Monday, June 17, 2024
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Sorting all 32 NFL teams: Offensively or defensively geared, five total-package contenders for 2024 season

Football is a team sport, which means no unit — offense, defense, special teams — is irrelevant in the chase for a Lombardi Trophy. But the NFL is also built on parity, requiring teams to navigate the salary cap and risk resetting at premium positions on both sides of the ball. The result? Sometimes — nay, oftentimes — even the best contenders are forced to lean on one unit more than the other.

As we look ahead to 2024, which of the NFL’s 32 teams are more dependent on their offense? Which figure to lean more heavily upon their defense? And which select few register as total packages?

Here’s how we’d sort them ahead of the summer:

Evenly balanced (9)

These teams aren’t necessarily elite in the context of the entire NFL, but they strike a relatively clear balance between offensive and defensive strengths.

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Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray has Marvin Harrison Jr. out wide now, but Jonathan Gannon still runs the show. This lineup still feels like a major work in progress.

Atlanta Falcons: Kirk Cousins adds stability under center for a solid crop of young skill weapons, while Raheem Morris should maximize the in-progress defense, which is best at the back end.

Dallas Cowboys: There’s a case to be made they belong with the “total packages” below, considering Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons and DaRon Bland give them four of the game’s top playmakers across the board, but their coaching and big-game questions are monumental.

Denver Broncos: Sean Payton now has rookie Bo Nix to run his offensive system, but some of their toughest starters still reside on “D,” where Alex Singleton and Patrick Surtain II are pillars.

Las Vegas Raiders: Davante Adams and Brock Bowers could give them a dynamic 1-2 punch at pass catcher, but with which placeholder under center? Antonio Pierce also has dawgs in the trenches.

Los Angeles Chargers: Jim Harbaugh stripped down and rebuilt Justin Herbert’s supporting cast to emphasize old-school toughness, while some of his best NFL teams were known for stingy defense.

Minnesota Vikings: The only glaring question mark is at quarterback, where rookie J.J. McCarthy could emerge sooner than later. His weapons and Brian Flores-led defensive support could be elite.

Seattle Seahawks: If Geno Smith is stable, they could have an underrated ground-and-pound attack. New coach Mike Macdonald is a defensive voice, however, and has physical pieces at every level of that unit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They prioritized an encore of the Baker Mayfield-Mike Evans show this offseason, but they’ve always leaned on Todd Bowles’ defense, with Antoine Winfield Jr. as a centerpiece.

Washington Commanders: They’ve got a lot of splashy new faces on offense (e.g. Jayden Daniels, Austin Ekeler), but Dan Quinn may put even more focus on tightening up the revamped “D.”

Defensively geared (6)

These teams aren’t necessarily averse to a powerful offense, but their personnel and play-calling suggest they’re better suited for lower-scoring competition.

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Carolina Panthers: Even with Dave Canales in town to energize Bryce Young and a restocked offense, their proven assets lie on defense, and their new run-first approach should play into that.

Cleveland Browns: All eyes are on Deshaun Watson, who now also has Jerry Jeudy out wide, but Jim Schwartz’s unit powered their 2023 run, and they still boast a formidable front seven.

New England Patriots: Drake Maye’s entry under center provides much-needed long-term juice, but this is a Jerod Mayo operation, which means it’s hard to envision them veering far off the Bill Belichick course.

New Orleans Saints: Forever averse to a rebuild, they didn’t exactly retool Derek Carr’s offense, leaving Dennis Allen and his aging but savvy “D” to remain the heartbeat of this wild-card contender.

New York Giants: Brian Daboll all but needs to revitalize Daniel Jones (again), and Malik Nabers should help, but their big Brian Burns trade signaled an increasing dependence on an underrated front seven.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Talk quarterbacks all you wish; Russell Wilson and Justin Fields certainly make them must-see TV. But this is Mike Tomlin’s show. Prepare for more old-school, wear-you-down material.

Offensively geared (11)

These teams aren’t necessarily porous on defense, but their personnel and play-calling suggest they’d prefer to win games by simply outgaining the opponent.

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Buffalo Bills: Dealing Stefon Diggs and losing Gabe Davis may tilt the scales to Sean McDermott’s “D,” but as long as Josh Allen is the signal-caller here, it’s hard not to say most of their hopes rest on him.

Chicago Bears: Matt Eberflus remaining atop the staff might signal a conservative approach, but taking Caleb Williams No. 1 and giving him actual weapons suggests they’re ready to start taking shots.

Cincinnati Bengals: If the defensive front hits its ceiling, they can be a true contender. But Joe Burrow’s health is the ultimate key. If he’s upright and dealing from the pocket, that’s their bread and butter.

Detroit Lions: Another solid candidate for the “total package” group, their retooled secondary could take a big leap. Until then, it’s Ben Johnson’s ultra-balanced offense that really powers them. The combo of a resilient Jared Goff, steady front, dynamic backfield and explosive Amon-Ra St. Brown is lethal.

Green Bay Packers: They spent big for safety help, adding Xavier McKinney, but let’s be real: This is Jordan Love’s team. Matt LaFleur also has lots of young multipurpose wideouts to feature.

Indianapolis Colts: They’re a real mystery, considering Anthony Richardson’s miniscule NFL sample size. But Shane Steichen’s offensive background should have them prioritizing the quarterback’s growth.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The “D” isn’t short on big names, including Josh Allen and Arik Armstead. But their big focus this offseason was rewiring Trevor Lawrence’s receiving corps, now featuring Gabe Davis.

Los Angeles Rams: Are you kidding? This is Sean McVay’s team, and Matthew Stafford’s 2023 rejuvenation helped prop up all their surprisingly spicy young weapons, including Puka Nacua.

Miami Dolphins: With or without Vic Fangio, they’ve prioritized Mike McDaniel’s speedy attack, hoping that Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy, paired with track-and-field electricity, will win them every shootout.

Philadelphia Eagles: They’ve certainly added talent to help the “D,” but Kellen Moore’s entry as a play-caller for the all-star collective of Jalen Hurts, Saquon Barkley, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith could do wonders for their bid to return to title contention. There may not be a bigger boom-or-bust setup.

Tennessee Titans: After Mike Vrabel’s exit, they quickly pivoted to prioritize Will Levis‘ weaponry, giving the young quarterback a slew of experienced safety valves. They could be a sleeper in the AFC.

Total packages (5)

These teams have the luxury of elite balance across the offense and defense, making them — at least on paper — the most intriguing bets to contend for a Super Bowl.

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Baltimore Ravens: Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson now has Derrick Henry to bolster a thunder-and-lightning rushing attack, and the defense still has imposing difference-makers at every level.

Houston Texans: Fresh off his star debut, C.J. Stroud has even more help with Stefon Diggs aboard, and DeMeco Ryans’ front seven looks even nastier with Danielle Hunter and Azeez Al-Shaair.

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes continues to set the standard at quarterback, and speedsters like Marquise Brown and Xavier Worthy add pass-catching depth. Meanwhile, Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, which played a major hand in the last Super Bowl win, remained largely intact at the premium spots.

New York Jets: So much hinges on 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers, who’s coming off a major injury under center. We’ve all seen that crumble before. But there are countless all-star playmakers by his side, and the tenacious “D” remains. It’s now or never in New Jersey.

San Francisco 49ers: Brock Purdy is just getting started as the do-it-all figurehead of Kyle Shanahan’s seamless attack, and the vaunted defensive front might be even better after the low-risk, high-reward additions of Leonard Floyd and Maliek Collins. Book them for another late-year fight.

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