With the football season days away, one of the most unpredictable seasons is coming up fast. Compared to years past, almost every division is truly up for grabs for the 2018 season. There are some favorites, of course, but here are some sleeper teams that could steal their division and a spot in the playoffs in January 2019.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers. When is a sleeper no longer considered a sleeper? For a team that missed the playoffs, there probably hasn’t been a team talked about more than the team in scarlet and gold. Despite the relative weakness at wideout and secondary, Jimmy Garoppolo has proven that he can win games with that unreal run to finish the season. Running back Jerrick McKinnon tore his ACL, but the Niners still have relative depth in that backfield with Matt Breida and veteran Alfred Morris. On top of that, their defense sits in the top third of the league with DeForest Buckner and Reuben Foster leading the way. The Rams are the favorite, and the Seahawks are sneaky, but the Niners definitely could be a team to win 10 games and take the division.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers. Currently being picked to finish third in the division, people seem to be forgetting how good Cam Newton is. As of now, the Panthers are favored in 12 of their 17 games according to ESPN’s FPI algorithm and for good reason. Cam is finally loaded with some more weapons after a painful season last year with the additions of rookie DJ Moore, veteran Torrey Smith, and CJ Anderson to backup Christian McCaffery. Wide receiver Devin Funchess showed flashes last year, and Greg Olsen is a top-5 tight end when healthy. Just like the Niners, the Panthers defense also sits in the top 10, led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson. The inter-division games will be tough, as the NFC South is arguably the most competitive division top to bottom. However, this team got 10 wins last year with an extremely mediocre offense, and with Cam’s added weapons, they could take this division.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs. It’s really difficult to understand why the defending champions of the division in the past two seasons currently have the worst odds to win it this coming season. They made a splash by trading Alex Smith to the Redskins, but second-year QB Patrick Mahomes is a high upside starting QB for this squad that has a ton of weapons on the offensive side of the ball like Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill. The defense dominated last season, with Justin Houston doing Justin Houston things. The Chargers are currently listed as the favorite, but this division seems extremely open for the taking. The Chiefs will be tested early and often though as their schedule includes games in New England, in LA for the Rams, in Seattle and in Pittsburgh.
AFC South: Houston Texans. From 4-12 to winning the division? The Houston Texans had an extremely odd season last year with the injury to Deshaun Watson changing the course of the campaign. Luckily, Deshaun is back and healthy and has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, which is always a good thing. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and new addition Tyrann Matheau headline a solid defense that is definitely above average in the AFC. Their offensive line is a question mark, but if Deshaun Watson can get that time to hit Hopkins, Will Fuller or his other options in stride, this team could snag the AFC South from the Jaguars who open the season as a pretty clear favorite.