again.

The Dolphins are 36.00 to win Super Bowl LVII and 5.00 to take the AFC East.

LA Chargers are lively contenders

The cat's been out of the bag on the Chargers for some time, hence they are roughly half the odds they were in 2021 to win it all in 2023, and are available at 15.00 to win Super Bowl next year.

But the Bolts appear to be twice as good after acquiring ex-Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack to join four-time Pro Bowl selection Joey Bosa and form what should be a scary pass rush. Cornerback J.C. Jackson, the league leader in interceptions since 2018, joins All-Pro safety Derwin James Jr. in a secondary that needed to improve.

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Entering his third year, QB Justin Herbert has a chance to establish himself among the league's elite with two wide receiver targets that are close to being top-10 material and a new red zone target in former Seattle Seahawks tight end Gerald Everett.

The only negative? They are probably stuck in the most talent-loaded division in football alongside the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos. If they survive into the postseason they will be battle-hardened at the very least. 

Baltimore Ravens eye improvement

The Ravens finished bottom of the AFC North last season, but just a couple of wins out of a playoff spot and a division title.

Considering how many injuries and bad breaks they were dealt, it wouldn't take much to lift them above their rivals and they're 2.40 to win the AFC North next season.

They're a very strong team at their core and, after adding highly-rated Notre Dame prospect Kyle Hamilton and ex-New Orleans Saints star Marcus Williams at safety alongside playmaking cornerback Marcus Peters and All-Pro talent Marlon Humphrey, they may have the best secondary in the league.

New Orleans Saints hoping for NFC South glory

The Saints are low down in the Super Bowl betting at 36.00 but there have been big changes in NOLA with Sean Payton stepping into a TV role after 16 years as head coach.

Jameis Winston is expected to come back as the starter after a failed experiment with Taysom Hill and he should be a steady presence under center. The Saints' defense has been kryptonite to Tom Brady so far and, of they can maintain their edge over the Tampa Bay QB in the regular season then there's a realistic shot for New Orleans to top the NFC South.

The Saints allowed the fourth-lowest average quarterback rating (81.7) and the third-lowest touchdown rate (3.4%) in 2021 while also stuffing the run. If they can get close to averaging the lowest yards per rush (3.7) in the NFL again, then Winston should have some short field position to work with on offense.

New York Jets looking to make the playoffs

The Jets may no longer the laughing stock of the AFC after surprising almost everyone, including their die-hard fans, with some clever work during free agency and the draft.

A roster that had more holes in it than the plot of the original Top Gun movie needed major surgery and they have largely covered the weaknesses, although stopping the run on first and second down might still be a problem.

This year's all about showing they are moving in the right direction - particularly on offense where former No.2 overall pick Zach Wilson needs to silence any doubters. By adding speedy rookie Garrett Wilson to his receiving arsenal and bringing Breece Hall - a workhorse back with home run potential - New York's offense could be a problem for the AFC East's established order.

The Jets are 126.00 to go on and win the Super Bowl next year and 71.00 to win the AFC.

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