It’s hard being a sleeper team in the NFL these days.
Gone are the days where teams with up-and-coming rosters fail to grab the attention of at least one ESPN talking head or savvy football analyst. Sleeper squads are now dissected over the course of a LONG and monotonous offseason, with few major topics to talk about other than Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality.
Take this past offseason, for example. Everyone’s favorite sleeper for the 2018 season was the San Francisco 49ers. There’s nothing wrong with that. After the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, the Niners went 5-0 to end the season, making them the trendy offseason pick.
But now that the media, fans and NFL have had an offseason to dissect the Niners, they are no longer a sleeper; they’re on everyone’s radar.
But even in these tough times, we’re cutting through the cloud of smoke here at The Hot Box, and we’ve discovered three sleeper squads that nobody is really talking about.
While the NFC is stacked with talented teams, the AFC is a different story. With just the usual powerhouses — Patriots and Steelers — and a glut of talented but unspectacular teams, the Bengals have a real shot at getting back to the playoffs.
The Bengals have one of their best rosters in years. With John Ross returning from a bad rookie year, and Joe Mixon taking a leap behind an improved offensive line, Cincinnati could threaten for a wild card spot.
Not to mention, the Bengals defensive front seven is stacked. Geno Atkins and a group of pass rushers make this Bengals squad a scary sleeper.
In many people’s eyes, the Redskins had a disastrous offseason. They severely misplayed the Kirk Cousins situation, which forced Washington to trade for Alex Smith, but they also lost star rookie RB Derrius Guice in the team’s first preseason game.
Despite a lot of turnover, the Redskins are in a position to make moves in the NFC. Coming off a career year, Smith could be an upgrade over Cousins. The team added some talent on the offensive side, and the NFC East is waiting for a team to challenge the Super Bowlchampion, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Deshaun Watson was an instant star for the Texans last year. If the rookie QB can prove that he can stay healthy and maintain his stellar play, Watson could be an MVP candidate this season.
The Texans have a lot of holes on the offensive line and on defense, but with the play of Watson, combined with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the Texans should have a high-flying scoring attack.
If J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney can be the pass-rushers they once were, the Texans might have enough juice to make the playoffs in a wide-open AFC.