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Biggest red flags for 20 NFL contenders in 2024: Bills’ overhauled WRs, Bengals’ QB health among top concerns

The offseason is generally a time of optimism across the NFL. Fresh off changes — and hopeful upgrades — in the coaching and roster departments, it’s not unusual for most teams to dream of a playoff push.

It’s also not unusual for every team to enter the new season with underlying — or even overt — concerns. So here’s an overview of the biggest red flags for 20 of the NFL’s top projected contenders in 2024:

Obvious, yes, but facts are facts: Burrow is an MVP-level quarterback when at full strength. He’s also missed extensive time due to injury in two of his four NFL seasons. Cincinnati shuffled its front once again, adding Trent Brown at right tackle, but if Burrow can’t stay close to 100%, it might not matter.

Bills: The overhauled WR corps

In theory, Buffalo has swapped out one bona fide pass catcher (in this case, Stefon Diggs) for a slew of solid role players: a red zone outlet (Keon Coleman), a utility man (Curtis Samuel) and a speedster (Marquez Valdes-Scantling). Is that really a better supporting cast for Josh Allen?

One of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, Watson has played a grand total of 12 games the last three seasons. Surprisingly, Cleveland went 5-1 when he actually suited up as the starter in 2023, but it’s anyone’s guess how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up for an otherwise playoff-ready squad.

Buccaneers: The bet on ‘running it back’

Rather than reallocate big-money commitments, Tampa Bay prioritized re-signing its own this offseason, which nicely rewarded veterans like Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans, etc. for their scrappy playoff run. Can Mayfield replicate his ball control with essentially the same lineup that barely escaped the NFC South?

Chargers: The stripped-down WR corps

Jim Harbaugh is infusing toughness and an apparent focus on the run game as Los Angeles’ new coach, but Justin Herbert doesn’t exactly have a proven group of pass catchers after the exile of both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Youngsters Ladd McConkey and Quentin Johnston are projects.

Chiefs: Cornerback depth

Kansas City wouldn’t have traded L’Jarius Sneed, their top cover man in 2023, if Trent McDuffie hadn’t also emerged as a versatile starter in the secondary. Even so, new running mate Joshua Williams enters 2024 with just six career starts under his belt, putting more pressure on the safeties.

Cowboys: Contractual pressure at QB, HC

It’s one thing to expect big things from your leaders. It’s another to let your longtime franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott enter a contract year behind a shuffled offensive line, and/or retain a repeatedly embattled coach in Mike McCarthy. Results will surely follow, but what kind? A title run? Or a total fallout?

Dolphins: The offensive line depth

Tua Tagovailoa has commanded the headlines for his contract negotiations. Hopefully he’s mentioning Miami’s O-line in those talks. Terron Armstead is accomplished, but he and the quarterback’s other top blockers have proven especially vulnerable to injury, leaving the Dolphins thin in the trenches.

Eagles: The weight of expectations

Like their rival Cowboys, the Eagles have plenty of talent to contend. Their splashiest additions (Saquon Barkley, Bryce Huff, C.J. Gardner-Johnson) were of the boom-or-bust type, however, and they need both new coordinators to right the ship after a historic collapse destroyed 2023 title hopes.

Falcons: The talent of the WR corps

Remember when we all penciled Atlanta in as NFC South champions because they finally added a proven quarterback (see: Kirk Cousins) to an ascending offense? Bijan Robinson is dynamic, but what if Drake London, Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore are just … serviceable? That could be wild-card material.

49ers: Pass protection

Brock Purdy has been better than he gets credit for as an off-script thrower, operating not only in the confines of Kyle Shanahan’s offense but as a play-extending scrambler. Still, Trent Williams could use some help keeping pockets clean, with right guard and right tackle in particular a more unpredictable affair.

Jaguars: The offensive structure

Trevor Lawrence no longer has to worry about earning a long-term deal, but it’s still unclear whether Doug Pederson or Press Taylor will call his plays coming off a mercurial 2023. And that’s not even considering the big changes out wide, where Gabe Davis and rookie Brian Thomas Jr. could be top targets.

We say “condition” because Rodgers isn’t only a risky proposition from an injury perspective, coming off a torn Achilles at age 40, but because we also haven’t seen him deliver a truly above-average season since … 2021? New York is all in on the former MVP, but his ceiling at this stage is kind of a mystery.

Lions: The youthful secondary

The offense is in good hands, with Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown locked up alongside a solid line and dynamic backfield. And while the defensive backfield got some splashy new faces in Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw Jr., it’s still a gamble for a contender to rely on so many unproven starters.

Packers: The youthful WR corps

If Detroit is banking on rookies to headline the secondary, then Green Bay is trusting Jordan Love will keep rising as the franchise quarterback alongside a receiving corps that so far has lacked a definitive No. 1 target. To be clear, they’ve got a slew of promising weapons. But can they sustain their production?

Rams: The durability of the QBs

Matthew Stafford was a rejuvenated man in 2023, but he’s also 36 and missed extensive time in three of his last five seasons. Meanwhile, new backup Jimmy Garoppolo will start 2024 serving a suspension and has only once played a full season in 10 years. They’d better hope that O-line holds up.

Seahawks: The offensive line

If you haven’t caught on yet, a decent chunk of the NFL could use better reinforcements up front. That remains especially true in Seattle, where Geno Smith was banged up multiple times in 2023. Laken Tomlinson is a potentially underrated addition here, but at 33, Smith could use much better support.

Steelers: The old-school offensive approach

Russell Wilson and Justin Fields give them must-see appeal at quarterback. George Pickens is talented out wide. And yet, with Arthur Smith at the helm of the offense, are they going to be conservative and run-heavy? The lack of proven top-tier running mates for Pickens may well demand it.

Texans: The offensive line

C.J. Stroud was MVP-caliber for much of his magical 2023 rookie season, but his improbable debut stemmed in part from low expectations for the trenches. Laremy Tunsil is well-regarded at left tackle, but his peers have been more hit-or-miss on the interior, and Stroud operates best as a pocket passer.

Vikings: The uncertainty at QB

You can’t get more obvious than this, but with journeyman Sam Darnold and rookie J.J. McCarthy competing under center, the one thing Kevin O’Connell’s otherwise elite offense is lacking also happens to the most important thing: a proven, steady hand under center. There may be growing pains regardless.

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Author: Cody Benjamin
June 26, 2024 | 8:25 am

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