After a week’s review, it really wasn’t hard picking the 2017 NFC peak team of the season, seeing how there’s really only one team that seems poised to take the next step. Some might argue it’s Philly with the addition of Alshon Jeffery paired with a healthy Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, others would say the Vikings, who finished last season right at the .500 mark. While both teams definitely have a chance to improve by two or three games, I still see it as a stretch that these two teams will be in postseason conversations, and here’s why:
Carson Wentz who showed some signs of a high ceiling (specifically the Steelers game last season when he victimized the Steelers secondary for 301 yards and two tough downs) still has yet to become his own and develop a consistent chemistry with his new number one receiver in Jeffery. On top of that, you can only ask so much from your second year quarterback as the run game is inconsistent and unreliable at best and I’m not convinced Wentz is the guy to throw 40 plus passes a game to keep his team in it.
From an offensive perspective, the Vikings are in pretty good shape at the wide receiver position, but that means little to nothing when you don’t know what kind of season you’re going to get out of Sam Bradford and on top of that, your once prized 2014 first round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater…you all remember him right, has absolutely no idea when he will back to playing form. Let’s go to the run game, in which the team addressed in this year’s draft, drafting Dalvin Cook who has shown issues in holding onto the ball (in college) but if he can overcome such a bad habit, he should be poised to be one of the league’s most exciting backs given he’ll get plenty of carries. Plot twist, the Vikings offensive line ranked as the 29th best offensive line in the league last season…so no matter how many touches a young and physical Cook may get, that too means nothing if the line can’t pull together and create some sort of push or sunning room.
So who is the sleeper?
For a team that finished 9-7 and just missed the playoffs, it’s simple and clear cut that this years revitalized Bucs team will only go as far as Winston’s arm allows them to. Now I'm not a big Winston fan, nor was I sold on him in the draft, but I do know the guy can play and believe he can mature into the leader the Bucs need him to be. With it being his third year now, I’m expecting Winston to make the push that will get this offense finally rolling and living up to the hype we all expected in 2015. While the offensive line seemed to have been neglected for the past couple years, the Bucs didn’t shy away from getting other offensive help bolstering up their pass game with the addition to veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson, drafting tight end OJ Howard with their first pick in this year’s draft and of course having a healthy Mike Evans only makes Winston’s claim to turnaround success that much better. Even the defense made some minor splashes in the offseason adding defensive tackle Chris Baker to play alongside Gerald McCoy in a fairly young defense that’s searching for an image…things could get interesting in Winston’s third professional season.